Our work on thermodynamics and the Goldschmidt conference on geochemistry – well, that seems like an obvious match. But what we contribute is a little different, and the match is not quite so straightforward. What our perspective adds is (a) a focus on non-equilibrium thermodynamics and disequilibrium, and the processes that generate and dissipate this disequilibrium, and (b) a system‘s view which accounts for the environmental setting as well as the interactions and feedbacks within the Earth as an overarching thermodynamic system. Both of our contributions next week nicely illustrate these points and show how important it is to think „thermodynamics“ beyond its more narrow application to geochemical reactions.
Roberta, a PhD student from the University of Florence, presents our joint work with her advisor, Antonella Buccianti, as well as her colleagues at the Univ. of Florence on finding the answer to „Is the dissipative behavior of river chemistry and catchment weathering dynamics reflected in their frequency distributions?“ in session „9k – Critical zone processes across space and time“. This question is motivated by the frequency distributions of geochemical elements, which often either show a normal or log-normal distribution, or a power-law distribution. How is the type of the distribution related to the thermodynamics of the system, particularly whether it is a dissipative system, or a system close to equilibrium? Roberta used extensive geochemical samples from the Arno river basin in central Italy, related it to the non-equilibrium thermodynamics of river water mixing, and found some really interesting results. Her presentation takes place on Monday, 5 July 2021, 17:10 in Room 04 (online). Her work is ready for write-up, so there’ll be more on this soon, in form of a manuscript and, hopefully, another blogpost.
Axel presents an update of the joint work with Adam Frank (Univ. Rochester) and Marina Alberti (Univ. Washington) on „Thermodynamics of the planetary transitions from barren worlds to habitability and advanced technological societies“ in session „8f – Understanding the co-evolution of Earth’s interior, its surface, and its microorganisms„ (originally, it was submitted to a session on the Anthropocene, but apparently, this session got merged). This work is based on our paper Frank et al. (2017), which describes a basis to distinguish different planets regarding their processes that perform work and generate free energy, which reflects different forms of thermodynamic disequilibrium, and which results in different, dissipative dynamics, including human societies. This framework is currently extended to describe the general dynamics of such processes, the feedbacks involved, and how this links to concepts such as habitability and carrying capacity. His presentation is scheduled for Friday, 9 July 2021, 09:00 in Room 11 (online). More on this should come out sometime soon in form of a manuscript.
Denmark plans to expand offshore wind energy, and to do so, wants to create an artificial island in the North sea. This plan is based on a cost-benefit analysis, which is based on an estimate of how much electricity generation can be expected from wind turbines in that region. Such wind resource estimates use highly resolved wind fields, turbine characteristics as well as their spatial arrangement, but they typically neglect the atmospheric response to the turbines. Each turbine removes kinetic energy from the atmosphere to generate its electricity, so more turbines remove more energy from the atmosphere, leaving a greater impact behind. What this means is that such estimates typically turn out to be too high (see e.g., here), with a greater bias with greater installed capacity, as we have shown for German offshore scenarios, or in a new study just published. So when a colleague asked me about my opinion, I thought this is a good occasion to use our KEBA approach, which takes the atmospheric response into account, and redo the estimate.
Continue reading “The Danish energy island in the North sea: By how much could the atmospheric response to many wind turbines lower the expected yields? Using KEBA to derive a simple, physical answer.”
Thermodynamics rules the world, as well as the science that we present at this year’s EGU General Assembly, which is, alas, virtual rather than in Vienna. It may not be obvious, and our contributions are spread across different sessions. But in the end, we follow the solar energy as it passes through the Earth system, seeking simple, physics-based explanations to simple phenomena: precipitation scaling with temperature found in observations, the diurnal temperature range across regions and vegetation types, also in observations, limits to offshore wind energy in the North sea and what these imply for renewable energy scenarios, and how the really low efficiency of photosynthesis fits to the notion of vegetation being optimal.
