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Trenberth on Tracking Earth’s energy: A key to climate variability and change

Posted on 12 July 2011 by Kevin Trenberth

Energy and Climate

Climate change is very much involved with energy, most commonly in the form of heat but other forms of energy are also important. Radiation comes in from the sun (solar radiation at short wavelengths), and every body radiates according to its temperature (proportional to the fourth power of absolute temperature), so that on Earth we, and the surface and atmosphere radiate at infrared wavelengths. 

Weather and climate on Earth are determined by the amount and distribution of incoming radiation from the sun.  For an equilibrium climate, global mean outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) necessarily balances the incoming absorbed solar radiation (ASR), but with redistributions of energy within the climate system to enable this to happen on a global basis.  Incoming radiant energy may be scattered and reflected by clouds and aerosols (dust and pollution) or absorbed in the atmosphere.  The transmitted radiation is then either absorbed or reflected at the Earth’s surface. Radiant solar (shortwave) energy is transformed into sensible heat (related to temperature), latent energy (involving different water states), potential energy (involving gravity and altitude) and kinetic energy (involving motion) before being emitted as longwave infrared radiant energy.  Energy may be stored, transported in various forms, and converted among the different types, giving rise to a rich variety of weather or turbulent phenomena in the atmosphere and ocean.  Moreover the energy balance can be upset in various ways, changing the climate and associated weather.

Hence the incoming radiation may warm up the ground or any object it hits, or it may just go into drying up surface water. After it rains and the sun comes out, the puddles largely dry up before the temperature goes up.   If energy is absorbed it raises the temperature.  The surface of the body then radiates but also loses heat by transfer through cooler winds or by evaporative cooling.  Some energy gets converted into motion as warm air rises and cold air sinks, and this creates winds and thus kinetic energy, which gets dissipated by friction.  Over oceans the winds drive ocean currents. 

The differential between incoming and outgoing radiation: the net radiation is generally balanced by moving air of different temperature and moisture content around.  Air temperature affects density as warmer air expands and thus it takes up more room, displacing cooler air, thereby changing the air in a column whose weight determines the surface pressure.  Consequently, this sets up pressure differences that in turn cause winds, which tend to blow in such a way as to try to offset the temperature differences. The Earth’s rotation modifies this simple picture. A result is that southerlies are warm in the northern hemisphere and northerlies are cold.  And so we get weather with clouds and rain in all of its wondrous complexity.

The changing seasons illustrate what happens as the sun apparently moves across the equator into the other hemisphere.  In summer some excess heat goes into the ocean, which warms up reaching peak values about the equinox, and in winter the land cools off but heat comes out of the oceans and this is carried onto land, and so oceans moderate the seasonal climate variations.  Much of the exchange involves water evaporating and precipitating out, and thus the hydrological cycle.

The same can happen from year to year: heat can accumulate in the ocean and then later be released, leading to warmer spells and cooler spells.  This commonly happens in the tropical Pacific and gives rise to the El Niño phenomenon.  El Niño is the warm phase in the tropical Pacific while La Niña is the cool phase.  During and following an El Niño there is a mini global warming as heat comes out of the ocean, while during La Niña, heat tends to get stored in the ocean.  The El Niño cycle is irregular but has a preferred time scale of 3 to 7 years.

Ocean heat storage can last longer: for decades or centuries and inevitably involves ocean currents and the much deeper ocean.  In the North Atlantic, cold waters sink and move equatorward at depth while the Gulf Stream at the surface takes warmer waters polewards, creating an overturning circulation that can also involve density changes in the ocean associated with both temperature and salt (the thermohaline circulation). Salty water is denser. Nonetheless, much of the ocean overturning circulation is wind driven. The overturning may involve the ocean down to several kilometers and can take many centuries to complete a cycle.

As well as the ocean taking up heat, heat can be lost by forming ice, as glaciers, ice caps, or major ice sheets (Greenland and Antarctica) on land, or as sea ice. Extra heat can melt this ice and may contribute to sea level rise if land ice melts.  Surface land can also absorb a small amount of heat but not much and not to great depths as it relies on conduction to move heat through the land unless water is flowing. Land energy variations occur mostly in the form of water or its absence, as heat goes to evaporate surface water.  Highest temperatures and heat waves typically occur in droughts or deserts.

The atmosphere can not hold much heat and is dependent for its temperature on links to the underlying surface through conduction and thermals, convection, and radiation, as well as the wind in moving it around.

The global energy budget

In the past, we (Kiehl and Trenberth 1997) provided estimates of the global mean flow of energy through the climate system and presented a best-estimate of the energy budget based on various measurements and models, by taking advantage of the fact that energy is conserved.  We also performed a number of radiative computations to examine the spectral features of the incoming and outgoing radiation and determined the role of clouds and various greenhouse gases in the overall radiative energy flows. At the top-of-atmosphere (TOA) values relied heavily on observations from the Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE) from 1985 to 1989, when the TOA values were approximately in balance. 

Values are given in terms of Watts per square meter. The incoming radiation is about 342 W m-2.  But there are about 5.1x1014 square meters for the surface area and so the total incoming energy is about 174 PetaWatts (=1015 watts, and so 174 with 15 zeros after it or 174 million billion).  About 30% is reflected back to space and so about 122 PW flows through the climate system.  For comparison, the biggest electric power plants are of order 1000 MegaWatts, and so the natural flow of energy is 122 million of these power plants.  If we add up all of the electric energy generated and add in the other energy used by humans through burning etc, it comes to about 1/9000th of the natural energy flow.  Hence the direct effects of human space heating and energy use are small compared with the sun, although they can become important very locally in cities where they contribute to the urban heat island effect.

New observations from space have enabled improved analyses of the energy flows. Trenberth et al. (2009) have updated the earlier global energy flow diagram (Fig. 1) based on measurements from March 2000 to November 2005, which include a number of improvements. We deduced the TOA energy imbalance to be 0.9 W m-2, where the error bars are ±0.5 W m-2 based on a number of estimates from both observations and models.


Figure 1. The global annual mean Earth’s energy budget for 2000 to 2005 (W m–2). The broad arrows indicate the schematic flow of energy in proportion to their importance.  From Trenberth et al (2009).

The net energy incoming at the surface is 161 W m-2, and this is offset by radiation (63), evaporative cooling (80), and direct heating of the atmosphere through thermals (17).  Consequently, evaporative cooling and the resulting water cycle play a major role in the energy balance at the surface, and for this reason, storms are directly affected by climate change. The biggest loss at the surface is from long-wave radiation but this is offset by an almost as big downward radiation from greenhouse gases and clouds in the atmosphere to give the net of 63 units. 

Updates included in this figure are revised absorption in the atmosphere by water vapor and aerosols. The direct transfer of heat has values of 17, 27 and 12 W m-2 for the globe, land and ocean, and even with uncertainties of 10%, the errors are only order 2 W m-2. There is widespread agreement that the global mean surface upward longwave (LW) radiation is about 396 W m-2, which is dependent on the skin temperature and surface emissivity.

Global precipitation should equal global evaporation for a long-term average, and estimates are likely more reliable of the former. However, there is considerable uncertainty in precipitation over both the oceans and land.  The latter is mainly due to wind effects, undercatch and spatial coverage, while the former is due to shortcomings in remote sensing.  The downward and net LW radiation were computed as a residual and compared to various estimates which tend to be higher but all involve assumptions and models. The correct depiction of low clouds is a continuing challenge for models and is likely to be a source of model bias in downward LW flux. For example, there are sources of error in how clouds overlap in the vertical and there is no unique way to treat the effects of overlap on the downward flux.

