Makarieva et al finally get their groundbreaking paper on Atmospheric Thermodynamics published

Posted: January 26, 2013 by tallbloke in atmosphere, Clouds, Energy, general circulation, weather, wind

Discussion of this paper got quite heated on Lucia Liljegren’s blog and elsewhere a year or so ago. Now it has been published in a high impact journal. Hopefully Lucia might stop by to explain her objections, and tell us what if anything has changed in this final version. This is potentially an important paper. It remains to be seen if it will become accepted and built on by people working in the area of atmospheric thermodynamics. The authors website is interesting:

biotic-pumpAtmos. Chem. Phys., 13, 1039-1056, 2013
© Author(s) 2013. This work is distributed
under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Where do winds come from? A new theory on how water vapor condensation influences atmospheric pressure and dynamics

A. M. Makarieva1,2, V. G. Gorshkov1,2, D. Sheil3,4,5, A. D. Nobre6,7, and B.-L. Li2
1Theoretical Physics Division, Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute, 188300, Gatchina, St. Petersburg, Russia
2XIEG-UCR International Center for Arid Land Ecology, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521, USA
3School of Environment, Science and Engineering, Southern Cross University, P.O. Box 157, Lismore, NSW 2480, Australia
4Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation, Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Kabale, Uganda
5Center for International Forestry Research, P.O. Box 0113 BOCBD, Bogor 16000, Indonesia
6Centro de Ciência do Sistema Terrestre INPE, São José dos Campos SP 12227-010, Brazil
7Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia, Manaus AM 69060-001, Brazil

Abstract. Phase transitions of atmospheric water play a ubiquitous role in the Earth’s climate system, but their direct impact on atmospheric dynamics has escaped wide attention. Here we examine and advance a theory as to how condensation influences atmospheric pressure through the mass removal of water from the gas phase with a simultaneous account of the latent heat release. Building from fundamental physical principles we show that condensation is associated with a decline in air pressure in the lower atmosphere. This decline occurs up to a certain height, which ranges from 3 to 4 km for surface temperatures from 10 to 30 °C. We then estimate the horizontal pressure differences associated with water vapor condensation and find that these are comparable in magnitude with the pressure differences driving observed circulation patterns.

The water vapor delivered to the atmosphere via evaporation represents a store of potential energy available to accelerate air and thus drive winds. Our estimates suggest that the global mean power at which this potential energy is released by condensation is around one per cent of the global solar power – this is similar to the known stationary dissipative power of general atmospheric circulation. We conclude that condensation and evaporation merit attention as major, if previously overlooked, factors in driving atmospheric dynamics.

Final Revised Paper (PDF, 503 KB)   Discussion Paper (ACPD)

Citation: Makarieva, A. M., Gorshkov, V. G., Sheil, D., Nobre, A. D., and Li, B.-L.: Where do winds come from? A new theory on how water vapor condensation influences atmospheric pressure and dynamics, Atmos. Chem. Phys., 13, 1039-1056, doi:10.5194/acp-13-1039-2013, 2013.

UPDATE: The Editor of the journal made this comment on the discussion section H/T Leo Hickman:

A. Nenes (Editor)
Received and published: 25 January 2013
The authors have presented an entirely new view of what may be driving dynamics
in the atmosphere. This new theory has been subject to considerable criticism
which any reader can see in the public review and interactive discussion of
the manuscript in ACPD (
acpd-10-24015-2010-discussion.html). Normally, the negative reviewer comments
would not lead to final acceptance and publication of a manuscript in ACP. After extensive
deliberation however, the editor concluded that the revised manuscript still should
be published – despite the strong criticism from the esteemed reviewers – to promote

continuation of the scientific dialogue on the controversial theory. This is not an endorsement
or confirmation of the theory, but rather a call for further development of the
arguments presented in the paper that shall lead to conclusive disproof or validation by
the scientific community. In addition to the above manuscript-specific comment from
the handling editor, the following lines from the ACP executive committee shall provide
a general explanation for the exceptional approach taken in this case and the precedent
set for potentially similar future cases: (1) The paper is highly controversial, proposing
a fundamentally new view that seems to be in contradiction to common textbook knowledge.
(2) The majority of reviewers and experts in the field seem to disagree, whereas
some colleagues provide support, and the handling editor (and the executive committee)
are not convinced that the new view presented in the controversial paper is wrong.
(3) The handling editor (and the executive committee) concluded to allow final publication
of the manuscript in ACP, in order to facilitate further development of the presented
arguments, which may lead to disproof or validation by the scientific community.

  1. Joe's World {Progressive Evolution} says:


    Hurricane Sandy before hitting shore dropped air pressure and picked up wind speed. The pressure drop gained more evaporation in the hurricane and added to the density of it by adding more weight and displacing gases.
    We measure atmospheric pressure on water surface and not the actual gases. This is why it has to be adjusted in altitudes.

  2. Stephen Wilde says:

    The general principle of the phase changes of water altering surface pressure
    distribution is long established but if it has now been quantified more precisely
    then that is a step forward.

    In the end though I bet it will all boil down to expansion or contraction of an atmosphere (or a layer within the atmosphere) changing the rate at which PE in descending air is converted back to KE near the surface with that change of speed offsetting any thermal effect
    of any forcing element other than mass, gravity and insolation.

    The new paper is consistent with that basic underlying proposition since the
    water cycle is just a part of the over arching adiabatic loop which I described at length previously.

    I certainly agree that the creation of latent heat via evaporation does inject potential energy into a parcel of air such that its reduced density then places it at the ‘wrong’ height relative to the pressure gradient hence it must rise until it reaches the ‘correct’ height and of course that enhances the general convective overturning that would have happened anyway even in the absence of evaporation.

    As regards the detail of it all I’m not sure that it is the condensing out that creates the pressure reduction at the surface.

    I would have thought that evaporation would do that by injecting potential energy into a parcel of air that becomes less dense and then rises thus reducing pressure at the surface.

    At the top of the column when that potential energy is released again then presumably it is radiated out to space at that greater height from the water droplets that then appear which leaves the air cooler and denser so that it can then start to descend again in the adjacent region of higher surface pressure.

    For me, the precise detail and sequence of events is not so significant because I regard the water cycle as simply a supplemental part of the adiabatic loop which serves to transfer energy out faster by radiation from the water droplets higher up so that the circulation doesn’t have to work so hard to maintain radiative equilibrium at the top of the atmosphere.

    Whether this paper is right in every particular matters little because its significance is in marking a return to classical thermodynamics which seem to have been ignored in the misguided rush to a purely radiative climate description.

    It is within classical thermodynamics that we can find the solution to the conundrum as to how the longwave output of a planet always comes to match the energy being received from outside the atmosphere whilst retaining sufficient energy within the atmosphere (my adiabatic loop) to enhance the temperature above that predicted by the S-B equation for a planet with no atmosphere.

    Whatever the energy value of the enhancement (whatever we call it) I think it is going to be found to be exactly equivalent to the amount of energy circulating within the adiabatic loop.

    Fine adjustments are then achieved by altering atmospheric heights and the rate at which PE is returned to the surface as KE from an expanded or contracted atmosphere and adiabatic loop.

  3. Joe's World {Progressive Evolution} says:


    Water vapour adds density to the wind shear. This makes it more destructive when focused into a tornado. A tornado that forms on land is from low laying clouds and NOT over water.
    Water does NOT contribute energy. What it contributes is density for the wind shear to form and focus that density..

  4. Bloke down the pub says:

    Kudos to the editors.

  5. Stephen Wilde says:


    Water adds density but water is not water vapour.

    Water vapour reduces density, being lighter than air.

  6. Joe's World {Progressive Evolution} says:


    Water vapour does accumulate and become rain wind shear can certainly make that rain very destructive.


  7. Stephen Wilde says:

    The article seems to be suggesting that the loss of water vapour to water droplets when condensation occurs high up reduces the local mass of the atmosphere thereby reducing pressure and that that reduction in pressure then finds its way down to the surface either instantly or a little later.

    The replacement of the vapour by molecules of water not conserving atmospheric mass because the mass within water droplets occupies so much less space than vapour.

