Science of Solar Ponds Challenges the Climate Crisis

Jim Steele

The science of solar ponds shows useful inexpensive natural heating, without the need for exotic materials. Furthermore, an understanding of the science of solar pond heating will profoundly change how you view climate crisis narratives.

Jim Steele is Director emeritus of San Francisco State University’s Sierra Nevada Field Campus, authored Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism, and proud member of the CO2 Coalition.


The Science of Solar Ponds Challenges the Climate Crisis

This is the transcript to the video at

Welcome everyone.

Today I want to demonstrate how the science of solar ponds can provide useful inexpensive heating, without the need for exotic materials. Furthermore, an understanding the science of solar pond heating will profoundly change how you view climate crisis narratives. Despite air temperatures averaging 68°F, solar ponds can fantastically almost triple temperatures in their bottom layer to over 190°F.

There are 2 major ways to raise a solar ponds’ temperature:

Radiative heating and Dynamical heating.

Radiative heating, increases the amount of light energy. Sunny days raise temperatures more than cloudy days. But high solar pond temperatures can peak without any change radiative heating due to dynamical heating. Dynamical heating happens by suppressing convection & cooling, so that heat accumulates and drives very high temperatures.

Solar pond dynamical heating suppresses cooling by creating a density gradient, with fresh water at the surface and dense salt water at the bottom. Because the dense salty bottom water is heavier, it doesn’t rise to the surface, despite warming to 190°F.

Bottom layer heat can only ventilate via its micron thick skin surface. Unable to rise to the skin surface, heat rapidly accumulates in the bottom layer.

Solar pond science is based primarily on an 8th grade understanding that things less dense than water will float and denser things will sink.

A pot of water on your stove first heats the bottom layer. Heating makes the bottom layer expand and become less dense. That causes a convection current with the warmer water rising and cooler denser water from the top sinking.

But that dynamic doesn’t happen in a salt pond, because the bottom water’s high salt concentrations overcome any heating effect.

Typical density demonstrations for 8th grade science use colored water to visualize salinity effects and are available online. For example, on the left side of the container, the yellow water is fresh. The blue-green water with added salt, here measured at 35 parts per thousand, was added but immediately sank below the fresh water. To continue the demonstration, green water separated on the right side had only half the salt, 17 ppt. When the separator was removed, that water inserted between the fresher and denser layers.

Adults have embraced this science, making layered cocktails using liqueurs with different densities, such as this Patriot drink for the 4th of July. Hopefully, adults can extend that understanding to better understand our changing climate.

Here’s a closer look at salt pond dynamics. Ponds are typically just 10.5 feet deep. An upper layer of fresh water must be maintained at a depth of 1.6 feet. Temperatures in this layer never get hot enough to be useful as it is constantly cooled by radiating heat away or by losing it via evaporation and contact with the air.

The pond’s bottom half is nearly 5 feet thick and saturated with salt. That water is too dense to rise and mix with the fresh surface layer. So unable to convect upwards and cool, the heat accumulates.

The trapped hotter bottom water is then circulated to heat a building or a greenhouse. Or the near boiling temperatures can drive turbines that generate electricity. Although solar ponds can never solve all our energy needs, the most promising environmental application is desalinization. Ocean water provides an endless cheap supply of salty water. Producing fresh water for desalinization reduces water withdrawal from our streams and rivers, thus benefitting aquatic animals. Desalinization would also reduce ground water withdrawals that have caused many coastal cities to sink closer to and below sea level.

The same dynamical heating seen in solar ponds is ubiquitous throughout nature. Antarctica’s Lake Vanda (highlighted by red rectangle and red dot in upper left), provides a testimonial to the power of dynamical heating. Despite brutal sub-freezing air temperatures averaging from -22°F to 5°F, heat accumulates in its bottom layers and reaches room temperature, 70°F.

That amplification of solar heating is more amazing when you consider Lake Vanda receives very little sunshine for half the year, receiving just 40% of the sunshine entering tropical waters. Furthermore, the sunlight that reaches the bottom layers is minimal, being at the depth limit of sunlight penetration.

Nor does greenhouse warming from CO2 contribute at all. Researchers have shown Antarctica gets so cold, that uniquely, greenhouse gases there have a cooling effect. Like the bottom layer of a salt pond, it is the salty bottom layer of Lake Vanda that accumulates heat.

Although short wave energy from the sun and longwave energy from greenhouse gases are all measured in W/m2, they affect water very differently! (For those unfamiliar with Watts, it is simply a measure of energy per second. More Watts simply indicate more energy). Using 260 W/m2 as the average shortwave solar energy entering the water, the uppermost layers absorb the most energy. Without a salinity effect the upper layers are the warmest. Solar penetration then declines with depth. In completely clear water, absorbed solar energy is reduced to near zero at a 100 meters depth.

The added red line approximates the typical solar pond depth of 10.5 feet. At that depth, enough heat is absorbed and accumulates quickly enough for efficient practical use of its heat, by raising temperatures to over 180F. Deeper ponds are avoided because as solar penetration declines, the average bottom temperatures also decline making it less efficient for any practical use.

The generalized temperature gradient in lakes and oceans is just the opposite of what is observed in solar ponds, or Lake Vanda or everywhere there is a salinity effect. Without a salty layer to trap subsurface heat, upper layers are always warmer than deeper layers. The upper layer can have a uniform temperature because the winds and convection constantly mix the water. Below 200 meters, the deep water uniformly averages 39°F (4°C)

However, the mixed layer’s temperature is not completely uniform. The skin layer is almost always cooler than the warmer mixed layer below. The skin layer averages just a few microns deep. But any heat absorbed in the mixed layer of the ocean, or a salt pond, can only escape via that very shallow skin layer. The skin layer is cooler because it is constantly losing heat to the atmosphere.

The mixed layer is warmer because its heated water must first rise next to the skin layer, where heat is slowly transported via conduction and warms the skin layer. Only then can the mixed layer’s absorbed solar heat be radiated away or be lost via evaporative cooling. That delay in cooling causes a daily temperature cycle with a warm solar-heated diurnal layer that cools during the night. Similarly deeper waters will accumulate heat during the summer and ventilate it during the winter.

