The Fraud of the Atmospheric Greenhouse Effect Part 5: Zero Energy Balance and Latent Heat Trapping

In Part 4 we discussed the reality-based sequence of energy flow into the system, which does work and provides heat for the planet, and compared it to the fictional set-up that climate-pseudoscience has invented so that they can vilify the beneficial, life-creating-gas of carbon dioxide.  Here, let us take another look at heat-flow in the system and learn how heat is transported from the equatorial regions where sunshine is the strongest, to the polar regions where it is weakest.

In the reality-based heat flow model presented in previous posts, we see that the power of sunshine is ninety-percent as strong as +88oC for a very wide swath of the planetary diameter.  The actual function which describes the power of sunshine, going from directly underneath to the Sun (which we call the “solar zenith”), to the side where the Sun’s rays just glance the edge of the Earth, is called the “cosine”.  It has a value of 100% when at the zenith, and 0% when at an angle of 90 degrees, as you can see here:

Heavy line is just to indicate the range of greater than 90%; it is a width of about 50 degrees.

It is very important for a real scientist to understand how sunshine gets distributed upon the planet, because geologists and meteorologists have observed something which they call the point of zero energy balance (ZEB).  This “point” is the latitude, i.e., the angle away from the equator, at which the local amount of incoming solar energy is equal to the local amount of outgoing energy from planet Earth.  This is shown the next diagram:

From: Briggs, Smithson, and Ball, Fundamentals of Physical Geography, 1989, Toronto: Copp Clarke and Pitman.

What the ZEB diagram explains is that more solar energy is being absorbed on the planet near the equatorial regions, than is actually emitted by the planet in that region.  Or in other words, this means that the planet isn’t getting as hot in the equatorial regions as it could be, given the actual power of Sunshine heating measured there.  But then, once you get past about plus or minus (±) 35 degrees in latitude, where the point of ZEB is, then there is more energy leaving the planet than is coming in from sunshine.

All meteorologists know that heat flows from the equator to the poles, and the ZEB diagram, which is based on real-world data, shows this.  Given the most fundamental law of science, the Law of Conservation of Energy, we know that the solar energy which “goes missing” around the equators has to be equal to the energy which “shows up” near the poles, and we already know that heat flows from the equator to the poles.

How does the energy flow from the equator to the poles?  That’s easy!  It flows via, and in, the weather.  But specifically, a large amount of that energy is being transported by the latent heat of the molecule H2O.  There are 3 phases that water exists in on the planet, and between them, from ice to liquid, and from liquid to vapor, are regions of latent heat where water will absorb or emit energy without changing its own temperature.  The amount of energy which is stored in latent heat is incredibly large.  The oceans contain about 121 years’ worth of solar energy trapped inside the latent heat of liquid, and the atmosphere has about 10 days’ worth of solar energy trapped inside the latent heat of vapor.

The ZEB diagram shows that you need a mechanism for transporting that energy from the equator to the poles without showing up as actual temperature radiation until it is required.  If there was ever a concept that needed to be invented to help us out, nature has created one to fit the bill for us in latent heat, and in the weather itself. What could be more efficient?  Both the oceans and atmosphere circulate heat to the polar regions and bring with them an enormous amount of stored solar energy collected from the equatorial region and trapped in latent heat.  This keeps the polar regions much warmer than they would otherwise be.

What does all this have to do with the fraud of the atmospheric greenhouse effect? Well, 121 years’ worth of trapped solar energy that prevents the system from dropping below 0oC can create the illusion of a “greenhouse effect”, but it is really just a natural phenomenon keeping the system much warmer in cooler regions than they would be without it. Of course, you’ve heard time and time and time over again that carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere, and that it even causes the temperature to magically increase itself too.  But they’ve never told you that the ocean has literally trapped 121 years’ worth of latent heat!

Carbon dioxide is supposed to trap heat by scattering infra-red light waves, so, let’s see how long this effect can trap light waves for:  The thickness of the atmosphere until it gets so thin that light waves can escape freely to space is about, say, 20km in altitude.  Given that the speed of light is 300,000 kilometers per second, it would take an unobstructed light wave 66.6 microseconds to get through the atmosphere.  Let’s be really generous here, and say that some of the photons of the right wavelength get scattered by CO2 one-hundred times on their way out.  It will then take them, rounding, about 7 milliseconds to escape from the surface to outer space.  So, for just a fraction of the entire actual spectrum of outgoing infrared light, some of the light waves are trapped inside the atmosphere for 7 milliseconds.

Seven milliseconds, compared to 10 days of trapped solar energy in latent heat in the atmosphere, compared to 121 years of trapped solar energy in latent heat in the oceans.

