Guest opinion: Dr. Tim Ball
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) definition of climate change was drafted so the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) could direct the focus to CO2. It was equally important to prevent disclosure that natural variation in water vapor (WV) far exceeds the effect of CO2 as a greenhouse gas. It likely exceeds it in total and certainly more than any human-induced increase in CO2. IPCC displayed duplicity when they ignored WV until it became necessary to maintain demonization of CO2.
The 2007 IPCC Report explains why the human production of WV is insignificant to their work.
“Water vapour is the most abundant and important greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. However, human activities have only a small direct influence on the amount of atmospheric water vapour.”
Look at the vagueness. They can’t define “small” in the direct human portion or even its actual volume. They can’t even compare it with the natural variability in the total amount of atmospheric WV? In 2002 a NOAA article said
“The total amount of water vapor in the atmosphere is about 13 x 1015 kg.”
What is “about”? Natural variation in total atmospheric WV is the greatest for any gas and especially for any greenhouse gas. WV ranges from almost zero in polar regions to four percent in the tropics. It is also extremely difficult to measure. Does a two percent variation in WV equal the human production of CO2 effect? Historically, the only meaningful measures began with satellite derived Microwave Measurements that determine the absolute amount dissolved in a column of air.
Interestingly, in 2007, two years before Climategate, a paper titled “Identification of human-induced changes in atmospheric moisture content” appeared using this type of measure. In the article, they use the notorious phrase lead author Ben Santer introduced when, as lead author of Chapter 8 of the 1995 IPCC Report, he rewrote portions of his committee’s text. The agreed sentence
“While some of the pattern-base discussed here have claimed detection of a significant climate change, no study to date has positively attributed all or part of climate change observed to man-made causes.”
“The body of statistical evidence in chapter 8, when examined in the context of our physical understanding of the climate system, now points to a discernible human influence (my bold) on the global climate.”
In the 2007 paper the phrase (in bold) that the media picked up, as Fred Singer predicted, was repeated.
‘‘Fingerprint’’ studies, which seek to identify the causes of recent climate change, involve rigorous statistical comparisons of modeled and observed climate change patterns (1). Such work has been influential in shaping the ‘‘discernible human influence’’ conclusions of national and international scientific assessments (2–4).
The 2007 article conclusion conflicts with the latest IPCC Report Technical Summary of Working Group I.
The magnitude of the observed global change in tropospheric water vapour of about 3.5% in the past 40 years is consistent with the observed temperature change of about 0.5°C during the same period, and the relative humidity has stayed approximately constant. The water vapour change can be attributed to human influence with medium confidence (My bold: IPCC definition is “About 5 out of 10 chance”)
How does the natural variation in greenhouse effect of WV compare with the effect of human produced CO2 or even CO2 in total? They don’t know. They can’t answer any of these questions because adequate data does not exist.
The magnitude of the WV greenhouse effect is large. Ken Gregory notes that,
An analysis of NASA satellite data shows that water vapor, the most important greenhouse gas, has declined in the upper atmosphere causing a cooling effect that is 16 times greater than the warming effect from man-made greenhouse gas emissions during the period 1990 to 2001.
This indicates that the question about the warming effect of CO2 is more than offset by what can be described as the evaporative cooling of the upper atmosphere by WV.
The IPCC chose to protect their claims about CO2. The response was forced because evidence showed that an upper limit to the warming effect of CO2 contradicted their anthropogenic global warming hypothesis (Figure 1).
There was disagreement about the amount, but the differences were small. One of the first graphs to show this appeared on Junkscience in 2006 (Figure 1). The IPCC decided that WV provided the explanation. It is like the frequent use of aerosols to cover contradictions.
They followed Santer et al., 2007 paper with further justification. A 2008 NASA article titled “Water Vapor Confirmed a Major Player in Climate Change” says,
Water vapor is known to be Earth’s most abundant greenhouse gas, but the extent of its contribution to global warming has been debated. Using recent NASA satellite data, researchers have estimated more precisely than ever the heat-trapping effect of water in the air, validating the role of the gas as a critical component of climate change.
In fact, it has not been debated. The article sounds like a promising approach to the necessary questions about global warming and accurate determination of the role of water vapor. It isn’t. The article confirms this in an ill-informed public relations article.
