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A typical recent climate alarmist PhD

Gerrit Holl: a mindless parrot on a mission to spread the "consensus"

A week ago or so, I wanted to look how many of my 1,900+ answers at Physics Stack Exchange have a negative overall number of "upvotes minus downvotes". There is a hundred of zero-score ones (some of them have been accepted, however) but only two answers boast a negative score.

In one case, a guy was confused about the spontaneous symmetry breaking, the difference between two configurations' being the same and their being related by a symmetry. If the degree of confusion exceeds a critical threshold, it's hard to help these people because they don't have a clue what they are even asking about. They want to reshape the incoming information in their way which is incoherent and protect themselves against any coherent understanding. Minus one for me.

The second negative-score answer, also at minus one (2 pluses, 3 minuses), was about the rainfall according to global warming. It's not a coincidence. This part of physical sciences has been totally politicized. OK, so the question was:

Why we should observe an increment on the mean intensity in rainfalls and an increment on mean dry days with global warming?
The first, one-sentence answer, sends the author of the question to a propagandistic website with zero quantitative information and some vague claims about models that may predict that something is positive or negative – but the thing you should believe is that there is definitely a problem.

The other answer is a physics-like answer of mine. The answer is, of course, that there isn't any observable increase in the distribution of rainfall – e.g. in the frequency of extremes – caused by a minor uniform increase of the temperature by 1 °C or 2 °C because all related activity depends on gradients and differences and is therefore unaffected by overall shifts.

Precipitation starts when the relative humidity surpasses the 100% threshold, and some extra conditions about the presence of the cloud condensation nuclei etc. are obeyed. The places where the rainfall occurs may be described as the loci of an inequality for a function of the absolute humidity, pressure, and temperature. This function can be linearized. And if the temperature globally changes in a certain way, there exists a compensating change of the absolute humidity that will yield the shape and frequency of the precipitation regions totally unchanged.

The actual change may be divided to the change of the temperature with the compensating change described above; and the change of the temperature without a compensation. The former predicts no change whatsoever. The latter would predict a change in the overall precipitation. But as the global precipitation graph above shows, the change couldn't have been more than two or three percent per century. The graph is consistent with some noise. The most recent decade seems indistinguishable e.g. from the 1950s, the 1990s look indistinguishable from the 1910s or 1920s or almost any other decade. It's just noise.

Similarly, the hurricane activity needs gradients, too. "Global warming" would shrink the pole-to-equator temperature differences – because the poles are predicted to warm up faster, due to the ice-albedo and similar feedbacks – and the average gradients would therefore drop, too. This predicts a decline in the hurricane activity although this decline is likely to be "at most a few percent", too. It's because the pole-to-equator difference may go from 81 to 80 °C, or something like that. Assuming a small-exponent power law, the hurricane frequency will drop by 1 percent or so, too.
What is important – and every good high school physicist should understand it – is that the heat is a form of energy but it can't directly drive macroscopic motion. Heat is the energy that was lost in the thermal motion of the atoms, converted into the "ultimate chaos", and you can't collect this atomic motion and turn it into useful macroscopic motion. It's because of the thing called the second law of thermodynamics. Thermal engines that do useful work have to work with heat baths of different temperatures, not just with one heat bath of a high enough temperature.
This is an important insight that everyone who didn't fail in his or her thermodynamics courses should immediately recognize, embrace, and happily confirm. And this simple conclusion in thermodynamics has direct consequences for the discussion about "effects of global warming". The nearly uniform increase of the temperature across the globe simply cannot directly induce a significantly more intense macroscopic motion of the masses of the atmosphere. Such a conversion of "heat to useful mechanical energy" violates the second law of thermodynamics!

