Monthly Archives: March 2010

Interview Of Dr. Faisal Hossain On The BBC Show “The Naked Scientists: Science Radio & Science Podcasts”

Interview of Dr. Faisal Hossain pn the BBC show “The Naked Scientists: Science Radio & Science Podcasts” titled

Dam a River – Change the Weather

The podcast is available (see – Faisal’s talk is later on the podcast) with the transcript below

Dr. Faisal Hossain, Tennessee Technological University

Ben –   Most of the water that we use comes from reservoirs.  These artificial lakes are often created by damming a river.  Once a large enough body of water has accumulated, you can tap it off, purify it and send it out to peoples’ homes; or you can release it back through turbines in the dam to generate hydroelectric power.  Simple as this sounds though, there are environmental consequences, including an effect on the local weather.  Dr Faisal Hossain is from Tennessee Technological University, and he joins us on the line now.  Hello, Faisal.

Faisal –   Hello, Ben.  Good afternoon.

Ben –   How many dams are there in the world?  Do we actually know?

Faisal –   Getting a precise number is tough but large dams, which are defined by the International Commission of Large Dams as more than 15 metres in height; they’re probably about more than 100,000 of these around the world.  And approximately, small and large, we might have about a million dams.

Gordon Dam, Southwest National Park, Tasmania, AustraliaBen –   Right!  A million dams sounds like an enormous amount.  How long have they been around?

Faisal –   Most of them were built in the early 19th century, all the way up to, I think right after the Second World War.  Then in the ‘60s, I think the environmental issues of it caught up, and most of them were already built, so it stopped right on that time.  So, the typical age is probably a few decades. Maybe two to three decades or more.

Ben –   That seems fairly old for something that we rely on quite so much.  Were they built to last?

Faisal –   Well, dams are generally built to last.  You could say, they should last almost forever if they’re properly maintained and operated. You should be able to use the dam for what it was built for, for as long as you want.  But there are issues with dams, like they get filled up with sedimentation and silt.   Sometimes, dredging of the dam and all that gets a little hard and it makes more sense not to use the dam or to decommission or remove the dam from the river.

Ben –   I’d imagine, removing a dam is quite an engineering task as well.

Faisal –   Yes, it is.  It’s still not a very well understood discipline.  It’s just coming up because now, we have to worry about what we’re going to do with some of these dams that we built.  We really didn’t think about what we were going to do when we built them, if they were not to last forever.

Ben –   We can see fairly obviously that dams change the river flow in any particular river that they’re put into, but what influence do they have on the local weather?

Faisal –   The first thing is, it’s a dam. It impounds the river and it creates an open body of water which is an artificial reservoir or a lake and that itself, being exposed to the sky and the sun, creates a huge source for moisture in the air.  That as a quantity may not be much, but if you factor in the other applications for which a dam is being built in particular like say, irrigation; in which you’re drawing the water from the dam, the reservoir, and then you’re irrigating thousands and thousands of square miles or kilometres, you’re actually adding a tremendous amount of water vapour to the air.  Thereby, you can actually change a lot of the dynamics of how the rainfall used to form in the pre-dam era.  You can drastically change it to have more rainfall and much heavier rainfall than normal.

Ben –   So it’s not just the building of the dam itself, but it’s what you’re then going to use the water for?

Faisal –   Yes.  If you just look into the dam itself, that won’t be much.  You have to look into the changes in the landscape and the land use that it triggers, and most dams do because a dam will typically make a region downstream safer from floods.  So there’s more urbanisation which again has impact on the weather; then you can have more irrigation, or more recreational uses.  So you do change the landscape in a fairly drastic way, systematically.  It doesn’t happen overnight, but it happens on scales over a few decades, and that in turn will lead to some significant changes in the local climate, depending on what kind of climate zone it is in.

Ben –   This all seems very logical – that when you bung up a load of water and spread it out around the land that you’re going to end up with changes in the weather.  But do we have any actual evidence that this is happening?

