It's Not About Feedback

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

The current climate paradigm believed by most scientists in the field can be likened to the movement of balls on a pool table.

Figure 1. Pool balls on a level table. Response is directly proportional to applied force (double the force, double the distance). There are no “preferred” positions—every position on the table is equally attainable and probable.

The current climate paradigm is as linear and as mechanistic as that pool table. At its heart is the belief that the controlling equation for the future evolution of the climate is:

Forcing Change of 3.7 watts/metre^2 = 3°C Surface Temperature Change

This can also be written as:

∆T = λ ∆Q

where ∆Q is the change in forcing, ∆T is the change in temperature, and lambda (λ) is the climate sensitivity of 3°C / 3.7 w/m2 = 0.8 degrees C for each additional watt/m2 of forcing.

Everything else is claimed to average out, leaving only that relationship. The ratio between the imposed forcing and the supposed resulting temperature change is assumed to be a constant, called the “climate sensitivity”. There is much discussion as to the value of the climate sensitivity, which swirls around whether there is net positive or negative feedback from things like clouds and water vapor. According to the prevailing theory and equation, if the climate sensitivity is high, a small forcing change is said to cause a larger temperature change, and vice versa.

Me, I don’t believe that equation one bit. I discussed problems with the equation in “The Cold Equations“. For me, the idea that surface air temperature slavishly follows forcing goes against everything I know about complex natural flow systems. I cannot think of any complex natural flow system which is linear in that manner with respect to its inputs. I find it completely astounding that people actually believe that the global climate system, with all of its intricate feedbacks and forcings and resonances and chaotic nature, is that linearly simple. But that is the current paradigm for the climate, a completely linear system.

I am neither a climate sceptic, nor an AGW believer, nor an agnostic on the subject. Instead, I am a climate heretic. I think that the dominant climate paradigm is completely incorrect. I hold that there is no level pool table. I say that there is no constant “climate sensitivity”. Instead, there are preferred states. I say, and have discussed elsewhere, that the temperature of the Earth is kept within a fairly narrow range through the action of a variety of natural homeostatic mechanisms.

So what is a homeostatic mechanism when it’s at home?

The concept of “homeostat” is a more general version of the word “thermostat”. A thermostat keeps temperature the same. A homeostatic mechanism keeps something the same. A familiar version is the “cruise control” of a car, which keeps the car’s speed the same. Per Wikipedia, homeostasis is “the property of a system, either open or closed, that regulates its internal environment and tends to maintain a stable, constant condition.” Not a bad definition. It is a natural governor which regulates some aspect of the system.

The first thing to understand about climate homeostasis is that it has nothing to do with feedback. This is because in general the controlling mechanism involves a regime shift, rather than a variation in some feedback value. The current furore about the exact level of feedback in the system, while interesting, is not directly relevant, as variations in feedback are not a feature of the control mechanism.

To see why the control mechanism regulating the earth’s temperature does not involve feedback, here is the evolution of the day and night in the tropical ocean. The tropical ocean is where the majority of the sun’s energy enters the huge heat engine we call the climate. So naturally, it is also where the major homeostatic mechanism are located.

At dawn, the atmosphere is stratified, with the coolest air nearest the surface. The nocturnal overturning of the ocean is coming to an end. The sun is free to heat the ocean. The air near the surface eddies randomly.

Figure 2. Average conditions over the tropical ocean shortly after dawn. 

 As the sun continues to heat the ocean, around ten or eleven o’clock in the morning there is a sudden regime shift. A new circulation pattern replaces the random eddying. As soon as a critical temperature/humidity threshold is passed, local circulation cells spring up everywhere. These cells transport water vapor upwards to the local lifting condensation level. At that level, the water vapor condenses into clouds as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3.  Average conditions over the tropical ocean when cumulus threshold is passed. 

Note that this area-wide shift to an organized circulation pattern is not a change in feedback. It has nothing to do with feedback. It is a self-organized emergent phenomenon. It is threshold-based, meaning that it emerges spontaneously when a certain threshold is passed. In the “wet” deep tropics there’s plenty of water vapor, so the major variable in the threshold is the temperature.

Under the new late-morning cumulus circulation regime, much less surface warming goes on. Part of the sunlight is reflected back to space, so less energy makes it into the system to begin with. Then the increasing wind due to the cumulus-based circulation pattern increases the evaporation, reducing the surface warming even more by moving latent energy up to the lifting condensation level.