    Have I understood that correctly or not, because mass is mass in whatever form and that point just seems to go to volume rather than mass ?

    Condensation results in a reduction in volume and the volume is reduced because the latent heat is removed for a net reduction in total (PE+KE) energy content.

    That means cooler air which is then ‘too high’ for its reduced PE content so it becomes more dense and sinks to its ‘correct’ height in an exact reversal of the process involving evaporation.

    It is interesting that when moist air is rising it does so at the moist adiabatic lapse rate which is less steep than the dry adiabatic lapse rate so descending air actually warms more than the rising air cools.

    That must be so, on reflection, because descending air has to both maintain surface KE at the temperature required to maintain top of atmosphere energy balance AND provide the necessary energy to replenish the supply of latent heat required by continuing evaporation from the surface.

    That does, however, imply that the latent heat quantity remains stable and is constantly recycled within the larger adiabatic loop. The very stable global humidity seems to bear that out.

    The only way that the water cycle can therefore assist cooling is by condensing out water droplets that then radiate to space whilst the latent heat continues to be recycled adiabatically in the background.

    That extra outgoing radiation therefore is from the water freezing process rather than the condensation process and from any phase changes directly from vapour to ice.

    I think that the latent heats of vaporisation and condensation simply provide the mechanical energy to get the water to a higher level.

    The additional radiation to space is then supplied by the process of vapour or liquid freezing via the release of the latent heat of fusion.

    Complicated stuff, phase changes but in the end one can just simplify it all to the diabatic and adiabatic loops interacting in the way I explained previously.

  8. tallbloke says:

    Thanks for that stephen. I’m ultra cautious about trying to ease out the implications of Makarieva’s paper, because I have trouble juggling all the variables. I tried to draw her attention to my plot of specific humidity near he tropopause vs sunspot numbers last year, but there was such a tumult going on I don’t know whether she saw it.
    I’ve written to her to see if she’d be interested in presenting at the conference, so hopefully she’ll drop by here.

    I’ll put the plot here again in case she does.

  9. Richard Henderson says:

    I can understand the drop in local pressure as water vapour condenses. No change in mass but certainly a change in pressure. Ask anyone whoever accidentally flew a light aircraft into cloud. 🙂 But does the decrease in pressure equate to a release of heat? Pat Tyson has some words;

    Click to access latentheatfallacy.pdf

  10. tallbloke says:

    This other paper looks to be of interest too:

  11. Stephen Wilde says:

    Thanks tallbloke.

    I’d like to hear more from her because she is on the right track in looking at the thermodynamics but if she is relying on atmospheric mass variations rather than density differentials I fear she might have taken a wrong turn somewhere.

    I think it is all a matter of density becoming ‘wrong’ for a specific location / height in the vertical column because gravity creates a pressure gradient giving rise to a lapse rate which must be complied with and compliance is achieved by moving parcels of air up and down relative to one another according to their weights and densities.

    That would all go on independently of the water cycle or indeed independently of any GHGs at all but the water cycle / GHGs make it all a lot easier with a less vigorous circulation then required to achieve balance.

    The surface is at the temperature it is because of the pressure gradient affecting density so as to create a lapse rate. Nothing to do with DWIR at all.

    Radiation at top of atmosphere is then a mere consequence of that gravity induced structure and not a cause.

    Any radiative imbalance at top of atmosphere is simply corrected by a changed circulation within the atmosphere.

    I think AMM can see the point and is looking for the mechanism, aren’t we all ?

  12. Joe's World {Progressive Evolution} says:


    Another thing to consider is that when water droplets freeze, they expand also they loose the bonding that water has. Snowflakes rotate in order to expand and a flat plane to give crystalline structures.
    I would hazard a guess that frozen water vapour/crystals would travel a great deal further than friction of warm water droplets.

    Interesting the complexity of the inter-relating processes of mechanical, chemical and heat exchange considering the atmosphere is mostly a cold nitrogen and oxygen base.

  13. Stephen Wilde says:

    That other paper says this:

    “Upon a temperature decrease, saturated vapor
    undergoes condensation, which results in a drop of
    the gas pressure and brings about a dynamic gas flow
    from the area of high temperature to the area of low

    The trouble is that the gravitationally induced pressure gradient is what causes the temperature drop by causing density to reduce with height and replacing KE with PE.

    So it is the drop in the gas pressure resulting from expansion with height that comes first and then temperature follows and then condensation. The reverse of their scenario.

    The water droplets then freeze releasing their latent heat of fusion to space but at that point all the latent heat of vaporisation is in the form of PE which does not radiate.

    So we have air molecules that are cold because of their low KE but they still have high PE because of their position in the vertical column. They get pushed to one side by the continuing upward flow of new air containing more water vapour with both high KE and PE.

    Having been pushed to one side the cooled molecules start to sink again because they no longer have enough total KE and PE to keep them at that height. Thus one sees descending high pressure cells alongside ascending low pressure cells.

    As they descend their excess PE gets converted to KE until they reach the surface again and the cycle repeats.


    Evaporation pumps up the volume of an air parcel causing it to rise upward due to reduced density.

    Condensation deflates the volume of the air parcel allowing it to sink downward due to increased density.

    The latent heats of evaporation and condensation just move energy from KE to PE and back again never losing it from the system.

    The additional radiation to space results from the loss to space of the latent heat of fusion when vapour or water turns to ice.

    The water cycle is a chain of buckets carrying each the latent heat of fusion of a quantity of water or vapour to space to a location where it can be radiated directly to space.

    Some energy is radiated upwards from liquid water droplets in unfrozen clouds but I suspect that that just gets lost within the background radiative ‘noise’ of the atmosphere in the same way as does downward such radiation.

    I don’t yet know of anyone else who has recognised the potential contribution of the latent heat of fusion in atmospheric energy transfers. Everyone else seems to just stop at condensation but that cannot be sufficient because the latent heat of vaporisation is still held by the air or the condensed water droplets in PE form and so cannot contribute to the radiative exchange.

  14. tallbloke says:

    I’ve just read Isaac Held’s (one of the official reviewers) criticism and rejection of the paper

    Click to access acpd-10-C14687-2011.pdf

    and Makarieva’s response to it. Well worth a read.

    Click to access acpd-10-C14894-2011.pdf

    Now for her second reply….:

    Click to access acpd-10-C15085-2011.pdf

    … which turns out to be absolute dynamite,and not a scary equation in sight! 🙂
    I’ll put it up as a separate post.

  15. tchannon says:

    Is this is within the bounds of real science, that is, the independent controlled experiment as the arbiter of posit can be done?

  16. wayne says:


    Congratulations to you and your team, et al. Well deserved. I have not forgotten since your appearance at WUWT a couple of years ago and hope that little injection of sailplanes and tornadoes helped, however wrong sensed they may have been. Never was able to procure that huge dump of data from the NWS station here.

    Can’t wait to read the new paper in depth.

    Way to go and congats once again! 🙂

  17. tallbloke says:

    Tim: The theory is not inconsistent with observations, and has a plausible physical rationale. It seems to me that unfalsified working hypotheses within a theory are part of ‘real science’.

  18. Berényi Péter says:

    Is it not the same idea the Newcomen steam engine (1715?) is based on?

  19. tallbloke says:

    Peter: some similarities yes, but condensation is induced by nucleation rather than cooling I think.

  20. tallbloke says:

    Anastassia Makarieva | October 27, 2010 at 2:41 am |

    James, turning to science, let me give my view on winds exceeding 50 m/s in the higher atmosphere.

    As Jim D pointed out here, it is not possible to conceive a circulation consisting of converging ascending air only. In our work we quantify the power of the process that drives the circulation by creating pressure gradient in the lower atmosphere. As an air flow is initiated near the surface, the distribution of momentum flux leads to appearance of a closed circulation, there is no other opportunity. Vertical and horizontal re-distribution of momentum fluxes leads to the appearance of horizontal pressure gradients in the upper atmosphere that will have an opposite sign compared to what we observe at the surface.