Faisal –   Actually, we do because there were a lot of studies done by some of my colleagues that we’re trying to work with now.  At the University of Colorado, Dr. Roger Pielke, who was an expert on climate, he and his colleagues have shown that actually, with irrigation and particularly if you have a very heterogeneous landscape, you can  increase the thunderstorm activity.  In other words, you can make the thunderstorms more frequent and you can make them much heavier.  So there’s short bursts of cloud water pouring in.  You can make them much more extreme.  So those studies have been there, but the connection to the dam and the reservoir as a triggering mechanism has really been looked into from an engineering perspective.

Ben –   And thinking of the engineering perspective, if building a dam does cause an increase in local rainfall, does this mean that actually, the dams themselves have been designed for less water flow than we now get?

Faisal –   That is a possibility.   Of course, the impact that a reservoir, with its land use change, creates is not uniform or consistent throughout the world.  Usually, you might see most of the impact in arid and semi arid regions as we are seeing in our research.  If they do change a lot of the rainfall patterns and you end up seeing more rainfall than the “normal” for which it was designed, yes.  That, together with the compounding problem of increasing sedimentation or loss of storage can make the situation a little worse.  In other words, you’ll have more water coming in from upstream, but then every year we’re losing a lot of storage in the dam.  So it means you actually have them to keep the gates open more than what was designed for.  So that is always a possibility.

Ben –   Does that, in turn, mitigate some of the beneficial effects that you get such as reducing flood risks, if actually, you’re keeping the gates open a large proportion of the time anyway?  Do you still get the floods downstream that you would’ve got before the dam was built?

Faisal –   I think it still does mitigate the big floods.  I’m a civil engineer by training, and by the nature of my training, I am very much a pro-dam person.  But as engineers, when we built the dams, we always treated all these design parameters for which we build the dam as static . As in, it’s going to be the same a hundred years down the road or 500 years down the road.  We never considered that the very structure that we’re building and the applications that they’re serving might itself compromise the design parameters.  So, yes – it may not be as successful or as effective as it was before for flood control, but it will still have some value.  I think the key thing is to understand for which regions and what type of dams and land use this will be an issue, and to modify our practice of operating the dams that’s much more climate friendly and much more sustainable in the 21st century.

Ben –   With a better knowledge of the impact of building a dam, are we now in a position where we can predict a bit better what would happen if we were to build a dam or if we were to decommission one?  What sort of predictions could we actually make?

Faisal –   Actually, we are – independently, a study of the impact of human activities on the local weather has been going on since a few decades ago.  So there’s a rich body of research that’s been done.  People have looked into how urbanisation affects local weather, how irrigation does, how other types of land use change impacts weather – especially the rainfall.  So I think we’re poised at a very interesting time where we can connect all this to the dam building practices, and we’ve got excellent computer models that can actually project either 50 or 100-year scenarios into the future of how the local weather might change.  And I think this is what the civil engineering profession has to embrace – to be able to do a much better lifecycle analysis, throughout the entire lifespan, predict the major extreme conditions and kind of plan for it in the design itself.

Ben –   Well I think that sounds like a very promising future for the future of dam design and dam building.  That was Dr. Faisal Hossain.  He’s a researcher at Tennessee Technological University, where he’s been looking at how dams alter the local weather.

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Filed under Climate Change Forcings & Feedbacks, Climate Science Reporting

Joanne Simpson (1923-2010)

It is with sadness that I report on the passing of Joanne Simpson. Joanne is a giant in the science of weather and climate.

I wrote of my perspective of her legacy in the article

Pielke Sr., R.A., 2003: Joanne Simpson — An ideal model of mentorship. AMS Meteorological Monographs, Vol. 29, No. 15, 17-24.


Tao, W.-K., J. Halverson, M. LeMone, R. Adler, M. Garstang, R. Houze Jr., R.A. Pielke Sr., and W. Woodley, 2003: The research of Dr. Joanne Simpson: Fifty years investigating hurricanes, tropical clouds and cloud systems. AMS Meteorological Monographs, Vol. 29, No. 15, 1-15.

Her achievements have been many.  These include not only her scientific expertise and contributions, but also the model of mentorship which she promoted. She insulated and protected her staff and students from the conflicts of higher management, and dealt with such bureaucratic activities herself. She was a tireless fighter for her students and staff. This permitted an optimal environment for professional growth.

