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Paris Accord: Will it reduce or aggravate future hurricanes?

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At public consultation session of Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka on 15 June, I made a presentation (this is available in PUCSL Facebook) wherein I showed the two major large scale atmospheric circulation models Hadley and Walker Circulations as given in Kiehl & Ramanathan’s Frontiers of Climate Modelling.

I mentioned that when it comes to Sri Lanka, Hadley Circulation originating here will move northwards at 120 – 150 x 109 kg/sec until it reaches north of India, drop moisture and come down and south towards Sri Lanka, while longitudinal circulation at 810E per Walkers would be about 0-10 x 109 kg/sec. Last few weeks, North India and Nepal and Bangladesh experienced severe rainfall killing more than 1000 and affecting few millions, may be in line with Hadley Circulation.

I also mentioned that at Longitudinal range of 650 to 1250 W, country receiving this onslaught from Hadley Circulation at same speeds and onslaught from Walker Circulation at 0 - 75 x 109kg/sec is USA. While Hadley would hammer stretch from New Orleans to California, Walker Circulation would beautifully fit into USA. In April, 2017 MIT newsletter had indicated that large scale atmospheric circulation models provide more accurate predictions than recent climate models in interpreting high precipitation events in USA. So, it appears that Hadley Circulation had been very active at different longitudinal coordinates at approximately same time.

In USA, majority would be worried about precipitation than about high temperatures, heatwaves or wild fires. Damage to economy of USA as well as to population of USA due to Hurricane Harvey may be many times that by wild fires which affected western parts of USA only a few months back. 

What the Paris Accord says

If one looks at the 25 – page, 29 – clause Paris Accord, one would not see a single statement about water vapour – which is what would yield precipitation as no other greenhouse gas has ability to precipitate – nor about precipitation. It has many references to climate change. It is as if proponents of Paris Accord do not know that climate has three major parameters, temperature, precipitation and wind. There are references to greenhouse gases in the agreement, but general understanding shared by scientists manning both UNFCCC and IPCC is that although water vapour is most effective greenhouse gas in atmosphere, any new water vapour entering atmosphere will not be able to exert additional greenhouse gas effect because that new water vapour condenses after a short residence time in atmosphere.

This crooked thinking promotes less carbon containing, but more hydrogen containing fuels like natural gas instead of coal. Although Paris Accord does not talk about this specifically, it mentions the need to reduce greenhouse gases as early as possible as only way to achieve a maximum of 20C rise in temperature by 2100 AD. When they talk about greenhouse gases, they do not include new water vapour entering atmosphere. 

If you look at stand taken by International Energy Agency, they have said in their document ‘Redrawing the Energy – Climate Change Map’ published in mid-2013, on page 37 as follows: “Natural gas is the only fossil fuel with increasing electricity generation in the 450 scenario but it still peaks before 2030 and then starts to decline ending 18% higher in 2035 than in 2011.” As such I take it that advocates of Paris Accord also intend to increase consumption of gas only until the peak year and it may be approximately am 18% increase.

How would such an 18% increase influence two major types of catastrophes faced by mankind – hurricanes, cyclones, etc. and heatwaves, droughts and wild fires? Our objective is to evaluate how these phenomena would be impacted by Paris Accord promoting more usage of natural gas to (a) replace coal or (b) supply additional energy required.

Our methodology

One needs to remember that every atom of carbon in oil and gas is associated with 2 and 4 atoms of hydrogen respectively. Natural gas is Methane (CH4) and oil can be depicted by (CH2). Substituting oil or gas for coal, we are reducing CO2 emissions because carbon content in fuel burnt is less. Balance amount of energy need to come from some combustion and that is of hydrogen in new fuel, oil or gas. This combustion – reaction of this hydrogen with oxygen in air – will yield what I call Newly Formed Water (NFW). I call it NFW because that water vapour was not available as water in global water cycle during last million years.

When you burn oil or gas a mixture of CO2 and NFW (and never only one of them) leaves the system together, at an elevated temperature. When Climate Scientists like Prof. John Seinfeld at Caltech University calculated that when CO2 concentration in atmosphere increases from 280 ppm to 560 ppm (a 280ppm increase or addition of 2094 Gt of CO2) atmospheric temperature increases by 1.20C, they also computed that 1302Gt of water vapour will evaporate from oceans and land to maintain constant relative humidity at this elevated temperature (by 1.20C), and this water vapour increases temperature by an additional 1.60C to give that much talked about total increase in temperature of 2.80C (1.20C rise due to 2094Gt of CO2 and 1.60C rise due to 1302Gt of H2O). But any new additional water vapour to maintain constant relative humidity at this further enhanced (by 1.60C) temperature & the temperature increase due to same is/was not considered.