Note that the system is self-controlling. If the ocean is a bit warmer, the new circulation regime starts earlier in the morning, and cuts down the total daily warming. On the other hand, if the ocean is cooler than usual, clear morning skies last later into the day, allowing increased warming. The system is regulated by the time of onset of the regime change.

Let’s stop at this point in our examination of the tropical day and consider the idea of “climate sensitivity”. The solar forcing is constantly increasing as the sun rises higher in the sky. In the morning before the onset of cumulus circulation, the sun comes through the clear atmosphere and rapidly warms the surface. So the thermal response is large, and the climate sensitivity is high.

After the onset of the cumulus regime, on the other hand, much of the sunlight is reflected back to space. Less sunlight remains to warm the ocean. In addition to reduced sunlight there is enhanced evaporative cooling. Compared to the morning, the climate sensitivity is much lower. The heating of the surface slows down.

So here we have two situations with very different climate sensitivities. In the early morning, climate sensitivity is high, and the temperature rises quickly with the increasing solar insolation. In the late morning, a regime change occurs to a situation with much lower climate sensitivity. Adding extra solar energy doesn’t raise the temperature anywhere near as fast as it did earlier.

So climate sensitivity varies … which means, of course, that the constant “temperature sensitivity” that they claim exists must be an average temperature sensitivity. Fair enough, let’s take a look at how that works.

Suppose the early morning regime and the late morning regime are the same length, maybe three hours each. In that case we take the simple mathematical average. But here’s the problem. As noted above, when it’s warm the cumulus circulation starts up earlier than usual. More hours of cumulus means lower sensitivity.

On the other hand, when the ocean is cooler than usual, the clear skies prevail for more of the morning. As a result, the average climate sensitivity rises.

In other words, in the all-important tropical region, climate sensitivity is not a constant in any sense. Instead, it varies inversely with temperature.

Moving along through the day, at some point in the afternoon there is a good chance that the cumulus circulation pattern is not enough to stop the continued surface temperature increase. When the temperature exceeds a certain higher threshold, another complete regime shift takes place. Some of the innocent cumulus clouds suddenly mutate and grow rapidly into towering monsters. The regime shift involves the spontaneous generation of those magical, independently mobile heat engines called thunderstorms.

Thunderstorms are dual-fuel heat engines. They run on low-density air, air that rises, condenses out the moisture and rewarms the air, which rises deep into the troposphere.

Figure 4. Afternoon thunderstorm circulation over the tropical ocean.

There are a couple of ways to get low density air. One is to heat the air. This is how a thunderstorm gets started, as a strong cumulus cloud. The sun plus GHG radiation combine to heat the surface, warming the air. The low density air rises. When that gets strong enough, a thunderstorm starts to form.

Once the thunderstorm is started, the second fuel is added to the fire — water vapor. Counter-intuitively, the more water vapor there is in the air, the lighter it becomes. The thunderstorm generates strong winds around its base. Evaporation is proportional to wind speed, so this greatly increases the local evaporation.

This, of course, makes the air lighter, and makes the air rise faster, which makes the thunderstorm stronger, which in turn increases the wind speed around the thunderstorm base, which increases the evaporation even more … a thunderstorm is a regenerative system like a fire where part of the energy is used to run a bellows to make the fire burn even hotter.

This gives thunderstorms a unique ability that, as far as I know, is not represented in any of the climate models. It is capable of driving the surface temperature well below the temperature that was needed to get it going. It can run on into the evening, and at times well into the night, on its combination of thermal and evaporation energy sources.

Thunderstorms can be thought of as local leakages that transport heat rapidly from the surface to the upper atmosphere. They cool the surface in a host of ways, utilizing a combination of cold water, shade, wind, spray, evaporation, and cold air.

And just like the onset of the cumulus circulation, the onset of thunderstorms occurs earlier on days when it is warmer, and it occurs later (and sometimes not at all) on days that are cooler than usual.

So again, we see that there is no way to assign an average climate sensitivity. The warmer it gets, the less each additional watt per metre actually warms the surface.

Even what I describe above doesn’t exhaust the variety of self-organization to decrease incoming sunlight and move more energy aloft. If the day continues to warm, the thunderstorms self-assemble into long, long rows of thunderstorms called “squall lines” (not illustrated). Between these long lines of thunderstorms there are equally long areas of clear descending air. Instead of the regime of individual “doughnut-shaped” circulation around each thunderstorm and cumulus cloud, it has all been replaced by long cylinders of air which sink in the valleys between the serried rows of thunderstorms, and rise up through their centers. This increases the rate at which the energy can be moved from the surface and converted into work.

Like all of the regime shifts, the change from individual tropical thunderstorms to squall lines is temperature dependent and threshold based. It occurs at the warmest temperatures.

