A Chain Of Effects

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

In looking at the climate I’m often reminded of Sufi stories. The Sufis are an ancient mystical sect. They are often associated with Islam, and many were Muslims, but the sect preceded Islam.

The Sufis often taught their knowledge by means of most curious stories about life. The Sufis said that every story had seven different meanings.

Often the stories involved a “Mulla”, a holy man, named Nasrudin. He’s either a total fool or a wise saint depending on which end of the telescope you’re looking through. Here’s a story exposing both sides:

Hardly anyone could understand Nasrudin, because sometimes he snatched victory from defeat, sometimes things seemed to go astray because of his blundering. But there was a rumor that he was living on a different plane from others, and one day a young man decided to watch him, to see how he managed to survive at all, and whether anything could be learned from him.

He followed Nasrudin to a riverbank and saw him sit down under a tree. The Mulla suddenly stretched out his hand and a cake appeared in it which he ate. He did this three times. Then he put his hand out again, picked up a goblet, and drank deeply.

The youth, unable to contain himself, rushed up to Nasrudin and caught hold of him. “Tell me how you do these wonderful things, and I will do anything you ask,” he said.

“I will do that,” said Nasrudin, “but first you have to get into the right state of mind. Then time and space have no meaning, and you can be reaching out to the Sultan”s chamberlain to hand you sweetmeats. There is only one proviso.”

“I accept it!” shouted the young man.

“You will have to follow my way.”

“Tell me about it.”

“I can only tell you one thing at a time. Do you want the easy exercise, or the difficult one?”

“I will take the difficult one.”

“This is your first mistake. You have to start with the easy one. But now you cannot, for you have chosen. The difficult one is this: Make a hole in your fence so that your chickens can get into your neighbor’s garden to peck—large enough for that. But it must also be so small that your neighbor’s chickens cannot get into your own garden to feed themselves.

The young man was never able to work this one out, and so he never became a disciple of Nasrudin. But when he told people about what Nasrudin could do, they thought he was mad.

“This is a good start,” said Nasrudin; “one day you will find a teacher.”

So with that as an introduction to the mad Mulla and my own less-than-normal self, I’ll leave you to consider what the seven meanings in that story might be … and in the meantime, let me wander back to the world of the climate. Here are some graphs showing various aspects of atmospheric water vapor and its relationship to temperature. Atmospheric water vapor is often described as “total precipitable water”, or “TPW”. It is measured as the amount of water in a one-metre-square column extending from the surface to the top of the atmosphere, in units of kilograms per square metre of surface. 

The water vapor information I’m using is a new dataset to me. It’s reanalysis results from ECMWF, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. So to start with I know little about it. I generally begin by looking at the global map of the average values.

Here’re the long-term global average values.

Figure 1. Total precipitable water, long-term average.

What’s of note here? Well, the poles have little water in the air. In part this is because cold air holds less water, and in part because the water is freezing out as snow, sleet, graupel, and the like.

The ocean has about 50% more water vapor than the land because there is a constant source of evaporation. The greatest concentration is in the line above the Equator known as the ITCZ, the inter-tropical convergence zone. This is where the two great hemispheric atmospheric air masses meet. It’s an area of nearly constant thunderstorms.

And on average, there’s much more precipitable water in the tropics than in the temperate or polar regions. 

Also, mountains like the Himalayas are drier than the surrounding regions, because the air up there is colder.

My next step with a variable that’s new to me is generally to take a look at how it changes over time. Figure 2 shows those results

Figure 2. Annual changes in total precipitable water, and the residual after the seasonal variations are removed.

First, there is a strong annual cycle. It varies every year from a low of about 23 kg/m2 to a high of nearly 27 kg/m2. Next, the TPW has changed over time. In this time period, it was dropping for the first twenty years, and has been rising for the last 20 years. Why? No clue.

Then when looking at a variable that’s new to me, I often look to see if there are any cyclical variations longer than one year. For that, I usually use a technique called CEEMD, which is short for Complete Ensemble Empirical Mode Decomposition. I describe the method in a post called “Noise Assisted Data Analysis“. It breaks the data into “empirical modes”, frequency bands that contain cycles with different periods. Here is a result of that analysis.

Figure 3. Periodograms of the various empirical modes of the cycles inherent in the TPW

The only large signal is at about 3 – 4 years. I suspect this is related to the QBO. The “quasi-biennial oscillation” is a roughly periodic change of the equatorial stratospheric wind between easterlies and westerlies. However, that’s just a guess. There are no sunspot-related or other longer inherent cycles.

Now, I got this TPW dataset so that I could better understand the relationship between temperature and water vapor. In general it’s said that a warmer world is a wetter world. However, it’s also true that water vapor is a greenhouse gas. So a wetter world would also be a warmer world.

So … which one is the cause here, and which one is the effect? This brings me to my next Nasrudin story:

“What is Fate?” Nasrudin was asked by a Scholar.

“An endless succession of intertwined events, each influencing the other.”

“That is hardly a satisfactory answer. I believe in cause and effect.”

“Very well,” said the Mulla, “look at that.” He pointed to a procession passing in the street.”

“That man is being taken to be hanged. Is that because someone gave him a silver piece and enabled him to buy the knife with which he committed the murder; or because someone saw him do it; or because nobody stopped him?”

Me, I’ve mostly given up trying to decide which is cause and which is effect in many matters climatical. In that regard, here’s a scatterplot of TPW and temperature, using CERES and ECMWF results.

Figure 4. Scatterplot, monthly precipitable water versus monthly temperature.

Clearly, there’s a strong relationship between the two. However, as mentioned above, this could either mean that a warmer world is wetter, or that a wetter world is warmer … or some combination of the two.

So, for a final look at this relationship, here is a scatterplot of the gridcell-by-gridcell variation shown in Figure 1, versus the corresponding graphic of surface temperature (not shown). I’ve split it up into land and sea to see what difference there is between the two.

Figure 5. Scatterplot, gridcell by gridcell average temperature versus gridcell average total precipitable water.

Now, this is showing something very interesting. First, almost nowhere on earth, and nowhere on the ocean, is the long-term average surface temperature above about 30°C.

Next, the closer the temperature gets to 30°C, the faster the total precipitable water vapor rises. Eventually, it seems that any additional energy goes into evaporation rather than into increasing the temperature.

Now, does this put a hard limit on the global temperature? Well, clearly not on the mean temperature … but it does seem to put a limit on the maximum temperature.

Can this maximum temperature limit change under modern conditions? Unknown. The oceanic temperature limit is a function of things like downwelling radiation, evaporation, and thunderstorms. The relation with thunderstorms is most clearly seen in the following movie. It shows cloud top altitude (as a proxy for deep tropical convective thunderstorms) versus sea surface temperature.

As you can see, the thunderstorms closely follow the warmest parts of the sea surface through all of their changes and variations.

In my post entitled “Air Conditioning Nairobi, Refrigerating The Planet“, I elucidated how thunderstorms function as giant refrigerators, cooling the surface in a host of ways. So clearly, they are a very large part of whatever combination of physical phenomena are involved in keeping a lid on the sea surface temperature. 

Thus, the maximum sea surface temperature could change from anything that changes evaporation, incident energy, or clouds. The number of things that could do that is limited—natural or anthropogenic surfactants on the ocean affecting evaporation, natural or anthropogenic aerosols that change cloud properties, changes in average wind speed, things like that.

So … at the end of the day, does a warmer world cause a wetter world, or does a wetter world cause a warmer world?

I can only echo what the incomparable Mulla Nasrudin said:

“Only children and fools seek both cause and effect in the same story.”

My very best to all, stay strong, stay healthy, stay crazy …


PS—In this discussion of causes and effects, I would be remiss to close without mentioning the idea of “Granger Causality”. A variable X is said to “Granger-cause” variable Y if knowing the history of X improves our ability to predict variable Y. Curiously, there are four possibilities of Granger causation. The first three are similar to normal causation:

• Neither X nor Y Granger-causes the other. They are independent variables.

• X Granger-causes Y

• Y Granger-causes X

However, in Granger Causality, there is a fourth possibility:

• X and Y each Granger-causes the other.

And as you might expect in this most perplexing of worlds, when we analyze total precipitable water and temperature, we find that they are in the fourth case—each one Granger-causes the other one … go figure.

This in turn reminds me of Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem, which states that for any formal system of logic, there always are statements whose truth value simply cannot be determined. No matter what we do, in that logical system, we can’t determine whether some statements are true or not.

Of course, Mulla Nasrudin knew about Godel’s Theorem centuries ago, so if you’ll excuse me one final story …

A king, disenchanted with his subjects’ dishonesty, decided to force them to tell the truth. When the city gates were opened one morning, gallows had been erected in front of them. A royal guard announced, “Whoever will enter the city must first answer a question which will be put to them by the captain of the guard.”

Mulla Nasrudin stepped forward first. The captain spoke, “Where are you going? Tell the truth…the alternative is death by hanging.”

“I am going,” said Nasrudin, “to be hanged on those gallows.”

“I don’t believe you!” replied the guard.

Nasrudin calmly replied, “Very well then. If I have told a lie, hang me!”

“But that would make it the truth!” said the confused guard.

“Exactly,” said Nasrudin, “your truth.”

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January 21, 2021 10:23 am

Simple solution…You make a hole large enough for your baby or young chickens to get to the other side to feed. After they have fed for a sufficient amount of time, they are no longer able to get back through the same hole. They have grown.
Your neighbor has full grown chickens. His full grown chickens were given to him by you.

Last edited 1 month ago by DonK31
Reply to  DonK31
January 21, 2021 10:38 am

I grew up on a farm. We raised chickens, among other things. It took only 8 weeks to raise a chicken to KFC meat from a day old chick..

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  DonK31
January 21, 2021 1:26 pm

extra-crispy please.

Reply to  DonK31
January 21, 2021 1:33 pm

With or without steroid supplements?

Reply to  DonK31
January 22, 2021 9:25 am

Just retired from raising chickens. KFC weight is around 4 pounds per live weight per bird, approximately 3 pounds eviscerated. This live weight was achieved in under 35 days. My best growth rate was 5.7 pounds in 37 days.

Jay Willis
Reply to  DonK31
January 21, 2021 10:43 am

And you have a constant supply of baby chickens returning – in time.

Reply to  Jay Willis
January 21, 2021 11:07 am

In my childhood he was known as Nastradin Hodhza.

