Archive for August, 2010

The Persistence of Paradigms

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

I received a question from a reader today regarding why the writer of a recent article summarizing the state of the science on cloud feedbacks did not mention our newly published work.

The usual suspects were questioned, but there was nothing new there. Cloud feedbacks are just as uncertain today as they were 20 years ago, blah, blah. More of the same.

Now, I would like to think our new paper demonstrated not only the main reason why cloud feedbacks have remained so uncertain, but why their estimation from satellite data tends to give the illusion of a sensitive climate system.

None of the so-called experts mentioned what has been ignored as a potential climate change mechanism: Natural cycles in cloud cover. I had wondered for years why no one investigated the possibility, and our work clarified for me that this indeed is a huge question mark that most researchers do not even realize exists.

Unfortunately, I predict it will be at least 2 years before our paper is digested and believed by influential people in the climate community…if even then. (They still think the truth is lurking in computer models somewhere…just turn this knob a little more to the right left…)

This brings up the issue of how entrenched some ideas get in the scientific community, and not only for scientific reasons.

Dr. Roy in a Previous Millennium

In an earlier life, my claim to fame was demonstrating that satellite passive microwave radiometers could be used to measure rainfall over land. My first paper on the subject (actually, my first published paper ever) had the cover illustration on the front of Nature magazine. Ha! If they only knew I would grow up to be a “denier”.

At the time (1983) the established scientists working with NASA wanted to build the first weather radar to fly in space. While this was a worthy effort in its own right — finally realized with the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) — one of the radar’s original justifications was to measure rainfall over land.

My work was apparently providing evidence it was not needed. So, as a post-doc newcomer to the field, I was rocking that boat.

For me, that experience was when I lost my innocence. My research worldview was shaken. Scientists are not objective after all! Gasp!

Now, even after over 20 years of telling people of all of my subsequent experiences that only reinforced my claim that scientists are not objective, it seemed like no one was particularly worried about this.

Then Climategate broke upon the scene. Scientists behaving badly! Gasp!

What Was I Talking About? Oh, Yeah, Cloud Feedbacks

So, what I am getting around to is that it will take a long time before the climate research community looks at, understands, and believes what we have done.

Sometimes I have half-jokingly mentioned that it will probably take an IPCC-ordained scientist to “discover” the same thing. I experienced that behavior, too. NASA research centers can be pretty competitive with each other. If it wasn’t invented at their center, it wasn’t invented.

So, getting back to the original question: Why did this science writer not mention my work in his summary article on cloud feedbacks? I’m afraid he’s the last one I would expect to know.

1) Most scientists, let alone science writers, will not even be aware that our paper has been published.
2) Even if they know it has been published, they won’t bother to read it because they have already heard it conflicts with IPCC orthodoxy.
3) Even if they dare read it, they probably won’t take the time to understand it, and so they will revert to the IPCC party line, anyway.
4) Even if they read it and understand it, they will not recognize its importance. After all, the reviewers made sure our paper was sanitized so that it would not make any outright claims that could potentially shake the faith of the Believers. The reader will instead have to know enough about the field to figure out for themselves what the implications are.

Fortunately, I have been getting some good feedback in recent days (Hah! Feedback!). A nice note from Lord Monckton basically said, “NOW I see what you have been talking about!”

A blog reader who doesn’t even do climate research read the whole paper and understood it. Now, THAT is cool.

But, while this is heartening, we still need the mainstream climate scientists to pay attention. Unfortunately, scientific discovery never was the purpose of the IPCC, and you disagree with them at your professional peril. Gifts, gadgets, weather stations, software and here!

Dump the IPCC Process, It Cannot Be Fixed

Monday, August 30th, 2010

In a recent opinion piece, Ross McKitrick has argued that the IPCC process needs to be fixed. He correctly points out that, “There is too much conflict of interest built into the report-writing process”.

But I say the process cannot be fixed. DUMP the IPCC process.

The reason why is because the IPCC process was never created to achieve what the U.N. claims, and what most people believe it exists for.

The IPCC was created to use the scientific community to build a case for regulating CO2 emissions. Period.

While you might believe otherwise, climate scientists back in the 1980s did not get together and decide “let’s create the IPCC and investigate the evidence for and against manmade climate change”. Instead, politicians and politically savvy opportunists saw global warming as the perfect excuse for instituting policies that would never have been achieved on their own merits.

Maybe some scientists thought they helped dream up the IPCC to help save humanity from itself. But the process was instigated by politicians and U.N. bureaucrats who misrepresented what they were trying to accomplish. Some people are gifted in their ability to get others to think that they came up with an idea, when in fact they were artfully guided into it.

As someone who watched from the sidelines as a U.S. government employee, I witnessed the mindset, and a few of the central players in action. These are people who think it is their gift to humanity to decide how others should live.

I’m NOT saying that most of the scientists involved in the IPCC effort are of this mindset…although I do find government employees and government-funded researchers (of which I am one) to be rather clueless about what helps, versus what hurts, the human condition.

Darn those pesky unintended consequences!

I am claiming this is the mindset of that handful of politically powerful people who saw a way to accomplish personal goals, and maybe even save humanity in the process. These people never expect that they will ever be required to live under the restrictions placed upon the rest of humanity. They are too important to the process. Sound familiar?

To believe otherwise is to have one’s proverbial head in the sand.

I hate to sound so cynical, but this is how I saw the IPCC process play out. I would personally dread having to be part of that process, because it is only using science and scientists to achieve policy and political goals. I don’t like to be asked to contribute my time when I know I am being used.

In stark contrast to me, John Christy (my boss) has valiantly attempted to change the process from within the IPCC. I think this is a valuable effort, and am glad someone is willing to try.

But I do not see the ultimate goal of the IPCC ever being changed as long as the United Nations and politicians who look favorably upon the UN’s long-term goals are in control of the process and the purse strings. It is as simple as that. Gifts, gadgets, weather stations, software and here!

Our JGR Paper on Feedbacks is Published

Friday, August 27th, 2010

After years of re-submissions and re-writes — always to accommodate a single hostile reviewer — our latest paper on feedbacks has finally been published by Journal of Geophysical Research (JGR).

