Saturday, February 13, 2010

Ice Age is Nigh

The following is a guest post, the first such post on SLB, and is written by one of my Texas cousins, Charley Sowell. Charley is quite a character, and has an IQ that is off the charts. It is difficult to know when he is serious, and when he is not. He is prone to telling tall tales with improbable scenarios and impossible outcomes, yet he can quote thousands of statistics with ease and great accuracy. I leave it to you, the readers, to decide if he has a point, or not. -- Roger E. Sowell, Esq.

The Ice Age Is Nigh, or, Why The Idiots In Charge Did Not See It Coming.
a guest post by Charley Sowell, FSG. (fairly smart guy).

Well, hello there to all y'all and a big Thank You to my lazy, no-good cousin Roger E. I had to put some alphabet soup after my own name (see the FSG up there) just to stay even with ol' Rog. I have not ever written anything on the internet yet, so this is a real pleasure. Rog told me to write a few words about myself first, so here goes. He only thinks I'm smart. Actually, I'm just smarter than him, (which ain't sayin' much), and that is good enough for me. I live out in West Texas, on a small spread not far from San Angelo. It's just me and my lovely wife now, as the kids are grown and moved on to bigger and better things, so we run just a few head of cattle and watch our oil wells. And supervise the hired hands, but they really know what to do so it's more just howdy and how y'all doin' rather than any real supervisin'.

Bein' out here where the West begins, and with a lot of time on my hands, I have plenty of time to read, and think about things. There is plenty to read, and to think about. Rog wanted me to read his SLB, so I did. From front to back. I also read his EnergyGuysMusings blog, and got a good laugh or two from some of that. Mostly from the comments he posted from Anthony Watts' blog, and Rog's replies to them. The world is full of very badly mis-informed people, but most of the time, Cousin Rog is not one of them. When he is, I call him up and set him straight. He likes to think of himself and me as sorta like Sherlock Holmes, and his smarter brother Mycroft Holmes. I keep remindin' him that he is Sherlock, so that makes me Mycroft. He hates that.

I especially liked Rog's post about the Abilene Effect, and how nothing is warming in Abilene. We haven't had any warming to speak of out here, either. Abilene is just a couple of hours away from here by car. Old timers remember when it was much hotter than today, also much colder. I remember as a kid, listening to my great-grandfather Sowell talking about the weather, and how it was really cold in the 1880's. We don't get cold like that anymore. And listening to my dad talk about how hot and dry it was in the Dust Bowl of the 1930's. We don't get heat or drought like that anymore, either. But enough of that. Rog wanted me to write down what we have been talking about for a couple of years now, on how an Ice Age is coming, and coming soon. Ok. Here goes.

It all has to do with man's activities on the farms and ranches. City-folk have nothing to do with this, so y'all just sit back and listen. When cities are laid out and built up, the ground is covered up with houses, buildings, roads, parking lots, and of course a few grassy areas for parks and yards. The grassy areas are watered pretty well, to keep the grass and trees green and growing. Nothing new here, everybody knows this. But there is not much dust created in those cities. Y'all want to keep that in mind, as we go along.

Ranches and farms, on the other hand, have a lot of land without any man-made buildings or roads or parking lots on them. Heck, most of my ranch is bare land, with a few gravel roads across it. I did put in a concrete driveway for the missus, with a concrete sidewalk from there to the front door so she never gets her shoes muddy. But that is nothing, compared to all the acres and acres of raw land out here. Well, the land is not quite raw anymore, as I have put in some irrigation systems, and we grow various crops using the water from the irrigation system. Mostly hay, though, and some cattle feed. Still, the irrigation cuts down on the dust that used to fly pretty regular out here.

Y'all probably heard about the Dust Bowl, as I mentioned above, and the great clouds of dust that was sent into the sky for year after year. That dust went way up into the sky, and the finer particles (fine as in smaller, not as in wonderful) stayed up there for a long time. The dust at high altitude acted (and still does, too) like small mirrors, reflecting back the sunlight. We call that increasing the earth's albedo, or reflectivity. A mirror has pretty high albedo, a black asphalt parking lot's albedo is pretty poor. Snow over large areas has a high albedo, also.

