What do I think, What can I do?

Posts tagged ‘science’

Top 10 emerging technologies: 5 are related to energy

It is a known fact for anyone reading scientific news that there is much concern and research in renewable energies, energy storage, low C transportation and some other subjects closely related to climate change. This means that there are many scientists warned by our climate future and they have convinced investors from politics or private sector to research in those areas. This fact is not frequently displayed in the news but there are exceptions as this list of 10 emerging technologies of the world economic forum.

5 out of 10 of the proposed technologies are related to energy or transportation, so, to climate change mitigation. These kind of speculative analysis are just that, but as in the case of a previous one in the BBC, show mainly our worries and hopes for the future, and in both of them climate change is present (in this one more clearly in fact)

Climate Change in Kutxaespazioa

A week ago I visited with my family a science museum called Kutxaespaxioa close to the beautiful city fo Donotia-San Sebastian. Being a science museum the presence of climate change was unsurprisingly accurate and clear. Just another small probe that there are not substantial doubts in current science about the main facts of climate change. My document in some photographs:

There was a book about climate change

Anyone could produce a mini tornado and understand its basic concept and the increase of probability with a warmer and wetter atmosphere

There was a beautifully shown combustion motor, it is really a marble of the mechanics:

Nevertheless, solar and wind energy could be clearly in action and with a great presence
solar_and_wind_turbine_energy wind_turbine

And finally, everyone could sense the heat of a tiny greenhouse, as the one we have over our heads

Amundsen and Scott, an extraordinary race from a strange point of view

Antartica Map from Wikitravel

This year is the hundredth anniversary of two famous historical events: sinking of the Titanic and south pole discovery race by Admunsen and Scott. The first being mentioned in some climate change related posts, the second has engaged me through the wonderful book by Apsley Cherry-Garrard: The Worst Journey in the World. I am still reading it but I know the end of the story, it was epic, as deserved in the last land of the world discovered by mankind. It was so difficult that it was not done again by food until 40 years later, with temperatures always below zero, strong blizzards,… Admunsen was completely successful and Scott to some extent, as he reached the pole, but he was second and his last five men died, including him in the return journey.

Scott five-men subgroup who reached the south pole (from wikipedia)

But this is not a blog about south pole, just some climate related thoughts:

  • The two ships of the two expeditions (the Fram and the Discovery) were “hybrid”, combining coal fueled steam engine and wind. It is a pity we lost the wind as our main driving force to navigate.
  • Nevertheless, this year new adventurers were able to make this south pole journey based on kites help. It was not the only expedition to remember the great effort of Admundsen and Scott in a low carbon way. Interesting.
  • Scott expedition was the first to use oil sledges. The combustion engine was not so reliable that time and he obtained less result than expected from them, but this was the first serious attempt, later it became the main way to reach so difficult places. In the other hand he did not allow to sacrifice any dogs or ponies  and they were really in a hard situation.
  • Scotts men made great efforts to gather scientific information, that expedition was not only geographical, it had many other scientific purposes. Those data have been very valuable for scientific progress in different fields, their climate records were valuable too.
  • Admunsen expedition was very practical, based in snow and dog expertise, with only a clear objective and the means to get it. The dogs were sacrificed to feed other dogs in order to reduce the load. They were fast and reliable and learned many techniques from Inuits. Their success was based in the clever utilization of proven knowledge. Making too many trials in extreme situations maybe counteracting.
  • This can be an idea to climate change too. Our success as global society in this huge challenge will be more likely using in a new way and in a new context our previously acquired knowledge, instead of waiting for new wonderful technologies.
  • One last thought: Those men discovered a land which contains enough water to raise the sea level several meters. It is in our hands to avoid the massive thawing.

Admunsen and Scott routes from wikipedia


Climate change and Science Fiction

Image from wikipedia

Recently, Joe Romm wrote a very interesting autocritic post ,  where he complained about the low coverage of climate change in media and particularly in cinema.

In the first moment I thought I disagree with this opnion. After a second thought I am not sure. But doubts are frequently a good opportunity, so I am going to try to use it to do something I had in mind since some time: to look for links between climate change and Science Fiction, books and cinema in a broad and not too systematic sense.

I know this is not a key issue. Science Fiction is a hard to define combination of science, technology, expectations, fantasy and literature. Because of that, it does not prove any scientific fact, but it can be an index of the interest of a subject in a moment and I love it.

Finally, in spite of it’s lack of provatory value it can exert an influence in public opinion and help us make more conscious of climate change or other topics, particularly in the case of cinema.

