Computer simulations said “Yes,” Reality said “No”

April 6, 2013

Energy is the lifeblood of civilization – the more the better. One of the great hopes for the last 50 years has been clean energy from fusion, and many very fine physicists have dedicated careers to this holy grail.  Perhaps the greatest hope for fusion has been the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

At the National Ignition Facility the plan is to compress a small bead containing hydrogen to the extreme temperature and pressure at which fusion will occur.  This compression would be accomplished with an extraordinary array of high-powered lasers that would all converge on to a tiny 2mm bead.  If all works well the enormous amount of energy to power the lasers would be more than replaced by the energy released by the fusion reaction.  The hope is to repeat this process with a new hydrogen bead 16 times a second, yielding a continuous supply of useful heat to generate electricity.

Scientist at the National Ignition Facilty expected that hydrogen ignition (the point where fusion occurs and more energy is released than invested) would occur last year.  But it didn’t.  According to ScienceNews

A lot of that confidence came from computer simulations… Each simulation consisted of more than a million lines of code filled with numbers and equations describing every push and pull that nuclei in the fuel capsule would encounter once the laser fired. All the data included in the simulations were based on well-tested theories and rigorous experiments, including measurements from hundreds of thermonuclear bomb explosions. The world’s fastest supercomputers required days or weeks to spit out the results.

Many of these simulations predicted that NIF’s 192-beam laser would comfortably achieve ignition. They showed that a short, powerful laser pulse coming from all directions would compress the pellet enough to create heat and pressure more intense than that in the sun’s core, forcing hydrogen nuclei together to form high-energy helium nuclei and neutrons.

No such luck.

Ignition was a failure.  I am not condemning the scientists at the National Ignition facility.  In this type of endeavour failure is just a stepping stone to success.  In fact, I  have great admiration for the folks working on this project and I hope funding and research continues.

Complex simulations

Here’s the thing: those millions of lines of code were modeling something that is relatively simple.  Hydrogen nucleosynthesis is well understood.   The models had to simulate just a single compression and ignition event. There were only a few variables compared to the thousands of variables for something as complex as, say, the climate of the planet Earth.

I have a lot more faith in talents and mental horsepower of the quiet anonymous physicists modeling the relatively simple fusion of hydrogen than I have in some of the self-important bumbling climate modelers working on the vastly more complex climate of the planet.

Just consider the grand poobah of climate modelers, James Hansen.  Ira Glickstein did a nice job of pulling back the curtain on Hansen’s modeling skills with this …

James Hansen’s 1988 models vs reality, From Ira Glickstein, WUWT, 3/20/2013)

The folks at the National Ignition Facility run their experiments, perhaps sometimes chastened by the results, but wiser and closer to their ultimate goal.

Hansen’s experiments are run by nature and take decades, but when he is wrong he is hardly chastened.  Hansen retired from his position at NASA a few days ago.  The Washington Post reported that Hansen said he was retiring so he could “spend full time on science.”  Does that mean he wasn’t spending his time on science at NASA?  His friend, Bill McKibben was probably closer to the mark when he said Hansen “decided to step down so he could engage in lawsuits and protests full time.”

Hansen was also predictably lauded by his friend Gavin Schmidt.  I guess McKibben and Schmidt haven’t seen the above graph.


  1. Should you not look beyond WUWT? Why not post on what climate scientists have said about Hansen 1988? Or, what Hansen himself has said about Hansen 1988?

    • Hey Don,

      I see you are at UC Davis.

      Do they still teach anything about logic there?

      If so, how can you conclude that because I referenced WUWT that I am not able to look beyond WUWT. That is a non-sequitor, is it not?

      If you would like to refute the graph in this post with some facts, well then, speak up.

  2. Your reply indicates that you would not look beyond WUWT. It does not follow, it is a non-sequitur, for you to suggest otherwise when you have not looked beyond WUWT. Why are you not interested in an objective investigation of what Hansen 1988 says? Instead, you attack me as being illogical. Nothing about my question is illogical. Climate science is science, and all science has standards, norms, and values that promote interaction and dialogue. Among those values are good faith and respect. Do your initial post or your response to me display respect or good faith? Yet more in the line of scientific values is to hue to the science and stay away from the personal comments. Have you hued to the science and stayed away from personal comments? Many have looked back on Hansen 1988, including Hansen himself. Were you interested in an honest assessment of these issues, why would you not look at the range of material?

