A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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New Science 10: Whatever controls clouds controls the climate

How much sunlight makes it to the surface?

We all know how powerful clouds are. Just stand outside on a patchy day — feel the goosebumps. These megaton floating conglomerates of water act as vast shields — they cover 60% of the surface of Earth, and even a small change makes a big difference. While changes in the total amount of direct sunlight coming off the sun are very small, the changes to the amount of reflecting surfaces floating above Earth are, proportionally, at least twice as large, and possibly much much more influential. The IPCC includes changes in sunlight (TSI), so it does not make sense to ignore the larger and more powerful changes in the Earth’s albedo (fraction of sunlight that is reflected) due to “external” factors (due to factors other than feedbacks to surface warming). Both contribute to the amount of sunlight heating the surface, or “absorbed solar radiation” (ASR) (before feedbacks).

There are lots of reasons clouds might change that are not included in standard climate models. Just for starters — cosmic rays may seed cloud formation. Aerosols released by plants, plankton and marine life do — some aerosols are included, [...]

New Science 9: Error 3: All Radiation Imbalances Treated the Same — The Ground is not the sky!

The ground is not the sky

Here’s a big big flaw that is easy for anyone to understand, yet has lain at the core of the climate models since at least 1984. Indeed, you’ll wonder why we all haven’t been chuckling at this simplistic caricature of our atmosphere for 31 years.

The theory underlying the alarm about CO2 is built around a bizarre idea that blocking outgoing energy in the CO2 pipe is equivalent to getting an increase in sunlight. The very architecture of all the mainstream climate models assumes that the Earth’s climate responds to all radiation imbalances or “forcings” as if they were all like extra sunlight. (We call that extra absorbed solar radiation (ASR) to be more precise. It’s all about the sunlight that makes it through to the surface.)

Extra sunlight adds heat directly to the Earth’s surface, and maybe the climate models have correctly estimated the feedbacks from clouds and evaporation and what-not to surface warming. But it is obvious, in a way even a child could comprehend, that this is not the same as blocking outgoing radiation in the upper atmosphere, which is the effect of increasing CO2. Why [...]

New Science 8: Applying the Stefan-Boltzmann Law to Earth

Energy is emitted to space from many different heights in the atmosphere, depending on the wavelength (not to scale, suggestive only).

One more quick post of mostly uncontroversial foundation for the math-and-physics-heads among us. But it’s a must for anyone who wants to talk Stefan-Boltzmann and follow the details of the next posts. My intro here, just has the gist without the equations.

Mostly the IPCC will agree with this post, but they might be a bit snooty that David thinks their “effective temperature” is too much of an approximation conceptually, and the slightly more complicated idea of a “radiating temperature” is needed. Strictly, the effective temperature idea treats Earth like it is a black-body at infrared, which it isn’t really. Earth is almost a black-body, but not quite.

There is no single layer that radiates to space, instead emissions come from many different heights, depending on the wavelength. We could average the emissions into “one layer”, but doing that would lose detail that matters when computing sensitivity to increasing CO2.

Technically the Stefan-Boltzmann law is not supposed to be applied to Earth, because there is no single physical radiating surface [...]

New Science 7: Rerouting Feedback in Climate Models

Conventional models assume increasing atmospheric CO2 warms the surface, then apply the feedbacks to the surface warming. But if feedbacks start up in the atmosphere instead, everything changes.

This is a post with big potential. A feedback the other climate models miss?

All the establishment models assume carbon dioxide warms the sky, which leads to the surface warming*, and the feedbacks then apply to the surface warming. It’s in the model architecture, the models can’t do it any other way. But what if the feedbacks don’t wait — what if the feedbacks start right away, up in the atmosphere? What if, say, CO2 warms the air, and that affects humidity and or clouds right then and there? These would be feedbacks operating on tropospheric warming, and they can reroute that energy.

Potentially, this blows everything away. If the energy blocked by increasing CO2 is merely escaping Earth through emissions from another gas in the atmosphere, like say, the dominant greenhouse gas, water-vapor, then could this explain why the effect of Co2 has been exaggerated in the conventional models?

We call this the “rerouting feedback” because when it’s harder for energy to escape to space through the CO2 pipe, this [...]

New Science 6: How the Greenhouse Effect Works and “four pipes” to space

The Earth’s atmosphere is a leaky bucket, with four big holes (and a lot of little ones).

Whole libraries have been filled with talk of a single characteristic emissions layer — a simplistic idea that there is one effective “surface” that radiates to space. It exists in an abstract sense, after sufficient averaging, but it’s a paradigm that doesn’t help us think clearly. In any case, it’s too simple for our purposes in this series. In reality there are many layers that radiate to space, different for each type of molecule that can emit longwave radiation (which means infrared). Then there are the surface and cloud-tops too.

Energy comes in one way but leaves through at least four different paths.

To follow this series you’ll need to understand the concept of four pipes through which energy flows to space. It’s a powerful idea and big advance on the simpler notion of one-pipe-in and one-pipe-out. For those not as familiar with photons and excited molecules, you may want to read the “Background” section at the end of the post first.

