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The Australian Academy of Science: what is climate change?

This is an extract from The Science of Climate Change — Questions and Answers, published by the Australian Academy of Science and distributed to members of parliament, every local government authority in Australia and every Australian high school, in August 2010. Crikey will be running a series of extracts, including canvassing common myths.

Climate change is a change in the average pattern of weather over a long period of time Climate is a statistical description of weather conditions and their variations, including both averages and extremes. Climate change refers to a change in these conditions that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer.

Weather variables such as temperature and rainfall fluctuate naturally (see Box 1). These changes in weather from day to day, between
seasons, and from one year to the next, do not represent climate changes. The period for estimating climate is usually 30 years or more,
long enough to sample a full range of weather.

Climate can be defined for a particular place or region, usually on the basis of local rainfall patterns or seasonal temperature
variations. Climate can also be defined for the entire Earth. For global climate, a key variable is the average surface temperature.

Sustained and truly global changes in average temperature require some global heating or cooling influence such as variations in heat output by the Sun, changes to the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, changes in cloudiness, changes to the extent of ice on Earth’s surface, or changes in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

Identifying climate change that is truly global in extent requires simultaneous observations from a network of locations around the world (see Question 3). Such a network of instrumental observations has only been available since the second half of the 19th century. Climate changes that occurred before this time can be identified by reconstructing records from climate-sensitive indicators like ocean sediments, ice-cores,
tree rings and coral reefs.

Greenhouse gases play an important role in determining climate and causing climate change Greenhouse gases include water vapour, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide and some industrial gases such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). These gases act like an insulating blanket, keeping the Earth’s surface warmer than it would be if they were not present in the atmosphere.

Except for water vapour, the atmospheric concentrations of all of these gases are being directly influenced by human activities (see Question
4). Once released into the atmosphere, many of these gases remain there for a long time: in particular, a significant fraction of CO2 emissions remains in the climate system for hundreds to thousands of years.

Water vapour is an important greenhouse gas but it is not like the greenhouse gases affected directly by human activities. Its concentration in the atmosphere is controlled by the climate itself, rather than by human activities.

Water vapour therefore reacts to, and amplifies, climate change caused by other factors (see Box 2 and Figure 1.1). The effects of changing greenhouse gas levels on climate can be distinguished from the effects of other factors such as changes to the Sun’s radiation. These different causes lead to different patterns or “fingerprints” in the resulting climate changes, which assist in identifying the cause of observed changes.

For example, increases in solar radiation would be expected to warm both the upper and lower parts of the atmosphere and result in days warming more than nights. On the other hand, increases in greenhouse gases would be expected to result in a cooling, not a warming, in the stratosphere (the layer of the atmosphere above 15 km elevation), and cause nights to warm more than days. The observed patterns of change
more nearly match those expected from increasing greenhouse gases.

There are close connections between global temperature, atmospheric water vapour, the extent of polar ice caps and levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. When one of these is disturbed, the others react through processes that amplify the original disturbance until
a new, different climate equilibrium is reached.

In the glacial cycles over the past million years, the disturbance came from fluctuations in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun (grey box in upper diagram). This caused temperatures to change (green box), in turn inducing rapid changes in water vapour (left blue box), and much slower
changes in ice caps (right blue box) and greenhouse gas levels (orange box), which together amplified the temperature change.

In modern climate change, the disturbance comes from human-induced changes in atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gas levels (grey box in lower diagram). In both cases, the disturbance is amplified by similar reinforcing processes.

The Australian Academy of Science, which represents Australia’s foremost scientists, provides scientific advice to policy makers and promotes excellence in Australian science, has devoted considerable resources to untangling the science of climate change and presenting it in a simple and easily understood format.

The full report can be downloaded here for free.

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  • 1
    Meski
    Posted Friday, 4 March 2011 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Water vapour is an important greenhouse gas but it is not like the greenhouse gases affected directly by human activities.

    A little disingenuous, human activities (eg large scale logging) affect the location of water vapour considerably.

  • 2
    mattsui
    Posted Friday, 4 March 2011 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    Water vapour eventually falls from the sky of it’s own accord….. GHGasses may remain up there indefinately.

