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Do stratospheric aerosols mask global warming?

In recent months, it has become popular among the climate alarmists to "explain away" the lack of warming in recent 10-15 years.

Aerosols have become their best ally in these efforts. A few weeks ago, we discussed this question:

Did the Chinese coal cause the cooling since 1998?
It was no fluke but an example of a whole new fad. Phys Org, among many others, promoted a new article by Susan Solomon et al.:
NOAA study suggests aerosols might be inhibiting global warming
The article itself is in Science and it's called
The Persistently Variable “Background” Stratospheric Aerosol Layer and Global Climate Change
What they're obsessed by is -0.1 Watts per square meter by which the energy flows may have dropped between 1960 and 1990.

When they evaluate the impact, they decide that the predictions of global warming should be reduced by 1/3 to be more realistic. Fine. It's enough to publish one more paper and reduce the alarmists' prediction by an additional 1/2 and they will be consistent with the observations - and with the climate skeptics.

You may see that the assumption that there is a big warming to start with is treated as a dogma by these would-be scientists. A big warming is the "default assumption" and "dirty corrections" have to be added in order to get to the reality. Only a blind person may fail to see the bias of the authors.

Their science resembles the science of the chieftain of a terrorist training camp. He believes in the Tooth Fairy and designs an amazing method to earn some money for his terrorist hobby. He punches away the teeth of all the mujahideens in his group, puts the teeth under the pillow, and expects that the Tooth Fairy will replace them by millions of dollars during the night, when he sleeps.

Instead, he still finds the teeth in the morning. So he is totally puzzled: what miraculous, unexpected, supernatural power could have prevented the Tooth Fairy from replacing the teeth by the money? Of course, he is as clever a chieftain as the IPCC scientists so he finds an explanation that satisfies him: the Tooth Fairy asked the Bone Fairy for a permission and didn't get it.

So the chieftain breaks all the bones of his men and puts them under the pillow. It must be different this time, he is confident, and he is waiting for the Tooth Fairy to replace the teeth and bones by millions of dollars. His belief in these laws of physics remains perfect - well, up to the moment when this man is finally shot by a NATO soldier.

It's very similar with the global warming nuts. Instead of admitting that they could have made a wrong assumption, they always prefer to add dozens of other wrong assumptions.

Sources of aerosols in the stratosphere

But what I really want to do is to compare the quality of this portion of science as it is being done today - when these disciplines are contaminated by tons of junk and corrupt scientists with an agenda - with what the science looked like 45 years ago - when you would expect that it had to be much more primitive.

Compare the abstract of the Solomon et al. paper with another paper that is fully available:
On the meteoric component of stratospheric aerosols
J.P. Shedlovsky and S. Paisley wrote it in 1965, i.e. 46 years ago! Let me represent this paper as an average paper about these issues from the 1960s. Nevertheless, you may see that their science was much more advanced, rational, impartial, and systematic. Fine, let us make some comparisons of the broad ways of thinking inherent in the 1965 and 2011 papers.

Background: aerosols, stratosphere

First, some background. We are talking about aerosols - suspensions of fine solid particles within a gas or liquid droplets - that are located in the stratosphere. The stratosphere is the layer of the atmosphere, approximately between heights 10 and 50 kilometers, defined by the property that the temperature increases with the height. It's warmer as you're getting closer to the Sun, if you want to formulate it in an extreme way.

(But this bizarrely sounding sentence is essentially right because what matters is that the solar radiation is being absorbed so its amount is decreasing as you go deeper into the atmosphere from outside, at least at some frequencies.)

Consequently, there is no substantial circulation of the air in the stratosphere: warmer (less dense) air is higher which is how it should be: we say that this layer is "stratified", therefore the name of the "stratosphere". In this respect, the stratosphere is the opposite of the troposphere - the part of the atmosphere between the surface and the stratosphere (they're separated by the tropopause) which we know and where the "weather" takes place. In the troposphere, the temperature decreases with the height (think about the flights with United: the adiabatic lapse rate is a zeroth-order approximate way to see why it is so) and the air circulates all the time (because the warmer air is less dense and therefore wants to get up).

So in the stratosphere, there are also aerosols. I want to mention the very methodology how to look at two questions: whether and how the composition changes with time; and how the aerosols got there.

