Category Archives: case summaries

Why so many?

This post is about our work “The key physical parameters governing frictional dissipation in a precipitating atmosphere” (Makarieva, Gorshkov, Nefiodov, Sheil, Nobre, Bunyard, Li). This paper was submitted to the Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences on August 18, 2012. The topic of this paper relates directly to what is currently discussed in the mainstream meteorology. We outlined this in the accompanying cover letter:

The general topic has generated recent interest and will interest your readers. In this paper we clarify and solve a number of challenges in estimating the power density of frictional dissipation associated with precipitation. In doing this we have identified and addressed a number of errors and discrepancies in some other recent publications on this topic. This notably includes one in this journal Pauluis, et al. 2000: J. Atmos. Sci., 57, 989-994. (Please note that we have written to two authors to potentially initiate a discussion, Dr. Pauluis and
Dr. Dias, initially concerning discrepancies in their recent paper in Science, but we have not heard a reply to date and we do not feel we should wait).

We had not heard from the Editors until December 19, 2012, when in response to our second query about the paper’s status the Journal responded to the corresponding author (the emphasis is ours):

Dear Dr. Sheil,
We had a hard time finding a 2nd reviewer for this paper.  Over 20 invites went out but finally we found one.  The 2nd review is not due until the first week of January.  Assuming all goes as it should, you should receive an initial decision shortly into the new year.

Best regards,
Ed Asst, JAS

I would not discuss this in public had it not been for the fact that our recent meteorological paper had been under peer-review for over two and a half years. There too the Journal had enormous difficulties in finding the reviewers. (Actually the authors had to do that themselves.) What are the implications of this situation?

UPDATE 18-January-2013

CORRECTIONS AND CLARIFICATIONS, Science, vol. 339, p. 271:

Reports: “Satellite estimates of precipitation-induced dissipation in the atmosphere,” by O. Pauluis and J. Dias (24 February 2012, p. 953). The authors inadvertently used a “rectangular” method for the integration rather a “trapezoidal” method. This led to an overestimation of the integral and the dissipation rate by about 20%. In the published paper, the dissipation rate is said to be about 1.8 W/m2. The new calculations yield 1.5 W/m2. The corrected Figs. 1 and 3 are shown here (right). The authors thank A. Makarieva, V. Gorshkov, A. Nefiodov, D. Sheil, A. Nobre, P. Bunyard, and B.-L. Li for bringing this problem to their attention.

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.

Text that was not included in our reply 2 to Dr. Isaac Held

by Anastassia Makarieva

See context here.

On pp.~C14691-C14692 of the review several suggestions are provided on how we could write a paper that would be easier to read (and review). This advice joins the many constructive recommendations that we have received while trying to communicate our ideas and findings to the meteorological community. While convinced that the text they comment upon should be rejected, some have been kind enough to suggest ingredients required for success somewhere in the future. Some believe that we should present simple thought experiments and focus on basic physical concepts. Others, including Dr.~Held, expect that our message could rather be clarified with use of explicit simulation models. Some critics discourage our use of the continuity equation as a source of information on pressure gradients. One private comment was that we might highlight our ideas as a comment on an existing related paper in the literature. Others, on the other hand, suggested that if the authors have a theory of their own they should present that rather than a critique of other people’s work.

We have appreciated all these comments and can claim some progress and efforts with almost every suggestion: we worked on a unified theory of hurricanes and tornadoes, criticized others, clarified the broader environmental implications of our findings (here is a list of our publications on the topic). However, all these recent developments occurred either in physics, environmental or ecological journals. Our success with the meteorological literature is very limited. Why is that? We have some ideas that we offer here as we hope to clarify some challenges arising in the review process.

The common practice in the meteorological literature is that the authors have to satisfy the expectations of all referees. Indeed, one editor of a high-profile journal explicitly admitted that papers are published if only all referees are in agreement. But when the authors’ findings are unexpected and, using Dr.~Held’s words, extraordinary, it is not straightforward to decide how such findings could be shaped, if at all, to meet the publicability standards. There are not many grounds either to expect that an account of paradigm-challenging findings would constitute an easy reading. In such a case the reviewers’ recommendations while expectedly diverse are likely to agree at one point: the authors should present something different to what they are presenting. The practical outcome of this process is that publication of such findings becomes impossible. In his review Dr.~Held provides evidence of this. He explains (p.~C14688) that a study that goes against the standard perspective or aims to overturn the conventional wisdom has to pass a high bar.

GRL submission

by Anastassia Makarieva

A quick overview of the case (relevant documents are below). The authors (Makarieva, Gorshkov, Sheil, Li) submit a manuscript to the Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) where they show that precipitation mass sink in the equatorial region produces sufficiently large pressure gradients to drive Hadley cell. The Editor writes in the first decision letter that the manuscript can be publishable provided the authors respond to the concerns of the second referee. The first referee is strongly positive and finds the paper important. The second referee writes 138 words:

This paper is interesting but somewhat confused. Without dwelling on the details of calculating the effect of precipitation on surface pressure, the attempt to relate such changes to large scale motion systems seems to ignore the fact that they are referring to balanced flows. Thus, pressure gradients per se do not drive the Hadley circulation. Rather, the momentum balance leads to circulations that maintain pressure gradients consistent with geostrophy. The actual way the pressure gradients are produced is essentially irrelevant though it would be potentially interesting if the mechanism involved precipitation. The fact that Held and Hou do not provide a quantitatively realistic description of the Hadley circulation is almost certainly due to the omission of eddies (Robinson, 2006, JAS, Walker and Schneider, 2004, GRL, 2006, JAS) and the assumption of equinoxial conditions (Lindzen and Hou, 1988, JAS).

The Editor points out that it is very important to attend to these comments and emphasizes that how pressure gradients are produced is irrelevant for the Hadley cell. They warn the authors that their response and the revised manuscript will be shown to referee No. 2 as well as to a third referee, if needed.

The authors are encouraged by the fact that one referee is excitied, another one finds the paper interesting. They draft a detailed reply, where they clarify that without a pressure gradient the Hadley cell would stall and that while the conventional paradigm considers differential heating as the cause of this gradient, they offer a new driver (precipitation mass sink).

The authors submit the revised version of the manuscript. Continue reading