CO2; Exactly HOW does it warm the planet?

When people with some science background first read the explanations of CO2 warming the earth due to its “greenhouse” properties, they usually start objecting on various grounds.  Actual greenhouses do something entirely different, or that breaks the laws of thermodynamics, and so on.  It takes a considerable amount of investigation (for me anyway) before one gets to the conclusion that the claims made are fundamentally correct.  It isn’t the science that is flawed (per se) it is the explanation.

The conclusions on the other hand are often flawed and sometime horrendously so.  Conclusions however, cannot be evaluated against just CO2 and how it behaves when interacting with long wave radiation.  They must be evaluated against the climate system in its entirety, and we are increasingly seeing evidence that many of the catastrophic claims are alarmism based on a massive over estimation of any number of factors that govern climate as a whole.

Yet the discussion always returns to CO2 and what it does.  The claims being fundamentally correct, but the basic explanations being flawed, there have been many attempts to arrive at an explanation simple enough for almost anyone to grasp, while at the same time being accurate enough to be useful as part of the larger discussion.  Not that easy to do, I and many others have failed and failed often.

Recently, Ira Glickstein came up with a physical analogy and posted it on WUWT where it generated a considerable amount of discussion, both pro and con.

I think it is one of the best explanations I’ve ever come across that explains what is happening in the atmosphere at a basic concept level from the perspective of CO2 as a “greenhouse gas”.  But as can be seen from the comments, the model isn’t sufficient for other purposes such as understanding how CO2 behaves in a real atmosphere comprised of many other gasses.  It also generates additional questions.  Once people get the basics in their heads, they ask more in depth questions.  In the thread at WUWT, a commenter named “wayne” asked several questions and then concluded with “so, its not warming, its more like delayed cooling”.

My immediate thought was YES!  Not exactly, but close.  How could I depict the issue that wayne was trying to understand at the most basic level possible while retaining a reasonable level of accuracy?  Something I’d done during a white board discussion came to mind and this is the result.  This is my first crack at it, and feel free to be critical or ask questions, I’m looking for feedback so I understand if the messages I’m trying to encapsulate are coming through properly or not.  Then of course there is the possibility I may be wrong.  Well, to be more accurate, I AM wrong.  Models are by their very nature not reality.  They might be close, but at some level they are wrong.  Good modeling is about coming up with a model that is useful, and to the extent possible, as least wrong as can be.

So the explanation that follows is wrong on many levels.  To demonstrate how CO2 results in a warmer earth, I’ve constructed an atmosphere of sparsely populated CO2 molecules and nothing else.  I’m not trying to depict how CO2 interacts with long wave radiations in the atmosphere, I’m only trying to depict how CO2 would interact with long wave radiation if there were no other factors.  To do that, I’ve depicted it in a manner that is far out of proportion from reality.  For example, I show in the slides a photon being emitted by earth surface (LW radiation) as possibly escaping to space unimpeded.  In theory, that is possible.  In practice, highly unlikely.

The chances of any given photon not being absorbed and re-emitted thousands, perhaps millions or billions of times on the way out to space it nearly zero.  Further, when a photon is absorbed and re-emitted, it can be emitted in any possible direction.  It may zig zag up, down and sideways many times before it reaches space.  But at day’s end, the sideways moving photons cancel each other out, and the upward moving photons slightly exceed the downward moving photons.  The model presented is not to in any way to quantify the end result.  The model is only presented to provide an understanding of what the process is, why it in fact does conform to the laws of thermodynamics, that it does not “invent” new energy as many claim, and how the result is a warmer earth surface (in the absence of any other factor, which is again, not realistic)

To quickly review the theory, the sun emits Short Wave (SW) radiation that for the most part goes right through our atmosphere as if it did not exist.  That is because the molecules that make up our atmosphere cannot absorb such high energy photons.  The SW radiation as a result heats up the earth, which in turn results in the earth radiating energy back up.  But the earth is much cooler than the sun, so it radiates much lower energy photons, and we call these Long Wave (LW) radiation. 

LW photons can in fact be absorbed by CO2 molecules, which increases the energy level of that molecule.  But energy always tries to even itself out.  If the molecule absorbs a photon and as a result is at a higher energy state (warmer) than the other molecules around it, that photon will be gotten rid of.  That could happen by transferring it during a collision with another molecule, or simply emitting it so that it zips off at the speed of light in some random direction.

The model below presumes that a certain amount of energy from SW is entering the system at all times.  The number of photons of SW doesn’t matter for this part of the discussion.  What matters is that the amount of energy they carry is equal to the amount of energy of six LW photons being generated by the earth surface.  The model assumes also that even if the CO2 “atmosphere” and the earth surface change in any way due to the “greenhouse” effects of CO2, that the amount of SW absorbed still won’t change.  Again, not realistic, but the model still serves its purpose in terms of illustrating why CO2 in theory warms the earth.

And that, believe it or not, is what all the fuss is about.  The question asked on WUWT by commenter “wayne” is a reasonable way to think about it.  As a consequence of additional CO2 in the atmosphere, a new equilibrium is established in which the photons escaping to space still escape, but some number of them may be “delayed” on the way out, either existing for an extra moment in time absorbed in a CO2 molecule, or perhaps recycled back down to earth where the result is a warmer earth surface that generates photons at a higher rate to compensate.

But as for the laws of thermodynamics?  Intact. 

As for actual magnitude and actual behaviour in an actual chaotic atmosphere comprised of many different kinds of molecules and subject to many different kinds of processes?

Sorry.  I have no model for that, and my answer is I really don’t know.  That is similar to a lot of climate scientists mind you.  The difference is that they do have a model, but really don’t know.

