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Science, Climate Change, and the Greenhouse Effect

Mon ,13/12/2010

In the 1800’s, scientist began to understand the role greenhouse gases  had in keeping the Earth warm. The greenhouse effect is now a well established scientific principle. Both the science and the data show that  current global warming is caused by the increasing CO2 in the atmosphere.

Greenhouse Effect: Most gardeners know how greenhouses work.  In the daytime, the sun’s radiation (visible and UV) comes in through the glass and warms the plants and soil.  The glass stops the heat radiation in the infrared (IR) region from passing back through and the greenhouse stays warm enough to keep the plants from freezing, even at night. The Earth works much the same way except greenhouse gases, primarily water and  carbon dioxide, play the role of the glass and trap some of the leaving IR radiation. Winter nights on Earth would be very cold without greenhouse gases.

Earth’s Energy Balance: Of the Sun’s energy coming to Earth, 30% is reflected immediately back into space by particles in the air, by clouds, and by the surface. Another 20% is absorbed by the atmosphere where it runs the weather cycle. The remaining 50% heats the land and oceans. All the absorbed heat is eventually radiated back into space as infrared radiation. It’s a balanced energy budget, 100% in and 100% back out. Anything that reflects more light back into space, such as an increase in particulate matter in the air, would cause the Earth to cool. Anything that delays the energy’s trip back to space, such as an increase in greenhouse gases, would cause the Earth to warm. There are many small things that affect the Earth’s energy balance, but the main three are the Sun, particulates, and greenhouse gases.The ash from the explosive eruption of Mt.Tambora in 1816 caused that year to be called the year without a summer, worldwide.

The Sun: Certainly a change in the Solar radiation the Earth receives would cause a change in  the Earth’s temperature. Small wobbles in the Earth’s orbit, the Milankovitch Cycles, are variations in the eccentricity, axial tilt, and precession of the Earth’s orbit. They affect the amount of solar radiation the Earth receives in predictable cycles. Both scientists and skeptics agree that these cycles are responsible for the Ice Ages that occur in roughly 100,000-year intervals. In the part of the cycle where the Earth receives more solar radiation, the oceans slowly warm and release CO2. The CO2 further amplifies the warming by the greenhouse effect. As the Earth moves into the part of the cycle where it receives less solar radiation, the oceans slowly cool, the CO2 dissolves back into the oceans and another ice age starts. The patterns of wobble in the Earth’s orbit are predictable and the model predicts that a minor cooling trend, which began some 6,000 years ago, will continue for the next 23,000 years. The current warming trend is too rapid and in the wrong direction to be a part of the Milankovitch Cycles.

The Sun also has cycles where its output varies slightly such as  Sunspots activity. They cause the amount of solar radiation to vary in approximately 11-year cycles. However, the effects of Sunspots are so small that they do not show up above the other small variations in NASA’s temperature record.(see below). Long term variations in the Sun’s intensity are not responsible for the current warming. The graph of solar irradiance from 1880 to the present in this article shows that the Sun’s intensity increased slightly from 1880 to 1960 and then has declined slightly since 1960.   Satellite measurements of solar radiation show also that the solar radiation reaching Earth has declined slightly over the last 30 years – yet the Earth still warmed.

Temperature Data: The best temperature data we have clearly shows the Earth is getting warmer. NASA has compiled the Earth’s average temperature for each year since 1880 by using ships logs, weather stations, and satellite measurements. In the graph below , each square dot shows how far that year’s average temperature was above or below the 1970 value.  Although the data varies widely from year to year because of random factors such as sunspots, weather events, ocean current, and particulates from volcanoes and man’s activities,  the trend is clearly upward. The solid red and blue lines are  moving averages, which make the trend easier to follow.

NASA's Temperature Data  Credit: NASA JPL GISS

Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS

Temperature Trend: The greenhouse effect links some of the causes of the temperature trend to man’s activities. The trend took a turn upward in about 1920. That was when the automobile, industrialization, and energy production began further increasing the carbon dioxide concentration in the air. The trend was flat from about 1945 to 1975 and  that can be attributed mostly to particulates. There was an increase in particulates after 1945 from many sources such as WW II, atmospheric nuclear testing, and increased industrialization. Research during the early 1970’s showed a huge increase in aerosols from power production, increased industrialization, and vehicles and some alarmists even speculated that we might be causing another ice age.  Particulates are visible and cause immediate health problems so by 1980 most industrialized countries had restrictions on particulate release. During the period from1945 to 1975 the CO2 concentration had continued to rise but its effect had been masked by the particulates. Reducing the particulates in the air allowed the full effect of the CO2 to be felt, causing the Earth’s temperature to begin to rise again. The effect of particulates and the reliability of the temperature record can clearly be seen in the graph above. In 1991, Mt. Pinaturbo erupted spewing about 10 cubic kilometers of ash into the air which caused an immediate 0.3 °C temperature drop  for the entire Earth, lasting until about 1995.