The new observations from space have enabled improved analyses of the energy flows, their variations throughout the annual cycle, for land versus ocean, as a function of location, and also over a number of years. There is an annual mean transport of energy by the atmosphere from ocean to land regions of 2.2±0.1 PW primarily in the northern winter when the transport exceeds 5 PW.  It is now possible to provide an observationally based estimate of the mean and annual cycle of ocean energy, mainly in the form of ocean heat content. 

Note that the sum of all the values at the TOA and at the surface in the figure leaves an imbalance of 0.9 W m-2, which is causing global warming.  As carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases increase in the atmosphere, there is initially no change in the incoming radiation, but more energy is trapped and some is radiated back down to the surface. This decreases OLR and leads to warming.  At the surface the warming raises temperatures and thus increases the surface radiation, but there is still a net amount of energy that partly goes into heating the ocean and melting ice, and some of it goes into increasing evaporation and thus rainfall.  To achieve an energy balance, the vertical structure of the atmosphere changes, and the radiation to space ultimately comes from higher regions that were originally colder.  In that sense, the figure is misleading because it does not show the vertical structure of the atmosphere or how it is changing.

There is often confusion about how the greenhouse effect works. Greenhouse gases are those with more than two atoms, and water vapor is most important (H2O).  But water has a short lifetime in the atmosphere of 9 days on average before it is rained out. Carbon dioxide (CO2), on the other hand, has a long lifetime, over a century, and therefore plays the most important role in climate change while water vapor provides a positive feedback or amplifying effect: the warmer it gets, the more water vapor the atmosphere can hold by about 4% per degree Fahrenheit.  Most of the atmosphere is nitrogen (N2) and oxygen (O2) and does not play a role in the greenhouse effect.  Oxygen does play an important role through ozone (O3) though, especially in the stratosphere where an ozone layer forms from effects of ultraviolet light. Ozone is not well mixed throughout the atmosphere as it has a short lifetime in parts of the stratosphere, and in the lower atmosphere its life is measured in months as it plays a role in oxidation.

The air is otherwise well mixed up to about 80 km altitude and heavier gases like carbon dioxide do not settle out owing to all the turbulent motions, convection, and so on. Also the other long lived greenhouse gases are well mixed and connect to the non-greenhouse gases with regard to temperature.  Air near the surface has a temperature not much less than the surface on average, and therefore it radiates back down with almost as much energy as came up from below.  But because the air gets thinner with height, its temperature falls off, and air is a lot colder at 10 km altitude where ‘planes typically fly. This air therefore radiates less both up and down, and the net loss to space is determined by the vertical temperature structure of the atmosphere and the distribution of greenhouse gases.

Changes in energy balance over the past decade

With the new measurements from space, variability in the net radiative incoming energy at the top-of-atmosphere (TOA) can now be measured very accurately. Thus a key objective is to track the flow of anomalies in energy input or output through the climate system over time in order to address the question as to how variability in energy fluxes is linked to climate variability.  The main energy reservoir is the ocean (Fig. 2 below), and the exchange of energy between the atmosphere and ocean is ubiquitous, so that heat once sequestered can resurface at a later time to affect weather and climate on a global scale.  Thus a change in the energy balance has consequences, sooner or later, for the climate.  Moreover, we have observing systems in place that nominally can measure the major storage and flux terms, but due to errors and uncertainty, it remains a challenge to track anomalies with confidence.


Figure 2. Energy content changes in different components of the Earth system for two periods (1961–2003 and 1993–2003). Blue bars are for 1961 to 2003; burgundy bars are for 1993 to 2003. Positive energy content change means an increase in stored energy (i.e., heat content in oceans, latent heat from reduced ice or sea ice volumes, heat content in the continents excluding latent heat from permafrost changes, and latent and sensible heat and potential and kinetic energy in the atmosphere). All error estimates are 90% confidence intervals. No estimate of confidence is available for the continental heat gain. Some of the results have been scaled from published results for the two respective periods.  From (IPCC 2007, Fig. TS.15 and Fig. 5.4).

A climate event, such as the drop in surface temperatures over North America in 2008, is often stated to be due to natural variability, as if this fully accounts for what has happened.  Aside from weather events that primarily arise from instabilities in the atmosphere, natural climate variability has a cause.  Its origins may be external to the climate system: a change in the sun, a volcanic eruption, or Earth’s orbital changes that ring in the major glacial to interglacial swings.  Or its origins may be internal to the climate system and arise from interactions among the atmosphere, oceans, cryosphere and land surface, which depend on the very different thermal inertia of these components. 

El Niño

As an example of natural variability, the biggest El Niño in the modern record by many measures occurred in 1997-98. Successful warnings were issued a few months in advance regarding the unusual and disruptive weather across North America and around the world, and were possible in part because the energy that sustains El Niño was tracked in the ocean by a new moored buoy observing system in the Tropical Pacific.  Typically prior to an El Niño, in La Niña conditions, the cold sea waters in the central and eastern tropical Pacific create high atmospheric pressure and clear skies, with plentiful sunshine heating the ocean waters.  The ocean currents redistribute the ocean heat which builds up in the tropical western Pacific Warm Pool until an El Niño provides relief.  The spread of warm waters across the Pacific in collaboration with changing winds in turn promotes evaporative cooling of the ocean, moistening the atmosphere and fueling tropical storms and convection over and around the anomalously warm waters. The changed atmospheric heating alters the jet streams and storm tracks, and influences weather patterns for the duration of the event.

The central tropical Pacific SSTs are used to indicate the state of El Niño, as in Fig. 3 presented below.  In 2007-08 a strong La Niña event, that spilled over to the 2008-09 northern winter, had direct repercussions for cooler weather across North America and elsewhere.  But by June 2009, the situation had reversed as the next El Niño emerged and grew to be a moderate event, with temperatures in the top 150 m of the ocean above normal by as much as 5°C across the equatorial Pacific in December 2009.  Multiple storms barreled into Southern California in January 2010, consistent with expectations from the El Niño. The El Niño continued until May 2010, but abruptly reversed to become a strong La Niña by July 2010.


Figure 3.  Recently updated net radiation (RT=ASR-OLR) from the TOA  Also shown is the Niño 3.4 SST index (green) (left axis); values substantially above the zero line indicate El Niño conditions while La Niña conditions correspond to the low values. The decadal low pass filter is a 13 term filter making it similar to a 12-month running mean.  Units are Wm-2 for energy and deg C for SST.

We can often recognize these changes once they have occurred and they permit some level of climate forecast skill. But a major challenge is to be able to track the energy associated with such variations more thoroughly: where did the heat for the 2009-10 El Niño actually come from?  Where did the heat suddenly disappear to during the La Niña?  Past experience suggests that global surface temperature rises at the end of and lagging El Niño, as heat comes out of the Pacific Ocean mainly in the form of moisture that is evaporated and which subsequently rains out, releasing the latent energy. 

The values and patterns of SSTs in the northern summer of 2010 undoubtedly influenced the extremes of weather, from excessive rains and flooding in China, India and Pakistan, the active hurricane season in the Atlantic, and record breaking rains in Colombia. Later the high SSTs north of Australia contributed to the Queensland flooding.  The La Niña signature has also been present across the United States in the spring of 2011 with the pattern of drought in Texas and record high rains further to the north, with flooding along the Mississippi and deadly tornado outbreaks.

