back to article City heat leak can disrupt high-altitude winds

Urban heat islands are a contentious phenomenon in the study of global climate change, but a new University of California-led study suggests that city heat can reach far enough into the upper atmosphere to alter high-altitude winds, impacting climate thousands of kilometres away from where energy is consumed. The study, …


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  1. Martin Budden Silver badge

    Insulation will help.

    Even if you don't care about global warming, insulation is still a good idea.

    1. Callam McMillan

      Re: Insulation will help.

      Not necessarily. Go to any skyscraper on a cold day and you'll see the clouds of steam pouring out the top. In an office, there is an abundance of energy, which if left untapped would make it rather hot and nasty, as such you need to move that heat elsewhere via air-conditioning. Then you have data-centres which also dissipate a lot of heat. So in these cases, insulation is actually useless, since you're actively moving energy outside. As for domestic buildings, then they should absolutely be insulated.

      1. Martin Budden Silver badge

        Re: Insulation will help.

        @ Callam McMillan

        Very good point. So, how about pumping heat from offices/datacentres to houses? In Stockholm they have a system of pumping heat around the city in underground steam pipes, so it can work. The pipes are, wait for it, insulated ;-)


        I'm fairly sure you don't actually believe a word of your own post and you are just trolling.

        1. NomNomNom

          Re: Insulation will help.

          dunno I would have thought it was too absurd to count as trolling

          1. Martin Budden Silver badge

            Re: Insulation will help.

            "too absurd"


    2. NomNomNom

      Re: Insulation will help.

      Insulation is a Dangerous Green Myth

      Too much insulation can result in orgone energies building up within the walls of a house, which are a suspected cause of cancer and in rare situations can reach critical levels that trigger a resonance cascade.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Euripides Pants

        Re: Insulation will help.

        DO NOT drink the bong water!

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Insulation will help.

        Do you make cloudbusters in your spare time?

  2. Herby

    So we want to reduce "hot air"

    I feel that some urban areas have more population density than others. Given that one of the HIGHEST population density is in our nations capitol (Washington DC), maybe thinning it out a bit might help the cause. Given that politicians DO blow a bunch of hot air, this is doubly important to thin out the people.

    Simple removal of half might be a nice start.

    Then again it is wishful thinking (*SIGH*).

    1. Eddy Ito

      Re: So we want to reduce "hot air"

      We could try to sink it into the Potomac River. Then again that quantity of hot air just might boil the whole of the North Atlantic even in January.

    2. Fatman

      Re: So we want to reduce "hot air"

      Actually, if one really wanted to "make use" of all that `hot air` expelled by politicians, then the absolutely best place for their residence would be at either pole.

      One of the advantages of such isolation would be the removal of distractions, and the ability to get 'shit done'. Imagine the possibilities for bi-partisan co-operation if Congress was isolated at McMurdo Bay during the Antarctic winter. (IIRC that means that you are stuck there for at least 6 months.)

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    re: so we want to reduce "hot air"

    Could do with "capturing" the hot air generated by politicians and hysterical media here in the UK and use it to keep the place "warm" in our cold, wet and damp winters.

    If cities are to blame, build a massive dome over them, capture the heat and STOP blaming the motorist living in the rest of the world, for that silly phrase, "climate change"

  4. Alfie

    Just a thought...

    Perhaps taking into account the massive heat output of major cities would explain why AGW isnt following the models. In fact the greenhouse gas emissions are a smaller input into the climate models than originally thought when you add in heat emissions which would explain why the earth seems to be coping ok (for certain values of ok) with the increase in CO2 etc.

    I never did understand why big corps and retail didnt pay much attention to energy saving like insulation. Surely the energy bills for a large office/retail store must have a significant impact on the bottom line? Even going into new shops and looking up you can see there is nothing between you and the roofing panel, and yet they seem happy to pump money into heating these vast spaces to ~20C day and night. And presumably cooling them in the summer as well.

    <- Flames, obviously :-)

    1. Fatman

      Re: Just a thought...

      Perhaps one of the side effects of the typical MBA imposed conundrum is at play here.

      That is the difference between a CAPEX (capital expense) item and a OPEX (operational expense) item.

      In US style accounting (I do not have any experience anywhere else) CAPEX generally adds to the balance sheet as a CAPITAL account, which must be depreciated over its lifetime; while OPEX is often a deduction for tax and profit/loss situations. Also, buying capital equipment out of current and accumulated profits is considered "bad" (by many) as it reduces the funds available for shareholder profits, and more importantly executive bonuses.

      Another possibility is when you rent space, unless you get the landlord to "cough up" for the additional costs, many feel why enrich a landlord at your expense with something you can not take with you when you leave. Thus a reluctance to fund building improvements, unless you own the space.

  5. Displacement Activity

    Physics 001

    The authors explain that their calculations suggest that of the 16 Terawatts of global energy consumption in 2006

    Watts power, Joules energy, and Joules = Watts times seconds. '16TW' isn't an energy consumption, it's an instantaneous power usage. The number you've given (16) is approximately the energy consumed every hour (ie. 16TWh). Over an entire year, 16TWh is about 140,000TWh, or 5 x 10^20 J, or 505 exajoules.

    Wikipedia gives the 2008 global energy consumption as 474 exajoules.

