Conservation of Energy in Earth’s Atmosphere
There is not a more important (and poorly understood) concept in tornadogenesis than how the atmosphere stores and delivers energy to cause storms. Specifically, if the atmosphere did not have both the ability to store energy and transport that stored energy then severe weather could not and would not exist. Despite its absurdities (most notably, “cold steam“) and absence of supporting evidence, as discussed on other posts on this blog, meteorologists continue to pretend that they believe that the origins of the energy associated with severe weather comes from convection. Wanting only to conceal its shortcomings and maintain the subterfuge that keeps the grant money rolling in so that they can continue to go to conferences and give each other awards, meteorologists are very careful to sidestep the whole discussion.
Taking a cue from them, I am going to pretend that they are real scientists and, in the spirit of scientific discourse, they have presented me with a challenge: If convection is wrong then what is right? More explicitly, if my claim that the energy of storms does not come from convection then from where does it come, in my estimation? I see this issue being split up into two issues that can be addressed independently: 1) How and why is energy conserved (stored) in our atmosphere; 2) How and why is the conserved (stored) energy transported to certain locations on our planet to create storms, tornadoes, and hurricanes. In this post I will be discussing the first. The second will be presented in a post that follows this post.
For most people when they hear the concept conservation of energy their minds fog over. The phrase tends to be used in the context of thermodynamics and fluid dynamics and, otherwise, it sounds technical and sciencey. But actually it is a simple concept to comprehend. If you understand the concept of reflection you understand the concept of conservation of energy in gasses. For example, when a balloon is blown up the energy used to inflate the balloon is reflected back into the body of the balloon by the structure of the balloon. Thus, it is said to be conserved, saved. In this case the structure of the balloon completely encapsulates its contents. There are other forms of conservation of energy in gasses that don’t involve complete encapsulation. Stream flow down a tube, for instance, is a form of conservation of energy in which the energy of the flow is reflected back into the flow by the structure of the tube. Additionally, if there is a difference in pressure between the entrance and exit of the tube and the walls of the tube are smooth the air within the tube can accelerate. In the context of a large body of gas the tube can be said to isolate the contents of the tube from the friction (energy absorbency and molecular dispersion) that is otherwise associated with the flow of gasses through gasses.
As suggested above, structure is essential to conservation of energy in a gaseous body like the atmosphere. Without structure there can be no encapsulation. And only if that structure is resilient (non-absorbent) can it be reflective. Therefore, if a stream is observed in the context of a gaseous body, like the atmosphere, there must be structure and the structure must be resilient. The jet stream, therefore, could not exist if it did not have tubular walls with genuine structural integrity and resilience. In other words, a jet stream in our atmosphere could not exist if it did not have the ability to isolate its contents from the friction that all gasses experience when flowing through gasses. Likewise, high wind speeds that are observed in our atmosphere would not be possible if the walls were not smooth enough to allow the air therein to accelerate unobstructed. Therefore, tubular structures with resilient, smooth inner walls must exist in our atmosphere. This creates a quandary or mystery. Where is it? Why is it not plainly observable? Is it invisible? Is it subtle? Is it temporary? My answer is, yes, yes, and yes. It is invisible because its primary component of composition is H2O, which is clear. And it is temporary and subtle because it only comes into existence under conditions of high energy wind shear. (Also, its existence is usually obstructed by clouds—the cone of a tornado being the rare exception when structure is plainly observable.)
