Monday, September 28, 2015

Carbon-14: Removal from the Atmosphere

We are going to estimate the mass of carbon-14 in the Earth's atmosphere prior to our burning significant quantities of fossil fuels, and prior to our detonating atomic bombs. We will use the Earth's atmosphere at the end of the nineteenth century as an approximation to the atmosphere in its natural, equilibrium state, undisturbed by human activity.

The concentration of carbon dioxide in our equilibrium atmosphere is 300 ppmv (parts per million by volume, as estimated for the turn of the nineteenth century here). The total mass of the atmosphere is 5.3×1018 kg. (Atmospheric pressure is generated by the weight of the atmosphere per square meter, so divide sea-level atmospheric pressure by gravitational acceleration and multiply by the surface area of the Earth to obtain atmospheric mass.) In accordance with the gas law, the density of CO2 is 1.5 times higher than the density of air (the molar mass of CO2 is 44 g, and of air is 29 g). Thus 300 ppmv of CO2 in the atmosphere is the same as 450 ppm (parts per million by mass). The mass of CO2 in our equilibrium atmosphere is 2.4×1015 kg (450 ppm of 5.3×1018 kg). The molar mass of CO2 is 44 g, and that of carbon is 12 g, so the mass of carbon in the atmosphere is 6.5×1014 kg (2.4×1015 kg × 12 g ÷ 44 g). We will use petograms (Pg) to represent large masses, where 1 Pg = 1012 kg = 1015 g. Our equilibrium atmosphere contains 650 Pg of carbon.

The concentration of carbon-14 in our equilibrium atmosphere is 1.0 ppt (parts per trillion by mass). Almost all carbon in the atmosphere is contained in CO2, so the mass of carbon-14 in our equilibrium atmosphere is 650 kg (650 Pg of CO2 × 1ppt). As we already showed, the equilibrium reservoir of carbon-14 on Earth is 62 Mg (7.5 kg/yr production by cosmic rays ÷ 0.00012 kg/kg/yr decay rate = 62,500 kg = 62 Mg). Of this reservoir, only 1% is to be found in the atmosphere. From now on, when we refer to the Earth's carbon-14 reservoir we will be referring to the 62 Mg that is not in the atmosphere.

The 650 kg of carbon-14 in our equilibrium atmosphere decays at 0.078 kg/yr (650 kg × 0.00012 kg/kg/yr) and is added to by cosmic ray production of 7.5 kg/yr. In order for the carbon-14 content of the atmosphere to remain constant, carbon-14 must pass out of the atmosphere at 7.4 kg/yr. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that this 7.4 kg/yr does not pass into the carbon-14 reservoir. In that case, the 7.4 kg/yr goes somewhere else, and a new reservoir starts to build up, while the existing reservoir decays, which would mean that our carbon-14 reservoir would not be in equilibrium, which contradicts our observation that the reservoir had millions of years to reach equilibrium before the nineteenth century. Thus 7.4 kg/yr of carbon-14 must pass directly from the atmosphere into the reservoir. It could be that the reservoir contains many sub-divisions communicating with one another in complex ways, but this does not alter the fact that 7.4 kg of carbon-14 is passing out of the atmosphere and into the reservoir every year.

The figure below illustrates the origin and fate of Carbon-14 on Earth. We use M for mass, and m for mass flow. We use subscript A for atmosphere, R for reservoir, D for decay, T for transfer, and P for production. Superscript C14 means carbon-14.

Where is the Earth's carbon-14 reservoir? How does it acquire 7.4 kg of carbon-14 from the atmosphere every year?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Carbon-14: Origins and Reservoir

This is the first of a series of posts in which we use our knowledge of carbon-14 concentrations to arrive at firm conclusions about the way in which carbon dioxide (CO2) cycles between the atmosphere and the oceans. The implications of the atmosphere's carbon-14 concentration were studied thoroughly and objectively prior to 1960, in papers such as Arnold et al. But these authors did not have available to them the results of the nuclear bomb tests of the 1960s, so their conclusions could not be as firm as ours. The same implications have been studied more recently in work such as Mearns and Pettersson, but these authors did not attend to the rate of production of carbon-14 by cosmic rays, and so did not appreciate the necessary size of the global CO2 reservoir. Modern models of the CO2 cycle are presented in papers such as Archer et al., but these models are contradicted by carbon-14 observations, so it appears that they must be inaccurate.