Entitled “On the Diagnosis of Feedback in the Presence of Unknown Radiative Forcing“, this paper puts meat on the central claim of my most recent book: that climate researchers have mixed up cause and effect when observing cloud and temperature changes. As a result, the climate system has given the illusion of positive cloud feedback.

Positive cloud feedback amplifies global warming in all the climate models now used by the IPCC to forecast global warming. But if cloud feedback is sufficiently negative, then manmade global warming becomes a non-issue.

While the paper does not actually use the words “cause” or “effect”, this accurately describes the basic issue, and is how I talk about the issue in the book. I wrote the book because I found that non-specialists understood cause-versus-effect better than the climate experts did!

This paper supersedes our previous Journal of Climate paper, entitled “Potential Biases in Feedback Diagnosis from Observational Data: A Simple Model Demonstration“, which I now believe did not adequately demonstrate the existence of a problem in diagnosing feedbacks in the climate system.

The new article shows much more evidence to support the case: from satellite data, a simple climate model, and from the IPCC AR4 climate models themselves.

Back to the Basics

Interestingly, in order to convince the reviewers of what I was claiming, I had to go back to the very basics of forcing versus feedback to illustrate the mistakes researchers have perpetuated when trying to describe how one can supposedly measure feedbacks in observational data.

Researchers traditionally invoke the hypothetical case of an instantaneous doubling of the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere (2XCO2). That doubling then causes warming, and the warming then causes radiative feedback which acts to either reducing the warming (negative feedback) or amplify the warming (positive feedback). With this hypothetical, idealized 2XCO2 case you can compare the time histories of the resulting warming to the resulting changes in the Earth’s radiative budget, and you can indeed extract an accurate estimate of the feedback.

The trouble is that this hypothetical case has nothing to do with the real world, and can totally mislead us when trying to diagnose feedbacks in the real climate system. This is the first thing we demonstrate in the new paper. In the real world, there are always changes in cloud cover (albedo) occurring, which is a forcing. And that “internal radiative forcing” (our term) is what gives the illusion of positive feedback. In fact, feedback in response to internal radiative forcing cannot even be measured. It is drowned out by the forcing itself.

Feedback in the Real World

As we show in the new paper, the only clear signal of feedback we ever find in the global average satellite data is strongly negative, around 6 Watts per sq. meter per degree C. If this was the feedback operating on the long-term warming from increasing CO2, it would result in only 0.6 deg. C of warming from 2XCO2. (Since we have already experienced this level of warming, it raises the issue of whether some portion — maybe even a majority — of past warming is from natural, rather than anthropogenic, causes.)

Unfortunately, there is no way I have found to demonstrate that this strongly negative feedback is actually occurring on the long time scales involved in anthropogenic global warming. At this point, I think that belief in the high climate sensitivity (positive feedbacks) in the current crop of climate models is a matter of faith, not unbiased science. The models are infinitely adjustable, and modelers stop adjusting when they get model behavior that reinforces their pre-conceived notions.

They aren’t necessarily wrong — just not very thorough in terms of exploring alternative hypotheses. Or maybe they have explored those, and just don’t want to show the rest of the world the results.

Our next paper will do a direct apples-to-apples comparison between the satellite-based feedbacks and the IPCC model-diagnosed feedbacks from year-to-year climate variability. Preliminary indications are that the satellite results are outside the envelope of all the IPCC models. Gifts, gadgets, weather stations, software and here!

Daily Global Temperature Updates on the Discover Website: An Updated Tutorial

Friday, August 20th, 2010

I’m getting more and more questions about the daily global temperature updates we provide at the NASA Discover website. I suppose this is because 2010 is still in the running to beat 1998 as the warmest year in our satellite data record (since 1979).

But also we have made a couple of significant changes recently, and there continue to be some misunderstandings of the data that are posted there.

The bottom line is this: You can rely ONLY upon two channels at the Discover “Temperature Trends” page:

(1) the “Aqua ch.5 v2” channel for global-average mid-tropospheric temperatures, from the AMSU on NASA’s Aqua satellite, and

(2) the “Sea Surface” temperatures, which are averaged over the global ice-free oceans (60N to 60S), from the AMSR-E instrument on Aqua.

Do not trust any of the other channels for temperature trend monitoring. This is because, while the Aqua satellite equatorial crossing time is kept very near 1:30 am and pm with periodic orbit maneuvers, the rest of the channels come from the NOAA-15 satellite whose equatorial crossing time has now drifted from its original 7:30 am/pm value in late 1998 to about 4:30 am/pm now.

This orbital drift makes the NOAA-15 channels (4 and 6) unusually warm, and is why those of you who have been monitoring channel 4 and 6 at the Discover site are seeing such warm temperatures.

Tropospheric Temperature Monitoring
The following AMSU channel 5 image comes from the Discover “Recent Global Temperatures” page, and illustrates the kinds of signals present in this channel used in the construction of our UAH MT (mid-tropospheric) and LT (lower tropospheric) temperature products:

Note that even though NOAA-15 should not be used for trend monitoring, all of our global imagery at the “Recent Global Temperatures” page come from that satellite since the spatial patterns are not substantially affected by diurnal drift of the satellite orbit. If you scan through the global images for channels 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 at the web site you will see how the surface and oceanic cloud water signatures change as you progress from the window channels (1, 2), to those channels more sensitive to oxygen emission at higher altitudes (3, 4, 5, etc.)

The next image is a screenshot of the Aqua AMSU ch.5 portion of our “Temperature Trends” page. In order to plot daily values that can be compared to previous years before the Aqua satellite was launched, we have intercalibrated the Aqua ch. 5 average annual cycle in daily global-average temperatures to the official UAH MT product during their overlap period (June 2002 through December 2009). This also allows us to compute curves for daily maximum, minimum, and 1979-1999 daily averages:

Most of the daily record high temperatures were set in 1998. As can be seen, 2010 has also been quite warm. For those who are wondering, the main reason why 1998 was warmer in the satellite record than the surface thermometer record is due to strong warming of the troposphere over the tropical east Pacific during the El Nino conditions in early 1998. These regions are not well represented in the surface thermometer data.

Sea Surface Temperature Monitoring
The following SST image comes from the Remote Sensing Systems website. It is based upon the most recent 3 days of SST retrievals from the AMSR-E instrument on Aqua. These measurements are made through most cloud conditions; areas of precipitation contamination are blacked out.