In contrast to deep solar heating, longwave greenhouse energy behaves very differently. Although greenhouse energy supplies nearly twice the energy to the skin layer, that energy does not penetrate any deeper than a few microns. Thus, unlike the delayed cooling of deeper layers, absorbed greenhouse heat can be radiated back to space immediately.

A 2018 ocean study measured 410 W/m2 of greenhouse longwave energy entering the ocean’s skin surface, while simultaneously the skin surface radiated away 470 W/m2. The skin layer almost immediately radiated the 410 W/m2 of greenhouse heat back to space plus an additional 60 W/m2 of radiation from the rising solar-heated layers. In addition, the skin surface lost latent heat (LH) via evaporation and sensible heat (SH) via contact with the atmosphere.

Like the dense salty layers of a solar pond that trap and accumulate heat, oceans naturally have salty Barrier Layers, trapping heat that affects climate and extreme weather. Ocean “Barrier Layers” were first detected just 30 years ago, but since then 100s of studies point out the importance Barrier Layer heating and the need for such dynamical heating to be included more realistically in global climate models.

While this 1992 diagram may seem a bit confusing at first glance, the science of a Barrier Layer isn’t much more complex than concepts taught in 8th grade.

The black line shows how measured temperatures change with depth. The blue line shows salinity changes and the red line shows density changes. Based on density, in this study the ocean’s upper 40 meters represents the ocean’s well “mixed layer” where temperature and salinity are homogeneous.

The middle layer highlighted in orange, is the Barrier Layer between 40 & 80 meters depth. Despite declining solar penetration, the Barrier Layer contains warm water similar to the upper mixed layer. Below the Barrier Layer is the colder thermocline where temperatures rapidly cool as solar penetration declines.

The increasing salinity and density of the Barrier Layer minimizes both any upward mixing of colder thermocline waters while trapping heat much longer than possible in the mixed layer. Barrier Layers are often detected because that trapped heat raises temperature higher than the upper mixed layers.

Several studies have recently shown that understanding ocean Barrier Layers provides valuable knowledge for predicting intense deadly hurricanes and cyclones. Without a Barrier Layer, hurricanes rapidly pull cool thermocline waters into the mixed layer, weakening the heat supply that drives the storms. In contrast, a thick Barrier Layer helps a storm maintain its intensity by inhibiting that upward circulation of cooler water.

In contrast to media fear mongering, the international disaster database, shows climate-related deaths since the 1920s have plummeted from nearly 250 per million to less than 10. Our increasing ability to predict and prepare for devastating storms has largely been responsible for this success. And our increasing understanding of the effects of Barrier Layers is improving that knowledge.

Also, as illustrated by this study in England, the number of deaths, (represented by the vertical bars) increase, as temperatures decrease (represented by the curves). Peak deaths correlate with the coldest temperatures from December through February. The good news is, there is reason to believe that any accumulation of heat in our oceans’ Barrier Layers could drive warmer & milder temperatures and reduce winter deaths.

The Pacific Warm Pool is the earth’s greatest example of a natural solar pond. The warm pool contains the earth’s warmest body of ocean water averaging between 82°F and 90°F. Because the warm pool generates the earth’s greatest amount of heat and moisture which then gets transported across the world and affects global climates, it is nicknamed the “earth’s climate heat engine”. The warm pool has been increasing since the end of the Little Ice Age, correlated with our 150 years of global warming. Warm pool warmth has also sustained the greatest diversity and abundance of coral reefs, giving the region another nickname “the Coral Triangle”.

The size of the warm pool and its stored heat increases during La Nina-like conditions, and La Nina-like conditions have predominated over the past 150 years. During La Nina -like conditions the trade winds remove surface water heated in the eastern Pacific and sweeps it westward to the warm pool. There, with the assistance of a strong Barrier Layer, heat is stored as deep as 200 meters.

The removal of warm surface water results in a cooler eastern Pacific which reduces cloud cover. That increases solar heating and increases evaporation, producing saltier surface waters.

The red regions here represent the areas where ocean evaporation exceeds precipitation, increasing surface salinity. The trade winds then transport that warm salty water westward, where the higher salinity drives dynamical heating of the warm pool.

The warm pool’s freshwater layer, required to create a natural solar pond, is provided by the Intertropical Convergence Zone, or ITCZ. The ITCZ produces 32% of all global rainfall.

In this December 28th, 2022, screen shot from a national weather service model, the lighter blue represents the regions with the most rainfall, and ITCZ’s location. The observed heaviest rainfall over the warm pool completes the conditions needed to accumulate the warm pool heat that powers our earth’s heat engine. Despite solar pond dynamics, warm pool temperatures never reach the extreme levels observed in solar ponds.

Three major dynamics prevent such extreme warming. First, warmer ocean temperatures enable more intense atmospheric convection that removes heat via evaporation. The second factor is an El Nino. During an El Nino the warm water stored deeply in the warm pool migrates eastward towards the Americas. That brings deeply stored warm water closer to the surface where it can now ventilate and shifts heavy rainfall to the eastern Pacific.

During each El Nino event (represented here by the red arrows), the ventilation of stored ocean heat confusingly raises the global air temperature. The media incorrectly attributes such warmer air temperatures to global warming. But counter-intuitively the earth is really cooling because heat that had been stored in the warm pool for years is now being ventilated back to space.

Long term changes in the Pacific Warm Pool over thousands of years provide scientists with critical information about the most important factors controlling the world’s heat engine and thus our weather today.

During the Holocene Optimum around 10,000 to 8,000 years ago, the thermocline at the bottom of the warm pool, was over 1°F warmer than today. Since that time, its temperature has steadily declined. In contrast, most climate models erroneously simulate steadily rising temperatures in the warm pool over the past 10,000 years.

These modeling failures largely happen when warm pool temperatures are incorrectly assumed to be driven by rising CO2. Unfortunately, dynamical heating by the warm pool’s Barrier Layers is not well modeled.

Ice cores find that CO2 concentrations were at a low point 10,000 years ago and have increased throughout the Holocene. Despite all the evidence that the warm pool cooled while CO2 concentrations increased, insufficient climate models still suggest that rising CO2 will cause catastrophic ocean warming.

The declining Holocene warm pool temperatures are better explained by increasing El Nino events. 10,000 years ago, El Nino events were more rare and most researchers suggest the Pacific ocean was predominantly in a La Nina-like state. (Note that the timeline direction is reversed in this graph).