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25 Responses to CO2; Exactly HOW does it warm the planet?

  1. wayne says:

    David, I gather this is the subject and visuals you were going to send me. Now you have my e-mail. Now I will read to see if you are paralleling my thoughts.

  2. wayne says:

    Without making a whole string of comments to kick this off I’m just going to take notes, positive and negative as I go read down this example. Wish you had put the words under each slide so the text could be read (my slipping eyesight) and would be selectable for comments.

    — One I like you simplifying to only up and down. That really is proper by physics since any horizontal component in the vectors are always cancelable by another molecule doing the same thing but in the opposite horizontal direction, that is in the case of the atmosphere about a sphere. There is a name for that ‘ignoring’ but I can’t recall it.

    — One thing you didn’t explicitly state is that whenever the ground emits a photon it cools by that amount depending on the frequency. Same for any molecule in the atmosphere, if it absorbs it warms, if it emits it cools. I which you would have kept track with the exact state of the surface for it would have added some clarity for I see a flaw later in you sequence.

    — Since your sequence of named slides go 1, 4, 2, 3, 6, 5 I will use the natural order that they are displayed instead with the slide name in parenthesis.

    Slide one (1):
    All is in a steady state so atm and surf is zero.

    Slide two (4):
    6 SW into surf – 8 LW out of surf + 2 LW in from atm = surf is 0
    4 LW into atm – 4 LW out of atm = atm is 0
    6 LW to space

    Slide three (2):
    Intermediate step since next slide has same displayed.

    Slide four (3):
    6 SW into surf – 8 LW out of surf + 2 LW in from atm = surf is 0
    4 LW into atm – 4 LW out of atm = atm is 0
    6 LW to space

    Slide five (6):
    You lost me here and here is why. Just because you add more co2 molecules does not mean they have to interact and are being affected by what the surface is doing. The incoming SW is constant. The atmosphere and the molecules ‘know’ nothing of the surface. This is the GHE where I do not agree. There would just be more co2 molecules that are not affected at all for each slide (dt) as you step one by one, slide by slide, just more blue molecules that do nothing in one given slide.

    There are plenty of co2 (h2o too) molecules that are not being affected each tick (dt). I have read it is something of 95% are just waiting for a photon of the exact frequency (not vibrationally excited) to intersect it so it can absorb. Adding more co2 will only increase that percentage that are dormant.

    You see, the AGW side would have you believe, and I mean visually see in your mind, that all of their ‘science’ that tests in close bottles in a lab show. But if you were able to take their jar and have it open on one end with near zero degrees at the open end, held by gravity, and re-run the experiment you would get a totally different result unless your LW source was so strong that you totally saturate all of the absorbers so that reverse thermalization could no longer occur, then you would see the temperature rise, that I do understand. Thermalization to O2 and N2 would still occur but the symmetric reverse would be blocked because there would be so many photons at that exact frequency that would immediately re-excite it. Thermalization would be then a more one-way street.

    Bottom line is there are so many real physics properties that are totally left out of such simple visualizations that the total picture is blurred unless further refinement is continued until the total picture is seen. David, that is why I wanted you to watch those Feynman lectures, not to learn quantum electrodynamics but to see how he took a terribly complex process and one step at a time he refined it until at the end you could have a total picture in your mind of what REALLY happens in nature. Wish we could do that here on a blog but my hopes are quickly fading. Too much noise.

    However your visualization is very close. I followed it step by step through the first few slides and there I agree. That is why I was so happy to see Ire in #3 on WUWT to show that ‘up, split, and down’ process. That by itself is correct and a start. Yours is even better though I would not put so many into play, it’s hard to go through and count each flux, a bit too busy.

    If I were you I would keep right on the track you are on and be careful making closing absolute statements such as “As a consequence of additional CO2 in the atmosphere, a new equilibrium is established” for I don’t remember trying to leave that view. I’m still not sure a need for a new equilibrium exists in reality. Miskolczi says his analysis of the radiosondes show it doesn’t exist. I’m still hang out there in space (so to speak).

    Sometimes I wish I would stop trying to say everything in one single comment. ☺

    • davidmhoffer says:

      Thanks for the comments. The reason the logic didn’t flow is that I messed up the order of the slides. Should be fixed now, please breeze through it again.

      Re your criticism of Slide 6 or 5 or whate ever it is now
      You are correct in that just because you add some CO2 it doesn’t mean that they have to interact, and no, they don’t know what the surface is doing, they don’t even care. If you take a look, we started with 20 molecules, 4 of which “on average” absorbed a photon. Then we added 50% more. 30 molecules, 6 of which “on average” absorbed a photon. If we assume that the atmosphere stays the same size (not necessarily correct) then the density of CO2 molecules increases, and the percentage chance that any given photon on any given path will be absorbed goes up. So, if there was a 60% chance of a photon escaping to space in one leap, now it is only 40%. If “on average” a photon was absorbed and emitted 100 times before escaping, and we increase by 50%…well, now we have to figure out permutations and combinations, because the answer is NOT 150. I don’t think. I’ll ponder that and/or dig up a stats guy to ask. CO2 is known to be logarythmic, I just have to figure out how that applies in this model.

      As for the lab experiments, they are mostly hogwash and they are well known to be hogwash because they don’t scale to reality any more than my depiction above does, and the reasons are well known. Even putting aside the existance of other kinds of molecules in the atmosphere, the cylinder in the lab with CO2 in it isn’t even close. For starters, it is at pretty much the same temperature from one end to the other. In the atmosphere, temperature declines with altitude. So the frequency range of photons that can be absorbed or emitted changes with altitude. And time of day. And latitude. And season.