Carbon-14 has been produced in our atmosphere by cosmic rays for billions of years. A cosmic ray is an energetic particle arriving from space. Most are protons. Some have energy 1×1020 eV. (The Large Hadronic Collider, for comparison, produces protons with energy 7×1013 eV.) Cosmic rays collide with atmospheric nuclei and produce showers of photons and particles. Among the particles produced are neutrons, and these neutrons can react with nitrogen-14 nuclei to produce carbon-14.

A nitrogen-14 nucleus has seven protons and seven neutrons. During its reaction with a neutron, it ejects a proton but retains the neutron. The result is a nucleus with six protons and eight neutrons, which is carbon-14. The carbon-14 nucleus is unstable. Eventually, one of its neutrons will emit an electron and turn into a proton. The nucleus is once again nitrogen-14. This decay happens at random, but the probability that any given carbon-14 nucleus will decay each year is 0.012%. If we have one kilogram of carbon-14, there will be only half a kilogram left after 5700 years.

The electrons emitted by carbon-14 decay have sufficient energy to penetrate 50 mm of air. With care, we can measure the concentration of carbon-14 in a sample of air, or in a sample of wood, cloth, or animal tissue, by counting the electrons it produces, and weighing its carbon content. We find that one in a trillion carbon atoms in the atmosphere is a carbon-14 atom. The rest is carbon-12, with one part in a thousand carbon-13.

Almost all the carbon-14 in our atmosphere ends up in CO2 molecules. One in every trillion atmospheric CO2 molecules contains carbon-14. The rate at which cosmic rays produce carbon-14 is of order two atoms per square centimeter of the Earth's surface per second (see Lingenfelter and Kovaltsov et al.). The rate varies as the Earth moves through the galaxy, and with cycles of solar activity, but to the best of our knowledge, the rate has been constant to within ±25% over the past ten million years.

Because we know carbon-14's rate of decay and its rate of production, which has been stable for at least a million years, we can calculate the equilibrium quantity of carbon-14 on our planet. Cosmic rays produce 2 atoms/cm2/s of carbon-14, so they produce 7.5 kg of carbon-14 every year. (Multiply 2 by the Earth's surface area in square centimeters, the number of seconds in a year, the atomic weight of carbon-14, and divide by Avagadro's number to get the number of grams produced per year.) In the past million years, cosmic rays produce 7.5 million kilograms of carbon-14. But each carbon-14 nucleus has a 0.012% chance of decaying each year, so only a small fraction of this 7.5 million kilograms still exists. Suppose 75,000 kg remained. In the coming year 9.0 kg would decay (0.012% of 75,000 kg) and only 7.5 kg would be created. The Earth's reservoir of carbon-14 would be decreasing at 1.5 kg/yr. Suppose only 50,000 kg remained. In the coming year, only 6.0 kg would decay (0.012% of 50,000 kg) and 7.5 kg would be created. The Earth's reservoir would be increasing at 1.5 kg/yr. The equilibrium size for Earth's carbon-14 reservoir is 62,000 kg (7.5 kg ÷ 0.012%). At this size, the rate at which carbon-14 in the reservoir decays is equal to the rate at which new carbon-14 is added to the reservoir by cosmic rays.

Historically, carbon-14 atoms have been produced exclusively by cosmic rays. But in the 1960s, nuclear bomb tests doubled the concentration of carbon-14 in the atmosphere. Since then, the concentration has relaxed to its historical value. For ethical and practical reasons, it is hard to perform experiments upon the Earth's atmosphere and climate. But the doubling of the carbon-14 concentration by bomb tests amounts to a gigantic experiment upon the atmosphere, and this experiment turns out to be profoundly revealing when it comes to estimating the effect of human CO2 emissions upon the climate.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Scientific Method and Anthropogenic Global Warming

Suppose we have ten sick people. Dr. Quack persuades them to take his Patent Medicine. Five of them die and five of them recover. Dr. Quack says, "My medicine saved five lives!" But Dr. Nay says, "Nonsense, your medicine killed five people." Both claims are 100% consistent with the facts, and yet they are contradictory. Consistency with the facts is a necessary quality for a scientific theory, but it is not sufficient. If we allow consistency with observation to be sufficient proof of a theory, we are practicing pseudoscience. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rejects both Dr. Quack and Dr. Nay's claims, saying the Patent Medicine has absolutely no effect upon the recovery of the patients until experiment has proved otherwise.