So where is the actual heat trapping?

By inventing an artificial atmospheric greenhouse effect, and labeling both carbon dioxide and water vapor as “greenhouse gases”, they perform a trick of attributing to carbon dioxide, what in truth only water is capable of doing.

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23 Responses to The Fraud of the Atmospheric Greenhouse Effect Part 5: Zero Energy Balance and Latent Heat Trapping

  1. Pingback: The Fraud of the Atmospheric Greenhouse Effect Part 5: Zero Energy Balance and Latent Heat Trapping « Skeptics Chillin'

  2. johnosullivan says:

    Brilliant and clearly explained, as always. Thanks, Joe.

  3. Phillip Bratby says:

    Typo “infra-read”. Otherwise, a brilliant series.

    [Reply: Thanks!]

  4. Phillip Bratby says:

    If as you say, 90% of the sun’s energy is input into a circle on the surface with a radius subtended by 25degrees, then it means that ar any moment in time, 90% of the sun’s energy is received by about 1/18th of the earth’s surface (if my maths is right). No wonder averaging the energy gives such a false result.

  5. Max™ says:

    I hate that this is going to wind up dismissed as “just another skydragon rant”, but I’m afraid it makes far too much sense. Perhaps you can crazy it up a little?

    [Reply: Well apparently saying the earth is round and sunshine is hot is crazy enough for a lot of people already! 🙂 ]

  6. Bill says:

    Wow, where to begin. Let’s start with the statement that “Carbon dioxide is supposed to trap heat by scattering infra-read light waves”….. Carbon dioxide absorbs infrared light. This warms the atmosphere. This is in turn increases the temperature of the atmosphere, which in turn increases the amount of infrared emission from the atmosphere to the surface and to space. Scattering as is described here has naught to do with anything (O2 and N2 molecules also scatter in this way). This is all well-known physics. I am not a warmist, but the physics is what it is. Increasing the amount of CO2 will increase the amount of absorption, warming, and down-welling infrared radiation. The real question for global warming is what happens then? What are the feedbacks? Are they positive or negative?
    I use the flat model in my classes to show how the so-called greenhouse effect works. It produces predictions that reasonably approximate reality. Yes, it is a two-dimensional model and has limitations in a spherical three dimensional world. But it is a model used to explain how and why things happen. It can be used to make simple predictions (what if we increase the cloud amount by 10% for example) that are reasonably accurate. It isn’t a model one would use to convince anyone to adopt any of the economic or energy policies often suggested. The model cannot predict what the feedbacks to increased CO2 will be, it can only suggest what will happen if we assume the feedbacks will be X or maybe Y. I like the model. Within an hour, I can explain how the atmosphere works, how increasing CO2 affects things and assign a homework in which the students can explore the effects of possible feedbacks.
    Complaining about the limitations of a flat model is pointless. It is a teaching tool, not a research tool. The use of erroneous physics only subverts any real points that may exist.

    [Reply: You just admitted that you use the flat earth model to teach the greenhouse effect. You therefore understand nothing about what is fundamentally and paradigmatically wrong with that. Any more posts from you that demonstrate this severe lack of rational comprehension will be trashed without comment. Read my papers and these pages over and over again until you understand that the earth is round, sunshine is hot, and why thats important, and why teaching the greenhouse effect with a flat earth is a fraud. Regards…]

  7. Derek Alker says:

    ” Given the most fundamental law of science, the Law of Conservation of Energy, we know that the solar energy which “goes missing” around the equators has to be equal to the energy which “shows up” near the poles, and we already know that heat flows from the equator to the poles. ”
    Joe, may I ask is “has to be equal to” a little confusing, or an oversimplificatin that may mislead?
    Yes, there is an imbalance from equator to poles, but does that mean there is an “eqilibrium” being maintained? I think that may be an unintended implication, that could be read as an assumption of “eqilibrium” applied to the whole system, from one view point only, that I am not sure you would actually agree with. Although presently climatology does seem to interpret the ZEB plot as “proof” of an overall “equilibrium” that is being maintained.

    I would suggest Earth has to maintain an output (in radiation only terms) in accordance with the laws of physics but that does not mean the system within is in, or maintaining an “equlibrium” overall. It could easily, and probably does mean that the system is accumulating energy / matter within, especially if there are other inputs and outputs not taken into account with such a blinkered radiation only view the ZEB plot is based upon.

    I hope others realise that when you write ” and the atmosphere has about 10 days’ worth of solar energy trapped inside the latent heat of vapor. ” you are referring to invisible water vapour, not clouds as such.

