Does Convection Dominate?

OK, we’ve got a connections moment again…

I was reading the Spencer posting here:’s-2010-controversial-greenhouse-theory/

And he had this nice diagram with Miskolczi’s computations of IR radiation side by side with conventional (that he says he ‘stole’ from someone else and annotated, so I’m going to ‘rip it off’ and put a copy here… yeah, I ought to get permission, but then again, I’m advertizing his excellent analysis for free so if he wants me to pull that, I can ;-)

Spencer's version of Kiehl and Trenberth chart with Miskolczi's values

Spencer's version of Kiehl and Trenberth chart with Miskolczi's values

What I noticed first was that the cloud reflection is shown as a constant. What happens if it’s a variable as per Svensmark? It is of magnetude 77 in the chart. The difference between the two IR arrows (the fat beige ones on the right) is about 12 (Miskolczi) to 26 ( K & T). So a modest variation in cloud can easily offset the IR “imbalance” and it is a minor PART of the IR that is supposed to be the CO2 change impact.

Then I noticed that the “thermals” and “evapo-transpiration” were shown as a similar sized constant (24 and 78 respectively). “But thermals vary a LOT over the course of a day”, I think. Which gets me thinking about hot air ballooning and how we had to be awake at Oh-Dark-Thirty to launch at dawn or the thermals would kick up and we’d be hosed and / or have a too exciting launch… Could the daily variation in thermals and evapo-transpiration tell us anything about THEIR tendency to vary with energy input variation? What happens when you get some added ‘radiative energy’ into the system? Would adding 1% or so of ‘retained’ IR really warm things up and keep it there?

That 40 to 61 “Atmospheric window” is what is supposed to be varied a tiny bit by our small changes in CO2 in the atmosphere. It is larger than the “IR imbalance” and the presumption is that added CO2 will increase the back radiation more than it increases the outbound (narrowing the imbalance and heating things up). As some heat is delivered as visible and converted to IR on the surface we have heat to dump. That we have an existing imbalance to the outgoing side, to me, argues we ought to have most of the ‘window closing’ show up in outbound imbalance, but that’s just an intuitive leap and not based on any analysis or experimentation. Then again, I haven’t seen anything that proves it will show up as inbound and not as outbound IR. In this static scoring chart we have 168 net to dump and it leaves via thermals, evapo-transpiration, IR imbalance, and the ‘atmospheric window’.) Last time I looked, 77 and 78 were larger than 40 and added together with thermals the 179 is a lot larger than 40 which makes it much much larger than the ‘delta in 40′ postulated from CO2. So we’re supposed to panic of a minor change in a ’40’ sized number while ignoring completely changes in a 77 and a 78+24= 102 sized numbers. Total of 179 to be ignored while a small delta in 40 is cause for panic.

That led me to wondering about the daily variation in atmospheric temperature with altitude. Might the (roughly) 1 kW/m^2 variation in energy flux from the sun from midnight to noon give us a clue about what would happen with a 1 or 2 W additional “heating” at the surface?

Which lead to this paper:

Some of the graphs in it have the defect of variable scales (sometimes temps start at 180 K sometimes at 200 K so direct visual scanning is hobbled and I need to read the numbers and adjust the visuals in my mind so my visual cortex integrator can see the time series of the ‘wiggles’ cleanly… PITA of a sort…) but:

The upshot of it all to me is pretty simple. Those graphs at lower elevations are darned near constant. There is about a 275 K to 285 K variation in temperature at 4 km altitude over the course of a clear tropical day. It’s the troposphere that has the largest wiggles. At 22.5 km about 200K to 250K as I eyeball the graphs. AND, IFF I’ve read the paper correctly, it’s says they are due to convections from the surface heating.

