WunderBlog Archive » Dr. Ricky Rood's Climate Change Blog

Category 6 has moved! See the latest from Dr. Jeff Masters and Bob Henson here.

A Vast Machine

By: Dr. Ricky Rood, 7:39 PM GMT on July 11, 2010

A Vast Machine

First, I want to thank Dave Bader for sending me the reference for a paper by Dan Murphy and co-authors, entitled “An observationally based energy balance for the Earth since 1950”, published in 2009 in the Journal of Geophysical Research. This paper looks at the heating of the planet since 1950 – what influences the energy balance and where does the energy go. Their analysis has an emphasis on aerosols, and their changes over the past 50 years. It’s like a good version of my recent series of blogs.


This blog is NOT a book review, but it is about a book. It’s a book that I think is a magnificent discussion of weather and climate science from the point of view of historian Paul Edwards. (I don’t get any money if you buy his book.) The name of the book is “A Vast Machine”, and it is available at the MIT Press. (It’s at Amazon as well, but I will make you work for that.) It’s getting really great reviews, if you search around the web.

There are a number of threads through the book that I think are interesting. One thread that I think will be interesting to many readers of WU blogs is about the quest to collect observations of the weather, and ultimately to forecast the weather. It seems routine today to collect, every few hours, enough data to define the global weather. Collection of such data is essential for good weather forecasting. It took about a century to collect the data for the first weather map – and of course, the first maps were viewed as state's secrets. There is another thread through the book about how the need to share weather data led to a global communication network, scientific infrastructure that was a precursor to the World Wide Web and the internet. (World Weather Watch – World Wide Web, coincidence?) Paul is expert on computers and infrastructure, so this is a theme throughout the book.

The thread I want to follow through the book is on the political aspects of the climate science. Edwards points out the work of Eduard Bruckner, who in the late 1800s was talking about humans were changing the climate. Much of this early discussion, which is older than the work of Bruckner, was about how land-use changes impact the local climate. Over the past 150 years there have been many who have argued that altering the land could alter the climate, both to advantage and disadvantage. One of my favorites was the idea that railroads brought plowing farmers, which brought the rain to support the farms. (Another of my favorite books The Worst Hard Times on the Dust Bowl.)

The discussion in Chapter 15 of “A Vast Machine” is about the more recent controversies of climate change and the development of climate change as a global political issue. I had not been aware of, or perhaps completely forgotten, the hearings on Scientific Integrity and Public Trust. These hearings have, in fact, set in language many of the words that are still used in the politically motivated arguments about climate change and whether or not we should do something about it. It’s also many of the same people carrying on the arguments, supporting one of my life lessons it takes half a generation before things start to change. Throughout the book there is discussion of the roles of models and observations in climate science, and the political effort to discredit models because “they are only a model.”

I will use some of the ideas from “A Vast Machine” in future blogs. It's an excellent book, and I know that those who write thousands of words in the comments of this blog would like it.


Bumps and Wiggles (1): Predictions and Projections

Bumps and Wiggles (2): Some Jobs for Models and Modelers (Sun and Ocean)

Bumps and Wiggles (3): Simple Earth

Bumps and Wiggles (4): Volcanoes and Long Cycles

Bumps and Wiggles (5): Still Following the Heat

Bumps and Wiggles (6): Water, Water, Everywhere

Bumps and Wiggles (7): Blackness in the Air

Bumps and Wiggles (8): Ocean, Atmosphere, Ice, and Land

And here is

Faceted Search of Blogs at climateknowledge.org

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.