Friday, 28 January 2011

Climate Change Factoid - The 2nd Law - Part 1 (#12 of a Series)

The Second Law of Thermodynamics (2nd Law) is the oldest, unrefuted natural law on the books. You'll be surprised at how much it explains. While the name makes it sound complicated, we're only interested in a small portion of what the entire law covers. Fortunately, it's the easy part.
One caveat of the 2nd Law is that "all of the forces of nature move in a single direction - from the complex to the simple." As Galileo explained it, "we see wood go up in flames, gases and smoke but do we see flames, gases and smoke come together to make wood?" Another aspect of the 2nd Law is, "heat always moves toward cold, never the other way around." That's simple enough, isn't it? We'll start with the heat moving toward cold.
Our scientific community seemed blindsided by the acceleration of ice melting in glaciers, worldwide, the polar caps and the island of Greenland. Four years ago NASA and others were assuring us that summer ice in the Arctic would not be challenged until perhaps 2100. Since then they have returned to the microphones a number of times, claiming great surprise, to tell us that ice melting seems to be happening faster than they had thought it would. The last statement was "as of 2009 there is no permanent ice left in the Arctic Polar cap and in 3 to 4 years there will be no summer ice either." In my view, the reason for their surprise was they relied exclusively on their computers and bad data. They seemed to have failed to consider the 2nd Law's rule that heat goes to cold.
Consider this: The Northern Hemisphere holds two thirds of earth's land mass and since land absorbs light from the sun, converting it to heat, the Northern half of the planet would logically experience more heating than the Southern half. Since the Equatorial region to the South is hot and the Arctic is cold, the 2nd Law would cause Northern Hemisphere heat to move north toward the cold. Several things happen as a consequence. First, the ice melts faster than you think it should because the heat is growing faster in the ice covered regions than anywhere else on earth. Second, the heat being drawn toward the Arctic is being pulled Northward, away from the populated land masses further to the South and slowing (at least temporarily) the rate of warming for us. It is also possible that heat entering the polar region would have the effect of pushing the colder Arctic air further south to make way for the heated air moving toward the cold ice. Can you see how this might confuse us about what's going on?
The same thing is going on in the Southern hemisphere but the apparent impact seems to be less. Mean temperatures at Antarctica are growing faster than anywhere else in the Southern Hemisphere, telling us that what is happening in the Arctic is being duplicated at the southern polar cap and, although Antarctica is now melting fast enough to be getting smaller, the losses aren't as visible at Antarctica because it is much larger than the Arctic cap. Also, the smaller land masses of the Southern Hemisphere would produce less heat than in the North.
(Peer reviewed research, supporting the claims made in this factoid, can be found at the website shown below)
Rich Albertson is a retired lawyer, author, builder, building designer, carpenter and long time amateur naturalist. He lives in Portland, Oregon.
Albertson's most recent book (2009), "The Sky is the Limit - A Brief and Easy Explanation of Climate Change for Present and Future Voters" (134pp), is an explanation of the science, economics, politics, social considerations and the future development of climate change, written to be easily understood by people of average experience. Climate Change Factoids are drawn from the book. His first book (1978), "The Bio-Conversion of Waste to Resource" (4 Vols, 2624pp), was a treatise on methods for the sustainable management of solid and liquid waste in urban society. More about the Sky is the Limit book can be found at
As a Naturalist, Albertson's primary interest is to understand and explain how the natural world works. When the laws of the natural world conflict with modern human practice, Albertson explores the problems together with the possible solutions.