CO2 and warming, a fun chapter for nerds

Chapter 19 of Climate Change: The Facts is written by Dr John Abbot and Dr John Nicol on the contribution of CO2 to global warming. The authors describe recent theoretical investigations suggesting that the warming effect of CO2 may be an order of magnitude (a factor of ten) smaller than the numbers used by the IPCC.

Amazingly the assumptions about the forcing effect of CO2 that are fed into the most advanced models used by the IPCC are based on speculations advanced over a century ago. The authors found one recent paper reporting an experimental investigation of the critical parameters compared with over 12,000 scientific papers on the topic of General Circulation Climate Models. They conclude that there is a place for modelling but it must be informed by observational data.

The main sources in the paper are work on modern spectroscopy, that is the way the various gases in the atmosphere handle the incoming and outgoing radiation. This is a somewhat technical matter because there is a wide spectrum of radiation and the way that the various wavelengths are absorbed and radiated depends on the atomic configuration of the various gases. In brief the greenhouse gasses have complex molecules that permit bending, stretching and vibration while the molecules of Nitrogen and Oxygen do not.

It seems that the hard core of human-induced warming theory derives from the mathematical work of Professor Svante Arrhenius that was published in 1896 suggesting that doubling atmospheric CO2 would in increase the global temperature by 5 or 6 degrees C. This was not based on the spectroscopy of CO2 but on the theoretical extrapolation of some attempts to measure the surface temperature of the Moon by the American Samuel Langley. This was based on estimates of the infrared radiation leaving the Moon and reaching the Earth. Strangely the authors did not provide any critical appraisal of the accuracy and soundness of that work and the way that Arrhenius used it.

Arrhenius wrote that it was necessary to obtain experimental evidence for the results that he predicated but the sophistication and the cost of the experimental effort was beyond him. His speculations became public and important when James Hansen picked up the numbers that were coming out of the computer models using versions of the original Arrhenius calculations. In his testimony to the US congressional committee in 1988 be used the number of 4.2C from doubling CO2. The authors note that the IPCC has been adjusting the number downward in small steps from 3.8 in 1995 to 3.5 in 2001 and 3.26 in 2007.

Remarkably they report a statement by Hansen that it might need to be reduced further to 2.5. Other investigators have been bolder in downward adjustments, the references are not at my fingertips but some are as low as 1C and others claim that the suppressing effect of CO2 could outweigh the forcing effect and so there is probably no net effect at all.

This is a fun chapter for nerds, especially the part about the bending and stretching of the molecules.

Bonus reading for nerds. An early (1991) warning on the potential abuse of models in rural research from a leading soil physicist in the CSIRO. And a paper on the pernicious influence of mathematics on science noting the way that mathematicians have to simplify and that often misses the whole scientific point.

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33 Responses to CO2 and warming, a fun chapter for nerds

  1. Herodotus

    So, it’s not just jihadi terrorists who are “loonies”.
    It has been evident for years now that the models are wrong, but the indoctrination has been so ongoing and widespread through activists and popular media agitprop, and now political dogma, that it’s a long road back to common sense.

  2. Iampeter

    I’m not sure its such a fun chapter. For example, there’s no such thing as “greenhouse gasses”.
    And CO2 doesn’t cause any warming in greenhouses or in the atmosphere. Neither do any other gasses.
    Spectroscopy doesn’t have anything to do with it.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: bad arguments are worse than no arguments and skeptics have kept a debate that should never have happened going on and on with their own version of the junk science.

    No amount of discussion of “bending or stretching molecules” can cover the fact that the basic concepts seem to be absolutely wrong.

  3. Mitchell Porter

    Do they say anything about how the Earth manages to be warm enough to have liquid water, despite its distance from the sun?