  • Hodhza you got a beautiful wife, what’s her name?
  • I have no idea
  • You don’t know, how long have you been married?
  • 20 years
  • 20 years and you don’t know
  • Yep, we met at a one-night-stand, I didn’t think it will last this long.
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
January 21, 2021 1:26 pm

One you may have lived in, in your early childhood, but it doesn’t exist any longer.

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
January 21, 2021 2:45 pm


Reply to  Vuk
January 21, 2021 1:44 pm

Nastradin Hodhza –

was he the guy who called his students ‘Grasshopper’?

Reply to  Jay Willis
January 21, 2021 3:04 pm

More likely that your neighbor has an endless supply of eggs.

Reply to  Jay Willis
January 21, 2021 3:45 pm

Except for the fat chicks which nobody wants anyway.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  DonK31
January 21, 2021 1:24 pm

The neighbor has your too-fat-to-get-back-through-the-hole chickens.

Reply to  DonK31
January 21, 2021 4:22 pm

If you want your chickens to eat for free from your neighbour’s supply of feed, it’s probably because you don’t have any chicken feed. If no feed is available on your side of the fence, the neighbour’s chickens won’t be interested in visiting your yard. Therefore, a chicken-sized hole will do nicely. 😉



David Yaussy
Reply to  DonK31
January 22, 2021 9:27 am

Very clever. But can’t your neighbor’s baby chicks come to your yard through the same hole?

January 21, 2021 10:27 am

Willis is in top form today! Notice that anthropogenic warming is not part of the Sufi lexicon, and never has been!!!

John Tillman
January 21, 2021 11:03 am

TPW peaks appear to coincide with Los Niños.

Richard M
Reply to  John Tillman
January 21, 2021 3:36 pm

John, this would appear to answer the question. El Nino events spread warm water over a wider area of the Pacific. This leads to increased evaporation which carries the latent heat into the atmosphere warming it.

Hence, it is the increase in TPW that leads to atmospheric warming.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  John Tillman
January 21, 2021 5:34 pm

El Nino is Gaia exhaling life. Both rain and enhanced CO2 flux to bring life to the Land.

John Tillman
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
January 21, 2021 6:31 pm

I agree. Piling up warm tropical Pacific water against South America should increase water in the atmosphere.

January 21, 2021 11:09 am

Sufi are radical muslims.

Richard Page
Reply to  Vlad T
January 21, 2021 11:25 am

No and, well, no. Although most Sufi’s are Moslem, it’s broader than just that religion. As to the radical part – Sufi’s are targeted by radical sects but they are not radical themselves.

John Tillman
Reply to  Richard Page
January 21, 2021 1:20 pm

Some early Western Orientalists imagined that Sufism predates Islam, but modern scholars have concluded that it arose among the first generation of Muslims. It’s ascetic, mystical Islam.

John Tillman
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
January 21, 2021 6:07 pm

Doris Lessing is a fiction writer who knows nothing whatsoever about early Islam.

Sufism is mystical Islam. If you imagine otherwise, please provide evidence of pre-Islamic Sufism. It doesn’t exist, so if you can do so, academic accolades await you.

John Tillman
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
January 21, 2021 6:15 pm

Not just Western scholars, but Islamic:


There is zero evidence of Sufism before Islam. Nada. Zilch. Zip. If you can find any, your PhD is secured.

John Tillman
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
January 21, 2021 6:33 pm

Please show your references and compare and contrast them with modern scholarship.

January 21, 2021 11:19 am

For some reason that last story reminds me of Spock declaring “I always lie.”

Reply to  MarkW
January 21, 2021 11:37 am

He’s lucky the king wasn’t the great Khan. Both the guard and Nasrudin would have been hung.

Bob boder
Reply to  bob boder
January 21, 2021 11:41 am

Sorry hanged

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Bob boder
January 21, 2021 1:29 pm

every guy wants to be hung.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
January 22, 2021 9:19 am

Perhaps you should have said “well hung”.

January 21, 2021 11:35 am

I love observing the way your mind works, Willis…it is frankly inspirational. You are a credit to the Northern California that we share.

Bernard Lodge
January 21, 2021 11:43 am

“So … at the end of the day, does a warmer world cause a wetter world, or does a wetter world cause a warmer world?”

Well, we know the following things:

1) Under no circumstances can a colder object warm a warmer object
2) The temperature of the atmosphere declines with altitude (lapse rate)

Thus, a cooler part of atmosphere cannot warm a warmer part of atmosphere below it. No matter what gases are in the atmosphere – including water vapor.

So, a warmer world causes a wetter world, not the other way round.

Bernard Lodge
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
January 21, 2021 1:35 pm

Thanks Willis (also Rich below),

Yes, when I put on a jacket, my temperature, and the temperature of the jacket, both go up.

But, that is the answer to a different question.

If I wrap the same jacket around a steel bar with a temperature of 100 degrees, the temperature of the jacket goes up but the temperature of the bar does not. How can that be?

The answer is that in the second case, there are only two sources of heat and the warmer object (steel bar) warms the colder object (jacket).

The reason why my temperature and the coat temperature both go up when I put a coat on is that both my skin and the coat are being warmed by something else that is warmer than both of them. That is the ‘chemical reaction’ heat being released by my body as it metabolizes carbohydrates. The jacket is not providing any heat – as evidenced by the wrapped steel bar example, it is acting as an insulator, slowing heat loss from conduction and convection.

There is a high to low temperature gradient from my inner body to my skin to the coat. Basically the same as the atmospheric lapse rate. The heat only goes from warmer to cooler objects.

The $64,000 question is whether the earth acts like a steel bar or a human body? The difference is not being pedantic, it is crucial to understand the global warming debate.

During the day, the earth acts a bit like a human body, with sunlight (coming from a very hot sun) warming the surface which then warms the atmosphere above it. The heat gradient flows from the hot sun to the warm surface to the cooler atmosphere. At night time, earth is a steel bar. The heat gradient is simpler, just flowing from a cooling surface to an even cooler atmosphere.

Under any of these examples, the temperature gradient only goes one way. The colder end provides no heat to the warmer end. The jacket does not warm up the steel bar.

At the risk of being pedantic, the colder end of the temperature gradient does provide energy emissions – but these are lower energy than the warmer end of the temperature gradient already has and so does not result in higher molecular vibrations (temperature) at the warmer end.

By the way, I have read Can A Cold Object Warm A Hot Object” several times and still believe that under no circumstances, can a colder object warm a warmer object.

I think many people (not you) conflate ’emissions’ with heat which makes them think that low energy ‘back-radiation’, from a cool source, can actually warm up a body already at a higher temperature than the emitting object. It cannot. Heat (temperature) can only flow down the temperature gradient. A colder object can never warm a warmer object. This applies to conduction, convection or radiation.

Reply to  Bernard Lodge
January 21, 2021 2:28 pm

Sorta right, but the correct situation is not fixed temperatures but the warm object having a heat supply. So to start over, heat flows from the warm object to the cool object…but the warmer the cool object is, the less heat will flow if the warm object stays the same temperature.
In the limit, when the cold object is the same temp as the warm one, no heat will flow. I don’t think you can argue with that view.
But our warm object has a heat source, daytime sunlight, but not much different than an electric heating element that is on half the time.
So if the warm object has a heat source, and the cool object warms up a degree, the warm object also has to warm up to shed heat at whatever its heat input rate is. From your viewpoint, this means the cold object doesn’t supply any heat. But when the cool object gets a degree warmer from the warm object, the heat source causes the warm object to get hotter too. Are you OK with that ?

Bernard Lodge
Reply to  DMacKenzie
January 21, 2021 3:39 pm

Hi DMacKenzie,

“But when the cool object gets a degree warmer from the warm object, the heat source causes the warm object to get hotter too. Are you OK with that ?”

Not the way you phrased it. Your ‘heat source’ means you are describing three heat sources, not two. Bottom line is that a cooler object can only be warmed by a warmer object. No quantity of cooler objects can raise the temperature of a warmer object. (e.g. ice cubes do emit energy … so, how many ice cubes do you need to add to make a cup of water boil? answer is obviously that no quantity of ice cubes will ever boil the water)

If there are multiple objects at different temperatures, there will be a temperature gradient from warmest to coolest. All the warmer objects will be warming all the cooler objects – from each objects point of view. Temperatures can only be passed ‘downhill’. Any object at a lower temperature is irrelevant if you are looking to actually raise the temperature of something.

You can slow the decline of an objects temperature by insulating it, but that only slows the temperature transfer due to convection or conduction, it does not reverse it. Same with the silver lining in a thermos flask, it slows the radiative loss of heat by reflecting some of the emissions back, it does not stop the heat loss. Although it is emitting energy, no cooler object can introduce heat to an already warmer object.

Jim Gorman
Reply to  DMacKenzie
January 21, 2021 5:01 pm

You have three bodies. The sun/earth will reach an equilibrium temperature and the earth will be as hot as it will ever be. This pair is isolated since mostly the atmosphere doesn’t absorb the sun’s energy directly, at least according to the warmists. The earth/atmosphere will also reach an equilibrium temperature, or try to since they too form an isolated pair.

So what then happens? The earth is as hot as it will ever be. It then cools as it tries to establish an equilibrium temperature with the sky/atmosphere.

How about “back radiation”. I will save you the Planck quotes right now. But, remember bodies radiate at T^4. The hotter body is going to send an exponentially amount more toward the cool body than it receives from the cool body. That means it will never get warmer, it will only cool to an equilibrium temperature.

To illustrate this let’s do an experiment. You be the hot body and I’ll be the cool one. You send me $4 and I’ll send you back $1. I’ll get warmer (richer) and you’ll get cooler (poorer). At some point I’ll begin sending back $2 and at a later time maybe $3. Let’s do this about 10,000 times and see what happens!

Reply to  Jim Gorman
January 22, 2021 1:17 pm

An object with an internal heat source that normally radiates to -270 C of outer space….say its temp is 300C for the sake of having a number…will get warmer than 300 C if an object warmer than -270 is placed near it. This because the internal heat generation forces the 300 C to increase until the lower radiation to the intermediate object is compensated for, and the total heat released is equal to the heat generated again. Easily calculable by SB. Heat will still flow hot to cold. The energy source is the internal generation within the hot object. The temperature distribution will eventually reach equilibrium as per the SB equation.

