WHO IS SMARTER? SCIENTISTS OR POLAR BEARS?

(A blogger named “lectrikdog ” suggested this fragment of an earlier post should be a post all on its own, so I decided to take the advice.)

The thing that bothers me about typhoons is the same thing that bothers me about summer thunderstorms. It seems obvious to common sense that they uplift warmth and lose it to outer space, but common sense is, I have been told, wrong. By the time air is uplifted to the top of a powerful typhoon it has been chilled to -70°C, and air that cold has no heat left in it to lose. They can measure it with satellites, and the satellites show cloud tops at -70° are not radiating heat like a cloudless desert baked to +110°.  It makes sense to me. Obviously a cold stove does not radiate heat like a stove that is cherry red.

However my common sense simply doesn’t give a -bleep-. It knows a thunderstorm cools a summer day, and that is that. I don’t care if satellites can’t see any heat escaping. It is gone. (We have been going through a late summer heat wave here in New Hampshire, and a passing storm brought us wonderfully refreshing breezes today, even though the storm didn’t hit us.)

In like manner, my common sense knows typhoons cool the planet. Maybe I can’t explain why, but some things you just know. A small child might not understand electricity, but after sticking a fork into an outlet one time, the child has enough common sense to not repeat the experiment.

This morning I pointed out polar bears don’t care if scientists state there is no food out beyond the continental shelf, they go out there and get fat. Polar Bear healy-aug-24-2015-polar-bear-v-tim-kenna(Photo Credit: Tim Kenna)

In a way bears are smarter than scientists. And in a way I was nearly as smart as a bear, at age ten.

A half century ago my gang was faced with crossing thin ice, and many doubted the ice would support our weight. I was a ten-year-old leader, oldest and wisest. Somewhere I had learned ice can support more weight if you spread your weight out, so I lay down and slithered across the ice spreadeagled on my belly.  Flush with success, I turned, raised an index finger, and grandly pronounced, “This ice is safe!” I also was so filled with confidence that I stood up, and promptly plunged down waist-deep into ice-water, to the joy of the rest of the gang, who didn’t always approve of the egotism involved in my leadership.

Polar Bears may be worse egotists, for all I know, but they do not raise index fingers and make ridiculous pronouncements, most likely because they don’t have index fingers and can’t talk to the verbose degree we can. Scientists, on the other hand, do have index fingers, and make a lot of scientific pronouncements, and can be verbose.

After making careful measurements of the load-bearing ability of ice, and the weight of a polar bear’s massive paws, and consulting engineers who know far more about such stuff than they do, they pronounce ice cannot hold up a bear. (They are much like my gang once was.) The bear doesn’t care. Even though they often swim ice water that would freeze a man in 300 seconds, and have been known to cross hundreds of miles of open water, they apparently don’t always like to get wet, if they don’t have to. So, when they get to thin ice they do exactly what I did at age ten:

A polar bear slides across thin Actic Ocean ice Aug. 21, 2009.

(Photo Credit: Patrick Kelly)

In short, some scientists need to get out more. They have no actual experience of the outdoors. They spend far too much time glued to computer screens, and despite the exactitude of their measurements, Polar Bears are smarter than they are.

(A hat-tip to http://polarbearscience.com/ , which is a wonderful (and perhaps the best) source of information about bears, and to http://iceagenow.info/ ,  which often includes tales of arctic wildlife unnaturally far south, among headlines and links to stories of arctic weather the mainstream media seems inclined to shun.) (The view of the fat bear taken by Tim Kenna was from the Coast Guard icebreaker Healy, now approaching the Pole. Learn more here: http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2015/08/24/moving-into-the-realm-of-the-polar-bear/  and here: http://polarbearscience.com/2015/08/25/arctic-basin-polar-bears-researchers-spot-fat-pregnant-female-from-icebreaker/#more-68092

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3 thoughts on “WHO IS SMARTER? SCIENTISTS OR POLAR BEARS?

  1. Caleb, your common sense does not fail you. Typhoons, as well as all low pressure systems, definitely move warmer air to the upper troposphere, on its way to being radiated into space. Possibly you got some misleading satellite data, or the heat energy was so dispersed near the tropopause that it was not identifiable. The very fact that the rising air is cooled indicates the heat was convected away at upper levels. Remember, upper levels of the atmosphere are constantly radiating to space, REGARDLESS of their temperature.

    You didn’t fall through the ice on this one!

  2. While the cloud tops may be at -70°C, that’s well above the altitude at which most infrared radiation is emitted. The “zeroth-order” relation equating Stefan-Boltzmann IR flux to average insolation, yields a temperature of 255 K (if I recall correctly), far warmer than -70°C = 203 K. So I don’t see the -70°C figure as proving that heat is not radiated away. Clearly heat is being moved from the surface, but from an energy balance perspective it makes a big difference if the energy is redistributed within the atmosphere, or radiated into space. Likely both occur, but in what proportion?

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