The FDA has adopted the null hypothesis. The null hypothesis is the foundation of scientific reasoning. We determine the null hypothesis with Occam's Razor, by which we cut off any unnecessary parts of our hypothesis until we arrive at the simplest possible explanation of our observations. And the simplest possible theory about the relationship between one thing and another is that there is no relationship at all. The only way to disprove the null hypothesis, according to scientific method, is with observations. Compelling arguments and sensible speculation are insufficient, nor is consensus among scientists, nor the authority of experts.

When it comes to the climate, our initial null hypothesis is that the climate does not vary at all from one year to the next, nor does its carbon dioxide concentration. We will have to disprove this with observations before we can begin to discuss how humans might cause climate change. So let us look at what observations are available to disprove this hypothesis. We observe valleys carved by glaciers in warm climates. We find fossils of tropical plants in cold places. We pull out ice cores and they suggest the Earth's temperature has varied dramatically in the past few hundred thousand years, along with its atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration (6-16°C and 200-300 ppm when measured with a 1000-year running average). These observations and many others disprove our null hypothesis. The climate does vary. It varies dramatically and naturally, whithout any human influence. This is our new null hypothesis. We call it the theory of natural variation.

We can use the infra-red absorption spectrum of carbon dioxide to argue that doubling the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will warm the planet (by roughly 1.5°C if we ignore clouds, and 0.9°C if we account for clouds, according to our own simulations). Before we can hope to show that human carbon dioxide is affecting the climate, however, we must show that human carbon dioxide emissions affect the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, and on this subject our theory of natural variation states that human emissions have no effect. So we must disprove the theory of natural variation. Natural emission and absorption of carbon dioxide were already in equilibrium before man started burning fossil fuels. Our annual emissions are only 4% of the natural emissions (8 Pg/yr from burning fossil fules compared to 200 Pg/yr of natural emission). In the simplest chemical equilibriums, absorption is proportional to concentration, so our 4% increase in emission will, to the first approximation, cause atmospheric CO2 to increase by 4%, or 10 ppm. Such an increase is so slight that it's not clear how we could distinguish it from the larger natural variations.

Even if we could prove that the recent increase from 330-400 ppm atmospheric carbon dioxide was due to our burning of fossil fuels, we would still have to prove that increasing carbon dioxide concentration causes the world to warm up. We may have a compelling reason to suspect that is has this effect, but we cannot abandon the theory of natural variation until it has been disproved, and we need observations that contradict the theory to disprove it. We cannot disprove the theory with compelling arguments alone. Even if we accept that increasing carbon dioxide traps heat somewhere in the atmosphere, this does not neccessarily mean that the climate will, as a whole, warm up. It may seem obvious that lighting a fire in my fireplace will warm my house, but the reality is that my children's bedrooms get cold when I light a fire. That's because the thermostat is near the fireplace, so when I light the fire the radiators turn off. The climate is a complex system. It could be that it contains similar surprises, where we observe the opposite effect to the one we expected. In fact, looking at the ice cores, it appears that atmospheric carbon dioxide increases occurr one thousand years after increases in temperature, which could mean that carbon dioxide somehow stops the world from getting any warmer at the end of an ice age, by a process that we don't understand.

So far as we can tell, scientific method, when applied to our observations of the Earth's climate, arrives at the assumption that the climate varies dramatically and naturally, and that human carbon dioxide emissions have no effect upon it. We look forward to seeing this assumption disproved by observations of nature, but so far we have been disappointed.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


The anthropogenic global warming (AGW) hypothesis presented by the majority of today's climatologists has two parts. First it claims that the world is getting exceptionally warm, and second it claims that human carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are the cause of this warming. Seven years ago, we began our personal investigation of this hypothesis, and we did so by considering whether or not the world was indeed getting exceptionally warm.