Finally, once all of the fireworks are over, first the cumulus and then the thunderstorms decay and dissipate. A final and again different regime ensues. The main feature of this regime is that during this time, the ocean radiates about the amount of the energy that it absorbed during all of the previously described regimes.

Figure 5. Conditions prevailing after the night-time dissipation of the daytime clouds.

During the nighttime, the surface is still receiving energy from the GHGs. This has the effect of delaying the onset of oceanic overturning, and of reducing the rate of cooling. However, because there are no clouds, the ocean can radiate to space more freely. In addition, the overturning of the ocean constantly brings new water to the surface, to radiate and to cool. This increases the heat transfer across the interface.

As with the previous thresholds, the timing of this final transition is temperature dependent. Once a critical threshold is passed, oceanic overturning kicks in. Stratification is replaced by circulation, bringing new water to radiate, cool, and sink. In this way, heat is removed, not just from the surface as during the day, but from the body of the upper layer of the ocean.

And as mentioned above, by dawn the combined effect of clear skies and oceanic overturning has lost all of the heat of the previous day, and the cycle starts over again.

So let me recap.

1. There are a series of temperature thresholds in the tropics, each of which when crossed initiates a completely new circulation regime. In order of increasing temperature, these are the thresholds for cumulus formation, thunderstorm formation, and squall line formation.

2. The time of crossing of each temperature threshold depends (on average) on whether the local area is warmer or cooler than usual. As a result, the entire system is strongly homeostatic, tending to maintain the temperature within a certain range.

3. Feedback does not play any significant part in this temperature control system. Nor do small changes in the forcings. The system adjusts by means of the timing. The various regime change occur either earlier or later in the day (or not at all), to maintain the temperature.

4. In each of these separate regimes, the climate sensitivity  is quite different.

5. The climate sensitivity for the tropical ocean varies inversely with the temperature.

My conclusion from all of this is that the climate, like other flow systems far from equilibrium, contains homeostatic mechanisms. One effect of these mechanisms is that the tropical temperature is constrained to remain within a fairly narrow range.

And that’s why I describe myself as a climate heretic. I think the earth has a thermostat, one that is not represented in any of the current generation of climate models. I don’t think that climate is linear. I think that climate sensitivity is not a constant at all, but is a function of temperature. And to return to the title of the post, I think that the debate should not be about feedback at all, it should be a debate about the types and the effects of the various natural homeostatic mechanisms.

And all of those are definitely heresies to the latest IPCC Council of Nicean Climate …

My best to all,

w.

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“The current furore about the exact level of feedback in the system, while interesting, is directly relevant, as variations in feedback are not a feature of the control mechanism”
Willis
Should this read….is not directly relevant ? or is it me.
Fascinating article as usual.

Willis Eschenbach

Should this read….is not directly relevant ?

Thanks, fixed.

I totally agree. This has been my point for a long time that the models are utterly incapable of handling the complexity of the climate.
When anyone takes a serious look it is obvious that the number of factors, parameters, feedbacks, coefficients, thresholds, mechanisms etc is huge and any model which covered them would be incalculably large. However instead of accepting that the impossible is indeed the impossible the ‘believers’ prefer to just wish away the reality.
“The reality of the climate is so immensly complex and unfathomable that we are forced to …..umm…. just ignore it and carry on making predictions anyway…”

Lew Skannen

I totally agree. This has been my point for a long time that the models are utterly incapable of handling the complexity of the climate.
When anyone takes a serious look it is obvious that the number of factors, parameters, feedbacks, coefficients, thresholds, mechanisms etc is huge and any model which covered them would be incalculably large. However instead of accepting that the impossible is indeed the impossible the ‘believers’ prefer to just wish away the reality.
“The reality of the climate is so immensly complex and unfathomable that we are forced to … just ignore it and carry on making predictions anyway…”

Brian H

Yummy stuff. Makes eminent sense. Phase and system changes are the tools of the homeostatic engine(s)!
Edit note: missing “not”: The current furore about the exact level of feedback in the system, while interesting, is … directly relevant,

Claes Johnson

I agree. Very good arguments.
Claes

“the sun comes through the clear atmosphere and rapidly warms the surface. So the thermal response is large, and the climate sensitivity is high.
After the onset of the cumulus regime, on the other hand, much of the sunlight is reflected back to space. Less sunlight remains to warm the ocean. In addition to reduced sunlight there is enhanced evaporative cooling. Compared to the morning, the climate sensitivity is much lower.”
I’m sorry, I can’t agree with this. This is not climate sensitivity as per definition thereof, it’s simply the effect of the unhindered or restricted access of the sunlight to the surface.
The sensitivity ie. the reaction to a certain amount of energy is still the same, according to your example it simply means that the surface receives different amounts of it.
Now whether the sensitivity formula is correct or not I wouldn’t know and I’m perfectly happy to be advised on this.
Cheers

