The Atlantic Overturning Current Is Slowing


The Atlantic Overturning Current Is Slowing

The Atlantic Overturning Current is part of a worldwide twisted loop of ocean water, called the thermohaline cycle (thermo = heat, haline = salt), which emerges very salty and warm out of the Gulf of Mexico, travels north as a surface current along the east coast of North America, veers east in the North Atlantic toward Europe, then loops back west to a region just south of Greenland where it cools and sinks to the ocean floor – because it has become denser than the surrounding and less salty North Atlantic waters (colder water is denser than warmer water, and saltier water is denser than fresher water of equal temperature). The dense highly salted descending water then runs as a cold deep ocean current south along the east coast of South America, and continues in a complicated path along the ocean floor into the Pacific Ocean, where it warms and eventually rises to become a surface current of more buoyant less salty water. This current distributes solar heat collected by ocean waters in tropical latitudes to higher latitudes (closer to the poles).

In 2004, Peter Schwartz and Douglas Randall described the thermohaline cycle this way: “In this thousand-year cycle, water from the surface in tropical areas becomes more saline through evaporation. When it circulates to the poles and becomes cold (“thermo”), the greater density still present from higher salt (“haline”) concentration causes the water to sink to great depths. As with most large-scale geological processes, the thermohaline cycle is not thoroughly understood. Wallace Broecker has been studying the cycle for decades and, according to the December 1996 issue of Discover magazine, he has shown that the thermohaline cycle has not always been in operation, and that it has a strong effect on global climate.”

In 2003-2004, the US Department of Defense commissioned a secret study of what might be the worst possible effects of Global Warming triggering an “abrupt climate change” in the near future, in order to estimate the potential liabilities that military planning would have to consider (to maintain US security, and global power). This study was conducted during the climate-change-denying George W. Bush Administration. When the existence of the resulting report, produced by independent researchers Peter Schwartz and Douglas Randall, became publicly known there was such a public outcry (bad PR for the DOD) that the report was declassified and made publicly available.

The Schwartz-Randall report pointed to the abrupt onset of a significantly colder, dryer climate in the Northern Hemisphere as the most perilous possible consequence of Global Warming up to about 2010, because such warming (the trapping of incoming solar radiation and outgoing infrared radiation from the land and oceans, by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere) might cause the thermohaline cycle to stop. How? Global Warming causes glaciers and ice caps to melt, and such fresh (unsalted) meltwater from Greenland floods into the North Atlantic where the thermohaline current dives to the ocean floor. This fresh surface water dilutes the high salinity of the presently descending thermohaline current, making its waters less dense (less heavy) and so less likely to sink. Sufficient freshening of the thermohaline current would cause it to stop entirely, shutting off this global conveyor belt of climate-regulating oceanic solar heat.

Though abrupt climate change is a less likely and worst case scenario as compared to gradual climate change, Schwartz and Randall concluded that such an occurrence would “challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately.” The climatic cooling that might occur in the Northern Hemisphere as a result of a collapse of the thermohaline cycle could be like the century-long period 8,200 years ago with temperature 5 °F (2.8 °C) colder, or the 13 century-long period 12,700 years ago with temperature 27 °F (15 °C) colder. The shift to colder climate could occur as rapidly as 5 °F (2.8 °C) of cooling per decade. So, the world could plunge into a new Ice Age within a period of twenty years. In their 2004 report, Schwartz and Randall showed data on the salinity of the North Atlantic since 1960; the trend was a steady freshening. (I wrote about the above in an article for the Internet, in July 2004).

A 2015 scientific publication of new observations on the “Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation” (the Atlantic part of our thermohaline cycle) concluded that “the melting Greenland ice sheet is likely disturbing the circulation.” The news article ( about this study [Rahmstorf, S., Box, J., Feulner, G., Mann, M., Robinson, A., Rutherford, S., Schaffernicht, E. (2015): “Evidence for an exceptional 20th-Century slowdown in Atlantic Ocean overturning.” Nature Climate Change (the journal)] concluded:

“The scientists certainly do not expect a new ice age, thus the imagery of the ten-year-old Hollywood blockbuster ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ is far from reality. However, it is well established that a large, even gradual change in Atlantic ocean circulation could have major negative effects. ‘If the slowdown of the Atlantic overturning continues, the impacts might be substantial,’ says Rahmstorf. ‘Disturbing the circulation will likely have a negative effect on the ocean ecosystem, and thereby fisheries and the associated livelihoods of many people in coastal areas. A slowdown also adds to the regional sea-level rise affecting cities like New York and Boston. Finally, temperature changes in that region can also influence weather systems on both sides of the Atlantic, in North America as well as Europe.’ If the circulation weakens too much it can even break down completely – the Atlantic overturning has for long been considered a possible tipping element in the Earth System. This would mean a relatively rapid and hard-to-reverse change.”

