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The greenhouse effect and the 2nd law of thermodynamics

What the science says...

Select a level... Basic Intermediate

The 2nd law of thermodynamics is consistent with the greenhouse effect which is directly observed.

Climate Myth...

2nd law of thermodynamics contradicts greenhouse theory


"The atmospheric greenhouse effect, an idea that many authors trace back to the traditional works of Fourier 1824, Tyndall 1861, and Arrhenius 1896, and which is still supported in global climatology, essentially describes a fictitious mechanism, in which a planetary atmosphere acts as a heat pump driven by an environment that is radiatively interacting with but radiatively equilibrated to the atmospheric system. According to the second law of thermodynamics such a planetary machine can never exist." (Gerhard Gerlich)


At a glance

Although this topic may have a highly technical feel to it, thermodynamics is a big part of all our everyday lives. So while you are reading, do remember that there are glossary entries available for all thinly underlined terms - just hover your mouse cursor over them for the entry to appear.

Thermodynamics is the branch of physics that describes how energy interacts within systems. That interaction determines, for example, how we stay cosy or freeze to death. You wear less clothing in very hot weather and layer-up or add extra blankets to your bed when it's cold because such things control how energy interacts with your own body and therefore your degree of comfort and, in extreme cases, safety.

The human body and its surroundings and energy transfer between them make up one such system with which we are all familiar. But let's go a lot bigger here and think about heat energy and its transfer between the Sun, Earth's land/ocean surfaces, the atmosphere and the cosmos.

Sunshine hits the top of our atmosphere and some of it makes it down to the surface, where it heats up the ground and the oceans alike. These in turn give off heat in the form of invisible but warming infra-red radiation. But you can see the effects of that radiation - think of the heat-shimmer you see over a tarmac road-surface on a hot sunny day.

A proportion of that radiation goes back up through the atmosphere and escapes to space. But another proportion of it is absorbed by greenhouse gas molecules, such as water vapour, carbon dioxide and methane.  Heating up themselves, those molecules then re-emit that heat energy in all directions including downwards. Due to the greenhouse effect, the total loss of that outgoing radiation is avoided and the cooling of Earth's surface is thereby inhibited. Without that extra blanket, Earth's average temperature would be more than thirty degrees Celsius cooler than is currently the case.

That's all in accordance with the laws of Thermodynamics. The First Law of Thermodynamics states that the total energy of an isolated system is constant - while energy can be transformed from one form to another it can be neither created nor destroyed. The Second Law does not state that the only flow of energy is from hot to cold - but instead that the net sum of the energy flows will be from hot to cold. That qualifier term, 'net', is the important one here. The Earth alone is not a "closed system", but is part of a constant, net energy flow from the Sun, to Earth and back out to space. Greenhouse gases simply inhibit part of that net flow, by returning some of the outgoing energy back towards Earth's surface.

The myth that the greenhouse effect is contrary to the second law of thermodynamics is mostly based on a very long 2009 paper by two German scientists (not climate scientists), Gerlich and Tscheuschner (G&T). In its title, the paper claimed to take down the theory that heat being trapped by our atmosphere keeps us warm. That's a huge claim to make – akin to stating there is no gravity.

The G&T paper has been the subject of many detailed rebuttals over the years since its publication. That's because one thing that makes the scientific community sit up and take notice is when something making big claims is published but which is so blatantly incorrect. To fully deal with every mistake contained in the paper, this rebuttal would have to be thousands of words long. A shorter riposte, posted in a discussion on the topic at the Quora website, was as follows: “...I might add that if G&T were correct they used dozens of rambling pages to prove that blankets can’t keep you warm at night."

If the Second Law of Thermodynamics is true - something we can safely assume – then, “blankets can’t keep you warm at night”, must be false. And - as you'll know from your own experiences - that is of course the case!

Please use this form to provide feedback about this new "At a glance" section. Read a more technical version below or dig deeper via the tabs above!

Further details

Among the junk-science themes promoted by climate science deniers is the claim that the explanation for global warming contradicts the second law of thermodynamics. Does it? Of course not (Halpern et al. 2010), but let's explore. Firstly, we need to know how thermal energy transfer works with particular regard to Earth's atmosphere. Then, we need to know what the second law of thermodynamics is, and how it applies to global warming.

Thermal energy is transferred through systems in five main ways: conduction, convection, advection, latent heat and, last but not least, radiation. We'll take them one by one.

Conduction is important in some solids – think of how a cold metal spoon placed in a pot of boiling water can become too hot to touch. In many fluids and gases, conduction is much less important. There are a few exceptions, such as mercury, a metal whose melting point is so low it exists as a liquid above -38 degrees Celsius, making it a handy temperature-marker in thermometers. But air's thermal conductivity is so low we can more or less count it out from this discussion.



