IN recent years, a major advance in our understanding of the physical dynamics of the climate process has come from the work of Ferenc Miskolczi. For the present note I am calling his discovery the ‘climatically saturated greenhouse effect’. I use these words to mean that the ‘saturation’ of which I speak is not the classical static saturation of an isolated system, but is ‘saturation’ in a specially extended sense for an open system in a thermodynamically-non-equilibrium dynamic steady state.
Dr Miskolczi’s discovery arose from his regular work for NASA, examining the data measured by radiosonde balloons. Studied and analyzed under the microscope of the radiative transfer computer program that he had written, the large data set turned out to be a previously only partly tapped reservoir of a wealth of physical facts. From the reservoir of numerical data, Dr Miskolczi abstracted mathematical formulae that expressed new physical understanding.
Dr Miskolczi showed that the true physical dynamics of the climate process is that the present rate of change of amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is dynamically determined, amongst other factors, largely by the present amount of greenhouse gas. A second dynamical factor is the fluctuating temperature of the atmosphere. There are also other dynamical factors that are mostly ignored in this present note.
On the other hand, for its doctrine that man-made CO2-emissions cause harmful global warming, the IPCC speaks in terms of its mathematical formalism of “radiative forcing” and “positive feedback by water vapour”. But, sad to say, this formalism is fatally flawed and cannot describe the true dynamical structure of the climate response to CO2.
The IPCC’s mathematical formalism admits just one dynamical internal state variable, the climate temperature. That formalism expresses the climate temperature as a static mathematical function (or sometimes as a dynamical effect) of the “radiative forcing”. The formalism mathematically partitions that mathematical function (or dynamical effect) into components that it calls “feedbacks”. But these “feedbacks” are not dynamically distinct from the climate temperature. The formalism expresses them simply as static mathematical functions of the climate temperature. Consequently, the dynamical factors that govern the real climate system cannot be expressed in the IPCC’s formalism because of its mathematical inappropriateness for the problem.
Miskolczi did not set out to make his discovery of the climatically saturated greenhouse effect, but it turned up as something that he accidentally noticed in the course of his regular work for NASA. In this respect his discovery is like the fundamental discovery made by Australian Garth Paltridge, who ‘accidentally’ noticed in his examination of climate data that the facts are described by a principle of maximum rate of entropy production. Along with the earlier work of plastics technologist Hans Ziegler, Professor Paltridge’s discovery was a stepping stone on the path to understanding how the second law of thermodynamics is naturally extended, from its classical form for isolated systems in thermodynamic equilibrium, to deal with thermodynamically-non-equilibrium dynamic steady states in diabatic systems. This was a radical advance at the deepest level of scientific understanding. Its present relevance has been mentioned above. (A helpful review article is listed below.)
This kind of fortuitous observation of empirical fact is at the heart of many of the historical radical advances in natural science. It is a kind of ‘accident’ that happens only to the prepared mind. Like Professor Paltridge, Dr Miskolczi had a prepared mind.
The Miskolczi discovery of the climatically saturated greenhouse effect describes a climate process that is dynamically pinned at a thermodynamically-non-equilibrium phase transition. This means that the climate is in a stable stationary dynamical régime.
The overall effect is to keep a constant ratio of solar energetic driving to long term climate temperature. We might call this the climatic response ratio, but let us here refer to it just as ‘the ratio’. The ratio is independent of CO2 emissions, which therefore cannot increase the long term climate temperature. Only increased solar energetic driving can increase the long term climate temperature. Changes in solar energetic driving can be caused only by changes in the heat radiated from the sun and by changes in the earth’s distance from the sun. Other extraterrestrial solar system external drivers of the climate process can perturb it, but not alter the long term climate temperature. Such perturbations include many various and diverse mechanisms, such as increased admission of galactic cosmic rays, and the deterministic chaotic tidal effects of gravity of the sun, the moon, and the planets.
