See Comments down arrow

It went to outer space

24 Apr 2024 | OP ED Watch

Another pesky type of commentary on climate, one that has recently pestered us, is people who insist that the physics is simple. CO2, they say, “absorbs” heat and so if there’s more the atmosphere warms. We point them to our video on the “Simple Physics Slogan“ in vain to persuade them that there are many highly speculative hypothetical links in what they take to be a short, solid chain of basic fact. But now Jim Steele, whose Landscapes and Cycles we repeatedly recommend in this Newsletter, has done a post on what actually is some fairly simple physics based on fairly straightforward evidence that, if validated, poses a big problem for the whole alarmist theory. It’s so short it’s a post on X, yet comprehensive and potentially devastating. According to alarmist orthodoxy, CO2 supposedly “traps” Outgoing Longwave Radiation (OLR), aka infrared heat (more exactly it scatters it) and because it scatters it in all directions less of it heads right back out into space, and the resulting energy imbalance warms the planet. But satellite measurements show that since 1985 the amount of OLR leaving the Earth has increased by about 2 Watts per metre squared instead of going down. That’s right. More heat is escaping than before, not less. So whatever the complex dynamics of climate, rising CO2 has not resulted in less heat leaving the planet. Kaboom!

Steele points out something that alarmists, especially the half-baked or overly-polemical, do not know about or do not talk about. It is that the man-made warming crisis is a vast speculative edifice resting on one solid foundation: namely that CO2 is transparent to incoming visible or UV radiation, but absorbs then reemits infrared in certain frequencies. Since that infrared is coming primarily from the Earth’s surface and heading toward space, but the reemission is in all directions, it impedes the flow of heat back out into space.

So far so solid. But the Earth is not a test tube containing a few gases in a simple stable mix. It’s an incredibly complicated dynamic system with endless feedback loops and mechanisms whose interactions defy calculation, the very opposite of “simple physics”. In such a setting it is of course possible to construct theoretical structures in which this one established process leads to an overall heating of the planet. And, Steele writes:

“Based on the greenhouse effect, that theory is plausible.”

Indeed. But only plausible. Not necessary. Many other things are happening including, as he also writes, that “greenhouse gases have a cooling effect in the upper atmosphere.” So as CO2 saturates in the lower atmosphere, those cooling effects could start to outweigh its lower-level warming ones. We cannot tell a priori, and neither can our overly simplified and tendentious computer models unless they are told to.

It might be so. But many other possibilities can be constructed, all compatible with what we know about CO2. So the question is whether the current one, or some alternative, is compatible with the available evidence?

It’s what science does, real science. It forms hypotheses then looks for data to confirm or, crucially, to refute them. The more surprising the hypothesis, the more telling it is if a sincere search for contrary evidence does not find it. But ahem this one did.

Which brings us to those satellite measurements. If the CO2-causes-net-warming-by-deflecting-OLR theory is right, there should be less of it leaving the atmosphere. Instead there’s more:

“Since 1980, CO2 concentrations have increased from 338 parts per million to 410 ppm. That means rising CO2 should have theoretically trapped and REDUCED OLR adding 1.02 W/m2 of heat. Instead we observe increasing OLR and that refutes the crisis narratives.”

What’s more, there are readily available alternative theories that are compatible with this evidence. As Steele further says:

“Satellites have also measured a decrease in global cloud cover by over 7%. That allows greater solar heating (graphic B). Fewer clouds better correlates with a warming of the earth and an increase in OLR.”

Here it is not irrelevant to add that one thing conventional climate models handle very badly is clouds. Both their physics and their impact overwhelm their calculating capacity, so the modelers substitute crude assumptions designed to minimize their effect so CO2 is the only suspect left. Unfortunately that dratted evidence won’t convict it.

The authors of the article from which Steele got his data say the same thing. In their analysis they don’t treat temperature change as a function of OLR. Instead they turn the idea around and model OLR as a function of warming, so as the surface warms, the atmosphere gets better at expelling heat. And that view matches the data… unlike climate models:

“we can conclude there exists a ‘longwave cloud thinning effect’: as the earth warms, it contains less clouds, and becomes a more effective radiator. This cloud thinning effect is underestimated in most of the models.”

As Steele observes, the situation remains complex and there are many hypotheses that are plausible, even ones that are pretty basic. For instance:

“That observed increasing OLR either means heat is more easily escaping, or the earth is heating via another dynamic.”

If the latter is true, if the planet is warming in some other way, there could be more outgoing OLR and rising temperatures. It could even be a crisis. And it could be our fault. Or it could be natural. Or happening but not a crisis, whether man-made or not. There are many possibilities all of which deserve sober, courteous consideration.

Here we add another even more basic one. There could be something wrong with those satellite measurements, and better ones would in fact find the expected change in OLR and offer support to the orthodox CO2-as-global-thermostat-control-knob hypothesis. Again, all these possibilities should be explored, not just ones that seem congenial.

We also emphasize that one study does not make or break a field or a paradigm. But the bottom line is this: conventional AGW theory really does hinge on a decrease in OLR and we can now measure it and it seems to be increasing instead.