  4. IRFM - also a geologist

    Arrhenius produced a highly theoretical paper without the benefit of later spectroscopic methods to verify his prognostications. Further, there is no attempt in his writings to understand the influence of the suite of greenhouses gases present then and differing today. Calculations by Hansen must be seen in that light as being entirely bogus. Just because modern analytical methods can detect something does not a problem make. Excellent interpretative work by Jo Nova has shown the lag in CO2 levels of some 600 years from a time equivalent ice core date result extrapolated to sea level changes etc.

  5. Bruce of Newcastle

    Water molecules also have bending and stretching modes. Catastropharians like to say water makes global warming worse (which is interesting since apart from the odd el Nino there hasn’t been any all this century so far).

    The difference between CO2 and water is that water interchanges between liquid and gas in the atmosphere.

    So at the surface if the temperature goes up more water evaporates, especially in the tropics where relative humidity is high. Then that water vapour rises. Thunderclouds form and rain falls, thus dropping the water back out of the atmosphere again.

    But it takes heat to evaporate water. That is what ‘latent heat of evaporation’ is. When the moisture rises to the condensation point in the troposphere that heat is invisible to CO2. Then when condensation occurs that bending and stretching energy is liberated as the latent heat returns to being infrared radiation.

    That IR is then radiated out to space above 75-90% of the CO2 in the atmosphere.

    So there you go, immediately you can see by simple chemistry why CO2 climate sensitivity is a quarter or a tenth of the IPCC number, and why water vapour is a negative feedback loop, not the positive feedback the IPCC weenies assume.

  6. RobK

    The “greenbouse gases” should really be given their more correct name;”radiative gases”. Their extra degrees of freedom of vibration which corresponds to their emmission spectra is something I was taught in high school chemistry. The fact that water molecules and CO2 molecules have overlapping emmission spectra and H2O is far and away the major radiative gas, makes CO2 little more than a fertilizer for plants.

  7. RobK

    As BoN indicates, the physical phases of water in the atmosphere mean it acts like a massive heat pump with little effect from CO2.

  8. P

    Good clear comment BoN.

    During the recent school hols I forwarded to my two eldest grandchildren (both still at High School) the following article:
    HEAT OF THE MOMENT
    ‘Contributing to climate change’ — meaningless words
    Steve Goreham compares impact of human activity with natural factors

  9. CO2 has zero to do with warming this planet.
    Doing experiments in a lab, with a gas, any gas, restrained in a glass cylinder and not allowed to expand and rise like it does when it warms on Earths surface, then claiming you can extrapolate the results of those experiments to the planet’s climate is outright FRAUD (because no one is that stupid).

    Water in all its forms is what regulates the climate of this planet. Water cools the planet during the day (hence why Earth doesn’t get as hot as the Moon) and keeps it warmer than it otherwise would be during the night (hence why Earth doesn’t get as cold as the Moon at night).

    Scientific inquiry and debate can take decades. In the meantime the fraudsters have built “too big to fail” renewable industries from which they enrich themselves and use the AGW scam to beat the West over the head with.

    I agree entirely with Iampeter #2772431, posted on July 26, 2018 at 7:13 am

  10. RobK

    Iampeter,
    Originally, greenhouses were thought to work well primarily because normal glass has the property of transmitting sbortwave IR better than longwave IR so when heat enters it is not able to exit in the same way as easily….it was considered to be a heat trap. It is now widely accepted that the physical barrier of glass or plastic preventing convection escaping is infact the more important feature. Never has any serious, informed person claimed that elevated CO2 in greenhouses is for anything other than plant food (Maybe some ignorant greenies claim that, no one else.).

  11. Tel

    And CO2 doesn’t cause any warming in greenhouses or in the atmosphere. Neither do any other gasses. Spectroscopy doesn’t have anything to do with it.