Now I may easily have gotten something backwards here, as it’s just a first read on some pretty tenuous stuff, but what this says to me is that the surface temperatures don’t change very much compared with the temperatures at altitude and it’s convection that sucks all the excess surface heat up and deposits it above the largely IR opaque lower atmosphere where it can radiate off into space (as a fourth power of temperature function ) more efficiently. And it does that with all of a 2 hour time lag…

So if we’ve got a system that can take a 1 kW / m^2 variation in surface heating, and dump it all at altitude inside a few hours via convection, exactly what in the world is all this obsession with CO2 and IR about?

Somehow I think I’m going to need to re-read both of these a few times and have a bit of think about it some more… I feel “Mocha Time” calling my name…

But at least on this side of the Mocha Mountain it sure LOOKS like there is plenty of daily variation in convection that is masked by using a single constant such that it can transport a LOAD of added heating to the upper atmosphere and let a forth power function get rid of it…

Some day I’m going to learn to get the laundry and dishes done BEFORE I read a new paper or two ;-)

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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19 Responses to Does Convection Dominate?

  1. Malaga View says:

    This Global Energy Balance is my current topic de jour and it is driving me nuts… so please climb that Mocha Mountain because your brain and insights are needed – big time.

    I started looking at this over at the site where there are lots of posts… and when I try to bring this together with everything else I read my brain hurts… and I get a serious this does not compute moment… and I am left wondering who is telling the truth… and who is being economic with the truth.

    I also came across an interesting alternate view at which argues:
    The Earths atmosphere, which consists of 99% Oxygen and Nitrogen, is incontrivertably heated from the top down. There is no “Greenhouse Effect” in our atmosphere and therefore no “Greenhouse Gases”. The concept is bogus and simply does not exist. It never has and it never will.

    Which makes me think that the Energy Balance needs a Top Down and Bottom Up approach that you are probably very well equipped to analyse.

    BUT this AVERAGE ENERGY BALANCE concept seems like it is a huge crock… just like the Average Global Temperature is a crock.

    Lets get back to first principles… the solar constant is pumping out about 1,364 W/m2… and land based measurements of insolation are said to peak somewhere around 1,000 W/m2.

    That means a lot of energy is absorbed by the atmosphere before the sunlight even hits the deck… like 364 W/m2 worth of heat has gone somewhere… and then you go look at their average energy balance and it starts with a solar input of only 341.3 W/m2! Seems like the wrong ball game to me.

    Is there an actual location on the earth that actually conforms to this average? Or more specifically: Where on the earth do we go to take actual measurements to test the hypothesis?

    It is like the “average temperature” concept… it doesn’t apply to my habitual geographic location… it always applies to somewhere else… and by implication nobody else can verify the figures with actual observations taken where they live! Sounds like a familiar tactic of The Team.

    The Energy Balance varies all around the globe… we have artic winters that receive no insolation… we have ice sheets that reflect huge amounts of sunlight… we have oceans… we have continents… we have equatorial rain forests which absorb huge amounts of solar energy and release huge amounts of water into the atmosphere.. and there are weather systems that help distribute the heat around the globe.

    This implies that studying the average will not really help us understand what is going because nowhere really conforms to the average model.

    The Energy Balance is also driven by the global extremes… cold poles… and a hot equator… with the mid-latitudes sandwiched in between the extremes.

    Therefore, the average energy balance being described is always missing two energy flows… heat arriving from the equator… and heat being dispatched towards the pole… and I doubt this is a zero sum flow… this flow drives weather events at the average location that affect the energy balance… so this releases energy as the heat is moved away from the equator towards the poles.

    Another problem with the average approach is that it is totally misleading… it understates insolation at the equator… and it overstates insolation at the poles.

    The individual energy flows have huge variability… we don’t know if the flows vary in a linear fashion… we ignore any heat sinks… we ignore weather… and we don’t know if average flow model is applicable / consistent with the polar or equatorial extremes.

    This whole thing is beginning to stink… but it might just be my own aroma that I am smelling.

  2. Adrian Vance says:

    Convection is a consequence of heating and air expansion. They are two different, unrelated processes.

  3. Adrian Vance says:

    The atmosphere is 78% nitrogen, 18% oxygen, 3% water vapor and 1% trace gases the largest of which is CO2 with 0.39% while Ar, He, Ar, CH4, etc have much smaller amounts, but are detectable.

