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Does CO2 really drive global warming?
Chemical Innovation ^ | May 2001 | Robert H. Essenhigh

Posted on 04/25/2003 6:38:20 AM PDT by kidd

Does CO2 really drive global warming?

I don’t believe that it does.

To the contrary, if you apply the IFF test—if-and-only-if or necessary-and-sufficient—the outcome would appear to be exactly the reverse. Rather than the rising levels of carbon dioxide driving up the temperature, the logical conclusion is that it is the rising temperature that is driving up the CO2 level. Of course, this raises a raft of questions, but they are all answerable. What is particularly critical is distinguishing between the observed phenomenon, or the “what”, from the governing mechanism, or the “why”. Confusion between these two would appear to be the source of much of the noise in the global warming debate.

In applying the IFF test, we can start with the clear correlation between the global CO2 profile and the corresponding temperature signature. There is now in the literature the report of a 400,000-year sequence clearly showing, as a phenomenon, that they go up—and down—together (1). The correlation is clear and accepted. But the causation, the mechanism, is something else: Which is driving which?

Logically, there are four possible explanations, but only two need serious consideration, unless they both fail.

Case 1: CO2 drives the temperature, as is currently most frequently asserted; and

Case 2: Temperature drives the level of CO2.

Both appear at first to be possible, but both then generate crucial origin and supplementary questions. For Case 1, the origin question is: What is the independent source of CO2 that drives the CO2 level both up and down, and which in turn, somehow, is presumed to drive the temperature up and down? For Case 2, it is: What drives the temperature, and if this then drives the CO2, where does the CO2 come from? For Case 2, the questions are answerable; but for Case 1, they are not.

Consider Case 2. This directly introduces global warming behavior. Is global warming, as a separate and independent phenomenon, in progress? The answer, as I heard it in geology class 50 years ago, was “yes”, and I have seen nothing since then to contradict that position. To the contrary, as further support, there is now documentation (that was only fragmentary 50 years ago) of an 850,000-year global-temperature sequence, showing that the temperature is oscillating with a period of 100,000 years, and with an amplitude that has risen, in that time, from about 5 °F at the start to about 10 °F “today” (meaning the latest 100,000-year period) (2). We are currently in a rise that started 25,000 years ago and, reasonably, can be expected to peak “very shortly”.

On the shorter timescales of 1000 years and 100 years, further temperature oscillations can be seen, but of much smaller amplitude, down to 1 and 0.5 °F in those two cases. Nevertheless, the overall trend is clearly up, even through the Little Ice Age (~1350–1900) following the Medieval Warm Period. So the global warming phenomenon is here, with a very long history, and we are in it. But what is the driver?

Arctic Ocean model

The postulated driver, or mechanism, developed some 30 years ago to account for the “million-year” temperature oscillations, is best known as the “Arctic Ocean” model (2). According to this model, the temperature variations are driven by an oscillating ice cap in the northern polar regions. The crucial element in the conceptual formulation of this mechanism was the realization that such a massive ice cap could not have developed, and then continued to expand through that development, unless there was a major source of moisture close by to supply, maintain, and extend the cap. The only possible moisture source was then identified as the Arctic Ocean, which, therefore, had to be open—not frozen over—during the development of the ice ages. It then closed again, interrupting the moisture supply by freezing over.

So the model we now have is that if the Arctic Ocean is frozen over, as is the case today, the existing ice cap is not being replenished and must shrink, as it is doing today. As it does so, the Earth can absorb more of the Sun’s radiation and therefore will heat up—global warming—as it is doing today, so long as the Arctic Ocean is closed. When it is warm enough for the ocean to open, which oceanographic (and media) reports say is evidently happening right now, then the ice cap can begin to re-form.

As it expands, the ice increasingly reflects the incoming (shorter-wave) radiation from the sun, so that the atmosphere cools at first. But then, the expanding ice cap reduces the radiative (longer-wave) loss from the Earth, acting as an insulator, so that the Earth below cools more slowly and can keep the ocean open as the ice cap expands. This generates “out-of-sync” oscillations between atmosphere and Earth. The Arctic Ocean “trip” behavior at the temperature extremes, allowing essentially discontinuous change in direction of the temperature, is identified as a bifurcation system with potential for analysis as such. The suggested trip times for the change are interesting: They were originally estimated at about 500 years, then reduced to 50 years and, most recently, down to 5 years (2). So, if the ocean is opening right now, we could possibly start to see the temperature reversal under way in about 10 years.

