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Biotic Pump Overview 2009:
15 responses to the Spanish Meteorological Magazine

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1. For a general person and in a few words, what is the Biotic Pump Theory, BPT?
2. Why biotic?
3. And for a hydrologist with technical words?
4. What is the impact of BPT theory to the meteorologist tasks or meteorology point of view?
5. Are there any relationships or similarities of the BPT ideas with the projects to formation of special condition in Venus and Mars that were developed years ago to reproduce special conditions of planet habitability?
6. Is it a relatively new theory and there are historical antecedents?
7. What are the added values of this theory with respect to the other ideas or theories?
8. You have applied your theories it in the tropical zones, in particular on the Amazonia basin, haven't you?
9. Is it possible a great reforestation processes in the tropical rainforest so that it can have effects in the global climate within a few decades?
10. Some researches are not enthusiastic for this theory, how do you argue or respond scientifically to the critics?
11. Is it possible to apply this theory to other equatorial zones like tropical cyclone areas, Intertropical Convergence Zones, etc.
12. The Mediterranean Sea is a relatively warm sea during the autumn and in Spain we recently have reports of 800 mm of precipitation in 24 h or of 300 mm in 4-5 h. May we applied the BPT concepts to Mediterranean areas at middle latitudes?
13. The climatic change will increase the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere, how it would affect, according to his theory to the development of the water cycle and to rains?
14. What are the main ways of investigation to strengthen this theory?
15. Those that are interested in your theory that links or publications would recommend you?
RAM wants to thanks to Victor Gorshkov and Anastassia Makarieva for this interview.
We too thank RAM for interesting questions. 30 December 2009.
The interview in Spanish is available here.

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Men occasionally stumble over the truth,
but most of them pick themselves up
and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.

Winston Churchill

1. For a general person and in a few words, what is the Biotic Pump Theory, BPT?

The biotic pump theory has physical and ecological components. The physics is that the winds blow from where the rate of water vapor condensation is low to where it is high. The ecology is that the large evaporative surface of green leaves makes the evaporation and, consequently, condensation steadily more intense over the natural forests than over the ocean. Therefore, when the continent is covered by forest, winds blow from the ocean to land and deliver moisture to feed the precipitation process and compensate for the river runoff. This forest-induced ocean-to-land moisture transport is called the biotic pump of atmospheric moisture.

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2. Why biotic?

The word "biotic" (not "biological") emphasizes that the biotic moisture pump can be stably driven by all living organisms of the natural biota only, not by some particular species (e.g., some trees) or sets of species artificially selected by humans. The theory of biotic pump is one part of the concept of biotic regulation of the environment. According to this concept, the suitable for life environment is maintained in this state by living organisms of the intact natural biota (i.e., the totality of biological organisms) of the Earth. Information required for biotic regulation is written in the genetic programs of the biological species of the Earth's biota. For the stable operation of the biotic pump the entire complex ecosystem is necessary that includes trees, herbs and brushes, bacteria, fungi and animals all interacting with each other.

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3. And for a hydrologist with technical words?

As the landmasses are elevated above the ocean, due to gravity the continents are continuously losing water to the ocean via the river runoff. River runoff can totally deplete the global continental water stores in only a few years. Therefore, to keep the water cycle on land running, one needs a transport mechanism that would continuously deliver moisture back to the continent from the ocean.

Condensation of water vapor above the forest canopy reduces the amount of gas in the air column. In the result, air pressure at the surface is diminished. Moist air flows from the ocean towards the continental area of low pressure. Atmospheric moisture delivered from the ocean precipitates over land and compensates for the gravitational loss of liquid water via runoff.

The biotic pump forest should function in a complex manner to regulate the incoming moisture flux in order to balance between the Scylla and Charybdis of droughts (too low moisture supply) and floods (too high moisture supply). This can be achieved by various means, mainly by the biotic effects on aerodynamic roughness that ensures absence of drastic air acceleration as it moves inward from the ocean, by attenuating the biogenic release of condensation nuclei and other means.

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4. What is the impact of BPT theory to the meteorologist tasks or meteorology point of view?

