Head in the clouds

Guest essay by Caleb Shaw

Back in my long lost youth I failed to pay proper attention in Science classes, because I employed my genius in a manner that that didn’t involve answering the 48 dreary problems of dull arithmetic the teacher always assigned, every cotton-picking night.   Rather I figured a true sign of genius was to avoid the problems. Doing the homework might have been easier, but would have been dull. I chose the far more exciting path, which was to find a way around doing the arithmetic problems, in the face of fierce teachers. And, I must modestly admit, the ways I found around handing-in-my-homework were (and are) a bit of a legend, in the little school where I spent an ungodly amount of my first seventeen years.

When I at long last escaped that unholy incarceration, singing, “Free at last! Free at last! Great God Almighty! Free at last!” I found that one of the few things that school ever taught me was how to avoid doing homework. This actually is not a bad thing. Avoiding problems can keep you out of many quicksands that suck others down in life. In some cases it was downright moral, for morality is a practical way of avoiding the unforeseen problems that come through evil.

In other cases my genius verged upon being evil genius. For example, one problem I faced as I left school is best described as “paying the rent”. I displayed an amazing propensity, as a young man, to avoid ever “paying the rent”. At times this did involve sheer genius, but now I cringe recalling some of the gutters I descended to. Eventually I decided that, even though I might be escaping paying rent, in monetary terms, I was paying a steeper fee, in terms immeasurable with dollars. (For example, take a rent-free situation such as sleeping-in-your-car. What is the true cost of that, for a young man without responsibilities? Well, let us suppose he meets a beautiful young woman without responsibilities, and she says, “Take me home.”)

It does occur, to a young man, after a while, that responsibilities might not be an entirely bad thing.

Responsibility is a problem, and, considering school mostly taught me how to avoid problems, being responsible was Terra Incognito to me.  Fortunately, being unknown-to-me made responsibility turn into a sort of exciting new wilderness, and I was able to see myself as a brave pioneer.  I bored people, telling them about the (to me) exciting things I was discovering. I felt like Daniel Boone, but what I discovered was stuff which they had learned to do years before, (such as pay the rent).

This process continues to this day, as I venture into the wilderness of Science and Math. I am often enthused by things that (to me) seem fresh and new and downright miraculous, but which people who lacked my genius, and who did do the Science homework, learned of back when they were aged twelve.

Back when they were twelve they too enthused. Now I bore them. To me this seems a pity. Age has afflicted some with blindness, and they can no longer see the beauty they once saw.

Others have not lost their love of beauty, but learned things at age sixteen that makes the enthusiasm of a twelve-year-old seem naive. When I bump up against such people, I find their responses to my scientific naivete tends to be one of two opposite types.  The first is what I call “the Dan Aykroyd response”:

One runs up against the Aykroyd-response a lot, when discussing Global Warming. I find it pitiful.  After all, who is the true genius here? Them or I? Which of us was the loser? Who lost their childhood because they wasted uncountable hours doing dreary arithmetic problems, and who skipped school to explore the local quarry, like some suburban Huck Finn?  It is obvious, (to me at least), that I am the bonafide genius here, and they are the loser geeks whose only hope of preserving a shredded ego is to bleat some obscure correct-answer.

Not that I let them bother me. Nope. Not me. Not a bit. Rather I ignore all the insults, and collect the correct answer. After all, that is what matters: Truth, and not our shredded egos.

I will admit I do prefer the anti-Aykroyd responses, and this may explain why I gravitate to Watts Up With That. Not that debates here don’t become heated at times, but I do find that, when a person like myself makes an appearance, and, full of a twelve-year-old’s wonder, speaks stuff which holds a scientific mistake, a person like myself usually is corrected in a relatively kindly manner.

For example, I once was filled with wonder about the tiny bubbles in ice-core samples, and wondered aloud in a post at WUWT, which I called “Tiny Bubbles.” As I wondered I completely ignored a simple thing I knew, but failed to remember: Gases diffuse. (In other words, even without a wind or a draft, you can smell a babe drenched in perfume clear across a large room, four seconds after she steps through the door.) Everyone knows that. But I was such a dunderhead I forgot about it, in my wondering about bubbles in ice cores. In retrospect it is the most appalling ignorance, but the comments pointing out the fact I was (and continue to be) a dunderhead were remarkably unlike Aykroyd’s, at WUWT.

Therefore guess where a genius-dunderhead like myself is prone to turn, when enthused with the wonder of a new idea?  Will it be some place where he is likely to be Aykroyded as a “denier”, and even threatened with jail for merely wondering? Or will it be a place that respects wonder, and politely points out the things a thinker might fail-to-remember, and, as a general rule, is a site that honors the Truth?

Therefore I’m ba-a-a-ack.  I bring my latest wonder, which involves my favorite topic, Arctic sea-ice, and also involves a low pressure area I dubbed “Ralph”, that has been growing and shrinking, wobbling and meandering, but more or less a persistent feature, and has displaced the “Polar High”, (which some textbooks state should squat triumphantly upon the Pole), for most of the past year.

My simple way of seeing imagines that having a “Ralph” at the Pole suggests air is rising, rather than sinking. It must be warmer, rather than colder. However the temperatures, at the level of the ice, were on the whole, colder, not warmer, all summer. Something does not compute. If temperatures were colder, why was the air not sinking?

This leads me back to a subject I would dearly like to avoid, because every time I bring it up I seem to suffer some sort of severe Aykroydization, even though it involves a simple thing which seems to have a simple and obvious answer:  Does the rising air of a storm cool the air involved?

To me the answer seems obvious, because life forced me to become more practical and responsible and to take note of mundane reality, and one reality was that, in my neighborhood, when it gets wicked hot in July the air goes up and makes wicked big cumulus, and after some smashing and crashing it gets cooler. This caused me to raise my index finger and say, “Gwarsh, Mickey! It sure looks like that hot and humid air got raised up to the upper atmosphere and lost its heat to outer space.”

Apparently this proves I am a complete dope. Or so suggested a fellow who had done all his homework back in school, and now worked for NOAA. In a “comments section” he took me to task and slaughtered me with Math. I got drubbed left and right and up and down until I didn’t know my nose from my navel. By the time I was done with, all I knew is that I will be very, very careful before I ever respond to that fellow ever, ever again.

In a nutshell what he said was that NOAA had carefully measured the heat of the tops of thunderstorms, and that, rather than hot-spots, they were incredibly cold. They were -70 degrees or some such thing, and at that temperature they were not in the mood to radiate a heck of a lot of heat into outer space, you ignorant slut.  (Or… well…maybe he didn’t use the word “slut.”)

Besides shutting me up, this left me with something to wonder about. It suggested no heat was lost to space by a thunderstorm, which would make a storm a closed system, with no heat gained and no heat lost. (Even if this is incorrect, let’s run with it.)

The idea of a closed system tickled some concept that had dimly imprinted my mind, during the years I wasted in science class. I recollect it was something or another that was going to be on the test. It had to do with, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”

(Back then I was, of course, immediately suspicious. “Action and reaction” sure sounded like one of those traps clever grown-ups strew across childhood like landmines, involving doing what they say “or else.” However it did stick in my head, likely because, if I flunked that particular test, I might face the “or else.”)

I likely didn’t get the action and reaction stuff down correctly, but, since it did stick in my head,  all these years later it sprang to life, and concocted one of my strokes of dunderheaded genius. IE: I had heard that, when air goes up and comes down warmer, it is called a Chinook, and therefore, if every action has its reaction, there must be an equal and opposite reaction to a Chinook, where air goes up and comes down cooler, and this cooler downdraft should have the equal-and-opposite name, “Nookchin”.

Most connect a Chinook to a mountain range, but Chinooks can happen far from the mountains, and then are called a “heat burst”. When the air is very dry, and no cooling evaporation of raindrops occurs, the down-burst of a decaying thunderstorm can get hotter and hotter due to the adiabatic lapse rate. Hot air wants to rise like a hot air balloon, but sometimes the downdraft is going too fast for the air to change its mind, and it slams into the ground. This shocks the socks off folk sitting out on the porch, enjoying the cool of the evening after a long, hot summer day. There are records of temperatures, after the sun has set,  rising from 80.6 °F (27.0 °C) to 105.8 °F (41.0 °C) in a little more than an hour, at official stations.

This sort of downdraft is especially disliked by men fighting forests fires out west, far from official stations. Dry thunderstorms not only hit trees with lightning that has no rain, but then blast a fire with downbursted air that is not only hotter, but drier, then the already hot and dry air in place where the forest fire fighters work.

However, if the air is hotter there, and the system is closed, then the air should be colder somewhere else. Right?

That colder place is the Nookchin. I call it the dreaded Nookchin, because in my neighborhood it happens during the hottest days, when my tomatoes are ripening. The hot weather is to be desired, for it makes the tomatoes grow swiftly, but the Nookchin is dreaded, for the Nookchin can bring down hailstones, which are not desired unless your desire is to harvest ketchup.