  8. Bart says:

    I agree 100% with Bill’s final sentence. “The use of erroneous physics only subverts any real points that may exist.” Very well said! This is exactly why Joe is pointing out the erroneous physics of the Greenhouse Theory! Further more, he has explained the correct physics to prevent Climate Science from subverting everyone! Thank you Bill.

  9. Greg House says:

    “Well, 121 years’ worth of trapped solar energy that prevents the system from dropping below 0oC can create the illusion of a “greenhouse effect”, but it is really just a natural phenomenon keeping the system much warmer in cooler regions than they would be without it. […]But they’ve never told you that the ocean has literally trapped 121 years’ worth of latent heat!”

    Joe, I am struggling with the notion of “years” of trapped energy. Could you please explain what you mean by that? And, let us say, if someone evil turned the Sun off, how long would it take the oceans to freeze completely?

    [Reply: The reference is to years’ worth of global incoming solar energy, in terms of total quantity. See pg 39 of my paper. It would take about 130 years for the ocean to turn from liquid into ice at 0C, then a few times that long to get near 0K, or thereabouts.]

  10. Greg House says:

    What part do you think geothermal energy plays? Because the oceans are like 3800m deep on average, and 3800m under the surface the temperature is like 120C.

    [Reply: Yes indeed. There is basically an infinite heat sink at high temperature, even just 10 feet down around 10C. So there is temperature “support” from below. For the oceans getting much further down, they may be prevented from freezing from below.]

  11. Geothermal heat flow is, on average, 30W/m2. I say average but it cab vary from over 100W/m2 to 15W/m2. The high value is for areas round volcanoes. Glaciers melt slowly from below due to geothermal heat.
    Thanks for your work Joseph.

    [Reply: Cheers John. Yes the flow of geoenergy may be small but it still needs to be appreciated that the soil retains high temperature very efficiently. A few feet down and the temperature remains ~10C-20C year-round. What I next need to do is model the whole column and see what effect having this infinite heat sink at 0K vs 283K a couple of feet down has on the surface profile. It WON’T be negligible! ]

  12. Doug Cotton says:

    There’s a page I wrote here last year about the stabilising (supporting) mechanism provided by all the energy in the rest of the Earth system below the crust. It will also be mentioned in my article being published next week.

  13. Ron C. says:

    Thanks for your clear explanations. I look forward to future posts.
    From one your previous posts at WUWT, I summarized these ideas for my warmist friends in the following way:
    In order to believe that human fuel emissions are dangerously warming the earth, one has to deny six contradictions observed in the real world.
    1) The warmer oceans heat up the cooler atmosphere, and not the other way around.
    2) In the ice core history, changes in CO2 levels follow changes in temperatures, and not the other way around.
    3) The calculation of 33C for the greenhouse effect is based on a model of the earth as a disk illuminated constantly by 1/4 of the sun’s energy. In reality, the earth is a rotating sphere, half of which is illuminated by the full power of the sun.
    4) The earth’s average temperature rises to about 15C because solar energy is slowly released upward from the oceans against the pressure of the atmosphere, and not because of any heat trapped by gases in the atmosphere.
    5) In the last fifteen years, the temperature trend has been flat, while CO2 continues to rise.
    6) Outgoing long wave radiation at the top of the atmosphere has been stable, not decreasing as greenhouse theory predicts.

    [Reply: That’s a great list of points Ron…I might need to use those myself, summarized so succinctly! Thanks!]

  14. John in France says:

    I’m pleased to have found this site.

    In a nutshell, instead of representing a dynamic system with a static model, you are attempting to represent that same dynamic system with a dynamic model. That has to be the way to go. You say it is work in progress. Press on!

    [Reply: Precicely. Thanks!]

  15. AndyG55 says:

    Ron C says
    “The calculation of 33C for the greenhouse effect is based on a model of the earth as a disk illuminated constantly by 1/4 of the sun’s energy. In reality, the earth is a rotating sphere, half of which is illuminated by the full power of the sun.”

    Even if they use the flat Earth model (don’t they read any books about the Earth… its a ball shape !)
    but even if.. then they are wrong about using 1/4 of the sun’s energy. They should be using 1/3.5.
    Because I couldn’t be bothered doing flat earth calculations, does anyone know what happens to the 33C if 1/3.5 is used in flat earther calculations instead of the incorrect 1/4 ? My guess is that the 33C would basically disappear.

    Now, where did I get the 1/3.5 from.. I hear you ask… 😉

    A hint,, half of ithe Earth is NOT illuminated by the FULL power of the sun.

  16. Eilert says:

    Joe I made this comment at Tallbloke’s monster thread about your work described here.

