Sunday, November 27, 2016

Basic Geo-Engineering or Cosmic Rays Bite the Particulates

A month ago, before Eli and Ms Rabett fell into deep depression, an interesting and important paper appeared in Science.  While the conclusions are in the paper, the exhaustive supplementary material is where the at is at.

The paper "Global atmospheric particle formation from CERN CLOUD measurements" covers a huge range of experiments done in the CERN CLOUD chamber to try and tease out the source of atmospheric particle formation (that is the title), and the conclusion is about what any rational bunny who has been following the CERN experiments and other work and work from long ago would have expected,

Fundamental questions remain about the origin of newly formed atmospheric aerosol particles because data from laboratory measurements have been insufficient to build global models. In contrast, gas-phase chemistry models have been based on laboratory kinetics measurements for decades. Here we build a global model of aerosol formation using extensive laboratory-measured nucleation rates involving sulfuric acid, ammonia, ions and organic compounds. The simulations and a comparison with atmospheric observations show that nearly all nucleation throughout the present-day atmosphere involves ammonia or biogenic organic compounds in addition to sulfuric acid. A significant fraction of nucleation involves ions, but the relatively weak dependence on ion concentrations indicates that for the processes studied variations in cosmic ray intensity do not significantly affect climate via nucleation in the present-day atmosphere.

In other words, the conclusion from well before the evil danes stirred up the denialists with their cosmic ray fantasy holds.  Cosmic rays do not play a significant, if any role in formation of the aerosols, there are always enough of them around that they are not limiting and the slight increase from cosmic rays plays no role.

What this paper and the supplementary material do is to assemble a large and complete set of laboratory data from which a kinetic model can be built and compared both with experiment and observation.  That is science.

The interesting part, which this work reinforces, but to Eli was first pointed out by a bunch of Finns who instrumented the North Woods, and who are part of the team publishing the current work, is that amines, particularly ammonia turn out to be the limiting factor in the atmosphere for formation of particulates which grow into clouds.  The lab data clearly show the enhancing effect of adding ammonia or amines in small concentration to the chamber, but more interesting perhaps is the model prediction for the effect of the solar cycle (aka cosmic rays) and the increase of ammonia concentration since preindustrial times.
The increase in ammonia concentration comes, in large part from animal wastes, to an extent from ammonia synthesis leakages.

So, given the current dire situation, what does this imply about geo-engineering.  Perhaps something useful.  Instead of pouring SOx into the upper troposphere to raise the albedo, while at the same time increasing the acidification of the oceans, perhaps one could throw some ammonia up there.  The ammonia would actually compensate somewhat for acid rain (although not fully, read the paper) and on a molecule for molecule basis be more efficent.

Yes, Eli could be wittier, but he is one depressed bunny.


Russell Seitz said...

Those wearing cotton clothing must now face the music- Direct injection of NH3 is right popular in boll wever country, including Kazakhstan.

Bernard J. said...

I've always wondered if the pattern (or lack thereof) of cloud cover 'under' the moon, through repeats of the lunar cycle, might be an indication of the effect (or lack thereof) of cosmic rays.

I guess that it's moot now, but still...

Hank Roberts said...

So as the polar ice melts, will the ammonia coming out be enough to matter? There should be pristine, ammonia-containing, asteroidal meteorites melting out all the way down. Enough to make a noticeable difference, if released really fast, over a century or two?

bluegrue said...

Via search on

- an author produced version of the paper

- Supplementary Material hosted at Caltech

Russell Seitz said...

Cheer up, Eli- NH3 is on the very short list of non-ozone depleting , low greenhouse potential gases being hailed as Green refrigerants.

Only a few drawbacks: toxic, corrosive, and explosively flammable , which is why , hearing depressing reports of cold storage explosions , and the Hindenburg, grandma bunnies consigned depression era Frigidaires to the back porch - in pre-freon days the non-explosive alternative fill was SO2, which if it leaked, could blind bunnies downwind of the kitchen in their sleep.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

I'm thinking selectively tuned phonon filtering and rejection is the way to go. Otherwise a hydrodynamic electronic fluid vapor condensation cycle setup might work as well. A solid ZT=3 will do it.

EliRabett said...

Which is kinda why they still use it for large commercial food storage lockers.

Russell Seitz said...