For centuries, starting from the works of Hadley and his predecessors, atmospheric circulation has been associated with the differential heating of the Earth's surface and the Archimedes force which should make the warm and light air rise, and the cold and heavy air sink. The biotic pump theory describes a principally different and previously unknown driver of atmospheric circulation — air pressure drop and release of potential energy during water vapour condensation. We have shown that this physical process produces winds of observable velocities and is the main reason for atmospheric circulation on Earth. Differential heating plays a comparatively minor role being responsible for such minor wind patterns as, e.g., breezes or dust devils. This suggests a significant paradigm shift in modern meteorology.

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5. Are there any relationships or similarities of the BPT ideas with the projects to formation of special condition in Venus and Mars that were developed years ago to reproduce special conditions of planet habitability?

Both on Venus and on Mars condensation plays a conspicuous role in planet climatology. On Mars, it is water vapour and CO2 that undergo phase transitions, on Venus carbon dioxide is above the critical gas-liquid point; besides, there are sulphuric acid clouds there. Therefore, the physical mechanism of the BPT can be applied to describe atmospheric circulation on Mars and Venus.

But there is no life on Mars or Venus, and no biotic regulation. Could the environmental conditions of these planets be regulated biotically to make the planets habitable for life? Yes, they could. But one would need different natural ecosystems to have evolved on those planets. If the terrestrial ecosystems are transferred to Mars or Venus or placed within close reservoirs, they will inevitably disintegrate and cease to exist. Artificial design of biological systems capable of maintaining stable and life-compatible environment on Mars, Venus or elsewhere, is impossible in principle. The reason is that the information fluxes necessary for environmental regulation exceed by 20 orders of magnitude all possible information-handling facilities of the civilization. Such information fluxes are processed by the living cells of the biosphere. Read more here.

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6. Is it a relatively new theory and there are historical antecedents?

Biotic pump arises in the consequence of a peculiar interplay of four well-known physical laws — the Clausius-Clapeyron law, the ideal gas law, the gravity law and the energy conservation law.

Clausius-Clapeyron law says that saturated (i.e., maximum possible) pressure of water vapor approximately doubles per each ten degrees Celsius of temperature rise. The ideal gas and gravity laws combine to prescribe that in hydrostatic equilibrium water vapor pressure decreases twofold per each nine kilometers of ascent. Thus, saturated water vapor can only be static if the air temperature lapse rate does not exceed ten degrees per nine kilometers, or, a bit more accurately, a critical value of 1.2 deg C/km. But the energy conservation law, which determines that in the absence of an external heat supply the rising and expanding gas cools, prescribes that the temperature of a rising air parcel drops by on average 6.5 deg C/km (an intermediate value between the moist and dry adiabatic lapse rates). This is about six times larger than the critical static value. Thus, the four laws combine to prohibit water vapor to be in hydrostatic equilibrium in the atmosphere of Earth — its vertical distribution appears to be compressed nearly six-fold compared to the hydrostatic distribution.

The atmosphere in contact with the liquid water surface of the world ocean is unstable to condensation of water vapor. As an air parcel rises, it cools significantly more than by 1.2 deg C/km, so part of its water vapor condenses. In the result, air pressure at the surface (which is approximately equal to the weight of gas column) is reduced. An area of low surface pressure is formed in the region of condensation, so the air starts flowing towards that region. It brings there more water vapor, which sustains the process of condensation. This is how the biotic pump physically works.

The four laws at the basis of the BPT are of course well known. Several studies like that of Trenberth (1991, J. Climate 4: 707), van den Dool and Saha (1993, J. Climate 6: 22), Lackmann and Yablonsky (2004, J. Atm. Sci. 61: 1674) acknowledged the drop of air pressure upon condensation. Weaver and Ramanathan (1995, J. Geophys. Res., 100D, 11585) mentioned that the water vapour scale height can be obtained from consideration of Clausius-Clapeyron equation, thus re-establishing the theoretical result know from the older texts from the end of the 19th century but missing from modern meteorological literature. Gorshkov (1990) in the "Energetics of the Biosphere and Stability of the Environmental State", p. 147 noted that the energetics of hurricanes and tornadoes is determined by condensation after a prolonged period of evaporation, see also Gorshkov (1995) "Physical and biological bases of life stability", p. 227. The release of potential energy associated with condensation-related pressure drop, the physical basis of the biotic pump, has not been previously discussed.

