Does the Nikolov and Zeller discovery violate energy conservation?

Posted: September 2, 2019 by tallbloke in pressure

Ned and Karl often run into people on twitter who tell them that their ‘theory’ violates the 1st Law of thermodynamics. Firstly, as Ned points out, their empirical work is not a theory, but a discovery. But let’s allow Paul to develop his argument, and then we’ll pick it apart and see if it ‘holds water’.

Paul Alter@PAlterBoy1 writes: I wrote this up with the help of a physicist and a climate scientist. You have a gas in a cylinder with a piston. Kinetic energy is applied to the piston. The piston adds energy to the gas through its work: the work by a force is the force times the distance the force (work).

2/ point is moved into the direction of the force. The piston exerts a force on the gas and when it moves to compress the gas it “works” and hence adds energy. The energy that the moving piston adds to the gas is converted into heat, to the effect that total energy is conserved.

3/ This heats the gas. The ideal gas law (PV=nRT) together with conservation of energy determines how much goes into temperature and how much in pressure. So far so good. But now the gas is compressed. What keeps the temperature elevated? It is *not* because the gas is compressed

4/ The energy to compress the gas and raise the temp came from *outside* the system as kinetic energy. Therefore the system will now come to equilibrium; the warmed gas will cool/come to equilibrium with its surroundings. To keep the temp raised there must be continually applied

5/ energy from outside the system. That’s required by thermodynamics. The only possibility in Nikolov’s hypothesis is gravity. But for that to work the gas *must* continue to be compressed even more. If gravity holds it at the same pressure then the system is at equilibrium and

6/ must eventually go to a lesser energy state as energy is lost, as is required by thermodynamics, and cool. So for our atmosphere to stay warm, or get warmer, it must be compressed more and more. And that simply isn’t happening. Ned’s hypothesis doesn’t hold water.

OK, what we’ve got here is a common misunderstanding of Ned and Karl’s work, with a couple of errors in its formulation. Let’s start with the obvious errors and then move onto broader issues with this type of argument.

Firstly, the statement at 4/ that “The energy to compress the gas and raise the temp came from *outside* the system as kinetic energy” is true for the piston experiment but not for the planetary atmosphere, where it is the FORCE (not ‘energy’) of gravity, acting on atmospheric mass, that performs the compression.

Secondly, the statement that “the warmed gas will cool/come to equilibrium with its surroundings” is misconceived. The entire atmosphere wrapped around the whole planet is ‘the warmed gas’, so which ‘surroundings’ does Paul think it is going to cool to or equilibriate with? Not space, because that is “outside the system” so far as his thought experiment is concerned. Not the ground, because energy is actually escaping from the ground into the ‘the warmed gas’.

Paul states in 5-6/ that “If gravity holds it at the same pressure then the system is at equilibrium and must eventually go to a lesser energy state as energy is lost, as is required by thermodynamics, and cool.” but this runs into the same difficulty.

The problem with this type of argument is that the entire thought experiment is set up in the wrong way as an initial compression and subsequent equilibriation in a closed system which looks nothing like the situation the argument is applied to. Most of these type of thought experiments take place in a perfectly insulated vessel which wouldn’t cool. But in any case, it’s not a static system where we have compressed gas in a container. We should consider the real dynamics.

The Sun’s shortwave radiant energy is entering the system and long wave radiant energy is leaving it continuously. What we should be interested in is how warm the various surfaces in its layers get and why. To get a handle on that we need to be considering the impedance (emissivity) of the layers and surfaces, and why they are what they are.

The reasons atmospheric pressure of 1 bar raises Earth’s surface temperature to an average 289K rather than the ~213K of our airless moon at the same distance from the Sun are several.

Firstly, gravity acting on atmospheric mass sets up a gradient of pressure, which supports buoyant convection. Air leaving the surface and rising to altitude cools adiabatically at the wet lapse rate and air returning to the surface WARMS at the dry adiabatic lapse rate. That warmed air returning to surface reduces the temperature differential between the ground and air, IMPEDING the rate at which conduction of heat from the Sun warmed surface to the air takes place at.

Secondly, the higher the air pressure at the surface, the more the rate of evaporation is IMPEDED. This means the ocean has to rise in temperature until it is warm enough to lose energy at the same rate it receives it, back to the atmosphere and then to space via evaporation, conduction and radiation.

I modified the standard NASA energy balance diagram to try to illustrate and quantify these effects. I welcome comments, suggestions and criticisms to help me improve it.