Because of AMSR-E’s through-cloud sensing, it provides a more accurate global average SSTs on short time scales compared to the traditional infrared measurements. We download the binary gridded SST data from the RSS website once a day and compute global area averages, which are labeled “Sea Surface” in the channel list on the Discover Temperature Trends page:

(Processing of the data is not trivial, and requires some programming skills.)

Since the AMSR-E data are available only since mid-2002, our SST record only extends back that far. There are no Max, Min, or Avg traces provided for this web page.

Why the Tropospheric Temperature Variations Don’t Match the Sea Surface Temperature Variations

Many people have noticed that the up- and down-ticks in these two temperature measures (troposphere versus sea surface) often diverge from each other. This is partly because the tropospheric temperatures include global land areas, whereas the SST data are (obviously) only over the ice-free oceans, approximately between 60N and 60S latitudes.

But another reason they diverge is because there are slight variations in the heat loss by the ocean to the atmosphere. These “intraseasonal oscillations” are usually in the tropics, and are only about +/- 1% variations in the average heat flux from the ocean to the atmosphere. Nevertheless, they can cause substantial temperature swings, especially in the troposphere.

This is why they produce opposing temperature signals. When there is above-normal ocean heat loss, the ocean surface cools below normal. Most of that heat loss is through evaporation. Meanwhile, the extra moisture in the atmosphere leads to above-normal rainfall, and so causes excess latent heating of the troposphere. The result is that SST cooling is accompanied by tropospheric warming, while SST warming is accompanied by tropospheric cooling.

These events occur on time scales of around 1 month, and so there is usually no long-term climate change significance to them. These high-frequency signals are always riding upon a more slowly varying background of temperature variability, which I believe are mostly caused by natural variations in cloud cover changing the solar energy input into the ocean. Gifts, gadgets, weather stations, software and here!

Still Cooling: Sea Surface Temperatures thru August 18, 2010

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Sea Surface Temperatures (SSTs) measured by the AMSR-E instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite continue the fall which began several months ago. The following plot, updated through yesterday (August 18, 2010) reveals the global average SSTs continue to cool, while the Nino34 region of the tropical east Pacific remains well below normal, consistent with La Nina conditions. (click on it for the large, undistorted version; note the global SST values have been multiplied by 10):

Anomalously High Oceanic Cloud Cover
The following plot shows an AMSR-E estimate of anomalies in reflected shortwave (SW, sunlight) corresponding to the blue (Global) SST curve in the previous figure. I have estimated the reflected SW anomaly from AMSR-E vertically integrated cloud water contents, based upon regressions against Aqua CERES data. The high values in recent months (shown by the circle) suggests either (1) the ocean cooling is being driven by decreased sunlight, or (2) negative feedback in response to anomalously warm conditions, or (3) some combination of (1) and (2). Note that negative low-cloud feedback would conflict with all of the IPCC climate models, which exhibit various levels of positive cloud feedback. Gifts, gadgets, weather stations, software and here!

Help! Back Radiation has Invaded my Backyard!

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Measuring The (Nonexistent) Greenhouse Effect in My Backyard with a Handheld IR Thermometer and The Box

Laypersons are no doubt confused by all of our recent esoteric discussions regarding radiative transfer, and whether global warming is even possible from a theoretical standpoint.

So, let’s take a break and return to the real world, and the experiments you can do yourself to see evidence of the “greenhouse effect”.

One of the claims of greenhouse and global warming theory that many people find hard to grasp is that there is a large flow of infrared radiation downward from the sky which keeps the surface warmer than it would otherwise be.

Particularly difficult to grasp is the concept of adding a greenhouse gas to a COLD atmosphere, and that causing a temperature increase at the surface of the Earth, which is already WARM. This, of course, is what is expected to happen from adding more carbon dioixde to the atmosphere: “global warming”.

Well, it is one of the marvels of our electronic age that you can buy a very sensitive handheld IR thermometer for only $50 and observe the effect for yourself.

These devices use a thermopile, which is an electronic component that measures a voltage which is proportional to the temperature difference across the thermopile.

If you point the device at something hot, the higher-intensity IR radiation heats up the hot-viewing side of the thermopile, and the IR thermometer displays the temperature it is radiating at (assuming some emissivity…my inexpensive unit is fixed at e=0.95).

If you instead point it at the cold sky, the sky-viewing side of the thermopile loses IR radiation, cooling it to a lower temperature than the inside of the thermopile.

For instance, last night I drove around pointing this thing straight up though my sunroof at a cloud-free sky. I live in hilly territory, the ambient air temperature was about 81 F, and at my house (an elevation of 1,000 feet), I was reading about 34 deg. F for an effective sky temperature.

If the device was perfectly calibrated, and there was NO greenhouse effect, it would measure an effective sky temperature near absolute zero (-460 deg. F) rather than +34 deg. F, and nighttime cooling of the surface would have been so strong that everything would be frozen by morning. Not very likely in Alabama in August.

What was amazing was that driving down in elevation from my house caused the sky temperature reading to increase by about 3 deg. F for a 300 foot drop in elevation. My car thermometer was showing virtually no change. This pattern was repeated as I went up and down hills.

The IR thermometer was measuring different strengths of the greenhouse effect, by definition the warming of a surface by downward IR emission by greenhouse gases in the sky. This reduces the rate of cooling of the Earth’s surface (and lower atmosphere) to space, and makes the surface warmer than it otherwise would be.

If you have a day where there are patches of blue and clouds, you can point the thermometer at the clouds and pick up a warmer reading than the surrounding blue sky.

I did it this morning (see photo, above). When I moved from a view of the blue sky to the patch of clouds, the sky-viewing side of the thermopile became warmer…even though the thermopile is already at a higher temperature than the sky. The display would read a few degrees warmer than the reading looking at blue sky.

If you perform this experiment yourself, you need to be careful about the elevation angle above the horizon you are pointing being about the same. Even in a clear sky, as you move from the zenith (overhead), down toward the horizon the path length of sky the IR thermometer sees increases, and so you measure radiation from lower altitudes, which are warmer. This makes the effective sky temperature goes up. (This is ALSO evidence of the greenhouse effect, since looking at the sky above the horizon is like adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere overhead. The (apparent) concentration of greenhouse gases in the lower atmosphere goes up, and so does the intensity of the back radiation.)

