Wednesday, April 4, 2012

No Two Snowflakes Are Alike: Flaws in the Global Warming Hypothesis

In his global warming documentary, "Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore presents a litany of scientific data supporting the hypothesis that increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, driven by fossil fuel emissions, are causing a warming trend on the planet, which could have dire consequences for the human race.    Steady increases in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, according the Global Warming alarmists, traps heat that would otherwise escape the planet and travel into outer space.    While there does appear to be some scientific merit to the hypothesis, it can hardly be classified as "settled science," because there are still a number of unanswered questions about it.

Some global warming alarmists claim that the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide is a function of the "heat capacity" of the CO2 molecules.  They argue that the carbon dioxide absorbs the heat emitted by the earth, thereby trapping it in the atmosphere and causing temperatures to rise.   (Elmhurst College) On its surface, this theory seems reasonable, especially when it is accompanied by a diagram of a greenhouse, which evokes images of a warm and humid space; but  is this analogy scientifically accurate, or is it just PR? Does the science & engineering support this theory as well as the advertisements, imagery, and political stunts do?

The ability of different molecules and materials to absorb heat is a very carefully studied characteristic, known as "Heat Capacity." The heat capacity of various different molecules and materials has been evaluated, through many decades of careful scientific study, both in theory and also in practice. Complicated mathematical equations have been developed and refined over the years, and a table of heat capacities of various molecules has been produced as a reference guide for scientists and engineers. The heat capacity of carbon dioxide is actually 0.84; and the heat capacity of air is 1.00.    In other words, the ability of carbon dioxide to absorb heat is less than the ability of air to absorb heat. So, if the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases, then the heat capacity of the atmosphere decreases; and the atmosphere will absorb less heat than it did before the concentration of carbon dioxide increased. This is exactly the opposite effect from what the global warming alarmists contend.   

Other global warming alarmists contend that it is not the absorptive characteristic of the gas (heat capacity), but rather the conductive characteristic of the gas (thermal conductivity), which causes the alleged global warming effect. At first, this appears to be a more reasonable explanation, because the thermal conductivity of carbon dioxide (0.015) is indeed lower than the thermal conductivity of air (0.024). So, if and when the concentration of carbon dioxide increases, the thermal conductivity of the atmosphere does decrease. When the thermal conductivity decreases, the rate of heat escape from the earth's atmosphere does, indeed, slow down. This appears - at first blush - to support the global warming hypothesis.

Upon further reflection, however, there are questions about the thermal conductivity explanation, as well. The earth's atmosphere is a two way street, not a one way street, when it comes to heat exchange. Every day, heat is travelling in both directions through the atmosphere.  It is travelling from the sun towards the earth; and it is travelling from the earth towards outer space, as well. A decrease in the thermal conductivity of the atmosphere will impact the exchange of heat in both directions, not just in one direction.  It will have an impact on the heat trying to enter the earth from the sun, each day, as well as having an impact on the heat trying to leave the earth each day, which raises questions about the thermal conductivity explanation, as well.  

As a matter of fact, the "two way street" nature of the atmosphere should allow the earth to "self-compensate" for any changes in thermal conductivity in the atmosphere.   During the nighttime, when the earth is cooling off, there is a slight decrease in the total amount of heat that leaves the earth, as a result of increasing CO2 concentrations.    During the daytime, when the earth is heating up, there is an offsetting decrease in the amount of heat that enters the earth in the first place.    These two effects should cancel each other out.

Moreover, the alarmists often cite data about temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations going back as many as 400,000 years, which show a close correlation between carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere and global average temperatures. They claim that they are able to accurately deduce these fine measurements of conditions 400,000 years in the past from ice core samples taken from the South Pole.    How reliable, actually, are those ice core data?   400,000 years is a very long time. High quality scientific experiments are normally conducted with round-the-clock, 24/7/365 observation and data collection; but that obviously could not be done for data going back 400,000 years.    All kinds of unknown and undiscovered events may have occurred during that interim period, which could have had an unknown impact on the data.       

Indeed, there is even quite a bit of "known uncertainty" surrounding that data, on top of the "unknown unknowns" mentioned above. For example, it is known that ice develops cracks over time, through which gas exchange can occur, which could skew results.   Even uncracked ice is known to diffuse ('leak') gas through its pores, but the rate of diffusion has still not been accurately quantified.   While that leakage from diffusion may seem relatively slow to the human eye, the impact of gas diffusion over 400,000 years could skew the results of such studies dramatically, even to the point of rendering such studies completely useless.   