Figure 1: Severe thunderstorm developing over the Welsh countryside one evening in August 2020. This excellent example of convection had strong enough updraughts to produce hail up to 2.5 cm in diameter. (Source: John Mason)

Hot air rises – that's why hot air balloons work, because warm air is less dense than its colder surroundings, making the artificially heated air in the balloon more buoyant and thereby creating a convective current. The same principle applies in nature: convection is the upward transfer of heat in a fluid or a gas. 

Convection is highly important in Earth's atmosphere and especially in its lower part, where most of our weather goes on. On a nice day, convection may be noticed as birds soar and spiral upwards on thermals, gaining height with the help of that rising warm air-current. On other days, mass-ascent of warm, moist air can result in any type of convective weather from showers to severe thunderstorms with their attendant hazards. In the most extreme examples like supercells, that convective ascent or updraught can reach speeds getting on for a hundred miles per hour. Such powerful convective currents can keep hailstones held high in the storm-cloud for long enough to grow to golfball size or larger.


Advection is the quasi-horizontal transport of a fluid or gas with its attendant properties. Here are a couple of examples. In the Northern Hemisphere, southerly winds bring mild to warm air from the tropics northwards. During the rapid transition from a cold spell to a warm southerly over Europe in early December 2022, the temperatures over parts of the UK leapt from around -10C to +14C in one weekend, due to warm air advection. Advection can also lead to certain specific phenomena such as sea-fogs – when warm air inland is transported over the surrounding cold seas, causing rapid condensation of water vapour near the air-sea interface.


Figure 2: Advection fog completely obscures Cardigan Bay, off the west coast of Wales, on an April afternoon in 2015, Air warmed over the land was advected seawards, where its moisture promptly condensed over the much colder sea surface.

Latent heat

Latent heat is the thermal energy released or absorbed during a substance's transition from solid to liquid, liquid to vapour or vice-versa. To fuse, or melt, a solid or to boil a liquid, it is necessary to add thermal energy to a system, whereas when a vapour condenses or a liquid freezes, energy is released. The amount of energy involved varies from one substance to another: to melt iron you need a furnace but with an ice cube you only need to leave it at room-temperature for a while. Such variations from one substance to another are expressed as specific latent heats of fusion or vapourisation, measured in amount of energy (KiloJoules) per kilogram. In the case of Earth's atmosphere, the only substance of major importance with regard to latent heat is water, because at the range of temperatures present, it's the only component that is both abundant and constantly transitioning between solid, liquid and vapour phases.


Radiation is the transfer of energy as electromagnetic rays, emitted by any heated surface. Electromagnetic radiation runs from long-wave - radio waves, microwaves, infra-red (IR), through the visible-light spectrum, down to short-wave – ultra-violet (UV), x-rays and gamma-rays. Although you cannot see IR radiation, you can feel it warming you when you sit by a fire. Indeed, the visible part of the spectrum used to be called “luminous heat” and the invisible IR radiation “non-luminous heat”, back in the 1800s when such things were slowly being figured-out.

Sunshine is an example of radiation. Unlike conduction and convection, radiation has the distinction of being able to travel from its source straight through the vacuum of space. Thus, Solar radiation travels through that vacuum for some 150 million kilometres, to reach our planet at a near-constant rate. Some Solar radiation, especially short-wave UV light, is absorbed by our atmosphere. Some is reflected straight back to space by cloud-tops. The rest makes it all the way down to the ground, where it is reflected from lighter surfaces or absorbed by darker ones. That's why black tarmac road surfaces can heat up until they melt on a bright summer's day.


Figure 3: Heat haze above a warmed road-surface, Lincoln Way in San Francisco, California. May 2007. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Energy balance

What has all of the above got to do with global warming? Well, through its radiation-flux, the Sun heats the atmosphere, the surfaces of land and oceans. The surfaces heated by solar radiation in turn emit infrared radiation, some of which can escape directly into space, but some of which is absorbed by the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, mostly carbon dioxide, water vapour, and methane. Greenhouse gases not only slow down the loss of energy from the surface, but also re-radiate that energy, some of which is directed back down towards the surface, increasing the surface temperature and increasing how much energy is radiated from the surface. Overall, this process leads to a state where the surface is warmer than it would be in the absence of an atmosphere with greenhouse gases. On average, the amount of energy radiated back into space matches the amount of energy being received from the Sun, but there's a slight imbalance that we'll come to.

If this system was severely out of balance either way, the planet would have either frozen or overheated millions of years ago. Instead the planet's climate is (or at least was) stable, broadly speaking. Its temperatures generally stay within bounds that allow life to thrive. It's all about energy balance. Figure 4 shows the numbers.