But what has this to do with Arctic Sea Ice?

Well, “Ralph”, the storm that has been meandering about the Pole all summer, sometimes weak and sometimes a gale, is in some ways a glorified thunderstorm. It is a swirl of rising air, with downdrafts around the edges pumping high pressure. Some of the downdrafts are Chinooks and some are Nookchins. Some involve warming and some involve cooling.

The very words “warming” and “cooling” are liable to plunge one into extreme Aykroydism, if one is not careful. The Warming Crowd and the Cooling Crowd don’t pull any punches. Therefore let us be absurdly careful and pretend the system is closed, and the Pole is not where the Planet loses most of its heat.

It is when the system is closed that my wonder gets flabbergasted, due to the weakness of my math, and the fact the adiabatic lapse rate will not be good, and remain an established fact. It changes from what it is when the air is moist and going up, to what it is when air is dry and going down. In other words, water is screwing up the math, because water is the difference between “moist adiabatic lapse rate” and “dry adiabatic lapse rate”.

Water also messes everything up because it obeys the adiabatic lapse rate going up, as a vapor, but could care less about the adiabatic lapse rate when it falls as a hailstone. It got cooler and cooler as it went up and chilled to freezing, and released a heck of a lot of latent heat as it became water and then ice, but what happened to that heat, as the hailstone fell and didn’t warm, until it mashed my tomatoes?

That heat must be left behind at the top of the cloud, but the guy from NOAA  assured me the tops of storms are too cold to lose heat.

Therefore my bumpkin logic wonders, “Gawrsh, Mickey. Some awfully warm Chinook heat-bursts must be clobbering the Pole.”  Yet…I look and I look…and none are to be seen.

Hmm. Could it be heat is escaping in some other way?

This could involve something I paid little attention to, in school, called “radiant heat”. (I could have cared less about such a seemingly meaningless subject, as a young genius. It was only later, when I compared sleeping in my car in February to sleeping with my wife in February, that “radiant heat” became a subject that seemed worth attending to.)

It does occur to me that water again enters the picture, and water again must be included, when one considers radiant heat. I’ve noticed winter nights are coldest when skies are clear. When clouds are overhead it doesn’t get so cold.  In terms of the Pole, this might even create a sort of lose-lose situation, in terms of retaining the heat, because a Nookchin has clouds while a Chinook tends to be cloud-free. A Nookchin has rising air, and also hail raining coldness down, with the heat retained aloft, and then, when that heat decides to downdraft, the descending air makes cloud-free skies,  which might lose a lot (or all) the down-bursting Chinook’s heat, to the sunless arctic night.

This is a lose-lose situation, in terms of thawing arctic sea-ice, because the Nookchin updraft pelts the surface with cold hail, snow and sleet, and the milder Chinook downdraft chills the surface with radiational cooling. In conclusion, the series of storms over the Pole since last Christmas, which I dubbed “Ralph”, is not a thing we wish to see if we wish an ice-free Arctic Sea, maritime weather in Greenland, and Danish Vikings able to return to their abandoned farms and again plow the-soil-that-became-permafrost.

This is just me wondering. It is just an idea put out to be shredded by people who did their science homework, while my genius went elsewhere. Surely I need further instruction, to advance my wonder from the level of a twelve-year-old to that of someone aged sixteen. I propose my conclusion fully expecting it to be wrong. Most science is wrong, and is constantly improved upon, increment by increment.

What really stuns me is how much I don’t know. I was mowing on the rider-mower the other day, as the cumulus boomed up in the sky, and, as I looked up and contemplated the amazing latent heat being released, I realized I had no idea where the water was condensing and the latent heat was being released, most swiftly. Was it in the cloud’s middle, or at its very edge, on its skin? It seemed to me that in the middle of the cloud the humidity would be at 100%, and air could grow no more humid, but at the brilliantly white skin of the cloud the humidity was going from 40% to 100% in a flash, and the huge latent heat released at the skin might be what was pulling the entire cloud upwards. And, if the latent heat was released at the very skin of a cloud, would more be released to outer space?

I have no idea whether this idea makes a lick of sense, but it did tickle my genius, and made me feel very clever, and may explain why the rider-mower wound up in the rhubarb.

It is hard being a genius. My wife doesn’t understand me, when I am backing the rider-mower out of the rhubarb. My genius wants to invent some ingenious excuse, such as, “Many plants benefit from extreme pruning, and I am conducting an experiment to see if rhubarb might be one of those plants.”

My Algebra teacher might have been fooled by that sort of BS, but my wife isn’t. The Truth is best, and the Truth is that genius of any sort will wind you up in situations where you look like a complete dunderhead. If you love Truth, kiss your vanity goodbye.

I sure wish the so-called “experts” on arctic sea-ice would kiss their vanity good-bye, and confess the idea of a “Death Spiral” was dunderheaded, but perhaps they lack the necessary genius.


It is interesting to compare the supposed knowledge of our current “climate scientists”, concerning the power of water in the atmosphere, with the awareness of men who puzzled about clouds 119 years and 10 months ago, as we approach the 120th anniversary of a legendary cold-wave.  Back then they had no computer models, and the most primitive equipment, but didn’t ignore water as a greenhouse gas.

In 1896 our experts were urging someone to fork out more money for weather balloons, because they were mystified about what happened in the upper atmosphere. However they were in some ways more knowledgeable about the lower atmosphere than Climate Scientists.

They were facing a pattern, that long-ago November, much like ours this September, but everything stalled, and then the cold stagnated to “unprecedented” levels in the west, as the heat grew in the east.

Rather than any blather about Global Warming, they asked the sort of stuff I do: About why things that are the same, in some ways, behave differently, in others:

“It remains to inquire why the stagnant high areas in the Northwest gave such low temperatures, while apparently, the same condition tended to abnormal heat in the Southeast.”

But then they had to make their pitch for funding, and more weather balloons:

“The solution of this problem is to be sought in the upper atmosphere.”

They then returned to why one high pressure should lead to cold while another led to warmth:

The clear, dry air of the Northwest permitted intense heat radiation to the sky, and day after day this was maintained without the interference of moist lows from the Pacific. In other words, we have here an excellent example of the intense radiation-cold experienced in Siberia in the stagnant high pressures of that region, sometimes reaching 31.70 inches. On the other hand the moister air of the Southeast permitted the heat of the low latitude sun to penetrate to the earth, and after the heat reached the earth, the moisture prevented its radiation into space.

The discussion went further, wondering why some cold high pressures were stagnant, while others raced across the nation “at 40 mph”, which was very fast, in 1898.

They would be amazed, in that horse-drawn time, by how fast we drive around town now. But they would also be amazed by how very slow the thinking of certain climate scientists is. Our climate scientists don’t attempt to match old-fashioned understanding of how water influences temperatures, even though in 1898 they didn’t have weather balloons, let alone satellites.

Concerning water, we should know better. Someone, somewhere, should be ashamed.



146 thoughts on “Head in the clouds

  1. Be careful using words like cooling and warming. In English they can mean two very different things that are often confused.

    Warming can mean gaining thermal energy, OR increasing temperature.

    Adiabatic means without changing energy. When air rises it is usually dropping in temperature, but not changing in energy content. So you get very cold cloud tops.

    These do radiate to space as space is far cooler than cloud tops.

    Now two complications.

    1) Water freezing releases a whole lot more thermal energy. This happens when hail or snow is formed. That heat has to be disposed too.

    2) There is a roughly Cat 2 hurricane force wind taking air from the tropopause to the pole (most stongly to the one having winter) This is a huge mass flow of air to the pole, where it radiates massively to space ( most heat net leaves at the poles). You must track mass flow to know where the heat goes.

    At the pole, the now cooled air sinks, and spins, making the polar vortex. As it decends, compression raises the temperature, but only from God Awful cold to merely horribly cold via that adiabatic thing.

    So at the poles, expect net downwelling air, and at the equator, expect rising.

    Hope that helps.

    • Thanks. This is exactly the sort of discussion I was hoping to stimulate.

      Never too old to learn. I just wish I could live as long as Methusehla.

      • Your essay reminds me of the little riff “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt.” To which I usually add “But if you remain silent, you remain a fool forever.”

        So thanks for opening your mouth and letting us learn from the responses of those who know more than we do. I am glad that there are people ready, able and willing to share their knowledge to help us be relieved of our ignorance. The thing I really like about this approach is that you get the corrected information for free. Thank you!

    • Exactly.

      … In a nutshell what he said was that NOAA had carefully measured the heat of the tops of thunderstorms, and that, rather than hot-spots, they were incredibly cold. They were -70 degrees or some such thing, and at that temperature they were not in the mood to radiate a heck of a lot of heat into outer space …

      -70 is warm, it will radiate lots of heat to space. The coldest place on Earth is a series of depressions on the top of Antarctica.

