Clouds. & IPCC logic.

CLOUDS & IPCC logic,

A discussion paper.

Alasdair Fairbairn March 2019


This is little more than a discussion paper, laced with facts, questions, challenges and suppositions; but avoiding the science where possible.    Read it at your peril.

As for the facts; it is up to you to check their purported validity. I will not spoon feed you.

One important fact you do need to keep in mind, however, is that the IPCC is “The INTERGOVERNMENTAL panel on climate change” and is thus by definition a POLITICAL entity. The science thus being subsidiary to its political aims.

As for the questions; it is up to you to answer them.

As for the suppositions; perhaps you may wish to develop them. Who knows?


You only have to read the IPCC section on clouds and water vapor to realise that it has a problem. Not only does it have grossly inadequate measurement of their behaviour; but it has little understanding of their complexity and the way they react to the various energy fluxes involved in the making of what we observe.

Water is a remarkable substance, in some ways unique and has many tricks up its sleeve to confound the scientist that ignores this. Most believe that 70% of the earth’s surface is water; but in fact, when one considers the interface between water and the environment the area is probably much greater than the actual surface of the planet. Just count the leaves on a single tree and extrapolate to realise how ubiquitous water is. No sweat!

Let us have a look at its influence on climate temperature, from a back to basics perspective.

First look up its properties and you will find that it has very high Latent Heats of both evaporation and fusion. It expands on freezing and this process starts around 4 deg C and below. In the gaseous phase (vapor) it is lighter than dry air and it commences phase change based on the absolute and partial pressure of the surroundings which determines the temperature; often denoted by the Dew point.

Additionally it is a ‘greenhouse gas’ molecule which absorbs insolation over a wide band width. Overall it occupies about 4% of the atmosphere; but this is very variable both in time and location. It is however also present at the water/ atmosphere interface in plants and animals etc. over an area well in excess of the basic area of the earth itself.

It’s properties as a solvent and in chemical processes will be ignored here; but perhaps at my peril!  Albeit very important in the overall scene.

Considering each of these properties in turn we may start with the temperature which is determined by pressure. This due to the gas laws essentially as:          P*V =M*R*T. ( P as Pressure. V as Volume. M as Mass. R as universal gas constant. And T as Temperature.)

This being the equation by which the temperature Lapse Rate and pressure are calculated against altitude with the sea level values providing the calibration element. However, with all such equations it comes with constraints. The main one being that of “Ceteris Paribus” namely all things being equal, which requires the atmospheric column to be static and free of outside disturbances and the gases involved being perfect.  Hardly reality.

Given this then the sea level pressure is directly determined by gravity which, while not being entirely constant can be deemed so in the context of the climate.

The physical route from this gravity constant to the temperature at which phase change takes place in water is somewhat complex; but the result may be found in the many charts and tables available relating to the steam process, from which it may be deduced that there is an inherent stability in the system, evidenced by the remarkable consistency of global temperatures over thousands of years with variations of little more than 2 to 3% on the Kelvin scale.

It is a matter which needs discussion and further thought; particularly as Global Temperature is more of a concept than a physical reality. The same consistency may also be found in the ocean temperatures whereby these never get much above 30 deg C except in specific locations.

Back to earth we do have one solid bit of evidence here in that a kettle at sea level boils at 100 deg C no matter how much heat it is receiving. This being a specific point on the trace of temperatures relating to pressure where the vapor pressure equals the absolute pressure.  A further trace may be made relating to the partial to absolute pressure ratio which needs to be superimposed if an actual temperature is required.

The statistical and data collection processes involved in arriving at a perceived mean Global Temperature are fraught with problems which lead to conclusions which are conceptual in nature rather than being valid scientific facts. This being a matter of hot debate. However, if you simplistically just take an average figure on this temperature graph you wind up with a figure around 15 C which hops around as the climate wobbles.

Next let us consider the Latent Heat aspect.

At phase change the energy absorbed by the water molecule is utilised in altering the structure of the molecule and occurs at CONSTANT temperature.

This energy is termed Latent Heat and has a value of: 2.500 x 10^6 J*kg^-1. @ 273K. This is roughly 680 WattHrs per Kilogram. varying slightly with circumstance.

