Postma BAMS Article Submission – Review of the Reviewers
by Robert Kernodle
I am aware of the recent (Jan 2020) article, “An Alternative Global Mean Energy Budget Model Which is Incompatible with Existing Ones”, submitted to BULLETIN OF THE AMERICAN METEOROLOGICAL SOCIETY by Joseph Postma. My understanding is that two reviewers participated in the jury process for possible publication of this article.
Because Reviewer 2 displayed a seemingly genuine interest in giving constructive criticism, I can only offer a positive assessment there. My impression of the editor and my review of Reviewer 1, however, are not so positive.
To present my review, my convention (where needed) is to bold-italicize relevant text in Postama’s submitted article, followed by only-italicized comments from Reviewer 1 associated with the relevant text, followed by my own plain-text comments about Reviewer 1’s comments.
POSTMA, L 9 Abstract: A question then arises out of this incompatibility as to whether or not global energy budget models should be consistent with the Laws of Thermodynamics and Physics and empirical reality, or if there is no requirement of such criteria within science in general.
EDITOR: Of course the answer to the posed question is that the energy cycle must be physically consistent and explain observations. The proposed cycle is incomplete and quite wrong in so many ways, see below.
ME: This comment says nothing about the traditional model that Postma challenges, which is even more incomplete and more wrong than the proposed model by him. As can be seen later, the editor appears to closely mirror the judgment of Reviewer 1, as he completely discounts Reviewer 2.
[referring to the 1997 Kiehl & Trenberth energy-budget diagram] REVIEWER 1: L 21. There are updated versions of this.
ME: One of these “updated versions” appears in a 2009 article by the same authors, located here: http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/trenberth.papers/TFK_bams09.pdf
Here is the updated diagram: https://www.periodni.com/pictures/earth_global_energy_budget.png
Notice the following:
Absorbed by surface from the sun = 161
Absorbed by surface from back radiation = 333
The “updated” diagram, therefore, re-states and even strengthens what Postma clearly points out, namely that back radiation from Earth’s atmosphere is represented as providing over twice the energy as the sun, which is even more than the 1997 version of the diagram showed. The fact that the updated diagram makes an even stronger case for Postma indicates that Reviewer 1 does not understand what the diagram shows to begin with.
POSTMA, L 32: One main point of consistency between these three figures is that solar power is averaged over the surface of the Earth, …
REVIEWER 1: This is not quite correct. The figure depicts the global and annual average, and as such it fully accounts for all of the geometry and rotation of the planet as well as the seasonal cycle.
ME: The figure most assuredly depicts average annual solar radiation arriving at the top of the Earth’s atmosphere — this point is not in question, in the least. Stating this obvious, accepted point, in no way, “fully accounts for all the geometry and rotations of the planet as well as the seasonal cycle.” Postma uses the term, “solar power”, which is the same thing that Reviewer 1 refers to as “global and annual average”. Solar power IS global and annual average. Merely using different terms for the same thing, then, in no way supports how this figure is presented. This “global and annual average” or “solar power” is, as Postma says, “averaged over the surface of the Earth”. Reviewer 1 seems not to know what solar power means. Reviewer 1 also seems not to understand the point at all about how averaging this quantity over the whole Earth results in a meaningless average.
[referring to Harvard and Penn State traditional, simple models]REVIEWER 1: L 37 and 43. Figs 2 and 3 are redundant with each other and work fine in their limited setting. It is easy to show that without the one-layer atmosphere the surface temperature is a lot colder that with. The greenhouse effect works. A key point is that the sun adds heat and is external to the system.
ME: Figs 2 and 3 are examples, used together to help establish a factual basis for the claim that the models are ubiquitous (in certified, professional, learning institutions, as well as in popular accounts). This is how evidence of multiple appearances is presented — as a listing or partial listing of separate instances. The statement about redundancy, thus, suggests that REVIEWER 1 does not understand the device of listing multiple instances as a standard practice of introducing evidence.
Merely stating that the figures “work fine” is a statement of belief. Merely stating that “it is easy to show” or “the greenhouse effect works” is a statement of belief. Reviewer 1, then, is substituting mere statements of belief for what should more appropriately be facts or references to counter the claims that Postma makes. Reviewer 1 is not offering rational counter arguments. He is offering dogmatic statements of belief.