Anthropogenic climate change

The human influence on climate, arising mostly from the changing composition of the atmosphere, also affects energy flows. Increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have led to a post-2000 imbalance at the TOA of 0.9±0.5 W m-2 (Trenberth et al. 2009) (Fig. 1), that produces “global warming”, or more correctly, an energy imbalance.  Tracking how much extra energy has gone back to space and where this energy has accumulated is possible, with reasonable closure for 1993 to 2003; see Fig. 2. Over the past 50 years, the oceans have absorbed about 90% of the total heat added to the climate system while the rest goes to melting sea and land ice, and warming the land surface and atmosphere. Because carbon dioxide concentrations have further increased since 2003 the amount of heat subsequently being accumulated should be even greater. 

While the planetary imbalance at TOA is too small to measure directly from satellite, instruments are far more stable than they are absolutely accurate.  Tracking relative changes in Earth’s energy by measuring  solar radiation in and infrared radiation out to space, and thus changes in the net radiation, seems to be at hand.  This includes tracking the slight decrease in solar insolation from 2000 until 2009 with the ebbing 11-year sunspot cycle; enough to offset 10 to 15% of the estimated net human induced warming.

In 2008 for the tropical Pacific during La Niña conditions, extra TOA energy absorption was observed as expected; see Fig. 3. The Niño 3.4 SST index is also plotted on this figure and the slightly delayed response of the OLR to cooler conditions in the record and especially in 2008 is clear. However, the decrease in OLR with cooler conditions is accompanied by an increase in ASR as clouds decrease in amount, leaving a pronounced net heating (>1.5 W m-2) of the planet in the cooler conditions.  And so this raises the question as to whether a coherent perspective that accounts for both TOA and ocean variability can be constructed from the available observations.  But ocean temperature measurements from 2004 to 2008 suggested a substantial slowing of the increase in global ocean heat content, precisely during the time when satellite estimates depict an increase in the planetary imbalance.

Since 1992, sea level observations from satellite altimeters at millimeter accuracy reveal a global increase of ~3.2 mm yr-1 as a fairly linear trend, although with two main blips corresponding to an enhanced rate of rise during the 1997-98 El Niño and a brief slowdown in the 2007-08 La Niña.  Since 2003, the detailed gravity measurements from Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) of the change in glacial land ice and water show an increase in mass of the ocean. This so-called eustatic component of sea level rise may have compensated for the decrease in the thermosteric (heat related expansion) component.  However, for a given amount of heat, 1 mm of sea level rise can be achieved much more efficiently – by a factor of 40 to 70 typically – by melting land ice rather than expanding the ocean.  So although some heat has gone into the record breaking loss of Arctic sea ice, and some has undoubtedly contributed to unprecedented melting of Greenland and Antarctica, these anomalies are unable to account for much of the measured TOA energy (Fig. 4).   This gives rise to the concept of “missing energy” (Trenberth and Fasullo 2010). 


Figure 4.  The disposition of energy entering the climate system is estimated.  The observed changes (lower panel; Trenberth and Fasullo 2010) show the 12-month running means of global mean surface temperature anomalies relative to 1901-2000 from NOAA (red (thin) and decadal (thick)) in °C (scale lower left), carbon dioxide concentrations (green) in ppmv from NOAA (scale right), and global sea level adjusted for isostatic rebound from AVISO (blue, along with linear trend of 3.2 mm/yr) relative to 1993, scale at left in millimeters).  From 1992 to 2003 the decadal ocean heat content changes (blue) along with the contributions from melting glaciers, ice caps, Greenland, Antarctica and Arctic sea ice plus small contributions from land and atmosphere warming (red) suggest a total warming for the planet of 0.6±0.2 W m-2 (95% error bars).  After 2000, preliminary observations from TOA (black) referenced to the 2000 values, as used in Trenberth and Fasullo (2010), show an increasing discrepancy (gold) relative to the total warming observed (red).  The quiet sun changes in total solar irradiance reduce the net heating slightly but a large energy component is missing (gold). Adapted from Trenberth and Fasullo (2010). The monthly global surface temperature data are from NCDC, NOAA: ; the global mean sea level data are from AVISO satellite altimetry data: ; and the Carbon dioxide at Mauna Loa data are from NOAA

To emphasize the discrepancy, Fig. 5 presents an alternative version of Fig. 2 for 1992 to 2003, as a contrast to 2004 to 2008.  The accounting for all terms and the net imbalance is compatible with physical expectations and climate model results, with the net imbalance about 0.7 W m-2 at TOA for 1992 to 2003.  However, for the 2004 to 2008 period, the decrease in solar radiation associated with the sunspot cycle and the quiet sun in 2008 contributed somewhat, but the Ocean Heat Content (OHC) change is a lot less than in the previous period and a residual imbalance term: the missing energy, is required.


Figure 5.  The energy entering the climate system is estimated for the various components: warming of the atmosphere and land, ocean heat content increase, melting of glaciers and ice caps (land ice), melting of the major ice sheets (Greenland and Antarctica), and changes in the sun. For 1993 to 2003 these are summed to give the total which is equivalent to about 0.7 W m-2.  For 2004-2008, TOA measurements are used to provide an increment to the total based on comparisons with 2000-2003, and the quiet sun has contributed, but the sum is achieved only if a spurious residual is included. Units are 1020 Joules/year.

Further inroads into this problem will no doubt become possible as datasets are brought up to date and refined.  In the meantime, we have explored the extent to which this kind of behavior occurs in the latest version of the NCAR climate model.  In work yet to be published (it is submitted), we have found that energy can easily be “buried” in the deep ocean for over a decade.  Further preliminary exploration of where the heat is going suggests that it is associated with the negative phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and/or La Niña events. 

Clearly, tracking energy and how and where it is stored, and then manifested as high SSTs which in turn affect subsequent climate is an important thing to do.

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Comments 51 to 100 out of 213:

  1. David Lewis @ 49 - I like to think of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current as the 'lungs of the deep ocean' in the way it transports oxygen, CO2, salinity and heat into the deep ocean. There's little doubt the deep ocean has warmed over the last two decades, as seen in Purkey & Johnson (2010) & Kouketsu (2011) - but the measurements are sparse and the uncertainties large.
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  2. In my first post i tried to bring attention to the "Pedosphere", maybe a more explicit point into geomorphological implications helps to understand the connections of the climate system.

    > Earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes. Something real, something hard, fast, and impossible to ignore. Increasing evidence and statistical analysis links increased seismic activity to global warming.

    Royal Society Stunner: “Observations suggest that the ongoing rise in global average temperatures may already be eliciting a hazardous response from the geosphere.”

    Climate Change and the Geosphere

    So if there is energy missing, my guess it's transfered into seismic energy.

    Even if the timescales are huge, prone tectonics could literally "wake up" in a much faster time then previously thought (we emitting carbon 10.000 times faster + accelerating the process, then during the PETM!).

    Monsoons spinning the Earth's plates: study
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  3. Rob Painting @50 and 51 - I haven't studied some of the papers you point to yet.

    Hansen addressed Trenberth's "missing energy" in a talk which is on Youtube Here he is around minute 41:00:

    Hansen: “There’s been discussions about this in the literature the last couple of years, where Kevin Trenberth had pointed out that there’s some discrepancy between what he thought the energy imbalance should be, and what the ocean data was telling [him]. And this is kind of a smooth curve, which I don’t know quite how he constructed this. But he thought there’s some imbalance, some missing energy [Hansen points to a projection of the chart that originally appeared in Trenberth’s Science magazine “Perspectives” piece]. I think that’s not actually the case. It actually agrees very well [pauses, stares at the chart], provided that you use this intermediate response function.” [he indicates the chart below Trenberth’s in the screenshot above].

