Interesting

This is interesting, but yet to be reproduced by others:

"Runaway greenhouse theories contradict energy balance equations," Miskolczi states.  Just as the theory of relativity sets an upper limit on velocity, his theory sets an upper limit on the greenhouse effect, a limit which prevents it from warming the Earth more than a certain amount.

How did modern researchers make such a mistake? They relied upon equations derived over 80 years ago, equations which left off one term from the final solution.

Miskolczi’s story reads like a book. Looking at a series of differential equations for the greenhouse effect, he noticed the solution — originally done in 1922 by Arthur Milne, but still used by climate researchers today — ignored boundary conditions by assuming an "infinitely thick" atmosphere. Similar assumptions are common when solving differential equations; they simplify the calculations and often result in a result that still very closely matches reality. But not always.

So Miskolczi re-derived the solution, this time using the proper boundary conditions for an atmosphere that is not infinite. His result included a new term, which acts as a negative feedback to counter the positive forcing. At low levels, the new term means a small difference … but as greenhouse gases rise, the negative feedback predominates, forcing values back down.

My scientific intuition has always rebelled at the thought of runaway positive feedback.

By the way, James Hansen has claimed that he is being censored at NASA by the Bush Administration, and that the government should not interfere with scientists work.  So how did he react to this work?

NASA refused to release the results.  Miskolczi believes their motivation is simple.  "Money", he tells DailyTech.  Research that contradicts the view of an impending crisis jeopardizes funding, not only for his own atmosphere-monitoring project, but all climate-change research.  Currently, funding for climate research tops $5 billion per year.

Miskolczi resigned in protest, stating in his resignation letter, "Unfortunately my working relationship with my NASA supervisors eroded to a level that I am not able to tolerate.  My idea of the freedom of science cannot coexist with the recent NASA practice of handling new climate change related scientific results."

I argued a while back that Hansen should do the same if he thought he was being censored.  Certainly you do not have to convince this libertarian of the contradiction between a government agency and the concept of free scientific inquiry.

  • Scientist

    So your scientific intuition rebels at the thought of runaway positive feedback (like that which causes the rapid transition from ice age to interglacial which is so well established), but it doesn’t rebel at the thought that somehow, every scientist since 1922 has failed to notice an allegedly major flaw in our understanding of the greenhouse effect? I think your scientific intuition is extremely unreliable.

  • But…

    Scientist, perhaps you should use your apparently superior scientific intuition to critique Miskolczi’s equation.

  • Phil Wilson

    “Looking at a series of differential equations for the greenhouse effect, he noticed the solution — originally done in 1922 by Arthur Milne, but still used by climate researchers today — ignored boundary conditions by assuming an “infinitely thick” atmosphere. Similar assumptions are common when solving differential equations; they simplify the calculations and often result in a result that still very closely matches reality. But not always.”

    The devil is in the details but it is not unusual in science for a historic embedded simplifying assumption to persist unquestioned. No less a figure than Freeman Dyson opines that he’s looked at the climate models and finds them riddled with bogus assumptions and arbitrary constants.

  • Adirian

    Scientist, it isn’t *well established* that feedback produced the shifts between ice ages and interglacial periods – indeed, it is a topic of much contention and debate. It’s fairly well established that it is a good potential explanation – but science requires more than that something is an explanation for it to be accepted. It requires that it be testable, and that it be tested. Carbon dioxide has already been ruled out as a trigger mechanism, and the current center is methane. The problem with this, of course, is that we know next to nothing about the methane cycle, and are mystified even by the modern behavior of the gas, as it has been declining for no (apparent) cause.

    You’ve made several comments to this effect, indeed – that because AGW is the only known explanation for modern temperature shifts (which it isn’t), therefore it must be so. Five hundred years ago God was the only known explanation for complex life forms. This didn’t make it so.

    Your pseudonym does so amuse me.

  • Stevo

    Scientist,

    As I’m sure you know, there is a breed of scientist that assumes anything published in a peer-reviewed journal or textbook is almost certainly valid and not worth checking for themselves. Particularly if it would involve chasing chains of references back to 1922 and before. A lot of times, people did notice problems, but ignored it, or worked round it, or assumed it was a consequence of valid approximations and would make no material difference. In this case, extending the solution down from the top of the atmosphere results in a discontinuity at the surface, which has long been regarded as an oddity, but apparently assumed to be real and resolved by convection. Miskolczi instead claims he has shown that the discontinuity is the result of ignoring the lower boundary condition, and in fact the ground is on average in thermal radiative equilibrium with the air in contact with it.

    It’s like physicists quoting Newton’s law of gravitation without ever noticing that it assumes that changes propagate instantaneously – tricky now that we know about relativity. Most I think would assume that while General Relativity had strictly speaking replaced it, it was a good enough approximation for all practical purposes, but in fact if you limited gravity to the speed of light, the solar system would entirely fly apart after a few hundred thousand years. Some physicists did notice, and worked out the answer, but I still know of lots that have never thought about it.

    Scientists are mere mortals and textbooks fallible. It’s far too soon to say if Miskolczi has a point, yet. And I agree that such an extraordinary claim requires extraordinarily good evidence. But my intuition says it’s worth looking at.

  • TCO

    Sure it’s worth looking at. But I’m skeptical. Hungarian journal doesn’t seem that good. If I had toe Bayesian bet, I would say…nutter. Even Meyer is covering himself.