Most have heard of the saying, "no two snowflakes are alike."   Well, the same is true of ice crystals and, by extension, ice cores.  There is an infinite variety of different kinds of ice crystals; and each will exhibit a different rate of diffusion for CO2.    Therefore, even the most studious and diligent efforts to quantify CO2 diffusion through ice are all for naught, because no two ice core samples are identical.      And, that means that ice core data are highly unreliable, as measures of historical CO2 concentrations.   In fact, it means that we will never know for sure what the CO2 concentration was 400,000 years ago, or even 2,000 years ago!

The questions, uncertainties, and issues that I have raised here are only the tip of the iceberg. True & honest scientists will admit that the issues I have raised here, as well as other unmentioned questions about the global warming hypothesis, must be resolved before global warming is considered to be "settled science."  On the other hand, those who dismiss my questions and doubts as undereducated or even "anti-social" are the ones you should be wary of.  They are the intolerant ones, with a political agenda that doesn't care about the truth or about scientific integrity.



  1. Nothing to do with thermal capacity.

    CO2 RECEIVES the heat radiation (and passes it on by conduction), whereas other molecules let it pass through.

  2. Douglas J. BenderApril 15, 2012 at 4:36 PM


    So, you are saying that CO2 is the IRS of molecules?

  3. The thermal conductivity explanation for the global warming hypothesis is flawed, in my opinion.

    Any change in the thermal conductivity of the atmosphere from changes in the molecular composition of the atmosphere will not alter the overall temperature of the planet, because such changes affect heat conduction INTO the planet from the sun just as much as they affect the heat conduction FROM the planet to outer space.

    The two effects cancel each other out, resulting in ZERO NET IMPACT ON AVERAGE GLOBAL TEMPERATURES.

    Jonathan L. Gal
    The Galatian Free Press

    1. "...such changes affect heat conduction INTO the planet from the sun just as much as they affect the heat conduction FROM the planet to outer space."

      Except when they don't.

  4. Here's an example ...

    If the thermal conductivity of the atmosphere decreases by 10%, there will be two competing impacts on global temperatures.

    (1)There will be 10% less heat striking the earth from the Sun, each year.

    (2)There will be 10% less heat leaving the earth and dissipating into outer space, each year.

    The two impacts cancel each other out.

    Net Impact? NONE.

    Jonathan L. Gal
    The Galatian Free Press.

    1. Douglas J. BenderApril 15, 2012 at 9:15 PM

      I think that analysis is slightly flawed. It seems to me that there is more heat "striking" the Earth from the Sun than there is heat leaving the Earth, overall. So, while the relative rates of "entering" and "leaving" heat would remain the same (since there is a 10% reduction in both cases), the Net impact would be that the Earth would be COOLER than otherwise, since a 10% reduction of a larger number is still larger than a 10% reduction of a smaller number.

      For example, let's say that (I don't know what the relevant "heat terms" would be) 100 Joules of Heat strike the Earth on any given 24-hour period, on average over a year. And let's say that 75 Joules of heat are dissipated from the Earth into outer space over any given 24-hour period, on average over a year. (The rest of the Joules are "processed", or absorbed, by the Earth. Again, this is just for illustration purposes -- the numbers are just figments of my imagination.) Then, if BOTH are reduced by 10%, we are left with 90 Joules entering the Earth, and 67.5 Joules leave the Earth. Before the 10% reduction, the Net heat effect over any given 24-hour period is 25 Joules (on average over a year). AFTER the 10% reduction, the Net heat effect over any given 24-hour period is 22.5 Joules (on average, over a year). Thus, in this very hypothetical case, there would be a 2.5 Joules REDUCTION in the heat available or used by the Earth, implying a COOLING of the Earth.

      Thus, the Global Warming activists, based on thermal conductivity "analysis" of CO2, have it completely backwards. Increased CO2 in the atmosphere would COOL the Earth, not warm it, apparently.

    2. I considered that myself, but here is what is wrong with THAT analysis.

      It is not possible for the rate of heat entering the earth to have been that much greater than the rate of heat leaving the earth, prior to the change in thermal conductivity.

      You suggest, in your comment, that the ratio of heat entering the earth to heat leaving the earth, prior to any changes in CO2 concentration, was 4/3. (100 Joules / 75 Joules per day.)

      If the difference between heat entering the earth and leaving the earth, prior to a manmade increase in CO2 concentration were that great, then the earth would've been on a long-term warming trend already, irrespective of CO2 concentrations.

      Given the age of the earth, and assuming a consistent flow of heat from the sun, the earth has had plenty of time to "equilibrate" and reach a reasonably steady state, in balance with the sun.