Even earlier in the morning, about 5:30, the middle-level clouds were thicker, and I measured a sky temperature in the 50’s F. We will see more evidence of that using air temperatures, below.

This shows that the addition of an IR absorber/emitter, even at a cold temperature (the middle level clouds were probably somewhere around 30 deg. F), causes a warm object (the thermopile) to warm even more! This is the effect that some people claim is impossible.

Remember, the IR thermometer calibrated temperature output is based upon real temperatures, the temperatures on either side of the thermopile.

And if you think this is just an effect of some sunlight reflecting off the cloud….read on.

Evidence from The Box

I have been seeing the same effect in “The Box”, which is my attempt to use the greenhouse effect to warm and cool a thin aluminum plate coated with high-emissivity paint, that is heavily insulated from its surroundings in order to isolate just the radiative transfers of energy between the sky and the plate. This can be considered a clumsy, inefficient version of the IR thermometer. But now, *I* am making actual temperature measurements.

The following plot (click on it for the full-size version) shows data from the last 2 days, up through this morning’s events. The plate gets colder at night than the ambient temperature because it “sees” the cold sky, and is insulated from heat flow from the surrounding air and ground.

In the lower right, I have also circled where thin middle-level clouds came over, emitting more IR radiation downward than the clear sky, and causing a warming of the plate. Since the plate is mostly isolated from heat exchanges with the surrounding air and warm ground, it responds faster than the ambient air temperature to the intensity of “back radiation” downwelling from the sky.

When I woke this morning before sunrise, around 5:30, I saw these mid-level clouds (I used to be a certified aviation weather observer), I measured about 50 deg. F from the handheld IR thermometer.

This supports what people already experience…cloudy nights are, on average, warmer than clear nights. The main reason is that clouds emit more IR downward, change the (im)balance between upwelling and downwelling IR, and if you change the balance between energy flows in and out of an object, its temperature will change. Conservation of Energy, they call it.

(WARNING: a technical detail about the above measurements and their importance to greenhouse theory follows.)
What this Means for the Miskolczi “Aa=Ed” Controversy

Except for relatively rare special cases, the total amount of IR energy downwelling from the sky (Ed) will ALWAYS remain less than the amount upwelling from below and absorbed by the sky (Aa). As long as (1) the atmosphere has some transparency to IR radiation (which it does), and (2) the atmosphere is colder than the surface (which it is), then Ed will be less than Aa…even though they are usually close to one another, since temperatures are always adjusting to minimize IR flux divergences and convergences.

But it is those small differences that continuously “drive” the greenhouse effect. Gifts, gadgets, weather stations, software and here!

Comments on Miskolczi’s (2010) Controversial Greenhouse Theory

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

SPECIAL MESSAGE: For those following Miskolczi’s work, and his claims regarding “Aa=Ed”, if those two radiative fluxes (Aa and Ed) are not EXACTLY equal, then Miskolczi has found nothing that disagrees with current greenhouse theory. That they are NEARLY equal has been known for a long time (e.g. Kiehl & Trenberth, 1997). Their near-equality is due to the fact that IR radiative flows are continuously “trying” to achieve radiative equilibrium between layers of the atmosphere, and between the atmosphere and the Earth’s surface. If those two quantities were more “un-equal” then they are in nature, then radiation-induced temperature changes in the atmosphere, and at the surface, would be much larger than we observe.

Again…if Aa does not EXACTLY balance Ed, then Miskolczi has found NOTHING that departs from the fundamental mechanism of the greenhouse effect.

ADDENDUM…his additional finding of a relatively constant greenhouse effect from 60 years of radiosonde data (because humidity decreases have offset CO2 increases) is indeed tantalizing. But few people believe long-term trends in radiosonde humidities. His result depends upon the reality of unusually high humidities in the 1950s and 1960s. Without those, there is no cancellation between decreasing humidity and increasing CO2 as he claims.

Executive Summary

Using both radiative transfer theory and radiosonde (weather balloon) observations to support his views, Miskolczi (2010) builds a case that the Earth’s total greenhouse effect remains constant over time.

While this might well be true, I do not believe he has demonstrated from theory why this should be the case.

His computation of a relatively constant greenhouse effect with 60 years of radiosonde observations is tantalizing, but depends upon the reality of high humidities measured by these sensors before the mid-1960s, data which are widely considered to be suspect. Even with today’s radiosonde humidity sensors, the humidity accuracy is not very high.

On the theory side, much of what he claims depends upon the validity of his statement,

for..two regions (or bodies) A and B, the rate of flow of radiation emitted by A and absorbed by B is equal to the rate of flow the other way, regardless of other forms of (energy) transport that may be occurring.”

If this statement was true, then IR radiative transfers cannot change the temperature of anything, and Earth’s natural greenhouse effect cannot exist. Yet, elsewhere he implies that the greenhouse effect IS important to temperature by claiming that the greenhouse effect stays constant with time. The reader is left confused.

His italicized statement, above, is an extreme generalization of Kirchoffs Law of Radiation, where he has allowed the 2 bodies to have different temperatures, and also allow any amount of extra energy of any type to enter or leave the 2-body system. No matter what else is going on, Miskolczi claims there is no net radiative energy exchanges between two objects, because those 2 flows in opposite directions are always equal.

This appears to fly in the face of people’s real world experiences.

Nevertheless, Miskolczi’s (and previous investigators’) calculations of a NEAR-equality of these IR flows are quite correct, and are indeed consistent with current greenhouse theory. Others trying to understand this issue need to understand that greenhouse theory already “knows” these flows are almost equal. If the imbalance between them was not small, then the temperature changes we see in nature would be much larger than what we do see.

But it is their small departure from equality that makes all the difference.


For the last couple of years I have been getting requests for my opinion on papers published by Ferenc Miskolczi, the latest of which recently appeared in Energy & Environment.

Since his latest work builds upon earlier work, here I will comment on his most recent paper.

I have been reluctant to comment (and still am) because the material is rather slow going, and I do not understand a couple of the claims he makes.