The first thing we did was estimate the uncertainty inherent in the measurements of global surface temperature. We concluded that natural variations in local climate introduce an error of roughly 0.14°C in the measurement of the change in temperature between any two points in time. The fact that the error is constant with the time over which we measure the change is a consequence of the particular characteristics of local climate fluctuations.

We downloaded the weather station data from NCDC and calculated the global surface anomaly using a method we called integrated derivatives, but which others have called first differences. The graph we obtained was almost identical to the one obtained by CRU using their complex reference grid method. It remains a mystery to us why institutions like CRU, NASA, and NCDC use such a complex method when a far simpler one will do. All graphs show roughly a 0.6°C rise in global surface temperature from 1950 to 2000. This rise is significant compared to our expected resolution of 0.14°C.

We made this plot superimposing the number of weather stations and the global surface anomaly versus time. The number of weather stations drops dramatically from 1960 and 1990. Only one in four remain active at the end of this thirty-year period. During the same period, the global surface anomaly shows a 0.6°C rise. By selecting subsets of the weather stations, we found that the apparent warming from 1950 to 1990 varied from 0.3°C to 1.0°C depending upon whether we used stations that disappeared in that period, persisted through that period, or existed shorter or longer intervals in the same century. Thus is seemed to us that some significant amount of work would have to be done to eliminate the change in the number of weather stations as a source of error in the data. But we saw no mention whatsoever of this source of error in published papers in which the global surface anomaly is presented, such as Jones et al..

We plotted a global map of the available weather stations, color-coded to show the date they first started reporting. The map shows that almost all stations in the tropics began operating after 1930, while most of those in the temperate regions were operating by 1880. This seems to us to be another source of systematic error in our measurement of the global surface anomaly.

Weather stations might also be affected by the appearance of buildings, tarmac, and road traffic. We found examples of weather stations in which such urban heating caused an apparent warming of several degrees centigrade over a few decades. It seemed to us that this effect would have to be examined in depth by any paper presenting a global surface trend. But papers such as Jones et al. do not address the urban heating issue directly. Instead, they claim that the effect is negligible and refer to other papers as proof. But when we looked up those other papers, we did not find any such proof.

In order to argue that modern temperatures were exceptionally warm, climatologists produced the hockey stick graph, in which a collection of potential long-term measurements of global surface temperature were combined together under the assumption that they could be trusted only to the extent that they showed a temperatures increase from 1950 to 2000. Indeed, if a measurement showed a temperature decline in that period, the hockey stick method would flip the trend over and add it to the combination so that it now contributed to a rise in the same period.

The hockey-stick graph shows no sign of the Medieval Warm Period, in which Greenland was inhabited by farmers, nor the Little Ice Age, when the Thames was known to freeze over, and nor should we expect it to. Given a random set of measurements, the hockey-stick combination method will almost always produce a graph that shows a sharp rise from 1950 to 2000 and a gentle descent during the thousand years before-hand. When applied to the existing measurements of temperature by tree rings, ice cores, and other such indirect methods, it is no surprise that the method produced that same shape.

We presented our doubts about the surface temperature measurements and the hockey stick graph to believers in the AGW hypothesis. We were received with disdain and given no satisfactory answers. Furthermore, the Climategate affair revealed several significant breaches of scientific method by the climate science community. For example, in this graph produced by climatologists for the World Health Organization, the authors removed the tree ring temperature data from 1960 onwards because it showed a decline in temperature, and substituted temperature station measurements in their place. They plotted the combination as a single line. When I asked a prominent climatologists what exactly had been done, he said, "The smooth was calculated using instrumental data past 1960." He declared that a better way to handle the divergence of the tree-ring data from the station measurements would be to cut short the graph of tree-ring data at 1960, so as to hide the decline in temperatures measured by the tree rings.