In my Pielke 2003 article, with respect to her research contributions,  I wrote

“The richness of Joanne Simpson’s research accomplishments are best appreciated by tracking our current knowledge of the atmosphere to where these concepts were first discussed in the peer-reviewed literature. Her breadth of contribution is impressive and ranges from the cumulus cloud to global scale. Early in her career, she recognized the critical role of cumulus clouds in the earth’s atmosphere, and now she continues to build on her innovative and broad expertise in such programs as the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM; Kummerow et al. 1998) and the Tropical Ocean Global Atmosphere Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Response Experiment (TOGA COARE; Halverson et al. 1999). When one uncovers the origin of many of our most basic concepts in atmospheric science, it is quite impressive how much of this knowledge is founded in her original work!”

She will be missed. The world is better because she lived among us.

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New Paper “The Impact Of Urbanization On Current And Future Coastal Precipitation: A Case Study For Houston” By Shepherd Et Al 2010

There is a new paper which demonstrates the role of urban areas in rainfall. It is

J Marshall Shepherd, 2010: The impact of urbanization on current and future coastal precipitation: a case study for Houston, Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design. doi:10.1068/b34102t

The abstract reads

The approach of this study was to determine, theoretically, what impact current and future urban land use in the coastal city of Houston, Texas has on the space and time evolution of precipitation on a `typical’ summer day. Regional model simulations of a case study for 25 July 2001 were applied to investigate possible effects of urban land cover on precipitation development. Simulations in which Houston urban land cover was included resolved rain cells associated with the sea breeze front and a possible urban circulation on the northwest fringe of the city. Simulations without urban land cover did not capture the initiation and full intensity of the `hypothesized’ urban-induced rain cell. The response is given the terminology the `urban rainfall effect’ or URE. An urban growth model (UrbanSim) was used to project the urban land-cover growth of Houston, Texas from 1992 to 2025. A regional atmospheric-land surface model was then run with the 2025 urban land-cover scenario. Though we used a somewhat theoretical treatment, our results show the sensitivity of the atmosphere to urban land cover and illustrate how atmosphere ^ land interactions
can affect cloud and precipitation processes. Two urban-induced features, convergence zones along the inner fringe of the city and an urban low-pressure perturbation, appear to be important factors that lead to enhanced rain clouds independently or in conjunction with the sea breeze. Simulations without the city (NOURBAN) produced less cumulative rainfall in the west-northwest Houston area than simulations with the city represented (URBAN). Future urban land-cover growth projected by UrbanSim (URBAN2025) led to a more expansive area of rainfall, owing to the extended urban boundary and increased secondary outflow activity. This suggests that the future urban land cover might lead to temporal and spatial precipitation variability in coastal urban microclimates. It was beyond the scope of the analysis to conduct an extensive sensitivity analysis of cause ^ effect relationships, though the experiments provide some clues as to why the rainfall evolution differs. This research demonstrates a novel application of urban planning and weather ^ climate models. It also raises viable questions concerning future planning strategies in urban environments in consideration of hydroclimate changes.”

The concluding paragraph of the paper reads

“As concern grows about the impact of human processes on climate change, water cycle accelerations, and precipitation variability, it is important to place urban processes into the context of regional and global climate system processes. Finally, urban rainfall processes have profound implications for surface runoff, water resource management, agriculture, weather forecasting, and urban planning.”

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“Wind power Is No Solution To Anything” A Guest Weblog By Henk Tennekes

“Wind power Is No Solution To Anything”  By Henk Tennekes

Wind energy is an engineer’s nightmare. To begin with, the energy density of flowing air is miserably low. Therefore, you need a massive contraption to catch one Megawatt at best, and a thousand of these to equal a single gas- or coal-fired power plant. If you design them for a wind speed of 15 m/s, they are useless at wind speeds below10 m/s and extremely dangerous at 20 m/s, unless feathered in time. Remember, power is proportional to the CUBE of the wind speed. Old-fashioned Dutch windmills needed a two-man crew on 12-hour watch, seven days a week, because a runaway windmill first burns its bearings, then its hardwood gears, then the entire superstructure. This was the nightmare of millers everywhere in the ‘good’ old days. And what did these beautiful antiques deliver? Fifteen horsepower at best, in favorable winds, about what a power lawn mower does these days. No wonder the Dutch switched to steam-powered pumping stations as soon as they could, in the late nineteenth century.

