A New Scientific Law and The Greenhouse Effect

Written by Dr Jerry Krause

This elementary article could have, and should have, been written and published long ago.  The condensation of water vapor to form dew or frost on solid natural and artificial surfaces is a commonly observed natural phenomenon.  It is well understood that the latent heat released as water vapor condenses slows the radiational cooling of these surfaces during the diurnal temperature cycle.

water

There can be little doubt that the ability of atmospheric water vapor to condense (releasing its significant latent heat of condensation to its environment) limits the minimum possible temperature of the common diurnal temperature oscillation.  The ability of this same atmospheric water vapor (and certain other atmospheric gases) to absorb portions of the radiation emitted by the earth’s surface has nothing to do with this minimum temperature limitation.

In 1896 Svante Arrhenius (1) reported, in English, his well known radiation balance calculation.  He noted that Joseph Fourier (2) in 1827 put forth the idea that “the atmosphere acts like the glass of a hothouse, because it lets through the light rays of the sun but retains the dark rays from the ground.”  But relative to this present article, he noted that John Tyndall (3) in 1865 thought “it was chiefly the diurnal and annual variations of the temperature that were lessened by this circumstance.”  It seems all three of these promoters of the well known greenhouse effect hypothesis (current theory) had to have seen dew or frost to form on surfaces as the atmosphere, in contact with these surfaces, cooled during the night until the next morning when the sun again began to warm the earth’s surfaces.

The new scientific law is:  The surface temperature of an object, at thermal equilibrium with the atmosphere in contact with it, can be no lower than the dewpoint (the temperature at which the atmosphere is saturated with water vapor) of the atmosphere in contact with it.  This law is related to another known scientific law of meteorology which I have never seen being referred to as a scientific law.  Instead, one only reads:  “The atmosphere has never been observed to be supersaturated with water vapor.”  Because this statement seems not to have been acknowledged to be a scientific law, it seems there is a need to review what a scientific law is and its critical role in modern science.

A scientific law is merely a summary of similar observations for which there has never been observed an exception.  It is not a hypothesis, not a theory, not an explanation; it merely predicts what will be observed in specific circumstances.  It cannot be proven by reason and it can only be disproved by an observation that is an exception to the summary.  Scientific laws (observation) played a critical role in the founding of modern science little more than 400 years ago.  Up to this time philosophers had used reason and debate to determine their truths.  But Galileo Galilei changed this as he began to use observation (sometimes experimentation) to refute certain ‘truths’ that had been established by the Greek philosophers nearly 2000 years earlier.  While the natural philosophers who followed Galileo primarily observed, they also reasoned about that which they observed.  However, these natural philosophers adopted sets of rules to limit their reasoning.

Newton began his Third Book of The Principia with his set of rules.  The first two, with his commentary, were (as translated by Andrew Motte):  Rule 1 “We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.  To this purpose the philosophers say that Nature does nothing in vain, and more is in vain when less will serve; for Nature is pleased with simplicity, and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.

Rule 2:  “Therefore to the same natural effects we must, as far as possible, assign the same causes. As to respiration in a man and in a beast; the descent of stones in Europe and in America; the light of our culinary fire and of the sun; the reflection of light in the earth, and in the planets.”

When one reviews Svante Arrhenius’s radiation balance calculation, it is clear that he violated Newton’s second rule of reasoning.  For he used the albedo of clouds to reduce the amount of the sun’s radiation which reached the earth’s surface but did not consider the same clouds could limit the earth’s radiation transmission to space.  Again, he had to have been aware of the difference between clear and cloudy winter nights in Sweden.

In conclusion, far too long it has been accepted that the abilities of certain atmospheric molecules to absorb a portion of the radiation emitted by the earth’s surface limits the earth’s surface temperatures from falling far lower than it is observed they do; whereas, it is clearly the vapor pressure of water vapor in the surface atmosphere which limits the minimum temperature of the diurnal temperature cycle.

References:

  1. Svante Arrhenius, On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the        Ground, Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science (Series 5, Volume 41, April 1896, pages 273-276.
  1. Joseph Fourier, Mem. De l’ Ac. R. d. Sci, de l’tInst. De France, t. vii, 1827.
  2. John Tyndall, ‘Heat a Mode of Motion,’ 2nd ed. p. 405 (Load., 1865).

