Cold Facts on Global Warming


Science Notes – February 15, 2007

First a disclaimer, while the article that I reference in this post appears to be well written, complete, and well thought out – it does not appear that it has been critically reviewed by scientists and the biography of the author is not 100% clear.

That being said, the author does make some very convincing conclusions and statements and it is worth your time to read and understand.  The author’s conclusion is that the large temperature increases that are found through many of the computer models do not match basic physical measurements.

In this article, we will consider a simple calculation, based on well-accepted facts, that shows that the expected global temperature increase caused by doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide levels is bounded by an upper limit of 1.4-2.7 degrees centigrade. This result contrasts with the results of the IPCC’s climate models, whose projections are shown to be unrealistically high.

That is to say, in the absence of so-called greenhouse gases, the Earth would be 33 degrees cooler than it is today, or about 255 K (-0.4° F). Of these greenhouse gases, water is by far the most important. Although estimates of the contribution from water vapor vary widely, most sources place it between 90 and 95% of the warming effect, or about 30-31 of the 33 degrees.

Much of the 33 degree effect is caused by the Earth’s adaptation to higher temperatures, which includes secondary effects such as increased water vapor, cloud formation, and changes in albedo or surface reflectivity caused by melting and aging of snow and ice. Accurately calculating the relative contribution of each of these components presents major difficulties.

The GWP of a greenhouse gas is the ratio of the time-integrated radiative forcing from 1 kg of the gas in question compared to 1 kg of carbon dioxide. These GWP values are calculated over a 100 year time horizon and take into consideration not only the absorption of radiation at different wavelengths, but also the different atmospheric lifetimes of each gas and secondary effects such as effects on water vapor.

Even though most of the so-called greenhouse effect is caused by water vapor, about 1-2 degrees of our current empirically-measured temperature of roughly 288 K (59° F) can be attributed to carbon dioxide. Water vapor at least 99.99% of ‘natural’ origin, which is to say that no amount of deindustrialization could ever significantly change the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. Thus, climatologists have concentrated mostly on carbon dioxide and methane.

Of course, climate, like weather, is complex, nonlinear, and perhaps even chaotic. Increased solar irradiation can lower the albedo, which would amplify any effect caused by changes in solar flux, making the relation between radiation and temperature greater than linear. Increased temperatures also cause increased evaporation of sea water, which can cause warming because of water’s greenhouse effect, and also can affect the radiation flux by creating additional clouds. On the other hand, increased plant growth, especially in the oceans, would tend to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, making the fraction of emitted carbon dioxide that stays in the atmosphere lower. Thus, higher emissions would probably cause a slightly smaller proportion of carbon dioxide to remain in the atmosphere than is currently the case, tending to make the relation less than linear.

…shortwave radiation (such as light and short-wavelength infrared) is not absorbed by CO2 and therefore reaches the earth’s surface. At the surface, it is absorbed and then re-radiated at longer wavelengths (as “heat”). Some of this heat radiation is in the carbon dioxide absorption bands. This portion does not make it back to space, but is absorbed by water vapor, CO2 and other gases on its way up. More CO2 or water vapor will cause it to be absorbed at a slightly lower altitude than before.

CO2 is more evenly distributed than water, so if CO2 caused warming it would have a proportionately greater effect in areas where there is little water vapor (such as deserts and in very cold regions), while in areas with a lot of water, the effect of CO2 may be insignificant compared to the effect of water vapor. This is one of many factors that mitigate against the idea of a “climate catastrophe.”

There is already sufficient CO2 in the atmosphere to absorb almost all of the radiation from the sun or from the surface of the earth in the principal CO2 absorption bands.

The net effect of all these processes is that doubling carbon dioxide would not double the amount of global warming. In fact, the effect of carbon dioxide is roughly logarithmic. Each time carbon dioxide (or some other greenhouse gas) is doubled, the increase in temperature is less than the previous increase. The reason for this is that, eventually, all the longwave radiation that can be absorbed has already been absorbed. It would be analogous to closing more and more shades over the windows of your house on a sunny day — it soon reaches the point where doubling the number of shades can’t make it any darker.

…if a 9 degree increase resulted from the above-mentioned increase of greenhouse gas levels, the current greenhouse gas level (which is by definition 100%) would be equivalent to a greenhouse gas-induced temperature increase of at least 107 degrees C. This means the for the 9 degree figure to be correct, the current global temperature would have to be at least 255 + 107 – 273 = 89 degrees centigrade, or 192° Fahrenheit! A model that predicts a current-day temperature well above the highest-ever observed temperature is clearly in need of serious tweaking. Even a 5 degree projection predicts current-day temperatures of 41°C (106°F). These results clearly cannot be reconciled with observations.

…even a 5 degree increase in temperature would constitute a significant departure from the previous rates of increase. It is clear from Figure 3 [Ed. Note: reference to original article] that this too would be a marked deviation from the curve. Such strong nonlinear effects, especially when they are in the wrong direction from a physical standpoint, are difficult to reconcile with our current understanding of climate.

Although carbon dioxide is capable of raising the Earth’s overall temperature, the IPCC’s predictions of catastrophic temperature increases produced by carbon dioxide have been challenged by many scientists. In particular, the importance of water vapor is frequently overlooked by environmental activists and by the media. The above discussion shows that the large temperature increases predicted by many computer models are unphysical and inconsistent with results obtained by basic measurements. Skepticism is warranted when considering computer-generated projections of global warming that cannot even predict existing observations.

This is only a portion of the original article, so please click through and read more.

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3 thoughts on “Cold Facts on Global Warming”

  1. Scott says:

    Hey there! I’ve nominated you for the Thinking Blogger Award. Don’t know if it’s as important as it tries to sound… But what the hey, your blog is the only one that makes me stop to consider the pro-anthropogenic and pro-global warming and pro-precuationary principle side of things.

  2. soshaughnessey says:

    Thank you very much!

  3. Marcus says:

    Mistake #1: “most sources place it between 90 and 95%”:

    And other calculations show that water vapor plus clouds is 66% to 85%.

    Mistake #2: Assuming that there isn’t a feedback between GHG forcing and water vapor levels. Doubling CO2 levels has a direct temperature effect that is on the order of a degree centigrade, but this leads to increased water vapor and more glacier/polar ice retreat, which leads to further warming.

    In an interesting thought experiment, if we removed _all_ the CO2 and CH4 from the atmosphere, we would see a nasty feedback. That removal would probably lead to enough cooling to see a return to Snowball Earth, with total loss of water vapor and total global coverage by ice. Temperatures would drop below 255 K (255 K assumes current albedo). So, in a way, we can attribute >100% of our current 33 degrees C temperature increase above 255 to CO2.

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