      PLUS, the pressure in the lab cylinder is stable. In the atmosphere, pressure declines with altitude, so while the CO2 concentration may be stable in terms of parts per million, in terms of molecules per cubic meter, it declines.

      If that hasn’t completely discredited the lab cylinder experiment yet, let me continue by adding JUST water vapour to the picture. If we were to add H2O molecules to the diagrams, unlike CO2 which is evenly distributed throughout the atmosphere, the H2O molecules would be clustered at the bottom. In the real world, the holding capacity of the air declines with temperature, so the water vapour concentration may be as high as 40,000 ppm or less than 1,000 depending on temperature. And temperature varies with…altitude, time of day, latitude, and season. So down at the bottom of our graph, at 40,000 H20 vs 390 CO2, there’s not much point even doing the math to calculate the effect from CO2, it is meaningless. But as we move in altitude, latitude, season and so on to cooler temperatures and lower levels of water vapour, CO2 becomes more and more significant.

      Sorry, not done thrashing those stupid lab cylinders yet. What else goes on in the atmosphere? Convection! As air is heated at the equator, it rises, pulling in cooler air from the temperate zones. As the hot air rises, it cools. How? By on average emitting more photons than it is absorbing. And as it cools, the wavelength of photons that is released changes… the percentage chance that an emitted photon from a rising molecule of CO2 will escape increases as the molecule gains altitude because the path to space is shorter. And the cooler air being sucked down from the poles is doing the opposite.

      Then consider all of THOSE factors in terms of what wavelength of photons are being release and what wave length are being absorbed at any given point in time based on all of those factors and map that against the atmospheric window….

      In addition to Miloscky (sp?) there’s been some more recent papers out of Russia that attempt to quantify all of those factors plus more and conclude that the net effect of CO2 is cooling. Ernst Beck sent them to me a long time ago, I’ll hunt for them and see if I still have them.

  3. wayne says:

    David, so nice to have someone listen for a bit. As for the mistakes you will find me very forgiving. In fact since I just got through listening to Feynman for hours and hours he made so many mistakes! Yeah, really. one whole lecture he is speaking of 4 and 8 where he should have been saying 8 and 16. No problem to me, he’s human and his humanity flows out and that what make listening to him so enjoyable. He always corrected himself sometime later, to be exact, and that is the way science is supposed to be. Follow the general thoughts, not the exact words or numbers.

    If you ever do find those on cooling Ernst Beck sent you, I would really like that. That is the point I was attempting to get E.M.Smith to grasp in his post on “Frostbite Falls” and why such low temperatures were being hit in Minnesota this winter.

    Can increased co2, the increase since the early 1900s, move energy faster, either direction, when out of equilibrium? That might be what those Russian scientists were addressing. I can see yes, but with little evidence but some physics intuition.

    “If we assume that the atmosphere stays the same size (not necessarily correct) then the density of CO2 molecules increases, and the percentage chance that any given photon on any given path will be absorbed goes up. So, if there was a 60% chance of a photon escaping to space in one leap, now it is only 40%.”

    Don’t think trapping, please! I need you to look at that differently. You are trying to look too globally and as Einstein pointed out, all physics is best explained locally. That increase chance is of course correct. But, think of what inter-atmosphere photons do, one leaves a molecule cooling it, and is absorbed by another molecule, normally 10-100 meters away, and warms it, back and forth, all of the time. What has happened. Nothing really without a temperature differential.

    That happens zillions of times within a parcel of atmosphere every second. If you have more co2, the photons will not travel as far but what does that change. Nothing really. Really.

    The same amount of energy will still flow across that packet if there is a temperature differential no matter how many local inter-parcel transfers are happening. See what the agw crowd want you to eat, baloney.

    That is exactly back to my point earlier. See it yet. Don’t attach ‘absorption’ with ‘heating’ without looking backwards to see what just cooled by exactly the same amount. Physics is symmetrical in almost any process you attach the word physics to. Not so for chemistry. Flowing from IPCC are well hidden thoughts that make the atmosphere and radiation transfer seem more like they are chemical reactions, one reaction then the next reaction, and it can leave you with totally wrong views of reality. Physics is better, symmetrical and continuous and always.

    One last big comment. The rest is just some thoughts of some of those missing things that are actually occurring as physics sees it. (or at least what I have come to realize over the many years I have followed physics but off of the top of my head with no Googling so you need to dig and verify if you want to make 100% sure, I would of myself)

    That brings me to address equilibrium you mentioned in your very last slide. Just remember that photons from one gas, pick co2 or h2o, will not travel far before it is absorbed and re-radiated. And I mean different photons. When I make a statement like that it is better to think of a specific unit of energy instead of photons.

    Here’s why: a photon, let’s say 15µm, leaves the surface and is absorbed. That exact photon is gone, never to exist again. Also the chance of that co2 molecule re-emitting is really small. See ‘Einstein A & B coefficients’ for co2. That is the chance of spontaneous emission per second if in excited state. Most of the time this energy is passed to surrounding molecules of any type, co2, h2o, h2, o2, Ar. So how does that increased energy that momentarily increases the tiny local temperature ever leave? By passing it, after a million transfers back and forth, to an IR active molecule which doesn’t necessarily emit but only has that same small chance to emit. And that packet of energy is not the same for it has been sliced, diced, and recombined with other sliced and diced energy pieces within the atmosphere, but we are still homing our thoughts on one 15µm worth of energy we call ‘our’ packet of energy that is going to reemit ‘somewhere very close’. To us it was all one simple action. Surface  molecule  reemit. All of the real actions are hidden but all should agree are rather ignorable in certain conversations.