On April 11, 2018, an article titled “Stronger evidence for a weaker Atlantic overturning” appeared at ( This article notes:

“The Atlantic overturning—one of Earth’s most important heat transport systems, pumping warm water northward and cold water southward—is weaker today than any time before in more than 1000 years. Sea surface temperature data analysis provides new evidence that this major ocean circulation has slowed down by roughly 15 percent since the middle of the 20th century, according to a study published in the highly renowned journal Nature by an international team of scientists. Human-made climate change is a prime suspect for these worrying observations. There have been long debates whether the Atlantic overturning could collapse, being a tipping element in the Earth system. The present study does not consider the future fate of this circulation, but rather analyses how it has changed over the past hundred years. Nevertheless, Robinson cautions: ‘If we do not rapidly stop global warming, we must expect a further long-term slowdown of the Atlantic overturning. We are only beginning to understand the consequences of this unprecedented process—but they might be disruptive.’ Several studies have shown, for example, that a slowdown of the Atlantic overturning exacerbates sea-level rise on the US coast for cities like New York and Boston. Others show that the associated change in Atlantic sea surface temperatures affects weather patterns over Europe, such as the track of storms coming off the Atlantic. Specifically, the European heat wave of summer 2015 has been linked to the record cold in the northern Atlantic [caused by the inflow of cold Greenland meltwater] in that year—this seemingly paradoxical effect occurs because a cold northern Atlantic promotes an air pressure pattern that funnels warm air from the south into Europe.”

While the scientists are not being alarmist Jeremiahs and warning of an imminent climapocalypse as depicted in the Hollywood movie “The Day After Tomorrow,” they nevertheless make it clear that if this Global Warming caused (fossil-fuel-burning human caused) slowing of the thermohaline cycle continues to the point of a dead stop, then this would likely be a tipping point of the entire Earth System of climate leading to “a relatively rapid and hard-to-reverse change” — not for the better.


Thirsty Invaders, Chasing Heat
19 July 2004
Manuel García, Jr.


Now appearing at Counterpunch:

An Oceanic Problem: the Atlantic Overturning Current is Slowing
13 April 2017


Schwartz-Randall report


The Atlantic Overturning Current Is Slowing
20 April 2018


The Obvious Paradigm

Solar Powered Desalinator, homemade


The Obvious Paradigm

The American consensus: a demise under capitalism is preferable to a continuation under socialism.

Fracking has made coal mining unnecessary. The upkeep of nuclear wastes makes nuclear power pointless. GPS guided missile technology makes nuclear weapons obsolete. The abundance of freely available solar energy and the great expanse of publicly held sunny lands makes privately metered and polluting fossil-fuel energy unnecessary, both for the power and as an expense. Fossil fuel energy is only necessary for the maintenance of militarism, and only for those who consider militarism necessary. Global warming is Earth’s fever from its infection with fossil-fueled capitalism. Solar-powered socialism is the obvious paradigm for a just and prosperous humanity in balance with Nature.

9 January 2018


The Thermodynamics of 9-11

When hijacked airliners crashed into the tall Towers of the World Trade Center, in New York City [on 11 September 2001], each injected a burning cloud of aviation fuel throughout the 6 levels (WTC 2) to 8 levels (WTC 1) in the impact zone. The burning fuel ignited the office furnishings: desks, chairs, shelving, carpeting, work-space partitions, wall and ceiling panels; as well as paper and plastic of various kinds.

How did these fires progress? How much heat could they produce? Was this heat enough to seriously weaken the steel framework? How did this heat affect the metal in the rubble piles in the weeks and months after the collapse? This report is motivated by these questions, and it will draw ideas from thermal physics and chemistry. My previous report on the collapses of the WTC Towers described the role of mechanical forces (1).

Summary of National Institute of Technology and Standards (NIST) Report

Basic facts about the WTC fires of 9/11/01 are abstracted by the numerical quantities tabulated here.

Table 1, Time and Energy of WTC Fires

ITEM                              WTC 1           WTC 2
impact time (a.m.)          8:46:30          9:02:59
collapse (a.m.)               10:28:22        9:58:59
time difference               1:41:52          0:56:00
impact zone levels          92-99            78-83
levels in upper block       11                 27
heat rate (40 minutes)     2 GW            1 GW
total heat energy             8000 GJ       3000 GJ

Tower 1 stood for one hour and forty-two minutes after being struck between levels 92 and 99 by an airplane; the block above the impact zone had 11 levels. During the first 40 minutes of this time, fires raged with an average heat release rate of 2 GW (GW = giga watts = 10^9 watts), and the total heat energy released during the interval between airplane impact and building collapse was 8000 GJ (GJ = giga-joules = 10^9 joules).

A joule is a unit of energy; a watt is a unit of power; and one watt equals an energy delivery rate of one joule per second.

Tower 2 stood for fifty-six minutes after being struck between levels 78 and 83, isolating an upper block of 27 levels. The fires burned at a rate near 1 GW for forty minutes, diminishing later; and a total of 3000 GJ of heat energy was released by the time of collapse.

WTC 2 received half as much thermal energy during the first 40 minutes after impact, had just over twice the upper block mass, and fell within half the time than was observed for WTC 1. It would seem that WTC 1 stood longer despite receiving more thermal energy because its upper block was less massive.

The data in Table 1 are taken from the executive summary of the fire safety investigation by NIST (2).

The NIST work combined materials and heat transfer lab experiments, full-scale tests (wouldn’t you like to burn up office cubicles?), and computer simulations to arrive at the history and spatial distribution of the burning. From this, the thermal histories of all the metal supports in the impact zone were calculated (NIST is very thorough), which in turn were used as inputs to the calculations of stress history for each support. Parts of the structure that were damaged or missing because of the airplane collision were accounted for, as was the introduction of combustible mass by the airplane.

Steel loses strength with heat. For the types of steel used in the WTC Towers (plain carbon, and vanadium steels) the trend is as follows, relative to 100% strength at habitable temperatures.

Table 2, Fractional Strength of Steel at Temperature

Temperature, degrees C      Fractional Strength, %
200                                     86
400                                     73
500                                     66
600                                     43
700                                     20
750                                     15
800                                     10

I use C for Centigrade, F for Fahrenheit, and do not use the degree symbol in this report.

