Spencer: Clouds Dominate CO2 as a Climate Driver Since 2000


By Dr. Roy Spencer, PhD.

Last year I posted an analysis of satellite observations of the 2007-08 global cooling event, showing evidence that it was due to a natural increase in low cloud cover. Here I will look at the bigger picture of what how the satellite-observed variations in Earth’s radiative budget compare to that expected from increasing carbon dioxide. Is there something that we can say about the relative roles of nature versus humanity based upon the evidence?

What we will find is evidence consistent with natural cloud variations being the dominant source of climate variability since 2000.

CERES Observations of Global Energy Budget Changes
The following graph shows the variations in the Earth’s global-average radiative energy balance as measured by the CERES instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite. These are variations in the imbalance between absorbed sunlight and emitted infrared radiation, the most fundamental quantity associated with global warming or global cooling. Also show (in red) are theoretically calculated changes in radiative forcing from increasing carbon dioxide as measured at Mauna Loa.

Since there is some uncertainty in the absolute accuracy of the CERES measurements, where one puts the zero line is also somewhat uncertain. Therefore, it’s the variations since 2000 which are believed to be pretty accurate, and the exact dividing line between Earth gaining energy and Earth losing energy is uncertain. Significantly, all of the downward trend is in the reflected sunlight portion, not the infrared portion of the variations. We similarly can not reference where the zero line should be for the CO2 forcing, but the reasons for this are more complex and I will not address them here.

In order to compare the variations in the CO2 forcing (in red) to the satellite observations, we need to account for the fact that the satellite observes forcing and feedback intermingled together. So, let’s remove a couple of estimates of feedback from the satellite measurements to do a more direct comparison.

Inferred Forcing Assuming High Climate Sensitivity (IPCC View)
Conceptually, the variations in the Earth’s radiative imbalance are a mixture of forcing (e.g. increasing CO2; clouds causing temperature changes), and feedback (e.g. temperature changes causing cloud changes). We can estimate the forcing part by subtracting out the feedback part.

First, let’s assume that the IPCC is correct that climate sensitivity is pretty high. In the following chart I have subtracted out an estimate of the feedback portion of the CERES measurements based upon the IPCC 20-model average feedback parameter of 1.4 W m-2 K-1 times the satellite AMSU-measured tropospheric temperature variations

As can be seen, the long-term trend in the CERES measurements is much larger than can be accounted for by increasing carbon dioxide alone, which is presumably buried somewhere in the satellite-measured signal. In fact, the satellite observed trend is in the reflected sunlight portion, not the infrared as we would expect for increasing CO2 (not shown).

Inferred Forcing Assuming Low Climate Sensitivity (”Skeptical” View)
There has been some published evidence (our 2007 GRL paper, Lindzen & Choi’s 2009 paper) to suggest the climate system is quite insensitive. Based upon that evidence, if we assume a net feedback parameter of 6 W m-2 K-1 is operating during this period of time, then removing that feedback signal using AMSU channel 5 yields the following history of radiative forcing:

As can be seen, the relative size of the natural forcings become larger since more forcing is required to cause the same temperature changes when the feedback fighting it is strong. Remember, the NET feedback (including the direct increase in emitted IR) is always acting against the forcing…it is the restoring force for the climate system.

What this Might Mean for Global Warming
The main point I am making here is that, no matter whether you assume the climate system is sensitive or insensitive, our best satellite measurements suggest that the climate system is perfectly capable of causing internally-generated radiative forcing larger than the “external” forcing due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. Low cloud variations are the most likely source of this internal radiative forcing. It should be remembered that the satellite data are actually measured, whereas the CO2 forcing (red lines in the above graphs) is so small that it can only be computed theoretically.

The satellite observed trend toward less energy loss (or, if you prefer, more energy gain) is interesting since there was no net warming observed during this time. How could this be? Well, the satellite observed trend must be due to forcing only since there was no warming or cooling trend during this period for feedback to act upon. And the lack of warming from this substantial trend in the forcing suggests an insensitive climate system.

If one additionally entertains the possibility that there is still considerable “warming still in the pipeline” left from increasing CO2, as NASA’s Jim Hansen claims, then the need for some natural cooling mechanism to offset and thus produce no net warming becomes even stronger. Either that, or the climate system is so insensitive to increasing CO2 that there is essentially no warming left in the pipeline to be realized. (The less sensitive the climate system, the faster it reaches equilibrium when forced with a radiative imbalance.)

Any way you look at it, the evidence for internally-forced climate change is pretty clear. Based upon this satellite evidence alone, I do not see how the IPCC can continue to ignore internally-forced variations in the climate system. The evidence for its existence is there for all to see, and in my opinion, the IPCC’s lack of diagnostic skill in this matter verges on scientific malpractice.
Thank you Dr Spencer for this.

So proof at last that Kevin Trenberth is correct in his travesty email
the energy in is greater than the energy out = warming (not seen!!!)

Kevin Trenberth:
" The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate."
" We are not close to balancing the energy budget. The fact that we can not account for what is happening in the climate system makes any consideration of geoengineering quite hopeless as we will never be able to tell if it is successful or not! It is a travesty!"

Michael Mann wrote:
" Kevin, that's an interesting point. As the plot from Gavin I sent shows, we can easily account for the observed surface cooling in terms of the natural variability seen in the CMIP3 ensemble (i.e. the observed cold dip falls well within it). So in that sense, we can "explain" it. But this raises the interesting question, is there something going on here w/ the energy & radiation budget which is inconsistent with the modes of internal variability that leads to similar temporary cooling periods within the models.
I'm not sure that this has been addressed--has it?"

Perhaps an apology to Trenberth is in order?

Spencer attribute the warming to clouds - this does not seem to agree with Svensmark where increased clouds = cooling.
Also clouds should be increasing - causing cooling - due to increased GCRs with quiet sun.

Would it be fair to say it is a travesty?
GCR-climate connection - GCR’s increase low cloud cover via increased CCN production (via increased atmospheric ionization), which acts as a cooling effect on the climate.
IPCC Cosmic rays and clouds
Svensmark and Friis-Christensen (1997) demonstrated a high degree of correlation between total cloud cover, from the ISCCP C2 data set, and cosmic ray flux between 1984 and 1991. Changes in the heliosphere arising from fluctuations in the Sun's magnetic field mean that galactic cosmic rays (GCRs) are less able to reach the Earth when the Sun is more active so the cosmic ray flux is inversely related to solar activity.
boballab (16:49:58) :
Last year I posted an analysis of satellite observations of the 2007-08 global cooling event, showing evidence that it was due to a natural increase in low cloud cover.
Low level Clouds=COOLING
Lack of low level Clouds=WARMING
more low level clouds=Warming
Spencer agrees with Svenmark more clouds, more cooling

Low solar activity = high gcrs
high gcr=more low cloud=cooling = svensmark

as solar minimum was approached (=high gcrs=cooling=svensmark) the plots above show earth gaining excess energy.
I do not, I admit, understand how more energy = cooling
The plots show CO2 line doing the correct thing more co2=earth gaining excess energy so the plots are named correctly.

To me svensmark does not equal spencer
but trenberth = honest:
The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate"

svensmark says -ve
spencer says +ve
trenberth says our observing system is inadequate.

Who is being honest here?

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