    And also remember that before any absorption occurs the frequency must be exact. That’s right, not just close, exact. One adjustment is Doppler broadening that smears absorption lines, but that does not mean a photon can just be close to 15 µm, if 15 µm is the exact line of absorption. Another way to say that is if it takes exactly a 15µm photon to be absorbed and a 15.01 µm photon is rising from the surface but the co2 molecule is moving upward at 400 m/s that velocity difference will, by Doppler effect, make that very photon to appear to the molecule as an exact 15 µm photon and absorption can occur.

    So a very small percentage of absorptions are really possible at any given point, for it strictly depends on the exact frequency and the velocity of the IR active molecules near it.

    It really gets deep, for every collision of two atoms or molecules, it is really mediated by photons again. Yeah. Really. More photons interacting with the electrons. So it is best not to think too much of “this photon does this and then that photon reemits and does that” for any such statement is far from real physics.

    A big ‘however’, if you state the knowledge of all of this activity you can still draw simple drawings as you and Ira have done and still have sane conversation about the process. See, in any conversation of such depth BOTH parties have to agree on exactly what 1) is really happening by physics all of the time though not explicit and 2) what exactly is being left out of the conversation, for the effects are so tiny. Also many times you can totally ignore real effects that are really occurring but are cancelled by symmetry, as your example of only speaking of ‘up and down, not sideways’.

    I’ve written too much. If you don’t want to hear any more of more ignored factors, cry uncle. ☺
    (Just kidding, I’ll stop anyway, but I guess you get my point by now)

    If you carry this quest of understanding onward try to divide it into tiny pieces so each statement can be concretely answered true or false, when and when not, maybe a post for each, for it is so easy to get this complex conversation all tangled up and hung by the neck as seen many times before. Take the time to specify, no matter how many words are necessary, then all are on the same wavelength.

    • davidmhoffer says:

      Back to work this AM, so these will have to be brief:

      Don’t think trapping please!; You wrote a pretty detailed description of the real process, I didn’t see any holes in that as I skimmed it. Think of it as “extra delayed cooling”.

      Doppler effect; That one threw me, never thought of it that way. But one quick thought leaps to mind. You are looking at it from the relative perspective of an observer watching both the photon and the molecule. If you ARE the molecule, the photon is travelling at the speed of light as per usual. That’s as short an explanation of relativity as I’ve ever gotten to.

      Your description of photons being passed back and forth, fair. That’s what I was getting at in the early slides. Which four molecules are red doesn’t matter, it can change a billion times, there’s still only four. Until somethng changes and steady state = 5. Temp increase. So from a modeling perspective, we don’t care as much about “back and forth” as we do about escape rate at steady state and total concentration.

      I’ll look for the Russian paper. I suspect that when you add in other factors in combination is where the net effect gets reversed. For example, if you think about water vapour being very significant at low altitudes, and less at high altitudes, then you can think of CO2 as being the other way around. So the “delayed cooling” is more pronounced at higher altitudes (from CO2). Would we even notice at surface?

      But at days end I always come back to the same thought. CO2 is logarythmic. Take the IPCC worst case scenarios, accept their worst case orders of magnitude and the results are horrifying. Then calculate backwards (which they never do) exactly how much fossil fuel that is. You’ll need floating point, the number is stupendous.

  4. cptwayne says:

    I built an IR generator, 8-15 microns, which cover the adsorption bands of CO2. I fired it up to 1400 watts and flooded the room with this IR. There was not rise in air temperature for the bulk of the room. The floor did warm up 2 deg F. Then, the warmer floor caused the air above it to warm and rise a little. The convective losses were decreased by 25 %. So, this was the saved energy. In terms of Earth, CO2 does not warm the air under conditions of linear thermodynamic equilibrium (LTE). No net energy transfer. It emits the same as it adsorbs. However, at the Earth’s surface boundary, this does not occur and energy is transferred as objects are warmed up. Reradiating the warmth, these objects then heat the air. So, the lapse rate is the important parameter here and involves not just radiation, but conduction and convection. When water vapor is included, this then becomes much more complicated.

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  7. A Thorpe says:

    What an utter load of rubbish. Why do you even attempt to describe what it happening in the atmosphere by considering what might happen to individual photons? It is impossible to model the climate in this way. Similarly, when engineers model electricity grid systems or design electrical circuits they don’t consider what the electrons in the circuits are doing.

    We have classical thermodynamic which tells us all we need to know. You make the fundamental error of assuming that when a photon is absorbed it always results in a temperature increase. This is not the case. All matter emits radiation but the radiation from an ice cube cannot increase the temperature of a central heating radiator. Thermal energy only transfers from a high temperature to a low temperature and the atmosphere is always colder than the earth’s surface, so no thermal energy arrives at the surface from the atmosphere. The concept of backradiation from the atmosphere is not based on any known laws of physics. Secondly, nothing can heat itself by returning radiation. Consider a vacuum flask. Radiation cannot escape because of the reflective surface, but the contents do not get hotter because the radiation is reflected internally. A greenhouse does not get hotter because radiation is trapped; it is hotter than the outside because the glass prevents mixing of the air if it is not ventilated. Your descriptions ignore the fundamental laws of thermodynamics.

    I often see descriptions of the atmosphere as acting like an insulating blanket. It shows a failure to understand basic physics. Insulation does not keep anything warmer because it cannot spontaneously generate thermal energy (or do work). Insulation, on a house for example, reduces the amount of energy needed to maintain a specific temperature; it cannot increase the temperature. Insulation also works by reducing convection heat loss and obviously the atmosphere does not prevent convection heat loss.

    The greenhouse theory also requires the CO2 to act like a black body with an emissivity of 1. This is also incorrect. Hottel measured the emissivity of CO2 and found it to be 0.14. More recent work suggests it could be much lower. This means that CO2 is a very poor absorber of radiation.