The fires heated the atmosphere in the impact zone (a mixture of gases and smoke) to temperatures as high as 1100 C (2000 F). However, there was a wide variation of gas temperature with location and over time because of the migration of the fires toward new sources of fuel, a complicated and irregular interior geometry, and changes of ventilation over time (e.g., more windows breaking). Early after the impact, a floor might have some areas at habitable temperatures, and other areas as hot as the burning jet fuel, 1100 C. Later on, after the structure had absorbed heat, the gas temperature would vary over a narrower range, approximately 200 C to 700 C away from centers of active burning.

As can be seen from Table 2, steel loses half its strength when heated to about 570 C (1060 F), and nearly all once past 700 C (1300 F). Thus, the structure of the impact zone, with a temperature that varies between 200 C and 700 C near the time of collapse, will only have between 20% to 86% of its original strength at any location.

The steel frames of the WTC Towers were coated with “sprayed fire resistant materials” (SFRMs, or simply “thermal insulation”). A key finding of the NIST Investigation was that the thermal insulation coatings were applied unevenly — even missing in spots — during the construction of the buildings, and — fatally — that parts of the coatings were knocked off by the jolt of the airplane collisions.

Spraying the lumpy gummy insulation mixture evenly onto a web of structural steel, assuming it all dries properly and none is banged off while work proceeds at a gigantic construction site over the course of several years, is an unrealistic expectation. Perhaps this will change, as a “lesson learned” from the disaster. The fatal element in the WTC Towers story is that enough of the thermal insulation was banged off the steel frames by the airplane jolts to allow parts of frames to heat up to 700 C. I estimate the jolts at 136 times the force of gravity at WTC 1, and 204 at WTC 2.

The pivotal conclusion of the NIST fire safety investigation is perhaps best shown on page 32, in Chapter 3 of Volume 5G of the Final Report (NIST NCSTAR 1-5G WTC Investigation), which includes a graph from which I extracted the data in Table 2, and states the following two paragraphs. (The NIST authors use the phrase “critical temperature” for any value above about 570 C, when steel is below half strength.)


“As the insulation thickness decreases from 1 1/8 in. to 1/2 in., the columns heat up quicker when subjected to a constant radiative flux. At 1/2 in. the column takes approximately 7,250 s (2 hours) to reach a critical temperature of 700 C with a gas temperature of 1,100 C. If the column is completely bare (no fireproofing) then its temperature increases very rapidly, and the critical temperature is reached within 350 s. For a bare column, the time to reach a critical temperature of 700 C ranges between 350 to 2,000 s.

“It is noted that the time to reach critical temperature for bare columns is less than the one hour period during which the buildings withstood intense fires. Core columns that have their fireproofing intact cannot reach a critical temperature of 600 C during the 1 or 1 1/2 hour period. (Note that WTC 1 collapsed in approximately 1 1/2 hour, while WTC 2 collapsed in approximately 1 hour). This implies that if the core columns played a role in the final collapse, some fireproofing damage would be required to result in thermal degradation of its strength.” (3)



Airplane impact sheared columns along one face and at the building’s core. Within minutes, the upper block had transferred a portion of its weight from central columns in the impact zone, across a lateral support at the building crown called the “hat truss,” and down onto the three intact outer faces. Over the course of the next 56 minutes (WTC 2) and 102 minutes (WTC 1) the fires in the impact zone would weaken the remaining central columns, and this steadily increased the downward force exerted on the intact faces. The heat-weakened frames of the floors sagged, and this bowed the exterior columns inward at the levels of the impact zone. Because of the asymmetry of the damage, one of the three intact faces took up much of the mounting load. Eventually, it buckled inward and the upper block fell. (1)

Now, let’s explore heat further.

How Big Were These Fires?

I will approximate the size of a level (1 story) in each of the WTC Towers as a volume of 16,080 m^3 with an area of 4020 m^2 and a height of 4 m (4). Table 3 shows several ways of describing the total thermal energy released by the fires.

Table 3, Magnitude of Thermal Energy in Equivalent Weight of TNT

ITEM                                  WTC 1              WTC 2
energy (Q)                          8000 GJ           3000 GJ
# levels                              8                       6
tons of TNT                       1912                 717
tons/level                           239                  120
lb/level                               478,000           239,000
kg/m^2 (impact floors)       54                    27
lb/ft^2 (impact floors)         11                    6

The fires in WTC 1 released an energy equal to that of an explosion of 1.9 kilotons of TNT; the energy equivalent for WTC 2 is 717 tons. Obviously, an explosion occurs in a fraction of a second while the fires lasted an hour or more, so the rates of energy release were vastly different. Even so, this comparison may sharpen the realization that these fires could weaken the framework of the buildings significantly.

How Hot Did The Buildings Become?

Let us pretend that the framework of the building is made of “ironcrete,” a fictitious mixture of 72% iron and 28% concrete. This framework takes up 5.4% of the volume of the building, the other 94.6% being air. We assume that everything else in the building is combustible or an inert material, and the combined mass and volume of these are insignificant compared to the mass and volume of ironcrete. I arrived at these numbers by estimating volumes and cross sectional areas of metal and concrete in walls and floors in the WTC Towers.

The space between floors is under 4 meters; and the floors include a layer of concrete about 1/10 meter thick. The building’s horizontal cross-section was a 63.4 meter square. Thus, the gap between floors was nearly 1/10 of the distance from the center of the building to its periphery. Heat radiated by fires was more likely to become trapped between floors, and stored within the concrete floor pans, than it was to radiate through the windows or be carried out through broken windows by the flow of heated air. We can estimate a temperature of the framework, assuming that all the heat became stored in it.