    (Forgive me this everyday example: if you have a vacuum-cleaner, it sucks the air in in one direction only. This is the circulation driver. However, the resulting circulation of air will include branches where the air moves both along the direction the driver works along as well as against it.)

    Therefore, condensation in the lower few kilometers will make the air move above the condensation level as well. Since apparently the two horizontal parts of the circulation (the lower wet and the upper dry) should be characterized by approximately the same power (having one and the same physical driver), one can expect pressure gradients in the upper atmosphere to conform to the same constraints as in the lower atmosphere. However, in the lower atmosphere there is surface friction, while in the upper atmosphere winds are close to geostrophic (and, hence, higher than at the surface). If you take the pressure gradient that we obtained for Hadley cell and calculate geostrophic wind velocities, with an account of the fact that air density is several times lower than at the surface, you will easily obtain winds in excess of 50 m/s. (See Eq. 39 in the paper, which gives a lower estimate).

    These will be “dry winds” driven by mass removal of vapor that takes place in the lower atmosphere.

  21. […] Makarieva et al finally get their groundbreaking paper on Atmospheric Thermodynamics published […]

  22. Berényi Péter says:

    Moving water into the gas phase, 1 micron away from the surface of droplets (evaporation) needs the same amount of work required to lift it to a height of 230 km above Earth’s surface. In case of ice crystals (sublimation) it is 264 km. These values are more than an order of magnitude higher, than tropospheric thickness, therefore potential energy storage in the atmosphere is dominated by the water cycle.

  23. Douglas Sheil says:

    I am an author. Thanks for the interest everyone. Given that the paper is highly technical it struck me that you might be interested in the back-story to this. I posted a guest blog about that at Judith Curry’s site some time ago (+ collected links) see

    The whole “why this matters” was explained for a general audience in an article that Daniel Murdiyarso, an IPCC colleague, and myself published in Bioscience a few years ago now (that got media attention e.g. New Scientist, Scientific American): the link is here
    if you have trouble accessing this a public version without the pictures is here:

  24. tchannon says:

    Excellent input Douglas.

    If I may ask a question of a general learning nature. Does any of this dovetail with the often ignored work of the late Marcel Leroux, a north African born French professor who has said something was wrong with the classic view of African meteorology, hence a tome was written?
    (The Meteorology and Climate of Tropical Africa, Springer 2001)

    I’ve noticed how tropical storms can be seem on satellite images.

    For fun, with volcanic eruption

    A lot can be seen looking down on Africa. Link to precipitable water, central Africa

  25. Douglas Sheil says:

    Thanks tchannon

    Sorry but I am not qualified to answer as I don’t know enough about Leroux’s work. I hope someone else can giv you an informed reply. Certainly though I have been struck by the limited understanding of many aspects of the African climate including for example where most of the rain in the Park I was working for the last four years (in Uganda on the Congo boarder) originally comes from … the Atlantic or Indian Ocean? That;s not a detail.

  26. Of course condensation leads to a reduction in pressure. In a steam engine or steam turbine condensation leads to increased pressure differential as well as increased heat transfer to perform work. Refrigeration works by expansion, evaporation, compression and condensation of the refrigerant. The compression stage (work input) followed by condensation (additional work input) creates a vacuum to enhance the evaporation. For absorption refrigeration, the absorption creates the vacuum for evaporation. In discussions, on other blogs, of Dr Makarieva and Dr Gorshkov’s earlier attempts to publish this and another paper on hurricanes (Makarieva A.M., Gorshkov V.G., Nefiodov A.V. (2011) Condensational theory of stationary tornadoes. Physics Letters A, 375, 2259-2261 see here ) I noted the lack of understanding by physicists and non-engineers about the basics of thermodynamics and heat transfer However, in direct correspondence with Anastassia I suggested she should be formulating formulae using well known dimensionless numbers (eg Reynolds & Prandtl numbers).which could achieve support from engineers. Some of the discussion on the Russians’ papers concerned dimensions of one of the equations. I also suggested she should look at chapters 3 to 7 of Perry’s Chemical Engineering Handbook.
    Unfortunately, the present paper does not recognise the work of engineers over the years.

  27. Konrad says:

    tchannon says:
    January 26, 2013 at 4:42 pm
    “Is this is within the bounds of real science, that is, the independent controlled experiment as the arbiter of posit can be done?”

    The answer is a big yes. I am thrilled that this paper has been published. The M2010 discussion paper and the thousands of blog comments wholly unsupported by empirical experiment was what first motivated me to start conducting experiments into meteorology and climate.

    This paper was discussed at length on several blogs and I was driven to experiment by those defending consensus without relevant empirical evidence at the Air Vent –
    Re-reading the comments today, the banner of the Knights of Consensus can be seen in the melee, held high by Joel Shore, Nick Stokes and Eli Rabbit. My initial experiments are covered on that thread. These showed that if the adiabatic assumption was not wholly correct, then energy loss from a moist air mass could cause contraction after condensation.

    Those arguing the consensus position claimed that the Makarieva effect could not be occurring because cloud heights conformed the adiabatic assumption. They had apparently forgotten the effect of the inertia of thousands of tonnes of rising air. At the time I believed those arguing against the Makarieva effect driving some winds were trying to prevent re-examination of what would now be flawed GCMs. 20-20 hindsight now introduces another explanation for the Knights of Consensus charging into the fray. Any discussion of the physical mechanisms that would make a rising air mass slightly diabatic could lead to blasphemy against the Church of AGW. I had calculated that turbulent mixing and cooling of just the outer 30m shell of an airmass 1km in diameter could offset the buoyancy increase due to the release of latent heat during condensation. However IR radiation from the moist air mass could also do the same. Any discussion of what would make the Makarieva effect possible could lead to discussion of the true role of radiative gases in our atmosphere.

    Anastassia and her team were partly to blame for the blog war by presenting maths without a clear description of a plausible physical mechanism. Those vehemently rejecting the hypothesis repeatedly offered mathematical arguments based on the adiabatic assumption, despite the fact that this was the very assumption being challenged. This sorry pattern was repeated again during blog discussions of the N&Z hypothesis and the role of radiative gases in tropospheric convective circulation.

    With the publication of this paper the possibility now exist for further empirical experimentation and observation in the real atmosphere. At the time of the M2010 discussion paper I believed a radiosonde balloon that could adjust buoyancy to remain within rather than transect a rising moist air mass would be suitable. I found several teams were already developing these –
    An exiting new technology has just been released –
    This will allow the miniature low power, low cost versions of the smart balloon to be produced. These could record pressure, humidity, position, spacial IR map and CCD image data. Each balloon could be fitted with a very low power transmitter/receiver and be able to handshake and form a 3D cell net after deployment. A flight of Russian IL-76 cargo planes could fly wind abreast at suitable spacing just over the ocean and deploy several hundred balloons at the base of a moist air mass. Timing delays in the activation of buoyancy control in individual balloons could allow the balloons to form a 3D cloud inside the air mass. Individual balloons would then spread their momentary data to all balloons which would then transmit a single synchronised squirt transmission of an individual balloons momentary data to satellite or ground station. This would minimise power requirements and allow the balloons to keep tracking and studying the air mass for many hours. The power of the Makarieva effect could then be quantified.

    Of course this would be a challenging if not burdensome task. It would involve developing exciting new technologies, “scientific surveys” of multiple exotic tropical locations for suitable test sites and fooling around in expensive jet aircraft flying outside their normal operation envelop. However I am sure Anastassia and her team would be prepared to make these sacrifices for Science.

  28. tallbloke says:

    Douglas, welcome, and thanks for joining the discussion. Having climbed and camped in mountain ranges in a variety of climates, I for one know how forests and rain go together. It seems to me that the fixation on the co2 greenhouse debate and global averages has distracted attention from genuinely pressing ecological issues around deforestation and local environment over the last 30 years.

    As Konrad alludes to in his comment above, one of the reasons we have been following the progress of this paper is because it makes a correct treatment of atmospheric masses in a gravitational field. The basic thermodynamic and kinematic processes ‘cementafriend’ refers to have been neglected by mainstream climate science in favour of a radiative theory which seems to give an answer for Earth’s overall energy budget, but is in fact misleading us from the true situation in the troposphere.

