Sunday, January 22, 2012

Observation on a "Unified Climate Theory"

In the past week, a so-called "Unified Theory of Climate" has been excitedly debated on a number of climate blogs. The introductory paper can be found here. That theory has been compared by some to the procedure I used in my Venus/Earth temperatures comparison, which disproves the consensus "greenhouse effect". I want to make just a few simple observations here of the "Unified Theory of Climate", to distinguish my own, factual position, and my professional concern for physical cause and effect relationships, from that theory.

My blog is not about climate science per se, and my aim in my relatively few climate science posts has been to clearly point out the simplest, definitive evidence, which reveals an entrenched incompetence in the current, consensus theory, which is basically that of the supposed "greenhouse effect", claimed to cause an increase in the average global surface temperature with increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide (supposedly due to mankind's ever-increasing burning of fossil fuels).

First, I do not claim to have a theory of climate, and I consider my Venus/Earth analysis to be a simple presentation of fact, not theory. While my mathematical procedure involved a usage of the Stefan-Boltzmann "blackbody" equation that seems to be widely derided by current climate scientists, it was a usage that was taught to me as fact in my earliest days as a university physics major (and which I physically understand as motivated by the traditional description of a blackbody as a cavity inside an object maintained at constant temperature, with only a small hole to allow radiation -- but neither convection nor conduction of heat -- to pass into and out of the cavity). And of course, the results of my Venus/Earth analysis, which are mathematically precise, confirm my usage as correct, and thus the fact I always thought it to be; in contrast to that clear confirmation, defenders of the "greenhouse effect" are not able to explain my amazingly simple finding -- that the Venus/Earth temperature ratio, outside of the Venus cloud layer, is due only to the ratio of the planets' distances from the Sun, nothing else -- within their own theory. They are all reduced to dismissing it as a "coincidence"; and they don't even stop to realize that it is a "coincidence" piled upon even more unlikely coincidence, that I just "happened" to learn (at a well-respected university, the University of Colorado at Boulder) just the wrong physical "fact" that allowed me to effortlessly uncover that "coincidence", of the Venus/Earth temperature ratio being precisely and solely explained by the planets' distances from the Sun -- in perfect mimickry of a coherent physical reasoning that (in my scientific judgment) corrects and simplifies our understanding of basic atmospheric warming by the Sun.

In looking to apply my procedure more widely, by comparing temperatures in Earth's troposphere with temperatures in other planetary atmospheres, I found detailed temperature and pressure data on only one other body having pressures in the range of Earth's troposphere: the Saturn moon, Titan. The stipulation of that range of pressures is due to the fact (!) that for atmospheres equal to or greater than Earth's, the atmospheric mass is enough to impose a quite general hydrostatic condition, exemplified by a negative temperature lapse rate throughout the range of Earth tropospheric pressures. Scientists over many years developed the Standard Atmosphere model of our atmosphere, based upon the hydrostatic condition, and my Venus/Earth comparison confirmed that model as the stable state which the atmosphere is constantly trying to attain and maintain. This of course is directly counter to the modern idea of "runaway climate", which has enmeshed climate scientists in ever-more complicated "explanations" for the observations that continually challenge, rather than confirm, their theories.

I will not try to give a complete critique of the "Unified Theory of Climate", since I have not paid particular attention to the recent debates over it, nor given it any sustained study in the few days it has been in the climate news. In the following, I will assume the reader has the above-linked article relating the theory at hand, and is familiar with its basic contents.

The following illustration shows the basic equations developed in the theory.

The theory puts forth a relationship between 1) the surface temperature (Ts) of a planet or moon with an atmosphere, 2) the temperature (Tgb) of a so-called "gray body" reference body, at the same distance from the Sun as the planet or moon, but having no atmosphere, and 3) the surface pressure of the planet or moon being considered. The first equation above gives the definition of Tgb, according to the authors of the Unified Climate Theory (Nikolov and Zeller).

My first observation is that the equation for Tgb can be immediately simplified. This simplification is shown in the second and third lines above. The equation contains two physical parameters (the "gray body" albedo αgb, and the emissivity ε) which are in fact the same for all of the planetary bodies considered by the authors. The factor containing these parameters, which is thus a constant, can be taken out from under the fourth-root expression containing the incident solar intensity S0. Also, the parameter added to S0 -- cs -- is a constant, which is so much smaller than S0 for all of the planetary bodies considered, that it can be removed entirely, as shown in the third line above.

This simplification allows us to see that the use of a "gray body" temperature, involving the albedo and emissivity of the planetary body, is irrelevant to the theory as presented, for the same value of albedo is used for all the bodies considered in the paper, and the same emissivity. The only variable parameter is the incident solar intensity, which depends upon the distance from the Sun. (σ, of course, is just the Stefan-Boltzmann constant, a fundamental physical constant.) The fourth line above shows the definition for the temperature of a "blackbody", and thus reveals that the "gray body" temperature is just a constant times that blackbody temperature. So all consideration of possible real variations in albedo and emissivity are in fact dropped out of the theory at this point.