Changes in the sun’s strength have also played a role. Based on carbon-14 dating, the coldest period of the Holocene, the Little Ice Age, coincides with a weaker sun and sunspot minimums. Despite higher CO2 concentrations than the Holocene Optimum, during the Little Ice Age, Arctic sea ice reached both its greatest extent and thickness in 10,000 years.

Most researchers have determined the Pacific Ocean was in an El Nino -like state during the little ice age. Although slightly lower solar output during sunspot minimums, would only slightly weaken radiative heating, lower solar heating does weaken the trade winds causing a much greater effect on dynamical heating of the warm pool.

Extreme warm pool temperatures are also prevented because its accumulated heat is constantly exported. The pathways of warm ocean currents emanating from the tropics and moving toward the poles are illustrated here in pink.

Satellite data reveal where more heat enters the ocean than leaves (shown in red). The location of the greatest heat entering the ocean is consistent with La Nina-like conditions. Regions shown in blue represent regions where exported tropical heat is ventilated and warms the air in that region, warmer than local radiative heat would.

I’ll end here with an extreme example demonstrating the enormous impact of exported heat from ocean warm pools and its effect on the earth’s climate. When Antarctica was part of a single continent called Pangea, Antarctica was insulated from ocean currents, and accordingly much of Antarctica was glaciated. During the Cretaceous period, 94 million years ago, the continents were separating, allowing warm waters from the tropics to reach Antarctica. Despite being centered over the south pole, warm ocean currents promoted a warm Antarctic climate where dinosaurs thrived. Thick coal-producing forests survived after the dinosaur extinctions.

As the continents continued to spread, about 35 million years ago, Antarctica became an island surrounded by the Antarctic Circum-polar Current, and once again tropical heat was blocked from reaching Antarctica.

As a result, despite CO2 concentrations 4 times higher than today, glaciers began forming in Antarctica, and Antarctica has continued to become so cold that only one vertebrate species, the Emperor Penguin, can survive its winter.

So before adopting bizarre solutions by egomaniacs like Bill Gates, who is working to block the sun and cool the planet, please examine all the science.

Likewise before believing, we are plunging into a human-caused climate crisis, please ask:

  • How does radiative and dynamical heating increase warm pool temperatures?
  • How does greenhouse energy possibly heat below the skin surface?
  • How does exported heat from warm pools affect our climate and what are the contributions of natural La Nina and El Nino-like conditions.

If you follow all the science undeniably affecting our climate, you just might sleep better tonight knowing there is no climate crisis.

Our democracy depends on a diverse array of good critical thinkers. So, please shun mindless group think. Instead embrace renowned scientist, Thomas Huxley’s advice:

“Skepticism is the highest of duties and blind faith the one unpardonable sin.”

so if you appreciate the science clearly presented here, science rarely presented by mainstream media then please click the like button, share and subscribe to this channel and leave a comment

Transcript is also available at

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Steve Case
January 7, 2023 6:47 am

If you follow all the science undeniably affecting our climate, you just might sleep better tonight knowing there is no climate crisis.

There is government climate policy and that does cause lack of sleep.

Reply to  Steve Case
January 7, 2023 8:47 am

The legality of psychological operations needs to be revisited.

Reply to  Scissor
January 8, 2023 2:01 am

The legality of psychological operations need to be revisited.

Unfortunately, this covers everything from nursery rhymes to militant religious fundamentalists.
I was told about a US president (Lincoln??) that worked as a lawyer, but decided to study maths to improve his skills, using ‘demonstration’ in the scientific sense rather than as abstract legal jargon.
I.E: Give the kiddies arithmetic, instead of arrhythmia. So they can recognise heartbreaking nursery fables with a motif of divine retribution when they see it.

January 7, 2023 6:50 am

Outstanding explanation! As a submariner for 8 years in the 1960’s, we regularly ‘hid’ from warcraft by hiding under the thermocline. The speed of sound in water is affected by water density, which prevented sonar pings from finding us, due to the distortion caused by the thermocline. In those days, we only recognized that the thermocline existed, but not why. This is very enlightening – it explains it perfectly.
And again, any computer model that uses CO2 to make climate predictions is sure to fail. They all have failed. They all fundamentally base their models on CO2, so that can’t help but fail. But the media hasn’t noticed, and the dutifully trot out the results of these models, causing the greatest wealth redistribution known to man.

Reply to  jshotsky
January 7, 2023 7:57 am

My hat is off to you for serving as a submariner. As someone who is claustrophobic, that duty would have been tough. I gladly had assignments in the open air.

Reply to  jshotsky
January 8, 2023 5:13 am

The wreck of the french submarine “La Minerve S647” that disappeared in the Mediterranean Sea on jan 27th, 1968 with its 52 sailors on board was retrieved 4 year ago by a depth of 2233 meters, 25 nmiles south of Toulon.

January 7, 2023 7:02 am

Small request, Jim

Please use or at least include temperatures in Celsius in the narration!

Last edited 29 days ago by strativarius
Jim Steele
Reply to  strativarius
January 7, 2023 7:44 am

Sorry, Of course if this was to be published in a scientific journal everything would be in Celsius. And in all my graphs temperatures are in Celsius. But this piece is based on a talk for an American audience that have trouble with Celsius and have a better intuitive feel for Fahrenheit. So I compromised.

Last edited 29 days ago by Jim Steele
Gunga Din
Reply to  strativarius
January 7, 2023 12:08 pm

Decades ago I bought a Texas Instruments calculator that, with the push of a couple of buttons, would do a number of conversions. I pulled it back out after I retired when I got back into reading military history. Many of my books were published in Britain and gave calibers and distance using the metric system. I keep it at my “reading station”.
Quick and easy.
Perhaps buy a calculator (or link to a site) that would do the conversions quickly?
WUWT is an international web site. Easy to forget that sometimes.
PS My calculator did not convert cubits or ми́ля. 😎

Last edited 29 days ago by Gunga Din
Reply to  strativarius
January 8, 2023 2:37 am

I’m bilingual, I speak both metric and imperial

Dave O.
January 7, 2023 7:34 am

“based primarily on an 8th grade understanding” Finally, science that even I can understand. 

Jim Steele
Reply to  Jeff Id
January 7, 2023 10:15 am

Jeff, I haven’t noticed any posts from you in years. In the past I always looked forward to reading your perspectives. Glad to see you are still in the game.

