Thanks to clouds, the temperature governor is alive and well on planet earth.

In real estate appraisals the three most important factors to determine the value of a property are: Location, location, location.

Likewise, in climate modeling the three most important factors to estimate the future climate on earth are: Clouds, clouds, clouds.

CO2 is a strong greenhouse gas, second only to water vapor in affecting the climate on earth. If CO2 were to double from pre-industrial times, which it will have done in 50 years or so, global temperatures on earth will increase about 0.9 degree Celsius from pre-industrial times, if that was the only factor affecting the greenhouse effect. This corresponds to a radiative forcing of  4.9 W/m2. But water vapor is a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2, and, this is important, they are not orthogonal as defined by chemometrics, that means, the responses from water vapor and CO2 are not independent, and they are only partly additive. Check this figure: The bottom line is the absorption of water vapor, the green line is for CO2. The area of interest is between 8 and 20 microns, where CO2 absorbs more than H20 and is at the maximum of outgoing black body emission at 0F. The CO2 concentration is on the order of 400 ppm, the average global H2O concentration at surface level is around 12,500 ppm. Since both H2O and CO2 absorb in the same area, if water vapor concentration is more than 30 times higher, the CO2 con- centration doesn’t matter, it is all absorbed by H2O, and this is the reason there is no hotspot in the equatorial troposphere. All climate models predict there must be one, so there must be something seriously wrong with all climate models. Let us take a look at what factors IPCC consider in the consensus of climate models. See the following table:

This table is listing all the possible contributions to radiative forcings that IPCC chose to list. It does include the effect of aerosols on clouds, but it assumes that this is the sum total of the effect of clouds. Let us take a look at a picture of  earth from space:The first impression of earth from space is: How beautiful! Green land, brown mountains, blue oceans and absolutely white clouds! The clouds seem to reflect all incoming sunlight, and indeed, clouds can have an albedo of about 0.9, versus ocean with an albedo of about 0,07. Taking a look at the energy flows, we can see that the clouds reflect about 79 W/m-2 back into space, or about 23% of the incoming sunlight.

But that is only half the story. Clouds are even more important than that for the energy balance of the earth. If you have a house with no air conditioning, and it is hot in the summer, you close the windows and close the shades during the day to keep the hot air and the sunshine out. Then during the night you open the windows and shades to let the cooler air in. In the winter you do the opposite, during the day you may or may not open the windows dependent on the temperature, but you always let in as much sunshine as possible. Then at night you draw the shades to retain as much warmth as possible. By manipulating the windows and shades you provided the negative feedback to keep the house somewhat temperature controlled. In fact, you acted as a governor, providing the negative feedback necessary to keep the house temperature controlled.

It is the same with clouds, they cool by day and warm by night, and they come and go, so it does matter a great deal when they do appear. At the risk of oversimplification let me take a stab at 3 cloud types, clouds, clouds, clouds.

Cumulus clouds, also called “Beautiful weather clouds.”  The best example comes from Willis Eschenbach from his observations on a tropical island. The morning starts clear, and as the sun heats the moist air cumulus clouds appear around 9 a.m., and the temperature goes down!

Cumulus clouds have an albedo of about 0.9, so 90% of the incoming radiation of  341 W/m2, or up to 300 W/m2 less solar heat reaches ground at mid day.

The sun continues its path, and by mid afternoon Cumulonimbus clouds may appear. They are also called thunderstorms. In addition to have a very high albedo, they transfer a lot of heat to the upper atmosphere, rain out, keeping the ecosystem going, and cool the lower atmosphere.

The third very important type of clouds are frontal clouds. They carry energy in the form of water vapor from one area to another, in the northern temperate region typically from Southwest to Northeast, but they can also follow the jet stream, which exhibits a wave pattern.

The long and short of this oversimplification is that even a one percent change in the global average of cloud cover means more to the energy balance than all the factors listed by IPCC. In addition, cloud averages are misleading, day clouds cool, night clouds warm. So how are the climate models doing? Check this figure:

Not very encouraging. They all miss the mark. The only way to explain this discrepancy is that they all put too much emphasis on CO2 and way too little on clouds. But it helps to explain why they all miss the mark. See fig.

The clouds are the main temperature regulator in the ecosystem, providing a strong negative feedback once the temperature is favorable for cloud formation. Unless the oceans run dry we will never have to worry about a thermal runaway.

However, it can get cold, and we will get another ice age, which is the normal steady state for the earth. This will start by increasing cloud cover for whatever reason. Let me name a few:

Volcanoes: Volcanic eruptions like Pinatubo can decrease global temperatures by a degree or so for a few years. A super volcano like Yosemite erupting will trigger the next ice age.

Solar cycles: Solar cycle 24 is the most quiet in a century. A new solar minimum is to occur in the next few years and solar cycle 25 promises to be even quieter. When this happened last time it caused the little ice age, the winters were brutal indeed, and cloud covers increased, cooling the earth by at least half a degree.

The earth’s magnetic field is starting to act erratically. The magnetic north pole is speeding up and is now way up in the Arctic, near the North pole. The chart on the right shows the observed north dip poles during 1831 – 2007 as yellow squares. Modeled pole locations from 1590 to 2020 are circles progressing from blue to yellow. In addition the magnetic field is getting substantially weaker, maybe a breakup is possible having two North Poles and two South Poles. If this occurs, the protection from the cosmic radiation from the Sun will be weakened, causing more clouds and maybe trigger the next ice age.

