Plass’s work also led to the first substantial media coverage of human-driven global warming, including a remarkable article in The New York Times that ends with a line that is entirely relevant today (brackets added):
“Coal and oil are still plentiful and cheap in many parts of the world, and there is every reason to believe that both will be consumed by industry [and consumers] so long as it pays to do so.”
Thanks for another enlightening post. I do think that the historical depth and breadth of the science is important–and grossly under-appreciated.
It seems that Plass’s case is parallel to Arrhenius’s in that both were right about the big picture, both had predictions that turned out to be correct, but both had some luck in terms of “error cancellation.” (Unlike poor old Claude Pouillet, whose calculation of the temperature of the Sun was blown up by the fact that Stefan-Boltzman was still yet to come!)
Nice article. I took a couple of semesters of what was called “Modern Physics” (i.e. special relativity and QM for idiots) from Plass in about 1980. I don’t remember many of my teachers but I do remember him. He mentioned his work on CO2 in passing one day, but didn’t go into it. I still have the text book in which I scribbled that down. This set off a long running debate between me and my girlfriend at that time who doesn’t like cold weather and thought global warming would be a good thing.
Plass was a good guy who cared about his students. It is funny now that he is considered an “alarmist” by the denialists. His public personna was meek and mild, although I suspect that he had a tougher side. The only thing I personally ever saw alarm him was when the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets (aka Corp Turds or “CT”s) would put up posters advertising the next “CT Beer Bust” on the physics department bulletin boards. Plass would grow visibly angry, stride over to the bulletin board, and tear down the offending material. During those times he radiated anger, but otherwise he was a mild mannered and quiet gentleman who was always in a suit coat and wore a bow tie, although he’d take the jacket off while sitting in his office. I have no knowledge of any physics students removing CT Beer Bust posters from other parts of campus and installing them up near Plass’ office in the physics building just to watch the fireworks.
Comment by John E. Pearson — 4 Jan 2010 @ 10:45 AM
It is important to understand that when hedgehogs are wrong they are nutty wrong. You can’t ever convince them of this, but you can ignore them. A good recent example of this is Qing Bin Lu at Waterloo whose hammer is cosmic ray shower formed electron attachment to PSC ice particles which explains everything about climate from ozone to global warming and, oh yes, is absolutely key in biology. We have seen many examples of this including, for example, Ferenc Miskolczi. Lindzen is well on his way.
As far as Kaplan and Plass there is is story that Eli has shared with others about a friend who, when he has a problem, visits with two colleagues. One of them, the Nobel Prize winner (for serious) gives him the wrong answer but for the right reason, the other, almost equally famous given him the right answer with the wrong reason. Since they are unfailingly consistent in this he gets what he needs.
The reason that hedgehogs who have the right big idea win out is that the other stuff that effects the problem, some goes up, some goes down and on average, averages out.
Plass – wasn’t he the person who debunked the notion of CO2 saturation with respect to infrared in the Earth’s atmosphere? That came about due to his work with military technology – an understanding of how infrared was absorbed in the atmosphere was required for heat-seeking missile technology. A military spin-off, in other words – search Google Scholar for GN Plass and infrared.
For a more comprehensive view, see Moller & Manabe 1961, Monthly Weather Review, “On the Radiative Equilibrium and Heat Balance of the Atmosphere.”
It is a very challenging problem, however, to simulate the latitudinal distribution of the height of the tropopause, that of the temperature in the stratosphere, and the polar inversion in the lower troposphere. In order to do this it is necessary to build a model which has a high resolution (many levels) in the vertical direction and which includes the various thermal processes acting in the atmosphere, i.e., radiation, condensation, and the eddy flux of sensible and latent heat from the earth’s surfuce.
Hence, at the time, without even the ability to accurately predict the current state of the atmosphere, let alone how it would change under forcing, those Plass – Kaplan estimates are just educated guesses that needed a lot of refinement. At the time (1961) the current status was something like this:
Gowan computed the distribution of radiative equilibrium temperature of the stratosphere and obtained an increase of temperature with altitude by taking into consideration the heating due to the absorption of solar ultraviolet radiation by ozone as well as the effect of long wave radiation by water vapor. In the improved version of his computation, he also includes the effects of the the 15u band of carbon dioxide, the 9.6u band of ozone, and the absorption of solar radiation by water vapor. The equilibrium temperature of the stratosphere thus obtained increases with altitude and qualitatively coincides with observed features. Quantitatively, however, the temperatures are much warmer than those observed. This computation could be further improved by adopting recent observations of the extraterrestrial solar spectrum and the distributions of gases in the stratosphere as well as the absorptivities recently obtained in the laboratory.
That latter laboratory work involved Plass and his co-workers, wasn’t it? That was the real contribution, I think.
Manabe lays out the basic elements in sections 2 & 3, titled “Temperature change due to long-wave radiation” and “Temperature change due to the absorption of solar radiation.” He also mentions Plass:
The dependence of absorptivity of this band on temperature is not always small. This was pointed out, for example, by Plass .
Which again goes to show that the main contributions of Plass were in the area of understanding the pressure and temperature effects related to infrared absorption in the atmosphere:
Although the mixing ratio of carbon dioxide is approximately constant with height, pressure as well as temperature vary with altitude. Therefore, the estimation of effective temperature involves cumbersome computations. (See, for example, Plass ).
However, according to Goody , the 15u band of carbon dioxide has a rather strong heating effect at the tropopause. The reason for this strong heating could be found from a careful examination of Plass’  results of the temperature change due to this band.
The Plass article that Manabe cites is titled “The Influence of the 15u Carbon Dioxide Band on the Atmospheric Infra-Red Cooling Rate. (1956)”
The main point here is that the science behind global warming wasn’t cooked up overnight, but is rather the result of detailed long-term efforts by hundreds of scientists over many decades. They first verified that the main actors with respect to long-wave radiation were carbon dioxide, water and ozone – and only by understanding the steady-state situation can you have any hope of prediction the effects of ozone destruction, fossil fuel-sourced CO2 additions, and the resulting changes in water vapor content and distribution. The first one-off guesses about the result of any such changes are interesting, sure, but it’s not some Einstein moment, I don’t think.
As far as press coverage, well, I imagine the fossil fuel lobby wasn’t such a dominant force in discussions of climate during the 1950s. For example, you wouldn’t have reporters running around claiming that all droughts and floods are due to El Nino cycles in the pre-fossil fuel lobby era, I don’t think. And by the way… why is Australia getting hammered by floods during an El Nino, after suffering droughts during La Nina? Anyone want to suggest an explanation for this apparent reversal of normality?
U.S. press coverage of climate science is as atrocious as it gets – and when they try to buck the trend and do a good job, their fossil fuel corporate owners simply fire them, as per the CNN science team.
Another interesting comment for me for the start of my year. Dr Annan’s, and Hargreaves, paper on the upper bound for sensitivity and the economic implications was also very interesting.
I have been following climate science for a few years now but have difficulty getting a solid grip on, or a feel for, the big picture because of the details.
My field is principally economics and I have no problem following any of the work being done in economics. Much of the stuff is obscured by numbers but I think I know how to edit the stuff and there hasnt really been any theoretical progress since Adam Smith, Marx and Keynes.(Before any economists start to list what they believe is progress they need to remember that the dividing lines in the social sciences are becoming increasingly blurred and that behavioural sciences in general are almost certainly showing the way forward.)
I have no problem with numbers : indeed we depend on them. But there is this tree and wood problem which is difficult to manage outside of ones field. But it needs to be managed so as to give the average Jo an opportunity to understand what he/she may have to vote for.
It really doesnt surprise me that big picture thinkers in complex areas do well, multi-variate and multi-dimensional analysis is difficult and not many do it well nor can explain it simply, the problem is how to project the big picture to the population at large.
Plass told me that he had worked up these calculations in his spare time, out of curiosity; his day job was doing infrared calculations for Lockheed in connection, I suppose, with heat-seeking missiles. It shows how little interest people of the time had in greenhouse warming, which helps explain why the Plass-Kaplan exchange was noticed by very few (two exceptions: Revelle and Keeling, who like Plass were working in Southern California).
Plass and Kaplan both left out not only clouds and H2O enhancement butr also what turned out to be the elephant in the room: upward transport of heat by convection of air(okay, the heat is mostly carried by water vapor, there’s that old H2O again). You can’t get a correct result if you don’t take that into account, as was first done by Manabe & Strickler in 1964.
Well, not actually first. A remarkably prescient and entirely overlooked calculation including convection, predicting significant warming, was published by E.O. Hulburt in 1931, Physical Review 38: 1876-90.
For details on all this see this historical site.
Here’s another neat politics-related quote I ran across recently, not quite so old, although 1981 is still pretty far back:
“The effects of CO2 may not be detectable until around the turn of the century. By this time, atmospheric CO2 concentration will probably have become sufficiently high (and we will be committed to further increases) that a climatic change significantly larger than any which has occurred in the past century could be unavoidable. To avert such change it is possible that decisions will have to be made (for example, to reduce anthropogenic CO2 emissions) some time before unequivocal observational ‘proof’ of the effects of CO2 on climate is available.” — T. Wigley & P. Jones, Nature 292: 205-08
Holey schmoley, it’s a small world. I believe Dr. Plass occupied a lab next to mine at Texas A&M in the mid-1980’s. While I was picking invertebrates out of samples of marsh mud, he and his graduate student had constructed a helium cooled laser that occupied an entire elevator shaft and upstairs room. If I recall correctly, his student had to learn how to use a metal lathe to manufacture some of the needed parts. I thought I was going over and above for my graduate degree (biblical plagues of mosquitos, etc.) until this student told me he had been working on his master degree, constructing this laser from scratch, for the last five years.
When it comes to understanding CO2’s naturally occurring and anthropogenic influence and effect on Earth’s climate, the public will not vote for politicians who increase their taxes because of what some early nineteenth century chemist (Arrhenius) or 1950’s physicist guessed at regarding climatology, a branch of science that didn’t even have a University degree at the time. What surely they will be more interested in is something recent and more relevant like Lindzen & Choi’s GRL article published in August of 2009. http://www.drroyspencer.com/Lindzen-and-Choi-GRL-2009.pdf
To summarize, the more GHG absorb heat in the atmosphere, the greater the flux rate of heat to space at the top of the atmosphere, meaning less warming than predicted by AGW theory. Hard data stating global warming will be less than one-sixth than that predicted.
And to those who snivel at Richard Lindzen’s accomplishments, Michael Mann certainly does not. If fact quite the opposite, Richard Lindzen “contributes meaningfully to the scientific discourse” according to his December 31, 2009, WSJ article. Thus, one cannot simply ignore Lindzen’s research as some crank or skeptic who consistently is not “on message” when it comes to AGW theory. He’s gadfly in the AGW theory to be sure, but is also a first rate scientist. Who should the public take more seriously when considering global warming if it were put to a vote, Gilbert Plass or Richard Lindzen? http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703478704574612400823765102.html
[Response: The issue is not Plass vs. Lindzen, but rather Lindzen vs. pretty much everyone else today. – gavin]
Well, Completely Fed Up, what you think should happen is all very well but what does happen is in general what people want to happen or are persuaded that it is in their best interests to happen.
One of the distinguishing things about scientists as a group is that they tend to be aggressive with each other, with their subject or with the things that they believe themselves to be certain about. I would expect them to do that and would be disappointed if they didnt do that because if they were not aggressive then I would suspect the scientific method. I expect blood on the carpet.
It seems that the apparently mild mannered Mr Plass was like that.
That does unfortunately have unfortunate effects.
One of them is screwing up on the PR. The unfortunate IPCC Chairman demonstrated that in The Guardian CiF today despite the fact that he is almost certainly correct in his views.
I would be more optimistic and less authoritarian than you. There are lots of good people working in government who know the science and are doing their best : we need to support them.
Even if it means paying the next retired CEO of Exxon USD400 million on retirement to keep his mouth shut.
That’s politics, but it may save our skins. In any event what can anyone do with USD400 million.
Many thanks for this nice and interesting piece on the history of our field !