  • 3
    AR
    Posted Friday, 4 March 2011 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    Wot? No Tamas?

  • 4
    birdsnewworld
    Posted Saturday, 5 March 2011 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    Water vapor is about half the present-day greenhouse effect”

    Even if you buy into the standard view that back-radiation is powerfully important, the above statement is an outrageous lie. Just incredible. I’d not expect this sort of rubbish from the most repulsive liars of Goddard or realclimate. What a far out statement. You see this constant lying isn’t going to stop until we start sacking people. This lie is second only to the USGS lie about volcanic CO2 emissions.

    Here’s the absorption-scattering spectrum just to take a look at things. And whereas the other alleged greenhouse gases are trace gases, water vapor is up at 1%. So there is the CO2 and its puny in three respects.

    1. There is so little of it. Barely enough for the plants to grow. No more than 390ppm if the compulsive liars monopolizing the measuring of it are to be believed. And of course you need 10 000 ppm just to get to 1%

    2. As you will see the regions of infra-red wavelengths that CO2 absorbs are tiny. Or skinny if you look at the graph.

    3. These regions, at most places and temperatures are usually pretty much saturated already by water vapor.

    So make no mistake about it. The report kicks off with a known and transparent lie. They get away with lying so much they must now be feeling deeply confident about it.

    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_wXDx9TVRBL8/Sc6YF7FBeOI/AAAAAAAAA1w/9xNkidL2Kns/s400/Picture+e.png

  • 5
    birdsnewworld
    Posted Saturday, 5 March 2011 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    Water vapour eventually falls from the sky of it’s own accord….. GHGasses may remain up there indefinately.”

    Indefinitely? You cannot let these people stooge you fella. There’s a carbon cycle just like there is a water cycle. How is your comment relevant? Are you hoping that the extra CO2 will help us a little bit when the air is too cold to hold water vapor?

  • 6
    birdsnewworld
    Posted Saturday, 5 March 2011 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Water vapor (H2O) ~0.40% over full atmosphere, typically 1%-4% at surface”

    Here wiki is talking about atmospheric composition. But what really counts is that its concentrated at the surface to mid-troposphere region. Thats why we can be quite sure that the scattering and absorption activities of water vapor will have a net warming effect. Because of its location. Water vapor has a warming effect for other reasons which I won’t go into. But at least with water vapor its very hard to make the case that the scattering and absorption component of what it does could ever be net negative.

    Whereas increases to CO2 levels at the surface slowly make their way up far above the troposphere. Where they would obviously have a cooling rather than a warming effect since they will scatter that part of the spectrum, and more than half of that scattering will make its way back out to space.

    This is a scandal that this claim has been made. I’ve taken all the names of the people involved in this sham organisation with such a high-fallooting name, and highlighted them on my blog. If they continue with this lie without retraction I MAY WRITE A LETTER.

    Well all jokes asides, I’ll try and alert the media even further than what I have already.

  • 7
    Meski
    Posted Saturday, 5 March 2011 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    @Mattsui: Yes, but deforestation means that a larger percentage of it falls into the ocean, rather than on the land.

  • 8
    birdsnewworld
    Posted Monday, 7 March 2011 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    @Mattsui: Yes, but deforestation means that a larger percentage of it falls into the ocean, rather than on the land.”

    But there has been massive regrowth of biomass. The problem is I cannot make a strong claim because I need a start and end date and its hard to get hold of the data. But over the last few decades, as troubling as the loss of biomass from the tropical areas has been, there has been massive reforestation in many first world areas and especially a lot of biomass growth in the far North.

  • 9
    danr
    Posted Friday, 11 March 2011 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    You can’t just treat CO2 as if it’s the only gas in the system.

    It is a complex interactive system and the reason Global Warming Protagonists wont discuss this is because it involves “real” science, not climate change science.

    Besides, heat from the sun liberates CO2 held in the ocean. This is an effect which swamps the “agw” effect.

    To top it all off, the biggest greenhouse gas is water vapour, against which effect CO2 is insignificant and man made CO2 effect barely noticeable within the error limits..

