Score One for Science

"Reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled." - Richard Feynman.

Climate scientists are particularly sensitive to any suggestion that their atmospheric Global Circulation Models (GCMs) can be improved. They have been hounded on every little discrepancy in their scientific work and any such suggestion would be pounced upon by contrarians eager to promote the continuation of our world wide fossil-fuel binge. Therefore, it was a triumph of academic integrity and the scientific method for the seminal paper on the Biotic Pump theory to be published in the Atmospheric Physics and Chemistry Journal of the European Geosciences Union. It took two years of reviewing and revising, but it finally got published.

As the principal authors of the paper, Dr. Anastassia Makarieva and Prof. Viktor Gorshkov, describe it, the standard atmospheric GCMs used in climate modeling fail to account for half the rainfall over the Amazon forest. This is primarily because the current models assume that forests have nothing to do with rainfall, except for providing an evaporation channel for ground moisture. In these GCM models, the total precipitation that falls on a region is determined by wind patterns, which are strictly due to temperature differentials. The presence or absence of Life has nothing to do with it. In the standard equation of eco-hydrology, P = E+R, where P is the precipitation, E is the evaporation and R is the runoff, it is assumed that when forests are cut down, the evaporation, E, declines and most of the precipitation, P, is available as runoff, R, which can then be dammed and used for human consumption. That is, the less forests there are, the better it is for fresh water availability for humans.

But if you ask any villager in India, she will tell you that when the forest is cut down, the rainfall decreases, water sources dry up and desertification begins. The total precipitation, P, tends towards zero and our grand plans to dam the runoff for human use come to naught. Therefore, something is amiss in the Global Circulation Models.

And that something is filled in by the Biotic Pump theory.

In the Biotic Pump theory, forests also act to create their own rainfall. Along with the transpiration of water, forests emit micro-organisms such as fungi that become the nuclei for raindrop formation. As raindrops form above the forest, a pressure gradient is created in the lower atmosphere which causes moist air from above the ocean to be drawn towards the forest and an atmospheric circulation ensues. Conversely, as forests are cut down, there would be more raindrop formation above the ocean than above land, which would cause moisture from land to be drawn over the ocean, leading to desertification. It is this atmospheric circulation due to Life that is completely missing in any climate model today. And this atmospheric circulation due to Life is necessary to explain the rainfall over the Amazon.

While I only got to know of the Biotic Pump theory a couple of years ago, I knew that something was amiss in climate models when a prominent climate scientist told me a while back that reforestation may be bad for the climate due to the albedo effect. According to him, further deforestation on the planet might be helpful to keep the planet cool.

Obviously, that scientist was too enamored of the models and wasn't matching them up with reality as the scientific method dictates.