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Is the CO2 effect saturated?

What the science says...

Select a level... Basic Intermediate Advanced

The notion that the CO2 effect is 'saturated' is based on a misunderstanding of how the greenhouse effect works.

Climate Myth...

CO2 effect is saturated

"Each unit of CO2 you put into the atmosphere has less and less of a warming impact. Once the atmosphere reaches a saturation point, additional input of CO2 will not really have any major impact. It's like putting insulation in your attic. They give a recommended amount and after that you can stack the insulation up to the roof and it's going to have no impact." (Marc Morano, as quoted by Steve Eliot)

The mistaken idea that the Greenhouse Effect is 'saturated', that adding more CO2 will have virtually no effect, is based on a simple misunderstanding of how the Greenhouse Effect works.

The myth goes something like this:

  • CO2 absorbs nearly all the Infrared (heat) radiation leaving the Earth's surface that it can absorb. True!
  • Therefore adding more CO2 won't absorb much more IR radiation at the surface. True!
  • Therefore adding more CO2 can't cause more warming. FALSE!!!

Here's why; it ignores the very simplest arithmetic.

If the air is only absorbing heat from the surface then the air should just keep getting hotter and hotter. By now the Earth should be a cinder from all that absorbed heat. But not too surprisingly, it isn't! What are we missing?

The air doesn't just absorb heat, it also loses it as well! The atmosphere isn't just absorbing IR Radiation (heat) from the surface. It is also radiating IR Radiation (heat) to Space. If these two heat flows are in balance, the atmosphere doesn't warm or cool - it stays the same.

Lets think about a simple analogy:

We have a water tank. A pump is adding water to the tank at, perhaps, 100 litres per minute. And an outlet pipe is letting water drain out of the tank at 100 litres per minute. What is happening to the water level in the tank? It is remaining steady because the flows into and out of the tank are the same. In our analogy the pump adding water is the absorption of heat by the atmosphere; the water flowing from the outlet pipe is the heat being radiated out to space. And the volume of water inside the tank is the amount of heat in the atmosphere.

What might we do to increase the water level in the tank?

We might increase the speed of the pump that is adding water to the tank. That would raise the water level. But if the pump is already running at nearly its top speed, I can't add water any faster. That would fit the 'It's Saturated' claim: the pump can't run much faster just as the atmosphere can't absorb the Sun's heat any faster

But what if we restricted the outlet, so that it was harder for water to get out of the tank? The same amount of water is flowing in but less is flowing out. So the water level in the tank will rise. We can change the water level in our tank without changing how much water is flowing in, by changing how much water is flowing out.

water tank

Similarly we can change how much heat there is in the atmosphere by restricting how much heat leaves the atmosphere rather than by increasing how much is being absorbed by the atmosphere.

This is how the Greenhouse Effect works. The Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and water vapour absorb most of the heat radiation leaving the Earth's surface. Then their concentration determines how much heat escapes from the top of the atmosphere to space. It is the change in what happens at the top of the atmosphere that matters, not what happens down here near the surface.

So how does changing the concentration of a Greenhouse gas change how much heat escapes from the upper atmosphere? As we climb higher in the atmosphere the air gets thinner. There is less of all gases, including the greenhouse gases. Eventually the air becomes thin enough that any heat radiated by the air can escape all the way to Space. How much heat escapes to space from this altitude then depends on how cold the air is at that height. The colder the air, the less heat it radiates.

(OK, I'm Australian so this image appeals to me)

So if we add more greenhouse gases the air needs to be thinner before heat radiation is able to escape to space. So this can only happen higher in the atmosphere. Where it is colder. So the amount of heat escaping is reduced.

By adding greenhouse gases, we force the radiation to space to come from higher, colder air, reducing the flow of radiation to space. And there is still a lot of scope for more greenhouse gases to push 'the action' higher and higher, into colder and colder air, restricting the rate of radiation to space even further.

The Greenhouse Effect isn't even remotely Saturated. Myth Busted!

Basic rebuttal written by dana1981

Update July 2015:

Here is a related lecture-video from Denial101x - Making Sense of Climate Science Denial


Last updated on 7 July 2015 by pattimer. View Archives

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Related Arguments

Further reading

V. Ramanthan has written a comprehensive article Trace-Gas Greenhouse Effect and Global Warming.


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Comments 601 to 637 out of 637:

  1. Oh, my, Ingrahammark7. You certainly are persistent in your misunderstandings.

    You said in #599: "This does not take any math, or diagrams, if insulation worked in a linear way then it would lead to absurd outcomes and everyone would already be dead."