Comments (8)

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    Jim McGinn

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    There is a mountain of ambiguity in what you write here. Meteorologists’ understanding of the notion of “condensation” is not one and the same as that of a chemists/physicist. Same goes for notions like, “latent heat.”

    Meteorology has kind of it’s own nomenclature that cannot be used interchangeably with much of the terminology associated with more decidedly empirical disciplines, like chemistry and thermodynamics. You seem to not grasp this, Dr. Jerry.

    Because of that your article just feeds the consensus of confusion on this topic. Sorry, that is my opinion. I would suggest first starting with terminology that does not already have loaded and inconsistent connotations.

    For example, instead of referring to the droplets on a glass as the result of condensation, which implies that it started with gas, refer to it as aggregation of water droplets. Afterall, that is what is really happening when, for example, water forms on a cold glass. It is microdroplets aggregating into larger, visible, droplets. It’s not a phase change between gaseous H2O and liquid H2O. It’s the author’s and the editor’s responsibility to clear up any ambiguity, IMO. Refusing to do so puts you in the same category as an AGW alarmists or any other kind of science based propagandist.

    Jerry, we know for a fact that a phase change between gaseous H2O and liquid H2O is impossible at ambient temperatures. Consult Steam Tables for details.

    BTW, the phrase, “latent heat” is a phrase co-opted by meteorologist. It’s not something that is literal. They don’t, for example, ever measure it. (They calculate it based on consensus based [and somewhat obscure] assumptions.) Be aware, however, that meteorology is a very political discipline. They would never admit any of this. Specifically, they would never concede that they had just co-opted this term. And if you attempt to get them to verify it empirically you can expect them to ignore you, with considerable deliberation..

    BTW, Newton was almost perfectly clueless about H2O:
    http://www.thunderbolts.info/forum/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=16306

    Jim McGinn
    Solving Tornadoes
    Click here to Reply

    • Avatar

      Jerry L Krause

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      Hi Jim,

      Thank you for giving me opportunity to quote what a meteorologist, R. C. Sutcliffe, who was invited to write the book, Weather & Climate, by W. W. Norton & Company as part of their Advancement of Science Series.

      He wrote (Chapter 5, The Microphysics of Clouds, pp 47): “When liquid water and gaseous vapour are present side by side one needs only to think of the exchange of molecules across the interface to have a clear mental image of evaporation and condensation going on continuously. The molecules in the liquid are in incessant motion and a small proportion, moving more rapidly than the average, escape from the liquid surfaces by overcoming the inter-molecular attractive force which binds the liquid together: in much the same way a rocket, given sufficient speed, will escape from the earth’s gravitational force. The warmer the liquid the greater the speed of molecules and the greater the number which have the necessary escape velocity–the warmer the water the more rapid the evaporation. At the same time, any molecules from the vapour which penetrate the liquid surface are captured and condensation takes place, at a rate which depends on the vapor temperature and density–or the vapour pressure. The net effect of the two processes going on continuously is either condensation or evaporation and there is a state of balance when escape and capture are at the same rate: in this case, the air is just saturated with respect to the liquid surface.”

      I as a chemist, I could never improve upon what Sutcliffe, a meteorologist, has written.

      Have a good day, Jerry

      • Avatar

        Jerry L Krause

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        Hi Jim,

        Please overlook MY lack of proofreading or just bad composition.

      • Avatar

        Jerry L Krause

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        Hi Jim,

        Fortunately I did not make any critical comments about what you had written. So I do not have to apologize for what I only thought. But I have not stopped thinking about what you wrote and suddenly realized how it might have been that you wrote: “Afterall, that is what is really happening when, for example, water forms on a cold glass. It is microdroplets aggregating into larger, visible, droplets. It’s not a phase change between gaseous H2O and liquid H2O.”

        So I now review what Sutcliffe wrote on the next page (pp 48) of his book after he had reviewed the results of experiments by C. T. R. Wilson. “These results, obtained first by Wilson and broadly confirmed by many later experiments, have a very important bearing on natural meteorology, not because supersaturation occurs in the atmosphere but because it does not occur: why is it that in the atmosphere condensation to clouds invariably happens as soon as normal saturation is reached? The answer is that the natural atmosphere, however clean it may appear to be, is always supplied with a sufficient number of minute particles of salts, acids, or other substances which serve just as well as liquid water in capturing water molecules from the vapor. These are the ‘nuclei of condensation’, and are effective as soon as the air becomes even slightly supersaturated.”

