Thursday, July 30, 2015

Quantum Mechanics and Climate: Strange Bugs In the Head

The tallbloke site has a post highlighting the introduction of quantum mechanics into the physics of atmospheric warming, by none other than Richard Feynman, who everyone rightly respects as a physicist. As it seems a popular idea now (the tallbloke post is a spin-off from the original on Hockeyschtick yesterday), here is my response:

I almost submitted a comment to the Hockeyschtick post yesterday, but decided who was I to keep others from stumbling their own way to the truth, when all I had was definitive evidence against the consensus theories and somewhat better physical insight than just about anybody with a "climate theory" (and much better than anybody, or any government, with a "climate policy"). Perhaps I was wrong to refrain as I did (but the audiences on these blogs are small, and there's the rub).

I read the referenced Feynman lecture, or the parts that were at all interesting or relevant to the climate science debates. To put it bluntly, Feynman was a poor physics instructor, overall; while his lectures were filled with golden nuggets of solid information, he wandered all over the map to get where he was going, or to get not much of anywhere at all. (I see now he was a hippie in his teaching, and his popularity probably was responsible for all those later "Physics For Poets (and other non-scientists)" courses that were offered to non-physics majors (at least in the '70s, when I taught one).

There is not the slightest evidence, in the above graph or in Feynman's lecture, that quantum mechanics is responsible, or in any way needed, for the "anomalous specific heats" (as Roger Clague calls them above -- I don't remember what words Feynman used in the lecture to describe them). Note particularly, the graph does not present the quantum mechanical prediction for the specific heats, it presents "reality" vs. the supposed "classic" ("classical"?) physics predictions. Feynman highlighted TWO "classic physics" predictions, however, for the same diatomic ideal gas -- 1.4 and 1.286. He did this by counting the number of degrees of freedom in two different ways, and applying what is known as the equipartition theorem that says each degree of freedom provides 1/2 kT in energy to the molecule. What he failed to say, or even hint at, is that you don't have to bring in quantum mechanics to do that (nor did he show that evoking the name "quantum mechanics", as he did, provided for any, much less all, of the actual points on the "reality" curves in the graph -- or as I wrote above, the graph does not present any quantum mechanical predictions). His appeal to quantum mechanics was gratuitous and fact-free, purely speculative, and I'm sure he regrets it now, as he can look down and see how you all have glommed onto it as if it were sacred writ.

Strangely, I addressed the subject, of the specific heat of the atmosphere, in my most recent blog post, "Convection Is Instability, and Does Not Rule", and it is almost like hockeyschtick ignored me (that's a joke, alright? everyone ignores me--and everybody else with different ideas--as much as they can) when I hinted at the real problem in the climate science debates: "Why is the effective specific heat of the tropospheric atmosphere so precisely just 1.5 times that of a diatomic ideal gas?" (I disagree that it is due to the accidental concentration of any "greenhouse gas", particularly either carbon dioxide or water vapor, or to convection, or "convective cooling", and I reject, for now, the very idea of a "wet" versus "dry", so-called "adiabatic lapse rate" (because, again, the difference would depend upon the amount of "wet" involved, wouldn't it, and that would vary with altitude, and thus give an unreal, non-constant lapse rate, wouldn't it?); it is the hydrostatic lapse rate, period, and the only question is why, in the formula for it (-g/c), is the specific heat c exactly 50% higher than that for a diatomic ideal gas? (Or equivalently, why is the lapse rate -6.5 K/km instead of -9.8 K/km?)

I, for one, don't believe the answer is to be found in quantum mechanics (any more than I am prepared to accept the "wet adiabatic" theory). I expect it is to be found in the proper enumeration of the degrees of freedom actually involved, in the molecules of the atmosphere, and I do not think I am making only a formal distinction with quantum mechanics--or the "wet adiabatic" crowd, for that matter--when I say that. Only time will tell.

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