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Despite having little impact on global mean temperatures, waste heat may alter weather significantly

A diverse team of researchers from Scripps Institution of OceanographyUniversity of California, San Diego (UCSD); Florida State University (FSU); and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) have teamed up to examine the long term effects of waste heat on local surroundings.

I. Waste Heat Shifts Temperature Balance

Urban heat originates from a variety of sources -- buildings with central heating, power plants, cars, and more.  Human machines dump waste heat into the environment on a large scale locally.  But globally waste heat is only estimated to account for around 0.3 percent of the total heat transported across higher latitudes by atmospheric or oceanic circulation, bumping temperatures by a mere 0.01 degrees C (about 0.02 degrees F).

The "urban heat island" effect -- local warming from waste heat -- is well known.  But the research team suspected that waste heat might have longer-range effects too, effects that might be masked by the global trend.  They dug into the issue and developed models that suggest that waste may indeed have longer-range impact, in addition to the urban heat island effect.

The new, more detailed smaller-scale models show that waste heat from cities may heat up northern regions of North America and Asia by as much as 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in the winter.  The heating effects can be felt up to 1,000 miles away from their source, the simulations showed.  At the same time, the North American/Asian heating is coupled with a 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) cooling effect in Europe, which is forcing cooler winters.

Waste Heat
Waste heat is warming North America and Asia's north, while cooling the European north.
[Image Source: Ecofriend]

NCAR researcher Aixie Hu comments, "The burning of fossil fuel not only emits greenhouse gases but also directly affects temperatures because of heat that escapes from sources like buildings and cars.  Although much of this waste heat is concentrated in large cities, it can change atmospheric patterns in a way that raises or lowers temperatures across considerable distances."

II. What Can be Done?

Humans by and large produce much less waste heat than nature (respiration itself, the process by which living organisms harvest energetic chemicals to drive the processes of life, puts off a fair deal of waste heat).  But many human cities happen to be located directly under jet stream troughs, which causes the localized impact to be amplified.

Globally in 2006 energy consumption globally was estimated to have occurred at an average of 16 terawatts (TW).  The 86 largest metropolitan areas in the Northern Hemisphere are estimated to have consumed 6.7 TW of that total.

Urban heat map
U.S. urban centers often sit under jet stream troughs. [Image Source: Blue Moon/Panoramio]

The study is arguably less about prevention, and more about understanding and coping with mankind's localized impact on weather/climate.  After all, you can't reasonably ask people to turn off the heat in the winter or stop driving (even EVs put off waste heat).

But perhaps future urban expansion can be guided by models that place new construction in areas that suck less of the waste heat into the jet stream or alternatively suck up more in regions that are currently being cooled.

Additionally materials may be able to recapture some waste heat, decreasing the global output, while at the same time lowering costs. (But such materials are still in their very nascent stages.)

The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change.

Sources: UCAR [press release], Nature Climate Change [abstract]



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I suggested this
By Ammohunt on 1/28/2013 1:40:06 PM , Rating: -1
Very thing years back; think of all the waste heat generated from internal combustion engines millions of little heaters efficiently transferring heat into the atmosphere via radiators,billions of light bulbs,Cooling towers at power plants etc.. can't tell me it doesn't have some affect.




RE: I suggested this
By ebakke on 1/28/2013 1:55:35 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
can't tell me it doesn't have some affect.
Can, and will.

Though, it probably has some kind of effect.


RE: I suggested this
By maugrimtr on 1/29/2013 8:39:46 AM , Rating: 2
It does have an effect but it's actually very minor when you look at global trends, i.e. it has negligible impact on the global temperature average since its primary influence is to change the distribution of heat across regions. Wind turbines do something similar - they may lead to warm air being recycled downwards leading to higher temps at the ground level. Again, this is a localized effect - negligible overall but it can increase the accuracy of climate modelling where regional effects need to be predicted or agreed to what's actually observed (e.g. Arctic temps are rising far faster than predicted - these regional influences might explain why).


RE: I suggested this
By gamerk2 on 1/28/2013 2:21:26 PM , Rating: 2
To be fair, what the article is stating has been "suspected", but with very little proof. No one is really quite sure how localally sustained temperature variations affects the jet streams, and the greater impact those changes has on the climate. It takes a LOT of processing power to get an answer, and when one thousandth of a decimal point can lead weather systems to take a totally different course (see: Hurricane Prediction), its very hard to come to any real conclusions without significant amounts of time studying the problem.