What we see here is the assumption by climatologists that the world has been warming up and that the global temperature measured by weather stations is correct. This assumption leads them to delete conflicting data on the grounds that it must be bad data. Thus it becomes impossible for them to discover that their assumption is incorrect. By this time, we were skeptical of the global surface anomaly we obtained from the station data. We were no longer certain that the data itself had not been modified by NCDC. We had little reason to trust any other measurement produced by climatologists, we were unimpressed with the hockey-stick method of combining measurements, and we were quite certain that recent temperatures were not exceptional for the past ten thousand years.

We turned our attention to the second part of the AGW hypothesis: the one that says doubling the atmosphere's CO2 concentration will increase the surface temperature by roughly 3°C. It took us a long time to come to a conclusion on this one. The climate models upon which such predictions are based are private property of various climatologists. In any event, we do not trust models produced by a community that is willing to delete data that conflict with its assumptions. If they are willing to delete data, we must assume that they are willing to adjust their models until the models give predictions consistent with their AGW hypothesis.

We began with some laboratory experiments on radiation. We stated the principle of the greenhouse effect. After a great deal of searching around, we eventually obtained the absorption spectrum of various layers of the Earth's atmosphere. This allowed us to confirm that, if the skies remained clear, a doubling of CO2 concentration would cause the world to warm up by about 1.5°C.

But of course the skies don't remain clear. The formation of clouds is a strong function of surface temperature. If the world warms up, there will be more clouds. They will reflect more of the Sun's light, while at the same time, slowing down the radiation of heat into space by the Earth. To determine how these two effects would interact, we built our own climate model, which we called Circulating Cells.

When it comes to determining the effect of increased cloud cover, the most critical parameter to decide upon is the reflection of sunlight by clouds per millimeter of water depth in the cloud. It seemed to us that there should be a large body of literature written recently upon this subject because it is so important to climate modeling. The best paper we found upon the subject was written in 1948, Reflection, Absorption, and Transmission of Insolation by Stratus Cloud. We found a couple of more recent papers about reflection, such as this one, but they do not attempt to provide an empirical formula for the reflection of clouds with increasing cloud depth. We concluded that climatologists are not examining this issue in detail.

In a long sequence of small steps, we built up our climate model until it implemented surface convection, surface heat capacity, evaporation, cloud formation, precipitation, and radiation by clouds. We tested every aspect of the simulation in detail, and based its operating parameters upon our own estimates and upon whatever measurements we could find in climate science journals. We did not choose our model parameters to suit any hypothesis of our own, nor could we have done, because we did not have a model capable of testing the AGW hypothesis until the final stage, and we did not change the parameters in that final stage.

The latest version of our climate model shows that cloud cover increases rapidly as the surface warms above the freezing point of water. The evaporation rate of water from the surface increases approximately as the square of the temperature above freezing, and the only way for water to return to the surface is to form a cloud first. If we ignore the increased reflection of sunlight due to increasing cloud cover, and consider only the slowing-down of radiation into space by the same increase in cloud cover, our model shows roughly 3°C of warming due to a doubling in CO2 concentration. But when we take account of the increased reflection of sunlight by the increasing cloud cover, the warming drops to 0.9°C.

It seems to us that the climate models used by climatologists ignore the reflection of sunlight due to clouds. They may allow for some fixed fraction of sunlight to be reflected by clouds, but they do not allow this fraction to increase with increasing surface temperature. Thus they conclude that the warming due to CO2 doubling will be 3°C. If they took account of the increased reflection, the effect would be far smaller and less dramatic: roughly 1°C.

Doubling the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere will indeed encourage the world to warm up, but not by enough that we should worry. Right now CO2 concentration has increased from roughly 300 ppm to 400 ppm in the past century. If it gets to 600 ppm then we can say that the rise in CO2 concentration will tend to warm the Earth by 1°C. But we are unlikely to be able to check our calculations, because the natural variation in the Earth's climate is itself of order ±1°C from one century to the next.

And so we find ourselves at the end of our journey. Modern warming is not exceptional, and doubling the CO2 concentration will cause the world to warm up by roughly 1°C, not 3°C. The only part of the AGW theory we have not investigated is its assertion that human CO2 emissions are responsible for the increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration over the past century.

