Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
My thanks to Nick Stokes and Joel Shore. In the comments to my post on the effects of atmospheric black carbon, Extremely Black Carbon, they brought up and we discussed the results of Ramanathan et al. (PDF, hereinafter R2008). Black carbon, aka fine soot, is an atmospheric pollutant that has been implicated in warming when it lands on snow. However, despite many claims to the contrary, atmospheric black carbon cools the surface rather than warming it.
There is an important implication in Ramanathan’s work regarding the canonical claim of AGW supporters that changes in surface temperature slavishly follow changes in forcing. Their claim is that the change in surface air temperature ( ∆T ) in degrees Celsius is a constant “lambda” ( λ ) called the “climate sensitivity” times the change in forcing ( ∆F ) in watts per square metre (W/m2). Or as an equation, the claim is that ∆T = λ ∆F, where lambda( λ ) is the climate sensitivity.
In R2008 they discuss the effect of black carbon (BC) on the atmosphere. Here’s the figure from R2008 that I want to talk about.
Figure 1. Figure 2C from R2008 ORIGINAL CAPTION: BC [black carbon] forcing obtained by running the Chung et al. analysis with and without BC. The forcing values are valid for the 2001–2003 period and have an uncertainty of ±50%. [Presumably 1 sigma uncertainty]
This figure shows the changes in forcing that R2008 says are occurring from black carbon forcing. Here is R2008′s comment on Figure 1, emphasis mine:
Unlike the greenhouse effect of CO2, which leads to a positive radiative forcing of the atmosphere and at the surface with moderate latitudinal gradients, black carbon has opposing effects of adding energy to the atmosphere and reducing it at the surface.
R2008 also says about black carbon (BC) that:
… as shown in Fig. 2, for BC, the surface forcing is negative whereas the TOA forcing is positive (Fig. 2c).
What are the mechanisms that lead to that re-partitioning of energy between the atmosphere and the surface?
Before I get to the mechanisms, I want to note something in passing. R2008 says that the forcing values have an uncertainty of ± 50%. That means the “Atmosphere” forcing is actually 2.6 ± 1.3 W/m2, and the “Surface” forcing is -1.7 ± 0.85 W/m2. This means that there is about a 30% chance that their “TOA” forcing, which is atmosphere plus surface, is actually less than zero … just sayin’, because Ramanathan didn’t mention that part. But for now, let’s use their figures.
PART I – What’s going on in Figure 1?
According to R2008, atmospheric black carbon causes the surface to cool and the atmosphere to warm. The surface is cooled by atmospheric black carbon through a couple of mechanisms. First, some of the sunlight headed for the surface is absorbed by the black carbon, so it doesn’t directly warm the surface. Second, any sunlight intercepted in the atmosphere does not have a greenhouse multiplier effect. Together, they say these effects cool the surface by -1.7 W/m2.
The atmosphere is warmed directly because it is intercepting more sunlight, with a net change of + 2.6 W/m2.
R2008 then notes that the net of the two forcings, 0.9 W/m2, is the change in the top-of-atmosphere (TOA) forcing.
The authors go on to say that because black carbon (BC) has opposite effects on the surface and atmosphere, the normal rules are suspended:
Because BC forcing results in a vertical redistribution of the solar forcing, a simple scaling of the forcing with the CO2 doubling climate sensitivity parameter may not be appropriate.
In other words, normally they would multiply forcing times sensitivity to give temperature change. In this case that would be 0.9 W/m2 times a sensitivity of 0.8 °C per W/m2 to give us an expected temperature rise of three-quarters of a degree. But they say we can’t do that here.
This exposes an underlying issue I want to point out. The current paradigm of climate is that the surface temperature is ruled by the forcing, so when the forcing goes up the surface temperature must, has to, is required, to go up as well. And vice versa. There is claimed to be a linear relationship between forcing and temperature.
Yet in this case, the TOA forcing is going up, but the surface forcing is going down. Why is that?
To describe that, let me use something I call the “greenhouse gain”. It is one way to measure the efficiency of the poorly-named “greenhouse” effect. In an electronic amplifier, the equivalent would be the gain between the input and output. For the greenhouse, the gain can be measured as the global average surface upwelling radiation (W/m2) divided by the global input, the average TOA incoming solar radiation (W/m2) after albedo. For the earth this is ~ 390W/m2 upwelling surface radiation, divided by the input of ~ 235 W/m2 after albedo, or about 1.66. That’s one way to measure the gain the surface of the earth is getting from the greenhouse effect.
Note that the surface temperature is exquisitely sensitive to the surface gain of the greenhouse effect. The gain is a measure of the efficiency of the entire greenhouse system. If the greenhouse gain goes down from 1.66 to 1.64, the surface radiation changes by ~ 4 W/m2 … on the order of the size of a doubling of CO2. Note also that the greenhouse gain depends in part on the albedo, since the 235W/m2 in the denominator is after albedo reflections.
Here is the core issue. For the “greenhouse” system to have its full effect, the sunlight absolutely must be absorbed by the surface. Only then does it get the surface temperature gain from the greenhouse, because some of the surface radiated energy is being returned to the surface. But if the solar energy is absorbed in the atmosphere, it doesn’t get that greenhouse gain.