A year ago, I participated as a member of the Habilitation committee of Jean-Louis Dufresne at the University of Paris 6 (he is a well-known climate modeler at ‘Laboratoire de Meteorologie Dynamique’ and served as an author of several chapters of the IPCC AR4). As an introductory section of his thesis, Jean-Louis has redone several calculations performed by several famous pioneers (Dufresne J.-L., « L’effet de serre : sa découverte, son analyse par la méthode des puissances nettes échangées et les effets de ses variations récentes et futures sur le climat terrestre. », These d’Habilitation à Diriger des Recherches, Université Pierre & Marie Curie, 107 pp. 2009).
For example, Dufresne reassessed the calculation published in 1896 by Svante Arrhenius on the 5°C warming linked to atmospheric CO2 doubling (compatible with the latest range of model climate sensitivity compiled by the IPCC). To his surprise, Dufresne showed that this widely quoted value is the result of luck. This is due to cancelling of large biases linked to limitations in the absorption data on CO2 and H2O available to Arrhenius and to his use of a one-layer greenhouse model.
The aim of Dufresne was of course not to alter the fame of Arrhenius (Dufresne even showed that the famous chemist was the first to introduce several ingredients in the greenhouse calculation). The main value of Dufresne’s work is to illustrate that it is (very unfortunately) not possible to make a “back of the envelope” calculation of the CO2 effect by treating the atmosphere as a single layer (reminiscent to the RC post about Angström written by Ray Pierrehumbert). This problem is known to specialists but not by the public and not even by scientists, specialized on other subfields of physics or chemistry, when they try to reinvent the wheel to make their own mind about the greenhouse problem. The 5°C value calculated by Arrhenius in 1896 provides the false impression that such a calculation is possible and that climate modelers did not make any progress over a century despite their use of more and more complex GCMs.
Jean-Louis Dufresne did also a nice job in checking the robustness of the work performed by other pioneers. Unexpectedly, he showed that Claude Pouillet was correct in his estimation of the solar constant (1228 W/m2 published in 1838), but that his temperature of the Sun was wrong only because of his use of a low-temp approximation of the Stefan-Boltzmann law (empirical law by Dulong & Petit, mainly used in metallurgy). Dufresne corrected the French page of Wikipedia on Pouillet ( http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pouillet ). Unfortunately the English pages are still erroneous when they state “The lower value of 1800 °C was determined by Claude Servais Mathias Pouillet (1790-1868) in 1838 using the Dulong-Petit law. Pouilett (sic) also took just half the value of the Sun’s correct energy flux” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stefan-Boltzmann_lawhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_Servais_Mathias_Pouillet ).
Later, Samuel Langley determined the solar output at different wavelengths, but he severely overestimated the total output. It took more than a century to go back to the value measured by Pouillet (without anyone acknowledging or even knowing it). Putting aside my natural chauvinism, this is a lesson for all scientists that a brilliant and influential colleague can slow down a bit his own field if he is too dominant (and even if he did not intend to do so).
[Response: Bonjour Edouard! I can heartily recommend Jean-Louis’ these. It’s really outstanding. To help make it more accessible to non-Francophones, David Archer and I have included a discussion of some of Jean-Louis’ conclusions regarding Arrhenius in our forthcoming book, “The Warming Papers.” I have not independently verified the claims regarding the implications of the index of refraction of salt, but it is clear that Arrhenius used a linear extrapolation which seems inconsistent with modern data. Jean-Louis’ conclusions seem to me to hang together. In addition, for the book I independently wrote an Arrhenius one-layer model using modern accurate spectroscopy, using a somewhat different approach to the calculation. My numbers aren’t identical to the ones in the these, but they do confirm the general conclusion that if Arrhenius had used the one layer model with correct spectroscopy, he would have arrived at an erroneously low value of warming, owing to spurious masking of CO2 by water vapor opacity. –raypierre]
Bean links to a copy of Lindzen and Choi at Spencer’s website, says it’s “hard data” — but appears not to have actually read Spencer, who pointed out major problems with it. Bean, did you repost something from somewhere else, or did you actually read Spencer’s website about this paper?
Bean, if you got your opinion second hand from some other website–don’t rely on some guy on a blog and trust their opinion (nor on the WSJ for that matter). Spencer put the paper up for discussion, and discussed it. Worth reading.
Two things – if you give 5 people a problem to solve, and they all come up with a similar answer, but each of them use assumptions and methods that are demonstrably incorrect – I personally would not treat this as evidence for the accuracy of the answer, but evidence that they knew the answer beforehand.
I’m a contrarian by nature, and some of the comments directed at me here have been ‘nasty’ and ‘patronizing’ so it’s definitely made me more of a contrarian on this issue. That said, my point above stands, I think – and I doubt that Gavin would claim these historical numbers should be treated as evidence.
My more general question, and related to my assumption that measuring and analyzing first-order effects is the best way to approach this: how is a tree or a glacier different than a weather station collecting daily data, in terms of assessing the impact of CO2?
Given the additional impacts of wind/particulates/precipitation/etc on glaciers, tree-rings, and so on, as well as their responses to local temperature. How is a glacial pullback anything more than a record of temperature increase in a specific location, much as you might get from a thermometer (ignoring particulate issues for the sake of discussion)? Genuine question – and a part of my ongoing emphasis on first-degree impact data measurement and analysis.
Wow, that did not take long. Here’s a thread about mainstream science and the developmental track it’s taken for the past 50 years, and straight off it’s swerved into touting an outlier prediction, a speculation given special permission to pass by the rigorous scrutiny accorded to mainstream science by contrarians.
“Hard data stating global warming will be less than one-sixth than that predicted.”
Hold on a minute. Where’s the confirmation of that prediction? Surely there’s more to offer than a mere calculation? After all, calculations are dismissed as insufficient if they’re part of the mainstream integrated model of AGW. Where’s the data?
Such a great writeup, thanks for sharing this history Gaven. And also, thanks to Andy for that extra bit of info. I’m going to try to see if UCS has the journal in question in the library, next time I go, would be really cool to see the exchange that is being discussed.
So if Plass was working on detecting targets with heat seaking missiles, he probably noted that a certain amount of CO2 in the path of propagation of the radiating wave from the target heat source to the heat seaking missile would actually attenuate that wave sufficiently that the term “saturation” would apply. I surmise Lockheed would have fired him for wasting his time on a heat transfer problem that operates more slowly such that it is related not at all to the near instantaneous hot target detection problem.
I see it as quite important that the problem was clarified, I guess by Plass, and we now understand that that there are what I would call secondary processes that are the heating and reradiating that arise following the initial attenuating effect.
If I see this correctly, it might be ok to just say he added more understanding rather than “debunking” previous thinking.
“How is a glacial pullback anything more than a record of temperature increase in a specific location, much as you might get from a thermometer (ignoring particulate issues for the sake of discussion)? Genuine question – and a part of my ongoing emphasis on first-degree impact data measurement and analysis.”
When it’s more than one glacier, in diverse locations?
Kevin Mckinney wrote: It seems that Plass’s case is parallel to Arrhenius’s in that both were right about the big picture, both had predictions that turned out to be correct, but both had some luck in terms of “error cancellation.”
Yes, Arrhenius’s work seems to be slowly becoming better known, much the least, because he wrote in a non-English language. He has been mentioned more frequently in some more recent journal articles:
From the Peer-reviewed Ambio journal (2001): “How did Arrhenius conduct his calculations into the “hothouse” effect of CO2? They were, says Gustaf Arrhenius, “done on the same basis as they are done now, only without the aid of digital computers.” He divided the world into small squares and calculated for each one the warming effect, taking into account local conditions and their likely feedbacks. He knew the impact of features such as clouds in his calculations, and that “refinement of these made all the difference between the greenhouse effect becoming positive or negative,” says Gustaf Arrhenius. His devotion to such detail, he says, explains why “his results came close to what dozens of people spend hundreds of hours of computer-time on today.” He concluded that, globally, a doubling of CO2 levels would raise temperatures by 5–6°C. And a halving would reduce temperatures by a similar amount—enough to bring on another Ice Age.”
AmBio,Volume 30, Issue 3 (May 2001) http://ambio.allenpress.com/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1639%2F0044-7447%282001%29030%5B0150%3ASSOWTS%5D2.0.CO%3B2
effect, whereby the presence of an
atmosphere acts to increase a planet’s surface
temperature. Written in 1827, nearly three quarters
of a century before science advanced
to the point where Arrhenius could quantify
the phenomenon…” Pierrehumbert, Nature 2004
“Svante Arrhenius, who was first to predict global warming as a consequence of using fossil fuels.” Bard C. R. Geoscience 336 (2004) 603–638 2004
Svante Arrhrenius-1897- Model, grids, predicted more warming at poles, …AMBIO peer-reviewed journal, 1997, vol. 26, no. 1. (Published by Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences) (http://www.ambio.kva.se/ . A Journal of the Human Environment ).
J Uppenbrink – Science, 1996
H von Storch, N Stehr – NATURE, 2000
K Hasselmann – Nature, 1997
RE Benestad – Climatic Change, 2003
V Ramanathan – Science, 1988
Well, to answer TRY, about glacier or tree ring proxies. Obviously temperature isn’t the only thing affecting either system. Glaciers will also respond to changes in precipitation and to changes in the amount of shortwave radiation (which could be affected by cloudiness). Tree growth depends upon other factors than just temperature as well, and you’d probably have to be a biologist to sort it out. Nevertheless we do have other proxies, such as the isotopic concentrations seen in ice, that can be used to disambiguate the temperature from the other factors. Climate reconstructions do not rely upon single proxies, but upon multiple independent proxies which need to be looked at together so that a consistient picture can be built up. And Doug’s point, that these proxies are compared to other similar ones in many different locations is valid as well.
“These d’Habilitation à Diriger des Recherches, Université Pierre & Marie Curie, 107 pp. 2009).” … Dufresne showed that this widely quoted value is the result of luck. This is due to cancelling of large biases linked to limitations in the absorption data on CO2 and H2O available to Arrhenius and to his use of a one-layer greenhouse model.
Is this the place to state this yet?
I thought in 1906 Arrhenius adjusted the value downwards to 1.6 °C (including with a water vapour feedback of 2.1 °C).”Ueber den Einfluss des Atmosphärischen Kohlensäurengehalts auf die Temperatur der Erdoberfläche, in the Proceedings of the Royal Swedish Academy of Science, Stockholm 1896, Volume 22, I N. 1, pages 1–101…
I certainly don’t mean any disrespect at all…but how do you know there are no problems with your numbers and that all angles have been considered…(and they could be dead on right)…have your figures been published in a major journal or convention for verification as all accepted scientific studies are? I appologize if they have.
As Gavin has said: “Peer-review: necessary, but not sufficient!”
That’s not contrarianism, it’s obstinance. There is nothing in our “nature” that can make us contrarian.
“and some of the comments directed at me here have been ‘nasty’ and ‘patronizing’ so it’s definitely made me more of a contrarian on this issue.”
People insult you (or maybe just point out reality), so you dismiss an entire field of science?
Yes, I think you should post more.
[Response: Actually, I’m going to defend him on this one. Some people do have a contrary nature – especially scientists – and in fact including me. It comes down to initially adopting a ‘show me’ stance when you see new ideas and trying to burrow down into the assumptions that might underlie it. In small does it comes in quite handy. However, this has to be tempered with an open mind that allows you to be persuaded by new information. Contrarianism combined with obstinacy and a dash (or more) of political advocacy and you end up with Lindzen or worse. – gavin]
Gavin — while Lindzen references Wong, 2006 in a couple places, isn’t the dataset in Lindzen just the ERBE edition 3 dataset without the revision to correct the instrument drift that was found in Wong, 2006 (and is referred to in Wong, 2006 as ERBE edition 3 revision 1?)
“Firstly, it’s true: our current scientific theories are almost certainly wrong. If you look through history, all of our most successful, most beautiful and most explanatory theories have been wrong. Based on that evidence, we’d be mad to think our current theories are right. Philosophers of science call this argument the Pessimistic Meta-Induction. (Comedian Dara O’Briain makes some funny jokes about misuses of this form of reasoning.)