Energy Budget AR6 WGI Figure 7_2

Figure 4: Schematic representation of the global mean energy budget of the Earth (upper panel), and its equivalent without considerations of cloud effects (lower panel). Numbers indicate best estimates for the magnitudes of the globally averaged energy balance components in W m–2 together with their uncertainty ranges in parentheses (5–95% confidence range), representing climate conditions at the beginning of the 21st century. Figure adapted for IPCC AR6 WG1 Chapter 7, from Wild et al. (2015).

While the flow in and out of our atmosphere from or to space is essentially the same, the atmosphere is inhibiting the cooling of the Earth, storing that energy mostly near its surface. If it were simply a case of sunshine straight in, infra-red straight back out, which would occur if the atmosphere was transparent to infra-red (it isn't) – or indeed if there was no atmosphere, Earth would have a similar temperature-range to the essentially airless Moon. On the Lunar equator, daytime heating can raise the temperature to a searing 120OC, but unimpeded radiative cooling means that at night, it gets down to around -130OC. No atmosphere as such, no greenhouse effect.

Clearly, the concentrations of greenhouse gases determine their energy storage capacity and therefore the greenhouse effect's strength. This is particularly the case for those gases that are non-condensing at atmospheric temperatures. Of those non-condensing gases, carbon dioxide is the most important. Because it only exists as vapour, the main way it is removed is as a weak solution of carbonic acid in rainwater – indeed the old name for carbon dioxide was 'carbonic acid gas'. That means once it's up there, it has a long 'atmospheric residency', meaning it takes a long time to be removed. 

Earth’s temperature can be stable over long periods of time, but to make that possible, incoming energy and outgoing energy have to be exactly the same, in a state of balance known as ‘radiative equilibrium’. That equilibrium can be disturbed by changing the forcing caused by any components of the system. Thus, for example, as the concentration of carbon dioxide has fluctuated over geological time, mostly on gradual time-scales but in some cases abruptly, so has the planet's energy storage capacity. Such fluctuations have in turn determined Earth's climate state, Hothouse or Icehouse – the latter defined as having Polar ice-caps present, of whatever size. Currently, Earth’s energy budget imbalance averages out at just under +1 watt per square metre - that’s global warming. 

That's all in accordance with the laws of Thermodynamics. The First Law of Thermodynamics states that the total energy of an isolated system is constant - while energy can be transformed from one component to another it can be neither created nor destroyed. Self-evidently, the "isolated" part of the law must require that the sun and the cosmos be included. They are both components of the system: without the Sun as the prime energy generator, Earth would be frozen and lifeless; with the Sun but without Earth's emitted energy dispersing out into space, the planet would cook, Just thinking about Earth's surface and atmosphere in isolation is to ignore two of this system's most important components.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics does not state that the only flow of energy is from hot to cold - but instead that the net sum of the energy flows will be from hot to cold. To reiterate, the qualifier term, 'net', is the important one here. In the case of the Earth-Sun system, it is again necessary to consider all of the components and their interactions: the sunshine, the warmed surface giving off IR radiation into the cooler atmosphere, the greenhouse gases re-emitting that radiation in all directions and finally the radiation emitted from the top of our atmosphere, to disperse out into the cold depths of space. That energy is not destroyed – it just disperses in all directions into the cold vastness out there. Some of it even heads towards the Sun too - since infra-red radiation has no way of determining that it is heading towards a much hotter body than the Earth,

Earth’s energy budget makes sure that all portions of the system are accounted for and this is routinely done in climate models. No violations exist. Greenhouse gases return some of the energy back towards Earth's surface but the net flow is still out into space. John Tyndall, in a lecture to the Royal Institution in 1859, recognised this. He said:

Tyndall 1859

As long as carbon emissions continue to rise, so will that planetary energy imbalance. Therefore, the only way to take the situation back towards stability is to reduce those emissions.

Update June 2023:

For additional links to relevant blog posts, please look at the "Further Reading" box, below.

Last updated on 29 June 2023 by John Mason. View Archives

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Comments 451 to 475 out of 974:

