The Greenhouse Gas Blanket that Fails to Warm the World

By John O’Sullivan & Douglas Cotton

Looking through his astrophysicist’s eyes Joe Postma made a great point when observing our beautiful blue, wet planet from space: “Energy leaves the Earth, the same amount leaving over two hemispheres, as what comes in over a single hemisphere.”

Our Sun heats Earth on One Side Only

Our Sun heats Earth on One Side Only

Amazingly, for over 50 years climate researchers overlooked the huge significance of this basic fact when they modeled Earth simplistically by averaging incoming solar radiation equally over both hemispheres. In the age before supercomputers it was expedient to ignore the complexity that our 70% liquid planet creates due to day/night heating and cooling of the water cycle. Averaging across the entire globe this solar radiation energy input was a fudge factor that gave rise to a rigid but flawed greenhouse gas radiation-obsessed paradigm.

Greenhouse Gas Theory Omitted Crucial Water Cycle

Utterly focused on radiation, the infant science of climatology gave scant consideration to the crucial interplay of that double intense dose of solar energy on the sunny side of our spinning planet. That intense dose of energy in a focused area was the supercharging fuel for a dynamo that did its work by latent heat. Indeed, while solar radiation may be the origin of all incoming energy, once it enters our gaseous wet planet it is spun convectively about the vortex of Hadley Cells and those blue oceans and albedo white clouds begin to interplay in a constant cycle of evaporation and condensation.

Spiraling wet and dry air masses are thus driven to convulse so that trillions of tons of water are heated – mainly at the Equator – then projected around the globe towards the poles where they cool. In this convective conveyor belt the only heat trapping “gas” is evaporated water operating as latent heat, not by any mythical “greenhouse gas effect.”

Thanks to Earth’s convective conveyor Postma’s ‘Model Atmosphere’ paper could fairly assert “…We [Principia Scientific International] hold that the average solar radiative input heating is only over one hemisphere of the Earth, has a temperature equivalent value of +30˚C, with a zenith maximum of +87.5˚C, and that this is not in any physically justifiable manner equivalent to an instantaneous average global heating input of -18˚C…”

But the infant branch of science, climatology, had invested so much faith in a static, timeless and radiated flat earth model that there was no room in their stale, dry universe for our climate’s second key player after the sun: the hydrological cycle. When we open up our minds and think outside their simplistic radiation box and factor in the phase changes of water (and miracle properties of latent heat) then we see no need for any “greenhouse gas effect” – it simply disappears as easily as the dew on a sunlit morn.

Of course, Postma, like Douglas Cotton and their other climate research colleagues at Principia Scientific International (PSI) are well aware that our planet’s surface loses some of its surface thermal energy (or “heat” as most people call it) by radiation.

Back in 1854 Rudolf Clausius published his “statement” of the Second Law of Thermodynamics: “Heat can never pass from a colder to a warmer body without some other change, connected therewith, occurring at the same time.” [1] Any “other change” would entail the addition of external energy to the system being considered.

Scientists on all sides of the debate accept that radiation actually goes in all directions, so there is some passing each way between any two bodies. But in our wet atmosphere we see that conduction and convection are energy transfer processes inextricably involved, especially the nearer to the surface we go.

Latent Heat is Key Player Not Carbon Dioxide

For example, at the interface of the Earth’s surface and the atmosphere energy is transferred as molecules of air collide with those of the surface (70% ocean). This is a conduction like process, but, because conduction is usually associated with heat transfer in solids, we will use the alternative terminology and call it “diffusion” where gases (and liquids) are involved. Energy, we know, also transfers from liquid surfaces by way of evaporation, simply because it requires energy to bring about a phase change from liquid to gas, such as when you boil water in a jug, creating steam. Evaporation not only cools the surface but also transports considerable latent heat to the immediate atmosphere (about 590 calories per gram).

PSI researchers then looked closely to see what, if any, effect radiation from a cooler atmosphere has on these non-radiative processes (mostly diffusion and evaporation) that play a key role cooling the surface.