        Hence, when you wrote–“For example, instead of referring to the droplets on a glass as the result of condensation, which implies that it started with gas, refer to it as aggregation of water droplets. Afterall, that is what is really happening when, for example, water forms on a cold glass. It is microdroplets aggregating into larger, visible, droplets. It’s not a phase change between gaseous H2O and liquid H2O.”–you are considering it is these nuclei of condensation which are aggregating on the cold glass. Which, if this were the case, it would be true that there would be no phase change occurring and no latent heat involved.

        And it does seem to be the case that the presence of nuclei of condensation (condensed liquid or solid matter and not diffuse gaseous matter) tends to be disregarded not only by non-meteorologists but also by meteorologists. We all too commonly consider the atmosphere to be only a gas until we can see cloud.

        However, it seems you go to the other extreme and consider there is no water vapor (molecules) in the atmosphere; but only invisible nuclei of condensation. Which, while invisible, are actually composed of many, many molecules of water and dissolved ions of a salt or acid, and maybe some molecules of an weak acid (which does not fully ionize in forming a water solution). Vinegar is an common example of a water solution of the weak acid, acetic acid.

        You wrote: “Meteorology has kind of it’s own nomenclature that cannot be used interchangeably with much of the terminology associated with more decidedly empirical disciplines, like chemistry and thermodynamics. You seem to not grasp this, Dr. Jerry.” Jim, do you grasp that chemists, since the days of the alchemists, have primarily empirically studied matter and the changes it undergoes. So that maybe chemists better understand matter and the changes it undergoes better than other scientists whose attentions are divided by other factors involved in their sciences. And it is true that chemists consider their science is the ‘central’ science which needs to be considered regardless of what these other sciences might be. But, at the same time, the chemists consider that their science is the central science, they know they would be almost totally ignorant if not for the science of physics. For the physicists have given the chemists the tools (experiments and theories) with which to understand what they (the chemists) empirically observe.

        Jim, you began your comment by the stating: “Meteorology has kind of it’s own nomenclature that cannot be used interchangeably with much of the terminology associated with more decidedly empirical disciplines … .” You ended it by stating: “BTW, the phrase, “latent heat” is a phrase co-opted by meteorologist. It’s not something that is literal. They don’t, for example, ever measure it. (They calculate it based on consensus based [and somewhat obscure] assumptions.) Be aware, however, that meteorology is a very political discipline. They would never admit any of this. Specifically, they would never concede that they had just co-opted this term. And if you attempt to get them to verify it empirically you can expect them to ignore you, with considerable deliberation.”

        Jim, Sutcliffe’s book was published in 1966. At that time meteorology was not yet “a very political discipline.” You stated: “”BTW, the phrase, “latent heat” is a phrase co-opted by meteorologist. It’s not something that is literal.” In chapter 5 Sutcliffe discussed the empirical meteorological observation that cloud droplets commonly supercool (remain liquid at temperatures well below the melting point of ice). You refer to “thunderbolts” and “solving tornadoes”. In chapter 6, Sutcliffe discussed (explained) thunderstorms. I would like you to explain a ‘thunderstorm’ without considering the sudden release of energy (latent heat) that occurs when the supercooled liquid water droplets suddenly freeze (are converted to solid water, ice).

        But you are correct if you intended to point out that all scientists, meteorologists included, do not really consider the possible consequences of nuclei of condensation beyond the fact they are necessary to understand how it is that the atmosphere has never been observed to be saturated with water vapor.

        Have a good day, Jerry

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          Jerry L Krause

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          Hi Jim,

          I prove over and over that I do not proofread what I write. It seems I cannot not learn a simple thing. I only see my goofs after they are submitted. The last phrase should read: “the atmosphere has never been observed to be super-saturated with water vapor.”

