April 05, 2005

The Day of Dandruff 

Often reality is stranger and much more complex than we think, and this is just another case - a nice one at that. The story is, a German research group discovered that solid aerosols of biological origin - among them, dandruff and other flaking skin, probably have an impact on clouds dynamics and thus climate much bigger than previously imagined.

He estimated that the amount of biological particles in the air, worldwide, annually is 1,000 teragrams. A teragram is somewhat more than a million tons.

By comparison, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, established by the World Meteorological Organization and the U.N. Environment Program, estimated biological particles at 56 teragrams, compared with 3,300 teragrams of sea salt and 2,000 teragrams of mineral dust.

The new finding means researchers should take biological materials seriously in climate modeling, in cloud physics and in hygienic questions such as allergies, Jaenicke said.
“Don’t regard that as a minor contribution,” he said.

So here we go, another factor to consider in that extremely complex system that is the Earth climate. Should we expect another international treaty to regulate the dandruff emissions? EU constitutional dictates about how to comb your cat and dispose properly of the falling hair? Elimination of plants that produce "bad" pollen?

I found this paper through TCS, which features an article dealing more rigorously with the enormous difficulties of climate modelling. Still, it entered in the common wisdom that the "global warming" is caused totally and exclusivley by the human emissions of carbon dioxide. Is there a limit to ignorance?


The number one greenhouse gas is H20, dwarfing by far the effect of CO2.

Where are the regulations on urination?


I have some experience with IR spectroscopy and it is well known that water and CO2 absorb in the same spectral regions.

But clouds can also reflect solar radiation back into space. It's an enormously complex system, and no one these days can honestly say "X will cause Y" with a reasonable certainty. The "precaution principle" is not a good solution either, because its effect is to slow down and even stop economic development.

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