In this scheme, the pressure gradient in the system is the cause of the higher surface temperature. This doesn’t conflict with the mainstream observations of the levels of radiation occurring at various altitude. In fact, it gives an explanation for them the standard greenhouse theory can’t. Those radiation levels are what they are because of the temperatures the various surfaces and layers of the system reach due to the atmospheric pressure. They are the EFFECT, not the CAUSE of the temperatures. As I was always taught in my physics classes; Everything radiates according to its temperature.

As Ned has previously pointed out, the standard radiative greenhouse theory has no way to explain how 240W/m^2 of incoming Sunlight can be converted into 340W/m^2 of ‘back radiation’ in a freely convecting atmosphere. It is the standard theory which is breaking the energy conservation law, not Ned and Karl.

  1. Patagon says:

    Last paragraph, incoming SW/outgoing LW is the other way round, 340/240 which does not violate conservation of energy

    [Mod note] 100 of incoming SW solar is reflected back to space by cloud albedo, so only 240 enters the climate system. 342 LW back radiation as per NASA energy budget diagram. -TB

  2. Chaeremon says:

    Rog, you can substitute the word gravity by proximity from the heat source,

  3. dai davies says:

    First, need to clearly distinguish between the discovery – the curious observed relationship between pressures and temperatures. My guess is that this has something to do with solar system formation – an interesting area of exploration.

    Then there is the hypothesis of pressure causing temperature. I’ve asked Ned what Earth’s temp would be if it swapped places with Mars. He conceded it would be lower. That’s a serious problem he needs to address if he hasn’t.

    I agree with Paul’s reasoning, but you make two interesting counters. I think the first one fails because it doesn’t include radiative cooling to space. For local convection the lapse rates either way are surely the same – some mean of wet and dry after condensation and precipitation. Need to include heat transfer in precipitation. Large scale cycles such as Hadley cells are another matter. Can have different tropopause heights.

    What you say about pressure decreasing evaporation is valid as far as it goes, but needs evaluation. Then to complicate things there is the dramatic increase in evaporation at 30C due to breakdown of water’s nanocrystaline slurry that breaks down between 0C and 30C.

    Only Earth has liquid surface water. Venus, as I understand it, has a water vapour band up around 0C altitude so presumably has an evaporation-condensation cycle up there. But other bodies with different liquids, or none?

  4. oldbrew says:

    Dai D: I’ve asked Ned what Earth’s temp would be if it swapped places with Mars. He conceded it would be lower. That’s a serious problem he needs to address if he hasn’t.

    In that case Earth would be 50% further away from the Sun, so the incoming watts per sq/m would obviously be a lot lower. Where is the problem?

  5. tallbloke says:

    Chaeremon, Coombs and Velasco get well picked over in this long but worthwhile thread from many moons ago.

    The argument can be formulated in various ways. One seems to be that Boltzmann was right because it’s the more energetic particles which get to the highest altitudes. I think that these molecular formulations fail to consider bulk convection and the fact that the Sun is actively driving convection. Once again rather than considering isolated systems reaching equilibrium, we need to be considering the ongoing dynamics of what is actually there.

  6. dai davies says:

    OB, problem is lower temperature but same atmospheric temperature, so no longer on the N&Z graph.

    (why doesn’t WordPress remember me any more? 😦 )

  7. tallbloke says:

    Dai, I think you mean same atmospheric pressure, not temperature? But N&Z explain that the thermal enhancement is relative to the incoming energy, so less W/m^2 coming in, less T, despite same P.

  8. dai davies says:

    Sad to hear than Maxwell was on wrong side of the debate. To me the greatest physicist, or at least one of three. It’s been claimed that he had a tensor version of his electrodynamic equations that preempted Einstein. I checked the reference given and it didn’t seem to confirm the claim.

    The perpetual motion machine argument is interesting. I can’t see why you can’t generate electricity from the atmospheric temperature gradient, but it would be a most inefficient and expensive method even by today’s standards.

    I’m solidly on the side that claiming gravity provides the backbone to the lapse rate and other effects modify that.

  9. dai davies says:

    TB. Their graphed relationship is actual temp vs pressure. I think my point stands.

  10. tallbloke says:

    Dai, no, it’s Ts/Tna vs pressure. So, a ratio relating to the no-atmosphere temp of a body (which obviously depends on its distance from the Sun)

  11. dai davies says:

    Fair enough. My memory of the graph was wrong.

    Still not conceding the pressure argument.
    Primary driver of Earth’s temp rise is Diurnal Smoothing Effect. Simple and empirically demonstrated.
    It is pressure dependent but that has nothing to do with convection.