I glad to see his most recent paper has dropped discussion of the Virial Theorem (VT). From what I’ve read, I suspect the VT does not preclude the Earth’s average surface temperature from changing as greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations change. After all, since GHGs cause temperature falls in the upper atmosphere at the same time they are causing temperature rises at the surface and lower atmosphere, catastrophic global warming could theoretically occur without much change in the average temperature of the atmosphere, anyway.

Nevertheless, the fact that one of his claims would undermine the theory of anthropogenic global warming makes it unusually important for us to understand his work, and so I will provide what I think I understand at this point in time. I have spent many hours examining it and thinking about it, since I think scientists always need to remain open to radical new ideas.

Some of what he reports is indeed useful. For instance, his idea that nature might keep the Earth’s total greenhouse effect relatively constant is a valid hypothesis…one which I have advanced before. The observational evidence he finds to support it is certainly tantalizing, but entirely depends on the reality of relatively high humidities measured by radiosondes way back in the 1950s and early 1960s.

But I disagree with his explanation of why the atmosphere’s total greenhouse effect should remain the same, particularly his use of Kirchoff’s Law of Radiation.

Different amounts of IR being absorbed and re-emitted by greenhouse gases at different altitudes in the atmosphere are fundamental to the explanation of Earth’s natural greenhouse effect. But Miskolczi claims that there is no net exchange of infrared radiation between different layers of the atmosphere, or between the atmosphere and surface of the Earth.

If this were true, then (as far as I can tell) there is no way for IR radiation to affect the temperature of anything. I know of no one else who believes this, and it seems to fly in the face of common sense.

But then, understanding the greenhouse effect requires more than an average amount of common sense, anyway. So I will spend a fair amount of time explaining how the greenhouse effect works…partly to convince you, the reader, and partly to convince myself that it still makes sense to me.

Of course, my opinions are always open for revision given new understanding. If I have misinterpreted or misrepresented something Miskolczi believes or has published, then I apologize.

If after reading this, he would like to respond to my criticisms, I would be glad to post that response here, unedited by me.

The Importance of an Outside Energy Source to the “Greenhouse Effect”

There is a recurring theme to the arguments from those who say adding greenhouse gases (GHGs) to the atmosphere cannot change its temperature. I’ve been trying to understand where this idea comes from, and I think I know one major source of confusion. I want to mention it up front, because it impacts people preconceived notions when they approach the issue.

If the Earth’s atmosphere was isolated, with a constant amount of total energy contained within it, and you added more CO2 at the same temperatures as the surrounding air, then it is indeed true that the average temperature of the atmosphere would not change.

In other words, simply adding CO2 cannot increase the heat content of an energetically isolated atmosphere.

But that is not what happens in the real world, because the real world is not energetically isolated. In the real world, there is an outside energy source available to the climate system — the sun.

Since temperature is, in some sense, a measure of accumulated thermal energy in an object, any change which alters the rates at which energy flows into, or out of, the object can change how much heat accumulates in the object, and thus its temperature. Greenhouse gases change the rate at which an object loses energy.

I think this might be one source of confusion on the part of those who claim that increasing the Earth’s greenhouse effect cannot change its temperature. Hopefully, this will make sense to you, because it is a key point.

Miskolczi’s Global Infrared Energy Budget

One of the useful things Miskolczi did was to make detailed calculations of the infrared (IR) radiative energy flows within the atmosphere, and between the atmosphere and the Earth’s surface, from many years of radiosonde (weather balloon) data.

I have no serious problems with how he has done those calculations; but I do have a problem with what infers about how IR radiation impacts (or doesn’t impact) the temperatures we observe in the climate system. As I’ve often said, making the measurements is usually the easy part of research; determining what they mean in terms of causation is the difficult part.

Curiously, Miskolczi claims some of these radiative flow rates (fluxes) have never been calculated before, when in fact people have calculated them. Maybe not in exactly the same way, and maybe not in as detailed a manner as he does, but different researchers usually use somewhat different procedures when doing radiative calculations anyway.

But even if his calculations are the most accurate ever performed, their differences from what is already known about infrared energy flows in the atmosphere are not sufficient to require a new explanation of greenhouse theory. There is no new information here that would make us believe that the IR flows in and out of the atmosphere and surface of the Earth are exactly equal.

For instance, let’s examine the same IR energy flows computed by Kiehl & Trenberth (1997, hereafter K&T). I stole the following chart from another website and artistically enhanced it with Miskolczi’s values in parentheses…the green lines separate the three major classes of energy flow: solar, infrared, and convective.

Note that the two studies get similar numbers for the individual components of the Earth’s infrared energy budget (the tan-colored arrows on the right side):

We will examine these numbers in a little more detail, below, but first let’s briefly review what the consensus view of how the “greenhouse effect” operates, and how it is believed to affect temperatures in the climate system.

Radiation, Temperature, and the Greenhouse Effect
Central to the theory of the Earth’s natural greenhouse effect is the fact that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere absorb and emit infrared energy.

In the usual explanation of the greenhouse effect, greenhouse gases warm the lower atmosphere and Earth’s surface above what their temperatures would have been without those greenhouse gases. (Seldom mentioned is that they also make upper atmospheric temperatures lower than they would otherwise be.)

Without greenhouse gases, the observed global average surface temperature of around 59 deg. F would be more like 0 deg. F. (Also seldom mentioned is that without convective heat transfer from the surface to atmosphere, that temperature would be more like 140 deg. F…but that’s another blog post).

Understanding the greenhouse effect can be confusing because of the seemingly contradictory roles of greenhouse gases in the climate system. Without GHGs, the atmosphere would have no way of losing the heat it accumulates from convective heat transfer caused by solar heating of the surface.

So, one major role of GHGs is to allow the atmosphere to COOL, to lose excess energy to space in the face of continual solar heating of the climate system.

But, at the same time GHGs allow the atmosphere to cool, they also WARM the surface temperature above what it would be without those gases.

But how can this be? How can something that allows the atmosphere to lose energy to space also make the surface warmer?

Because, when an IR absorbing atmosphere is placed between the solar-heated Earth’s surface and the cold depths of outer space, it not only absorbs some of the upwelling IR radiation from the Earth’s surface, it also emits some IR energy back toward the surface.

If you find this difficult to believe, then consider this…

Lost In Space

Imagine you find yourself lost in outer space, floating aimlessly, with your warm skin exposed to the cold background of the cosmos.