Thanks, very interesting – although it’ll take a while to think through the implications (for me at least)
While I’m mulling, can you entertain a couple of questions?
1) are each of the regime changes discussed amenable to quantitative analysis? Do the measurements exist that could put a figure on the energy exchanges / transformations at each stage?
2) one of the standout “features” of the prevailing consensus seems to be that it doesn’t result in anything that’s falsifiable in a useful way overall. Does your regime change view lend itself to falsifiability, or do you at least believe it would yield to that approach given enough time?

Ursus Augustus

Great article. I am an engineer ( naval architect actually) so systems with feedbacks from resonance to damping, fluid flow, turbulent flow etc etc are a daily norm. The notion of a system with water vapour on both sides of the equation so to speak ( greenhouse gas and clouds) and with such variable inputs acting linearly is simply laughable. The only way anyone with any science or engineering/scientific training would accept such a proposition to my mind , in the absence of quite incontravertible proof, is if they are quite obsessed with the notion of linearity or in some other way unhinged. Or corrupt but then the notion of scientific acceptance is out the window anyway.

Geoff Shorten

Minor typo:
Thunderstorms can be though of as local leakages

charles nelson

Absolutely excellent…an in-depth ‘exploded diagram’ of an argument I have used to hush Warmists for many years now;
I ask them if they’ve ever flown long haul and if they have ever looked at the in-flight display…the one that has a route map, arrival times etc…sometimes these have a temperature read out.
For those who haven’t…I explain that the temperature at 300hPa/10,000m ranges from minus 30 degrees C at the equator to minus 65 at the Poles…(I even ask the suspicious ones if they’d like to google it!)
I then ask them if they’ve ever experienced turbulence on such a flight. I ask them what they think might be happening? The smarter ones get ‘that look’, like beasts at an abbatoir they sense where the path leads… but by now there’s no turning back!
Eventually we settle on an explanation…the explanation…high altitude turblulence can only be caused by one thing…air rising, cooling and falling!
I then ask them if they can think of anything that would or could stop air freely circulating between ground level and 6 miles high… to where the temperature is eternally below -30 degrees C AT ITS WARMEST!
Eventually even the most ardent Believer can be brought back to Newton’s Universe. A place where the laws of thermodynamics still rule, where up is up, down is down, and convection and radiation continue unabated and unabolished.
I detest the term “Greenhouse Theory” with its implicit and impossible lid on the atmosphere.
The very word Greenhouse is redolent of trapped, un-natural and stifling heat. Perfect for scaring the scientifically illiterate who make up such a high proportion of Believers.

Martin Lewitt

Willis,
Just because regime shifts, timing and temperature thresholds are involved, doesn’t mean it isn’t feedback. It may be a rapidly responsive feedback that acts as a thermostat, but it is still feedback. I think what you are objecting to is the idea of one sensitivity that that can be projected to higher levels of forcing without considering that the negative feedbacks may become more vigorous and diminish or effectively cap it. I don’t see why you see a need to fight a semantic war about the word “feedback”.

wayne Job

Thank you Willis a nice expose’ of heat engine tropics. The next step is tying into the temperate heat engine and the inter-reaction between them. The step after that to the poles will be most enlightening if it is possible to comprehend. Excellent summary.

Anoneumouse
chris1958

Climate sensitivity may well vary as the day goes on and lots of feedbacks may apply. Nevertheless, even in chaotic systems, an overall “balance” emerges. The human body is an excellent example of a hugely complex and at the micro level chaotic system with more feedbacks than there are stars in the Milky Way which nevertheless functions and malfunctions as a coherent whole. Thus, if you eat more calories than you expend, you will gain weight, develop insulin resistance, and set yourself up for unpleasant consequences, which we know from epidemiological studies.
However, getting people to lose weight is one of the hardest endeavours in public health – precisely because we have a still rudimentary understanding of the metabolic feedbacks in all their glorious complexity. In fact, we now believe that evolution has “hard-wired” us as a species to store fat in times of feast and to slow our metabolism in times of famine. At the same time, we encounter lucky individual who seem able to eat all they want whilst remaining trim, taut, and terrific. These folk however would have been at risk in hunter-gatherer settings. Understanding the feedbacks involved is ultimately fundamental to tackling the obesity epidemic. So too with climate. However, unlike the obesity epidemic which occurs over the lifespan of humans, climate change takes place over the span of generations. Hence, prediction of climate change and devising appropriate interventions is more akin to trying to predict and shape the course of evolution.

eyesonu

Very interesting.

