Sometimes it pays to check the most widely accepted assertions.
Just about every discussion of CO2 and “Greenhouse Gasses” includes a harangue about Oxygen and Nitrogen NOT being active in the IR and NOT being a “Greenhouse Gas”. Yet we know that any object with a temperature above nearly nothing emits photons. Some are X-rays, some are visible light, and some are infrared light. (And radio waves and microwaves and…) So how can you have a world wrapped in hot nitrogen and NOT have it radiate something? So I started to search.
I usually present things as a chronological series of “the hunt”, saving the money quote / link for last (as that’s when it was found, since then the search tends to end). I’m not going to do that this time. Right up front is the “wow link”. I went through a LOT of “the same old same old” to get to it, and the ‘supportive matter’ would be a bit tedious. I’ll put a couple of bits below it. Bits that were more useful than most.
Nitrogen Has ‘Back Radiation’ in the Infrared
I was going to just quote a couple of bits, but since they have a PDF_don’t_cut_paste setting, instead I’ll give a screenshot of the first page. ( I really do wish folks would realize that if you can SEE it you can COPY it and that all they are doing is wasting their time with ‘protection’ measures. Fair Use is Fair Use, after all…) You can click on it to get a more readable size, or ‘hit the link’ for the whole doc.
The bottom line here is pretty simple. After doing some sky observing, they found a large IR interference from the open sky. This was chased back to a Nitrogen band at 10,300 Angstroms. It varies over the night, dimming as the sky cools, and increases again just before sunrise. It varies with zenith angle too. It is strong and bright.
So my questions are simple and few:
1) Is it not the case that “That which emits, absorbs” at the same band?
2) Does that not mean Nitrogen IS an infrared absorber and emitter?
3) Does that not mean Nitrogen fits the definition of a “greenhouse gas”?
(wrong as the term may be).
4) Doesn’t this kind of screw up the whole “Only CO2 Matters!” mantra?
(That already ignores water vapor…)
That’s really the whole thrust of this posting. IF Nitrogen (not to mention all it’s ions and N3 and atomic forms) has a bunch of IR bands, doesn’t that kind of play Hob with the whole CO2 thesis? And there is ample evidence for Nitrogen having a bunch of IR bands.
Some Backing Matter & Electric Universe Speculation
These bits are also interesting in some ways, but mostly are just additional evidence for a nitrogen IR behaviour, while the above is a direct measurement by experts in measuring photons from the sky.
Some Sniditude toward NASA:
The title implies they know that Nitrogen has an IR band or three…
Infrared electronic emission spectrum of nitrogen
Author and Affiliation: Benesch, W. M.
Saum, K. A.
Abstract: Nitrogen IR emission spectra from atomic and molecular excited electronic states transitions, studying DC discharges at various pressures
Publication Date: Jan 01, 1970
19700043976 (Acquired Dec 04, 1995)
Accession Number: 70A20092
Subject Category: PHYSICS, ATOMIC, MOLECULAR, AND NUCLEAR
Document Type: Journal Article
Publication Information: 459 (
Publisher Information: United States
Contract/Grant/Task Num: NSG-398
Financial Sponsor: NASA; United States
Description: 6p; In English
Distribution Limits: Unclassified; Publicly available; Unlimited
NASA Terms: ELECTRON STATES; ELECTRON TRANSITIONS; EMISSION SPECTRA; INFRARED SPECTRA; NITROGEN; AURORAS; DIRECT CURRENT; GALACTIC RADIATION; GAS FLOW; LIGHT EMISSION; MOLECULAR GASES; PRESSURE EFFECTS; WAVELENGTHS
Imprint And Other Notes: APPLIED OPTICS, VOL. 9, P. 195-200.
Miscellaneous Notes: ARMY- NSF-SUPPORTED RESEARCH.
Availability Source: Other Sources
Perhaps it’s that whole “electric universe” thing and the degree of nitrogen “excitation” is important in modulating our weather? Somehow I’ve not heard anyone mention that possibility, yet here we have THE dominant gas in the atmosphere “back radiating” in ways that are dependent on the Sun, and probably also dependent on the degree of ionizing from electric / particle flows in the atmosphere. Seems stronger than the imagined “greenhouse gas” effect from CO2. At least this has been observed and measured.
A Graph Of Nitrogen Spectral Lines
Click to embiggen…
Note the strong spectral lines down in the IR end off to the right?
That seems, to me, so say that Nitrogen IS active in the IR end of things, and with a lot of various bands of activity. Note, too, that this is JUST for molecular Nitrogen (one presumes N2) and does not include the various OTHER Nitrogen species (presumably not the N3 that sometimes occurs nor the various ionization products nor all the NxO species nor…) so there’s a large potential for a lot of other IR active species running around “up there” especially under solar irradiation, particle flows and storms, and in the hot thermosphere / mesosphere areas.
In short, it looks to me like the “CO2 Magic Gas IR Is EVERYTHING!” crowd have ignored Nitrogen and got things wrong, again.
The Typical View, but Shows Water
This is mostly the regular old run of the mill “CO2 is important not much else is” kind of treatment most often seen. It denegrates any nitrogen role, but does mention how important water is (for a change).
It starts off well:
Any object warmer than absolute zero gives off electromagnetic radiation. Hot objects give off high energy, short wavelength photons; cooler objects emit lower energy, longer wavelength photons. Earth’s surface, heated by the incoming sunlight, emits relatively long-wavelength infrared photons. These IR photons move upward from the surface through the atmosphere. Here’s where the greenhouse effect comes in! The atmosphere, which is mostly transparent in visible light wavelengths, is definitely not transparent at IR wavelengths. A small amount of the upward flowing IR shoots directly out into space, but the majority of it is absorbed by the atmosphere. This influx of IR energy heats the atmosphere, which in turn re-radiates IR photons. Some go up, while others go down. Eventually the IR photons escape into space, but some make several round trips between the ground and the atmosphere before they depart. Along the way, a lot of energy is transferred to the ground and the atmosphere. That energy becomes heat which warms Earth’s surface and its atmosphere.
