For Heaven’s sake you dipsticks, it’s a Mars rover, to find out things about our neighboring planet. So what does The Guardian‘s James West feature?
“Nasa’s new rover will hunt for signs of martian climate change, and in doing so will shed light on what’s going on back home”
In one respect study of other planets’ climates can be very helpful, as in the seminal work of Sherwood B. Idso:
In CO2-induced global warming: a skeptic’s view of potential climate change, 1998, Idso describes no less than eight natural experiments from which he derived surface air temperature sensitivity factors ≈ 0.17 °C/(W/m2) inland and ≈ 0.09 °C/(W/m2) by the coast. For the polar regions he derives a figure of ≈ 0.2 °C/(W/m2) and for all other regions ≈ 0.09 °C/W/m2 for a global mean of ≈ 0.1 °C/(W/m2).
Significantly, Idso derived sensitivity figures in agreement for the world as we find it today at local, regional and planetary scales, over billions of years of the planet’s history and over our nearest celestial neighbors. Finding a relationship that holds over such physical and temporal scales to be mere coincidence is unlikely, to say the least, and thus inspires some confidence in the global mean value of ≈ 0.1 °C/(W/m2).
Climate models however do not use Idso’s cleverly derived sensitivity figures but rather the absurdly high 0.5 – 1.0 K/(W/m2) in accord with Hansen’s ridiculous guesstimation in Can we defuse The Global Warming Time Bomb? naturalSCIENCE, August 1, 2003 (SciAm version here).
Can’t see a Mars rover changing that, can you?
Scientists have made great strides in predicting what will happen to Earth’s climate, but there is a fundamental problem: we only have one climate to test our hypotheses in. We can’t irreversibly hack Earth’s climate (by pumping it full of toxic gases, for example) to test whether our assumptions are right or wrong—that, obviously, would be disastrous for Earth’s inhabitants. That means climate models are loaded with historical and empirical data to make them function.
If only we could take the model to another planet to really test the underpinning physics.
Bingo. Curiosity, the car-sized mobile chemistry lab that dropped spectacularly onto the surface of Mars yesterday, will give scientists a rare chance to test their assumptions about how climate change works on Earth. It will hunt the surface of Mars for sediment to pick up and drop into its sophisticated onboard machinery, then send back critical insights into how the climate of Mars—once warmer, with rain, rivers, and deltas—has changed over billions of years, lashed by solar winds.
“You learn about how to understand an atmosphere by seeing different atmospheres,” said Mark Lemmon, a planetary scientist from Texas A&M University who is part of Curiosity’s climate team. “And the more we know about Mars’ atmosphere, the better we can really understand our own.”
Curiosity allows scientists to “break the model,” he said. “We find out much, much more about our place in the universe than we could know just by contemplating ourselves.”
All with the latest bells and whistles: “We can remotely look at a rock with a laser beam, vaporize it, and see what elements are in it,” Lemmon said in a telephone interview from Pasadena, the morning after the historic landing.