      What is the coldest place on Earth? It is a high ridge in Antarctica on the East Antarctic Plateau where temperatures in several hollows can dip below minus 133.6 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 92 degrees Celsius) on a clear winter night. link

      Apparently the IPCC thinks cloud tops radiate to space.

      … clouds cool down from the top through infrared radiation at the prevailing temperature: the higher the cloud top, the cooler the particles and the lower the rate of emission … link

      It seems that the NOAA guy was talking through his hat.

      • No, he wasn’t talking through his hat. It was true that the temperature was -70, it just wasn’t relevant. It’s a great way to mislead people.

      • It is unfortunate that people working in climate ‘science’ misuse terms. As E.M Smith says you have to be careful with terms.

        So heat is not hot. Hot is a state when molecules have vibrational or kinetic energy. Heat can be free infrared photons flying through space and nothing is ‘hot’.

        The latent heat of condensation and fusion is the same wherever the water condenses or freezes. So when the water vapor carried up in a thunderstorm freezes it emits the latent heat of freezing. Unless it hits anything there is nothing to get ‘hot’ it is just infrared photons on their way to space.

        So when NOAA says:

        NOAA had carefully measured the heat of the tops of thunderstorms, and that, rather than hot-spots, they were incredibly cold. They were -70 degrees or some such thing, and at that temperature they were not in the mood to radiate a heck of a lot of heat into outer space, you ignorant slut.

        NOAA is showing ignorance of physics heat is not hot. So the ambient air may well be at -70degF that has nothing to do with latent heat of water being emitted in the form of infrared as it changes state to ice .

        It is extremely disappointing to see NOAA has such poor understanding of basic physics; it explains a lot about their modeling though.

      • TjW says: September 22, 2016 at 8:00 am

        … the temperature was -70, it just wasn’t relevant. …

        The statement I was taking issue with was:

        … at that temperature they were not in the mood to radiate a heck of a lot of heat into outer space …

        That statement is wrong. Do you have some reason to believe this is not so?

    • “””””…..

      September 22, 2016 at 2:42 am

      Be careful using words like cooling and warming. In English they can mean two very different things that are often confused. …..”””””

      I’ve got breaking news for you E.M.

      In English they DO mean two very different things. Those two words are antonyms.


      • Don’t depend on Earthschool for everything, some of it’s presentations are simulations drawn from NOAA preferred prediction runs.
        There are times when Earthschool does not resemble actual conditions; e.g. when I tried to follow a typhoon, there was no low pressure simulated anywhere in the SW Pacific.

        This is a satellite picture from today 9/22/2016:

        When you check the photograph, or animate the photographic history (Viirs), you’ll notice a number of low pressures throughout the Arctic; including a low pressure near the pole

        This is an infrared satellite photo version of the Arctic.

        This is not meant as a denigration of Earthschool. It is a brilliant program with, hopefully, a brilliant future. Only beware that many of the cool simulations (air pressures, SST, Winds, Currents) are from their prediction models.
        Over the sea, there is difficulty coordinating actual conditions to predicted conditions. Over land surfaces, there is significant validation with conditions and far greater accuracy of current conditions.
        Short lived conditions, thunderstorms, etc. are not as well represented.

        e.g. Earthschool CO2 distribution is all modeled from NOAA expectations without actual verification. NOAA is still trying to find a way to decode the OCO-2 satellite data without losing their CO2 is evil slant.

      • Thanks. As a skeptic, one must always bear in mind possible errors in the medium. The great thing about nullschool is that you can scroll down through layers. The differences are often astonishing.

        Yet a bit of hasty rubbersheeting shows a relationship between 10 hpa and your surface activity. Wish I could figure out how to show it here. It came out about 80 megabytes.

        The differences between land and ocean at the surface are also astonishing. The and appears to attenuate winds very strongly until about 850 millibars.

  2. Caleb,

    “When I at long last escaped that unholy incarceration, singing, “Free at last! Free at last! Great God Almighty! Free at last!”
    You have captured exactly my feelings about leaving high school.

    • Same for me, Mike!

      Then I got drafted.
      Then I got married.
      Then I went to college.
      Then I went to work for the Federal government.
      Then I escaped to making nuclear weapons.
      Then I escaped to Alaska,
      Then I went back to working in the lower-48.
      Now I just shovel horse manure and wrangle my wife’s chickens.

      “Is that all there is, my friend? Let’s keep on dancing, and bring out the booze.”

      Charlie Skeptic

  3. Driving the rider-mower into the rhubarb is probably not a good way to conduct an experiment in severe pruning.
    It may well be a viable technique to harvest and chop the rhubarb pie-ready in one combined efficient operation. More study may be needed.

      • During my youth, our family’s first attempt to raise chickens; my Father cut some corners and bought a bunch of meat hens plus one fully grown bantam rooster.

        There were several large trees near the pen we built and as soon as the hens were large enough, they started roosting in the trees. Especially since the trees were next to the crops.
        That was fine till the chickens reached full size and then put on weight. High roosting points made for tough landings for fat hens.
        One by one we lost hens to unknown causes. By the last couple of hens, we figured out that the hens couldn’t land in the morning without slamming their breastbone into the ground. Bad bruises were soon infected, once infected, the chicken soon passed on.

        The bantam was lonely for a few weeks and then decided to hang around us humans instead of the pen, roost, crops or trees. He still roosted as high as he could get in a tree, but still protected from rain & predators.
        Banty’s are actually pretty cool roosters. They think they’re tougher than almost anything, but they’re not too stupid to run when their first attack fails.

        With a large family of boys it wasn’t long till the banty included himself in our games. Basically, if we weren’t chasing him, he was chasing us. He especially loved newcomers who shrieked and ran from him. He’d puff and strut for hours.

        Fortunately for the rooster, he died of old age before my Father brought his next bunch of chickens home…

      • Our chickens trained themselves to roost in the various hutches and roosting spots I built inside their Chicken Palace. It in no way resembles a chicken coop.

    • To get people talking about the power of water in the atmosphere. It is my understanding that computer models short-change H2O, as a powerful greenhouse gas.

      • water vapor definitely isn’t ignored in terms of its *average* behavior. It is included in weather forecast models and climate models. But what we don’t know is how it can *change* in abundance through processes we don’t understand, most notably precipitation efficiency. The climate establishment simply assumes these natural processes never change (even if we don’t understand what controls them very well), and that climate changes are only brought about by humans.

      • Roy, on another Thread one of the “Ackroyds” said bad Arctic weather this summer interfered with melting. But just you wait! When it goes back to “normal,” we’ll have some real downers, he said.

      • Well the problem is to figure out when water vapor is behaving in its *average* fashion.

        It’s for sure that the planet, and its climate have NO idea when the water vapor is behaving *averagely*.


      • Water radiates heat from just below the tropopause (where the clouds top out and snow is made) while CO2 radiates to space from the stratosphere. See the graph here:


        Water acts as the working fluid in the convective troposphere, moving massive heat to that radiative point:


        Then the interaction with the tropopause sends mass flow to the poles where more heat leaves, much via CO2 radiating in stratosphereic gasses, as the tropopause level drops to near surface levels and water is frozen out to near nil.

  4. Fun. Great read and done well.

    This essay does show a major difference between those who still inquire and those whose minds are shut. Humor.

    Enjoyed every word, especially radiant heat in February.

  5. Caleb,

    You are successfully circling around a great truth namely that the adiabatic processes within the convective overturning cycle are indeed a closed loop and that is what causes the surface temperature enhancement above that which the purely radiative S-B equation would lead us to expect.

    During ascent some of the surface heat becomes convectively available potential energy (CAPE in meteorology) and that CAPE is not energy that can register on temperature sensors hence the cold at height.

    During descent CAPE converts back to heat energy.

    Thus the surface must retain an additional store of energy at the surface to maintain ongoing convective overturning and that energy never gets past the atmosphere to be radiated to space as long as convective overturning continues at the same rate.

    The enhanced surface temperature is a consequence of conduction to ALL gases at the surface and their subsequent adiabatic uplift from the base and adiabatic descent from the top due to density differentials in the horizontal plane. It is nothing to do with radiation downwards from the atmosphere (DWIR).

    For an atmosphere in hydrostatic equilibrium any radiative imbalances are neutralised by convection so that if GHGs alter the radiative characteristics of the atmosphere then convective changes will ensue to neutralise those imbalances BUT since the surface temperature enhancement is a result of conduction to the entire mass of the atmosphere the effect of radiative variations would be far too small ever to notice.

    Well done in spotting the issue :)

    • Thanks. This is more of what I wanted. Now I have to rush off to work. I’ll be trying to study your comment, secretly, on my cell phone. This will explain why I walk into trees.

      • Yes, Roy, I know you do from my contributions at your site but you have never adequately addressed the issues that I raised.