Sure, keep your clothes on.

There is no sun or nearby stars to add much energy to your body. Your skin would gradually cool by losing IR radiation. (Of course, if the lack of air didn’t kill you first, you would freeze to death. Bear with me here…)

But now imagine you then surround yourself with a blanket. We won’t even use a fancy, NASA-invented, IR-reflective “space blanket”…just a woolen one. And let’s even assume the temperature of the woolen blanket was extremely low — just above absolute zero.

Some of the IR radiation you emit, instead of being lost to the depths of space, would then be intercepted by the blanket. This would raise the temperature of the blanket. As that happened, the inside of the blanket would begin to emit some IR energy back toward your body, while the outside of the blanket would emit energy to outer space.

As a result, the temperature of your skin would remain higher than it would without the blanket — even though the blanket would remain at a lower temperature than your skin.

So, contrary to what some would intuitively expect, the introduction of a cold object has made a warm object warmer than it would have otherwise been.

But it didn’t actually RAISE the temperature of your skin. In this example, all we have done is slow the rate of cooling of your body, and you would eventually freeze to death anyway.

But if you had a continuous supply of energy available (like the Earth does with the sun), and had reached a steady state of shivering and discomfort and THEN added the blanket, your skin would indeed increase its temperature, compared to if the (colder) blanket was not there.

Of course, this example is just an analog to the Earth in space.

The Earth has an energy source (the sun), and it has a “radiative blanket” (greenhouse gases) enveloping it.

The greenhouse effect has to do with the rate of energy flow OUT of the climate system. It reduces that rate of energy loss.

And since temperature represents the amount of energy accumulated by one object, a second object entering the picture and reducing the first object’s ability to lose energy can cause the first object’s temperature to rise – IF – like the Earth, the first object has some external source of energy being continuously pumped in.

Miskolczi’s Computed Infrared Flows in and Out of the Earth’s Surface

So now let’s return to the above energy budget illustration, and look first at the IR flows at the Earth’s surface which I have circled in the lower right portion of the diagram. I’ll reproduce the figure, below, for your convenience.

Note that the average intensity of IR radiation emitted by the sky down to the surface (with the somewhat misleading name, “back radiation”) is nearly as large as the IR flow in the opposite direction.

As can be seen, both investigators find these two flows to be very nearly equal. Miskolczi states,

the total flux of IR energy emitted by the atmosphere downward toward the Earth’s surface (ED) very nearly equals the upward flux from the surface and absorbed by the atmosphere (AA).”

That these two quantities are NEARLY equal has been known for a long time. It is partly a reflection of the fact that the entire depth of the atmosphere is mostly opaque to the transfer of IR radiation all the way through it. Miskolczi computes a global average infrared “optical thickness” of 1.87 for the entire depth of the atmosphere. I doubt that others would strenuously object to this value.

It is also partly due to something Miskolczi does not believe: that IR flows of energy from greenhouse gases have changed temperatures in the system to MINIMIZE the imbalances in IR energy flows between different components of the system.

But, just like any continuous heat transfer process (conduction, convection), the net heat flow of thermally emitted radiation from higher to lower temperatures can never quite “catch up”. After all, without some energy imbalance, the heat flow would end completely. Yet, we know that it is going on day after day.

Now, let’s discuss just how close these radiative flows are to each other in magnitude. Due partly to the large infrared opacity of the atmosphere, K&T calculated that the downwelling IR emitted by the atmosphere (324 Watts per sq. meter) is about 93% of the upwelling IR absorbed by the atmosphere (350 Watts per sq. meter).

Miskolczi gets a somewhat higher proportion, about 96%. If you see people discussing “ED=AA“, it is this (near-) equality they are talking about.

So, at face value, both studies have computed that the surface of the Earth, on average, loses somewhat more IR energy to the atmosphere than it absorbs from the atmosphere.

This makes physical sense since (1) the Earth’s surface is totally opaque to IR radiation, while the atmosphere isn’t; and (2) the Earth’s surface is warmer than the average temperature of the atmosphere.

But Miskolczi’s startling claim is that these two flows must be EQUAL — not only between the surface and the atmosphere as a whole, but between any two layers within the atmosphere.

He further claims that computations anyone makes that suggest otherwise are in error, due to neglect of other effects. He removes the small observed difference between the flows in opposite directions with an “empirical hemispheric emissivity factor” to force them to be equal, consistent with his assumption that they are equal.

I believe this claim regarding the equality of IR energy flows is the most fundamental issue that others would disagree with.

Radiative Exchange Equilibrium: A Consequence of Kirchoff’s Radiation Law?

Miskolczi makes the following statement regarding this supposed equality, which he calls “radiative exchange equilibrium”:

for..two regions (or bodies) A and B, the rate of flow of radiation emitted by A and absorbed by B is equal to the rate of flow the other way, regardless of other forms of (energy) transport that may be occurring.”

This is the most surprising claim I have ever seen in this business, and I am quite certain it is false. (I’m not TOTALLY certain, because I could be dreaming right now, and you know how dreams can fool you).

He appears to attribute this to Kirchoff’s Law of Radiation (which he notes was actually discovered before Kirchoff).

But Kirchoff originally demonstrated his law with two plates in isolation, in a vacuum, with no other sources of energy from their surroundings.

Let’s look at how Kirchoff’s Law is stated by several different sources:

At thermal equilibrium, the emissivity of a body (or surface) equals its absorptivity.”

The ratio of emitted radiation to absorbed radiation is the same for all blackbodies at the same temperature.

The emissivity of a body is equal to its absorbance at the same temperature.

At equilibrium, the radiation emitted must equal the radiation absorbed.

Note Miskolczi has done away with two caveats regarding his 2 bodies, A and B, that Kirchoff included: (1) energy equilibrium between two bodies, and (2) the bodies are isolated (no energy exchanges) from their environment. These conditions are not satisfied either at the Earth’s surface or in the atmosphere.

If Miskolczi is correct that the amount of thermal radiation emitted by an object (or layer of the atmosphere) ALWAYS equals the amount absorbed, this necessarily implies something that no one else I know of believes: that INFRARED RADIATIVE FLOWS BETWEEN IR ABSORBERS AND EMITTERS CANNOT CHANGE THEIR TEMPERATURE.

