Guest opinion: Dr. Tim Ball
In my last two articles I examined what we know, but more importantly what we don’t know, about the three main greenhouse gases (GHG). The first examined methane (CH4) and the second CO2. The fluster of responses about data and accuracy of measurements is essentially irrelevant because combined CH4 and CO2 represent only four percent of the GHG. It didn’t matter whether Beck was right or wrong about actual CO2 measures, what was important was the degree of variability the data showed, such as with the stomata data. This variability was deliberately eliminated in other measures to achieve a smooth, with no splinters, ‘hockey stick’ because it contradicted the well-mixed scenario essential to the Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) agenda.
The articles about CH4 and CO2 illustrate the modus operandi of the creators and proponents of the AGW hypothesis. They designed them to prove the hypothesis rather than disproving, as is the proper scientific method. This includes selecting and adjusting the start and end points of records, ignoring those that don’t fit or worse contradict the hypothesis. There is inadequate temperature data for construction of the computer models, and there is even fewer data for every other variable. Data is created mathematically, such as the use of parameterization for temperatures. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) explain parameterization as follows,
“…the technique of representing processes that cannot be explicitly resolved at the spatial or temporal resolution of the model (sub-grid scale processes) by relationships between model-resolved larger-scale variables and the area- or time- averaged effect of such subgrid scale processes.”
Figure 1 shows the current percentages of greenhouse gases as a part of total atmospheric gases. The challenge for the IPCC and its promoters was to create a different set of percentages and images for the public. This required amplifying one side, as I explained about CO2 and CH4 while downplaying the other side.
Figure 1 (After Heartland.org)
The first and most important device was the definition of climate change Article 1 of the UNFCCC, a treaty formalized at the “Earth Summit” in Rio in 1992, defined Climate Change as:
a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over considerable time periods.
This allowed them to limit the variables considered in their investigation, which is depicted by the forcing diagrams. Figure 2 shows those for the 2001 IPCC Report.
LOSU stands for Level of Scientific Understanding. Notice only two are rated “High” but we know that is not accurate. Stratospheric water vapour is included, but tropospheric water is not. This is interesting because the 2007 Report says,
Due to the computational cost associated with the requirement of a well-resolved stratosphere, the models employed for the current assessment do not generally include the QBO.
It appears they knew little and did not have the data or the ability to resolve what was going on. The level of knowledge is the same in the 2013 AR5 Report (Figure 3). The changes are telling. Now “Long-lived greenhouse gasses” are “Well-mixed greenhouse gasses.” This is because they switched the narrative. The early story said that CO2 residency time was 100 years, but that was challenged and corrected. The new, false, narrative was that CO2 was well mixed. The “Very High” assessment doesn’t fit the increasing divergence between the CO2 level and the temperature.
The confidence level for well-mixed greenhouse gasses is now “Very high”. This is simply not possible because, as the satellite data from OCO2 shows, CO2 is clearly not a well-mixed gas. The problem is similar to the objective of the IPCC to determine human causes of climate change. It is only possible if you know how much climate changes without the human effect. You can only determine the CO2 effect if you know the effect of the predominant greenhouse gas – water vapor.
The IPCC acknowledges that water vapor is the most important and abundant greenhouse gas. In the 2007 Report they wrote
“Water vapour is the most abundant and important greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.
They then explain why they are going to ignore it.
However, human activities have only a small direct influence on the amount of atmospheric water vapour.”
The 2013 IPCC Report FAQ 8.1 responds to criticism about not including water vapour as a greenhouse. Here is the entire FAQ, which is illuminating and begs many questions. (There is no significance to the fact it is on page 666.)
As the largest contributor to the natural greenhouse effect, water vapour plays an essential role in the Earth’s climate. However, the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere is controlled mostly by air temperature, rather than by emissions. For that reason, scientists consider it a feedback agent, rather than a forcing to climate change. Anthropogenic emissions of water vapour through irrigation or power plant cooling have a negligible impact on the global climate.
Water vapour is the primary greenhouse gas in the Earth’s atmosphere. The contribution of water vapour to the natural greenhouse effect relative to that of carbon dioxide (CO2) depends on the accounting method, but can be considered to be approximately two to three times greater. Additional water vapour is injected into the atmosphere from anthropogenic activities, mostly through increased evaporation from irrigated crops, but also through power plant cooling, and marginally through the combustion of fossil fuel. One may therefore question why there is so much focus on CO2, and not on water vapour, as a forcing to climate change.
