NASA says AIRS satellite data shows positive water vapor feedback

From this NASA press release I’ll have more on this later. The timing of this release is interesting.

Distribution of mid-tropospheric carbon dioxide

Animation of the distribution of mid-tropospheric carbon dioxide. The transport of carbon dioxide around the world is carried out in the "free atmosphere" above the surface layer. We can observe the transport of carbon dioxide across the Pacific to North America, then across the Atlantic to Europe and the Mediterranean to Asia and back around the globe. The enhanced belt of carbon dioxide in the southern hemisphere is also clearly visible. Image credit: NASA

› Play animation (Quicktime) | › Play animation (Windows Media Player)

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WASHINGTON – Researchers studying carbon dioxide, a leading greenhouse gas and a key driver of global climate change, now have a new tool at their disposal: daily global measurements of carbon dioxide in a key part of our atmosphere. The data are courtesy of the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on NASA’s Aqua spacecraft.

Moustafa Chahine, the instrument’s science team leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., unveiled the new product at a briefing on recent breakthroughs in greenhouse gas, weather and climate research from AIRS at this week’s American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. The new data, which span the seven-plus years of the AIRS mission, measure the concentration and distribution of carbon dioxide in the mid-troposphere–the region of Earth’s atmosphere that is located between 5 to 12 kilometers, or 3 to 7 miles, above Earth’s surface. They also track its global transport. The product represents the first-ever release of global carbon dioxide data that are based solely on observations. The data have been extensively validated against both aircraft and ground-based observations.

“AIRS provides the highest accuracy and yield of any global carbon dioxide data set available to the research community, now and for the immediate future,” said Chahine. “It will help researchers understand how this elusive, long-lived greenhouse gas is distributed and transported, and can be used to develop better models to identify ‘sinks,’ regions of the Earth system that store carbon dioxide. It’s important to study carbon dioxide in all levels of the troposphere.”

Chahine said previous AIRS research data have led to some key findings about mid-tropospheric carbon dioxide. For example, the data have shown that, contrary to prior assumptions, carbon dioxide is not well mixed in the troposphere, but is rather “lumpy.” Until now, models of carbon dioxide transport have assumed its distribution was uniform.

Carbon dioxide is transported in the mid-troposphere from its sources to its eventual sinks. More carbon dioxide is emitted in the heavily populated northern hemisphere than in its less populated southern counterpart. As a result, the southern hemisphere is a net recipient, or sink, for carbon dioxide from the north. AIRS data have previously shown the complexity of the southern hemisphere’s carbon dioxide cycle, revealing a never-before-seen belt of carbon dioxide that circles the globe and is not reflected in transport models.

In another major finding, scientists using AIRS data have removed most of the uncertainty about the role of water vapor in atmospheric models. The data are the strongest observational evidence to date for how water vapor responds to a warming climate.

“AIRS temperature and water vapor observations have corroborated climate model predictions that the warming of our climate produced as carbon dioxide levels rise will be greatly exacerbated — in fact, more than doubled — by water vapor,” said Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas.

Dessler explained that most of the warming caused by carbon dioxide does not come directly from carbon dioxide, but from effects known as feedbacks. Water vapor is a particularly important feedback. As the climate warms, the atmosphere becomes more humid. Since water is a greenhouse gas, it serves as a powerful positive feedback to the climate system, amplifying the initial warming. AIRS measurements of water vapor reveal that water greatly amplifies warming caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide. Comparisons of AIRS data with models and re-analyses are in excellent agreement.

“The implication of these studies is that, should greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current course of increase, we are virtually certain to see Earth’s climate warm by several degrees Celsius in the next century, unless some strong negative feedback mechanism emerges elsewhere in Earth’s climate system,” Dessler said.

Originally designed to observe atmospheric temperature and water vapor, AIRS data are already responsible for the greatest improvement to five to six-day weather forecasts than any other single instrument, said Chahine. JPL scientists have shown a major consequence of global warming will be an increase in the frequency and strength of severe storms. Earlier this year, a team of NASA researchers showed how AIRS can significantly improve tropical cyclone forecasting. The researchers studied deadly Typhoon Nargis in Burma (Myanmar) in May 2008. They found the uncertainty in the cyclone’s landfall position could have been reduced by a factor of six had more sophisticated AIRS temperature data been used in the forecasts.

