A guest post by Ken Coffman and Mikael Cronholm
In clicking around on the Internet, I found an outstanding paper called Thermodynamics of Furnace Tubes – Killing Popular Myths about Furnace Tube Temperature Measurement written by Mikael Cronholm. The paper was clever and wise…and made a lot of sense. Clearly Mikael knows a lot about infrared radiation and I’m a guy with questions. A match made in heaven?
We exchanged e-mails. I want to be clear about this…Mikael corrected some of my wrong ideas about IR. I’ll repeat that for the slow-witted. Some of my ideas about infrared radiation were wrong. I am considered a hard-headed, stubborn old guy and that’s completely true. However, I want to learn and I can be taught, but not by knuckleheads spewing nonsense and not by authoritarians who sit on thrones and toss out insults and edicts.
Ken Coffman (KLC) is the publisher of Stairway Press (www.stairwaypress.com) and the author of novels that include Hartz String Theory and Endangered Species.
Mikael Cronholm (MC) is an industry expert on infrared radiation, a licensed, level III Infrared Training Center Instructor and holds two Bachelor of Science degrees (Economics and Business Administration).
The following is a summary of our conversation.
KLC: Hello Mikael. I found your paper called Thermodynamics of Furnace Tubes and I found it very informative, practical and interesting. I hope you’ll bear with me while I ask a couple of dumb questions. I am an electrical engineer, so I have some knowledge about thermodynamics of conduction and convection, but not so much about IR radiation. In return for your time, I would be happy to make a donation to the charity of your choice.
If I take an inexpensive IR thermometer outside, point it at the sky and get a temperature reading of minus 25°C, what am I actually measuring? Is there anything valid about doing this?
MC: Just as a matter of curiosity, how did you find my paper? I checked your website and I guess this has to do with the Dragon, no? If you want to make a donation I would be happy to receive that book. If you can, my postal address is at the bottom. I don’t follow the debate more than casually, but I am a bit skeptical to all the research that is done on climate change…it seems that the models are continuously adjusted to fit the inputs, so that you get the wanted output…and they argue “so many scientists agree with this and that”…well, science is not a democracy…anyway…
About radiation, then. There is more to this than meets the eye. Literally!
Looking at the sky with an infrared radiometer you would read what is termed “apparent temperature” (if the instrument is set to emissivity 1 and the distance setting is zero, provided the instrument has any compensation). Your instrument is then receiving the same radiation as a blackbody would do if it had a temperature of -25°C, if that is what you measure. It is a quasi-temperature of sorts, because you don’t really measure on a particular object in any particular place, but a combination of radiation, where that from outer space is the lowest, close to absolute zero, and the immediate atmosphere closest to you is the warmest. (I have once measured -96°C on the sky at 0°C ground temperature.) What we have to realize though, is that temperature can never be directly measured. We measure the height of a liquid in a common thermometer, a voltage in a thermocouple, etc, and then it is calibrated using the zeroth law of thermodynamics and assuming equilibrium with the device and the reference.
KLC: Global warming (greenhouse gas) theory depends on atmospheric CO2 molecules absorbing IR radiation and “back radiating” this energy back toward the earth. If you look at the notorious Ternberth/Keihl energy balance schematic (as shown in Figure 1 of this paper: http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/cas/Trenberth/trenberth.papers/TFK_bams09.pdf ), you see the back radiation is determined to be very significant…more than 300W/m2. From your point of view as an IR expert, does this aspect of the global warming theory make any sense?
MC: The paper you sent me mentions Stefan-Boltzman’s law, but it does not talk about Planck’s law, which is necessary to understand what is happening spectrally. I suggest you read up on Planck and Stefan-Boltzman at Wikipedia or something. Wien’s law would be beneficial as well—they are all connected.
Planck’s law describes the distribution of radiated power from a blackbody over wavelength. You end up with a curve for each blackbody temperature. The sun is almost a blackbody, so it follows Planck quite well, and it has a peak at about 480nm, right in the middle of visual (Wien’s law determines that). The solar spectrum is slightly modified as it passes through the atmosphere, but still pretty close to Planckian. When the radiation hits the ground, the absorbed part heats it. The re-radiated power is going to have a different spectral distribution, with a peak around 10um (micrometer). Assuming blackbody radiation it would also follow Planck’s law.