POSTMA, L 45: … greenhouses actually function by limiting convective cooling.
REVIEWER 1: this is partly true but there is glass which has a full greenhouse effect.
ME: What does Reviewer 1 mean by a “full greenhouse effect”? Reviewer 1 is not clear about the terminology, and so it is not possible to know what such terminology means in relation to what Postma says. The comment, then, should be deemed of no value in determining the acceptability of Postma’s article.
POSTMA, L 60: … Figure 4 which differs in that it does not average sunshine over the whole surface of the Earth as an input.
REVIEWER 1: as such it does not depict a mean state. If it depicts an equilibrium state then the temperature on the night side goes to absolute zero. It is absurd to ignore the connectivity of the atmosphere and also the thermal capacity of the oceans and land.
ME: Figure 4 certainly does not depict a “mean state” for the whole globe based on a hemispheric input. That is the very strength of the figure. That is the precise intent of the figure. What the figure does depict is a “mean state” for the hemisphere — a “mean state” of how energy enters the planet. It does depict an equilibrium state, where equilibrium is established by a hemispheric input of power intensity that transforms, through the many physical Earth processes, to become the output required, over the whole sphere, to establish equilibrium.
There is no indication in the figure whatsoever that “the temperature on the night side goes to absolute zero.” Reviewer 1 clearly does not understand color gradients as graphic representations of a temperature field that varies via latitude and rotational displacement of a globe. If Reviewer 1 did understand such gradients, then the progression of temperatures from pole to equator and from night to day would be recognized in Postma’s Figure 4.
POSTMA, L 72: Certainly the surface of the Earth is rotating…
REVIEWER 1: now has the Earth rotating, but still no atmosphere.
ME: A rotating Earth is an obvious assumption that Postma always depicted. When was Postma’s Earth not rotating? Reviewer 1’s statement here indicates a misunderstanding about this, in the beginning — a misunderstanding that suggests reasoning difficulties on the reviewer’s part. Visual logic, graphic comprehension, a little time spent scrutinizing the figure, and contextual assessment of all statements, at a basic level, are required in order to understand Postma’s presentation. Reviewer 1 seems less than up to this task.
POSTMA, L 78-95: In the standard global energy budget, with solar power being diluted over a total surface area it never actually spreads upon (the entire spherical surface at once), solar power is thus reduced to 168 Wm-2 (per Figure 1) which is an equivalent temperature forcing via the Stefan-Boltzmann Law on a blackbody of 233K (-40C, -40F). In other words, whole-surface-averaged solar power is extremely feeble, and we wouldn’t expect a climate let alone possibly even a gaseous atmosphere at such a low heating potential supplied by the Sun. On the other hand, this alternative global energy budget supplies solar power over only a hemisphere which sunlight ever falls upon, giving an average forcing of 480 Wm-2 or temperature forcing of +303K (+30C, 86F), but which maximizes around the zenith at 960 Wm-2 or 360K (87C, 188F). And so, solar power is capable of performing and producing very different physical responses between these two energy budgets, particularly in the examples of, say, being able to melt ice, or the ability to generate cumulonimbus clouds, etc.
REVIEWER 1: This is quite wrong. Where does the author think the energy goes? As depicted in Fig. 1 most goes through to the surface and heats the ground and oceans.
ME: This short, terse statement about a detailed passage seems to indicate that Reviewer 1 failed to understand any of those details, since no references to the various power or temperature figures were even mentioned by this reviewer. Merely stating that something is “quite wrong” indicates little more than the reviewer’s cognitive dissonance, rather than a reasoned consideration of the facts presented.
What does Reviewer 1 mean by, “most [energy] goes through to the surface and heats the ground and oceans”? Does the reviewer mean the energy on the hemisphere goes through the solid Earth to rise into the ground and oceans on the other (dark) side of the Earth sphere? I do not understand the choice of word, “through”. The comment is not clear enough, therefore, to count as valid, constructive criticism. In fact, it raises serious questions about Reviewer 1’s basic understanding.