There are various second-order effects that are nonzero and in principle, some of them may yield observable changes after long enough periods of time. But we can more or less safely exclude the claims that due to the "global warming", we may directly observe some changes in the weather or precipitation patterns or hurricanes relatively to our childhood a few decades ago. The graphs show that one needs a whole century and the averaging of the whole globe to see a two-percent change in precipitation – which may still be just noise. If you consider changes over much shorter periods, the relative changes are correspondingly smaller. If you consider what you may experience regionally or locally, the relative noise is much bigger, and it's therefore even harder to see the aforementioned "signal".

All similar changes in the weather phenomena are noisy events, weather that can't be attributed to the change of the global mean temperature, whatever its causes have been.

Despite our inability to predict the weather and understand the laws controlling the clouds, cyclones, and their interactions with many other phenomena, physics allows us to settle virtually all related questions about "changes of the patterns in a decade" of this type and use either order-of-magnitude estimates or general principles of thermodynamics (such as the second law) to see that certain effects are strictly zero while others are so small that they are demonstrably unobservable in the context of the unavoidable noise. The weather is complex but it's equally complex and follows the same laws as it did decades or centuries ago.

Fine. Dr Gerrit Holl didn't like these conclusions.

When I looked at that Physics Stack Exchange page, I saw a comment by Gerrit Hall saying that the "work by Lindzen is highly controversial". My remark that some of the insights above are "textbook material" (and I quoted his still rather standard graduate textbook) are misleading because I should have written that Lindzen was a heretic – and I did the opposite! ;-) Tropical storms are not driven by gradients, we learn from Holl, without a glimpse of a justification. He literally means that they're driven directly by the absolute level of the sea surface temperatures – exactly the kind of "heat to macroscopic motion" mechanism mentioned above that contradicts the second law of thermodynamics.

Sorry, Gerrit, but the second law of thermodynamics is only "highly controversial" among people who have no clue about science. There are probably billions of such people in the world – a majority? – and they may be in consensus with each other but this changes nothing about their completely ignorance about basic physics.

The emergence of tropical cyclones is a complex process but at the end, all the things that matter for the existence of a tropical cyclone are differences and gradients of some quantity. That's true for the largest-scale circulation – for example, the thermohaline circulation (THC), the large-scale circulation driven by ocean density gradients. But it's even more true for shorter-scale circulation in the atmosphere and in the oceans. It may be news for Mr Holl but wind is caused by pressure differences and even the center of a tropical cyclone needs to have a lower pressure than the surrounding air – the overall change of the pressure on the whole globe wouldn't be enough.

You may imagine how the conversation proceeded. I would bombard Holl with physics principles, laws, arguments, while he would try to intimidate me with "consensuses" and other people who are eager to say that I am wrong, without having a glimpse of a rational justification, and all this shameful stuff. A typical useless debate in which he behaves in pretty much the same way as a generic Greenpeace activist or something like that.

Who is this guy?

Open his web domain. You will be immediately told that he is Dutch and has the Asperger syndrome. The second hyperlink will show you his biography. What does it mean?
My name is Gerrit Holl, pronounce ɣɛʁɘt, born 13 August 1985 in Diemen, Netherlands. I am a male interested in the World, the Earth, the Universe, Physics and other sciences. I think this world should be a better place, and that's why I am a member of the Socialistische Partij (Socialist Party, SP), tho most left-wing party represented in Dutch parliament as of 2007, and I am vegetarian (as well as, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Mahatma Gandhi, Steve Jobs, Franz Kafka, Nikola Tesla, Leo Tolstoy, Leonardo da Vinci, and H. G. Wells, among many others). I also bother others with my opinions about the World on a regular basis. I have Asperger Syndrome (as well as, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, and Steven Spielberg, among many others) . I have written about that here I do a lot with computers and my first serious contribution to Usenet was written at 14 February 1999 at the age of 13. My life in a nutshell until now:

* 1985-1989 freedom...
I changed the bold face emphasis in the quote. But the comment "I want the world to be a better place which is why I am the member of the most left-wing party in the Parliament" says something about him, doesn't say? And so does his need to emphasize that he is a vegeterian – when he enumerated the people to "prove" that he's in a good company, he forgot to mention Adolf Hitler.