        My above summary is exceedingly simple and complies with well established physics and meteorology.

      • First, I think we have to stop discussing what’s going on with averages, it hides what’s going on.

        I know you live a bit further south than me (NE Ohio), so you get a lot more humid air then I do, what I see on clear day’s and following nights.
        During the day, of course it warms up, but it has a slight breeze most of the day, it starts in the morning, and then stops in the evening. This seems to me to be, convection due to solar heating, and the downdrafts on the leading and trailing cold terminator line. Depending, we get a lot of cumulus clouds that do not show up on the satellite images. But they fad in the evening as well.
        So, peak temp 6 or so, but I have a decent IR thermometer (germanium lens I think), with low relative humidity, pointed straight up it is really cold, 100F colder than my side walk in the shade. There’s a nasa paper that shows how to take this and calculate precipitable water vapor, as I guess that’s what I’m actually measuring. But for radiative purposes that big window is wide open to space, and it’s the highest energy photons of surface temps with a direct path to space.
        So once the Sun sets, temps fall 3 or 4 (or more) degrees F per hour. While my asphalt driveway is still 20F above air temps, my front grass can be 5 or 10F colder than air temps, and Tsky is still 90 or 100F colder than air temps. still no breeze. Then, when air temps near dew points, cooling rate drops to less than 1F/hour, and it continues like this until the Sun comes up, and it all starts over.

        You mentioned in one of your posts about the unknown water vapor feedback, remember, every night the cooling also removes water vapor from most of the planet.

      • For an atmosphere in hydrostatic equilibrium any radiative imbalances are neutralised by convection so that if GHGs alter the radiative characteristics of the atmosphere then convective changes will ensue to neutralise those imbalances

        Putting ” hydrostatic equilibrium” conditional to one side this seems like a reasonable hand-waving kind of explanation. But what drives the said increase in convection if it is not an increase in surface temperature? Is the IR absorbed instantly as latent heat of evaporation causing increased absolute humidity and thus less dense moist aire mixture which increases convection without the need for an increase in surface temperature?

        That seems possible in a similar hand-waving kind of way and would be consistent with fact that LWIR on penetrates a few microns into the water surface.

        This comes back to something that I have never seen dealt with in satisfactory way : whether it is even possible to heat a well ventilated water surface with infra-red radiation.

      • THIS is why I don’t believe weather forecasts or climate model outputs. A lot of learned people think they understand what is going on in the atmosphere, but the rub is, they disagree completely with other learned people. And no wonder, it’s more complex than it first appears. We have terms like heat, energy, and temperature of various kinds thrown around and conflated in seemingly endless combinations. To this observer, and admitted non expert, it appears that although we understand some of the mechanisms involved, we still don’t have the full picture. Either there are still some pieces missing, or we just haven’t figured out how they all fit together yet. But what is obvious, is that making confident sounding statements on the future climate based on that incomplete picture is foolish. Then making sweeping policy decisions based on that is lunacy.

      • It is fine to talk about the air, but ignoring the water is a hugh problem.

        The air near ground gets more humid in any place with water (most of the planet, oceans, lakes, rivers forests,…) this reduces its density ( nitrogen is 28 mass, water is 18, so it is a big change). This air rises fast, the more water vapor, the faster, and evaporating that water cools the surface so heat leaves as the tumperature can even decline ( trees regulate air temp to about 86 F via transpiration modulation…)

        Then that whole cascade of cloud formation, thunderstorms, snow and hail formation (radiating heat to space in the cloud tops) and an interesting thing happens. Water as solid or liquid is very dense so falls separating the water from now dry air. The water may fall as snow or hail, but often melts and reaches the ground as cool rain. The relief after a tropical rain is dramatic… That dry air displaces laterally and decends. Some short ways as downdrafts, much further decending as dry compression warming air forming hot deserts, and some going all the way to the polar vortex where it decends as it radiates to space.

        You MUST keep that water driven density and velocity change firmly in view to understand the heat flow. That drives convection more than does temperature, and is why 80 F air can rise in a tropical band, yet 110 F air is from decending in the desert next to it.

      • Greg,
        Distorting the lapse rate slope via atmospheric radiative capability will alter convection speeds locally until equilibrium is regained. That new equilibrium might involve an overall temperature change but since conduction from the surface to the entire mass of the atmosphere is what started the process any adjustments required to deal with radiative imbalances would be imperceptible.

      • “Distorting the lapse rate slope ….”

        Thanks. The extra heat flux due to radiative change would have to be balanced by a similar heat flux due to increased atmospheric overturning. The lapserate would not change but the temperature difference would initially be greater than that sustained by the lapse rate.

        That means that the top of the convection cycle, the troposphere, would rise. It is not immediately obvious that the increase in either surface temp or the change in height would be imperceptible. What is the basic of that claim.

        Sure this can all happen in dry air but I don’t think that is a good enough reason the wave away any discussion of evaporation as a “complexity”. The heat transport by evaporation/condensation is far more than that transported by dry air.

        So my question of whether the increased convection caused by an increase in WV could happen without raising surface ( ocean ) temperature is still open.

      • “As water evaporates from an area of the earth surface, the air over that area becomes moist. Moist air is lighter than the surrounding dry air, creating an unstable situation. When enough moist air has accumulated, all the moist air rises as a single packet, without mixing with the surrounding air. As more moist air forms along the surface, the process repeats, resulting in a series of discrete packets of moist air rising to form clouds.[5]

        This process occurs when one or more of three possible lifting agents—cyclonic/frontal, convective, or orographic—causes air containing invisible water vapor to rise and cool to its dew point, the temperature at which the air becomes saturated. The main mechanism behind this process is adiabatic cooling.[6] Atmospheric pressure decreases with altitude, so the rising air expands in a process that expends energy and causes the air to cool, which makes water vapor condense into cloud.[7] Water vapor in saturated air is normally attracted to condensation nuclei such as dust and salt particles that are small enough to be held aloft by normal circulation of the air. The water droplets in a cloud have a normal radius of about 0.002 mm (0.00008 in). The droplets may collide to form larger droplets, which remain aloft as long as the velocity of the rising air within the cloud is equal to or greater than the terminal velocity of the droplets.”

      • @ Roy Spencer
        September 22, 2016 at 6:14 am: Roy, I just wish you would seriously study the modus operand and specifications of the ‘point and tell; pyrometer you use to prove your point. Then you could explain to us how it physically measures measures temperatures.

    • The difference in gravitational energy at the bottoms of atmospheres versus their tops must be accounted for in any complete explanation of total energy balance satisfying the Divergence Theorem . It appears to be ignored in the standard GHG paradigm which provides no testable quantitative equation enabling the “trapping” of greater kinetic energy densities by some spectral effect .

      • Bob,

        Best not to involve gravity per se.

        What matters is density variations in the horizontal plane caused by uneven solar heating of the surface leading to local or regional ascent which converts KE to CAPE and descent which converts CAPE to KE.

      • Bob,

        Best not to mention gravity per se.

        What matters is density variations in the horizontal plane which give rise to convective overturning and the crteation of atmospheric CAPE from surface KE.

      • Stephen ,
        I disagree profoundly . It is the difference in gravitational energy which must be balanced . There are 2 macroscopic forces : ( electro-magnetic , ie : spectral ; gravity ) and their associated energies . Those are the parameters in which the fundamental physics must be expressed and understood . It is gravity which holds the pressure and temperature in equilibrium .

        I came to this conclusion after implementing the APL for calculating the equilibrium temperature for balls with arbitrary spectra with arbitrary radiant spectral sources and sinks . Those half dozen expressions are totally classic , match the 255K endlessly parroted value when fed the corresponding spectrum , and are experimentally testable at the highschool science project level .

        They show most unambiguously that the 400K excess of Venus’s surface temperature over that of a gray body in its orbit – or indeed a body of any material spectrum , cannot be explained by spectral phenomena .

        The only other parameter , and the one absent from the entire GHG paradigm is the only other macroscopic force , gravity — acting on mass . It must be included in any complete set of equations . It was only in discussion here on WUWT that comments by HockeySchtick in particular got thru to me that it was the obvious solution to what otherwise is an untenable violation of the Divergence Theorem require mean internal energy density to match that calculated for the effective radiative surface .

        Gravity is the prime cause ; pressure and temperature are just the resulting expression of that force .

        As I’ve said , computational notation and environment per se are my core interest , and if anybody wants to get a CoSy_Stick and work on developing the language to succinctly implement the relevant computations , that would be great . Otherwise , I’ll just watch and comment as others come to what I see as an inevitable conclusion ( particularly because no testable equation quantitatively explaining how some spectral effect “traps” a higher kinetic energy density ( 25x in the case of Venus ) than that impinging on its radiant surface ) .