Since the power generated by modern wind turbines is so unpredictable, conventional power plants have to serve as back-ups. Therefore, these run at far less than half power most of the time. That is terribly uneconomical – only at full power they have good thermal efficiency and minimal CO2 emissions per kWh delivered. Think also a moment of the cable networks needed: not only a fine-maze distribution network at the consumer end, but also one at the generator end. And what about servicing? How do you get a repair crew to a lonely hillside? Especially when you decided to put the wind park at sea? Use helicopters – now THAT is green …! 

For that matter, would you care to imagine what happens to rotor blades in freezing rain? Or how the efficiency of laminar-flow rotor blades decreases as bugs and dust accumulate on their leading edges?  Or what did happen in Germany more than once? German legislation gives wind power absolute priority, so all other forms of generating electricity have to back off when the wind starts blowing. This creates dangerous, almost uncontrollable instabilities in the high-voltage network. At those moments, power plant operators all over Europe sweat blood, almost literally. The synchronization of the system is also a scary job : alternating currents at 100,000 volts or more cannot be out of phase more than one degree or so, else circuit breakers pop everywhere and a brownout all over Europe starts.

One application might be attractive, though. Suppose you fill a water basin in the hills nearby using wind power when it blows, and turn the water turbines on when emergency power is needed for one reason or another (a power plant failure, a cold winter night).

Wind power is a green mirage of the worst kind. It looks green to simple souls, but it is a technical nightmare. Nowhere I have been, be it Holland, Denmark, Germany, France, or California, have I seen wind parks where all turbines were operating properly. Typically, 20% stand idle, out of commission, broken down. Use Google Videos to find examples of wind turbine crashes, start meditating, and reach your own conclusions.

Only a few years ago, I changed my opinion on nuclear power. Now I think it is the only sensible alternative for the next twenty or thirty years. France was smart enough many years ago : unlike the rest of Europe, it can supply its citizens and industries with electricity even if Putin pulls another of his mean tricks.

Why don’t politicians listen to engineers? Why do engineers cave in to politically inspired financing? Merely to join the green daydreaming? I am an engineer; I want to be proud of my profession.

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New Magazine Article On Glacier Trends In The Himalayas

There has been quite a bit of interest in the error in the 2007 IPCC WGII prediction of the melting of the glaciers in the Himalayas (e.g., see). Thanks to Madhav L Khandekar, he has alerted us to an article in the magazine Forbes India Magazine of March 5, 2010 titled

V K Raina: The Man Who Came in From the Cold

The article starts with

“Vijay Kumar Raina is amused. The 76-year old retired geologist who lives in Sector 17, Panchkula in Haryana has been blitzkrieged by the media, government, world scientist community and the average citizen since December 2009.

Why? Because he blew the lid off the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC), headed by the charismatic R.K. Pachauri, claims that the Himalayan glaciers will be extinct by 2035.”

The rest of the article is worth reading.

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Follow Up News Article By Timothy B. Wheeler of The Baltimore Sun Titled “Scrubber Clears The Air, But Won’t Help Climate Change”

On February 2010 I posted the announcement of an excellent news article by Timothy B. Wheeler in the Baltimore Sun

in my post

An Excellent News Article [But With One Very Important Error] In The Baltimore Sun By Timothy B. Wheeler Titled “A New Smokestack Cleans Baltimore’s Air”

There was a follow up today on the issue I raised on the neglect of mentioning the effect of the air pollution control equipment on the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. The new article is titled

Scrubber clears the air, but won’t help climate change

which includes the text

“Now, Constellation is saying, the scrubbers should make Brandon Shores one of the cleanest coal-burning plants of its size in the country.

One pollutant the scrubbers won’t remove, though, is carbon dioxide. A byproduct of burning coal, CO2 is the main “greenhouse” gas produced by human activities that scientific authorities say is gradually changing the earth’s climate. Though you can’t see it, it’s pouring out of the scrubber stack seen at left, along with the billowing white water vapor. Brandon Shores emitted 7.8 million tons of the gas in 2008, according to government figures supplied by Constellation’s John Quinn.”