The question is, what follows from the Pessimistic Meta-Induction? If our theories are false, should we ignore them?
The answer is a clear “No”. If you look through the history of science, successful scientific theories that garnered consensus yielded good advice. Although Newtonian mechanics is wrong, it still yields the right advice for any situation you’re likely to come across.
Newtonian mechanics will tell you that if you want your car to go faster, you should make it less heavy. Just because the theory behind that advice turned out to be wrong, doesn’t mean the advice was wrong.
Similarly, even if climate science turns out to be inaccurate in some way, the advice it is giving us is clear. Cutting emissions is essential for stopping global warming.”
The fairy tale of the porcupine and the fox is one I missed as a child. Having read ~ 200 headlines, I still haven’t found the right one in Google.
But the real message is that, ever since 1897, scientists have been refining their calculations of the climate sensitivity? A large enough number of people have tried their hands at it. We are getting close to the correct number. Conspiracy over a century is impossible. This is real. The story of Gilbert Plass and all those other people is to inform the world that global warming is real and serious.
And the real problem is that, for Homo Sap to survive, democracy isn’t really the right form of government. Politicians have to take dictation from scientists. Since the world doesn’t work that way, scientists don’t make good politicians or dictators, there will be a dark age of death and chaos.
The carbon dioxide theory of Gilbert Plass needs to be read by Robert Reich on his radio hour on PBS, as soon as he gets a dedicated daily hour on PBS. Prior to that, the story of the porcupine and the fox needs to be aired on Sesame Street.
Very interesting discussion. Does your description of the 1956 article in the American Scientist as ‘pop piece’ include its account of the greenhouse effect by analogy with a glass greenhouse without reference to the role of the temperature distribution?
I wonder if Plass knew about the negative result obtained by R.W. Wood (now well known) with a couple of blackened cardboard boxes one covered with glass and the other with rock salt ,which transmits infrared. Plass would have understood why the glass one showed so little additional radiative warming. This was because the temperature of the lid which depends upon a self consistent treatment of convection and radiation, was too close to that of the floor and walls of the box. So the outward radiation from the glass would not have been substantially reduced.
He might perhaps have been able to suggest an alternative experiment with a skyscraper greenhouse for which the analogy might have been better. Too much for a pop piece?
While we’re in this part of the world, the government is using the BoM’s announcement that 2009 was the second hottest year on record to hit the opposition over the head. Whether it has any traction remains to be seen – it is an election year, after all.
“a concept that wasn’t fully worked out until Revelle and Suess’s paper in 1957”
So there really was a Dr. Seuss ?
[Response: Actually, Revelle and Suess get far too much credit for this important bit of ocean chemistry. It is clear even from the references in Revelle and Suess that the basic buffer chemistry was known decades earlier. In fact, there are even indications from exchanges between Arrhenius and Hogbom that Arrhenius knew about it, and knew it would limit ocean CO2 uptake. The credit should go to whoever first drew the correct conclusions regarding anthropogenic CO2 increase, and here Revelle and Suess messed things up and in fact drew a completely incorrect conclusion. Credit for getting the so-called “Revelle Buffer Factor” right should really go to a paper by Bolin and Eriksson, published at essentially the same time. All this is made clear, together with reprints of the relevant original papers, in the forthcoming book “The Warming Papers,” by Archer and myself, due out this year from Wiley/Blackwell. –raypierre]
To test Plass’s analogy between CO2 and glass greenhouses (continued).
Instead of the thought experiment of scaling up a glass greenhouse in all directions, perhaps it might be possible to construct a calorimeter with a heated floor or cooled roof? I’m sure that Plass’s analogy has some theoretical validity even if it is inapplicable to glass greenhouses under most realistic conditions.
Andy: (13) Are you sure that it was Plass who built the laser? I was always under the impression that he was strictly a theoretician. A&M had both low temperature and atomic and molecular experimental groups either of which might have built a helium cooled laser but as far as I knew Plass was not in them. There was a pretty strong planetary atmospheres group consisting of Plass, George Kattawar, and several senior scientists who were not faculty: Andy Young, Louise Young, and Ronald Schorn. There might’ve been others. I’m recalling this from pure memory and jeez, I haven’t thought about these folks for decades. I think I’ve got the names right.
Comment by John E. Pearson — 5 Jan 2010 @ 10:28 AM
So, Bean, work with us other readers here, we’re mostly amateur readers like you trying to learn how this stuff works. Where’d you come across mention of Lindzen and Choi? Who did you consider a reliable source for the beliefs you posted above? How do you decide who to trust on this sort of thing?
Good links and reminders, thank you both for pointers worth reading.
Robert Grumbine has made a similar point at his blog a while back (though the search tool doesn’t handle arithmetic well, couldn’t find it again).
He was reminding some of us not to leap all over new posters with all four feet. He pointed out that while some people with doubts about climate science seem to believe, as someone said dismissively, that 2+2=5, this is much closer to correct than believing that 2+2= some much larger number.
Geoff, that cooling/warming surface would break up for the exact same reason as a tiny model boat on a small tank of water doesn’t look real: it’s too small. The Physics knows the difference and in this particular case, you’d have convection relatively huge.
There’s no substitute for size if you’re going to model something like this in a lab.
Comment by Completely Fed Up — 5 Jan 2010 @ 11:31 AM
I am not a climatologist so please be kind to me. I wondered if warming temps and thus higher dew points (moisture carried in the atmosphere) could result in greater snowfall in higher elevations. This in turn resulting in greater deposits at the beginning of glaciers.
Would Antartica gain more ice?
Comment by Dean Weichmann, Wisconsin — 5 Jan 2010 @ 11:50 AM
“I am not a climatologist so please be kind to me.”
There’s nothing wrong in not being a climatologist.
Claiming to be one and asking dumb questions about climate is a different matter…
“I wondered if warming temps and thus higher dew points (moisture carried in the atmosphere) could result in greater snowfall in higher elevations.”
It can, but you tend to get dryer air after raining and it would like to rain earlier. Whether this happens is dependent on a lot of things. Some places, yes. Some no.
“Would Antartica gain more ice?”
It has been. The central plain of Antarctica is the driest place on earth. It’s too darn cold there for there to be enough water to fall down when it freezes.
So when it warms up, there’s some more water (if it hasn’t dried out by falling even heavier elsewhere) and it’s still far below freezing.
So it falls as snow.
Therefore, despite it being warmer you can get more snow.
Whether that happens in more variable places (I.e NOT at the pole) depends on what the land is doing and what the weather normally does.
Comment by Completely Fed Up — 5 Jan 2010 @ 12:00 PM
Dean Weichmann, I am not merely being kind when I tell you that you have made an astute observation. Near the Antartic coast, where temperatures are a bit milder, you might well get more evaporation, which, when it falls inland, will fall as snow. Thus, you expect melting at the edges and growth inland–which is what we see. Keep in mind, though that the situation is not simple wrt ice flow, etc., and exactly what happens depends on the temperature profile locally, prevailing winds, etc..
Congratulations on a classic post, Gavin. Seriously: you are a great explainer, like Feynman, and like Spencer Weart. The human story of how science shakes into place can be a great bridge to scientific understanding; the best antidote to the anti-science tenor of the times.
Speaking as a confirmed hedgehog, I find Gilbert Plass’s story inspirational. Thanks so much, everyone.
Comment by Daniel C. Goodwin — 5 Jan 2010 @ 12:27 PM
Note also that the thesis was evaluated by three independent « rapporteurs » (including a foreign colleague from the UK) and four « examinateurs ». It has thus passed a stringent peer-review process. I know that Jean-Louis Dufresne is busy translating this historical part in order to submit it to an international journal. That would imply a second round of peer-review. However, you are right in saying that peer-review is necessary, but not sufficient.
You can thus read the thesis and its demonstration, but it is already clear that the one layer greenhouse model is inadequate to reproduce the temperature change due to a CO2 increase because a description of the vertical temperature gradient is required. Using such an oversimplified model leads to an underestimation of the warming. This point has already been underlined in previous RC posts (including “A saturated gassy argument, Part 1 and Part 2”). In addition, Arrhenius used absorption measurements from Langley that do not include the important CO2 15-micron absorption band, and part of the absorption by H2O is attributed to CO2. This was the information available at this time, but this led to a warming over-estimation cancelling the other bias.
Arrhenius also hypothesized that ice ages were caused by falls in the atmospheric CO2 content. In the very same 1896 paper, he uses observations of geologists on the displacements of the snowline and concluded that temperatures were 4-5 ◦C colder during the glacial period. According to his greenhouse calculations, this generalized cooling could be explained by a CO2 fall of about 40%. Hence, Arrhenius got it amazingly right for both the glacial temperature and CO2 drops: his 1896 figures are compatible with what we know today from modern paleoclimate proxies (including CO2 measured in bubbles from Antarctica ice cores). The problem is that we also know that the glacial cooling is not mainly due to CO2 forcing which represents only a quarter of the total radiative perturbation during the glacial period (-2 compared to -8 W/m2, see Fig. 6.5 page 451 of IPCC 2007 AR4).
As I underlined in my previous comment (#19), the point is not to blame Arrhenius who was working with the information available at his time. As a scientist interested in the history of his field, I think it is important to realize that our heroes are indeed true heroes, but also that an additional century of science has improved our knowledge on the relationship between global temperature and atmospheric CO2. This was the point of my 2004 article cited in your comment and that can be downloaded from the following web page: http://www.college-de-france.fr/default/EN/all/evo_cli/travaux.htm
My current perspective is considerate of the reality that while increases in snowfall can and do occur on a region to region basis, mid latitudes will see that snow melting faster, plus, when Antarctica, sometime in the future, reaches it’s tipping point and the inertial trend is melting rapidly, sea level rise will move much faster on the relative geologic time scale. As of now it’s a fight between accumulation and calving at the edges.
Generally speaking though, I think it is safe to assume we will see in the future, the number of entire towns and cities or even regions being shut down by large snowfall increasing. I think that has already begun though but as always you can’t say a single event is climate because it can be weather.
I tend to characterize it as motion in the trends. Certainly the headlines of late are showing this may be true.
The latest calculations show that if the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere should double, the surface
temperature would rise 3.6 degrees Celsius and if the amount should be cut in half, the surface temperature would fall 3.8 degrees.”
Is it known precisely what model and assumptions Plass used to obtain these numbers?
Why are his numbers different than the numbers reported here which utilize MODTRAN spectra not available to Plass in 1956:
One method of estimating the contribution made by the presence of CO2 to the total 34·5°C of global warming is by the use of the MODTRAN programme and database, which contains all the spectral information about greenhouse gases and allows the calculation of fluxes at any altitude, looking downwards to the surface or upwards towards space.
Keeping everything constant except for the CO2 concentration and considering the transfer of energy across the troposphere at an altitude of 15 km, the results of Modtran calculations are shown in the graph. For each point the temperature was reduced until radiative balance was re-established.
The widely prophesied doubling in CO2 concentration from the pre-industrial value of 285 ppmv to 570 ppmv would be associated with an increase of just 1·5°C.
59: The link you posted to is the only skeptic site I’ve ever seen that didn’t make me want to tear my hair out. I hate to jump to quick conclusions but I think these guys are actually honest. They take a minority view point on climate sensitivity arguing that it is lower than the IPCC estimates (which have been roughly consistent for roughly 30 years since the Charney report http://www.atmos.ucla.edu/~brianpm/downloads.html) but they also debunk an enormous amount of standard denialist nonsense. It was refreshing.
Re 52sq : Mount Kinabalu (Malaysia) is situated roughly on the Equator, at an elevation of 4000 m +. It never snows there, ever wondered why?
Comment by François Marchand — 5 Jan 2010 @ 3:50 PM
John @60, Stuart @59:
Wouldn’t the value you found be a lower bound on the doubling of CO2? It seems that if you keep everything else constant, then you are ignoring the water vapor feedback, which is likely of a similar value as the straight CO2 contribution. In you experiment the final value would be: 3.0C!