Last edited 1 month ago by DMacKenzie
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
January 21, 2021 1:44 pm

Bernard’s statement that a cold object cannot heat a warm object, is similar to those who believe that more CO2 will cause a warmer atmosphere. Both are factually true on some primary level, yet once investigated more thoroughly, are found to be 90% inapplicable to the problem under discussion.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Bernard Lodge
January 21, 2021 12:07 pm

Your body temperature is presumably around 37C. Most of the time, the atmosphere near you is cooler than that.

Do you lose heat at the same rate when the atmosphere around you is at 25C as you do when it is at 0C?

How does clothing keep you warm? It is cooler than your body, and it has no internal heat source. I guess that clothing doesn’t work.

Ben Vorlich
Reply to  Rich Davis
January 21, 2021 1:25 pm


Cooling/warming of the human body is as complex as that of a planet.

Reply to  Bernard Lodge
January 21, 2021 1:07 pm

Suppose you are sitting on a sunny beach under a sunshade. You are at your normal 38 C, the shade cloth in direct sun is at 60 C You can feel the heat. The cloth blows away and you immediately feel hotter. How can this be? Something that is hotter than you was cooling you.
You are wandering between physics and semantics, Bernie.

Bernard Lodge
Reply to  ghl
January 21, 2021 2:38 pm

Hi ghl,

Thanks. These are really important questions that need to be answered clearly, otherwise we are demonstrating we don’t understand what is going on.

I would explain your example as follows:

The reason I feel hotter when the 60 C shade blows away is because I am now exposed to an even hotter temperature source – the sun at 5500 C!


Jim Gorman
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
January 21, 2021 5:27 pm

Willis, sorry to say you are misleading folks. We need to deal with semantics here and all use the same definitions. The atmosphere does not make you hotter, it may reduce the gradient of hot to cold, but that is all. In other words, what is being changed is what insulation does, it works on the basis of time.

Basically, the rate of heat loss is slowed. Without an atmosphere, after 10 sec your temperature may fall to 90 F. With an atmosphere, at 10 sec your temperature may only fall to 95 F. That doesn’t mean the atmosphere can make you hotter than your starting temperature.

The beach example may not be the best since the atmosphere may very well be hotter than you are and will then make you hotter.

Let’s not mix things together when talking about radiation in space and thermal conductivity. They are two different things. Heat gradients can be modified by using low heat conductivity substances. For example, coats and insulation. A whole plethora of different phenomena being discussed here. Dealing with electromagnetic radiation and its effects on “heat” is a whole different arena and requires much more thought and calculation.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
January 21, 2021 9:08 pm

Without our vast, deep oceans, it’d be even a wilder ride of temperature swings. And no oxygen. Our oxygen comes from water split by photosynthesis, an energy extensive reaction driven by abundant short-wave sunlight. The geosphere (reduced rocks like iron ores) are constantly sequestering oxygen on a geological time scale. This is what happened on the Red Planet, Mars. Hydrogen went to space, oxygen got sequestered to rocks. Water ran out. Mars went dry and very cold.
Were it not for constant O2 production by sunlight-driven photosynthesis from abundant seawater, there would be no higher life forms than bacteria and archaea on this planet.

Wim Röst
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
January 22, 2021 3:08 am

The best explanation for the dryness of Mars I read so far. And so for Mars’ high surface temperatures: water cooling is missing.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
January 22, 2021 4:39 pm

You’re implying herbs made Mars lifeless via H and 02 depletion from photosynthesis?

Maybe there were other major processes on the time scale involved (9 to 10 times longer than the Phanerozoic).

Archean rusting of iron ore deposits did not require photosynthesis. There was none at all occurring at the time red-beds formed on Archean cratonic remains. It just required a continuous supply of oxygen from some other non-bio natural process.

i.e. degassing of mantle magma plutonics and extrusions that created that same Archean crustal thickness.

As Sargent Shultz said, “I know nothink!”.

Wiser than he looked.

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
January 21, 2021 11:03 pm

Willis wrote:

Its steady-state temperature is determined by the rate of heat loss.

No – The average surface temperature is controlled in the range -2C, the temperature where sea ice forms to dramatically reduce the rate of heat loss, and 30C, the temperature where persistent cloud limits surface level insolation such that the net energy uptake goes to zero – meaning no more temperature rise.

The average happens to be roughly in the middle of these two extremes by the ability of ocean wind and water currents to redistribute the heat from warm to cold.

The average temperature is a function of both heat input and heat loss but both are controlled variables dependent on surface temperature.

Reply to  RickWill
January 22, 2021 5:08 pm

This average surface T ignores the case of arid continental areas where T rises well beyond 30 C, and falls faster due the low relative humidity, once the photon illumination is reduced to a non-zero level. it’s inadequate when stated like this Rick.

The average temperature is a function of both heat input and heat loss but both are controlled variables dependent on surface temperature.

You are talking about an average [surface] temperature. In a desert “both heat input and heat loss” are not dependent on surface temp, they are dependent on % water vapor above that surface.

So surface T is not controlling those, and TPW is too low to cap temp, or slow its loss.

Plus rock and soil thermal storage/transmissivity/emissivity is too slow to store and release solar energy, to stabilize surface T. Which is another reason why the surface heats fast and cools fast, and the dry atmosphere permits it also.

All three are required for it to happen.

So the ocean near surface average air T circumstance is a very different. Large areas of the land masses do not get cooled by rain or down-drafting very often, and don’t have a lot of evapo-transpiration occurring.

Just saying you should restrict this generalized concept to average ocean surface T, not give the impression it’s true of a global average surface T’s capping and regulation processes.

Reply to  WXcycles
January 22, 2021 5:33 pm

There would need to be some gradual change over the land to cause any difference to where the global temperatures are now. Maybe greening will be a significant player. Irrespective, land represent net energy loss so all land would be cooler without oceans.

The oceans control the energy balance and that balance is derived to maintain two key temperatures. -2C at the sea ice interface and near 30C in the ITCZ. Land does not play a role in the balance. It plays a minor role as an energy sink from the oceans through the transport of water that gets deposited on land.

Jim Gorman
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
January 22, 2021 7:15 am

Willis, I apologize, if my words implied willfulness. I meant that by addressing the issue in laymans terms, that some things are being glossed over. I have had that occur to myself when trying to explain the concepts.

I stand by my assertion that in a system with three bodies and with only one heat source (1st body) that interacts with only one of the bodies, the middle body (2nd body) will cool by heating the third one.

Granted, the equilibrium temperature between the 2nd and 3rd bodies will be different and it will depend on the starting temperature of the 3rd body.

However, as I said, the cool 3rd body can never “heat” the warmer body. They will radiate equal amounts of energy at equilibrium, but the cool body will never radiate more.

Keep in mind, this only applies to radiative theory. Conduction, convection, specific heat, etc. cause other modifications to the radiation piece.

Chris Hanley
Reply to  Jim Gorman
January 21, 2021 7:09 pm

“… it works on the basis of time …’.
That is the way I understand the presumed process, even the verb ‘warm’ implies a function of time.
Just as adding layers of clothing will incrementally slow the rate at which the body surface radiates heat to the atmosphere (until equilibrium is reached and we feel comfortable), adding GHGs to the atmosphere slows the rate of long-wave radiation from the surface to space.

Jim Gorman
Reply to  Chris Hanley
January 22, 2021 7:24 am

I don’t think anyone will argue that there are things happening in the atmosphere that slow the rate of heat loss. The biggest question is if CO2 “back radiation” is part of that process.

I need to find the paper, at NASA I think, that describes the difference in times for CO2 to re-radiate versus give up energy via collisions. It is something like 10^-2 for emission and 10^-7 for collision.

Once energy is transferred to N2/O2 via collision, radiation leaves the picture since the warmists love pointing out that N2/O2 do not radiate energy.

Bernard Lodge
Reply to  Chris Hanley
January 23, 2021 5:00 pm


Adding any gas to the atmosphere will slow the rate of heat loss because in effect you are adding more insulation. It does not have to be a GHG.

When carbon is burned to make CO2, two atoms of O are combined with one atom of C from the fuel. So, one molecule of O2 in the atmosphere is replaced by one molecule of CO2 which has greater mass. In effect, there is more atmosphere than before. More mass means more insulation i.e. a thicker coat – which will slow the temperature decline. This works whatever gas is being added to the atmosphere.

Bill Treuren
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
January 22, 2021 10:22 am

The whole thing is impacted by lateral migration rather than this circular interplay.
In fact as you have show many times Willis its the energy “deposited” in the equatorial regions that needs to migrate to the polar regions and the power of H2O relative to CO2 is condensation.

Reply to  Bill Treuren
January 22, 2021 5:11 pm

Or to escape vertically.

Bernard Lodge
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
January 23, 2021 7:33 pm

Thanks Willis,

I totally buy into the fact that an atmosphere slows the reduction in temperature of the earth compared to having no atmosphere. The atmosphere acts as an insulator. Similarly, if you doubled the atmosphere, the temperature reduction would be even slower.

Many comments in this thread talk about ‘steady state’ or ‘equilibrium’. However, the truth is that, in the real world, nothing is ever at equilibrium. Everything is seeking to be in equilibrium but equilibrium is never achieved – by anything. I would recommend that it is better to try and explain what is happening in that real world by simply accepting that every object has its own temperature and that nothing is ever in equilibrium.

For example, the universe is made up of countless objects that have different individual temperatures. Every object is cooling, unless it is warmed up by a different, warmer object. There is a temperature gradient from the warmest object to the coolest object. Every warmer object is passing heat to every cooler object, either by conduction, convection or radiation – it does not matter which. However, cooler objects do not pass heat (temperature) to warmer objects. They may pass energy, but is is lower energy than the warmer object already has, so molecular vibration (temperature) does not increase. This can easily be demonstrated by experiment (no quantity of ice cubes has enough emissions to boil a cup of water – because those emissions are of lower energy). Bottom line is that no cooler object can ever raise the temperature of a warmer object, either through conduction, convection or radiation.

The rate of temperature increase that a cooler object will experience from a warmer object depends on a) the temperature of each object b) the distance between the objects c) the masses of each object and d) the specific heat properties of the objects (some objects naturally heat up/cool down slower than others).

So, this boils down to an amazing conclusion; the temperature of any object in the universe is only determined by all the other objects in the universe that have a higher temperature than itself. This is entropy explained. This is the second law of thermodynamics explained.

Now, you can get effects that look suspiciously like back-radiation but they are not. If you placed an object with high specific heat properties (i.e slow heat transfer i.e. an insulator) between a warm object and a cooler object, then the rate of temperature transfer between the warmer object and the cooler object will decline. This is your atmosphere example that slows a planet’s temperature decline.

