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The Earth’s Thermostat

I wrote a longish reply to someone on an obscure forum about global warming and thought as long as I put the work into it I should reproduce it to a wider audience so here it is:

You didn’t figure out the shoe size/salary correlation. It’s a classic example in why correlation doesn’t equal causation.

On the face of it’s a strong correlation. The reason it’s strong is so many people with small shoes are children who don’t earn any salary at all.

Correlations are all well and good as indicators that there may be a connection but, listen up because this how experimental science is conducted, variables under investigation must be isolated. Just because there’s a rough correlation between CO2 and temperature increase (which by the way has ZERO correlation in the past 10 years) doesn’t mean that’s the cause of temperature increase. There are far more variables involved than just CO2. Blithely parroting the Mauna Loa CO2 record does not indict it as the cause for temperature increase. In fact the findings from the Vostok Ice cores unambiguously show that over the past million years temperature rise preceded CO2 rise by about 400 years. Yet no runaway greenhouse occured and the earth has been a LOT warmer than present in the past with a LOT higher concentration of CO2 in the air. To any reasonable person this is rather strong evidence that there’s a negative feedback which caps temperature rise regardless of atmospheric CO2 concentration.

One of the most famous living climatologists alive today, often called “the father of climatology”, believes that rising temperature causes the water cycle to speed up and that falling rain acts like a swamp cooler to bring the air temperature down. That’s sound science as any dummy should know that water absorbs a lot of heat in changing phase from liquid to vapor. Pull out that crufty old chemistry book you must have there an look up how many kilocalories that would be per gram of water. I know you must have it as you love to bandy about the kilocalories involved in the phase change from ice to water.

Moreover cloud cover has a much higher albedo than ground or water. Clouds in the sky reflect a very large amount of sunlight directly back into space.

The climate models employed by the IPCC hysterics don’t know how to treat clouds and rain. That’s a variable they don’t know how to isolate. So they ignore it.

Now follow along because this is almost certainly how the earth’s thermostat works to limit rising temperatures:

As temperature rises, ice melts and cools the oceans (phase transition from solid to liquid). This increases the surface area of the oceans so that the sun beating down on a greater surface area increases the total amount of evaporation. This causes more clouds to form which reflect more sunlight back into space. More clouds produce more rain and the evaporating raindrops cool the air through another phase transition from liquid to gas.

That’s three distinct negative feedback mechanisms in atmospheric temperature rise. None of these are accounted for in climate models because no one understands what weighting factor to give them. So they don’t weight them at all and without those negative feedbacks you get runaway greenhouse. And a runaway greenhouse is simply something that has never before happened in the earth’s entire history even when global average temperature was far higher, all glaciers gone and sea level hundreds of feet higher, and CO2 an order of magnitude higher than mankind could get it even if every last gram of fossil fuels were burned today.

Unfortunately the converse is not true. There is much evidence that the earth has become a giant snowball in the past (in fact it’s called “snowball earth”) and no one has figured out what reverses runaway cooling. With the earth covered in snow an awful lot of sunlight is reflected back into space which is a positive feedback. Possibly only something like an asteroid strike of biblical proportion can bring the earth back from a snowball state.

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5 Responses to The Earth’s Thermostat

  1. That’s sound science as any dummy should know that water absorbs a lot of heat in changing phase from liquid to vapor…

    …but then releases all that heat again when it changes back from vapor to liquid.

  2. Reg

    The key is where the heat is being absorbed and where it is being released.

    Evaporation occurs near the surface where it has a cooling effect. Condensation occurs high in the atmosphere where it has a warming effect.

    Precipation systems thus work as a heat pump taking up heat near the surface and releasing it into the middle and upper troposphere.

    This heat pump effect is very important. The nearer the surface the denser the greenhouse blanket above it. Heat is trapped by this blanket near the surface. High in the troposphere the greenhouse blanket is far thinner and can’t trap the heat like it does at the surface.

    Precipitation systems thus function to transport the heat from below the greenhouse blanket where it would otherwise be trapped to above the greenhouse blanket where it can radiate out into space.

  3. Reg

    Any more problems with the physics involved in how the water cycle transports heat from the surface to an altitude above much of the greenhouse blanket?

  4. DaveScott

    That negative feedback vs positive feedback is the critical issue in climate control. Spencer discovered a key water feedback previously assumed to be positive was actually negative.

    Please explain further how the following is a negative feedback: “This increases the surface area of the oceans so that the sun beating down on a greater surface area increases the total amount of evaporation.”
    (I have usually seen higher evaporation described as a positive amplifying feedback.)

    Spencer observes:

    Fortunately, we now have new satellite evidence which sheds light on this question. Our recently published, peer-reviewed research shows that when the middle and upper tropical troposphere temporarily warms from enhanced rainfall activity, the precipitation systems there produce less high-altitude cirroform (ice) clouds. This, in turn, reduces the natural greenhouse effect of the atmosphere, allowing enhanced infrared cooling to outer space, which in turn causes falling temperatures. (Our news release describing the study is here.)

  5. DLH

    High altitude clouds have a net heat trapping effect (more greenhouse trapping than sunlight reflection). Not so for low level clouds. There the reflection of sunlight exceeds the greenhouse effect. IPCC expected increased warming to result in increased cirrus (high level) but Spencer found it decreases cirrus and increases cumulus.

    More surface area for the ocean increases the amount of water evaporation at the surface interface. It eventually condenses into cloud and rain at higher altitudes where the energy released by condensation can radiate into space instead being trapped below the majority of the greenhouse blanket.

    Another negative feedback is that the albedo of ocean water is higher than that of land although that may be negated by decreased snowcover.

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