That’s what the Global Warming folks would have you believe. That a thermometer can do “calorie counting”. It’s a fundamental tenet of how they “do the math” of calculating Global Warming.
The basic “issue” is temperature vs. energy. This gets complicated with all sorts of physics and strange jargon that causes folks to glaze over on the subject. For a while now, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to explain it that sidesteps things like “enthalpy”, “specific heat”, and “intrinsic property”. What is everyone familiar with that would be a touchstone for those physics terms?
I think I’ve found that touchstone.
Folks know what temperature is. Sometimes they confound heat and temperature. Folks know what energy is. Sometimes they confound heat and energy.
Heat is not temperature, but temperature says some things about heat. But only if you know the quantity of stuff at a temperature and the heat capacity of that stuff. Those let you calculate the energy content of the object and then you can move on to heat. Heat itself has a couple of issues… since “heat” can mean the flow of thermal energy or it can mean the quantity of thermal energy.
Formally it means flow, but in common use folks use “heat content” for thermal energy content. We still see the correct usage in phrases like “heat the sauce”, where it means to make a flow of thermal energy into the sauce. It all becomes easier if you just avoid using the word “heat” at all, but talk about “thermal energy” content or flow. In that context, temperature is more like the pressure behind movement of thermal energy, while heat is the flow of that thermal energy (and “latent heat” is how much of that flow of thermal energy is stored in some other aspect of a material, like frozen vs liquid water.)
So what is a common place where people think about temperature, and energy content, that is clear and familiar? How about body temperature and the energy stored in food? We all know that our body has a temperature. We also all know that we get energy from food, and that when we “burn” that food in our metabolism, the energy in the food is liberated and some of it ends up as “body heat”. I think that touchstone can be used to make clear what the Climate Scientists have done that’s a bit daft.
They have used thermometers to try to measure how many calories the earth is taking in. Like you taking your body temperature to find out if you are gaining weight. Silly when you think of it that way.
The analogy is very good, fairly accurate, and closely models much of the actual physics issues.
Interestingly enough, it even brings out one other parallel. Both the earth and your body are “water cooled”. Humans, when too hot, sweat and evaporate water. The earth surface evaporates water too. That water rises to the top of the troposphere and then condenses into rain, dumping a load of thermal energy high in the sky, at the base of the tropopause. Measuring surface temperature is a particularly lousy way to measure thermal energy gain or loss, since loads of thermal energy can flow away as water vapor. Climate Science essentially ignores the water cycle, when the earth “sweats”, and instead sees more water vapor as a “positive feedback” that would make the earth warmer. In reality, more water vapor would lead to more precipitation and then on to more flow of thermal energy off planet. I cover that some in this link:
Which has a nice graph of the water / precipitation patterns showing that the highest energy input at the equator leads to a lot more rain, and the least at the poles leads to a lot less precipitation. Heat flow drives water flow, not temperature.
Does your body temperature tell you how much food you ate? How many pounds you gain? How much food energy you are turning into thermal energy? (Rather like the planet turning UV, visible light, and more into thermal energy of air molecules)?.
No, temperature does not tell you how many calories you ate, nor how many pounds you will gain. Similarly, for the earth: surface temperature does not tell you how much solar energy was absorbed, nor how many pounds of water evaporated. There is a fundamental disconnect between temperature readings and thermal energy flow or content.
That food calories analogy holds in one other interesting way, too. When you eat, your metabolism picks up a little, and you do get a tiny bit warmer; then many complex processes kick in to regulate your temperature. Similarly, the earth starts to warm a bit, then many complex processes kick in to regulate its temperature as well. Thunderstorms form, winds blow, ocean currents overturn. There is a small relationship, but a very dynamic one. Just enough to be confusing. Don’t eat, and your body temperature drops a tiny bit. Eventually you start to lose weight, but that takes longer. A naive person might be mislead into thinking that temperature was a direct indication of calories, but a careful observer would see a poor correlation with a non-linear relationship with a poor ability to predict longer term.
That’s the basic way that “Climate Scientists” have screwed up. They think they can use a thermometer to measure calories. That’s just wrong.
When you run, or have your daily awake / sleep cycle, or go swimming in a cool river, your temperature changes unrelated to your daily calorie intake. Sometimes when you eat more, you go to sleep and your body temperature drops. Similarly, the earth can have more energy flow in, and have a cool down that lower temperatures at the same time. In Florida we see this each summer. It gets hotter as noon approaches, then the water that’s been evaporating turns into afternoon showers that drop temperatures and cool the place off. More thermal energy coming in leading to lower surface temperatures. Natural ocean cycles can take heat energy into the depths. Natural convection can evaporate lots of water into the sky, to make snow that falls on the land. More heat ‘in’ can still have lower surface temperatures via convection, conduction, evaporation, condensation, and precipitation. If it wasn’t so, then we could never have one place warm and another cold at the same latitude. Such as California being warm while the east coast is buried under snow. The same solar radiation is coming in at the top of the atmosphere, after all. Something makes that weather difference… and it isn’t just calories ‘in’ making temperatures…
For people, it’s obvious to most of us that you need to measure your energy budget in and your energy budget out to know if you will gain or lose weight. “Calorie Counting”. Not just sticking a thermometer under your tongue. For “Climate Scientists”, they think if they stick one in your ear, two under your arm pits, and maybe one up your rump, then average them all, that will be the ticket. Physics just doesn’t work that way, though.
No amount of averaging of thermometers can ever tell you how many calories you are eating, and how much weight you will gain. And no number of thermometers can be averaged together to tell you how much thermal energy is being gained or lost from the planet.