John Marshall

More like the real thing than the so called ‘concensus’
Having lived in the tropics I can attest to the fact that thunderstorms can last into the night, and sometimes all night given a little orographic help. They can also build to well above the tropopause having tried to climb above their tops and failing at 63,000ft in a Vulcan bomber over the Indian Ocean. Estimated tops were up to 70,000ft and still building.

Jessie

Instead, I am a climate heretic.
Great, heresy is such an interesting topic and you are possibly one of the grandest heretics I have had the pleasure reading for some time. I look forward to reading this discussion and learning more.
They will have a difficult time making a pyre for you Willis in the marketplace these days. Various political corrective atmospheric environmental regulations and general antipathy in collecting dry wood from the homes of small animals precludes such interest. Maybe not, we still have massive bushfires.
What mechanism(s) do you propose will they choose… for you?
Carbon steel is out also these days. I guess that just leaves ‘reprogramming’?
There was a reasonable list proposed by your more rabid readers in your article of the 8th August.

Finally, a description of a physical system (the climate) that actually makes sense to me and does not resort to the requirement of CO2’s magical properties. 
It seems obvious to me that the climate is a self-regulating physical system that responds to  energy entering the system as Willis describes above. 
Are there records of the frequency and intensity of tropical thunderstorms and do they correlate with the observed warming and cooling trends seen in the temperature records?

Paul

Possibly the best explanation I have read. Congrats

Don K

While I don’t have any problem with the complexity argument, I think it sort of misses the point. Physical systems like climate (and weather for that matter) may very well be too complex to analyze using the tools we have available. Which likely makes GCMs somewhere between dubious and totally worthless. But that doesn’t mean that simple approximations can’t be useful. Which is not to say that T = lambda Q is the correct simple approximation to be using.
An analogy would be space navigation. It is enormously complex if you look at the details. It involves the effects of numerous overlapping gravity fields, not entirely predictable drag, solar wind, radiation pressure, relativistic effects, etc, etc, etc. However, if you are just trying to dock a transport vehicle to a satellite that is only a few meters away, simple newtonian physics and high school analytic geometry can do the job nicely. Try to use the same model you use for docking to navigate to one of the moons of Pluto, and you will likely end up someplace other than where you wanted to go.
For climate, there are probably simple approximations that could give useful answers to questions like “What is the probable effect of human CO2 emissions on future climate.” Trouble is that we don’t know what the approximations are, and are too arrogant and confused to admit that we don’t have much idea what we are doing.

AlanG

Completely agree, Willis. The feedback model is plainly wrong. If anything, feedback starts off strongly positive and ends up strongly negative after the weather really gets going. The idea of a single (average) feedback parameter is nonsense because you cannot average a non-linear system.
As an example, take 2 places which both have an average temperature of 15C. In one, the temperature spends half the time at 10C and half the time at 20C. In the other, the temperature spends half the time at 5C and half the time at 25C. Now apply the Stefan–Boltzmann law (sigma * T^4). You will find that the place with the greater temperature range emits more long wave radiation even the the two average temperatures are the same.

AlanG

Another thing that the ‘radiationists’ ignore is mass. The atmosphere has mass so it has inertia and momentum. As you correctly say ‘[thunderstorms] can run on into the evening, and at times well into the night’. I call mainstream climate scientists SLDs – Static Linear Radiationists.

Sean Houlihane

So here you have explained how a small perturbation to one of your states can have an unexpectedly large impact. All of the forcings affect these mechanisms to some extent. Maybe they modify the time spent in each state slightly. Maybe some of these stayes are rate limited. Say we make cloud formation occur sooner and faster. Rather than a small change to a steady state, we now have cloudy occurring for a different fraction of the daily cycle.
It only means what you want it to though – untill its all fed into a model.

peter_ga

I have read comments that the global climate models they use predict an upper tropospheric bump in temperature, but that this prediction has not been verified. This indicates to me that the greenhouse is expected to operate in between the upper troposphere and outer space, not between the earth’s surface and the upper troposphere, where convection operates. Convection would cap the surface temperature with respect to the upper troposphere, as super-adiabatic lapse rates are rare in nature. The surface temperature would be expected to be limited to the lapse rate temperature difference with the upper troposphere. This only varies with the h2o content of the intervening air.
I believe there should be some negative feedback from extra co2 in the upper troposphere, because that should facilitate the transmission of long wave to outer space, but this facilitation should not be enough to actually make it cooler than it would be without the added co2. I am not even sure if co2 is the dominant greenhouse gas in the upper troposphere. Also ozone is present which absorbs solar UV, which is much more variable than total solar radiance. ozone is also a greenhouse gas, I believe.
In conclusion, arguing that convection disposes easily of any extra greenhouse heat is probably moot, as the models they use would already presume this. Rather the action is probably from upper troposphere to outer space.