A main dynamical effect in maintaining climate stability is non-linear cooling through the atmospheric window discovered by George Simpson in 1928. After heat has been absorbed from the sun by the earth, the infrared radiative waveband carries the heat back out to space. Water vapour is the earth’s main greenhouse gas. Its wide and strong infra-red absorption spectrum has a fair number of deep gaps. Radiation from the surface of the land and the sea escapes readily to space through these gaps, collectively called the atmospheric window. The escape is governed non-linearly by the Planck radiation law. The non-linearity means that the hotter the earth gets, the more efficient is the window at cooling the earth. Simpson also discovered another potent climate stabilizing property of water. Water can form clouds, which Simpson noted potently tend to cool the earth by reflecting some of the incoming sunlight, so that it is not even absorbed by the earth. This is called increase in albedo.
Why is the climatic response ratio constant?
It is because water dominates the climate dynamics.
Perhaps a homely analogy may help. The climate process is like a saucepan of saturated salt solution boiling on a stove. Turn up the gas on the stove and the boiling point is not affected. Add more salt and the boiling-point is not affected, because the salt solution is already saturated.
One of the greenhouse gases (water vapour) can alter its own concentration in the troposphere, so that it acts as a climatically saturated solute in the atmosphere. Amongst the many atmospheric analogues of the bubbles in the boiling saucepan, perhaps the most dramatic and vivid are the protected towers of deep tropical convection described by Professors Riehl and Malkus in 1958, that you can see anywhere near the equator. They are the pacemaker of the tropical rains. Add some CO2 and they bubble a little faster, and make it rain a little more, but as long as the sun’s activity does not change, and water vapour remains the dominant earthly greenhouse gas, the climate temperature is not affected. The bubbles occur at a dynamical threshold, which means that like the non-linear window cooling mentioned above, the greater a warming perturbation, the more efficient the cooling response. This is the interpretation of the climatic saturation of the greenhouse effect as a process pinned at a stable thermodynamically-non-equilibrium phase transition.
The climate process is different from a boiling saucepan in one important respect. Non-equilibrium phase transitions are a little conceptually different from equilibrium ones. The phase transition at which the climate process is pinned is dynamical in character, in contrast with the phase transition of boiling water which has a static character. Consequently the physical quantity that is pinned is not the climate temperature; it is the climatic response ratio.
The ratio is stable and constant because it is governed by the principle of maximum rate of entropy production, as determined by the presence of the watery ocean and the sun’s heat radiation. At the simplest level, the general principle is that the higher the temperature, the more dynamical fluctuations are possible for the climate process. The most effective ones will, as it were, seize their opportunities to act by mere chance, and their chances are increased by temperature increase. An increase in atmospheric temperature will enable additional mechanisms of heat dissipation to space because there is nothing in space to counteract them. Miskolczi has given us more detail about how this happens.
In the context of the stabilizing properties of water through the clouds and the atmospheric window, Dr Miskolczi discovered another potent climate stabilizing property of water. It is a greenhouse gas that can alter its own concentration in the clear-sky troposphere, and it does so in a stabilizing way. It is this property that in principle cannot be represented in the IPCC’s flawed formalism. But together the cloud property and the clear-sky greenhouse gas concentration altering property stabilize the climate process. This is the reason why CO2 emissions cannot alter the long term climate temperature.
On a clear night you will see shooting stars in the sky. Many of them are meteors of frozen water that is vapourized as they enter the atmosphere. They constitute a natural external driving function that adds a greenhouse gas to the atmosphere. But they do not drive the troposphere to static saturation. This is our sign that the troposphere for billions of years has been marginally drying its clear-sky water vapour content by forming low clouds and raining so as to compensate fully and completely for natural greenhouse gas addition.
The climate system has historically maintained the maximum dynamically stable amount of water vapour in the clear-sky troposphere. The reason is simple. Convective circulation inevitably moves bulk parts of the atmosphere up and down, so as to partly dry the troposphere and keep the clear-sky water vapour content much less than the classically statically defined saturation level.
How does the climatic response ratio stay constant when there is CO2 emission into the atmosphere? By increased bubbling, increased rain, increased low cloud formation, and increased upper tropospheric production of dried air.
Addition of CO2 to the system simply displaces a small amount of water vapour without altering the total effective amount of greenhouse gas present in the clear-sky troposphere, so as to very closely nullify the temperature effect of the addition. In this restricted context, one might say that one greenhouse gas is as good as another, but really some greenhouse gases (e.g. water) have additional properties that others (e.g. CO2) do not.