  1. Damorbel is doing here exactly what he has been doing on the Wikipedia Temperature talk page. He makes repeated objections based on his flawed understanding of the subject, then accuses others who have taken the time to correct his nonsense of attempting to distort the issue. He has absolutely no interest in understanding anything you guys may say to him. He simply wants to argue.
  2. Re #449 you wrote:- "Before that there was 'albedo', multi-layer insulation, 'sunlight can't make it out of the water', 'constant disequilibrium', 'elastic collision of photons', and the lovely bit of obfuscation, "All materials, even gases, have a refractive index >1, consequently no material substance can behave according to the definition of a black body"." This isn't a scientific argument of any sort, you do know that don't you? You cannot possibly imagine that material with a refractive index >1 can be a 'black body; it is in Kirchhoff's original definition; you have read Kirchhoff's work, haven't you? I think you may have trouble in discussing the matter you refer to as "elastic collision of photons". Photons do not collide there is no known collision process for photons, elastic or inelastic. Photons begin and end at electric charge, free or bound; that is the whole basis of electrophysics. I am beginning to wonder if you are aware of this.
  3. Re #449 Sorry, the link doesn't work. refractive index
  4. I do not claim, KR, 337, that all AGW theories contradict the second law. It is just that many of them do. Most of them confuse heat and energy, which is where entropy comes in. One such explanation, which you can still find in modern text-books, (Houghton for example) is the original greenhouse radiative effect. Consider a greenhouse made of non-absorbing material, such as rock salt. It will absorb heat from the sun, the interior will heat up, and, with convective cooling eliminated, the internal temperature will be higher than the surroundings (G and T’s car interiors, for example). The greenhouse will radiate W watts per square meter, proportional to the fourth power of its temperature. Now replace the rock salt cover with glass, which absorbs infra-red radiation. Half of the outgoing radiation will return to the interior, which, so the story goes, will heat up until it radiates 2W. The original W will then be radiated to the atmosphere, and W will be returned to the interior. The ratio of the glass interior temperature to the rock salt interior temperature will be the fourth root of 2, or 1.19. An increase of 19% of the rock-salt interior absolute temperature, or about 60 degrees C. Does that argument sound familiar? You will find it in part 1 of the Rabett paper to which SOD contributed. It is, of course, wrong. Back radiation from the cooler glass cannot heat the warmer interior. It would breach the second law if it did. To check this R W Woods built two greenhouses – one rock salt, one glass – so that their convective warming would be identical. Any back-radiative effect would heat the glass green-house preferentially. Their temperatures were the same. “Higher is Colder”, is not “part of the greenhouse effect”. It is the only plausible way of explaining how increasing atmospheric absorption and emission can increase the surface temperature. Incidentally, it is a mechanism which G and T did not discuss, although it was current from 1900 onwards. Think about an atmosphere without a lapse rate – an isothermal atmosphere where higher is not colder. Add greenhouse gasses, increase absorption, and you suggest that the atmospheric temperature will increase. What would happen if it did? Apply the Stefan-Bolzmann equation to the radiation to space, and energy emission will also increase (proportional to the fourth power of the atmospheric temperature). But the incoming energy, from the sun, will not change. So the atmospheric temperature will fall back to its original value. With a lapse rate, you can suggest that the effective emission level moves up to a colder region, reducing energy emission. All the temperatures must then increase to restore the balance. The only snag with that argument is that the evidence from the last 30 years shows that it does not happen to any detectable extent.
  5. Fred Staples - Even in the toy case of an isothermal atmosphere, absorbing/emitting greenhouse gases will increase the stable temperature. Power emitted must equal power received at equilibrium. Greenhouse gases do not affect power received (visible light window), while they decrease planetary emissivity in IR by radiating part of the energy back to the surface. Given the Stefan-Boltzmann relationship, if emissivity decreases power radiated decreases, causing an imbalance. An increase in greenhouse gases directly decreases emissivity by absorption band deepening and widening. This drops emitted energy to space. Power = emissivity * SB constant * Area * T^4 That imbalance will persist (accumulating energy, increasing temperatures) until radiated power rises to the level of incoming power again, at a higher stable surface temperature. The temperature will not drop again under those circumstances, because the emissivity of the planet remains lower. The only way to reduce the stable temperature of the planet would be to increase emissivity, by (for example) decreasing GHG's. Emissivity does not magically drop when the imbalance zeros out, which seems to be what you are asserting. Current Earth effective planetary emissivity is ~0.612, with ~240 W/m^2 entering and then going to space. Doubling CO2 creates an imbalance of 3.7 W/m^2, which is equivalent to reducing emissivity to 0.6026 by simple power scaling. Earth surface temperature is ~14C, or 287.15K. Calculating: ( 287.15^4 / ( 0.6026/0.612 ) ) ^ 0.25 = 288.27K The surface temperature under those conditions rises to 288.27K, or 15.1C, matching the 1.1C rise predicted for doubling CO2 with no feedbacks.
  6. Fred Staples - My apologies, I'm mixing two examples in my last post. The isothermal atmosphere example you posit will increase in temperature due to increased GHG absorption, and will remain stable at that higher temperature unless the emissivity increases. That's a requirement of the S-B law. Temperature and emissivity are the two flexible values if emitted power is fixed - as one goes up, the other goes down. And in this case temperature is the dependent variable; emissivity is the driving variable. The actual Earth system includes both band widening/deepening as well as lapse rate driven cooling of the emissive layer. But both are part of the radiative greenhouse effect. Rock salt convective greenhouses are irrelevant to this - and the Woods experiments have been repeatedly debunked over time.
  7. Posting here in hope PhysSci will respond in correct place? "Regarding satellite observations of atmospheric absorption of IR radiation emanating from the surface, they show just that 'absorption' and provide no evidence for a temperature change due to such absorption" Consider ground detectors of IR (DLR). If there is no evidence of temperature change at the surface, explain to me how these detectors work? You seem to be implying that energy absorption by the surface of the detector is not allowed? As to efficiency of radiation cf convection. Lets see surface radiation averages 390W/m2. Convection moves 12W/m2 (and zero off planet).