In an atmosphere situation absorbed energy comprises both insolation and upwelling radiation (+other) with the resulting water molecular radiation remaining CONSTANT due to the constant temperature. The prime result being that the water molecule expands and becomes less dense than the dry air molecules surrounding it. It thus becomes buoyant and produces an upwards force to counteract that of gravity. Once movement occurs energy is involved and this is provided by the Latent Heat which in engineering terms the process is described as “Work”.

In the simplest of situation (ceteris paribus) once the Latent Heat is used up the molecule reverts back to liquid and would thus commence to fall.

Where the climate/weather is concerned we have this continuous and ubiquitous process prevailing all of the time and in all manner of circumstances; be it in the atmosphere or in the sweat glands of an overheated scientist.

For instance I hear tell that there is a black beetle living in the dunes on the west coast of Africa which stands on its head, orientated to both the sun and the wind so that condensation occurs on its back and runs down to its mouth. This in spite of the very low humidities involved. Clever stuff for this beetle but with the downside that it gets gobbled up by its predators for the water involved. Never mind flapping butterfly wings, this really is a climate matter.

Now all this leads us to the basic science at the Planck level, in that the Planck Equation which relates energy flux to temperature as: dF = K*dT (where d is delta or “change in” and  F & T are flux & Temperature.)

“K” is the coefficient which contains the devil of the detail and is referred to in the climate debate as “Climate Sensitivity” and this is the equation that the IPCC uses to convert the RF (Radiative Forcing) into a temperature equivalent.

From the phase change analysis above specifically for water we have a process which occurs at constant temperature; so this leads us to conclude that the Planck coefficient “K” must be zero in this process.(or tend to zero).

Hence I conclude that this fact needs to be incorporated into any modelling process seeking to mimic the climate intricacies. Somehow I doubt that this is happening which provides an explanation as to why the models are over estimating the Climate Sensitivity value.

However, as an individual, I have no evidence to back up this submission and therefore leave it open to discussion.

Moving on to the question of buoyancy:

We have touched upon this; but should explain that this buoyancy stems from the molecular weights of the respective gases involved with H2O having a weight of 18 g/mol and air having a combined weight of 29 g/mol derived from the periodic tables.

The result of this is that vapor moves up through the atmosphere (ceteris paribus) irrespective of radiation processes, carrying with it its inherent Latent Heat which gets consumed in the process; but with the proviso that the vapor is still absorbing radiation etc. during its rise. This leads to a very complex set of balancing activities, particularly where the balance between liquid/ice and vapor is concerned. This process of rising should NOT be confused with convection; as no temperature differential is involved. An error often found in many climate papers where the two get conflated.

Needless to say the evidence for this may be observed in the behaviour of clouds where the elevation, visibility, composition and movement reflect what is happening all in a turmoil of activity.

It is not surprising therefore that the IPCC is a bit nonplussed by it all due to its obsession with CO2 and radiation matters which are not capable of explaining what is actually happening in the clouds. After all radiation is merely the means by which energy is transmitted. What matters is what happens when the energy arrives and how it is manifested. Manifested by “enthalpy”, the engineers term for all manners of energy.

Overall we have large energies being transported up through the atmosphere and beyond driven by this simple matter of buoyancy; but without generating any extra heat or energy by additional radiation. A process detached from radiation.

Of particular interest here is the behaviour of the Cirrus clouds which live high up nudging the tropopause. These comprise ice crystals at some -50 deg C and what is more they are growing dendritically and this means that the net radiation balance must be negative where more radiation escapes upwards towards space than is received.

Thus, stepping back we are observing these large energies being moved upwards alongside any radiation and cutting through any CO2 molecules on the way. The greater the altitude the fewer the CO2 molecules.

So this all  opens up a fundamental question: Why does the IPCC consider water vapor enhances the Greenhouse Effect?.

It is well known that water vapor is a greenhouse gas and absorbs radiation across a wide band; so perhaps it is this that generates the above assumption, backed by calculation. However the assumption neglects to include the properties of water as described above where in reality water reacts strongly negatively to the Greenhouse Effect (GHE) and also to any other increase in energy input, say, such as an increase in solar radiation. ( see *** under IPCC logic later for an explanation for this) It has a strong propensity to act thermostatically to control a more or less constant temperature give or take the leads and lags etc. The constant temperature being in the case of Earth, determined by gravity at around 15 deg C. (conceptually)

The evidence for this is quite apparent back at sea level where kettles universally boil at 100 deg C no matter how much heat is supplied. It is also observed in steam generating plants which run at constant temperature albeit with variable power input and output energies.