Climate models have estimated the strength of water vapor feedback, but until now the record of water vapor data was not sophisticated enough to provide a comprehensive view of at how water vapor responds to changes in Earth’s surface temperature. That’s because instruments on the ground and previous space-based could not measure water vapor at all altitudes in Earth’s troposphere — the layer of the atmosphere that extends from Earth’s surface to about 10 miles in altitude.
The article tries to justify the IPCC hypothesis that a positive feedback mechanism exists to make CO2 more effective as a warming agent by using WV.
This led to the ongoing debate about climate sensitivity as estimates declined (Figure 2).
This diverts from the question of how much a variation in atmospheric water vapor affects global temperature and how that compares with the CO2 effect. It is critical as the IPCC explains.
The latent heat contained in water vapour in the atmosphere is critical to driving the circulation of the atmosphere on scales ranging from individual thunderstorms to the global circulation of the atmosphere.
Remember that because of grid size, their computer models cannot include the approximately 10,000 thunderstorms operating at any given moment. They can’t even include the stratocumulus in Figure 4 each transferring heat.
Figure 4; Illustrates the sensitivity of water vapor to temperature with clouds forming from evapotranspiration and condensation over forests, but not over relatively cooler rivers.
But these types of vague, unsubstantiated claims litter the IPCC Reports making them defy logic and common sense. A brief analysis determines the illogic of their claims. The latest (2014) Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers says,
Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems.
Highest in history? It depends on how you define history. All climate change has had widespread impacts, not just recent.
Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen.
This is unequivocally false. The observed changes are not unprecedented.
Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era, driven largely by economic and population growth, and are now higher than ever.
There is no evidence to support these claims. Besides, the increase is a false increase because the “economic and population growth” drivers are created by the IPCC with their Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP). The physical data doesn’t exist or has a wide margin of error making such statements untenable, as other portions of the IPCC Reports that few read, show.
One part of the IPCC claims that change due to human activities became evident after 1950. Another part, that there is virtually no data before 1950. The inadequacy of the water vapor data alone proves this claim false.
For example, The Technical Summary of Working Group I says (my added bold),
Confidence in precipitation change averaged over global land areas is low (About 2 out of 10 chance) prior to 1951 and medium afterwards because of insufficient data, particularly in the earlier part of the record.
substantial ambiguity and therefore low confidence remains in the observations of global-scale cloud variability and trends.
The spatial patterns of the salinity trends, mean salinity and the mean distribution of evaporation minus precipitation are all similar (TFE.1, Figure 1). These similarities provide indirect evidence that the pattern of evaporation minus precipitation over the oceans has been enhanced since the 1950s (medium confidence). Uncertainties in currently available surface fluxes prevent the flux products from being reliably used to identify trends in the regional or global distribution of evaporation or precipitation over the oceans on the time scale of the observed salinity changes since the 1950s.
The most recent and most comprehensive analyses of river runoff do not support the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) conclusion that global runoff has increased during the 20th century. New results also indicate that the AR4 conclusions regarding global increasing trends in droughts since the 1970s are no longer supported.
There is low confidence in a global-scale observed trend in drought or dryness (lack of rainfall), owing to lack of direct observations, dependencies of inferred trends on the index choice and geographical inconsistencies in the trends.
In several periods characterized by high atmospheric CO2 concentrations, there is medium confidence (50%) that global mean temperature was significantly above pre-industrial level.
Anthropogenic emissions have driven the changes in well-mixed greenhouse gas (WMGHG) concentrations during the Industrial Era (see Section TS.2.8 and TFE.7). As historical WMGHG concentrations since the pre-industrial are well known based on direct measurements and ice core records, and WMGHG radiative properties are also well known, the computation of RF due to concentration changes provides tightly constrained values.
The problem is CO2 is not well-mixed as the OCO2 satellite data indicates.
Before you even get to say, ”It’s the Sun stupid” you can say, “It’s the water vapor stupid.”
Two comments provide a context for the IPCC scientific tunnel vision on water vapor.
Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. Aldous Huxley (1894-1963).
A few observations and much reasoning lead to error; many observations and a little reasoning to truth.
Alexis Carrel (Surgeon, Biologist 1873-1944).