Curious Connections in Climate Science #1

Pint of Guinness. (Image Wikipedia)

Did you ever watch any of the TV series Connections by James Burke? I used to love it. I was at school at the time and I was hooked right from the first series. All the shows/series can be watched here.

Well, what connects a pint of Guinness, a 19th Century Irish Mathematician, the IPCC’s estimates of climate sensitivity, the mining industry and a climate blogger?

Recently I found myself sharing a pint with a friend and expert I’d gone to consult, someone I’ve known for years, an engineer who applies computer simulations to modelling water flow.

Our conversation turned to the dark brew itself.  Watching a pint of Guinness settle is mesmerising.

Counterintuitively the bubbles seem to fall down the side of the glass.  It has been the subject of many a conversation in bars all around the world, and the subject of research, which of course used computer simulations – computational fluid dynamics, or CFD.  A quick Google search for “Guinness bubbles CFD” throws up plenty of explanatory links. Here’s one  from Monarch, an American distributor of Guinness:  Do the Bubbles in a Glass of Guinness Beer Go Up or Down?

…with the help of CFD, we can provide a categorical and definitive answer: the bubbles go both up and down.

Now CFD relies upon the Navier-Stokes equations for fluid flow and Monarch deftly weaves in a useful fact – George Stokes was Irish, which conveniently links him with pints of the black stuff.

Back in 1992 Navier-Stokes equations were the subject of the PhD thesis of a certain German mathematician who then got a job in the Max-Planck-Institut für Meteorologie. Gabi Hegerl thus began her career in climate science that would ultimately result in her involvement and leading role in the IPCC.   As Coordinating Lead Author of Chapter 9 (Understanding and Attributing Climate Change) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), Working Group I, she was responsible for the publication of estimations of climate sensitivity recently dissected by Nic Lewis in a guest post over at Climate Etc.:

Here, I demonstrate an error in the core scientific report (WGI) that came about through the IPCC’s alteration of a peer-reviewed result.  This error is highly consequential, since it involves the only instrumental evidence that is climate-model independent  cited by the IPCC as to the probability distribution of climate sensitivity, and it substantially increases the apparent risk of high warming from increases in CO2 concentration. (bold mine)

Of course climate sensitivity and the risk of high warming is what is fuelling the whole political crusade and environmental imperative that we must do something – NOW!  So on the basis of the deliberations of a small group of scientists the world is asked to commit billions to reduce CO2 production.  But while the rest of the world dithers, back tracks and refuses to commit to carbon taxes, the UK, Europe and Australia buy the hype and Julia Gillard pushes unpopular Carbon Taxes.

The theory goes like this:

  • The free market does not include the ‘true societal cost’ of intensive production (which includes impacts due to CO2 – namely global warming).
  • Adding a tax will internalise this external, societal cost
  • Pushing up the costs of goods produced intensively will level the playing field; consumers will pay the social cost of their materialistic desires.

However industry is concerned. The fear overall of course is that production will shift to countries with no carbon taxes or lower ones. 

For example coal is Australia’s biggest export industry, and  the Minerals Council of Australia  said the tax could cost the industry A$25 billion to 2020 and 20,000 jobs.  But sustainable mining is an area in which Australia aspires to lead the world. From CSIRO minerals division:

“Australia is blessed with both mineral and environmental richness. An important challenge for the minerals industry is to manage and reduce any tensions between the two. We must ensure that utilising our mineral resources does not come at the expense of the environment. The industry can only operate through the existence of an informal social ‘licence to operate’. This ‘licence’ is located in societal expectations that the impacts of mineral operations are outweighed by the benefits they bring. As the future unfolds, societal expectations and acceptance of this trade-off may change. However, as the mineral sector is critical to Australia’s prosperity, it is vital that Australia develops and employs innovative technologies to minimise the impacts and maximise the benefits of mineral operations.”

CFD model (Image CSIRO)

For me there’s a huge disconnect that on one hand CSIRO has a huge Mineral Processing division which supports research and innovation in the mining industry (including CFD modelling), but on the other hand it has just established a new climate change research team. It is trying to shore up the sector on one hand while helping to pull the rug from under its feet with the other.

Perhaps it only makes sense if you are a true believer in CAGW, whereas obviously I am not.