    If you want to know why the surface of the earth seems to be warmer than expected then at a simple level look no further than the ideal gas law – PV = nRT. Gravity compresses the atmosphere and the temperature increases. This is what happens on Venus. It is nothing to do with the high CO2 atmosphere. On Venus the surface pressure is 92 times that of the earth. On earth the same effect is also seen in very deep mines. Although the temperature in mines is higher because of internal heat it is also higher because the pressure is higher. Every mining engineer knows that cool air from the surface cannot be pumped into the mine to keep it cool. Gravity increases the temperature as it is pumped down the mine.

    • davidmhoffer says:

      Similarly, when engineers model electricity grid systems or design electrical circuits they don’t consider what the electrons in the circuits are doing.

      Actually, electrical engineers DO study what the electrons in circuits are doing. They then aggregate those behaviors into rules that describe the behavior like E=IR, or the Right Hand rule governing flow of electrons induced by a magnetic field. Without understanding what is happening at that level, you cannot understand how to apply the rules themselves correctly.

      The concept of backradiation from the atmosphere is not based on any known laws of physics.

      It is based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics which assumes all bodies radiate energy at all times, they receive energy from each other at all times, and the NET flow is from warmer to colder. If you’d studied the physics that underlie the law, you’d understand that. We can in fact verify that the atmosphere radiates energy to the surface in multiple ways, including by measuring it directly.

      The rest of your diatribe is based on these false premises, and so is without foundation. If you want a more detailed explanation I suggest these:

      • A Thorpe says:

        Your post said quite clearly that your attempt to explain the behaviour of CO2 was wrong on so many levels and you asked for comments. When you are told your explanation is completely wrong you throw a wobbly. Clearly, you wanted to be told that your explanation is not wrong.

        You miss my point completely about modelling of the climate and engineering systems. They are NOT modelled using photons or electrons but this does not mean that the scientists and engineers do not have this detailed knowledge. Your reference to Ohm’s law illustrates what you cannot see. Georg Ohm published his work in 1827 and it has stood the test of time. The electron was not discovered until 1897 by JJ Thomson. Ohm did not have the knowledge you claim is necessary. The same applies to the laws of thermodynamics. They were established around 1850 but the photon only came along around 1900.

        The first and second laws of thermodynamic are important in understanding the climate. The first law is about the conservation of energy, often expressed as energy cannot be created or destroyed. The second law of thermodynamics says that the entropy of an isolated system always increases, which means that heat cannot spontaneously flow from a cold region to a hotter region. The second law is not as you describe.

        You completely misunderstand the concept of heat. It is the transfer of thermal energy from a high to a low temperature. There is NOT a net transfer as you claim and this is a fundamental error in the climate science. You also use the word “assumption”. Science is not about assumptions. It is about established and proven theories and the laws of thermodynamics are well established and proven. Science is also not about a consensus.

        Backradiation is a term that is used to describe the so called atmospheric greenhouse effect. It is not about all matter emitting radiation above absolute zero. All the atmospheric gases emit radiation and some of this will be back to the surface of the earth. The backradiation theory is that radiation from the earth is absorbed by the atmosphere, then emitted and the radiation that the returns to the surface causes additional heating. The atmosphere is cooler than the surface and heat cannot travel from the atmosphere to the warmer surface because of the second law of thermodynamics.

        The atmosphere does radiate to the earth but radiation is not the same as heat transfer and this is the fundamental error. The concept also does not comply with the first law of thermodynamics because energy is not conserved. Backradiation has to create energy from thin air. This is easy to see in the earth’s energy balance diagrams. There are three points at which an energy balance is assumed to exist – at the edge of the atmosphere, at the surface of the earth and at some point in the atmosphere. The climate is a dynamic system and such balances do not happen so a long term average is assumed and backradiation assumes energy is transferred which does not exist. The internal energy of the earth is ignored and the only source of thermal energy is the sun. The atmosphere cannot create energy The fact that there is a continual transfer of thermal energy does not create new energy sources. Energy is conserved because of the laws of thermodynamics.

        You need to find an energy balance diagram from the internet. Firstly, note that it is not an energy balance diagram. The units are of heat flux density and this is not a conserved quantity. This is all part of the averaging that is done to explain the greenhouse effect but it means that the diagram is not a realistic description of the earth’s climate. But put that aside and look at the supposed energy flows. The diagrams can vary slightly but roughly you will have about 160W/m2 arriving from the sun and around 490W/m2 leaving. This is energy created from nowhere to justify the greenhouse effect.

        You can simplify the diagram and assume all the energy from the sun is absorbed by the surface, emitted and is absorbed by the atmosphere. The atmosphere then emits equally upwards and downwards. If you sketch this out and assume the energy balances is results in the sun’s energy being doubled. I raise this because of the reference you give about visualising the greenhouse effect. How ridiculous to attempt to explain the laws of thermodynamics with a mechanical system. It really is a load of balls. But it also has to create energy in the bouncing balls to explain the greenhouse effect. The “temperature” is doubled when the greenhouse effect is added because it creates energy, just like the thermodynamic explanation.

        I have tried to educate you, but it seems that is not what you want.

  8. davidmhoffer says:

    I have tried to educate you, but it seems that is not what you want.

    You demonstrate the greenhouse effect to yourself every time you put on your clothes. Are the clothes warmer than you are when you put them on? In most cases not. Yet not very long afterward, you’r warmer than you were before, because quite without breaking any laws of physics, they return some heat that your body generates to you. Quite without looking at the photons, we can observe the GHE, just as Ohm’s law was observed before electrons that explain how it works were discovered.