Causality: Although the greenhouse effect is a well accepted principle, skeptics sometimes claim the correlation between global warming and CO2 does not constitute causality. However, G.N. Plass, in 1956, calculated the climate sensitivity of the Earth to CO2. He found that doubling the concentration of CO2 in the air would cause a 3 to 4 °C increase in the Earth’s temperature. A number of more recent studies have confirmed his work and have shown that, though the concentration of CO2 in the air is small, it accounts for about 25% of the greenhouse effect. No natural occurrences such as volcanoes, sunspots, fires, or dust storms can account for the major trend in the data. Certainly, the increasing amount of CO2 in the air is causing the Earth to warm.

Man’s Role: Man’s activities, mainly through deforestation and burning fossil fuels, have released large amounts of CO2 into the air. In the last century, man’s emission of CO2 from fossil fuels have increased to over 30 billion tons annually and the concentration of CO2 in the air has risen from 280 parts per million (ppm) to 385 ppm. The processes that remove carbon dioxide from the air takes decades or longer so as the carbon dioxide concentration slowly built up, the Earth became a better greenhouse. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the air is now 38% higher than in 1880 and the Earth’s temperature is about 0.8°C (or 1.3 °F) higher. Clearly, man’s activities are mainly responsible for increasing the CO2 concentration in the air – and the increasing CO2 concentration is causing global warming.

(C) 2010 J.C. Moore

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Is Global Warming Naturally Occurring?

Fri ,12/11/2010

The Earth goes through cycles of warming and cooling that occur about every 100,000 years. The present global warming we are experiencing is not part of those cycles. Is the cause natural or is it man’s activities?

The Earth is getting warmer. NASA has compiled the Earth’s annual mean temperatures since 1880 by using ships logs, weather station, and satellite data. Their data shows that the trend in the Earth’s temperature has been mostly upward and that the Earth is now about 1.3 °F warmer than it was a century ago. Scientists point to an increase in greenhouse gases from fossil fuel use as the major cause, but skeptics claim the warming observed is natural. The Sun, clouds, particulates, volcanoes, and greenhouse gases all affect the Earth’s temperature. The question is “What part does each play in global warming and what part does man play?”

Energy balance: The Earth has a solar energy balance. Of all the Sun’s energy coming to Earth, 30% is reflected immediately back into space by the surface, particles, and clouds. About 20% is absorbed into the atmosphere where it runs the weather cycle.The remaining 50% heats the land and oceans. All the absorbed heat is eventually radiated back into space as infrared radiation. It’s a balanced energy budget with 100% of the incoming energy eventually going back into space. Anything that reflects sunlight into space, such as an increase in particulate matter in the air, would cause the Earth to cool. Anything that increases the amount of sunlight received or delays the energy’s trip back to space such as greenhouse gases do, would cause the Earth to warm. What factors influence the energy balance?

The Sun: Solar radiation from the Sun seems to have varied little over the last million years. The Sun has Sunspot cycles where its output varies slightly and causes the amount of solar radiation to vary in approximately 11-year cycles. Increased sunspot activity causes the Earth to warm. However, the effect of Sunspots is so small that they do not show up above the other small variations in NASA’s temperature record. Long term variations in the Sun’s intensity does not seem responsible for the current warming. Satellite measurements of solar radiation show that the solar radiation reaching Earth has declined slightly over the last 30 years – yet the Earth still warmed. Also, this graph of solar irradiance from 1880 to the present as measured from the earth and later by satellite shows that the Sun’s intensity increased slightly from 1880 to 1960 and then has declined slightly since 1960.