POSTMA, L 99-110: “If a physical process increases the total entropy of the universe, that process cannot happen in reverse since this would violate the second law of thermodynamics. Processes that create new entropy 101 are therefore said to be irreversible. […]
“Perhaps the most important type of thermodynamic process is the flow of heat from a hot object to a cold one. We saw […] that 104 this process occurs because the total multiplicity of the combined 105 system thereby increases; hence the total entropy increases also, 106 and heat flow is always irreversible. […]
“Most of the process we observe in life involve large entropy increases are therefore highly irreversible: sunlight warming the Earth […].” – Thermal Physics (pg. 82) (Schroeder 2000)
REVIEWER 1: One needs to be very careful about quoting things like this out of context. In particular the Earth is not a closed system. And perhaps another principle that should be stated is that all bodies radiate related to their absolute temperature. Hence even very cold bodies radiate heat energy toward warmer ones. This is different than conduction of heat which is down gradient. The author needs to frame all of this in terms of energy, not heat.
ME: The caution about quoting passages out-of-context is misplaced, because further context is not required to understand the overriding weight of independent facts within these quotes. The stated facts within the quotes apply directly to the current context in which Postma cites the quotes.
Furthermore, a strong argument can be made that Reviewer 1’s assertion about Earth’s not being a closed system is false:
For the purposes of determining planetary thermodynamic equilibrium, a clearly-defined, Earth/atmosphere system is properly considered a closed system. Second, there are no exceptions to the laws of thermodynamics. Ever. If “heat” is defined as an energy transition (exchange) from hot to cold, and if no such actual energy transition can occur from cold to hot, then no energy exists (from cold and hot) that can be properly called “heat”, since the direction of temperature change from cold to hot prevents any such energy transition. This fact is what Postma’s selection of quotes demonstrate. Reviewer 1, thus demonstrates little grasp of fundamental knowledge necessary to criticize Postma’s paper, and, therefore, should be disqualified.
POSTMA, L 114-130: The point being here that the standard global energy budget model depicts 324 Wm-2 of “Back Radiation” flowing to the Earth surface from the atmosphere, a quantity nearly two-times larger than the solar input of 168 Wm-2. This implies that the atmosphere heats the surface with a far greater power than the Sun does. However, since the origin of energy and specifically heat is the sunlight and its initial absorption into terrestrial matter, then it is implied that energy originally from the Sun has a second and a third go-around at heating the surface. And this multiple go-around process of “Back Radiation” has the peculiarity that it is from the cooler atmosphere acting upon the warmer surface, given that general relationship. On the other hand, the alternative global energy budget in this paper would require only a unidirectional flow of heat down the temperature gradient, which seems more consistent with physics. That is, incoming sunshine of high intensity flux is capable of directly producing climatological effects as a response to heat flow from the Sun, and this flow should step down in intensity as heat flows down temperature gradients through the system as manifest climate, without requiring reversibility of heat flow.
REVIEWER 1: It is easy to compute the infrared radiation from the surface of the Earth, given its temperature. Indeed that is where the 390 W m-2 comes from. Moreover, the atmosphere is in contact with the surface and has only a slightly lower temperature in the lowest layers where most of the back radiation comes from.
ME: Postma’s focus here is not on 390 W/m^2 going out from the Earth. Rather, his focus is on 324 W/m^2 of back radiation coming towards the Earth. In other words, Reviewer 1 is focused on output, while Postma is focused on input. Output over the whole sphere is not input over the half sphere, and Reviewer 1 seems to fail at making this distinction. The reviewer’s comment, therefore, has no bearing on Postma’s focus — it does not even address Postma’s focus.
POSTMA, L 117: This implies that the atmosphere heats the surface with a far greater power than the Sun does.
REVIEWER 1: This is wrong: it uses only one piece of the flow of energy. The back radiation is less.
ME: Clearly, without question, the diagram shows 169 from the sun is absorbed by the surface, while 324 from the atmosphere is absorbed by the surface. Reviewer 1, then, is in error — the figures are right there on the diagram to prove this, which raises the question, “Does Reviewer 1 understand how to read the diagram?”
POSTMA, around L 121: And this multiple go-around process of “Back Radiation” has the peculiarity that it is from the cooler atmosphere acting upon the warmer surface, given that general relationship.