Comment by Rattus Norvegicus — 5 Jan 2010 @ 4:00 PM
Thanks for taking me up on an offbeat question! I’m afraid your Drude reference went over my head, though…?
he made a famous (to physicists) pair of errors in in solid state physics. Briefly, he didn’t have Fermi-Dirac statistics so he used the classical Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution which led to errors in specific heat and counterbalancing errors in mean velocity for electrons. So i made another idle suggestion that you might like to see where he was trained.
More important, he was a competent scientist who made an educated derivation based on the knowledge of his time. Which is why we still study his derivations. As with Arrhenius and Plass and perhaps with all scientists. No one knows everything, but the point is to avoid the ‘not even wrong’ arguments. This is not possible without a deep and extensive grounding in the universe of discourse, usually gained in grad school.
With all the very cold weather around the Northern Hemisphere at this time, I had a thought of a way to prove a precise degree carbon dioxide actually warms air (dry air with no water vapor like cold polar air or hot desert). The current method does require a lot of assumptions and seems more like a work or Art than a precise scientific formulation.
The Surface area of Earth is 5.1*10^8 km^2
I have read that the Global Temperature is based on around 3000 recording stations and most of those are concentrated in the developed world. If you would grid those 3000 recording stations around the Earth one station would cover an area of 170,000 km^2 Huge area with lots of variable temps within.
Air mass temps look like they have many odd shapes and it looks like it might be a real guess to get temps for these unknowns. There are circular masses, tounges, boxes etc.
The precise calculation I can think of would be to determine the theoretical adiabatic cooling rate of air with no water vapor or greenhouse gasses. Just oxygen and nitrogen. This will be the control. The rate given for adiabatic cooling is around 10 C per 1000 feet. The contribution of warming from carbon dioxide would decrease the adiabatic cooling by exactly the rate at which it can absorb the radiation from the ground below and heat the rising parcel of air. The more carbon dioxide in the air parcel, the lower should be the cooling relative to air with no carbon dioxide to absorb ground radation and warm.
The change in rate would give an exact measure of the heating contribution of carbon dioxide outside all the other influences that impact Global Temperatures.
Thanks Andy (#1 and #2) for the links including that great Frank Capra video. While at UCLA film school I corresponded with Capra over a period of years, but never about that.
We probably all agree that Lindzen is the most credentialed of all the global warming deniers, but while he has many awards and recognitions, they are a tiny fraction of those won by those who disagree with him and ge generally agree with Gavin, the vast majority of IPCC scientists, etc.
This from Wikipedia’s entry for Richard Lindzen:
Lindzen has been characterized as a contrarian. Lindzen’s graduate students describe him as “fiercely intelligent, with a deep contrarian streak.”
This characterization has been linked to Lindzen’s view that lung cancer has only been weakly linked to smoking. Writing in Newsweek, Fred Guterl stated “Lindzen clearly relishes the role of naysayer. He’ll even expound on how weakly lung cancer is linked to cigarette smoking. He speaks in full, impeccably logical paragraphs, and he punctuates his measured cadences with thoughtful drags on a cigarette”
Thus Lindzen has become more or less a hedgehog who is wrong about one big thing, while Fox news is a fox
who is wrong about many things.
The link provided in #59 was, as already noted, a wonderful breath of fresh air in that it is an actual attempt to critique some of the conclusions of the 2007 IPCC report — scientifically, and at the same time points out the non-sense of the anti-science “arguments” blasted all over the blogosphere (and many media outlets).
Their main conclusions seem to be that many of the climate sensitivity estimates may be too high — if still significant nonetheless (climate sensitivity = how many degrees C rise in temperature for a doubling of the CO2 concentration for an Earth in near radiative equilibrium). However, they’ve apparently concentrated at the results pertaining to radiative equilibrium with respect to the C02 concentration. Other than waving their hands about the effects of positive feedbacks (maybe they’re overestimated) and negative feedbacks (maybe they’re understimated), they really do not address these. Climate scientists are certainly aware that a good deal of the predicted climate sensitivity is due to a significant net feedback contributions. They might also keep in mind that there are several feedback mechanisms, some of them positive, that were not included in the models that ended up in the 2007 IPCC report (not to mention that everything that climate scientists know indicates that ignorance is not on the side of humanity).
It is time that conclusions formed a long time ago and repeatedly confirmed, with great growth of understanding and a variety of inputs as well as obvious results (seasonal change, species migration (bugs not wintering over with chaotic results due to decreased cold), increased “weather” such as droughts in dry areas and floods in wet ones, and of course socioeconomic conflict over scarce resources where people are desperate) receive the attention they require and deserve. The 100s of times recycled arguments and techniques of doubt creation are doing humanity a severe disservice.
With respect to cold in a warming climate, I think this is an issue that needs to be explained early and often. Bearing in mind that I am not a scientists but an artist – water vapor patterns are gorgeous – who got involved because of the handwriting on the wall over my lifetime, my opinions are subject to expert deconstruction. Nonetheless, one of the most frequent arguments against climate change due to global warming is the confusion over the word warming.
Currently, we have an “arrow” of cold directly from the Arctic and I expect the usual arguments about local short-term “weather” are making the rounds on the propaganda wheels.
On Antarctica and snow, there was recently an excellent article in The New Yorker on penguins, which unfortunately is behind a subscription wall, However, this excellent slide show is available. It mentions the above-explained phenomenon. In places where it is below freezing, of course even at increased temps increased water vapor is going to result in snow. http://www.newyorker.com/online/multimedia/2009/12/21/091221_audioslideshow_penguins
Back in the early 1960s I was the USAF meteorological liaison officer at the Meteorological Institute of the University of Stockholm (MISU) (an assignment that dates back to the 1930s). Administratively I was a graduate student and took classes and did research with Bert Bolin’s nascent atmospheric chemistry department. My field is atmospheric optics and I joined a small group working on light scattering by aerosols (almost exactly the same thing Jim Hansen worked on in Leiden a few years later). The other side of the shop was working on greenhouse gases. Paul Crutzen was doing ozone and Dave Keeling had just arrived for a year’s stay as a Guggenheim Fellow with several years of CO2 observations from Mauna Loa.
Everybody knows that the scattering thing looked good at first, but once you do the math, the greenhouse effect wins. I went ahead and finished my thesis on scattering polarization in noctilucent clouds with Bolin as my advisor, but by the time I was done, practically everyone at MISU was either working on CFCs and ozone or CO2 and greenhouse. We didn’t have much in the way of computing power in Stockholm then, so we were only a little ahead of Arrhenius (for whom the MISU building is now named; back then we were in tiny quarters on Lindhagensgatan that had been abandoned by the Microbiology Institute).
I had to get back to the USAF in 1964 and went on to work more in scattering and then in satellites for 20 years. Just recently I was asked to teach a short course in climate change and took the occasion to put together a short paper on my time at the feet of Bert Bolin when all this stuff was just getting on a good scientific basis. If anyone’s interested, I’d be glad to send a copy. Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let me clarify my post #71, pertaining to the Barrett and Bellamy web pages, that I would not at all be surprised if many of their critiques and conclusions have been taken to task by climate scientists. It’s just that up to now I have never encountered a critique of the 2007 IPCC report appearing in web pages that wasn’t completely worthless. This one at least makes the attempt to explain the science and uncertainties (from their point of view) to the non-expert.
The signal to noise of most of the comments at RealClimate and other scientifically useful web sites (like Skeptical Science) would be a whole lot higher if discussions began at this level of understanding or better. And that’s the point I was trying to make.
53 Ray Ladbury: I have heard that the whole midwest becomes a desert, and the opposite. That the monsoon misses India and China completely in X years. Etc. I know that “the rain moved” has caused many previous civilizations to collapse.
Do you know anything about where the rain is going to move that the rest of us don’t? Maybe this belongs in “unforced variations”, but I think that is over.
If this is not the right place for learning the fundamentals I apologise for wasting your time and should be grateful to be referred to a better one. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have been looking for a site to educate myself about the greenhouse effect. The explanations I have read up to now (eg http://climateprediction.net/content/basic-climate-science#car_dio) do not satisfy me at all and to convince myself I have to be more concrete.
In the past I have done a few simple engineering calculations, including fluid dynamics. I am familiar with time dependence, convection (what you call advection, I believe) and diffusion, but I have no experience at all of radiation. For my self-education I should like to be able to explore a number of simple and solvable model problems. The first one I have in mind would be a static atmosphere, invariant parallel to the Earth’s surface, which would initially be taken as plane. All quantities, including gas properties, would vary with altitude. (At present I am unsure whether conditions at the surface and at the top of the atmosphere might have to be treated as assumed data rather than emerging from the computations.) The equation of state (1) and the hydrostatic equation (2) will hold. I imagine the energy equation (3) will reduce to the onedimensional heat conduction equation, but with a distributed heat source encapsulating the greenhouse effect. I should like to evaluate the heat sources independently and to solve the three said equations in an uncoupled fashion.
Is the above scheme a reasonable way to gain some understanding? If so, can any radiation theoreticians please tell me how to calculate the heat sources through the model atmosphere?
[This is intended to be my last comment on glass greenhouses before everyone else becomes completely fed up with it].
CFU ; as far as I can see you are saying that it would be almost impossible to use themostats to maintain my suggested boundary conditions * in the face of a near short circuit by convection. I shall ignore that for a moment, because it might perhaps be surmountable, but then I encounter a worse objection. What I dislike about this arrangement is its complex and unatural design. The natural circuit consists of short wavelength energy in through the glass balanced by long wavelength out, either by transmission or by re-radiation (the last bit ignored in the pop piece.) In my version this circuit would have to include the energy flowing in and out of the thermostats which would have to be monitored and might be the dominant energy flow. Hence I come back to…
Simplified Conclusion: Plass’s remarks in the pop-piece about glass greenhouses would have been better replaced by one sentence saying that the transmission properties of CO2 are a bit like those of glass.
[* i.e. the roof of the greenhouse held at the temperature of dy ice (or even liquid nitrogen) while the floor fixed at 20 degsC]
Stuart–the difference is caused by the fact that the IPCC sensitivity includes feedbacks and your MODTRAN calculation doesn’t. You said everything was kept the same but carbon dioxide. The IPCC assumes that as carbon dioxide rises, so does water vapor, through the Clausius-Clapeyron effect. There are also land-ice albedo feedbacks, cloud feedbacks, etc.
“Stuart–the difference is caused by the fact that the IPCC sensitivity includes feedbacks and your MODTRAN calculation doesn’t.”
OK, but that wasn’t really my question. My question was – what was Plass’s original assumption? Obviously he didn’t have MODTRAN data. The original question posed by Gavin was – was Plass prophetic or lucky? So – did Plass also consider water feedback? Or was he just lucky to get the same answer as the IPCC a different way?
As a secondary question on the water feedback – why does water not simply feedback on itself? No need to burn fossil fuels to get more CO2 here – there is an almost infinite reservoir of water available to create the greenhouse gas water vapor – so why doesn’t some heating occur due to some watre vapor – and then more water vapor feedbacks and so on? This would be a runaway affect. It obviously doesn’t happen – but why would doubling the CO2 suddenly make the water vapor contribution become larger?
Furthermore, doesn’t the evaporation of water lead to cooling through the Joule-Thompson effect? If so, wouldn’t a doubling of CO2 create cooling through water evaporation – in other words a negative feedback mechanism?
Really – are these Feedbacks properly understood? The graph in the Barret website I linked to for temperature versus CO2 seems to be uncontroversial – is that correct? So the argument is really not about CO2 but about the sign of feedback mechanisms – positive or negative?
“why does water not simply feedback on itself?”
It does and is included in the interpretations given in these comments (perhaps in the previous thread) . The water vapour concentration depends on the temperature. Lets repeat the argument. Assume that there is a small warming W degs.C; this warmed atmosphere holds an additional water vapour concentration proportional to W. Call it Wa. This will cause a further warming of Wab degs. C and the process will be repeated thus:
W + Wab + W(ab)^2 +W(ab)^3 +…. = W/(1-ab)
[where (ab)^2 = the square of ab]. Every term except the first consists of water vater vapour feeding back on itself. But you must have the first term to have a non-zero effect. Where does W come from? Answer from the growth of a greenhouse gas or the increase of incident solar energy. But if these are absent W = 0 and you can see from the right hand side that the net warming is zero.