What we have here is a sufficient mechanistic explanation for the dominant temperature fluctuations and, particularly, for the current global warming rise—without the need for CO2 as a driver. Given that pattern, the observed CO2 variations then follow, as a driven outcome, mainly as the result of change in the dynamic equilibrium between the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere and its solution in the sea. The numbers are instructive. In 1995, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) data on the carbon balance showed ~90 gigatons (Gt) of carbon in annual quasi-equilibrium exchange between sea and atmosphere, and an additional 60-Gt exchange between vegetation and atmosphere, giving a total of ~150 Gt (3). This interpretation of the sea as the major source is also in line with the famous Mauna Loa CO2 profile for the past 40 years, which shows the consistent season-dependent variation of 5–6 ppm, up and down, throughout the year—when the average global rise is only 1 ppm/year.

In the literature, this oscillation is attributed to seasonal growing behavior on the “mainland” (4), which is mostly China, >2000 mi away, but no such profile with that amplitude is known to have been reported at any mainland location. Also, the amplitude would have to fall because of turbulent diffusive exchange during transport over the 2000 mi from the mainland to Hawaii, but again there is lack of evidence for such behavior. The fluctuation can, however, be explained simply from study of solution equilibria of CO2 in water as due to emission of CO2 from and return to the sea around Hawaii governed by a ±10 °F seasonal variation in the sea temperature.

Impact of industrialization

The next matter is the impact of fossil fuel combustion. Returning to the IPCC data and putting a rational variation as noise of ~5 Gt on those numbers, this float is on the order of the additional—almost trivial (<5%)—annual contribution of 5–6 Gt from combustion of fossil fuels. This means that fossil fuel combustion cannot be expected to have any significant influence on the system unless, to introduce the next point of focus, the radiative balance is at some extreme or bifurcation point that can be tripped by “small” concentration changes in the radiation-absorbing–emitting gases in the atmosphere. Can that include CO2?

This now starts to address the necessity or “only-if” elements of the problem. The question focuses on whether CO2 in the atmosphere can be a dominant, or “only-if” radiative-balance gas, and the answer to that is rather clearly “no”. The detailed support for that statement takes the argument into some largely esoteric areas of radiative behavior, including the analytical solution of the Schuster–Schwarzschild Integral Equation of Transfer that governs radiative exchange (5–7), but the outcome is clear.

The central point is that the major absorbing gas in the atmosphere is water, not CO2, and although CO2 is the only other significant atmospheric absorbing gas, it is still only a minor contributor because of its relatively low concentration. The radiative absorption “cross sections” for water and CO2 are so similar that their relative influence depends primarily on their relative concentrations. Indeed, although water actually absorbs more strongly, for many engineering calculations the concentrations of the two gases are added, and the mixture is treated as a single gas.

In the atmosphere, the molar concentration of CO2 is in the range of 350–400 ppm. Water, on the other hand, has a very large variation but, using the “60/60” (60% relative humidity [RH] at 60 °F) value as an average, then from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers standard psychrometric chart, the weight ratio of water to (dry) air is ~0.0065, or roughly 10,500 ppm. Compared with CO2, this puts water, on average, at 25–30 times the (molar) concentration of the CO2, but it can range from a 1:1 ratio to >100:1.

Even closer focus on water is given by solution of the Schuster–Schwarzschild equation applied to the U.S. Standard Atmosphere profiles for the variation of temperature, pressure, and air density with elevation (8). The results show that the average absorption coefficient obtained for the atmosphere closely corresponds to that for the 5.6–7.6-µm water radiation band, when water is in the concentration range 60–80% RH—on target for atmospheric conditions. The absorption coefficient is 1–2 orders of magnitude higher than the coefficient values for the CO2 bands at a concentration of 400 ppm. This would seem to eliminate CO2 and thus provide closure to that argument.

This overall position can be summarized by saying that water accounts, on average, for >95% of the radiative absorption. And, because of the variation in the absorption due to water variation, anything future increases in CO2 might do, water will already have done. The common objection to this argument is that the wide fluctuations in water concentration make an averaging (for some reason) impermissible. Yet such averaging is applied without objection to global temperatures, when the actual temperature variation across the Earth from poles to equator is roughly –100 to +100 °F, and a change on the average of ±1 °F is considered major and significant. If this averaging procedure can be applied to the atmospheric temperature, it can be applied to the atmospheric water content; and if it is denied for water, it must, likewise, be denied for temperature—in that case we don’t have an identified problem!