Being a non-Newtonian fluid (link) water’s molecules actually become stronger when they are structurally detached from other water molecules. This seems strange to us because we normally think of a substance becoming stronger when it becomes attached to other molecules. We refer to these other substances as solids. The strength of a solid becomes more apparent to us the more its molecules become inter-attached because the more its molecules become inter-attached the larger and, therefore, more apparent they are to us. In actuality these molecules don’t become stronger when their molecules become inter-attached to each other. The strength of a silica molecule, for example, does not increase when it becomes attached through covalent bonds to other silica molecules. The strength—the electromagnet force that each molecule emits—stays the same. The same is not the case with water. Water molecules do not form covalent bonds with each other. The bonds H2O molecules form with one another are hydrogen bonds. The strength of these hydrogen bonds is a function of the residual polarity of each of the water molecules that share a bond. Strangely, one quarter fraction of this polarity is neutralized with each of four potential hydrogen bonds a water molecule might share with up to four other water molecules. Consequently, the strongest bond that can exist between any two water molecules is one in which both of the water molecules share no other hydrogen bonds with any other water molecule. And the weakest hydrogen bond any two can share is when both water molecules also share hydrogen bonds with three other water molecules. This is the reason, then, that liquid water actually becomes weakest (its molecules becomes electromagnetically neutral) and most fluid when it becomes most dense. And it is strongest (its molecules become most electromagnetically active) when it is least dense. H2O molecules are, therefore, strongest—have the greatest electromagnetic force—when they are completely unattached, singular, as in steam.
And so, any activity or energy that separates water molecules from one another actually activates their strength (it activates the polarity that underlies their electromagnetic activity). There are two ways to break these bonds and, thereby, re-activate the polarity in water molecules. One way—the most obvious way—is to heat it above the boiling point of water. When this happens the force (kinetic heat, inter-molecular agitation) associated with driving the H2O molecules apart is greater than the force of the polarity that is trying to pull them back together to re-establish hydrogen bonds (and, thereby, neutralize their polarity again). And, since the force associated with pulling them apart is greater than the force associated with pulling them back together each water molecule acts as a separate entity. It, therefore, is a gas. We call this gas steam.
There is no steam in our atmosphere and even if there was it wouldn’t make any difference to the premise of this post in that being a gas steam has no surface and, therefore, is not able to make a contribution to the conservation of energy in our atmosphere. (This is true for all gasses.) As indicated above, in order to conserve energy in a flow a substance must have both a surface, the surface must have some resilience to reflect energy back into the flow, and it must have the ability to take a tubular shape that contains or isolates the flow from the friction that gasses normally experience when moving through gasses. Liquid water has a surface but it does not have the ability to take a tubular shape. Additionally, the liquid form of water has had its polarity neutralized by the formation of hydrogen bonds between adjoining H2O molecules, so it is structurally very weak and will absorb energy rather than reflect the energy back into the flow. Ice, the solid phase of water, does exist in our atmosphere. It tends for form into snow flakes or hail. Ice does have a surface and it does have high amounts of resilience (strength) to reflect energy back into a flow. But even though it is conceivable that it could be shaped into a tube the fact is that it just doesn’t take that form. And if it did there would be another problem, ice is rigid, inflexible, and fragile (or, otherwise, so thick and heavy it falls out of the air), all qualities that make it ineffective for conserving energy in a flow.
It would seem at this point that our investigation is done. We have examined water in its different phases (gas, liquid and solid) and it has failed. We, therefore, have no way of explaining the origins of structure and, therefore, no way of explaining the existence of streams that run through gasses, like jet streams, and no way of explaining the mechanism of conservation of energy in our atmosphere. Right? Well, wait a minute. There is just one thing. Above we mentioned that there are, “. . . two ways to break these bonds and, thereby, re-activate the polarity in water molecules.” But so far we have only discussed one way, heating. What is the second of the two ways to break these bonds and, thereby, re-activate the polarity in water molecules? And what other implications might we find with this second method? The second way involves centrifugal force—spinning. As miniature water droplets/clusters spin they start to elongate into chains. As they elongate hydrogen bonds are being broken, activating the polarity of the molecules in the chain—activating them electromagnetically. Specifically, the H2O molecules will go from having three and four bonds with the other H2O molecules in their droplet/cluster to having two and one in the elongated chain/cluster. (Two for each molecule in the midsection [non-ends] of each chain and one for each molecule at each end of the chain.) Immediately it is apparent that this is a different situation than was the case for gaseous phase of H2O. As mentioned above, with the gaseous phase of H2O the amount of force (kinetic heat, inter-molecular agitation) that is driving them apart is greater than that (the reactivated electromagnetic forces of its polarity) pulling them together, resulting in it being a gas that is incapable of having a surface (structural resilience) and/or conserving (reflecting) energy. But this is different. Now, with centrifugal force (spinning) the force that is pulling them together—the hydrogen bonds shared between each H2O molecule in the chain—is greater than the force that is driving them apart. This produces a substance that is similar to a gas but is not a gas. The word that best describes this type of substance is the word plasma.