OK, so you have this guy who finds his Asperger very important – some of us could claim to have Asperger if we found an appropriate physician and behaved in some way, too. What's the big deal? OK, we may have different feelings about it but Asperger doesn't mean that one is allowed to distort the science according to political prejudices – after all, Newton and Einstein, Holl's Asperger colleagues, avoided this trap very carefully.

This guy is clearly the ultimate example of an extreme left-wing political activist. And that's exactly the type of folks that the existing alarmist climate science loves to hire and declare "scientists" although people like Gerrit Holl are clearly unable to think rationally and independently. So in November 2013, he would easily defend his PhD (105-minute video) about remote sensing of ice clouds.

You may find the thesis on this page: the PDF file is there, too.

In principle, you might think that the remote sensing of clouds isn't directly related to the hysteria about the CO2's impact on the climate. Clouds are not caused by CO2, are they? So this may be research that is old-fashioned, scientific, independent of the "political applications" of some climate papers.

However, you may easily be proven too naive if you believe such things. Go to Chapter 1, Introduction, Section 1.1, "Why this thesis?". The first paragraph says a few neutral things about the physical meaning of the weather and the climate. The second paragraph says:
The climate on planet Earth is itself dynamic, as boundary conditions such as orbital inclination and atmospheric composition change. During the last century, measurements and models show that temperatures are increasing and precipitation patterns are changing (Trenberth et al. 2007). It is very likely that the bulk of those changes are due to anthropogenic influences of atmospheric composition and surface vegetation (Hegerl et al. 2007). This climate change has the potential to significantly affect our natural environment (Rosenzweig et al. 2007). Therefore, a good understanding of the climate system is important to mankind.
So he claims that "precipitation patterns are changing" at the centennial scale – Trenberth et al. say so. And it must be due to humans, we hear. A bogus ecological paper claims that this may "significantly affect our environment". And that's why it's important to study the climate.

The research of every last atmospheric phenomenon has been downgraded to an appendix to the irrational climate hysteria. That's why these people are doing the research, according to their own words. These words imply that if they had to admit that there is no scientific justification for climate-related worries, their research would become meaningless. They would no longer find the climate important. Their interest in the climate hysteria starts and ends with the climate hysteria and it is impossible for them to separate them. That's what Holl explicitly says.

So these corrupt individuals are doing everything – and would do everything else – to protect the religious dogma that something dangerous is going on with the climate. If they need to denounce the second law of thermodynamics or 1+1=2 to defend the indefensible, they won't hesitate for a second.

The real-world climate research community has been utterly contaminated by dishonest left-wing extremists similar to Gerrit Holl and until these people will be stripped of their PhDs and similar things, there is little change that this scientific field will get fixed "peacefully".

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reader Dilaton said...

Some kind of funny, that David Z closed that climate question as "off-topic", because it is not physics, even though it can be answered when approaching the topic correctly such as Lindzen and you did ...

What is not physics in that thread are the other answer and what that Gerrit guy are doing.

Unfortunately I can not support you by word and vote there, you can see why when looking at my profile... Just to be sure, the "promotional material" David Z has banned me for (1 year!) are explanatory comments linking to highly relevant on-topic to the question at hand information and explanations on PhysicsOverow.

Since the elections 2012, they have stopped keeping up any above trivial level on Physics SE, the thing that counts to the ruling crowd is SE political correctnes of posts which has nothing to do with correctness or quality from a physics point of view, and they are stigmating ore even closing questions of people who want to learn about advanced topics at a technical level as homework.

So it is only natural that good technical questions about advanced topics have mostly disappeared by now, and the site is overrun or even guided by clowns who dont know what they are talking about, such as the ones you had fun with ...;-). It might well be that some dimwits flag your comments in the exchang with the Gerrit guy. Ron has been banned f in the past for speaking similarly correct clear words to people who dont know what they are talking about concerning different physics topics ...

reader Eelco Hoogendoorn said...