    Watch your inbox, email coming your way.

  29. Konrad says:

    Exciting new technology…wing abreast…
    Yes, yes, I know.

  30. […] Makarieva on the interactive part of the ACS website, as well as being a strong defense of their paper, is a powerful indictment of the state of affairs in the peer review of climate science. Given the […]

  31. Berényi Péter says:

    I wonder how computational weather forecast models are supposed to work if they fail to include a major driver of pressure differences. Unlike climate models, they are tested daily on the actual weather, after all. Are these deficiencies taken care of by shameless parametrization, skipping physics entirely?

  32. Edim says:

    “I noted the lack of understanding by physicists and non-engineers about the basics of thermodynamics and heat transfer..”


  33. tallbloke says:

    Peter, according to a comment made to Judith Curry, the ‘Makarieva effect’ is parameterised into the core of some models:

    At the Air Vent, Kerry Emanuel pointed out the experimental inclusion of this effect in a mesoscale model that simulated a hurricane. The climate model thread and the thread on Makarieva’s latest paper prompted emails from GFDL , that said:

    I just want to point out that this effect was correct implemented in GFDL’s
    CM2.1 (which was used in IPCC AR4) and all models developed at GFDL
    since. In fact, the NASA GEOS-4 and GEOS-5 GCMs also shared the same
    attribute (because we used the same FV dynamical core; this core is also
    being used at NCAR for AR5 experiments). . . The “vertically Lagrangian control-volume discretization” allows us to have a local mass sink/source due to moisture changes. All other climate models that I know can’t accomplish this
    because the vertical coordinate is tied directly to surface pressure.

    Well, the good news is that the GFDL models are correctly handling the condensed water in the mass continuity equation (I can’t tell from the email whether or not NASA and NCAR models are actually including this). The bad news is that Thuburn, myself, Emanuel, and Makarieva did not know about this in spite of attempts to investigate this issue.

  34. tallbloke says:

    Konrad says:
    January 27, 2013 at 9:09 am
    Exciting new technology…wing abreast…
    Yes, yes, I know.

    I think the climate community is a bit averse to, you, know, doing actual experiments. Especially airborne ones near clouds. The last time they got the USAF to help them take some radiative measurements by flying simultaneously above and below the cloud deck, they found that clouds were absorbing 20-25 Watts/m^2 more than theory said they should. Possibly a problem with the physics of Mie scattering.

    Click to access cess.pdf

  35. Eilert says:

    Berényi Péter says:

    January 27, 2013 at 9:34 am

    This is what Anastassia Makarieva had to to say in responce to a similar argument at Air Vent:

    #39 Thomas,

    Thank you for this comment. The existing weather forecast models, as well as hurricane development models, are built relying extensively on empirical parameterizations. That is, the typical characteristics of a number of weather patterns are replicated and predictions are made on the basis of previous statistical data. For this reason, whenever something unusual happens in the atmosphere, the models skill drop rapidly to zero (indeed, they cannot predict what have not been observed before, like hurricanes near the Brazilian coast). For example, this summer during the abnormal heat wave in Russia the 10 days forecast consistently predicted a drop of temperature on the 10th day. This continued for two months during which the temperature never dropped.

    It is not accidental either that the skill of the existing models is sharply limited by a few days. This is the time scale of water vapor turnover in the atmosphere. If the basic principles that we are advancing are studied with attention (this is just what we are calling for), there is no doubt that the weather forecast quality will rise sharply. Your compliment about our ability to easily build such a model is well taken, however, building a model does demand some funding and manpower. As I said before, if it were possible for a couple of scientists to solve all atmospheric problems, it would be unclear whether the huge funding currently allocated to weather and climate model development is at all appropriate.


  36. Berényi Péter says:

    I see. So it is parametrisation all over the landscape, the ‘Makarieva effect’ is even parametrised into the core of some (climate) models.

    But there is a huge epistemological problem with this approach. To see this clearly, let’s consider the case of the Ptolemaic model of planetary motion. With a sufficient number of epicycles it can provide a kinematic description of the system up to arbitrary precision. The mathematical principle behind it is basically the same used in representation of (well-behaved) functions as Taylor series (infinite weighted sum of a predefined set of functions).

    However, (unlike the Newtonian model) it fails to shed any light on the underlying dynamics. It means it can be used reliably on everyday timescales, let’s say for astrological purposes. It will tell you in what House each Planet will be at a specific date in the course of the lifetime of a person. So far so good.

    But it can never be used to find new, as yet unknown planets in the sky based on minuscule deviations of observed planetary motion from that of predicted by the model. Neither can it be used to calculate sub-annual / latitudinal distribution of insolation back to hundreds of thousand years (to better understand external drivers of ice ages). Not to mention calculations necessary to reach planets using spacecraft.

    In other words, this kind of model can’t be extended much beyond its calibration regime.

  37. tallbloke says:

    Peter: Just so, and Makarieva pushes the point home in her respnse to Gavin Schmidt in this reply:

    Click to access acpd-10-C10926-2010.pdf

    See particularly the last few pages.

  38. tallbloke says:

    If anyone clever feels like filling their boots with the GFDL modellers contention that:

    “The “vertically Lagrangian control-volume discretization” allows us to have a local mass sink/source due to moisture changes.”

    They can have a look here: section 3.3.4
    around halfway down.

    Note however, that mass sink isn’t the issue exactly. It is the gas density change due to the condensation of the water that matters, because its effect on pressure is immediate, whether or not the condensed water precipitates.

  39. michael hart says:

    I’m not going to attempt to address the details, but Makarieva and Issac Held (reviewer) appeared to agree on one aspect that occurred to me before reading his review: The issue appears, at least in part, to be a quantitative, not qualitative, disagreement.

    Held makes it clear from the first sentence that the effect “is traditionally considered to be small.” So is his main objection merely that Makarieva et. al. are exaggerating in their choice of words?

    If, as Held does, a reviewer makes use of a paper [Spengler et. al. (2011)] too new to have even been considered by Makarieva et. al., as a stick with which to beat them, then that suggests to me that perhaps their paper is not so far-out as to merit outright rejection.

    In fairness, Held does, later on, appear to make suggestion as how the issue might be resolved with data. That sounds like science.

  40. Jeff Krob says:

    To Mr. Stephen Wilde,

    With all due respect, reading over your posts in this thread, and I presume other threads you have written on the same subject, it appears you have your understanding of the evaporation-condensation/latent heat process back-asswards as well as the evaporation-condensation/density issue.

    As I understand your rational, when evaporation takes place, the air is warmed & when condensation takes place, the air is cooled…right?

    You stated: “Condensation results in a reduction in volume and the volume is reduced because the latent heat is removed for a net reduction in total (PE+KE) energy content.”

    This is incorrect – when evaporation takes place (presuming no external heating or cooling), latent heat is *absorbed* and the air parcel *cools* and when condensation takes place (presuming no external heating or cooling), latent heat is *released* and the air parcel *warms*. Latent heat is not created or destroyed.

    “It is interesting that when moist air is rising it does so at the moist adiabatic lapse rate which is less steep than the dry adiabatic lapse rate so descending air actually warms more than the rising air cools.”

    You have this wrong as well – the moist adiabatic laps rate is *more* steep (gets less cold w/height @2.5 deg F/1000 ft.) than the dry lapse rate (5 deg F/1000 ft.)… You may want to go back & re-read Tallblokes “Back to basics 2: Lapse rates and atmospheric stability”

    As for density, the equation uses Pressure, Temperature and Specific Humidity:

    RD= 287.05 Gas constant dry air J/kg/K
    T = TEMP K
    SH = Specific Humidity
    DENSITY = 100.*P/(RD*T*(1.61*SH))

    When there is evaporation, there is evaporative cooling (Latent Heat absorbed) so, essentially, the temperature & moisture terms go in opposite directions & density is basically unchanged. However…if heating is added to bring the temperature back to where it was, then, yes, the parcel with more moisture at the same temperature *will* be less dense.