S-B’s law is in principle the integral of Planck from zero to infinity wavelength. Instruments do not have equal response from zero to infinity, but they are calibrated against blackbodies, and whatever signal they output is considered to mean the temperature of the blackbody. And so on for a number of blackbodies until you have a calibration curve that can be fitted for conversion in the instrument.
That means that the instrument can only measure correctly on targets that are either blackbodies, or greybodies with a spectral distribution looking like a Planck curve, but at a known offset. That offset is emissivity, the epsilon in your S-B equation in that paper. It is defined as the ratio of the radiation from the greybody to that of the blackbody, both at the same temperature (and wave length, and angle…). Some targets will not be Planckian, but have a spectral distribution that is different. If you want to measure temperature of those, you need to measure the emissivity with the same instrument and at a temperature reasonably close to the one you will measure on the target later.
So, of course, the whole principle behind the greenhouse effect is that shorter wavelengths from the sun penetrates the atmosphere easily, whereas the re-radiated power—being at a longer wavelength—is reflected back at a higher degree. I have no dispute about that fact. It is reasonable. So I think the Figure 1 you refer to is correct in principle. My immediate question is raised regarding the numbers in there though. The remaining 0.9 W/m2 seems awfully close to what I would assume to be the inaccuracies in the numbers input to calculate it. You are balancing on a very thin knifes edge with such big numbers as inputs for reaching such a small one. An error of +/- 0.5% on each measurement would potentially throw it off quite a bit, in the worst case. But I don’t know what they use to measure this, only that all the instruments I use have much less accuracy than that. But with long integration times…well, maybe…but there may be an issue there.
KLC: I am interested in some rather expensive thermopile-based radiation detectors called pyrgeometers (an example is the KippZonen CGR 3 instrument http://www.kippzonen.com/?product/16132/CGR+3.aspx).
If a piece of equipment like this is pointed into the nighttime sky and reads something like 300W/m2 of downwelling IR radiation, what is it actually measuring? If I built a test rig from IR-emitting lightbulbs calibrated to emit 300W/m2 and placed this over the pyrgeometers, would I get the same reading?
MC: “What is it actually measuring?” Well, probably a voltage from those thermopiles…and that signal has to be calibrated to a bunch of blackbody reference sources to covert it either to temperature or blackbody equivalent radiation.
Your experiment will fail, though! If you want to do something like that, you have to look at a target emitting a blackbody equivalent spectrum, which is what the instrument should be calibrated to. IR light bulbs emitting 300W/m2 is simply impossible, because 300W/m2 corresponds to a very low temperature! Use S-B’s law and try it yourself. Like this: room temp, 20°C = 293K. The radiated power from that is 293K raised to the power of 4. Then multiply with sigma, the constant in S-B’s law, which is 5.67*10-8, and you get 419 W/m2 or something like that, it varies with how many decimals you use for absolute zero when you convert to Kelvin. For 300 W/m2 radiation I get -23.4°C at 300 W/m2 when I calculate it (yes, minus!). Pretty cool light bulb.
I don’t know what your point is with that experiment, but if it is to check their calibration you need a lot more sophisticated blackbody reference sources if you want to do it at that temperature. But you could do a test at room temperature though. Just build a spherical object with the inside painted with flat black paint, make a small hole in it, just big enough for your sensor, and measure the temperature inside that sphere with a thermocouple, on the surface. Keep it in a stable room temperature at a steady state as well as you can and convert the temperature to radiation using S-B’s law. You should get the same as the instrument. Any difference will be attributable to inaccuracy in the thermocouple you use and/or the tested instrument. Remember that raising to the power of 4 exaggerates errors in the input a lot!
I hope I have been able to clarify things a little bit, or at least caused some creative confusion. When I teach thermography I find that the more you learn the more confused you get, but on a higher level. Every question answered raises a few more, which grows the confusion exponentially. It makes the subject interesting, though.
Let me know if you need any more help with your project!
KLC: I found your paper because one of the FLIR divisions is local and I was searching their site for reference information about IR radiation. I know what a 100W IR lamp feels like because I have one in my bathroom. If someone tells me there is 300W/m2 of IR power coming from space, and I hold out my hand…I expect to feel it. What am I missing?
MC: Yeah, you put your hand in front of a 100W bulb, but how big is your hand…not a square meter, I’m sure. It is per area unit, that is one thing you are missing. The 100W of the bulb is the electrical power consumption, not the emitted power of the visual light from it. That’s why florescent energy-saving lamps as opposed to incandescent bulbs give much more visual light per electrical Watt, because they limit the radiation to the visual part of the spectrum and lose less in the IR, which we cannot see anyway. The body absorbs both IR and visual, but a little less visual.