    [Discussion of this “intermediate response function" appears around page 20-21 in Hansen, Earth’s Energy Imbalance and Implications. It’s an educated guess Hansen makes about what the actual climate response function is, given his suspicion that models may be looking good in the do they tend to reproduce climate changes we know about department because offsetting errors in assumptions compensate to allow them to simulate past reality pretty well. He’s doing some educated speculating about what if compensating changes are made to common assumptions underlying models along lines he suspects may be correct, what do things look like then?

    He warns, again, that aerosols are still so poorly understood he’s on as sound ground about their effect in models as any scientist, if he asks his grandchildren what number he should use to represent their overall net effect.

    He displays a picture of the very knowledgeable grandchildren he claims he consulted as he prepared his input to the IPCC AR4 in the above screenshot. He commented on this grandchildren joke (which he also presented in his Bjerknes lecture at the AGU) at around the 8:20 mark saying:

    “Now if that doesn’t seem like very good scientific method, you should see what the other guys do”.

    That Hansen paper also contains more discussion of the Trenberth "missing energy" chart on page 35.]
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  4. Though in post #52 the first link should be fixed to this: Climate Change and the Geosphere

    Thanks for the detailed explanation David.

    Could anyone point me to a good explanation "break-down" of how the models incorporate climate forcings?
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  5. Humanracesurvival @ 52

    It may be true that rapid removal of glaciers from volcanoes may provoke eruptions to occur earlier than they otherwise would have. It's also conceivable that sudden reductions in ice sheet thicknesses could cause earthquakes. However, these would temporarily and slightly increase the amount of energy coming out of the Earth. What we are looking for are hidden sinks and not extra hidden sources for the energy budget.

    Anyway, the total amount of energy emitted from the Earth's interior is only about 1/10,0000 of the amount of solar radiation (not even big enough to be worth showing on Kevin Trenberth's Figure 1) and any small increases in this quantity due to climate-tectonic interactions would be entirely inconsequential in terms of the planet's energy budget.
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  6. Ok, but we have now 4% more water vapor around - increase of precipitation, especially the upper 10% of heavy downpours, shifting patterns and a more acidic environment beside other factors, then 30years ago.

    So the energy budget of the Pedoshere is going up, a lot more energy input vise which faster erodes and weathers. And here we have sinks and we know that warmer temperature is increasing Decomposition and Denitrification. And we know that during the PETM distinct layers (suboxic/hypoxia) formed in the ocean/land mass acting like a blocking layer of energy transport. So i wonder if these "growing" sinks can not be accountable for the "missing energy". Because i don't know how the models work and how exactly the energy budgets are quantified i have to ask.
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  7. I just saw this related study..

    Soil carbon and climate change: from the Jenkinson effect to the compost-bomb instability

    First generation climate–carbon cycle models suggest that climate change will suppress carbon accumulation in soils, and could even lead to a net loss of global soil carbon over the next century. These model results are qualitatively consistent with soil carbon projections published by Jenkinson almost two decades ago. More recently there has been a suggestion that the release of heat associated with soil decomposition, which is neglected in the vast majority of large-scale models, may be critically important under certain circumstances. Models with and without the extra self-heating from microbial respiration have been shown to yield significantly different results. The present paper presents a mathematical analysis of a tipping point or runaway feedback that can arise when the heat from microbial respiration is generated more rapidly than it can escape from the soil to the atmosphere. This ‘compost-bomb instability’ is most likely to occur in drying organic soils with high porosity covered by an insulating lichen or moss layer. However, the instability is also found to be strongly dependent on the rate of global warming. This paper derives the conditions required to trigger the compost-bomb instability, and discusses the relevance of these to the concept of dangerous rates of climate change. On the basis of simple numerical experiments, rates of long-term warming equivalent to 10°C per century could be sufficient to trigger compost-bomb instability in drying organic soils.
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  8. From above study: However, all current global climate–carbon cycle models ignore a potentially important soil biological heating term that could change this situation radically.
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  9. Ken Lambert #31:

    "The CERES satellite data quoted in the Aug09 paper for 2000-05 were adjusted to an estimated imbalance of 0.9W/sq.m from an absolute value of about +6.4W/sq.m.
    The latest data shown in Fig 3 above shows an Rt value varying around the 1.0W/sq.m. How is this data 'adjusted' from the absolute value?"

    It looks to me like the CERES product "EBAF" provides only clear-sky fluxes for all regions... Figure 3 should not be interpreted to represent actual net radiation - It doesn't include the effects of clouds...
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  10. guinganbresil #59

    So what is the conclusion from this? What relevance has Fig 3?
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  11. Ken Lambert #60

    I apologize if I misunderstood you - I thought you were comparing the clear sky EBAF plot in figure 3 (at ~ 1 W/m2) to the total energy imbalance which is estimated by models to be 0.9 W/m2

    I have noticed that there is an abundance of Fallacy of Composition regarding energy balance, and emission spectra:

    - Just because the emission to space at the CO2 band of the spectrum (left hand side of figure below at ~600-700 cm-1) goes down does not mean the the total emission to space goes down.

    Figure: Observed difference between 1970 to 1996 over the central Pacific (top). Simulated difference over the central Pacific (middle). Observed difference for 'near-global' - 60°N to 60°S (bottom) (Harries 2001).

    - Just because the emission to space from clear skies goes down does not mean that the total emission to space goes down. The figure above shows only clear skies...

    We need to be precise about this...
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    [DB] Fixed unclosed italic tag.

  12. guinganbresil #61

    "Just because the emission to space at the CO2 band of the spectrum (left hand side of figure below at ~600-700 cm-1) goes down does not mean the the total emission to space goes down."

    I can't follow what point you are making here. My concern is how the 1.0W/sq.m imbalamce is derived from the absolute values from the satellites.

    The correction on the CERES in 2009 was from +6.4 down to +0.9W/sq.m

    I would like to hear from anyone knowledgeable on the topic how the corrections were made for the Fig 3 charts.
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  13. David Lewis #53

    I am surprised that there was no follow up comments on this quotation:

    quote "He warns, again, that aerosols are still so poorly understood he’s on as sound ground about their effect in models as any scientist, if he asks his grandchildren what number he should use to represent their overall net effect.

    He displays a picture of the very knowledgeable grandchildren he claims he consulted as he prepared his input to the IPCC AR4 in the above screenshot. He commented on this grandchildren joke (which he also presented in his Bjerknes lecture at the AGU) at around the 8:20 mark saying:

    “Now if that doesn’t seem like very good scientific method, you should see what the other guys do”. endquote

    Making a joke about the putative imbalance (albeit via a very intelligent looking infant) might not be so funny for those grappling with understanding the uncertainties in AGW science.

    That Drs Trenberth and Hansen - two of the leading scientists in this field have a disagreement about a basic tenet of AGW - a growing warming imbalance - is nothing to laugh about.

    Vicious political battles are now being fought in Australia over a $23/tonne carbon tax right now.

    [ snipped ]
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  14. Ken, the (rather obvious) flaw in your 'logic' is that Trenberth, Hansen, and virtually everyone else in the field, are completely agreed on the existence of a growing warming imbalance. If you increase atmospheric CO2 you create a warming imbalance. Not exactly a contentious point.

    Further, you suggest that Hansen's position would lead to a different conclusion on the need for a carbon tax... yet Hansen himself has said otherwise. In short, you are employing tactics which have been documented repeatedly on this site... misrepresenting both the nature and the implications of Hansen's work.

    Whether Hansen or Trenberth is correct about the role aerosols play in the overall energy budget is completely irrelevant to the role that carbon emissions play... on which they (and virtually everyone else) are agreed.
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  15. "Ken, the (rather obvious) flaw in your 'logic' is that Trenberth, Hansen, and virtually everyone else in the field, are completely agreed on the existence of a growing warming imbalance. If you increase atmospheric CO2 you create a warming imbalance."