    Can somebody help me out here:
    I am researching black-body radiation experiments.
    No perfect black-body exits, i.e. a body that fully absorbs all radiation it receives. Kirchhoff made the suggestion that one constructs a fully enclosed cavity with the cavity walls covered in a black material (like soot), with only a small hole for probe to make measurements. Into this cavity radiation is emitted. This radiation would then be absorbed and would then emit back into the cavity. Isn’t this the closest one could get to a full radiation trap?

    Stefan then proceeded to make exactly such an experiment and the results he found conformed to what later become known as the Stefan-Boltzmann radiation law (Boltzmann actually derived theoretically what Stefan found experimentally).
    This law is today used to derive the black-body temperature (after some adjustment for albedo) of a planet, which receives solar radiation.

    Climate scientist however found that planets, with an atmosphere, have temperature higher than the black-body temperature. So some claimed this is due to the fact that some of the radiation emitted from the surface is actually absorbed by certain gases in the atmosphere and then emitted towards the surface, which then absorbs this radiation again making it warmer. Wouldn’t this be analog to another round trip of radiation in the cavity above? This already resulted in the maximum temperature a black-body could achieve and we do not even have a perfect black-body in the planet.

    Am I missing something here? Or why are proponents of the radiative greenhouse theory actually were able to get away with this so long?

    [Reply: Yes I saw that and agree with it. The blackbody cavity is the perfect example of internal “back-radiation”, but it doesn’t cause runaway heating, it just produces the blackbody spectrum due to the way photons fill up the available energy states. It definitely does not get hotter than the energy you put into it!]

  17. Max™‮‮ says:

    Was discussing this with someone who decided to set up a spreadsheet to prove his point that “the 340/340 constant insolation case will have a higher average than the 680/0 or sinusoidally varying cases” to me.

    It didn’t quite work after I put the values to .3 albedo/.6 emissivity, I mean, .5 K is technically a higher average, but yeah, I was told several times that contant averaged insolation=higher average temperature than realistic insolation.

    [Reply: Such analyses are far too simple. The system isn’t a simple radiative balance with no internal heat storage effects, first of all. We really have to go to the 2-D PDE on Equation 18 pg. 31 of my last paper to actually explain the heat flow and temperature. These little games with 340/340 vs. 680/0 are far too simple. You are correct though to fiddle with emissivity. By all accounts, the emissivity of the atmosphere is very low, and therefore will have a higher temperature than otherwise. Low emissivity has nothing to do with a supposed GHE, but it can actually completely explain what is commonly “called” the GHE.]

  18. Max™‮‮ says:

    Well, there was a heat capacity value in there, but I didn’t fiddle with it much.

  19. richard smith says:


    Do you agree with Professor Ray Pierrehumbert when he says that if the Earth had no way of getting rid of the Sun’s energy the absorbed energy would raise Earth’s temperature by nearly 800,000K after a billion years?

    [Reply: Well you could ask that question about anything, not just the Sun’s energy and the Earth. As such, it would be a plain violation of reality to imagine something which can not get rid of energy. We can imagine something like this but imagining it does not mean it has a physically-valid counterpart. In the simplest terms, T = E_tot/Cp/m, and so if E_tot -> infinity then T -> infinity. But I think the Earth might atomize before it ever got to 800,000K anyway. It is not possible for the Earth to not shed its energy radiatively. Maybe we could engineer a surface with albedo = 0 and emissivity = 0, or nearly so, and see what happens, but the idea wouldn’t apply to the Earth. I am not aware of the reasoning behind why Ray would conjecture such a thing.]

  20. richard smith says:

    Thanks for the helpful reply Joe.
    The reason I ask is because the AGW theory is that CO2 prevents some radiant energy directly escaping to space (the ‘bite’ out of the outgoing radiation spectrum) and so the Earth is forced to heat up until the energy balance (outgoing equals incoming) is restored. This is why Pierrehumbert makes the point about the rise in temperature. This seems to be Roy Spencer’s view also. What’s wrong with this theory?

    [Reply: First, that is a completely different theory of heat generation than regular thermodynamics. Traditionally, temperature increase is caused by the work-action of input, incoming energy. With higher temperatures, you can do more work, such as with a steam engine, so if there was a way to simply input a small amount of energy, but have it trap itself and increase its own temperature to something much much higher, then you could have over-unity work output. That is, low temperature, low work/energy input, arbitrarily large temperature work/energy output. In my earlier “Model Atmosphere” paper (, I showed that their own actual math for the scenario you described (from Spencer) shows that, theoretically, it could produce ANY temperature you want, with no matter how small the input. It is tautological, illogical math that allows you to generate any temperature you “want”, no matter how small the input. It is a sophistic mechanism for trying to force a flat-earth model to produce the same numbers as reality, to save the outward appearances without actually having anything to do with the internal physics…it doesn’t mean anything because the boundary conditions don’t even correspond to reality in any way. The whole mechanism just plainly violates thermodynamics. It does this because they try to make the surface-air temperature an exclusive result of radiative – its own radiation heating itself! – rather than also appreciating the fact of the adiabatic gradient.