    • Stephen Wilde said:
      “During ascent some of the surface heat becomes convectively available potential energy (CAPE in meteorology) and that CAPE is not energy that can register on temperature sensors hence the cold at height.”
      Falling rain drops have a high energy potential and when falling onto a surface, slightly warm that surface as the potential energy of the falling drop is released. This is well known and included in textbooks* for those who study such things.

      *e.g. Plaster, Edward J., “Soil Science and Management”, 3rd Edition, p.58

    • This graphic shows how the winter, cold air descends over the polar circle. But is preserved layered structure of the troposphere.

    • Stephen
      There is something in what you say. I tend to go into more detail than you, I don’t think of adiabatic lapse rates etc. I think in terms of air pressure, water content and kinetic energy.

      • It is a heat engine which requires a temperature difference to maintain it. Therefore it is not a ‘closed system’ in the energy sense , it has an energy flux .

        In what sense do you mean it is a closed system ?

      • KE converted to CAPE by adiabatic uplift is matched by CAPE converted to KE by adiabatic descent at hydrostatic equilibrium.

        So you get a closed adiabatic loop up and down which effectively allows incoming solar irradiation to flow straight in and straight out in a separate diabatic loop. You can also regard the diabatic loop as closed since energy in equals energy out.

        In reality there are leaks between the two loops but if hydrostatic equilibrium is to be maintained the thermal effects of those leaks must be neutralised and convective adjustments achieve that.

        If the system warms up then more goes out than comes in and the system cools back down.

        If the system cools down so that more comes in than goes out then the system warms back up.

      • “If the system warms up then more goes out than comes in and the system cools back down.”

        By this I presume you are referring to the surface temp , right?

        What is driving this adiabatic circulation? Is sounds like perpetual motion. Surely it is a temp diff in excess of the lapse rate as I described. It’s a heat engine, not a perpetual motion with no source of energy.

      • Insolation at the surface provides the necessary energy source. Take it away and the whole atmosphere drops to the surface with no CAPE , no adiabatic loop and no convective overturning.

    • Stephen

      your ideas about CAPE are wrong.
      CAPE is the POTENTIAL FOR BUOYANCY given the difference between the local temperature profile and the two adiabatic lapse rates.
      CAPE zero means no buoyancy can happen, so no convection (thermals, thunderstorms)
      High CAPE numbers mean that the development of convection (and possibly severe thunderstorms) is likely.

      • Nothing wrong that I can see.

        Uneven surface heating from incoming solar radiation results in surface temperature and density differentials in the horizontal plane so that uplift occurs where densities are lowest and warm surface KE is converted to cold CAPE in the unstable rising column.

        Taking the global atmosphere as a whole 50% is rising and 50% falling at any given moment.

      • @ Stephen

        CAPE is the result of a CALCULATION, using the EXPECTED temperature profile of the local atmosphere, the EXPECTED surface temperature and the EXPECTED relative humidity.
        The number gives an indication whether convection is possible at all, and if so how strong it will be.
        To know how high the convective cells will rise you have to look at the relevant thermodynamic diagram, eg.

        “Sounds ok to me given that at any given moment half of the atmosphere is rising and half descending.”
        Most of the atmosphere is in hydrostatic equlibrium, so neither rising nor descending.
        Convection is often non-existent, or limited to the lower 1 or 2 kilometers of the atmosphere.

      • Nonsense.

        The atmosphere as a whole is on average in hydrostatic equilibrium but no individual portion of it ever is.

        CAPE is a calculation that describes energy available for convection at a given point but taking the atmosphere as a whole it is the CAPE content that holds the mass of the atmosphere off the surface in hydrostatic equilibrium. That energy is not heat and does not radiate but it is held present in the atmosphere permanently for as long as surface insolation is being conducted to the mass of the atmosphere and it cycles up and down indefinitely within the adiabatic convective loop.

        I can see that you are buried in utter confusion.

      • @Stepehen

        It is clear that you still have no idea what hydrostatic equlibrium is all about.
        At that other site you participated in an endless discussion, based on

        “Hydrostatic balance

        In the vertical direction, gravity is by far the most important external force acting on the atmosphere. It is the reason for the existence of this crucial envelop of gases around the Earth.

        The atmosphere does not collapse under the downward pull of gravity because of the energy embedded in the movement of the air molecules. This movement creates the force of pressure which counters the gravitational pull on the atmosphere. The balance between the force of pressure and gravity is the hydrostatic balance.”
        CAPE is NOT the reason the atmosphere isn’t collapsing under gravity.

        Without a solid understanding of hydrostatic equilibrium you can NOT understand how this atmosphere works’
        How convection in a compressible gas works, how global circulation works, how jet streams work etc.etc.

    • “adiabatic processes within the convective overturning cycle are indeed a closed loop”

      Is that how the ‘model’ treat convective overturning cycles?
      Let’s expand the concept.
      Thunderstorms combine. Under certain conditions, thunderstorms will form a circular formation; called a tropical storm and hurricane.

      How does that basic process of radiative physics perform within multiple interweaved loops that are also within a very large low pressure loop?

      They function normally, as physics expects. Water performs the radiative function across the majority of the IR spectrum; H2O molecules containing sufficient energy emit a photon and drop to a lower energy state.

      “hydrostatic equilibrium any radiative imbalances are neutralised by convection so that if GHGs alter the radiative characteristics of the atmosphere then convective changes will ensue to neutralise those imbalances BUT since the surface temperature enhancement is a result of conduction to the entire mass of the atmosphere the effect of radiative variations would be far too small ever to notice”

      Just what is meant here?
      Physics is neutralized? Hah!

      “Surface temperature enhancement is the result of conduction to the entire mass of the atmosphere the effect of radiative variations would be far too small ever to notice”?

      And exactly how does that work?
      Entire atmosphere conducts heat energy to the surface? How does that conduction method work?
      Plus all of that radiation allegedly radiating energy back to the surface stops, goes intermittent; or does radiation physics continue?

      Or is that statement true, and that the whole CO2 hypothesis can not work as alarmists predict, since the total back emitted radiation only slows the cooling of the Earth?

      • Heat capacity of water

        In liquid water, hydrogen bonds are constantly formed and broken as water molecules slide past each other. The energy to break the hydrogen bonds comes from the kinetic energy, or energy of motion, of the water molecules. The average kinetic energy of a group of molecules is called its temperature.
        It takes a lot of heat to increase the temperature of liquid water because some of the heat must be used to break hydrogen bonds between the molecules. In other words, water has a high specific heat capacity, which is defined as the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one gram of a substance by one degree Celsius. The amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of 1 g water by 1 °C is has its own name, the calorie. [Like in nutrition information?]
        Because of its high heat capacity, water can minimize changes in temperature. For instance, the specific heat capacity of water is about five times greater than that of sand. The land cools faster than the sea once the sun goes down, and the slow-cooling water can release heat to nearby land during the night. Water is also used by warm-blooded animals to distribute heat through their bodies: it acts similarly to a car’s cooling system, transporting heat from warm places to cool places, causing the body to maintain a more even temperature.
        Heat of vaporization of water

        Just as it takes a lot of heat to increase the temperature of liquid water, it also takes an unusual amount of heat to vaporize a given amount of water, because hydrogen bonds must be broken in order for the molecules to fly off as gas. That is, water has a high heat of vaporization, the amount of energy needed to change one gram of a liquid substance to a gas at constant temperature.
        Water’s heat of vaporization is around 540 cal/g at 100 °C, water’s boiling point. Note that some molecules of water – ones that happen to have high kinetic energy – will escape from water even at lower temperatures.

      • My reading of radiation physics indicates a consensus that atmospheric back radiations slows the rate of surface radiation, it does not directly warm the surface. Evaporative and conductive cooling add to the net radiative cooling of the surface. Would any of the Ackroyds disagree? [I’ve been gifted with a wonderful new word.]

    • Leaves and roots are (I believe the roots are), but the stalks are tasty perfectly cooked inside a pie… Or as a sauce for chicken….

      • As children we used to eat the stalks raw, as a snack. Sometimes we would sneak out the sugar bowl and dip the stalk ends into the sugar to help abate some of the tartness. Sometimes when the wife is cutting up rhubarb for a pie, I steal a couple of pieces and munch on them. She still can’t understand how I can just eat them raw like that without any sweetener.

      • There are several genes involved in ‘tasting bitter”.

        ” — Marker —- Results —– Analysis
        – rs10246939 — CC ——- Bitter taster
        ——————– TT —— Not bitter taster
        ——————– CT —— Bitter taster

        – rs1726866 — AA —— Not bitter taster
        ——————– GG —— Bitter taster
        ——————– AG —— Bitter taster

        – rs713598 —– CC —- Bitter taster
        ——————– GG —— Not bitter taster
        ——————– CG —— Bitter taster

        Depending on your paired genes, you may not taste many foods as bitter, or with three pairs of bitter tasting genes, you’ll taste bitter in foods other folks love.