    Joke

    If Carbon pollution is CO2 then what is Hydrogen pollution.

    Yes, RAIN.

    If either was missing from our lives we would not be here. Both are life essentials.

  • 10
    JamesH
    Posted Tuesday, 15 March 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    @ Danr

    You can’t just treat CO2 as if it’s the only gas in the system. It is a complex interactive system and the reason Global Warming Protagonists wont discuss this is because it involves “real” science, not climate change science”.

    You have no idea what you are talking about. “Complex interactive system” is not a magic passphrase that protects you from science.

    heat from the sun liberates CO2 held in the ocean. This is an effect which swamps the “agw” effect.”

    Heat from whatever source liberates CO2 from the ocean. If the heat of the atmosphere rises due to CO2, more CO2 will be released, which will cause more heat. This effect does not “swamp” but add to anthropogenic releases. The natural carbon cycle is balanced; we are unbalancing it.

    ” biggest greenhouse gas is water vapour, against which effect CO2 is insignificant and man made CO2 effect barely noticeable within the error limits.”

    Wrong. CO2’s absorbtion is not blocked by water vapour and is independently measurable and significant in size. Water vapour is a feedback not a forcing; water only remains resident in the atmosphere for a few days before condensing into rain, so it cannot raise the temperature for long periods as CO2, with a residency time of many years, can.

    If Carbon pollution is CO2 then what is Hydrogen pollution”?

    Extremely dangerous.

    HTH.

  • 11
    birdsnewworld
    Posted Wednesday, 16 March 2011 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    When we are talking about runaway warming we are talking about accumulating joules. The only part of the earth worth considering where accumulating joules is concerned, is the oceans.

    Apriori, some sort of CO2-warming effect, ought to be plausible where the air is dry. The problem is that those areas where the air is dry don’t tend to be over the ocean, and therefore won’t be expected to cause a great deal of extra joules to accumulate. This is before we see that extra-CO2 also scatters and absorbs INCOMING radiation. And that this ability to stop incoming radiation may be far more important than what one would think at first glance.

  • 12
    birdsnewworld
    Posted Wednesday, 16 March 2011 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    This is always how things pan out. Once the trust-and-parrot merchants are confronted with anyone who has genuinely looked into climate science in depth, the Coby Beck sciencey talky-talk-talk all dries up and the fella will segway to any subject not relating to scientific inference.

    Whereas rap songs are for singers who cannot sing, global warming has become science for leftists who have no affinity for science. You’d have to call it a post-modern thingy.

  • 13
    danr
    Posted Wednesday, 16 March 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Thanks birdsnewworld.

    My earlier comment:

    It is a complex interactive system and the reason Global Warming Protagonists wont discuss this is because it involves “real” science, not climate change science”.

    just doesn’t sink in.

    The whole CO2 AGW thing is scientifically baseless.

    In JamesH post I could just imagine the water molecules stepping back out of the way to allow ground IR to reach the eagerly awaiting CO2 molecules to grab the energy and do their Global Warming thing.. Nuts.

    AGW is not science . It is a mental construct which exists only on Hard Drives owned by warmer enthusiasts. If they wanted to save the planet they should switch of their computers.

  • 14
    danr
    Posted Wednesday, 16 March 2011 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Many warmers point to the fact that CO2 is rising but forget (deliberately?) to check the temperature.

    Band aids are analogous to CO2.

    You could plaster yourself with band aids.

    Looks bad but it doesn’t prove there is a wound underneath.

    Likewise more CO2 is not proof that the temperature is rising.

    Satellite measurements are proof of that.

  • 15
    birdsnewworld
    Posted Wednesday, 16 March 2011 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never seen enough work done on the fact that water exists on earth at very close range to its two phase changes. I’d want to see the effects this has compared to methane on Titan.

    For my money what the average person perceives as the “greenhouse effect” isn’t the greenhouse effect at all. That is to say what we perceive as the greenhouse effect is not the effect of absorption-scattering, but rather is to do with water “dithering around its phase-change” region. Water going too and from gas to liquid suspended in mid-air. Water going to and from liquid to gas, in terms of clusters of molecules too small to be considered to be “droplets.”

