Friday, June 23, 2017

Russia, China, and cyber acts of war

I've been dumbfounded by the willingness/denialism of Republicans and of parties in other democracies to be the manipulated tools of the hostile Russian government. Apparently, rabid nationalism can be turned on and off as circumstances warrant.

OTOH, until recently I've been moderately less-exercised about what the Russians had actually done. Hostile countries steal secrets, so that level of espionage is standard activity. They also selectively release stolen secrets, leavened with lies, to weaken their opponents, so there's nothing out of line in that Russian behavior. What's out of line is that it actually contributed to their preferred candidate's success in the US, with little political blowback during the election (or afterwards).

Maybe this specific kind of election interference should be considered worse than it is normally considered as espionage, but the limited reprisal Obama has appeared to authorize seemed appropriate.

One thing that is different is the more recent news that Russian tried to do more than steal information and spread lies, but appear to have made a serious effort to hack the election systems. What I've read is that was more of a recon than an actual attempt to change the results, but it is different from everything else they did.

Everything else is normal espionage that requires a normal level of retaliation. Hacking an election to stop the elected candidate from getting office is overthrowing the American government, and it's an act of war. I think it's equivalent to an assassination attempt. Maybe it's not overtly violent, but unless you're a pacifist, there are things that are equivalent or worse than violence, and overthrowing democracy is one of them.

An act of war doesn't require a declaration of war in response, it just requires a proportionate response. Hacking the medical records of senior Russian officials and changing their medical prescriptions strikes me as a proportionate response.

I don't know if that needs to be done now (and won't anyway given that the Russian candidate now runs our country) but should be the guide for the future, and communicated to Russians for purposes of deterrence.

The one other factor that I haven't seen discussed is how Russian and Chinese behavior seem so different. China is our real, long-term rival. Putin's incompetence has used up half of the time Russia has to transform itself before oil becomes useless, and there's zero likelihood he'll now start a transition. China, on the other hand, is not engaged in these kinds of political attacks on the US, and that's interesting from a foreign policy perspective.

Seems like China is treating us a potential future enemy - its massive hacking of our systems are designed to crash those systems if it needs to in the future. Russia is treating us as a current enemy. Different tactics, requiring different responses from us.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Advice From teh Communicators

An evergreen across science communication is that scientists don't know how to communicate science.  Eli has confronted this issue before at the cost of ticking (permanently) off a bunch of communicators

. . .  a whole lot of other people appear to think that scientists are lousy communicators, and indeed, a whole lot of scientists agree and there are workshops, meetings and even, shudder, blogs, devoted to self improvement, or not. This goes into the file under missing the point.

It's not that scientists are or are not lousy communicators (say that and Eli will lock you in a room with Richard Alley for example), but that journalists are lousy communicators. It's their fucking (emphasis added) job and they are screwing it up to a fare-thee-well. It ain't just climate either. What journalists produce often makes the average cut and paste student paper blush with modesty
Well that, of course points to the communicators, who are not just journalists, and indeed some journalists are doing a good job communicating science, others, of course, not so much.  The not so much camp is dominated by the opinion communicators like Bret Stephens, like Matt King Coal Ridley, like James Didn't Read the Literature Delingpole and others.  The perversity of this is the New York Times, which hired at the same time Bret Stephens and Brad Palmer Plumer and now Lisa Friedman in addition to the esteemed Justin Gillis.  Of course what happens is the trio of reporters best stories get stepped on by the Opinion (don't have anything to do with us boss) Section's know nothings, the public hears cacophony, rolls eyes, decides nothing is settled, climate change is just a side show and moves on.

Of course, there are not just reporters, there are communications experts, the various deficit modelers and the cultural cognition folk and more.  Most of these are simply trying to cut themselves a piece of the pie.  RPJr when he was in the business was a great one for pie slicing.

ATTP has a recent comment on this based on a talk Doug McNeil gave.  And sums it up as
The environment can be difficult and challenging; we should try to say interesting things but also be careful of what we say; it should be relevant but not too complex; we should know the audience, and we should repeat the message.
As fate would have the June 2017 copy of APSNews came across Eli's mailbox (the Heartland Institute never set the Bunny so much as a cross word) and on the back page was an essay by Bill Foster, a member of the US House of Representatives and a PhD physicist who sums up science communication with this gem of advice
On the campaign trail, I learned that there is a long list of neurons that you have to deaden to convert a scientist's brain in to a politician's.  When you speak with voters, you must lead with conclusions rather than complex analysis of underlying evidence -- something that is very unnatural to a scientist.  You also have to repeat your main campaign message over and over again, since you will be lucky if a typical voter will hear you speak for a few seconds -- and those few seconds have to include your campaign message.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

0.04% Is a Lot of Molecules

An evergreen in the denial crowd is that CO2 is only a very small part of the atmosphere so how could it make a difference.

