The Unified Theory of Climate post is exciting and could shake the world of Climate Science to its roots. I would love it if the conventional understanding of the Atmospheric “Greenhouse” Effect (GHE) presented by the Official Climate Team could be overturned, and that would be the case if the theory of Ned Nikolov and Karl Zeller, both PhDs, turns out to be scientifically correct.
Sadly, it seems to me they have made some basic mistakes that, among other faults, confuse cause and effect. I appreciate that WUWT is open to new ideas, and I support the decision to publish this theory, along with both positive and negative comments by readers.
Correlation does not prove causation. For example, the more policemen directing traffic, the worse the jam is. Yes, when the police and tow trucks first respond to an accident they may slow the traffic down a bit until the disabled automobiles are removed. However, there is no doubt the original cause of the jam was the accident, and the reason police presence is generally proportional to the severity of the jam level is that more or fewer are ordered to respond. Thus, Accident >>CAUSES>> Traffic Jam >>CAUSES>> Police is the correct interpretation.
Al Gore made a similar error when, in his infamous movie An Inconvenient Truth, he made a big deal about the undoubted corrrelation in the Ice Core record between CO2 levels and Temperature without mentioning the equally apparent fact that Temperatures increase and decrease hundreds of years before CO2 levels follow suit.
While it is true that rising CO2 levels do have a positive feedback that contributes to slightly increased Temperatures, the primary direction of causation is Temperature >>CAUSES>> CO2. The proof is in the fact that, in each Glacial cycle, Temperatures begin their rapid decline precisely when CO2 levels are at their highest, and rapid Temperature increase is initiated exactly when CO2 levels are their lowest. Thus, Something Else >>CAUSES>> Temperature>>CAUSES>> CO2. Further proof may be had by placing an open can of carbonated beverage in the refigerator and another on the table, and noting that the “fizz” (CO2) outgasses more rapidly from the can at room temperature.
Moving on to Nikolov, the claim appears to be that the pressure of the Atmosphere is the main cause of temperature changes on Earth. The basic claim is PRESSURE >>CAUSES>>TEMPERATURE.
PV = nRT
Given a gas in a container, the above formula allows us to calculate the effect of changes to the following variables: Pressure (P), Volume (V), Temperature (T, in Kelvins), and Number of molecules (n). (R is a constant.)
The figure shows two cases involving a sealed, non-insulated container, with a Volume, V, of air:
(A) Store that container of air in the ambient cool Temperature Tr of a refrigerator. Then, increase the Number n of molecules in the container by pumping in more air. the Pressure (P) within the container will increase. Due to the work done to compress the air in the fixed volume container, the Temperature within the container will also increase from (Tr) to some higher value. But, please note, when we stop increasing n, both P and T in the container will stabilize. Then, as the container, warmed by the work we did compressing the air, radiates, conducts, and convects that heat to the cool interior of the refrigerator, the Temperature slowly decreases back to the original Tr.
(B) We take a similar container from the cool refrigerator at Temperature Tr and place it on a kitchen chair, where the ambient Temperature Tk is higher. The container is warmed by radiation, conduction and convection and the Temperature rises asymptotically towards Tk. The Pressure P rises slowly and stabilizes at some higher level. Please note the pressure remains high forever so long as the temperature remains elevated.
In case (A) Pressure >>CAUSES A TEMPORARY>> increase in Temperature.
In case (B) Temperature >>CAUSES A PERMANENT>> increase in Pressure.
I do not believe any reader will disagree with this highly simplified thought experiment. Of course, the Nikolov theory is far more complex, but, I believe it amounts to confusing the cause, namely radiation from the Sun and Downwelling Long-Wave Infrared (LW DWIR) from the so-called “Greenhouse” gases (GHG) in the Atmosphere with the effect, Atmospheric pressure.
Some Red Flags in the Unified Theory
1) According to Nikolov, our Atmosphere
“… boosts Earth’s surface temperature not by 18K—33K as currently assumed, but by 133K!”