  • 16
    danr
    Posted Wednesday, 16 March 2011 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    We live on a fragile planet.

    Any misrepresentation of science which sends us in the wrong direction ecologically is dangerous for our future.

    Right from the big bang, everything in the universe has been cooling.

    If we take a step back and look at the geological record the greatest threat we face would be global freezing or “the next ice age”.

    Everyone knows that the Earth is ALWAYS cooling.

    As this happens we can expect less and less CO2 will be expressed from Earths core.

    Recent times (geologically) have been very low in CO2.

    It may be that we need to work out ways of getting more CO2 into the atmosphere to preserve our habitat.

    More CO2 will not harm animal life or plants. More CO2 is not correlated with any atmospheric warming.

    The question then is: What’s the point of “Controlling” CO2?

    None.

  • 17
    danr
    Posted Wednesday, 16 March 2011 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    I totally concur with this statement:

    For my money what the average person perceives as the “greenhouse effect” isn’t the greenhouse effect at all.

    All we have is a thin band of atmosphere losing heat to the greatest heat sink imaginable: Deep Space.

    Near enough to minus 273.16 deg C.

    Reality check.

    The Earth’s core is cooling — could this be the basis for the next Greenpeace -IPCC -WWF scare campaign.

  • 18
    birdsnewworld
    Posted Wednesday, 16 March 2011 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    I can see your logic here. Its crazy that we have people worrying about warming during a brutal ice age, and given a 55 million year cooling trend. But I wouldn’t be basing anything on the big bang theory.

  • 19
    danr
    Posted Wednesday, 16 March 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Whereas rap songs are for singers who cannot sing, global warming has become science for leftists who have no affinity for science. You’d have to call it a post-modern thingy.

    this is good

  • 20
    danr
    Posted Wednesday, 16 March 2011 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    But I wouldn’t be basing anything on the big bang theory.”

    That was just to get everyone’s thinking into a new time frame.

    At another level we have a hot date with the sun, was it 500 million years into the future.

    The sun will collapse and engulf the Earth in a fiery end.

    Our aim should be to do all we can to keep our biosphere working.

    Unfortunately Climate Change Science is not helping illuminate the real issues.

  • 21
    birdsnewworld
    Posted Wednesday, 16 March 2011 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    I think we have to worry about disasters on the Tokyo Tsunami scale and 1,2,3,4 and 5 orders of magnitude more powerful. After all for every extinction event there must be thousands of culling events. This trace gas hysteria is a big distraction from real worries.

    I’ve got to rebuild a house lets suppose. What if I make it a socially embarrassing shape in order to make it more robust? What if I build a pyramid in a large suburban plot and a dome in a life-style semi-rural area and start stockpiling gravity-operated water filters, wood-gasifier power generators, and freeze-dried food. Its not only that this would be socially offensive under current assumptions. It would be banned outright by most councils.

    Crowding out real problems with make-believe ones is no small problem. Its potentially a civilisation-killer. Our success will be based on what we DO NOT worry about as much as anything else.

  • 22
    Posted Wednesday, 16 March 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Guys, I’m a Crikey moderator, and I’ve just spammed a bunch of your personal attacks against each other. Please stop doing it, or we’ll put you in permanent moderation.

    Check out the Crikey code of conduct

    http://www.crikey.com.au/about/code-of-conduct/

    In short, we ask that people ‘play the ball not the man’.

  • 23
    JamesH
    Posted Wednesday, 16 March 2011 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    DanR, if you really want to know why water vapour does not override the effect of CO2, I suggest you check this section and this section of Spencer Weart’s The Discovery of Global Warming. In a nutshell, the absorbtion bands of H2o and CO2 do not always overlap, particularly not in the top layers of the atmosphere where the pressure is low there is much more CO2 than H2O, and it is the absorbtion and emission of the top layer which determines the temperature of the whole system.

  • 24
    birdsnewworld
    Posted Wednesday, 16 March 2011 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    Goodness me. You’ve linked to a global-warming for children site. This is why its important to be able to make your argument in your own words. If you cannot do that you are really only winging it. Drive-by linking won’t cut it.