Curious George
January 7, 2023 8:11 am

Jim, thank you. I believe I have read an article about research and implementation of this in Israel – many years ago, in the Scientific American(?), it used to be readable back then.

January 7, 2023 9:22 am

Well thought out, well illustrated, well written, most interesting. Thanks, Jim, bookmarked.

I was confused, however, by your graphic below:

comment image

It appears to be a measurement made in a warm spot in the tropical ocean. CERES data for the entire tropical ocean gives the following clear-sky values:

Longwave up: 459 W/m2
Longwave down: 392 W/m2

These are quite close to your figures. However, your graphic gives the parasitic losses (sensible heat “SH” and latent heat “LH”) as only 7 W/m2.

CERES gives the tropical ocean parasitic loss (LH + SH) as 127 W/m2. I’ve calculated this as net SW in (downwelling less reflected) + LW down – LW up – advected heat. In other words, absorbed radiation minus emitted radiation minus advection = parasitic loss.

Not sure why the difference.

There are also a couple of WordPress transliteration errors where it’s saying “68F” instead of 68°F. I’d be happy to fix those.

Best to you and yours, and wherever I was overly harsh to you in our last interaction, you have my sincere apologies.


Jim Steele
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
January 7, 2023 10:11 am

Apology gratefully accepted and no hard feelings at all. We are very much on the same team.

I agree and was troubled by their small loss of heat from LH heat relative to other estimates. I think the difference is due to the fact the data they used was only from nighttime observations, during a cruise in late June-early July off the island of Nauru, which I believe is right on the equator and slightly west of the International dateline. Perhaps equatorial upwelling also had an effect. Their methods are in

The Response of the Ocean Thermal Skin Layer to Variations in
Incident Infrared Radiation Wong & Minnett (2018)

Reply to  Jim Steele
January 7, 2023 10:18 am

Thanks, Jim, you are indeed a gentleman of honor.

I’ve corrected the minor typos, and will take a look at their methods.


Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
January 7, 2023 8:29 pm

Regarding that Warm Pacific Ocean figure, I start with the density of fresh water as 1g/cc and get 1,000 kg/cubic meter. Am I right to read 22.5 on your density scale?

Alexy Scherbakoff
Reply to  hiskorr
January 7, 2023 9:03 pm

They dropped the first two digits (10). Because ‘everyone knows that’/sarc.
Probably did it that way to not mess up the scale of the graph with a long number

Reply to  Alexy Scherbakoff
January 8, 2023 5:46 am

Ah, I see. Similar to the way you subtract one large number from another to plot the “Temperature Anomaly” instead of the actual temperature.

January 7, 2023 9:38 am

The salt pond model of heating via density and convection also explains the so called greenhouse effect in the atmosphere

The lapse rate times the height of the center of mass of the convecting troposphere yields the 33 C attributed to CO2.

This has nothing to do with compressive heating which has been used to try and discredit the role of convection.

Reply to  ferdberple
January 7, 2023 10:19 am

Sorry, but that cannot be true. See my post “A Matter Of Some Gravity” for the proof of that statement.


Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
January 8, 2023 6:58 am

There is no “difference” between the model you propose in “A Matter Of Some Gravity” and the model Jim has presented in salt ponds. Both show an increase in temperature toward the bottom of the working fluid, which cannot be explained by radiative balance.

If salt ponds can warm by convection, which they have been observed to do as per Jim’s presentation, then so can a transparent non ghg atmosphere. This is a very big deal that directly contradicts the radiative theory of GHE.

I think Jim has hit upon a very important observation that can be expanded to contradict GHG theory. As always in science, observation trumps theory, no matter how elegant or persuasive the theory is.

Last edited 28 days ago by ferdberple
Reply to  ferdberple
January 8, 2023 9:00 am

Pass. The fact that you can neither understand my proof nor understand the huge differences between a GHG-free atmosphere and a salt pond means, as the Doctor in Shakespeare’s “MacBeth” said about the Queen’s sleepwalking …

“This disease is beyond my practice”.


Last edited 28 days ago by Willis Eschenbach
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
January 8, 2023 4:47 pm

My “elevator speech” for the atmospheric mass greenhouse effect is simply this: the atmosphere has mass (to the tune of 2117 pounds/square foot at the surface.) Anything that has mass can be heated.

Last edited 28 days ago by Don132
January 7, 2023 10:10 am


So if I understand this, the stratication of a saline solution in my swimming pool can result in very warm, even hot, temperatures at the bottom that I can transfer via plumbing to space heaters in my home. Right?

Does the volume of the pond have to be above a certain amount?

Gums sends…

Jim Steele
Reply to  Gums
January 7, 2023 10:32 am

You might want to read the most recent work on solar ponds in “Practical design and construction of solar ponds” Meneses-Brassea (2022). They discuss different configurations in more detail than my generalized numbers here. That paper may not be free online, but I can provide a pdf to anyone who is interested

Reply to  Jim Steele
January 7, 2023 10:53 am


Thanks Jim Steele.

About 20 years ago at my high altitude cabin I entertained passive solar or very small wind turbine that would power our satellite ‘net gear, but not heat the place. We have very efficient heating in the small place using basic logs and stove/fireplace system.

Down here for most of year, north Florida seems ideal place for a solar pond when it gets cold, and over the holidays we saw low 20 degree temperatures with highs in low 30’s. Funny but nothing wrong with a salt water pool in the back yard – the Gulf is just a few thousand feet away and is very high in salinity. Shall read the book to see level we must reach to be effective.

Thanks again.


Old Man
Reply to  Jim Steele
January 7, 2023 8:37 pm

Thanks, Jim. A fascinating article!
Yes, please, I would appreciate a .pdf link.
Thank you.
My email is

Alexy Scherbakoff
Reply to  Gums
January 7, 2023 5:19 pm

A domestic pool takes in water from the top and then sends it to the middle depth. Hard to see how you would get stratification in a mixing tub.

Reply to  Alexy Scherbakoff
January 7, 2023 6:33 pm


Yeah, Alexy, thot about that. However, was thinking more like a clear plastic or even glass cover and just use the water that stayed in there. The hot tub analogy is great, as they mix the water constantly and water never stratifies.