ADDED: In the comments Mark B points out that

The silliness is that it is precisely because CO2 is a very small part of atmosphere that humans are able to meaningfully change it's concentration. For example we are depleting O2 at the same rate as we are adding CO2, but the change is a negligible percentage of the normal content so only the most pedantic would dwell on it. That is, we've changed the CO2 concentration by about 45% and the O2 concentration by about 0.06%.
The short answer is that the atmosphere is very big.   Eli has a nice BOE (back of the envelope, not quite a Fermi problem but Eli would be quite pleased if others thought it in the neighborhood of same) answer

"... the estimation of rough but quantitative answers to unexpected questions about many aspects of the natural world. The method was the common and frequently amusing practice of Enrico Fermi, perhaps the most widely creative physicist of our times. Fermi delighted to think up and at once to discuss and to answer questions which drew upon deep understanding of the world, upon everyday experience, and upon the ability to make rough approximations, inspired guesses, and statistical estimates from very little data." 
 It starts by estimating the number of molecules in a m3 of air.  Well a Bunny who knew Loschmidt's number 2.7 x 1019 cm-3 or 2.7 x 1025 m-3  (which is the same thing since 1 m3 is 106 cm3 ) could start there or you could rearrange the ideal gas law
pV = nRT to n/V = p/RT
Since 1 atm is 101, 325 N/m², the gas constant R is  8.314 J K-1mol-1 and 0 C is 273 K
n/V = 101 325 N/m² /(8.314 J K-1mol-1 x 273.15 K) = 44.64 mol m-3 
which is a little surprising, since the average weight of a molecule of air is ~ 29 g or 0.029 kg so a cubic meter would weigh 1.3 kg but that is another direction.  In any case since there are 6.02 x 1023 molecules per mole that gives us Loschmidt's number again, in case a bunny has forgotten it or 2.69 x 1025 m-3.

If 400 ppm or 0.04% of that is CO2 there are  1.07 x 10 21 CO2 molecule in a cubic meter.  A useful estimate of the average distance between CO2 molecules is the inverse of the cube root. of the number density.  That is 4.5 x 10-8 m.

So how does that compare to the wavelength of light at which CO2 absorbs light in the IR.  Hmm, that's about 14 microns.  A micron is a millionth of a meter, So how many CO2 molecules are there along one wavelength of IR light where it is capable of absorbing.

About 300.

That's enough

Monday, May 29, 2017

Hybrid renewable systems

Kind of new to me, but obvious enough:  wind blows some of the time when the sun doesn't shine, so put wind generation and solar on the same location and reduce some infrastructure cost while getting less-intermittent power. Obviously it won't work everywhere, but it helps. I read somewhere (and sadly can't find the link now) that night winds are very reliable in India during monsoon season, and India's the big challenge now that China is all-in on renewables, so this could be huge.

Alternatives include renewables with large hydro and with power storage. And my personal favorite, floating solar panels.

Tangential thought: we would live in the energy world that denialists think we live in if it weren't for solar and wind (and soon, battery storage). I mean that denialists argue we can't maintain a modern lifestyle without fossil fuels. How that translates within their minds into climate change not happening is unclear, but regardless, that view of the energy picture has been wrong for a decade. And now even the denialists have to add a throwaway statement that "I support solar and wind too" before defending massive pollution of our environment.

Is it just luck that wind and solar and hopefully storage are taking off in terms of cost savings just in time to save us from ourselves? Certainly it's also a function of years of government-funded research, but other fields like wave power, instream hydro, and biofuels have had the same research with limited results. Maybe I'm just looking at the gift horse in the mouth, but if the technology for solar and wind were 20 years behind where they are today, then we'd be in a hell of a mess on climate. I'm curious why it's worked out relatively well.

Some thanks to Jimmy Carter perhaps, starting something that Reagan couldn't quite totally bollox?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Government Regulations and the Law of Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ms. Rabett when still employed worked in a nest of libertarian types who complained about how complicated government regulations were, and how it was stifling business and most importantly how they could make more money without them.  The same folk would wail about how bad government was when something bad happened and there was no law or regulation to stop it. There ought to be a law they screamed.

Now Ms. Rabett is more than somewhat of Eli's disposition or as she would say visa versa and she realized that governments do not always write crazy regulations to pass the time of day, but more often because some outstanding libertarian tries something crazy and goes nah nah there ain't no law agin it.  There are so many regulations because there are so many libertarians out there trying to game the system.

Many years ago, Angry Bear explained the Law of Chocolate Chip Cookies

So the process continues… Eventually, the Army has a spec that indicates even situations that a rational person would say – “This makes no sense. Everyone knows that.” But the rational person wouldn’t realize that when the Army specifies that no sawdust is to be used in making flour, or that no more than X parts of per million of rat droppings will be in the cookie, that the Army has a damn good reason for having that in there, namely that some upstanding leader of the community who waves a flag and is a member of the local Kiwanis actually tried to pass such things off on American military personnel. And of course, that upstanding leader of the community who waves a flag and is a member of the local Kiwanis is happy to lecture one and all about how much more efficient the private sector is than the public sector – exhibit A being the Army’s specs on making a chocolate chip cookie.

