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Last Update: 02.12.10

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Welcome to the Questions and Answers page of Central Coast Climate Science Education. I will attempt to answer questions asked of me or emailed to ray.climate (@ sign) charter.net. Questions will be posted anonymously but may be edited for brevity, extraneous material or inappropriate language. Abusive email will be deleted and ignored. The questions and answers will remain on this page for 30 days and then will be moved to a Q&A Archive page.

Question No. 1, Received February 8, 2010

Your discussions on the first law are not complete. As I understand it you are modeling the earth atmosphere, and you need to account for all energy flows into it. I do not see any indication of heat transferred by geothermal inputs, such as geysers, molten lava and hot springs. These flows cause convective heat transfer into air and water bodies. I have read of some speculation about this kind of heating under the Antarctic ice, deep pacific rifts, Hawaiian lava flows into the ocean and Sulfur water in downtown Paso Robles.

You should also have mass transport into and out of the atmosphere. For example, water and CO2 form carbonic acid to remove CO2. Furthermore, plants remove and add gases such as Oxygen and CO2. The problem is how much of the water and CO2 are from man vs. natural sources: Burning hydrocarbons vs. respiration.

Sunspots are said to be important to keep the earth temperature warm. If we didn't have them the earth would be much colder. The total number of sunspots in the twentieth century is much higher than the previous two hundred years!  The sun's influence is rejected because model writers cannot reproduce the heating that is predicted by earth temperature models. Maybe both models are wrong and the sun is right!

Answer to Question No. 1, February 11, 2010

... [no] ... indication of heat transferred by geothermal inputs ...

The questioner is correct that I did not mention geothermal input in Lesson 1 of the Tutorials. The heat input involved is about 1/4000 of that received from the Sun and was therefore not mentioned. This heat comes from the decay of radioactive elements in the Earth. The shielding effect of sunlight from volcanic eruptions, as described in Lesson 2, is far more important than the direct geothermal heat input. Of course locally, if one is sitting in a bubbling hot springs it may seem significant but on a global scale it is not.

... mass transport into and out of the atmosphere.

This is irrelevant to the total energy balance of the entire Earth which was the topic in Lesson 1. The "carbon cycle" --- how carbon circulates through the Earth's various components -- minerals, CO2 in the atmosphere, biomass, carbonic acid in the ocean, etc. --- is an important part of climate science. I will later post a discussion of this as one of the lessons in the Tutorials. Suffice it to say here, that just as the Earth's climate system is out of energy balance, it is out of 'carbon balance'. Various processes on both land and ocean release and absorb CO2 to and from the atmosphere. However, only about 50% of the amount of CO2 produced by human burning of fossil fuels is being absorbed by the ocean and land biomass --- the rest is building up the CO2 in the atmosphere. There is no dispute about this, since the accumulation of CO2 is directly measured and is now higher than it has been for at least 650,000 years:

... Sunspots are said to be important ...

Sunspots are areas on the Sun of strong magnetic fields which divert some energy outside sunspot areas. During times of abundant sunspots the Sun is actually slightly brighter (by just one part in about 1400!) compared to times of no sunspots. Precise observations of the average energy output of the Sun over the last 35 years show no change. Indirect measures suggest that the Sun was fainter during the 'little ice age' around 1650-1800. The questioner is incorrect in stating that "models ...cannot reproduce the heating that is [observed]" in the temperature records of the last several decades. In fact, they did predict the average temperature increase which has been observed.

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