They “get it” that ANYTHING warm gives off photons. They get it that the air is substantially already IR opaque and not much is going to make it more so. Then they kind of lose the plot with photons running back and forth and magically heat happens… Close, but not quite. At any rate, further down:
Although Earth’s atmosphere is 90% opaque to long wave IR radiation, the vast majority of the atmosphere is not composed of gases that cause the greenhouse effect. Molecular nitrogen (N2) and oxygen (O2) make up roughly 98% of our atmosphere, and neither is a greenhouse gas. So, although the greenhouse effect is very powerful, a very small fraction of Earth’s atmospheric gases generate the effect.
So they again “get it” that we’re in the 90%+ range of IR opaque already and then miss the point that any more opaque is not going to do much of anything (maybe speed up convection and evaporation a bit, that’s about it). Then we get the usual dismissal of Nitrogen and Oxygen, when BOTH have IR spectral lines… (I’ve not bothered to include the oxygen bits. Search on “Oxygen IR spectrum” or “Oxygen IR spectra” if you want to chase that down.)
What are the main greenhouse gases? Because of all the press coverage it has received in recent years, you may think that carbon dioxide (CO2) is “the big one”. Though CO2’s role is important, water vapor is actually the dominant greenhouse gas in Earth’s atmosphere. Water vapor generates more greenhouse effect on our planet than does any other single gas. Water, in gaseous form (as water vapor) and in liquid form (as tiny droplets in clouds), generates somewhere between 66% and 85% of the greenhouse effect. We’ll get back to the issue of the large range that “66% to 85%” represents in a minute; it turns out that separating the impact of individual greenhouse gases is not a simple matter.
And that bit is just stellar! They “get it” that we are a Water Planet and that water is THE big working fluid. As evaporation / precipitation and as convective driver, and as IR absorber and emitter (largely important at the tops of clouds).
They even ‘get it’ that ozone matters. Again I’d want to ask if perhaps modulating Ozone via UV variation from the sun has been properly assessed, but I’m sure it has not been…
After water vapor, what are the most important greenhouse gases? In rough order of importance and size of effect, the major ones are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and ozone (O3). There are a number of other gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect to a lesser extent; we’ll mention these here in passing for reference, but not consider them further henceforth. These “lesser greenhouse gases” include nitrous oxide (N2O), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
Now look back up at that water vapor set of numbers. 66% to 85%. Range of 19% How “important” is CO2? Well, they have a nice little chart further down.
Major Greenhouse Gas % of Greenhouse Effect Water vapor 36% to 66% Water vapor & Cloud droplets 66% to 85% Carbon dioxide 9% to 26% Methane 4% to 9% Ozone 3% to 7%
Now note that CO2 is 9% to 26% with a 17% error band. It is lost in the error band on water.
Since we have little to no clue how much water changes over time, and what impact it has overall on climate (other than that when things get very cold and it freezes out of the air we tend to stay in those ice age conditions for 100,000 years… the risk is to the downside in cold); the ‘bottom line’ for me is pretty simple. It’s the water that matters. CO2 not so much.
Now, too, remember that human activity has changed CO2 (maybe…) by about 100 ppm out of 400. And since the IR absorption is logarithmic, it is way less than 1/4 of the effect. Just for simple comparisons, lets call it 1/8 of the total IR absorption of CO2 ( it ought to be significantly less than that). That would make the “human part” about 1% to 3%. That’s IT. The whole magilla. The entirely of ALL human contribution is way more than lost in the error bands of everything else. In short, it is irrelevant.
Trivial variations in water vapor level will entirely swamp ANYTHING people have done. Natural variations in ozone will swamp it. I’d even assert that it is likely simple variation in Nitrogen excitation will swamp it.
All of those larger things are ignored, just so that CO2 can be vilified. Golly.
This article was inspired by reading:
http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2010/02/the_hidden_flaw_in_greenhouse.html but I’ve lost the link back to what pointed me at it, so can’t properly h/t that source.
The role of other species in the IR “budget” of the planet have been grossly ignored, despite it being very clear that they are larger than any human induced change in the CO2 IR “budget”.
In particular, the role of UV modulation of ozone and the role of Nitrogen and any impacts of solar and cosmic radiation induced changes in ionization levels have been ignored. Nitrogen is roundly dismissed as not active in the IR bands, despite it being enough of a pain in the telescope that as far back as the 1940s folks noticed and measured it with a galvanometer.
There IS “back radiation” in the IR band from nitrogen. It DOES modulate with solar activity / sunrise and set. It is also ignored. That, alone, makes most of the dreck served up as “climate science” rather useless.
Water variation (and error bands) swamps any CO2 effect, and the human component of the total CO2 effect is vanishingly small, less even than the total CO2 error band and way less than the water vapor error bands / variation.
UV / Ozone and ionizing of Nitrogen are likely to be far larger than the 1%-3% of human contributed CO2. This provides a direct mechanism for the “electric universe” folks to explore and it provides a direct mechanism for the Sun to drive climate despite low TSI variations. Solar driven variation in water vapor, Ozone, and Nitrogen ionization totally swamp any human CO2 contribution to the climate.
In short, we are irrelevant, “carbon” is irrelevant, and it’s the sun along with other gasses that matter.