When CO2 is added to the air, its first effects are radiative. There is some blocking of window infra-red radiation to space, with consequent warming of the lower and middle troposphere. And there is an elevation of the altitude of the upper optical boundary layer of the troposphere; the altitude of the tropopause is elevated. Because the temperature is lower there, the infra-red radiative emission from the upper optical boundary layer of the troposphere is reduced until the lower temperature is compensated.
Then warmer wetter less dense air in the lowest troposphere is convected to the tropical ‘bubble’ zone. It ‘bubbles’ faster, with the production of more tropical low cloud and rain, increased transport aloft of the latent heat of water vapour, and the delivery of more air up to the higher altitude tropoause, where it becomes drier because of the lower temperature. These factors compensate for some of the radiative effect of the added CO2.
The circulatory cycle is completed when the greater amount of drier air is convected towards the poles and downward back to the land-sea surface, and on the way it nullifies the rest of the radiative effect of the added CO2.
Such cycles of convection of atmospheric gases are known to be universally typical of the kind of dynamic organization that develops under the governance of the principle of maximum entropy production.
The IPCC’s argumentative mathematical formalism relies on the mistaken idea that a greenhouse gas can act as a virtual pure radiative driver, but because of Miskolczi’s discovery we now understand that addition of a greenhouse gas must be treated in its own right as a greenhouse gas driver.
The above account is a mere qualitative sketch, but Dr Miskolczi’s work itself is a quantitative analysis of empirical measurements on the atmosphere.
Dr Miskolczi has thus shown us why at present a runaway greenhouse effect is physically impossible. One could add that there might have been something like a runaway greenhouse event at the time of the origins of the oceans, billions of years ago, but that it ran its course and brought us to where we are now, and has nowhere further to take us.
We have been fortunate in Australia in the past few weeks to have had a visit by Dr Miklos Zagoni, an expert on Miskolczi’s discovery, and this has been a valuable educational opportunity for us.
Even the grand master of maximum entropy theory, the mighty Edwin Thompson Jaynes himself, did not reach the principle of maximum rate of entropy production. Professor Paltridge did not quite hit the nail on the head first time. His 1975 paper did not even suggest maximum rate of entropy production. Indeed even in 2001 he doubted it. The principle of maximum rate of entropy production is still only on the path to textbook status; it is a new principle. The path is made of stepping stones.
Dr Miskolczi presented his studies of the climatically saturated greenhouse effect as an empirical analysis with theoretical consequences that he demonstrated, but his publications include also various loose analogies, and his studies need theoretical development. At present Dr Miskolczi is working further on his discovery, and we may look forward to more publications from him. I see the way forward not as hammering and cracking the stepping stones on the path, but as constructing the road itself. To predict the climate, we need to improve our understanding of physics. There is plenty more there to understand.
Christopher Game lives in Melbourne, Australia.
L.M. Martyushev, V.D. Seleznev (2006) Maximum entropy production principle in physics, chemistry and biology, Physics Reports 426: 1-45.
F.M. Miskolczi (2007) Greenhouse effect in semi-transparent atmospheres, Quarterly Journal of the Hungarian Meteorological Society 111(1): 1-40.
F.M. Miskolczi, M.G. Mlynczak (2004) The greenhouse effect and the spectral decomposition of the clear-sky terrestrial radiation, Quarterly Journal of the Hungarian Meteorological Society 108(4): 209-251.
G.W. Paltridge (1975) Global dynamics and climate − a system of minimum entropy exchange, Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society 101: 475-484.
G.W. Paltridge (1978) The steady-state format of global climate, Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society 104: 927-945.
G.W. Paltridge (2001) A physical basis for a maximum of thermodynamic dissipation of the climate system, Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society 127: 305-313.
H. Riehl, J.S. Malkus (1958) On the heat balance in the equatorial zone, Geophysica 6:503-538.
G.C. Simpson (1928) Further studies in terrestrial radiation, Memoirs of the Royal Meteorological Society, 3(21): 1-26.
H. Ziegler (1961) Zwei Extremalprinzipien der irreversiblen Thermodynamik, Ingenieur-Archiv 30: 410-416.
This is part 2 of ‘The Work of Ference Miskolczi’, Part 1 of this series is here: http://jennifermarohasy.com/blog/2009/05/the-work-of-ferenc-miskolczi-part-1/