So here also we envisage these two primary stimulants CO2 and NFW from combustion of gas or oil, will increase temperature to bring secondary stimulant stream of water vapour into atmosphere from oceans and land and exert a second increase in temperature and nothing more. When you burn 1 litre of gasoline (0.8kg) as fuel in your vehicle, 1.08kg or 1 litre of NFW along with 2.64kg of CO2 will get into atmosphere. These two primary stimulants will bring another 3.08 kg of water vapour (secondary stimulant) into atmosphere to maintain constant relative humidity. 

When one burns a litre of gasoline s/he should be prepared to receive this 4.16 kg of water as precipitation whenever or wherever that is going to come down. Obviously this water does not come down along the track of vehicle immediately after passage of vehicle. So both spatial and temporal accumulation takes place and what would be the most probable time for this water to come down. It would be when heaviest rain fall would take place under normal circumstances. Is it surprising that we receive much more rainfall than we used to and every passing year amount of gasoline used increases, amount of CO2 and NFW formed increases and amount of water vapour coming to maintain constant relative humidity increases and rainfall/precipitation received also increases?

In March, 2011 at Georgetown University, President Barak Obama announcing a four-pronged attack on climate change requested heavy vehicle users to switch over to natural gas. Complying with this request, 55% of new heavy vehicle purchasers in the second part of year opted for gas powered vehicles and natural gas combustion increased. What did this imply?

If the efficiencies of two types of engines – oil fuelled and gas fuelled – remain same, anybody who was using 1 litre (0.8kg) of oil would now be using 0.833kg of gas and generating 2.3kg of CO2 (instead of 2.64kg from oil) and 1.88kg of NFW (instead of 1.08kg earlier) and this flow of flue gases would bring up another 3.94 kg (instead of 3.08 kg earlier) of water vapour to maintain constant relative humidity. So the propensity for precipitation increased by a staggering 40% due to this switch over. 

We experienced this increased propensity in New York in November, 2012 in facing Sandy. In fact I wrote an article titled ‘From Georgetown to New York in 18 months’ and e-mailed it to Brian Dumaine at Fortune magazine suggesting that he uses it in any way he thinks appropriate. I am not sure whether he made use of it. This is what happens when you switch over from oil to gas and it is plain ordinary level chemistry and most elementary climate science. I am not sure whether anybody informed the President about these possibilities.

Triple effect of NFW

Normal theory of CO2 based climate change leading to precipitation would not yield such high values for probable precipitation. If we brought about total energy of 129,000 TW hrs used in 2015 only from coal, we may have generated only 39.6 Gt of CO2 which may have brought up another 23.8 Gt of water vapour into atmosphere and what would have been available for increased precipitation may be, only this 23.8 Gt at the most, assuming it comes down only once. If this total energy was obtained from gas we would have generated 29.7 Gt of CO2 along with 24.3 Gt of NFW and these two streams would bring an additional 39.4 Gt of water vapour to maintain constant relative humidity. Then what would be really available for precipitation will be 63.7 Gt (24.3Gt of NFW and 39.4 of evaporated water) if they come down only once. So if we obtain all our energy from gas instead of from coal, the propensity for precipitation and cyclones would increase by a staggering 168%. So are you surprised that Harvey brought down 45 trillion litres of water on Texas and Louisiana.

If we assume that NFW does not bring about a greenhouse gas effect as our climate scientists want us to believe, then we should be having only 17.8 Gt of new precipitation from evaporation due to CO2 and 24.3 Gt of NFW totaling 42.1 Gt which will be 33% understatement. 

If we look at temperature it would spell out a similar picture. The 39.6 Gt of CO2 from coal combustion and 23.8 Gt of water vapour entering the atmosphere to maintain constant relative humidity would increase temperature by 0.0220C and 0.0290C respectively. If this total energy were to be obtained from gas, then 29.74 Gt of CO2 and 24.37 Gt of NFW generated would have raised temperature by 0.0470C and water vapour entering atmosphere to maintain constant relative humidity at this higher temperature would increase temperature by another 0.0620C totaling 0.1090C which is 109% increase above the set up with coal combustion. 

Now let us look at the third climate parameter, wind.