  8. This is a response to scaddenp from another blog. I've been asked to post this here as a more relevant place ----------------------- scaddenp - Yes, I have read the article "2nd Law of thermodynamics and greenhouse theory". Firstly, I never said that the GH theory violates the 2nd Law of thermo. I said it violates the First Law pertaining to energy conservation, which is even worse, because among the 4 laws of thermodynamics, only the First one is mathematically exact! Secondly, the above article makes a common mistake as many other popular publications do by using the 'blanket' analogy to describe the working of the atmospheric GH effect. Specifically it states: "The Earth loses heat to space, and your body loses heat to the environment. Greenhouse gases slow down the rate of heat-loss from the surface of the Earth, like a blanket that slows down the rate at which your body loses heat. The result is the same in both cases, the surface of the Earth, or of your body, gets warmer." Nothing can be more misleading! As I explained in a previous posting (now deleted!), blankets, coats, and real greenhouses preserve heat by obstructing convective heat exchange, not radiative cooling, i.e. by physically trapping air mass. The free atmosphere does not impose any restriction on the surface convective cooling. That is why the term 'atmospheric greenhouse effect' is a misnomer, and has been identified as such in the science literature back in the 1970s and 80s. In addition, since IR radiation travels at the speed of light, it can only be trapped by materials of very low emissivity and (respectively) high IR reflectivity such as aluminum, polish silver etc. This fact is well known in the insulation industry and is the basis for the so-called radiant barrier technology pioneered by NASA some 40 years ago. Since the atmosphere contains no IR-reflecting substances, and has a negligibly small heat storage capacity, it cannot physically 'trap' heat of any kind (radiative or convective)! Now, here is why the GH theory violates the First law of thermodynamics. These facts are well-known in the science literature, but not usually discussed in popular outlets such as this website - Satellite and surface based observations have determined that the Earth-atmosphere system absorbs on average 239 W m-2 solar (short-wave) radiation. At the same time, the lower troposphere emits towards the surface some 343 W m-2 long-wave radiation (the so-called down-welling thermal flux). If the GH effect were due to absorption and re-emission of IR energy by greenhouse gases ultimately traceable to solar input as claimed by the current theory, then how is it possible that the down-welling thermal flux exceeds the total solar input by 44% (343/239 = 1.44). Simply put, observations indicate that the lower troposphere of Earth contains significantly more internal energy than provided by the Sun. This situation is extreme on Venus, where the down-welling thermal flux is about 80 times larger than the average absorbed solar flux by the entire planetary system of Venus! Given the rather small heat storage capacity of the atmospheres on both planets, these data cannot be explained in the context of the current GH theory founded on radiation interception without violating the Firs law of thermo! ... Yes, the lower atmosphere does contain energy above and beyond of what the Sun provides, but the source of that energy is not IR radiation! It's something else and much more fundamental ... Can you guess what it is?
  9. scaddenp - Read my posting above and it will answer some of your questions. Regarding the efficiency of energy transfer by radiation vs, convection, in the atmosphere (which is a fluid), convective cooling is much more efficient than radiative cooling, simply because radiative heat exchange depends on the 4th power of absolute temperatures, while convection depends on the simple difference between temperatures. That's with respect to sensible heat flux. Latent heat flux (i.e. cooling due to evaporation) can transfer heat even across zero or negative temperature gradients as long as there is a spatial gradient in water vapor concentrations. Most convective cooling of the Earth surface is due to latent heat fluxes. Globally, the convective cooling of Earth's surface (sensible + latent heat flux) is at least 2.5 times bigger than the long-wave radiative cooling. Check papers by Trenberth et al (1997, 2009). As I said in my previous posting, the lower troposphere contains more energy than supplied by the Sun. Where is that energy coming from?
  10. since IR radiation travels at the speed of light, it can only be trapped by materials of very low emissivity and (respectively) high IR reflectivity such as aluminum, polish silver etc.
    Er, no. Somehow, my skin (which is an awful long way from being aluminium or polished silver) traps IR radiation quite effectively - I know I quite appreciate that fact during the cooler months, standing under the heat lamps in the bathroom! To argue that IR is only trapped by materials that effectively reflect it is a fundamental misunderstanding of radiative heat transfer.
    This fact is well known in the insulation industry and is the basis for the so-called radiant barrier technology pioneered by NASA some 40 years ago.
    Er, again, no. The "radiant barrier technology" doesn't absorb IR - it reflects it. You know, bounces it back where it comes from. Foil layers in building insulation are used to do just that - reflect IR either back into the home (to warm it in cold climates) or back out of the home (to stop it heating up in warm climates). As for your comments as to why GH theory violates the First law of thermodynamics - sigh. I suggest you do a bit more reading about radiative heat transfer and the greenhouse effect. Pay particular attention to the bits about how the surface of the earth is about 30ºC warmer than a simple radiative balance with solar input would suggest.
    Response: [DB] Careful, the D-K is strong in this one. I fear you are in for a long slog in your efforts.