          Have a good day, Jerry

  • Avatar

    Jerry L Krause

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    Hi Ed,

    Thank you for reading and understanding. Just before the statement to which you referred I had written: This law is related to another known scientific law of meteorology which I have never seen being referred to as a scientific law. Instead, one only reads: “The atmosphere has never been observed to be supersaturated with water vapor.” Because this statement seems not to have been acknowledged to be a scientific law, it seems there is a need to review what a scientific law is and its critical role in modern science.

    I did not reference who had made the statement: “The atmosphere has never been observed to be supersaturated with water vapor.” I dropped this quote without reference to get it ‘out there’ but in the context of the article I did not want to go to what might be considered a specialized knowledge of meteorology as I tried to focus attention upon the common observation of dew and frost.

    R. C. Sutcliffe, a meteorologist who was invited by W. W. Norton & Co. to write a book about meteorology as part of their Advancement of Science Series, wrote this in his book Weather and Science (1966). While I do not know if you have read this book, I will review some background as to the importance of scientific laws and their simple definition relative what Sutcliffe wrote.

    Chapter 1 (Introduction) began on page 11. On page 13, Sutcliffe wrote: “Meteorology is not a fundamental physical science, that is to say it is not concerned to develop the basic laws of nature, … .” In Chapter 5 (The Microphysics of Clouds) on page 48, he wrote: “These results, obtained first by Wilson and broadly confirmed by many later experimenters, have a very important bearing on natural meteorology, not because supersaturation occurs in the atmosphere but because it does not occur: why is it that in the atmosphere condensation to clouds invariably happens as soon as normal saturation is reached? The answer is that the natural atmosphere, however clean it may appear to be, is always supplied with a sufficient number of minute particles of salts, acids or other substances which serve just as well as liquid water in capturing water molecules from the vapour. These are the ‘nuclei of condensation’, and are effective as soon as the air becomes even slightly supersaturated. As matter of fact, there are many observations of clouds in air whose relative humidity is considerably below 100 per cent, evidence of nuclei which are hygroscopic, but methods of measurement within natural cloud are not sufficiently refined to prove that even slight superstaturation ever occurs. If for practical purposes we assume that cloud will always form in the atmosphere when ordinary saturation is attained (that is relative to a flat surface of pure water), we shall not go far wrong.”

    One needs to read Sutcliffe’s Chapter 5 to fully appreciate what he knows while, at the same time, not recognizing that meteorology has basic laws of nature. And I read this chapter several times over a period of several, if not many, years before I recognized that meteorology had basic scientific laws of nature. I conclude one reason for my problem is that Sutcliffe separates related topics so it is not obvious that these topics are related.

    For on page 46, obviously before page 48, he wrote: “We generally say that air can hold no more than a definite maximum amount of invisible gaseous water, more or less according as the temperature is high or low, but the statement is acceptable only with reservations. In the first place, the presence of air–that is the unpolluted mixture of pure permanent gases–has little to do with the process. It is the amount of vapour in the available space that matters, the number of molecules of H2O per cubic centimetre, and the presence of the other gases is not directly relevant. In this respect, it might be more correct to say that the space and not the air is more or less saturated with vapour, but in meteorology insistence on this distinction would be quite unnatural and confusing.”

    Now, a fact is meteorologists have defined a fundamental factor (property) of the atmosphere which is not considered unnatural and confusing. And Sutcliffe never defines this factor although he uses it on page 139. This fundamental factor of the atmosphere is its dewpoint temperature–the temperature of the atmosphere at which water vapor will be begin to condense on the condensation nuclei as the atmosphere cools.

    Hence, there is a more general scientific law than that limited to the surface of the earth. It is that the atmosphere’s temperature, anywhere it seems, can never cool below its dewpoint temperature. But it must be understood that as water vapor condenses from the atmosphere, that atmosphere’s dewpoint must decrease so the cooling of the atmosphere by condensation is not stopped; the cooling is merely slowed once condensation of water vapor begins.

    Again Ed, thank you for your comment because it opened the door for this further explanation which needed to be made.

    Have a good day, Jerry

  • Avatar

    Edward M. Huff, Ph.D.

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    Thank you for the article, and particularly for this statement:
    “A scientific law is merely a summary of similar observations for which there has never been observed an exception. It is not a hypothesis, not a theory, not an explanation; it merely predicts what will be observed in specific circumstances. It cannot be proven by reason and it can only be disproved by an observation that is an exception to the summary. ”
    Ed

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