So how do past climate changes (from snowball earth to the hothouse Cretaceous) fit in your paradigm that “that the temperature of the Earth is kept within a fairly narrow range through the action of a variety of natural homeostatic mechanisms.”?
After all, paleo shows that significant climate changes (of multiple degrees in the global average) are possible with relatively small changes in the radiation budget.

Andrew Harding

Willis, our experiences in Florida this summer confirm what you said. Sunshine in the morning first thing followed by cloud, a rapid increase in humidity followed by thunderstorms and torrential rain during the afternoon/evening. As a contrast when we were there last Easter the sun’s energy was not strong enough to cause these weather patterns.
I have always maintained that the human race would not have evolved as we have if there were no homeostatic mechanisms to avoid extremes of weather in the habitable areas of Earth. When all of mankinds collective energies are devoted to survival then there is no reserve for cultural and scientific development. Building other than shelters for survival would not happen. That we have the pyramids of Egypt, Stonehenge, Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building etc shows that we have a relative stabilty of climate that has existed for thousands of years and will doubtless exist for thousands of more years. There has been more CO2 in the atmosphere before and there will be times when there will be more in the future, but as you rightly say, there are other things that influence our climate and it is time that fact was acknowledged rather than cherry picking certain facts.

cedarhill

This reminds one of other branches of science where inquisitive thought has been radically suppressed. Sometimes for centuries.
It’s a start in the right direction since it simply discards the good old black body theory of the climate modelling simpletons. And, but of course, it’s incomplete. Eschenbach describes, if you will, a segment of the ocean which might be called “stacked cuboid spheroids” or such – call it s “scuboid”. The inclusion of the squall lines shows how how these scuboids can interact with each other.
We can’t model the entire climate system because we simply do not know enough. If you check out the cost per terabyte, some of the recent database technologies, etc., it would seem we have sufficient storage capacity to construct enough scoboids and their boundary state changes (phases). Processing power is a limitation which begs for really great algorithms. I.E., it would be a really big, costly project but just a fraction of what mann made global warming has already cost.
Some of the obvious unknowns is how does the Eschenbach description fit into the Ice Age cycles. For example, the CLOUD experiments could provide insights into the rate of tropical cloud formations which effect tropical cooling and the heat transfer from the tropics to the higher latitudes. Interesting stuff.

charles nelson

John Marshall.
I take my hat off to you Sir…
I wonder how many proffessional pilots believe in Climate Change…ha!

Bomber_the_Cat

The most interesting thing about this is that a lot of people said they agreed with it.
However, Climate Sensitivity refers to a state of equilibrium. Not a condition in which the sun is coming up, going down, and ocean stratification is doing some other thing. It refers only to a situation in which an equilibrium has been reached after a change in forcing.
Climate sensitivity is normally taken to mean the temperature increase (after equilibrium is attained) which would result from a doubling of CO2. Note, because the effect of CO is logarithmic, it doesn’t really matter what the starting point is, i.e 280 ppm or 400ppm, as long as it is below 1000ppm (after which the relationship breaks down) a doubling will produce the same amount of warming.
In the absence of feedbacks, a doubling of CO2 will cause warming of 1.2deg.C (not 3 deg.C as implied in the diagram). The 1.2 deg C figure is according to the IPCC and makes it first appearance in AR1, page 78, para.3.3.1. Strangely, it is somewhat harder to find in subsequent IPCC assessment reports, probably because 1.1 deg.C is not alarming enough.
So, all other things been equal, if the only parameter we change in the climate system is to double the level of atmospheric CO2, then the IPCC says that the earth will warm by about one degree. Such a warming is probably beneficial, certainly not catastrophic. With this ‘settled science’ supporting the sceptic case I am surprised that sceptics feel a need to seek other explanations.
So, why do he alarmist predict catastrophe? The answer ifs feedback. It is all about feedback.

Alexander K

Excellent again (still?), Willis.