We haven't had a Dust Bowl since the 1930's, of course, and that is largely due to irrigation. Wet dirt won't fly off in the wind. The result of irrigation is that there is much less high-altitude fine dust. Now, this accounts for the long-term temperature record that shows a cooling from 1940 to 1975, then a warming from 1975 to 2000. The dust from the Dust Bowl stayed up in the sky for a few decades, and the earth cooled down just a bit because of that, starting around 1940. Now, though, as irrigation is used almost world-wide, the upper atmosphere has much less dust in it so the sunshine and the heat it brings beats down on the earth's surface. The sun is not that much stronger, it just seems like it because the air is cleaner.

The Clean Air Act from those folks in Washington (more on them a bit later) also has a part in all this. The Clean Air Act also reduced the amount of fine particulates (including dust) that are sent into the air, so again the earth's surface is warming up a bit. And, by the way, so is the upper few inches of the oceans. Sunlight and the heat from the sun does not go down very far into a body of water, but it only takes a few inches to warm up to do the trick. As the wind blows across the ocean, the warmer surface water evaporates just a little bit more, causing more moisture to be carried onto the land. The land cools the air down, of course, and it rains. Or snows, if the air over the land is cold enough.

Now, we have seen some pretty interesting snowstorms this past couple of years here in North America. Just in the past few weeks, record snow has fallen in the east coast, and those folks in Washington DC got a bunch of snow, twice. Shut down the city, too. Just this past week, snow has fallen across the deep South, in places where it does not ordinarily snow. Even Dallas got a foot of snow a couple of days ago. Where does all that snow come from? Moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, mostly, meeting up with cold air from the Arctic regions.

So what does all this have to do with an Ice Age? Plenty. All it takes to create an Ice Age is for the albedo to increase just a little bit. How much, nobody knows. But large snowfalls, and late snowfalls, act as a mirror to the sun's heat rays and prevent the usual amount of heating. Just in Washington, DC, the snow will take a while to melt. While the snow is there, the ground cannot absorb heat like it would otherwise. Now, Washington DC people think they are the center of the universe (especially the federal staffers and elected officials) but really, the entire city is just a speck on the map. Nothing that happens there from an albedo standpoint can ever make a difference. But there is lots of land around there, and that does make a difference. If one looks at the snow-cover map of various countries, and this internet thing is pretty good for that, it is clear that there is a lot of snow in a lot of places. But not the Winter Olympic site in Vancouver, but that is a tale for a different time.

So, that is the story. Less dust, due to man's irrigation and dust control laws in some areas, allows more sunshine to reach the earth's surface. That creates more moisture in the air, leading to more snow and later snows. I suggest we all watch for the snow melting dates over the next few years, as they will be later and later. When the snow stays long enough, that triggers the ice age.

That albedo is extremely important, folks. If you want to test this, just take a big mirror outside, but be careful, those things break easily and the glass can cut you. Set the mirror up so that it makes some shade on a hot sunny day. Then sit in the shade created by the mirror. Put your hand up to the backside of the mirror, and feel how cool it stays. As a comparison, you can put up a similar shade using a piece of corrugated iron or something like that. It will make shade, but it won't be as cool under it. Albedo makes the difference.

Oh, I almost forgot. The sunspot connection, and how fewer sunspots makes for more clouds, and more clouds reflects more sunshine - increasing the albedo. That sounds about right, although there is not much in the way of cloud measurement worldwide. I do remember, though, the photos of Earth from the moon, in the Apollo days. There was an awful lot of white in those pictures, representing clouds that reflected away the sun. That was also the time when the winters were pretty cold, especially around 1977, 78, and 79. It would be great, in my opinion, to set a satellite orbiting the moon, and have it send photos of the earth back every few hours. We should have done this when we were there in the 70's, and by now we would have 40 years of cloud photos in the record. Maybe NASA will get the hint, and do something about this now.

Now, there are lots of folks writing in fancy scientific journals about all this climate change, and global warming, and CO2 and greenhouse gases, and I've read most of it. Like Cousin Rog, I also have a degree in chemical engineering, also in chemistry which he does not. I also studied physics at the university, and he did, too. Running a ranch is my full-time job now, so I don't get into all that very much anymore, but it comes in handy when I'm reading some of these research publications. And most of those guys have it very much wrong.

