LJWorld.com weblogs Global Warming from a Conceptual Standpoint

Global Warming First Concepts


Very often when the subject of global warming comes up, there are arguments that start with...

  • But convection...
  • But saturation...
  • But volcanoes...
  • But clouds...
  • But Mars...
  • But Uranus...

...et cetera.

Perhaps it might be useful to think in terms of just energy rather than radiation, thermal heat, chemical, phase state, and other forms. Energy can be transformed between various forms readily enough in the presence of matter. The total amount of energy in the earth system, or what the equilibrium will be, is determined very much by the rate of radiative energy in versus the rate of radiative energy out. There are other energy gains and losses, but they are orders of magnitude smaller, and they haven't been changing much in the last century.

I'm comfortable with probabilities; so, I'd like to propose something at the conceptual level along those lines.

Let's consider photons in and photons out. Actually, let's just acknowledge that there is a stream of inbound photons (mostly from the sun, of course), and focus on outbound photons. Photons are packets (quanta) of energy. How much energy is within the system, or what the equilibrium level will be, depends on how long energy stays within the system before exiting. Since the vast majority of energy leaving the earth leaves in the form of photons, how much energy is within the system depends on how likely it is that any given photon will encounter an obstruction on the way out. The likelihood of any given outbound photon encountering an obstruction is dependent on how many obstructions there are. A CO2 molecule is an obstruction within the wavelengths of photons that the earth emits. Therefore, more CO2 molecules results in more packets of energy being intercepted (absorbed) along their exit path.

Any photon intercepted will go through some transformation and become energy of another nature. It does not really matter at this level whether that is a higher state of excitement within the electron shells, between the bonds that hold atoms in a molecule together, or if it immediately gets re-radiated or if it gets converted to molecular kinetic energy (heat) and stays around a little longer. The energy stays within the earth system, and it does not have another chance to leave the system, until it becomes a photon again. The more transitions there are between photon and another form of energy, the longer the energy will stay within the system, and the more energy will be contained within it.

More energy in the earth system leads to higher temperatures of air, land, and sea, more humidity, more convection, changes in Hadley Cell circulation, changes in the thermohaline cycle, etc. There is little point to debate how much change to expect in each of these, and what their feedback effects will be, until there is an understanding that the overall amount of energy will go up when there is more restriction in the outbound flow.


devobrun 7 years, 5 months ago

"There is little point to debate how much change to expect in each of these, and what their feedback effects will be, until there is an understanding that the overall amount of energy will go up when there is more restriction in the outbound flow."

There is an implicit stability in your analysis. That is, without CO2 increase, you assume that the earth is in balance. Evidence suggests differently. Whether it is decadal, or millennial or more, the earth's temperature is dynamic.

Feedback is quite important to all stable systems. If the clouds are higher and more numerous because of increased ocean temperatures, the radiation from the hot thunderheads and the blocking of incoming radiation due to increased albedo can mitigate the inflow of energy from the sun.

What is the average albedo of a thundercloud? Have they become more numerous or higher or just why does the tropical atmosphere appear to be not behaving according to model predictions.

The Yankees won the World Series this year. Didn't you know? All the evidence suggests that the Yankees have the best team in baseball. Highest player salary. Best pitching, hitting, fielding and experience. The model run in March predicted it. Even if they didn't win this year, they are predicted to win next year by the models.

Note to those not schooled in post-modern science: A model is an experiment in today's logic. Since experiment is required to use the term "science", and long term weather experiments cannot be done, computer model runs that predict the past are termed experiments. Treatises like the above are used to sway the public into thinking that "experts" know what the climate will do in 30 years. Climate experts are not. They don't know. But they have computer and will pontificate. And they have mortgage and need funding.

Oh, at least the baseball models are tested on a yearly basis. Last I looked the climate models didn't predict the recent stable atmospheric temperatures. Takes 30 years for a data point, doncha know. That's maybe 3 data points per lifetime. Not science. Mathematical flim flam. P.T. Barnum stuff. And there are suckers born every minute.