  • 25
    birdsnewworld
    Posted Wednesday, 16 March 2011 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Good Lord JamesH:

    ” In a nutshell, the absorbtion bands of H2o and CO2 do not always overlap, particularly not in the top layers of the atmosphere where the pressure is low there is much more CO2 than H2O….”

    Here CO2 is a COOLING AGENT and obviously so. How on earth could you have hashed this up?

  • 26
    danr
    Posted Wednesday, 16 March 2011 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    and it is the absorbtion and emission of the top layer which determines the temperature of the whole system.

    The absorption is at ground level..

    Its re radiated IR

    Ground level gases MUST heat up first. This is scientifically inescapable.

    JamesH , for example, doesn’t understand that upper level CO2 cannot absorb solar UV and there is NO IR left to absorb; it having all been absorbed by water and CO2 in the first 30 metres of atmosphere AGL.

    You’ll have to do better.

  • 27
    JamesH
    Posted Wednesday, 16 March 2011 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    You’ve misunderstood me DanR; I am talking about absorption from below, as you’d know if you’d checked the links I provided.

    What do you think the heated water and CO2 in the first 30 metres does? It doesn’t just sit there. Convection carries a lot of that heat up, and eventually excited molecules reradiate, in random directions, including upwards. Heat is thus transferred upwards to the next layer of the atmosphere, where it is absorbed and reradiated randomly again, and so on, until it eventually reaches the top layer, where it is radiated either into space (and thus lost) or back down again. The more CO2 is in that top layer, the higher the percentage of IR which is re-radiated downwards.

    Alternatively, Spencer Weart’s wording:
    “What happens to infrared radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface? As it moves up layer by layer through the atmosphere, some is stopped in each layer. (To be specific: a molecule of carbon dioxide, water vapor or some other greenhouse gas absorbs a bit of energy from the radiation. The molecule may radiate the energy back out again in a random direction. Or it may transfer the energy into velocity in collisions with other air molecules, so that the layer of air where it sits gets warmer.) The layer of air radiates some of the energy it has absorbed back toward the ground, and some upwards to higher layers. As you go higher, the atmosphere gets thinner and colder. Eventually the energy reaches a layer so thin that radiation can escape into space.

    What happens if we add more carbon dioxide? In the layers so high and thin that much of the heat radiation from lower down slips through, adding more greenhouse gas means the layer will absorb more of the rays. So the place from which most of the heat energy finally leaves the Earth will shift to higher layers. Those are colder layers, so they do not radiate heat as well. The planet as a whole is now taking in more energy than it radiates (which is in fact our current situation). As the higher levels radiate some of the excess downwards, all the lower levels down to the surface warm up. The imbalance must continue until the high levels get warmer and radiate out more energy. As in Tyndall’s analogy of a dam on a river, the barrier thrown across the outgoing radiation forces the level of temperature everywhere beneath it to rise until there is enough radiation pushing out to balance what the Sun sends in.”

  • 28
    birdsnewworld
    Posted Thursday, 17 March 2011 at 4:49 am | Permalink

    Once the energy is above cloud level its got to be considered to be lost in space for all practical purposes. Extra CO2 above cloud level must block incoming, therefore having a cooling effect. You explanation doesn’t work, or the stratosphere would also have warmed up and expanded, when the troposphere was expanding. Which was some time ago now.

    The extent to which backradiation is important has to be brought into question, being as the moon has at least as great a temperature anomaly as earths. Heretofore the amount of temperature difference accorded to absorption and scattering has been calculated on a “god-of-gaps” basis. Which is clearly on an unscientific basis. Electrical energy also flows from the sun to the earth and not just electro-magnetic energy. The whole idea of backradiation being more than a tiny factor is dubious as it is akin to thinking that parallel mirrors may lead to a runaway effect causing a starburst. In the real universe thermal energy goes from hot to cold and really thats about all that happens.

  • 29
    danr
    Posted Thursday, 17 March 2011 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Hi JamesH

    Your model of energy being radiated upwards by bands of CO2 is not plausible.