    Where is the evidence that the warming imbalance is 'growing'?

    Hansen accepts that the warming imbalance has 'reduced' from 0.9W/sq.m to 0.59W/sq.m, and is trying to explain it with extra aerosols and 'delayed Pinitubo rebound effects' etc.

    Trenberth is not accepting that the warming imbalance has reduced (except for the 11 year solar ripple) and is still looking for the missing heat in the oceans - deep oceans.

    So your assertion that:

    "Trenberth, Hansen, and virtually everyone else in the field, are completely agreed on the existence of a growing warming imbalance."

    is incorrect.
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  16. Perhaps someone could explain this anomaly

    Under Figure 4 it states "The observed changes (lower panel; Trenberth and Fasullo 2010) show the 12-month running means of global mean surface temperature anomalies relative to 1901-2000 from NOAA (red (thin) and decadal (thick)) in °C (scale lower left)"

    Figure 4 shows only 0.1C change between 1993-2010, yet a linear regression through the monthly figures from NOAA

    yields about 0.3C over this period. Are we using the same temperatures?
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  17. Perseus,

    Two explanations: First, figure 4 is only plotted through 2009; the websites is current (make sure you are using a 12-month running mean for comparison). Second, the graph is not using a linear fit, but some other mathematical fit (polymeric maybe), and appears to be part of a longer trend which is not displayed on the graph. Be careful when using fitting on short term data.

    That is my take, FWIW.
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  18. As has been noted, I have been traveling, and I have quickly gone through the 67 comments. A few responses follow.

    There seems to be some confusion over Fig. 3. This represents the total net radiation from CERES EBAF and so it does include effects of clouds. It is not just the clear sky component (that is a lot more uncertain). Ironically the working definition of "clear sky" used in the community excludes clouds but includes aerosol. Since aerosols affect clouds (the indirect effect), I find this rather unsatisfactory. Still it does not affect things here.

    There is discussion in the comments of the supposed finding that increasing aerosol (pollution) from China may be the explanation for the stasis in surface temperatures and I do not believe this for a moment. Similarly, Jim Hansen has discussed the role of aerosol as a source of discrepancy. However, the radiation measurements at the top of the atmosphere from satellites (CERES) include all of the aerosol effects, and so they are not extra. They may well be an important ingredient regionally, and I have no doubt they are, but globally they are not the explanation.

    How did the imbalance occur (comment 2) can be seen from Fig 3 broken into ASR and OLR (not shown here). ASR increased, suggesting fewer clouds as occurs in La Nina over the tropical Pacific, but OLR decreased. The latter seems to be mainly a temperature signal: colder conditions mean less radiation to space. This is often a complex relationship because the biggest variations occur in the Tropics and there is typically a large offset in OLR and ASR signals in association with variations in convection that largely relate to albedo effects being offset by the radiation to space from tops of clouds. Thus fewer clouds means more ASR and more OLR (since the radiation to space comes from warmer lower levels). But that works only in the tropics. At higher latitudes OLR is dominated by surface temperature effects.

    Comment 17 asks about "back radiation" which is really "downwelling radiation" that is the downward component emitted from the atmosphere in all directions. Clouds, water vapor, and all the greenhouse gases play a key role and the emissions correspond to the temperature of the air. For clouds, the key temperatures are the cloud top temperature for emissions to space and the cloud bottom temperature for emissions back toward the surface. An important point is that to understand the energy flows (which include radiation), the full three (or really four) dimensional structure of the atmosphere is needed, and the simple Figure 1 does not show the vertical structure of temperature.

    In response to 26: yes melting permafrost can take up some energy but the amount turns out to be very tiny.

    The last topic I'll touch on is the ocean heat content (OHC). A couple of references were made to the von Schuckmann and Traon paper, which was nice to see, but has some flaws. For instance the data down to 2000 m in the ocean have increased since 2002 and since the beginning of that analysis, yet their error bars are constant. New analyses will be of considerable interest and are underway.
    I discussed this in this article here in Nature:
    Trenberth, K. E., 2010: The ocean is warming, isn't it? Nature, 465, 304.

    ENSO involves a redistribution of OHC and losses to the atmosphere in the latter part of El Nino, and gains during La Nina, so this is internal to the climate system, not external (comment 31). The southern ocean is clearly playing a role (comments 48, 49)in taking up heat and mixing it deep, even though the magnitude of the observed warming is small. But the data are fragmentary and unsatisfactory in many respects. Nonetheless, the southern oceans, while playing some role, are not the main place where the heat goes in our model. We have a paper submitted that describes and documents that in more detail so it is premature to go into detail here.

    A nice paper is in press in GRL by Palmer et al (UKMO) using two Hadley climate models that details the relationship between SST and OHC to different levels in their model. Going all the way to the bottom accounts for all of the OHC but the upper OHC in the top 300 m and the SST (which relates to that) are not always good indicators of total OHC. So they also find that energy can go missing into the deeper ocean, and moreover the main phenomenon in their model associated with this is La Nina. [This latter point is not in their article].

    The bottom line is that the ocean plays a major role in climate and especially in interannual and decadal variability, and a lot more will be written on this topic. Maintaining an adequate observing system is extremely important.

    Kevin Trenberth
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    [DB] Hot-linked URL.

  19. Kevin... Thank you for stopping in to make comments and clarifications. I just want to quickly say that we know you take a lot of fire out there in the media but your hard work and dedication to the science of climate change are greatly appreciated by all.
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  20. Dear Dr Trenberth

    Very good of you to respond to comments on this thread.

    Could I draw your attention of a very detailed discussion from a SKS thread entitled "Robust Warming of the Global Upper Ocean" found here:

    Posts by Berényi Péter at #6, #30, #40, #45, #72 are of interest as well of a few of my lesser efforts at #24, #43, #60, #67.

    Berényi Péter at #30 in the above says:

    "TOA imbalance is extremely important. Below is satellite measurement for the last ten years: (see chart)

    These measurements have low accuracy but reasonable precision. It means that the curves above have an arbitrary offset (within several Wm-2), but would show a marked level change whenever accumulation rate of thermal energy changes in the climate system. Nothing like that is seen between 2002-2004.

    Therefore either satellite data are absolutely useless or the 6-8×1022 J heat accumulation in the oceans after 2000 followed by a more or less level plateau from 2004 on is an artifact due to transition to ARGO.

    There is no other possibility. Net TOA radiative imbalance should be very nearly identical to the temporal derivative of OHC, because there is no heat storage capacity in the climate system comparable to the oceans and all energy exchange between Earth and its environment is mediated by electromagnetic radiation (any other forms of energy transfer, e.g. tidal breaking are many orders of magnitude smaller)."

    What I call the 'step jump' in OHC in the 2002-04 period is not reflected in satellite measurements of TOA imbalance and this strongly suggests that the 6-8E22 Joules of increase in OHC is an artifact of the XBT-Argo transition.

    Linearizing the OHC charts including this step jump from 1993 to 2010 giving the equal of 0.5-0.6W/sq.m TOA imbalance is therefore invalid.

    Could you comment on this issue?
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    This Wikipedia page explains how, in the real world, about 15% + 6% = 21% of the total incoming solar radiation (that is, 21% of 340 = 71.4 watts per square metre) is actually radiated from the surface but double that (23% from the oceans and 7% from land = 30% in total) is in effect diffused by what is called "latent heat flux" from the oceans and "sensible heat flux" from land. This 30% simply warms the air molecules which then, as they rise and cool, emit photons which cannot be captured by carbon dioxide. The IPCC model shows 390 watts per square metre which is over 5.46 times the above 71.4 watts per square metre! Please explain the huge difference!
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  22. Here's a graphic based on NASA information ....