    You must remember, when evaporation takes place, the air parcel is cooled (Latent Heat absorbed) and when condensation takes place, the air parcel is warmed (Latent Heat released)

    Meteorology 101


  41. Stephen Wilde says:


    Isn’t a 5F slope steeper than a 2.5F slope ?

    I don’t think I’ve said anything about the temperature of the air parcels, merely their weight and energy content.

    Temperature being determined by the pressure gradient set by gravity once the parcel has risen or fallen to the correct height for its density and energy content.

    “Latent heat is the heat released or absorbed by a body or a thermodynamic system during a process that occurs without a change in temperature. ”

    from here:

    As regards evaporation water vapour makes the air parcel lighter so it rises.

    Condensation leaves the air parcel heavier so it falls.

  42. Berényi Péter says:

    Come to think of it, the ‘Makarieva effect’ may have some bearing on an old enigma of mine.

    What keeps clouds up?

    Clouds are made of water droplets (or ice crystals) interspersed in humid (saturated) air. The important thing to consider here is that their density is some three orders of magnitude higher than that of the air “supporting” them, so they are falling relative to the surrounding air.

    Terminal velocity of droplets depend on their size, the smaller a droplet is, the slower it falls through the cloud. Still, even the smallest droplets reach the cloud base eventually in spite of this aerodynamic drag. Where relative humidity falls below saturation, so they evaporate.

    More than 90% of cloud droplets end up like this globally, they never reach the ground as precipitation, but their material gets recycled mid air as water vapor (that’s some 10 tons/sq. meter/annum on average, not negligible).

    So. Clouds need an updraft to keep them afloat, partially by slowing down fall of droplets relative to the ground, partially resupplying water vapor (and condensation nuclei!) coming from droplets evaporated at cloud base. This is where the ‘Makarieva effect’ may help. At cloud base, where evaporation happens, it is accompanied by an increase in pressure while at higher altitude, where vapor recondenses, there is a pressure drop. This pressure differential adds to the driving force of updraft, supporting an additional upward mass flux inside the cloud equal to downward mass flux of liquid/frozen water in the stationary case.

    This process, of course, needs a continuous upward heat flux to keep it going. However, not all of it has to be supplied by warmer air entering the cloud base from below, but also absorbed IR radiation originating from lower levels, not connected to mass flux in any way. This heat is then carried upward as latent heat and released at a higher altitude on condensation (subsequently radiated out to space). The upshot is, clouds may be more “transparent” to heat flux supplied to them by thermal IR from below than suspected by the mainstream.

    I am too lazy at the moment to flesh it out by numbers, but someone out there has surely done it already. A pointer, anyone?

  43. tchannon says:

    Jeff and Stephen,
    Looks like crossed up purposes, possibly from unwritten contexts.

    I think the context here is a heat engine, Makarieva mentions this, energy is flowing, not the static situation.

  44. tallbloke says:

    Tim: We’ve come across this failure to recognise the difference between static and dynamic situations in the mainstream thinking a lot. We’re thinking dynamically now we’ve been discussing it constantly. It will be confusing to others, and we need to avoid elliptical statements as much as possible. Even if it makes statements cumbersome and long winded.

  45. Stephen Wilde says:

    This distinction between stasis and throughput is critical.

    The truth is that, for an atmosphere to be retained in the long term, energy in must equal energy out at top of atmosphere.

    The amount of energy that an atmosphere can contain is limited by mass, gravity and energy input. from outside the atmosphere.

    If anything other than mass, gravity or energy input seek to change the total energy content then there will be a permanent and eventually catastrophic imbalance at top of atmosphere.

    Simply adjusting the temperature could not stabilise it because then the temperature would be too high or too low to match energy coming in from outside.

    So, if anything other than mass, gravity or energy input seeks to slow down or speed up the rate of throughput there must be a countervailing process elsewhere in the system.

    AGW theory relies on the proposition that features other than mass, gravity and energy input can change the total energy content of an atmosphere without destabilising the top of atmosphere energy exchange.

    Has that ever been demonstrated ?

    Wouldn’t it involve a catastrophic positive feedback which is physically impossible given that incoming energy is fixed for all practical purposes.

    If the atmosphere were to hold more energy and gain a higher temperature whilst mass, gravity and energy input stay the same then wouldn’t there then be more energy leaving than coming in – which would inevitably have a cooling effect ?

    All of us, including Ms Makarieva are trying to convincingly pin down the negative system responses that keep the atmosphere stable when factors other than mass, gravity and energy input seek to disturb the equilibrium that has lasted for 4 billion years.

    Certainly the water cycle is a major factor for Earth but really we want something that also works on a non water planet.

    Hence my adiabatic loop which can incorporate the phase changes of water (or of anything else such as CO2 on Mars) as a component.

  46. suricat says:


    It took me an ‘AGE’ to get through this paper! However, I’m glad you presented it here and brought it to our attention. 🙂

    IMHO this paper only lacks the effect of Earth’s rotational influence.

    Where the ‘Hadley Cell’ is commented upon, there is no interpretation of the ‘Earth’s centrifuge’ that stimulates this circulation (forcing the activity of phase change from a false/forced altitude). In fact, there is no interpretation whatsoever of the ‘forcing’ implicit to Earth rotation that evokes MEP via atmospheric ‘latitudinal mixing’ (did I miss something?).

    Best regards, Ray.

  47. michael hart says:

    TB “Tim: We’ve come across this failure to recognise the difference between static and dynamic situations in the mainstream thinking a lot.”

    If I understand your words correctly, TB, they are a restatement of the obsession with “equilibrium” conditions. It is plenty pervasive in some other mainstreams, too.

  48. tallbloke says:

    Ray: Where the ‘Hadley Cell’ is commented upon, there is no interpretation of the ‘Earth’s centrifuge’

    A point Joe Lalonde will be glad you have made Ray. 🙂

    When we look at the latitudinal banding on Jupiter, it does suggest a differentiation based on surface velocity doesn’t it? I find Coriolis force incredibly hard to get my head round though. Are the bands effectively coriolis induced sub-eddies spread latitudinally around the globe, with the sharp boundaries determined by the harmonics seen in Ray Tomes polar view of Jupiter? Maybe we need to take this discussion to Tim Cullen’s atmosphere-planet co-rotation threads.

  49. Konrad says:

    I have reviewed the old discussion of the M2010 discussion paper over at the Air Vent. I note that Nick Stokes and Jim_D were strongly defending the Adiabatic assumption. All it would take for the Makarieva Effect to be possible would be for the adiabatic assumption to be less applicable for moist air masses than for dry. There is of course the main thing that make moist air masses more diabatic than dry air masses, water vapour, the main radiative gas in our atmosphere. Increased IR radiation from a moist air mass could easily offset the latent heat released during condensation.

    This is why the Knights of Consensus had to trash the paper. This may also explain why Anastassia and her team were reluctant to present a physical mechanism for their maths. They may have guessed that the opposition would have been even more intense if they had mentioned radiative cooling.

    Full discussion of the Makarieva Effect leads to identification of the critical role radiative gases play in convective circulation and cooling below the tropopause.

    Nick Stokes tried to deflect discussion from possible diabatic processes here –

    “But in the atmosphere it’s different. The air is cooled adiabatically, by expansion on rising. Any latent heat released is not removed; it stays in the air and counters, but does not stop, the adiabatic cooling that is causing condensation.”

    and here –

    “The notion of adiabatic cooling is fundamental here. It means that the air cools with no (significant) heat moving anywhere (over the timescale). That means that LH, when released, is not removed.”

    Jim_D tried to dismiss radiative cooling after I offered it as a possible mechanism here –

    “The next question is why the energy can’t go anywhere, e.g. by radiation. Yes, radiation may influence cloud edges a little, but in the updraft cores, it is completely saturated and radiation does not get very far in those circumstances, besides which we are talking about small temperature differences locally, so the net radiation effect is close to zero.”

    and here –

    “While clear air is quite transparent to IR, cloudy air is almost completely opaque to it. This is why only cloud edges are subject to radiative effects (and mixing). As determined from cloud tops, the core cloudy air makes it up to levels consistent with adiabatic theory.”

