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: http://www.bioticregulation.ru/pump/pump7.php
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.

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