    Well, your diagram linked to in #596 must have taken some math, so let's see if we can reproduce it. (And remember that "linear" statement - we'll test it later on.) First, I wll establish some assumptions:

    • We'll work with a wall that is 1000 m2 in area
    • We'll assume that the wall material has a thermal conductivity of 1 W/mK
    • We'll assume that we want to maintain a temperature difference (inside - outside) of 1C (or 1K, whichever you prefer).

    What amount of heating is required to maintain that temperature difference for different wall thickness?

    The equation we want is

    (heat input/area) = (conductivity * temperature difference)/(wall thickness)

    At 1m thickness, we need 1000W (or 1 W/m2 of wall area).

    We can graph the heat required as a function of wall width and get this:

    Thermostat-controlled wall thickness

    So, here we can see the "diminishing returns" that Ingrahammark7 thinks proves the CO2 effect is saturated.

    Let's look at our wall thickness calculations slightly differently. As MA Rodger points out in #598, buildings have thermostats. In a building,we want to know how much heat it takes to maintain a certain temperature or amount of warming, as in the above diagram (and the one that Ingrahammark7 chose to display).

    ...but that is not what is happening in the earth-atmopshere system. We have a slightly different set of conditions:

    • A constant rate of heating
    • A temperature rise that varies depending on the "insulating effect"

    How does our building behave in similar conditions? We will work with a matching set of assumptions:

    • A wall that is 1000 m2 in area
    • The wall material has a thermal conductivity of 1 W/mK
    • ...but instead of a constant temperature difference controlled by a thermostat, we have a constant heat input of 1000W.

    Now, our temperature difference needs to be calculated. We rearrange the above questions, and get:

    temperature difference = (heat input/area) * ((wall thickness/conductivity)

    What does our graph look like when we plot temperature difference against wall thickness?


    ...and Ingrahammark7's "diminishing returns" go *poof*. The temperature difference is a linear function of wall thickness for constant heat input. It turns out that unless you turn the heat down, adding too many blankets will kill you. (And the linearity is obvious from the equation.)

    So, Ingrahammark7's "obvious" argument is obviously wrong.



  2. In #600, Ingrahammark7 says "The temperature gradient in the atmosphere is determined by pressure."

    Oh, my, you're in that group of alternate physics. I suspect there is no hope for you.

    You may wish to continue alternative explanations of the atmospheric temperature gradient on this thread. Please actually read the post before you start commenting, though. I doubt you have any new arguments to make.

  3. Oops. I dropped a factor of 1000 when I first made the image in comment #601. I have corrected the image.

  4. Bob Loblaw @602,

    I think the comment from Ingragammark7 @600 that "The temperature gradient in the atmosphere is determined by pressure." is not actually away with the faries as I see it as a less-than-precise description of the Lapse Rate being close to adiabatic, thus atmospheric pressure & temperature are strongly linked. It is the statement following that quote from #600 "The greenhouse effect would break this relationship and raise temperatures at lower altitudes where diminishing returns is less." that makes no sense to me.

  5. As DB said years ago, this is not quite like reinventing the wheel but rather reinventing the flat tire..

  6. MAR:

    Possibly, but Ingrahammark7's statement also resembles the kind of thing you'd hear from the group that think there is absolutely no greenhouse effect, no backradiation, violates the 2nd, law, etc., and pressure is the only factor.

    Ingrahammark7's understanding of basic physics hasn't been very good so far.

  7. My question for Ingrahammark7 is, given that what is being explained here is science that's been well accepted for over a century, what makes you think that somehow the world's leading scientists don't understand something that, as you put it, would be obvious to a small child?

    I find that to be a rather ridiculous position to put forth.

  8. Ingrahammark7's: "Chart the incremental temperature insulation from different thicknesses of co2" is a little cryptic a question but it seems that the Iacono & Clough 95 paper would answer that, to an extent, I think (hard to tell, the language is a little puzzling). The Iacono & Clough graph is featured in post #381 of this thread by Tom Curtis.

    This following statement, to me, is not making enough sense to try to answer: "You chart should be utterly absurd because you have to explain why the first few co2 cause the entire effect and once you get to hundreds or thousands of feet which exist a doubling does nothing."

  9. Philippe Chantreau @608,

    I'm not too sure that fig 5 from Clough & Iacono (1995) is particularly useful at "Chart(ing) the incremental temperature insulation from different thicknesses of co2." as Ingrahammark7 @599 requests.

    Looking back @381, I note within-thread much use of output from Chicago Uni's MODTRAN. Running that model for the planet with only CO2 as a GHG for different ppm yields the following reductions in OLR for (as Ingrahammark7 puts it) "different thicknesses of co2" with no sign that "a doubling does nothing."