AIRS observes and records the global daily distribution of temperature, water vapor, clouds and several atmospheric gases including ozone, methane and carbon monoxide. With the addition of the mid-tropospheric carbon dioxide data set this week, a seven-year digital record is now complete for use by the scientific community and the public.

3-D transport and distribution of water vapor

Animation of the 3-D transport and distribution of water vapor as measured by AIRS from June through November 2005. Image credit: NASA › Play animation (Quicktime) | › Play animation (Windows Media Player)

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For more on AIRS, see http://airs.jpl.nasa.gov/ .

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crosspatch

Considering that China is now the world’s largest emitter of CO2, what is responsible for the large concentration over Nevada and practically none over China?
Since I would expect wind patterns in the Northern Hemisphere to generally go West to East, there really isn’t much West of Northern Nevada except the SF Bay Area and Nevada itself is mostly desert.
That animation doesn’t seem to have any relation to actual CO2 sources.

Wow. I had no idea that water vapor was a “feed back”. I guess without anthropogenic CO2 there would be no water vapor. /sarc.

EdB

“As the climate warms, the atmosphere becomes more humid
I would expect so! After all, the earth is 70% water, and the evaporation rate has to go up.
But, more water vapour should give more clouds, thus providing a cooling, should it not?
So what are these models doing? Are they showing more clouds or not?

Jim

Notably missing is a discussion of clouds.

Jim

Hmm … it looks like most of the water vapor is where the highest concentrations of CO2 aren’t.

yvesdemars

yes but does the study include the feedback of clouds resulting from the water vapor increase ??
More interesting is the inhomogeneous distribution of CO2 ?

Hmmmm – more CO2 – more water vapor – more feedback – unless –
more water vapor = more clouds.
Looks like they forgot to include that little interelation.

Jack Green

[AIRS temperature and water vapor observations have corroborated climate model predictions that the warming of our climate produced as carbon dioxide levels rise will be greatly exacerbated — in fact, more than doubled — by water vapor,” said Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas.]
How can this happen when the models are false? They are matching a fraudulent model. I’m puzzled unless the same trick is being used.

Chris R.

Interesting. Dessler, with Minschwander, in 2004 published a paper using data from NASA’s Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) that showed water vapor feedback was much weaker than the IPCC value. Then, in 2008, he published a solo paper claiming that it was in fact stronger than the UN IPCC value. Now this.

Skylimey

“JPL scientists have shown a major consequence of global warming will be an increase in the frequency and strength of severe storms.”
Could have sworn we’re seeing less, not more?

Alvin

Does something sound fishy in this article? How about saying this is a first step in properly analyzing the atmosphere? Also I am not certain the following statement is correct:
“AIRS temperature and water vapor observations have corroborated climate model predictions that the warming of our climate produced as carbon dioxide levels rise will be greatly exacerbated — in fact, more than doubled — by water vapor,” said Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas

Gary

Well, NASA press release speculation has a dubious track record. Let some independent thinkers have a go at the data before doing the Chicken Little routine again.

Paul Vaughan

“[…] scientists using AIRS data have removed most of the uncertainty about the role of water vapor in atmospheric models.” […] “[…] unless some strong negative feedback mechanism emerges elsewhere in Earth’s climate system.”
Why bother attacking the untenable assumptions? Does it make any difference when religion underpins belief? On to other things…

Jim Bob

My understanding is that increased water vapor means an increase in low-level cloud cover, which is a negative feedback. The end of the story states that AIRS observes and records clouds but there was no mention of the cloud cover measurements in the body of the story.
Also, my BS flag went up when the story stated that the CO2 patterns are different than the climate models assume, yet the satellite data corroborates the models. If the models were updated to match the true CO2 distributions, would they still validate the satellite data?
I don’t think we are getting the full story here. This is merely another advocacy piece.