“But the scrubbers will actually cause the plant’s emissions of carbon dioxide to increase about 2.5 percent, company spokesmen say.  That’s because the plant will be using some of the electricity it produces to run its scrubber equipment, and will need to burn more coal to make up for the diverted power.”

The full article  is worth reading.

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Filed under Climate Change Regulations, Climate Science Reporting

Guest Post By Chick Keller On The Content and Tone Of My Weblog

Charles F. Keller – “Chick”, the retired Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory Branch of
University of California’s Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP)  copied me on an e-mail that he sent out widely to Lawarence Livermore National Laboratory on January 25 2010. I appreciate that he shared with me this e-mail, as it provides his perspective on my weblog.  He has okayed me posting it here, and has also suggested, in a follow on e-mail to me (see the first e-mail text below), that we jointly write our impressions of the climate issue. He wrote in the follow up  

Finally, I got to thinking.  Is there a use for the two of us to write together–our impressions about important aspects of this problem–sort of Brooks and Shields like.  Those two agree on many important issues but see them from different points of view.  Hearing them bounce ideas off each other is very useful to many.  Perhaps we could do that?  It might be fun to try.”

I have accepted this opportunity for a constructive (much needed) dialog. I am pleased, that despite his concerns on the tone of my posts, that he concludes that much of what I write is correct. I suspect one area of agreement is that we both see considerable value in model simulations as process studies, while an area we disagree in is on the skill of these models to make multi-decadal climate predictions.

On Mon, 25 Jan 2010, Charles and Yvonne Keller wrote

“LANL folks,

I just looked over Roger’s website and was a bit dismayed.  So I thought I’d just react. Pretty much everything Roger says at it is correct [highlight added]. It’s the tone that seems not to be scientifically productive.  Are there things we still don’t understand about climate?  Yes. Does this mean we don’t understand enough to be concerned about AGHGs warming the planet?  Most climate scientists would say an emphatic No. Global temperatures haven’t warmed appreciably in the past 8 years (ya gotta ignore 1998 cuz it’s a big  ENSO spike not part of the trend). This is not so much evidence that modelers etc don’t know what they’re doing (it was actually predicted rather well before it happened) as it is a splendid chance to study aspects  of climate variability without “contamination” of the signal by ENSO and volcanos.  So what’s a scandal to Roger is a great opportunity to the working climate scientist.  Does this show that Judith Lean and David Rind have teased out solar forcing?  They show that the climate has been going up and down by about 0.1°C every 10-11 yrs. following the solar activity  cycle. If they are right, then all this still stand means is that, while AGHG warming is going up by about 0.1°C it’s been countered by the downturn from maximum (~2002 to minimum ~2008). That solar activity uncharacteristically has stayed at minimum for nearly a year longer than usual is yet another fascinating feature of the global temperature record.

However, it’s okay for Roger to call attention to this stillstand, because, if the Earth doesn’t warm a lot in the next decade, then we have evidence that climate change needs even further study. There a lots of other similar aspects of global climate change that Roger calls into question, which is fine.  But he always seems to do it from an adversarial point of view.  Do we have problems modeling clouds and aerosol forcing in the computer codes?  Sure.  Instead of being outraged at this, why not ask what are the fascinating improvements recently published that show we’re improving our treatment of both? ( An interesting one btw seems to show that aging aerosols all act pretty much alike as cloud condensation nuclei making the modeler’s job easier–Science 11  De. 2009, 326, Perspective: A New Look at Aging Aerosols”, 1493 and paper–“Evolution of > Organic Aerosols in the Atmospeher”  (some 70 authors), 1525.  Instead Roger seems to say we aren’t studying it and probably couldn’t improve it if we tried.

What about global and NH temperatures in the past 2,000 years?  It’s just not good  science to dismiss all this very careful work with — well I’m uncomfortable with the way they match proxy and instrumental data.  Here a careful read of the National Academy of Sciences PNAS paper in 2008  (see Mann et al. 2008) on the best work done to date on this is in order (as well as comparison with the  several other different and mostly independent treatments of the subject by other authors–bore hole results, Moberg’s wavelet combination of low and high frequency proxies, Lonnie Thompson’s mountain glacier work, etc). Pretty hard to just dismiss out of hand all these people and their rather similar results.