Cousin Rog is right, when he writes that CO2 as a global warming agent is not possible due to fundamentals of process control. The climate scientists are right, though, when they admit that a large volcanic eruption cools the earth down for a while due to all the ash and sulfur aerosols.

Now, for the Idiots in Charge part. The idiots in Washington are tryin' to pass a cap-and-trade law, it has made it through the House, and is about to get talked about more in the Senate. They are barkin' up the wrong tree, as we say out here. Controlling CO2 will do nothing to change the temperatures of the earth, as Cousin Rog has written on. California, where Rog lives these days (and why, I'll never understand), has gone even further off the cliff with their AB 32 laws. I read that from front to back, and it makes me laugh. It is a transparent attempt to stop fossil fuel use, and reminds me of the long conversations we had as teenagers and in our early 20's, when everything seemed possible but we did not yet have much sense. Oil and natural gas and coal are what made modern society possible. Nobody with any sense disputes this, because they cannot.

Cap-and-trade, a key component in both AB 32 and the federal legislation, will raise prices on everything, folks. And I do mean, everything. Nothing that we can buy in a store is made without using electricity somewhere along the line, and it got into that store by a truck. Both electric power prices and diesel fuel prices are going to go way, way up with cap-and-trade.

I sit out here on the ranch, ride or drive around looking at my beautiful land, and watch the clouds in the sky. We have plenty of CO2, enough for the grass and hay to grow, and plenty of water, most of the time. We certainly have had plenty of snow this year. But my piece of Texas is far too small to make much difference in the albedo. But, just like in that famous law case that Cousin Rog told me so much about, Wickard v Filburn, if enough small things happen across enough places, the overall effect is pretty big.

So, thanks for listenin', or I should say readin', and y'all keep after those idiots in charge. Ask them the tough questions. Remind them who votes for them, and why. And if you are ever in trouble, call a cowboy.

Now, Rog, I'm done. Thanks for letting me write on your blog. If anybody wants to leave a comment, Rog says it's ok, and he's gonna' let me write answers to you.

-- Charles T. Sowell,
Somewhere near San Angelo, Texas.

UPDATE 1: Feb 14, 2010, below are some photos of the earth, taken by NASA or their satellites, showing various amounts of cloud cover. This is in response to Charley's comments about cloud cover increasing the Earth's albedo. Good point, Charley -- Roger

Figure 1. This is from a satellite as it flew by Earth, showing Antarctica in the middle with just the tip of South America to the right. Lots of clouds. Lots of albedo.

Figure 2, this is a composite of many photographs, so probably is not representative of the true cloud cover.

Figure 3, also from Apollo program. Antarctica at the bottom, Africa in mid-frame.

Figure 4. The famous photo from Apollo, showing the first view ever of the earth-rise over the moon. The sunlit part of the earth appears almost pure white due to clouds. Lots of albedo that day.


Roger Sowell said...


Thanks for posting. Nice work, Cousin! So, are you saying that high altitude reflective particles, such as dust, are what could cause ice ages? And, is anyone measuring the quantity of those particles? Do we have any idea how much is in the atmosphere, and if the amount is increasing or decreasing? Finally, is the effect of these dust particles included in the IPCC climate models?

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.

Anonymous said...

Nice post. Less dust. And dust prevention laws. Not all countries have those, of course. But population has increased by a factor of 3 (6 billion compared to 2 billion) and that took a lot of irrigation.

Charley said...

Rog, not just dust, but increased albedo of any kind. The major albedo influences are high altitude dust, snow covered ground, ice caps, and high altitude clouds. Chu's white roofs are hilarious, what a joke. There are not enough roofs in the entire world to make a bit of difference, even they were all white.

The key point is the energy balance of the earth. It is not what happens as greenhouse gases to trap out-going heat. That is ridiculous. What matters is the incoming energy, as we can easily see by the seasons here on Earth. Given that the sun is remarkably constant in heat output, all that changes what arrives on earth are the albedo effects.

Now, if NASA or NOAA or some of the other climate scientists were serious, this is where they would focus their attention. It is the key.

Charles T. Sowell, near San Angelo