By Fred F. Mueller
Do you feel helpless when trying to assess the veracity of “climate doom is looming” claims we are constantly bombarded with?
For ordinary citizens not having acquired at least a Ph.d. degree in atmospheric physics or comparable climate-relevant sciences, it seems nearly impossible to tell right from wrong when it comes to assess such claims. Do so-called greenhouse gases really reflect infrared energy back to earth in such quantities that this affects earth’s temperature?
Don’t give up trying to understand the relevant basics: there are rather simple ways to get an idea about what this is all about. Even without a scientific background, most people have at least a good common sense. And that’s all it takes to get a grasp of how vigorously and chaotically enormous energy fluxes slosh up and down, back and forth between earth’s surface and the skies.
Fig. 1. The setting sun illuminating a fairly thin veil of clouds from below – thus injecting energy into the space between the earths’s surface and cloud cover.
Part 1 – some basics
Let’s first clarify where the heat that allows us to live rather comfortably in our habitats is coming from and where it goes to. Despite the enormous energy content of the molten core of our planet, the bulk of our energy comes from the sun, which sends us energy mainly using three forms of electromagnetic radiation: visible, ultraviolet and infrared light.
At the top of the atmosphere, every square meter oriented towards the sun thus receives a fairly constant power influx of 1361 to 1362 W/m2. Although not being a real constant, this value is often referred to as the solar constant.
The alleged greenhouse effect
The notion of a “greenhouse effect” in our atmosphere has been used and misused incredibly often, resulting in an incredible mess of erroneous perceptions not only among the public, but even in the scientific world. A striking example for an obvious misrepresentation can be seen in the lead-in picture of the Wikipedia chapter on the topic, Fig. 2.
Fig. 2. The lead-in picture of the Wikipedia chapter about the “greenhouse effect” (Author: Efbrazil 2), CC 4.0)
This graphic highlights the extent to which Wikipedia gives the impression of having fallen prey to climate activism. The complex reality of transfers and transformations of energy on our planet involving soils, waters, gases, clouds, aerosols, heat storage, conduction and convection, chemical reactions and phase transformations, as well as a host of additional factors are simply swept under the carpet, attributing all their combined effects solely to the odious “greenhouse gases”.
This Wikipedia chapter is a saddening example for the downfall of an allegedly scientific encyclopedia actually spreading rather crude ideology under the guise of educating the public. The related chapter comprises more than 7,000 words and tries to underscore its claim of being “scientific” by a list of 80 citations including papers about the atmospheric conditions on far-away cosmic bodies such as Titan and Venus. But this cannot excuse the use of such a grossly misleading graphic as the lead-in picture for the abstract. Such tricks commonly used in tabloids or yellow journals. Wikipedia touts itself to be an encyclopedia addressing not only scientists but also laymen and the general public and should therefore care all the more not to disseminate content that may be misunderstood by people lacking a scientific background.
Fig. 3. This more detailed representation of the energy fluxes on earth elaborated by NASA is still misleading with respect to some decisive facts (Picture by NASA 3), public domain) Note: This graphic and the corresponding link have been withdrawn after completion of the article. In a subsequent part, the replacement graphic and its amendments will be treated in detail. Nevertheless, this graphic and its errors have been displayed for a prolonged time, thus warranting a suited discussion.
Although the more detailed Fig. 3 elaborated by NASA gives a better impression of the many different factors influencing energy transfer fluxes between earth’s surface and space, it still misleads in a subtle way that makes it unfit to convey a correct understanding of the vital facts. Let’s look at the main inconsistencies.
Mean values intended to mask natural variations
One of the favourite tricks of climate prophets of doom is to suggest that all major factors influencing our climate are more or less constant, with the sole exception of “greenhouse gases”. They intend to exploit the fact that the CO2-level of the atmosphere is rising while at least for the past some 150 years, meteorologists have also seen a moderate rise of the temperature levels they monitor on their stations. Though both trends are far from being in lockstep, this coincidence of trends has been declared to be the proof for a causality, although no clear mechanism or quantitative deduction could hitherto be established. Despite many striking discrepancies e.g. with respect to the natural cycles of CO2 or the absorption and sequestration of CO2 in our oceans, the perceived rise in temperatures has been almost exclusively attributed to CO2.
Misusing water vapor
Another diversion has been to declare that water vapor is simply reinforcing the leading role of CO2. This might be viewed as a real masterpiece of twisting reality since water vapor has not only a much higher efficiency with respect to absorbing (and re-emitting) infrared radiation (see Fig.4.), but is also exceeds the content of CO2 in the atmosphere by factors between 25 (= median concentration value at sea level) and up to 100!
