Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
Once again, the crazy idea that downwelling longwave radiation (DLR, also called infra-red or IR, or “greenhouse radiation”) can’t heat the ocean has raised its ugly head on one of my threads.
There are lots of good arguments against the AGW consensus, but this one is just silly. Here are four entirely separate and distinct lines of reasoning showing that DLR does in fact heat the oceans.
Argument 1. People claim that because the DLR is absorbed in the first mm of water, it can’t heat the mass of the ocean. But the same is true of the land. DLR is absorbed in the first mm of rock or soil. Yet the same people who claim that DLR can’t heat the ocean (because it’s absorbed in the first mm) still believe that DLR can heat the land (despite the fact that it’s absorbed in the first mm).
And this is in spite of the fact that the ocean can circulate the heat downwards through turbulence, while there is no such circulation in the land … but still people claim the ocean can’t heat from DLR but the land can. Logical contradiction, no cookies.
Argument 2. If the DLR isn’t heating the water, where is it going? It can’t be heating the air, because the atmosphere has far too little thermal mass. If DLR were heating the air we’d all be on fire.
Nor can it be going to evaporation as many claim, because the numbers are way too large. Evaporation is known to be on the order of 70 w/m2, while average downwelling longwave radiation is more than four times that amount … and some of the evaporation is surely coming from the heating from the visible light.
So if the DLR is not heating the ocean, and we know that a maximum of less than a quarter of the energy of the DLR might be going into evaporation, and the DLR is not heating the air … then where is it going?
Rumor has it that energy can’t be created or destroyed, so where is the energy from the DLR going after it is absorbed by the ocean, and what is it heating?
Argument 3. The claim is often made that warming the top millimetre can’t affect the heat of the bulk ocean. But in addition to the wind-driven turbulence of the topmost layer mixing the DLR energy downwards into lower layers, heating the surface affects the entire upper bulk temperature of the ocean every night when the ocean is overturning. At night the top layer of the ocean naturally overturns, driven by the temperature differences between surface and deeper waters (see the diagrams here). DLR heating of the top mm of the ocean reduces those differences and thus delays the onset of that oceanic overturning by slowing the night-time cooling of the topmost layer, and it also slows the speed of the overturning once it is established. This reduces the heat flow from the body of the upper ocean, and leaves the entire mass warmer than it would have been had the DLR not slowed the overturning.
Argument 4. Without the heating from the DLR, there’s not enough heating to explain the current liquid state of the ocean. The DLR is about two-thirds of the total downwelling radiation (solar plus DLR). Given the known heat losses of the ocean, it would be an ice-cube if it weren’t being warmed by the DLR. We know the radiative losses of the ocean, which depend only on its temperature, and are about 390 w/m2. In addition there are losses of sensible heat (~ 30 w/m2) and evaporative losses (~ 70 w/m2). That’s a total loss of 390 + 30 + 70 = 490 w/m2.
But the average solar input to the surface is only about 170 watts/square metre.
So if the DLR isn’t heating the ocean, with heat gains of only the solar 170 w/m2 and losses of 390 w/m2 … then why isn’t the ocean an ice-cube?
Note that each of these arguments against the idea that DLR can’t warm the ocean stands on its own. None of them depends on any of the others to be valid. So if you still think DLR can’t warm the ocean, you have to refute not one, but all four of those arguments.
Look, folks, there’s lot’s of good, valid scientific objections against the AGW claims, but the idea that DLR can’t heat the ocean is nonsense. Go buy an infrared lamp, put it over a pan of water, and see what happens. It only hurts the general skeptical arguments when people believe and espouse impossible things …