There’s one final connection that brings the story back full circle. From the Guinness bubbles article:

If George Stokes was alive today would he be a CFD practitioner? Probably, according to Nick Stokes, his great-great-grandson. It so happens that Nick Stokes is a Principal Research Scientist with CSIRO, […] and a world-recognized CFD expert.

Now it took Kevin to make the connection, which did not immediately jump out at me, but yes, if the name is familiar to climate bloggers, it is the self-same person.

This entry was posted in Quirky Stuff and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Curious Connections in Climate Science #1

  1. KevinUK says:


    Great article which shows what an odd situation CSIRO is in i.e. that it is happy to accept funding from large multi-national companies and organisations/governments that sit on both sides of the CAGW debate.

    Some might say ‘well that’s just business!’ but IMO it is the height of hypocrisy. I really hope this article gets the attention it deserves as it clearly demonstrates what a hypocritical organisation CSIRO is (and equally how hypocritical some of it’s CAGW supporting employees are).


    • Verity Jones says:

      I don’t suppose any other large research institution is any different really – AEA in the UK; Fraunhofers in Germany etc. The larger they are the more diverse their operations. They rely more on direct consultancy and contract research funding than universities and anyone, these days working on energy, with a hint of an aspiration to serve goverment too (or helping industry to meet imposted targets), also works on carbon reduction and/or climate change.
      Say really, but as you always say – follow the money. Tons of hypocrisy out there.

  2. j ferguson says:

    With regard to Guinness and the bubbles, both of which I have considerable, delightful, first hand experience, I found the downward flow of bubbles on the inside surface of the glass not at all surprising. In our navigation about the waterways of the US east coast, it is not at all unusual to find reverse-current near the shore of rivers and estuaries, the effect usually having something to do with the enthusiasm (term of art) of the main flow and the configuration of the bottom.

    I’d assumed that a similar torroidal flow occurred in a glass of Guinness. I must make further enquiries.

    Do keep at it – the blogging. Although having said that, the introduction of an Osborne I into a struggling marriage, hastened its end.

    • Verity Jones says:

      Yes – down with modelling – first hand experience needed for this one – after all a model always gives similar results, but we know the real world to be more variable!
      Oh I’m sure this resurgence of blogging will have to wane again soon. I’m fresh from holiday and my brain is clear at the moment.

  3. While Dublin is the best place to drink Guinness, I have great nostalgia for Lavery’s bar in Belfast (Bradbury Place), near the Queen’s University. Back in 1970, Lavery’s still had sawdust on the floor and the 36 imperial gallon barrels (45 US gallons) of beer were mounted so that the pints could be drawn using the force of gravity alone. None of those plastic pipes and hand operated pumps that we see today.

    Lavery’s served draught “XXX” which is what we now call “Guinness” but they also had “XX” and “X” on tap. These are weaker brews known as Porters that look like the full strength product but are less inclined to affect your ability to work after imbibing.

    In 2008 I revisited Lavery’s and was shocked to find that it has morphed into a watering hole for young people who demand bright lights, blaring juke box music and Budweiser. The sawdust and old fogies are long gone. You can still get Guinness but it is hand pumped. Don’t ask for Porter as you will get blank looks.

    • Verity Jones says:

      I developed a taste for Guinness on a University field trip many many years ago. The barman in the local bar really knew how to pull a pint of Guinness and I discovered I had a much clearer head in the morning than if I drank cider, which was my ‘volume’ tipple at the time. It may also have been something to do with the bitterness in the Guinness slowing me down such that I drank a bit less.

      I have done a ‘tour of Belfast Bars’, but I can’t keep up with Irish friends and have only hazy memories… I don’t think Lavery’s was part of it but the Crown Bar certainly was. It is very impressive. Owned by the National Trust (I believe). Lavery’s sounds like so many bars these days. If I have a choice I do an immediate about turn at the door. It is fantastic to find a great bar that has resisted such changes and has gone with great food and real ale. But then when we visit such bars now I ususally end up being the one driving.

      I was working in the west of Ireland shorly after the smoking ban was introduced there (well before that in the UK) and it was lovely to be able to have lunch in the local bar, since there were few other places to eat, and not come out stinking of cigarette smoke.