Caleb Shaw
Reply to  Gums
January 10, 2023 6:37 am

Back in the first “energy crisis” in the 1970’s we installed a solar panel on the roof pumping some sort of liquid with antifreeze to an insulated tank in the basement, which transferred the heat to our hot water tank. As primitive as that system was, it worked even up in Maine, even on cloudy days. It did require some electricity for the pump, but not much, and we hardly ever needed to use the back-up electrical heater for our hot water. The system was still working when I departed in 1981, but I can’t speak of its longevity beyond that.

The thing of it was, there was not the problem you hear so much about regarding photoelectric cells, concerning “storage.” The tank in the basement remained hot after the sun went down. You could shower at three AM; (I know because I worked a late shift at a herring cannery and needed showers badly.)

How much energy could we save if we just heated hot water and skipped all the other stuff? You could skip the miles of wiring, because each house would have its own system and that would be that.

joe x
January 7, 2023 11:18 am

“So before adopting bizarre solutions by egomaniacs like Bill Gates, who is working to block the sun and cool the planet, please examine all the science.”

jim, thanks for the science. also, you were much to kind in your remarks about bill gates. your are a better man than i.

life on earth will not survive a bill gates solution to control the weather.

Last edited 29 days ago by joe x
Gunga Din
Reply to  joe x
January 7, 2023 12:34 pm

“life on earth will not survive a bill gates solution to control the weather.”

Reminds me of a Peanuts cartoon. Charlie Brown tells Linus he sounds like has something against Mankind. Linus responds, “MANKIND! I love Mankind! It’s people I can’t stand!”

PS (I wonder how long before YouTube bans it?)

Last edited 29 days ago by Gunga Din
January 7, 2023 11:48 am

OK for illustrative purposes of physical principles, but once you consider the cost of a large enough area to collect the sunlight, of a pit 3 or 4 meters deep, lined so that salt doesn’t leech into the ground water table, and the cost of enough salt to make a 40% by weight solution, plus the cost of heat transfer pipes in the corrosive salt solution, and freezing issues in some areas…..these solar ponds always end up being on your options list somewhere below the fourth best way to heat your garage.

Scarecrow Repair
January 7, 2023 11:51 am

I follow this fine as far as a model of how oceans work. What I don’t understand is the idea of 10.5 foot deep solar ponds for generating hot water. Why the extra complication of hot salt water at the bottom and evaporating and cooling fresh water at the top? Why not just cover a water tank, fresh or salty, with a thin transparent plastic cover to prevent evaporation and cooling?

I must be missing something. All I can think of is that even the best transparent plastic cover absorbs and/or reflects more heat than is lost by evaporation, but that seems improbable considering that is partly why pool covers exist.

Reply to  Scarecrow Repair
January 9, 2023 5:27 am

Plastic even very clear plastic blocks significant solar penetration. For instance the “clearest” plastic used on greenhouses blocks about 8% of all incoming light. Most plastic blocks about 10%, The other issue is the plastic tends to reflect incoming light if at a low angle. In greenhouses this is solved by using plastic that diffuses the light. So you don’t get hot/cold spots. They of course block even more of the light. Lastly, you will have dust and debris falling into the pond. Without the plastic it would sink harmlessly to the bottom. The plastic would catch this and need periodic cleaning.

Reply to  Scarecrow Repair
January 9, 2023 8:20 am

Without the salt content to cause warmer water to be less buoyant than the fresh water on top, thus keeping the warm water at the bottom, water warmed by sunlight would simply convect to the surface. Thus losing its heat, and the bottom of the pond would be cold….
There are problems with these systems. The top meter or so is mixed by waves, the upper meter still experiences convection, so the thermal gradient isn’t as good as one would hope, water is fairly heat conductive, the top meter absorbs about 40% of the sunlight, and keeping the water clear is a problem.
If you do a cost analysis (that includes the cost of real estate and concrete), you will find that passive solar panels circulating a heat medium solution are less costly, depending on the cost of your heat storage method.

Kit P
January 7, 2023 12:20 pm

First I avoid reading things by Californian on the environment because most are idiot know it alls and a waste of my time.

This is where I stopped reading, “The trapped hotter bottom water is then circulated to heat a building or a greenhouse. Or the near boiling temperatures can drive turbines that generate electricity. 

I wonder if it to occurred to Jim Steel to calculate the electricity needed to pump the water or call a steam power plant and ask how much electricity they make with not steam.

Jim Steele
Reply to  Kit P
January 7, 2023 1:38 pm

Well typically I do not respond to “idiot” trolls such as you who do not offer any substantive criticism and whose reply is mostly incoherent & wastes everyone’s time , but instead rely on contrived insults about living in California, or your attempt to obscure the main scientific fact that dynamical heating can explain warming oceans.

I dont have the expertise to discuss the various configurations of solar ponds and the amount of electricity that each can possibly generate. Nor was that ever the point of this presentation. But for anyone else interested in a solar pond’s generation of electricity there are numerous papers. Perhaps start with “Electric Power Generation from Solar Pond Using Combination of Thermosyphon and Thermoelectric Modules”. The authors wrote
“the temperature of heat pond in lower convective zone is at 41 °C.Due to this, thermoelectric generates electricity at 234.25 mV.. Research results in the present work indicate that there is a significant potential for electric power generation from small solar ponds through a simple and passive device incorporating thermosyphons and thermoelectric cells”

Last edited 29 days ago by Jim Steele
It doesnot add up
January 7, 2023 12:47 pm

There’s a lot to absorb here.

It deserves careful study and learning.

January 7, 2023 1:28 pm

Do we really have to put up with these creative science nonsense articles? They are two a penny these days and get very boring. I now just give them a miss; but unfortunately many don’t and have to deal with the mental problems involved.
Could I have a Solar Pond in my garden please? The spuds didn’t do very well last year; so could shift those over.

Jim Steele
Reply to  cognog2
January 7, 2023 1:44 pm

Usually an article is quite on point, when it brings out the trolls trying to denigrate it with non-sense.

Frank from NoVA
Reply to  cognog2
January 7, 2023 2:07 pm

‘Do we really have to put up with these creative science nonsense articles? They are two a penny these days and get very boring.‘

Perhaps you could link to an article you find informative.

Reply to  cognog2
January 7, 2023 3:00 pm


I find the concept worthy of much more attention than the left’s idea of electric vehicles without providing how we are gonna charge the damn things if living in a 50 story apartment building in Manhattan.