Your other question involves bookkeeping and terminology rather than feedbacks. If the total water vapour in the air increases it implies that energy has been transferred (its called latent heat) but it is not lost to the climate. The same point applies to melting ice. That too requires latent heat. These processes increase the effective thermal capacity (inverse climate sensitivity) but would be automatically included in any calculation.
Nothing is perfectly understood, but that is a long way from arguing that David Bellamy or his colleague are right about down-playing all the evidence for a significant positive feedback.
though the search tool doesn’t handle arithmetic well, couldn’t find it again
While we are on that topic, is there a simple way of searching for a given string through all the pages of a thread composed of many pages? I have a rather slow computer.
P.S. I did not follow why you thanked me in the first part of the same message. Were you referring to someone else?
“As a secondary question on the water feedback – why does water not simply feedback on itself? ”
Dumb guess here, but water precipitates at a much higher temperature than does C02?
“Furthermore, doesn’t the evaporation of water lead to cooling through the Joule-Thompson effect? If so, wouldn’t a doubling of CO2 create cooling through water evaporation – in other words a negative feedback mechanism?”
Where would the heat go? Water evaporating at the bottom of the atmosphere does not mean the heat has left the planet.
Stuart, the distinction between the water vapor ‘feedback’ and the carbon dioxide ‘forcing’ is simply related to the timescales of CO2 and H2O mixing – and since water vapor has a relatively short lifetime in the atmosphere compared to CO2 (weeks vs. decades) due to factors like evaporation, cloud formation and precipitation, they must be treated differently.
Hence, a weather model tries to predict the specific short-term future of water vapor in the atmosphere (will it rain in a few days, or not?) while a climate model tries to get a picture of how time-averaged precipitation and evaporation will change due to the CO2 blanket, which has the largest effect in the mid/upper troposphere – which is what Plass discovered.
See the guest post at RC by spencer &raypierre:
Measurements done for the US Air Force drew scientists’ attention to the details of the absorption, and especially at high altitudes. At low pressure the spikes become much more sharply defined, like a picket fence. There are gaps between the H2O lines where radiation can get through unless blocked by CO2 lines. Moreover, researchers had become acutely aware of how very dry the air gets at upper altitudes — indeed the stratosphere has scarcely any water vapor at all. By contrast, CO2 is well mixed all through the atmosphere, so as you look higher it becomes relatively more significant.
Now, this warm CO2 blanket radiates in BOTH directions after it is heated up by infrared radiation from the lower levels of the atmosphere and the Earth’s surface, right? Up and down. However, this blanket is also blocking the infrared from reaching the upper levels of the atmosphere – hence, we see stratospheric cooling associated with tropospheric warming. (Try getting that result from an increase in solar radiation!) We also see oceanic warming associated with tropospheric warming, but with a significant lag factor (hence, we’re in for warming for decades after CO2 levels have stabilized, which will happen, umm…. when?).
So, that’s the essence of the problem. The complicating factors are many, most notably how this will change existing patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation. Take the ENSO phenomenon, for example – here is the latest anomaly data for the eastern Pacific:
http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/enso/ Central Pacific Ocean temperatures remain well above El Niño thresholds. Trade wind strength returned to near normal over the past fortnight, slightly reducing the excessive warmth of the equatorial Pacific Ocean. However, significant areas remain more than 2°C above average at the surface, and over 4°C warmer than normal at depth.
However, the global weather patterns seem to be responding anomalously to this climate phenomenon, don’t they? One contributing factor appears to be the differential warming of land surfaces vs. ocean sea surfaces, with the land warming faster (as per long-standing climate model predictions) – and is this likely to create high pressure systems over continental subtropical regions, in places like Africa, Australia, South America, the American Southwest? Well – yes, that seems reasonable enough, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t that tend to dampen down the ocean influence a bit? Isn’t this the major concern of California weather forecasters – and couldn’t that explain the anomalously low rainfall in an El Nino year?
At the same time, the CO2-forced warming of the ocean surfaces is resulting in an increase in water vapor in the atmosphere – and while the rough estimate (Soden & Held, etc.) is that wet areas will get wetter and dry areas will get drier, the day-to-day reality seems to point towards less predictability and more violent fluctuations – for example, the “1000-year” floods in Britain, etc. etc.
P.S. This is an interesting quote, gavin:
Some people do have a contrary nature – especially scientists – and in fact including me. It comes down to initially adopting a ‘show me’ stance when you see new ideas and trying to burrow down into the assumptions that might underlie it. In small does it comes in quite handy. However, this has to be tempered with an open mind that allows you to be persuaded by new information.
You should consider applying that contrary “show me” stance to the ridiculous claims about clean coal carbon capture? “Show me a prototype” or “show me the energy demand per ton of captured CO2 relative to the energy generated per (~1/3) ton of coal?” (one ton of coal generates roughly three tons of CO2 upon combustion with O2?)
It’s becoming more and more evident that the entire program is just cover for coal gasification, not for “zero-emissions power plants” but rather for coal-to-gasoline schemes. Oddly enough (or maybe not), transparency at the DOE over this issue has just plummeted – they’ve locked the doors on reporters and are now hiding “contractor performance reviews” on the issue from public scrutiny.
When you start labeling scientific criticism as “political advocacy” and calling people “crusaders against DOE/Battelle” – ahem – you risk walking down that very path yourself. Just a friendly reminder – and I’m pleased to see that now Jeffrey Sachs has admitted that coal carbon capture likely won’t work for Battelle’s FutureGen Alliance projects, and neither will it work for Chevron and Exxon’s LNG plans in Australia and Papua New Guinea.
This clean coal business is not a matter of political failure – it is something far worse, institutional failure within the U.S. science system itself – ten years of nonsense with no peer review at all! And Stephen Chu of LLNL is still claiming that he sees “no fundamental problem” with the approach. “Collegiality issues” have kept other scientists at LLNL from saying anything about it – but if that’s not Lysenkoism in action, what is? When is enough enough?
Of course, if someone can build a working prototype of a zero-emission coal combustion system that generates more energy than it sucks up – and which sequesters carbon in a geologically stable format – I’ll happily eat crow – but I’m not holding my breath, considering the basic thermodynamic barrier. I’m still astonished that the notion ever gained any ground at all – but that’s the politicized DOE for you. They need to be restructured as an independent scientific agency – all they are now is a funding conduit/PR agency for fossil fuel and military-industrial contractors.
@Dean Weichmann, #51… I think your question has been pretty well answered, but I’d like to add some food for thought on weather and glacial dynamics. Glaciers which form on land masses aren’t flat, so incoming air behaves much as it does as it moves towards mountains. Something called orographic lifting occurs which is a fancy way of saying air goes up as it approaches the mountain slope. As the moist air rises, it cools, condenses and precipitates, on that side of the mountain. As on temperate land, the other side becomes a “rain shadow desert” so the profile of the ice mountain takes on a skewed appearance. To get an idea of what I mean, you can use Google Earth and go to Baffin Island. Find the biggest white mass on it, and draw an imaginary line across it and look at the elevations. You should be able to guess from which direction the prevailing winds come. (note that the elevation data in GE should be considered as estimations only; I have found a lot of inconsistencies with it and don’t consider it to be accurate, but good enough for an exercise like this)
On that note, some more food for thought: while wind patterns globally tend to trend certain ways, they are also dynamic (ie: El Nino). Therefore, whether or not an area gets more or less precipitation has a lot to do with whether or not the area from which the air is coming (moist or dry) and at what direction relative to the topographic features. My point is that whether or not Antarctica, which is HUGE, will get more or less snow has more to do with prevailing winds, although you are correct in assuming that warmer air can and does hold more moisture.
Now a little about glacial dynamics… snow falls on top of an existing glacier and by adding its weight, it cumulatively increases the pressure below it. A lot of everyday people don’t realize this, but glacial ices moves like a plastic substance. Because the pressure at the top is less than at the bottom of the glacier, the greatest/fastest movement is in the lower portion of the ice. In other words, the weight of additional accumulation causes spreading below, and how quickly the ice moves depends on how cold that ice at depth is. This is well known from bore holes drilled into the ice, and the bottom shifts much more quickly than the upper portions. So at warmer temperatures, you could theoretically have a large area of thin ice vs. thick ice covering a lesser area in colder temperatures. This is an oversimplification, but my point is that ice that covers a geographically large or small region may not have the expected mass just by looking at how much land it physically covers. This is something NASA’s ICESAT satellite is working on: how to quantify the actual mass.
One of the many issues some scientists are looking at now is how to better understand how ice at depth responds to changes in temperatures, temporally and by depth.
As you can see, there are numerous complicated factors to consider when thinking about when or why one area may or may not receive more precipitation, whether or not glaciers will grow, and a definition of what “growth” really is.
“As a secondary question on the water feedback – why does water not simply feedback on itself?”
Umm, it does. But the effect is limited by the fact that water vapour readily condenses and falls as rain/snow. In a big picture sense, adding in some more CO2 –> warmer atmosphere –> water doesn’t condense as readily –> more water water vapour in atmosphere –> warmer atmosphere –> loop again.
You can think of it as CO2 enhancing the existing water vapour feedback.
“Furthermore, doesn’t the evaporation of water lead to cooling through the Joule-Thompson effect? If so, wouldn’t a doubling of CO2 create cooling through water evaporation – in other words a negative feedback mechanism?”
Perhaps it’s just me, but what does evaporation have to do with the Joule-Thompson effect? In case you just used the wrong name, evaporation of water is part of the energy balance at the surface. A water molecule evaporates when it gains energy from some combination of the surface, the air, and incoming radiation. It is a key factor controlling how energy moves between the land, ocean, and atmosphere but evaporation itself doesn’t cool or warm the Earth as a whole.
I like to use money analogies for water/energy budget questions, because most people can relate to monetary budgets. If I give you a $100 bill, as a group do we become richer or poorer?
Yes, Plass considered water feedbacks–as did pretty much everybody from Arrhenius on.
[Response: No he didn’t. He knew they existed, but they were not part of his calculations. That would have to wait for Moller and Manabe a decade later. – gavin]
As to why there’s no runaway water feedback, magnitude matters crucially. In the abstract, feedback needs to attain a critical threshold to “run away”–else the effect damps out at some new equilibrium level.
Understanding of feedbacks is both complicated and a work in process, but quite a lot is known about them, too.
“You can think of it as CO2 enhancing the existing water vapour feedback.”
I would put it more as
CO2 STARTING the water vapour feedback.
Same thing for methane et al.
Gavin, I would suspect that if the ONLY Greenhouse gas in the atmosphere was H2O we would now be frozen with almost no H2O in the atmosphere.
Would that be right?
You have to make a fake earth that “eats” any other GG, to stop volcanoes pumping it out…
Comment by Completely Fed Up — 6 Jan 2010 @ 2:24 PM
My question on water feeding back on itself was mostly rhetorical, since it obviously doesn’t happen or else there would already be a runaway situation. Barrett claims that water evaporation does indeed cool the surface. http://www.barrettbellamyclimate.com/page42.htm
The admittedly simple energy budget model of the atmosphere/surface system described on this website suffices to demonstrate what might be the case if water did not have the possibility of cooling the surface by evaporation. The surface temperature of 288.8 K would rise to 301 K without the cooling effects of water. The extra radiative forcing arising from the doubling of CO2 would cause an increase of surface temperature of 2.6 K assuming it to be doubled by the positive radiative feedback from the extra water vapour, but this is reduced to 1.5 K if the water cooling is allowed to operate. These figures are rough-and-ready, but indicate the significant effect of the water cooling feedback which seems to be absent from the more sophisticated models used to predict future climate.
OK, perhaps we’re just looking at this a little differently. For me, it’s easier to grasp the basics of feedback by considering how we go from old equilibrium to old equilibrium + disturbance to new equilibrium.
So we have a totally dry Earth with no H2O but enough CO2 that the average temperature is well above 0 deg C.