  4. E.M.Smith says:

    @Malaga View:

    I agree with what you say about the over use of averages.

    In stock trading it is well known that you use an average to HIDE DETAILS. Anytime I see “average” I think “what is to be hidden?”. That is its PURPOSE. (and it is often a very good purpose. Use a 50 day simple moving average and you can see the trend in a stock with the daily news driven events hidden).

    But you can very easily “over average”. For large blocks of times “the average stock” may go nowhere, yet we have “sector rotation” going on as money moves from cyclicals to non-cyclicals, for example.

    The “trick” is to find the averages that hide the distractions but leave the valuable information on display.

    What bothers me about “Climate Science” is that they seem to use averages without an understanding of this double edged sword nature… (and they ignore that you can not average an intensive variable and get anything of meaning… treating temperature as a proxy for heat is just wrong.)

    So, back at the posting: I noticed something in the same class of problem you are describing. Clouds, thermals, and evapo-transpiration treated as simple constants. They are anything but.

    As a first step, just looking at daily variation in ONE place, we find that evapo-transpiration and convection move most of the delivered heat well up into the atmosphere at altitude with a 2 hour time lag. So that 24 hour day now becomes something you can’t reasonably ignore. Any “added heat” at the surface from closing the IR “Atmospheric window” is going to be delivered at altitude inside 2 hours. At most you can get a slight increase in the temperatures at about 4 pm, then it’s off to the sky with it…

    But some of that added heat will be delivered not as temperatures but as evaporated water. When it condenses it will release the heat (that could then show up as temperatures… note that the air at altitude warms more than that at the surface as the ground heat arrives. To me that argues for condensation as means of delivery). This added condensation will become more clouds and act as a negative feedback to incoming sunlight. (Then fall as rain somewhere to repeat the cycle).

    I’ve avoided, in this piece, getting into the details of where it all goes. That’s best handled by a met guy. But it’s pretty clear that the load of heat at the equatorial zone goes up as tropical wet air and comes down as cold dry polar air after dumping a load of heat at altitude and a load of rain and snow over the whole planet. To ignore all that is “a very bad idea”… yet that is what “Climate Science” does. We’re supposed to look at the giga-tons of TNT equivalent energy being transported in a hurricane (of which there are dozens each year) and ignore that, while getting excited about a few watts of IR. Yeah, right…

    But as a first step, this posting finds that even in one place, the daily convection variation swamps the IR load. Sunshine comes in, and inside 2 hours is being dumped at altitude sufficiently to warm the air by up to 50 C (or K) where it can then have a 4th power function moving that heat back to IR, but now well above a nearly opaque to IR lower atmosphere. We see that in the temperature charts on the linked paper. “At altitude” varies in temperature a lot, but “near the ground” only a little. That’s not from IR variations, that’s from heat transport via convection and water cycle. And at night the heat radiates away (as the ‘at altitude’ chart shows the temperature dropping a lot).

    So even before we get into all the other complications, we can say that this one place is showing the heat transport is mostly NOT IR and that it has a very rapid response to ANY added heat and it dumps it back at altitude. Then, each night, it goes away…

    Which implies that any model that ignores the day / night cycle is seriously broken.

    In summary:

    Ignoring variable convection is seriously broken.
    Ignoring daily cycle variations is seriously broken.
    Ignoring evapo-transpiration is seriously broken.
    Ignoring cloud variability is seriously broken.

    Other than that, the “climate scientists” might have something ;-)

    but then we’ll have to figure out if ignoring latitude effects is as seriously broken as all the other bits…

  5. Malaga View says:

    Perhaps there are other ways that we could look at the problem.

    For example:

    When my thermometer says it is 80F outside does it mean:

    The Nitrogen in the air is at 80F – this is 78.084% of dry air
    The Oxygen in the air is at 80F – this is 20.943% of dry air
    The CO2 in the air is at 80F – this is 0.039% of dry air
    The H2O in the air is at 80F – this is about 0.400% of the atmosphere

    OK – so we are told that CO2 and H2O are greenhouse gases that heat up the atmosphere.