  12. phil salmon says:

    Paul here is making the same epistemological mistake that Willis Eschenbach makes when criticising the N&Z discovery. As you say, they mistake an observation for a mechanistic hypothesis. And they construct an over complicated heath-robinsonian cause effect argument and then proceed to attack this argument of their own making.

    These are catastrophic failures of logic. They are taking the art of the straw man argument to a new level. It is their own arguments however that will burn in the wicker man of their own making. N&Z’s observation and observed relationship remains completely unscathed.

  13. tallbloke says:

    Phil, right. Willis is too thick to understand that though…

  14. dai davies says:

    I forgot about:
    “the standard radiative greenhouse theory has no way to explain how 240W/m^2 of incoming Sunlight can be converted into 340W/m^2 of ‘back radiation’ in a freely convecting atmosphere. It is the standard theory which is breaking the energy conservation law, not Ned and Karl.”

    Counter to consensus CliSci, GHE is not back radiation and it doesn’t defy laws. Discussed in detail in:, Misconception 3: The GHE is back radiation

    Need to look at full thermodynamics of surface interactions.

  15. Joe Bailey says:

    Ok for the the non science fools like myself. Tell me if I’m wrong on the atmospheric pressure thing. Say you have a 1 litre container of air at say 20 deg.C and you compress it down to 1/2 a litre, there is still the same amount of (heat) energy squashed into a smaller space which shows up as a higher temp. Thats without adding any more energy. And the reverse should happen just like going up in altitude.

  16. dai davies says:

    Moving Earth to Mars orbit is more complex than Greg Bear’s scenario in his novel Moving Mars.

    It would be a snowball Earth, and I’m not going to try to guess its eventual albedo. Its atmospheric pressure would probably be lower – maybe much lower. Not low enough mean T for N2 or O2 to condense – getting close to O2 at 90K and N2 at 77K.

    But O2 would probably both condense a bit at the poles. With rough calculations I get about 91 K for polar winter minimum, which would give something like option B tending into C.

    My memory of Moving Mars is slim. Perhaps he had Mars move closer to a sun and gain an atmosphere.

  17. tom0mason says:

    @dai davies
    Surely in moving Earth to Mars’s position would collapse our multi-layered atmosphere to less layers? Wouldn’t this cause the atmosphere to be more easily stripped away by the solar winds?
    Just my initial ideas of what could happen in this hypothetical situation, I’m probably quite wrong but I can’t see how at the moment.

  18. dai davies says:

    I’m winging it here in Sci Fi writer mode. Getting too complex for the physicist. It seems to be close to a dramatic state where O2 partially condenses in polar winters producing strong seasonal winds. Warm enough in some equatorial areas for liquid water? Maybe.

    If significant condensation, then TB’s pressure-evaporation link swings in big time to really complicate things. I guess stabilisation, so increasing chance of liquid water and life as we know it.

  19. tallbloke says:

    If N&Z are correct, then Earth’s position on the graph won’t change if you move it to Mars’ orbit. That’s because although it’s surface temperature will be lower, as Ned told Dai before, so will its ‘no-atmosphere’ temperature, due to receiving less sunlight.

    That means the ratio between Ts and Tna won’t change and since the pressure is still the same, the position on the graph won’t change either.

    Of course, if oxygen, or nitrogen were to freeze in large quantities, then the pressure would drop, in which case Earth would move to the left (due to lower pressure) and downwards (due to lower predicted Ts) on the graph, but it will still stay on the red line.

  20. dai davies says:

    OK, forget the A option I shouldn’t have included that, but albedo will change a lot as we go into snowball Earth, which is the B option without condensation.
    O2 and maybe even N2 will liquify – not freeze I think but I’d have to dig up phase diagrams to check that. Position on graph will drop vertically as indicated for a while till condensation sets in. A way to go before that starts. Can’t see it following the red line.

    I imagine O2 seas at the poles flowing towards equator as more condenses then evaporating as temps rise, to form polar convection cells.

    An interesting thought experiment.

  21. tallbloke says:

    Dai, Freezing or liquifying, either will reduce atmospheric mass. Which it was would make a difference to the equator pole gradient, and likely albedo as equatorwards flows would likely evaporate, but ned would contend that it won’t affect global average.

