Overview: A generalization of a classical theorem of thermodynamics predicts increasingly erratic weather as the planet heats up.

"Lately, the world weather has been especially perplexing, influenced by the cold ocean temperatures of a La Niņa current in the equatorial Pacific. For Earth's land areas, 2007 was the warmest year on record. This year, record cold is more the norm. Global land-surface temperatures so far are below the 20th-century mean for the first time since 1982, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Last month in China, snowstorms stranded millions of people, while in Mumbai, officials reported the coldest day in 46 years. Yet, England basked in its fourth-warmest January since 1914, the British Met Office reported. The crocus and narcissus at the U.K.'s Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew flowered a week earlier than last year -- 11 days ahead of their average for the decade and weeks ahead of their pattern in the 1980s. In Prague, New Year's Day was the warmest since 1775.
"It is difficult to judge the significance of what we are seeing this year," said Kew researcher Sandra Bell. "Is it a glitch or is it the beginning of something more sinister and alarming?"" (Robert Lee Hotz, Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2008).

Some scientists have pondered this "perplexing" question aloud, as if they did not know the answer. Such waffling could baffle decision makers and legislators, worldwide, and make lose precious time in creating the environment we need to elaborate the new technologies necessary to stop the RUN AWAY GREENHOUSE. In truth, erratic temperatures are not mysterious at all, but a straightforward application of classical thermodynamics as a planet with icy poles and balmy tropics is being heated up. Here is why.

A basic theorem of EQUILIBRIUM thermodynamics, the EQUIPARTITION OF ENERGY THEOREM (EET), says that the same amount of energy should be present in all degrees of freedom into which energy can spill. In the case of meteorology, this says that only a fraction of the energy should go into heat, as new heat is introduced in the superficial layers of the planet (oceans, soil, and atmosphere; how much of a fraction can be computed by looking further into the details of how much energy can be stored in the various degrees of freedom). Now, of course, since increased amounts of CO2 are preventing increasing amount of infrared radiation to go back to space, the lower atmosphere is heating up as a warming blanket. Thus energy enters the lower atmosphere as heat, and is this heat which then spills into other dimensions which can store energy.

In other words, although the non equilibrium thermodynamics in which the human boosted greenhouse is forcing the planet is showing up initially as heat, as time goes by, the other two degrees of freedom, potential energy and dynamic energy are also going up. Potential energy shows up as gradients of pressure, but also by segregating large masses of air with different characteristics, such as temperature and density (such segregation can be converted dynamically by making a Carnot engine). Dynamical energy shows up as wind and vast movements of air masses of varying temperatures and/or pressure, i. e. big moves of big things. Thus heat will be transformed in all sorts of weather weirdness: heat, cold, high and low pressures, wind, erratic precipitations, etc. basically it cost energy to separate air masses, so energy will be stored by separating air masses (for example making some drier, and others, wetter).

As cold and warm air masses get thrown about, by the EET transformation of heat energy into dynamical energy, the variability of temperatures will augment all over. Thus record snow and cold in the Alps and record warmth simultaneously to the immediate west and east, is a manifestation of the equipartition of energy theorem applied to the greenhouse warming we are experiencing. It is not mysterious at all, and brutal variations such as these, including sudden cold episodes, are to be expected, as more and more energy gets stuffed in the planetary climate, and yanks it away from its previous equilibrium. This is just a transitional stage though (see P/S).

Wind speed augmentation have already have a spectacular effect: by shaking the waters of the Austral ocean with increasingly violent waves, carbon dioxide is being removed as if out of a shaken carbonated drink. Thus the Austral ocean is now a net emitter of CO2. This is a serious new problem, since the oceans have absorbed so far half of the anthropogenic CO2. Climate change predictions have not anticipated that the oceans could become sources of CO2, a non linear effect that is inescapable once heating passes some threshold, as we are finding out.

Thus, indeed, the observed variations are the beginning of something more sinister and alarming. Climate change is changing speed. Up.

P/S 1: Once upon a time, the Arctic ocean was tropical (complete with crocodiles). For example, fifty-five million years ago, the CO2 levels were very high, and a methane hydrate burp augmented temperatures still further. If we do not invent and implement new technologies very soon, or if we do not get some relief from a particularly nasty thermonuclear war, this is our future. In such a world, the gradient of temperature between poles and tropics will have diminished so much, that the engine of climate as we know it will shut down. Indeed, the present world climate is a Carnot engine, but, without a hot source and a cold sink, such an engine will not operate anymore than a ball will start rolling on flat ground by itself; oceanic currents driven by the thermal gradient, such as the Gulf Stream (the world's main current), will disappear. The violent climate lurching we are starting to experience is part of the transition from the an equilibrium of climate the planet has known for 3 million years, and to the sort of equilibrium of climate there was 55 million years ago (or during the age of dinosaurs (when dinosaurs enjoyed the long nights of Alaskan winters), or during the notoriously warm Carboniferous era). This would not be the end of the world, but sea levels will end up 75 meters higher.

P/S 2: In classical statistical mechanics, the equipartition theorem is a general formula that relates the temperature of a system with its average energies. The equipartition theorem is also known as the law of equipartition, equipartition of energy, or simply equipartition. The original idea of equipartition was that, in thermal equilibrium, energy is shared equally among its various forms; for example, the average kinetic energy in the translational motion of a molecule should equal the average kinetic energy in its rotational motion.

P/S 3: The original proof of the classic EET used the concept of "ideal gas" in which molecules bounce of each other elastically. In the proof of the EET as we have it here, the "molecules" are air masses. They collide, but certainly not elastically; they interpenetrate, they slip below each other, make thunderstorms, etc... Thus the efficiency of the energy spillage from heat into other degrees of freedom is diminished, and one cannot expect full equipartition to ensue. But this does not change the gist of the argument above: a lot of the increased heating will show up in other forms of climate change, because of the EET.

Patrice Ayme