The amount of heat that can be stored in a given amount of matter is a property specific to each material, and is called heat capacity. The ironcrete mixture would have a volumetric heat capacity of Cv = 2.8*10^6 joules/(Centigrade*m^3); (* = multiply). In the real buildings, the large area of the concrete pads would absorb the heat from the fires and hold it, since concrete conducts heat very poorly. The effect is to bath the metal frame with heat as if it were in an oven or kiln. Ironcrete is my homogenization of materials to simplify this numerical example.

The quantity of heat energy Q absorbed within a volume V of material with a volumetric heat capacity Cv, whose temperature is raised by an amount dT (for “delta-T,” a temperature difference) is Q = Cv*V*dT. We can solve for dT. Here, V = (870 m^3)*(# levels); also dT(1) corresponds to WTC 1, and dT(2) corresponds to WTC 2.

dT(1) = (8 x 10^12)/[(2.8 x 10^6)*(870)*8] = 410 C,

dT(2) = (3 x 10^12)/[(2.8 x 10^6)*(870)*6] = 205 C.

Our simple model gives a reasonable estimate of an average frame temperature in the impact zone. The key parameter is Q (for each building). NIST spent considerable effort to arrive at the Q values shown in Table 3 (3). Our model gives a dT comparable to the NIST results because both calculations deposit the same energy into about the same amount of matter. Obviously, the NIST work accounts for all the details, which is necessary to arrive at temperatures and stresses that are specific to every location over the course of time. Our equation of heat balance Q = Cv*V*dT is an example of the conservation of energy, a fundamental principle of physics.

Well, Can The Heat Weaken The Steel Enough?

On this, one either believes or one doesn’t believe. Our simple example shows that the fires could heat the frames into the temperature range NIST calculates. It seems entirely reasonable that steel in areas of active and frequent burning would experience greater heating than the averages estimated here, so hotspots of 600 C to 700 C seem completely believable. Also, the data for WTC Towers steel strength at elevated temperatures is not in dispute. I believe NIST; answer: yes.

Let us follow time through a sequence of thermal events.


The airplanes hurtling into the buildings with speeds of at least 200 m/s (450 mph) fragmented into exploding torrents of burning fuel, aluminum and plastic. Sparks generated from the airframe by metal fracture and impact friction ignited the mixture of fuel vapor and air. This explosion blew out windows and billowed burning fuel vapor and spray throughout the floors of the impact zone, and along the stairwells and elevator shafts at the center of the building; burning liquid fuel poured down the central shafts. Burning vapor, bulk liquid and droplets ignited most of what they splattered upon. The intense infrared radiation given off by the 1100 C (2000 F) flames quickly ignited nearby combustibles, such as paper and vinyl folders. Within a fraction of a second, the high pressure of the detonation wave had passed, and a rush of fresh air was sucked in through window openings and the impact gash, sliding along the tops of the floors toward the centers of intense burning.

Hot exhaust gases: carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), water vapor (H2O), soot (carbon particles), unburned hydrocarbons (combinations with C and H), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and particles of pulverized solids vented up stairwells and elevator shafts, and formed thick hot layers underneath floors, heating them while slowly edging toward the openings along the building faces. Within minutes, the aviation fuel was largely burned off, and the oxygen in the impact zone depleted.

Thermal Storage

Fires raged throughout the impact zone in an irregular pattern dictated by the interplay of the blast wave with the distribution of matter. Some areas had intense heating (1100 C), while others might still be habitable (20 C). The pace of burning was regulated by the area available for venting the hot exhaust gases, and the area available for the entry of fresh air. Smoke was cleared from the impact gash by air entering as the cycle of flow was established. The fires were now fueled by the contents of the buildings.

Geometrically, the cement floors had large areas and were closely spaced. They intercepted most of the infrared radiation emitted in the voids between them, and they absorbed heat (by conduction) from the slowly moving (“ventilation limited”) layer of hot gases underneath each of them. Concrete conducts heat poorly, but can hold a great deal of it. The metal reinforcing bars within concrete, as well as the metal plate underneath the concrete pad of each WTC Towers floor structure, would tend to even out the temperature distribution gradually.

This process of “preheating the oven” would slowly raise the average temperature in the impact zone while narrowing the range of extremes in temperature. Within half an hour, heat had penetrated to the interior of the concrete, and the temperature everywhere in the impact zone was between 200 C and 700 C, away from sites of active burning.

Thermal Decomposition — “Cracking”

Fire moved through the impact zone by finding new sources of fuel, and burning at a rate limited by the ventilation, which changed over time.

Heat within the impact zone “cracks” plastic into a sequence of decreasingly volatile hydrocarbons, similar to the way heat separates out an array of hydrocarbon fuels in the refining of crude oil. As plastic absorbs heat and begins to decompose, it emits hydrocarbon vapors. These may flare if oxygen is available and their ignition temperatures are reached. Also, plumes of mixed hydrocarbon vapor and oxygen may detonate. So, a random series of small explosions might occur during the course of a large fire.

Plastics not designed for use in high temperature may resemble soft oily tar when heated to 400 C. The oil in turn might release vapors of ethane, ethylene, benzene and methane (there are many hydrocarbons) as the temperature climbs further. All these products might begin to burn as the cracking progresses, because oxygen is present and sources of ignition (hotspots, burning embers, infrared radiation) are nearby. Soot is the solid end result of the sequential volatilization and burning of hydrocarbons from plastic. Well over 90% of the thermal energy released in the WTC Towers came from burning the normal contents of the impact zones.