Water vapour behaves differently from CO2 in one fundamental way: it can condense and precipitate. When air with high humidity cools, some of the vapour condenses into water droplets or ice particles and precipitates. The typical residence time of water vapour in the atmosphere is ten days. The flux of water vapour into the atmosphere from anthropogenic sources is considerably less than from ‘natural’ evaporation. Therefore, it has a negligible impact on overall concentrations, and does not contribute significantly to the long-term greenhouse effect. This is the main reason why tropospheric water vapour (typically below 10 km altitude) is not considered to be an anthropogenic gas contributing to radiative forcing.
Anthropogenic emissions do have a significant impact on water vapour in the stratosphere, which is the part of the atmosphere above about 10 km. Increased concentrations of methane (CH4) due to human activities lead to an additional source of water, through oxidation, which partly explains the observed changes in that atmospheric layer. That stratospheric water change has a radiative impact, is considered a forcing, and can be evaluated. Stratospheric concentrations of water have varied significantly in past decades. The full extent of these variations is not well understood and is probably less a forcing than a feedback process added to natural variability. The contribution of stratospheric water vapour to warming, both forcing and feedback, is much smaller than from CH4 or CO2.
The maximum amount of water vapour in the air is controlled by temperature. A typical column of air extending from the surface to the stratosphere in polar regions may contain only a few kilograms of water vapour per square metre, while a similar column of air in the tropics may contain up to 70 kg. With every extra degree of air temperature, the atmosphere can retain around 7% more water vapour (see upper-left insert in the FAQ 8.1, Figure 1). This increase in concentration amplifies the green- house effect, and therefore leads to more warming. This process, referred to as the water vapour feed- back, is well understood and quantified. It occurs in all models used to estimate climate change, where its strength is consistent with observations. Although an increase in atmospheric water vapour has been observed, this change is recognized as a climate feed- back (from increased atmospheric temperature) and should not be interpreted as a radiative forcing from anthropogenic emissions. Currently, water vapour has the largest greenhouse effect in the Earth’s atmosphere. However, other greenhouse gases, primarily CO2, are necessary to sustain the presence of water vapour in the atmosphere. Indeed, if these other gases were removed from the atmosphere, its temperature would drop sufficiently to induce a decrease of water vapour, leading to a runaway drop of the greenhouse effect that would plunge the Earth into a frozen state. So greenhouse gases other than water vapour provide the temperature structure that sustains current levels of atmospheric water vapour. Therefore, although CO2 is the main anthropogenic control knob on climate, water vapour is a strong and fast feedback that amplifies any initial forcing by a typical factor between two and three. Water vapour is not a significant initial forcing, but is nevertheless a fundamental agent of climate change.
FAQ 8.1, Figure 1 | Illustration of the water cycle and its interaction with the greenhouse effect. The upper-left insert indicates the relative increase of potential water vapour content in the air with an increase of temperature (roughly 7% per degree). The white curls illustrate evaporation, which is compensated by precipitation to close the water budget. The red arrows illustrate the outgoing infrared radiation that is partly absorbed by water vapour and other gases, a process that is one component of the greenhouse effect. The stratospheric processes are not included in this figure.
This section is so full of misstatements and false assumptions that it requires an entire column in itself, but that is not the purpose of this column. Suffice to say that this appears to be another way of presenting the already disproven positive feedback. It is also an example of, in the vernacular, having your cake and eating it too. Their argument misses the point entirely. They don’t know how much contribution human water vapour (H2O) makes because they don’t have critical information. They don’t know how much H2O humans produce, how much H2O there is in the atmosphere, or the amount H2O varies naturally. When assessing how much the energy balance is affected by greenhouse gases, the source is only an issue if you want to point an accusatory political finger. For science, the total amount of each gas and how it varies is critical. As NASA notes,
Water vapor is a critical variable for climate studies. The absorption of infrared (IR) radiation by atmospheric water vapor and its subsequent emission at lower temperatures greatly influences the radiative energy balance of the planet.
So, the questions are how much H2O is in the atmosphere and how much does it vary?
In 1996, the challenges for measuring water vapour were explained as follows.