Take your atmosphere example a bit further. A CO2 molecule weighs more than an O2 molecule, so when you burn some carbon and convert a O2 molecule into a CO2 molecule, you are adding new mass to the atmosphere. This is adding more insulation and will make the earth cool slower. Similarly, if you increase the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, you are adding a lot of new mass of the atmosphere which will slow the earth’s cooling because there more atmosphere. The effect is small but real. It does not matter what gas you add to the atmosphere – it will increase the insulation effect.

Now let’s introduce back-radiation to this discussion. We know from the ice cube experiment that energy emissions from a cooler object do not increase the molecular vibration (temperature) of any warmer object – at all. This is true for conduction, convection or radiation. Since temperature declines with elevation, back radiation from above by definition is from an object that has a lower temperature. This back-radiation is low energy and has zero effect on anything warmer than the object that emitted it. This means that it will not even slow the cooling until the surface reaches the same low temperature as the atmosphere that emitted the back-radiation.

In summary, it is the insulation effect of the atmosphere that slows the earth’s cooling, not the greenhouse effect. They are quite different.

Best regards,

Reply to  ghl
January 21, 2021 2:46 pm

“The cloth blows away and you immediately feel hotter.”

Well yeah. You are in direct sunlight so the new object irradiating you is hotter than the fabric. Geez

Reply to  Bernard Lodge
January 21, 2021 5:30 pm

The only way the sea surface temperature can exceed 32C is to warm it internally. Once the cloudburst cycle begins, the heat supply from the sun gets reduced as the surface temperature rises. The only exception is the Persian Gulf in July and August because the cloudburst cycle is disrupted by the dry northerly winds.

Clouds cause quite dramatic reduction in outgoing long wave radiation but the reduction in short wave making it to the surface trumps the reduction in OLR once the SST reaches 26C.

50% of the global net radiative heat input occurs in the range 27.5C to 28.5C. There is essentially zero heat uptake at 30C because there is very little surface at 30C. Unless the cloudburst cycle is disrupted, that is as warm as the sea surface gets.

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Bernard Lodge
Reply to  RickWill
January 23, 2021 5:25 pm

Hi RickWill,

Yes, the impact of the massive energy release/absorption that happens when water freezes/melts or condenses/evaporates is the real temperature control knob of the earth. When you add the fact that white cloud tops reflect so much sunlight, it is clear that our planet already has a safety valve that guarantees we will never have catastrophic temperature rises – at least as long as we have the oceans. Willis often refers to this.

By the way, I don’t think clouds warm the surface below due to ‘back-radiation’. If you examine a infrared photograph, you will notice that hot objects show as whiter than cold objects. If you look at clouds in an infrared photo, they are almost pure white. They are giving off a lot of infrared. That is not back-radiation, that is huge amounts of latent heat being released as water vapor condenses into water droplets.

January 21, 2021 12:18 pm

Of course Godel’s incompleteness is resolved at the meta system level, which is no doubt where Mulla Nasrudin resides.

That aside I’m finding this a fascinating line of investigation.

January 21, 2021 1:02 pm

You should try to understand cloudburst. It will close the gap in your understanding.

Increasing surface temperature results in increasing level of free convection. If the SST could ever get to 34C then the cloudburst cycle would be continuous.

Attached chart shows how the altitude of LFC and clod base close as the SST increases.

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Reply to  RickWill
January 21, 2021 1:08 pm

To be clear if the surface was internally warmed to 34C the cloudburst cycle produces continuous cloud. The cloud cover is sufficient at 30C to take the net energy to zero. The radiation balance is around plus 60W/sq.m but there is lateral convergence from adjacent cooler zones that increases local evaporation that takes out that energy to take the net to zero.

Reply to  RickWill
January 21, 2021 2:44 pm

Do you understand this bit: “Now, does this put a hard limit on the global temperature? Well, clearly not on the mean temperature…”

Reply to  Loydo
January 21, 2021 3:33 pm

The SST mean temperature is somewhere between -2C and 30C; the permissible range due to properties of water that exert a powerful influence on the surface energy balance. The temperature typically lands somewhere near the middle.

The belief that there can be a steadily rising trend is simply that – a belief. It is not supported by any evidence. Any reliable temperature measurement shows no trend over the last century. You select a trend that shows other than zero and I will tell you the flaw/s in the measurement. Most measured global warming in Australia is the result of more cars in city centres; lower respiration in city centres; increased air-conditioning power demand in city centres; automation of weather stations using fast response electronic transducers; relocation of rural temperature gauges from the post office to the local airport; increase in size of aircraft and frequency of of service at rural airports; and of course Worlds Best Practice temperature homogenisation.

I see some people show the HadCRUT SST trend as gospel. It is ridiculous showing SST temperature records that begin at 1840. You simply need to check how many ships were plying the Southern Ocean near Antarctica sending back surface temperature records.

The most reliable SST record comes from the moored buoys and they show no trend since they were located.

All climate models I have looked at show the Nino34 region above 32C by 2050. Cannot happen. It has never been above 30C and never will. Hence all climate models are garbage.

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Richard M
Reply to  Loydo
January 21, 2021 3:46 pm

Loydo is right that is doesn’t stop the mean temperature from rising. However, once you cap the maximum the entire oceans have to warm to get to 30°. I wonder if Loydo realizes how much energy this would take.

If you do the math it becomes obvious the warming is limited far below the claims of climate cultists. They are simply another anti-science, religious sect.

Reply to  Richard M
January 21, 2021 6:14 pm

The Pacific was warmer before Drakes Passage opened. Once it opened, the Southern Ocean Circulation began and that transporedt heat to the Atlantic. Antactica had trees on the Pacific side.

During each glaciation, Bering Strait ices over and that limits heat flow from the North Pacific to the Atlantic. So the cooling in the North Atlantic intensifies when that happens.

Point is, heat transfer is an important function in where the average temperature ends up. While there is ice forming at the poles then the average surface temperature will be very much stuck where it is now give or take the periods of the ocean circulations that can add and subtract depending on when the warm spots arrive in the Southern Ocean. These are decal variations and there may be long term trends still apparent in the ocean temperature at depth because it takes a long term for heat to flow from the surface of the oceans to 5000m below the surface.

Reply to  Richard M
January 21, 2021 10:50 pm

Thanks Richard. Yes, you and Willis and I are all agreeing the mean temperature is not fixed. Rick can’t will not grasp that idea because it conflicts with his pet hard limit theory.

Just on what you were wondering about, you aren’t proposing to warm the entire ocean to 30C are you? You could just keep warming the mixed zone at the surface, climatically, in the short to medium term anyway you’d get a similar result.

What’s this math you’re referring to?

Reply to  Loydo
January 21, 2021 11:14 pm

The SST ranges between -2C and 30C. The average is somewhere in the middle, determined by wind and water currents.

The average will remain where it is unless there is disturbance to those currents. The only significant disturbance is changes in land masses that alter ocean circulations or changes in the orbital geometry that alter how heat is taken up and lost. Those changes do not occur in periods inside a millennia. The only present variation is the periodic hit and cold patches that get circulated into the Southern Ocean and can add or subtract. El Nino/La Nina cycle being one of the notable cyclic variation.

I can assure you without any doubt that adding CO2 to the atmosphere is not going to alter the average temperature.

I can also assure you that anything coming out of climate models is garbage. They are a complete waste of time and effort.

Reply to  RickWill
January 22, 2021 12:38 am

Out of curiosity could you assure me adding or subtracting water vapour to the atmosphere is likewise not going to alter the average temperature.?

Reply to  Loydo
January 22, 2021 2:39 am

Yes. TPW follows SST so the average is basically stuck where it is now for the next millennia or so. It changes significantly on an annual basis and there is some meandering over decadal periods but the trend over decades is zero and will remain that way.

The CMIP 5 models resulted in negative TPW if you integrated their TPW over 3 years. That is another physical impossibility that climate models manage to achieve.

Reply to  RickWill
January 22, 2021 5:40 pm

Not only that they’re untestable.

Geology records climate change, and the time-scale involved is ~500 years to detect an unambiguous global climate change.

Which presumes one is even occurring inside such ~250 year time-slices. Often it’s a net stable climate for thousands of years, no unambiguous global climate change is present.

So how can modern GCM with a time and data window on our world less than the duration since the transistor was invented, (and most of that time with vastly poorer model development than now) have any chance of producing a usable result or of informing us? The can’t, at all.

GCMs are indeed a complete waste of time and effort.

What we need is past observations (science). The natural history can guide us, but Global climate models have only a capacity to misguide us. And that can never be changed, because their projections can never be tested in a reliable way.

The only thing that will work is a time machine.

January 21, 2021 1:08 pm

Your last story is a variant on the Cretan Liar paradox:
X (I forget the name used) says all Cretans are liars. X is a Cretan. Is he lying?

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  RobH
January 21, 2021 2:27 pm

the observable that x is a cretan is wrong.

January 21, 2021 1:12 pm


Good article.

Looking at Figure 2, it seems to me that the strong positive peeks in TPW line up with strong El Nino events.

Also, under Figure 3 you say: ‘The only large signal is at about 3 – 4 years’. This is also same average periodicity of ENSO.

Thus, it looks to me as if ENSO might be one of the factors that contributes to the variations in TPW

Joel O'Bryan
January 21, 2021 1:17 pm

Here in the last Nasrudin parable we find the paradox of future predictions (predictions about the future), just like the climate models looking forward to the year 2100 or so, and why they are a superposition of both true and false simultaneously, and thus neither true nor false. In quantum mechanics, this is the Schrödinger Cat paradox and the wave function collapse (decoherence) that occurs with observation of entangled quantum states.
We have to understand the past, present, future as the funneling flow of matter-energy through what I like to call the Nozzle of Entropy. The nozzle here is like an aperture where jet fuel from a tank flowing through a burner nozzle, converting a hydrocarbon oxygen mixture into another form with work and energy flow. The result is thrust (which provides acceleration as momentum is conserved) as one output, and in doing so tiny part of matter (mass) is converted and energy is released with inevitable increasing entropy. It is that energy flow in the nozzle of entropy, happening at the quantum level, which creates Einstein’s space-time and ensures the arrow of time is always in one direction. It is that decoherence, that act of observation, that is the passage of time, with the inevitable increase in entropy which cannot be reversed.