      If the earth was in a steady state prior to increasing manmade CO2 emissions, then - BY DEFINITION - the amount of heat entering the earth each year would be equal to the amount of heat leaving the earth each year.

      In your scenario (with a large imbalance in heat flux during, prior to manmade CO2 emissions), then the earth was NOT IN A STEADY STATE to begin with.

      If the earth was, for some reason other than manmade CO2, not in a steady state to begin with, and temperatures were already rising even before the "Oil Age", then global warming can hardly be blamed on CO2 emissions, or any other manmade activity.

    3. Hold on here a minute. I'm not a scientist with a lot of joulies and what have you, but common sense to me would show that if the earth is producing geothermal heat combined with the heat being absorbed by the sun, if the earth did not give off at least as much heat as it absorbed from the sun wouldn't it have a tendency to burn to a crisp? This is akin to a smart young kid telling me one day that if you weighed your firewood, then burnt it and weighed the ashes you would know how much pollution you had put into the atmosphere. He didn't have an answer when I asked him where the heat of the fire came from in his equasion. It was just the hardest thing to get him to understand that some of the mass was converted into energy. Of course I didn't have a college education, as he did, so I suppose you can see the problem. It's my opinion that our planet is ideally designed to be habitable by its inhabitants, and is self correcting in spite of hundreds of nuclear furnaces being ignited in the 50s and 60s and a million and one other human activities which occur every day. Creating a world body to tax the inhabitants for a portion of the energy they have burned to amass what their life amounts to somehow doesn't seem to me to be a sensible solution to anything except for the purposes of financing an international parasite class to lord it over the rest of us.

  5. Your suggestion that there is a greater amount of heat entering the atmosphere, compared to the amount of heat leaving the atmosphere, by a ratio of 4/3 is based on perceptions, not on scientific fact.

    When one thinks of the Sun, it seems so incredibly large and hot; and it gives off a lot of heat.

    But, when one thinks of the earth, one thinks of a planet at an average temperature of, let's say, 50 degrees Farhenheit.

    So, the natural assumption is that the Sun must be sending more heat to the earth than the earth releases to outer space.

    But, that's just based on "imagery" and "perceptions". That's not scientific analysis.

    In order to accurately quantify the amount of heat entering the earth each day, or each year, one must also consider the considerable distance between the earth and the sun as well as the relatively small size of the earth compared to the sun.

    The sun does give off a whole lot of heat each year, but 99%+ of that heat never strikes the earth, and even the 1% (or whatever the actual figure is) that DOES strike the earth is cooled considerably by the MILLIONS OF MILES OF SPACE that it passes through before striking the earth.

  6. It is not possible for the heat flux of the earth, prior to the Age of Oil, to have been anything near the 4/3 ratio that you suggest.

    A heat flux that large would've caused global temperatures to rise rather quickly.

    I don't know exactly how long it would take, but a heat flux of that magnitude would cause temperatures to rise by 33% fairly quickly.

  7. The crux of the question, here, is this ... is there a trend towards increasing global temperatures, which can be decidedly linked to fossil fuel emissions, particularly CO2?

    To answer this definitively, one must assume that "all else is equal". In other words, assume that the earth was in a stable, steady state at a consistent average temperature, prior to the age of oil.

    If the earth was in a stable, steady state, prior to the Age of Oil, then - BY DEFINITION - the amount of heat entering the earth must've been equal to the amount of heat exiting the earth, ON AVERAGE, EVERY YEAR.

    And, if that is the working assumption, then any change in thermal conductivity of the atmosphere caused by increasing CO2 concentrations must - BY DEFINITION - create two counterbalancing, equal and opposite effects on the global average temperature.

    All else being equal, a change in the thermal conductivity of the atmosphere should have NO IMPACT on the global average temperature.

    1. On average the distance between the earth and the sun is 93 Million miles.

      A sphere with a radius of 93 Million miles has a surface area of ... 4*Pi*r^2 ... 1.09*10^17.

      That's 10,900,000,000,000,000,000 square miles.

      The light side (daylight side) of the earth occupies a circular area of 24,888 square miles.

      24,888 / 1.09*10^17 = 22,833*10-17.

      So, Yes, the sun is a very large, very hot and firey object that emits HUGE amounts of heat every year, but the earth only receives
      2.3*10-13 of that heat each year.

      That cuts it down considerably.

      My point is ... when people look at images of a firey sun, they think ... "Wow, its so hot", but it takes a few calculations to determine what an incredibly small fraction of that heat reaches the earth each day.

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    3. 2.3*10-13 = 0.23 Trillionths

      "Less Than One Trillionth"

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