A. C. Osborn

Bomber_the_Cat says:
August 14, 2011 at 3:35 am
So, all other things been equal, if the only parameter we change in the climate system is to double the level of atmospheric CO2, then the IPCC says that the earth will warm by about one degree.
That is the problem that Willis is highlighting, all things are never equal, it is a state of constant flux and adjustments, on a daily, anual, decadal, century, millenial basis.

The global warming hypothesis is based on the projections of climate computer models. Climate computer models are linear. Climate is a non-linear complex system. Therefore climate models are wrong, as is the global warming hypothesis.
http://thepointman.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/the-seductiveness-of-models/
Pointman

Pascvaks

Seems that today we do not have the capability to model the system(s) we live in. Too many dimensions. It’s definitely NOT linear. I got the picture, as I read, of a supercomputer dealing with four dimensions for each cell, another dealing with four dimensions of each group of cells, another dealing with four dimensions of each cluster of groups of cells…. etc. etc. The models and programs we have today are toooooo simplistic and only try to treat the super system, and it can’t be done. Thanks Willis, once again you shed light on the matter so well.

Willis, That’s a much-needed description of the many faces of energy transfer in the tropics from day to night. It’s an excellent way to show the over-simplification of a constant climate sensitivity and feedback. However, it remains qualitative, but making it more quantitative might be beyond most readers. This lack of numbers brings me back to an old example, which first arose from a statement (by Judith Curry, IIRC, about 3 years ago) that hurricanes form over hot ocean areas, but not necessarily the hottest ocean areas around. The implication that a modicum of ocean heat is needed to initiate a hurricane needs to be backed up by some back-of-envelope equations that convey heat transfer functions, latent heat, circulation rates etc., to show that the hot ocean is capable to transferring enough heat into a storm to make a difference. It starts to become more complicated when you see that a tropical cyclone can approach the north of Australia, cross the coast, then maintain itself over a dry desert while travelling for several days and over 1,000 miles. That is, hot ocean water is no longer in the equation.
So, yes, I’m in favour of the change of condition and homeostasis explations that you give above, but would like to see some plausibility confirmation with round numbers.

eco-geek

I know I’m being stupid but:
Forcing Change of 3.7 watts/metre^2 = 3°C Surface Temperature Change
Surely this isn’t the sum total of the warmist argument? I mean if we turn the Sun off then that means we get over a thousand degrees celcius colder. I guess there is a range of temperatures over which this magical equation is deemed to hold and its seems we are living at temperatures where this “must be” non-linear equation has a maximum value for lambda (must be because: -1000+ celcius isn’t physically real). i.e. lambda = lambda(T). Must be. So can the Warmists graph lambda for us as a function of temperature?

A pleasure to read as always…

Excellent. Just being an electronic engineer I have no schooling in climate science but I can appreciate the logic in what you describe. It is always a very nice experience to read an article that explains complex phenomena in a clear and easy to understand way.

Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences

Don’t confuse us with your unproven thesis. There is no grant money in it.

Julian Flood

John Marshall wrote:
quote
63,000ft in a Vulcan bomber
unquote
Tut tut… unless you were wearing your decompression vests….
JF

huishi

Willis,
Great post, and thanks for all you do here.
I have a question about your “heresy”. What causes ice ages and then thawing under your approach? Does the system lose input and then struggle to keep at the preset temperature? (and then later the input heat goes back up)

Roger Longstaff

To grossly oversimplify these mechanisms, can we define planetary requirements for life (as we know it) as a planet with an orbit around its star that allows surface water in all 3 phases, and an appropriate atmosphere, mass and rotation that enables long term climate stability via convective forces (the thermostat effect)?
Perhaps O/T, but I have always been interested in SETI.

It’s still feedback. Not first-level feedback like a toilet ballcock, but most of the feedback mechanisms in biology and electronics aren’t that direct either.

Slabadang

Thank you Willis!
Common sense is not the biggaest asset within the CAGW crouds. What if IPCC instead had to answer “Why is the climate so stable”? That would have sent them in the right direction. You elegantly by common sense have given me a more detailed understanding to why I allways thought clouds to be the allways functioning reliable everlasting reglulator of heat. Thanks for that gift!!

Add this to your thought process. The behavior of clouds is controlling the atmospheric concentration of CO2. Cold water in clouds is the nearest sink that absorbs the CO2 that is outgassed from the surface of the ocean. You can expect a temperature-CO2 correlation but that relation is a function of the behavior of clouds. The rather constant global concentration of CO2 indicates that it is a lagging measure of the global distribution and behavior of clouds.