As a bit of divergence and per the Wiki on the subject:
In quantum physics, unitarity is the condition that the time evolution of a quantum state according to the Schrödinger equation is mathematically represented by a unitary operator. the time evolution operator. In practice, there is a Schrödinger picture and a Heisenberg picture, and then a combination of the two, formulated by Paul Dirac, called the Interaction picture or Dirac picture. The Schrödinger picture the state of a system evolves with time, the Hesienberg picture holds the observables change with time. The Interaction picture in which both states and observables evolve with time clearly fits better with the reality around us.

For those who want to go down the MWI rabbit-hole (it truly is an Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit hole), here is a Wiki link to get you started, and many branched deeper explanations (links) in that:

Now the mathematician-physicists who perform these calculations with the time evolution operator employing the imaginary operator i all in their operations. Of course i is where sqrt(-1) = i or alternatively i^2 = -1. What typically comes out of their equations is they imagine the past as having infinite outcomes. But IMO, what is really happening is the imaginary operator is misinterpreted and get the arrow of time, that is causality, reversed. The infinity of possible universes exists in the future, where the past is immutable. The past, having the present a flow through the nozzle of entropy, is now fixed (frozen) by both entropy and held solid by the 1st Law of mass-energy conservation. A creation of diverging multiverses is a clear violation of conservation of energy-mass.

SciFi movie/book writers frequently likes to toy with these Multiverse (MWI) ideas. It is in scifi TV and movies that most of us (all of us?) first hear of the sci-fantasy of Multiverses. A multiverse is where every conceivable outcome of an event is realized and the universe we live in is constantly splitting off at each “decision point” thus creating an infinity of alternate realities (aka, multiverse theory; aka Many World’s Interpretation – MWI) in our past, an infinite number of copies (slightly different) of our own person. In these imagined scifi story lines our fictional but intrepid universe travelers are then able to jump between alternative universes (alternate realities) and see the consequences of decisions alternatively (or not made) made in those other realities and how they then played out. It makes for interesting plots and thought provoking mental gymnastics of the kind Willis and his Nasrudin imagine.

So climate change carnival barker like to call climate change skeptics names like Moon-landing deniers (or deniers of other past events) as well. In doing so, the CC barkers show themselves to be the science illiterates, as they do not understand the fundamental difference between the immutable past and the uncertain future. The moon landings happened and are in the immutable past. There is not just the memories of the (few) still living astronauts who went there, but the overwhelming physical evidence they occurred.

Coming back to climate models that make future projections, we can clearly now see that they are NOT data to be taken in any scientific context. This is because, at its most philosophical and base level, science is about observing and collecting data, and then comparing to prediction. Data which is then compared to hypothesis to find truth of nature. And data are observations of reality, a decoherence – a collapse of many possibilities into one immutable state and with observables which do not change. Those observations collapse the wave function, yet climate model projections that the IPCC and governments are relying on always remain in the future. They have to remain in the future because those climate models used by the IPCC that have gone through the nozzle of entropy (passed into the the past) have all been falsified whenever compared to observation. The models can only be seen a possible outcomes, far from certain. Yet in the religion that has become Climate Change, the model outputs are treated as data on which Trillions of dollars of economic resources must be allocated by its proponents.

Using the Interaction view (above), we already can falsify the Climate Models (at least the ones so far in all the CMIP ensembles). This is because, although the future climate states they picture have yet to be observed, the important observables they project, both for today and the future, such as a double ITCZ, mid-tropospheric tropical hotspot, and inability to recreate internal cycles like the ENSO or AMO, have already failed and thus invalidated them. With these failed observables, there is no way that their projected Climate model future states can be taken seriously by science.

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Last edited 1 month ago by joelobryan
Tombstone Gabby
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
January 21, 2021 5:59 pm

If we’re talking about predictions:

The following is from “Science & Mechanics” magazine, August 1974, page 88.


Any attempt to predict the future stands on very shaky ground. In spite of a steady improvement in the sophistication of future-predicting techniques — from cattle entrails to crystal balls to computers — our ability to predict even the short-term future remains poor, indeed. Observe what happened to President Nixon in the four months from November 1972 to March 1973. Anyone who talks about what life will be like in 30, or 100, or 1,000 years from now is talking nonsense.

This is so because of three reasons:

1) There are facts to be discovered about our world which are unknown today.

2) Even if we knew all the facts, there is nobody with wisdom enough to understand how all of them are related and interact with one another.

3) Even if we knew all the facts, and how they interact with each other, there is the additional and most important obstacle to future-prediction: Social, political, economic, legal and military considerations often override the scientific and technological information. This is why America’s vaunted technology, so brilliant in putting men on the moon, is utterly impotent in trying to solve social problems involving people. Humans are individualistic and unpredictable — not at all like electrons or spacecraft that can be manipulated precisely at the experimenter’s whim.

It is for these three reasons that the future 10 years from now really cannot be predicted. But the seeds of the future — the technological, scientific, social and economic factors that can determine it — already are planted today. And some now are beginning to germinate and blossom; they shortly will bear fruit.

So, the nature of our future lies more with moral issues rather than with science and technology. In a convocation address in 1945, Dr. Robert M. Hutchins, then chancellor of the University of Chicago, told the graduating students, “The most distressing aspect of the world into which you are going is its indifference to the basic issues, which now, as always, are moral issues.”

Orwell would have agreed.

(End quote)

Has anything really changed since then? 

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Tombstone Gabby
January 21, 2021 9:48 pm


Those who don’t realize that what they think is true but simply “ain’t”, has exponentially increased. This increase is due to our universities failing to teach critical thinking about examining what they are told.

Past and ancient thinkers like Francis Bacon, Plato and Aristotle were brilliant, intelligent minds. Too often today university people mistake knowledge for intelligence.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
January 21, 2021 11:03 pm

 “…science is about observing and collecting data, and then comparing to prediction”

How would categorise weather forecasting? Should it not be ignored for the same reasons?

Richard Page
Reply to  Loydo
January 22, 2021 5:45 am

Apart from the obvious of broadly understanding how an existing trend will play out over the next 24 to 48 hours then yes, it should. Weather forecasting beyond a couple of days is problematic and highly prone to errors – I know of extremely few highly capable experts who have a proven track record of forecasts longer than a day or two.

Jim Gorman
Reply to  Richard Page
January 22, 2021 7:42 am

My grandpa (a farmer) always told us that if you want to forecast the weather, look out the window and read a thermometer, then forecast more of the same for the next two days. “You’ll be right more times than the weather man!” I’m not sure we’ve progressed much more than that.

January 21, 2021 1:21 pm

The end of the story:

After Nasrudin said ” I am going to be hanged on those gallows” the guard took to another set of gallows and hung him – proving beyond doubt that Nasridin was a total fool.

January 21, 2021 1:27 pm

Sufism is like a beautiful marble palace that has a very bad smell coming up from the basement. Sufism does not reject violent jihad.

Richard Page
Reply to  nicholas tesdorf
January 22, 2021 5:50 am

Damn that’s one hell of a test isn’t it? I don’t think I’ve ever “rejected violent jihad” either, have you; I mean specifically and publicly? Must mean we’re flipping radicals then, mustn’t it!

January 21, 2021 1:28 pm

Willis, my take on it goes like this…..though I bow to your much longer study of the data…
Higher SST results in 7% more water vapor above the surface per degree of warming by Boyle’s law. So increased TPW is a result of warmer surface temperature. More TPW…more precipitation. Also more clouds since precipitation falls out of clouds, haha.
Also there can be more clouds even without precipitation due to the simple fact that most cloud cover on the planet is the result of advection, horizontally moving weather fronts. I know you like the tropical thunderstorm approach, but it really isn’t necessary. The albedo of clouds is .40 to .80, while the ocean below is only .06. At mid-day, those clouds can reflect hundreds of W/m^2 of the sun’s energy back into space, thus cooling the warm surface below by cutting off it’s radiative heat source, and allowing evaporation and convection to dominate the surface temperature below the cloud cover. The water surface doesn’t care what caused it to get a degree warmer….that’s why the influence of a non-condensible gas like CO2 is overwhelmed by the properties of a cloud forming gas like water vapor.
So yes, cloud cover maintains the energy input that controls the SST, and the SST controls the amount of TPW that causes clouds. Like a cruise control on a car, some random looseness in the linkage and hills and valleys cause some “float”.
But an extra square meter of cloud cover can reflect more heat in 10 minutes than “all day” of additional CO2 forcing by an additional 120 ppm when you work out the numbers. 90% of the sun’s heat on the ocean goes into evaporating water and 10% into warming the water, more than enough to make an extra square meter of cloud….unfortunately, it takes a book to cover it adequately…

Last edited 1 month ago by DMacKenzie
Clyde Spencer
Reply to  DMacKenzie
January 21, 2021 3:19 pm


You said, “The albedo of clouds is .40 to .80, while the ocean below is only .06.”
The cloud albedo varies with the cloud type, altitude, and over time for a given cloud. In the same manner, seawater does not have a fixed albedo. It varies primarily with location and time.

The light reflected from sea water is a combination of diffuse reflectance from suspended sediment and plankton, plus the addition of specular reflection. There is usually a minor diffuse component from white caps or froth when windy, and scattered light reflecting off wave fronts. However, the average reflectance from the water surface is close to the theoretical specular reflectance, even in the presence of waves and white caps. They slightly spread the bundle of reflected light, but not to the same extent as true diffuse reflectors like clouds and particles suspended in the water column.

The 0.06 value is about what NASA claims for water. However, that means it must be nearly under the sun, because the specular reflectance would then only be about 0.02, and the other 0.04 would be from suspended reflectors. The specular reflectance alone varies from about 0.02 to 1.00 from local noon to sunset, or at the terminator. The suspended particles contribute inversely to the specular reflection because if the surface reflectance is 1.00, no light penetrates the surface to be reflected off the suspended particles. That is one of the considerations that often results in ‘climatologists’ carelessly remarking about “dark” Arctic water absorbing more energy than snow.

As I have demonstrated, the specular reflectance alone averages about 12% for a given point on the ocean on the Equator; additionally, then, there is also the diffuse component. The instantaneous specular reflectance alone would be closer to 18% for a hemisphere of a world without land, or looking just at the Pacific Ocean. In summary, the ‘albedo’ of 0.06 is much too low, and it isn’t constant.


Last edited 1 month ago by Clyde Spencer
Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
January 21, 2021 9:25 pm


And, with data and argument, I’m questioning the commonly accepted dogma in your ‘bible.’

