Aug
16

All Rain Is Acid Rain

Written by Dr Tim Ball, Climatologist

My first involvement with the Acid Rain scare was indirect, but added to awareness of the limitations of data and understanding of atmospheric and ocean mechanisms. acid rain

It also heightened awareness of the political nature of environmental science. I knew the extents because of membership in the Canadian Committee on Climate Fluctuation and Man (CCCFM). It was part of the National Museum of Natural Sciences Project on Climate Change in Canada During the Past 20,000 years. 

The committee was funded jointly by the National Museum of Natural Sciences and Environment Canada. It met yearly for several years, bringing together a wide range of specialists to focus on a region, time period, or area of study. Papers were published in Syllogeus, edited by Dr C.R.Harington of the Paleobiology Division. A review of them underlines how much the IPCC sidelined progress in climatology.

My election to Chair of the CCCFM likely caused its demise. In my acceptance speech I urged people not to rush to judgment on the recent anthropogenic global warming (AGW) hypothesis. I was unaware at the time of the involvement of Environment Canada (EC) in the promotion of the hypothesis and the work of the IPCC. Gordon McBean, was Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM, second highest bureaucrat) at Environment Canada and Chaired the IPCC foundation meeting in Villach Austria in 1985.

Within a few months of my election, EC withdrew funding and the Museum could not sustain it alone. One of the last projects was a detailed study of the global impact of the eruption of Mount Tambora, Indonesia in 1815. The conference proceedings were published in C.R.Harington (ed) The Year Without a Summer? World Climate in 1816. 1992, National Museum of Natural Sciences, Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa. Environment Canada’s actions were part of the suppression of people and data that continues to this day.

Dangers of Bureaucrats Doing Research

At the one annual conference under my chair, an Environment Canada researcher approached me to talk about a problem with the issue of Acid Rain. His dilemma underscored my argument that bureaucratic researchers are almost automatically compromised.

He was so nervous that he wouldn’t talk about it at the museum; instead, we met at the airport coffee shop. He was directed to prove US coal burning plants were causing the Acid Rain causing demise of the Quebec Maple Syrup industry. Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was already, publicly saying they were to blame.

The problem was his research showed the decline in Maple Syrup production was not caused by Acid Rain, but two natural cyclical events. The major one was a drought. The other, was due to a period of Meridional flow (the dreaded “polar vortex”) resulting in a very early spring warming that caused the tree to start leafing, followed by leaf destroying “black” frosts. Both events cause “dieback”, that is a loss of leaves. Trees, like all vegetation, have recovery and catch-up mechanisms that drive them to seed production. They will grow new leaves and go through a shortened and reduced production cycle. This includes the amount of sap flowing.

His dilemma was how to tell his bosses at Environment Canada that evidence didn’t support the Prime Ministers accusations. He even talked of publishing under an assumed name. I pointed out that he might then be fired because he hadn’t done anything for two years, although that is no guarantee in a bureaucracy.

The solution was obvious; he had to retain his scientific integrity and present his evidence. It was not his job to determine what happened to the results. His job was to do thorough, well-documented, research. He was not paid to make political decisions. The report would go up the bureaucratic ladder until somebody, holding a job for political reasons, would put it on a shelf. Later, a joint investigation by three US and three Canadian investigators, confirmed that Acid Rain was not the cause of the decline in Maple Syrup. After climate conditions changed again, yields exceeded previous records.

There is no question that Acid Rain occurred in concentrations sufficient to destroy plants. I lived in Sudbury Ontario for a year, with its smoke stack, identified as the source of 10 percent of North American Acid Rain, and saw the effects. Town leaders were proud of the fact NASA chose the region as most like the moon for astronaut training. At that time, the philosophy was ‘the solution to pollution is dilution’, so they built the smokestacks higher to disperse the sulfur further downwind. Ironically, after scrubbers were put on the stacks, reports appeared of reduced tree growth downwind because small amounts of sulfur were a fertilizer enhancing growth. This appears to support Paracelsus’ 16th century observation that the toxicity is in the dosage.

Types of Acid Rain And Chemical Variations

Water vapor condenses on to particles called condensation nuclei (CN), most of them are clay or salt particles. The CN influences the chemical nature of the liquid water drop created. For example, salt particles change the freezing temperature so the droplet becomes super-cooled and remain liquid below the freezing point. If it is a sulfur particle, the water droplet becomes a mild sulfuric acid droplet and that became the Acid Rain of environmental focus.