Chris Golledge 7 years, 5 months ago

Devo, I have made no claim that the earth's energy budget is in perfect balance. That is a topic for another day.

I don't see how the rest of your post relates to the quote you have selected. My general impression is that you are trying to obscure the forest by pointing out trees.

yourworstnightmare 7 years, 5 months ago

cg22165, meet devobrun.

The creationist masquerading as a scientist. He thinks that if he bedazzles with big words and long diatribes then people will think he knows what he is talking about.

His main tactic is that of the creationist. To attempt to discredit science by pointing out that science cannot yet explain everything and that most things are unknowable by science.

devobrun 7 years, 5 months ago

nightmare you are dead wrong. You simply cannot grasp the idea that there is more to the world than right and left. Religion and science.
Your inability to see past the dichotomy of faith vs reason is clearly the end of your knowledge.

I am not a Christian, nor do I yield to faith when confronted by that which cannot be tested. You assume it because you are stupid. I say this advisedly because it is name-calling and not helpful to you in changing. I give up. You are incapable of accepting my words. You tell people who I am, and you are wrong.

We have had this discussion many times. You simply cannot understand. You are stupid. That is the only conclusion that I can come to.

Creation and evolutionary explanations of that which cannot be tested are stories. Narratives. I don't believe them. Neither one. What is hard to fathom about that nightmare? Amazing!

Chris Golledge 7 years, 5 months ago

Nightmare, Devo,

Devobrun and I have met before. He's not stupid and I hadn't related him to a creationist up until this point. Actually, IIRC, we didn't have significant disagreement on the fundamentals until we got to the point of discussing what happens to the energy emitted by the surface after it is absorbed by a CO2 or other molecule. The conversation stopped there; I never learned Devo's thoughts on the matter.

Regarding the diatribes, well, Devo is at least partly correct; we can't really know with precision what the difference would be between a world with anthropogenic emissions and one without unless we have at least two identical worlds. Actually, it would take a lot more than two in order to be able to really narrow down the error bars. Come to think of it, it would take a lot of identical solar systems since we already know that differences in orbital positioning can have an effect on the climate of our planet. Also, you couldn't have two earth's anywhere near each other or you can guarantee that one will have an effect on the other.

Since that isn't possible, and we all have to live on this one world, we diverge at the point were I propose we have to make the best estimates we can, based on known and testable laws of physics, modern and paleologic records, and decide what to do from there, and Devo does, what Devo does.

devobrun 7 years, 5 months ago

cg, consider this:

Today we have tools that can create models that far exceed those of 40 years ago or more. The models are composed of smaller models for radiative transfer, aerosols, and bi-directional reflective ratio from the land and sea and ice/snow.

These smaller models are managed by another computer program that provides feedback between models. The overall model is called a GCM. Some will claim that it is the best that we have.

I claim that it is obfuscation of a situation that should be characterized by "we don't know". That is, the million lines of code from these programs are beyond proper testing. The results of the model runs are easily manipulated into politically expedient predictions.

When computer runs are cherry-picked to provide ammunition for policy makers, I cry foul.

It is worse than saying "we don't know". False information is worse than admitting that the climate is too complex to model. Should modelers continue to work? Yes, but their results should not be used by Al Gore to say the science is in, the science is complete, the science is the truth.

The modelers should not let people like Al Gore use them as he has done. They allow it because they like it. They win Nobel prizes and get other awards.

It isn't the best that we have, cg. It is a mutation of science into a political tool. It is dangerous and sullies the name of science. Science was created to form a new way to look for the truth that valued integrity of the researcher. Climate science as it is now practiced is jerked around by political and individual power imperatives. It addresses a movement called environmentalism. It feeds this movement and provides predictions that fuel the guilt that is inherent in the movement.

It feeds religion. That is worse than saying "we don't know". It merges science back into religion, the very thing science was supposed to oppose.

devobrun 7 years, 5 months ago

No cg, you make the claim that increased CO2 will cause increase in atmospheric temperature. And that there is little to be gained in debating feedback effects. Outrageous and you know it.