    Every time a CO2 molecule emits IR at a specific frequency, the emitted IR is of lower energy and higher wavelength. It does not remain unchanged. Energy transfers always involve a cost for the action.

    The IR available from highly energised upper atmosphere CO2 (if there is such an animal) is degraded.

    This is part of thermodynamics as you are no doubt aware.

    The wavelength would therefore be longer than the main absorption band of the emitter , CO2, and would be picked up by only one gas in that spectrum.

    WATER.

    “I sincerely suggest you read a basic thermodynamics textbook before trotting out these lines, because you are exposing your ignorance in public.”

  • 30
    danr
    Posted Thursday, 17 March 2011 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    JamesH

    Your last paragraph seems to be very confused thermodynamics with no known scientific basis to it.

  • 31
    danr
    Posted Thursday, 17 March 2011 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Quote ” carbon dioxide, water vapor or some other greenhouse gas”

    : are supposed to absorb??

    Lets be truthful about this.

    The only gas in this scenario capable of absorbing this radiation is WATER>

    It is the only one able to reabsorb in the longer wavelength spectrum.

  • 32
    JamesH
    Posted Thursday, 17 March 2011 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    DanR: There is no such thing as “degraded” infrared radiation; atoms emit at the same wavelength they absorb. This is very basic quantum mechanics - if this wasn’t the case, lasers wouldn’t work, and neither would spectroscopy. Try reading this wikipedia page on emissions spectrums: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emission_spectrum

    Nor is there any doubt that CO2 is the relevant gas in our atmosphere; direct measurement of IR from below and above (satellites) shows IR emissions in the CO2 bands, which are distinct from the water vapour bands.

    No-one is disputing that water vapour acts as a greenhouse gas, but it and CO2 are not competing to absorb energy; their absorption does not overlap.

    Bird: Incoming radiation is at a different wavelength from outgoing, so CO2 doesn’t block as much on its way in as on its way out.

  • 33
    birdsnewworld
    Posted Thursday, 17 March 2011 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    DanR: There is no such thing as “degraded” infrared radiation…”

    Thats not just wrong its ridiculous. There can be no action without some sort of reaction. So whether the molecule

    1. scatters the light, or

    2. transmutes that light into thermal energy by way of interaction with another molecule,

    ……. there must be some sort of energy loss

    The argument you would have to make would be that the energy loss was of an inconsequential magnitude. Which would seem pretty unlikely.

    You’ve misunderstood me DanR; I am talking about absorption from below, as you’d know if you’d checked the links I provided.”

    1. What absorption from below? The air pressure above where the water vapor is …. is too low for much in the way of absorption. The CO2 must mostly only scatter at that air pressure.

    2. What absorption? In almost all places , the absorption will be pre-empted by water vapor.

    3. With scattering obviously almost all energy will end up in space. Since the air is denser below then above.

    You’ve misunderstood me DanR; I am talking about absorption from below, as you’d know if you’d checked the links I provided.”

    4. You can talk about it all you like. But the fact is that where the extra CO2 is above the troposphere it will do next to nothing to block extra outgoing. We have to assume it is blocking extra incoming and therefore having a net cooling effect.

  • 34
    birdsnewworld
    Posted Thursday, 17 March 2011 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    DanR: There is no such thing as “degraded” infrared radiation; atoms emit at the same wavelength they absorb. This is very basic quantum mechanics - if this wasn’t the case, lasers wouldn’t work, and neither would spectroscopy.”

    Totally ludicrous. Lasers and spectroscopy can work without quantum voodoo. Lasers are just coherent light. Light, all of one wave-length, which makes it at least 100 000 times more effective at knocking things out of the sky. And of course we would be just fine with spectroscopy, bad theory throwing no light on that story at all.

    If you find this conclusion hard to understand, imagine what would happen if people owned up to there being no such thing as a photon? Would the lasers stop working? Would people not know how to calculate the atmospheric make-up of Titan? No of course not. The belief in the make-believe photon cannot hide the knowledge already accumulated. Rather the jettisoning of bad theory will lead to new knowledge.