A toxic gas that's lighter than air and self- dispersing is generally to be preferred to one that hangs around waiting for the first responders.

Also air-NH3 mixtures have a narrow explosive flammability range.

A lot of fireman and reinsurers wish Halon were still around.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

Russell, those things are gone and the rest of them need to be gone in a real hurry because they are demonstrably bad. Real bad. And physics allows much better approaches, which unfortunately are not well known and not being funded in the way that they should by our government.

I had a friend, now dead, who was engulfed in the middle of the night by a giant cloud of ammonia from a local fertilizer factory, now gone, and never got a dime from them even though he required hospitalization.

Across the street, a giant butter and meat storage facility burned down creating a huge mushroom cloud of toxic gases and a river of molten fat that took years to clean up. So whose fault was that too

Quantum mechanics and quantum physics are your friends, Russell. It keeps you from falling to the center of the earth and beyond under the force of gravity. You should really show a little respect for that.

Nigel Franks said...

Russell: you can get custard powder to explode under the right, wrong conditions. That doesn't stop thousands if not millions of people using it regularly. We can't afford to not do anything about climate change because we're paralysed by fear and are waiting for the perfect solution.

Dano said...

/ecologist hat on

We already deposit close to 2x the amount of NHx due to yumin activities than nature does. This affects both aquatic and alpine ecosystems immensely. We don't need any more N deposition.

So, no.

/ecologist hat off



Russell Seitz said...

Nigel, would you care to hazard a guess as to the ratio of ammonia to custard powder fatalities to date ?

Russell Seitz said...

Dano has a point- Why aren't silk-clad cotton prohibitionists out marching in solidarity with the Women's ChristianTofu Temperance Union?

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

Because Dano cares about things that count, and you don't, Russell.

Russell Seitz said...

Pass the custard powder.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...


E. Swanson said...

Absorption fridges with ammonia as the working fluid are commonly used in RVs and campers, where the energy is supplied by burning propane or electricity. For HVAC, propane can be used as a substitute for FREON, even though it's flammable. There are now heat pumps which utilize CO2 as a working fluid:

Russell Seitz said...


Anything with a reasonable critical point can be used as a working fluid, but the most efficient-and safest refrigerants are products of molecular design. We still need a workaround to the problem of low hysteresis compression corresponding to molecular bonds that being vibratinally active, absorb in the thermal infrared.

Alastair said...


I share your depression but we must try to stay brave and face up to the facts.

AIUI, acid rain produced by SO2 is different from ocean acidification which is produced by CO2, and is more of a danger than people realise.

Adding CO2 to the oceans causes the carbonate compensation depth to decrease meaning that less calcium carbonate is deposited on the sea floor. Since this is the major oceanic sink for CO2 in the Atmosphere, (via silicate weathering) then it is vital that we stop pumping CO2 into the atmosphere before a tipping point is passed and the oceans cease absorbing CO2.

The other continental CO2 sink is already showing signs of having passed its tipping point:

"Indications of positive feedback in climate change due to a reduction in Northern Hemisphere biomass uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide"

“An estimate of the climate change significance of the decline in the Northern Hemisphere’s uptake of carbon dioxide in biomass”

gallopingcamel said...

Sorry to have arrived so late into this interesting discussion.

My condolences to the eminent Eli.

Please remember that a CLOUD may have a silver lining. Thank you for taking the trouble to mention the CERN experiment.

Kevin O'Neill said...

I'm waiting for Eli to highlight Day 4 at AGU – Productive Self-Doubt and Healthy Retraction in which Michael Tobis says:

"Then these guys [Pollard & Deconto] do the right thing and do a formal Bayesian tuning of model parameters to paleo-obs, and have a good claim to getting the problem first-order right for the first time. And things look pretty solid.

Which in turn strongly indicates that Hansen’s much-maligned sense of it is in fact correct – large ice sheets can collapse quite quickly. (I went with the crowd in dismissing that idea. Oops.)"

I can think of a few others that might want to toss in their "My bad." It might be fun to reread the discussion comments at ACPD and ask of a few of the Hansen doubters their thoughts on Pollard & Deconto.

BBD said...

@ Kevin O'Neill

And the existence of the Pensacola-Pole Subglacial Basin stretching from the Amundsen Sea to the South Pole itself is confirmed by PolarGAP project overflights.

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