    They knew there was a serious problem with the modelling of the role of radiative gases in the atmosphere. They knew years ago. I now believe that at least some of the AGW supporters have known for many years that radiative gases cool our atmosphere at all concentrations above 0ppm.

  50. Stephen Wilde says:

    Latent heat is a form of PE and when ‘released’ it can be in the form of either KE or PE in the particles of water or ice that condense out.

    I suspect that it is the pressure gradient that determines the proportion of KE and PE that released latent heat will go to upon the condensing out of liquid water or solid ice particles from vapour laden air at any given height.

    When latent heat is released as KE then it can be radiated to space from water or ice particles that carry that KE.

    If the latent heat is retained as PE by those particles then it won’t radiate out until the water or ice particle starts to fall (as it must, being heavier than air) and then, during the falling process, PE gets converted to KE and radiation upward to space can then occur albeit from a progressively lower level.

    During the falling process some of the material in the water or ice particle can turn back to vapour again if humidity is less than 100% in any layer through which it falls.

    As I said before, the key to all this is the extent to which the pressure gradient causes transfers of KE to PE and back again within any water or ice particle or molecule of air that moves with or against the gravitational field.

    That is what adjusts the radiative outflow at top of atmosphere and always exerts a negative system response against any attempt at disruption.

    That process is also effective in a non water atmosphere.

    The phase changes of water only make the process easier and lead to a less vigorous circulation than would otherwise have been necessary.

    CO2 also makes the process easier but arguably not as much as water does.

  51. tallbloke says:

    The IPCC’s third assessment report says this in its discussion of the greenhouse effect:
    “Note that it is essential for the greenhouse effect that the temperature of the lower atmosphere is not constant (isothermal) but decreases with height.”

    Note also that the IPCC don’t claim that this temperature gradient is caused by the greenhouse effect, but the opposite. It is “essential” for it to occur.

    The real cause of the gradient is the higher heat capacity of the denser air near the surface. And the reason the air is denser near the surface is because the weight of the entire atmosphere above it is increasing the pressure as you get nearer the surface. And it does that because gravity acts on the mass of the atmosphere to give it ‘weight’.

    Additionally, the surface level pressure limits the rate the ocean can evaporate at. Forcing it to accumulate energy until its surface is hot enough to lose energy through the latent heat of evaporation and by radiation and conduction to the air.

    95% of the radiation is thermalised within 1km of the surface, and therefore the diminishing radiative flux observed as the column is ascended is the result, not the cause, of the diminishing density (and therefore heat capacity) of the air. This is expressed in the lapse rate, which is pretty much linear until you get to the altitude where water vapour and co2 can radiate directly to space. Convection and latent heat rule the troposphere.

    One of the important questions for the effect of increased co2 then becomes, how much of the ‘greenhouse effect’ is due to the radiatively active gases in the atmosphere, and how much of it is due to the mass of the atmosphere’s effect on the thermal equilibrium of the ocean through setting the rate of evaporation.

    In the context of Makarieva’s paper, Konrad has the issue with those who would oppose it well characterised. On top of the admission by the IPCC that the radiative properties of water vapour and co2 don’t set the lapse rate, it spells out clearly that pressure, latent heat and convection are dominant in causing advection, which is a key player in driving evaporation, and thus controlling humidity, and working through negative feedback to be constantly restoring the TOA energy balance. Small changes in co2 level won’t make much difference to that.

  52. Stephen Wilde says:

    tallbloke says:
    January 28, 2013 at 11:55 am


    For Earth the oceans are the primary thermostat and the surface air pressure on the ocean the primary regulator of energy flow rates through the system.

    All of the so called greenhouse effect is a function of gravity acting on mass and irradiated by the sun because with no mass, no gravity or no sunlight there could be no gaseous atmosphere.

    The radiative effects of CO2 or any other GHGs are simply redistributive with no net effect on top of atmosphere energy balance.

    If the radiative exchange at top of atmosphere varies for any reason the atmosphere employs a whole suite of negative system responses comprised of a variety of non radiative energy transfer mechanisms all of which are variable in their power and effects.

    If there is too much KE in the atmosphere for any reason then more energy flows out than comes in until equilibrium is regained.

    If there is too little KE in the atmosphere for any reason then more energy flows in than goes out until equilibrium is regained.

    In practice there are so many variables that equilibrium is never achieved so we constantly see variations bout the mean.

    That is all that climate change is.

    Climate change is the negative system response in action and the phenomenon noted by Ms Makarieva is a small part of it.

    The circulation of the entire atmosphere bridges the gap between ocean surfaces and space by contracting and expanding as necessary to transfer energy to and fro between KE and PE in the vertical column so as to adjust flow rates and ensure long term top of atmosphere equilibrium.

    How much does our CO2 shift the circulation ?

    Negligible. We could never even measure it amongst the natural changes caused by sun, oceans and chaotic variability.

  53. Douglas Sheil says:

    Some of you may find this entertaining blog of interest also:

    A statement of why this study matters to several of the authors is here:

    We are currently drafting a summary and update blog for Judith Curry

  54. Stephen Wilde says:

    Hello Douglas.

    It is clearer from your links that it is the complete water cycle that you are considering rather than just the condensation aspect especially where you go into the effects of forests on wind flows toward or from oceans.

    I’ve always understood that regional air circulation is affected by surface characteristics including the nature and density of vegetation influencing the water cycle but in the background is a pattern of global climate zones which result primarily from the Earth’s rotation working on the general flow of energy from equator to poles.

    The water cycle can certainly modify that background circulation on a regional basis and I thought that was well established in principle.

    A point that I find odd is your emphasis on pressure changes from condensation whereas the initial pressure change comes from evaporation which injects lighter water vapour into air parcels causing them to rise which reduces pressure at the surface.

    Condensation higher up certainly does result in a volume reduction but isn’t that immediately compensated for by the continuing upflow of fresh vapour laden air ?

    The old air with the vapour removed is then pushed aside to descend elsewhere in a higher pressure cell.

    I see that you have gone on to provide equations that enable better quantification of such processes but aren’t the general principles already well known ?

    I am very puzzled that you have had any opposition at all to such basic proposals.Perhaps it is revealing that the radiative physics proponents do not welcome any discussion of non radiative energy transfer processes..

    Your paper doesn’t even preclude some validity for the radiative theory because, dealing only with the water cycle, it has no application for a planet that lacks a water cycle.

    To fully show up the flaw in AGW theory we really need something that applies to planets with and without a water cycle hence my suggestion of a more all encompassing adiabatic loop between surface and space which would on Earth include the water cycle as a low level component.

  55. tallbloke says:

    Stephen, the main thrust of Makarieva’s et al’s paper, as far as I can tell, is that the work done to uplift of air parcels by thermal differences within the adiabat is slow, weak and diffusive compared to the powerful and instantaneous pressure differences caused by the condensation of water vapour.

    Basically, there isn’t time for the “continuing upflow of fresh vapour laden air” to do the job before air rushes in laterally to even out the pressure difference. Consider too that condensation takes place higher up,and the “continuing upflow of fresh vapour laden air” due to it’s buoyancy is losing its extra heat to the surroundings as it rises and expands. So it might not be particularly buoyant by the time it gets to the altitude where the condensation is occurring. As Wayne pointed out, there is more ‘around’ than ‘below’ so the upshot is that lateral motion of air is more likely. Also, air coming from above or below has to work against the adiabat, whereas latitudinally, it doesn’t.

    At night, the situation is exacerbated even further in favour of the ‘Makarieva effect’ I would have thought.

  56. Stephen Wilde says:


    Look at clouds.

    Once they start to form in an unstable air mass the uplift is more than enough to keep them growing despite condensation.They push through the region of condensation and keep growing.

    Consider a thunderstorm anvil. If the contraction at the top were stronger than the uplift there could be no anvil. Dryer air rushing in from the sides would evaporate the moisture and then no anvil.
    In reality the uplift carries on straight through the region of condensation and is forced to spread out lateraly when it hits the tropopause.