        You wife may be one of the latter gene pairs, while you obviously have fewer of the bitter taster pairs. Broccoli is one of those foods, indeed many of the broccoli family are bitter to a few people while others consider it to be tasty.

        There is some reason to minimize rhubarb intake.
        One of the poisonous ingredients in rhubarb is oxalic acid. Folks with a tendency towards urinary tract stones, would do well to avoid rhubarb.

      • There are several genes involved in ‘tasting bitter”.
        ” — Marker —- Results —– Analysis
        – rs10246939 — CC ——- Bitter taster
        ——————– TT —— Not bitter taster
        ——————– CT —— Bitter taster
        – rs1726866 — AA —— Not bitter taster
        ——————– GG —— Bitter taster
        ——————– AG —— Bitter taster
        – rs713598 —– CC —- Bitter taster
        ——————– GG —— Not bitter taster
        ——————– CG —— Bitter taster

        I would qualify as a picky eater.
        – rs10246939 —TT —— Not bitter taster
        – rs1726866 — AA —— Not bitter taster
        – rs713598 —– GG —— Not bitter taster

  6. Wicked good read Caleb. I’m still with you on the tops of clouds losing heat. Heck, -70 is still +200 Kelvin or so.

  7. Very interesting, Caleb. I don’t know enough to contribute to answers, but I do want to ask a question that I hope will stimulate more thinking and commentary.

    Many years ago, I was an avid hang glider pilot. Once past the one to two year training and experience-acquiring stage (it is that long because except for rare times, your very first flight is solo), the objective is to stay up in the air as long as possible. So: my fellow pilots and I were always looking for ways to raise our chances for good soaring conditions at some non-local flying site before investing all the time and fuel to drive there.

    Meteorologically speaking, the presence and strength of ground source thermal lift is, among other factors, significantly influenced by the difference between the adiabatic lapse rate and the environmental lapse rate: if the rising thermal air is cooling slower than its surrounding air, it accelerated upward, and we wanted to be in that upward moving air. We knew there was such a thing as dry air and wet air adiabatic lapse rates but didn’t know how to make use of that information, largely because it was not available to us.

    So, to my question. What, if any, effect on heat transfer at various stages of thermally-motivated rising air does its velocity relative to its surroundings have? Is there any significance to times when the adiabatic lapse rate and the environmental lapse rate differ a great deal?

    • The more super-adiabatic the lapse rate (which it usually is on a sunny day over land over at least a few hundred meters depth), the stronger the updrafts. How the updrafts are organized (e.g. into discrete cells versus rolls) will depend on wind shear. The moist adiabatic lapse rate doesn’t apply unless you are in-cloud, which I assume you try not to be when gliding.

      • Thanks! And yes, thermals are rather boisterous until you get to cloudbase when they get positively murderous with the addition of the heat of condensation. A lot faster rate of climb, and much, much more turbulent.

  8. As for where most of the heat is being released in a growing cumulus cloud: In the middle, despite the relative humidity already being 100% and not increasing. A lot of water vapor is being converted to liquid water even though liquid water already exists there.

  9. As for persistent low pressure in the Arctic, where textbooks often say high pressure is supposed to be the rule: This phenomenon has happened before. The situation of the Arctic switching back and forth between the “textbook situation” and one with low pressure is known as the Arctic Oscillation.

  10. “Cumulonimbus clouds are behind some of the most severe weather that occurs on Earth. They are also frequent sources of lightning, as they are highly energetic. While these clouds are capable of forming supercells and causing flash floods and other catastrophes, they rarely do so for long. These clouds require a large amount of energy to sustain, and it is expended in causing severe weather.
    Cumulonimbus clouds form relatively close to the ground, at least at their bottom side, because of the large amount of heat required to form them, and the nature of updrafts. An updraft begins when heat radiates from the ground into the air, warming it and causing it to rise. This movement of air, because of thermal differences, is not only the cause of cumulonimbus and other cumulus clouds, it is ultimately the cause of most weather on Earth.”

  11. Caleb:

    A very enjoyable post!

    You wrote “Most science is wrong, and is constantly being improved upon, increment by increment”

    As an example, the greenhouse gas hypothesis of climate change can be proven to be completely wrong.

    Here is the proof.

    There have been 28 business recessions since 1880, and two depressions, the “Long Depression” of 1873-1879, and the depression of the 1930’s..

    ALL are associated with temporary increases in average global temperatures. The cause of the temperature increases is reduced emissions of dimming SO2 aerosols into the troposphere due to decreased industrial activity during a recession or a depression. This allows sunshine to strike the earth with greater intensity, causing more surface warming.

    Since the unintended reduction of SO2 emissions into the troposphere causes global warming, the intended reduction of SO2 aerosols through Clean Air efforts will also cause global warming, a truly unfortunate situation.

    The amount of this warming (.02 deg. C. of temperature rise for each net Megatonne of reduction in global SO2 emissions) is so large that there is simply no room for any additional warming due to greenhouse gasses. Thus, CO2 can have no adverse climatic effect.

    Warming due to the reduction of SO2 emissions is much worse than anything envisioned for greenhouse gasses, and further reductions should be halted as quickly as possible.
    There is no way of reversing SO2-induced warming, short of re-polluting the air.

    • Do you have estimates of total global SO2 emissions for the years 1880 to the present? Would love to see the data.

      • Doug:

        For data going back to 1880, the best that I can presently do is to refer you to Figure 6 in the paper “Anthropogenic Sulfur Dioxide emissions; 1850-2005 by S. J. Smith, et al (2011). With some effort, data for years of interest can be extracted from that graph.
        (it is my understanding that a paper is being prepared which will provide tabular data from 1850 to the present)

        For the years 1990-2011, tabular data is available (at 5 year intervals) in “The last decade of anthropoigenic sulfur dioxide: 2000-2011 emissions”, by Z. Klimont et al (2013). See Table S1 in the supplementary data.

    • So you are suggesting economic activity as a proxy for SO2. Interesting idea, but I think that link needs to be proven first. Do you have the data to do that?

      • Paul:.

        Not really a proxy., Decreased economic activity results in fewer SO2 emissions into the troposphere, causing warming due to the cleaner air.

        As for data, simply print out a Woodfortrees graph of temperatures from 1850-present, and compare peaks with dates of business recessions (Some peaks are due to El Ninos)

  12. Water vapor emits across a wide spectrum of energies as shown in this Modtran US atmosphere example. So this is a generalization of the long-wave emission from Earth to space. The emission intensity also indicates the “temperature” that the emission is occuring at.

    Water vapor is emitting at -50C (220K or 6-20 kms high) to -20C (2 or 3 kms high) to any number of bands at +15.0C near the surface.

    CO2 is primarily emitting at -50C in the stratosphere. Ozone is emitting (you guessed it in the Ozone layer or more acurrately at the very top of the Ozone layer) at -20C to -30C.

    • You are looking at a continuous spectrum and assigning different temperatures to different parts of it?

      • I think he is looking at what sections of the continious spectrum get through a window in the WV spectrum.

        eg ozone gets through at around 1020 – 1030 cm -1 and the intensity indicates that this corresponds to a black body temperature of 260K.

      • Greg
        I’m not sure of what point he is making. What you think he is thinking may not be what he is thinking, if he is thinking at all.

      • Greg
        You are looking at a graph and interpreting certain meaning. I am looking at the graph and see a graph. It’s just a graph of the overall emission. You could look at the solar graph and interpret the Fraunhofer lines as indicative of the sun’s temperature. If you choose that option then expect yourself to be laughed into oblivion.
        It’s just an emission spectrum (model). I guess people can interpret it any way they want. Probably doesn’t matter if they don’t have a clue as what they are looking at.

      • Thanks for the helpful comments Alex (but nonetheless incorrect).

        Another cross-sectional view of the same information showing the emission to space locations (as they change with increased CO2). When I said stratosphere and -50C, I meant exactly that. That is where and at what temperature CO2 is emitting to space. Water vapor covers more of the spectrum and can be at almost all of the different levels and at different temperatures.

    • The latent heat radiated from change of state is not affected by the kinetic energy of the molecules in the surrounding atmosphere (the ambient temperature). With potential updrafts in the tropics in cumulonimbus being as much as 100 kts large quantities of humid air and often liquid rain can be carried to extreme levels where the water and water vapor changes state to ice emitting large quantities of infrared from latent heat of condensation and fusion. Infrared photons are not hot they are heat energy.

  13. Well, I’m extremely glad that someone had pretty much the exact same experience of school as I did. I too took those skills learned avoiding homework into ‘real’ life, and thus avoided any kind of rent for about seven years before giving in, and indeed, marriage was the cause. Now I’m retired at 50, so I must have done something right between then and now.

    Now I’m back to a rent-free existence 😊

      • Ha, ha, yes, and yes.