My thanks to those of you who took part in the effort, both by private e-mails and in the comments. I would not have continued the effort without your participation. I hope it is clear that my use of "we" instead of "I" is in recognition of the fact that this has been a group effort. I will continue to answer comments on this site, and I will consider any suggestions of further work. To the first approximation, however: we're done.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Anthropogenic Global Warming

The Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) hypothesis states that doubling the CO2 concentration of the Earth's atmosphere will raise the average surface temperature of the Earth by a minimum of 1.5°C, and more likely 3°C.

In our investigation of the absorption and emission of long-wave radiation by the Earth's atmosphere, we calculated that a sudden doubling of CO2 concentration would decrease the power the Earth radiates into space by 6.6 W/m2. We then estimated how much the Earth and its atmosphere would have to warm up in order to restore the heat radiated into space to its original value. We assumed there would be no significant change in cloud cover as a result of the warming, and we applied Stefan's Law to calculate how the heat radiated by the Earth and its atmosphere would increase. We found that the required increase in surface temperature would be around 1.6°C. If there were no change in cloud cover, then the heat arriving from the Sun would remain the same, and we could expect the Earth to warm up by 1.6°C so as to once again arrive at thermal equilibrium.

The AGW hypothesis states that in the event of the Earth warming, changes in cloud cover will be such as to amplify the warming we calculate using Stefan's Law. Here is an extract from today's entry on Global Warming at Wikipedia.

The main positive feedback in the climate system is the water vapor feedback. The main negative feedback is radiative cooling through the Stefan–Boltzmann law, which increases as the fourth power of temperature.

As the Earth warms up, water evaporates more quickly from the oceans. Almost all water that evaporates must turn into clouds before it returns to Earth. Water condensing directly onto grass in the morning is an exception to this rule, but the vast majority of water vapor will return only as rain or snow, and so must first take the form of a cloud.

Clouds absorb long-wave radiation emitted by the Earth's surface, so the Earth cannot radiate its heat directly into space. Instead, the clouds radiate into space and warm the Earth with back radiation. Thus increasing cloud cover means less heat radiated into space for the same surface temperature. This is the positive feedback referred to by the AGW hypothesis. The AGW climate models predict that this positive feedback will amplify the minimum 1.5°C warming caused by CO2 to roughly 3°C. Some say 2°C and other say 4°C, but all agree that the actual warming will be greater than 1.5°C.

We see this positive feedback in our Circulating Cells simulation, version CC11, which simulates the formation of clouds as well as their absorption and emission of long-wave radiation. The graph below shows a close-up of the behavior of the simulation in the neighborhood of its equilibrium point for 350 W/m2 solar power.

The blue line shows how the power that penetrates to the surface of our simulated planet varies with increasing surface temperature. The orange line shows how the total power escaping from our simulated planet increases with surface temperature. These two lines cross at a, where temperature is 288 K and total escaping power is 290 W/m2. Our simulated atmosphere absorbs 50% of long-wave radiation, which is an adequate approximation of our atmosphere with its current concentration of CO2 (roughly 330 ppm).

The green line is the same as the orange line, but displaced down by 6.6 W/m2, which is the amount by which we calculated the total power escaping from the Earth will decrease if we double CO2 concentration (to roughly 660 ppm). Thus the green line tells us the total escaping power at the same temperature if we were to double the CO2 concentration. Point b on the green line is 288 K, and the total escaping power is 283.4 W/m2.

The purple line shows how the total escaping power will increase from b if we assume the cloud cover is constant and use only Stefan's Law to determine the heat radiated into space by the surface and atmosphere. The red line shows the solar power penetrating to the surface if we assume the cloud cover is constant. With constant cloud cover, the penetrating solar power does not change.

The purple and red lines meet at c, which is 289.6 K, or 1.6°C above the previous equilibrium point. Thus our simulation shows us that the warming due to CO2 doubling, if we ignore changes in cloud cover, will be 1.6°C, which is consistent with our previous calculation.

The green line, however, is the simulation's calculation of the total escaping power for increasing surface temperature. We see that the heat radiated into space does not increase as quickly as Stefan's Law would lead us to expect. And the reason for that is precisely the reason quoted by the AGW hypothesis: increasing cloud cover is slowing down the radiation of heat into space. The green line and the red line intersect at d, which is 290.7 K, or 2.7°C above our original equilibrium temperature. This is the new equilibrium temperature of the planet surface if we double CO2 concentration and we assume that there will be no change in the solar power penetrating to the surface while the cloud cover increases.