Milankovitch Cycles: Small wobbles in the Earth’s orbit such as variations in the eccentricity, axial tilt, and precession of the Earth’s orbit affect the amount of solar radiation the Earth receives. Both scientists and skeptics seem to agree that these cycles are responsible for the Earth’s change from warmer to cooler periods and for ice ages that occur in roughly 100,000-year cycles. In the part of the cycle where the Earth receives more solar radiation, the oceans slowly warm and release CO2. The CO2 further amplifies the warming by the greenhouse effect. As the Earth moves into the part of the cycle where it receives less solar radiation, the oceans slowly cool, the CO2 dissolves back into the oceans and another ice age starts. The patterns of wobble in the Earth’s orbit are predictable and the model predicts that a minor cooling trend, which began some 6,000 years ago, will continue for the next 23,000 years. The current warming trend is too rapid and in the wrong direction to be a part of the Milankovitch Cycles.

Clouds: Clouds have a dual role. They cool the Earth in the daytime by reflecting solar radiation back into space but they also warm the Earth by their greenhouse effect. First frosts are more likely to occur on cold clear nights. The average cloud cover over the entire Earth remains relatively constant from year to year but cloud cover may increase as a feedback to the warming oceans. Clouds could be considered to be a cause of the current warming trend only if the average cloud cover could be shown to have increased over the years.

One unusual theory tries to do just that. It claims that the number of cosmic rays from the stars that strike the Earth is increasing. That would lead to more clouds since cosmic rays produce charged particles in the atmosphere that seed clouds. It’s an interesting theory, but there is no data showing that the number of cosmic rays are actually increasing cloud cover. Also, there are plenty of particulates in the air to seed clouds and any effect from cosmic rays would be small in comparison.

Greenhouse gases: If the Earth had no atmosphere, its average temperature would be much colder. Most of the Sun’s energy comes to Earth as light in the visible and ultraviolet region of the spectrum but it leaves as heat energy in the infrared region. The atmosphere’s clouds, water vapor, and CO2 traps some of the infrared radiation headed into space and directs it back to Earth, helping to warm the Earth. This is called the greenhouse effect, as it is similar to the effect that keeps greenhouses warm on cold nights. Recent research shows that about 75% of the greenhouse effect is due to water vapor and clouds and the rest is due mostly to CO2.

Water vapor is removed from the air whenever it rains so the average amount of water vapor in the air remains somewhat constant from year to year. However, the amount of CO2 in the air has been observed to be increasing. Measurements of the concentration of CO2 in the air have shown that it has increased from 280 ppm to 385 ppm in the last century. The physicist G. N. Plass determined the effect of the increase of CO2 on the Earth’s temperature. In 1956, he calculated that doubling the concentration of CO2 in the air would cause a 3 to 4 °C increase in the Earth’s temperature. A number of more recent studies have confirmed his results but the most important thing is that the rise in temperature he predicted 50 years ago in consistent with the increase in temperature we have observed. Certainly, the increasing amount of CO2 is a main factor global warming. But, is the increase in CO2 natural or man-made?

Volcanoes: Although impressive, the amount of heat released by volcanoes has a minuscule effect on the Earth’s temperature compared to that of the particulates and greenhouse gases they release. Particulates reflect sunlight back into space and cause the Earth to cool while the greenhouse gases released cause the Earth to warm. Particulates from large eruptions, such as Mt. Pinaturbo, cause a very quick decline in the Earth’s temperature. However, the particulates settle out or are removed by rain in a few years after the eruption stops. The CO2 released by the eruption causes greenhouse warming for a long time as it persists in the air for many decades. Volcanoes, however, play a small role in the current global warming compared to man. Man’s activities currently emit about seven times the particulates and 150 times the CO2 as all the world’s volcanoes together.

Fossil fuels: Since the 1800′s, scientists have been concerned with whether our use of fossil fuels might affect the temperature of the Earth. Burning carbon fuels releases large amounts of CO2, and there was speculation about whether an increase of CO2 in the air might actually change the energy balance of the Earth. Recent research has shown that CO2 plays a very important role in global warming and one scientist even labeled CO2 the “control knob” for the temperature of the Earth. The amount of CO2 man releases into the air is no longer minuscule as our emissions amount to 30 billion tons of CO2 each year. The concentration of CO2 in the air has increased from about 280 ppm to 385 ppm and the Earth’s temperature has increased by 1.3 °F. Clearly, CO2 is the main factor in global warming and our use of fossil fuels is the main cause of the increase in atmospheric CO2.