        I was discussing pregnancy with my teenage daughter recently, explaining how it can screw up your life at an ear age. I thought a few seconds, then pointed out that it screws up your life at a later stage too, even if you plan for it 😄

  14. I know I post this too often but I’m fascinated by the chaotically changing contrasts in WV satellite movies – http://www.ssd.noaa.gov/goes/west/nepac/h5-loop-wv.html The black to tan areas are where there is little WV to impede LWR back to space while the blossoming areas of high WV are usually where it is raining, places where latent heat is dissipating at high altitude with the resulting cold drier air plus cold rain/hail is falling back to the ground. Somewhere in between those points we have WV having its greatest potential to affect in the opposite direction serving simply as a strong GHG with vastly diminished incremental returns at high concentrations. But, on top of that, also somewhere in between is that some areas of moderate to high WV are in the form of clouds reflecting incoming radiation while other areas of mostly moderate WV are clear air to provide maximum heating.

    I remain convinced that no honest scientist would dare claim that they are able to accurately “model” the above for the purpose of predicting its affect on global temperature years into the future.

    My opinion is that the ones who do claim it are basically treating WV something like this – http://alifeofproductivity.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Med-Grey-Square-495×404-495×428.jpg

    .. when the real picture of WV is something more like this – http://cdn0.dailydot.com/uploaded/images/original/2013/4/15/Fractal.gif

    • Hey, isn’t it strange that the water vapor imagery is basically the same as the infrared satellite imagery?


      Strange how these satellites are measuring the IR radiation that apparently isn’t escaping into outer space.

      I just have one question, who is this boob at NOAA claiming that clouds don’t release heat into space because they are -70 degrees? Caleb, please tell us.

      • No, I don’t think he’s a boob. At a temperature of -70F we’re getting near the top of the troposphere. Clouds up that high aren’t releasing any net heat if they form up there only to then evaporate/sublimate later. Significant latent heat is released in rain clouds at a much lower altitude where the water vapor first condenses near the bottom of a cloud. If that is at 20,000 feet it is releasing the energy at about the half way point of atmospheric mass from SL so half the GHE to impede it radiating to space. If the condensate then rides convection up high enough to freeze it would then lose more latent heat from that state change as well. But after that, staying there or going up even higher, it will likely just reabsorb energy to sublimate say if in the form of a disappearing cirrus cloud. The exception is thunder storm hail falling back down to the ground from ~60,000 feet to leave the latent heat of freezing behind up there but that’s a kinda minor occurrence wouldn’t you think?

      • Wouldn’t almost all the energy to sublimate/evaporate the high clouds come from sunlight? I didn’t mean that the clouds are cooling off and radiating heat, just that clouds in general are taking heat that originally came from the surface and radiating it into space when they form. If the clouds are -70 degrees then the heat was already removed.

      • RWturner ” clouds in general are taking heat that originally came from the surface and radiating it into space when they form.”

        Clouds aren’t doing that per sefrom the surface, only the change of state does that when WV condenses. Once an amount of latent heat is given up to condense a given amount of WV into a droplet of liquid water there is no more latent heat of evaporation to give up.

        Everyone knows that humid air is lighter than dry air and that it and heat both create a strong upward convection. But what wouldn’t surprise me, ( I don’t know?) is that when humid air condenses at the bottom of a cloud, the release of its latent heat then adds additional thermal energy to augment buoyancy to help drive the condensate even higher.

        IMO, whatever amount of water comes back down as rain represents latent heat that was released higher than ground level, (proven by the fact that rain is cold!). But condensate that does not come down and instead evaporates up high is a reverse process leaving you with vapor again which is what you started with so, no net affect.

        I will grant you that the thermal energy of condensate being carried upward into colder air is also releasing that energy up higher than where it was formed but don’t forget that temperature starts to warm back up continuing on up past much above ~60k feet so now we’re going in the opposite direction thermally. http://mysite.du.edu/~jcalvert/geol/deep5.gif

        (water is the strangest stuff on earth!)

      • @The Original Mike M
        “Everyone knows that humid air is lighter than dry air and that it and heat both create a strong upward convection. But what wouldn’t surprise me, ( I don’t know?) is that when humid air condenses at the bottom of a cloud, the release of its latent heat then adds additional thermal energy to augment buoyancy to help drive the condensate even higher.”
        The difference in density due to WV is real but very small, and can be safely ignored.
        Air at 15 C and relative humidity 100% has a WV content of 1% weightwise.
        Temperature is the deciding factor.
        Condensation does indeed drive convection,
        see https://www.atmos.illinois.edu/~snesbitt/ATMS505/stuff/09%20Convective%20forecasting.pdf
        for a nice introduction.

  15. Caleb

    your ideas about the Chinook winds (Fohn in Europe) are far from reality.
    The Fohn effect may exist when wind is blowing against a mountain range and is forced to rise.
    During this ascent the air cools according to the dry adiabatic lapse rate (DALR) until clouds form.
    From then on the air cools according the saturated adiabatic lapse rate (SALR).
    When over the top the process reverses and the air reaches the same altitude at the same temperature it started its ascent.
    For the Fohn efffect to exist is is PARAMOUNT that it rains during the upwind path of the air.
    Now the cloud base at the downwind path will be higher and warming according the DALR during descent will be more than the cooling during the upwind part => Fohnefect.

    • Ben, the difference between the wet and dry adiabatic lapse rates is what causes Chinooks and Foehn winds but those examples are not essential to Caleb’s basic point which is that rising air cools adiabatically and falling air warms adiabatically.

      • I would have thought those winds are caused by pressure differences like any other winds. It is the intervening mountain range which causes them to rise and it is the difference in lapse rate which causes the characteristic warming on the lee side of the mountain range.

        It is the difference in lapse rate which causes the warming ie the Froehn effect but not which causes the wind.

        That may be what you meant but it was very clearly expressed.

      • While water phase changes drive variation in density and heat flow so the decending air can be a much different end temperature than that at which the wet air began…

        Leaving water and phases changes out of an adiabatic model makes it simpler, but also leaves out the real heat flows…

      • E M Smith,

        Water and its phase changes do indeed drive heat flows but those flows represent part of the diabatic energy loop whereby energy into the system matches energy out of the system.

        That part of the energy of uplift and descent that is involved in the pure adiabatic process is the only part that is involved in the heating of the surface and that would exist even with no water in the atmosphere.

        It is only the KE converted to CAPE in the ascent which remains available to revert back to KE in the descent.

        It is the heating effect of that reversion to KE in the descent which must be ADDED to continuing insolation beneath both rising and falling columns to give the enhanced surface temperature beneath a convecting atmosphere.

      • “It is only the KE converted to CAPE in the ascent which remains available to revert back to KE in the descent.”

        No, the condensation of WV at height releases latent heat which warms the remaining air before it starts it decent. The lapse rate warms it further but it is incorrect to say it is the sole source of energy.

      • The release of latent heat causes the air to rise further which creates more CAPE. Only that which forms CAPE is available for recovery during the descent.

        The air rose because it hit a mountain. Condensation will not raise the mountain. Neither does this air need to go any higher before being driven down the leeside of the mountain range.

        The latent heat of evaporation which gets dumped out as condensation happens does not need to be converted to anything else. It is there as sensible heat. Temperature will further increase due to lapse rate as the air descends. This does not remove the sensible already there and that heat does not need to ask permission from the lapse rate to continue existing. It has conservation of energy as a good enough excuse.

  16. Caleb: That was a fun read. Your “wonders” are ones I have quietly wondered myself, but been too timid to voice among the self-professed “climate scientists” here, many of whom are just a little too defensive about the status-quo dogma they are currently clinging to about what is happening in the atmosphere, especially what they think is going on in clouds, when they may not really know the real truth, because that new “theory” has not yet been “accepted” as valid even though it is supported by careful experimentation.

    One of my “wonders” to add to your collection about the nature of what exactly water does to all this climate warming stuff, comes from my pondering about why clouds don’t simply diffuse away after having formed – the same wonder that professor Gerald Pollock has so eloquently wondered and postulated plausible explanations about. (See the book: The Fourth Phase of Water:Beyond Solid, Liquid, and Vapor by Gerald H. Pollack )
    Available on Kindle here:

    My wondering has led me to question whether the “4th phase of water” has a latent heat of formation/dissipation like other “liquid crystals” have, and whether like those other liquid crystals, this energy of formation, and energy of dissipation can be asymmetric? Furthermore, my wondering has included whether radiant energy, as postulated by Dr. Pollock, is the source of the energy necessary to transition between liquid, liquid crystal, and solid water? If so, does this additional “phase change” of water grab an even greater share of the energy balance than is currently modeled in the vaunted “climate models”. Also, do the climate models take into account the vast amount of energy that is “radiated” back to space in one giant burst during a lightning strike? How about the many, many, many lightning strikes during a typical rainstorm event? Observing a thunderstorm from outer space at night, you sure do see a lot of visible light being given off and at very energetic wavelengths! Is the lightning strike energy’s ultimate source longer wavelength IR energy that has been slowly charging the EZ layers of water droplets in clouds, and then is rapidly up-converted, and violently dissipated back to outer space?

