Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
I’ve been messing about with the “Modtran” online calculator for atmospheric absorption. It’s called “Modtran” because it is a MODerate resolution program to calculate atmospheric infrared absorption written in ForTRAN, which calculates the result for each 1 cm-1 wide band of the wavenumber across the spectrum. Not quite a “line-by-line” calculation, but close. Here’s a sample of the input page:
Figure 1. User input page for the Modtran online calculation for infrared absorption. Left side is user input. Upper right graph shows absorption as a function of frequency. The lower right graph shows the GHG concentrations, pressure, and temperature, as a function of altitude. See here for an overview of the model. Click to enlarge
This shows the situation during the subarctic summer, with no clouds or rain.
Along the way, I ran into a curious mystery, one for which I have no answer.
Here’s the peculiarity I found. I decided to see what Modtran had to say about the “instantaneous forcing”. This is the forcing immediately after a change in e.g. CO2 or other greenhouse gas. In Table 1 of “Efficacy of Climate Forcings” , James Hansen et al. say that the instantaneous forcing from a doubling of CO2 is 4.52 W/m2.
So I tested that claim with Modtran using a variety of different locations, with different combinations of clear skies, cloud, and rain. I started by testing every few hundred PPMV increase, to see if the results were linear with the log (to the base 2) of the change in CO2. Finding that they were perfectly linear, I then tested each situation using 375 ppmv, doubled CO2 (750 ppmv) and two doublings of CO2 (1500 ppmv). I noted the absorption at each level, and compared that to the logarithm (base 2) of CO2. That let me calculate the forcing, which is typically given as the change in forcing for a doubling of CO2. Using Modtran, I get the following results:
Now, this has the expected form, in that the forcing is highest at the equator and is lowest at the poles. The addition of either rain or clouds reduces the forcing, again as we’d expect, except during subarctic winter when some kinds of clouds increase the forcing slightly.
So the mystery is, according to Modtran, the absolute maximum instantaneous forcing from a doubling of CO2 is 3.2 W/m2 in the clear-sky tropics. I can’t find any combination of locations and weather that gives a larger value for the instantaneous forcing than that. And the minimum value I can find is subarctic winter plus cirrus, at 1.57 W/m2. I can’t find any combination giving less than that, although there may be one.
As a result, according to Modtran the planetary average instantaneous forcing from CO2 doubling cannot be any more than 3.2 W/m2, and is likely on the order of 2.4 W/m2 or so … but according to Hansen et al., the real answer is nearly double that, 4.5 W/m2.
So the mystery is, why is the accepted value for instantaneous forcing nearly twice what Modtran says?
Note that the answer to the mystery is not “feedbacks”, because we’re looking at instantaneous forcing, before any response by the system or any possible feedbacks.
All suggestions welcome, except those that are anatomically improbable …
DATA: Excel spreadsheet here. You don’t need it, though. For any situation, simply use Modtran successively for two CO2 values where one CO2 value is double the other, and note the difference in the calculated upwelling radiation. This is the instantaneous climate sensitivity for that situation.
THE USUAL: If you disagree with me or someone else, in your comment please quote the exact words that you disagree with. This lets everyone know your exact subject of disagreement.
NOTE: I see as I finish this that they have an upgraded user interface to Modtran here … the results are the same. I prefer the older version, the graphics are more informative, but that’s just me.