It is very hard to quantify water vapor in the atmosphere. Its concentration changes continually with time, location and altitude. To measure it at the same location every day, you would need a hygrometer, which in earlier days made use of the moisture-sensitivity of a hair, and by now of for instance condensators. A vertical profile is obtained with a weather balloon. To get a global overview, only satellite measurements are suitable. From a satellite, the absorption of the reflecting sunlight due to water vapor molecules is measured. The results are pictures of global water vapor distributions and their changes. The measurement error, however, is still about 30 to 40%.
By 2002, according to NASA, it was no better.
Finally, water vapor plays a key role in the Earth’s hydrologic cycle. Therefore, a better understanding of its role will require long-term observations of both small and large scale water vapor features, a major goal of the National Aeronautics and Space and Administration’s (NASA’s) Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE) program.
But the IPCC is only interested stratospheric water vapour from CH4 as Figure 3 shows. Even here they don’t know much,
Since trend estimates from the cited literature are used here, issues such as data records of different length, potential lack of comparability among measurement methods and different trend calculation methods, add to the uncertainty in assessing trends.
If they were interested in tropospheric water vapour, they could use the total column water vapour measures from RSS.
We have merged the water vapor measurements from the many radiometers in operation since 1987, including SSM/I, SSMIS, AMSR-E and WindSat. These data were all processed in a consistent manner using our radiative transfer model and careful instrument intercalibration. The water vapor from these instruments are used to create a Total Precipitable Water (atmospheric water vapor) product that is best for use in climate study.
This means we have a 28-year record according to RSS and 19 years according to the IPCC. These are the people who demand a 30-year record for statistical significance.
The IPCC employed their standard amplification technique, known as the Global Warming Potential (GWP) to increase the effect of CO2 and CH4 while reducing the role of H2O. What is GWP?
The Global Warming Potential (GWP) is defined as the time-integrated RF due to a pulse emission of a given component, relative to a pulse emission of an equal mass of CO2 (Figure 8.28a and formula). The GWP was presented in the First IPCC Assessment (Houghton et al., 1990), stating ‘It must be stressed that there is no universally accepted methodology for combining all the relevant factors into a single global warming potential for greenhouse gas emissions.
A search for GWP values produces a bewildering range of numbers. This prompted Gavin Schmidt, now Director of NASA GISS, to write,
The relative contributions of atmospheric long‐wave absorbers to the present‐day global greenhouse effect are among the most misquoted statistics in public discussions of climate change.
How does Schmidt clarify the problem? In typical circular argument using self-generated computer model data.
Motivated by the need for a clear reference for this issue, we review the existing literature and use the Goddard Institute for Space Studies ModelE radiation module to provide an overview of the role of each absorber at the present-day and under doubled CO2. With a straightforward scheme for allocating overlaps, we find that water vapour is the dominant contributor (~50% of the effect), followed by clouds (~25%) and then CO2 with ~20%. All other absorbers play only minor roles.
The IPCC is less sure about what is going on. Here is what they wrote in Chapter 8 of AR5 Consider the number of values and subjectively related decisions in this supposedly scientific process (my bold).
Emission metrics such as Global Warming Potential (GWP) and Global Temperature change Potential (GTP) can be used to quantify and communicate the relative and absolute contributions to climate change of emissions of different substances, and of emissions from regions/countries or sources/sectors. The metric that has been used in policies is the GWP, which integrates the RF of a substance over a chosen time horizon, relative to that of CO2. The GTP is the ratio of change in global mean surface temperature at a chosen point in time from the uncertainties related to both GWP and GTP, and the relative uncertainties are larger for GTP. There are also limitations and inconsistencies related to their treatment of indirect effects and feedbacks. The values are very dependent on metric type and time horizon. The choice of metric and time horizon depends on the particular application and which aspects of climate change are considered relevant in a given context. Metrics do not define policies or goals but facilitate evaluation and implementation of multi-component policies to meet particular goals. All choices of metric contain implicit value-related judgements such as type of effect considered and weighting of effects over time.
Water vapour is the giant wet elephant in the IPCC laboratory. The definition of climate change they received allowed them to ignore anything that didn’t fit their hypothesis. As a result, the IPCC focus is on eliminating, ignoring, and creating false narratives to enhance the role of CO2. This has the effect of pushing the elephant of water vapour under water so that like an iceberg the public only see about 10 percent of the mass.