Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Blackbody: The Key Error in Climate Science

Update 10 March 2012: I have realized the error in my blackbody understanding, and why that error does not affect my Venus/Earth comparison or my physical conclusions about atmospheric warming. I have posted on this at "My Own Blackbody Error". The article below should no longer be taken to be my scientific position. [Note added 6 June 2013: I see a few visitors continuing to come here, obviously concerned about theory, while I want to remain focused upon the definitive facts. For my view of the proper use of the Stefan-Boltzmann formula, see here. The error in the original post below is that I neglected to say the power per unit area involved in the formula is not the INCIDENT, but the ABSORBED power.]

The climate consensus in science is founded upon the greenhouse effect as imagined by the IPCC-sponsored scientists, which my last post simply disproved. Their greenhouse effect is, in turn, founded upon one key scientific error, that competent students of my generation cannot make: Misusing the "blackbody" equation, otherwise known as the Stefan-Boltzmann equation.

A blackbody is defined as a body (or system of bodies in thermal contact) which absorbs all of the radiation incident upon it. A blackbody necessarily has an albedo (reflection coefficient) of zero. If you can define your body (or system) so that only radiation is passing into and out of it, then you can -- indeed you must -- define all the radiation passing into it as "incident", and you can replace the system with a blackbody, and use the Stefan-Boltzmann equation, with that incident radiation, to calculate a mean temperature for the body or system (it's "effective blackbody temperature" or "radiating temperature"). That's it, that's all there is to it.

So how do current "expert scientists" go wrong? Because they define their "effective blackbody" system as inside the solid Earth, bounded by the Earth's surface -- and it should be obvious there is more than just radiation passing through that surface (there is conduction through the surface, and convection away from it). To use the Stefan-Boltzmann equation properly, they must define the boundary of the Earth system as outside of its atmosphere -- beyond all conduction and convection -- and use the mean incident solar irradiation only, not the "incident minus reflected" as they do.

You cannot "correct for albedo" to use the Stefan-Boltzmann equation at the Earth's surface, because a blackbody by definition has no albedo to "correct" for. This of course was confirmed in my previous Venus/Earth analysis, which showed there is simply no room for an albedo effect upon the long-term mean temperatures in the atmospheres of Venus and Earth.

All of the billions of words wasted upon "explaining" the climate consensus are founded upon this elementary error of understanding, that a student in his/her first physics class could see is wrong (providing he/she were taught in that basic class the definition of a blackbody, and how it must be applied to solve appropriate problems -- and apparently they are not being so taught, for the last 20 years or more).

The climate consensus, and physicists who defend it, utterly fail to understand how to use the concept of the blackbody properly. I charge them all with scientific incompetence of the first order. No one who writes authoritatively in defense of the climate consensus is, in my professional scientific judgment, worthy of calling him/herself a scientist, although I usually just use the qualifier "competent" or "incompetent".


  1. If only someone would listen!
    I had occasion to look up 'Black Body' on Wikipedia yesterday, have you seen the arguments going on there?

  2. Good Morning, Julian,

    No, your comment is the first I have heard of it. But it is hardly a surprise. The situation is literally like finding oneself in an episode of "Twilight Zone", where a law of physics somehow doesn't apply and everyone has a blank look on their face when you try to talk about it. Here in the backwater of my blog, I can only try to communicate a coherent physical picture, against the strange, vast waves breaking upon the outer shore.

  3. Dr Huffman,

    My reading for the Stephan-Boltzmann equation from Wikipedia is that it can be applied in a more general sense by looking at the emissivity of a grey body and using that when the body in question is not a perfect black body. Is that not what the whole albedo discussions are effectively about?

  4. Good Evening, necromancer1962,

    It is not what my discussion is about; my discussion is about drawing a boundary surface around a physical body so that it can be replaced THERMODYNAMICALLY with a blackbody, making sure that energy only in the form of radiation is passing through that boundary (and of course, in a situation where the body is heated by that incident radiation, not due to an internal power source). Obviously, the radiation transfer theorists have their own rules; what I am saying is that those rules don't follow what I was taught over 40 years ago for handling thermodynamics problems. Furthermore, the results of my Venus/Earth comparison confirm my understanding, not theirs, in the case of the atmosphere. If their rules for invoking a blackbody work for their theory (and I won't be drawn into a discussion of that theory, because it is not my job to find all their errors for them, or provide a better radiation transfer theory), it is nevertheless true, from my Venus/Earth analysis, that their rules don't work for the thermodynamical problem of heat transfer within the planetary atmospheres. I wouldn't call them incompetent if I didn't consider that obvious from my Venus/Earth analysis. Anyone who wants to argue about it needs to show that my usage of the blackbody equation in my analysis is wrong, and why (it is obviously not wrong, in my scientific estimation, as there can be no fundamental argument against drawing the "blackbody" surface beyond the atmosphere, and the result of doing so -- and as I did automatically in my analysis -- is a breathtaking simplification and correction of current understanding of atmospheric warming). I really have nothing more to contribute on this subject at this time; the radiation transfer theory as applied in climate science is, to me, simply and obviously insufficient to address the true thermodynamics of the planetary atmospheres.

  5. Dr Huffman,

    Thank you for your detailed reply. It puts your analysis in perspective and highlights the power of your Venus/Earth analysis.

    As an aside I have recently bought the Kindle version of "Slaying the Sky Dragon" and they use the temperature and air pressure profiles of all the atmospheric planets in our solar system to show the errors of climate alarmism using the laws of physics.