    0ppm(v) ... ... ... ... 0 Wm^-2
    0.375ppm(v)... ... 3.45 Wm^-2
    0.75ppm(v) ... ... 5.02 Wm^-2
    1.5ppm(v) . ... ... 7.22 Wm^-2
    3ppm(v) .. ... ... 10.05 Wm^-2
    6ppm(v) .. ... ... 13.19 Wm^-2
    12ppm(v) . ... ... 16.64 Wm^-2
    25ppm(v) . ... ... 20.41 Wm^-2
    50ppm(v) . ... ... 24.18 Wm^-2
    100ppm(v)... ... 27.63 Wm^-2
    150ppm(v)... ... 29.83 Wm^-2
    200ppm(v)... ... 31.40 Wm^-2
    250ppm(v)... ... 32.34 Wm^-2
    300ppm(v)... ... 33.28 Wm^-2
    350ppm(v)... ... 34.23 Wm^-2
    400ppm(v)... ... 34.85 Wm^-2
    450ppm(v)... ... 35.48 Wm^-2
    500ppm(v)... ... 36.11 Wm^-2
    550ppm(v)... ... 36.74 Wm^-2

  10. Yet another aspect of Ingrahammark7's failure is to only think in terms of the radiation that starts its upward travel at the surface and ends its travel at the top of the atmosphere, in one single passage.

    In reality, IR radiation emitted at the surface will undergo several absorption/re-emission cycles, and increasing CO2 will shorten the distance for each cycle - which means more cycles. Each re-emission also sends some energy back down (well, half), which further reduces the efficiency. Even if one sees very little difference at the end (direct IR transmission to space, after surface emission), there is a lot fo difference in the middle. And given that the entire atmospheric profile plays a role, along with other energy transfers such as convection, what happens in the middle is important.

    As Phillippe points out, Ingrahammark7's comments are yet another case of reinventing the flat tire. I pointed out the problems of this particular flat tire in comment #529. In that comment, I provided the followiing diagram showing the intermediate effects on IR transmission of decreased atmospheric transparency.

    Even though both transmission coefficients result it essentially nothing making it through 200 layers, the differences in the first 100 are obvious.

    There's that "obvious" word, yet again...

  11. The explanatory quote in the fallacy statement is itself fallacious: "It's like putting insulation in your attic. They give a recommended amount and after that you can stack the insulation up to the roof and it's going to have no impact." False. The recommended amount of roof insulation is a minimum or supposedly economically optimal amount, not a maximum. The more insulation you add, the less heat can flow through it: infinitely thick insulation transmits infinitesimal heat. To be sure, adding thicker insulation becomes less effective because there's less heat already stopped by prior insulation and therefore unavailable to escape. Thus if the first 10 cm of insulation (for illustration) halves your heat loss, then adding a second 10 cm of identical insulation will save half of the remaining half, raising your total saving to three-fourths, and so on. But the belief that the second 10 cm has no effect is pure physics illiteracy, casting further doubt on the [fallacious] CO2 saturation claim.

    Interestingly, there's a second layer of fallacy here, which every standard engineering textbook I've seen commits. Even if attic-insulation standards were economically optimal when conventionally calculated—comparing their cost with the present value of the heating energy saved over the years—that calculation is actually misframed if your aim is to optimize the house as a system rather than the insulation as a component. My house, at 2200m elevation near Aspen CO where it used to dip as low as –44˚C, used roughly triple the normally "optimal" amount of insulation (plus airtightness, ventilation heat recovery, and "superwindows" insulating like 16–22 sheets of glass and facing mostly south) all, enough to eliminate the heating system. This cut construction cost more than enough to pay for the efficiency gains that eliminated the heating system, so our construction cost went down while we saved ~99% of space-heating energy. That's the start of a long and interesting story about integrative design, introduced in a half-hour talk at or a foundational peer-reviewed paper at Integrative design can make the energy efficiency resource severalfold bigger, yet cheaper—an important climate solution. More in "Recalibrating Climate Prospects" at 

  12. Amory @611 :  Yes, fair enough for conventional house insulation.

    But Marc Morano [a paid propagandist]  is giving a completely misleading analogy regarding the so-called GreenHouse Effect.   The stacking of housing insulation sheets is vastly different from the GreenHouse Effect mechanism of gasses & lapse rate in the atmosphere.   The fault lies in Marc Morano . . . and his "analogy" is not really worth pursuing.

  13. Eclectic @612,

    The analogy addressed by the OP is faulty but the criticism of it @611 is also faulty.

    If you add insulation to your roof, the diagram below shows it will not alter 74% of the heat loss, so doubling roof insulation thickness would reduce total heat loss by about an eighth. The doubling of CO2 'thickness' would add about +3ºC to a +33ºC GH-effect, so reducing total heat loss by roughly an eleventh, a not-disimilar proportion.

    House insulation

  14. Having significantly decreased my home heating costs by adding insulation to basement walls, I can attest to the verity of MA Rodger's diagram in comment #613. Yes, the roof area is usually the first place to add insulation in a poorly-insulated house, but walls are also important.