Indeed it is an underappreciated argument that weather is driven by temperature differences. And indeed the main effect of global warming on temperature differences is to reduce the difference with the poles.

That said:

Not all temperature changes are relative, some absolute numbers also may play an important role. The freezing point of water stays where it is, regardless of a global shift in temperatures, for instance. This type of dynamic can have important effects; an arbitrarily small change in temperature can make an arbitrarily big difference in the fraction of water above freezing temperature. This dynamic also plays a role in the water-carrying capacity of air; it is a strongly nonlinear function of temperature. The bigger a band of non-freezing air over your continent, the more water it can carry inland.

That said again: the ad-nauseum repetition of 'more extreme weather' claims, versus the complete and utter lack of substantiation thereof, make biblical doomsday prophecies seem like top notch science by comparison.

A warmer planet is generally a wetter planet; this is a fairly uncontroversial point. Deserts only exist in borderline-ice-age epochs such as our own, for instance. And not at the tropics where solar flux is highest. Of course more rain, or a more efficient cycling of one of life's most essential resources, is almost universally a good thing. Pumping enough water into a desert (or enough heat into a tundra for that matter) to make it useful is so far a technologically unsolved problem. Taming a river to stay within its boundaries has been solved centuries ago.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Thanks, Eelco, this is how the possible argumentation may look. There may be some processes that are exponential; or something may depend not on absolute temperature but on the difference from the freezing point where big changes occur (a phase transition). And perhaps, there could exist some conceivable explanation why all the simple order-of-magnitude estimates are wrong and why the intensity of rains etc. could change more than by a percent - and one percent is undetectable even if one measures it for many years both at the beginning and the end.

However, none of such arguments or explanations are actually being given - and that's not just a bug of the debate in the public. This guy is a climate science PhD so of course that he should be able to offer an actual explanation of the dramatic influence of the temperature on rainfall. But even this guy has nothing else than You shall believe, it's a consensus. Even if one asks Trenberth etc., he sees something similar - at most with some extra obscure references to models. They don't understand why it's right for a model to spit a certain output but they claim it occurs and it should be trusted. This is not good science.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Thanks, Dilaton, please don't worry about voting! It's not why I wrote this blog post, of course. I've gotten tens of thousands of other upvotes which are just as good. Moreover, to get some positive vote would render the introduction to this blog post invalid. ;-)

I hope that you can get to balanced smiling mood and forget about all the things that were annoying you on Physics SE.

reader Gordon said...

I stopped looking at SE a while ago. I should go back, but the, at times, arbitrary closing of topics etc is annoying. We don't want moderation like RealClimate's. I prefer the math sites.

reader Werdna said...

Extratropical Cyclones are driven primarily by horizontal temperature gradients, which should be reduced by warming, since these are mainly equator to pole differences, and as a rule, cold warms more than warm (this is an empirical finding). Tropical cyclones are driven by vertical gradients, for the simple reason that as one approaches the equator, the horizontal gradients becoming less pronounced than the vertical ones. I understand this to be a consequence of the Rossby Radius of Deformation.

It's likely this is what the person claiming tropical cyclones aren't driven by gradients has in mind. But the atmosphere is supposed to warm more than the surface, as well, which means the relevant gradients should be reduced, as well.

About precipitation: unfortunately, the graph above is land precipitation, which, being creatures that live on land is of course of great interest to us. But the only theoretically unambiguous results qualitatively to be had about precipitation are global, as in, including the 71% of the Earth not included in that graph. Fortunately, in more recent years, we do have some satellite data for oceanic precipitation, but for obvious reasons this can't be extended back to 1900-which is also the reason why it is obvious that the graph is land precipitation only.

