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Unsettled Malcolm Roberts queries United Nation's science

By John Nicol and Jennifer Marohasy - posted Friday, 16 September 2016


There is nothing new under the sun according to both the Bible and Shakespeare; and One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts would not purport to be the first to claim the atmosphere cools the surface of the earth that is warmed by the sun. He stated this in his maiden speech in the Australian parliament on Tuesday. Apparently perplexed by the concept, Guardian Australia's environmental reporter Michael Slezak, could have sought expert advice, but instead he rephrased the statement concluding that Roberts' was wrong because "the atmosphere is not freezing". Another journalist, Latika Bourke writing in The Sydney Morning Herald, was less inclined to provide her own expert commentary, instead simply concluding that this statement (that the atmosphere cools the surface of the earth that is warmed by the sun) places Roberts at odds with the world's leading scientific and research bodies including NASA, the CSIRO, and the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Yet it is generally acknowledged that approximately 51% of incoming solar energy is absorbed by the land and oceans, and that winds will move heat around via convection such that some areas are cooled; then of course there is evaporation.

But did Slezak and Bourke assume Roberts meant something else with his statement, or do they really believe that because the atmosphere contains carbon dioxide it must be hotter than the earth? We ask this, because Roberts did go on to immediately state in his speech: "How can anything that cools the surface warm it? It can't." Given Roberts' professional training as an engineer, he would most likely have been referring to the second law of thermodynamics as originally formulated which states, heat can never pass from a colder to a warmer body without some other change, connected therewith, occurring at the same time. This is somewhat intuitive, yet the concept does appear at odds with IPCC science. How can anything that cools the surface warm it? It can't.

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Indeed, one of the key arguments put forward by the IPCC and its supporting teams, is that half of the radiation from greenhouse gases (chiefly carbon dioxide and water vapour), is directed downwards (sometimes referred to as back radiation) causing warming of the earth's surface; and that this effect increases as the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide increases.

The IPCC mantra, which replaces any detailed scientific analysis of the spectral behaviour of these active gases, appears in the "scientific" section of the IPCC report AR4 (2007) and subsequently in the CSIRO's own report of that year, "Climate Change in Australia – 2007". The report simply states: "We believe that most of the increase in the global temperature during the latter part of the twenty first century, was very likely due to the increase in the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide."

Roberts made the point in his maiden speech that from the 1930's to the 1970's - during the period of the greatest industrialisation in human history when our carbon dioxide output increased greatly – atmospheric temperatures actually cooled for forty years straight. At least this cooling trend is evident in some unadjusted global temperature series, and this is at odds with the CSIRO and IPCC claim that temperatures were generally trending up during the 20th Century. Currently there is arguably an approximately 18 year pause in global temperatures, as measured by NASA's own UAH satellite-record of global temperature change in the lower atmosphere.

In fact, while not disputing that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, applying an alternative model to that used in IPCC science it is possible to show how an increase in carbon dioxide could cause global cooling.

The standard hypothesis has, at its core, the unproven assumption that the heat-energy absorbed by the increase in carbon dioxide distributed throughout the atmosphere, leads to re-radiation with half of this re-radiation directed downwards – such that the temperature of the earth's surfaces, both solid (land) and liquid (ocean), are increased. That the corresponding, increased, concentration in layers below those radiating, will simultaneously increase the re-absorption of such radiation, thus reducing the heating effect to an insignificant level, is ignored. Yet this is what calculations by university physicists and engineers shows, contrary to IPCC "science". In addition, the higherconcentration of this same energy in this region of denser greenhouse gas, will raise the temperature of the local air sample, giving rise to enhanced convection, an effect which leads, in general, to very slightly increased lateral winds, and thus increased surface cooling.

At high altitudes, the greenhouse gases provide the only mechanism for the radiation of heat from the atmosphere to space – the other main constituents of oxygen and nitrogen being unable to do so because of their electronic structures. At these heights, the rarefied absorbers, situated above the radiating layers, are less able to re-absorb the radiation which consequentially escapes to space, thus providing a mechanism of cooling for the earth. Yes, cooling.

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Indeed, increases in the concentration of carbon dioxide in these strata of very low pressure, results in increased outwards radiation not balanced by the re-absorption! Hence increased carbon dioxide – ironic as it may sound to the lay person – will result in more efficient cooling of the earth. This was a point made perhaps too subtlety by Roberts, and clearly not understood by those reporting upon his maiden speech.

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About the Authors

John Nicol is a physicist whose main field of interest lay in molecular spectroscopy which forms the basis of the analysis of the effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Jennifer Marohasy is a senior fellow with the Institute for Public Affairs.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by John Nicol
All articles by Jennifer Marohasy

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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