    What one could say is that the process of condensation supplements the adiabatic uplift by reducing pressure at the top of the column so that as well as heating from below there is a pressure reduction above the column that pulls up the whole column so that there is little or no reduction in uplift with height.

    But that is then back to the vacancy being filled by vapour laden air from below rather than air from the sides.

    Douglas’s comments involve both evaporation and condensation in a circulation and that would be the approach I prefer.

    The circulation as a whole, initiated at the surface by evaporation is all one needs to provoke winds in a circulation. The condensation induced contraction at the top is just the mirror image of evaporation induced expansion at the bottom.

    One cannot isolate either from the complete circulation.

  57. tallbloke says:

    Stephen, why would the air rushing in from the sides be dryer than the air where condensation has occurred?

  58. Stephen Wilde says:

    It would be equally dry but there would then be more dry air within the available volume that would tend to evaporate the condensed out vapour again.

    I’m just pointing out that on looking at clouds, especially anvils, all the signs are of continuing uplift and expansion despite what would be suppression from air rushing inwards.

    Air coming in from the sides would suppress continuing convection whereas if anything the phenomenon of pressure (or rather volume) reduction that Ms Makarieva is describing appears to enhance it.

    Enhancement of the upflow can only happen if any reduction in pressure pulls up air from below rather than from the sides.

    What we see is a complete circulation from initial evaporation, a rising column, condensation and then a falling column nearby. Leakage in or out at the sides would only compromise the efficiency of the circulation.

    Her observation is correct but what she is describing is one part of a broader scenario. Douglas appears to concede that in his link thus:

    “the detailed physics behind the so-called ‘biotic pump’ hypothesis goes further by emphasising the physics behind how evaporation and condensation generate atmospheric pressure differences.”

    I don’t think it is news that evaporation leads to surface pressure reductions and the contraction of volume when condensation occurs at the top simply prevents the colder dryer contracted air from obstructing the continuing circulation.

    The continuing upflow just shoves it aside as we see in anvil clouds and then the colder dryer contracted air sinks adiabatically elsewhere.

  59. tallbloke says:

    Stephen: “It would be equally dry.”

    That’s illogical. If it was equally dry, that would be because water had condensed in it also. In which case the air outside it would be rushing in to equalise the pressure…

    “Air coming in from the sides would suppress continuing convection”

    That’s illogical too. The increase in pressure caused by the inrush of air would make your warm convected moist air from below more buoyant, not less. Also note that air rushing in from the sides will impart spin and start a vortex which will suck your slowly rising moist air upwards, increasing upward velocity in the core ‘chimney’. I haven’t read Makarieva’s paper on hurricane formation yet but I’ll bet that’s the process she describes.

  60. Stephen Wilde says:


    We need to distinguish between an air parcel (expanded) containing water vapour and an air parcel (contracted) containing condensed out water droplets.

    The former is what I meant by moist air and the latter would be dry air with droplets in it.

    Whichever we mean the fact is that if air is pulled in from the sides it will contain neither vapour nor droplets and so would be dryer and would tend to evaporate the condensed droplets again plus it would be colder and denser than the vapour laden upward flowing air that it would encounter within the column so it would tend to suppress continuing convection rather than enhance it.

    If the top of a Cb cloud pulled dryer air in from around the sides there would be no anvil.

    Furthermore the actual process of condensation starts quite low down where the dew point is encountered. The rest of the vertical profile of the cloud is composed of droplets being carried upwards. Any horizontal leakage inward of dryer air from outside the cloud at that lower level would tend to weaken the continuing updraft but it clearly does not. One still sees a cauliflower like shape as the uplift continues to push outward in all directions as long as the cloud is growing. The uplift is clearly more effective than any air flowing in from the sides.

    The solution is to propose that the contraction resulting from condensation enhances the upward flow by drawing air up from below rather than from the sides.

  61. wayne says:

    Watch not getting this down to too small of a scale, like thermals and individual clouds flows, Stephen, your adiabatic loops. They are speaking of huge systems as the inflow from the south Atlantic westward over the Amazon tropics and such. If you stand back and look at what 5000 thermals are doing in unison that seems to be the thrust in their papers, or that is the impression Anastassia left me with after those lengthy discussions.

  62. Stephen Wilde says:


    It does sound plausible that a large aggregation of convective cells over a region as large as the Amazon or Congo might have an effect on the macro scale pressure distribution.

    That is accommodated within the points made in my post of 6.50am though.

    I’d be interested in hearing a considered response from Douglas.

  63. Roger Clague says:

    Tallbloke says

    “The IPCC’s third assessment report says this in its discussion of the greenhouse effect:
    Note that it is essential for the greenhouse effect that the temperature of the lower atmosphere is not constant (isothermal) but decreases with height.

    Note also that the IPCC don’t claim that this temperature gradient is caused by the greenhouse effect, but the opposite. It is “essential” for it to occur.”

    The Wikipedia entry for lapse rate is very clear

    “Because the atmosphere is warmed by conduction from Earth’s surface, this lapse or reduction in temperature is normal with increasing distance from the conductive source.”

    The entry goes on, in contradiction to this, to show that lapse rate is proportional to gravity.

    It is gravity that decreases with distance from the surface and causes the lapse rate

    In a similar way the IPCC hide the real cause of the lapse rate, gravity.
    They use the term ‘ essential for ‘ deliberately for its vagueness and imprecision.

    They like Wikipedia think the GHE causes the lapse rate but avoid saying so.

  64. tallbloke says:

    Stephen: “the fact is that if air is pulled in from the sides it will contain neither vapour nor droplets”

    I disagree.

    If the incoming air had no water vapour in it, it would already be part of the same air parcel in which condensation had occurred.

    By the way, plenty of condensation occurs outside clouds at lower altitudes.

  65. Stephen Wilde says:


    Should have said LESS vapour and droplets. Most vapour and droplets must be within the ascending column so anything coming in from the sides will detract from the effects of both.

  66. tallbloke says:

    Roger C: “It is gravity that decreases with distance from the surface and causes the lapse rate”

    Is that a quote from Wiki, or your interpretation?

  67. Roger Clague says:

    Roger C: “It is gravity that decreases with distance from the surface and causes the lapse rate”

    Is that a quote from Wiki, or your interpretation?

    The above is my understanding.

    Wikipedia and IPCC claim it is conduction that decreases and causes the lapse rate.. But conduction in air is too weak to move large amounts of energy from the surface.

    It is gravity, convection and phase change of H2O that does the work and causes the lapse rate.

    Wikipedia and IPCC avoid that explanation as it is not radiative. And radiative theory is necessary for them to demonize CO2.

  68. Stephen Wilde says:

    Wikipaedia means that, initially, conduction from the irradiated ground to the lowest molecules of air gives the initial starting temperature for the ‘ideal’ lapse rate decline with height.

    Thereafter the pressure gradient caused by gravity reducing density with height sets the ‘ideal’ slope.

    However lots of factors can cause divergences from the ideal lapse rate set by gravity but for the atmosphere as a whole the ideal slope set by gravity must be met on average otherwise top of atmosphere radiative imbalances will occur.

    When imbalances do occur, as they do all the time, the circulation adjusts to return the system towards equilibrium.

    The thermal balance at top of atmosphere is a consequence of the net effect of all the non radiative processes combined.

  69. Douglas Sheil says:

    Greetings — had a few internet glitches — likely due to the major rain storms in this part of the world!

    Stephen Wilde and co. — thanks for the interest.

    Several questions here. One is why the emphasis on condensation rather than evaporation. Take a look at section 4.5 in the paper. Let me try and sketch out the bigger picture too:

    A key point is the positive feedback processes that are established over areas with high evaporation: the atmosphere in these areas is unstable and any slight lifting of the air leads to condensation and a resulting positive feedback that lifts it more (the pump). This is a dynamic process. The overall condensation rates in these ascending regions are higher than local evaporation rates as moist air from outside the area is carried in and contributes additional moisture. Air has to circulate: it cannot just rise — it has to fall too. It is the spatial pattern of atmospheric moisture in the air that sets up where the circulation rises and where it falls — and that is why relative evaporation rates matters. So the local evaporation is the “catalyst” defining the spatial pattern but the local power and water generated in these low pressure areas depends on the energy and condensation from damp air brought in from a wider region. Forests can evaporate more water per unit area than any other cover (or even open water) therefore they generate and support low pressure zones. Hence wet winds into forest regions.