Does not look like this at all
http://www.jaxa.jp/press/2009/10/20091030_ibuki_e.html
(scroll down)

Jack Green

If they have a history match with false results then they don’t have a match. You have been duped. Something is fabricated here is what I’m saying. Interesting measurements but we only have 7 years worth. We need hundreds of years of data.

Jan Lindström

I am not sure but if this is findings already reported here: http://geotest.tamu.edu/userfiles/216/Dessler2008b.pdf than this is not worth a iota. Mesurements from 5 years is hardly something that would normally qualify as “climate”science. The results in the article are without any error analysis whatsoever and if you do one you´re in for a surprise: http://landshape.org/enm/propagation-of-uncertainty-through-dessler/
“The confidence limits of the mean are then 1.96*3.16*0.37 or 2.29, giving a lower limits to the estimated 2.04 W/m2/K value of vapor feedback of -0.25 W/m2/K. Being less than zero, this indicates that zero feedback is within the limits of uncertainty.”
Dressler actually shows that there is room for a negative feedback, still.

Stephen Wilde

We know the air holds more water vapour when it warms.
The question is whether the warming is caused by extra CO2 or by some other cause such as increased ocean energy release during a positive PDO phase.
Then we need to know how much warming is caused by human CO2 as compared to the natural warming.
Then whether a warming of the air alone from more CO2 is capable of defeating the ability of the oceans to cool the air above the sea surfaces.
Then there is evidence that global air humidity varies vary little because the hydrological cycle simply speeds up to eject extra energy to the stratosphere
thereby ensuring that surface air temperatures do not diverge from sea surface temperaures.
The models and the above assertions seem all to be based on the recent 30 year period when there was a correlation between rising CO2 and rising air temperatures. The cause of the warming was attributed in the models to the CO2 but more likely it was the warmer sea surfaces during that period.
If we now see cooling of the air due to cooling ocean surfaces (already looking likely and partly accepted following the recent powerful La Nina event) then the role of CO2 needs re-assessment despite the overconfident assertions in the above report.

I missed something here. I think this is a great story and that AIRS can be a great tool, and I’m excited to see it.
But I missed something here. Exactly how does AIRS validate assumptions about water vapour acting as a positive forcing?
Are they measuring quantity? Distribution? Temperature of water vapor? The press release doesn’t say…

Bruce

“virtually certain ” = “wild assed guess”

Bill DiPuccio

I would like to know how the warming signal due to the absorption of heat by CO2 was seperated from the water vapor feedbacks, and how the feedback was isolated from other forcings. They make it sound like magic. Yet, as Roy Spencer has pointed out, no one has been able to islolate the water vapor feedback signal and demonstrate anthropogenic causality.
Everytime there is warming, the fascile assumption is made that it must be CO2. This is circular reasoning.

wws

They timed it wrong. It was supposed to be released 4 weeks ago. Now it’s too late to save the farce in Copenhagen.

CAS

“JPL scientists have shown a major consequence of global warming will be an increase in the frequency and strength of severe storms.”
Just where were the peer-reviewed papers to make this claim?

PJP

They did not appear to look for the negative feedback. If I had to guess, it would be along the lines of increased water vapor leading to increased clouds, reducing the amount of solar radiation reaching the earth.
This seems so obvious that one has to wonder if not looking for this is deliberate.

David Schnare

I’d like to know what Lindzen (sp?) thinks of this. He has published ERBA (earth radiation budget experiment) data showing that increases CO2 results in more rather than less radiation from the earth at the top of the atmosphere, and argues this is because the response to increases trapped radiation causes an “iris” effect in the cloud cover that results in more clouds, whiter clouds and more reflection of energy back into space. I don’t see the reflected radiation taken into account in this paper.