Now, add some (OK, lots) water. As the water evaporates, and H20 enters the atmosphere the air temperature increases (quite a bit, based on my understanding of the trace gas effect). The increased temperature enhances evaporation and increases the concentration of water vapour which leads to more warming. Keep looping until you reach a new equilibrium. I would call this a water vapour feedback process, and it’s still with us today, it just is (was?) more or less in equilibrium.
Now, of course, condensation means H20 reaches its equilibrium much faster than other trace gasses so the feedback wouldn’t be as obvious, but the feedback is still there.
Gavin, I think you’ve done a great service by bringing the work of Plass and others to light. Far too many people believe that nothing was known about climate before the 1980s, or worse. Getting stories like this out there could really help people understand that the current theories and revelations in climate science aren’t just wild ideas that popped up in a fad-like fashion. People need to understand that all the work being done now is built upon the work others began decades ago, with each and every researcher adding to the vastness of knowledge. I’m looking forward to the next “wrinkle” you’ve set up as a tease!
Barret & Bellamy lost me on the “Warming Controversy” page, which in addition to being very simplistic and incomplete for such an important topic, also makes this statement:
“We should mention that in the early seventies some climatologists were predicting the onset of a cooling period, possibly leading us into the next iceage. The same set of people are today predicting ‘dangerous’ warming. In the last three years there has been a cooling of the planet”
Sorry, but I can’t help but roll my eyes when anyone brings up the cooling hype of the 70s. I put it right up there with the bunk “List of 30,000 Scientists…” people bring up and expect to be taken seriously. I’m further disturbed by the statement that warming is now purported by “the same set of people” which is extremely misleading, and makes me wonder how he defines his other sets. Granted, the site is not nearly extreme as others, but I have to call that out as an outright distortion, which immediately makes me distrustful of anything else they have to say. And as with anyone, I want to know where they get their funding.
Your comment is good as usual. Just one point. I think it includes the same error about the cooling stratosphere as I made when I first started reading this subject. Gavin told me I was wrong, and I eventually chose an explanation I liked based on one of Raypierre’s comments. This is how I see it now:
You wrote :
However, this blanket is also blocking the infrared from reaching the upper levels of the atmosphere
Yes that was also my original explanation for the cooling. But even if true this is the weakest of several effects. In the troposphere there is an energy balance between convection, infrared (IR) absorption and IR emission. In the stratosphere on the other hand there is another big term i.e absorption of short wavelengths mainly by ozone. The IR emission is still substantial because the temperature is considerably higher as a result of this heating. The IR absorption is not enhanced by this heating however because it is determined mainly by up-coming IR. So the IR absorption plays a much less important part than it does in the troposphere. So it is not a big deal if the IR coming up from below is reduced by increasing the greenhouse (gh)blanket. The more important effect here is the enhancement of the gh emissions from the same cause.
“The extra radiative forcing arising from the doubling of CO2 would cause an increase of surface temperature of 2.6 K assuming it to be doubled by the positive radiative feedback from the extra water vapour, but this is reduced to 1.5 K if the water cooling is allowed to operate.”
OK, this is just silly. GCM models definitely consider the effect of evaporation from the Earth’s surface, and they do it in a far more accurate and sophisticated way than the “admittedly simple energy budget model” does.
“For a balanced view, it is useful to watch an animation of the output of such a model, starting from an isothermal state of rest with no water vapor in the atmosphere and then “turning on the sun,” seeing the jet stream develop and spin off cyclones and anticyclones with statistics that closely resemble those observed, watching the Southeast Asian monsoon form in the summer, and in more recent models, seeing El Nino events develop spontaneously in the Pacific Ocean.”
I don’t suppose anyone has a link to such an animation?
“The surface temperature of 288.8 K would rise to 301 K without the cooling effects of water. ”
Do the authors suggest a means of transport of heat away from the planet, once it has been moved from liquid water to water vapor? There’s something missing in the explanation, but perhaps the authors account for that?
Think of it this way: you’ve got a wet blanket in an insulated room. As the blanket evaporates water, the temperature of the blanket drops but the total energy content of the room remains the same. The room’s insulation knows nothing about where the heat is stored inside the room. Meanwhile, eventually the air will become saturated, thus ending the “cooling effect”. The entire system will only actually cool as heat can escape through the insulated walls.
I’m actually writing a tutorial on climate models on the science forums at amazon.com, the thread titled (God help us) “Global warming is a hoax and a fraud.” For a good, solid introduction to the subject, either of the following texts would be a great help:
Houghton, John T. 2002 (3rd ed). The Physics of Atmospheres.
Petty, Grant W. 2006 (2nd ed). A First Course in Atmospheric Radiation.
“Do the authors suggest a means of transport of heat away from the planet, once it has been moved from liquid water to water vapor? There’s something missing in the explanation, but perhaps the authors account for that?”
The contribution of carbon dioxide to the total global warming of 34.2 K may be
calculated to be 6.7 K from the results of Table 2. That assumes that radiative transfer
is the only mechanism whereby heat is transferred from the surface to the atmosphere.
The global energy budget2 indicates that the warming of the atmosphere has a major
contribution from the latent heat of evaporated water of 78 W m–2. If this is converted
into a radiative flux, the total radiative flux would be 390 + 78 = 468 W m–2 which
would be emitted by a surface with a Stefan-Boltzmann temperature of 301.4 K, a
global warming effect of 301.4 – 253.7 = 47.7 K. Thus, the effect of water evaporation
is to cool the surface by 47.7 – 34.3 = 13.4 K. These results are shown in Figure 8.
Ok… I don’t know why i do this to myself, especially when I have so many projects demanding my attention right now, but I’ve spent a few hours at Barret & Bellamy.
First, a glaring problem: NO REFERENCES OR CITATIONS! Nothing! Not on any of the many pages I read. And I’m talking about things upon which I agree, such as the assertions made about biofuels. I did a great deal of research on biofuels about 3 years back, and I agree with the general characterizations made. However, numerous statements are made about costs of production and so forth and no authors, sources, etc. given. Believe me, there is a lot more data and research on these subjects now than 3 years ago (I still keep up with it peripherally, and Pimentel was almost all we had back then) and they give no sources, and it’s the same story on any of the hard-science pages. It’s one thing to not source something that has been well established like Planck’s constant, but the claims made on pages like “Is it the Sun?” and “A Simple model” and a dozen others also contain no references, while making very specific scientific claims. And now I see why the publication Energy & Environment has been called into questions here at RC, because lo and behold, the article by Barret posted by Stuart above (currently #106 but I know that is fluid during bulk updates) also has but one reference, although he lists another which really isn’t a reference.
No one just pulls hard scientific facts magically out of the air. The Barret paper mentioned above is mostly about chemical/physical properties of certain GHG molecules as they react with infrared radiation. Did he conduct experiments to learn these things? If so, what are his methods? If not, how did he learn these things? This is what citations are for – not only to prove one has done their homework, but so that the reader may go back and read that work to inform themselves and understand – and question – the methodology used to make the claims put forth. In my first major undergrad paper, I listed 25 references.
I don’t see much that is published in reputable journals with less than 15-25 references. It’s very rare, because few of us will ever come up with a novel idea; we are all building upon the science before us. Give credit where credit is due, not only as a service to the scientists who have worked hard before us, and published their references, but to the readers we seek to serve who may further themselves by those citations.
So ultimately, that makes the Barret & Bellamy site a “Because We Say So” website and nothing more. They’re using figures for which they don’t explain the origins or methodology in developing them (assuming they didn’t come from elsewhere), and seem to selectively use NASA figures where it suits them. Take a look at the second figure on CO2 distribution on the “Assymetric World” page: http://www.barrettbellamyclimate.com/page29.htm
They don’t make it clear if the graphic is theirs or NASA’s, only that it is NASA data. Regardless, the claim they make about lack of mixing seen is less credible if one looks at the color bar scale used in the image. At 365-370ppm, the colors are distinguishably no more than two per that range. At 370-375, that range also uses really only 2 distinguishable color variations, but from 375-380, depending on how good your vision is and how you want to mentally correct for an image that small, there are 4-7 distinct colors within that range, above that, essentially 2 colors. The 365-370 region is also dominated by dark blue (making a visual estimation, about 75%), 370-375 by cyan (about 75%), and 375-380, about 25% yellow, with a difficult to distinguish green at second. Is it a wonder then that the map is dominated by yellow, pale green and cyan? This is a tactic Monckton and others use – lying with maps/graphs. Perhaps they’re not doing it on purpose, but it proves they’re sloppy if nothing else.
Another glaring issue is on the “Is it the Sun?” page. Basically, they start out using a graph with no citation, showing “correlation” of sunspot activity with temperature. The problem is, which they don’t mention, is that if you only scrutinize the first part of the graph (the left side), it correlates well, but as many of us know, if you keep looking to the right, it breaks down after the 1970s. Unfortunately at the scale this diagram appears, that’s difficult to see, and they don’t mention it. Someone said earlier that they see to be honest. It’s not looking that way to me.
It gets even worse at the bottom of this brief treatment of a complex, pretty well studied issue (again, no refs) where they almost flatly make the claim… without quite making it… that Jupiter causes the 11 year cycles. SO I guess the answer is that it’s Jupiter, not the sun.
No reputable scientists argue that the sun doesn’t play a role in climate, just not the only one, and I’m realizing now that while these people do give credence to the greenhouse effect, they want to dismiss it as quickly as they acknowledge it.
Another aspect to their “case” is that they claim the southern hemisphere isn’t warming (again, they provide no references to any data, so I can’t post a link to anything that supports this premise) and simultaneously claim that Antarctica isn’t warming, which again, makes them look bad, because the cold weather feedback mechanism between the ozone hole and the Antarctic is well established (http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/114054922/abstracthttp://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090421101629.htm and there are lots more out there, easy to find) and air flow and atmospheric thickness are different at the poles than other regions (the Wiki is as good as any… I’m tired at this point http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atmospheric_circulation and it’s intro textbook atmospheric stuff, and think about how the Earth bulges at the equator, where the atmosphere is thicker, rotation speed is different, Hadley cells, etc).
The impression I get is that Barret and Bellamy are re-packaging the same old half-truth bunk into a friendlier package, without all of the political world takeover stuff. I’ve looked at enough pages (many of which I didn’t even get into, and just as flawed and half-true as the rest) to believe that calling them honest is, in my opinion, too much of a stretch. Whether they’re being deliberately dishonest to fool others or just happily fooling themselves is another question, one I wouldn’t claim to be able to answer. If the lack of citations is just laziness, I don’t know that reflects any better upon their character.
108: I don’t want to spend a great deal of effort defending those guys but … Normally when arguing with denialists I feel like a rabid chimpanzee has broken into my house and is attacking me. He’s throwing stuff at me: one moment pillows, the next my butcher knives, then water balloons, then the kitchen sink, then my shoes, then my Yucca plant, then my dining room chairs, then the dumb bells etc etc etc. Total random incoherency. Those guys seems to me to be honest and harped mainly on a single issue. They linked to Fred Singer’s page. They lose points for linking to rabid chimps, but if politics weren’t involved and you were going to discuss whether AGW was an issue and you wanted someone taking a contrary position, I’d sooner it was those guys than pretty much anyone else I’ve seen. Crichton? Lindzen? Spencer using a model with four free parameters to come up with a model that had a decent temperature anomaly without an AGW attribution jeez? I didn’t read the biofuels page. I don’t see how one can have a single opinion on biofuels. There’re are all sorts of ways to implement biofuels.
Comment by John E. Pearson — 6 Jan 2010 @ 10:20 PM
Thank you Shirley! Wonderful, blunt, clear takedown of Barret & Bellamy.
> First, a glaring problem: NO REFERENCES OR CITATIONS!…
> … re-packaging the same old half-truth bunk into a friendlier package,
> without all of the political world takeover stuff. I’ve looked at enough
> … just as flawed and half-true as the rest) …. too much of a stretch.
> If the lack of citations is just laziness, I don’t know that reflects any > better upon their character.