    So here are two questions:

    1) How hot does the CO2 and HO2 have to get to raise the temperature of all that Nitrogen and Oxygen by just one degree F?

    2) What heats up the Nitrogen and Oxygen to 80F because it can’t be just down to the tiny amounts of CO2 and H2O?

  6. Malaga View says:

    Which implies that any model that ignores the day / night cycle is seriously broken. In summary:
    Ignoring variable convection is seriously broken.
    Ignoring daily cycle variations is seriously broken.
    Ignoring evapo-transpiration is seriously broken.
    Ignoring cloud variability is seriously broken.

    Thanks… that is very reassuring… I will cancel my order for a case of extra strong deodorant.

  7. Malaga View says:

    I agree with what you say about the over use of averages

    I have been taught by a very generous teacher…
    His Musings are very educational… thank you.

  8. Peter Offenhartz says:

    Many thanks for your link to the Spencer blog. which then pointed me to the Miskolczi paper. Both are fascinating, although it will take me a long time to even partially digest them.

    Your links are, for me, wonderful, the best part of your blog. Thanks again!

  9. RuhRoh says:

    Hey Cheif

    Consider Mars as a nice clean lab experiment;
    no people,
    no oceans
    no evaporative transport
    no wet adiabatic lapse rate
    no variable albedo
    more CO2 than earth
    no Airport heat index
    no UHI

    and what do you get?

    The average atmospheric temperature is 210K, the same as the BB temperature;

    Somewhere, I got De Witty Payne guy to say that smart people attribute about 5 C of ‘greenhouse gas’ warming;

    the only problem is that no one can seems to point to it in data.

    I also found this thing where they seem to do a lot of thinking about convection;

    Click to access Mars+.pdf

    In your abundant free time.

  10. Ian Beale says:


    Might be from left field, but the gliding fraternaty can probably add a fair bit about punting on thermals

  11. Ian Beale says:

    Forgot to mention tepigraph charts from paper days in the above

  12. Paul Maynard says:

    Yes this is interesting. I am not a scientist but I am a devout sceptic. Whilst I accept that there is a greenhouse effect (not of the garden variety) I think there is considerable doubt over its degree. This has been the subject of quite robust discussion by Dr Spencer and at the Air Vent and other sceptic sites. The general view is that without GHG the GAT would be about 35C less than the current GAT pf 15C. This assumes of course that the GAT means something.

    Yet Dr Spencer makes clear reference in Climate Confusion to the importance of the vast conveyance of heat from the equator to the poles. Here is a quote from Roger Highfield of the Non Scientist in yesterdays Telegraph trying to explain why warming causes cooling.

    “For six years, a team at Southampton University has been using instruments, strung across the Atlantic from the Bahamas to north Africa, to monitor the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation. This is the massive system of currents, including the Gulf Stream, that carries a mind-boggling 1.3 petawatts of heat – that’s 1,300,000,000,000,000 watts – northwards in its warm upper waters.”

    I know that oxygen and nitrogen are not GHG but they sure do convey a lot of heat through the the atmosphere by convection. Last time I looked the sea is not a GHG.
    The average winter temp at the South Pole is -40C to -70C. With limited water vapour, how much colder would it be without CO2. I would suggest that the sheer temperature range between day and night implies that the real effect of CO2 is approaching zero.

  13. BlueIce2HotSea says:


    “What I noticed first was that the cloud reflection is shown as a constant. What happens if it’s a variable as per Svensmark?”

    Then except under restricted and idealized conditions, ‘albedo constant’ is an oxymoron.