RE: I suggested this
By Ammohunt on 1/28/2013 4:15:45 PM , Rating: 1
Sure but i would sooner believe this type of warming affecting localized weather patterns (rather than climate) mostly likely being more pronounced during solar maxims like we are experiencing now. All i am saying is this is an interesting study with something that can be studied locally compared to global climate change which amounts to speculation. Might help partly explain the heat domes over the midwest we experienced last summer.


RE: I suggested this
By JediJeb on 1/28/2013 8:17:00 PM , Rating: 2
If you compare the number of large cities in the northern hemisphere to the number in the southern hemisphere, there are a lot more in the north. Also don't the warming trends tend to be showing more warming in the north than in the south? Would that not suggest that possibly urban warming is influencing global warming or the appearance of global warming?


RE: I suggested this
By DrizztVD on 1/28/2013 2:47:54 PM , Rating: 2
The problem with climate change and in particular global warming up to this point, is not that humans have some effect on the environment but rather how large that effect is. While there are many engines releasing heat into the atmosphere, this is not even a drop in the ocean compared to the amount of heat the sun dumps on earth every day.

This is why you will find that the researchers propose a type of 'heat exchange' effect, where a miniscule influence on one part of the thermal system propagates to global climate shifts. This reminds of the theory that says the flap of a butterfly's wings can influence the weather on the other side of the planet. You can make such a statement and even give evidence to support it, but it really is of no practical use because there are just too many small influences to keep track of.

I really think that the challenge for the next generation will be to get everyone off fossil fuel dependance. Other than that worrying about global climate shifts (or catastrophes) really won't help if we don't actually have any means to prevent it even if we knew it was coming.


RE: I suggested this
By Mint on 1/28/2013 4:05:24 PM , Rating: 1
Relatively speaking, I think the estimates of how much warming is happening is pretty decent. Even a factor of 2 is good enough.

The real problem with AGW is quantifying how much damage it causes, and whether it's worth addressing. Using the IPCC's own warming numbers, the ~$0.05/kWh premium paid for wind via feed-in-tariffs around the world is equivalent paying about $1 trillion to prevent 0.01 deg of warming. I'm pretty sure we could solve world hunger for the cost of preventing 0.1 deg of warming. It's downright immoral to do the latter while claiming that we can't afford the former.

The development of India, China, and hopefully Africa to the point where they emit even half the CO2 per capita that we do means that even if the IPCC is right, warming is going to happen, period.

Adaptation is a much more sensible option than prevention.


RE: I suggested this
By tng on 1/29/2013 9:55:13 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
The problem with climate change and in particular global warming up to this point, is not that humans have some effect on the environment but rather how large that effect is.
Exactly
quote:
...this is not even a drop in the ocean compared to the amount of heat the sun dumps on earth every day.

So true, yet there are scientists out there that have made connections between global warming and solar cycles and have been called nutcases or worse by the IPCC, simply because it may not fit what with the IPCC says.

I think that GW is real, but I am convinced that the IPCC is a bid for more money and control.


RE: I suggested this
By Mint on 1/28/2013 3:24:25 PM , Rating: 2
Suggestion is meaningless without quantification and perspective.

There's a difference between 0.0001 degrees and 10 degrees.


RE: I suggested this
By Ammohunt on 1/28/2013 5:14:17 PM , Rating: 1
Right there was no value meant to be implied by the "I suggested this" part of the comment poor wording or a hastily posted comment. Just a topic that i am interested in and have discussed previously with others.


RE: I suggested this
By Reclaimer77 on 1/28/13, Rating: -1
RE: I suggested this
By Ammohunt on 1/28/2013 4:03:14 PM , Rating: 1
Its the net effect that scales exponentially (i know big word Google it) with population growth. The focus has been on Greenhouse gases(which has limited heat trapping potential) only and not direct heat injection into the atmosphere. Its common knowledge that temperatures in cities are typically higher that surrounding areas due to the fact listed above.

So to sooth your limited intellect and understanding of the world no one is saying this is bringing on the end of the world man created climate change garbage most environmentalists cling to but just a note that what i and others evidentially surmised that these affects can contribute to localized warming. Next time try and stay out of conversations associated with ideas that you can't seem to comprehend.