Then there is the double star KIC 9832227. They are only 1,800 light-years away,  an eclipsing binary pair, which means as they revolve around one another, each one briefly blots out the other from the perspective of a viewer on Earth. In 2021 or 2022 we will see them merge into one causing a red supernova. When this happens, because they are so close, we may even observe gravity waves. But from a climate standpoint there will be a burst of cosmic radiation, first the gamma rays coming at the speed of light, then with a slight delay the other cosmic radiation, coming at a time of the solar minimum and an unusually weak earth magnetic field.

This is new territory, and the best we can do is to increase CO2. It will not help much, but CO2 will help rather than hurt.

In any case, we are going to a cooler earth, and it is only a matter of time until we enter another ice age. The good news is, there is still time to develop and switch to Thorium based nuclear power generation when coal and oil are exhausted, and there is unlimited quantities of limestone to degass and make cement to keep the CO2 level up.

The good news is that thanks to increasing CO2 vegetation is increasing, reducing erosion, feeding another 2 billion people without starving, and also the fauna. The benefits flow from industrialized nations to developing nations that cannot afford fertilizers but benefit from the increased CO2. In addition, photo synthesis occur more efficiently, using less water with increasing CO2.

A Climate Realist’s (not so) short Answers to Hard Questions About Climate Change. Question 16 (of 16) Is it really all about carbon?

NOV. 28, 2015 gave his answers to 16 questions in the N.Y. Times regarding Climate Change. This Climate realist added his answer.

 Answers to Question 1: How much is the planet heating up?

Answers to Question 2. How much trouble are we in?

Answers to Question 3. Is there anything I can do?

Answers to Question 4. What’s the optimistic scenario?

Answers to Question 5. Will reducing meat in my diet help the climate?

Answers to Question 6. What’s the worst-case scenario?

Answers to Question 7. Will a tech breakthrough help us?

Answers to Question 8. How much will the seas rise?

Answers to Question 9. Are the predictions reliable?

Answers to Question 10. Why do people question climate change?

Answers to Question 11. Is crazy weather tied to climate change?

Answers to Question 12. Will anyone benefit from global warming?

Answers to Question 13. Is there any reason for hope?

Answers to Question 14. How does agriculture affect climate change?

Answers to Question 15. Will the seas rise evenly across the planet?

Justin Gillis answer to Question 16. Is it really all about carbon?

“Here’s a quick explainer.

The greenhouse gases being released by human activity are often called “carbon emissions,” just for shorthand. That is because the two most important of the gases, carbon dioxide and methane, contain carbon. Many other gases also trap heat near the Earth’s surface, and many human activities cause the release of such gases to the atmosphere. Not all of these actually contain carbon, but they have all come to be referred to by the same shorthand.

By far the biggest factor causing global warming is the burning of fossil fuels for electricity and transportation. That process takes carbon that has been underground for millions of years and moves it into the atmosphere, as carbon dioxide, where it will influence the climate for many centuries into the future. Methane is even more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, but it breaks down more quickly in the air. Methane comes from swamps, from the decay of food in landfills, from cattle and dairy farming, and from leaks from natural gas wells and pipelines.

While fossil-fuel emissions are the major issue, another major creator of emissions is the destruction of forests, particularly in the tropics. Billions of tons of carbon are stored in trees, and when forests are cleared, much of the vegetation is burned, sending that carbon into the air as carbon dioxide.

When you hear about carbon taxes, carbon trading and so on, these are just shorthand descriptions of methods designed to limit greenhouse emissions or to make them more expensive so that people will be encouraged to conserve fuel.”

My answer to Question 16. Is it really all about carbon?

Climate change has very little to do with carbon. The term “carbon pollution” is a misnomer set up to simplify the argument to put the blame for climate change on increased CO2.

Coming out of the ice age both temperature and CO2 rose, but, and this is important, temperature rose first, and then, with a 300 to 800 year lag CO2 rose. When temperatures had risen to a couple of degrees higher than today, temperature stopped rising, CO2 caught up and has been stable until about 1700 A.D, when coal mining started in earnest. During this time of CO2 stability we have had the Minoan warm period, a cooldown, the Roman warm period, sharp cooldown during the dark ages, the Medieval warm period, the little ice age, and finally today’s warming period, called “Climate change.” Each warming period was a little cooler than the previous, and each cooling period a little colder than the previous. We are now well into the bog building phase of the interglacial period, during which time the CO2 levels used to decrease until the Milankovitch cycles ended the interglacial period. The unprecedented increase in CO2 levels experienced since the start of the industrial era might get us back to  the Medieval warming period, but the long term trend is lower temperatures, and the nest cooling period might trigger the next ice age.

What is putting a limit on temperature rise? One have to remember that the major greenhouse gas, bar none, is water vapor. In the tropics water vapor is more than ten times as abundant as when temperatures reach the freezing point. In the tropics water can be measured in percent, at the poles in parts per million. This has tremendous ramifications. Water vapor is lighter than air, and humid air tend to rise, get cooled down as temperature falls with altitude, and when saturation occurs clouds will form if there are condensation points, such as pollen, soot or cosmic radiation. The amount of CO2 does not matter in the tropics, if clouds or, better yet, thunderstorms occur there is a negative feedback keeping the temperatures stable, near the temperature of the oceans. Not so in the deserts and at the poles. Where water vapor is lacking CO2 plays a role. In the deserts the long term temperatures will increase at the full 0.9 degree C for every doubling pf CO2, at the poles far more, not so much because of increased CO2, but increased water vapor will cause it to snow more, releasing additional heat, causing more snow. And we can see that snowfall over the northern hemisphere is increasing, but the spring melt is also earlier.

In short, climate change so far has been all to the good.