    “…it’s convection that sucks all the excess surface heat up and deposits it above the largely IR opaque lower atmosphere where it can radiate off into space…”

    Your analysis seems correct if DeWitt Payne’s calculations are also correct. They show that after a CO2 molecule absorbs a photon near the earth’s surface, it is 10,000 times more likely to give up the extra energy due to a collision with another gas particle than to give up the increased thermalization (kinetic energy) via infrared emission. The density of the atmosphere controls the mean-time between collisions, which near the earth’s’ surface is on the order of nano-seconds. Only at high altitudes and lower densities does emission dominate convection. That’s what I get out of it.

  14. BlueIce2HotSea says:

    I should add that heating of the IR opaque layer due to convection from surface heat still means it has been heated somewhat by radiative emission, albeit indirectly.

  15. Chuckles says:

    E.M. I’m surprised you haven’t had the usual suspects invading the thread and shrieking that you are denying radiative physics and that this is not allowed…

    Considering this only as a pure radiative physics problem seems to be very important to those who would claim the impending apocalypse. I’m not sure if this is so that they can play the ‘it must be co2, we can’t think of anything else card?’
    Or possibly it is that that is how it is defined, as much of climate studies seems to be done ‘by definition.’ 30 years anyone?
    Of course, if we consider the earth as a ‘black box’ system we can only consider the purely radiative case, but like you, I find it troublesome when this is extended to the surface, and it is claimed that convection is a minor footnote.
    I believe it is in fact the primary transport up to the higher levels at which radiation to space occurs, and I suspect that most engineering types and non academic scientists hold similar opinions. Judith Curry had a couple of threads recently on the ‘greenhouse effect’, and Nullis in Verba presented a very compelling case for the pro-convection viewpoint, against the usual insistence that only radiative models be considered. Worth a read.

    @Paul Maynard,
    The dying of the Gulf Stream is much beloved by UK catastrophists, as they completely ignore the fact that local temps are primarily set by winds, with a slight moderating effect from the oceans.

  16. Adrian Vance says:

    For over 100 years physicists omitted water vapor from their studies of air as it precipitated causing problems in their instruments. Thus, everything gathered was expressed as “dry air” data.

    Le Chateleier came along in 1922 and modeled both solution and gaseous chemistry as “equilibrium systems” revolutionizing the fields, but this was totally ignored by Jim Hansen and his team who in 1971 were predicting a coming ice age from their computer models of the atmosphere. The late Steven Schnieder made a stirring presentation to a committee of Congress, the members of which could not figure out how to tax it so their feet went to sleep.

    Hansens “models” were little more than big spreadsheet systems where a change in temperature moves through the system in iterations, step-by-step, very simple and you can do one in a day, but he got millions of Dollars for it and built a mini-bureau now called the Goddard Space Sciences Institute disgracing the name of the great rocket pioneer and located at Columbia Univ, aka The Kremlin West.

    Hansen is our Rasputin and he should be hanged in public for what he has done to science and education. We now have a full generation of blithering idiot Ph.D.s in science who appear on TV in commercials talking about the wonderful things they are doing to save the planet when we are all no more responsible for it than some kid peeing in the Mississippi River in March. He is not flooding New Orleans.

    For more truth about “global warming” go to the “Two Minute Conservative” and input “global warming” to the search system.

  17. Ric Werme says:

    Adrian Vance noted:

    The atmosphere is 78% nitrogen, 18% oxygen, 3% water vapor and 1% trace gases the largest of which is CO2 with 0.39% while Ar, He, Ar, CH4, etc have much smaller amounts, but are detectable.

    0.39% has a typo, missing a 0.

    My grade school memory says Ar is 1%. concurs, giving dry percentages of 0.93% by volume (the usual metric) and 1.28% by weight.

    N2 is 78%, O2 is 21%, CO2 is 0.038% (but keeps changing).

  18. Adrian Vance says:

    You are quite correct. That is an error I seem predisposed to make I can only suppose because it is so ridiculous to accuse a gas that has only 0.038% by mass and is 2.44 times heavier than water vapor per molecule of having any role in the atmospheric system. But…

    The Elected Ruling Class has figured out there is more power in this myth than anything since the Divine Right of Kings and they will die trying to invoke it. That is the problem.

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