So it goes.  Read Roger’s articles.  Most seem to be trying to elicit more outrage than excitement at how climate science is progressing. Roger is a good friend and so I’m distressed that his considerable talents for asking the tough questions seem to be diluted by an adversarial tone. Perhaps in future he might balance his reporting. How about something really new and interesting that’s just come out.  A few years back I stumbled upon a new convective cloud treatment that resulted in the climate  code’s making a huge improvement in simulating the Madden-Julian Oscillation of low pressure from the Indian to Pacific oceans. (see my recent climate review in Springer’s SERRA).  Another paper got great improvement in MJO simply by use of finer horizontal zoning.  Why not talk about these efforts?

When you look, what you find is a large group of individual teams building  the edifice for understanding current warming brick by brick. The first floor is finished, but to see far, we need to continue on upwards.  Roger is contributing to this work.  Why not report on it more constructively all the while calling for a critical approach to this important but difficult topic?


Subsequent to his e-mail above, Chick and I agreed to exchange questions and answers. I have posted the  relevant part of our Feb 8 2010 e-mail exchanges below.


On Mon, 8 Feb 2010, Charles and Yvonne Keller wrote:


 Yes, your article in EOS seems well worthwhile discussing.

 As a start–a few questions.

*******Chick’s questions and my replies are combined together below*****

My text is in italics, Chick’s in regular font.

Hi Chick

On the first questions, see my replies below. My question for you is what do you agree with and what do you disagree with in our EOS article.

Best Regards


       1.  I think everyone agrees that the next important advance in climate
 change studies is regional climate simulation/prediction.  I believe many
 are asking IPCC to stress this next time.  Is this your understanding? 

Yes; the global average surface temperature or radiative imbalance tells us essentially nothing with respect to how regional climate is affected by human and natural climate forcings.

       2.  Much of what you are calling for in mitigation and adaption, I
 think, is the subject of IPCC’s Working Group III.  I haven’t looked at one
 of their reports in years, but don’t they deal with this?

This is a very important quesiton. One of the issues with respect to the IPCC reports is that they start from WG1 and work through WG2 and WG3 as derivatives of what the models predict. I have recommnended a bottom-up, resource-based vulnerability assessment as the starting point. The global climate model predictions are included in this bottom-up approach, but are not the driver of the assesment. I discuss this further in

and in

Pielke, R.A. Sr., and L. Bravo de Guenni, 2004: Conclusions. Chapter E.7 In: Vegetation, Water, Humans and the Climate: A New Perspective on an Interactive System. Global Change – The IGBP Series, P. Kabat et al., Eds., Springer, 537-538. [I have asked Dallas Staley, my research coordinator, to send you its pdf as it is not there now for some reason].
       3.  It is my understanding that IPCC’s now-criticized statement about
 Himalayan glacier melt was not in the scientific assessment (WG I). Rather
 it was in WG II, which I think deals with possible effects of global
 warming. To me, while I agree that their source documents left much to be
 desired, they were following your advice in pointing to possible changes due
 to climate change.  Is this your understanding?
The IPCC error in WG2 was a gaffe. My concern is on the exclusion of peer reviewed papers in WG1 as I documented in the Appendix

Pielke Sr., Roger A., 2008: A Broader View of the Role of Humans in the Climate System is Required In the Assessment of Costs and Benefits of Effective Climate Policy. Written Testimony for the Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality of the Committee on Energy and Commerce Hearing .Climate Change: Costs of Inaction. . Honorable Rick Boucher, Chairman. June 26, 2008, Washington, DC., 52pp.

 Once I understand where you are on these three points, I think we can have a
 good sharing of views on what you rightly point up as an important direction
 for the future.
The EOS article, as I mentioned above is an effective focal point for our discussion. We can break down our conclusions and recommendations and debate/agree from that as one option. Let me know.

FOLLOW-UP: Chick contacted me that he will send his further comments soon. I will post when available.

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