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7. What are the added values of this theory with respect to the other ideas or theories?

The biotic pump theory provides a unified quantitative description of such atmospheric phenomena as (1) the large-scale stationary (continental and oceanic) circulation, (2) hurricanes and (3) tornadoes. The standing meteorological paradigm relies on the horizontal differential heating to explain the moderate winds of the large-scale circulation patterns. In some logical controversy, it abandons the concept of differential heating to describe hurricanes (the strong winds) as originating due to heat extraction from the horizontally isothermal oceanic surface. (Indeed, if differential heating is not needed for the strong winds, perhaps it is not needed for the moderate winds either?) Finally, it does not possess any developed physical theory for the origin tornadoes (the ever strongest winds developing over land). According to the BPT, these phenomena arise due to water vapor condensation that occurs in the atmosphere on a variety of spatial scales. Sound numerical estimates of the wind wall and eye radius and wind velocity profiles (tangential, radial and vertical) for hurricanes and tornadoes are produced by the new theory using but a limited number of fundamental atmospheric parameters like the water vapor partial pressure, circulation radius and surface roughness.

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8. You have applied your theories it in the tropical zones, in particular on the Amazonia basin, haven't you?

Yes, the Amazon forest is the strongest biotic pump on Earth that delivers huge amounts of moisture by thousands kilometers inland. According to the biotic pump theory, deforestation of the Amazon would turn the South American continent to desert, because the ocean-to-land surface winds would reverse their direction. In contrast, modern global circulation models (GCMs) predict a modest if any post-deforestation precipitation reduction in the region considering atmospheric circulation to be unaffected by vegetation cover. At the same time, it is worthy noting that modern GCMs are not able to reproduce the Amazon water cycle. The modelled amount of atmospheric moisture brought to the Amazon by winds appears to be twice less than the actual amount measured from river runoff. Despite this being a well-known and long-standing deficiency in the current treatments of the Amazon water cycle by GCMs, we have heard of no attempts to apply the new biotic pump theory to understand the physical and ecological principles of atmospheric circulation in the Amazon.

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9. Is it possible a great reforestation processes in the tropical rainforest so that it can have effects in the global climate within a few decades?

It is not possible to perform an artificial reforestation. As we mentioned above, biotic pump is a complex information-rich phenomenon that appeared as the product of biological evolution hundreds of millions of years ago. Simply replanting trees will not help. However, it should be possible to facilitate the natural processes of forest self-recovery. We foresee that if the biotic pump theory is seriously taken, and the task of global reforestation recognized, one can expect the appearance of ecological medical science. This science, similar to medical science which facilitates human recovery from various diseases, will search the ways to facilitate self-recovery of natural forest ecosystems after the various disturbances.

Complete restoration of the biotic pump power is possible when the natural process of self-recovery (succession) has been completed. In boreal ecosystems this takes more than hundred years. However, the first significant effects can be expected within the few decades when the biological productivity of the forest ecosystem is restored.

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10. Some researches are not enthusiastic for this theory, how do you argue or respond scientifically to the critics?

So far a noteworthy objection to the biotic pump theory has been that the release of latent heat associated with condensation will lead to increased temperature and rise of air pressure rather than drop of it. Such an attitude, for example, was advanced by a referee of our recent paper in ACPD (Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions) and was endorsed by the ACP Executive Committee. However, as we showed in our Final Response, p. S12442, the referee's calculations were made for a process, adiabatic condensation at constant volume, that is prohibited by the laws of thermodynamics and ignores the Clausius-Clapeyron law and the gravity effects.

Indeed, in hydrostatic equilibrium surface air pressure is equal to the weight of air column of unit area, i.e., to the cumulative mass of air molecules per unit area multiplied by the acceleration of gravity. Weight does not depend on temperature. Therefore, once the air mass is decreased by condensation (removal of water vapor from the gas phase), air pressure at the surface drops via a rapid hydrostatic adjustment irrespective of the change of the vertical temperature profile in the atmospheric column that might be affected by latent heat release. This surface pressure drop is responsible for the biotic pump moisture transport in the lower atmosphere.

Generally, we welcome any constructive attention to the BPT, whether it is critical or positive, and try to provide detailed responses using all media that are available to us.