Over the long term-more than a few days, basically-the amount of precipitation must equal the amount of evaporation, and there are some reasons to expect evaporation to depend positively on temperature, but it also depends on other factors, and how those may change is more ambiguous. This does suggest we ought to examine empirical results, which the propaganda site cites Wentz et al for. A good choice: they do indeed ask whether precipitation increases with temperature increases as it does in models. They conclude that they actually increase precipitation *more.*

Scary right? *Wrong*. Remember, from the above, that precipitation must equal evaporation on a global scale. *Evaporation is one of the mechanisms by which the surfaces loses heat to the atmosphere, which loses heat to space through radiation. In other words, if warming increases evaporation, it increases the rate at which the surface cools. That's the definition of a *negative feedback mechanism*. And in fact, one can examine what the rates in models versus the rates in reality imply about the climate sensitivity:

It turns out that this method almost perfectly predicts the range of model sensitivities. And it turns out the observed relationship implies a sensitivity of about .6 K per doubling of CO2.

So we have a tricky paradox for those who find it an alarming prospect that temperature increases may increases precipitation "extremes": the more effectively it does that, the less warming there can actually be.

Naturally, this fact is typically ignored. It is assumed, nonphysically, by Wentz himself in his own paper no less, that one can take the amount of warming the models predict as independent of the amount of precipitation increase per degree of warming. He thereby concludes that alarming larger than predicted precipitation increases will occur, on the basis of large temperature increases *he apparently doesn't realize his research has ruled out*.

reader lukelea said...

I thought this was just a ho-hum story about a ho-hum simpleton until I got to the point where you said he just got his Ph.D. . . Yikes! Should we make him the face of climate hysteria? Alfred E. Newman with a furrowed brow?

reader Dilaton said...

Exactly ...

MathOverflow is expected to stay as great as it is now, but on Math SE things are going into a similar direction as on Physics SE since some months, as a singly very determined fan-boy of the SE Guru Shog9 tries unfortunately the mathematicians there some "SE culture"

This guy/gal has learned to spray down/close votes en masse to abuse the autodeletion script to (almost unilaterally) destroy large chunks of content that has been dear to others.
In the currently ongoing moderator elections he/she speaks up in a very authoritaty tone and due to his determination it can be expected that he will find a way to get himself elected...

No I will read the newest TRF physics post, to bring myself into a balanced smiling (and when reading Lumo's jokes even LOLing) mood ;-)

reader papertiger0 said...

the correct amount of ass kissing can get even a mental case a fresh mint PhD. That's my take away from this.

Don't you feel discounted? You PhD having guys.

Well, you shouldn't. Gerrit Holl paid up the difference between a Motl Phd and his buying gallons of chapstick.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Haha, maybe, but sometimes I think that a greater amount of asslicking actually goes in the opposite direction - when the senior guys in that "community" want to get younger scholars etc. on their side.

reader papertiger0 said...

So these corrupt individuals are doing everything – and would do everything else – to protect the religious dogma that something dangerous is going on with the climate. If they need to denounce the second law of thermodynamics or 1+1=2 to defend the indefensible, they won't hesitate for a second.

If they need to desecrate world heritage sites for instance.

You know those geoglyphs of lizards and birds drawn by ancients in the high deserts of Peru. The kind you can only tell what they are from a fly over?
Well Greenpeace rubbed one out to make room for a global warming awareness sign.
Peru is pissed. I think the whole country as one voice is teed of mightily.
Retribution can not be far off. Here's hoping the payback involves poison darts.

reader de^mol said...

it's a shame that a fellow countryman is such a loonatic

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear de^mol, don't brag this much! ;-)

My (Czecho-Slovak) countrymate Alexander Ač also works in a European climatic center of excellence, despite his almost complete ignorance about the atmosphere (Holl is a genius in comparison).

Most recently, Alexander endorsed a comment under this video

The video is a fictitious interview saying that a human who will go extinct along with the rest of the mankind due to global warming has already been born, and all this stuff.

The comment Alexander endorsed and elaborated upon says that is was the most honest piece of news on TV ever! ;-)