It is thus my opinion that providing the Earth’s gravity and orbital situation remains constant there is negligible chance of any runaway global warming happening while plenty of water is available.

However, if there be a reduction in energy available, such as a drop in insolation or by volcanic emission of aerosols; then water is not very good at redressing the balance since it has the propensity to freeze and generate large areas of high albedo which tends to exacerbate the cold conditions. Perhaps this being why there are long periods in history involving ice ages.

The Rankine Cycle:

Bringing all this together we have the concept of the Hydrocycle as an atmospheric Rankine Cycle. Below is a schematic representation of this in comparison with an earth bound simple steam plant operation.

Figure 1

Most of this is self evident except, for some, the equivalence between “the piston” and the “Rising against gravity”, where work is done in lifting the weight of water against gravity, just as a piston connected to a pump does. The result is obvious when one considers the work involved in lifting tonnes of water up into the clouds.

The main difference between the steam plant and the atmospheric cycle is that whereas the former has fixed items where the process takes place sequentially the atmospheric processes merge together throughout the cycle. For instance the fixed boiler equivalent in the atmosphere can operate throughout the cycle by radiation as the water rises or falls, thus giving a very complex situation in the turmoil of the clouds.

An aside:

There is another way of looking at the Hydrocycle if you have a tendency for lateral thinking and that is that the process can be likened to a big coffee percolator in the sky.

Heat drives the water up the tube in the middle (The tropics?) where it emerges at the top to be condensed on the cold surface above (space?) hence falling back through the coffee grains (the atmosphere?) picking up the taste (energy?) on the way down ready for recycling.

Best not go further into this; but maybe an intriguing concept. Add in a bit of wind, rotation and a round ball etc. and it could get quite interesting.

So much for looking at water with all its quirks . All that is asked here is that having read the above, the next time you look at that fluffy little cloud up there against the background of the sun you think upon the turmoils of large energies fighting for ascendency hidden behind the apparent calm as it floats by in a gentle wind.

Here are a few examples perhaps in support:

The following is not evidence; merely observations which could indicate support for the above.

  1. Have a look at a Lenticular cloud. This sits on the top of a mountain, apparently static; but you wonder why the wind doesn’t blow it away.  The answer is above. At the windward edge condensation occurs and the invisible vapor becomes visible liquid. At the leeward edge the reverse happens and the cloud disappears. Meanwhile the wind blows through it. This happens all the time but vertically in the clouds where condensation occurs at the lower edge, the sun burns off the droplets at the top and the invisible vapor, with its energy and buoyancy,  blows through on its way to the Tropopause.

  2. Have a look at those massive anvil shaped cumulus clouds with flat tops.  At the top full insolation evaporates the liquid which then moves upwards. Below, in the shadows this doesn’t happen so hence the cloud. Below that it could be that rain starts as the Latent Heat has been used up.

  3. This is conjecture:  At a particular altitude ice is formed and this alters the thermodynamics as the Latent Heat factor reduces. The local pressures, volumes etc remain the same as do the principles. I have little idea of how this is reflected in atmospheric measurements. (Can anyone advise on this? I suspect there must be a kink in the graph here.)

  4. Cirrus clouds are essentially ice crystals. These grow dendritically and so radiate energy upwards towards space, in spite of reception of the full insolation available. The energy available being the net result after the travels through the atmosphere. As an aside here:  Earth’s gravity ensures that the water in these ice crystals do actually return to earth. Otherwise the earth would lose water to space and we would wind up a wrinkled prune.

  5. Next we have that strange mist hanging like a blanket over a lazy river with the dew drops glistening on the weeping willows. Here is a balance in the absence of wind to reduce the humidity to enable evaporation to continue without condensation also taking place. Later on returning to the scene the mist has gone, like magic!  The locals saying that it had been burned off by the sun.