Shirley #108 “Another aspect to their “case” is that they claim the southern hemisphere isn’t warming (again, they provide no references to any data, so I can’t post a link to anything that supports this premise)”. Well, no, in Australia – Warmest. Decade. Ever. Even the weatherpersons on commercial television seem aware of that fact now. Second warmest year on record for Australia (after 2005, both ahead, remarkably, of extreme El Nino 1998), fifth warmest globally. Highest temperatures extending right through NSW and SA, very low rainfalls for same area – Australian Bureau of Meteorology climate statement 2009 http://www.bom.gov.au/announcements/media_releases/climate/change/20100105.shtml
New visitors and new posters (actually, anyone) may be interested in Robert Grumbine’s recent post on the correlation between CO2 and temperature. His site is a good place for the curious to ask questions.
To TRY Re: #25…
Glaciers and other natural phenomenon are different from thermometer and weather stations in a number of ways already mentioned here. But it’s also worth pointing out that they also contain evidence of what was in the air at various given times in history. You can see the difference in layers at different periods of time. they offer far more ways to look at the state of climate. The weather station and thermometer or no doubt useful tools in accurate measurements, but they don’t tell the whole story by a long shot. Records found in natural events offer a far more comprehensive picture.
The surface cooling due to evapotranspiration has been taken into account by climate models for a long, long time. The earliest approach (Manabe and Strickler 1964) was to subsume sensible and latent heat transfer under a “convective adjustment.” Later models calculated each flux. Trenberth et al. (2008) estimate that the Earth’s surface cools at 391 watts per square meter by radiation, 80 by latent heat (evapotranspiration) and 17 by sensible heat (conduction and convection). The climatologists haven’t missed anything. It’s their job not to.
Barrett has a long history of cherry picking factoids, omitting stuff and then digging in. There were several sci.environment discussions about a paper he published in Spectrochemica Acta in the eighties along the same lines. At least he does appear to have learned something about radiative transfer. (had to use a tinyurl to avoid the spam trap)
Ike, the interesting thing about coal to gasoline is to use hydrogen generated by solar and wind. Also you use the heat you generate in going from coal to the synthesis gas for electrical and process work. You should be able to double the amount of energy per unit CO2 emitted, and you get to use most of the in place fuel infrastructure.
109 John E. Pearson: I see your point… thanks for the chuckle… and the yucca plant. I agree, I’d rather people get their info from a source that isn’t foaming at the mouth or choking on tea bags, but I felt like someone needed to call them out. I’d still love to have those hours back, but it probably won’t be the last time. Why do I do this to myself??? ;)
110: Hank, coming from you, the is a really high complement. I hope I saved you some of that eyeball gouging time I put myself through!
112: David Horton. THANK YOU because Australia was the first thing that came to my mind, and I was already too distracted with link-getting to go find that, too.
Yes, good people reading, it is troublesome to get and put in references, and I believe only one of mine would cut the muster of a reputable, peer reviewed publication, but you see, this was something I threw together in a couple of hours, and not for some very serious website of my own. Imagine what could be done with lots of time and oil $$ funding one’s endeavors. There is absolutely no excuse for the lack of citations on their website and especially not in their papers. Again, if not for all of the obvious reasons, but so that their readers can further their own education by reading the sources from which Barret and Bellamy learned. Or are they like priests telling their parishioners not to read the bible?
I thought about another tactic they seem to be using, unless it’s just that they’re bad at explaining simple scientific details. They have a lot of pages with some basic physics equations. Most of this stuff (I probably haven’t looked at every page at this point) is intro physics found in any undergrad intro text books. Most of these equations have names, which they didn’t use. They also didn’t explain how these equations work very well (most of the ones I looked at closely had to do with emissivity and reflectivity, IOW blackbody radiation) which is either a shortcoming in their ability to teach, or a low expectation of what their readers can comprehend, or, what I suspect given the other details, is that they want to use just enough math and make it look just arcane enough that the reader won’t question it and instead say to themselves “Oh, they’re so much smarter than I am so they must be right.” This is a favorite tactic of Monckton, but he’s just much more smug and snide and obvious (and rabid and foaming at the mouth and…) about it. I do agree with John E. Pearson that it’s much better that Barret and Bellamy present in a rational, mostly dispassionate manner (they’re not calling climate scientists liars and distance themselves from conspirists) and it’s possible that they truly believe their own distortions, but they’re still distortions.
I’ll bet none of the deniers call make note of this Plass article. Surely they could find some contrarian message in it, but they don’t want there readers to know that climate science is not new, and is not just in the hands of a few elites. This is why coming here is so refreshing. So many bright people, professionals and hobbyists, sharing what they know. Thanks, everybody.
ErnstK (94), et al: jumping into the middle, I would like a clarification of a detail in the statement, “…As the water evaporates, and H20 enters the atmosphere the air temperature increases (quite a bit, based on my understanding of the trace gas effect).” Doesn’t the air temperature increase only after the evaporated H2O condenses to rain or clouds?
> Eli Rabett says: 7 January 2010 at 8:50 AM
> Ike, the interesting thing about coal to gasoline is to use
> hydrogen generated by solar and wind. Also you use the heat ….
> should be able to double the amount of energy per unit CO2 emitted,
> and you get to use most of the in place fuel infrastructure.
Now this gets interesting if you use the oxygen as well, in combustion, instead of using atmospheric air. That avoids the nitrogen oxides problem (with excess nitrogen being a huge biological problem nowadays). And produces a waste gas stream that’s almost entirely CO2, ready to sequester or resell to the fizzy water companies.
What would have happened if Plass had been asked to review Barrett?
Re : Barrett, 2005, En. & Env. 16
Here are my immediate impressions. Its not just the latent heat problem.
Plass might have agreed that the author has some rudimentary knowledge about the problem. That would be his reaction to the introductory paragraphs. But what about the greenhouse effect and the radiation transfer?
Would Plass have withdrawn his own paper as a result of receiving this draft? Well Plass had tackled the saturation problem which included the effect of overlap mentioned by Barrett.
So has Barrett done it properly? It looks as if he has tried to obtain general conclusions by looking at the first 100 m of atmosphere. Where does Barrett mention the re-radiation from the top of this layer?
Where does Barrett mention the effect of the decrease of pressure with height?
In his conclusions he states “the whole atmosphere being equivalent to one of 8 km at a pressure of 1000 mb and a temperature of 288 K.”
This reminds me of work by Angstrom’s son in about 1900, which Plass helped to overthrow. That early work made the mistake of relying on observations at ground level at one temperature and pressure.
“In the presence of the other GHGs the same doubling of concentration achieves an increase in absorption of only 0.5%, only one third of its effect if it were the only GHG present. Whether this overlap effect is properly built into models of the atmosphere gives rise to some scepticism.”
This seems worse than pot’s calling kettles black considering that this own ideas are based on a warm 100 m layer near the ground which can hardly contribute much to the overall greenhouse effect.
Perhaps this paper should be classified in the category “Misleading simple models a la Monckton” .
I looked at the 2 graphics at http://www.barrettbellamyclimate.com/page29.htm, and it scares the crap out of me. There’s a difference of about 15ppmv in CO2 between the Northern and Southern hemispheres,and that’s causing about a 0.4 deg/decade rise in NH temperature. With CO2 rising about 20 ppmv per decade, temperatures should be rising by an additional (0.4/15)*(20*3)=1.6 degrees per decade in 3 decades. If their asymmetry argument is correct, in 30-40 years, we will be at the low end of IPCC predicted CO2 doubling sensitivity, with only 440ppmv CO2 (1.6X), no “in the pipeline” warming accounted for, and an eyeball overestimate of the difference in CO2 between NH and SH. If the delta T/delta CO2 sensitivity implied by asymmetry is accurate, we may be as badly surprised by temperature changes in the next 4 decades as we were by the Arctic summertime sea Ice minima in the last two – http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/nsidc-seaice-n/from:1989.6/every:12.
OTOH, It’s possible that in an attempt to minimize AGW, they are confusing themselves by comparing apples to oranges (hemispheric DCO2 to DT). Maybe someone should send them a copy of Arrhenius’s seminal paper, with the parts about snow-ice albedo and land-ocean differences highlighted; and NH + SH maps.
In a boot.
With instructions printed on the bottom.
“…what I suspect given the other details, is that they want to use just enough math and make it look just arcane enough that the reader won’t question it and instead say to themselves “Oh, they’re so much smarter than I am so they must be right.”
Works for me; they could probably put in non-annotated equations describing lemming population cycles and I’d be impressed. Both of my brothers are brilliant with maths, as was my dad. Me, it all turns into a grey blur and passing exams was a matter of becoming some sort of semi-intelligent flash memory stick with poor long term retention. I -know- I fell on my head once and almost drowned twice as a kid, maybe that’s the issue…
ErnstK (94), et al: jumping into the middle, I would like a clarification of a detail in the statement, “…As the water evaporates, and H20 enters the atmosphere the air temperature increases (quite a bit, based on my understanding of the trace gas effect).” Doesn’t the air temperature increase only after the evaporated H2O condenses to rain or clouds?
I was talking about a hypothetical Earth where you’re adding water to a totally dry (in terms of H2O) planet with lots of CO2 (not Venus lots, but more than current Earth, enough CO2 – or any other GHG except water – that the new water wouldn’t all immediately freeze) rather than the real case where we’re adding CO2 to a planet with lots of H2O.
As such, I am talking about the greenhouse effect due to the new H2O and the feedback loop it would generate, not the heat transfer effects of evaporation and condensation.
I fully admit that this is more of an academic exercise.
“I’m a contrarian by nature, and some of the comments directed at me here have been ‘nasty’ and ‘patronizing’ so it’s definitely made me more of a contrarian on this issue.” TRY — 4 January 2010 @ 6:37 PM
“I expect blood on the carpet.” Eachran — 4 January 2010 @ 3:11 PM
I’m one of the occasionally nasty and patronizing, as well as rude and sarcastic commenters here, but most of my comments get through, probably because I try to include supporting references, and I self edit(you should see some of the things I have written but not submitted). But I merely trod on the toes of giants – most everybody is familiar with Pauli’s “not even wrong” putdown; I found another, um, “strongly expressed opinion” among fairly well known scientists –
“What Schrödinger writes about the visualizability of his theory ‘is probably not quite right,’
in other words it’s crap.”
–Werner Heisenberg, writing to Wolfgang Pauli in 1926 from http://www.aip.org/history/heisenberg/p08.htm
As with John E. Pearson@109 I won’t defend some of Barrett & Bellamy’s interpretations of the data or conclusions drawn, but as with John E. Pearson, I too was shocked to see a decent presentation of introductory atmospheric radiation physics, without all the non-starter non-sense, and the fact that they bothered to take to task many of the so-called arguments commonly put forth against AGW.
A few comments with regards to a couple of your (and others) criticisms:
1) IMO the very basic equations presented really don’t need annotating or referencing. They obviously expect that the reader has some background in the physical sciences and maths, roughly at the level of an undergraduate physics student.
2) One of the areas of Prof. Barrett’s expertise is/was in the spectroscopy of atmospheric molecules, and he probably didn’t see the need to substantiate and reference the molecule/radiation processes. However, I do agree that they’d have made a much better scientific case if they had bothered to provide references for each of their major topics, especially with regards to claimed evidences pro/con of their interpretations and drawn conclusions.
3) The more pages I read, the more it sounds like a couple of curmudgeonly scientists expressing their “beefs” regarding areas of climate sciences that happen to intersect with their (long past) research expertise, while at the same time being in way over their heads with regards to the state of the climate science literature. This last bit is a killer if one’s goal is to raise consciousness within the scientific community.
And if you do a literature search on these two guys, you’ll find that they’ve cut themselves off from being taken seriously by the climate science community by making very strange and unsubstantiated claims.
Re discussions of coal-to-gas with hydrogen from RE (#122)
While I’d love to see it – particularly with Hanks vision of sequestering the CO2 stream, I don’t see it happening. With the cost per BTU of coal it’s going to be way cheaper to just add water to the combustion and end up with more CO2 to go with the CO and H2.
The possible exception to that is utilizing wind energy in excess of current demand, but we’re quite a ways from having a reliable supply of that. And even that counts on the CTL technology being developed before some form of electrical storage.