RE: I suggested this
By Reclaimer77 on 1/28/13, Rating: -1
RE: I suggested this
By Reclaimer77 on 1/28/13, Rating: -1
RE: I suggested this
By Etsp on 1/28/2013 4:22:49 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
Please stop trying to be an intellectual, you're not very good at it. News flash, but extremely smart people don't need to be condescending to back it up.


RE: I suggested this
By Reclaimer77 on 1/28/13, Rating: -1
RE: I suggested this
By ebakke on 1/28/2013 4:43:13 PM , Rating: 2
Well, you were being condescending. (I'm not saying he didn't deserve it. And I'm most certainly not saying I didn't find it amusing.)


RE: I suggested this
By Reclaimer77 on 1/28/2013 4:47:42 PM , Rating: 2
lol understood :)


RE: I suggested this
By Ammohunt on 1/28/2013 4:38:10 PM , Rating: 1
Never said who i suggested it to now did i? Doesn't really matter does it? but you bite on all the unimportant details because you are the lonely angry, anonymous, pretend conservative poster cliché who exists only to take away and not add you are pathetic.

quote:
If you look at this objectively, you will realize you aren't saying anything here of merit. None.


So your are saying i posted one thing that equals 99% of your posts here? ok you got me.

quote:
So you surmised that pumping heat into the air can contribute to localized warming? Amazing!! Can I ask how you figured this out? Is there a scientific journal somewhere where you published these findings?


Scientists say it! so it must be so! Go tell it on the mountain! Non-scientist cannot hypothesize or discuss topics that affect them directly Hell no! there is science or religion nothing else!

Think Mcfly!


RE: I suggested this
By ebakke on 1/28/2013 4:40:24 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
Scientists say it! so it must be so! Go tell it on the mountain! Non-scientist cannot hypothesize or discuss topics that affect them directly Hell no! there is science or religion nothing else!

Think Mcfly!
Can someone who understood Ammo's ramblings here, translate for the rest of us? Did he not pick up on Reclaimer's sarcasm? Was he trying to make some poorly-delivered joke? When did religion enter this cat fight?

I don't get it.


RE: I suggested this
By Reclaimer77 on 1/28/13, Rating: -1
RE: I suggested this
By Ammohunt on 1/28/2013 4:54:16 PM , Rating: 2
Don't post here often do you? there was sarcasm?


RE: I suggested this
By ebakke on 1/28/2013 5:18:09 PM , Rating: 2
There was sarcasm? I should be asking that question.

Don't get all huffy about this - but is English your first language?


RE: I suggested this
By Ammohunt on 1/28/2013 5:30:13 PM , Rating: 2
Not huffy at all; sarcasm i can appreciate go die moron i don't. All i see is epeen waving and posturing but i digress. On this site the fall back when someone doesn't have an original thought(even if it considered wrong) is to fall back to what the "Scientists" dictate rather then debate a point..the deference to authority argument or i breaks down into religion vs the universe.


RE: I suggested this
By Paj on 1/29/2013 8:09:58 AM , Rating: 2
Splitting hairs here, but if you want to improve your debating performances, I suggest thinking before you type, re-reading before you hit post, then developing some skills in punctuation. Then sentences like this could actually impart some meaning:

quote:
Not huffy at all; sarcasm i can appreciate go die moron i don't


Are you saying you don't die, or you don't appreciate sarcasm (which seems to be a direct refutation of your second point)? Neither makes sense.


RE: I suggested this
By Ammohunt on 1/28/2013 5:09:59 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Oh yes you are so smart. Love the opening, "I suggested this". Man Ammo, if only we had all listened to you years ago!


After looking at this again i can see how "I suggested this" was interpreted in an unintended way like i had some kind of secret knowledge which i don't. "I have discussed this with others" would have been more appropriate.

Never the less if you were interested in debate you would have responded a little differently. Fact is the content of your original response with out the anonymity of the internet draws a beat down pretty much anywhere. Civil discourse look it up.


RE: I suggested this
By Paj on 1/29/2013 8:04:54 AM , Rating: 1
quote:
News flash, but extremely smart people don't need to be condescending to back it up.


Guess that classifies you pretty accurately then


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