    The effect is real… but also real small. There’s a well known Mythbusters experiment where they fill up a box with CO2 and blast it with stage lighting and manage to get a 1 degree C increase in temperature above the control box which has only normal air in it. However, they did not loudly announce how much CO2 they needed to achieve this increase. Astute viewers saw the numbers in a shot where the notes are displayed and the total CO2 required was 7.351% which is 73510 ppm, almost 200x the present day CO2 concentration. In other words, it took massive amounts of CO2 to achieve a measurable result.

    https://co2islife.wordpress.com/2017/02/04/climate-science-on-trial-confirmed-mythbusters-busted-practicing-science-sophistry/

    And yes, both in a gardening type greenhouse and also on the regular open air Earth’s surface the most significant effects are evaporation and convection (which usually happen together given that warm, moist air always rises, and the troposphere operates as a Carnot machine). That doesn’t make the influence of CO2 completely irrelevant, but it’s small enough not to get freaked out over.

    Plant food m’kay?

  12. Tel

    Water in all its forms is what regulates the climate of this planet. Water cools the planet during the day (hence why Earth doesn’t get as hot as the Moon) and keeps it warmer than it otherwise would be during the night (hence why Earth doesn’t get as cold as the Moon at night).

    More importantly, water transports heat sideways away from the equator towards the poles, making both locations more livable. If the Earth had no atmosphere at all then midday at the equator would be lethally hot, while the polar regions would be far too cold to live and a small strip in between might be a reasonable temperature.

    If you want to find proof of God by looking at ridiculous complexity that should never happen by accident, then the water molecule would be a good place to start.

  13. Kneel

    “…why water vapour is a negative feedback loop, not the positive feedback the IPCC weenies assume.”

    This much is obvious when comparing the “dry lapse rate” and the “wet lapse rate” – dry is about 10C/km, wet is about 6.5C/km. So for the same effective radiative height and temperature, a moist atmosphere results in lower surface temps than a dry one. Sanity check: deserts (sometimes > 50C) are hotter than tropical islands (typical max low-mid 30s) at the same latitude.

    It’s also stunning that the cli-sci “community” all agree that the poles are warming faster than the equator, yet insist warming will cause more extreme weather – since weather is “driven” by temperature and pressure differentials, a lower temperature differential (which is the case if poles warm more than equator) should result in LESS extremes, all other things being equal.

    Even more stunning, in approx. 2002 I asked Gavin @ RC about the models diverging from reality. His response was that everything was fine, and they would need to see at least 10 years of such divergence before they needed to seriously re-do the models. 16 years later divergence remains and is growing , while Gavin and co are busy fudging numbers and graphs to “prove” there is no problem of divergence. According to him, such divergence as exists is due to “bad” projected emissions data etc and is within the margin of error of the models. Of course, this does not mean – so Gav says – the models are not fit for purpose in terms of policy.

    Jim Hansen suggested that the Cafe made famous by the Seinfeld comedy series would be under water by now – yet even the road out the front and the basement of the building remain dry.

    NASA GISS issued a press release about the “hottest year EVA”, then had to recant when it was pointed out that this was statistically identical to the previous record and that there was only a 37% (or so) chance that it really WAS the hottest thermometer record. The MSM (inc Your AlpBC) all carried the initial release – almost none carried the retraction.

    You simply cannot pin these arseholes down on ANYTHING. EG, 30 years and billions of dollars spent on research, and the estimate of the effect of doubling CO2 remains as it was 30 years ago: somewhere between 1.5C and 4.5C. When CO2 is HIGHER than projected and temps are LOWER than the models predict, somehow this becomes “worse than we thought”. When IPCC SPM’s have at every release claimed a lower “most likely” sensitivity – except AR5, which wimps out and doesn’t supply a most likely, but does show an “expert opinion” most likely. Which covers cooling up to 0.5C of warming in the next 20 years. Not very handy for planning there guys!

  14. Dr Faustus

    Aside from the energy transport issue nicely described by BoN above, water vapour is by far the dominant ‘greenhouse’ gas in the Earth’s atmosphere.