      • If you ever come to Florida, we have a wonderful tavern in Melbourne called “Charlie and Jake’s”. While it does not have sawdust on the floor, they brew a wide range of excellent beers on the premises including a very dark draught beer that does that weird thing with some of the bubbles descending. However, it tastes more like “Mackeson” than “Guinness” so it appeals to a different bunch of people. The “Brew Master” is a really cool guy who wears sneakers.

        You won’t have to worry about tobacco smoke as the bar is ingeniously designed so that part of it is out in the open and that is where the smokers sit while the rest of us enjoy the benefits of air conditioning. While Texas swelters, this part of Florida is enjoying a cool summer so sitting outside in July is tolerable while it will be downright pleasant from October to May. The happy hour features “twofers” so that one can buy two pints for $5. I should mention that a pint here is only 16 ounces rather than the 20 ounce pint that you are used to.

        As an alumnus of Pembroke college I appreciated your mention of G.G. Stokes who was briefly the “Master” there. One of his predecessors (Nicholas Ridley) was burnt at the stake for heresy in 1555. Sorry for getting carried away by James Burke and his love of “Connections”!

        [Reply – no need to apologise – I seem to find connections everywhere even when I’m not looking for them, Verity]

  4. E.M.Smith says:


    Hmmm…. I’ve got a posting that derived from looking at clouds while “tippling” a few….

    Clearly bubbles and clouds are finely connected with science…. I shall have to repeat the Guinness experiment here and see if warmer temperatures have any influence 😉 We were using “America’s oldest brewery (r)” for our experiments: Yuengling “Traditional Lager – Original Amber Beer”. (Though, by Irish standards, it is a wee lad… not even 200 years old… “Since 1829” per the bottle.)

    While it has some of the effect, there seems to be an impact from the lower viscosity of the dynamic fluid… I suspect a comparison of several different ‘thicknesses’ will be required to fully characterize the physics…

    So, I figure a suite of 4 or 5 “working fluids” and a set of 3 broad temperature ranges ought to just about do it…

    Come on Lads, we’re doing it for Science!

    BTW, I came to this post via a link at:

    from Gallopingcamel. To whom I can only express thanks!

    I wonder what the beer / wine drinker ratio is on an IPCC panel? Might there be a statistical connection between those who have observed the fine bubbles in great detail and being skeptical of “science” that ignores the unexpected? Might the folks who always see wine just sit in the glass think all physics is so simple minded? I know that I’ve seen the fine bubbles going down while one or two Big Bubbles would rise through them (on rare occasions, often when ‘topping up’ a glass with some larger bubbles stuck to the inner surface about 1/2 to 3/4 of the way down) and pondered that perhaps I did not know fluid dynamics in mixed fluids as well as it ought be known…

    Hmmm…. “Guinness – Foundation of Fluid Dynamics” has a nice ring to it… ( or perhaps “Beer, foundation of wisdom and civilization”…)

    Over at Tallbloke’s they were also contemplating clouds (and ‘humidity / sunspot’ connections):

    So perhaps they can be recruited for some “beer vs humidity vs sunspots” analysis…

    If it is hotter / colder vs sunspots, one would expect beer sales to modulate accordingly.

    (As his humidity data were from about 30,000 feet, one could only use beer sales on airplanes data to correlate with it, and as airlines have jacked up the beer prices, I fear they have polluted the data with artifacts, rendering it useless – and cutting my in flight beer consumption dramatically… but perhaps “proxy data” can be found from pubs in Denver… )

    Well, “back to work”. There are more clouds to be inspected and more bubbles to be observed… 😉

  5. Teresa Stokes says:

    This is all good fun and it made me really thirsty to read it, I have just had to open a beer. A nice German pils though: I hate Guinness despite my Irish ancestry, so I really had never noticed this business with the bubbles before. My sister found this blog when googling our cousin Nick Stokes but I have to point out an error: Sir George Gabriel Stokes’s only son had no children so his line sadly died out. Nick Stokes is, to be precise, his second cousin five times removed.

    • Verity Jones says:

      thanks for commenting and correcting this. Trust marketing people to tweek a story – it just wouldn’t have been the same to explain it properly. I actually had real fun writing this. I think it appealed to the way my brain works – jumping around all over the place.

      • Teresa Stokes says:

        You can see why they did it, after all “second cousin twice removed” does not have quite the same ring to it, does it!

Comments are closed.