I’m challenging the common use of the word “albedo” instead of total reflectivity because albedo is really only applicable to surfaces with diffuse reflectance such as the clouds on Venus or the regolith on the moon. That is, the term, derived from astronomy, is basically a metric of retro-reflectance, being defined initially as the apparent brightness of celestial bodies lacking water. Using “albedo” is akin to talking about “ocean acidification;” it is a careless use of terminology.

I’m claiming that the ‘albedo’ of the oceans is a lower-bound of the total reflectivity because the greatest rate of change is at latitudes where there are few measurements and they are binned in 10 deg bins.

The numbers of ‘biblical proportion’ do not agree with well-established theory. It is yet another example of poor science, such as the handling of precision in temperature time-series data.

Albedo is a useful concept for designing sensors for nadir-viewing imaging satellites where the full dynamic range of sunlight needs to be captured. However, it is deficient for energy-budget calculations for climatology.

January 21, 2021 1:32 pm

Note that the rise in TPW above 24C is faster than would be expected by the increase in partial pressure of the water vapour.

There is a Level of Free Convection above 500m once the TPW reaches 30mm. That will enable cloud burst but weak. Once at 40mm there can be a continuous cloudburst cycle.

The cloudburst catapults water vapour above the LFC. The updraft velocity is a function of the convective potential. The zone below the LFC is saturated or even supersaturated just before cloudburst. It will lose some water to the cloud zone and condensing zone above the LFC but some will come down quickly due to the precipitation at the time of cloudburst and the rest will percolate down as the vapour deposits above cloud base and condenses above LFC due to the radiative cooling.

Once the cloudburst cycle is repetitive, the water vapour level below the LFC will cycle up to saturated state before each cloudburst. With rising SST the altitude of the LFC is also rising so more of the atmosphere reaches saturated condition.

Reply to  RickWill
January 21, 2021 2:28 pm

‘Note that the rise in TPW above 24C is faster than would be expected by the increase in partial pressure of the water vapour.’

Natural convection is dependent upon density differences. Water vapor is much lighter than dry air, so an increase in the partial pressure of water has a positive feedback effect in that it drives an increase in the mass transfer coefficient as well. Once the winds are strong enough to cause a broken surface on the ocean, the increase in mass transfer rates can be very substantial.

Thus the fact that TPW increases much faster than would be expected by an increase in the partial pressure of water vapor is to be fully expected, due to the effect of water vapor on the density of the air.

Reply to  dh-mtl
January 21, 2021 3:51 pm

The intertropical conversion zone is known for its relatively low wind but high convective potential. It is where you will find the warmest water and the highest TPW.

The reality of the highest TPW in a low wind zone contradicts your view of the involvement of wind in creating high TPW.

Reply to  RickWill
January 21, 2021 5:48 pm

‘The reality of the highest TPW in a low wind zone contradicts your view of the involvement of wind in creating high TPW.’

No it doesn’t. It doesn’t change the fact that water vapor is much lighter than dry air. It doesn’t change the fact that the driving force for natural convection is density differences (which are a primary cause of pressure differences).

All it means is that, in the inter-tropical conversion zone, air movement must be primarily vertical, without much of a horizontal component. Your words ‘high convective potential’ imply this vertical air movement (i.e. convection), which will increase with increasing content of water vapor.

Also, the highest TPW is without doubt located inside of tropical cyclones (hurricanes). It is without doubt that once the wind becomes strong enough to break the surface of the water, and thus drastically increase the surface area available for mass transfer, the convective mass transfer will drastically increase.

Reply to  dh-mtl
January 21, 2021 7:18 pm

The driving force for vertical convection is convective potential created by deposition/ condensation above a level of free convection. Cloudbursts are the result of vertical convection. Sure it is a result of the lower density of water but it is a unique instability that requires a level of free convection plus the time required to create the convective potential energy each cycle.

CAPE is essential to spin up cyclones. Once formed, cyclones do create their own energy through a strong convergence but it requires CAPE to get going.

Cyclones do not form in the the intertropical convergence zone. Just cyclic cloudburst. The warmest pool will have lateral convergence but the dominant feature is the cyclic cloudburst over the warm pool.

The vertical convection associated with cloudburst is entirely dependent on the development of CAPE.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  dh-mtl
January 21, 2021 5:42 pm

The picture you describe means implies hurricanes/tropical core storms should be a ubiquitous feature of all tropical oceans throughout the year. They aren’t, by observation.

Last edited 1 month ago by joelobryan
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
January 21, 2021 6:31 pm

‘The picture you describe means implies hurricanes/tropical core storms should be a ubiquitous feature of all tropical oceans throughout the year. They aren’t, by observation.’

No, I don’t think that that is implied. After all, the rate of transport of water vapor away from the surface of the ocean must match the rate of evaporation of water at the surface, which for a tropical storm requires a very large amount of energy.

When the mass transfer rates are a limiting factor then the water will heat up. If the water becomes sufficiently warm to support very high rates of evaporation, and if there is an initiator, such as a tropical wave, that increases the rates of mass transfer, then the increase can become self-reinforcing, to the point where it blows up into a tropical storm.

Thus, as is observed, tropical storms are limited to the portion of the year when the water is sufficiently warm to support the rates of evaporation required to fuel a storm.

Reply to  dh-mtl
January 21, 2021 9:16 pm

There are no cyclonic storms at latitude less than than 7 degrees. The highest TPW and highest temperature exist in the ITCZ, which is most often within 7 degrees of the equator across the oceans.

Any lateral mass transfer into the warm pool follows the vertical convection of the cloudburst; typically by about 2 days. The cloudburst is the initiating process.

Reply to  RickWill
January 22, 2021 12:46 am

The missing ingredient for tropical cyclone formation at the equator is the coriolis force

January 21, 2021 1:36 pm

The amount of clouds depends on the amount of radiation that comes down and that is able to bring the top layer of the water to 100 C at 1 atm.
You should pick up a correlation between UV and preciptable water but I don’t know where you will get data on UV.

Steve Reddish
January 21, 2021 1:36 pm

Introducing water (irrigation) into a desert makes the days cooler (high temp lower) due to increased evaporative cooling and shading of the ground from resulting clouds. Also, nights become warmer (low temp higher) due to reduced radiant heat loss.
Question: does the average temperature change?

Last edited 1 month ago by Steve Reddish
January 21, 2021 1:40 pm

Every time Willis posts one of those globe graphics, I try to zoom in really close to see if Guam has tipped over yet.

Mickey Reno
January 21, 2021 1:53 pm

I like the world graphic which shows the rain shadow desert areas, the Great Basin in North American, the Atacama Desert of coastal Chile in S. America, the Gobi Desert of China, caused (most probably) by prevailing winds blowing upward over great mountains that grab the water vapor as rain and mist and snow as the wind rises and cools and precipitates out it’s wet bounty of life-giving water, leaving less, or none in the case of Atacama, for the downhill run.

January 21, 2021 2:06 pm

Willis wrote:

Next, the closer the temperature gets to 30°C, the faster the total precipitable water vapor rises. Eventually, it seems that any additional energy goes into evaporation rather than into increasing the temperature.

It is not the additional energy going into evaporation that is they key factor. It is the reduction in surface energy due to increased reflection once the cloudburst cycle begins above 40mm. Cloud becomes increasing persistent as the SST increases. At 30C the net energy is down to around 60W/sq.m. Excess evaporation due to convergence of air from other cooler adjacent zones takes out the rest.

Screen Shot 2020-12-21 at 3.15.31 pm.png
Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  RickWill
January 21, 2021 5:47 pm

That strong feedback is not captured by GCMs and one of many reasons why the GCMs are utter and complete failures demanding they be chucked to the waste bin of failed science. That modellers keep using them in spite of these complete failures demonstrates the cargo-cult nature of today’s climate science..

Wim Röst
Reply to  RickWill
January 21, 2021 7:03 pm

WR: It would be interesting to see the same graphic for the lower temperatures as well. Could you arrange that?

Reply to  Wim Röst
January 21, 2021 9:47 pm

The attached chart is for the same month but the entire ocean surface. It averages the reflective power over longitudinal bands. That means that it does not get to the peak temperatures that are observed in a 1×1 degree grid. Producing the attached is trivial. Producing the same data in a 1×1 grid is considerably more tedious.

The chart shows a few significant features. The loop is a result of difference between Southern Hemisphere and Northern Hemisphere in January. Note that these are power flux, not total power. So the response of the southern hemisphere is markedly different to the northern hemisphere for a given temperature; one heating, the other cooling.

The little kink at 26 degrees in both hemispheres is the cloudburst kick. It is still quite dominant in the northern hemisphere but only just starting up in the Southern Hemisphere.

The cloud reflection in the southern hemisphere is actually dominated by cloud at low surface temperature in January. These clouds are reported to be seeded by plankton. In 2020, smoke may have played a role in seeding them as well. It does not matter much what goes on at these high latitudes because it eventually gets sorted in the tropics.

The tropical oceans are where most of the energy gets collected to keep Earth’s inhabitants cosy. And the SST has a hard limit close to 30C.

Screen Shot 2021-01-20 at 5.25.56 pm.png
Reply to  RickWill
January 21, 2021 10:05 pm

Correction – The above chart actually gives the total energy for the oceans so includes the surface area involved in each band. Hence why the Southern Hemisphere dominates.

The linked charts give rejected energy data for both hemispheres in January and July for comparison. It gives rejected energy versus TPW. Rejected energy includes both reflected and outgoing long wave.

The cloudburst kink is particularly noticeable in the change of slope in the northern hemisphere between January and June at TPW of 3cm.

David L Hagen
January 21, 2021 2:36 pm

Willis. Educational. Compliments. Puzzle:
There’s more precipitable water 26.6 kg/m2 over the ocean than 18.4 over land. 0
There’s more ocean area in southern than northern hemispheres.
YET Northern Hemisphere average 25.3 is more than Southern Hemisphere 23.2!
Is north/south ocean temperature that assymetric?Best

Reply to  David L Hagen
January 21, 2021 4:12 pm

Water in the atmosphere over the ocean is a response to SST. The Southern Hemisphere is almost 90% water so it has enormous thermal inertia. It is slow to warm up each year.

The attached shows the annual global weather cycle. The Southern Hemisphere has the peak solar input in early January, when insolation is at its annual peak – perihelion. It shows a response with temperature increasing till March. But the actual SST reaches its maximum in July, when the solar input is at its minimum. It is evident that the high ocean surface temperature in July is a function of river runoff and likely lower rate of mixing. But the water vapour responds to the sea surface temperature not the amount of energy it stores.