Gary Palmgren

I’ll see your seven years of data and up the bet with sixty years of radiosonde data:
http://www.friendsofscience.org/assets/documents/The_Saturated_Greenhouse_Effect.htm
Radiation transport of energy is not nearly as important as convection in the troposphere. Above the tropopause, radiation transport becomes much more important as there is little convection in the stratosphere. At the 300 millibar level the humidity has been dropping over 60 years even as CO2 has risen. The amount of CO2 in the convective troposphere is irrelevant as far as climate is concerned. If the AIRS data is including ground level humidity then the conclusions about climate are bogus.

“Researchers studying carbon dioxide, a leading greenhouse gas and a key driver of global climate change”
Pardon me, there are two BS in just one sentence, and by BS I do not mean bachelor of science.
Now check polar regions with almost no water vapor, where an increase of CO2 should manifested strongest increase of “greenhouse effect” and warming:
South pole: no warming since 60ties
North pole: no net warming since 40ties, when positive phase of AMO oscillation drove Arctic temperatures to the same level as observed today.
http://ff.org/centers/csspp/library/co2weekly/2005-04-21/what_files/image014.gif
Result: the most sensitive areas on Earth – polar areas with dry air – has not shown any warming at all (Antarctic), or shown only natural cyclical warming (Arctic). CO2 has no visible effect on temperatures. End of debate.

John in NZ

For how long have we been told CO2 is well mixed in the atmosphere?
Apparently that assumption was wrong.

Jack Green

This press release is from Washington. There are no scientists there.

stumpy

“For example, the data have shown that, contrary to prior assumptions, carbon dioxide is not well mixed in the troposphere” I think sceptics have been saying that for years!
Some observations:
Increasing watervapor will lead to increase storminess to remove the additional heat build up, increased clould cover and change the optical transparacny of the atmosphere, I suspect these moderate the water vapour feedback so a “runaway” green house effect does not occur, otherwise it would have happened before!
How does increasing water vapour effect high level ice crystals which are not included in climate models?
The above video of co2 concentration shows a belt around the equator wth low concentrations, hence at the equator extra heat is not be trapped and fed into the ocean which is the IPCC theory of how the earth will warm. The increase water vapour however, seems to be in this area with low co2 concentrations.
Will heat not just escape around the lumps? wasnt a well mixed co2 layer essential to the IPCC climate models for their large predictions of warming?
They should first study the data carefully before making the compulsory “its worse than we thought” statement!

Paddy

So what amounts to a snap shot of the atmosphere supposedly confirms the alarmist worst predictions. What is the baseline for their analysis? The beginning of the observations is now. It seems logical to watch and wait for a century or so before making any pronouncements.

JayWiz

Long time lurker….
I was looking at the animation and notded that for the most part the CO2 concentrations seemed to be oriented around deserts and low plant life areas(I think). I also noted that deeply forested area had very low CO2 levels. Could this not be an illustration of natural sequestering. I would also be inrested in how the trade winds seem to confine the CO2 into streams (no real mixing).
I’m just an engineer, but that’s what it looks like at first blush.

manfred

is there anything new ?
strangely, it is not mentioned, if the estimate given for water vapor feedback differs from previous estimates. (…making it likely that it has not increased or even decreased)
strangely, cloud feed back is not addressed, not even mentioned.

Raven

Anthony – this may be old news being rehashed for political purposes.
Here is Roy Spencer thoughts on Dresser from Feb, 2009
http://www.drroyspencer.com/2009/02/
The other half of the feedback story which Dessler et al did not address is the reflected solar component. This feedback is mostly controlled by changes in low cloud cover with warming. The IPCC admits that feedbacks associated with low clouds are the most uncertain of all feedbacks, with positive or negative feedback possible…although most, if not all, IPCC models currently have positive SW feedbacks.
But I found from the CERES data a strongly negative SW feedback during 2002-2007. When added to the LW feedback, this resulted in a total (SW+LW) feedback that is strongly negative.
Is my work published? No…at least not yet…although I have tried. Apparently it disagrees too much with the IPCC party line to be readily acceptable. My finding of negative SW feedback of around 5 W m-2 K-1 from real radiation budget data (the CERES instrument on Aqua) is apparently inadmissible as evidence.