    Second, an aborption spectrum is NOT a signature of generating heat or especially of radiative self-heating generation. An absorption spectrum is the result of a cooler gas in front of a warmer background, and this DOES NOT equate to the cooler gas being the CAUSE of the warmer background. You see how that works? A cold gas in front of a warmer background is NOT the cause of the warmer background. A spectrum is merely a signature of scattering & absorption, and I think it is clear that it is mainly scattering, not absorption, since CO2 is already collisionally activated into all of it vibratory modes (interactions with photons are much less frequent than collisions with other molecules).

    Third, it only requires a single scattering of a fraction of the outward photons to create a bite in the spectrum. This might keep radiation inside the atmosphere for another few milliseconds. To get the temperature they need from trapping radiation, it would require trapping ALL (not just a fraction) of the outgoing energy for another (390-240)/240 = 0.625 seconds. And even if that did occur, radiation can not increase its own temperature in any case because it is bosonic…photons just pile on top of each other and there is an equal amount of deconstructive interference as there is constructive interference. It doesn’t matter how many photons of a certain spectral temperature there is…all you get from that spectrum is the temperature it is and it can’t increase its own temperature.

    The tautology of the math they created to invent this mechanism is found in that the math STARTS with the assumption of an observed surface temperature, and then a portion of this energy reflects back upon itself to justify itself! You understand that? It is a tautology…a fraud. It is by this mechanism that they can justify ANY temperature no matter how small the input. I should write a blog post on this specific point actually.]

  21. richard smith says:

    Thanks again Joe.
    If you have time, perhaps you can let us know what you think of another ‘theory’ of greenhouse warming which some advocate in preference to the theories of back-radiation or reduction in cooling – i.e. more CO2 raises the effective radiating level and so by applying the lapse rate from that point it follows that the surface temperature is raised. This seems to be linked with views about whether one can even have a lapse rate without GHGs. I may have garbled that theory but that’s my understanding.
    Sorry to keep on asking but there are so many theories out there!

    [Reply: First, the lapse rate has nothing to do with GHG’s and the idea that a lapse rate will only arise with a GHG present is utterly fraudulent. I derive how the lapse rate develops in my papers, and you can see that it is not a GHE. Second, the atmosphere has a low emissivity, which means it can be at a warmer temperature for a given amount of output energy. Low emissivity has nothing to do with GHG’s or backradiation, but can totally explain everything about what is postulated for the GHE. Third, there has been no increase observed in the radiating height of the atmosphere.

    It is also good to understand that all of these questions are beside the point when we begin to consider reality, that is, hot sunshine over a hemisphere, latent heat, the ZEB plot, etc. When you look at the situation that way….as it is in reality, then these questions about backradiation heating disappear simply because they’re no longer required.]

  22. johnmarshall says:

    One of the predictions of the GHE is the reduced radiation from earth due to the GHG’s ”trapping” heat. Atmospheric CO2 has increased by 40%, it is claimed, but radiation losses to space remain as before. ie. the theory fails again.

  23. CD Marshall says:

    This is from a Physical Geography manual:
    “Because more solar energy hits the equator, the air warms and forms a low pressure zone. At the top of the troposphere, half moves toward the North Pole and half toward the South Pole. As it moves along the top of the troposphere it cools. The cool air is dense and when it reaches a high pressure zone it sinks to the ground. The air is sucked back toward the low pressure at the equator. This describes the convection cells north and south of the equator.”

    So yes they acknowledge what Phds seems to be struggling with?

    Yet even with a thorough explanation of how the climate works they still have to kiss the climate ring:
    “With more greenhouse gases trapping heat, average annual global temperatures are rising. This is known as global warming. While temperatures have risen since the end of the Pleistocene, 10,000 years ago, this rate of increase has been more rapid in the past century, and has risen even faster since 1990. The nine warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998, and the 10 of the 11 warmest years have occurred since 2001 (through 2012). The 2000s were the warmest decade yet. Annual variations aside, the average global temperature increased about 0.8 degrees C (1.5 degrees F) between 1880 and 2010, according to the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NOAA.”

    Goddard and NOAA they did mention “according to” so maybe that’s how they play it off if it backfires.

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