Stephen Wilde: CO2 or Sun ? Which one really controls Earth’s surface temperatures ?

Posted: November 28, 2011 by tallbloke in atmosphere, climate

CO2 or Sun ? Which one really controls Earth’s surface temperatures ?

Stephen Wilde – November 2011

1) Here is a chart showing the Temperature of the Lower Stratosphere (TLS) from 1979 to date.  From 1979 the modern satellite temperature record first became available.


On the face of it there was a decline throughout the period, but look more closely. A decline from 1979 to about 1994 and then flat. The two spikes around 1983 and 1993 were a consequence of volcanic eruptions injecting material into the stratosphere resulting in short term warming of the lower stratosphere. They do not appear to affect the background trend.

That decline has been taken as evidence in support of the proposed effect of human CO2 emissions because more greenhouse gases are supposed to hold energy in the troposphere for longer thus cooling the stratosphere.

However, human CO2 emissions have been increasing faster than ever since 1994 so why would the cooling stratospheric temperature trend have stopped? The observations do not fit the theory that CO2 quantities were the cause of that period of stratospheric cooling.

Obviously some other factor is in play.

2) Here is a chart showing the Temperature of the Lower Troposphere (TLT) from 1979 to date. From 1979 the modern satellite temperature record first became available.

On the face of it there was an increase throughout the period but look more closely. An increase from 1979 to about 2000 and then flat. The spikes around 1998 and 2010 were a consequence of strong El Nino events releasing oceanic warmth to the air resulting in short term warming of the troposphere. They do not appear to affect the background trend.

On the basis of the above two charts it seems that the global background trend in stratosphere and troposphere is not significantly affected by volcanic events or individual El Nino events.

It is also clear that the temperature trends in the lower stratosphere and the lower troposphere are mirror images of one another. They appear to move in opposite directions despite short term disruption from volcanic events or El Nino events.

The difference in the average slope is probably related to the density differences. It will require more of an energy content change to alter the gradient in the troposphere because of the greater density of the troposphere. Thus for any given change in atmospheric energy content the slope in the troposphere will change less than the slope in the stratosphere.

The fact that the change in background trend to flat occurred in the stratosphere a few years before the change in background trend to flat in the troposphere is probably due to the thermal inertia of the oceans.

3) Here is a chart showing the Temperature of the Troposphere and Stratosphere (TTS) for the period 1987 to date. 1987 was the year when such information first became available.

Interestingly one can see subdued versions of the 1993 volcanic spike and the El Nino spikes of 1998 and 2010 but again they are short term effects only and do not alter the flat background trend.

The trend is clearly flat throughout which demonstrates that the opposing trends in the stratosphere and troposphere cancel out at the tropopause or possibly (over a longer period) leave a tiny positive or negative residue which is indicative of net system warming or net system cooling at any given time. For the period 1987 to date there appears to be a very small decline which suggests to me that any increase early in the period has been slightly more than offset by a small decrease over the past 12 years or so. It is generally accepted that there has been little or no tropospheric warming over the past 12 years despite an increase in human CO2 emissions.

I suggest that a positive or negative change in the TTS represents a change in the average height of the tropopause at the latitude where the data is recorded and it is that change which represents a change in the rate of energy flow through the Earth system AND a shift in the surface latitudinal positions of the climate zones which we perceive as climate change.

That change in the rate of energy flow through the Earth system serves to keep the Earth system energy content at equilibrium despite changes in solar input or changes in greenhouse gas quantities.

4) The only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the above is that CO2, volcanic outbreaks and El Nino events have little or no effect on the background temperature trends in stratosphere and troposphere because of the ability of the Earth system to change the height of the tropopause and the size and location of the permanent climate zones to change the speed of energy flow through the Earth system and thereby negate any such effects.. The TTS data shows almost a zero change from 1987 to 2011. We have to look elsewhere for the cause of the change in temperature trend to flat in BOTH stratosphere and troposphere that occurred in the middle and late 1990s.

The only change that fits is the decline in solar activity from the peak of solar cycle 23.


5) I have already proposed a mechanism whereby this observed outcome could be achieved as a result of solar variability:

How The Sun Could Control Earth’s Temperature

for a description of how the observed opposite temperature trends in stratosphere and troposphere could be achieved without the need to invoke any significant CO2 effect.

That is the only climate description that I am aware of that accommodates the observed opposite temperature trends in stratosphere and troposphere as a result of solar variability.

and, note also:

The Setting and Maintaining of Earth’s Equilibrium Temperature

for a description of the influence of the oceans in setting the energy content of the entire Earth system

and, how it all fits together:

The Unifying Theory of Earth’s Climate

for a description of how variability in the size and speed of the water cycle and of the positions, sizes and intensities of the permanent climate zones work together to alter the rate of energy flow from surface to space to maintain Earth system stability.

Whether or not the current flat global tropospheric temperature trend turns to cooling or back to warming will most likely depend on what the sun does next. So far, the less active sun has merely caused the tropospheric warming trend to cease. A continuation of solar inactivity should turn that into a decline if it lasts long enough.

We are still not back to the warmth of the MWP or the Roman Warm Period so it seems a bit early to be on a long term downtrend just yet.

  1. Stephen Wilde says:

    It seems that the first link which was to Irishweatheronline is no longer working so use this one instead:

    ” How The Sun Could Control Earth’s Temperature”.