    Similarly, the moon and the earth get almost the exact same radiance from the sun. They have slightly different albedos, but not big enough to account for the fact that the earth is much warmer than the moon. Again, no laws of physics have been broken, no photons examined, the earth has an atmosphere, the moon doesn’t, we can observe the GHE in action.

    Going on with this theme, Mercury is MUCH closer to the sun than Venus, yet Venus is on average much hotter. Again, no laws of physics broken, no photons examined, but we can observe that a planet with an atmosphere is much hotter, despite getting less energy from the sun, because it (Venus) has an atmosphere with a GHE and Mercury doesn’t.

    You can demonstrate the GHE to yourself by getting an instrument that measures energy across all frequencies and point it at the sky at night, and measure directly how many w/m2 are coming right at you from the atmosphere. Do the same at night but on a cloudy night instead of clear and you will measure an even higher number. The clouds are very cold by the way.

    There are SO many ways to demonstrate the GHE from simple observation. The 2nd Law is about NET energy (not heat) transfer. If it was only one way, then Stefan-Boltzmann Law would have to be wrong. It isn’t. It has been verified by direct observation and experiment many times, is used in industry every day to design everything from mundane kitchen appliances to space station systems.

    If you are convinced of your point of view, devise an experiment that proves your hypothesis. You’ll overturn the work of at least a half dozen Nobel physicists, force the 2nd Law to be reworded, and earn a Nobel yourself.

    Good luck with that.

    • davidmhoffer says:

      Incidentally, your assertion that Ohm’s Law has stood the test of time without understanding how the electrons flowed is incorrect. There are many use cases where Ohm’s Law does NOT apply. By understanding how electrons flow, we can understand the use cases where it does not apply, and we can find ways to predict those use cases that have value. Diodes don’t obey Ohm’s Law, and neither do capacitors. The big exception though is semi-conductors, without which your computer could not exist.

    • A Thorpe says:

      You are completely incorrect about about clothing, insulation and greenhouses (real and in the atmosphere). Ask your search engine to explain how clothing and insulation work. Clothing does not return heat to the body and the laws of thermodynamics say that it is not possible. Insulation reduces the rate of heat loss. It does not and cannot generate any new heat to keep us warm. To do that you would need something like an electric blanket. I haven’t noticed any flying ones in the sky recently!

      The surface temperature on the moon when the sun is warming it is much higher than the surface temperature on the earth. I don’t know what point you are trying to make. The earth’s atmosphere ensures that the heat is distributed round the planet. Comparison of the earth and moon does not demonstrate a greenhouse effect. Rather strange that you are now emphasising that no photons are involved when your original post was only about photons!

      You are also wrong about Mercury, Earth and Venus and I explained the physics to you in my first comment. It is the effect of gravity on a planet with an atmosphere. The surface pressure on Mercury is very low, on Earth it is about 100 times higher and on Venus about 92 times higher than Earth. The greater the pressure, the greater the temperature. This is physics and it had nothing to do with greenhouses or CO2. In fact on Venus the atmosphere is so dense that little radiation from the sun penetrates to the surface and the high temperature is almost entirely due to the effect of the extremely high surface pressure.

      You can measure the radiation from the night sky and as you say it is very cold. Everything emits radiation but heat is not transferred unless the radiation is from a high to a low temperature. The law of thermodynamics. You refuse to accept what it says.

      The second law is not about NET energy transfer. It is about the transfer only from the higher to the lower temperature. Every reference to the laws says this but you refuse to accept it. Heat is of course the transfer of thermal energy. You do not seem to have a basic understanding of any thermodynamics.

      You talk about demonstrating the greenhouse effect. As I explained this is defined as radiation leaving the surface of the earth, being absorbed by the atmosphere and then some of it returning to earth to cause addition heating. The IPCC has published how this should work and models have calculated that the atmosphere in the tropics should have a characteristic warming. Look it up in their reports and see the diagrams of where the heating occurs. You say the greenhouse effect is easy to observe but the only way is to find this region of the atmosphere. All the measurements of atmospheric temperatures have failed to find this region. Tyndall’s experiment with gases is often quoted as a proof of the greenhouse effect, but to demonstrate the greenhouse effect he would have to show that some of the radiation from the gases in the tube in his equipment returned to the heat source and increased the temperature of the source. The second law does not allow this to happen.

      Stefan-Boltmann’s law only tells us that the thermal energy radiated from a black body is proportional to the absolute temperature to the fourth power. You don’t understand this law either.

      There is one practical application of these laws that might interest to you and that is the heat pump. It might appear to you that heat is transferred from a cold to a hotter region and that would satisfy your new definition of the laws of thermodynamics. However, all the transfers of heat in the system are from a high to a lower temperature. This is a real application of thermodynamics in the real world and it obeys the second law

      As for your last paragraph, you will find that I have not expressed any personal opinion. I have only quoted the established laws of physics and how they apply. I quoted all the dates when these laws were established and it was long before the Nobel prizes were awarded, so no prizes to be overturned. The only prize I know about in relation to the climate is the joint award to the IPCC and Al Gore and that was the peace price. They could hardly award a physics prize since it would turn the Nobel organisation into a laughing stock. Perhaps you should submit the bouncing balls to them.

      I have told you what the second law of thermodynamics says – that the entropy of an isolated system must always increased. If you think this is wrong perhaps you could provide your definition. It should be good for a laugh but nothing else.

  9. davidmhoffer says:

    Insulation reduces the rate of heat loss.

    Which is precisely what the GHE is. Precisely what 2nd Law and SB Law say. I didn’t bother to read the rest of your diatribe.

