05 September 2014
The Significance of the NASA SABER Observation of a Massive Solar Storm for Catastrophic Man-Made Global Warming
Recent observations of the effects of a massive solar storm on the Earth’s atmosphere made by NASA using the SABER instrument on the TIMED satellite have very important implications for the two main classes of hypotheses backing the idea of catastrophic man-made global warming. During this solar storm, gigantic quantities of energy were dumped into the Earth’s upper atmosphere by highly energetic particles. The SABER instrument measures the infrared emissions from the Earth’s upper atmosphere. The NASA measurements of those infrared emissions during the solar storm showed that 95% of the energy dumped into the upper atmosphere was quickly re-emitted into space. There was no significant warming of the Earth’s surface.
The significance with respect to the various man-made global warming hypotheses of this observation has often not been well-explained by critics of catastrophic AGW. The fact that the energy arrives in the atmosphere as energetic particles has often been glossed over in such commentaries, yet this is very important. The energy of the solar storm is not of the same nature as the mix of UV, visible light, and near and mid infrared radiation which provides the Earth with heat energy on a daily basis. Though this important difference exists, the results of the solar storm energy measurements by NASA are still crucially significant for one of the principal global warming hypotheses and somewhat significant for the other main AGW hypothesis.
There are two standard hypotheses for the global warming mechanism that CO2 is supposed to provide at a catastrophic level:
1) A large back-radiation effect near the Earth surface caused by water vapor and CO2, which warms the surface. This warming effect is supposed to be so large that it provided about a 33C temperature increase at the surface decades ago and this is now increasing due to added CO2.
2) A delay or decrease in radiation lost to space from the upper troposphere or stratosphere caused by increased CO2 and NO.
As I have discussed many times on my blog, most recently in Simple Explanation of Why Greenhouse Gases Do Not Warm the Earth’s Surface, back-radiation at the Earth’s surface is insignificant because the mean free path for the infrared radiation absorptions of water vapor and carbon dioxide are very short and the corresponding temperature differences between the surface and the lower few meters of the atmosphere are therefore very small. The smaller than claimed infrared radiation from the surface is very quickly absorbed and distributed to nitrogen, oxygen, and argon in the air due to the very high collision rate in the lower atmosphere. These primary air molecules do not radiate this energy and it is then mostly transported by convection upward or toward the poles. Water vapor and CO2 actually slightly increase the rate of energy transport upward following the downward temperature and density gradients. The generation of water vapor at the surface is a powerful cooling effect, though at night this may be reversed by condensation. Water and CO2 absorb incoming solar radiation and prevent it reaching the surface, which is a cooling effect. At night, fog and clouds slow down cooling by scattering and absorbing infra-red radiation. Yet, averaged over the daily cycle, the net effect of all the greenhouse gases on the surface temperature is small compared to the claimed 33C effect. Much the greatest of that smaller effect is due to water vapor and not to carbon dioxide. Thus Hypothesis 1 fails to make physical sense. As more and more proponents of catastrophic AGW have realized this failure, they have turned to the second hypothesis as the justification for AGW.
Hypothesis 2 also fails. See: Does Increased CO2 Cause a Decrease in Infrared Emission to Space? Once again the lack of a significant temperature gradient in the upper troposphere for radiation purposes and no temperature gradient in the tropopause is one significant problem for this hypothesis. It is hard to change the temperature much of the CO2 emitters. Another problem is that more and slightly warmer infrared emitters causes any warming in the upper atmosphere to be reduced because more emitters are sending individually increased radiation into space. For the same reasons that Hypothesis 1 fails, it is also not possible for the warming CO2 absorbers to transmit energy back to the Earth's surface by radiation, so any effect of warming remains in the upper atmosphere. The major significance of the NASA SABER measurements on how effectively CO2 and NO eliminated the energy of the solar storm is that this is confirmation of my argument that Hypothesis 2 fails. A local warming high in the atmosphere does not result in a warming of the surface of the Earth. Indeed, the infrared gases are highly effective in cooling the atmosphere, especially in the upper atmosphere where the mean free path for infrared absorption by CO2 and NO is longer than near sea level.
As I initially pointed out in Slaying the Sky Dragon, the back-radiation effects claimed for infrared active gases were so small that the role of such gases in absorbing solar radiation before it could arrive at the surface of the Earth was a very significant cooling effect of these wrongly designated greenhouse gases. A warming of the atmosphere thousands of meters above the surface is not an equivalent warming of the surface where we live. Very little such atmospheric energy is transported to the surface. This remains true as I have more thoroughly explained more recently here: Infrared-Absorbing Gases and the Earth’s Surface Temperature: A Relatively Simple Baseline Evaluation of the Physics.
The fact that I have pointed to my own explanations for the failures in the physics of Hypothesis 1 and Hypothesis 2 is not a claim that I am the only scientist who has understood the bad physics of these crucial catastrophic man-made global warming arguments. Fortunately, more and more scientists have come to understand the physics either wholly or in good part. More and more scientists have come to understand that the two hypotheses used to explain catastrophic AGW are either wrong or at least dubious.