Continue reading “#vEGU21 Next week we’ll present our work on precipitation scaling, diurnal temperature range, offshore wind, and limits to vegetation productivity based on our thermodynamic Earth system view”
Wind energy plays an important role in the transition to a carbon-neutral, sustainable energy system and is rapidly expanding. So it is a good time to ask how much wind energy there actually is, whether we get close to the limits anytime soon, and why the efficiency of wind energy must decline when used at larger scales. These are basic science questions: How, and why, does the atmosphere actually generate motion, how much does it generate, and how much of it can at most be used? These questions I address in a review paper just published in which I show that it does not take much physics to answer these.
Continue reading “Why does wind energy become less efficient when used at larger scales? Basic physics explains this effect, starting with a very limited ability of the atmosphere to generate wind energy from radiation, as described in my new review just published.”
From time to time I get e-mails asking me about what our work on wind energy limits implies for the German transition to sustainable energy. With the substantial expansion of wind power in Germany over the last decade, are we getting close to the limits of wind energy that the atmosphere can provide? I looked at the latest ERA-5 weather data product to get answers, and instead of just e-mailing answers, I wrote this blogpost as well to share the insights.
Continue reading “How close is German wind energy use to its limit? A quick check using climate data shows that it currently represents a few percent of the maximum, but may get quite close to its limits by 2050.”
Corona has impeded everything in 2020 including researchers’ involvement in scientific conferences. However, innovation and the internet made it possible to contribute to large and much anticipated conferences like the AGU Fall Meeting ‘20. Thus, 2 of our PhD researchers, Annu Panwar and Jonathan Minz, presented their scientific results, keeping the spirit of science communication alive, despite tough times.
Continue reading “AGU Fall Meeting 2020: A brief summary of our contributions and takeways”
Trees and plants moderate the Earth’s surface temperature. Generally, the cooling effect of vegetation is mainly attributed to the process of evapotranspiration. In our paper just published in HESS, we used observations to unravel the importance of evaporative cooling for short vegetation and forest in shaping diurnal variations in temperatures and found that, actually, it is not only evaporation that keeps the forests cool.
Continue reading “Which factors make forests cooler: Evaporation or their high aerodynamic conductance? Our paper just published in HESS suggests that it is the latter.”
Wind energy has seen a tremendous increase over the last decades, a trend that is likely to continue into the future with the transition towards a sustainable energy system. Yet, each wind turbine removes energy from the atmosphere, so the more wind turbines there are within a region, the more wind speeds should decline, making each turbine less efficient. This effect has clearly been shown by atmospheric simulation models (e.g., in our previous work), but this effect has typically not been accounted for in regional to continental wind energy resource estimates and energy scenarios for the future. The effect sounds complicated, so what should be done?
Continue reading “More wind turbines should lead to less wind and less efficient wind turbines, but how to account for this? We showed that our simple spreadsheet KEBA model is about as good as complex WRF simulations to describe this effect.”
My former postdoc, Maik Renner, just got his paper published in the Journal of Hydrometeorology, in which he evaluated the performance of common land surface models at the diurnal time scale using FluxNet observations. The evaluation was based on a simple concept that we developed in my group: that solar radiation is the main driver of the diurnal variation of variables that characterize the land-atmosphere system. This sounds trivial. Of course solar radiation is the dominant driver, so what novel insights can be gained from this view? Continue reading “Solar radiation is the main cause for diurnal variations on land. Looking at this slightly differently than how it is normally done helps to better understand observations and evaluate models of the land surface”
Photosynthesis is the process which powers life on Earth. It takes the energy contained in sunlight, uses carbon dioxide, and generates chemical energy that is stored in form of sugars and similar compounds that fuel the activity of the biosphere, including us humans. And just as any other Earth system process, in doing so it follows the laws of thermodynamics. But does thermodynamics also restrict the efficiency by which photosynthesis can use sunlight?
Continue reading “Does thermodynamics limit photosynthesis? It probably does, but not as you may think”