So that is what is happening in Figure 1. The black carbon short-circuits the greenhouse effect, reducing the greenhouse thermal gain, and as a result, the atmosphere warms and the surface cools.
PART II – Almost Black Carbon
R2008 discusses the question of the 0.9 W/m2 of TOA forcing that is the net of the atmosphere warming and surface cooling. What I want to point out is that the 0.9 W/m2 of TOA forcing is not fixed. It depends on the exact qualities of the aerosol involved. Reflective aerosols, for example, cool both the atmosphere and the surface, by reflecting solar radiation back to space. Black carbon, on the other hand warms the atmosphere and cools the surface.
Consider a thought experiment. Suppose that instead of black carbon (BC), the atmosphere contained almost-black carbon (ABC). Almost-black carbon (ABC) is a fanciful substance which is identical to black carbon in every way except ABC reflects a bit more visible light. Perhaps ABC is what is now called “brown carbon”, maybe it’s some other aerosol that is slightly more reflective than black carbon.
As you might imagine, because almost-black carbon reflects some of the light that is absorbed by BC, the atmosphere doesn’t warm as much. The surface cooling is identical, but the almost black carbon reflects some of the energy instead of absorbing it as black carbon would do. As a result, let us say that conditions are such that ABC warms the atmosphere by 1.7 W/m2 and cools the surface by -1.7 W/m2. There is no physical reason that this could not be the case, as aerosols have a wide range of reflectivity.
And of course, at that point we have no change in the TOA radiation, but despite that the surface is cooling.
Which brings me at last to the point of this post. To remind everyone, the canonical equation says that the change in surface air temperature ( ∆T ) in degrees Celsius is some constant “lambda” ( λ ) times the change in TOA forcing ( ∆F ) in watts per square metre (W/m2). Or as an equation, ∆T = λ ∆F, where lambda( λ) is the climate sensitivity.
But in fact, all that has to happen to make that equation fall apart is for something to interfere with the greenhouse gain. If the efficiency of the greenhouse system is reduced in any one of a number of ways, by black carbon in the atmosphere or increase in cloud albedo or any other mechanism, the surface temperature goes down … REGARDLESS OF WHAT HAPPENS WITH TOA FORCING.
This means that the surface temperature is not simply a function of the TOA forcing, and this clearly falsifies the canonical equation.
In fact, I can think of several ways that surface temperature can be decoupled from forcing, and I’m sure there are more.
The first one is what we’ve just been discussing. If anything changes the greenhouse thermal gain up or down, the TOA radiation can stay unchanged while the surface radiation (and thus surface temperature) goes either up or down.
The second is that clouds can decrease the amount of incoming energy. It only takes a trivial change in the clouds to completely counterbalance a doubling of CO2. This is a major function of the tropical clouds, which counteract increasing forcing by forming both earlier and thicker.
The third is that the system can change the partitioning between the throughput and the turbulence. The throughput is the amount of energy that is simply transported from the equator to the poles and rejected back to space. On the other hand, the turbulence is the energy that ultimately goes into heating the climate system. In accordance with the Constructal Law, the system is constantly evolving to maximize the total of these two.
Fourth, the El Nino/La Nina system regulates the amount of cool ocean water that is brought to the surface, as well as increasing the heat loss, to avoid overheating. (One curious consequence of this is that the surface temperature in the El Nino 3.4 area has not warmed over the entire period of record … but I digress).
Part III – CONCLUSIONS
The conclusion is that the simplistic paradigm of a linear relationship between temperature and forcing can’t survive the observations of Ramanathan regarding black carbon. For the surface temperature to vary without changes in the TOA forcing, all that needs to happen is for the greenhouse thermal gain to change.
APPENDIX- How it works out
For the math involved, let me steal a diagram from my post, “The Steel Greenhouse“
Figure 2. Single-shell (“two-layer”) greenhouse system, including various losses. S is the sun, E is the Earth, and G is the atmospheric greenhouse shell around the Earth. The height of the shell is greatly exaggerated; in reality the shell is so close to the Earth that they have about the same area, and thus the small difference in area can be neglected. Fig. 2(a) shows a perfect greenhouse. W is the total watts/m2 available to the greenhouse system after albedo. Fig. 2(b) is the same as Fig. 2(a) plus radiation losses Lr which pass through the atmosphere, and albedo losses ( L_albedo ), shown as W0-W. Fig. 2(c) is the same as Fig. 2(b), plus the effect of absorption losses La. Fig. 2(d) is the same as Fig. 2(c), plus the effect of thermal losses Lt. These thermal losses can be further subdivided into sensible ( L_sensible ) and latent heat ( L_latent ) losses (not shown).
We are interested in panel (d) at the lower right of Figure 2. It shows the energy balances.
As defined above, the thermal gain ( G ) of a greenhouse is the surface temperature (expressed as the equivalent blackbody radiation) divided by the incoming solar radiation after albedo. In terms of the various losses shown in Figure 2, this means that the greenhouse thermal gain G is therefore:
is the TOA solar radiation (24/7 average 342 W/m2) and
are the respective losses.
The important thing to note here is that if any of these losses change, the greenhouse gain changes. In turn, the surface temperature changes … and the TOA balance doesn’t have to change for that to happen.