The greenhouse effect is not the effect that warms greenhouses

Every now and again, people get a little bit confused when they realise that the thing we all call the "greenhouse effect" is not the mechanism that warms greenhouses. This is nothing new; R. W. Wood: Note on the Theory of the Greenhouse pointed it out in 1909. The wikipedia [[Greenhouse effect]] page states this explicitly (because I added it. I had a very long edit war with some bozo who didn't believe it). Sometimes septics - or simply the badly confused - get very excited, because they think it tells you something useful about the actual greenhouse effect - usually, they think it proves it doesn't exist. Of course, it tells you nothing useful about the physics of the greenhouse effect - this is simply a nomenclature issue. To re-use some old text: this is like asserting that the US political party called the "Democrats" must be, um, democratic; and their opponents anti-demoncrats, smimply based on names.

The latest froth around this is BREAKING NEWS: Greenhouse Gas Theory Trashed in Groundbreaking Lab Experiment by John O'Sullivan, guest post at Climate Realists which claims that "Nahle Nails Shut Climate Scare Coffin". The poor old climate-scare-coffin has had so many "last nails" put into it over the years (if you believe folks like these) that you'd think there was no Wood left.

The source of the froth appears to be Experiment on the Cause of Real Greenhouses' Effect - Repeatability of Prof. Robert W. Wood's experiment who confirms that - err, yes, exactly what we knew already. Wood's experiment is repeatable. Nahle himself makes none of the frothy claims, as far as I can tell [I'm wrong: see below]: all he says is, I reproduced Wood's exp, and it worked. His failure, I think, is in not doing his back ground reading; perhaps this post will help him.

I wonder if any of the usual-suspect septic folk will be dump enough to fall for this?

[Update: I gave Nahle too much credit. He doesn't claim that the (atmospheric) GHE doesn't exist in the initial page or abstract, but he does claim it in his "sixth experiment" in the detailed PDF. This is fairly wacky: if you're going to discover something as exciting as this, you'd put it into your abstract (unless you were hoping to sneak your paper past inattentive reviewers, that is).

So, he says:

The Greenhouse Effect hypothesis is founded in the argument that the atmosphere inhibits the direct outcome of longwave infrared radiation from the surface to the outer space... The hypothesis says that a great part of the solar shortwave radiation incoming from the Sun penetrates the Earth's atmosphere and strikes on the surface -land and oceans- heating it up. As the solar shortwave and longwave infrared radiation is absorbed by the surface, the latter starts radiating longwave infrared radiation that is effectively absorbed by the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, stored by them and reradiated towards the surface heating it up more and more.

The principle adduced by the greenhouse effect promoters is based on the idea that, in a real greenhouse, the glass panels permit the solar shortwave irradiance to penetrate into the enclosure but does not permit the longwave emitted by the inner surfaces of the enclosed space to go out.

Note the total non-sequitur in the second paragraph. The (atmospheric) GHE does not depend in any way on what happens in a glass greenhouse. Nahle is just one of the many people confused by names. Hopefully he'll read this post, and be enlightened (he has already commented on, but clearly not read, this post).

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When you are in a not good position and have got no money to go out from that, you will need to take the loans. Just because that would help you unquestionably. I get college loan every single year and feel fine because of that.

To accomplish the essay thesis about this post isnât very easy but you cope with that. When any writer is like, we would never have problems with the dissertation.

I see you didn't read the whole article, as I recommended. My conclusion from the results is that the greenhouse effect doesn't exist.

[Ah, then you're hopelessly wrong I'm afraid. I will now read the whole thing and see where you slip from names to reality.

Oh, that was easy. Its in your "sixth experiment" that you go totally wonky. I'll update my post -W]

Re. 2 Nasif Nahle

Where can your data be downloaded from?

Ah, good, it would have been terribly boring if Nahle were being misunderstood. That he's also a nut is much more entertaining.

[Sadly yes. I've updated the post -W]

@J Bowers: tee hee.

@J Bowers: Data? We want the code!