In much of the U.S. south of the Mason Dixon line there are many backyard pools. If the salinity does not have to be much more than the Gulf of Mexico, the solar ponds could be players. In the U.S. west there are bathing pools that have very high mineral content which some feel helps them in a medical sense. Don’t forget FDR’s place in Georgia that had a therapuetic value for his problem.

I now have to figure out how many sq meters per joule/watt etc for the pool. Sucker could be a great group hot tub and even help my arthritis! A 12 foot deep pool is no problem and contamination of ground water is not a biggie either due to modern linings and such. The Cripple Creek mining operation in Colorado has pools with cyanide and other harsh chemicals used to separate the gold from iron and other metals. No problem for them using modern bed linings and such.

This idea is worthy of further review, and it’s lot’s easier for homebuilders than the mega $$$ constructing huge solar farms and windmills. I went thru a trial after Hurricane Katrina repairing my folks’ home and even built my own solar electric charging rig so I would have lights at night. Used Coleman gas BBQ grills to cook with even tho I am skilled enough to make a fire from all the downed trees and other debris about. Rough, but better than burning cow dung.

Gums sends…

Julius Sanks
January 7, 2023 3:17 pm

Jim, that’s very interesting. But I wonder how practical it really is, due to solar’s low energy density. According to your energy graphic, the one Willis challenged, the resultant useful heat is 67 W/m^2. If I’ve done my math right (never a given), that’s 0.56 amps per m^2. So to generate 100 amps, minimal for a house these days (many now have 200 or more), the pool must be 179 m^2. That’s about 13 m per side. And that, of course, assumes no thermodynamic losses in the generator. Assuming 40% generator efficiency, which is pretty good, the pool must be about 446 m^2, or 21 m per side, to deliver 100 amps into the building. That’s a really big swimming pool.

Jim Steele
Reply to  Julius Sanks
January 7, 2023 3:43 pm

Sorry Julius, But you have completely misinterpreted the issue that Willis questioned.

Julius Sanks
Reply to  Jim Steele
January 7, 2023 4:17 pm

Please explain? I’m looking at the graphic. If 67 is not the correct value for useful heat in the pool’s salt layer, what is the proper value? Because I’m not finding any other quantitative value in your text. Your earlier graph, depth vs I(z), though oceanic, shows a high value for shallow water. But the resolution is not high enough to know the value. But even at 260 W/m^2, that’s about 2 amps per m^2. For a 100 amp house, that’s still 50 m^2 or 7 m per side.

Alexy Scherbakoff
Reply to  Julius Sanks
January 7, 2023 5:30 pm

Amps don’t mean much on their own. You need volts as well to show watts.

Julius Sanks
Reply to  Alexy Scherbakoff
January 7, 2023 5:54 pm

I am well aware of that. My numbers are based on 120v AC single phase, because that is what goes into houses. I’m using houses as a simple yardstick to consider energy production in real life.

Reply to  Julius Sanks
January 7, 2023 5:57 pm

But I wonder how practical it really is, due to solar’s low energy density.

Well it can be dense enough to capture via rooftop solar panels in the right environment like South Australia. For example on a 12Mx3M north facing roof face I now have 16x415W solar panels (6.64kW nameplate) that are currently producing between 35 to 42kWhrs of electricity a day in peak summer.

Now being all electric the HWS is a 400L electric element storage unit with 12 year cyl warranty costing $1680 like so-

To buy a non-subsidised heat pump HWS that would only consume around 30% of the electricity of a resistive element type note the 6 year warranty of the weakest link and that would cost $5950-

Bearing in mind the rooftop solar cost me $5600 that would have been $8800 without the dodgy doomster RECs but it’s every citizen’s fundamental right to clawback any hard earned going around.

Once you do that in goes a TOU online smart meter and I now pay 40.7c/kWhr ‘peak rate’ at all times except for ‘shoulder rate’ of 19.7c between 10am and 3pm (solar duck curve) and ‘offpeak’ of 24.5c between 1am and 6am. The latter was generally ‘controlled load’ between 11pm and 7am for hot water that has shrunk the time and grown the rate as coal stations close and with EV takeup evening will no doubt become peak with only wind and any grid storage capability. Oh and you do get 5c/kWhr for net solar feedin that’s been declining from 22c and headed for zero and even paying a fee for FIT use of the grid like commercials do.

The upshot is electric element storage HWS is the simplest most economic solution and use it or lose it with rooftop solar. To that end you could add a solar diverter- whilst maximising home use with RC aircon the washing machine dishwasher pool pump etc and it makes perfect economic sense without any Gummint intervention at all. Bearing in mind a 13kW Powerwall will cost around $19000 installed and it will be worn out in ten years but that doesn’t stop the left with their middle class welfare struggletown can only dream of. But it’s all about the vibe not outcomes isn’t it leftys?

Julius Sanks
Reply to  observa
January 7, 2023 6:58 pm

That is all well and good, but it does not address my original question of how much energy the pool can actually capture. A pool will obviously do better at storage than any panel, but how large must the pool be? Most of us don’t have room in our yards for a 7X7 meter pool in our back yard even if we can afford to build it, along with the associated generator. Which will not be conventional.

Reply to  Julius Sanks
January 7, 2023 7:38 pm

Well I have my 30 pieces of silver lining compliments of the usual suspects so I’ll leave yo’all to deal with the clouds-
Solar panels or ponds aint gunna cut it with their precious EVs either and the queue for Toyota petrol hybrids says it all-
Just have to navigate rationally and economically as best you can through the vibe idiocy until it collapses. Whatever!

Reply to  Julius Sanks
January 7, 2023 10:43 pm

Julius, the specific heat of salt water is on the order of 4 kJ per kilogram per °C. Salt water is about one liter per kilo.

Per Jim above:

Despite air temperatures averaging 68°F (20°C), solar ponds can fantastically almost triple temperatures in their bottom layer to over 190°F (88°C).

So with a temperature difference of 88°C – 20°C = 68°C, each liter of water will contain ~ 4 x 68 =272 kJ.

Now of course, not all of that will be useful. Figure maybe 20% conversion efficiency gives us about 50 kJ of usable stored energy per liter.

Assume a square 3m x 3m pool, 2m deep, hot portion 1m deep. That’s 9,000 liters of water, each liter containing 50kJ/liter. So 450,000 kJ of stored energy.