Hot Aluminum

Aluminum alloys melt at temperatures between 475 C and 640 C, and molten aluminum was observed pouring out of WTC 2 (5). Most of the aluminum in the impact zone was from the fragmented airframe; but many office machines and furniture items can have aluminum parts, as can moldings, fixtures, tubing and window frames. The temperatures in the WTC Towers fires were too low to vaporize aluminum; however, the forces of impact and explosion could have broken some of the aluminum into small granules and powder. Chemical reactions with hydrocarbon or water vapors might have occurred on the surfaces of freshly granulated hot aluminum.

The most likely product of aluminum burning is aluminum oxide (Al2O3, “alumina”). Because of the tight chemical bonding between the two aluminum atoms and three oxygen atoms in alumina, the compound is very stable and quite heat resistant, melting at 2054 C and boiling at about 3000 C. The affinity of aluminum for oxygen is such that with enough heat it can “burn” to alumina when combined with water, releasing hydrogen gas from the water,

2*Al + 3*H2O + heat -> Al2O3 + 3*H2.

Water is introduced into the impact zone through the severed plumbing at the building core, moisture from the outside air, and it is “cracked” out of the gypsum wall panels and to a lesser extent from concrete (the last two are both hydrated solids). Water poured on an aluminum fire can be “fuel to the flame.”

When a mixture of aluminum powder and iron oxide powder is ignited, it burns to iron and aluminum oxide,

Al + Fe2O3 + ignition -> Al2O3 + Fe.

This is thermite. The reaction produces a temperature that can melt steel (above 1500 C, 2800 F). The rate of burning is governed by the pace of heat diffusion from the hot reaction zone into the unheated powder mixture. Granules must absorb sufficient heat to arrive at the ignition temperature of the process. The ignition temperature of a quiescent powder of aluminum is 585 C. The ignition temperatures of a variety of dusts were found to be between 315 C and 900 C, by scientists developing solid rocket motors. Burning thermite is not an accelerating chain reaction (“explosion”), it is a “sparkler.” My favorite reference to thermite is in the early 1950s motion picture, “The Thing.”

Did patches of thermite form naturally, by chance, in the WTC Towers fires? Could there really have been small bits of melted steel in the debris as a result? Could there have been “thermite residues” on pieces of steel dug out of the debris months later? Maybe, but none of this leads to a conspiracy. If the post-mortem “thermite signature” suggested that a mass of thermite comparable to the quantities shown in Table 3 was involved, then further investigation would be reasonable. The first task of such an investigation would be to produce a “chemical kinetics” model of the oxidation of the fragmented aluminum airframe, in some degree of contact to the steel framing, in the hot atmosphere of hydrocarbon fires in the impact zone. Once Nature had been eliminated as a suspect, one could proceed to consider Human Malevolence.

Smoldering Rubble

Nature is endlessly creative. The deeper we explore, the more questions we come to realize.

Steel columns along a building face, heated to between 200 C and 700 C, were increasingly compressed and twisted into a sharpening bend. With increasing load and decreasing strength over the course of an hour or more, the material became unable to rebound elastically, had the load been released. The steel entered the range of plastic deformation, it could still be stretched through a bend, but like taffy it would take on a permanent set. Eventually, it snapped.

Months later, when this section of steel would be dug out of the rubble pile, would the breaks have the fluid look of a drawn out taffy, or perhaps “melted” steel now frozen in time? Or, would these be clean breaks, as edge glass fragments; or perhaps rough, granular breaks as through concrete?

The basements of the WTC Towers included car parks. After the buildings collapsed, it is possible that gasoline fires broke out, adding to the heat of the rubble. We can imagine many of the effects already described, to have occurred in hot pockets within the rubble pile. Water percolating down from that sprayed by the Fire Department might carry air down also, and act as an oxidizing agent.

The tight packing of the debris from the building, and the randomization of its materials would produce a haphazard and porous form of ironcrete aggregate: chunks of steel mixed with broken and pulverized concrete, with dust-, moisture-, and fume-filled gaps. Like a pyramid of barbecue briquettes, the high heat capacity and low thermal conductivity of the rubble pile would efficiently retain its heat.

Did small hunks of steel melt in rubble hot spots that had just the right mix of chemicals and heat? Probably unlikely, but certainly possible.

Pulverized concrete would include that from the impact zone, which may have had part of its water driven off by the heat. If so, such dust would be a desiccating substance (as is Portland cement prior to use; concrete is mixed sand, cement and water). Part of the chronic breathing disorders experienced by many people exposed to the atmosphere at the World Trade Center during and after 9/11/01 may be due to the inhalation of desiccating dust, now lodged in lung tissue.

Did the lingering hydrocarbon vapors and fumes from burning dissolve in water and create acid pools? Did the calcium-, silicon-, aluminum-, and magnesium-oxides of pulverized concrete form salts in pools of water? Did the sulfate from the gypsum wall panels also acidify standing water? Did acids work on metal surfaces over months, to alter their appearance?

In the enormity of each rubble pile, with its massive quantity of stored heat, many effects were possible in small quantities, given time to incubate. It is even possible that in some little puddle buried deep in the rubble, warmed for months in an oven-like enclosure of concrete rocks, bathed in an atmosphere of methane, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and perhaps a touch of oxygen, that DNA was formed.


