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The climate system and the second law of thermodynamics
Reviews of Modern Physics  (IF50.485),  Pub Date : 2022-01-06, DOI: 10.1103/revmodphys.94.015001
Martin S. Singh, Morgan E O’Neill

The second law of thermodynamics implies a relationship between the net entropy export by Earth and its internal irreversible entropy production. The application of this constraint for the purpose of understanding Earth’s climate is reviewed. Both radiative processes and material processes are responsible for irreversible entropy production in the climate system. With a focus on material processes, an entropy budget for the climate system is derived that accounts for the multiphase nature of the hydrological cycle. The entropy budget facilitates a heat-engine perspective of atmospheric circulations that has been used to propose theories for convective updraft velocities, tropical cyclone intensity, and the atmospheric meridional heat transport. Such theories can be successful, however, only if they properly account for the irreversible entropy production associated with water in all its phases in the atmosphere. Irreversibility associated with such moist processes is particularly important in the context of global climate change, for which the concentration of water vapor in the atmosphere is expected to increase, and recent developments toward understanding the response of the atmospheric heat engine to climate change are discussed. Finally, the application of variational approaches to the climate and geophysical flows is reviewed, including the use of equilibrium statistical mechanics to predict the behavior of long-lived coherent structures and the controversial maximum entropy production principle.