By Rattus Norvegicus (not verified) on 19 Jul 2011 #permalink

Re. 2 Nasif Nahle

Where can your data and code be downloaded from?

[Aie, no, don't. Follow the links to the already tediously painfully long PDF. It is like reading someone's O-level project -W]

But how else is McIntyre supposed to audit it?

This is fairly wacky: if you're going to discover something as exciting as this, you'd put it into your abstract (unless you were hoping to sneak your paper past inattentive reviewers, that is).

Well, if one wants to sneak a paper past reviewers, it would probably be better not to use a single sentence abstract which essentially boils down to "here I show things that have been known for over a century". Though Nahle appears to have taken the second, much more effective route of sneaking it past reviewers by not actually showing it to any, and just sticking it on his website instead. Good move.

I didn't click on any of the links, but did a paper that simply reproduced a result from 1909 really get past review? Would be really sad if it did.

By Nathan Johnson (not verified) on 19 Jul 2011 #permalink

Probably not a coincidence that "Climate Realists" is re-hawking Klaus Ermecke's "Rescue from the Climate Saviors" booklet just today. It's a really hilarious collection of Wood greenhouse misunderstanding, Gerlich&Tscheuschner, and even some Ernst-Georg Beck :)


By Peter Hartmann (not verified) on 19 Jul 2011 #permalink

Nahle has been around for years now, I'm surprised you haven't come across him before. He hasn't changed one bit, and is just as ignorant now of anything to do with global warming now as he was back then.

Nahle's background is biology, though he sure claims a lot of other improbable degrees as well. In 1975, within a few days he allegedly received a "1. MATHEMATICS: Degree on January 14, 1975, EARTH'S SCIENCES: Meteorology, Climatology, Geology, Dynamic Geology, Geomorphology, Geophysics, Pedology (Soils Science) and Hydrology, Biogeography, Paleobiology. Certified on January 12, 1975... 6. History of the Biological Doctrines. Degree on January 12, 1975". Then, only two years later, he claims "3. PHYSICS: Degree on July 4, 1977. 5. Biotic Resources. Degree on July 4, 1977.". He was a very busy little scholar, allegedly.
On the other hand, this page claims he has a B.S. in biology and has "completed an MS level of work at Harvard School of Medicine on complementary, alternative, and integrative medical research" but doesn't mention the other alleged degrees. Maybe by "degree" he meant "course"; I don't know. Either way, I think we can chalk this up as another shining example of D-K syndrome, one that because of the power of the internet can spread quickly in "skeptic" circles.

By Robert Murphy (not verified) on 20 Jul 2011 #permalink

@Gareth, by coincidence, I just came across your comment #11. That's interesting! What exactly is your interpretation of Wood's experiment? And what are your objections regarding Gerlich/Tscheuschner and Beck?

[Beck is an idiot. Eli ripped him to shreds long ago:…

G+T area also bozos:…


Let's see jow much you are up to it!

Just courious!

Best regards

Klaus Ermecke
KE Research

The Greenhouse metaphor is a great science metaphor. I am not sure where we would be without them.

What makes it a great maetaphor but a lousy analogy is that the world and its atmosphere are clearly not at all like a greenhouse. Metaphors can withstand or even thrive on being blantantly ridiculous.

Magnetism has its "lines of force".
Light has its "waves".
Physics has its "fields".
Live has its "tree".
Nature has its "web".
Particles have interactions they can "feel".

There may be little in science immune from disproof by metaphoricide.


By Alexander Harvey (not verified) on 20 Jul 2011 #permalink

Does anyone really believe Nitrogen and Oxygen do not absorb thermal energy and increase in temperature ? If they do then by the laws of physics they will also radiate energy. If so then they are "greenhouse gases" as they absorb energy and increase the atmospheric temperaure and radiate infra-red energy.

[Its Quantum Mechanics guv - that will allow you to work it out. Otherwise you'll have to read the book. Diatomic molecules don't absorb at the relevant wavelengths, because they lack the appropriate motions. Bart has an explanation.