If you look up the word plasma you will see that a plasma is said to involve very hot, highly charged particles (some positive and some negative) that have a source of incoming energy that drives the particles apart. The charged particles exert an internal force that is greater than the force pushing them apart. Likewise, with this newly theorized form of H2O plasma each water molecule is itself both a negative (oxygen side of the water molecule) and a positive (hydrogen side of the water molecule) and as long as the spinning is maintained their polarity will remain activated since hydrogen bonds will not have been completed—so these will be highly charged particles. (Note: although the molecules in these spinning chains are not as highly charged as the H2O molecules in steam they are highly charged compared to the relatively inert N2, O2 molecules that comprise the bulk of the atmosphere.) If we imagine billions and billions of these spinning chains of water molecules what results is a substance with some unique properties in regards to conservation of energy. Unlike a gas and like a solid, an H2O plasma has the ability to form a surface. And unlike a liquid, the surface has resilience and, therefore, will not absorb energy but will reflect it back into a flow to, thereby, conserve it. Additionally, unlike ice, the plasma form of H2O is very flexible, pliable, and is, therefore, not fragile. And it is as light as gas, so we don’t have to be concerned about it falling out of the sky.
This leaves two other requirements. Firstly, how can we envision this having a constant (or somewhat constant) source of incoming energy so that the spinning can be sustained over extended periods of time and, secondly, how can we envision this plasma taking a tubular shape so that it continues to reflect energy back into a stream flow, as is seen in jet streams? The answer to both of these questions is wind shear, specifically wind shear between bodies of air in which one body of air is dry and the other is moist. Why wind shear and why does it matter that one body of air is dry and the other is moist? Moist air is necessary as a source of the miniature droplets that can begin spinning and elongating into chains of polarity activated H2O molecules. Wind shear along a relatively smooth and long surface is necessary as a source of the energy that will, essentially, bombard the droplets with side-glancing impacts from air molecules (N2 and O2) so that the spinning can be initiated and sustained. And the other body of air must be dry because if it is not then any clusters/droplets of moisture that it contains will, firstly, have a tendency to begin spinning in the opposite direction from the clusters/droplets in the original body of air and, secondly, upon impact combine with them and, thereby, neutralize each other’s spin, cancelling out the effect. Lastly, (for reasons that are not completely clear to me) a smooth surface of wind shear will, as a result of flow dynamics (possibly the Bernoulli effect and/or corrialis effect are involved), begin to fold over and around itself, eventually producing a very stable and energetically efficient tube, that will tend to grow—partly as a result of it having a surplus of energy with which to grow—along the length of a moist/dry wind shear boundary.
The jet streams, therefore, are the entities in our atmosphere that conserve energy. All that is needed for a jet stream to come into existence is a moist/dry boundary layer and a pressure differential as the source of energy. Pressure differentials on our planet are created by differential heating by the sun. And the boundary between the bottom of the very dry stratosphere and the top of the relatively moist troposphere (which varies between 7,000 meters in height and 12,000 meters, depending on latitude and underlying atmospheric conditions) presents us with a vast moist/dry boundary that encircles out planet. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the jet stream is found here.
This explains the origins of the energy (high wind speeds) associated with severe weather. In the next post we will discuss how and why the conserved (stored) energy is transported to certain locations on our planet to create storms, tornadoes, and hurricanes.