Seer

My crystal ball shows me the EPA declaring water as a pollutant sometime in the near future.

c1ue

WUWT,
I would request that the title be changed: it is not NASA saying that the AIRS satellite demonstrates positive forcing – it is Andrew Dessler saying so.
All NASA says is that the satellite allows better direct measurement of CO2, and furthermore that CO2 is not evenly distributed in the atmosphere as the ‘settled science’ presumes.
I am intensely curious as to how Dr. Dessler draws these conclusions – so far I have not been able to find any documentation behind his assertion.

Michael

Science should be taken literally. Not figuratively like when people see on TV, a polar bear swimming in the ocean and thinking in the brainwashed mindset, that that is proof of global warming. Rather, in the literal mindset, see I told you, polar bears can swim and that’s why they don’t drown.

Joel McDade

“AIRS temperature and water vapor observations have corroborated climate model predictions that the warming of our climate produced as carbon dioxide levels rise will be greatly exacerbated — in fact, more than doubled — by water vapor,” said Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas.”
Only doubled? IMO an accurate summary is, “We found evidence of positive feedback but it looks to be much lower than forecast by IPCC models, which are in the 3x – 5x range” This only gets them to a little over 2 C for 2xCO2. What’s the big deal?

Gareth

“The product represents the first-ever release of global carbon dioxide data that are based solely on observations.”
If this is true what have past carbon dioxide data been based on; a few land stations and a lot of guessing? It is pretty late in the game to begin basing your science on observations.

I would like to know where those plumes originated. At those altitudes there are jet streams. Also the air is thin and the absolute concentration (molecules per cubic meter) is a lot less than it is at the surface. I suspect it got to those altitudes in tall clouds and traveled with frozen anvils. The equitorial regions (where I suspect the CO2 originated) have been cleaned out.

David L. Hagen

In its publicity NASA claims:

AIRS can observe the concentration of carbon dioxide in the mid-troposphere, with 15,000 daily observations, pole to pole, all over the globe, with an accuracy of 1 to 2 parts per million and a horizontal surface resolution of 1 by 1 degree.

The US National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST), keeper of the US standards, provides a Standard Reference Material 2626a for Carbon Dioxide in Nitrogen (about 4% mol/mol.) The NIST Certificate of Analysis reports:

Carbon Dioxide Concentration: 3.916 % mol/mol ± 0.008 % mol/mol

which appears to be 80 ppm.
Perhaps NASA can explain to NIST how they have improved on the NIST standards by about two orders of magnitude!
Besides, NIST recommends:

2. Because “accuracy” is a qualitative concept, one should not use it quantitatively, that is, associate numbers with it; numbers should be associated with measures of uncertainty instead.

See:
B.N. Taylor and C.E. Kuyatt, Guidelines for Evaluating and Expressing the Uncertainty of NIST Measurement Results, Technical Note TN 1297, National Institute of Science and Technology, US Department of Commerce.
Furthermore, in Climate Uncertainty with Carbon Dioxide Rise Due to Uncertainty About Aerosols, Nov. 1, 2004, NASA reported:

“Knowledge of Earth’s climate sensitivity is central to informed decision-making regarding future carbon dioxide emissions and developing strategies to cope with a greenhouse-warmed world,” Schwartz says.
However, as he points out, not knowing how much aerosols offset greenhouse warming makes it impossible to refine estimates of climate sensitivity. Right now, climate models with low sensitivity to CO2 and those with high sensitivity are able to reproduce the temperature change observed over the industrial period equally well by using different values of the aerosol influence, all of which lie within the uncertainty of present estimates.
In order to appreciably reduce uncertainty in Earth’s climate sensitivity the uncertainty in aerosol influences on climate must be reduced at least threefold,” Schwartz concludes. He acknowledges that such a reduction in uncertainty presents an enormous challenge to the aerosol research community.

This sounds very unlikely to impossible to me. “AIRS can observe the concentration of carbon dioxide in the mid-troposphere, with 15,000 daily observations, pole to pole, all over the globe, with an accuracy of 1 to 2 parts per million”

Scott

I see zero correlation between the CO2 distribution and the water vapor distribution and patterns, other than the both seem to move easterly in the Northern Hemisphere and Westerly in the Southern Hemisphere.
Water Vapor seems to be more affected by the sun, gasp, than anything else, as it is primarily focused around the equator.