It’s not natural: Climate scientists agree. In 2004, a survey of 928 climate papers published in Science found that none of the authors argued for an entirely natural explanation of global warming. So there we have it. The main cause of the current global warming is not volcanoes, clouds, sunspots, changes in solar output, or cosmic rays from the stars – and it is not part of the natural cycles of nature. As much as we may dislike the idea, the major cause is man.


(C) 2010 J.C. Moore

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George Will: Blinded by Science of Climate Change

Tue ,23/02/2010

When we were kids, we used to spin ’round and ’round until, when we stopped, the horizon would appear to keep spinning. That is how I felt after I read George Will’s article “Blinded by science on climate change” (1). He thinks scientists are bad guys, selling cars is more important than clean air, polluters are good guys, and global warming is a religion. The Washington Post once had an ombudsman to handle complaints from scientists about George Will’s cherry-picking, misconstruance of data, spinning of facts, and ignorance of science. The opinion of most scientists is that George Will is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts.

Mr. Will does not get quotes right, either. He claims that Phil Jones, in his BBC interview, admits there has been no statistically significant global warming in the last 15 years. However, what Jones said was “I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level.” Jones also presented data to show that from 1975-2009 ( the last 15 years) the Earth warmed by a statistically significant +0.16 0C per decade and said “most of the warming since the 1950s is due to human activity. “(2) Mr. Will apparently misquoted Jones in an attempt to back up one of his mistaken and much criticized claims. He keeps saying that there has been no global warming since 1998 even though a number of scientists, the author included, have written him to tell him he is misconstruing the data. (3)

Mr. Will started his good guys are bad guys diatribe by criticizing Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the International Panel on Climate Change, for denouncing those who deny the effects of climate change on the planet. Dr. Pachauri earns very substantial consulting fees by advising governments on environmental issues but he takes only a $49,000 salary and donates the rest to those less fortunate. Does he sound like a bad guy? For his work, Dr. Pachauri shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, a great honor- except to George Will who, by comparison, has been nominated for a Newsvine Environmental Hall of Shame award. Mr. Will also criticizes California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger for participating in the Western Climate Initiative and “trying to fix the planet on his own”. The WCI is made up of seven Western states and four Canadian provinces and their goal is to curb greenhouse gas emissions by 2012.

Not to be inconsistent, Mr. Will then praises Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer for suspending participation in the WCI agreement because “she is afraid that strict emission rules may raise the cost of new cars”. It apparently is more important to sell cars than it is to have clean air and water. He also thinks it’s great that the Utah State Legislature, who wishes to exempt Utah from Federal emission standards, is considering a similar action. Mr. Will also praises BP America, Conoco/Phillips, and Caterpillar for withdrawing from the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a coalition of companies and environmental groups. Mr. Will claims they withdrew because the cap-and-trade legislation is stalled and they are no longer worried about restrictions. Oops, wrong again. Those companies helped draw up the blueprint for Congresses’ cap-and-trade legislation and they still support the original cap-and-trade legislation. They withdrew because they felt the amendments added to the bill would unfairly penalize the petroleum industry. (4) Perhaps they object to the huge financial incentives added to the bill for the coal industry to develop the oxymoronic “clean coal”.

Mr. Will also ignores qualifiers. In his BBC interview, Phil Jones said that the Medieval Warm Period (circa 800 to 1300 A.D.) “may” have been warmer than today. Mr. Will apparently ignored the word “may” in Jones’ response as he claims Jones admitted to the MWP and went on that the MWP “complicates the task of indicting contemporary civilization for today’s supposedly unprecedented temperatures”. Jones said “may” as there is anecdotal evidence of a MWP in Europe but there is little evidence in the proxy data that it was worldwide. It is recorded that the Nile froze over in 1010 A.D., right in the middle of the MWP.(5) Mr. Will wants to save the MWP as he thinks he has a potent argument, but even if the MWP existed, his argument is mostly irrelevant to the documented environmental changes that have occurred in the last century.

Finally, Mr. Will claims (half seriously, he says) that Tom Stern, America’s Special Envoy on Climate Change, has violated the First Amendment which forbids the government from undertaking the establishment of religion. Mr. Will can say that because he claims, “a religion is what the faith in catastrophic man-made global warming has become.” Perhaps Mr. Will is unaware that there is a Christian environmental movement, sponsored by the National Council of Churches and made up of practicing Protestants and Catholics, that promotes good stewardship and respect for the Earth.