Your explanation of energy absorption, scatter, transmission and the re-radiation of energy is just part of the issue. This isn't just radiative transfer a.la. Chandrasekhar. It is climate. And climate has clouds. Climate has ocean and air currents. There are many more. So many that climate models can pick and choose the feedback parameters to match a prioi temperature data and claim that the model is tested. Curve fit is what is done. On manipulated and averaged data that must be "homogenized" and "normalized" and manipulated.

And now the global mean temperature has not statistically changed in the last 15 years. No problem, climate is defined by a 30 year record. Yes, and arbitrary number and likely to change if need be.

Regarding forests......Averaging loses information. Creative averaging can bend data all over the place. Window functions, recursion, and other nonlinear manipulations do the obfuscating, cg. You are engaged in simplification and manipulation of the climate science.

So cg, your post is incomplete. Your trust in statistics is convenient. Your science is poor. But that isn't important in this new-age of science. The science where computer runs can be called experiments. The science of us versus them. Its politics, cg. If there was any hope for the science of climatology, it went out the window when government proscription of economies and human behavior became dependent upon a model run.

And climatology isn't the only muddied, non-productive, politically manipulated endeavor masquerading as science. There's lots of them and that is the real reason that the world's economy is slowing to a crawl. Science has become politics. It hasn't produced anything fruitful in decades. We've squeezed all we can out of quantum electrodynamics and quantum chromodynamics has proven quite useless for any business.

Chris Golledge 7 years, 5 months ago

So, is there some particular part of what I said that you think is incorrect?

BTW, your re-statement of what I said is inaccurate. An increase in atmospheric temperature is just one of the symptoms of an increase in energy within the earth system, and I said that there was little to be gained in debating feedbacks until there was an understanding that CO2 affects the thermodynamic properties of the planet.

Did you really want to debate feedbacks before determining whether or not there was an initial cause?

mrf3114114 7 years, 5 months ago

Climate models are a favorite red herring of skeptics. Models are not needed to describe changes in climate. It is nice to have them as predictive tools, but they are not needed to describe observable changes.

You imply that climate science is nothing more than number crunching. The bulk of climate science deals with direct measurement of geophysical parameters in testing hypotheses. Direct measurement of surface, ocean, and lower atmospheric temperatures all show warming. 15 year or 30 year averaging has nothing to do with it. 2010 will be the hottest or second hottest year on record. Currently it is tied for hottest. The last 15 years have certainly been the hottest on record and they certainly have not been unchanged. These observations have absolutely nothing to do with climate models.

Other direct geophysical measurements are equally important. For example the stratosphere is actually cooling at the present which is consistent with an internal greenhouse effect. For example Venus has an obvious greenhouse effect with intense CO2 induced warming of the surface and a much cooler upper atmosphere. If warming of Earth and Venus was due to increased solar radiation, the upper atmosphere would be increasing at a rate equal to or more rapidly than the surface/lower troposphere.

Clouds are indeed one of the most important factors in climate models. They do complicate the result. Clouds are a feedback mechanism as you state, however their role is very complicated. They can provide positive as well as negative feedbacks. At present, it appears that the albedo effect you mentioned is not as important as the positive effects of increasing water vapor from clouds causing enhanced greenhouse effect. We shall see if this remains the case, however it will not change the direct observations that scientists use to gauge climate.

There are other effects on climate. You are right - it s complicated. You imply that either climate scientists choose to ignore feedback mechanisms that they don't like (Care to cite some proof on that one?) or else that there are so many variables that we can never assign probable causes to climate trends. Yet at the same time you and other skeptics keep throwing out many of these other variables as alternative explanations to greenhouse gas forcing. When they don't pan out (e.g. solar forcing) you move on to another (e.g. atmospheric thinning of aerosols). That's OK. These should be brought up again and again. They should be considered. You know what? They are. They have been. They will be again. It is just that they cannot explain the OBSERVABLE climate data as well as greenhouse gasses.