But more than that - stop and think. You don't know this stuff. You don't know why diatomic gases behave differently, radiatively, to triatomic. But instead of making you curious and cautious, it makes you push your own - wrong - views. Are you able to pause for a moment and think about that? -W]

Or does anyone really believe that radiation is the ONLY mechanism of transferring thermal ebergy ?

You can prove to yourself radiation is a poor means of energy transfer. Put your hand near, say, a bar radiator - if you can still buy one - but not above it because the heating effect will be much more because of convection.

Now I recommend you just think about this not do it - but you can certainly detect the warmth from radiation but if you touch it you'll note the transfer of energy is many orders of magnitude greater and you'll suffer burns.

This demonstrates that, although a less efficient method of energy transfer than convection, conduction is more direct means of energy transfer than radiation and cannot be ignored when trying to account for energy transfer mechanisms in the environment.

So the earth is heated by incoming solar radiation, about 30% is reflected away by the albedo, about 20% directly absorbed by the atmosphere (yes there are absorption bands for atmospheric gases in the spectra of solar radiation including oxygen, ozone, water vapour and even carbon dioxide) and about 50% heats the earth surfaces - land and water.

The atmosphere is heated by all three means known to science - convection, conduction and radiation.

Now the majority of the atmosphere may be transparent to the infra-red radiation but so what ?

The vast bulk of the atmosphere IS heated and does emit infra-red radiation. It is heated by conduction by contact with the surface and other heated gases and by rapid convection from the surface. Water absorbs loads of energy through evaporation and is rapidly swept from the tropics towards the poles carrying warmth in the form of latenet heat which energy is released when the vapour condenses in the upper atmosphere during precipitation.

If radiation is a major (only according to "greenhouse effect" proponents) then why is it that we rely on convection and conduction in real life ??

Our vehicle motors are cooled by conduction and convection -not radiation because it takes so long to dissipate energy the other effects have already done the job.

The most efficient ovens and heaters employ conduction and convection rather than relying on radiation - fan forced ovens and heaters have all but replaced radiation only models because they work better.

Ever seen the effect of "shimmering" air over hot bitumen ? Are you seeing infra-red ? Of course not - what you are seeing is the air being heated rapidly and rising away from the heat so fast that the random motion of the air diffracts the light randomly and the effect becomes visible.

So if Nitrogen, Oxygen and Water Vapour can absorb thermal energy and undergo temperature changes AND radiate infra-red AND together comprise almost 100% of the atmosphere why should I give a toss obout trace gases which absorb a tiny fraction of infra-red ? Especially when this infra-red CANNOT heat up 97% of the atmosphere because it is transparent to it.

The tiny effect on the water vapour is insignificant compared to the latent heat which is some 2500 times the specific heat of Carbon dioxide.

Almost finally, thermodynamics says that energy will not flow from a cold object to a warm object unless work is performed on the system - thus refrigeration is possible.

What precisely perform the work necessary in the so-called greenhouse effect ?

Nearly there - why are other planets in the solar system showing warming trends along with the one on earth ?

And, Venus's temperature can easily be explaind by 2 simple verifiable explanations:-
1. It is closer to the Sun so receives more radiation.
2. Venus's atmosphere causes a surface pressure some 90 times more than Earth's and this pressure easily accounts for the massive temperature (and don't react like some idiot I saw blogging how he "must have been away from school the day the relationship between mass and temperature was explained) because we all know about pressure/volume/temperature gas driven machines and the relationship between the three.

Finally - the very fundamental basis of "greenhouse theory" is wrong. The incoming solar radiation the proponents use to determine Earth's "blackbody" maximum temperature is wrong. Firstly Earth does not respond like a blackbody. Secondly can someone please explain how the fact that the Earth is a spinning sphere justify the reduction of insolation used in calculations to one quarter ?

The Earth is a dynamic system nothing like the flat disk illuminated by one quarter solar radiation the "greenhouse" proponents would have you believe.