Screen Shot 2021-01-22 at 11.02.40 am.png
Clyde Spencer
January 21, 2021 2:52 pm

You remarked, “Now, does this put a hard limit on the global temperature? Well, clearly not on the mean temperature … but it does seem to put a limit on the maximum temperature.”

Have you tried plotting the equivalent of Figures 4 and 5 using the Tmax and Tmin instead of the mid-range value?

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
January 21, 2021 5:19 pm

I don’t know what your new data-set looks like, but I seem to recollect that BEST provides monthly Tmax and Tmin values for all years. Thus, you could use BEST data for the two X-value plots against TPW. I’m speculating that you will get a higher correlation against Tmax than you will for either Tmin or Tav for Fig. 4.

I don’t know if Nick Stokes or some government agency might be a source of Tmin and Tmax by grid cell that can be used in lieu of the ECMWF Tav grid cell temps.

Julian Flood
January 21, 2021 3:00 pm

Willis, on the way to Madeira at FlL450ish I saw a smooth that covered literally tens of thousands of square miles, some continuous, some in large meandering rivers
The smoothed areas were suppressing wave breaking up to Force 4.

Lower albedo, less evaporation, fewer CCNs, a triple whammy. Too far away from civilisation to be oil/surfactant spill. Plankton lipids seems most likely.

If something has increased plankton growth and subsequent die off then that might explain a lot. Do the AGW graphs and the 1910 to 1940 line match either Haber process N fixation or dissolved silica increase from farming and deforestation?


January 21, 2021 4:12 pm

Thanks for the article.
Why are the Pacific islands ( Fiji area ) wetter the the adjacent equator area?
Thanks in advance.

Ulric Lyons
January 21, 2021 4:40 pm

“The only large signal is at about 3 – 4 years”

ENSO probably. There should be an AMO signal too.

January 21, 2021 7:24 pm


6. The sequence is Nino34 Area SST warms, seawater evaporates, Tropical atmospheric humidity increases, Tropical atmospheric temperature warms, Global atmospheric temperature warms, atmospheric CO2 increases (Figs.6a and 6b).

by Allan M.R. MacRae, B.A.Sc., M.Eng., June 15, 2019

Other factors such as fossil fuel combustion, deforestation, etc. may also cause significant increases in atmospheric CO2. However, global temperature drives CO2 much more than CO2 drives temperature.

January 22, 2021 12:19 am

by Allan M.R. MacRae, B.A.Sc., M.Eng., P.Eng., June 2019


Global warming alarmism, which falsely assumes that increasing atmospheric CO2 causes catastrophic global warming, is disproved – essentially, it assumes that the future is causing the past. In reality, atmospheric CO2 changes lag global temperature changes at all measured time scales.

Nino34 Area Sea Surface Temperature changes, then tropical humidity changes, then atmospheric temperature changes, then CO2 changes.

The velocity dCO2/dt changes ~contemporaneously with global temperature changes and CO2 changes occur ~9 months later (MacRae 2008).

The process that causes the ~9-month average lag of CO2 changes after temperature changes is hypothesized and supported by observations.

The ~9-month lag, +/- several months, averages 1/4 of the full-period duration of the variable global temperature cycle, which averages ~3 years.

Based on the above observations, global temperatures drive atmospheric CO2 concentrations much more than CO2 drives temperature.

Climate sensitivity to increasing atmospheric CO2 must be very low, less than ~1C/(2*CO2) and probably much less.

There will be no catastrophic warming and no significant increase in chaotic weather due to increasing CO2 concentrations.

Increasing atmospheric CO2 clearly causes significantly improved crop yields, and may cause minor, beneficial global warming.

Atmospheric CO2 is not alarmingly high, it is too low for optimal plant growth and alarmingly low for the survival of carbon-based terrestrial life.

Other factors such as fossil fuel combustion, deforestation, etc may also increase atmospheric CO2. The increase of CO2 is clearly beneficial.

“Green energy” schemes are not green and produce little useful (dispatchable) energy, primarily because of the fatal flaw of intermittency.

There is no widely-available, cost-effective means of solving the flaw of intermittency in grid-connected wind and solar power generation.

Electric grids have been destabilized, electricity costs have soared and Excess Winter Deaths have increased due to green energy schemes.


Earlier conclusions by the author and others are reviewed that disprove global warming alarmism and the justification for CO2 abatement schemes.

Increasing atmospheric CO2 does NOT cause dangerous global warming. Humanmade global warming / climate change is a false crisis.

Atmospheric CO2 changes lag global temperature changes at all measured time scales.

The process that causes the ~9-month average lag of CO2 changes after temperature changes is hypothesized and supported by observations.

This ~9-month lag, +/- several months, averages 1/4 of the full-period duration of the variable global temperature cycle, which averages ~3 years.

January 22, 2021 12:24 am

Nino34 region has zero trend over the past 4 decades.

The SST is thermostatically controlled. -2C minimum at the sea ice interface and a tad over 30C in the ITCZ unless the cloudburst cycle is disrupted by local geography.

CO2 is misdirection. It is the most important gas for life on Earth but has no consequence from a surface temperature perspective.

Screen Shot 2021-01-03 at 2.59.57 pm.png
Reply to  RickWill
January 22, 2021 7:54 am

Hi Rick – I do not (at this time) dispute your comments re “SST is thermostatically controlled”, as far as they go.

Regarding your alleged “lack of trend in SST”:

Others, notably Ferdinand Engelbeen, have stated for years that the mechanism I described (equatorial Pacific SST changes drive changes in atmospheric CO2) is not large enough to yield all the observed changes in CO2 – but that mechanism clearly does exist and demonstrates part of the physical reality of atmospheric CO2 increase.

Oceans cover ~71% of Earth’s surface and it is probable that most of the observed increase in atmospheric CO2 is caused by short-and-long-term oceanic temperature changes and oceanic currents. I do not dispute Ed Berry’s conclusions on this point, also stated by Hermann Harde and Murry Salby.

Furthermore, my observed mechanism adequately disproves via precedence the “increasing CO2 drives dangerous global warming” CAGW falsehood, because “the future cannot cause the past”.

Last edited 1 month ago by ALLAN MACRAE
January 22, 2021 1:35 pm

I wonder why you bring up CO2 in a discussion on TPW and surface temperature. Sure plants appreciate the increase in CO2 but it is irrelevant to a discussion on the drivers of surface temperature.

No one knows where the equilibrium point is for CO2 outgassing and ocean surface temperature. The ocean will never be in thermal equilibrium.

Reply to  RickWill
January 22, 2021 7:36 pm

Rick you wrote:
“I wonder why you bring up CO2 in a discussion on TPW and surface temperature.

My answer:
I did so to put this article that discusses Total Precipitable Water (TPW) and the 3-4 year cycle period into context.

From my above post:

6. The sequence is Nino34 Area SST warms, seawater evaporates, Tropical atmospheric humidity (aka “Tropical TPW” – see Fig 6a) increases, Tropical atmospheric temperature warms, Global atmospheric temperature warms, atmospheric CO2 increases (Figs.6a and 6b).

Also from the same paper:

7b. Statistical analyses support the existence of an average ~3.1 year period in the data for NIno34 SST, UAH LT temperature and atmospheric CO2, averaging ~3.6 years before year 2003.5 and ~2.5 years after 2003.5, as depicted in Figs. 7e to 7j (Excel spreadsheet) and Table 7b.


Earlier conclusions by the author and others are reviewed that disprove global warming alarmism and the justification for CO2 abatement schemes.

Increasing atmospheric CO2 does NOT cause dangerous global warming. Humanmade global warming / climate change is a false crisis.

Atmospheric CO2 changes lag global temperature changes at all measured time scales.

The process that causes the ~9-month average lag of CO2 changes after temperature changes is hypothesized and supported by observations.

This ~9-month lag, +/- several months, averages 1/4 of the full-period duration of the variable global temperature cycle, which averages ~3 years.

by Allan M.R. MacRae, B.A.Sc., M.Eng., June 15, 2019


January 23, 2021 1:20 pm

There was a previous story from Willis a couple of weeks back looking for the cause of variation in atmospheric CO2. I postulated it simply followed the TPW.

Both Willis and I confirmed it did not. The TPW peaks with SST in July but the CO2 peaks before that. CO2 does not follow TPW on an annual cycle.

Also CO2 peak is dominated by the northern hemisphere where there is less sea surface. Possible two factors – domestic, commercial, industrial heating and then biological uptake through July, August and September. Corn is a significant sink.

Reply to  RickWill
January 24, 2021 2:12 am

Wrong Rick.

The sequence is proved in my above paper – Fig 6a and 6b.

January 21, 2021 8:07 pm

“So … at the end of the day, does a warmer world cause a wetter world, or does a wetter world cause a warmer world?”
With those two choices, and wetter world causes a warmer world.
A wetter world is definitely a warmer world.
We are in a dry world.
An Ice Age is a dry world.
If world was wetter, it’s further away from coldest times of the Ice Age.
And what mostly getting wetter is the 60% of the world which outside of tropics.
An interesting question could be, how much wetter could the tropics get but the majority
of world is outside the tropics.
Globally, 70% of surface area, is ocean. Any kind of surface which is 70% of the globe, would control global air temperature. And Earth’s global temperature is controlled by the ocean surface temperature. If global ocean surface warms, it’s a wetter world.
Global climate records of air temperature indicate that land is warming faster than global ocean surface temperature.
If land warms faster than then ocean surface, this might indicate this land warming will create drier conditions. But I would say that would be misunderstanding of global climate.
I would say a warmer ocean warms the land. And warmer land is only due to the warmer ocean. For a simple reason that 70% of global air is over ocean.
But I would say if you want hot air temperature, you will find it on land and in drier conditions, and dry and hot air on land is losing more energy to space.
Or globally, ocean is warming global air, and land is cooling global air.
Or ocean retain/maintains heat, and land loses heat. Though land which is wet retain/maintains heat better than compared to drier land.

So, in terms causing, warmer land will not cause global air to be warm.
It’s simply doesn’t. It’s not creating global air, simply because it’s small portion of
Europe is warmed by the ocean, and no land mass is warming any significant portion of ocean. And would say one could not have ocean-land arrangement, which could do this.

In terms of predicting, if ocean surface warms, the land will warm, if oceans surface cools, land cools. And ocean surface warms, world gets wetter.