    • Don,

      In your first comment you implied that I use WattsUpWithThat as my sole source of information because you read a single post in which I quoted WUWT. Face it, that is a non-sequitor, and there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

      In your second comment you lectured me about the courtesies of scientific discourse. This, coming after the limp insult of your first comment,. If you want courtesy, don’t open by insulting.

      Now, if you want to comment here again, bring forth some useful and/or interesting information and leave the insults and condescending lectures at home. If you have data, cough it up. You are a professor at a major university, try to act like one. If not, you will become only the second person I have ever blocked from commenting on this blog.

      Tom Moriarty

  3. Wow. That question from Don was reasonable and you totally blew up and did a personal attack.

    • TailOfTheOx,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I noticed that your IP address and Don’s IP address are nearly identical.

      Don’s: ###.###.##.148
      TailOfTheOx’s: ###.###.##.151

      Best Regards,
      Tom Moriarty

  4. Computer simulations are just garbage in, garbage out. Why? Because …

    Without gravity acting to restore the thermodynamic equilibrium which is stipulated in the Second Law of Thermodynamics (which says: “An isolated system, if not already in its state of thermodynamic equilibrium, spontaneously evolves towards it. Thermodynamic equilibrium has the greatest entropy amongst the states accessible to the system”) and thus, as a direct corollary of that Law, supporting (at the molecular level) an autonomous thermal gradient, then …

    (1) The temperature at the base of the troposphere on Uranus would be nowhere near as hot as 320K because virtually no direct Solar radiation gets down there, and there is no surface at that altitude. The planet’s radiating temperature is under 60K because it receives less than 3W/m^2.

    (2) The temperature of the Venus surface would be nowhere near as hot as 730K (even at the poles) because it receives only about 10% as much direct Solar radiation at its surface as does Earth at its surface.

    (3) Jupiter would be nowhere near as hot, even in its core, which receives extra kinetic energy which was converted by gravity from gravitational potentential energy due to the continual collapsing of this gaseous planet. This is why Jupiter emits more radiation than it receives.

    (4) The core of our Moon would be nowhere near as hot as it is thought to be, probably over 1000K.

    (5) Earth’s surface would indeed be perhaps 20 to 40 degrees colder, and the core, mantle and crust nowhere near as hot, maybe no molten material at all.

    Think about it! If you’re not sure why, it’s explained in Sections 4 to 9 and Section 15 here.

    • ClimateSanity does not endorse the theories of “Principia-Scientific.org”

  5. Note to ClimateSanity Readers: This comment is from the “Principia-Scientific.org” people, and ClimateSanity does not endorse their quasi-scientific views.

    Reality certainly says “No” because studies show that cpmparable locations have cooler daily maximum and minimum temperatures where precipitation is greater. So water vapour cools, which is the opposite of what “radiative forcing” is supposed to achieve.

    If you believe that planetary surface temperatures are all to do with radiative forcing rather than non-radiative heat transfers, then you are implicitly agreeing with IPCC authors (and Dr Roy Spencer) that a column of air in the troposphere would have been isothermal but for the assumed greenhouse effect. You are believing this because you are believing the 19th century simplification of the Second Law of Thermodynamics which said heat only transfers from hot to cold – a “law” which is indeed true for all radiation, but only strictly true in a horizontal plane for non-radiative heat transfer by conduction.

    The Second Law of Thermodynamics in its modern form explains a process in which thermodynamic equilibrium “spontaneously evolves” and that thermodynamic equilibrium will be the state of greatest accessible entropy.

    Now, thermodynamic equilibrium is not just about temperature, which is determined by the mean kinetic energy of molecules, and nothing else. Pressure, for example, does not control temperature. Thermodynamic equilibrium is a state in which total accessible energy (including potential energy) is homogeneous, because if it were not homogeneous, then work could be done and so entropy could still increase.

    When such a state of thermodynamic equilibrium evolves in a vertical plane in any solid, liquid or gas, molecules at the top of a column will have more gravitational potential energy (PE), and so they must have less kinetic energy (KE), and so a lower temperature, than molecules at the bottom of the column. This state evolves spontaneously as molecules interchange PE and KE in free flight between collisions, and then share the adjusted KE during the next collision.

    This postulate was put forward by the brilliant physicist Loschmidt in the 19th century, but has been swept under the carpet by those advocating that radiative forcing is necessary to explain the observed surface temperatures. Radiative forcing could never explain the mean temperature of the Venus surface, or that at the base of the troposphere of Uranus – or that at the surface of Earth.

