Brief history of the winds paper

The letter below was emailed by A. Makarieva on 31 March 2012 to about 30 recipients.

Dear Science & Environment Thinkers

We are an interdisciplinary team doing environmental science. Recently in a number of papers* we proposed, and substantiated by evidence and theoretical analysis, that condensation of water vapor in the terrestrial atmosphere is a major and previously overlooked driver of winds. This proposition has environmental implications, of which perhaps the most important is the recognition that natural forests, by means of maintaining high rates of water vapor phase transitions over land, drive coast-to-interior atmospheric moisture transport. The potential environmental, economic and social consequences of the on-going large-scale deforestation in the boreal and the equatorial zones are substantially more negative than is widely recognized.

We welcome constructive scientific skepticism. It is right and proper that our work should be examined and questioned. We undertake efforts to make our work available for critique and discussion and we respond to comments and challenges. That is how science should work: a healthy debate is essential. Knowing your interest in this process, the nature of scientific progress, and the implications of our work, we decided to share our recent experiences with you.

On April 2nd 2010, we submitted our work “Where do winds come from? A new theory of how water vapor condensation influences atmospheric pressure and dynamics” to an open access journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (Discussions). In that paper we provided an overview of the physical principles of condensation-induced atmospheric dynamics and its relevance to the meteorological theory. Though almost two years has now passed no decision has yet been taken by the Editors.

Upon submission, it took four months to assign a handling editor for our manuscript. During the next six months it proved impossible to find two referees for our work. While it is well-known that approximately half of all scientists are shy to post their reviews openly, in our case the proportion was noticeably different: among at least ten referees nominated only one accepted (it also should be noted that the reviews for ACPD, while open for the public, can be published anonymously). The first referee advised that the paper could be published upon a revision.

We then undertook efforts to assist the journal in finding the second referee. We asked colleagues and posted an appeal on a highly visible Internet resource. A leading NOAA hydrologist circulated our work among many of his colleagues. One indicated willingness to be a referee and indicated that he had objections to our work. We suggested that the Editor should invite the referee — recognizing that we would be able to reply and hopefully address the concerns raised (the journal allows authors to respond in detail and to revise the text). After this second more critical review was posted, we replied to the criticisms online (as required) and submitted a revised version of the paper. That process was completed in April 2011. Since then the manuscript has remained with the Editors. This is an extraordinary length of time for a journal that usually takes less than one month to reach a conclusion on a revised manuscript.

We have no doubts that the Journal is doing their best. Editors are unpaid, have other work to attend to, and likely find our paper difficult to deal with. We recognize these difficulties and appreciate their efforts. But what can justify such an extended delay? If our paper has fundamental errors, violating some basic laws of physics, the Editors and reviewers should have been able to recognize them, and the paper could be rejected. The paper has not been rejected implying that such basic errors have not been found. If no errors have been found, what is impeding the editorial decision on a paper that brings new ideas to a highly challenging problem?**

The discussion at the ACPD web site provides a useful overview of many of the misunderstandings we have confronted.

These include:

  • The very limited previous evaluations, either theoretical or empirical, of condensation related atmospheric pressure gradients;
  • The physical pitfalls inherent in the analytical approximations, short-cuts and assumptions commonly used by meteorologists who consider condensation;
  • The key physical differences between the two facets of condensation a) latent heat release and b) changing numbers of gas molecules;
  • Understanding why condensation influences air pressure irrespective of whether the droplets remain suspended in the air column;
  • And understanding why the available numerical models currently relied on (particularly those of hurricanes), despite many opinions to the contrary, do not shed light on condensation physics as they do not embody a coherent physical system (theoretical or otherwise) but mimic reality by tuning key parameters.

Our own view of these issues are summarized in these two comments.

Thank you very much for your attention. We are happy to provide further details if you are interested.

Yours sincerely,

Anastassia Makarieva
Victor Gorshkov
Douglas Sheil
Antonio Nobre
Larry Li

*A complete list of publications on the topic of condensation-induced atmospheric dynamics can be found here:
In the last two and a half years several papers on condensation-induced atmospheric dynamics and related issues were accepted to publication in the Proceedings of the Royal Society Series A, Physics Letters A, Theoretical and Applied Climatology and the Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Physics.