  11. Ben, You are mixing apples and oranges here, and obviously do not understand the subject being discussed... Your skin is a strong absorber of IR, but it is also a strong emitter of IR ... When I say 'IR trapping', I mean preventing of IR radiation generated inside from escaping to the outside. That prevention is done NOT through high-emissivity materials but by using low-e (thermally highly reflective) materials ... Talk to any engine mechanics, and he will tell you that in order to help cool an engine, they use black covers of high IR emissivity. That's because such covers help transfer more efficiently the IR heat generated by the engine to the outside environment ... I have done more reading about the radiative transfer theory than you can imagine. From your response regarding the First Law of thermo, I gather that you did not understand my points in the previous posting. Please, read it again and think it through one more time ... I'm not your 'garden variety' of 'climate skeptics', and believe me there is hardly anything you could tell me that I do not already know. On the other hand, I could probably tell you a few things that would enhance your knowledge on this subject ... For example, did you know that this 30 deg (or actually 33 deg) GH effect that's quoted in all popular literature, is mathematically wrong? One arrives at this number, when solving the S-B equation for temperature using observed solar irradiance and the Earth's total albedo. However, since radiation is a 4th power function of the absolute temperature, if one has a non-uniform distributions of temperatures such as on a spherical planet, one does NOT get the TRUE mean surface temperature by simply inverting the S-B equation. Mathematically, this is explained by Hoelder's inequality. The correct way to calculate the 'black-body' (airless) temperature of Earth (or any planet for that matter) is to first take the 4th root of the radiation absorbed at EVERY point on the surface, and THEN average (integrate) the resulting temperatures across the planet surface. When one does that, one finds that the actual GH effect is 133C. That's right - the presence of an atmosphere raises the average temperature on Earth by 133C, not 33C! ... This implies the presence of considerable EXTRA energy in the lower atmosphere above the amount supplied by the Sun. I hope this helps ...
    Response: [muoncounter] Please check that you have the correct names of those to whom you respond. Please refrain from subjective judgment as to who understands what and lofty declaratives like "there is hardly anything you could tell me that I do not already know." Those kinds of statements do not serve to enhance your credibility. Please note also that you've claimed a lot of reading and have yet to cite a single scientific reference. The preferred style here at SkS is to make a point and immediately show some substantiation of it, preferably from a peer-reviewed publication. If you've read this thread from the beginning, you've noted that opinion-based science doesn't usually stand scrutiny - and those discussions do little except go in circles. If you follow these suggestions, you'll find that you can have a worthwhile debate.
  12. PhysSci... I believe your proclamations belong in the "Your Nobel Awaits" category. What you say goes completely against almost all published and accepted literature on the topic. My guess is you know far less about this topic than you claim to know. But I could be wrong. In that case, write up your ideas, publish it, receive the Nobel Prize for overturning a century of basic physics. I'm not joking here. If you're right you quite literally will win the Nobel Prize. What an incredible opportunity! Don't you think? Outside of that, all I see is a case study for D-K.
  13. That's fine, moderator (97). I will move to here and, without waving my hands, invoking the second law, or mentioning entropy, I will attempt to demonstrate that energy is characterised by both quantity and quality. In any transaction involving energy transfer, quantity is conserved. Quality is not.
  14. PhysSci @458:
    That is why the term 'atmospheric greenhouse effect' is a misnomer, and has been identified as such in the science literature back in the 1970s and 80s. In addition, since IR radiation travels at the speed of light, it can only be trapped by materials of very low emissivity and (respectively) high IR reflectivity such as aluminum, polish silver etc. This fact is well known in the insulation industry and is the basis for the so-called radiant barrier technology pioneered by NASA some 40 years ago.
    IR radiation can also be trapped by a high emissivity substance with low temperature. This follows straightforwardly from the fact that absorption is a function of emissivity and the incident radiation (and hence not of temperature), while emission is a function of emissivity and temperature. To illustrate this point, consider a source of heat and a heat sink in a vacuum. Suppose all waste heat is disposed of through the heat sink. In this instance, we can change the temperature of the heat source by changing the emissivity of the heat sink. If we increase the emissivity, we will cool the heat source; and vice versa. But we can also change the temperature of the heat source by changing the conductivity of the connection between heat source and sink. Increasing conductivity will cool the heat source, while reducing it will heat it - even though there is no change in emissivity. @461:
    " The correct way to calculate the 'black-body' (airless) temperature of Earth (or any planet for that matter) is to first take the 4th root of the radiation absorbed at EVERY point on the surface, and THEN average (integrate) the resulting temperatures across the planet surface. When one does that, one finds that the actual GH effect is 133C. That's right - the presence of an atmosphere raises the average temperature on Earth by 133C, not 33C!"
    It is true that equalizing the temperature ranges on the surface of the planet will increase the global mean temperature, and adding an atmosphere and/or ocean to a planet will tend to equalize temperatures. But this is not the greenhouse effect, and should not be confused with it. Therefore including the impact of this effect as part of the greenhouse effect as you have done is an error. The effect you are relying on here would hold with a nitrogen only atmosphere, while the greenhouse effect would not. I will note that calculating the energy balance of the Earth on a one dimensional model will over estimate the Earth's surface temperature. The fact that the Earth's surface is warmer than this over estimated temperature indicates that there is more, not less to be explained by the actual green house effect. I will further note that GCM and energy balance models are not one dimensional calculations, so the overestimation indicated above is not a feature of climate science per se, but only of some simple models used to illustrate a particular concept in climatology. Finally, I will note that because increasing the greenhouse effect reduces the temperature difference between poles and equator, and between night and day; the effect you mention is an additional positive feedback on the greenhouse effect.
  15. Rob Honeycutt @ 462: I agree that what I'm saying goes against the popular believes, but it is fully supported by the scientific literature... Regarding your Nobel Prize remark, I'm flattered ...:-) I'm writing up my ideas in a comprehensive paper (currently over 70 pages long, single space), which I hope to be published sometime this year. However, I do NOT care about the Nobel Prize! I lost respect for that institution after they awarded IPCC, and especially after giving a Peace Prize to Obama at the time when he was just getting into office while expanding the wars. In my opinion, the Nobel Prize has become as corrupt as many other institutions in our society... What's important here is to promote real knowledge and help the intellectual and spiritual evolution of mankind. Oftentimes, these things are done outside the (corrupt) 'establishment'. So my focus is in that direction, not at the 'carrot on a stick' ... :-)
    Response: [muoncounter] Please read the Comments Policy, taking note that accusations of corruption, dishonesty, fraud, etc (even parenthetically) are usually deleted.