But the solar power penetrating to the surface must decrease as cloud cover increases. Clouds reflect sunlight. Thick clouds reflect 90% of solar power back into space. Even thin, high clouds reflect 10%. Increasing cloud cover will decrease the solar power penetrating to the surface. That is why our blue line slopes downwards. This is negative feedback, which acts against the positive feedback described by the AGW theory. The blue line shows how the solar power penetrating to the surface decreases as our cloud cover increases.

The blue line and the green line intersect at e, which is the equilibrium point we arrive at after doubling the CO2 concentration and considering both the positive feedback of back-radiation and the negative feedback of solar reflection. The temperature at e is 288.9 K, which is 0.9°C above our original equilibrium temperature.

Thus our simulation shows how the negative feedback generated by clouds dominates their positive feedback, and suggests that the actual warming of the Earth's surface due to a doubling of CO2 will be closer to 0.9°C than the 3°C predicted by the AGW hypothesis.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Equilibrium Point

Heat arrives at the Earth in the from of sunlight. The clouds reflect some of it. Almost all the rest arrives at the Earth's surface. Of the sunlight that reaches the surface, some is reflected back into space, especially by snow, but most is absorbed. To the first approximation, therefore, sunlight affects the climate only by it warming the surface, not by warming the atmosphere directly.

In our Circulating Cells simulation, version CC11, solar power is either reflected by clouds or absorbed by the surface. The only way for heat to enter the atmosphere is by contact with the surface, so it is the temperature of the surface that drives the the circulation of gases and the creation of clouds, snow, and rain. When we observe, for example, that 80% of solar power is penetrating to the surface when the surface gas temperature is 290 K, we can assume that the 80% of solar power will penetrate to the surface whenever the surface gas temperature is 290 K.

Our program of solar increase provides us with observations of cloud depth and penetrating power for a range of solar powers, and therefore for a range of surface temperatures. The following graph shows how the fraction of solar power penetrating to the surface varies with surface temperature.

In our simulation we calculate the penetrating power for each surface block using the depth of the clouds in the column of cells above the surface block. We cannot, however, use the average cloud depth to obtain a measurement of average penetration fraction. When we do so, our measurement is always too low, because there are gaps in the cloud cover, and these gaps allow more light to pass through than if the clouds were distributed uniformly.

In the following graph, we have taken our measurements of penetration fraction and used them to calculate the power that would penetrate to the surface for two values of solar power: 350 W/m2 and 400 W/m2. Along with these penetrating powers, we also plot the total escaping power.

At thermal equilibrium, the total escaping power must be equal to the penetrating power. Thus the intersection of the penetrating power and escaping power graphs occurs at the equilibrium temperature. For solar power 350 W/m2, the intersection occurs at 288 K. For 400 W/m2, the intersection occurs at 292 K. These are, of course, the same equilibrium temperatures we obtain from our existing graph of surface temperature versus solar power.

In our next post, we will use the above graph and the calculations we presented in With 660 PPM CO2 to estimate how much the Earth would warm up if we doubled the CO2 concentration of its atmosphere.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Conservation of Heat

In Solar Increase we were concerned that our program of increasing solar power did not allow adequate time at each value of solar power for the simulation to arrive at thermal equilibrium. As we described in our previous post, we now have measurements of the state of the simulation at each value of solar power. The following graph plots penetrating power, total escaping power, and downwelling power versus solar power. The penetrating power is the power per square meter that gets to the surface through the clouds. The total escaping power is the power per square meter that the surface and atmosphere together radiate into space. The downwelling power is the power arriving back at the surface from the radiating clouds.

The downwelling power is increasing because the cloud layer is getting thicker. The clouds radiating heat towards the surface are lower down and therefore warmer. But it is the equality of the penetrating and escaping power that interests us the most today. At thermal equilibrium, the total escaping power should be equal to the penetrating power. And indeed we see that this appears to be the case for all values of solar power.