    The gravitationally induced temperature gradient in every planetary troposphere is fully sufficient to explain all planetary surface temperatures. All the weak attempts to disprove it, such as a thought experiment with a wire outside a cylinder of gas, are flawed, simply because they neglect the temperature gradient in the wire itself, or other similar oversights.

    The gravity effect is a reality and the dispute is not an acceptable disagreement.

    The issue is easy to resolve with a straight forward, correct understanding of the implications of the spontaneous process described in statements of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

    Hence radiative forcing is not what causes the warming, and so carbon dioxide has nothing to do with what is just natural climate change.

  6. No the above comment does not represent general PSI views. Neither do I endorse any radiative forcing models as being the primary indicator as to what should happen with climate – be it other PSI members, or whoever.

    Nearly everyone, (including myself until a year ago) is still sucked into the line of thinking first thrust upon the world by the AGW crowd, namely that it is all to do with radiative forcing. Yes, this includes virtually all other PSI members..

    I have been thinking this through for a long time and am now firmly of the opinion that all these energy budgets are incomplete, mainly because they don’t show the missing link. On Venus and Uranus that missing link is a huge amount of energy which must flow downwards in the atmosphere. It’s quite a lot on Earth too. Over the life of these planets there has been a build up of thermal energy from the Sun which can’t escape.

    So these planets (Uranus, Venus, Earth) are not still cooling off. It’s cold out there where Uranus is because it only receives about 3W/m^2 in the very top of its atmosphere. It could easily have cooled off, but for the one thing that stops it. And that one thing is the gravitationally induced thermal gradient which forms by diffusion at the molecular level,, because molecules in free flight between collisions interchange kinetic energy and gravitational potential energy. In just two lines of calculations, you can derive the -g/Cp value by equating PE and -KE. Kinetic energy will tend towards being homogeneous during collisions, but only at each altitude. Inter-molecular radiation reduces the gradient by up to about a third, but by less than 5% on Uranus where there is just a little methane causing that.

    The Clausius (hot to cold) statement of the Second Law is not comprehensive and for conduction and diffusion it only applies in a horizontal plane. The process described in the Second Law means that thermodynamic equilibrium evolves spontaneously, and, in the process of maintaining such equilibrium there must evolve a temperature gradient. Most importantly, extra energy absorbed at higher altitudes can actually flow up this gradient because that will help restore the equilibrium.

    Doug Cotton
    Author of “Planetary Core and Surface Temperatures”
    (PROM menu at Principia Scientific International)

  7. This comment has nothing what-so-ever to do with views of most members of PSI. It is based upon my personal research extending over thousands of hours and including studies of known information about our Solar system.

    Planetary atmospheric, surface, crust, mantle and core temperatures are not determined by radiative energy budgets. In fact there is a huge effect caused by non-radiative processes. But there is no physical relationship that enables you to determine the temperature of a surface from just some information about non-radiative heat transfer. Furthermore, you can tell nothing from radiation either if significant energy is simultaneously being lost by non-radiative processes. At the very least you need information on temperature gaps at boundaries, because cooling processes are slowed as such gaps approach zero.

    The whole of the pseudo physics of greenhouse effects and assumed heating of the surface by back radiation (or “radiative forcing”) is trying to utilise the Stefan-Boltzmann equation which only relates to bodies in a vacuum losing all their energy by radiation without any conduction or evaporative cooling. A planet’s surface is not remotely like that.

    Just try explaining Venus surface temperatures with an instantaneous radiative energy budget! There is only about 10W/m^2 of direct Solar radiation reaching its surface, that is, less than a tenth of the amount received by Earth’s surface. So why is the Venus surface about 730K and how does it actually increase in temperature by about 5 degrees during the 4-month long Venus day?

    Instantaneous radiative energy budgets don’t have built in storage factors – the energy flows are balanced autonomously, but there is a lot of non-radiative heat transfer happening on Venus, and you need to understand why, or you don’t really understand what happens on Earth either.

    • The greenhouse effect is not “pseudo physics.” The alarmists have not gotten the basic, well understood priciples of radiative processes wrong. Rather, their failure is assuming that the extremely complex climate of the planet, with all its poorly understood positive and negative feedbacks, can be summarized by their relatively simple models (that is, simple compared to reality).

      As far as I can tell, you sir are the “pseudo physicist.”

      Readers pleas note: “Physics-O-Climate” (a.k.a. Doug Cotton) and “Climate_Science_Researcher” have identical IP addresses.

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