    • A Thorpe says:

      Exactly, but insulation does not increase the temperature of the object it is applied to. Insulation does not heat your home. The boiler heat heats your home. The insulation just means that you need less energy to reach a specified temperature. This is explained by thermodynamics.

      You do not even understand what the greenhouse effect is. It is not the same as insulation since insulation works by reducing heat loss by CONVECTION. The greenhouse effect is related to radiation, but it is specifically radiation from the earth’s surface being absorbed by the atmosphere and then being emitted with some returning to the surface to provide additional heating. This cannot happen and the laws of thermodynamics confirm this. If the greenhouse effect is true, then as I explained, you would have to believe that the contents of a thermos flask would have to get hotter. You know that they don’t.

      You should stop reading the rubbish on the WUWT site.

  10. davidmhoffer says:

    Insulation does not heat your home
    Correct. Just as GHE does not heat the earth. They both slow down cooling.

    The boiler heat heats your home.
    The sun’s radiance heats the earth. The GHE slows down the cooling.

    insulation works by reducing heat loss by CONVECTION.
    Nonsense. The insulation in the walls of your house that is heated by a boiler reduce convection how? The insulation isn’t even in contact with the air. A greenhouse reduces heat loss via convection, which is a completely different thing than the green house effect.

    This cannot happen and the laws of thermodynamics confirm this.
    It can happen and the laws of thermodynamics require this. Stop reading skydragon bs and pick up an actual thermo physics text or atmospheric physics text.

    you would have to believe that the contents of a thermos flask would have to get hotter.
    Nonsense. Your conclusion that this is what I would have to believe is founded upon your complete misunderstanding of the physics. The insulation in the thermos keeps cold things cold for longer because it slows down heat flow. It keeps hot things hot for longer because it slows down heat flow. If you could inject some amount of heat into it, say 20 watts, it would get much warmer than it would if it didn’t have any energy source at all. Build a thermos with no insulation, put the same 20 watts into it, and it will still warm, but not as much, because there’s no insulation to slow down heat loss.

    The earth is just a thermos. Energy comes in through the atmosphere because the frequencies produced by the sun for the most part go right through. The earth radiates energy back out at frequencies that the atmosphere in part absorbs, hence acting as an insulation layer that slows the cooling of the earth. Unlike your thermos, the earth has a source of energy heating it up.

    Again, pick up any thermo text book. Or sit down with someone who has studied it and knows how to apply the laws. Pretty much any electrical or mechanical engineer. These are people who actually build things that actually work. You’re getting all caught up in what you want to believe and you’ve found some bs web sites that have filled your brain with junk. There are many, many, physicists who are ardent skeptics of the CAGW meme, including Richard Lindzen of MIT, one of the most prominent atmospheric physics of all time, and Roy Spencer, who designed and runs the weather satellites for NASA. They’ll tell you that sensitivity is too low to get excited about, but they’ll dismiss arguments like yours out of hand.

    • A Thorpe says:

      Your comments do not make sense. The greenhouse effect is not about slowing down cooling. It is about causing additional heating of the surface. As you said in your original post – photons are “recycled back down to earth where the result is a warmer earth surface”. There is a huge difference between slowing down cooling and adding heat. You don’t seem to understand the difference. The concern is the increasing temperature of the surface. It is not because anybody thinks the radiance from the sun is increasing or the albedo of the earth is changing, The cause is said to be entirely due to our addition of CO2 to the atmosphere. Where does the heat come from if it is not from the sun? The atmosphere cannot generate heat, insulation cannot generate heat.How many time do I have to say this?

      Back to a heated house. I repeat again that the insulation only reduces the amount of energy to maintain a specific internal temperature. If you want a higher temperature you have to add more energy. In the case of the earth the energy can only come from the sun (ignoring internal heat). The atmosphere and addition of CO2 cannot cause the surface to increase in temperature if the sun’s energy does not change. A house with just a thin wooden wall or a person without clothing will both lose heat by convection. That is the fundamental reason for adding insulation but I agree that the insulation is a poor conductor of heat for it to work well. Houses had cavity walls and air is a poor conductor of heat but it didn’t do a good job of keeping houses warm. A greenhouse does not reduce heat loss by convection. A greenhouse is warmer because the air inside when the ventilation is closed cannot mix with the outside. Glass is a poor insulation material. You are contradicting yourself now.

      You really like circular arguments. The greenhouse effect is about radiation effectively bouncing around from the earth’s surface to the atmosphere and back and causing additional heating on each bounce. Remember the bouncing balls you are so enthusiastic about? An object cannot be heated by returning radiation, hence there is no heating (or cooling) in a thermos flask. This is the second law of thermodynamics at work. Entropy always increases. Having been so keen on photons in your initial comments you now don’t want to consider that photons bouncing round in a thermos flask do not cause any heating but you continue to believe that they cause heating of the earth’s surface when they travel from the cold atmosphere, as quoted above. Do try to be consistent.

      The earth is like a thermos? Now you really are losing the plot. There is no container for the atmosphere, no reflective surface for photons to bounce off and no vacuum anywhere in the atmosphere. An insulated house isn’t even like a thermos flask.

      How wrong you are. I am a mechanical engineer and I studied thermodynamics for seven years and worked on mathematically modelling of engineering systems.I have followed Lindzen but I have not seen anything he has to say about the detailed physics, only his more general comments. It would be strange if he offered different definitions of the laws of physics to the ones I have given and of course he has never responded to your nonsense. Why would he waste his time? You have failed to respond to my request that you define what the second law says. Have you read his letter to President Trump? Have you listened to his lecture in Germany just over three years ago? In his opening remarks he says: “Global warming is about politics and power rather than science. In science, there is an attempt to clarify; in global warming, language is misused in order to confuse and mislead the public.” and then “the basis for a climate that is highly sensitive to added greenhouse gases is solely the computer models”. Get the point now. There is no greenhouse effect in the atmosphere and it is not supported by physics.

