‘To be 33C or not to be 33C’ Greenhouse Gas Fallacy Exposed

Written by Nick Schroeder, BSME, PE

There is a popular fantasy that the earth is 33C warmer with an atmosphere than without due to the radiative greenhouse effect, RGHE and .04% CO2.  Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start – or so I hear.

The 33C difference is between an alleged average surface temperature of 288K/15C and 255K/-18C, the alleged surface temperature without an atmosphere. Let’s take a closer look. Just which average surface temperature? The two extremes? (71C + -90C) / 2 = -10C?

Or the average of all the real actual measurements 90% of which are in the US, Canada, Europe and Australia? What about the sea surface? Satellite data? Over thirty years?

Per IPCC AR5 glossary the average land surface temperature is measured 1.5 meters above the ground, but 80% of the land (Africa, Siberia, South America, SE Asia) doesn’t even have reliable weather instrumentation or data. The average sea surface temperature is a combination of buckets and thermometers, engine cooling intakes, buoys, satellites, etc.

This composite “global” surface average temperature, one number to rule them all, must represent: both lit and dark sides, both poles, oceans, deserts, jungles and a wide range of both land and sea surfaces. The uncertainty band must be YUGE!

The 255K is a theoretical calculation using the S-B ideal BB temperature associated with the 240 W/m^2 radiative balance at the top of the – wait for it – atmosphere, i.e. 100 km.

So, the 33C difference is between a) an average surface temperature composed of thousands of WAGs that must be +/- entire degrees and b) a theoretical temperature calculation 100 km away that cannot even be measured and c) all with an intact and fully functioning atmosphere.

The surface of the earth is warm because the atmosphere provides an insulating blanket, a thermal resistance, no different from the insulation in the ceiling and walls of a house with the temperature differential determined per the equation Q = U * A * dT, simple to verify and demonstrate. (Explains why 250 km atmosphere of Venus and twice irradiance heats surface bigly.)

  • A voltage difference is needed for current to flow through an electrical resistance.
  • A pressure difference is needed for fluid to flow through a physical resistance.
  • A temperature difference is needed for energy to flow, i.e. heat, through a thermal resistance.

Radiative greenhouse effect (RGHE) upwelling/downwelling/”back” radiation is a fictional anti-thermodynamic non-explanation for the “33C without an atmosphere” phenomenon that doesn’t actually exist.

Comments (8)

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    If this helps you, my site’s Chapter 2A (pjcarson2015.wordpress.com) published recently here at PSI, shows Earth’s Greenhouse is only about 5.5K. (Venus’ is about 475K)

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    What about the obvious fact that convection of warmed air plays a major role in cooling the ground surfaces ? You can plainly see the effect during the day when the ground surfaces heat up. Warmed air rises rapidly and is replaced by cooler air which also rises etc etc.

    The atmosphere cools the ground surfaces during the day as does evaporation over the oceans and other water bodies.

    As well, we know that 99% of the atmosphere does not absorb significant infra-red radiation so the only mechanism for infra-red radiation to heat the 99% of the atmosphere is by transfer to less than 1% by IR absorption and then by transfer to the rest of the molecules by collision.

    If this were truly the dominant method of atmospheric heating then the temperatures observed in tropical humid locations would exceed the temperatures observed in dry tropical deserts.

    As this is not the case logic says that absorption of infra-red radiation by GHGs does NOT explain the majority of heat transfer from the surface to the atmosphere.

    Further, as the ground surfaces are almost always warmer than the atmosphere they are losing more energy by radiation than the atmosphere could supply – if indeed you believe in heat transfer from cold to hot.

    And a cold object cannot cause a warmer object to increase in temperature no matter what thought experiment spin doctors claim. That this is not true was proven more than 200 years ago by a scientist named Pictet who showed by experiment there is only one way heat transfers – from ho to cold.

    Richard Feynman said plainly “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.”

    But it is equally obvious that the atmosphere has mass, absorbs thermal energy and changes temperature. Gases have a significantly lower radiating capacity than liquids or solids – simple examination of spectra shows this is true. They also only absorb a small proportion of the surface radiation spectrum – except water vapour.

    Professor Wood had it right a hundred years ago –

    “The solar rays penetrate the atmosphere, warm the ground which in turn warms the atmosphere by contact and by convection currents. The heat received is thus stored up in the atmosphere, remaining there on account of the very low radiating power of a gas. It seems to me very doubtful if the atmosphere is warmed to any great extent by absorbing the radiation from the ground, even under the most favourable conditions.”

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      Jerry L Krause


      Hi Rosco,

      You concluded: “Professor Wood had it right a hundred years ago –“The solar rays penetrate the atmosphere, warm the ground which in turn warms the atmosphere by contact and by convection currents. The heat received is thus stored up in the atmosphere, remaining there on account of the very low radiating power of a gas.”

      Professor Wood seems to have left to us to explain how the energy of the solar rays, which warm the ground, which in turn warms the atmosphere, which stores this energy, which accumulates there (in the atmosphere) day after day without ever considering the need of a mechanism by which the stored energy be removed from the atmosphere.