  6. Graham Marsden


    There's a couple of El Reg staff writers who wouldn't want to hear this sort of thing...

  7. F111F


    Time to put these energy hogs under glass (or whatever)?

  8. Ben M

    UHI is a double-edged sword

    If they want to factor in UHI, then fine. If cities can affect temperatures in the upper atmosphere thousands of miles away, then clearly they can affect temperatures recorded in and around cities.

    So this study has to cut both ways. If UHI should be taken into account when making modelling future temperatures, it has to be taken into account when analysing the historical record.

    Yet AGW supporters have fought tooth and nail against recognising there is an urban heat island effect in the historical record. If UHI is real, it might explain a significant portion of the warming seen over the last 150 years. It undermines attribution: the whole "we can only think of CO2" malarkey.

    So if CO2 emissions have had a smaller effect on the historical record, they'll have to have a reduced forcing factor for the models. Future temperatures suddenly plunge. CO2 cannot be bringer of thermageddon.

    UHI might be a useful sleight-of-hand for explaining the discrepancies between models and reality, but it fundamentally undermines AGW.

    1. Fatman

      Re: UHI is a double-edged sword

      Damn you, someone with common sense.

      Now I have an explanation why I have always felt that the global warming alarmists were full of shit.

    2. NomNomNom

      Re: UHI is a double-edged sword

      UHI exists. It affects the temperature of cities. AGW supporters have not fought against that at all. Scientists take into account UHI when compiling global temperature records. The records they produce are designed to be free of UHI bias.

      Arguing as if this study has just discovered UHI is ridiculous.

      Also note the satellite records and ocean bouys detect global warming too. There are no Urban Heat Islands in the ocean.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. Ben M

    Nonsense, NomNomNom. UHI has been treated in the great, time-honoured tradition of activists: "Nothing to look at here. Keep moving."

    Exhibit A: from Real Climate:

    "There are quite a few reasons to believe that the surface temperature record ... is essentially uncontaminated by the effects of urban growth and the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect. ...This and other information lead the IPCC to conclude that the UHI effect makes at most a contribution of 0.05°C to the warming observed over the past century."

    Exhibit B: The IPCC's fourth assessment report, chapter 3

    page 237

    "Urban heat island effects are real but local, and have not biased the large-scale trends. A number of recent studies indicate that effects of urbanisation and land use change on the land-based temperature record are negligible (0.006ºC per decade) as far as hemispheric- and continental-scale averages are concerned because the very real but local effects are avoided or accounted for in the data sets used. In any case, they are not present in the SST component of the record"

    page 244

    "Thus, the global land warming trend discussed is very unlikely to be influenced significantly by increasing urbanisation. ... Accordingly, this assessment adds the same level of urban warming uncertainty as in the TAR: 0.006°C per decade since 1900 for land, and 0.002°C per decade since 1900 for blended land with ocean, as ocean UHI is zero"

    page 249

    "In view of Section and the dominance of the globe by ocean, the influence of urbanisation on these estimates is estimated to be very small."

    You cannot suddenly find the signature of a city's heat thousands of miles away yet pretend it doesn't exist in and around that city.

    1. NomNomNom

      First you say UHI has been ignored by scientists.

      Then you cite half a dozen references where scientists say UHI is real. You even cite the IPCC report talking about it for christ sake.

      What part of "have not biased the large-scale trends" do you not understand? That doesn't mean they say it doesn't exist, it means they are saying it doesn't bias the large-scale trends.

      "You cannot suddenly find the signature of a city's heat thousands of miles away yet pretend it doesn't exist in and around that city."

      Who is pretending it doesn't exist in and around that city? It's like you can't even read. Let me quote one of your own quotes:

      "Urban heat island effects are real but local, and have not biased the large-scale trends"

      Get it? They aren't "pretending" it doesn't exist in and around that city. They are clearly saying it DOES.

      Your entire argument is a ridiculous strawman and is typical of the false accusations that are regularly leveled at scientists by no-nothing climate skeptics.

      1. Ben M

        Irrespective of how you interpret what I've said, this study undermines the IPCC's attribution argument.

        The IPCC claims the effects of urbanisation account for only 0.006C each decade in the temperature records (at the hemispheric and continental scale). But as it's only a low (unmeasurable?) portion of the total recorded rise each decade, the IPCC allows itself plenty of room to blame emissions of CO2 for the rest. That effect is extrapolated into the future; a hundred years out and we're all doomed.

        This new study tries to explain why the models and reality haven't matched of late. The culprit? Urbanisation. The authors suggest the effects of urbanisation can be detected thousands of miles away. At the continental scale, it will increase recorded temperatures by as much as 1.0C (or 1K if we're being pedantic) during autumn and winter months? (They studied 1956 - 2005 so I assume it's a trend of 0.2 per decade.)

        So which is it?

        Urbanisation has the "negligble" impact of 0.006C, and therefore allows CO2 to take the blame for the rest?

        Or it has an enormous impact of 0.2C, leaving CO2 largely off the hook - but at least the models are explained?

  10. NomNomNom

    It undermines nothing.

    The article even says: "The new results suggest that longer-scale modelling of the impact of urban heat release produces a quantifiable, if localised, impact. The global impact, however, remains trivial at 0.01°C."

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