(1) http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2010/02/21/blinded_by_science_104494.html
(2) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8511670.stm
(3) http://que2646.newsvine.com/_news/2009/10/11/3372180-george-wills-climate-deception
(4) http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/politics/stories/oil-firms-drop-out-of-group-lobbying-for-us-climate-bill

(5) Lamb, H. H. (1977) Climate: Present, Past and Future: Climatic History and the Future. Vol 2, Methuen and Co. Ltd

Top 10 Reasons Real Scientists Will Not Debate …….Dissident Scientists

Mon ,18/01/2010

It is fashionable of late for some columnist and bloggers to call real scientists “alarmists” and to challenge them to a debate. George Will did so in his column, ”Generating heat over global warming” where he blasts “Anonymous scientists’ unspecified claims about the column’s supposedly myriad inaccuracies”. I do know of two scientists who had sent him e-mails pointing out some of his myriad inaccuracies but he keeps saying them. Maybe a debate is needed.

Cal Thomas, in “John McCain has joined the global warming cult”, claims McCain – and most of the world’s scientists – have been brainwashed by the charismatic Al Gore. Al must be good at it as he also mesmerized the Noble Prize Committee. Cal then issued a challenge for Al Gore and his global warming alarmists to debate Cal’s group of dissident scientists.

But, who are those dissident scientists? Years ago, the Wall Street Journal proclaimed “Science has spoken, global warming is a myth”. Wondering who spoke for science, I tracked the authors to a “think tank” where their job was to manufacture “scientific doubt”. The group was a little short on scientific credentials but they probably didn’t have much time for research, anyway. Most of them spent their time moonlighting for energy companies. However, I was amazed to find that they had discovered a number of “little known facts of science” using Lucy’s method:

Lucy: Charlie Brown, do you want to hear some little known facts of science?

Charlie Brown, looking puzzled: Wait a minute, if they are so little known, how do you know them?

Lucy: Because I’m the one who made them up.

Now that we’ve laid the groundwork for the debate, here are the top 10 reasons it won’t happen. Admittedly, some of the fault lies with the real scientists.

10. Real scientist do not want their cult exposed. They have a secret ritual called “research” which they are trying to keep from dissident scientists and columnists.

9. Real scientists don’t like to be labeled as “alarmists”. They are certainly alarmed but they just don’t like the columnists’ tone. They should remember that Paul Revere was an “alarmist”.

8. Real scientists feel outnumbered. Supposedly, 31,000 outraged scientists signed a petition denouncing global warming. The data was collected by a power company lobbyist and was analyzed using Lucy’s method. Many of the ” scientists” were undergraduate students in Bachelor of Science (BS) programs. One may get a BS degree in fields such as journalism, sociology, education, philosophy …. Still, no real scientist wants to debate an outraged philosophy major.

7. Real scientists are miffed. They have to work for years to discover nature’s secrets while think tank scientists can discover “little known facts of science” in minutes by using Lucy’s method.

6. Real scientists are really miffed. Think tank scientists, with their moonlight pay, earn waaay more than real scientists.

5. Dissident scientists won’t share their microphone. A debate almost occurred at a public forum on climate change sponsored by Prosperous Americans for Prosperity for their favorite Congressional candidate. A number of dissident scientists attended but, when a real scientist was discovered there, the moderator took the microphone to the other side of the room and ignored the scientist standing on his chair and waving.

4. Dissident scientists are not punctual The real debate took place in the 1980’s but the dissident scientists are just now showing up.

3. Dissident scientists don’t want real scientists to criticize their ideas. When 60 climate skeptics sent a letter to the Prime Minister of Canada denouncing global warming alarmists, Canada’s top climatologist pointed out: “by and large the skeptics are not climatologists, they do not come to our meetings, and they do not submit their studies to be peer reviewed”.

2. Dissident scientists won’t follow the normal rules of logic. A Senate hearing by Senator Jim Inhofe, using testimony from dissident scientists, found that the media was biased in reporting climate change. Therefore, it was concluded, global warming was a hoax. Hmmm?

And, number 1. Dissident scientists really want to debate just Al Gore. Al has refused, as he doesn’t think it’s fair to have a battle of facts with a group of unarmed men.