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11. Is it possible to apply this theory to other equatorial zones like tropical cyclone areas, Intertropical Convergence Zones, etc.

Yes, it is possible. According to the BPT, the currently observed form of the Intertropical Convergence Zone is profoundly impacted by the Congo and Amazon forest river basins and the Indonesian and tropical Asia forests and would have been different in their absence.

In particular, an extensive forest cover that pulls atmospheric moisture away from the ocean to the continent prevents the formation of hurricanes in the ocean region adjacent to the forest-covered continent.

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12. The Mediterranean Sea is a relatively warm sea during the autumn and in Spain we recently have reports of 800 mm of precipitation in 24 h or of 300 mm in 4-5 h. May we applied the BPT concepts to Mediterranean areas at middle latitudes?

The BPT concept does not have geographic limits of applicability.

Maximum evaporation is limited by the incoming solar radiation and cannot vary significantly. In contrast, precipitation rate can vary greatly with respect to its average value that is globally (but not locally) equal to the mean evaporation rate. This is a very important distinction between precipitation and evaporation. As noted above, only extensive natural forests can stabilize the regional precipitation rates to prevent droughts and floods. Climatic extremes of both types are inherent to territories deprived of natural forest cover.

The Mediterranean Sea is a relatively small water reservoir between Africa and Europe. Atmospheric transport of moisture evaporated from this sea can significantly affect only continental areas comparable in size to the sea itself. The main source of moisture for Europe remains the Atlantic ocean. Like everywhere else, degradation of natural vegetation cover in the result of fires, cutting and agricultural exploitation undermines the regional water cycle and moisture transport in Southern Europe and facilitates regional desertification.

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13. The climatic change will increase the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere, how it would affect, according to his theory to the development of the water cycle and to rains?

The intensity of the water cycle is limited by the incoming solar radiation, so it cannot change conspicuously with increasing atmospheric concentration of water vapour. Degradation of natural vegetation and desertification on land will, irrespective of global temperature and vapour concentration, make the land drier. This is the main message of the biotic pump theory: the intensity of water cycle on land primarily depends on the state of its vegetation cover and not on the geophysical conditions.

We also note that, according to the biotic regulation concept, a word-wide degradation of natural ecosystems leads to destabilization of climate, not necessarily warming. Earth's climate with its liquid hydrosphere is unstable with respect to spontaneous transitions to the life-incompatible states of either a snowball Earth or a runaway greenhouse effect, due to the positive feedback between sea surface temperature and the content of atmospheric moisture (the main greenhouse substance). Climate change is not global warming, but the on-going loss of climate stability.

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14. What are the main ways of investigation to strengthen this theory?

We believe that we have set out the main concepts of the theory. We are convinced that the condensation-induced air flow will be recognized as the main driver of atmospheric circulation on Earth. So, in our opinion, there is currently a huge amount of exciting work for climate physicists to re-examine the established lines of thought in the view of the new knowledge. As for our own research plans, there are several theoretical tasks to be solved towards a more exact description of the hurricane eye, a more detailed incorporation of friction to the stationary circulation pattern of the biotic pump, description of latent and sensible heat fluxes and re-examination of the friction velocity u* based on the new approach. A separate task is to quantify stability of the biotic pump stationary circulation depending on local evaporation and the size of forested territory.

Regarding the regional data analysis, we believe that it would be interesting to compare historical precipitation, runoff and forest cover data for the last two-three hundred years for which there is reliable historical record on anthropogenic activities. For example, massive deforestation that occurred two centuries ago around Moscow (the capital of Russia) was accompanied with the disappearance of a large number of small and medium-sized rivers. As our colleagues report, Colombia, in pre-hispanic times, was one of the regions with most surface water in the world. Today, with progressing deforestation, Colombia is affected by rapidly spreading desertification. Such regional patterns should be seriously studied across the globe. It has become common to uncritically blame "global warming" for any climatic change, but the true reason of desertification is different. It is the degradation of the biotic pump of atmospheric moisture.

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15. Those that are interested in your theory that links or publications would recommend you?

All our publications regarding the biotic pump theory are listed here. The reader should start from Biotic pump of atmospheric moisture as driver of the hydrological cycle on land, which is the main publication.

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