    My house was constructed in 2004, when local building codes only required R-12 for the top four feet of basement walls. And that top four feet was usually only covered by crappy "insulation in a bag" with no other wall treatement. Pathetic insulation performace.

    Current building codes have improved so that new construction requires R-20 for the entire basement wall. My renovations met the R-20 requirement and virtually eliminated air leakage. Our fuel costs dropped by about 15%. (Main and second-floor walls were already R-20.)

  15. Oh, and note my comment #601, where I point out the error in comparing adding insualtion to a house (kept at constant temperature, reduces required  heat input) with the earth-atmosphere system (constant heat input, adding insualtion raises temperature).

    The devil is in the details.

  16. As a theoretical physicist I have learnt to be very carefull with my words and to closely exam the available data. Using the link I found here
    ( I understand that:
    Is the CO2 saturated? No it is not.
    Is it in a condition similar to saturation? Yes it is. The reason is that with 1ppm of CO2 there is an upward IR flux of 325.304 W/m^2.
    With 280ppm of CO2 there is an upward IR flux of 300.215 W/m^2 (lost 25 W/m^2)
    With 2*280 =560 ppm of CO2 there is an upward IR flux of 296.918 W/m^2 (lost 3.7 W/m^2)
    With 4*280 =1120 ppm of CO2 there is an upward IR flux of 293.559 W/m^2 (lost 3.36 W/m^2)
    With 8*280 =2240 ppm of CO2 there is an upward IR flux of 290.042 W/m^2 (lost 3.5 W/m^2).

    In order to have an upward IR flux of 275 W/m^2, i.e. to have a decrease similar to the one from 1ppm-280 ppm (we should reach a concentration of 25000 ppm). This means that we are near the plateau of the curve which means we are in a condition similar to saturation (because I am not convinced that a real saturation exists).

  17. Hari-Seldon:

    Welcome to Skeptical Science.  I suggest that it is better to try to phrase your comments as questions when you are asserting something that is different from accepted science.

    At the surface of the Earth the greenhouse effect is in what you would describe as near saturation.  That doesn't matter.  The key point is that at the average escape altitude for IR radiatiom, at approximately 10,000 meters, the concentration of CO2 is about 1/3 the concentration at sea level due to lower atmospheric pressure.  In addition, since it is so cold at the escape altitude, there is little water vapor present so CO2 is the ultimate control of most of the radiation escaping.  I think your calculations are in error because you used the incorrect concentration of CO2.  

    Increasing the concentration of CO2 increases the escape altitude.  The lapse rate of the troposphere is about 6K/km.  If the escape altitude increases 100 meters than the temperature at the surface increases 0.6K.  Positive feedbacks cause the amount of heating from CO2 to approximately triple.

    Keep in mind that the greenhouse effect increases the temperature of the Earth's surface about 33K.  Adding 10% to the existing greenhouse effect would increase temperature over 3K, a disastrous amount. Try calculating how much of an increase in CO2 would result in a 100 meter increase in the escape altitude for a more accurate estimate of the change required.

    You are trying to do a difficult calculation without understanding the basics of the atmosphere.   I recommend reading a lot more background information before you assert you are correct.  It is generally accepted that doubling CO2 concentration results in approximately a 3K increase in surface temperature.  About 1K is from the CO2 increase.  The response to increased concentration is logarithmic.

  18. Hari-Seldon @616,

    (I assume you have adopted the name of the character Hari Sheldon from Asimov's Foundation trilogy but claim nothing of his prescience.)

    Picking up on michael sweet @617 description of the mechanism of CO2 forcing and its logarithmic nature....

    Chicago University's MODTRAN which you employ is a very useful on-line resource. But I don't think it is correct to suggest that CO2 levels are "in a condition similar to saturation"  because the forcing is logarithmic.

    You show the climate forcing incrementing due to 2x/4x/8x the pre-industrial CO2 280ppm level as being (& I correct your arithmetic) +3.30, +3.36 & +3.52Wm^-2. A further increase to 16x to 4,480ppm again yields an additional +3.74Wm^-2 with 32x incrementing +4.11Wm^-2 & 64X incrementing +4.68Wm^-2.

    And a halving of the pre-industrial level to 140ppm from 280ppm yields -3.36Wm^-2. And this 'halving' sequence can be contimued down to roughly that 1ppm you mention, halvings running down from 140ppm -3.42, -3.52, -3.48, -3.45, -3.14, -2.51, -1.88Wm^-2. And these halvings from 280ppm down to 1.094ppm total to -24.8Wm^-2.