This alone should bury this ridiculous notion.

By Ross McLeod (not verified) on 20 Jul 2011 #permalink

Ross Mcleod - what is your evidence of warming on other planets in the solar system?
Secondly - do you know what the path length of IR radiation is within the atmosphere?

Everyone's a Galileo these days.

So, Ross, have you got some *peer reviewed* publications to back up that theory of yours? Since the fundamentals of the "greenhouse theory" have been around for over 100 years and since 1000s of climate scientists and major scientific organizations around the world feel the theory and its empirical support are pretty solid, how do you feel about that?

The tone of your writing suggests you're pretty confident. I wonder whether William's brief comment about the quantum mechanics of triatomic molecules has shaken that confidence.


You're starting this at the wrong point. Let's forget about mechanisms for now. Earth can be a dynamic mechanism and water absorbs lots of energy and all that.

Right now, Earth is a black box. Things come in, things go out, we don't care what happens in between. What enters the Earth's atmosphere? Solar radiation, with some random comets and the like. What leaves Earth's atmosphere? Radiation, and some light gases.

From this alone we can tell that radiation is the only relevant way for the Earth (as a system) to gain or lose energy. You can't conduct and convect through empty space. As the energy balance changes and reaches a new equilibrium point, the Earth absorbs or loses that energy somehow, largely through temperature changes.

Re: #17
Yes its quantum mechanics (broken symmetry) but so are most things (e.g. why does your chair does not fall through the floor?). But the main effect of the quantisation is to make the excited levels discrete and to enable accurate calculations.

It is possible to understand it roughly without Q.M. In the 19th. century they already understood that heat was a mode of motion and that an electromagnetic field carries an oscillating electric field E. Ignore the magnetic field.

Application of a static E field to an oxygen molecule has no effect, by symmetry, even if it is has been stretched by a vibration. The same is true for an oscillating E field.

A vibrating tri-atomic molecule can vibrate asymmetrically. The E field can now drive the positive and negative charges in opposite directions enhancing the vibration at the expense of the energy of the field. I don't know whether Arrhenius would have known this.

By Geoff Wexler (not verified) on 21 Jul 2011 #permalink

Re : my last comment.
It applied only to infra-red. The interaction of daylight with gases is another topic which involves the promotion of electrons rather than the vibration or rotation of atoms inside molecules. Symmetry works quite differently in that case. I can't see how to discuss that without Q.M.

By Geoff Wexler (not verified) on 21 Jul 2011 #permalink

> pressure some 90 times more than Earth's ...
> easily accounts for the massive temperature

That would explain why the sea is boiling hot at the bottom, where the pressure is so great. Glad that's settled.

And as to the next line, whether pigs have wings?

The Crumbling Pillars of Climate Change | The Resilient Earth ⺠Blogs ⺠Doug L. Hoffman's blog -
Jan 17, 2010 â My name is Ross McLeod and I stand ready to be proven wrong. ... Yeah right - hey that flying pig defecated on me ! ...

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 21 Jul 2011 #permalink

Re : my last comment.
It applied only to infra-red. The interaction of daylight with gases is another topic which involves the promotion of electrons. The energy levels are now further apart, and it is hard to see how to avoid Q.M.

By Geoff Wexler (not verified) on 21 Jul 2011 #permalink

Secondly can someone please explain how the fact that the Earth is a spinning sphere justify the reduction of insolation used in calculations to one quarter ?

Is all of Earth sunlit at maximum intensity all of the time? Think about the surface area of a sphere in relation to the area of its shadow. That should answer your question.

By Richard Simons (not verified) on 21 Jul 2011 #permalink

Note to William: All responses to #17 are to be expunged per Rule 5.

[Like this one ;-? -W]

By Tony Pancake (not verified) on 21 Jul 2011 #permalink

Posted by: Hank Roberts | July 21, 2011 11:51 AM

That would explain why the sea is boiling hot at the bottom, where the pressure is so great. Glad that's settled.

