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All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.

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Satellite microwave energy million times too small to cause global warming

What the science says...

A generous estimate of the energy generated by satellites is around 1 million times too small to cause global warming.

Climate Myth...

It's satellite microwave transmissions

Global Warming history completely coincides with the history of artificial satellites and the use of microwave frequencies from outer space. Satellite antennas transmit UHF and higher microwaves frequencies all over the planet. Sending oscillating microwaves from an antenna inside a vacuum through an electromagnetic field through a dielectric material, such as water, creates radio frequency heating at the molecular level (source: Global Warming and Microwaves).

According to UCS Active Satellite database, they know of 873 active satellites, for which those whose total power is known average around 3,200 Watts. The biggest was 18,000 Watts. To be generous, let us assume there are 1,000 satellites averaging 5,000 Watts. That yields 5 MegaWatts total. This is equivalent to about 5 big (but not biggest) windmills.

Suppose they were all orbiting about 6500km from the center of the Earth (i.e., Very Low Earth Orbits) and all the power was being radiated towards the Earth (it isn’t). The surface of a 6500km sphere is about 530 million square kilometres which means the incoming energy would be 5 Mega Watts / 530M km2 which is equivalent to ~ 1 Watts/km or 0.000001 Watts/m2.

In other words, the sum amount of energy being emitted towards the Earth from orbiting satellites is no more than 0.000001 Watt/m2. The IPCC AR4 (Figure SPM.2) gives total net anthropogenic forcing as 1.6 Watts/m2.

So, the energy required for satellites to cause global warming is off by a factor of around one million.

Last updated on 20 July 2010 by John Cook.

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Many thanks to John Mashey who originally wrote this response and gave permissionto reproduce it here.


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Comments 26 to 36 out of 36:

  1. grindupBaker...  But it would be the change in the Earth's climate system that matters to us tiny beings living on the planet's surface.

  2. Rob Honeycutt #26 This is true but I have a single-tasking mind and like to keep the waters clear by considering physical realities as the indifferent entities that they are as much as I can. If I can ever manage to grasp them, might move on to spiritual & socio-political. I've scaled mentally by 5,000,000 because I can picture the Earth sphere knocking a small hole in the ceiling with the electromagnetic shining in, 1/8" 90% air, 1/20" oceans, gently warming until they lap the ice away, burping disasters across the land, and so on. It's a human scale.

  3. grindupBaker...  I'm really unclear on what you're attempting to say.

  4. Thank you for the math regarding satellites.  I would be curious what effect all microwave communications have on the climate.  Cell phones towers, WiFi, phones and other devices seem to be working in the water heating frequency range.  Has there been a study calculating the effect of all microwave communication on global heating?  What would it take to change the EM frequencies of communication to avoid the water-warming ones?

  5. tkaczevski:

    No one has provided an answer to you yet, so let me try. My guess is that this question has not been examined in the scientific literature, but there is likely a reason why.

    Let's first think about what your question means. Is the energy in cells phones, etc. a significant amount,, compared to other natural flows? The energy emitted by these sources of EM radiation has to come from somehwere - namely electricity. How much electricity is used to operate these devices?

    I don't know, but scientists have looked at the total contribution of human heat production, and it is only 1% of the amount of energy added to the earth-atmosphere system by the effects of added CO2. SKeptical Science has a page on that subject:

    The fraction of total human-consumed energy that is used for cell phones, etc. is going to be very small. A very small proportion of 1% means that these devices cannot compare to the effects of CO2. I think it is safe to say that the EM radiation emitted by these devices is not a significant source of energy to warm the atmosphere.

  6. Soooo i guess tall can imagine what brought me here...

    How would i check to see if an area is being hit with some sort of radio or otherwise wavelengths to heat up water underground. I have a equalizer of sorts for a radio system i have a. Satellites dish and basically anything else a mechanic might have. If you could help narrow down the frequencies i need to check and way that i could check....may dielectric heating

  7. Chan-c  @31 ,

    Wikipedia can give you some information.  Also, read the article at the head of this page.  The flow of human-caused microwave/radio energy striking the Earth's surface is microscopically small compared the total radiational energy coming from the sun.  And most of the sun's energy reaching Earth is ultraviolet & visible light & shortwave infra-red (shorter than 5 micron wavelength).  In comparison, the sun's radio output is extremely tiny.

    Secondly, have a look at the microwave frequencies absorbed by water (for example, as found in the kitchen microwave oven).  Penetration into soil - which always has traces of water - is a matter of a few centimetres only.  This will not reach down to "underground water".  Perhaps you are thinking of traditional "hot springs" and other very hot underground water ~  but all such hot water is warmed by the heat conducted upwards from the molten interior of the planet.

  8. Would love to see someone crunch the numbers on the effects of nuclear energy and all of the excess h2o vapor and heat those towers are pumping out into the atmosphere...


    [TD] In addition to the links that One Planet posted for you, see the post Greenhouse Warming 100 Times Greater Than Waste Heat. Please put further comments on those topics in the threads of those posts rather than in this thread where it is off topic.

  9. Scrupples @33,

    Water vapour's role in global warming is well understood. Explanations include the SkS item "Explaining how the water vapor greenhouse effect works" and the NASA item "Water Vapor Confirmed as Major Player in Climate Change".

    The understanding is that water vapour levels in the atmosphere can increase as temperature increases. But some long lasting change of global average temperature, like the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere is required to produce a lasting global water vapor feedback change.

    There are many other reasons that nuclear is not a sustainable energy system, a system that can continue to be used by humans far into the future without running out of materials or without accumulating harmful consequences or increased risks of harm, but the water vapor aspect of nuclear power generation is not one of those reasons.

  10. Scrupple's @33,

    Global warming is the result of the way that increased levels of ghg in the atmosphere produce a higher surface temperature to balance the energy coming in to the surface from the Sun.

    So, added heat produced by human activity would not be expected to change the global average surface temperature required to balance the energy out of the planet system with the energy coming in.

  11. OPOF:

    Waste heat does add to AGW.  There is a waste heat thread that deals with this issue.  In the title of the waste heat thread it says greenhouse warming is 100 times waste heat.  The key issue is that greenhouse gasses accumulate every year while waste heat dissipates into space every year.  Since the waste heat does not accumulate, the amount of temperature increase from waste heat is negligable.  The heat accumulation from a single year of carbon emissions is not that much but since it accumulates over time after a while it becomes problematic.

    The energy released from burning fossil fuels adds to the energy coming in from the sun.  The sun provides so much energy that the waste heat is very small by comparison.

    If you have many nuclear reactors near each other the waste heat can cause problems in the heat sink (usually the ocean but also big lakes and rivers).  This is especially a problem in rivers during droughts.  Sometimes traditional power plants have to be shut down during heat waves in  summer because they cause too much heating in rivers.  (Wind and solar do not have this problem).

    Solar panels and wind generators also have small issues with local heat accumulation from changing albeido and wind patterns.  These are sometimes hyped by deniers.  They are not significant compared to the effects of carbon pollution.

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