When Sandy or similar hurricanes – above normal ones belonging to hurricane season and region – impact USA, they generally say it is due to warm, moist winds coming from Africa, warm ocean water and low wind shear. If one looks at all these three aspects one would see that water vapour from oil and gas combustion would yield more heat and moisture to the winds, surface temperature increase will be more due to water vapour than due to CO2 and viscosities of O2, N2, CO2 and H2O are in the ratio of 29,25, 19 and 13.

According to Wikipedia, there are six reasons which leads to formation of cyclones and NFW makes significant contributions towards five of these; sixth one is a location specific requirement. In September, 2008 Nature Magazine carried an article which said that from 1981 to 2006, wind speeds for strongest tropical storms increased from an average of 225 km/hr to 251 km/hr and ocean temperature averaged globally over all regions where tropical cyclones form increased from 25.20C to 28.50C i.e. at 0.0120C per year. Previous paragraphs showed us how NFW influences both wind speeds and temperatures.

It may be worth noting that when one considers last 120 years, the only 12-year period which saw five major hurricanes along the east coast of USA happens to be the last 12 years.

Way forward

If we are interested in reducing/eliminating these hurricanes we need to reduce amount of NFW we emit every year. This is not the way Paris Accord wants us to move. If we want to reduce the number of hurricanes or their intensities, we need to look at these numbers and decide specifically whether we want to move away from hydrogen containing fossil fuels as soon as possible. Then question arises as to how mankind is to obtain energy required. Amongst possible alternatives solar would rank high due to its ready availability. Main obstacle to use of solar energy on large scale to match amount of energy required for, say, transportation in a scenario when battery electric vehicles are the predominant mode of normal road transportation is availability of land and the need to carry out deforestation for establishing solar parks. 

Nobel Prize winner in Physics, Dr. Ivar Giaever has said global warming we experience is basically due to deforestation and construction of highways with black tarred surfaces. Forest cover not only converts CO2 in atmosphere to O2, energy in solar radiation to chemical energy – both these during photosynthesis – and reflects a certain fraction of solar radiation into outer space, but also cools the atmosphere by transporting water in the ground whenever necessary. The elimination of these four leads to global warming. Then when tarred road surface is built incident solar radiation is almost entirely absorbed only to be reemitted as longwave infrared radiation leading to global warming.

So the best place to lay photovoltaic solar panels to convert solar energy to electricity will be above highways and highway solarisation is defined as “A dedicated infrastructure for generating electricity for supply to the main grid and/or powering battery electric vehicles using solar energy collected by PV solar panels installed along and above the highways as a solution for climate change”. In a future where BEVs become main mode of road transportation, highway solarisation will enable us to provide power needed with least amount of transmission losses.

When this is done, we will be using a manufactured solar panel to (a) eliminate most amount of greenhouse gases – CO2 and NFW – for unit of energy actually used, (b) eliminate most amount of waste heat generated for unit of energy actually used and most importantly, (c) eliminate 1.4 kWhr of global warming for every kWhr of electricity generated/used. What more would you expect from a solution for climate change?


The fact that Newly Formed Water (NFW) from combustion of oil and gas burnt to obtain energy is far more dangerous than CO2 it replaces in providing energy stems from secondary level chemistry and elementary knowledge of climate science. NFW becomes dangerous due to its ability to impact significantly all three climate parameters temperature, precipitation and wind. 

Right now we are experiencing the worst of tropical cyclones to hit the USA and trillions of gallons of water are disrupting the lives of millions of people and causing damage to the tune of $ 100 billion. The Paris Accord, if implemented, and if usage of gas is promoted to achieve its objectives, it could increase these water related disasters dramatically, thus bringing up results contrary to its expectations. This is due to the inadequate study of energy generating techniques carried out by Scientists at helm of the science establishment providing support to the accord.

What we propose is to implement highway solarisation as early as possible and eliminate generation of NFW to provide “low CO2 energy”, as fast as possible and also eliminate global warming due to (a) deforestation as well as (b) highways already constructed or to be constructed.

It was President Donald Trump who initiated this pause to the Paris Accord and benefits arising from same could be enormous. He might be remembered as the American President who challenged the might of an army of global scientists and suggested we have a second look at climate change. Who knows – it might make all the difference and save mankind from water related disasters.

[Please note that due to the climate change effect of greenhouse gases not being directly proportional to their concentrations, the related absolute values given may not be exact. But I emphasise very strongly that the relationships between them would hold true in all instances quoted. One of my objectives is to remove the veil of mystery cast over climate change aspects, so that intelligent citizens of the world could understand it and constructively participate in its resolution.]

he writer is Managing Director,Somaratna Consultants Ltd.)

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