[1] MANUEL GARCIA, Jr., “The Physics of 9/11,” Nov. 28, 2006, [search in the Counterpunch archives of November, 2006 for this report and its two companions; one on the mechanics of building collapse, and the other an early and not-too-inaccurate speculative analysis of the fire-induced collapse of WTC 7.]

[2] “Executive Summary, Reconstruction of the Fires in the World Trade Center Towers,” NIST NCSTAR 1-5, , (28 September 2006). NIST = National Institute of Standards and Technology, NCSTAR = National Construction Safety Team Advisory Committee.

[3] “Fire Structure Interface and Thermal Response of the World Trade Center Towers,” NIST NCSTAR1-5G, (draft supporting technical report G),, (28 September 2006), Chapter 3, page 32 (page 74 of 334 of the electronic PDF file).

[4] 1 m = 3.28 ft;    1 m^2 = 10.8 ft^2;    1 m^3 = 35.3 ft^3;    1 ft = 0.31 m;    1 ft^2 = 0.93 m^2;    1 ft^3 = 0.28 m^3.

[5] “National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Federal Building and Fire Safety Investigation of the World Trade Center Disaster, Answers to Frequently Asked Questions,” (11 September 2006).


This article originally appeared as:

The Thermodynamics of 9/11
28 November 2006


Climate Change Denial Is Murder

Climate change denial by government is murder by weather.

By now everyone everywhere knows that climate change is a reality, especially the deniers who are simply lying to cover up their real intent, which is to continue with their capitalist schemes of self-aggrandisement even to the point of knowingly letting people die as a consequence.

During the last two weeks, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and José, in succession, have formed in the tropical Atlantic Ocean to sweep northwest through the Caribbean toward the southern coasts of North America. Harvey has flooded hundreds of thousands of dwellings in the Gulf Coast area of Texas around Houston. Irma, the “lawnmower from the sky,” and the strongest Category 5 (out of 5) hurricane ever recorded, is just making landfall in Florida after razing a number of the smaller Caribbean islands; and Hurricane José is now sweeping into the Caribbean Sea from the east. Climate change denier and right-wing propagandist Rush Limbaugh, lounging in his Florida Xanadu, had called the official weather forecasts of Hurricane Irma’s path “fake news,” but has just heeded those same forecasts by evacuating from the storm, as well as from personal responsibility.

Climate change (as global warming) doesn’t “cause” hurricanes, it makes them more powerful and more frequent. Warmer oceans more easily evaporate, increasing the atmospheric moisture available for rain, and increasing the atmospheric heat energy available for driving winds. It takes heat to evaporate liquid water into vapor. Such vapor rising from the ocean surface mixes with the atmosphere. At higher elevations where the air temperature is lower, or in the presence of cold air currents, water vapor can lose its heat energy to the air and condense into droplets of liquid water. The heat energy released by water vapor to condense back into liquid – the latent heat of vaporization – is sizable (per unit mass of H2O) and adds to the energy of motion of the air molecules and air currents: wind. So, global warming makes for more moisture in the air over tropical ocean waters, and more heat energy in that air to drive winds and storms.

The scientific facts about global warming have been known for a very long time, and were largely learned through government-funded research. US Government officials, as in the George W. Bush administration and now in the Donald Trump administration, who publicly deny these facts – excruciatingly documented and warehoused by the scientific, technical, military and commercial agencies of the US Government – are simply voicing bald-faced lies, and are thus betraying their official and constitutional responsibilities to the American public. Since this lying (and its enabling of continued greenhouse gas pollution) is done knowingly and for monetary gain, and the consequential more violent weather (droughts, hurricanes, floods) erupting from today’s global warming climate change always causes fatalities, then that climate change denial is at the very minimum an accessory to criminally negligent manslaughter, and without a reasonable doubt to premeditated murder.

Outline History of Awareness of Climate Change

What follows is a timeline, which I first made for myself in 2013, of the development of scientific knowledge about climate change. This summary outline includes some of the incidents of the intimately related “world energy crisis,” which I define as getting enough energy for a decent standard of living worldwide, coupled with the commercial competition between: fossil fuel energy versus nuclear energy versus solar/green energy.

Both fossil fuel energy and nuclear energy are intrinsically capitalist forms of resource hoarding and market exploitation, because they are extracted from the Earth at specific locations, burned to generate electricity at large and complex industrial plants, and distributed widely and distantly through a large electrical transmission line distribution grid.

On the other hand, solar/green energy is intrinsically a socialist or public commons type of energy resource because it is naturally abundant everywhere – like sunshine and wind – and is easily converted to electricity wherever it is collected. It is because of its intrinsic socialist (anti-capitalist) nature that solar and green energy are being legally attacked and restricted in US political jurisdictions controlled by rabidly capitalist special interests. The outline now follows.

The clock for a public policy response to the “energy crisis” (now enlarged to “Global Warming” and “Climate Change”) started ticking in October 1973 with the First Arab Oil Embargo (1973 Oil Crisis), and we’ve yet to get off our asses in response to the alarm (40+ years later).

Four years later, the energy problem was serious enough for President Jimmy Carter to address the nation about it on the 202nd anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride (18 April 1977). See

Peak Oil was the fear in 1977, not Global Warming, even though science had been certain about Global Warming since 1955-1957.

What follows is a very brief synopsis of the scientific development of knowledge about Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW, which is human-caused, CO2-driven Climate Change), along with incidents of the parallel World Energy Crisis.