    While I am not sure how well MODTRAN works at CO2 levels well beyond today's atmospheric levels (I assume the well-established 3.7Wm^-2 value  does not appear in the doubling 280ppm-560ppm as the model is set for the clear-sky tropics), it is plain that CO2 creates a reasonably constant climate forcing for each doubling from roughly 20ppm up to 2000ppm. This logarithmic relationship is well-known. Al levels of CO2 above 800ppm, Zhong & Haig (2013) found the forcing from these higher CO2 levels begin to exceed the logarithmic relationship due to significant additional radiative effects appearing at 10μm which provide extra forcing as the 15μm effects diminish.

    So the relationship is stronger than logarithmic and thus describing such a relationship as "in a condition similar to saturation" is neither applicable nor (given the dismissive connotations of calling it 'saturated') helpful.

  19. Ma Rodger. 

    I read Asimovs story in 1977 , when I was 13 years old. It is my favorite, so yes the name comes fron Trantor.

    We have to be self-consistent with what we claim. In this article the authors support the idea that the CO2 effect in atmospheric radiance comes form the increasing of the width of the spectral lines. This program shows that effect, and that effect shows a logarithmic behaviour which is leading to a decrease of the slope of the increase anount of the energy confined in the atmosphere. 

    If someone uses another argument then we will discuss the effect of that argument, but when we speak of the width of the lines this is the result. And if we have to convince someone we have to be selg-consistent and not to change our story.

    Michael Sweet You are wrong. I do not support something that is different from accepted science. On the contrary I am speaking of the accepted science. Earth is warming because it radiates less energy than it receives. Simple fact. So looking at tha spectrum (black-body or bettter gray-body) of the outward radiation will gives as the amount of energy earth radiates. I am not interested on the mechanisms that energy uses to reach the upper atmosphere. I know that almost vacuum surrounds earth so I know that the only energy leaving earth is EM radiation (and gravitational radiation but this is negligible). Thus there is one argument concerning the increase of the widths of the absorption lines more that the Doppler and Heisenbergs uncertainty effects. This program shows exactly how this effect (increase of the width) works.  Simpe as that.  


  20. And some  simple facts from elementary quantum mechanics.

    Fact No 1. In the graphs that MODTRAN ( presents the area under the intensity curve with the horizontal axis is the trasmitted power per m^2.

    Fact No 2. This area is FINITE (for a CO2 concentraion of 280 ppm is around 300 W/m^2)

    Fact No 3. The valley we see near 15 μm is due to the CO2. The area of this valley is the power/m^2 that CO2 absorbs. For a concentration of 280 ppm is around 30 W/m^2.

    Fact No 4. Increasing the CO2 concentration the area of the valley increases due to the increase of the width of the spectral line. 

    Fact No 5. Due to the fact that the total area is finite the area of the valley can not increase linearly with the CO2 concentration. If a linear behaviour existed a concentration of 2800 ppm should absorb all the existing energy.  Thus there should be a "saturation" mechanism. This is the logarithmic relation that this results show.

    Fact No 6. Even at very large concentrations of CO2 such as that in Venusian atmosphere the area of the valley is less than one third of the total.

    Fact No 7. If there is a regime where the area of the valley increases linearly with CO2 concentration, this regime would be very limited. After that a stronger "saturation" mechanism should appear.


    Thus the program of MODTRAN has the essential physics correct. Maybe it is not accurate enouth and there is some error in some concentrations. But overall the behaviour that this program present is correct. And its results are solid (maybe not for all concentrations but for most and maybe with an error of 10-15%).



  21. I think MARodger answers your misunderstandings better than I do so I will leave it to his comments.  It seems to me that his post at 618 answers your question and shows that CO2 is not saturated.  It appears that you do not have a calculation error, it is an error of interpretation of the resulting data.

  22. Speaking of saturation and "error of interpretation of the resulting data" :-

    Coolmaster, you may be the very person I could ask for an interpretation of the recent paper by Wijngaarden & Happer (2020).

    I confess to being very nearly a physics naif  (and a naif  who habitually thinks in terms of two-and-a-half significant figures as afforded by my trusty slide-rule).   So, in reading the WH2020 paper, I skipped through the numerous formulae, and sought the Take Home message.   ~Which, verbiage aside, seemed to be minimally different from the mainstream climate science on GHG "saturation".

    Yes, assorted "AGW-deniers" immediately seized upon the WH2020 paper as a conclusive debunking of a half-century of climate physics & observations.  But there are always fringe-dwellers who seize upon anything within a million miles of the idea that no AGW is occurring (or alternatively  ~ that the AGW will doom the world irreversibly by the year 2030).

    Coolmaster, I will be grateful for your opinion, if you have time to look at the WH2020 paper.  ( I do realize that both van Wijngaarden and Happer are afflicted by severe emotional/political bias producing major motivated reasoning problems in their climate assessments ~ but all that aside, is there something of useful scientific value in their paper? )

  23. Hari-Seldon, I would very much like you to give your opinion on the WH2020 paper, as well.  Likewise I appeal to all others expert enough in these matters.