Ryan Stephenson

“As the climate warms, the atmosphere becomes more humid. Since water is a greenhouse gas, it serves as a powerful positive feedback to the climate system, amplifying the initial warming”.
Following this logic, the seasonal variation known as “summer” should cause excessive water vapour formation as the atmosphere becomes more humid causing a powerful positive feedback leading to more evaporation and hence more humidity and further warming as a rersult leading to an unstoppable heating with the eventual result that the oceans boil into space, all without the help of CO2.
Thus life on earth was wiped out millions of years ago, human kind has never existed and this whole discussion is a figment of our own imaginations.
OR:-
Water vapour traps heat radiated from the earths surface and by an equal amount prevents radiant heat from the sun reaching the earths surface. This means that earths days are cooler than they would be and earth’s nights are warmer than they would be, thus making life possible. Otherwise temperature variations would be as they are on the Moon (ranging from +122Celsius to -233Celius) and life would never have begun. This is the real “greenhouse effect” as proposed by Tyndall and far from being dangerous this insulating blanket is positively crucial to life on earth.

John in NZ

OT but breaking news from Icecap.
Climategate has already affected Russia. On Tuesday, the Moscow-based Institute of Economic Analysis (IEA) issued a report claiming that the Hadley Center for Climate Change based at the headquarters of the British Meteorological Office in Exeter (Devon, England) had probably tampered with Russian-climate data.
The IEA believes that Russian meteorological-station data did not substantiate the anthropogenic global-warming theory. Analysts say Russian meteorological stations cover most of the country’s territory, and that the Hadley Center had used data submitted by only 25% of such stations in its reports. Over 40% of Russian territory was not included in global-temperature calculations for some other reasons, rather than the lack of meteorological stations and observations.
The data of stations located in areas not listed in the Hadley Climate Research Unit Temperature UK (HadCRUT) survey often does not show any substantial warming in the late 20th century and the early 21st century.
The HadCRUT database includes specific stations providing incomplete data and highlighting the global-warming process, rather than stations facilitating uninterrupted observations.
On the whole, climatologists use the incomplete findings of meteorological stations far more often than those providing complete observations.
IEA analysts say climatologists use the data of stations located in large populated centers that are influenced by the urban-warming effect more frequently than the correct data of remote stations.
http://icecap.us/images/uploads/BOMBSHELL.pdf

Jim Arndt

Hi,
I think this article in the WSJ by Richard Lindzen is insightful.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703939404574567423917025400.html

Michael

Al Jazeera shows this on TV but it’s not allowed on American TV.
Climate expert questions the basis of climate change talks – 14 Dec 09

I am sure the timing of the release has been arranged to coincide withe the last phase of negotiations in Copenhagen.

Gary Hladik

Skylimey (10:21:20), CAS (10:38:45), yes the claim of increased storm frequency and strength really undermines the credibility of this press release. Sounds more like old mantra than new science.
[Jerry Maguire mode] Shooooow me the data! Shooooow me the data!

brad

I like this study. It’s big, uses satellites, has lots of fine-grained data for the entire globe, appears to not need heavy data adjustment, and conclusions are relatively straightforward. It’s a welcome change from past studies, such as “Antarctica is warming” from cheerleading scientists that heavily manipulate what little data exists. This study correctly focuses on CO2 not being a leading greenhouse effect, but seeing if CO2 increases water vapor, which can have a major effect. It makes new discoveries (the CO2 belt in the southern hemisphere). The conclusions are even well stated “CO2 increases water vapor, which is a big positive feedback. That will cause things to warm, unless unknown negative feedbacks exist” This study is very welcome in comparison to what we usually see.
Like the others have said, I’m interested in cloud formation as a result of increased water vapor. How does that fit into the study? Also, did climate models predict the southern hemisphere CO2 belt? It doesn’t seem so.