As Joseph Postma wrote (see page 47 of [2]) “The only attempt at a mathematical physics explanation for radiation obeying the laws of thermodynamics that this author is aware of is found in Claes Johnson’s work on the subject.” Prof Johnson’s paper Computational Blackbody Radiation [3] is discussed at length in Douglas Cotton’s paper [4] and Johnson’s conclusions have been accepted at Principia Scientific International. Readers are encouraged to read all the papers in the Publications menu on the PSI website. [5]

In summary, Johnson showed computationally that the electro-magnetic energy in radiation from a cooler source is not converted to thermal energy when that radiation strikes a warmer target. This is the essence of how and why the Second Law of Thermodynamics still functions correctly for radiation, as it does for conduction. There is a discussion of the quantification of heat transfer from a warmer source in Cotton’s paper mentioned above. Johnson goes on to explain that the radiation from a cooler source is only momentarily absorbed and then immediately re-emitted with exactly the same frequencies, intensities and energy, this resulting from resonating processes. None of the energy can be converted to thermal energy, so there is no heat transfer involved. Heat is only transferred when some of the radiated energy from a warmer source strikes a cooler target.

Conduction and Convection, Not Radiation Dominate in Gases

Let’s just assume Johnson is correct. His explanation certainly sits more comfortably than the simplistic two-way heat transfer implicit in “Energy Budget” diagrams constructed by climatologists. Let’s look then for empirical evidence that supports what he says. If he is right, then radiation from a cooler atmosphere striking a warmer body of water cannot penetrate the water and cause any warming. Hence, we would not expect it to have any forcing effect on the rate of evaporation.

What effect does it have, if any? Well, we know that the total amount of radiation from any body is limited by its temperature. This is the well-known Stefan-Boltzmann (S-B) Law [6] which is related to the Planck curve representing the frequencies and intensities of the radiation. If Johnson is correct, then the incident radiation provides the energy required for an equivalent amount of radiation to be immediately re-emitted by the warmer body. The target finds it easier to use that energy (which is already in the form of electromagnetic energy) for the corresponding portion of its “quota” of radiation as per the S-B Law. Hence it does not have to go through the more involved process of converting a corresponding amount of its own thermal energy into electro-magnetic energy. And, because it is not using up so much of its own energy, it transfers less of its own energy to the atmosphere, and thus the rate of cooling by radiation is slower than it would have been without the backradiation.

Konrad Hartmann looked into this and designed an experiment [7] to test whether or not the rate of evaporative cooling did actually accelerate to compensate for a slowing of the radiative cooling, and indeed he found that it did. So here we have some evidence that there can be spontaneous compensation by non-radiative processes when radiative cooling is slowed. So far, nothing here to prove Professor Johnson wrong.

But why then does it remain slightly warmer in calm conditions at night when low clouds pass over? Well, Konrad also found that there was some slowing of overall cooling rates for land surfaces. We can assume that this is because diffusion processes do not accelerate as quickly as evaporative cooling, and so they do not appear to fully compensate within a short time frame. But do they over a longer period, such as throughout the night when the clouds have passed over?

To answer this we need to think about the huge amount of energy stored not just in the land surfaces and the oceans, but also below the crust, right down to the core. The very fact that there is only a slow net energy flow coming from beneath the crust is proof in itself that the massive amount of heat down there is not changing very much on a percentage basis. So it does in fact perform a very strong stabilising effect on Earth’s climate.

Increased CO2 Fails to Raise Temperatures

We can see, for example, that it has been happening for the last 14 to 15 years when temperatures have been fairly stable and possibly declining slightly, despite ever increasing carbon dioxide levels. Whatever it is that causes climate to vary, it would appear to be natural causes, possibly following natural cycles that relate to the mean intensity of Solar radiation reaching the surface. There is growing evidence that planetary orbits may govern the regular periodicity of these natural cycles [8] such as apparent 1,000 year and superimposed 60 year cycles.

So, does carbon dioxide still have some way of causing a net warming effect? Does it form some kind of blanket over the Earth? Absolutely not. Whether or not you believe Prof Johnson to be correct, you cannot escape the fact that there is a diffusion process which transfers energy from a solid surface into an adjoining gas. Douglas Cotton discusses this in his ‘lamp holder experiment’ here. [9]

What this means is that oxygen and nitrogen molecules which collide with the warmed surface will themselves be warmed by diffusion. We all know the air just above the surface is only a little cooler than the surface itself at any time in calm conditions, day or night. In fact it cools a little faster than the surface on a calm night. Measure it in your backyard. The warmed air can be shown to rise by convection and cooler air moves in to get warmed itself by the same diffusion process.