John Ritson

Willis,
Thanks for a very interesting article. Your account of the daily pattern of air movement matches closely that given by Frank Bethwaite in his book “High Performance Sailing”. Frank is a sail boat designer and aeronautical engineer, he was previously a commercial airline pilot and was the Australian Olympic sailing team coach.
He flew in tropical Australia and noticed the pattern of thermals organising themselves first into a hexagonal pattern which then breaks up into rows and then thunderstorms.

Bill Illis

There are two big problems with the formula.
First, it is a linear equation. Temperatures are not linear with respect to energy levels. Like CO2 has a logarithmic impact, so does temperature with respect to the energy/forcing levels. The 0.8C/W/m2 (or 0.75C/W/m2 when the other GHGs like Methane are added in) is an average of a curved log formula (with temperature between -30C and 10C, not the differential at today’s 15C). It is not based on physics, it is a shortcut used in the late 1970s when they were still trying to work out the theory and they have stubbornly stuck with it, even though it is physically wrong.
Second, the feedbacks are all based on a series of assumptions that climate science will not question (water vapour, positive cloud feedback, no/tiny lapse rate change). These need to be tested against real-world data, not climate model against climate model.
Your thermostat proposition means that the water vapour feedback in particular will be less than assumed and will operate at a faster rate than assumed (I might even convert it into a lapse rate discussion). That is exactly what the real-world data shows.

EdH

While I applaud the very clear explanation of some of the complexities of the climate system, it doesn’t demonstrate that there are not simplifying equations for the aggregate behavior of the system. Many years ago, early in my career, I ahd to create an algorithm to calibrate a complex photolithography exposure system for semiconductor manufacture. The electronics had dozens of ADC’s and DAC’s that each could drift as they aged, and so I set about to create a regimen to properly determine the calibration of each component to sum to a properly calibrated whole. I thought that was the only way to get it right, and it was immensely complicated. A more experienced engineer then was able to come in and demonstrate that the aggregate behavior of the exposure system could be calibrated as a whole, with a simplifying approach involving only a few inputs and measurements. It worked. I don’t know whether the traditional linear equation is right for the climate system. I suspect it isn’t by virtue of its linearity. But we should not get caught up in trying to account for every perturbation either. Modelling the aggregate behavior within a range requires observation based validation of various simplifying models. Thoeretical climate models that the AGW crowd use won’t do it, but overly complex models that involve too many variables also are not testeable and won’t do it either.

Bystander

Willis – Bart asks a relevant question. For your “heresy” to be valid it needs to explain prior and current climate variation. It does not appear to do that.

Stanb999

Bomber_the_Cat says:
August 14, 2011 at 3:35 am
The most interesting thing about this is that a lot of people said they agreed with it.
However, Climate Sensitivity refers to a state of equilibrium. Not a condition in which the sun is coming up, going down, and ocean stratification is doing some other thing. It refers only to a situation in which an equilibrium has been reached after a change in forcing.
Climate sensitivity is normally taken to mean the temperature increase (after equilibrium is attained) which would result from a doubling of CO2. Note, because the effect of CO is logarithmic, it doesn’t really matter what the starting point is, i.e 280 ppm or 400ppm, as long as it is below 1000ppm (after which the relationship breaks down) a doubling will produce the same amount of warming.
In the absence of feedbacks, a doubling of CO2 will cause warming of 1.2deg.C (not 3 deg.C as implied in the diagram). The 1.2 deg C figure is according to the IPCC and makes it first appearance in AR1, page 78, para.3.3.1. Strangely, it is somewhat harder to find in subsequent IPCC assessment reports, probably because 1.1 deg.C is not alarming enough.
So, all other things been equal, if the only parameter we change in the climate system is to double the level of atmospheric CO2, then the IPCC says that the earth will warm by about one degree
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All of the above is well and good. However your missing the point of the post.
The temperature at the surface “Where we are” is controlled by the water cycle. If as you suggest the temperature in the high atmosphere was to rise. (which hasn’t been noticed in actual measurements.) The storm would just run a bit longer to dissipate the heat. The temperature at the surface wouldn’t change at all. Of course there is also the expected feed back of the thunderstorm “head” rising just a bit higher. The apparent temperature difference for the storm would be the same. So the flow rate would be the same. The condensation point isn’t controlled by altitude alone. It’s not as if there is a ceiling at which convection must stop. It’s temperature and altitude that controls the condensation point. I propose it makes little difference to us on the ground if a thunder head is at 65,000 ft v/s 60,000 ft. Not only will the altitude of the condensation not benefit or harm us. I doubt we will notice.