  22. cognog2 says:

    Something wrong here in the Energy Budget Image. It claims some 185 Watt/sq.m insolation entering the oceans yet only some 85 Watts/sq.m leaving by evaporation.
    1) The oceans never seem to rise much above 35 DegC maximum over tens of thousands of years.
    2) No one in their right mind would attempt to boil a pan of water by playing a blowlamp on the surface.
    3) In the Rankine Cycle the energy input equals the evaporation output at constant temperature and pressure and this applies to the evaporation process at the ocean surfaces. The rate of evaporation being a function of the partial vapor pressure (aka humidity) in response to the insolation, with the energy involved rising up through the atmosphere by means of buoyancy rather than by radiation.

  23. Kelvin Vaughan says:

    During the day directly below the Sun 960W is radiated down. Oxygen and nitrogen, 99.95% of the atmosphere, are inactive in the infra red region. Why wouldn’t the air in contact with the ground heat up to an average 15C before the heat can be removed?

  24. pochas94 says:

    He knows how the earth receives energy from the sun. He knows how it distributes itself within the atmosphere. But he doesn’t tell us how it escapes to space, so he doesn’t complete an energy balance. So the first law is sort of ignored.

  25. David A0 says:

    Joe Bailey says:
    September 3, 2019 at 3:54 am
    “Ok for the the non science fools like myself. Tell me if I’m wrong on the atmospheric pressure thing. Say you have a 1 litre container of air at say 20 deg.C and you compress it down to 1/2 a litre, there is still the same amount of (heat) energy squashed into a smaller space which shows up as a higher temp. Thats without adding any more energy. And the reverse should happen just like going up in altitude.”

    I wish you were not ignored. My view is similar, each molecule is vibrating at a certain rate, more molecules in the same area would register a higher T. In affect the residence time of incoming energy is increased via the fact that it takes more energy to get a denser molecular mass vibrating to thermodynamic equilibrium from a steady source. Then put in a thermometer and the mercury element is struck by more.

  26. oldbrew says:

    The Shattered Greenhouse: How Simple Physics Demolishes the “Greenhouse Effect”.
    Timothy Casey B.Sc. (Hons.)
    Consulting Geologist

    First Uploaded ISO: 2009-Oct-13
    Revision 5 ISO: 2011-Dec-07


    This article explores the “Greenhouse Effect” in contemporary literature and in the frame of physics, finding a conspicuous lack of clear thermodynamic definition. The “Greenhouse Effect” is defined by Arrhenius’ (1896) modification of Pouillet’s backradiation idea so that instead of being an explanation of how a thermal gradient is maintained at thermal equilibrium, Arrhenius’ incarnation of the backradiation hypothesis offered an extra source of power in addition to the thermally conducted heat which produces the thermal gradient in the material. The general idea as expressed in contemporary literature, though seemingly chaotic in its diversity of emphasis, shows little change since its revision by Svante Arrhenius in 1896, and subsequent refutation by Robert Wood in 1909. The “Greenhouse Effect” is presented as a radiation trap whereby changes in atmospheric composition resulting in increased absorption lead to increased surface temperatures. However, since the composition of a body, isolated from thermal contact by a vacuum, cannot affect mean body temperature, the “Greenhouse Effect” has, in fact, no material foundation. Compositional variation can change the distribution of heat within a body in accordance with Fourier’s Law, but it cannot change the overall temperature of the body. Arrhenius’ Backradiation mechanism did, in fact, duplicate the radiative heat transfer component by adding this component to the conductive heat flow between the earth’s surface and the atmosphere, when thermal conduction includes both contact and radiative modes of heat transfer between bodies in thermal contact. Moreover, the temperature of the earth’s surface and the temperature in a greenhouse are adequately explained by elementary physics. Consequently, the dubious explanation presented by the “Greenhouse Effect” hypothesis is an unnecessary complication. Furthermore, this hypothesis has neither direct experimental confirmation nor direct empirical evidence of a material nature. Thus the notion of “Anthropogenic Global Warming”, which rests on the “Greenhouse Effect”, also has no real foundation.
    – – –
    The Hothouse Limerick

    There was an old man named Arrhenius
    Whose physics were rather erroneous
    He recycled rays
    In peculiar ways
    And created a “heat” most spontaneous!

    Timothy Casey, 2010
    – – –
    In the conclusions, Casey says:
    ‘By taking the radiative transfer part of conductive transfer and adding it to the total amount of conductive transfer between the surface of the earth and the atmosphere, Arrhenius (1896) duplicated a portion of the existing heat pro rata to the degree of absorption by carbon dioxide when, in fact, this portion of radiative transfer is already included in the conductive transfer figure.’

  27. EternalOptimist says:

    TB, Love the energy budget diagram, as a layman, can I ask what it would look like at night. i.e. would there be any flows that are not present during the day ?

  28. oldbrew says:

    @ EternalOptimist – re. ‘would there be any flows that are not present during the day ?’