      Have a good day, Jerry

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        Sorry Jerry but I don’t get what your argument is or why you see any problem with what Professor Wood wrote.

        Professor Wood said it very plainly – ” The heat received is thus stored up in the atmosphere, remaining there on account of the very low radiating power of a gas.”

        The thermal energy contained in the atmosphere is continually radiating to space all over the Earth – day and night – and at a lower power than the ground surfaces. I don’t see he left us to explain how the energy of the solar rays is removed from the atmosphere at all.

        Reality is the atmosphere is not primarily heated by radiation but by convection which you can easily observe as the change if refraction due to less dense heated air convecting above the ground surface.

        The atmosphere has mass, absorbs thermal energy and continually radiates energy to space. It also has a thermal gradient and lower density as one ascends from the surface.

        According to measurements the average is 239 W/m2 which according to all the theory is all the Earth needs to radiate at to maintain “radiative equilibrium” – if such concept is real – which I doubt.

        Satellites show the Earth is radiating more to space over the entire period of the Nimbus satellite missions from 1964 to 2004 – although how they establish a positive anomaly from a period before there were any satellites is never explained – but that is what they state unequivocally.

        The whole concept of comparisons of a surface with and without an atmosphere is absurd beyond belief.

        We know the Sun heats the Moon’s surfaces to temperatures that are almost 50°C higher than the highest surface temperature ever measured on Earth by the Landsat satellite – 70.1°C.

        The only conclusion that can be drawn from this is that our atmosphere and water reduce the heating potential of the solar radiation – they do not increase its heating potential.

        However, people underestimate the power of the solar radiation. I have seen a concrete path at my home increase in temperature by up to 30°C in 3 – 4 hours on a hot day.

        I firmly believe that if the Moon had a 24 hour period its average temperature would be significantly hotter than observed. The maximum temperatures may not reach the same highs currently observed but it certainly would not cool overnight by much more than 20°C – 30°C.

        The solar radiation may have a value of ~1370 W/m2 at Earth’s orbit but to compare this to the radiation emitted by an object at a temperature of ~121°C which also emits 1370 W/m2 simply because the numbers are equal is absurd beyond belief !

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        Jeff Greenwell


        Jerry, there is only one way that thermal energy can be “removed from the atmosphere” … I am pretty sure you can guess what that is. Yes, that’s correct! .. Radiation .. say it with me … R A D I A T I O N .. very good.

        Now, the so-called “greenhouse gasses” get their name because they are very high in emissivity (they are great absorbers, and therefor great emitters). As most people should recognize, in order for the atmosphere to retain that thermal energy, it must have low emissivity, but so-called “greenhouse gasses” increase the emissivity of the atmosphere. The increased emissivity of so-called “greenhouse gasses”, by their very nature, assist in the process of shedding thermal energy at TOA, thus leading to the inescapable conclusion that so-called “greenhouse gasses” actually assist in the cooling of our atmosphere, not the other way around. At TOA, the only way for energy to escape our atmosphere is through the radiation process, assisted by, wait for it .. “greenhouse gasses”.


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    Jerry L Krause


    Hi Nick,

    Carl is correct, it is wrong to consider the atmosphere to be a thermal insulator which controls the temperature of either the Earth or Venus. Solar radiation which passes through the atmosphere to the surface warms the surface and ultimately terrestrial radiation which passes through the atmosphere to space, cools the surface. I must acknowledge that evaporation of water vapor is a major factor in cooling the surface but then the atmosphere is warmed as this water vapor, one way or another, as this water vapor condenses. Then the cloud tops, at whatever temperature, emit radiation, according to their temperatures as if they were near perfect blackbodies, toward space. This idea is pretty well accepted by both sides of the debate about the greenhouse effect of certain atmospheric gases.

    And Nick, as radiation passes through the atmosphere either way, I have never read anyone suggesting that the temperature gradient was a factor. But maybe the proponents of the greenhouse effect might try.

    Have a good day, Jerry

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    Carl Brehmer


    While I agree that it is unscientific to base public policy on the hypothetical difference between a dubious average temperature of the base of the atmosphere and a calculated temperature of the top of the atmosphere, your description of the atmosphere as an insulator is wanting.

    1) The formula for heat conduction can only be applied to non-moving material—a solid wall, a pocket of air trapped within a matrix, a pot of un-circulating liquid. If the material in question is in motion (as is air in the open atmosphere), then much of the thermal energy moving from one place to another is being moved by the material itself and not by conduction. Much of the surface thermal energy, for example, is being moved away from the surface via convection currents. Thus exists the real “greenhouse effect” when that convection is stopped by a physical structure.
    2) Your insulation analogy completely skirts the adiabatic phenomenon that creates the lapse rate.
    3) Believers in the 33C “greenhouse effect” hypothesis also use the insulation analogy in support of their hypothesis. They say that “greenhouse gases” make the atmosphere a better insulator.

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      Peter Champness


      Thanks Carl,

      I agree. Atmosphere is not an insulator.
      Roscoe also makes good points.

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