If, as Nikolov claims, the Atmosphere boosts the surface temperature by 133K, then, absent the Atmosphere the Earth would be 288K – 133K = 155K. This is contradicted by the fact that the Moon, which has no Atmosphere and is at the same distance from the Sun as our Earth, has an average temperature of about 250K. Yes, the albedo of the Moon is 0.12 and that of the Earth is 0.3, but that difference would make the Moon only about 8K cooler than an Atmosphere-free Earth, not 95K cooler! Impossible!
2) In the following quote from Nikolov, NTE is “Atmospheric Near-Surface Thermal Enhancement” and SPGB is a “Standard Planetary Gray Body”
NTE should not be confused with an actual energy, however, since it only defines the relative (fractional) increase of a planet’s surface temperature above that of a SPGB. Pressure by itself is not a source of energy! Instead, it enhances (amplifies) the energy supplied by an external source such as the Sun through density-dependent rates of molecular collision. This relative enhancement only manifests as an actual energy in the presence of external heating. [Emphasis added]
This, it seems to me, is an admission that the source of energy for their “Atmospheric Near-Surface Thermal Enhancement” process comes from the Sun, and, therefore, their “Enhancement” is as they admit, not “actual energy”. I would add the energy that would otherwise be lost to space (DW LWIR) to the energy from the Sun, eliminating any need for the “Thermal Enhancement” provided by Atmospheric pressure.
3) As we know when investigating financial misconduct, follow the money. Well, in Climate Science we follow the Energy. We know from actual measurements (see my Visualizing the “Greenhouse” Effect – Emission-Spectra) the radiative energy and spectra of Upwelling Long-Wave Infrared (UW LWIR), from the Surface to the so-called “greenhouse” gases (GHG) in the Atmosphere, and the Downwelling (DW LWIR) from those gases back to the Surface.
The only heed Nikolov seems to give to GHG and those measured radiative energies is that they are insufficient to raise the temperature of the Surface by 133K.
… our atmosphere boosts Earth’s surface temperature not by 18K—33K as currently assumed, but by 133K! This raises the question: Can a handful of trace gases which amount to less than 0.5% of atmospheric mass trap enough radiant heat to cause such a huge thermal enhancement at the surface? Thermodynamics tells us that this not possible.
Of course not! Which is why the conventional explanation of the GHE is that the GHE raises the temperature by only about 33K (or perhaps a bit less -or more- but only a bit and definitely not 100K!).
4) Nikolov notes that, based on “interplanetary data in Table 1” (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Moon, Mars, Europe, Titan, Triton):
… we discovered that NTE was strongly related to total surface pressure through a nearly perfect regression fit…
Of course, one would expect planets and moons in our Solar system to have some similarities.
“… the atmosphere does not act as a ‘blanket’ reducing the surface infrared cooling to space as maintained by the current GH theory, but is in and of itself a source of extra energy through pressure. This makes the GH effect a thermodynamic phenomenon, not a radiative one as presently assumed!
I just cannot square this assertion with the clear measurements of UW and DW LWIR, and the fact that the wavelengths involved are exactly those of water vapor, carbon dioxide, and other GHGs.
Equation (7) allows us to derive a simple yet robust formula for predicting a planet’s mean surface temperature as a function of only two variables – TOA solar irradiance and mean atmospheric surface pressure,…”
Yes, TOA solar irradiance would be expected to be important in predicting mean surface temperature, but mean atmospheric surface pressure, it seems to me, would more likely be a result than a cause of temperature. But, I could be wrong.
I, as much as anyone else here at WUWT, would love to see the Official Climate Team put in its proper place. I think climate (CO2) sensitivity is less than the IPCC 2ºC to 4.5ºC, and most likely below 1ºC. The Nikolov Unified Climate Theory goes in the direction of reducing climate sensitivity, apparently even making it negative, but, much as I would like to accept it, I remain unconvinced. Nevertheless, I congratulate Nikolov and Zeller for having the courage and tenacity to put this theory forward. Perhaps it will trigger some other alternative theory that will be more successful.
UPDATE: This thread is closed – see the newest one “A matter of some Gravity” where the discussion continues.