  16. Tom Curtis @ 464: Providing a comprehensive response to your comments/questions would require repeating the content of my paper (which I mentioned above). So, you'll have to wait until it's published. However, I'll point out two things: 1) I never claimed that the GH effect was equalizing the temperatures on a surface of a planet, although this is one of the products of the GH effect. As I explained in my posting #458, the lower troposphere contains much more internal energy than provided by the Sun. Therefore, trying to explain the GH effect with a transformation (recycling) of solar energy (as attempted by the current theory) inevitably clashes with the First Law of thermodynamics. 2) The nature of the GH effect has specifically to do with that extra energy in the lower atmosphere. Now, ponder this for a while: the so-called 'greenhouse' effect is NOT a radiative phenomenon, but a thermodynamic one!
  17. muoncounter - Note taken! This was only my personal (unscientific) opinion, and I'm far from the thought that I can prove that in the court of law ... :-)
  18. muoncounter, I have a question for you - how do you upload a PDF file to this blog?
    Response: [DB] You can only link to it. Permissible HTML tags can be found here.
  19. Just a very general point. Your claims involve a different interpretation of thermodynamics from the theory that has served us so well so far. Since you are sure the textbook is wrong and you are right, do you also accept the principle that your claims must account for empirical results? Ie if the textbook interpretation of thermodynamics accounts for observation results and yours do not, then perhaps the textbook is correct and you need to do more reading?
  20. scaddenp @ 469: What different interpretation of the thermodynamics do you mean? Can you be more specific? I believe my claims and the new GH theory I'm proposing is in 100% agreement with the classical thermodynamics.
  21. PhysSci @466, you claimed that the surface temperature of the Earth is raised, not by 33 degrees C, but 133 degrees C. You claimed this based on an integration of the 4th root of the radiation absorbed at every point over the planet, attributing the entire difference between the temperature so derived and the actual mean global surface temperature to the greenhouse effect. That is an error, as I have pointed out. A significant portion of the difference in temperature (but not all) is due to the equalization of temperatures across the Earth's surface by heat transfer by wind and ocean currents (and also temporally by thermal inertia). To determine the actual greenhouse effect, you would need to find the surface temperature distribution that equalizes incoming and outgoing radiation in the case where there is a thermally equivalent atmosphere and ocean, but no GHG (including water vapour). Taking the difference between that solution and the actual situation would then find the strength of the greenhouse effect. Alternatively, we can find the lower limit of the strength of the greenhouse effect by calculating the globally averaged temperature needed to balance globally averaged insolation, and taking the difference from the actual globally averaged mean temperature. That lower limit is a 33 degree increase in temperature increase beyond the maximum increase that can be accounted for by the redistribution of temperature. The upper bound is certainly not 133 degrees. My previous comments where not questions, but criticisms. Your answer is that its all in your unpublished paper. (I suggest you try Energy & Environment for publication, for otherwise I suspect it will be unpublishable.) That, however, is nonresponsive. Appealing to the authority of an unpublished, and hence uncheckable paper is not better than claiming your pronouncements are true ex cathedra.
  22. I'd like to make a clarification - I'm intentionally providing the participants in this blog with certain pieces of science facts and observations that are not normally discussed on this website (due to the blocking effect of the current paradigm), so that all of you could start thinking (critically) and evolving your understanding in a new direction. I have solid answers to all questions you have posted so far, but I do not want to discuss the details (reveal 'secrets') until my paper is published, because it does introduce a qualitatively new paradigm, which may cause an 'Aha' moment in many of you ... :-) The GH theory I present in my paper is very coherent and explains climate variations on a wide range of time scales (from decades to billions of years). For example, it readily explains observations that are problematic for the present concept such as the big swings in Earth's climate over the past billion years from 'snowball-earth' events to 'hothouses', and the giant cooling trend experienced by our planet over the past 51 million years. For those of you not familiar with paleo-climate data, the Earth surface was about 16C warmer than today 51 million years ago, and the climate was equable, i.e. with little temperature difference between equator and the poles. Current GCMs have a hell of a time simulating such an equable climate, and my theory explains it why. The global temperature has been sliding down ever since (following an irregular pattern) despite the slight increase of Sun's luminosity over this time period. So, think about the facts I presented to you as well as some other questions such as: - Where is the solid empirical evidence that CO2 has impacted Earth's climate in the past? - Why has the global temperature stopped rising over the past 10 years, and why there has been no statistically significant warming for the past 15 years despite the continuing increase in atmospheric concentrations of 'greenhouse gas'? - Why do global observations show no increase of temperature in the tropics and higher southern latitudes over the past 30 years when greenhouse gases have increased uniformity everywhere? Satellite data show that the Southern hemisphere has not had any statistically significant warming since 1979 meaning that nearly all warming was due to temperature increases in the Northern Hemisphere. In other words, recent global warming attributed to anthropogenic activity is actually not Global. - Why had the Arctic region experienced a significant warming trend over the past 100 years while Antarctica (as a whole) shows no discernible temperature trend, or even a slight cooling in some areas? - Why do variations in global temperature over the past 27 years correlate much better with observed changes in cloud albedo than with those in GH gases? - Why do reconstructed global temperatures for the past 1000 years correlate much better with reconstructed solar magnetic activity than with CO2 concentrations? (In fact, the CO2-temperature correlation over the past 1000 years is almost zero). Wishing peace and mental clarity to all of you!
    Response: Everyone who responds to this, please do so either by simply and briefly pointing to the appropriate threads, or by responding on those appropriate threads and posting a comment here, pointing to there. After a short grace period, I'll start deleting off topic comments from here.