    At the risk of sending Iampeter into a conniption, the attached image shows a neat spectral analysis of the incoming/outgoing solar radiation and its scattering/absorption by the various ‘greenhouse’ molecules at frequencies across the near-UV-visible-IR waveband.

    The stacked chart neatly illustrates how the various GHG’s ‘compete’ for the finite incoming/upwelling energy – and, particularly, how water vapour is the 400lb gorilla.

    The net result is a graphical explanation of why the radiative forcing of GHG’s decreases with increasing concentration of GHG’s – and why, in the geological past, the Earth didn’t catch fire when CO2 was running at 2,000ppm, or 10,000ppm.

    The image also neatly illustrates why climate models deliberately ignore/oversimplify the contribution of water vapour to the estimation of atmospheric temperature.

    Inconvenient physics.

  15. .

    For example, there’s no such thing as “greenhouse gasses”.
    And CO2 doesn’t cause any warming in greenhouses or in the atmosphere. Neither do any other gasses.

    Total bullshit. It is a real, measurable and predictable effect (however small and probably insignificant, as well as self-limiting).

    You’re just a troll trying to discredit this blog with stupid hyperbole and falsehoods wrapped up under the mantle of Ayn Rand.

    “There is no such thing as a relationship between pressure and temperature, only left wing loons think that!”

    Fuck off.

  16. Iampeter

    At the risk of sending Iampeter into a conniption, the attached image shows a neat spectral analysis of the incoming/outgoing solar radiation and its scattering/absorption by the various ‘greenhouse’ molecules at frequencies across the near-UV-visible-IR waveband.

    I lol’ed. No, no conniption but just the fact that what you are linking is just combinations of wrong and irrelevant. Basically what a lot of this “skeptic” literature has done is created an even more plausible version of the junk science the alarmists first cooked up. This has done more to advance the cause of alarmists than they could’ve ever achieved themselves. Thanks skeptics.

    Here are the basics:
    Greenhouses work by preventing convection. There is no “greenhouse gas”. CO2 is just used as plant food and this is how the misnomer started.
    Our atmosphere has nothing preventing convection. Nothing to trap heat. All our atmosphere does is convect the heat at the surface, which has arrived from the sun back into space. That’s it.
    Once you grasp the basics, then you know that the scattering/absorption/UV/IT/whatever, is not going to change any of this.
    Changing the makeup of an atmosphere might change habitability and weather patterns and the like but it will never reverse the functions of basic, high school-level physics, which is what the alarmists have proposed with their “trapping heat” and “back radiation” nonsense and the “skeptics” have helped massage into a more realistic message with things like at your link.

  17. Iampeter

    Wow dot, what is this, day 5 of your meltdown? I guess I’ll have to return the friendship bracelet you sent me?

    The only people that can discredit this blog are rude cranks that have no idea what they are talking about.

    Hope you enjoy sitting at the cool kids table, but what you don’t realize is its actually the line to get onto the short bus.

  18. .

    Everything you type is a meltdown, little buddy.

  19. Dr Faustus

    Greenhouses work by preventing convection.

    Alarmists and skeptics alike got over the excitement of ‘the atmosphere is not really a greenhouse’ about 20 years ago.

  20. Iampeter

    Alarmists and skeptics alike got over the excitement of ‘the atmosphere is not really a greenhouse’ about 20 years ago.

    Yes I know. The alarmists won. The skeptics that rode out to do debate-battle with them, didn’t know how greenhouses work either, saying things like (from your link) “one of the greenhouse gases (GHG) that reflects these IR wavelengths is CO2”, thereby agreeing with the alarmists on the essentials.
    Now getting high school physics wrong does a lot of damage to your position and strengthens your opponent. It must be especially embarrassing for those skeptics who happen to be professional physicists and should know this stuff and should’ve ended the debate before this even became an issue.
    Instead of reversing course though, the “skeptics” chose to double down on the junk science and have spent two decades helping advance the alarmists agenda by granting legitimacy to their arguments and even helping to finesse their pseudo science into something more plausible sounding.