  24. Michael sweet. Quantum statistical physics apologizes to you for their misunderstadings. On the other hand I think that this whole page is not worth of my time. The reason is that there is a post titled: "How could global warming accelerate if CO2 is logarithmic."(

    Thus in one post my reasoning is valid in another is misunderstandings ... This is crap.

    Eclectic: This paper calculates the forcing due to the different green-house gases. The authors find a "logarithmic forcing" for CO2 concentration. Their value for the forcing is only 3.0 W/m^2 (where MODTRAN finds 3.7). Their words are "Note from Table 2 that doubling or halving the column density of CO2 changes the
    forcing F by almost the same amount, either at the tropopause or at the mesopause. " (page 18 at They also say that "In addition to line intensities, three of the calculations used a
    continuum CO2 opacity, and all five used a continuum H2O opacity. The physical origin
    of these continua is unclear. They are added to make the calculations agree better with
    observations [10, 13]. "  This means that they do not understand why they have to use that model. However they also say "The mesopause spectral intensities,
    calculated with only HITRAN lines and with no continuum contributions, are in excellent
    agreement with satellite measurements over the Sahara Desert, the Mediterranean Sea and
    Antarctica, as discussed in Section 8". This means that they are confident for their mesopause calculations. In the conclusions they say that "Fig. 9 as well as Tables 2 and 4 show that at current concentrations, the forcings from all
    greenhouse gases are saturated. The saturations of the abundant greenhouse gases H2O and
    CO2 are so extreme that the per-molecule forcing is attenuated by four orders of magnitude
    with respect to the optically thin values. " When the authors say that the concentrations are in the saturation regime it means that they have passed the area of a large slope and they are in an area with small slope (no constant forcing). An important result is that: "The calculated flux increment
    from simultaneously doubling CO2, N2O and CH4 is the slightly smaller value, ∆F = 4.7 W/m^2". This is important because we have to examine closely how an increased CO2 concentration affects the concentrations of the other gases.

    I am not confident enough about the earth temperature part because there are too many parameters and I am not an expert on that.  



  25. Hari-Seldon @624 :  Thank you for that.  Me and my slide-rule were vaguely following the Wijngaarden & Happer (2020) paper, but, allowing for possible bias on my own part, it seemed I might well be missing some vital point.

    The paper was discussed rather briefly on this thread, about a year ago.  I gather the paper had been rejected by several journals initially.  Yet, despite the bizarre political statements that continually come from both W. and H., their scientific contributions should be worthy of respectful attention, at the outset anyway.

    The (non-expert) impression I felt while reading this paper, was that W. and H. were trying to carefully examine one tree ~ while studiously ignoring the forest.  The clear-sky & constant humidity focus, the downplaying of Top-Of-Atmosphere aspects . . . and the later verbal diminution of the ECS figure (by van Wijngaarden) ~ were all part of an overall impression that W. and H. were in the business of obfuscating their own findings (in their own minds as well as in the minds of their acolytes).  

    Disappointing, in two scientists with good track records in non-climate areas.  But our subconscious minds have the  power to make fools of us all, when we permit such.

  26. Eclectic @625,

    Of course, there is the point as to whether you should be referring to that paper as Wijngaarden & Happer (2020). Academic work is usually only dated if it is properly published or if it is presented at a conference. Otherwise it would be demoted to being a working paper which is thus not complete and thus not properly dateable. And I would suggest that up-loading a paper onto Cornell University's "free distributon service" arXvi doesn't count as 'publication', it being no-more 'published' than this comment I post here at SkS.

    But the proof of the pudding and all that....

    Whatever tha nature of a piece of work's origin, it is its usefulness to the science that is the proper measure of it. A look at google scholar for Wijngaarden & Happer (unpublished) 'Dependence of Earth’s Thermal Radiation on Five Most Abundant Greenhouse Gases' shows today just four citations, which is pretty rubbish. And one of those is a reference from a further Wijngaarden & Happer paper posted @arXvi which is but an updated version of the same while accounting for two more GHGs, CF4 & SF6. Of the remaining three, one explicitly styles itself a working paper. (I note its reference list is stuffed full of denialist nonsense: Koonin & Jon-boy Christy, Lewis & Dicky Lindzen, McIntyre & McKitrick & Monckton, Svensmark & Woy Spencer.) The final two citations do initially appear to be by published work. But in tracking down both ♣Pascal Richet (2021): 'Climate and the temperature-CO2 relationship An epistemological re-examination of the ice core message', History of Geo- and Space Sciences, Vol 12, pp97-110. and ♣David Coe; Fabinski, Walter & Weigleb, Gerhard (2021): 'The Impact of CO2, H2O and Other "Greenhouse Gases" on Equilibrium Earth Temperatures'  Int J. Atmos. & Oceanic Sci.,Vol 5, Issue 2, pp29-40. I see either a blank space in the pp97-110 page-numbering or the pages pp29-41 taken by another paper. So it appears that the final two citations have failed to gain publication; not so uncommon with denialist works which both these final two citing paper evidently are. (An on-line French version of the first of these two simply presents a common climate myth while a posting of the second's Abstract still visible on a denialist website shows its finding is an ECS=+0.5ºC.)