The fifth line above shows the empirical, ad hoc relation found by the authors to hold across all the bodies they consider in their paper. The sixth line shows that this relationship can be obtained by using a blackbody temperature (with no albedo or emissivity correction) instead of the author's gray body temperature. The indicated ratio of temperatures, which they denote as NTE, is just multiplied by a constant (about 0.554, for the values of albedo and emissivity they use). In their theory as presented, the surface temperature can be recovered from the calculated value of NTE as Tgb times NTE; but we see we can equivalently use the blackbody temperature with an NTE that is the constant γ times their NTE function.

Either way, it should be emphasized that the functional form of NTE is not motivated by any physics, but simply by an arbitrary fitting of the planetary data to that functional form. To me, the theory stops being a physical theory at this point, and is just an arbitrary mathematical model.

Nevertheless, it appears to give good results -- which is itself a problem, because, by using the blackbody temperature, as just indicated above, I would expect them to get the same results as my procedure for comparing Venus and Earth, and they do not. When my procedure, which calls for comparing the Standard Atmosphere Earth temperature at a given pressure with the temperature in another atmosphere at the same pressure, is applied to the surface of Titan (using a slightly different surface pressure I found, 1,452 mb, rather than their indicated 1,467 mb), I obtained a predicted Titan surface temperature of 99.9K, or approximately 100K, whereas the true surface temperature was 93.2K, or nearly 7K lower than my procedure predicts. But Nikolov and Zeller, the authors of this theory, claim no error at all (93.7K predicted, versus 93.7K true surface temperature). I obtained the Titan data here.

The physical data they use differs from my (limited) data, by 1 or 2% in some cases. I have just mentioned the slightly different values they used for the surface pressure and surface temperature of Titan. Their value for the surface pressure of Earth is some 2.4% lower than that given in the Standard Atmosphere, which I used, and it doesn't seem to be due to their using a slightly different surface temperature in the Standard Atmosphere equations. (They write that the surface temperature of the Earth is 287.4K, while the Standard Atmosphere, for nearly a century, has consistently used 288.15K.) So I wonder if they have effectively calculated their own version of the Standard Atmosphere rather than the presently official 1976 American Standard Atmosphere, and if so, on what basis did they see fit to do that on their own. The thought arises -- and I can only bring it forth, not as a suspicion but only a logical possibility -- that they might have done so, inadvertently or otherwise, to make the data more exactly fit their theory. I would not bring up the possibility, except that, as I already noted, their theory is not entirely a physical one, as my Venus/Earth comparison is physically reasoned -- using only known facts (or once-known, when I was a student) -- but accomplished through arbitrary mathematical modelling of a "best fit" function. Again, this is just my dispassionate consideration, not an accusation or insinuation of dishonesty on their part.


  1. Harry, you're wise to have avoided the blogs for the last fortnight, It's been more smoke and heat than clarity and light that's for sure. Things are starting to shake down though, and the threads on my blog are always entertaining if nothing else. :-)

    You get a mention in the latest post here:

    You're a patient and equitable man. Well done.

  2. Hello Harry, I have just come across to your blog via a link from Tallbloke's. Thank you for putting up your thoughts. While I am not a physicist, (57 year old electrical engineer in New Zealand) I find what you say very thought provoking. And I love your attitude. I hope come back and read more of what you have to say. Kind regards, Robin Pittwood

  3. Hello Harry, you really ought to publish this in a peer reviewed journal . I was wondering what your scientific qualifications are ?

  4. Good Afternoon, hengist,

    I know you from the bishop hill site (where you comment on a regular basis) as a biased defender of the climate consensus, with a closed mind toward its critics, so your hearty salutation doesn't fool me; clearly, you want to move the focus on this site from the scientific facts I am communicating. I debated whether to post this comment (with the accompanying "silly face" author icon, which well expresses your real, unscientific intent, as you have shown many times at bishop hill), or just acknowledge in my own comment that someone had asked me this question. This may be your last comment to my blog, because I keep the atmosphere clear and focused here. This comment, indeed this paragraph, marks the end of your influence here.

    This blog is not about me, it is about new scientific facts I have uncovered, and which it seems clear to me the world needs to hear, whether it wants to hear them or not. My scientific qualifications are my grasp of the scientific essentials (which is all I am writing about, and which is why I frame my view as competence versus incompetence in current science), the rigor of my logic, the clarity of my writing, and the number and strength of my scientific insights, mainly for ordinary people (and scientists who don't know as much as they believe they do) to understand. And, as always, I don't claim to have all the answers. People who want to know more about me can browse my full name on the internet; in the doing, they may also read what else I have put on the internet over the last few years, which I would hope they do (my watchword has always been openness in communicating my work). Now back to the science.

  5. H.D.H.,

    While I am a great fan of yours please rethink your threat to exclude Hengist from commenting here.

    You have nothing to fear from the whimsical Hengist as the science is on your side. People like Joe Romm and John Cook have to exclude comments that challenge their views because they can't win on the physics, history or geology.