      You are trying to apply quantum mechanics to understanding the atmosphere rather than the simpler classical thermodynamics which applies in the real world. You would do well to remember the words of the great Richard Feynman: “If you think you understand quantum mechanics then you don’t understand quantum mechanics”?

      I notice you have nothing to say about heat pumps and how heat seems to travel from a cold to a warm region but does not. It is thermodynamics but not as you know it.

  11. davidmhoffer says:

    The greenhouse effect is not about slowing down cooling. It is about causing additional heating of the surface.

    No, it is about slowing down the cooling.

    As you said in your original post – photons are “recycled back down to earth where the result is a warmer earth surface”

    And that’s how the cooling is slowed down. Some of the photons that left get recycled back so that surface doesn’t cool as fast as it otherwise would,

    Where does the heat come from if it is not from the sun?

    The sun heats the earth, the earth radiates it back out, some of what the earth radiates gets sent back by the atmosphere, so the net result is a higher temperature due to less cooling.

    There is no container for the atmosphere, no reflective surface for photons to bounce off

    The atmosphere IS the container. A thin porous container but a container none the less.

    An object cannot be heated by returning radiation

    It cannot be heated UP, but it can slow down the cooling. This isn’t a violation of the second law, it IS the second law, it is also SB Law in action.

    Global warming is about politics and power rather than science.

    Agreed. Which has nothing to do with this discussion. As for Lindzen’s position on the physics, read his paper on the iris effect.

    I am a mechanical engineer and I studied thermodynamics for seven years and worked on mathematically modelling of engineering systems.

    I don’t believe you. I know a LOT of mechanical engineers, none of whom dispute me in the least, though they will argue that sensitivity is high and so dangerous, which I reject. I also have a lot of customers who do PhD level research in atmospheric physics and who are skeptics. They also agree with me. If you are in fact a mechanical engineer with 7 years of thermo, then you’ll need to explain how both 2nd law and SB Law can both be true at the same time if your premise is correct.
    If you really had the thermo background that you claim, you would not have made the mistake of claiming that insulation reduces convection, not to mention a number of other glaring errors.

    • davidmhoffer says:

      If you think you understand quantum mechanics then you don’t understand quantum mechanics”

      I don’t NEED quantum mechanics to observe that the moon is earth is warmer than the moon, that venus is warmer than mercury, that cloudy nights are warmer than clear nights, that the only way for SB Law and 2nd Law to both be correct is for the 2nd Law to be net transfer, ie slowing of cooling by a cold object versus an even colder object. Absent the atmosphere, what would be next to earth surface would be outer space, an effective temperature of -271 deg C. Which leaves the earth warmer? Being next to the atmosphere? Or being next to outer space?

      • A Thorpe says:

        Is that English? Observations are just that. It is the understanding that you constantly prove you do not have. As for your last question, without an atmosphere the earth’s surface facing the sun would be much hotter than anything we experience in the day with an atmosphere.

    • A Thorpe says:

      You really don’t have a clue what you are talking about do you? This is the description of the greenhouse effect from NASA: “We live in a greenhouse – Life on Earth depends on energy coming from the sun. About half the light reaching Earth’s atmosphere passes through the air and clouds to the surface, where it is absorbed and then radiated upward in the form of infrared heat. About 90 percent of this heat is then absorbed by the greenhouse gases and radiated back toward the surface, which is warmed to a life-supporting average of 59 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius).” Here is the link so you can see for yourself:

      Notice what it says – the heat is radiated back to the surface and it warms us to a life supporting temperature. Exactly what I have been telling you what the greenhouse effect is supposed to do. It does not mention slowing down cooling. Slowing the cooling does not increase the temperature.

      If you think that insulation can keep us warm I suggest you join the street sleepers for a few nights in these winter temperatures, or sit with one of the elderly who cannot afford to pay for heating. You will quickly learn that insulation does not keep you warm. What an idiot you are.

      I repeat again that slowing down the cooling does not make the temperature any higher. Your house can have all the insulation you want but without putting heat into it the temperature will not increase. You have not the first clue about thermodynamics. Insulation does nothing to increase the temperature of the object being insulated. The thermal energy supplied to the object does that. The insulation only reduces the amount of energy that is needed.

      Your own description says exactly this. You don’t even understand the physics behind the words you write. No doubt because they are just copied and so you make statements that are not consistent.

      Again your interpretation of the second law is nonsense and you cannot even see that slowing down the cooling does not make the temperature of the object that is cooling any higher. The whole point of the greenhouse effect is that the temperature is made higher. So again we go back to the thermos flask. The contents do not increase in temperature. Stefan-Boltmann, as I explained is only about the energy radiated from a black body being proportional to the absolute temperature to the power of 4.

      Gravity is the container and without it the atmosphere would float into space. Again you are completely clueless about physics.

      Finally you call be a liar. If I could post copies of my two degree certificates I would do. I don’t have to explain the two laws since they are established and well known. I have quoted what they say and they do not agree with you and neither does Lindzen.

  12. A Thorpe says:

    It was a bit pointless visiting. But I see than everybody else seems to have given up visiting as well.

    • davidmhoffer says:

      I only leave the blog up at all because some of the graphics are referenced regularly by other people. Once I move them someplace where they can continue to do so, this blog is going away, there hasn’t been a new post in years. I direct people who want to be part of the current debate to Watts Up With That where you will find skeptics galore with heavy weight credentials to tell you that you’re wrong.

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