    Another question is whether the physical principles are “well known” — I think the basic relationships are, but some common assumptions used to simplify the complexities need to be reviewed. Even Dr Held acknowledged, that sink effects are “is traditionally considered to be small.” (as Michael Hart’s note above reminds me) — I would view that as an acknowledgement that “tradition” may be playing a dominant role.

    Our paper is long and technical because there are a lot of issues and objections to address: we found no simpler way to explain. That has certainly been one of the obstacles for getting engagement too: I/ we understand that these concepts are not simple to grasp in any brief text or explanation. (including concise and coherent blog comments). Anastassia and Victor do have additional resources at their site that may help if you are willing to invest time in this. See

    Thanks again for the interest

    Best wishes

  70. tchannon says:

    This is in a way a clone of the onshore breeze.

    This is insolation driven. Forest is normally cold. However, wet tropical forest with tropical sun makes sense as able to do the same thing.

  71. tallbloke says:

    Douglas, thanks for your continued contributions. I think some confusion was arising between Stephen and myself over the spatial scale that is best considered when attempting to visualise the processes. From my reading of the paper, since it is mentioned that the process is pulling in air more from the sides due to the atmosphere being much wider than it is high, I am considering this on a scale of hundreds of square kilometers. Clearly within such a broad area, there is plenty of local inhomogeneity, but is this the right sort of scale to be thinking about?

    Your theory is saying that as much as winds are ‘blowing from somewhere’ they are being ‘sucked from somewhere’ by the lower pressure created when water vapour condenses. But presumably this also has to be considered to be within the general circulation due to equator-pole temperature differences and diurnal to seasonal changes in insolation setting up ‘regimes’ of wind direction.

  72. Stephen Wilde says:

    Douglas said:

    “the atmosphere in these areas is unstable and any slight lifting of the air leads to condensation and a resulting positive feedback that lifts it more (the pump).”

    That sounds like the shrinkage in volume resulting from condensation results primarily in enhancing the upward flow such that the positive feedback allows a very small instability at the surface to go right up to the tropopause as long as the thermal gradient is favourable.

    It is true too that as air rises then new air has to flow in laterally from below to replace it.

    I still don’t see why the emphasis on condensation. The consequent shrinking in volume just enables the continuation of what the initial evaporation started and as tallbloke says:

    “presumably this also has to be considered to be within the general circulation due to equator-pole temperature differences and diurnal to seasonal changes in insolation setting up ‘regimes’ of wind direction.”

    What I see is what I said before namely that the basic climate zones are set up by planetary geometry creating and interacting with temperature and pressure gradients but that those climate zones can be modulated to some extent by the water cycle and vegetation is a major factor in regional variations in the strength of the water cycle.

    I don’t think one could create a jungle from desert just by moving trees to a location under the permanent subtropical high pressure zones or a desert from a jungle just by deforestation under the mid latitude jets for example.

    And in the end nothing about the water cycle is relevant to non water planets yet to deal with AGW theory we need to explain how the same physical principles and processes keep non water planets stable too.

    The water cycle surely makes it much easier for stability to be maintained because it results in less need of a highly vigorous circulation.

    In fact this paper suggests that the winds are caused by the water cycle but in fact winds would need to be stronger if there were no water cycle.

  73. Stephen Wilde says:

    “the atmosphere in these areas is unstable and any slight lifting of the air leads to condensation and a resulting positive feedback that lifts it more (the pump).”

    Note too that that happens anyway even without condensation due to the adiabatic pump arising from the decline in pressure with height.

    The most one can say is that the process is a little more vigorous with evaporation followed by condensation.

  74. tallbloke says:

    Stephen, maybe we need to ask the author team how they think the lapse rate is maintained? That might shed some light.

  75. Stephen Wilde says:


    To the point as always.

  76. pochas says:

    “We conclude that condensation and evaporation merit attention as major, if previously overlooked, factors in driving atmospheric dynamics.”

    If condensation and evaporation are “previously overlooked factors” then
    “Its worse than we thought.”

  77. Douglas Sheil says:

    Scale – yes , consider something much broader than it is high. Certainly smaller features will have effects but we havn’t addressed that. If we want functional forest corridors to maintain the flow of moist winds into continents they should be several tens or preferrably hundreds of Km across. The bigger they are the more powerful the feedback effects can be.

  78. Douglas Sheil says:

    Stephen Wilde
    I think what is missing in your analysis is the source of the energy. We cant just move dry air up and expect it to propel itself higher — where would the energy come from? In the pump theory condensation provides energy that can be (and is) converted to such air motion. There will be a blog post about that at Judith Curry’s site soon where we can continue the discussion. As I said above it is hard to address all these points with concise and coherent blog comments. Some are addressed in the paper and others at an the various blog discussions of a few years ago. Lots on the lapse rate: for example see bottom right when you open
    Good luck

  79. Stephen Wilde says:

    “If we want functional forest corridors to maintain the flow of moist winds into continents they should be several tens or preferably hundreds of Km across”.


    Don’t you think the positions of the permanent climate zones would restrict the extent to which that could succeed ?

    What about the people living in the areas where you propose to encourage forests ?

    How much agricultural land would need to be allocated to forestation ?

    Who pays if it doesn’t work out ?

    If it were possible wouldn’t nature have covered the entire planet in forests without our help ?

    Isn’t this just a form of geo-engineering ?

    Isn’t the solution worse than the problem ?

    Sensitively cultivated mixed agriculture and high quality residential areas are generally much better for species diversity than a forest monoculture.

  80. Stephen Wilde says:

    Douglas said:

    “I think what is missing in your analysis is the source of the energy”.

    Sunshine on the ground and into the oceans (with perhaps a little geothermal) resulting in evaporation and convection is quite enough.

    Do you think condensation is a source of ‘new’ energy ?

  81. Stephen Wilde says:

    Douglas said:

    “We cant just move dry air up and expect it to propel itself higher — where would the energy come from? ”

    Well, it is long established science that a pressure gradient with height does just that once uplift begins.The beginning of uplift even in dry air is caused by uneven heating at a rotating or uneven surface or at a surface irradiated by a point source of heat so that the energy supply is graduated across the surface.

    It appears that the pressure driven adiabatic process is unknown to some.

    That must be why it doesn’t get mentioned in any of the literature pertaining to the so called biotic pump.

  82. Douglas Sheil says:

    … looking back over the thread
    four further points that I hope I can clarify in a brief format,
    1) Seasonal effects occur as evaporation from vegetation is, if water is available, highly dependent on sunlight.
    2) The pump theory does not say temperature driven winds never happen (dust devils, sea breezes) only that this is not the only explanation and that these temperature winds generally appear weaker, than condensation based winds. So on a planet without water (or other condensable vapours) there will still be winds.
    3a) Indeed much of the discussion is about the magnitude of the physical effects — this is one of the values of presenting a simple estimate of the power, based on direct physical reasoning, and showing that it is of the correct order of magnitude to explain global circulation (i.e. it is not small). If you believe it is small you would need to show where we have gone wrong.
    3b) We do discuss why the effect was “traditionally considered to be small” (as Dr Held noted) and why that persisted … see section 4.3 in our paper: “Regarding previous oversight of the effect”. Sometimes a view or judgement can become an “accepted tradition” even if it lacks sound basis — even easier if the omission seems to make sense in common situations (“we can make this simpler if we ignore this term like we generally do”). The point is that if we consider a fixed pressure gradient the air density changes associated with condensation may have little influence on estimated wind speeds and can thus be ignored (what is often examined) but this omits the pressure gradient actively generated by that condensation process (what our paper examined).

    Hope that helps — let me leave it there

  83. […] Makarieva et al story we broke on the talkshop a week ago has been hitting the headlines. From ‘the Australian’ interview with Doug Sheil via the […]

  84. […] See also the great discussion in the comments section of this blog. […]