It's time to be done with the argument that climate science is nothing but fluffy-headed models. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Ken Lassman 7 years, 5 months ago

My understanding of what you just talked about is that yes, you DO understand that the earth's atmospheric composition and behavior is dynamic, and furthermore, you do not believe that the system is a just a fixed one where you change the percentage of CO2 and the entire system then holds more heat. You described it as such as a heuristic device so that there is a conceptual understanding of how we humans, by emitting gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere, can indeed effect an extremely complex and dynamic atmosphere that has a multitude of influences shaping it, and I appreciate that.

As far as climatologists predicting the winners of the World Series, that's the classic fallacy of mixing up meteorology with climatology. In other words, climatologists do not address the topic of who will win a World Series, they predict who is most likely to be able to GO to the world series after playing a 162 game season.

As such, climatologists can make predictions with a much higher degree of confidence than a meteorologist, because the atmospheric dynamics models are akin to steering a giant ocean liner on the ocean, compared to the meteorologist's task of predicting the position of a kayak on a whitewater river. Predicting where a storm will pop up is much more difficult than predicting whether a drought will develop or whether global temperatures will go up or down. Hence the real concern about what the trends are showing.

As far as data points, climatologists are constantly running and re-running their models using lots of different assumptions, entering brand new data fresh from the field, and as a result, coming up with projections based on a composite of these multiple factors. 3 data points in a lifetime? Hardly.

Chris Golledge 7 years, 5 months ago

Thanks DougCounty, Yes, I do indeed realize that it is a dynamic system with variability. All I'm trying to get across with this post is that changing the composition of the atmosphere, especially with respect to its thermodynamic properties will have an effect.

devobrun 7 years, 5 months ago

But you simplified a feedback system. Have you ever built a feedback system. I've built hundreds of op amp circuits that involve a gain stage and feedback. Analysis of a feedback system without the feedback is a only part of a system that behaves quite dependently on the feedback.

An op amp with a feedback electric field storage device is an integrator. One with a magnetic field storage device is a differentiator. No storage device and you have a straight gain stage. Tuned circuit feedback and you have an oscillator. Combine two straight feedback circuits, one positive and one negative, and you have a Schmidt trigger, with a tipping point and hysteresis and all.

The feedback defines the operation of the system. Ignoring it is absurd.

Want an example? If elevated sea/atmosphere temperatures causes more clouds, more radiation is reflected back toward the earth, positive feedback. If those same clouds reflect the suns rays from the earth in the first place, the energy input goes down, negative feedback. Which is dominant? How much feedback comes from the clouds? What is the albedo of a cloud? You don't know because we really don't have a good model for clouds.

Here's another question for you cg: Are you familiar with climate models? Try reading about this one: http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/areas/chemistry-ecosystems/aerosols This is just aerosols and their effect on clouds and the simple radiative transfer model you produced. Aerosols are just one of many confounding and ill defined parameters in a giant program that predicts the planet's temperature. I don't believe them. They are tools for politicians. You shouldn't either.

TrekkerKen 7 years, 5 months ago

What you fail to realize is these are mere MODELS. Models are calculations. Even the British High Court found inaccuracies and errors as well as politicization of Al Gore's movie, which global warmers think is akin to a Christian's bible. Researchers need funds. This is a problem in today's world: Mass media is as a whole LEFT and FAR LEFT leaning. Global warming/climate change as being soley caused by man is from the LEFT. The old saying goes something like this: "He who blares the loudest trumpet gets heard" and it's true today. Media doesn't give equal time to opposing views on this issue and media is a part of trying to show any opposers of this issue as "kooks".

What these alarmists should be looking seriously at is the way the sun affects the planet. It is the sun that has been causing the globe to warm up. It's a cycle. Oh, by the way, the United Nations even goes so far as to claim cattle cause more global warming than all the automobiles because they constantly fart....or for those of you unable to look down past your doctoral degrees - that means the cows release methane gases into the atmosphere by flatulation.

llama726 7 years, 5 months ago

"Mass media is as a whole LEFT and far left leaning."