Time dependence

If you read the 2011 paper by Solomon et al., you must be sure that the authors are stunned that things can be changing in Nature. How is that possible? Only humans are the nasty animals who introduced change to the Earth, they still essentially think. Before the human sins, things in Nature were not changing with time. Isn't the very purpose of time to guarantee that nothing changes? :-)

On the other hand, the Shedlovsky-Paisley 1965 paper has no problems with the concept of time. It discusses various changes that influence the chemical compounds - especially the atmospheric residence time.

They also have no problem to acknowledge a huge uncertainty about various numbers. For example, on the last page, they say that the estimates of the accretion of extraterrestrial particles by the Earth ranged from 8 to 3.6 million tons per year.

These scientists, much like any genuine scientists, knew that every effect of this sort or any other sort may be relevant for your questions unless it has been shown to be irrelevant. On the other hand, the climate alarmist hacks always start with the opposite approach. They assume - without any evidence and often in a direct contradiction with the evidence - that every effect is irrelevant and the only moment when they start to abandon this utterly preposterous and clearly invalid assumption is when their models based on random assumptions disagree with the observed data by an order of magnitude or more.

If someone has been making the assumption that none of these things - such as the aerosols in the stratosphere or the water vapor in the stratosphere (Solomon's previous papers) - matters for questions they care about (for no good reason), such as the "climate change", then one of the following things must hold: they have just had a big party, remembering a recently deceased colleague, they had gotten drunk and they still suffer from some hangover. Or they are assholes. Solomon et al. is the latter case who deliberately want to lie and distort the empirical facts.

Chemical composition

The IPCC admits that their uncertainty about the overall effects of the aerosols on all things such as the climate is comparable to the whole effect of global warming. But they worship a key dogma that everyone has to believe - namely that the aerosols (and everything else) must be less important than the carbon dioxide.

Consequently, this dogma inevitably suppresses the scientific research of pretty much everything that matters in the atmosphere - and the aerosols in the stratosphere are no exception. That's why the quality of the scientific research in this discipline has actually plummeted since the 1960s.

You may see this striking decline in every detail. For example, ask the simple question where the aerosols come from etc.

Today, aerosols are among the dozens of "inconvenient and dangerous" players that could threaten the exceptional, divine (or devilish) status of the carbon dioxide. Worshiping the bad effects of the carbon dioxide is what these assholes are all about and what their whole criminal income is based upon so they make sure that no one studies e.g. aerosols too carefully, and if he does, he never interprets the results so that the aerosols may still be treated as one of those irrelevant Cinderellas whom no one really knows. This research - pretty much any research unrelated to CO2 - has been dangerous for these assholes since the very beginning so they do everything they can to marginalize it.

So because it's not possible or allowed to rationally talk about the aerosols, the knowledge of most people - including those who should know them - has gone down from the 1960s. In particular, those people only talk about "volcanos" and "chimneys" as the sources of the aerosols - which may also get to the stratosphere. This is how the popular media think about the aerosols and the "scientists" in that field don't know much more that would go beyond the pop science in the media.

Things couldn't be more different in the 1960s. The average 1965 paper analyzes the concentration of 8 elements and many other things in the aerosols and tries to pinpoint their origin because the relative concentration of various elements and compounds differs among the sources, too.

Let me copy and paste the whole introduction to the 1965 paper:

The chemical composition of stratospheric aerosols has been shown by JUNGE et al. (1961) and JUNQE & MANSON (1961) to consist primarily of sulfate, presumably a mixture of ammonium and sodium sulfates. In addition, aluminum, silicon, chlorine, calcium and iron were reported as being detected.

There are several different possible source materials which can contribute to stratospheric aerosols. These include atmospheric H2S and SO2 which are photochemically oxidized to sulfate, erosion products of continental surfaces, oceanic salts, volcanic debris and extraterrestrial material accreted by the earth. These sources are all significantly different as regards their chemical composition. Thus, it may be possible to determine the relative importance of such sources to stratospheric aerosols from a more thorough knowledge of the aerosol chemical composition. The purpose of this paper is to report some air concentrations of a number of elements in the low stratosphere and to relate these data to the extraterrestrial component.
You see that the scientific approach is perfectly sensible. They don't make any unjustified detailed assumptions that they would be trying to hysterically and dogmatically defend - which is what the alarmist assholes are doing all the time. Moreover, they also appreciate - and it's the main point of the paper - that the aerosols in the stratosphere may have not only terrestrial but also extraterrestrial origin. Chemistry is the bulk of this research and it has to be: calculating the absorption by a particular component of aerosols is a relatively simple added result in comparison. But you can't get the right results if you don't know the chemistry and how much it changes with time and why.