What the evidence shows

So what we have on the best current evidence is that

global temperatures are currently rising;

the rise is part of a nearly million-year oscillation with the current rise beginning some 25,000 years ago;

the “trip” or bifurcation behavior at the temperature extremes is attributable to the “opening” and “closing” of the Arctic Ocean;

there is no need to invoke CO2 as the source of the current temperature rise;

the dominant source and sink for CO2 are the oceans, accounting for about two-thirds of the exchange, with vegetation as the major secondary source and sink;

if CO2 were the temperature–oscillation source, no mechanism—other than the separately driven temperature (which would then be a circular argument)—has been proposed to account independently for the CO2 rise and fall over a 400,000-year period;

the CO2 contribution to the atmosphere from combustion is within the statistical noise of the major sea and vegetation exchanges, so a priori, it cannot be expected to be statistically significant;

water—as a gas, not a condensate or cloud—is the major radiative absorbing–emitting gas (averaging 95%) in the atmosphere, and not CO2;

determination of the radiation absorption coefficients identifies water as the primary absorber in the 5.6–7.6-µm water band in the 60–80% RH range; and

the absorption coefficients for the CO2 bands at a concentration of 400 ppm are 1 to 2 orders of magnitude too small to be significant even if the CO2 concentrations were doubled.

The outcome is that the conclusions of advocates of the CO2-driver theory are evidently back to front: It’s the temperature that is driving the CO2. If there are flaws in these propositions, I’m listening; but if there are objections, let’s have them with the numbers.


1. Sigman, M.; Boyle, E. A. Nature 2000, 407, 859–869.
2. Calder, N. The Weather Machine; Viking Press: New York, 1974.
3. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climate Change 1995: The Science of Climate Change; Houghton, J. T., Meira Filho, L. G., Callender, B. A., Harris, N., Kattenberg, A., Maskell, K., Eds.; Cam bridge University Press: Cambridge, U.K., 1996.
4. Hileman, B. Chem. Eng. News 1992, 70 (17), 7–19.
5. Schuster, A. Astrophysics J. 1905, 21, 1–22.
6. Schwarzschild, K. Gesell. Wiss. Gottingen; Nachr. Math.–Phys. Klasse 1906, 41.
7. Schwarzschild, K. Berliner Ber. Math. Phys. Klasse 1914, 1183.
8. Essenhigh, R. H. On Radiative Transfer in Solids. American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Thermophysics Specialist Conference, New Orleans, April 17–20, 1967; Paper 67-287; American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics: Reston, VA, 1967.


Robert H. Essenhigh is the E. G. Bailey Professor of Energy Conversion in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Ohio State University, 206 W. 18th Ave., Columbus, OH 43210; 614-292-0403;

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Technical
KEYWORDS: bs; co2; environment; globalwarming; globalwarminghoax
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1 posted on 04/25/2003 6:38:20 AM PDT by kidd
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To: kidd
Nah, CO2 drives a Yugo.
2 posted on 04/25/2003 6:53:14 AM PDT by SAJ
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To: kidd
Saved for later,bookmarked at FR and faved on my webtv from the source. I like to send the original by email rather than FR thread. I scannned to the bottom for a very logical set of points.
3 posted on 04/25/2003 7:02:42 AM PDT by larryjohnson (MS meteorology)
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To: kidd
I'm waiting for the new troll to weigh in on this with his words of wisdom and rebuke.
4 posted on 04/25/2003 7:04:38 AM PDT by Balding_Eagle
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To: kidd
If there are flaws in these propositions, I’m listening; but if there are objections, let’s have them with the numbers.


Numbers? We don't need no stinkin' numbers!

Numbers get in the way of a perfectly good 'surrender your rights to Big Brother' opportunity.

And as a special added bonus for this time only - Global Warming is a way to pull down the U.S. relative to competing nations!