It would be a semi-cool way to produce liquid fuels, but I don’t expect to see it in my lifetime (I’m currently pushing 50).
One of the areas of Prof. Barrett’s expertise is/was in the spectroscopy of atmospheric molecules, and he probably didn’t see the need to substantiate and reference the molecule/radiation processes.
He is a chemist. As for his being an expert on spectroscopy, we have to ask why his 2005 E. & Env. paper appears to neglect the pressure dependence of these spectra? Either because he thought that it had no effect on the conclusions or that he did not want to know about it.
“As with John E. Pearson@109 I won’t defend some of Barrett & Bellamy’s interpretations of the data or conclusions drawn, but as with John E. Pearson, I too was shocked to see a decent presentation of introductory atmospheric radiation physics, without all the non-starter non-sense, and the fact that they bothered to take to task many of the so-called arguments commonly put forth against AGW.”
in Daniel Moynahans words, you are defining deviancy down.
His Ph.D. was in physical chemistry. I assumed he knew something about molecular spectra because of some of his publications (and his own mention of such on the “about” page).
As for why he might have ignored important physics. Beats me. I didn’t say anything about his abilities, only that he ought to have known about how these relatively simple molecules behave spectroscopically at the level of presentation.
Based on some of his references I’ve perused, I am sure he knows about the existence pressure broadening. Again, I’m not defending these guys’ scientific arguments.
Re: posts 7, 42 and 112: The situation here is that – for instance – the Sydney region received about 75% of its long term average rainfall this year, despite a small blip at the end of the year, caused by the break up of a Cat. 5 tropical cyclone over/adjacent the Kimberleys (opposite side of the country). The small blip of course delivered a significant dump of rainfall over parts of the country that have been in technical drought for half a decade or more. The denialists are claiming that it marks the end of the drought, that normal service will now be resumed, though even the Farmer’s organisations are warning that follow up rains are required.
As post 112 pointed out, the year set some heat records (both last summer and mid winter) and therefore set records for soil drying and lack of runoff. Flooding occurs more becase the land out there is essentially flat. Quite ‘small’ amounts of rain simply spread out over vast areas. So the eternal problem for Australia’s (inland) farmers: straight from drought to flood and back again. I wonder if the current freeze in Northern Europe (and China and the US) has some similar central trigger?
regards to all and I love this site even when it gets a bit too techie for me
Eli Rabitt@135: in Daniel Moynahans words, you are defining deviancy down.”
Yeah, I suppose I am. The anti-science crap on the web is so awful that when I encountered Barrett & Bellamy’s website, particularly their tutorial on atmospheric spectra and their undressing of some of the more common BS talking points, I about fell off my chair. But the more I investigate their musings on climate (on that set of webpages and in papers elsewhere), the less impressed I become. And this is just about as good as it gets. How depressing.
101 Hank Roberts: Plutonium240 [from power plants] makes bombs that the Department of Defense [DOD] doesn’t want. They fizzle, yielding only 200 tons equivalent. Not worth bothering with. Bad for logistics. DOD wants only efficient Pu239 bombs. DOD makes its own Pu239. Pu239 is hard to make and requires a specialized reactor. [ANY plutonium bomb [implosion device] requires technology that is beyond most countries.] Forget about this subject. With apologies to RC.
Thorium has another problem: It has to be bred into uranium233 in a reactor before it is fuel. That process has political problems.
I would guess that they got an order from the president to forget about gasoline from coal. Gasoline from coal has too many problems to count.
It’s also worth mentioning that Bellamy isn’t a climate scientist…he works (or worked) on the ecology of peat bogs if I remember right. He famously talked a load of nonsense about glaciers and climate change a few years ago. maybe he should stick to what he knows. I’m always amazed at the arrogance of people like him suggesting that they have unique insight into radiative physics (that all the physicists have somehow missed).
jrs: “The denialists are claiming that it marks the end of the drought, that normal service will now be resumed, though even the Farmer’s organisations are warning that follow up rains are required.”
It’s the next step of delay, jrs.
“It’s all reversing, so don’t change a thing”. But it takes time to prove it isn’t reversing (see the “it’s been cooling since 1998 [despite that being CRU data that has also been “falsified” to the satisfaction of the same people]” meme. It’s STILL going).
Comment by Completely Fed Up — 8 Jan 2010 @ 7:04 AM
“The LC09 choice of dates has distorted their results…”
Any Barratt/Bellamy enthusiasts here should not misunderstand this sub-thread. It is not intended to be comprehensive. I just stumbled on another joint essay by these two and it is certainly not moderate. It has more in common with the other denialist stuff than some of the above comments might suggest. For example , some of it is not aimed at scientifically educated people but is pure spin. But I did not see any personal abuse.
Thanks for the many responses to the questions on CO2 concentration on temperature and water feedback. I’d like to pose another question. As Barret’s graph for CO2 versus temperature shows (and I think that this graph is considered to be uncontroversial and accepted):
The temparature in the absence of CO2 is 278K and it rises logarthmically and asymptotically approaches about 290K.
[Response: This is actually a little misleading. They are calculating the ‘no-feedback’ temperature change, but this is not going to be the planetary temperature change when CO2 changes. So putting it on the absolute scale K is a bit sneaky. PS. you understanding the word asymptote is not correct. The graph continues to rise past 1000ppm. – gavin]
It predicts a temperature of about 289.7K for today’s level of CO2.
[Response: That’s not a prediction – it’s where it’s calibrated. – gavin]
As most people here have pointed out – the graph apparently does not take water vapor feedback into account. Therefore in reality doubling the CO2 will give a higher increase than just 1.5C. However, doesn’t even the present level of CO2 cause water vapor to increase? What causes that level of extra water vapor in the atmosphere to suddenly stop growing? It’s almost as the water contribution is self-limiting – as if it’s acting as some kind of thermostat. Why would increasing the CO2 make water vapor stop working as a thermostat to limit any temperature increase.
[Response: You have this completely backwards. Water vapour amplifies the changes driven by CO2 – in what ever direction. If CO2 goes down then so will WV and the planet will cool by more than if it was just CO2 changing. A large amount of the WV currently in the atmosphere is there because CO2 has made it warm enough. – gavin]
But again, although water feeding back on itself may be a rhetorical question (since it obviously doesn’t happen otherwise thery’d be a runaway affect and unstable climate)
[Response: Again no. It can feedback on itself, but the series is convergent i.e. 1 + 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 so there is no runaway effect. – gavin]
– why should the system respond differently to a temperature increase caused by CO2 and a temperature increase caused by extra water vapor? It’a almost as if the system is saying “OK I’m experiencing a temperature increase due to increasing CO2 so I’m going to evaporate water as a result” or “OK I’m experiencing a temperature increase due to increasing H2O but I’m not going to evaporate water this time”.
Is there any possibility that what really happens is that the extra water does evaporate but the weather system ensures that the relative humidity stays constant with various mechanisms such as surface cooling from evaporation, cooling from IR photon emission in the upper atmosphere (once evaporated water condenses into clouds heat is released and the heat is transferred to N2 and O2 which than radiate half of it into outer space.
Isn’t the only way to explain the lack of water feeding back on itself with one of these mechanisms? And wouldn’t one then conclude that there is no significant positive water feedback mechanism?
As Gavin said, WV can feedback on itself. But really, what is happening is that water vapor is just responding to temperature, regardless of how it gets there. The series he mentioned converges to 1/(1-f), where f is the amplifying feedback factor (for 0 < f < 1) or damping factor (for -1 < f 560 ppm) without feedbacks. Then for a value of f = 2/3 (say), the net temperature increase (when/if equilibrium is re-established) is +1.2 / (1-2/3) = +3.6 degrees C with the feedbacks in play. In principle one can perform this estimate for all of the feedback mechanisms (+ or -) to get a net sensitivity.
Dang. Somehow my post was massacred. Here is what it should have said:
As Gavin said, WV can feedback on itself. But really, what is happening is that water vapor is just responding to temperature, regardless of how it gets there. The series he mentioned converges to 1/(1-f), where f is the amplifying feedback factor (for 0 < f < 1) or damping factor (for -1 < f < 0). Let us suppose that the temperature sensitivity for a doubling of CO2(from 280 to 560 ppm) without feedbacks is +1.2 degrees C. Then for a value of f = +2/3 (say), the net temperature increase (when/if equilibrium is re-established) is +1.2 / (1-2/3) = +3.6 degrees C with the feedbacks in play. In principle one can perform this estimate for all of the feedback mechanisms (+ or -) to get a net sensitivity.
Is there any possibility that what really happens is that the extra water does evaporate but the weather system ensures that the relative humidity stays constant with various mechanisms
The amount of warming from water vapour depends on the actual humidity in the air, not the relative humidity. So even if the RH stays constant, if the average temperature of the atmosphere increases then the actual humidity (technically, the partial pressure of water vapour) will increase.
To prevent a positive feedback mechanism, you need the relative humidity to drop, and drop by quite a bit since the saturation level for water vapour is a nearly exponential function of temperature: for every 1 deg Celsius of warming, the saturation pressure of water vapour increases by 6 to 7%.
On a side note, I think I now know where that 0.067 in the B&B evaporation equation comes from.
Apologies in advance if my experiment with html doesn’t work.
Now this gets interesting if you use the oxygen as well, in combustion, instead of using atmospheric air. That avoids the nitrogen oxides problem (with excess nitrogen being a huge biological problem nowadays). And produces a waste gas stream that’s almost entirely CO2, ready to sequester or resell to the fizzy water companies.
Let’s look at some ballpark numbers (industry figures are hard to come by without paying for expensive reports, and carbonations levels vary significantly between types of drink).
Worldwide consumption of fizzy drinks is about 327 billion litres. Allowing 5g per litre of CO_2 (I couldn’t find an accurate source but this is probably a fair estimate), soft drinks worldwide use about 1.6 million tonnes of CO_2 per year, less than a tenth the output of one dirty coal power plant.
Don’t raise your hopes too much of selling “clean coal” detritus to the fizzy drinks industry — even if I’m out by an order of magnitude.
Amazingly informative. Shirly, and others, thanks for taking time from your other work to comment here. There is so much to learn…yet Nature’s clock ticks…and the question remains: will we ACT to save ourselves before the big scoreboard in the sky lights up with “GAME OVER?”
Stuart @146, Given the many problems already pointed out with the B&B site, why do you persist in using it, I wonder? Surely, some of the resources on the Start Here page are more informative. B&B is climate denialism with the spittle mopped up.
> fizzy drink industry
Philip, yep; my point being that industry would much rather spread their waste around and get paid for it than absorb the cost of sequestering it.
Sewage sludge is toxic waste unless it’s sold as fertilizer.
Coal tar is toxic waste unless it’s sold as asphalt parking lot sealant.
When I was a kid, in the 1950s in the American south, the timber industry marketed its waste polychlorinated biphenyls (those not sold as transformer oil, anyhow) by soaking the stuff into sawdust, and selling the resulting purple stuff by the 55-gallon drum as a dust collector — for janitors to throw on floors and push around with dust mops to produce a clean, shiny, dust-free floor.
Thus fizzy drinks …. urp. I shouldn’t try sarcasm, I can’t do it.
I am currently reading David Archer’s book “Understanding the Forecast”. I’ve also read parts of Jarred Diamond’s book “Collapse”. Human activity forcing major changes in their environment has happened many times in the past. Many civilizations on this Earth have faced adaptation of elimination because of changes to their environment. What could save us, is that, unlike past civilizations, we have scientific method. And through scientific method we can discern what happened in the past and what the future is likely to hold for us. What is so amazing about global warming is that we have the technology and resources to begin to deal with this situation now. But just like past civilizations, we have protection of the status quo, a sort of societal inertia.
I wish somebody would print in a newspaper a step by step journey of the science behind global warming, why atmospheric scientists believe what they do about global warming, and in a separate, and adjacent column, show the scientific basis for the rebuttal. Where is the science behind the Hoaxers!? I need to see it. I want everyone to see the scientific research behind why the Hoaxers believe what they believe vs. the pro global warming science.
But I already suspect that the Hoaxer’s column will be empty.