Friday, January 06, 2012

Eli Thanks Ernst Beck (Shock! Horror!)

Now Eli, in his time, has been quite hard on the late Ernst Beck, but he is here to praise (time will tell) some of his work. In the course of trying and failing to understand the global changes of CO2, Beck was quite impressed by some of the worst scientific work ever done, and unimpressed by some of the best, but in the course put together a bibliography of just about every published measurement back to the year dot, and some before.

Georg Hoffmann pointed out that

Secondly, nearly all early sampling facilities were tested in continental environments often under the sporadic influence of heavily polluted air masses (such as Paris, Parc Montsouris, Copenhagen, Dieppe etc.). How large is the influence of such “CO2 pollution”? A quick tour through my car-traffic-saturated home town, Paris, can give us a good first impression:

  • Jardin Luxembourg (major but still tiny green spot in the center of Paris) 425ppm
  • Place de la Bastille: 430ppm
  • Place de l’Etoile (the crazy huge roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe): 508ppm
  • And the winner was Place de la Nation: 542ppm (ie 160ppm over background!).

All these measurements by David Widory and Marc Javoy (reference below) were snapshot measurements, but they show how CO2 concentrations can vary strongly due to nearby fossil fuel combustion. Even in apparently “natural” environments there are many technical pitfalls to avoid. Strong CO2 fluxes due to the breathing (i.e. photosynthesis and respiration) of the biosphere are producing large diurnal cycles. A sampling site too close to the surface or shielded by a surrounding forest can easily bias the CO2 signal by several dozens of ppm.

In a wonderful example of how blunders can become features, Eli was wandering through the AGU hall of 10,000 posters when he came across "CO2 Megaparis: An intensive study of CO2 emissions from Paris megacity (in collaboration with the EU project MEGAPOLI)," given by Irene Xueref-Remy reprising their EGU presentation earlier in the year. The group has been measuring mixing ratios all around the city and surroundings for a while
Nowadays, CO2 emissions from Ile-de-France are known only through inventories, but no independant verification has been provided. Furthermore, the role and variability of the different emission types need to be better assessed. We present here the project CO2-MEGAPARIS funded by the French Agence Nationale de la Recherche, that aims to verify inventories from Ile-de-France through the use of powerful modeling and observational tools, at an hourly scale and a spatial resolution up to 2.5 x 2.5 km2.
In discussing the poster with Dr Xueref-Remy, Eli mentioned that there were some seriously old measurements, which were probably reasonable, but of course determined by the local situation. Did she know about them. . . well no, never heard of the things, so the bunny forwarded the appropriate links with appropriate warnings.

Which, just shows that amateurs have their uses
Uncle Eli has always admired astronomy, botany, and zoology as sciences with important amateur participation. By nurturing the large community of those interested in the science these fields have built important support groups, and amateurs have made important contributions. Many amateurs become obsessed with relatively narrow and previously trodden areas. Within those areas their knowledge often exceeds that of professionals. To Eli the most important thing is that people get to experience the joy of science.

What amateurs lack as a group is perspective, an understanding of how everything fits together and a sense of proportion. Graduate training is designed to pass lore from advisers to students. You learn much about things that didn't work and therefore were never published . . In short the kind of local knowledge that allows one to cut through the published literature thicket.

But this lack makes amateurs prone to get caught in the traps that entangled the professionals' grandfathers, and it can be difficult to disabuse them of their discoveries. Especially problematical are those who want science to validate preconceived political notions, and those willing to believe they are Einstein and the professionals are fools. Put these two types together and you get a witches brew of ignorance and attitude.

Unfortunately climate science is as sugar to flies for those types.
but even they have their unexpected pluses.


John Mashey said...

Beck is extremely valuable.
If a book cites him approvingly, one need read no further.

For instance, as per APS Petition pp.99-100 or Weird Anti-Science, we find retired atomic physicist Howard Hayden, buddy of Fred Singer, Tom Bethell and Petr Beckmann, who thinks Beck is keen. As I wrote:

"Mini-Review of His Primer: Anti-science, even Pseudoscience:
His Primer seems of unusually low quality, even by anti-science standards. For example, he accepts the
data (shown in his Figure 7) from a pseudoscience article by Ernst-George Beck, published in Energy and
Environment. Beck tried to show that the wild variations of measured CO2 concentrations over the last
180 years were not measurement problems, but real (contrary to impossibility of the large carbon fluxes
required, and in total contradiction to multiple ice-core records and much other data), and by weird
coincidence just happened to stabilize exactly when better-controlled measurements began to be used
mid-20th century. He claims that modern researchers cherry-picked past data to avoid seeing these wild,
but real variations. Beck‘s errors are well-explained, but this paper remains popular in some circles. is the paper, see Fig. 11.
It is hard to believe that anyone with a PhD in Physics could take Beck seriously for more than a few
minutes, without some powerful motivation to suspend disbelief. He also references the next pair:
Gerhard Gerlich and Ralf D. Tseuschner tried to disprove the existence of any Greenhouse Effect: "

Kooiti Masuda said...

I am afraid, Mashey's rule will be broken when a book of Megaparis is published.

Robert Huie said...

I recommend “Air and Rain: The Beginnings of a Chemical Climatology” by Robert Angus Smith, published in 1872 (Longmans, Green, and Co., London) for information on the variation of CO2 concentrations by location. It’s not clear much has been done to improve on this work in the intervening 140 years!

John Mashey said...

Masuda-san: sorry I should have been more precise.
If Beck gathered useful data, that's fine ...
but the "approvingly" was meant for Beck's conclusion, i.e., that global CO2 could vary wildly, and just happened to stop doing that when modern measurements started.

Russell said...

The highest popularly known measurement was made at the bottom of a Moroccan wastebasket containing a recently upended bottle of Vichy water, but it is worth noting that the Paris basin abounds in carbonate rocks

David B. Benson said...

While I've been to the other spots fortunately I never went to Place de la Nation.

EliRabett said...

The highest concentrations were actually measured at the bottom of a beer barrel. The scientists, unfortunately, did not survive to publish.

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