And, here is the other clue. Your light bulb radiation in your bathroom is added to that of the room itself, which is 419 W/m2, if the room is 20°C. Your 300 W/m2 from space is only that. You will feel those 300 W/m2, sure. It will feel like -25°C radiating towards your hand. But you don’t feel that cold because your hand is in warmer air, receiving heat (or losing less) from there too.
Actually, we cannot really feel temperature—that is a misconception. Our bodies feel heat flow rate and adjust the temperature accordingly. It is only the hypothalamus inside the brain that really has constant temperature. If you are standing nude in your bathroom, your body will radiate approximately 648 W/m2 and the room 419 W/m2, so you lose 229 W/m2. That is what you feel as being cooled by the room, from radiation only. Conduction and convection should be added of course. The earth works the same way—lose some, gain some. It is that balance that is being argued in the whole global warming debate.
KLC: I still feel like I’m missing something. IR heat lamps are pretty efficient, maybe 90%? Let’s pick a distance of 1 meter and I want to create a one-square meter flooded with an additional 300W/m2. It must be additional irradiation, doesn’t it? That’s going to take a good bunch of lamps and I would feel this heat. However, I go outside and hold out my hand. It’s cold. There’s no equivalent of 300W/m2 heater in addition to whatever has heated the ambient air.
Perhaps I’m puzzled by something that is more like a flux…something that just is as a side-effect of a temperature difference and not really something that is capable of doing any work or as a vehicle for transporting heat energy.
It’s a canard of climate science that increasing atmospheric CO2 from 390PPM to 780PPM will raise the earth’s surface temperature by about 1°C (expanded to 3°C by positive feedbacks). From my way of thinking, the only thing CO2 can do is increase coupling to space…it certainly can’t store or trap energy or increase the earth’s peak or 24-hour average temperature.
Any comments are welcome.
MC: Efficiency of a lamp depends on what you want, if heat is what want then they are 100% efficient, because all electrical energy will be converted to heat, the visible light as well, when it is absorbed by the surrounding room. If visible light is required, a light bulb loses a lot of heat compared to an energy saving lamp. Energy cannot be created or destroyed—first law of thermodynamics.
When you say W/m2 you ARE in fact talking about a flux (heat flow is what will be in W). If you have two objects radiating towards each other, the heat flow direction will be from the hotter one, radiating (emitting) more and absorbing less, to the cooler one, which radiates less and absorbs more (second law of thermodynamics). The amount of radiation emitted from each of them depends on two things ONLY, the temperature of the object and its emissivity. So radiation is not a side effect to temperature, it is THE EFFECT. Anything with a temperature will radiate according to it, and emissivity. (If something is hotter than 500°C we get incandescence, emission of visible light.) Assuming an emissivity of unity, which is what everyone seems to do in this debate, the radiation (flux. integrated from zero to infinity) will be equal to what can be calculated by Stefan-Boltzmann’s law, which is temperature in Kelvin, raised to the fourth power, multiplied by that constant sigma. It’s that simple!
With regard to your thought experiment, it is always easier to calculate what an object emits than what it absorbs, because emission will be spreading diffusely from an object, so exactly where it ends up is difficult to predict. I am not sure where you are aiming with that idea, but it does not seem to be an easy experiment to do in real life, at least not with limited resources.
CO2 is a pretty powerful absorber of radiated energy, that fact is well known. Water vapor is an even stronger absorber. In the climate debate it is also considered a reflector, which probably also true, because that is universal. Everything absorbs and reflects to a degree. So I guess that the feedback you mention has to do with the fact that increasing temperature increases the amount of water vapor, which increases absorption, and so on. But my knowledge is pretty much limited to what happens down here on earth, because that is what matters when we measure temperature using infrared radiation. However, it is important to remember, again, that we talk about different spectral bands, the influx is concentrated around a peak in the visual band and the outgoing flux is around 10 micrometer in the infrared band, and the absorption may not be the same.
With so many scientists arguing about the effects of CO2 I am not the one to think I have the answers. I really don’t know what the truth is. And the problem that all these scientists have is that they will never be able to test if their theories are correct, because the time spans are too long. For a theory to be scientifically proven, it has to be stipulated and tested, and the test must be repeatable and give the same results in successive tests for the theory to be proven.
If not, it is not science, it is guessing.
More like a horoscope…