    VERY different from the IPCC graphic!
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  23. DougCotton wrote: "This 30% simply warms the air molecules which then, as they rise and cool, emit photons which cannot be captured by carbon dioxide."

    Why can't they be 'captured'? Are they magic photons? :]

    As to the 'alternative energy budget' you present. You might want to include the disclaimer from the page in question;

    "Note on accompanying images: These graphics depict only net energy transfer. There is no attempt to depict the role of greenhouse gases and the exchange that occurs between the Earth's surface and the atmosphere or any other exchanges."
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  24. Yes, as explained on my site, about 7% (out of the 15%) come back to Earth, and within seconds about a third of those (2.3%) get radiated up, and 70% of those (1.6%) get captured and 0.8% go to Earth, then a third (0.27%) get radiated back up etc - doesn't explain "5.46 times". And it's all over in a few seconds and off to space or warm air rising. If you read up on Quantum Physics you'll realise photons from individual molecules have very specific frequencies, whereas those from solids have full spectrum IR. So only those from the surface can be captured by CO2 which captures its own unique selection of frequencies, related to spectral lines.
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  25. CBD No. 73 The absorption by and radiation from gases other than the Green House Gases is very small indeed at any atmospheric temperature (200 K to 360K) (and this needs to be recognised Doug - O2 and N2 play almost part in absorption or emission of radiation {photons}) The reason is that the first excitable quantum state of these molecules is very much higher than the energy (kT) involved in collisional excitation. But those small numbers which they do radiate are not absorbed by the green house gases as Doug has stated. However, Doug's other point is very imortant and often overlooked. It is that most of the energy entering the atmosphere from the earth (~80% in fact) is from the wind blowing over the land surface (conduction land to air) - about 20% and evaporation over the vast oceans, ~60%, while about 20% is actually radiated and captured in the main by GHGs betwewen the ground and the tropopause. Most of it absorbed within a few hundred metres in the main, strong bands. Heat which is then reradiated (see 333 W m^-2 on K & T 2009 diagram) comes from all sources - direct absorption of radiation and collisional excitation in warm air followed by radiation. So once in the air, there is no distinction - heat is heat, excitation is excitation. This fact though is important when it is claimed that without the high levels of green house gases, the earth would be a whole 33 C cooler is certianly not correct. The air itself acts as a blanket and just as the GHGs absorb the ground radiation, they are almost solely responsible for cooling radiation in the upper troposphere and beyond. At heights where water vapour is negligible, well above the tops of clouds, carbon dioxide is the main radiator which is why its brightness measured by the satellites is roughly equivalent to 220 K. (This is probably not quite correct either, since at higher levels, the spectral lines are very narrow and the resolution of the satellite spectrometers were quite obviously not high enough, as would be expected, to resolve the structure in which the peaks of the lines may well have shown that the radiation is from a higher temperature than is apparent. So without any carbon dioxide, the earth would be expected to be a warmer place.

    A second important matter is that of the back radiation, shown in diagrams such as K&T above and reported as increasing with increased carbon dioxide or other GHG. This is not correct either since a fairly straight forward calculation, both analytically and numerically, involving the re-radiation from the layers of air, shows that irrespective of the radiation frequency, the increase in absorbed radiation closer to ground arising from increased GHG, provides a lower energy source to be sure, but this is exactly compensated for by increased absorption in the atmosphere before it reaches the ground. The intensity coming back to ground level is always I(0)/4, no matter what the absorption coefficient K might be where I(0) is the initial upwards radiation from the ground. Similar analysis of the transfer of excitation energy follows a similar pattern, even without taking convection into account. This of course is why when upwards measurements of radiation spectra, looking particularly at CO2, the intensity or brightness is consistent with the local ground level air temperature, as is also found by radiosonde measurements all the way up to the tropopause. Similarly you don't walk out in the afternoon from under the eaves and find yourself suddenly hit with 333 Watts/m2. What you experience iss radiation from molecules not very far away, many from only a micron or so in fact, very nearly in thermal equilibrium with the surrounding air, even though all of the radiative interactions are only via GHGs while the O2 and N2 molecules in much larger numbners, maintain collisional thermal equilibrium satisfying the Stefan-Boltzman Law. John Nicol
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  26. CBD#73: "Note on accompanying images: "

    Do you mean that 'there's no such thing as a greenhouse effect' simply because this particular wikipedia graphic omits it by design? Implying that 'net energy transfer' (wikipedia graphic) is not the same as 'global energy flow' (figure 1 here)? As if the word net means something important in this context?

    That would suggest that the figures are different because they represent different things.

    DC#74: "photons from individual molecules"

    Doesn't the energy of IR photons absorbed by greenhouse gases provide kinetic energy, which may either re-radiate or dissipate in collisions with other molecules? Isn't that molecular kinetic energy the basis (according to wikipedia) for 'temperature'?
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  27. Thanks Jonicol. Yes I do realise O2 and N2 don't emit many photons, but as they rise and cool (perhaps eventually near the top of the atmosphere) they must release the energy in the form of photons at least when they get close to absolute zero. And the energy they carry represents about two thirds of the heat that came out of the surface as it cooled in the evening. The other third gets radiated back, about 70% of that being captured and half of that returning to the surface, then a third of that radiated up again etc. But each "return trip" is very fast and the radiated "feedback" is being reduced by nearly 90% each time. Also, since two thirds of the heat energy in the surface/oceans went into other air molecules (outnumbering CO2 by 2,500 : 1) there is still about half of that coming back, eclipsing that from CO2. This is why the heat of the day extends into early evening, but it usually cools by morning to (in calm conditions) the temperature supported by the temperature gradient from the core.
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  28. DC#77: "why the heat of the day extends into early evening, but it usually cools by morning to (in calm conditions) the temperature supported by the temperature gradient from the core. "

    Please support this notion with something more than the Singapore example you've given on a prior thread. Where I live, the air temperature often remains warmer than the ground temperature. This varies by humidity (and GHG gas content), due to something called radiative cooling.
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  29. Muoncounter #76: My post #77 (written before I read yours) and makes it clear that I understand "feedback" and I also point out the rapid diminishing of such (by nearly 90%) for each up and down "trip" as well as the rapid timing involved for radiated heat, so that CO2 might, for example, extend the heat of the day by perhaps a few minutes at most, whereas the photons returning from other air molecules (as they physically rise much more slowly) have much more total energy and can extend the heat of the day for a few hours. Yes heat will transfer between molecules, not as much in gases as in solids, but it will "even out" the temperature in the nearby vicinity. So what? That warm air will then rise, cool off and emit more photons, half to space. It will never drift down to the surface against both the temperature gradient and the pressure gradient, so I don't care how long it stays up there: it won't melt the ice caps.
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  30. DC#79: "it won't melt the ice caps"

    Ignoring all the stuff about photons and timing and 'evening out' for a moment, perhaps you would like to read Perovich et al 2008 or one of many other papers on the subject of melting Arctic ice.

    Calculations indicate that solar heating of the upper ocean was the primary source of heat for this observed enhanced Beaufort Sea bottom melting.

    Please find one of many threads on the subject for further comments.
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  31. Muoncounter #76: One further thing, a CO2 molecule only delays a photon briefly before emitting another which may or may not have the same energy. While it still has the captured photon it can collide with other air molecules, though the collisions are usually "glancing" ones rather than direct hits (as in solids.) Anyway, if you wish to say there is some warming then that means less energy goes back to Earth. Let's say, half as much. Then that "nearly 90%" becomes "nearly 95%" and the whole process diminishes even faster. You can't create energy so you can't have it both ways. If you have more questions they are probably answered on my website.
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  32. muoncounter #76: "That would suggest that the figures are different because they represent different things."