Fig. 4. Comparing the spectral IR radiance of a surface with 14 °C with the overlapped absorption bands of CO2 (brownish) and water vapor (bluish) shows the highly superior absorption capacity of water vapor for the IR emission of soil or water at 14 °C – (which is the “mean” temperature on earth’s surface). Please mind the different scales of the x axes: linear for the spectral radiance, logarithmic for the absorption. (Graphics: SpectralCalc 4) (above), NASA, Robert Rohde 5) Public domain (below)).
Notwithstanding these inconsistencies, the climate science community has in its vast majority adopted this approach. This might be attributable to the fact that the quantity of water vapor in the atmosphere is subjected to wild temporal and local variations between nearly zero – e.g. at high altitudes and very low temperatures – and sometimes up to 4% at sea level.
Additionally, especially when transforming to clouds, water vapor tends to condense or freeze out of the atmosphere in ways that have up to now resisted any realistic attempt to describe them mathematically. Trying to establish realistic three-dimensional models of water vapor distribution over a certain location at a given moment and to calculate the resulting effects on absorption and re-emission of IR radiation thus remain a much more arduous task than using a single value for all and every condition, as can conveniently be done when attributing the whole “greenhouse effect” solely to CO2. And voilà, truckloads of complicated research work may simply be skipped. This approach also greatly reduces the scale of expenditures in data acquisition, manpower, computer time – and in waiting time before reaping academic awards. After all, the beacon for all climate science, the IPCC, is doing it too, e.g. by simply omitting water vapor from its account of “greenhouse gases”, see Fig. 5.
Pic.5. Contribution to observed climate change from 12 different drivers, as taken from the Summary for Policymakers of the sixth IPCC assessment report, adapted from figure SPM.2c (Graphic: Erik Fisk, CC 4.0 6))
The numerous advantages of such a cutting of (scientific) corners might be one of the main driving forces for the deplorable tendency towards the “single number fallacy” explained by Kip Hansen 7) as being “the belief that complex, complicated and even chaotic subjects and their data can be reduced to a significant and truthful single number.”
Unfortunately for us, that’s exactly what the official climate science is doing. Under the headline “One number to track human impact on climate”, NOAA scientists released the first AGGI 8) (aggregated greenhouse gas index) in 2006 as “a way to help policymakers, educators, and the public understand the cumulative impact of greenhouse gases on climate over time”.
The minuscule driving forces of “greenhouse gases”
When trying to assess the real impact of “greenhouse gases” on earths energy balance, the first step should be to assess the driving force they are alleged to exert on the input and output of energy fluxes. Corresponding parameters can be found in a table within the Wikipedia chapter about Greenhouse gases 9). They reveal that in the view of the leading climate scientists, just four gases have a relevant influence on the budget of energy exchange between incoming and outgoing radiation energy since the alleged start of “human- induced climate change” in 1750. These are:
Carbon dioxide with + 2.05 W/m2
Methane with + 0.49 W/m2
Nitrous oxide with + 0.17 W/m2
Tropospheric ozone + 0.4 W/m2
Total GHG contribution +3.11 W/m2
This figure is extraordinarily small when comparing it with the enormous temporal and local variability of energy fluxes within our planet’s ocean/atmosphere/soil system within short time periods, and amounts to just a low single digit percentage of the daily variations. This will be treated in more detail in the following chapter.
Peculiarly enormous greenhouse effect range
On a side note, it is interesting to see that the IPCC gives an enormous range for the greenhouse effect (TCR, Transient Climate Response or “climate sensitivity” 10)) of CO2, which is estimated to range “likely” between 1.5 and 4.5°C. The figure represents the alleged rise of earth’s mean temperature in °C for every doubling of the CO2 level of the atmosphere. Given this extraordinarily broad range of ± 50%, one might be surprised that IPCC, NOAA and Wikipedia authors advance temperature rise values for greenhouse gases calculated with up to three “significant” digits. This too might be attributable to the feeling of certainty about climate relevant figures instilled into the public by the “one number fits it all” mentality prevalent in our current climate science community.
- http://science-edu.larc.nasa.gov/energy_budget/pdf/Energy_Budget_Litho_10year.pdf (Note: This link seems to have been deactivated very recently.)
- File:CO2 H2O absorption atmospheric gases unique pattern energy wavelengths of energy transparent to others.png – Wikimedia Commons