Let’s think about that. For IR energy flows to change the temperature of something, you need either a “convergence” of IR energy (absorption greater than emission) to cause the temperature to rise, or “divergence” of IR energy (emission greater than absorption) to cause temperature to fall.

But if the IR fluxes emitted and absorbed by an atmospheric layer are always the same, as Miskolczi claims, then the temperature of that layer cannot be changed through IR energy flows at all. Period.

And if THAT is true, then the greenhouse effect does not exist. Or, at a minimum, it is not caused by infrared radiation.

Another Thought Experiment

Obviously, if IR-absorbing layers A and B are identical in every way, including their temperatures, then the rate of IR flows between them will indeed be equal.

But let’s say layers A and B don’t touch (no conduction), and they do not interact with their surroundings. This would be like Kirchoff’s original experiment with the two plates.

Now, let’s take a blowtorch and heat layer A by 100 degrees. Layer A will now emit IR at a greater intensity than before, since its emission is proportional to the 4th power of its absolute temperature. Since the amount emitted is now greater that the rate of IR it is absorbing from layer B, layer A’s temperature will fall.

Meanwhile, over at layer B, since IR opacity is defined based upon the fraction of incident radiation it absorbs as that radiation is passing through, and layer A is now emitting IR at a greater rate than before (due to the blowtorch), Layer B now absorbs more than it is emitting.

This process – which Miskolczi claims does not exist – will eventually cause both layers to reach a new state of equilibrium, with equal temperatures, where both are emitting and absorbing IR energy at the same rate.

But Miskolczi’s theory says that the hotter layer will still emit radiation with the same intensity as it absorbs it. There would be no way for the hotter layer to transfer energy to the cooler layer. Presumably, the two layers’ temperatures would stay 100 deg. different.

Unless I am missing something important, this is a necessary consequence of Miskolczi’s claim. Maybe he thinks that since two atmospheric layers are already in a “quasi-steady state”, that their IR absorption equals their IR emission.

But this ignores other energy flows that we know are happening…most importantly, the convective transport of heat from the surface to the atmosphere. The surface is continuously dumping more energy into the atmosphere through convection. The atmosphere must emit more than it absorbs in order to cool itself.

The Hypothesis of a Constant Greenhouse Effect

Miskolczi additionally shows from 61 years of radiosonde data that a long-term decrease in the Earth’s greenhouse effect from humidity decreases in the middle and upper atmosphere have approximately counterbalanced the increase in the greenhouse effect from rising CO2 levels.

At face value, this might suggest that nature has mechanisms in place so that the total infrared opacity of the atmosphere remains about constant, consistent with the absorbed solar energy, and so the Earth’s temperature is naturally stabilized.

This might well be true.

But his conclusion from the radiosonde data depends upon the reality of relatively high humidity values in the very early years of radiosonde measurements, the 1950s and early 1960s. If you remove those years from his Fig. 9, then the drying trend that cancels the warming from increasing CO2 turns into a moistening trend.

Global “reanalysis” datasets extending back that far in time would have also the same problem, because those early radiosondes provide the most important source of information for the reanalysis.

Now, it might well be that nature has such a greenhouse effect-stabilizing mechanism in place, and that the total greenhouse effect stays at a relatively constant value for a given amount of absorbed solar energy. I have sometimes advanced the same possibility myself.

But I do not believe that Miskolczi has demonstrated either that it is the case, or why it should be the case.

In fact, the very nature of his claim that there are natural counterbalancing mechanisms at work keeping the greenhouse effect at a constant value implies that he thinks that the greenhouse effect DOES impact global average temperatures.

This seems to conflict with his claim that, by “law”, anything that absorbs IR at a certain rate must also emit IR at the same rate.

Since this law would remove the greenhouse effect entirely from the discussion of temperature change, why talk about compensating influences on the greenhouse effect? This does not make sense to me.

If Miskolczi is correct that the surface of the Earth does not lose any more IR energy than it gains from the overlying atmosphere, how is the surface cooled? Through 2 other mechanisms: (1) convective heat transfer from the surface to the atmosphere, and (2) loss of IR directly from the surface to outer space.

That convective heat transport is the dominant mechanism for moving heat from the surface to the atmosphere is not in dispute. I get angry e-mails from people who ask, “Why do you always talk about radiation? Convection is where it’s at!”

Yes, we all know that. For years I have talked and written about the cooling effects of weather are stronger than the warming effects of greenhouse gases. Lindzen in 1990 also emphasized this. We meteorologists were taught much more about convection than about solar and infrared radiation.

Even the (controversial and often maligned) K&T energy diagram shows the convective heat loss by the surface to the atmosphere (102 Watts per sq. meter) is about 4 times larger that the rate of IR loss by the surface to the atmosphere (26 Watts per sq. meter).

Thus, even in the “scientific consensus” view of global warming, convection is by far the primary mechanism by which the surface transfers heat to the atmosphere in the face of solar heating.

Yet, most of the computerized climate models still predict substantial global warming. So, obviously, they think a small change in radiation from more CO2 is pretty important.

IR Absorption and Emission Between Atmospheric Layers

So far, we have discussed the IR fluxes between the Earth’s surface and the atmosphere as a whole. What about the interaction between different layers in the atmosphere?

As I mentioned above, Miskolczi claims that the rates of IR exchange between atmospheric layers must be equal. He presents as evidence the fact that at any given level in the atmosphere, the rate of IR absorption by greenhouse gases is *nearly* the same as the rate of emission. This is shown in Fig. 3 of Miskolczi’s paper.

But the fact that these two flows are *nearly* the same is also consistent with standard greenhouse gas theory. It’s the tiny imbalance in them that makes all the difference. The greenhouse effect only becomes significant as we add up the cumulative effect of all the layers of the atmosphere.

Temperature changes have already minimized the imbalances between these IR flows, but a small imbalance still remains. This keeps the NET flow of IR energy through the climate system going “downhill”, from higher temperatures to lower temperatures.

To illustrate how tiny these IR imbalances in nature are, let’s examine what happens when we look at IR absorption and emission in 1 meter thick atmospheric layers, as Miskolczi presents in his Fig. 3.

The heat capacity of air is somewhat over 1,000 Joules per kilogram per degree C, which means it takes 1,000 Joules of energy to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of air by 1 deg. C.

