Friday, May 13, 2011

Hungry Beast

Earlier this month, I sent a message to Dr. Fernando, a scientist who monitors pollution via satellite from space.  He has never answered, and after re-reading, I thought perhaps my questions sounded so ignorant he couldn't be bothered.  Here it is:

Tuesday, May 3, 2011 2:40 PM
From:"Wit's End"
Dear Dr. Fernando,

I am writing in reference to an article I saw, quoting your efforts to monitor tropospheric ozone. I live in New Jersey and have become extremely concerned about the effects of ozone, mainly because all our trees are dying at a rapidly accelerating rate, and I can't find any other explanation other than the composition of the atmosphere that explains the universal damage to foliage on all species of plants in all sorts of habitat.

I am not a scientist though and so although I have read everything I can find on the topic for the past two years, I still don't understand exactly how ozone is measured, since it seems to be a constantly moving, changing target. I am especially interested in the increasing levels of background ozone.

Without spending too much of your time could you briefly tell me whether there is a physical, concrete measurement or whether it is based on models in turn based on projections of emissions and weather. Or something else.

I have one other question. I have wondered whether rising emissions of acetaldehyde forming PAN's from the emission of ethanol could play a significant role in what is a relatively recent and sudden decline in the health of vegetation, and recently came across this unreferenced section in wiki:

"It is a secondary pollutant present in photochemical smog. It is thermally unstable and decomposes into peroxyethanoyl radical and nitrogen dioxide gas. It is a lachrymatory substance.
Peroxyacetyl nitrate, or PAN, is an oxidizer more stable than ozone. Hence it has capabilities of long-range transport greater than that of ozone. It serves as a carrier for oxides of nitrogen (NOx) into rural regions and causes ozone formation in the global troposphere.
The formation of PAN on a secondary scale becomes an issue when ethanol is used as an automotive fuel. Acetaldehyde emissions increase, which subsequently react in the atmosphere to form smog. Whereas ethanol policies solve domestic oil supply problems, they drastically exacerbate air quality conditions."

My question regarding this entry (presuming it is accurate) is, do current measurements of ozone take into account the additional contributions from ethanol, which according to this lasts longer and travels further?

Thank you so much for your attention.


Gail Zawacki
Oldwick, NJ

I'm still not convinced I didn't sound like a fool - however, another article I read this morning gives me fresh reason to wonder whether this could be an important issue.  It's titled, "Idling Jets Pollute More Than Thought" and although it's not exactly analogous to the measurement of ozone, it does appear that measuring levels of toxins in the air based on models which are in turn based on certain assumptions is, at least in this instance, significantly underestimating the true concentration.

Following is an extended excerpt:

"Airports can pose a far bigger threat to local air than previously recognized, thanks to the transformative power of sunlight.

In the first on-tarmac measurements of their kind, researchers have shown that oil droplets spewed by idling jet engines can turn into particles tiny enough to readily penetrate the lungs and brain.

Allen Robinson of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and his team collected the pollution spewed from a plane powered by one of the most common types of commercial jet engines as it operated at different loads. Though jet engines operating at full power produce mostly solid particles, at low engine loads — such as when a plane idles at the gate or on the runway — emissions are predominantly in the form of microscopic droplets.
The researchers piped the engine’s exhaust into a 7-cubic-meter covered Teflon bag. When the bag was full the researchers uncovered it, allowing sunlight to fire up chemical reactions that would normally occur in the open air.

Within minutes solid particles were generated by interactions between the oily microdroplets and gases. “Driving this chemistry,” Robinson notes, “was hydroxyl radical,” or OH — the oxidant that’s most effective at catalyzing the breakdown of oily hydrocarbons. “To create this hydroxyl radical, you need sunlight,” he explains.

Sunlight’s oxidation of the exhaust emitted at idling can generate 35 times more particles than the engine originally emitted and 10 times what computer models have typically predicted, the researchers report online May 5 in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. Robinson says he found these new data “unbelievable. It sort of blew our minds.”