Make no mistake about it: a volcano eruption emits a greater amount of aerosols. But a big majority of it remains in the troposphere. To get aerosols into the stratosphere, you must work hard and relatively small meteorites etc. that are often burned over there may arguably be more important.

The point I want to make is that these difficult and technical questions were studied rationally in the 1960s; but they are no longer studied rationally today. The contemporary authors such as Solomon et al. have neither the expertise nor the scientific integrity to figure out where the aerosols are coming from and what's happening with them. Consequently, they can't make any justifiable predictions about the future evolution of the concentrations of these aerosols, either.

Instead of analyzing hundreds of numbers describing various elements etc. in the aerosol samples - which is what the 1965 paper is made out of - Solomon et al. are only interested in one, scientifically unimportant number - the average forcing that aerosols may be adding or subtracting from the energy fluxes that determine the global mean temperature.

Needless to say, they usually want to show that this number is low because aerosols shouldn't threaten the "climate monopoly" that has been assigned to the carbon dioxide by all these assholes. On the other hand, when they're running into real trouble - e.g. when they predict a huge warming for a decade but they get a cooling - they want the aerosols to "explain" the discrepancy. They beg for a while, hoping that the aerosols will be erased from the science again in the future.

But if one only works with one number, such as the change of forcing caused by the stratospheric aerosols, it's easy to adjust the arguments so that you get the number you wanted to get in the first place. It's not robust science. To do robust science, one has to work with lots of numbers - such as the concentrations of the elements in various samples etc. in the 1965 paper. A theory can't be scientific if it just "explains" one number - such as the global warming rate - by one parameter (and usually many more). A scientific theory must explain and/or predict many more numbers than the number of parameters. Using words of Feynman,
When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.
The alarmists are violating this rule all the time. The main problem is that they're not really interested in explaining Nature and the immense wealth of interesting patterns and unexplained numbers. They're interested in making one ideologically chosen quantity, the global warming rate, high and seemingly believable - so that it may be worshiped by the brainwashed society. But that's not science.

And that's the memo.

Message to Australian readers

I just received a message for you from your federal government. Enough blogs for today. Turn off your computer and light up the candles and play board games.

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snail feedback (5) :

reader Brett_McS said...

I believe there is also a problem with the aerosol theory in that most of the recent cooling has been in the southern hemisphere, not in the north as would be expected if China were the cause.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Brett, I am afraid that you haven't read my text at all. A main point is that it is *not* true that the main changes of aerosols have to be caused by the industry i.e. by China.

reader Ondřej Čertík said...

Thanks a lot Lubos for this analysis. I don't have time to fully study all the articles in climate science, and so your work is invaluable to me (and I am sure to many other people).

My intuition is telling me, that so much of this climate change stuff is not honest science. But it is harder for me to actually pin point all the problems with it, and so I am really glad, that you are doing it. Please keep up this great work.

In recent discussions, that I had with a few climate change supporters, I got a (sarcastic) reply: "Yep, 97% of climate scientists are wrong." And that got me seriously thinking about the issue, because so many people just think "if 97% of climate scientists believe something, then it must be right". And I think that the problem with this approach is that one should always form his/her own opinion, no matter that I am not an expert in climate change. In other words, one should never trust "experts". I do however trust people who have repeatedly shown that they are scientifically honest, like you Lubos, so thanks again for that.

reader tom trevor said...

It seems that in climate science the amount of thinking used is inversely proportional to the square of the amount of computing power available to them.
In 1965 NASA was in its heyday, and couldn't be bothered by distractions from the likes of James Hansen. Since the moon landing NASA has been going downhill. One can only hope with the end space shuttle they wake up a realize they have better get back to doing real science.
I know that this junk science is done by many more people than just those at NASA, but maybe if a large well known organization got turned around other would follow. I know this is wishful thinking, but unless we plan on being guided by superstition something has to happen to turn this so called science around.

reader Pbef said...

What Ondrej Certik so appropriately expressed about what you are producing and put into your "Reference Frame" goes for me also.

Quite obviously the great majority of people are both too incompetent and unmotivated to expose much of the 'dirty' (and the 'golden') truths of/about what is going on.

In many ways I'm one of these people but I've been lucky to encounter Lumo and to have challenging fun trying to learn something from - or sometimes just smile and laugh at - what I read on his 'TRFic' blog. :)