    As regards the datasets referred to they were taken from the WUWT reference pages here:

  2. Roger Andrews says:


    A few miscellaneous ramblings

    TLS shows a strong response to the El Chichon (1982) and Pinatubo (1991) eruptions but TLT doesn’t (you can pick the post-Pinatubo TLT cooling if you know when the eruption occurred but not if you don’t, and the Chichon eruption was followed by tropospheric warming, not cooling.)

    On the other hand TLS shows a strong response to El Nino events but TLT shows no response at all.

    It might be interesting to detrend the TLT and TLS series and perform a correlation analysis on the short-term variations. My guess is that you would get no correlation, indicating that the tropopause acts as a barrier to heat flow. But I guess we knew that already.

    Question on the TTS series. Is this a density-weighted average or a simple arithmetic average of TLS and TLT? (I mention this because we have an ocean heat content series but no atmospheric heat content series, or at least none that I know of. I put an AHC series together once based on temperature and specific humidity data and it showed no increase since 1948, but I’m not sure I got the equations right.)

    I tried to open your link to “How The Sun Could Control Earth’s Temperature” but got an error message. Thought you should know.

  3. Roger Andrews says:

    “On the other hand TLS shows a strong response to El Nino events but TLT shows no response at all.”

    Sorry, got it backwards. Should read “On the other hand TLT shows a strong response to El Nino events but TLS shows no response at all.”

  4. M.A.Vukcevic says:

    Now, now, we have to be nice to our very good friend CO2.
    CO2 takes holidays in June (when the insolation is the highest and re-radiation should be strong), it just can’t cope with too much feedback, so we get no warming at all:
    However comes Christmas, CO2 is back home (with the family) not much sun, even less re-radiation so CO2 happily obliges and with a bit of magic heats up the atmosphere at the unprecedented rate:
    It’s my bed time now.

  5. When commenting about GLOBAL temperature; but taking in consideration ONLY northern hemisphere, is what NASA / IPCC want you to do. Talking about LOWER troposphere, instead of as one troposphere is also cherry picking. It’s prudent to obtain Russian data – they mislead LESS than NASA. Temperature in the stratosphere a] doesn’t fluctuates b] is irrelevant for the temperature on the ground. Those gases helium, aerosols, ozone just spin there, without coming to the ground to bring any coldness.

    1] if pollution in the upper troposphere – gets warmer there – lower troposphere cooler = overall, same warmth units at any time in the WHOLE troposphere. 2] in the most honest times, satellite monitoring is two-dimensional, not of the whole troposphere at the same time = the most unreliable data. 3] when is volcanic pollution in the upper atmosphere – intercepts lots of radiation = on the ground cooler, in upper atmosphere cooling is much more efficient. 4] in La Nina, western Pacific water is warmer, but not the eastern. 5] no matter how much CO2 is in the atmosphere – it doesn’t change the temperature overall, NOT ONE BIT. Because CO2 intercepts more sunlight than oxygen and nitrogen – that makes it to go up. At night CO2 intercepts MORE COLDNESS than O+N and falls down to feed the trees / crops. Those two factors cancel each other. Unless one believes that the sun is on every square metre on the planet at all times = flat earth believer… as Vukcevic:

  6. Not the sun or CO2 controls the temperature in the atmosphere, but oxygen and nitrogen. They are 998999ppm, CO2 is 270-400ppm. when the sun radiation increases, affects electronic inhalations, full stop; will be proven soon. When for any reason O+N warm up – they expand up – intercept extra coldness redirect it down and equalize in a jiffy. CO2 intercepts more radiation during the day in upper troposphere.= that heat never comes to the ground. At night CO2 uses the second factor – intercepts more coldness than O+N, reason CO2 is used for making dry ice, instead of O+N.

    The climatologist used the first factor (disregarded the second factor)and promised Nuclear Winter for year 2000. Before you even defrosted from their Nuclear Winter – they went 180 degrees in opposite direction by using second factor with bigger noise and disregarding the first factor. GLOBAL warming is exactly the same as their nuclear winter – only bigger rip-off. When part of the atmosphere cools, for any reason – O+N shrink appropriately = release less heat, or intercept less coldness if you will; until equalizes in few minutes – go back to normal volume. If solar eclipse – the moon intercepts lots of sunlight not to come to the earth. Where is the shadow – the air shrinks – from other areas air comes, to avoid vacuum. By smaller troposphere – intercepts less coldness and temperature stays overall the same at all times!

    Ice age can only be on one hemisphere – the other is always / simultaneously much warmer than normal. Because, on the hemisphere that is the ice age = air shrinks – from the other hemisphere lots of air goes there = on the other hemisphere less air = hotter days. If theoretically gets colder on both hemispheres than usual – the oxygen + nitrogen shrink INSTANTLY – intercept less coldness, or release less heat, if you will = equalizes in a JIFFY = no ice age. If the laws of physics don’t approve of something = is because is WRONG: . Mitich formula: EH>AE>ECI (Extra Heat >Atmosphere Expands > Extra Coldness Intercepts) sunspots / sun-flares are for naive Skeptics to create back-door exit for the manipulators. Remember my formula, you can’t go wrong. Visit my website, is not much, every text is connected / related to the rest. Scrutinize and see that when something is correct, can be proven ALL now.