‘Holes’ in the Greenhouse Gas ‘Blanket’

Now, oxygen and nitrogen cannot radiate away the energy thus gained from the surface. But they certainly do lose energy as the air moves up into cooler regions of the troposphere. So they must be transferring energy by diffusion into the radiating molecules such as water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane etc. It is these very molecules which are doing all the radiating of all the energy that is leaving the atmsophere as it cools. They are like holes in the insulating blanket which is formed, not by radiating gases, but by the non-radiating oxygen and nitrogen air molecules.

So carbon dioxide clearly has a cooling function, not a warming one. Even though it does send some radiation back to the surface, all that radiation can do is to slow that portion of the surface cooling which is itself due to radiation. The backradiation cannot slow non-radiative cooling, and these processes like evaporation (in over 70% of the Earth’s surface) accelerate to nullify the effect, as empirical evidence demonstrates.

So it is oxygen and nitrogen which form the “blanket” when they get warmed by diffusion (and thus slow the rate of non-radiative cooling) whilst carbon dioxide and water vapour in particular are like holes in the blanket which cool the air by allowing energy to escape to space.

That extra 33 degrees in the surface temperature, usually blamed upon so-called greenhouse gases, is in fact entirely due to (and fully explained by) the adiabatic lapse rate which is related to the declining temperature in the troposphere. This temperature plot has the gradient that it does because of the time lag in diffusion of energy into oxygen and nitrogen, and the time they then take to rise and cool. So the 33 degrees has nothing whatsoever to do with water vapor and gases like carbon dioxide. Without these radiating gases in the atmosphere our planet would be much warmer than it is.

As Postma tells us:

“The Earth is not flat. The sunshine is not cold. The hot sunshine is the only input, and everything else is a response. A temperature does not increase its own temperature. A cold temperature in the atmosphere cannot increase its own temperature. A cold temperature in the atmosphere cannot heat up an already warmer ground. There is nothing true about how the GHE is derived from the first-principles of a flat-earth model.“

In essence, the greenhouse gas theory succeeded as a false paradigm for so long because it hoodwinked us into accepting the static flat-earth radiation-obsessed model that omitted the engine of the Coriolis effect that drives Hadley Cells within the constraints of adiabatic pressure. As such latent heat was left out of the equation.

But PSI shows that the 50-year focus on radiation was a blind alley. The Sun is the only driver of the system, and everything else is a response. The atmosphere is not a secondary source of energy and only latent heat, via the hydrological cycle “traps” energy. So it isn’t the “greenhouse gas effect” it’s actually the latent heat effect. As PSI researchers have found, there is a natural lapse rate distribution of temperature in the atmosphere that has nothing to do with the cold atmosphere heating itself up. A cold temperature cannot heat up its own cold temperature by heating up another warmer object. The analysis of Professor Johnson and Douglas Cotton affirms that.


[1] Clausius, R. (1867) (in English). The Mechanical Theory of Heat – with its Applications to the Steam Engine and to Physical Properties of Bodies. London: John van Voorst.

[2] Postma, J.E., ‘A Discussion on the Absence of a Measurable Greenhouse Effect,’ (October 22, 2012), Principia Scientific International, (retrieved online: November 19, 2012)

[3] Johnson, C., ‘Computational Blackbody Radiation,’, (accessed online: November 19, 2012)

[4] Cotton, D., ‘Radiated Energy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics,’ (accessed online: November 19, 2012)

[5] Principia Scientific International

[6] Stefan–Boltzmann law, (accessed online: November 19, 2012)

[7] Tallbloke’s Talkshop, ‘Konrad: Empirical test of ocean cooling and back radiation theory,’, (accessed online: November 19, 2012)

[8] Watts, A., ‘Is there a planetary influence on solar activity? It seems so according to this new paper,’ (accessed online: November 19, 2012)

