Fox Faux Physics Fail. “Global Warming is not happening, and Wind Turbines are Causing it”.
May 2, 2012
Since posting my recent fortuitously timed video on wind power, I’ve been hearing the latest nonsense meme making the rounds of the usual BS vectors. “Global Warming is a Hoax, and Wind turbines are Causing it”.
The frenzy started after Liming Zhou, a scientist at the University of Albany, published a short studyin Nature Climate Change. Zhou’s team analyzed satellite data for a handful of large wind farms in west-central Texas. And he found that, between 2003 and 2011, the surface temperature in the immediate vicinity of Texas’ wind farms had heated up a fair bit, especially during the night hours, as the wind turbines pulled warmer air from the atmosphere down closer to the ground.
So, perfect fodder for the denial-o-sphere, big, bold, dumb, and wrong.
Conservative media outlets, including Fox Nation, Rush Limbaugh and Jim Hoft, are distorting the research to claim that wind farms “cause global warming” and Fox News’ morning show concluded “wind ain’t working.”
The long term solution is for journalists to be required to have taken physics 101. Failing that, we can always read what the actual scientists who performed the study tell us – that the effect is basically a local phenomenon, due to the mixing of higher, warmer air with lower, cooler air.
This warming effect is most likely caused by the turbulence in turbine wakes acting like fans to pull down warmer near surface air from higher altitudes at night. Typically nighttime has a stable atmosphere with a warm layer overlying a cool layer. Enhanced vertical mixing mixes warm air down and cold air up, leading to a warming near the surface at night. Daytime often has an unstable atmosphere with cool air lying over warmer air. Turbulent wakes mix cool air down and warm air up, producing a cooling near the surface during the day. However, daytime mixing is already very large due to solar heating. Hence, the turbine-enhanced turbulent mixing may play a smaller role during the daytime.
Overall, the warming effect reported in this study is local and is small compared to the strong background year-to-year land surface temperature changes. Very likely, the wind turbines do not create a net warming of the air and instead only redistribute the air’s heat near the surface (the turbine itself does not generate any heat), which is fundamentally different from the large-scale warming effect caused by increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases due to the burning of fossil fuels.
In other words, wind turbines may act just like the big fans that some farmers use to keep frost from forming on grapes or oranges.
The study authors again:
We need to realize that the build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels will have global impacts, while the warming effect reported in this study is local and is small. Generating wind power creates no emissions, uses no water, and is likely green. Wind power is going to be a part of the solution to the climate change, air pollution and energy security problem. Understanding the impacts of wind farms is critical for developing efficient adaptation and management strategies to ensure long-term sustainability of wind power.
The Post went on to interview Mark Jacobson, subject of my yet again fortuitously-timed interview posted monday, of Dr. Jacobson speaking at last year’s AGU conference.
To get a sense for what scientists know about this topic, I called Mark Jacobson, an environmental engineer at Stanford who has done a fair bit of modeling work in this area. The key thing to note is that, for now, humanity doesn’t use anywhere near enough wind power to make a big difference to global wind patterns. Jacobson’s earlier research suggested that there’s somewhere around 72 terawatts of wind power that could feasibly be harnessed worldwide. At the end of 2011, the world’s wind power generation capacity was still just 0.2 terawatts. (Human beings use about 16 terawatts of energy, all told.)
Mark Twain’s maxim about truth and lies still holds – so bookmark this page. We’ll be hearing about this for the foreseeable future from physics impaired deniers and wind baggers.