Conveniently, in the lower atmosphere 1 kg of air corresponds to about 1 cubic meter (1 m3) of air. So, for a 1 meter thick layer of air, 1,000 Watts per sq. meter (W m-2) heating applied for 1 sec would raise the temperature by 1 deg. C.

Or, since there are 86,000 seconds in a day, it would take (1000/86,000) = 0.01 Watts per sq. meter to get 1 deg. C per day warming rate.

Finally, if we double this, it takes about 0.02 Watts per sq. meter imbalance between IR absorption and emission to get 2 deg. C per day of temperature change, a very small number, indeed. And since the 1960s, investigators have been publishing atmospheric cooling rates of about 2 deg. C per day, which are caused by these tiny imbalances.

So, we see that it only takes a tiny imbalance between absorbed and emitted IR energy to accomplish realistic rates of cooling – or heating.

It’s the great depths over which these tiny numbers add up that matters. If we scale up to a layer 1,000 m thick in the lower atmosphere, then we need around 20 W/m2 more IR lost than gained by that layer for a cooling rate of 2 deg. C per day. (The required radiative flux imbalances go down dramatically with height, though, since air density drops rapidly with height…I have not added this effect in).

Once we reach the TOP of the atmosphere, the flow if IR from outer space into the atmosphere (essentially 0 Watts per sq. meter) is WAY out of balance with that upwelling from below: 235 Watts per sq. meter if you believe K&T; 250 Watts per sq. meter if you believe Miskolczi.

So, we see that for very thin layers of the atmosphere the IR emitted is very close to the IR absorbed. At the Earth’s surface, the flows exchanged between the surface and the atmosphere are very nearly equal. But not quite.

All of this has been known for a long time, and is totally consistent with greenhouse theory.

The Big Picture

With few exceptions, no two layers of the atmosphere ever reach a state of radiative equilibrium with one another, as Miskolczi claims. The same is true for the Earth’s surface and the overlying atmosphere as a whole.

All components are usually at different temperatures, with external sources of energy being absorbed, released, and flowing through them. As a result of these complexities, there is no requirement through Kirchoff’s Law that they emit and absorb radiation at the same rates.

Now, it IS true that those flows are “trying” to equalize, by exchanging IR energy in a direction that reduces temperature differences between layers. As a result, the differences in IR flows in opposite directions are indeed small – but they are not zero. Temperature changes have already relieved much of the imbalance.

Despite that fact that a major function of greenhouse gases is to provide a way for an atmosphere to cool to outer space, their presence at the same time warms the surface and lower atmosphere. While this seems counterintuitive, upon some reflection and thought we realize that this does make sense after all.

The currently ‘accepted’ theory suggests that adding more CO2 to the atmosphere has a small, but not totally negligible additional warming influence. Yes, the atmosphere is already mostly opaque at those IR wavelengths where CO2 absorption is significant. But not totally. Everyone knows that, including those scientists who work on climate models that produce catastrophic global warming.

The big question is, how much will that warming be? That’s where feedbacks come in…the warming magnification (positive feedback) or reduction (negative feedback) of the relatively weak CO2-induced warming by changes in clouds and other elements of the climate system. And that’s what I spend most of my research time on.

I have not yet seen any compelling evidence that there exists a major flaw in the theory explaining the basic operation of the Earth’s natural Greenhouse Effect.

I would love for there to be one. But I don’t see it yet.

And, again, if I have mangled what Miskolczi has said, I apologize. He is free to respond here if he wants to.

Miskolczi, F., 2010: The stable stationary Value of the Earth’s global average atmospheric Planck-weighted greenhouse gas optical thickness. Energy and Environment, 21, No.4, 243-272. Gifts, gadgets, weather stations, software and here!

July 2010 UAH Global Temperature Update: +0.49 deg. C

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

2009 1 0.251 0.472 0.030 -0.068
2009 2 0.247 0.565 -0.071 -0.045
2009 3 0.191 0.324 0.058 -0.159
2009 4 0.162 0.315 0.008 0.012
2009 5 0.139 0.161 0.118 -0.059
2009 6 0.041 -0.021 0.103 0.105
2009 7 0.429 0.190 0.668 0.506
2009 8 0.242 0.236 0.248 0.406
2009 9 0.505 0.597 0.413 0.594
2009 10 0.362 0.332 0.393 0.383
2009 11 0.498 0.453 0.543 0.479
2009 12 0.284 0.358 0.211 0.506
2010 1 0.648 0.860 0.436 0.681
2010 2 0.603 0.720 0.486 0.791
2010 3 0.653 0.850 0.455 0.726
2010 4 0.501 0.799 0.203 0.633
2010 5 0.534 0.775 0.292 0.708
2010 6 0.436 0.550 0.323 0.476
2010 7 0.489 0.635 0.344 0.422

The global-average lower tropospheric temperature remained high, +0.49 deg. C in July, 2010, although the tropics continued to cool as La Nina approaches.

As of Julian Day 212 (end of July), the race for warmest year in the 32-year satellite period of record is still too close to call with 1998 continuing its lead by only 0.07 C:

1998 +0.62 +0.73 +0.51 +0.90
2010 +0.55 +0.74 +0.36 +0.63

To exceed 1998 as the warmest year, the daily global average temperature for the remainder of this year (1 Aug to 31 Dec, 2010) will need to average above +0.466 deg. C.

As a reminder, five months ago we changed to Version 5.3 of our dataset, which accounts for the mismatch between the average seasonal cycle produced by the older MSU and the newer AMSU instruments. This affects the value of the individual monthly departures, but does not affect the year to year variations, and thus the overall trend remains the same as in Version 5.2. ALSO…we have added the NOAA-18 AMSU to the data processing in v5.3, which provides data since June of 2005. The local observation time of NOAA-18 (now close to 2 p.m., ascending node) is similar to that of NASA’s Aqua satellite (about 1:30 p.m.). The temperature anomalies listed above have changed somewhat as a result of adding NOAA-18.

[NOTE: These satellite measurements are not calibrated to surface thermometer data in any way, but instead use on-board redundant precision platinum resistance thermometers (PRTs) carried on the satellite radiometers. The PRT’s are individually calibrated in a laboratory before being installed in the instruments.] Gifts, gadgets, weather stations, software and here!