    - Regarding the empirical evidence that CO2 has affected Earth's climate in the past: There are several relevant Arguments on this site. Just one is "There’s no correlation between CO2 and temperature."

    - Regarding your claim that the temperature has not risen for the past 10 to 15 years, see "It hasn’t warmed since 1998" and "Global warming stopped in 1998, 1995, 2002, 2007, 2010, ????."
  23. PhysSci @472, I have never been one to trust all seeing oracles, particularly when the will not let us look behind the curtain. As you do not want to discuss your theories here, you have nothing to contribute. Come back when you have satisfied yourself that no-one will accept your theories for publication; and are therefore prepared to actually talk about them.
  24. PhysSci - as others are pointing out, there is in fact quite a divergence from how textbooks interpret the laws of thermodynamics. Textbook thermodynamics find GHE in perfect concordance for a start. I will aware you do not believe this, so I ask again, if the textbook interpretation of thermodynamics accounts for observation results and yours do not, then perhaps the textbook is correct and you need to do more reading? Eg. theory has no problem in making quite good estimate of planetary temperature from TSI, albedo - and GHG. Easily within a degree for moon, mars, venus, earth etc. Your theory has to be able to do the same. As to your question above, click on Arguments and look them up. If you dont find the answer satisfying, then comment on the answer in that particular thread. Back your assertions with papers and data.
  25. Actually most of the answers to what you are questioning can be found in IPCC WG1. I wonder if you have read it?

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