Why is peer review under suspiction?

Skeptical blogosphere shows a dual behavior regarding scientific results. The famous skeptical WUWT blog is a good example. This post is based on a peer reviewed paper (that I still do not know how is related with climate change apart from some confusing but meaningless semantic similarities) whereas, frequently criticizes peer reviewed scientific literature either by showing failure cases or simply proposing a Web 2.0 alternative to peer review.

Although I had the opportunity to publish a peer reviewed paper some time ago, I am not an expert about science publishing. But I know some active scientists and, of course, they recognize the limitations of the system. It is not perfect, science is not perfect, but it is very reasonable and it has been very successful, just think in the incredible discoveries of the last 100 years and it is not questioned regarding astronomy, particle physics, paleontology,… This another post refers to an astronomer explaining that his work  is not different from any other one from climatologists, the only difference is the public treatment he obtains; maybe because someone is afraid about implications. It is a very interesting reading. This last post for today makes a thorough analysis from the point of view of an active scientist.

And apart from the undeniable success of science peer-review has at least other two favorable arguments:

  1. It is widely accepted by scientists.
  2. There is no reasonable alternative ( the web 2.0 peer review in the first paragraph is not too serious)

OK, I am not neutral, I am pro-science. But I consider quite contradictory to question all the scientific publishing method because the result is not what I wish and at the same time use peer reviewed articles when they may seem to endorse my point of view. It looks like amateurs complaining about professionals but at the same time wanting to be them.

Proxy, indirect measurements

Proxy. This word has been fascinating for me for a long time. I think I understood more or less the meaning from the first time, but it was quite inaccurate. In this moment I feel much more comfortable to read and use it. A proxy is an indirect measurement of some magnitude. For example in cooking, if you are not able to measure the cooking state or temperature of the turkey you can guide yourself by the time. We use proxies all the time and rely on them very confidently, because they are based on the knowledge of the issue we have.
Proxy measurements are also a source of criticism by skeptics as it is very easy cast a doubt about them. Even more, in some cases they will be right as a particular proxy may be a wrong measurement technique (if you cook pasta in Bolivia, the time measurement is not right, becuase the pressure is low and the boiling temperature changes, OK we have learnt something new about this proxy, its application scope). This is science, learning from errors, getting more reliable data and questioning them and the previous theories.

But even if they are not perfect, proxies are many times the only source of information for many sciences (nobody measured the weight of dinosaurs, or has been close to our sun) and they are one of the fascinating things about science: how indirect measurements, hints in some cases, combine with solid base of science and theories to be proben true or false to get a coherent picture.

Because climate change is not based in a weak proxy, it is based on knowledge of greenhouse effect, many current measurements and many different proxies from the past. And the models are only considered reasonable when they fit those data.

The science I understand: Why I believe in Climate Change (III)

I am a physicist by education and work in industrial research so I consider myself at the same time able to understand the physical concepts underlying climate change and not an expert in any way. Because it is very important to say that experts in any scientific/research field are not clever minds that understand the basic theories by magic means, experts are the ones collecting data, working with them, knowing the research trends in the field and debating each other results. And scientific experts publish their work in peer reviewed journals. I have been lucky to publish scarcely in another area but not in climate, regrettably I think this also happens with some pretended “experts”.

But this time I want o walk a little bit by myself, because it is true that finally ones mind needs explanations understandable for himself. There are many evidences, this post from climateprogress is in may opinion quite clear about it, that something important is happening to the world climate, and it is happening fast in geological standards. Because it is not only about measuring temperatures in the land(a frequent sceptik criticism is about temperature measurement failures), it is also about sea level, glaciers, ice extent, sea temperature, extreme climate events,…

So, something is provoking that more energy is in our lower atmosphere, were we live. It could be the inputs, but solar cycles are in the same magnitudes as later centuries. There is no mayor volcano, no asteroid crash. But we are throwing tons and tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and even if some continue having doubts, greenhouse effect was theorized and probed by Arrhenius 100 years ago. It is easy to explain in a simple way: we all emit radiation depending on our temperature, as the sun is much hotter than us its radiation is different from ours and some elements are able to stop suns radiation, whereas some others stop earths radiation like smoke hinders normal light propagation. This way if they stop our infrared radiation we will get hotter. It is the reason Venus is so hot, or the reason to the severe temperature difference between earth and the moon. And the more greenhouse gases the hotter we will get. Of course is more complex, feedbacks should not be forgotten and proven that our emissions are significant enough, but the main idea comes from the XIXth century, and the mechanism, the data and other measurements agree quite well:

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.