Why would you want to let facts and (*gasp*) numbers get in the way of such a beautiful thing?!
5 posted on 04/25/2003 7:06:47 AM PDT by Gorjus
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To: kidd
Global warming is bad science BUMP
6 posted on 04/25/2003 7:10:19 AM PDT by KC_for_Freedom
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To: kidd
It's likely that the sun will be the driver for all of it. We'll need a few thousand more years to be sure. ;)
7 posted on 04/25/2003 7:12:22 AM PDT by Brett66
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To: kidd
The author has an interesting thesis. I have written in the past a similar argument with respect to CO2 having an absorbing function for incoming radiation (sun light) but not a radiation blocking function at night because it absorbs and emits preferentially at 4.26um where the earths radiates back to space (cools)preferentially in the range of 8.0 - 12.0um due to the Black Body curve and laws according to Planck. Therefore, CO2 in this simple example would not have a definitive effect. Think of this, because there is strong 4.26um radiation from the sun, CO2 gets hot and the heat is radiated and conducted to all gasses and to the surface. At night the radiating temperature is now 300K degrees and the peak Black Body emission wavelength for that temperature is right at 10.0um. 10.0um light (radiation) goes right through a 4.26um absorber (CO2) but because water has such a broad absorption-emission band then water interferes with the radiation back to space (like on a cloudy night). Other strong green house gasses include methane (natural gas) and would behave similarly. It can't be this simple.
8 posted on 04/25/2003 7:17:16 AM PDT by Final Authority
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To: cogitator
9 posted on 04/25/2003 7:21:29 AM PDT by boris (Education is always painful; pain is always educational)
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To: kidd
MIT researcher finds evidence of global warming on Neptune's largest moon

JUNE 24, 1998

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- We're not the only ones experiencing global warming. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher has reported that observations obtained by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based instruments reveal that Neptune's largest moon, Triton, seems to have heated up significantly since the Voyager space probe visited it in 1989. The warming trend is causing part of Triton's surface of frozen nitrogen to turn into gas, thus making its thin atmosphere denser.

While no one is likely to plan a summer vacation on Triton, this report in the June 25 issue of the journal Nature by MIT astronomer James L. Elliot and his colleagues from MIT, Lowell Observatory and Williams College says that the moon is approaching an unusually warm summer season that only happens once every few hundred years. Elliot and his colleagues believe that Triton's warming trend could be driven by seasonal changes in the absorption of solar energy by its polar ice caps.

"At least since 1989, Triton has been undergoing a period of global warming. Percentage-wise, it's a very large increase," said Elliot, professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and director of the Wallace Astrophysical Observatory. The 5 percent increase on the absolute temperature scale from about minus-392 degrees Fahrenheit to about minus-389 degrees Fahrenheit would be like the Earth experiencing a jump of about 22 degrees Fahrenheit.

Triton is a simpler subject than Earth for studying the causes and effects of global warming. "It's generally true around the solar system that when we try to understand a problem as complex as global warming -- one in which we can't control the variables -- the more extreme cases we have to study, the more we can become sure of certain factors," Elliot said. "With Triton, we can clearly see the changes because of its simple, thin atmosphere."

The moon is approaching an extreme southern summer, a season that occurs every few hundred years. During this special time, the moon's southern hemisphere receives more direct sunlight. The equivalent on Earth would be having the sun directly overhead at noon north of Lake Superior during a northern summer.

Elliot and his colleagues believe that Triton's temperature has increased because of indications that the pressure of the atmosphere has increased. Because of the unusually strong correlation between Triton's surface ice temperature and its atmospheric pressure, Elliot said scientists can infer a temperature increase of 3 degrees Fahrenheit over nine years based on its recent increase in surface vapor pressure. Any ice on Triton that warms up a little results in a big increase in atmospheric pressure as the vaporized gas joins the atmosphere.

Scientists used one of the Hubble telescope's three Fine Guidance Sensors in November 1997 to measure Triton's atmospheric pressure when the moon passed in front of a star. Two of Hubble's guidance sensors are normally used to keep the telescope pointed at a celestial target by monitoring the brightness of guide stars. The third can serve as a scientific instrument.

In this case, the guidance sensor measured a star's gradual decrease in brightness as Triton passed in front of it. The starlight got dimmer as it traveled through Triton's thicker atmosphere and then got cut off completely by the moon's total occultation of the star. This filtering of starlight through an atmosphere is similar to what happens during a sunset. As the sun dips toward the horizon, its light dims because it is traveling through denser air and because the sun's disk gets "squashed."

By detecting that Triton's atmosphere had thickened, astronomers were able to deduce that the temperature of the ice on Triton's surface has increased. "This pressure increase implies a temperature increase," Elliot wrote. "At this rate, the atmosphere has at least doubled in bulk since the time of the Voyager encounter." Like the Earth, Triton's atmosphere is composed mostly of molecular nitrogen, but its surface pressure is much less than that of the Earth--about the same as that 45 miles high in the Earth's atmosphere.