There are plenty other cloud formations which can be explained by the thermodynamics described above together with other factors. Indeed a fascinating story written in the skies for those who wish to see.

Finally we have an extract from John T Houghton’s book: “The Physics of Atmospheres” (second edition 1986 ISBN 0 521 29656 0. Page 16.)

Prf. Houghton was one of the original lead authors for the  IPCC.

it appears from this that he was then of the opinion that water essentially stops the greenhouse effect in its tracks. One can but wonder what view he has now some 33 years later.


IPCC. logic:

This is an attempt to trace the logical process within the IPCC that produced the conclusion that CO2 as a greenhouse gas substantially influences the global climate and resulted in the  Catastrophic Anthropological Global Warming (CAGW) Meme. Full of surmise and conjecture it invites discussion, hopefully without heat but upon purely scientific matters.

The starting point is taken as at the definition of Radiative Forcing (RF) which subsequently takes prime position in the calculations.

This is the IPCC AR4 definition of Radiative Forcing. (essentially similar in AR5)

The definition of RF from the TAR and earlier IPCC assessment reports is retained. Ramaswamy et al. (2001) define it as ‘the change in net (down minus up) irradiance (solar plus longwave; in W m–2) at the tropopause after allowing for stratospheric temperatures to readjust to radiative equilibrium, but with surface and tropospheric temperatures and state held fixed at the unperturbed values’. Radiative forcing is used to assess and compare the anthropogenic and natural drivers of climate change. The concept arose from early studies of the climate response to

changes in solar insolation and CO2, simple radiative-convective models.

This is, as its name suggests a “Forcing” definition as NO energy enters the tropospheric atmosphere since its “State” is defined as fixed.

The units of this Forcing should therefore be:…. Lbs.Force, Voltage, temperature differential, strain, gravity differential or some such.

This leads to the question as to why the IPCC assigned units of:…: Watts/sq.m to this RF?

(Trite remark:    Plugging this defined RF energy into your kettle would ensure that it would never boil.)

It appears that we we have a circular argument here as knowledge of the energy involved depends on knowledge of the recipient system.

A Forcing of say 1 volt on open circuit has no energy involved. However this Forcing connected to a resistance of say 1 ohm produces a back emf of 1^2*1 = 1 volt, giving an energy flux of 1*1 Volt* Amps or: 1 Watt.

Thus again: How did the IPCC determine the climate equivalent to the resistance above?  Hence the circularity of the argument should the RF be assigned an energy value by way of definition.

***The next logical step lies in the relationship between RF and temperature.

The IPCC position being as follows:

Radiative Forcing can be related through a linear relationship to the global mean temperature change at the surface (dT): dT = “K”*dRF where “K” is the climate sensitivity parameter.” (Note: For “K” read Lamda.  – typo constraints!).

This is the IPCC position and at first sight appears reasonable; but in fact assumes that water behaves as a non-phase change gas such as CO2.(at the involved temperatures).

Water, however changes phase at CONSTANT temperature thus in the Planck equation above, the value of “K” is Zero; so applying the general value of Climate Sensitivity to water will create an error in the overall calculation by an increase in temperature unless taken into account. This on the basis that any increase in temperature due to CO2 will NOT result in an increase in temperature due to Water Vapor (The behaviour of the kettle described above demonstrates this)

Then there is a further factor namely the buoyancy of water vapor which drives the vapor along with its latent heat UP through the atmosphere for dissipation in the higher altitudes right up to the tropopause in the cirrus clouds.

The energy involved here is large and well in excess of the purported greenhouse level of around 1.6 Watts/sq.m at some 680 Watts/kg.

This all irrespective of CO2 levels; bypassing it all.

In simplistic layman’s term it may be said that as a greenhouse gas water has this quirk where instead of heating up and radiating  DOWNWARDS it becomes buoyant and moves UPWARDS physically carrying it’s energy.

Overall therefore I submit that all this results in a strong NEGATIVE feedback situation to any increase in energy input to the atmosphere. Contrary to the IPCC position.


As this is all but hypothesis I can but leave conclusions to the reader.

I do have a one simple but trite conclusion though:

The Earth sweats to keep cool – just like you and I.

Constructive comments welcome.

Alasdair Fairbairn

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