    ....turns out to be a large bowl of rather-sticky humble pie.

  27. MA Rodger @626 :   Thank you.  You are as always, a grand source of climate information and analysis.  Encyclopedic !

    Yes, I am guilty of being insufficiently attentive to the non-publication status of the Wijngaarden & Happer paper.  And yes, the paper seems to have drifted toward oblivion during the past year ~ even within the hallowed precincts of Wattsupia University.

    Nevertheless, there is a scientific duty to keep a weather eye in the direction of all fringe-dwellers, just in case there really might develop "a small cloud on the horizon".   ~Improbable though that might be.

    In one sense, the main obfuscation in the W & H paper is the prominent semantic mis-use of the term "saturation".   That is a matter which seems to have misled the propagandist Dr David Wojick (or perhaps he - and his Heartland colleagues - are being disingenuous in not seeing through it. A novel thought! )

  28. MA Rodger @626

    I am brought to this site/thread by searching on the Coe, Fabinski, Gerhard paper

    This does indeed seem to have been published, albeit in an open access "journal" - so I am slightly puzzled by what you wrote - indeed your link takes me not to pages 29-41 as writ, but to different pages (and indeed to a different article). The "climate change denying" article does indeed appear at pages 29-40 in the same journal. The author list is shorter.

    The publication status and page numbering is all nit-picking (by me) - I mention it just for completeness. I am more interested in knowing whether there is a simple rebuttal to the analysis in said article. I am not a practising scientist and my maths and physics are rather rusty. I can see that the claims in the article fall into the "CO2 is saturated" category. It appears to present a sophisticated numerical demonstration of this saturation and I'm interested to know where it might be wrong (or not). Can anyone oblige?



    [BL] Link activated.

    The web software here does not automatically create links. You can do this when posting a comment by selecting the "insert" tab, selecting the text you want to use for the link, and clicking on the icon that looks like a chain link. Add the URL in the dialog box.

  29. Andrewhoward:

    I just read the abstract you linked.  I noted that the three authors have no experience in atmospheric sciences.  They claim that doubling CO2 would result in a 0.5C increase in surface tempeatures with other human generated gasses being insignificant.  Since the temperature has already risen 1C and we have not reached a doubling yet it seems to me that their analysis is obviously incorrect.

    Why do you think that this example from persons unskilled in the art of atmospheric science is worth our time to analyze?  The IPCC report is compiled by experts in the field, not beginners. 

    I continue to be amazed at conservative people in the USA who refuse to accept data from scientists and then dose themselves with dangerous drugs that have been shown to have no effect against covid.  The same argument applies to "papers" by unskilled people like the one cited by Andrewhoward.  MARodger can ddress what mistakes were made in the "paper".

  30. Andrewhoward:

    I have downloaded the paper and will try to look at it. Michael Sweet has noted the lack of background of the three authors. Also note that the page you linked to provides received, accepted, and publication dates:

    • Received August 2, 2021.
    • Accepted August 11, 2021.
    • Published August 23, 2021.

    Nine days for an editor to look at a paper, send it to reviewers, get reviews back, evaluate the reviews, and get the authors to address any deficiencies in the paper and resubmit a revised paper, assess the revisions, and accept the final paper? I don't think so.

    This tells me that the journal has essentially no review process in place, and will publish pretty much anything.

    And the company that "publishes" the journal (Science Publishing Group, also known as SciencePG and SciPG) is on Beall's list of potentially predatory publishers:

    The chances that this paper represents a noteable scientific advancement is pretty close to zero.

    ...but I will try to read the paper.

  31. andrewhoward @628,
    Concerning the 'nit-picking', back in September there was no sign of the Coe et al paper [full paper here] but instead another paper occupying those pages. It thus appeared at that time to be somewhat more than 'nit-picking'. There since has been some page re-numbering by the journal which isn't very professional and the side-bar buttons for 'Submit a Manuscript' and 'Become a Reviewer' and even 'Launch a New Journal' suggest a title that is more vanity publishing than serious science.