Per UnitJuggler, that’s 125 kilowatt-hours. Average US house usage is on the order of 20 kWh per day.

Hope this helps, not sure exactly what you’re asking.


Last edited 28 days ago by Willis Eschenbach
Julius Sanks
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
January 8, 2023 7:14 am

Thanks, Willis! Cripes, I could have run those numbers myself, but was in a hurry. I was looking for what you provided, i.e., how much energy is in the salt water, so it can be compared with a common benchmark (in this case, a house). I give myself a D- for that. Anyway, It supports my question of whether this technology is practical in any but very limited applications.

Reply to  Julius Sanks
January 8, 2023 9:04 am

You’re more than welcome, Julius. The reality is that solar power is quite diffuse, so you need a large area to collect a reasonable amount of power.


Julius Sanks
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
January 8, 2023 2:13 pm

Concur. It’s useful in very limited circumstances. And it is very labor-intensive per BTU, as shown in my piece y’all published last month. My problem with alternate energy sources is not the sources themselves. It’s with people who demand they be mandated without doing the underlying engineering to ensure their emotionally-preferred solution makes any sense.

Reply to  Julius Sanks
January 9, 2023 5:56 pm

 It’s with people who demand they be mandated without doing the underlying engineering to ensure their emotionally-preferred solution makes any sense.” EVEN IF “their emotionally-preferred solution makes any sense… They must NOT be Mandated!

Martin Cornell
January 7, 2023 6:49 pm

Once again, well done Dr. James.

David Solan
January 8, 2023 2:27 am

  In this article on solar ponds, Jim Steele is telling us what really happens when
the sun beats down on the earth and its heat is transferred to liquid water
(representing 71% of the earth’s surface). It’s not just about solar ponds — it’s
about the whole planet. Global warming maniacs on the other hand, including, I am
sorry to say, some publishing articles on your website, keep on focusing on what
happens to the heat of the earth after it leaves its surface and goes back into our
very tenuous, very fluid, very turbulent atmosphere. The answer to that peripheral
and virtually irrelevant question is that it goes from there into outer space lickety-split
and has no appreciable effect on global temperatures from the first millimeter
of the atmosphere it enters to the atmosphere’s furthest reaches just before it leaves
earth forever. Meanwhile, the real issue is and has always been, the heat coming
down from the sun and hitting earth’s “surface” (that is, the waters of the earth).
This is basically ignored by virtually everyone nowadays. Jim Steele has reversed
this scatterbrained approach to global warming and it’s a breath of fresh air. Thank
you, Mr. Steele. This is science as it existed until the 1960s when the “humanists”
then took over academia throughout the world, basically on the heels of the newly
forming “Civil Rights” movement, and decided to use their new-found power over
academia to end the “two cultures” conundrum once and for all — they cut the Gordian
Knot and made science “woke” — by force.

  One minor criticism I have is that there are mechanisms that allow open waters to
retain solar heat other than salinity differentials. These involve water surface
effects that can, counterintuitively, subduct solar heat deep underwater. See, for
instance, the special coverings sold to solar heat swimming pools. No salt required.

David Solan

Jim Steele
Reply to  David Solan
January 8, 2023 11:06 am

Minor criticism well taken. As this article is also for a talk to the general public, I didnt want to overload the audience with all the science. So this article was not meant to cover all the ways heat can be retained in the ocean. I figured the most easily understood dynamic would be solar ponds and salinity gradients, and that interfaces well with familiar climate dynamics.

BTW are you the same David Solan that was former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Renewable Power?

David Solan
Reply to  Jim Steele
January 8, 2023 2:55 pm

    BTW are you the same David Solan that was the former Deputy
    Assistant Secretary for Renewable Power?
  God forbid! They would have nothing to do with me and I would have nothing to do
with them. The “renewables” racket is just a shell game of greenwashing “dirty”
electric power to virtue signal, and which, again, focuses on “carbon emissions”.
What does that have to do with anything? When it comes to anthropogenic global
warming, which I do suspect to be real, it’s the oceans that count (along with the
atmospheric blocking of the sun’s energy COMING IN from space).

David Solan

January 8, 2023 5:13 am

Interesting to know of any correlation between surface pollutants, that may affect the rate of evaporation, and any changes in the ocean temperature.

January 8, 2023 7:48 am

“Despite air temperatures averaging 68°F, solar ponds can fantastically almost triple temperatures in their bottom layer to over 190°F.

There are 2 major ways to raise a solar ponds’ temperature:

Radiative heating and Dynamical heating.”


Your salt pond is a near-perfect model for a non-GHG transparent atmosphere with a density gradient. GHG theory says that dynamic heating of the atmosphere is impossible. Your salt pond says that dynamic heating exists. Since observation trumps theory, your salt pond model directly challenges GHG theory.

If it can be shown that the dynamic heating of salt ponds with a density gradient also applies to non-GHG gas with a density gradient, then this means that radiative heating of the atmosphere is less than currently assumed by GHG theory, which would be a very big deal given the “climate crisis”.

This is worth further analysis.

Last edited 28 days ago by ferdberple
Ben Wouters
January 8, 2023 8:26 am

Thanks for your interesting article.

I’d like to focus on two points.
First the maximum depth where seasonal solar warming is still noticeable in our oceans.
The deepest I’ve found is ~450m, like
Are you aware of seasonal solar heating reaching much deeper than this?
To me it is obvious that the deep(est) oceans are not warmed from above.
Still the temperature of the deep oceans is ~275K.
comment image
275K is 20K above the famous 255K. More relevant, it is ~78K above the average lunar surface temperature of 197K. 
How did our deep oceans become so hot if not by CO2 back radiation or other nonsense?
My answer is geothermal heating. Initially when Earths surface was mostly molten magma, after an initial crust formed and the surface temperature dropped below 373K, water could stay on the surface without boiling all the time. A thickening crust allowed the oceans to form, and their temperatures to drop gradually. (Faint Young Sun Paradox solved)
Since then the temperature of the deep oceans (below the solar heated surface layer)
depends on the amount of geothermal heating minus cooling at the surface, which is only possible at (very) high latitudes, since the mixed surface layer prevents water warmed at the ocean floor to reach the surface.
(the 100 mW/m^2 geothermal flux warms the average oceanis column 1K in ~5000 year,
1 million km^3 magma erupting in the deep oceans can warm ALL ocean water 1K)

This mechanism makes it possible for the sun to just increase the temperature of the mixed surface layer a bit to our observed temperatures.
Role of the atmosphere is just slowing the energy loss to space a bit, NO warming of the surface required or possible, a straightforward insulation effect.