In their Nature paper, Elliot and his colleagues list two other possible explanations for Triton's warmer weather. Because the frost pattern on Triton's surface may have changed over the years, it may be absorbing a little more of the sun's warmth. Or changes in reflectivity of Triton's ice may have caused it to absorb more heat. "When you're so cold, global warming is a welcome trend," said Elliot.

About the same size and density as Pluto, Triton--one of Neptune's eight moons--is 30 times as far from the sun as the Earth. It is very cold and windy, with winds close to the speed of sound, and has a mixed terrain of icy regions and bare spots. Triton is a bit smaller than our moon, but its gravity is able to keep an atmosphere from completely escaping because it is so cold. Its composition is believed to be similar to a comet's, although it is much larger than a comet. Triton was captured into a reverse orbit by Neptune's strong gravitational pull.

Other astronomers who participated in this investigation are MIT research assistant Heidi B. Hammel and technical assistants Michael J. Person and Stephen W. McDonald of MIT; Otto G. Franz, Lawrence H. Wasserman, John A. Stansberry, John R. Spencer, Edward W. Dunham, Catherine B. Olkin and Mark W. Buie of Lowell Observatory; Jay M. Pasachoff, Bryce A. Babcock and Timothy H. McConnochie of Williams College.

This work is supported in part by NASA, the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society.


10 posted on 04/25/2003 7:24:25 AM PDT by boris (Education is always painful; pain is always educational)
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To: Brett66
Considering what the geology shows, this certainly makes more sense than the contention that CO2 is causing global warming. If that were the case, the CO2 / temperature change correlations seen in the geologic record (during times when mankind was numbered in the hundreds of thousands and living in caves and the trees) would make no sense at all. It does seem more logical and better supported by long term geologic evidence that warming (and cooling) cycles affect CO2 concentrations, not the reverse.

With their arguments more and more refuted by factual data and logic, it will be interesting to see how long the pinheads in the environmental movement can hold out.

11 posted on 04/25/2003 7:28:23 AM PDT by katana
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To: kidd
CO2 or any other gasses manufactured by any activites either naturally occuring or intentional become so unimaginately diluted by the sheer volume of the earths atmosphere comparred to emmissions that they have no effect now or forever after. Molelules of these gasses therefore become totally isolated and can have no refractive effect since they are magnitudes smaller than the wavelengths of solar radiation. We are talking parts per bazillion here.
12 posted on 04/25/2003 7:32:11 AM PDT by aspiring.hillbilly
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To: kidd; EdZ
bump to EdZ
13 posted on 04/25/2003 7:33:05 AM PDT by larryjohnson (MS meteorology)
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To: kidd
Does CO2 really drive global warming?

Depends on what planet one is analyzing. Planet Earth has been experiencing global cooling since the 11th century.

14 posted on 04/25/2003 7:50:58 AM PDT by T. Jefferson
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To: T. Jefferson
Ask Eric the Red...
15 posted on 04/25/2003 7:54:27 AM PDT by Eric in the Ozarks
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To: kidd
Regardless of the answer to this question, it's clear
to me that man's activities on this planet do not
cause climate change world -wide! Consider the massive effect of a large volcano epuption or the effect of the
natural venting of a methane pocket.
16 posted on 04/25/2003 8:35:06 AM PDT by upcountryhorseman
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To: kidd
Series question:

Is the increase in CO2 the reason that the trees, grass, etc. are more GREEN now than I remember them as a child.

I live on the Texas Gulf Coast. As a child, I remember summers when the grass and EVERYTHING would be literaly brown, from the heat and lack of moisture. I recall that the "lawn work" came to a stop -- but no more.

Now, the grass stays green and grows ALL SUMMER LONG.

Does this have anything to do with the raise in the CO2 level?


17 posted on 04/25/2003 8:36:33 AM PDT by i_dont_chat
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To: kidd
The earth is only 6000 years old.
18 posted on 04/25/2003 8:39:55 AM PDT by biblewonk (Spose to be a Chrissssstian)
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To: *Global Warming Hoax; Ernest_at_the_Beach
19 posted on 04/25/2003 8:56:22 AM PDT by Free the USA (Stooge for the Rich)
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To: i_dont_chat
My understanding (from another thread) is that plants are starved for CO2. Any increase in CO2, I suspect, would be visibly beneficial. Then again, you might just have seen a string of dry years when you were younger. I'm not sure how old you are, but as an example there was a string of dry years in Oklahoma-Texas in the mid-30s that lead to the dustbowl.
20 posted on 04/25/2003 10:22:33 AM PDT by kidd
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