    Which was precisely my point. Doug had suggested that the NASA and IPCC graphics/data conflicted. They do not.

    DougCotton #74: "If you read up on Quantum Physics you'll realise photons from individual molecules have very specific frequencies, whereas those from solids have full spectrum IR. So only those from the surface can be captured by CO2 which captures its own unique selection of frequencies, related to spectral lines."

    I seriously can't understand how you can even write something so clearly illogical. Let's break it down;

    1: CO2 only 'captures' certain wavelengths of IR photons - True
    2: The Earth's surface emits a larger range of IR wavelengths than atmospheric gases do - True
    3: Therefor IR photons emitted from atmospheric gases cannot be 'captured' by CO2 - Not established by the facts stated and clearly false for any photons at the wavelengths CO2 interacts with. The source of the photons does not matter. Whether that source ALSO emitted photons at other wavelengths does not matter. CO2 will 'capture' photons at the wavelengths it interacts with regardless of where they came from. Many of those photons come from atmospheric gases. Ergo, CO2 does indeed 'capture' photons from the atmosphere and not just the Earth's surface.
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  33. Oh here we go again about past warming prior to 2000 which was merely the climate following long term and short term cyclic trends, all of which I have covered in great detail on my site, with the possibility of perhaps 0.1 degrees at the most of unexplained warming which might have been due to 2,000 nuclear tests at the time causing greater conduction rates where damage was done to the crust underground. I totally and utterly acknowledge that such warming and melting did happen: it just wasn't caused by CO2 - not even the natural stuff. The temperatures will now start to rise very slightly until June 2013, then decline (with a few ups and downs) till 2027, then rise for 30 years and, after that, start a long-term decline for 450 years or so.
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  34. CBDunkerson (#82) Read #75 and #77 - and some Quantum Physics textbook. And my notes in the purple box on Good night.
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  35. DC#83: "merely the climate following long term and short term cyclic trends"

    Here we go again about the harmonices mundi: distant planets influence earth's climate, but what happens on earth does not. All based, of course, on correlation being causation. With that, we drift off topic yet again.

    "it just wasn't caused by CO2"

    That appears to be your basic premise; you take that as a given and then attempt to explain what is happening. A scientific process would work forward from the evidence prior to forming a conclusion.

    Please stop referring to your site in every comment; not only is it tedious, but your arguments might have some credibility if you produced actual scientific research to support your positions.
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  36. jonicol @ 75: "So without any carbon dioxide, the earth would be expected to be a warmer place."

    So, if we quadrupled CO2, we'd cause an ice age?
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  37. muoncounter,

    I have gone through this routine with co2isnotevil, RW1, and Joe Postma.

    The reality is that arguing with people like this is like trying to have an argument after stepping through Lewis Carroll's looking glass. There is no way to win, because they can argue that black is loud and white smells of fish, so of course the sun is square and filled with turtle poop, as it moves through a sea of x2 = pV / red + ∂Q.

    There's just no way to get anywhere with these people, because they are smart enough to create a collage of truths and equations that in no way belong together, but are so complexly interwoven that any effort at disentangling them simply gives them more opportunity to bind you up in some other variation of their nonsense.

    When you make a valid point, they simply ignore it and change the subject, or go back to arguing something that you've already proven to be false, as if the past conversation had never happened.

    Again... I think an MSM Hall of Shame is in order for these people, and a different approach is needed.

    One can't argue facts and details, because those are the culprits' weapons of choice (or, rather, are the source of their own confusion).

    Your last comment is, I think, the only approach: "...your arguments might have some credibility if you produced actual scientific research to support your positions. "

    Their own personal brand of logic and science shouldn't even be open to discussion, because it begins with their own self-deluding premise that they are magical geniuses and the rest of the human race (billions of people) and hundreds of years of prior science are all wrong (or, rather, are being woefully misinterpreted by all of those foolish, badly educated working scientists).

    Bottom line: The burden falls on them to prove to us that it's worth taking two minutes of our day to discuss this with them. Creating one's own personal website outlining a bizarrely fabricated world of math and "science" is evidence only of someone with too much time on their hands, and a proclivity to waste it instead of doing something productive (like learning the real science, and actually understanding what's going on).
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  38. I suggest a new approach. Focus on one error in their presentation. Just one. Provide ample evidence for the existence of the error. Ask for recognition of the error. If no recognition is forthcoming, refuse to respond. Don't address any other posts. Don't delete posts. Respond to further posts by saying, "Recognize X, or you're simply not worth taking the time to engage."

    That having been said, DC seems very invested in his material. Admitting a mistake might be psychologically impossible. What price omniscience?
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    [DB] You and Sphaerica both make good points:

    Sphaerica "The burden falls on them to prove to us that it's worth taking two minutes of our day to discuss this with them."

    DSL  "Focus on one error in their presentation.  Just one."

    I suggest a combination of both will be ultimately the most effective.  Anything else will be unfruitful and ultimately a collossal waste of time, effort and precious electrons (and we know how finite those are).

  39. 88, DSL,

    The only flaw that I see with that approach is that such people will still litter as many threads as they can with their "insights," which will then go unchallenged, and be taken as "very good points" by less informed and cognizant readers.

    But, to follow your approach, in #82 CBDunkerson made a fairly simple and indisputable case that Doug's syllogism wasn't valid... Doug put together two facts from which to draw a conclusion that does not in fact follow from those facts.

    Until he acknowledges that, the very foundation of Doug's entire position crumbles, and so nothing of any value can be taken from it.
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    [DB] Bags of hammers are like that.

  40. Sphaerica#89: "such people will still litter as many threads as they can"

    That's exactly their intent (call it 'the dam--bel effect' or 'the Gil-- phenomenon'); sometimes it seems they come in waves, as if sent here by some unseen tidal surge. Unfortunately, without rebuttal, it appears to the casual observer that our argument is weak.

    I find it interesting to search key phrases in these posts. It is revealing that the same folks had the same arguments debunked two or three times - in some cases, years ago. Example begins here, but also look here.
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  41. I believe Doug Cotton's post number 77 deserves very careful consideration by anybody who thinks he may have anything worthwhile to say on any scientific matter. With the moderators indulgence, I shall quote it in full:

    "Thanks Jonicol. Yes I do realise O2 and N2 don't emit many photons, but as they rise and cool (perhaps eventually near the top of the atmosphere) they must release the energy in the form of photons at least when they get close to absolute zero. And the energy they carry represents about two thirds of the heat that came out of the surface as it cooled in the evening. The other third gets radiated back, about 70% of that being captured and half of that returning to the surface, then a third of that radiated up again etc. But each "return trip" is very fast and the radiated "feedback" is being reduced by nearly 90% each time. Also, since two thirds of the heat energy in the surface/oceans went into other air molecules (outnumbering CO2 by 2,500 : 1) there is still about half of that coming back, eclipsing that from CO2. This is why the heat of the day extends into early evening, but it usually cools by morning to (in calm conditions) the temperature supported by the temperature gradient from the core."

    (My emphasis)

    So, according to Doug Cotton, O2 and N2 release no photons, but do release photons, and in fact release photons with sufficient energy to represent two thirds of the upwelling surface radiation. Indeed, they release that energy when they are near absolute zero in temperature.

    In other words, Doug Cotton directly contradicts himself in the space of one sentence, and contradicts at least four scientific laws in the whole passage, including the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics, the Stefan-Boltzman law, Kirchoff's Law.