    The entire debate with alarmists would only go something like: “greenhouses work by preventing convection, there is no such thing as a greenhouse gas, our atmosphere is not a greenhouse. QED.”

  21. .

    Now getting high school physics wrong does a lot of damage to your position and strengthens your opponent. It must be especially embarrassing for those skeptics who happen to be professional physicists and should know this stuff and should’ve ended the debate before this even became an issue.

    Well, I’d like to know how applied interferometry is “high school physics”, but anyway…

    What is your science qualification, Peter?

    You’re denying facts and making scepticism seem like a shrill movement lacking any credibility.

  22. Dr Faustus

    The entire debate with alarmists would only go something like: “greenhouses work by preventing convection, there is no such thing as a greenhouse gas, our atmosphere is not a greenhouse. QED.”

    I’m not going to be rude here, this is a genuine question, but is this the core of the AGW argument as far as you are concerned?

  23. Rohan

    This link to the same paper that Rafe linked to transcribed into html. Much easier to read

  24. cohenite

    Greenhouses work by preventing convection. There is no “greenhouse gas”. CO2 is just used as plant food and this is how the misnomer started.

    Correct. The term greenhouse more than every confected PR climate paper and bit of adjusted data has promoted alarmism.

    Just watch and listen to the msm parroting greenhouse this and greenhouse that. Alarmism and renewables have won by winning the soundbite war and being able to imprint on the ant minds of the msm regurgible terms like greenhouse, carbon pollution and the adjective extreme.

    The fact is how the atmosphere works (convection, conduction, radiation) and how climate is produced is a work in progress, both complex and chaotic, the models are a joke, the science is bullshit but the politics have been won.

  25. .

    So you mean I should stop calling things – you know, most matter chemicals because stupid and ignorant people think “chemicals” only refers to unsafe or toxic compounds or elements?

    I’ve seen intelligent, but uninitiated people refer to GDP growth rates as GDP and the rate not as a per cent ratio but as a level variable.

    Should I stop using GDP growth because of the confusion?

  26. cohenite

    What are you trying to say dot? The point I’m making is greenhouses work by convection; atmospheres work by convection, conduction and radiation; the greenhouse (sic) effect in the atmosphere is entirely a product of radiation which makes it the complete opposite of the greenhouse effect in a greenhouse. The point is like every other aspect of alarmism the term greenhouse as applied to the atmosphere is wrong.

  27. JohnA

    It seems that the hard core of human-induced warming theory derives from the mathematical work of Professor Svante Arrhenius that was published in 1896 suggesting that doubling atmospheric CO2 would in increase the global temperature by 5 or 6 degrees C. This was not based on the spectroscopy of CO2 but on the theoretical extrapolation of some attempts to measure the surface temperature of the Moon by the American Samuel Langley. This was based on estimates of the infrared radiation leaving the Moon and reaching the Earth. Strangely the authors did not provide any critical appraisal of the accuracy and soundness of that work and the way that Arrhenius used it.

    Arrhenius wrote that it was necessary to obtain experimental evidence for the results that he predicated but the sophistication and the cost of the experimental effort was beyond him.

    Well, the world-scale (and extraordinarily expensive) experiment has now returned its results and his calculations have been demonstrated to be incorrect.

    Next?

  28. .

    We should not deny things that are hard to explain to stupid people to create some kind of political resistance to what is either or both a cynical and misguided effort to tax and regulate coal and oil out of existence.

    Alarmism and polemical scepticism both miss the point that warming is probably beneficial, as is a higher carbon dioxide concentration.

    Absorption and forcings are real, the “Greenhouse effect” probably is a misnomer, the forcings are small and self-limiting but increased CO2 and temperatures are likely very beneficial (let alone costs being far less than forecast) – also note that sea level rise and other catastrophic events simply have not happened and otherwise would happen at such a slow rate they pose no risk at all.