  • 35
    birdsnewworld
    Posted Thursday, 17 March 2011 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    “DanR: There is no such thing as “degraded” infrared radiation; atoms emit at the same wavelength they absorb. This is very basic quantum mechanics - if this wasn’t the case, lasers wouldn’t work, and neither would spectroscopy.”

    Its exactly THIS irrationality that is behind the ultimate embarrassment of the big bang theory.

  • 36
    JamesH
    Posted Thursday, 17 March 2011 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    Bird, can we leave your peculiar personal version of modern physics out of this?

  • 37
    birdsnewworld
    Posted Thursday, 17 March 2011 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    No no. Its simply NOT acceptable to bring irrational fantasies into this matter. So no its NOT alright to have make-believe particles like photons. Its NOT alright to pretend that there can be an action (the molecule altering the direction of light)…. without a reaction. Nor is it okay to pretend that a cat can be both dead and alive simultaneously. The wavicle does not exist nor ever did. And its NOT okay to play make-believe with ridiculous creation fantasies like the big bang.

    No public service fantasies need ever apply for serious consideration. “Socialism never works. But sometimes it can take some time to fail.” Public service science is no exception to this rule. Its extremely damaging to be humoring irrationality, and the cult of personality, no matter where it raises its embarrassing head.

  • 38
    Meski
    Posted Thursday, 17 March 2011 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    When did photons become ‘irrational fantasies’ ? I’ve been reading this thread with increasing incredulity as to where its going.

    This might help you.

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave%E2%80%93particle_duality

  • 39
    birdsnewworld
    Posted Friday, 18 March 2011 at 3:48 am | Permalink

    Photons are an irrational fantasy in the same way as particle-duality is an irrational fantasy. A particle cannot also be a wave. Because a wave is not what something IS. A wave is what something DOES. And on some level its usually what many little things DO. Dualities are best left to theologians and Sundays.

    No belligerent irrationality need ever get a pass in science and so a hard rain must fall. The main method by which this irrationality gets in, other than public servant bully-boy behavior ….. is by way of the cult of personality.

    The standard model of the atom, (which few believe any more and least of all the quantum “mechanics) is useful in this story to the extent that it shows that air pressure is needed for the molecules to transmute the electro-magnetic energy into thermal energy (in any meaningful way.) We see that this is true empirically. Death valley is not world famous for its abundant greenhouse gases. But its the hottest place in the US just the same. We see this tendency also in comparisons between places like Cairns versus the Atherton Tablelands. Or Gordonvale on the ground versus Gordonvale as you go up Walshes pyramid.

    Without air pressure greenhouse gases are ineffectual. So the runaway greenhouse story was never on the cards. A runaway heat and air pressure story could be more plausible.

  • 40
    Meski
    Posted Friday, 18 March 2011 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    I just don’t know. I’m tempted to troll, but I feel that he’s trolling *me*. Is this a level of parody I haven’t encountered before?

    @Bird: The wave/particle phenomenon can be demonstrated with high-school level equipment.

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double-slit_experiment.

    Apologies to those who are wondering why this topic has gone to high school physics.

  • 41
    birdsnewworld
    Posted Saturday, 19 March 2011 at 4:15 am | Permalink

    There is no “they tell it to the children so it must be true” trump-card in logic. That they tell it to the children, makes it a scandal. It does not make it true.

    Never has the wave particle duality been demonstrated. Not with high-school equipment, kitchen equipment, or billion dollar accelerators. Never will a wave-particle duality be demonstrated. Not with cartoons or any other form of animation. A wave can never be a particle, since a wave is not what something IS. A wave is what something DOES.

    Like most incompetence in physics, the wave-particle duality is maintained by the cult of personality, and not by evidence or reason. This is simply another case of what the public service winds up with when they get hold of other peoples money.

  • 42
    danr
    Posted Sunday, 20 March 2011 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Apologies for the hasty piece below, but it’s been a long time away from this stuff even though the basics are there.

    Trying to short cut a concept doesn’t always work out.

    Every time a CO2 molecule emits IR at a specific frequency, the emitted IR is of lower energy and higher wavelength. It does not remain unchanged. Energy transfers always involve a cost for the action.”