And if you want the northern hemisphere to warmer, having ice free polar sea ice, will warm the surrounding land and make the warmed land, wetter.

And reason we have arctic polar sea ice, is because the average temperature of entire ocean is quite cold, 3.5 C. Or ocean were warmer we would have an ice free polar ice in summer. And if ocean was a lot warmer, like 5 C, it would ice free in winter. And ice free in winter would be strong global warming effect. But we probably get a lot snow in the winter.

And I believe we had ice free arctic sea ice in our past interglacial periods when they were the warmest. But I don’t think it occur during our present Holocene period {didn’t happen
during the Holocene Climate Optimum]. Though did have ice free polar sea ice in the summers.

Geoff Sherrington
January 22, 2021 1:52 am

Hi Willis,
My favourite for quandary space is –
“There will always be doubt. There is no doubt about that.”
Pleased that you have presented these data. My first impression after your earlier post was, “What drives what?”. Glad we seem alike.
Philosophically, I prefer that the mechanisma are concerned with maintaining a steady global temperature: therefore, I see T as the dependent variable and measures of water as the correctional driver. In the absence of water mechanisms, T could vary over a much larger range. In the absence of temperature variations, the amonnt of water that could vary is limited by phase changes, and other limits. So I see T as the natural variable that has to be kept under control for a happy world.

Alasdair Fairbairn
January 22, 2021 4:01 am

The simple answer to all of this lies in the Antoine equation giving the vapour pressure of water against temperature. Here it will be seen that the vapour pressure rises very rapidly starting at around 25C. At around 30C the pressure becomes very large. ( Sorry don’t seem to be able to produce the graph image).

The rate of evaporation is a function of the difference between this vapour pressure and the Partial Pressure in the immediate atmosphere (humidity). Hence at around this 30C temperature the rate of evaporation absorbs more or less all the incoming radiation and converts the energy to Latent Heat, which importantly takes place at CONSTANT TEMPERATURE (around this 30C.). Further; due to the buoyancy of the vapor/gas phase this Latent Heat is driven up through the atmosphere and beyond to space for dissipation.

This is why the oceans never get above around 32C. in spite of millions of years of relentless solar radiation.
This same process operates throughout the atmosphere at a fractal level. Hence the simple answer.
Can we now put this runaway temperature concern to bed now and leave it to water to keep us cool.?

Reply to  Alasdair Fairbairn
January 22, 2021 8:39 am

I felt the partial pressure played a significant role but it is not the cause of the steep rise.

As Willis demonstrates, the TPW rises almost asymptotically to 30C. The partial pressure is nothing like asymptotic to 30C. See attached.

The TPW rises steeply above 24C because the atmosphere moves into cloudburst mode once the TPW reaches 30mm and cyclic cloudburst occurs above 40mm. The cloudburst cycle results in a moist zone below the level of free convection and moist to drying zone above the LFC.

Cloudburst is an emergent property that drives the steep increase in TPW with surface temperature. The atmosphere changes to high gear; cyclically producing convective potential then extinguishing it with cloudburst. The updraft velocity is function of the convective potential, which is a function of the sea surface temperature. The higher the temperature the more moisture above the cloud base and the more persistent cloud. The altitude of the LFC and cloud base coincide at 34C. Never reached over open ocean surface because sunlight would never reach the surface so it would cool.

Screen Shot 2021-01-23 at 3.24.46 am.png
Reply to  Alasdair Fairbairn
January 22, 2021 10:11 am

Water is what causes higher average global temperature.

But if concerned about tropics, where most of sunlight is, one could say water would prevent
higher temperatures. But tropics didn’t have water, the tropics average temperature would be cooler, though “weather effects” might cause higher extremes in terms having both hotter days and much colder days.
Or one could something like El Nino effect but on the lands surfaces. Or Santa Anna winds on steroids
The Santa Ana winds are strong, extremely dry downslope winds that originate inland and affect coastal Southern California and northern Baja California.—
Santa Ana winds are known for the hot, dry weather that they bring in autumn (often the hottest of the year), but they can also arise at other times of the year.”

January 22, 2021 4:16 am

Good post Willis. Every year we get more evidence of what I call the Newell and Dopplick limit to ocean temperatures. They showed the 30 degree limit on ocean temperatures in 1979. Check out Figure 1, the paper is not paywalled. Notice how similar it is to your graph.

As well known as this is, and as long as we’ve known it, you would think the whole climate change hoax would blow up. If the uppermost limit is 30 degrees, why are we concerned??

1.      Newell, R.E. and Dopplick, T.G., 1978, Questions Concerning the Possible Influence of Anthropogenic CO2 on Atmospheric Temperature, J. Applied Meterology, Vol. 18, p. 822. Link:

Reply to  Andy May
January 22, 2021 8:18 am

The paper authors are guilty of discussing the inconsequential CO2. CO2 has ZERO influence on average surface temperature. They do appropriately question the “greenhouse effect” and it is written in quotations.

The maximum open ocean temperature limit around 30C would be best described as the result of the Shutter Effect. It is not complicated. It hinges on cyclic cloudburst creating ever persistent high level cloud as the sea surface temperature rises. The simplicity is that the cloud blocks sunlight from reaching the surface. Up to 80% of the incident sunlight at ToA can be reflected but the short wave reflection is typically around 100W/sq.m in the warm pools.

Updraft induced convergence from cooler zones increase the evaporation rate in the warm pools but the determining factor, in taking the net energy to zero around 30C, is the result of the high level reflective cloud.

The radiating power of the atmosphere in the ITCZ corresponds to a precipitation rate of 8mm/day. The warm pools experience higher rates of precipitation than that meaning their local evaporation is being fuelled by convergence of adjacent dry air from the cooler zones, which have precipitation less than 8mm/day but similar or higher radiating power. The linked paper provides good detail on the convection, OLR and divergence/convergence in two important warm pools.

It misses the most important aspect of the reduction in surface level sunlight. It also rightly concludes that the convection drops off when the temperature goes above 30C but is not all that clear on the fact that there is very little ocean surface warmer than 30C and the reduction in convection is due to local geography. It makes muddled conclusions about SST and divergence/convergence both playing a role in the deep convection. The cloudburst cycle is purely a function of the SST. The convergence follows the convective instability to the warmest pool.

January 22, 2021 5:05 am

Willis This has been (as usual) a very interesting article and comments. I would submit, though, that Nasrudin doesn’t understand government power and corruption. In the real world, at least that of today, the guard wouldn’t be allowed to think, and the answer is irrelevant. Nasrudin will live or die based solely on whether the king and his court want him to live or to die. His answer is simply an unnecessary formality.

Richard Page
Reply to  Tom
January 22, 2021 5:54 am

Yes but it’s a good story and that’s entirely the point.

Reply to  Richard Page
January 22, 2021 6:57 am

It’s not the entire point, it’s only one of the seven points.

Robert W Turner
January 22, 2021 7:35 am

Willis, you should consider something else when looking at the TPW and global temperature relationship – wind energy. Most evaporation on Earth (given the Earth’s inherent temperature range) is on account of wind energy. Whether the water vapor stays and rises in the atmosphere is on account of temperature and convection. The temperature difference between equator and poles decreases as global average temperature increases, and therefore global wind energy decreases and then TPW decreases and provides a negative feedback on global temperature increase.

Well, that’s if you believe “crazy” things like friction and kinetic theory of gases instead of backradiation hypothesis and cooler objects increasing the temperature of warmer objects. And indeed estimated global wind power was decreasing for decades until the 2000s and now have been increasing again. Is it preceding a inflection on global temperatures from rising to falling? I would bet money on it.


David Yaussy
January 22, 2021 9:38 am

“Me, I’ve mostly given up trying to decide which is cause and which is effect in many matters climatical”

Willis, I had come to this conclusion after years of being on this site, and being impressed and amazed by the complexity of the climate, and realizing that it is subject to innumerable forces beyond my ability to understand and synthesize. But I was kind of hoping that you would keep trying. Love your posts here and at Skating Under the Ice.

January 22, 2021 11:37 am

Love the approach to data; just what I was taught.

I grew up in Central India. You can see the annual cycle there in Willis’ last figure. It became drier and grain was harvested Feb-Mar, then hotter and the humidity increased until mid-late June when the monsoon arrived.

The water table in the wells rose by up to 35′ during the monsoon, indicating very fast recharge of the underground reservoir. I have always wondered about recharge in other areas when I read about ground water depletion, but in the Narmuda valley it occurred on an annual cycle. Would like to see some data from around the world if anyone knows.

Matthew Sykes
January 23, 2021 12:55 am

Your graph goes the opposite way to NVAP-M, how do you account for that?

Matthew Sykes
Reply to  Matthew Sykes
January 23, 2021 12:55 am
January 26, 2021 12:35 pm

Generally a big fan but I have a problem with the analysis of Figure 5. Fig 5 is a plot of yearly averages vs yearly averages, but the curve is explained by a phenomenon that occurs over hours. Doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but it’s a bit disjointed. I realize you may be constrained by data on a global level. Your previous hourly bouy data posts (oceanic thunderstorm thermostat) does a better job of explaining the evaporation/humidity/temperature relationships. Not a harsh critique and I think you recognize this, but using longer term averages makes it all less compelling IMO.

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
January 27, 2021 7:33 am

Now, this is showing something very interesting. First, almost nowhere on earth, and nowhere on the ocean, is the long-term average surface temperature above about 30°C.”
First, let me apologize for my ignorance. You shouldn’t assume I understand weather well. It’s bolstering your argument (and general consesnsus) that this relationship is so tight over ocean. Always a pool of water where increased temp increases evaporation Warmer=wetter, but it’s capped (heat of evaporation, cloud shade etc) stuff you know better than me. Land is different. Complicated since so much land is ocean-adjacent. You arguably have 2 land grid-cell populations, one similar to ocean, and one prominent curve lower.

What I find interesting is that all the >30 temps are over land and lower humidity. Would seem to agree. Do you need to ‘run out of humidity’ to get to extreme heat? Maybe isn’t news to others but it’s not warmer=wetter. The common idea of humidity and temp going hand in hand breaks down at this point. It could be that a wetter world prevents extremes?

I have no ability to check this on widespread basis. But randomly thought I’d poke around. I looked at extreme events on wikipedia which led to this Tmax record for Botswanna. Nicely lists the whole month. On a daily basis it is clear that high heat corresponds to low dewpoint (low humidity).

But averaging the whole month probably less informative. Yearly less than that.


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