CO2 Atmospheric Absorption Is NOT Saturated

It is certainly an evergreen claim by the climate change disbelievings crew that the absorption of CO2 in the atmosphere is saturated.  What does saturated mean to them is a useful question to ask. A useful answer would be that the atmosphere is optically thick at the greenhouse effect relevant frequencies/wavelengths where CO2  absorbs, between about 620 and 840 cm-1.

It would also be useful to describe what is meant by optically thick and optically thin.  To do that we first need to define optical depth.  Optical depth is the fraction of light blocked in passing through a medium.  The transmission is the percentage of light that gets through.  Something is optically thick at a particular wavelength if no light can get through it, It is optically thin if most or all of the light can get through.  If an absorption is not optically thick, it can't be saturated

If the disbelievers are right at current concentrations CO2 is optically thick over the entire region.

We can check on that using Spectral Calc, a program that allows us to calculate the spectrum based on precision and verified measurements.  Let us imagine that the atmosphere is a tube with 400 ppm CO2 at 296K.  How much of the light is absorbed in a 1 m tube

At this point those interested in only the bottom line can skip down to the bottom of the post and pick up the figure the bunnies need for their tweet.


Most of the spectrum is due to transitions from the CO2 ground vibrational level to the first excited vibrational level  The sharp peak in the center is called the Q branch composed of lines that are very close together and corresponds to transitions where the rotation(al quantum number) of the molecule does not change.  The band to the left is the P-branch for transitions where the rotational quantum number decreases by 1.  The band to the right is the R-branch where the rotational quantum number increases by 1.

The two little sharp peaks to the right and left of the main bands are Q-branch transitions between excited vibrational levels.  Even at room temperature a small percentage of the molecules are vibrationally excited by collision.  Of course, they can also lose energy by collisions but there is an equilibrium between excitation and de-excitation by collisions with nitrogen and oxygen molecules (mostly) and a thermally driven equilibrium population in each vibrational level.  If a bunny squints really hard she can see the corresponding P and R-branches. These are called hot bands. Why the excited vibrational levels are split and even what excited levels they connect is complicated.  Google books provides an explanation.

If the distance is increased to 10 meters the lines of the 0-1 band are optically thick but there is still space between them, however, the lines do have wings and the wings overlap so even over a 10 m path, there is a noticeable underlying continuum mostly caused by collisional broadening.  The hot bands on either side of the Q branch are now easy to see.  The Q branch 0-1 band is optically thick
At 100 m or 0.1 km the 0-1 transition is almost optically thick and the 1-2 bands are very clear.  Using the squintosope, Q branches for higher lying hot bands can be seen at the edges
For a 1 km path length, most of the 0-1 transition is optically thick (saturated in the disbelieving sense) but light from the surface would still be seen in the wings, where the hot bands are.  
Finally at 10 km, while the center of the CO2 absorption is optically thick, there are still regions of the spectrum where light from the surface will get through the atmosphere.
Of course, increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere will decrease the transmission in the wings of the bands.  At 560 ppm
and returning to 280 ppm
There are a few things that Eli has not considered in this post but they all would DECREASE the calculated optical thickness. Temperature and pressure decrease with altitude.  This post assumes both are constant. Their effects will be considered in detail in follow on posts,  Simply put the optical depth is directly proportional to density and path length, thus decreasing density with altitude, decreases the average optical depth and increases transmission across the spectrum.  Second at lower temperature there is less population in the excited vibrational levels and the hot bands at the edges of the spectrum are weaker, decreasing the optical depth in the wings, and increasing it in the center 0-1 band.  Since the 0-1 band IS optically thick at very small path lengths anyhow, this increases transmission.  Third, each of the lines is substantially broadened at atmospheric pressure.  A narrower comb of lines is optically thinner.  This would substantially decrease the continuum absorption between the lines.

Bottom line, the 667 cm-1 CO2 vibrational absorption is not optically thick across the entire region of absorption. It is not saturated.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

What Rich Lowry said about Erdogan thugs attacking protestors in America

He got this one right, at least. Go read.

You don't often get a chance to read a National Review piece and agree with every word.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Probably Not The Place For This

Eli has been watching the reports on today's Senate hearing which features the Ted Cruz - Sally Yates death match.  The general feeling is that Yates did to Cruz what Macron did to Le Pen.  However, rather than getting too deeply into the legal parts of their interchange, the Rabett would like to point out that Yates READ most of her initial answer to Cruz (starting at 1:49 in the video below).

She was clearly prepared for the question.

You might ask what little birdy whispered in her ear, well, let's go to the video from three months ago

Somebunny was paying attention.