    We all know there have been periods in the past with completely different temperatures and atmospheric concentrations; the radiation absorption of known compounds presumably has always been the same.

  29. Iampeter

    I’m not going to be rude here, this is a genuine question, but is this the core of the AGW argument as far as you are concerned?

    That’s OK, I was actually going to ask you the same thing since you’ve both linked to a page with the alarmists (and also skeptics) definitions of how greenhouses and our atmosphere work but at the same time seem to have agreed that “the atmosphere is not really a greenhouse”.

    So what exactly do you think AGW is about and what is your position?

  30. This article represents a good analysis of the material published in Chapter 19 of : “Climate Change: The Facts”. The work by Arrhenius is clearly and accurately represented here in few words, but it should be noted that the authors (A&N) regarded his (Svante Arrhenius) initial suggestion of a significantly higher value for the “climate sensitivity” as largely irrelevant since by the time of this later publication, the estimate, though still far too high, had been reduced by the IPCC.

    To reiterate, the more recent detailed and spectroscopically sound calculations show that
    1. Only in the absence of convection will the re-radiation by Green House Gases (GHG) be of any significance at all in helping to slightly warm the surface of the earth simply because convection (upwards movement!) of warmed parcels of air actually carries energy away to the upper atmosphere far more efficiently than does radiation from the earth’s surface.
    2. Most importantly – no if, but or maybe – and broadly speaking, increases in carbon dioxide cannot cause increases in global warming simply because the density of the gas is higher at lower elevations above the earth, so the “freedom to radiate downwards from a GHG is far less than to radiate upwards”. This is clearly shown in the recent, high resolution calculations, referred to in the chapter.
    3. Carbon dioxide in the upper layer contributes far more to cooling of the atmosphere by radiating energy to space, a process which does increase with increasing CO2 as was originally shown by Gilbert Plass in about 1950, a result which is conveniently ignored by the IPCC and its followers. This was also the fate of the warning by Professor Jack Barrett of Imperial College, London, in 1985, that accurate measurements of the CO2 spectrum showed also that it could not cause the warming predicted by environmentalists, but from an entirely different approach from the recent calculations and those in the work by Plass.

  31. .

    John – “iampeter” would call you, myself, Pilmer and Mahorasy, wait for it, “fake sceptics, doubling down on alarmism”.

    Informed debate is harder than claiming a position, of course.

  32. cohenite

    3. Carbon dioxide in the upper layer contributes far more to cooling of the atmosphere by radiating energy to space, a process which does increase with increasing CO2 as was originally shown by Gilbert Plass in about 1950, a result which is conveniently ignored by the IPCC and its followers.

    John, in respect of CO2 cooling you may be interested in Chilingar’s paper:

    http://ruby.fgcu.edu/courses/twimberley/EnviroPhilo/CoolingOfAtmosphere.pdf

  33. Iampeter

    John – “iampeter” would call you, myself, Pilmer and Mahorasy, wait for it, “fake sceptics, doubling down on alarmism”.

    Well yea, I would.
    Anyone talking in non-existent physical terms like “re-radiation” or “greenhouse gasses” is helping the alarmists cause immensely by adding credibility to their wrong ideas.

    I’m really not trying to be rude about it but it’s not as complicated as its constantly made to sound. The energy from the sun warms the earths surface which warms the atmosphere which then rises and expands and thereby convects the heat from the surface back up into space. At the edge of the atmosphere where no more convection is possible, what little radiative ability gasses have is used to shed what little heat they still have left at this point.

    There’s no greenhouse gasses, there’s no re-radiation or back radiation or heat traps or anything else like that. Hot air rises. That’s it.

    All of this confusion stems from that initial misunderstandings of how greenhouses even work at the very start of this debate decades ago and no one seems eager to bring the clarity to the basics and end the debate that should never have even began in the first place.

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