Oh my, that does sound like it could be meaningful - TEN times what computer models have typically predicted!  Suppose the same disparity holds for hydrocarbon oxidation in sunlight from cars and coal plants?  Make of it what you will...Here is an epic saga of tenacity, perseverance, and loyalty mindless, crass greed, that I can't resist posting, since it epitomizes the craven, thoughtless culture of consumption that pervades modern society. What are these people, cannibal zombies?  Some camped overnight in the parking lot, others salivated for hours in their cars, heedlessly spewing toxic fumes from their idling engines while waiting to eat...a "double double" hamburger???  Or a 3x3 or even 4x4!  And don't please miss the "Animal Fries" smeared with "spread" (and just try to find out the ingredients for that viscid glop!)

(And by the way, those trees don't look exactly robust.)

"One woman cried real tears after she tasted her first Double Double, the iconic two-patty In-N-Out staple, and some even decked themselves in full In-N-Out Burger clothing, donning t-shirts and caps they'd ordered online."

And here is my favorite part:  Hamburgers for Jesus:

"...North Texas also seems an appropriate fit for the expanding In-N-Out presence, considering its propensity of churches and Christian residents. In-N-Out's roots are largely Christian, and the chain even refers to bible verses on its food and drink items. "John 3:16" is printed in small text on the bottom of soda cups, milkshakes point to "Proverbs 3:5," and burger wrappers bear "Revelation 3:20."

To see just how cynically "consumers" are manipulated to buy more than they could possibly need, watch this amazing analysis:

Anyway meanwhile, not to be left out of the youtube rap onslaught, certain climate activists who are nostalgic for the Beastie Boys and rather imagine they are still relevant to the current young generation are falling all over themselves in praise of this:

 I first saw it posted at Climate Progress, which allowed neither of my comments. Maybe the slogan at the top "An Insider's View..." is an oblique warning that "views" will be restricted to those that fit the prevailing view"inside" what - the Belway?  I guess mine didn't conform, so here's the first:

"I really don’t understand why the video “no pressure” sparked such faux outrage, when it was clearly satire by activists, and yet it appears so far the climate community is in support of this video by actual scientists that in my opinion makes them look silly.

I really don’t see how this is going to help influence older people, who tend to be more conservative, or younger people, who can smell pandering.

And the whole “rap” genre, by insulting people by calling them “bitches” as in, female subservient dogs, and a few other questionably racist stereotypes (is there something particularly bad about being a Lebanese reporter that I missed?) adds to the derogatory tone of the entire misguided piece.

I’m all in favor of climate scientists becoming more politically active, being as how our entire existence is threatened and all, plus, I have a bit of a potty mouth myself – but not on youtube! Must scientists go from total reticence, where they make no reference to tipping points, straight to this?

Jim Hansen, as so often and for so long, has it right. Do your science – and then march on a coal mine and get arrested, with dignity."

After that disappeared I though okay - maybe the reference to No Pressure (although another was allowed through, but without a link) was too outré...but my next attempt was rejected as well:

"What would it take for the champions of this video to reconsider its wisdom? Suppose the young scientists were investigated and under threat of discipline from university committees and criminal investigators? Their careers and credibility under threat by deniers who will seize on any pretext to attack their integrity? Their ability to continue to contribute useful research impeded?

It seems to me that as the veracity of climate science - perhaps even the entire Copenhagen treaty - has been undermined by a few private innocuous comments as in "climategate" then this attempt at humor is going to give deniers enough fodder to keep them busy for years.

As I pointed out in an earlier comment that was rejected, there are more dignified, unassailable methods scientists can and should employ to impart how seriously the public must regard the results of their research - exemplified by Jim Hansen, who never misses a chance to join peaceful demonstrators, lawsuits, and even risk arrest in the time-honored tradition of Ghandi, Martin Luther King and other great leaders of social change.

Only time will tell how much good or ill in terms of swaying opinion to reduce greenhouse emissions will result from this video. I'm not a prude. I just seriously doubt this can do much good, and wonder if it will do much harm."

That's all for now, I have to make strawberry-rhubarb mousse for the Bridezilla's shower tomorrow!  I am hoping the wisteria, which has never, ever looked looked more divine nor so completely perfumed Wit's End, will hold until tomorrow afternoon.


  1. Your wisteria photo is stunning. Perfect combination of colors. Thanks so much.

  2. This is last year's wisteria across the street. It was raining lightly and I feared a heavy downpour would knock off the blossoms. This year's crop was just as beautiful but has already fallen.


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