    While it is fine to snip comments that are "ad hominem" or obscene it is not acceptable to snip just because someone disagrees with you. If you go down that road you will lose "Hengist" and the "gallopingcamel".

    Very soon you will be operating an echo chamber similar to SKS or Climate Progress. Good luck with that.

  6. Good Morning gallopingcamel,

    I am well aware of the dangers, on either side and all around me, thank you.

    First, note that I didn't "snip" Hengist. I threatened to, because he was taking the conversation away from the science I am trying to get across.

    My blog is not like bishop hill or climate etc., or even WUWT, where all are allowed to say whatever they like, within the broad limits of "polite conversation". I consider such sites to be of limited use in changing the direction of scientific conversation, which MUST BE CHANGED. One gets the same, relatively few people commenting on those sites, always expressing their confirmed views and talking past each other, or butting heads, but never actually learning anything (or at so glacial a pace that I can't see it). The non-scientist seeking information to make an informed decision is left hanging, just as the failure of climate science (and others) has left the public hanging, and in the untenable position of judging that which they have not been educated to do, and should not have been forced to do.

    My blog is about informing science, and those with a strong interest in public scientific debates today, of definitive evidence that the "experts" should have been aware of all along, and should be eager to accept now, and which will overturn the incompetent consensus.

    I snip those (like David Appell and margolin, on my "Venus: No Greenhouse Effect" page, who show by repeated comments that they are not listening and studying the evidence I give, but only want to shift the focus away from that evidence, in order to dismiss me. They are unregenerate, continual disruptions in my classroom, do you see?

    And I may not snip, but I will quash, those who believe and insist upon bleating, "science never PROVES anything" (that is absolute garbage, as the world-easing inventions of Man should tell any reasonable person, scientist or not). There are no sacred texts or sacred authorities but the truth, and I want people to think for themselves, but while they are here, to heed what I am trying to get across.

    This is not a continuing therapy session for all points of view, this is about informing the world of definitive new knowledge. I WANT the truth to echo throughout the world, but if it echos only in me, I am also content. If you have read the much wider, deeper theme of this blog, you should be able to understand that I am not afraid to be alone in my views. I have climbed a taller intellectual mountain than any other scientist in history--so think of this as my traveller's site. I am the Samantha Brown of my brand-new-yet-ancient scientific field, offering a tour of it, not an open platform for unlimited "debate".

  7. H.D.H.,

    Thank you for that lengthy response which I find reassuring. You don't come across a person who would "snip" someone who disagrees with you. If that someone repeatedly ignores your attempts to educate, snip away!

    I suspect we would both prefer to get closer to the truth than win an argument.

    My interest in your work stems from your demolition of arguments linking man's activities to CAGW.

    I must confess ignorance of your greater efforts that you refer to in your final paragraph. I read the descriptions of your books on Amazon and was not tempted to let them jump my book queue. I am working my way through five books including one I am finding very difficult (The Origin of Species). Maybe I will take a look at yours later.

    I trained as a physicist and engineer. Today my brain only operates at 50% effectiveness but I still manage to teach on a part time basis:

  8. to gallopingcamel, and all readers,

    You will note the above comments are not well focused upon the original article, as is my intent throughout my blog.

    With this in mind, gallopingcamel, I got your last comment, but decided not to let it in (actually, I let it in, then decided to delete it, along with my own previous comment to show I am not above my own law here--and I was momentarily tempted to delete all the comments to this point). I intend to continue to focus, on the definitive facts. That focus is otherwise sorely lacking, on all the other blogs and throughout the wider discussions on climate science and global warming. And in the same spirit, readers may well note that I don't post daily or even regularly on my blog, just when I think it is needed, and timely.

    With respect to the fundamental facts of atmospheric warming, gallopingcamel, one point you made needs to be focused upon (and thank you for bringing it up). You wrote, "Another Duke physicist has pointed out that the adiabatic lapse rate depends on mixing processes."

    This is yet another point upon which my Venus/Earth comparison fundamentally corrects the common belief among scientists, even and especially the "experts". I have elsewhere made the distinction between what I call the hydrostatic lapse rate and what so many others know as the "adiabatic" lapse rate: Since the atmosphere is fundamentally warmed only by direct absorption of incident solar infrared radiation, I do not see the lapse rate as necessarily dependent upon convection, or "mixing processes". It may be, or not, in the final analysis, but it is clear to me that, with every differential layer of the atmosphere receiving energy directly from the Sun, it doesn't require any general convection (in particular from the Earth's surface) to establish or maintain the lapse rate structure.

    So you heard it here first: My Venus/Earth comparison shows 1) the atmosphere is warmed by direct absorption of solar energy, not from the surface, and 2) the lapse rate structure of the Standard Atmosphere is confirmed as the stable state of the atmosphere, against any and all destabling conditions (including night and day, as well as "weather"), therefore 3) the lapse rate of the real atmosphere is NOT adiabatic (which means without heat energy into or out of the system). Each differential layer of the atmosphere effectively has its own internal power source, directly connected to the Sun. I suppose I will have to post an article on this.