  • Stevo

    You know TCO, I had never even considered the journal it was published in. What sort of reasoning is that?

    I’m skeptical too. It’s a big claim, many have tried and failed, and there are rather too many assumptions and simplifications for comfort. Even if correct, the assumptions may well mean it can be safely ignored anyway. Nevertheless, the bit I’ve figured out so far seems to be correct, given the assumptions. The critical bit seems to be the incorporation of the virial theorem, which at the same time provides the novel means to enforce the required balance and is also the bit I haven’t figured out yet.

    He may well be wrong, but I don’t think he’s a nutter. He seems to knows his physics, there’s no semi-political ranting, and if there are mistakes they’re no more obvious than in a lot of physics papers I’ve seen. (And for those inclined to the genetic fallacy, he’s also been an experienced and respected researcher at NASA.) Lots of papers published turn out to be wrong. And I haven’t seen any cogent arguments against the technical content put up yet.

    But skepticism on principle is a good idea. We’ll see what develops over the coming weeks.

  • Alan McIntire

    This is a bit off topic, but regarding Stevo’s 03/09/08 11:28 AM post:
    Gravitation IS limited by the speed of light, and the solar system doesn’t fly apart, so your analogy was somewhat off.

    Incidentally, Lubos Motl addressed this article on his blogspot. Lubos stated that he’s somewhat skeptical of the results, but does tie in general relativity

    ” Amusingly enough, the author interprets the differential equations describing the absorption of infrared light by the atmosphere as a realization of equations of general relativity and discusses a term missed by Arthur Eddington and Arthur Milne around 1922.”

    – A. McIntire

  • Stevo

    Alan,

    You are quite correct that gravity is limited to the speed of light and the solar system is fairly stable. But this is pure luck. If you modify Newton by inserting a simple propagation delay, the Earth is pulled towards the sun, but the sun is pulled towards where the Earth was 8 minutes ago. The forces don’t balance, and the difference accumulates. Newton’s law is wrong because it propagates changes instantaneously, and Newton’s law with a light-speed delay is wrong because it doesn’t conserve momentum.

    But my analogy wasn’t between orbital mechanics and climate, it was between physicists quoting Newton and climatologists quoting Milne and Eddington. The intention was to give a familiar example of a physical law that many scientists might believably use automatically but which could be seriously wrong without them noticing it. Specialists in General Relativity know about it, but I’ve found that the average physicist on the street does not. But if you don’t think any scientist would ever use Newton’s law by default, or any textbook quote it as the standard method, then my analogy failed.

  • Brian Macker

    One good reason to disbelieve in runaway greenhouse effect is that it hasn’t happened despite high CO2 concentrations in the past. In other words the experiment has already been run and failed to result in the predicted outcome.

  • Scientist

    Stevo – I would worry about the journal it’s published in, to be honest, just a bit. Why hasn’t it been published in Science or Nature? If it really did demonstrate what it claims to, it would surely merit that. Why only an obscure Hungarian journal? You warn against assuming all peer-reviewed results are correct, and I certainly agree with that. I think an element of that is judging the relative merits of different journals. In my field, there are some journals which are much easier to get published in than others. So typically, less important things are published in the lesser journals. If I saw a claimed major new advance in one of the lesser journals, I’d be inclined towards suspicion.

    Brian Macker – yes, the experiment has been run. The results are not what you appear to believe they are.

  • Brian Macker

    They are exactly what I appear to believe they are. No runaway greenhouse effect like on Venus otherwise we wouldn’t be around, would we.

  • Alan D. McIntire

    Regarding the March 10, 2008 3:58 PM post by “Scientist”. You seem to imply that the warming was a disaster to be avoided.

    From

    http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.php?file=article&name=News&op=modload&sid=2285

    “Diversification didn’t really take off until the Eocene epoch, about 56 to 34 million years ago, but the reasons are unclear.”

    and

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/2997404.stm

    it looks like the Paleocene-Eocene warming was all to the benefit of mammals-

    “Mammals’ lucky space impact

    By Paul Rincon
    BBC science

    A comet collision with Earth around 55 million years ago may have kick-started a crucial early phase of mammal evolution.

    Did a comet strike deliver carbon to heat up the Earth
    The impact could have triggered the greenhouse warming thought to have encouraged primitive mammals to disperse across the world and diversify into three important groups still with us today. “

    – A. McIntire

  • Scientist

    Brian Macker – you’re just putting up a massive straw man, then. No-one thinks that Venus-like is a realistic possibility.

    A. McIntire – are you arguing that comet impacts and rapid global warming are both good things, inevitably and always?

  • Stevo

    Scientist,

    “I would worry about the journal it’s published in, to be honest, just a bit. Why hasn’t it been published in Science or Nature?”

    Good question. But should I worry more for the paper, or for the journal?

  • Stevo

    For anyone interested, doubt has been cast over at Climate Audit, on the message board / Physics Issues.

  • Alan D. McIntire

    RE: 3/11/2008 2:51 post by “Scientist”

    “A. McIntire – are you arguing that comet impacts and rapid global warming are both good things, inevitably and always?”

    No, I’d never offer such a silly argument. I was trying to point out the absurdity of the argument that YOU’RE making, that any global warming, even a measly 1.4 C in a century, is automatically going to be catastrophic.

  • Scientist

    I’m not making that argument.