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide is a gaseous insulator and high capacity heat-storage medium. It can retain much more heat energy per unit mass than the two dominate atmospheric gases making up 99.03% of the atmosphere: diatomic nitrogen (N2, 78.08% of the air), and diatomic oxygen (O2, 20.95% of the air). The remaining 0.97% of the dry atmosphere is a mixture of rare gases (with low heat capacity) and organic vapors (with high heat capacity), which include the high heat capacity species: methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2). The water vapor (H2O) carried along by the otherwise dry air is also a high heat capacity medium.

Quotes below are noted as from one of:

(JEA): John E. Allen, Aerodynamics, Hutchinson & Co. LTD, London, 1963.

In 1896 Svante Arrhenius calculated the effect of doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide to be an increase in surface temperatures of 5-6 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, another Swedish scientist, Arvid Högbom, had been attempting to quantify natural sources of emissions of CO2 for purposes of understanding the global carbon cycle. Högbom found that estimated carbon production from industrial sources in the 1890s (mainly coal burning) was comparable with the natural sources. (HCCS)

In 1938 a British engineer, Guy Stewart Callendar, attempted to revive Arrhenius’s greenhouse-effect theory. Callendar presented evidence that both temperature and the CO2 level in the atmosphere had been rising over the past half-century, and he argued that newer spectroscopic measurements showed that the gas was effective in absorbing infrared [heat radiation] in the atmosphere. Nevertheless, most scientific opinion continued to dispute or ignore the theory. (HCCS)

In 1955 Hans Suess’s carbon-14 isotope analysis showed that CO2 released from fossil fuels was not immediately absorbed by the ocean. (HCCS)

In 1957, better understanding of ocean chemistry led Roger Revelle to a realization that the ocean surface layer had limited ability to absorb carbon dioxide. (HCCS)

In a seminal paper published in 1957 [Roger Revelle and Hans Suess, “Carbon dioxide exchange between atmosphere and ocean and the question of an increase of atmospheric CO2 during the past decades.” Tellus 9, 18-27 (1957)], Roger Revelle and Hans Suess argued that humankind was performing “a great geophysical experiment,” [and called] on the scientific community to monitor changes in the carbon dioxide content of waters and the atmosphere, as well as production rates of plants and animals. (HS)

AGW became common knowledge among aerodynamicists and atmospheric scientists by the 1960s, as witnessed by the following passage from John E. Allen’s 1963 book surveying the field of aerodynamics “for the non-specialist, the young student, the scholar leaving school and seeking an interest for his life’s work, and for the intelligent member of the public.”

Scientists are interested in the long-term effects on our atmosphere from the combustion of coal, oil and petrol and the generation of carbon dioxide. It has been estimated that 360,000 million tons of CO2 have been added to the atmosphere by man’s burning of fossil fuels, increasing the concentration by 13%. This progressive rise in the CO2 content of the air has influenced the heat balance between the sun, air and oceans, thus leading to small but definite changes in surface temperature. At Uppsala in Sweden, for example, the mean temperature has risen 2° in 60 years. (JEA)

22 April 1970: On this first Earth Day, MG,Jr decides to aim for a career in energy research, for a brave new future.

October 1973 – March 1974: The first Arab Oil Embargo (formally known as the 1973 Oil Crisis) erupts in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War (1973 Arab-Israeli War, October 6–25, 1973).

Evidence for warming accumulated. By 1975, Manabe and Wetherald had developed a three-dimensional Global Climate Model that gave a roughly accurate representation of the current climate. Doubling CO2 in the model’s atmosphere gave a roughly 2°C rise in global temperature. Several other kinds of computer models gave similar results: it was impossible to make a model that gave something resembling the actual climate and not have the temperature rise when the CO2 concentration was increased. (HCCS)

18 April 1977: President Jimmy Carter’s Address to the Nation on Energy.

The 1979 World Climate Conference of the World Meteorological Organization concluded “it appears plausible that an increased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can contribute to a gradual warming of the lower atmosphere, especially at higher latitudes….It is possible that some effects on a regional and global scale may be detectable before the end of this century and become significant before the middle of the next century.” (HCCS)

1979-1980: The 1979 (or Second) Oil Crisis erupts from the turmoil of the Iranian Revolution, and the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980.

March 28, 1979: A nuclear reactor meltdown occurs at the Three Mile Island power station in Pennsylvania.

July 15, 1979: President Jimmy Carter addresses the nation on its “crisis of confidence” during its 1979 energy crisis (oil and gasoline shortages and high prices). This address would become known as the “malaise speech,” though Carter never mentioned “malaise.” See Have you seen as honest an American presidential speech since? “Energy will be the immediate test of our ability to unite this nation.”

November 4, 1980: Ronald Reagan is elected president and the “big plunge” (the neoliberal shredding of the 1945 postwar social contract) begins. Poof went all my illusions about an American energy revolution.

April 26, 1986: A nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power station in the Ukraine explodes, spewing radioactivity far and wide, and the fuel core melts down. The Chernobyl disaster was the worst nuclear power plant accident until the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of March 11, 2011.

1986: Ronald Reagan has the solar hot water system removed, which had been installed on the roof of the White House during the Carter Administration. The official US energy policy was obvious to me: solar energy and conservation were dead.