    Well, there wouldn’t be any incoming solar 😎

  29. dai davies says:

    TB, you mention radiation all the way up but it’s not represented in your diagram. Also of importance for the Diurnal Smoothing Effect, the main driver, is ground conduction.

    Do you reject DSE? N&Z made a valuable contribution to its calculation in an early paper, but Ned now seems to be ignoring it. It’s all that’s needed to explain Earth’s surface temperatures. Simple and adequate. Why add confusion?

    On Casey article. Interesting historical review. I think that back-radiation needs some numbers to put it into perspective. It’s a minute fraction of the thermal exchange happening in the atmosphere at that temperature, and best seen as the lower atmosphere trying to maintain thermal equilibrium with the surface – effectively lifting the radiative surface slightly.
    GHE is delay (“trapping”) and accumulation of heat (and negligible). Casey too long for my sore eyes to do more than skim but, as I do for all GHE articles, I searched for “delay” then “time” to see if this was addressed. Apparently not.

    Casey (I think the same one) pointed out that there were millions more undersea volcanos than generally recognised. Adding heat but perhaps more importantly, adding huge amounts of CO2.

    JB, “Thats without adding any more energy.”
    At ground level in lab, energy added in work uses to compress the gas to half volume. In atmosphere, downward, energy added from decreased gravitational potential. Opposite on rising. Just like a bouncing ball, gas molecules are bouncing off each other.

  30. EternalOptimist says:

    @OldBrew lol. of course. but nothing else materialises, nothing else diminishes, nothing else increases ? nothing significant

    if compression has this property, what happens with regard to the property at night. that’s what im driving at (in my ignorance of physics)

  31. oldbrew says:

    EO – maybe there should be two energy budget diagrams, one each for day and night?

    Then incoming solar would be doubled for day and zero for night. Don’t know what that would do to the other numbers – does anyone?

    Pretty soon we’re in this sort of territory…

    On The Flat Earth Rants Of Joe Postma
    Published on June 4, 2019

    Written by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

    I see what Joe Postma is saying but the arguments go on.
    – – –
    Compression of the atmosphere by gravity leads to highest density and pressure at the surface, lowest at TOA. It follows from the gas laws that temperature will do the same on average, hence the ‘standard atmosphere’ and lapse rates. The other variable is volume, but assume fixed for the diagrams.

    That’s why Venus is so hot at the surface relative to its distance from the Sun – very high pressure and density due to a massive (compared to Earth) atmosphere being compressed by gravity. Nothing to do with gas composition.
    – – –
    Ref: Willis & Anthony & Roy = Flat Earth Theorists
    Published on January 1, 2019

    Written by Joseph E Postma

    Someone sent me this:

    Have You Seen This

    So, I decided to write them a letter:

    From: Joseph Postma
    Sent: December 31, 2018 11:26 AM
    To: Willis Eschenbach >; WUWT (Anthony Watts) Roy Spencer
    Subject: Radiative Greenhouse Effect Mathematically Disproven

  32. Joe Bailey, the video sends an interesting message but one would expect the results as the density of the atmosphere is actually calculated from measured pressure, temperature and molecular weight. The fellow in the video is correct that the temperature down a mine is higher and all competent mining engineers know that. I have said previously that the lapse rate applies below the surface. I have been down some deep mines and know that the temperature in still air at the 1000m level can be up to 10K higher than at the surface.(depends on humidity of air). N & Z’s findings are still correct as their findings are based on measurements (made with space probes and fly bys which could have small inaccuracies) and dimensional analysis.
    The video near the top which mentions the zeroth law of thermodynamics and dimensional analysis showing some some equations are wrong is interesting and would be a good post to explore more.
    Engineers know about dimensional analysis (at least this one does). As K&Z say few scientists understand this simple subject. It is a pity more do not bother to learn the basics. I commented at WUWT -Willis E post on K&Z that he clearly does not understand dimensional analysis and clearly missed the point in the N&Z paper.

  33. oldbrew says:

    An updated review about carbon dioxide and climate change
    – Rex Fleming

    – – –
    Ned Nikolov, Ph.D.
    Aug 1
    Interestingly, Dr. Fleming states that a number of scientists at NOAA already know and agree that the climate is not driven by CO2 or “greenhouse gases”, and that Sun’s magnetic activity is the real forcing, but are afraid to acknowledge this publicly

  34. On going argument. Does back radiation heat, or not. Postma says no. Violates 1st law.

    N&Z seem to accept back radiation but say it is offset by convection. It’s confusing.