The Atmosphere Effect, that is including the SW radiative effect (or albedo effect) and the LW radiative effect (“GHE”), has an integrated magnitude of only about 8K. In this article I will discuss why that is, how we get to the result, and how it comes no one seems to know about it.
Alright, this might be a bit confusing, and certainly it has caused plenty of confusion, in a “science” of confusion. The term “greenhouse effect” is problematic as we all know, since what it refers to does not work like a greenhouse. Beyond the naming issue, the question is what it actually refers to, as it is used ambiguously. Is it the temperature the atmosphere adds to the surface in total, or is just the emission sided part? It is an important question, since obviously the atmosphere provides the larger part of the total albedo. If you would remove the atmosphere, the albedo would drop, Earth would be absorbing more solar radiation and you would never get to only 255K. I mean that is next all the physical issues I have dealt with extensively. Already the definition of the GHE as a concept is pretty vague and representative of a stupid “science”.
Just for fun let us discuss a couple of definitions, as they are found on various “educational” sites.
“The greenhouse effect is the process by which radiation from a planet's atmosphere warms the planet's surface to a temperature above what it would be without this atmosphere”1
No, sorry Wikipedia, you got it wrong. There is no radiative heating without source of energy. If it was possible, we could instantly build a perpetuum mobile. It is the same logical fallacy Manabe, Strickler (1964)2 or Goody, Walker (1972)3 propagated. I discussed it here and here.
The infrared radiative effect of all infrared-absorbing constituents in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases, clouds, and (to a small extent) aerosols absorb terrestrial radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface and elsewhere in the atmosphere. These substances emit infra-red radiation in all directions, but, everything else being equal, the net amount emitted to space is normally less than would have been emitted in the absence of these absorbers because of the decline of temperature with altitude in the troposphere and the consequent weakening of emission4
This IPCC definition is actually right, which is funny because Wikipedia references to it, suggesting the authors did not understand what they read. Yet, the IPCC only refers to the emission side. Also I should add this definition is from 2018. By 2007 the IPCC had obviously not yet understood the GHE..
Much of this thermal radiation emitted by the land and ocean is absorbed by the atmosphere, including clouds, and reradiated back to Earth. This is called the greenhouse effect.5
Funny as it is, you can always add stupid. The Cambridge dictionary..
the greenhouse effect - an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere (= mixture of gases around the earth), that is believed to be the cause of a gradual warming of the surface of the earth6
That would be global warming, not the GHE! Collins dictionary tops the mental illiteracy with ease..
The greenhouse effect is the problem caused by increased quantities of gases such as carbon dioxide in the air. These gases trap the heat from the sun, and cause a gradual rise in the temperature of the Earth's atmosphere7
Me personally I love to solve problems, though I have no clue how to solve the GHE?! But then, I can not fix stupid either. Also the WMO believes in perpetuum mobiles..
Some atmospheric gases absorb and re-emit infrared energy from the atmosphere down to the Earth’s surface. This process, the greenhouse effect, leads to a mean surface temperature that is 33°C greater than it would be in its absence8
Not just the WMO demonstrates their total disregard of physics, especially entropy, but also quote the exact 33K figure they have heard of so many times. Eventually another honorable mention would be NASA, always busy to gaga the young..
As you might expect from the name, the greenhouse effect works … like a greenhouse9
Right! Ok, this is comedy, but also dead serious. It is a shitshow of incompetence which nonetheless claims to predict the future and set mandatory policies, extremely restricting freedoms and lives for us all. But not just do these venerable institutions read like stupid kids in the yard, the problem goes way deeper.
Abandon all hope, ye who enter “climate science” – the critical side is no better!
Although I would like to spare him from the blame of incompetence, I can not do that for Prof. Richard Lindzen. In this video10 Prof. Lindzen tries to explain the atmosphere effect, that is how much temperature the atmosphere adds as a whole to the surface, which is a reasonable thing to do. The problem is, as I will show, he got it completely wrong due to stupid mistakes, and so he only adds to the confusion. I mean if everyone, even the critical side only adds disinformation, by intent or not, what hope is there to ever get out of the mess?
Let us look at the screenshot from his presentation and the formula he is using to get to 272K for an Earth without atmosphere. Te = Ts (rs / 2res)^0.5 = 272K. The formula is perfectly fine, the parameters regrettably not. He has a solar radius of 659,900km instead of some 696,000km11 he should be using. As TSI this error translates into 1234W/m2, instead of some 1368W/m2. Obviously this mistake is totally trivial and forgivable, but Lindzen has been quoting the erroneous 272K (or sometimes 271, as the exact result is 271.6K) for years and a lot of people have listened.
Really I can not imagine how this could even happen. I mean not the typo, but the wrong solar radius and Lindzen, or anyone in the audiences, not taking notice for years. It is totally ludicrous. If he had used the correct solar radius, he would have gotten 279K, and that figure is well known to anyone who cares about the physics in climate science. A black body with the given insolation Earth receives, will take on this temperature, as.. (342/5.67e-8)^0.25 = 278.7K. Accordingly if you get a different result, it should be extremely conspicuous. However, in a world where nobody thinks for himself and people are rather obsessed with quoting, you get this from Lord Monckton..