    It is true, as you say, that emissions from the same molecule always maintain frequency.

    What I was trying to counter was the Climate Change concept that ground IR could be passed up from layer to layer of CO2 without there being a loss in energy.

    What I should have said was this: The AGW model is that CO2 molecules at ground level gain IR from ground emissions, they then radiate (under what conditions I can’t imagine) and this energy is picked up by the next layer of CO2 higher up.

    This layer then re – radiates up and so on.

    While I dispute that this actually occurs the point I was making was that even if it did occur, the energy losses from ground to upper atmosphere would be substantial under the present laws of gases and thermodynamics.

    There is no mystical CO2 radiation source high in he atmosphere.

    All there is, is convection with hot air at the top of the pile radiating into deep space.

  • 43
    danr
    Posted Sunday, 20 March 2011 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    As far as the wave / particle duality is concerned, we don’t need to be concerned.

    There are simpler ways of untangling the CO2 AGW mechanism.

    The wave / particle duality is useful in different areas of physics to enable quantification of effects.

    In some cases it is more convenient for radiation to be modeled as a wave, in others a particle.

    Both are right and both are wrong. Just not at the same time.

  • 44
    birdsnewworld
    Posted Sunday, 20 March 2011 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Both are right and both are wrong. Just not at the same time.”

    Yes and the Pope is infallible ……. some of the time. Here we see the case of a priesthood, not subject to outside audit, has decided that logic does not apply to itself. This is typical public sector behavior and it need not surprise us.

    Its true that sometimes we wind up finding models useful when it sober reality we ought to know they are nonsense, or at best a “work-in-progress” For example we could use the standard model of the atom and photons, to show why light energy is only substantially transferred to thermal energy where we have substantial air pressure. But no matter how useful we find this model we must never forget that its fundamentally rubbish and a good example of the public service at work.

  • 45
    Meski
    Posted Sunday, 20 March 2011 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    Explain just what you mean by “a wave is what something does” - preferably with formula rather than waffle.

  • 46
    birdsnewworld
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 3:58 am | Permalink

    You have seen a wave have you not MESKI? A sound wave is something the air DOES. It is in no way an air particle. Do you need a formula to understand that? You have seen waves at the beach? The waves are what the water is DOING. The wave is not something that exists as a material separate to the water. Do you think a formula will help you understand this? Supposing you cannot get your head around the meaning of a wave? How might a formula help with your comprehension?

    Have you seen a Mexican wave at the football. This is something that the people are doing, and not something that will later go home with the people in one of their cars.

  • 47
    birdsnewworld
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 5:01 am | Permalink

    Explain just what you mean by “a wave is what something does” - preferably with formula rather than waffle.”

    Has there ever been a statement that so succinctly showed the retreat from, and rebellion against, reality, in public service “science.”

  • 48
    danr
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    Hi Meski
    Good question, thought provoking.

    Probably what is meant relates to being able to measure the effects under investigation. The mechanisms by which radiation operates are not really known to us. This means that we can create a model which seems to work.

    I agree with Bird that radiation is not a wave, but some of radiations effects can best be measured by looking for the effects of a wave. So radiation “does” wavelike things but that’s not the whole story.

    Similarly radiation is not a particle, photon, but this concept helps in measuring other properties of radiation.

    In the same way the big bang concept also helps describe what the universe does rather than what it is.

    Bird I must admit I was a little confused by some of that stuff also but on reflection there would appear to be truth behind it.

  • 49
    danr
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Bird

    My interest in science only goes so far and then I give up. When I tried to understand the models used in modern physics and look for practical evidence of effects the only concept I could get into was the big bang.

    The basic model of BB appears to give a framework on which to begin understanding the history of the universe. One of the concepts was the heat balance.

    Since all the original , concentrated energy is being spread wider and wider it follows that temperature measurements will be lower.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “ridiculous creation fantasies like the big bang. “

  • 50
    Meski
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Yes, Bird, and I’ve seen avalanche photodiodes detect single photons… (which you claim do not exist) You see, I used to work in that field.

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