    Sphaerica and DSL, there is no need to worry about Cotton's thread pollution until he fully retracts this nonsense. In what ever thread he wishes to spew his garbage, we need only link back to his post 97 and request he resolve the contradiction. Anyone reading the thread with an open mind will recognize the reasoning of anyone who does not balk at contradicting himself is neither worth listening to, nor worth discussing.
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  42. 91, Tom,

    Wow. I haven't bothered to actually read much of his nonsense, but that's quite a looking-glass-in-a-nutshell you've got there.

    Honestly... Deleted comments should be used for Comments Policy violations, but RealClimate now has 'The Bore Hole' where certain comments can be simply moved but not deleted, and I think that SkS should have 'The Looking Glass' (or perhaps "The Aether and Other Phlogiston" or "Galileo's Descendants", except that's a huge insult to Galileo)... a place to send comments like these where they can still be seen, but unlike The Bore Hole, a place where further comments/replies can still be made.

    Basically, it becomes a stand alone thread for this sort of utterly made-up nonsense that may or may not receive refutation, and usually doesn't belong anywhere in particular (I'm not sure this is the right thread for arguments about basic physics, but neither is the 2nd Law thread, or anyplace else).

    The only thing the moderators would need is an easy tool (button) for migrating such comments to that thread (preferably leaving a placeholder comment behind, with something to the effect of "Moved to The Looking Glass" with a link to the migrated comment).

    I can think of scores of examples in the past months alone where such a silly place is exactly where such comments belong.
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  43. Sphaerica@92
    I like the idea of moving what are essentially crank comments to a Climastrology or Looking Glass thread of their own. It would help de-clutter the threads, archive the nonsense for future reference and allow the discussion/debunking of it to continue. It might be a bit tedious for the Moderators though.
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    [DB] It would be only onerous to John, as he'd have to do the PHP coding.  For Moderators, all they would have to do is to select the appropriate thread to move it to (from a drop-down menu, presumably).  However, once coded the process would be straightforward.

  44. 93, DB inline,

    That would be a generally useful tool for migrating any comment to where they belong, although a hardcoded "Climastrology" button (another good name choice for the thread) would also do the trick.

    It will be up to John, though, to figure out if this happens often enough and is important enough to warrant his time (and then to find the time).

    I'll make a post in the forum for the suggestion.
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  45. A climastrology thread might be rather satisfying, but in terms of the mission of SkepSci, is it that useful? Crank sites like DougCotton's might be entertaining but the real question is whether other people might be taken in by them and in that case, does SkepSci provide an adequate answer to an inquirer? I dont think you have to go to far into the morass of misconceptions but perhaps pointers to relevant threads.

    RC tried a wiki of debunks and I wonder whether something simple could be created so it is easily searched by an inquirer, and the content is simply links to relevant existing arguments on this or other sites.
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  46. 95, scaddenp,

    My main point is that right now, unless you adopt a policy of deleting comments from cranks, then things like those by Doug Cotton are just cluttering real threads and giving them more exposure. A Climastrology thread at least gives you a place to rationally deposit those comments using an objective criteria (anything that purports to overturn existing climate science, and either does not fit into or refuses to stick to the focus of a particular thread).

    The Bore Hole at RC does the same thing. Stuff that is just way out there gets shoved there. Anyone can see it, but many people don't bother (or don't realize that's where their own off the wall comments wind up).

    Such a thread that also allows comments by any visitor would allow that stuff to be ripped apart by people, but also be safely quarantined, probably with a header post that talks about crank science (I'd love to write that one!!!!). Anyone that goes to such a thread, reads the comments and then agrees with the Cottons of the world... well, you're never going to be able to teach people like that.
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  47. 95, scaddenp,

    As an added point, current moderation practice and probably policy involves a few warnings before posts are moved. A Climastrology thread (as well as a general tool for easily migrating any post to any thread) could simply be done without the need for any warning at all. This would actually help to keep threads cleaner, and more quickly avoid having them derailed.
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  48. Fair enough - though not so sure about your criteria. Claiming in an unpublishable paper to overturn science is okay, but root cause is usually have some misconceptions about basic science which they will hold to despite such misconception being at strong variance with empirical data. Refusing to stick to topic is merely violation of comments policy.
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  49. scaddenp#98: "misconceptions about basic science which they will hold"

    Score! These folks inhabit a world with a totally different reality. If you peruse even the mildest skeptic/denier blogs, their basic assumptions are:
    a. there's no relation between temp rise and CO2
    b. there's been no warming since ...
    c. Arctic ice isn't melting
    d. global warming isn't global because I can't see it at my house, etc. These are their givens: fixed, immobile 'facts' in their universe.

    This is a common problem in science education; pre-existing MSMs (multiple simultaneous misconceptions) tend to be very firmly entrenched. One of the quotes I ask my students to consider in the coming first week of AP Physics is this:

    "The hardest part about gaining any new idea is sweeping out the false idea occupying that niche. As long as that niche is occupied, evidence and proof and logical demonstration get nowhere. But once the niche is emptied of the wrong idea that has been filling it - once you can honestly say 'I don't know,' - then it becomes possible to get at the truth."
    -- Robert A. Heinlein, The Cat Who Walked Through Walls

    Not his best work, but the point is supported in educational literature. Miller et al 2007 looked at strategies to deal with student misconceptions in a first-year physics class:

    ... students were randomly assigned to one of four online multimedia treatments on Newton's First and Second Laws of Motion: (1) the ‘Exposition’, a concise lecture-style presentation; (2) the ‘Extended Exposition’, the Exposition with additional interesting information; (3) the ‘Refutation’, the Exposition with common misconceptions explicitly stated and refuted; or (4) the ‘Dialogue’, a student–tutor discussion of the same material as in the Refutation. Students were tested using questions from mechanics conceptual inventories before and after watching the multimedia treatments. Results show the Refutation and Dialogue produced the greatest learning gains ...

    So DSL's 'pick one error and refute it' tactic is a good one. You can only drive out the MSM with very direct questioning leading to admission of recognizable paradoxes or contradictions.
    0 0
  50. My post 97 was censored without comment and for no reason other than the fact that it disproved IPCC figures. A screen capture of it is linked under 'NASA' in the leading paragraph at Use this link to view it as a thousand visitors each day will do ...
    0 0

    [DB] Mr. Cotton, your post was moderated due to the use of all-caps, a Comments Policy violation.  All-caps is the web equivalent of shouting, which is a decorum issue contrary to said Policy.  An incendiary tone wins you no style points for argumentarie.  If fact, while I'm on the subject, you come across as a churlish 9-year old boy unable to carry on a dialogue with reason and wit.  In rhetoric, sir, you carry a failing grade.

    You will need to up your game to compete in this Forum.

    And before you complain yet again, complaining about Moderation is also subject to mandatory moderation. So please note that posting comments here at SkS is a privilege, not a right.  This privilege can and will be rescinded if the posting individual continues to treat adherence to the Comments Policy as optional, rather than the mandatory condition of participating in this online forum.

    Moderating this site is a tiresome chore, particularly when commentators repeatedly submit offensive, off-topic posts or intentionally misleading comments and graphics. We really appreciate people's cooperation in abiding by the Comments Policy, which is largely responsible for the quality of this site.
    Finally, please understand that moderation policies are not open for discussion.  If you find yourself incapable of abiding by these common set of rules that everyone else observes, then a change of venues is in the offing.  If you are able to comply with these conditions, which the vast majority of participants in this Forum are able to do without great inconvenience, then your continued participation will be welcome.

    So, please take the time to review the policy and ensure future comments are in full compliance with it.

    You may consider this Strike 2.

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