[9] Cotton, D., ‘What Physics Says About Climate Change,’ (accessed online: November 19, 2012)



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7 responses to “The Greenhouse Gas Blanket that Fails to Warm the World

  1. Pingback: The Greenhouse Gas Blanket that Fails to Warm the World « Skeptics Chillin'

  2. One thing I’ve been thinking about is the natural asymmetry of the radiation balance the climate activists are always going on about. It’s absolutely true that radiation is an ineffective method of transporting energy and it only becomes even noticeable when the mechanisms of conduction and convection do not exist or the radiation source is very intense (like the heat of a campfire on a cold evening). We’re irradiated by high energy from the sun and emit at a very low temperature. Thank God for that…we owe our very existence to that asymmetry and the T to the fourth power radiation intensity relationship. Just imagine if Mother Nature supported a linear radiating relationship for delta-T instead of the hyper logarithmic Tee4 relationship…

  3. John in France

    I found this post by Willis Eschenbach at WUWT – – three years back very interesting and think it may be germane to this article.

  4. johnosullivan

    Thanks for the link to Eschenbach. My colleagues at Principia Scientific International(PSI) agree that the water cycle is hugely important but is omitted from greenhouse gas ‘theory’.It’s basic meteorology that my colleague, Tim Ball, insists was usurped by climatology because meteorologists knew full well that the hydrological cycle was the dominant mode of climate regulation, not radiation. This is entirely due to the unique phase change properties of water. Water can exist in solid, liquid and gas form at zero Celsius.

    Water provides the only actual ‘heat trapping gas’ known to science. While CO2, the bad guy of the bogus greenhouse gas theory was shown by my other PSI, Professor Nasif Nahle, to ‘trap’ energy for a mere 3-5 milliseconds, which cannot possibly have any measurable impact on climate.

    Another crucial mistake among climatologists is that they believe vacuum space is cold and they say our atmosphere acts like a ‘blanket’ that serves to make our planet ‘warmer than it would otherwise be.’ But actual outer space has no temp – it is nothingness. Empirical science tells us a vacuum serves as a powerful insulator, just like a thermos flask. Extremes of BOTH hot and cold are the problem Earth would otherwise face without a wet atmosphere – not extreme cold alone. So the ‘blanket’ analogy of the GHE is nonsense. The hydrological cycle serves to efficiently drive heat energy upward by conduction and convection so that it can more efficiently be lost to space via radiation. The more insolation entering the system, the more surface evaporation occurs. It’s an incredibly stable, self-regulating system.

    The Coriolis effect and the heat trapping properties of H2O in our atmosphere act together as part of this powerful refrigeration/air conditioning system working to moderate night and daytime temps keeping them within a temperate and habitable range. Otherwise we would fry during the day and be in deep freeze at night.

    By focusing entirely on radiation to the exclusion of the water cycle climatologist constructed their doomsaying greenhouse gas ‘science’ omitting latent heat as the key player of temp moderation.

    Also, the GHE paradigm, absent the role of H2O and its fatal error of averaging incoming solar radiation over 2 hemisphere rather than focusing it on one, got stuck with the false position that the sunshine is not strong enough to heat the planet all by itself. To overcome their globalized insipid twilight concept climatologists therefore concocted ‘backradiation heating’ as a faux mechanism to add twice as much heat energy input than the Sun. This is official IPCC science and published in the Kiehl & Trenberth NASA reference, and many other places. If we compare the diluted sunshine paradigm, vs. the real-Sun paradigm, ENTIRELY DIFFERENT physical responses in the system naturally occur. Entirely different phase-spaces are created. What the GHE paradigm does is create a GHE to accomplish what the real-sunshine system (plus latent heat) already does by itself. As such PSI researchers have refuted the false GHE paradigm.

  5. John in France

    I think if Willis had never written another article in his life this should have been the one.

  6. If you read my new paper you will perhaps agree that, quite apart from the cooling shade provided by clouds, water vapour (and suspended water droplets) also serve to increase the mean specific heat of the atmosphere, and thus reduce the mean lapse rate, as is well known. But the long-term effect of this is actually to establish a cooler surface temperature at equilibrium, rather than a warmer one.

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