As Professor Lindzen, the world’s foremost climatologist, said in a paper published in 1994, the true zero-feedback emission temperature, before allowing for any greenhouse-gas warming or feedback response, is more like 271 K once one has recalled that clouds would not be present in the absence of greenhouse gases13
Whether Lindzen is “the world’s foremost climatologist” or not does not matter, not if he stumbles over his own feet. Also I might add there is indeed a 1994 paper by Lindzen where he claims “More logically, one might assume that the elimination of water would also lead to the absence of clouds, leading to a temperature of about 274K rather than 255K”.14 That would be 274K instead of 272 or 271? Maybe Monckton had a different 1994 paper in mind, maybe Lindzen had different assumptions back then, we do not know as he did not explain. Who cares..
It is about time to settle this question once and for all because it actually matters, and other than Lindzen I have the means to do it right. Again, if Lindzen had used the proper solar radius he would have got 279K, which is a good approximation, though likely just by incident. Lindzen to my knowledge has never learned about real surface emissivity since he never talked about it, or brought it forward as an argument. If he knew, given his critical position, he certainly would not have missed the opportunity to play this ace. On the other side I wonder why then he ignored surface albedo? You can not account for it by adjusting the solar radius?!
As I have thoroughly explained, in case you do not now emissivity, it is best to ignore the albedo all over, as both of which tend to cancel each other out. I can not rule out Lindzen came to this insight on his own, so let us give him the benefit of the doubt. He made a mistake with the solar radius, but instinctively and rightfully ignored surface albedo and almost got a good approximation of 279K.
Me however, I do not have to make such simplifications, since I have reasonably good knowledge of both surface albedo and emissivity. It is not perfect, but it should be a good enough approximation. The hemispheric spectral reflectivity of water is 0.066, hemispheric spectral absorptivity is accordingly 0.934, and hemispheric spectral emissivity is 0.908 (at least that is what I get with the highest spectral resolution so far). I have explained how to obtain these numbers here and here. Also the chart should give a reasonable idea on how it works.
Next, with some 342W/m2 of solar radiation we can easily calculate what temperature a surface with the named properties would take on. The result is 280.7K, very close to 279K obviously, but yet higher! It is an interesting detail about water, that it is a better absorber (SW) than emitter (LW), and thus attains a temperature exceeding that of a perfect black body.
(342 * (0.934 / 0.908) / 5.67e-8)^0.25 = 280.7K.
Sure, the surface is not only consisting of water which is causing some uncertainty due to insufficient data in the far-IR. Furthermore with snow things go the opposite direction, as it is definitely a better emitter than absorber. Taking all this into account and skipping the fussy discussion, 280K should be a very fair guess, corresponding to an atmosphere effect of about only 8K, if surface temperatures are actually 288K. Just for clarity, the atmosphere effect is including both the albedo and the GHE of the atmosphere and we do not need to know anything about the atmosphere itself, to assess it. Logically it is perfectly fine to figure out what the temperature would be without an atmosphere and then blame the difference on the atmosphere.
One could rightfully argue the surface would look very different, if it was 8K colder, without an atmosphere. No life, no plants, lots of frozen water, no snow though, and so on. However it is not about fiction, “what would happen if”, but about allocating causation within the given system. In fact such considerations are equally not part of the GHE theory.
The reason why the atmosphere effect is an important perspective is subtle. The common erroneous narrative of a 33K GHE suggests there would be plenty of room for an atmosphere driven climate variability. A 10% change relative to a base magnitude of 33K is pretty substantial. Also there is a lot of variability of the main GHGs CO2 and vapor, suggesting “anything goes” climate-wise. Eventually clouds were responsible for the albedo and thus the cooling part, while GHGs could only heat the planet. In this way you have kind of building blocks allowing you to construct almost any thinkable climate. If you add some clouds, temperatures would drop, vapor feedback kicks in and temperatures drop even further. Or alternatively you add a GHG like CO2, you might get massive (positive) feedback, and global heating breaks loose.
Reality is not working like that. Clouds not just net warm the planet, instead of cooling it, they also necessarily have a two sided effect, that is adding both to the albedo and the GHE. The bigger part of their “GHE” will always be compensated by their albedo. Something similar, though with a different mechanism, is true for GHGs. If you add vapor to the atmosphere you not just get “radiative forcing”, but also a tilt in the lapse via latent heat, which will reduce the GHE all over. Even though it is not true for non-condensating GHGs like CO2, Ozone, CH4, N2O and so on, which only play a minor role, the more important components of the GHE have innate balancing mechanisms.
Because of it, not just the atmosphere effect is relatively small, but also there is only a restricted potential of “climate change” due to the atmosphere, be it natural or anthropogenic. The atmosphere, with its more or less given mass, does not have the capability to drive surface temperatures by much more than about 1-2K. The 8K of atmosphere effect is really the base magnitude which can be altered by certain parameters, but not by too much.
As a consequence not just the prospect of a “runaway GHE” is totally elusive, but also to explain past climate change on Earth, like going from ice ages to climate optima, and back, we will have to look elsewhere.