In June 1988, James E. Hansen [in Congressional testimony] made one of the first assessments that human-caused warming had already measurably affected global climate. Shortly after, a “World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Security” gathered hundreds of scientists and others in Toronto. They concluded that the changes in the atmosphere due to human pollution “represent a major threat to international security and are already having harmful consequences over many parts of the globe,” and declared that by 2005 the world should push its emissions some 20% below the 1988 level. (HCCS)

All that AGW scientific research has done since 1988 has been to add more decimal places to the numbers characterizing the physical effects. That was over a quarter century ago. So, I take it as a given that the American and even World consensus [so far] is in favor of probable human extinction sooner (by waste heat triggered climate change) rather than later (by expansion of the Sun into a Red Giant star). And, yes, the course of the extinction will proceed inequitably. Not what I want, but what I see as the logical consequences of what is. (End of the outline.)

Global warming is Earth’s fever from its infection with capitalism.

So, whenever some government, corporate or media potentate discharges another toxic cloud of climate change denialism, realize that what they are actually and dishonestly telling you is: “I am going to keep making my financial killing regardless, and I don’t care who has to die for it.”


Also appearing at:

Climate Change Denial Is Murder
8 September 2017


Added on 11 September 2017:


Green Energy versus The Uncivil War

Chris Hedges hosted the political writers Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton on his television program (yesterday, on the RT network/channel) for a discussion of the Syrian War, and its many current harmful impacts, as well as its possible grave future consequences for the Middle East, Europe, the United States, and the world. (That episode of Chris Hedges’ program is linked near the bottom.)

My reaction to that program follows.

The problem, as presented so compellingly by Chris Hedges, Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton, is of such large scope that it is difficult to see how any one nation – even the United States – could act alone to “solve it” (forever).

However, the recommendation that the U.S. stop funding destabilization groups in the Middle East (and everywhere), and that the U.S. “pull back” from or “pull out” of the Middle East, would be a very, very helpful step for the reduction of suffering in that region: for example reducing the incidence of wars and the displacements causing huge refugee streams. Such a change in US policy would also benefit the American people by freeing public money now absorbed by covert and overt militarism, to be used instead for much more domestic socialism (like Medicare-for-all, and free college for all).

However, even were such a change in US Middle East policy to occur, there would still be many evils in the region:
– authoritarian and oppressive regimes continuing to hurt the people under them,
– the export of Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia and Qatar,
– the regional Sunni-Shia proxy wars (basically, Saudi Arabia vs. Iran),
– the war by Israel against the Palestinians (who include Muslims and Christians),
– Israel’s agitation against Syria (for regime change, and to keep the Golan Heights),
– Israel’s agitation against Iran (which helps prop up Hezbollah in Lebanon),
– Israel’s agitation includes its own covert and overt military actions, as well as lobbying for the United States to make war against Israel’s designated enemies.

As an engineer without expertise on the Middle Eastern affairs, I have believed since 1973 that the best long-term plan for the U.S. to insulate itself from Middle Eastern turmoil would have been to use the U.S.’s vast fossil fuel resources (and even the nuclear ones) as a stop-gap energy source to power the building of a national solar (“green”) energy collection and distribution system.

That national green energy system would be made of many local solar energy networks interconnected into regional systems, which in turn would be interconnected into a national system. The local power sources would include:
– direct solar-collection to electrical-output arrays (solar panels),
– solar heat collection for boilers that power steam turbines cranking electric generators,
– river hydroelectric (the dams we already have),
– ocean-tidal hydroelectric,
– land-based wind-electric,
– offshore wind-electric,
– a few sites for solar-powered desalination for potable water,
– and solar-powered hydrogen recovery from water for H2-O2 fuel-cell propulsion for civilian aircraft, and road and rail transit.

Given real energy independence, the Unites States could stop funding and supporting Saudi Arabia and Israel (arming them to the teeth so extravagantly). I realize that defunding Israel would be harder to do regardless of circumstances, because of the metastasis of the Israel Lobby within the US body politic. But, if the U.S. could shut off its massive dollar streams currently paying for Middle East petroleum (and bribes to Egypt and Jordan to not annoy expansionist Israel), then many of the Middle East oppressor regimes would be weakened and likely overthrown by more popular and democratic alternatives, and the U.S. would be immune from blackmail by oil embargoes.

Also, a green national energy system for the U.S., replacing the 19th and 20th century fossil and fissile fuel system still in use, would offer a long term, sustainable and low-(no?)-pollution energy-flow for domestic consumption: it would not accelerate climate change.

Obviously, myopic greed such as by fossil and fissile fuel companies opposes such a strategy as they prefer to make private capital gains by extractive exploitation of Nature, and by setting off “pipeline wars” at public expense. The green energy vision and strategy described here is at its core socialist (it is best for the US commons), and it is also internationalist without being belligerent and interventionist, because by sharing such green energy technology internationally the U.S. would help boost the standard of living globally: the human development index (HDI) would increase everywhere, and poverty would decrease everywhere.

The Uncivil War, with Max Blumenthal & Ben Norton
16 April 2017

or, on YouTube:

Of all the articles I have ever written, the one I most wish had gotten wide attention and actually affected public thinking and action, is linked below.

Energy for Society in Balance with Nature


Black Gold, Maximum Entropy

Peak Oil is dead, long live fracking, my climate change is gonna’ come, Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant. A meditative rant on our scheduled progression from black gold delirium to becalmed oblivion is cited. Oil shale, tar sands, and unconventional fossil fuels are linked to climate change by anthropogenic global warming, which is undamped by human restraint in the forms of energy efficiency, energy conservation and relinquishing the combustion of hydrocarbons for civilization’s heat energy. Death is preferable to change, adaptation is unthinkable, and the inevitable consequences are anticipated as tolerable by denial. All our elaborations will melt into a rising tide of entropy.

Black Gold, Maximum Entropy
21 October 2013