Serious Error of Physics in Recent GRL paper Loeb et al on Earth’s ‘unprecedented heat retention’

Submitted to Geophysical Research Letters, 6/21/21.  Published here at the request of the author.

Howard C. Hayden1

1Prof. Emeritus of Physics, UConn, now in Pueblo West, Colorado

1.         Introduction

A recent GRL paper by Loeb et al [1] contains a serious error in physics that is compounded by some extreme exaggerations to the press and in another GRL paper [2].

2.         Basic Physics

With frequent but small, ephemeral exceptions, the radiant heat that a planet emits to outer space equals the heat absorbed from the sun.  Indeed, this is true for Earth within 0.3 percent [1].  For Earth, the incoming/outgoing heat rate amounts to about 240 W/m2, averaged over the surface; for Venus, owing to its high 76% albedo, only 156 W/m2

The surface of the planet emits IR according to the Stefan-Boltzmann radiation law.  The surface of Earth at 288 K emits 390 W/m2, some 150 W/m2 more than the earth emits to space.  That 150 W/m2 of heat retention is the cause of the 33 ºC temperature rise over the non-GHG Earth with the same albedo.  Venus at 737 K emits 16,730 W/m2 from its surface, but only 156 W/m2 into space.  The 16,574 W/m2 difference, due to the composition of the extremely dense atmosphere of Venus is what determines the climate of Venus: 511 ºC hotter than the hypothetical Venus with the same albedo but no greenhouse effect.

2.1       The Error in Physics

The serious scientific error of Loeb and colleagues is contained in this sentence, quoted verbatim:

“Climate is determined by how much of the sun’s energy the Earth absorbs and how much energy Earth sheds through emission of thermal infrared radiation.”

Climate is determined by the very large difference between surface radiation and planet radiation, and is most assuredly not determined by minor positive and negative imbalances between absorbed solar energy and radiated IR.

2.2       Unjustified Assertion

Mr Loeb is quoted in numerous news articles (Washington Post, CNN, and others) as saying, based on about 15 years of CERES data, that the minor disequilibria between incoming and outgoing heat fluxes is “unprecedented.” The same claim is made in the title of a GRL article by Mr. Loeb [2].  Perhaps he can provide us with data from the last 4.6 billion years of Earth’s history to back up that claim.

[1]   Norman G. Loeb, Gregory C. Johnson, Tyler J. Thorsen, John M. Lyman, Fred G. Rose, and Seiji Kato, “Satellite and Ocean Data Reveal Marked Increase in Earth’s Heating Rate, Geophysical Research Letters, https://doi.org/10.1029/2021GL093047 [2]        Loeb, N. G., H. Wang, R. P. Allan, T. Andrews, K. Armour, J. N. S. Cole, et al., 2020: New generation of climate models track recent unprecedented changes in Earth’s radiation budget observed by CERES. Geophys. Res. Lett., 47, e2019GL086705. doi:10.1029/2019GL086705, ci

This article appeared on the Watts Up With That? website at https://wattsupwiththat.com/2021/06/22/serious-error-of-physics-in-recent-grl-paper-loeb-et-al-on-earths-unprecedented-heat-retention/


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