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Earth system dynamics as the consequence of the second law: Maximum power limits, dissipative structures, and planetary interactions


Kleidon,  Axel
Research Group Biospheric Theory and Modelling, Dr. A. Kleidon, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Kleidon, A., Zehe, E., Ehret, U., & Scherer, U. (2014). Earth system dynamics as the consequence of the second law: Maximum power limits, dissipative structures, and planetary interactions. In R. C. Dewar, C. Lineweaver, R. Niven, & K. Regenauer-Lieb (Eds.), Beyond the second law: entropy production and non-equilibrium systems (pp. 163-182). doi:10.1007/978-3-642-40154-1_8.

Planet Earth is a thermodynamic system far from equilibrium and its functioning—obviously—obeys the second law of thermodynamics, at the detailed level of processes, but also at the planetary scale of the whole system. Here, we describe the dynamics of the Earth system as the consequence of sequences of energy conversions that are constrained by thermodynamics. We first describe the well-established Carnot limit and show how it results in a maximum power limit when interactions with the boundary conditions are being allowed for. To understand how the dynamics within a system can achieve this limit, we then explore with a simple model how different configurations of flow structures are associated with different intensities of dissipation. When the generation of power and these different configuration of flow structures are combined, one can associate the dynamics towards the maximum power limit with a fast, positive and a slow, negative feedback that compensate each other at the maximum power state. We close with a discussion of the importance of a planetary, thermodynamic view of the whole Earth system, in which thermodynamics limits the intensity of the dynamics, interactions strongly shape these limits, and the spatial organization of flow represents the means to reach these limits.