If it really is, the conventional theory is wrong and we need another one. It’s how science works.

7 comments on “It went to outer space”

  1. Given the fact that clouds make a huge difference on temperature--much more than CO2 as evidenced by weather on cloudy v sunny days--the obvious strategy for a cooler climate is to mimic clouds by using broad-spectrum reflecting paints & coatings on upward facing building surfaces. In warm climates (where AC dominates H in HVAC), all roofs should be white. Parking lots should be covered, again using a white, heat-reflecting material on the upper surface. Reservoirs should also have floating heat reflectors (which will reduce evaporation as well as keeping temperatures lower).
    it is a dirt-cheap option that has immediate and positive results on people's lives, not just climate.
    Given the choice between making life worse to maybe or maybe not 'save the planet' or making life better and definitely cooling the local region, why would anyone consider the former?

  2. My God! I just read the post above regarding floating reflectors, thus missing the point entirely which I took to be that the processes involved are so complicated as to be incalculable, meaning we don't know what the hell we are doing! This situation is identical to the ozone hole fiasco, first we discovered the existence of the ozone layer and then we discovered the benefits to humanity conferred by the ozone layer, then we discovered the hole(s) in the ozone layer, then we discovered trace amounts of the compounds created by ozone reacting with chlorofluorocarbons, then we banned chlorofluorocarbons and the so-called holes remain unchanged! As it turns out, CFCs are heavy and do not float up to the edge of the atmosphere very easily and shockingly, human beings generate lots of ozone at ground level, often times in the same machinery using the CFCs, which results in the same compounds, tiny amounts are eventually carried up to the ozone layer....this is now settled science! The problem the climate crazies had with the ozone fiasco is that it was not nearly so complicated!

  3. The physics of white roofs and parking lots may be plausible, but the logistics runs into the same type of material-availability issues that Mark Mills and others have documented wrt the electrify-everything agenda.
    There's not enough TiO2 in the world to paint everything white.

  4. Unfortunately Jim Steel’s analysis of the 2 watts more OLR is completely erroneous. If the surface temperature is 1 degree warmer, then the surface emits 5 1/2 watts more IR by Stephan Boltzmann’s equation. Approximately 30% of this emission is in the 8-14 micron band which is the atmospheric window. And that explains the 2 watts more IR to outer space.
    Usually Jim’s articles are informative, but this one he did on this 2 watts thing is unfortunately “junk”….

  5. If we assume that clouds or a lack thereof are one of the main drivers of temperature, then we should look for reasons why global cloud cover can vary. Clouds are assemblages of minute water droplets, as opposed to gaseous water vapour. We know that high energy charged particles will cause droplets to precipitate out from water vapour, and could well be the primary reason for clouds existing in the first place. Charged particles entering the Earth's atmosphere can originate from both the sun and from outer space (so-called cosmic rays). The density of such particles entering the atmosphere, and hence the amount of cloud cover, depends on both the particle source density and on the various magnetic fields shielding the Earth. Since we know there to have been temperature cycles with periods of about 1000 years (the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ace Age together formed the latest cycle), it seems plausible that cycles of this length could be controlled to a large extent by both particle source density and magnetic shielding, and have little or nothing to do with CO2. Unfortunately, any academic who puts forward a climate theory which does not have CO2 as its central thesis can almost certainly give up any hope of research funding.

  6. The decrease in OLR into space conjectured by the addition of CO2 is only temporary. Once the atmosphere near the surface reaches a new equilibrium temperature, OLR into space goes back to its original level. Think of camping out under the stars. If you go to sleep without a sleeping bag, your body will emit heat which will ultimately escape into space; you will be as warm as the ambient temperature. Now suppose you jump into a sleeping bag (parallel to adding CO2 to the atmosphere). The sleeping bag will trap your body heat, temporarily reducing the heat escaping into space while increasing the temperature inside the sleeping bag. But after a while, the temperature inside the sleeping bag will stabilize, will reach an equilibrium - you don't keep heating up all night inside the sleeping bag! Once the new equilibrium temperature inside the sleeping bag is reached, by definition, exactly the same amount of heat escapes from / through the sleeping bag as your body adds inside it. In other words, OLR into the atmosphere from your body is back to the same level as when you were sleeping without a sleeping bag.

  7. Doug grabed my thuner about OLR. Jim Steele is not to be trusted and therefore ths article is incompetent, Steele is a CO2 does almost nothing -- warming is all natural NUTTER. He ignores the majority of evidence that points to several manmade causes of warming since 1975. Ignoring contradictory data is not science.
    Concerning clouds.
    The decline of cloudiness probably explains some daytime TMAX warming but not TMIN waring mainly affected by greenhouse warming and UHI warming. Not yet known about clouds is exactly how much solar energy they are blocking during the day,
    We need to know types of clouds, height of clouds and timing of clouds. Night clouds actually warm the planet while day clouds cool the planet. The 7% number could be deceptive (in either direction)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *