Earth’s energy balance: some observations in the light of new evidence.

Posted: September 1, 2012 by tallbloke in atmosphere, climate, general circulation, Ocean dynamics, Tides

The imbalance between land and ocean area in the north compared to the south means absorbed energy has to cross from south to north because the ocean absorbs and retains more solar energy than the land surfaces. Because cloud amount reduced since at least 1960 all the way to the super el nino of ’98, as shown by the new papers from Spain and China and worldwide, more solar energy entered the oceans, predominantly in the southern hemisphere. Yet the southern hemisphere didn’t warm as much as the northern. So energy must have been transferred in ocean currents from south to north. The increase in solar energy will have increased the velocity of these currents. This could be why the Gulf Stream moved northwards, hitting Greenland and helping to warm the arctic ocean. That could be part of the reason why arctic ice has reduced while antarctic sea ice has increased.

The co2 theorists know that downwelling longwave radiation doesn’t heat the ocean. Instead, they argue that increasing co2 affects the optical depth of the atmosphere limiting outgoing longwave and increasing the “effective altitude of emission” of energy back to space. They say this means the radiation is then occuring from a higher and colder place, and so the temperature of the entire atmospheric envelope is forced to rise so that sufficient radiation to space occurs to bring the planet back into energy balance.

However, there are problems with this argument. Here are a few of them.

1) The ‘effective altitude of emission’ is a theoretical construct – it s not observable or measurable in the real atmosphere. Most radiation to space actually occurs from the cloud tops higher up, or escapes directly from the surface through the ‘atmospheric window’. The middle of the troposphere where the  ‘effective altitude of emission’ lies  is actually dominated by convective processes.

2) No increase in the optical depth of the real atmosphere has been observed or measured since measurements using pyrheliometry started at Davos in the Swiss alps 100 years ago, according to Doug Hoyt.

3) The atmosphere can’t heat the oceans to any measurable degree. Measurements indicate near surface air temp changes lag sea surface temperature changes by four months or so, and are on average 2C cooler than the ocean surface. The ocean drives the atmospheric temp, not the other way round.

4)  OLR increased from when measurement began in 1948 all the way to the early 2000’s by around 5W/m^2 according to the NCEP reanalysis of radiosonde data. This data is not without problems, however, I don’t think it is as bad as some people try make out (because it contradicts the idea that extra co2 is reducing OLR), for the following reason.

Two years ago I made an interesting discovery. Specific Humidity at the 300mb level (near the tropopause where most radiation to space occurs), as measured by the same radiosonde balloons, correlates closely with the Sunspot number, when the data is averaged over 83-96 months.

This strongly indicates that the Sun, not co2, is controlling humidity levels high in the atmosphere where most of the radiation to space occurs. This would explain why the radiative balance of Earth stay’s pretty constant despite changes in solar input through changing cloud cover. OLR increases when cloud amount drops, more or less balancing the extra energy being absorbed by the oceans. The whole system has to warm when the sun gets stronger as it did over much of the C20th, but the negative feedbacks in the system always act to moduate and moderate the effect of the stronger sun. The energies involved make co2 a tiny bit player in this act, and as the arrow of time and thus causality shows, their changing levels are more a consequence than a cause of temperature change.

  1. Ray Tomes says:

    Roger, can you please explain why the SSN green curve has a long term wandering component as well as the obvious 11 year cycle? How was it calculated exactly?

  2. tallbloke says:

    Hi Ray,
    it’s just a simple moving average of the sunspot data.
    Go to, select sidc sunspot number from 1940 and mean 96 like this:

  3. Roger Andrews says:


    Specific humidity also matches the ENSO-related ocean heat releases that occurred in 1964(?), 1976 and 1987.

  4. tallbloke says:

    Roger A: At which geographical range and pressure level do they do that? My global graph of the SH at 300mb seems to disagree.

  5. Roger Andrews says:


    Could you show your graphs of the SH and NH at 300mb? It wouldn’t surprise me if the two were different – they usually are.

    I sent you some pics a while ago showing how the heat released from the Equatorial Pacific during El Ninos spreads out below the tropopause, looking just like a volcanic eruption. It occurs to me that the humid air that collects in the troposphere during these events might explain some of the episodic increases in specific humidity, although it wouldn’t of course explain the long-term downward trend.

  6. David says:

    Tallbloke, you posted this question to Steve Mosher over at WUWT. This was my response post in support of your question.

    tallbloke says:
    September 1, 2012 at 3:23 pm
    Steven Mosher says:
    September 1, 2012 at 2:20 pm
    GHGs warm the planet, they dont cool it
    How else does heat get radiated to space from the atmosphere to cool the planet?
    Curious question indeed.

    A radiating GHG molecule, receiving its vibrational energy from conducted energy, accelerates the loss of that energy from the earth’s system.

    I am simply observing energy content of any system as a function of time, i.e. how long that delivered energy stays within a defined area. In regard to our planet the defined area is broadly the land surface, the oceans, and the atmosphere. How long the solar insolation, entering or leaving a defined area, stays before exiting determines T. and or heat content. This leads to a law. “At its most basic only two things can effect the heat content of any system in a radiative balance. Either a change in the input, or a change in the “residence time” of some aspect of those energies within the system.”

    When I heard of AGW theory I was rather surprised to learn that the only molecules (GHGs) which allow energy to escape into space, (cooling) somehow net heat the system above non radiationg (at common T) atmospheric gases.

    Supposedly a non GHG atmosphere, mostly transparent to incoming insolation, allows the bulk of the insolation to reach the surface, where it the radiates back to space, again for the most part, bypassing the non GHG molecules. Of course this ignores conduction, convection and evaporation. In such a world the non GHG molecules would warm by collision, or conduction from the surface, which would then conduct to more non GHG above them, which would allow the surface atmospheric molecules to then receive more energy from the surface, etc, until convection, further conduction etc basically caused an expanding thermal dynamic equilibrium with a gravity induced lapse rate.

    Now, as I understand it, if we add a so named GHG molecule to such an atmosphere, according to climate scientist, it will redirect some of that surface LWIR energy back to the surface, thereby increasing the residence time and heat content of the atmosphere, as solar insolation continues unabated and the system will gain heat while energy escaping is delayed. My point is very simple. Assuming (for now) the climate scientist are correct That single GHG molecule is also receiving conducted energy from the surface, which now has the opportunity to accelerate the loss to space of said conducted energy, which formerly, in the non-ghg molecule, could not radiate to space, thereby GHG molecules accelerate the loss of conducted energy, and delay the loss of LWIR radiated energy

    I leave it to physics to determine what percentage of the energy in the atmosphere from the surface is conducted and how much is radiated, and to determine how often newly excited surface molecules , both atmosphere and ground, lose their energy via radiation, or via conduction. But the fact remains, a radiating GHG molecule, receiving its vibrational energy from conducted energy, accelerates the loss of that energy from the earth’s system.

  7. tallbloke says:

    Roger A: I’ll have to find the data source again and do separate graphs for NH and SH. I’m sure you’re right about el nino splurges of energy, though they are probably more visible in the lower troposphere. Say around 600mb.

    David: Good comment, and I agree, apart from adding an extra clause to your law
    “At its most basic only two things can effect the heat content of any system in a radiative balance. Either a change in the input, or a change in the “residence time” of some aspect of those energies within the system.”

    Or a change int he distribution of the energy across a surface which receives differential amounts of energy from the source.

    i.e. if the oceans start transporting heat to higher latitudes then the radiative balance will change as the greater differential between sea surface and atmosphere speeds heat loss up.

  8. David says:

    Thank you Tallbloke. While my main message that I am trying to both convey and confirm is that GHGs must accelerate the loss of conducted energy, I must also speak in defense of my law. (-;

    I do not see your exception as an exception. Your ” greater differential between sea surface and atmosphere” which speeds heat loss up”, the operative word “speed” is indeed a reference to residence time. (The defense rests) (-;

    It does help my thought process to think in terms of this basic law. Now, in order to determine if CO2 is warming or cooling is an extremely complex subject, likely beyond our current ability. Just the intial estimate on how much of the energy in the atmosphere is conducted verses radiated is not an easy number to arrive at, especially considering how this number changes both geograpically and accordeing to altitude. Then one must quantify the differences in residence time affected by GHGs increased residence time of LWIR, verses the reduced residence time of a GHGs affect on conducted energy. In other words if the conducted energy residence time decreases to 1/10 th as long as it would if it was required to back conduct to the surface before radiating to space, and the same GHG increases the residence time of radiated LWIR heat only 3.33 times, then the amount of conducted heat within the atmosphere need be only 1/3rd of the amount of LWIR heat within the atmosphere.

    Also a GHG can accelerate the loss of any any conducted energy within the atmosphere. IE, the non GHGs are not completely transparent to insolation, and that energy can then be conveyed via conduction to a GHG molecule, reducing residence time. Also a GHG within the atmosphere accelerates the loss of some insolation, greatly reducing the amount of energy reaching the surface. In the case of WV alone (clear sky) this alone greatly reduces the amount of energy reaching the surface. If that energy no longer reaches the oceans where the residence time can be years, then this is a long term cooling.

    Of course in all of this we are ignoring evaporation and convection, and the amount of energy required to run this great system a little faster, which reduces the residence time of all energy within the system, IMV, so many unanswered unquantified questions, including the fact that most of these processes are not linear as different T, thus a 15 C world will have a different “senstivity” then a 17 C world.

    All the best,

  9. tallbloke says:

    David, You’re right, my point was covered already in your law. I should have waited until after the first coffee. 🙂

    And yes, you make good points for consideration on the cooling effect. We discussed it here a few months ago. I can’t remember if you commented then.

  10. David says:

    Thanks Tallbloke, and I did comment on it here.

    BTW, I once made similar points to Nick Stokes, and, for whatever reason, after admiting that much of the energy in the atmosphere is conducted, he left the discussion without response to my assertions. This factor, in conjunction with your assertions as well as E,Ms, detailed insights into convection and evaporation, make a fairly formidiable arguement.

  11. Brian H says:

    Not to denigrate your poetic abilities, but it’s “versus”, not “verses”. 😉


  12. There’s no hope for the Artist mind to even suggest a theory without getting slammed for spelling and god knows the other multiple errors that would be made. although a picture is worth a thousand words. If I said I could design a free energy machine that could be dumped into the ocean and charge the world with free electricity.
    What would you say about the effects of the electricity on the ocean and atmosphere?
    Tesla said he could give the world free energy and I understand the concept although the forces of greed stopped him in his tracks.
    As the same forces of greed are working on the world today.
    The universe can produce unlimited energy if we harness it correctly and clean without disturbing mother earths shifts that you speak of.
    Since we lose bone and our cells change or quit working in space, it does not seem to be somewhere we are built to go and live without having to deal with genetic changes.
    The ocean holds many secrets and is a living breathing universal energy connected to the universes energy and needs to be understood.
    So figure it out, so I can get the answers to the questions I have.