Equilibrium Prevents Humans from Heating the Atmosphere
There has been a lot of talk about equilibrium lately--Richard Lindzen pointing out the difference (again) between weather and climate and concluding that therefore, there is no equilibrium. And Roy Spencer saying that it is dis-equilibrium that adds the heat. Well, there is a lot more to equilibrium than they have been saying.
If there were no long term equilibrium, there would be nothing controlling temperature of the atmosphere, and it would go to one extreme or the other. The tendency to move toward some temperature is an equilibrium process, even though it is a slow process in the atmosphere. But alarmists are only talking about the slow process. An eight year cooling period doesn't phase them.
Climate physicists totally agree. Based on the Stephan-Boltzmann constant, which says how much radiation leaves any surface at any temperature, they determined that the 235 watts per square meter of energy entering the earth from the sun must be balanced by 235 W/m² exiting earth into space; and this amount of radiation leaves from a surface which is -19°C. The atmosphere is -19°C at about a height of 5 kilometers. So climatologists claim there is a zone at that height from which 235 W/m² of radiation exits into space. Global warming then occurs when heat is trapped near the surface and pushes that zone up higher in the atmosphere.
If this obfuscated science were more visible to the public, it would never stand up to the light of day. There obviously is no such zone. Nothing could keep radiation from leaving at other temperatures, at other heights. It would leave at -18°C more easily than it leaves at -19°C, and -17°C even more so. And then there is no way to get energy into the supposed zone for escaping. What would keep the zone form getting colder as radiation escapes?
Real equilibrium balances all of that. As radiation escapes, it creates cooling; so less radiation escapes from that point, and more radiation escapes from other points. Balancing it all means that heat leaves from all parts of the atmosphere creating a gradient of temperatures in the atmosphere. In other words, real equilibrium removes the zones and produces a degree of uniformity. Of course, there are layers and inversions in the atmosphere; but these are due to short term effects, while everything must move toward a temperature which causes the same amount of energy to leave the planet as enters.
This type of equilibrium, which I'm called real equilibrium, prevents humans from changing the temperature of the atmosphere. The temperature adjusts itself to a level which causes the same amount of energy to leave the planet as enters. On a long term basis, the only thing that can change the net-effective temperature of the atmosphere is to change the amount of energy entering it. Reflection does that. During an ice age, the sun's energy reflects off of clouds and accumulating ice, so a lot less radiation from the sun actually is absorbed by the planet.
So the only way humans could actually change the temperature of the atmosphere would be to change the amount of energy entering it. Could humans cause more clouds to form? Not by increasing the heat. Increased heat causes less precipitation.
There has been a lot of twisted logic promoted recently claiming that increase heat in the atmosphere causes more water to vaporize, which results in more precipitation. Which does it do--more vaporizing or more precipitating? It supposedly does both. After more vaporizing occurs, some cold air supposedly comes along and precipitates it out.
One of the problems with this line is that the quantities are too miniscule for the claims. The claimed 0.6°C per century, or 0.006°C per year just isn't capable of killing the kids and pets. Another problem is that the atmosphere is almost never saturated. That means that it is not the holding capacity which determines the amount of water vapor in the air; it is availability. Humans are not influencing availability in any claimed way. Only ocean temperatures determine the amount of water vapor in the air. And then, if it is the cold air which does the precipitating, why would not global warming result in less cold air, and hence, less precipitation?
Regardless, the claim is not being made that humans are heating the planet by increasing cloud cover or decreasing cloud cover. Yet nothing other than than can change the amount of energy entering the planet and the equilibrium temperature required for the energy to exit the planet.
I discuss this subject and related material on my web site on global warming science at www.climatebasics.com
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