    This would not be the first time denialists have accessed HITRAN to produce a pack of nonsense. Their description shows them calculating how much surface radiation is absorbed by the various GHGs and ignoring the emissions from the atmosphere. It is the density/temperature of the GHGs where they emit into space that determines the GH-effect so the paper's calculations are simple nonsense.

    In terms of their basic findings, they find H2O alone would provide 91.8% of the GH-effect, CO2 alone would provide 24.7% but when added to H2O, CO2 would provide an additional 7.7%. The CH4 & N2O alone value isn't expressly given while their additional contribution is 0.5%.
    This is all very silly. This RealClimate post provides a more conventional set of findings but includes further contributions to the GH-effect. Thus the CO2 percentages do not look greatly different. But H2O alone is given as just 66% and while the 'Other GHG' (which would be more than just CH4 & N2O but they would be the lion's share) provide an additonal 2%.

    When Coe et al address ECS, they are entirely off with the fairies. It is well known that the forcing from 2xCO2 increases global temperatures by +1ºC. These jokers manage to find just +0.4ºC, a certain maker of 'idiots-at-work'. Coe et al say ECS estimates range from +1.5ºC to +4.5ºC. The usual best estimate is seen as +3ºC, thus a trebling of the CO2 warming through feedbacks. The statement by Coe et al that "More recent work, however, suggests ECS values of less than 1degC" is plain wrong - a cherrypick of fellow denialist work. Coe et al prattle through a pack of nonsense to turn the climate feedback from a best estimate +200% into just +12.4%. Of course, if such a crazy finding were in the slightest bit serious, it would need nailing down and strongly justifying. But Coe et al jump straight to what is the purpose of their task and so predictably conclude "There is no impending climate emergency and CO2 is not the control parameter of global temperatures."

  32. As a quick follow-up, the same journal in a 2019 issue has the following:

    Human CO2 Emissions Have Little Effect on Atmospheric CO2, Edwin C Berry

    This paper has been previously discussed at SkS on the human emissions of CO2 post:

    More evidence that the "journal" in question will accept all sorts of crackpottery.

  33. ...and another comment on the Berry paper is here:

  34. MA Rodger links to a 2005 RealClimate post that discusses the relative importance of CO2 and water vapor in IR transfer. A more recent journal paper on the subject is:

    Schmidt, G. A., Ruedy, R. A., Miller, R. L., and Lacis, A. A. (2010), Attribution of the present‐day total greenhouse effect, J. Geophys. Res., 115, D20106, doi:10.1029/2010JD014287.

    Gavin Schmidt is, over course, the one that wrote the RealClimate post, too.

    Discussion of water vapour vs. CO2 belongs on the following thread, though:

  35. I have now read enough of the Coe et al paper to form an evaluationbased on its content, rather than its origin.

    As MA Rodger says, they ignore emissions from the atmosphere - although they do use terms that suggest they've at least heard of it. The bizarreness of their model show up early,in section 1.4 "The Impact of Retained Energy". They are talking about IR energy absorbed by the atmosphere, and state (p31):

    "What happens to this absorbed energy? Some will be retained by the atmosphere/earth system, and some will be re-radiated by the atmosphere through to space.

    This is not even wrong. If the earth/atmosphere system were constantly retaining energy, it would be constantly warming. They have completely confused the effect of re-radiation downwards as if it is some permanent retention of energy. It is not. That energy joins the rest of the energy, to be re-radiated again and eventualy lost to space. At equilibrium, no "retention of energy" is happening and gains from the sun equal losses to space and temperatures are constant.

    They intoduce n as an "energy retention factor", and start talking about atmospheric absorption fractions, but all of that is already built into the "earth emissivity" term they use in equation 1 (the standard zero-dimensional model). They have also completely ignored the fact that vertical energy transfer in the atmosphere includes convection - probably part of the "complex atmospheric thermodynamics" that they explicitly ignore.

    All of these extra terms they introduce are smoke and mirrors. They argue that the real atmosphere is far too complex to model, and then create a simple model that is far too wrong.

    The rest of their manipulations of HITRAN data and "atmospheric absorption calculations are all just hand-waving and not worth any further examination.

  36. andrewhoward @628 - a more specific answer to your specific question could go something like this:

    In terms of mass & volume, water vapour is much more prevalent (~80-90%).

    However, the radiative importance is less due to molecule structure. One way to quantify this is to take a radiation model and remove each long-wave absorber and see what difference it makes to the amount of long-wave absorbed. This gives the minimum effect from each component.

    The complementary calculation, using only each particular absorber in turn, gives the maximum effect. Generally these will not be equal because of overlaps in the absorbing spectra. The radiation at particular frequencies can either be absorbed by water vapour or any other GHG.

  37. The approach described by cph - add absorbers one at a time, subtract one at a time - is indeed the methodology used in the Schmidt et al paper I linked to in comment #634.

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