**Indeed, theory of moist atmospheric processes is a commonly recognized “hole” in climate science.

One response to “Brief history of the winds paper

  1. solvingtornadoes

    Anastasia and all,

    Here is a question you must ask yourselves and answer honestly: Can your theory explain the origins of jet stream?

    I think the notion that winds are caused by condensation (and/or precipitation) has one huge hurdle that it must clear and that, frankly, it will never clear. Specifically, if it is to ever be a theory that is both comprehensive and parsimonious it must describe the origins of all winds, including the 300 mile per hour winds that run along the top of the troposphere and that are more commonly referred to as jet streams. And I don’t think you will ever be able to achieve this.

    A much more parsimonious approach to describing the origin of winds involves describing the origins of the jet stream first and, being an imperfect conduit of kinetically energetic winds, allowing for its existence and the fact that it constantly leaks energy, to describe how the jet stream pulls the rest of the atmosphere along:

    Where Do Winds Come From?

    1) Our atmosphere is a big sponge for energy. This is the result of the friction of gases.

    2) Consequently there is a large amount of energy in our atmosphere. The molecules are moving very fast, 900 miles an hour. We generally refer to this energy as air pressure. Believe it or not this energy (air pressure) is the source of the energy that powers winds–but maybe not in the way you might first assume:

    3) The means or mechanism by which the energy in air (air pressure) is converted to wind involves aerodynamics.

    4) Aerodynamics requires a surface that can reflect energy and/or isolate a flow from the friction of gases.

    5) Due to the friction of gases, streams, like jet streams, could not exist in our atmosphere unless there was some way to isolate the stream-flow from the friction of gases. Again this involves the existence of a surface that can reflect energy into a stream flow–aerodynamics.

    6) At and along boundary layers between moist air and dry air, with the inclusion of energy (wind shear) a plasma phase of H2O emerges. This plasma provides the surface that reflects energy into a stream flow.

    (BTW: this “plasma” is plainly observable as the “thick air” that comprises the cone/vortex of tornadoes.)

    7) This plasma tends to spin around the central axis of flow producing a tubular structure (a vortex) that further isolates a stream flow (the jet streams) from the friction of gases. This isolation and the above mentioned reflection of energy into a stream flow is the reason for the high winds of the jet stream.

    8) The jet stream is located at the boundary between the stratosphere and the troposphere. The reason it is located here is because, as explained in #6 above, the plasma must have a boundary between moist air and dry air and that is what exist between the very dry stratosphere and the relatively moist troposphere.

    9) This is not a perfect system in that eventually the moisture falls out and the structure of the jet stream breaks down, this causes winds (advection) that generally track the same direction as the jet stream. So, in a sense, the jet stream, being a leaky pipe of directed, focused energy, drags the rest of the atmosphere along. And this explains why prevailing winds are prevailing.

    10) Additionally, the jet stream itself will tend to track down producing storms. Storms pull more moisture up higher (sometimes all the way up into the lower stratosphere) and this functions to re-establishes the moisture content in the upper troposphere.

    11) Sometimes these, above mentioned, down tracking jet streams will encounter a moist/dry boundary layer in the lower atmosphere. This can result in the re-invigoration of a jet stream, supplying it the resource (moist/dry boundary layer) it needs to grow. And this can, sometimes, allow it to grow all the way to the ground to produce a tornado.

    12) Mitigating tornadoes can be achieved by interrupting the smoothness, length and integrity of moist/dry boundary layers in the lower troposphere.

    It is important to note that without the H2O-based plasma that I mentioned above jet streams (and tornadoes) couldn’t possibly exist because friction of gases would prevent the conservation of energy (wind speed) that makes them possible. And since the jet streams are what powers the prevailing winds, the prevailing winds too would not exist without this H2O-based plasma. And this is all a good thing because the (usually) relatively calm weather conditions that we experience on this planet also would not exist (theoretically).

    The general misconception is that prevailing winds are produced by differential air pressure. As I explained above, although this is not completely mistaken in reality this type of flow is generally not able to overcome the sponge effect of the friction of gases.

    For more, follow this link:

    Jim McGinn
    Solving Tornadoes

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