For a photon there are a lot of paths to space

Some photons at Earths surface will be at [...]

New Science 5: Error 2: Model architecture means all feedbacks work through the surface temperature?

And the series continues, poking another hole in the models, with bigger holes to come.

See the larger version in the post below

What if CO2 caused more greenery, which produced more volatile organic gases, which increased rainfall and changed cloud cover? The models would be blind to it. They’re “supercomputer-complicated”, but miss many of the feedbacks on Earth. The only feedbacks the models consider are ones that occur because of changes in temperature. And worse, it’s not just changes in temperature, but specifically, changes in surface temperature.

If, say, cosmic rays caused a change in cloud cover, or the Sun influenced ozone which in turn caused the jet streams to shift closer to the equator, there are no feedbacks worth mentioning according to the large GCM models. The conventional basic model assumes, is built on the idea that nothing causes changes to Earth’s climate unless it works through surface heating — and the GCMs have the same architecture. Cloud cover does not change ice cover. Ocean currents don’t change cloud cover. Changes in biology don’t change clouds. Only changes in surface temperature changes cloud cover.

It’s a good place to start looking for missing negative feedbacks (though, [...]

New Science 4: Error 1: Partial Derivatives

And so begins the list of errors. The conventional basic climate model (see post 1 for why it is important, post2 and post 3 for what it is) is based on partial derivatives of dependent variables, and that’s a No No. Let me explain: effectively basic climate models model a hypothetical world where all things freeze in a constant state while one factor doubles.* But in the real world, many variables are changing simultaneously and the rules are  different.

Partial differentials of dependent variables is a wildcard — it may produce an OK estimate sometimes, but other times it produces nonsense, and ominously, there is effectively no way to test. If the basic climate models predicted the climate, we’d know they got away with it. They didn’t, but we can’t say if they failed because of a partial derivative. It could have been something else. We just know it’s bad practice.

To see an example of how partial differentials can produce quixotic contradictions in a normal and simple situation, see what happens when they are used with the Ideal Gas Law in this PDF from MIT.

Partial derivatives are useful [...]

New Science 3: The Conventional Basic Climate Model — In Full

Read the post to see it properly.

A feast. A feast!  For those who want the meat, the math and the diagrams (don’t miss the diagrams). As far as we know, this is the first time the architecture of the basic climate model has been laid out in one place on the Net. This is the most math heavy post this series, but it has to be done, and properly. This is where the 1.2 °C direct effect of doubling CO2 gets amplified to 2.5 °C with fairly basic physics. If the equations are not your forte, look at the “the Establishment Case” below the equations to get some idea why establishment scientists find it mind-bendingly hard to imagine how climate sensitivity could possibly be much different.

For commenters who know there are problems with this model (don’t we all), one of the points of doing this is to get through to the establishment leaders — to speak their language instead of having separate conversations. Of course, for some minds it will not matter what skeptical scientists say, but for other, key people, it will. We would expect seeing the flaws laid out so clearly will undercut the implacable confidence [...]

New Science 2: The Conventional Basic Climate Model — the engine of “certain” warming

This is the most uncontroversial post ever put on this blog — it’s everything the IPCC would agree with and the key to their unshakable confidence.

This post is for the independent thinkers, the brains that want to know exactly where the famous, core, 1.2 °C figure comes from. That’s the number of degrees that a doubling of CO2 would bring, and it’s a figure that underlies decades of research and the figure that the big models are built around. Here, as far as we know, is the simplest, accurate reference to that reasoning and their maths. We have always assumed the 1.2 °C figure is correct, and focused on questioning the feedbacks that are assumed to drive that base figure up to  3°C (or 6°C or molten-Venus-here-we-come!)

We are not criticizing the estimate here, but this is so key and central to the whole climate-clean-green industry, and the models, it has to be laid out. This is the source of “implacable confidence” among the leading thinkers of establishment climate science. It is long past time that skeptical scientists put these details — warts and all — out in public. Dr David Evans is laying out the foundation for [...]

New Science 1: Pushing the edge of climate research. Back to the new-old way of doing science

For those of you who are die-hard puzzle solvers here to spar about cutting edge research: good news, here’s where we begin the long awaited update to Dr David Evans’ climate research. There are a few surprises, sacred cows, we did not expect we would need to challenge, like the idea of “forcings”.

Government science is stuck in a rut, strangled – trying to capture the creative genius of discovery and force it through a bureaucratic formula, like it can work to a deadline or be judged by the number of papers, or pages, or citations, or by b-grade officials. Blogs are new, but this form of independent scientific research, done for the thrill of discovery, outside institutions and funded by philanthropists, is the way science was mainly done before WWII.

For the first time we are going to explain the architecture of the inner core of the climate models, the small model at the center that the big GCM’s are built around. It is mostly a physics model, and it’s mostly “basic” and mostly right. It’s the reason for the implacable confidence of the establishment in the climate debate. But there are a couple of big problems… [...]