Most people don’t know that all rain is acid rain, but not because of the CN. Water, whether in the form of water droplets that take an estimated 1 million to form a medium-sized raindrop, absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. Droplets have a very high ratio of surface area to volume and absorb CO2 at a known rate. The chemical formula is CO2 + H2O clip_image002 H2CO3,which results in a weak, approximately 10 percent, carbonic acid in chemical equilibrium.

How much water is there in the atmosphere and how much does it vary regionally and over time? Two comments give an idea of the lack of accurate information.

One estimate of the volume of water in the atmosphere at any one time is about 3,100 cubic miles (mi3) or 12,900 cubic kilometers (km3).

At any moment, the atmosphere contains an astounding 37.5 million billion gallons of water, in the invisible vapor phase. This is enough water to cover the entire surface of the Earth (land and ocean) with one inch of rain.

Combine these with the extremely poor precipitation data for the entire globe and you have another example of climate science being a modern equivalent of the number of angels on the head of a pin. One-person claims

…the approximate rate of washout of carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere via rainwater can be determined from the known ocean evaporation rate and from the known solubility of CO2 in distilled water as a function of temperature and CO2 partial pressure.

Fine, but what is the figure? I understand estimates of evaporation are very crude, if not essentially meaningless. In the early atmosphere/ocean computer models they simply assumed a “swamp” approach of 100 percent evaporation. The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report says,

The spatial resolution of the coupled ocean-atmosphere models used in the IPCC assessment is generally not high enough to resolve tropical cyclones, and especially to simulate their intensity.

Carol Anne Clayson of Woods Hole explains the difficulties.

The air-sea interface “is typically the most turbulent part of the ocean,” Clayson said. A dizzying mix of interrelated factors—waves, winds, water temperature and salinity, bubbles and spray, solar radiation, and others—each adds a layer of complexity that occurs over wide ranges of time (seconds to seasons) and space (millimeters to miles). [See illustration above.]

“Getting observations of what’s going on at the air-sea interface is not trivial, especially in extreme conditions such as high winds,” Clayson said. “It’s also difficult to simulate the air-sea interactions, especially in extreme conditions, in laboratory experiments in a wave tank. Current computers don’t have enough computational capacity to incorporate all the processes occurring, on all the spatial and temporal scales involved, to produce realistic simulations.”

So we don’t know and can’t do anything with it. IPCC know the limits, but also know few read or understand the science reports.

Unfortunately, the total surface heat and water fluxes (see Supplementary Material, Figure S8.14) are not well observed.

For models to simulate accurately the seasonally varying pattern of precipitation, they must correctly simulate a number of processes (e.g., evapotranspiration, condensation, transport) that are difficult to evaluate at a global scale.

How much CO2 is absorbed in the atmosphere by moisture? How much does it vary spatially with changing temperature of the water droplets and raindrops? How much does it vary with changing air temperature and saturation vapor pressure? How much does it vary with wind speed? How do the quantities relate to human additions of CO2? All we can do is ask questions to help the public realize the inadequacy of the data and lack of understanding of the mechanisms behind IPCC claims.

Read more at drtimball.com

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Comments  

Martin Hodgkins
#1 Martin Hodgkins 2014-08-21 16:32
What on earth are you talking about? Acid rain is sulphuric acid from sulphur in smoke from raw coal smoke. It is devastating in high concentrations as can be seen in the moors around Manchester. Carbon emissions of any kind cause carbonic acid which is weak and is absolutely normal because CO2 is always in the air anyway.

Lets make this clear acid rain and carbonic acid are not the same thing and if your article is supposed to point this out then it is not at all clear to me.
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Nigel Deacon
#2 Nigel Deacon 2014-08-24 16:01
Exactly right, Martin. I am (another?) chemist, and it needs saying again - carbonic acid is so weak that no matter what its concentration, rain can never be acidic as a result of CO2. The gas's solubility in water is limited in any case, and is a simple function of temperature. The minimum pH you'll reach is about 5.5; that's not an acid!
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Pat Obar
#3 Pat Obar 2014-08-24 22:55
Tim please,
There is acid, and there is ACID. If you wish to experience ACID, fly to Venus and watch your spacecraft de-solve!
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