REVIEWER 1: How does the author think the atmosphere gets heated? For the most part it is transparent to incoming radiation and most heat is from latent heating (condensation of water) plus sensible heat from eddies. Almost none from conduction.
ME: To establish how the atmosphere gets heated, it is necessary to resolve how the atmosphere does not get heated, which is what Postma’s article addresses. He makes clear that a “greenhouse effect”, as presented in traditional diagrams, is a highly questionable model to describe such a heating process. Reviewer 1 here is not addressing this line of discussion, but rather diverting attention to details of a separate, although certainly related line of discussion, the minutia of which, as Postma states, is not the main focus of his paper.
POSTMA, L 126: … the alternative global energy budget in this paper would require only a unidirectional flow of heat down the temperature gradient, which seems more consistent with physics.
REVIEWER 1: the atmosphere is compressible, not a solid. Temperature depends upon pressure. So there can be a huge difference between the energy vs heat. Relatively cool temperatures at low pressure may contain more energy than higher temperatures at high pressure. It is not correct to assume flows of energy based upon temperature alone!
ME: Postma clearly understands the compressible, gaseous nature of Earth’s atmosphere. He also understands the relationship between temperature and pressure in gases — in fact, this very relationship goes a long way in explaining Earth’s temperature, while discrediting the idea of a “greenhouse effect”.
Postma also understands the difference between energy, heat, and temperature. The reviewer’s broad statement about more energy in cool temperatures than in high temperatures is just that, a general statement with no qualifying boundaries relating it to Earth’s atmosphere.
This knowledge leads anyone to realize, for example, that while the Artctic ocean certainly has more total energy than a glowing ember of coal, the Arctic ocean certainly cannot make the ember hotter. It is unclear, then, what the reviewer is trying to say here. Is the claim that Earth’s upper atmosphere has more molar mass than Earth’s lower atmosphere, and this somehow would cause the cooler temperature with greater total energy to make warmer an already warmer lower atmosphere with a higher temperature? Does Reviewer 1 believe that the Arctic ocean could make a glowing ember of coal warmer still?
Consequently, it is equally not correct to assume exchanges of energy from cooler temperatures to warmer temperatures that cause warmer temperatures to be even warmer!
POSTMA, L 129: That is, incoming sunshine of high intensity flux is capable of directly producing climatological effects as a response to heat flow from the Sun, …
REVIEWER 1: But it can’t actually, as described above.
ME: Remarkably, Reviewer 1 here categorically denies that high intensity flux from Earth’s sun directly produces Earth’s climate.
POSTMA, L 132: … and this flow should step down in intensity as heat flows down temperature gradients through the system as manifest climate, without requiring reversibility of heat flow.
REVIEWER 1: You confuse heat flow with energy flow.
ME: Higher-energy intensity transferred to a lower-energy-intensity arrangement is heat, by definition. Lower-energy intensity transferred to a higher-energy-intensity arrangement is simply unreal, non-existent, and absent from any correct understanding of thermodynamics. There is no confusion, therefore, but proper understanding of when to use the terms correctly.
POSTMA, L 149 on (to the end of the article): In the alternative model presented in Figure 4 with sunlight falling upon the Earth in a realistic fashion, one would immediately identify that the climate is the result of solar heat flow through the atmosphere. …
REVIEWER 1: This is all nonsense. None of it has been demonstrated and the principles upon which it is based are wrong. For instance, what about the hemisphere in the dark?
For a more complete view of the Earth system flows of energy I suggest you look at
Trenberth, K. E., and D. P. Stepaniak, 2004: The flow of energy through the Earth’s climate system. Symons Lecture 2004. Quart. J. Roy. Meteor. Soc., 130, 2677-2701
Available from Trenberth’s web site:
ME: This is Reviewer 1’s comment on the entire remaining portion of Postma’s article, from L 149 to the end, reducing it to one word, “nonsense”, not even trying to comprehend the summation and recollection of the facts presented, merely protesting that nothing has been demonstrated and that Postma’s principles are “wrong”.
Amazingly, Reviewer 1 then directs Postma to study the very material, whose shortcomings his whole article focused on, indicating that Reviewer 1 is oblivious to the fact that Postma has already addressed this exact material, and harbors extreme bias that prevents coherent, rational assessment of any questioning of this material.