Time for you to to go back to school.

Water is an incompressible liquid so it is not heated by increasing pressure

The Ideal Gas Law PV=nRT states that if you increase the pressure of a gas it must become hotter. Note scientific "Laws" are irrefutable.

The atmosphere cools as the pressure reduces with increasing altitude - adiabatic lapse.

[You're wrong. Not about PV=nRT of course - that is, as you say, a law (or, nearly. Its only valid for ideal gases, of which there are none). But more importantly, all that says is that if you compress a gas, it will get hotter. It doesn't tell you that a rarefied gas must inevitably be colder. Which is good news, because above the tropopause the atmosphere starts getting hotter with altitude, not colder, despite getting more rarefied. This shows you that your simplistic approach is wrong. I won't spoil your fun by telling you why - do you care to try to find out? -W]

By bananabender (not verified) on 24 Jul 2011 #permalink

Dear William,

It's not a matter of confusion. Please read conclusions of the sixth experiment. I wrote the following:

"...demonstrate that the hypothesis of the âgreenhouse effectâ [b]due to longwave radiation trapped[/b] by the atmosphere is false."

That is exactly what Prof. Wood demonstrated and Prof. Pratt contradicted.

[No. Sorry, you're still not reading what I've written, or thinking. What you've demonstrated -well, what Wood demonstrated, and you've pointlessly replicated - is that "real" greenhouses are not heated by trapping LW radiation - ie, they are not heated by the so-called Greenhouse Effect. But the point you are missing is that this has no bearing whatsoever on the physics of atmospheric radiation. None at all. You don't seem to be able to get past the simple confusion of names -W]

I know that AGW has changed in the last months to the idea of a backradiation from a cooler system warming up a warmer system.

[Ah, more confusion. Yes, the (comparatively cool) sky does indeed "backradiate" as you put it. If you don't understand the basic physics (as many seem to struggle with it) then Science of Doom has some posts explaining it.

But I can make it very simple for you: because the sky is at non-zero temperature, the earth is heated by two sources: the sun and the sky. Therefore, it is warmer than if heated only by the sun. Easy, eh? -W]

I'm conducting an experiment to verify or falsify those assertions. I have not a purpose on mind because I must be absolutely objective and impartial. If I find the warming by backradiation is true, I will report it with enough clarity in my conclusions. If I find it is false, I will report it in my conclusions.

[The experiments have already been done, though they are of course pointless, because we know the answer from theory. Perhaps you'll listen to one of "your side" (I know you're pretending not to be on a "side", but no-one believes you). Try "Dr" Roy Spencer (not someone I'd normally recommend, but there at least he is on home turf) -W]

All the best,


@Robert Williams...

I don't know if you're a scientist and it doesn't matter. Your argument is ad hominem and you don't know the minimal part of my degrees, certifications, etc., which doesn't matter either.

The experiment demonstrates the GHE by longwave IR "trapped" by GHG doesn't exist and you must come with valid scientific arguments, not looking if I was trained as a scientist or not.

The only way to refute my experiment and the experiments of all scientists like me is through repeating them. Repeat the experiment and come with different results, if you find them. Otherwise, yours is nonsense. :)

[There is no need to refute your experiments, because your experimental results are correct. What is wrong is the conclusions you draw, which arise from a simple confusion of names -W]

"you don't know the minimal part of my degrees, certifications, etc., which doesn't matter either."

That's good, because most of your assumed degrees are crap.
You don't have anywhere near the background you claim. Most likely you have a B.S. in biology, as this page claims

By Robert Murphy (not verified) on 30 Jul 2011 #permalink

Re. 32 David Appell

"I have submitted the analysis in a letter to "Physics Today" (on February 7, 2011), but have gotten no response."

He should try The Fortean Times.

> someone with at least a modicum of scientific training

Who says he is the "discoverer of the astounding world design behind all the ancient mysteries."

He may have _had_ "a modicum of scientific training" but it doesn't seem to have stuck.