Bill Griffith 7 years, 5 months ago

Yeah, I used to lean towards the sun spot explanation but unfortunately it really doesn't hold up under deeper scrutiny. Would have been a nice tidy ending to this debate.

Chris Golledge 7 years, 5 months ago

What you fail to realize is that I'm not talking about models. At least, not yet.

I've yet to see a physics equation where the result was in any way affected by the current state of American culture, or culture from a broader perspective for that matter.

By the way, did I not mention that the energy in our biosphere comes, "mostly from the sun, of course"? So, I'm not sure what your basis is for claiming that "alarmists" aren't aware that the sun plays a big part in the earth's energy balance. I'll leave a discussion of changes in the sun for another day. If you want a head start on that, here is an easy read:


You claim that they claim...blah, blah, blah.
Personally, I'm not worried about cow flatulence, but if you'd like to have a discussion of methane as a GHG, here are some starting points:

http://webbook.nist.gov/cgi/cbook.cgi?ID=74-82-8 http://webbook.nist.gov/cgi/cbook.cgi?ID=C74828&Type=IR-SPEC&Index=1#IR-SPEC

Chris Golledge 7 years, 5 months ago

Hmm, second link is supposed to be the IR spectrum of methane. It might be that the link is case-sensitive and the software used for these comments changes the first IR-SPEC to lowercase. Let's test that; this link work as I copied it here.


Anyway, the second link is on the page at the first link.

Liberty275 7 years, 5 months ago

Global warming first concepts of common sense:

1: Why did the glaciers that once stood over lawrence recede? Was it because of a 1971 Chevelle SS 396? A red one, with black stripes?

2: Were you lying when you promised us more hurricanes to wash the scum off the streets. All the animals come out at night whether you know it or not.

Chris Golledge 7 years, 5 months ago

  1. No, these changes were triggered by Milankovitch cycles, and the magnitude of the changes became as great as it did at least in part because organic matter tends to decompose more in warm soil than it does in cold, which leads to a CO2 positive feedback effect, and because of changes in albedo, ice reflects more photons than most other common substances found on the surface, another positive feedback. There are other factors, like methane hydrates are stable at certain temperatures, and unstable at warmer temperatures, but that is enough for now.

  2. What makes you think that an ad hominem argument changes the laws of physics?

yourworstnightmare 7 years, 5 months ago

Good description, cg.

Input minus output equals total energy.

As you said, C02 and other "greenhouse" gases block output of energy from the earth. Therefore, total energy increases.

Unless I am mistaken and somehow the sun is giving off less energy or some atmospheric substance (ozone) is also increasing in prevalence and is repelling wavelengths coming in from the sun.

In the absence of this, the earth's energy content is increasing. There are buffering systems that can prevent large changes in climate (e.g. oceans as heat sinks), but these buffering systems also have their limits.

Ken Lassman 7 years, 5 months ago

Your worst, The ocean is also acting as a carbon sink by absorbing some of the carbon we are putting into the atmosphere, which is leading to increased acidity in the water. This is actually perhaps more threatening to the entire biosphere than the increased global atmospheric temperatures, since life in the ocean is greatly affected by a change in the acidity of the water.

Chris Golledge 7 years, 5 months ago

Glad to hear others have noticed.

Ocean acidification is often referred to as global warming's evil twin. The effects carry much less uncertainty with them than climate patterns do. It's just basic chemistry to show that more CO2 in the air means a more acidic ocean. (Or less alkaline, for anyone confused about relative terms as opposed to absolute; it means the same.) And it is pretty easy to demonstrate that many shell-forming species will be unable to grow shells in a few decades, under business as usual. There are already downward trends on shell weight. Some of these species are a big part of the foundation of ocean food webs.

Maybe I should write on that, but my guess is that people here in the Midwest won't relate as well to what happens hundreds or thousands of miles from them, irrespective of the global impacts that affect everyone.

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