Next the warm Antarctica during much of the Cretaceous.
Although warm surface currents could be part of the explanation, the main reason imo are the very high deep ocean temperatures.
comment image
Temperatures maybe 10-15K above current temperatures.
Reason imo much increased geological activity in the deep oceans, like the 80-100 million km^3 Ontong Java Plateau, result probably of a large magma plume bursting through the ocean floor.  
Since then the deep oceans have cooled steadily, eventually allowing Antarctica to freeze over and starting a new Ice Age.

In short, Earth with its higher albedo is so much warmer than our moon because it has oceans.
The atmosphere certainly has a role here, but not a warming one.

Interested in your comments.

Jim Steele
Reply to  Ben Wouters
January 8, 2023 10:12 am

How did our deep oceans become so hot if not by CO2 back radiation or other nonsense?”

I assume there is a small contribution of geothermal but I havent dived into the quantification.

My working theory for ocean heating over the past few hundred millions years is that before Antarctica formed the bottom ocean was often estimated to be 10C warmer than today. There were more abundant shallow seas that would warm and via evaporation produce dense salty water that filled the ocean bottom with warm waters. As continents shifted shallow seas cam and went. Today the Mediterranean outflow is warm and salty and sinks to about 1000 meters in the Atlantic. It is likely that the bottom layers of the North Atlantic hold moree heat than anywhere else in the world. (See attached from Bidecadal Thermal Changes in the Abyssal Ocean Wunsch 2014 )

The oceans have been cooling for the past 35 million years. Once the Circumpolar Current isolated Antarctica from tropical heat, sea ice formed formed now releasing cold salty water via brine rejection, gradually cooling ocean bottom waters. Today that process is well documented. I suspect the reason it took over 30 million years after Antarctica ice sheet began forming, for permanent glaciers to form over Greenland, was due to the time for the bottom ocean layers to cool enough so that upwelling waters then began bringing cooler waters to the surface instead of warm water.

Regional Ocean Heat Content Wunsch 2014.png
Ben Wouters
Reply to  Jim Steele
January 9, 2023 11:20 am

I assume there is a small contribution of geothermal but I havent dived into the quantification.

To me it is obvious that the entire heat content of the oceans is from geothermal origin, except for the solar heated mixed surface layer.
This is comparable to our crust. The entire heat content of the crust is from geothermal origin, except for the solar heated upper 10-20 m or so of the continental crust.

The Mediterranean Outflow is nicely visible in this transect:
comment image
Especially the salinity on the right side near Portugal is clearly from the outflow.
The deeper waters are unaffected and still cold with a low salinity.
Most of the bottom waters in the large oceans originate near Antarctica (AABW)
See this documentary, starting around 35 minutes:
AABW is the major cooling mechanism for our oceans. During its travel over the ocean floor it picks up geothermal energy, warms and becomes less dense and after maybe 1000 years it resurfaces near Antarctica to release its energy to the atmosphere and start all over again

The oceans have been cooling for the past 35 million years.

The reconstruction I posted above shows the highest temperatures around 80 mya.
After some intermediate warming from ~50mya the cooling started again, eventually resulting in the current ice age. This is indeed only possible when the deep(er) oceans are cold enough.

Fred Haynie
January 8, 2023 12:11 pm

Your analysis is great! Fortunately for all life, we live in a water world where the processes of evaporation/condensation and freezing/thawing are controlling both surface and atmospheric temperatures. These processes are also controlling the atmospheric concentration of CO2; not the other way around.

Ulric Lyons
January 8, 2023 3:22 pm

The Maunder and Dalton solar minima, less Arctic sea ice:

comment image

Jim Steele
Reply to  Ulric Lyons
January 8, 2023 5:07 pm

Not clear what you are trying to say Ulric. Does your diagram have a source? Different regions of the Arctic often have opposing sea ice extents due to the location of a wavy jet stream.

From all the peer reviewed research that I have read, Arctic sea ice was at its greatest during the Little Ice Age

Stein, R., Fahl, K., Schade, I., Manerung, A., Wassmuth, S., Niessen, F. and Nam, S.-I. (2017), Holocene variability in sea ice cover, primary production, and Pacific-Water inflow and climate change in the Chukchi and East Siberian Seas (Arctic Ocean), Journal of Quaternary Science

holocene sea ice.jpeg
Ulric Lyons
Reply to  Jim Steele
January 9, 2023 11:40 am

British naval ships observed a great loss of Arctic sea ice 1815-1817.

The wavy jet stream (negative NAO) causes Arctic warning directly through increased humidity events into the Arctic, and by driving a warmer AMO.

Every other warm AMO phase is during a centennial solar minimum, which is why its long term mean frequency is 55 years. The late 1800’s Gleissberg Minimum (warm AMO) to the current centennial solar minimum (warm AMO again) is 130 years, resulting in one 60 year AMO envelope and one 70 year AMO envelope. Where the centennial minima are much closer together, as between Dalton and Gleissberg, the AMO envelopes will also be much shorter.

The popular association of the 1970’s cold AMO with lower sunspot numbers makes no sense as the AMO was warmer during the Gleissberg Minimum and is warmer again this centennial solar minimum. The three coldest AMO anomalies in the mid 1970’s, mid 1980’s and early 1990’s, are associated with positive NAO regimes, which correspond to the strongest solar wind periods of the space age.

January 9, 2023 5:14 am

Very interesting discussion. I was wondering if one was to put a simple RO filter in the pond, running it with solar of course. The pond could be sustained near indefinitely. Place the “pure water to the top of the column and the salty brine would be returned to the bottom.

Caleb Shaw
January 10, 2023 3:46 pm

Is there no diffusion between the salty water and the fresh water? I wonder about this a lot, in terms of water up in the arctic, where you have a “fresh water lens” atop saltier water. It seems the surface water does get salty, despite all the melting ice and all the freshwater rivers rushing into the Arctic. Can the saltiness diffuse, like a woman’s perfume wafting across a windless room?

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