    And my final “wonder”, is: We know that CO2 dissolves in water, and we know that water that has just condensed into a water droplet in a cloud is relatively pure, so don’t cloud droplets absorb CO2 to become slightly acidic and therefore effectively “scrub” a portion of the CO2 from the atmosphere around the path of a cloud/rainstorm? Therefore, is CO2 really all that “well mixed” in the atmosphere, or isn’t it also experiencing a constant “dynamic” balancing process similar to the water cycle, and Hadley cells? Does CO2 when dissolved in water have the same IR absorbance spectrum? or does it’s association with water change it’s IR extinction coefficient? In other words, does CO2 have a multiplying, neutral, or dividing effect in contributing radiative delay back to space when you combine it with water in each of it’s phases?

  17. Caleb, thank you for your entertaining comments, especially “Ackroyd.” Now we can say: “Look at those Sksers. What a bunch of Ackroyds.”

    Maybe you just started a new meme. [Gawd, I love that word! Everybody should get on the bandwagon. Maybe it will have the legs of Al Gore’s “gravitas?”]

  18. -20 F (-29 C) in Eastern Montana and North Dakota in November has a way of keeping the riff-raff out. And anyone who might have settled there in a warm summer of inviting, vast grass plains would have been quickly forced to “buck up” or head to California’s land of milk and honey.

    Explains a lot about how cultures and people self-organize.
    Sort of explains the good nature of the people of the Canadian plains too. In a time before government assistance, riff-raff at -20 F simply froze.

  19. “…It got cooler and cooler as it went up and chilled to freezing, and released a heck of a lot of latent heat as it became water and then ice, but what happened to that heat, as the hailstone fell and didn’t warm, until it mashed my tomatoes?”

    It’s an intriguing question, Caleb, and one which I’ve often wondered about too. None of the conventional theories seem to take the electrical factor into account, although it’s obviously a significant one in cloud-processes. I think that could explain where much of the latent heat that’s being released when hailstones form is going, i.e. into electrical discharges (i.e. lightning flashes), which would then radiate their energy away over a broad spectrum of wavelengths that extends from the far infra-red at one end up into the far ultraviolet at the other.

  20. I don’t mow the rhubarb but I have tried to fly a small airplane straight and level on a clear cloudless sunny afternoon in April. What you quickly notice is the turbulence while trying to maintain altitude. For every updraft encountered there’s a similar downdraft, and It doesn’t seem like water vapor has much to do with it.

    • You do realise that you are talking to people that have never been outside. They think that everything is average. Turbulence? Rip (in the surf)? Never heard of it. Most people have no concept of the difference 100 metres makes.

    • Yes, I commented on that thread when it went up.

      Since you don’t seem to understand the physics fo the Froehn effect, presumably think a Sterling engine is a “closed system” and seem to think that evaporative cooling is minor detail, I think I’ll have to come the same conclusion as I did the last three times I looked at your hypothesis.


  21. Another great read. I’ve been catching up on your previous writing after a link was posted in a previous comment string. I especially appreciated the “Aykroyd response”- I feel a meme for social media coming on.

    I have always had that “sense of wonder”, and still greatly enjoy learning, and the new questions every piece of new information inspires. The description of the heat loss from freezing arctic ocean water causing a temperature spike in the arctic, combined with a gif someone posted of the arctic gyre feeding ice into the straight between Greenland and Iceland has led me to wonder something else.

    As continental drift continues, the gap between Alaska and Russia will narrow, and Iceland will widen and possibly split down the middle, depending on volcanic activity, as the Americas move away from Europe and Africa. As this happens, will more of the warm gulf stream current contribute to the arctic gyre? It seems likely, even though the Greenland-Iceland and Iceland-UK gaps are not spreading, we now know from hunting shipwrecks that the sea can reshape the sea floor where it is sedimentary. What will be the effect of this? Will the warmer water eventually mean the arctic ocean never freezes, or will the increased heat dissipation cause another glaciation? What would then happen once the sea level falls? Would glaciation be prevented by increasing TSI as the sun ages, or is it something to consider when we begin moving the earth’s orbit because of the increase in TSI? I wonder….

  22. In the PNW, the opposite of a warm Chinook wind, which blows from west to east, is a cold Walla Walla wind, which blows from east to west.

    The record high temperature for Oregon of 119 °F was set on August 10, 1898 in Pendleton, 40 miles SSE of Walla Walla, WA, and for Washington State of 118 °F on August 5, 1961 at Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River between Franklin and Walla Walla Counties.

    In German, a wind like a Chinook is called a Fallwind.

  23. “That heat must be left behind at the top of the cloud, but the guy from NOAA assured me the tops of storms are too cold to lose heat”

    I don’t know what the temperature of space is but I’m sure it is less then the temperature at the top the clouds and our atmosphere. If I was to place a glass sphere with a heating element within to maintain a warm temperature within the center of a large ice block, no matter what sort of currents I could create within that sphere I would see heat loss. Isn’t this just primary school science. But then again I was always falling asleep during my science classes.

    • Ron,

      I suspect you are thinking of conduction of heat from the upper atmosphere to space. That doesn’t happen.

      Ever heard of a vacuum thermos. It can keep the contents of the thermos warm/cold for days by:

      – putting a vacuum around the internal container
      – mirroring the outer layer of the thermos and reflecting radiation back to the inside.

      A thermos could be even better if it didn’t have to have a removable top to pour through.

      Thus think of a sealed thermos with no lid (no I don’t know how to build one):

      Conduction – none – energy can’t get across the vacuum this way – same for earth, no conductive heat loss to space

      convection – none, it requires something from inside the thermos to move outside – same for earth to space

      radiation – for a vacuum thermos, the mirroring attempts to minimize this. For earth to space, this is unrestricted so it is the MAJOR method of energy transfer to space

  24. Ron: The temperature of outer space is about 9 degrees K. Since -70 C is really 230 Degrees K, we have a 230 – 9 = 221 degrees K difference. Now let’s do the 4 power law and OF COURSE THERE IS PLENTY OF RADIATION TO SPACE! In point of fact, that is where all the heat of condensation is sent. Figure it out, 1200 BTU per Lbm of water that falls out of a thunderstorm. WAIT its more than that because it falls and rises many times before going to ground. As Willis says, it’s a HEAT PUMP!

    My own estimates are that TS’s are responsible for 3 to 6% of the heat loss to space.

  25. Caleb, One thing you should add to you list of basic science is the ideal gas law. Basically, as you squeeze a gas it gets hot. If you let it expand it gets cold.

    A simple experiment: Buy a can of canned air at the local computer store (a few dollars). It is obviously room temp in that can. Now get a thermometer and point the can at the thermometer. Now spray that thermometer down with that room temp air. You will find it is much, much colder once released from the can.

    I can do the math of why that is true, but it is more important to truly understand at a intuitive level that letting a gas drastically expand causes it to get “cold”.

    When a storm lifts air from surface level to a high altitude, the pressure is much lower and the air gets colder as it expands. You don’t need for the heat to go anywhere, it just happens.

    fyi: that doesn’t violate the conservation of energy law: Temp != Energy

    • Good example Greg. That reminds me of another fairly common item, but you wouldn’t want to buy one just for this- the liquid CO2 fire extinguisher. When activated, pressure keeping the CO2 liquid is reduced and the transparent gas becomes so cold from expansion it causes moisture in the air to condense (freeze?) and become billowing white clouds, and frost forms on the nozzle. Then the moisture absorbs heat from the air and disappears as it once again becomes vapor.

  26. What a great harvest! I throw out a few seed-thoughts and get over a hundred comments! But wouldn’t you just know it? It was one of those work-days where unexpected challenges pop up and eat up all break-time, so I couldn’t sneak off to WUWT. It continued on until well after dark. And then….well….I could either study comments about clouds, or study how a third-string-quarterback handled the coaching of a mad genius. Konked out before halftime, and now it is 2:30 AM on the east coast, and I’m quickly scanning WUWT before real sleep in a real bed.

    I’d like to thank everyone who commented. I’ve got a lot to think about.

    • Of course, inflating a football starts out as an exercise in adiabatic warming as the pressure increases, then a slower diabatic process gets the football back to ambient temperature.

      Methinks Roger Goodell also has a lot to think about. His best-laid plans don’t seem to be working that well in terms of stopping the Patriots.

      • What some see as discouragement others see as a challenge; what slows some down makes others twice as fast.

        You don’t whip a horse to slow it. Goodell should have given the Patriots lots of honors, to slow them down. (Nothing trips men up like vanity does.)

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