What caused the current ToA radiative imbalance?

First the SW (that’s measured reflected SW at the top of the atmosphere (ToA), basically an expression of Earth’s albedo). TSI (incoming sunlight) at the ToA minus reflected SW (albedo) at the ToA equals the ASR (“absorbed solar radiation”) at the ToA, the actual radiant HEAT (net SW) transferred from the Sun to the Earth system as a whole:

(ERBS Ed3 + CERES EBAF Ed2.8 vs. ISCCP FD; tropics, 1985-2004 (20 years).)

(ERBS Ed3_Rev1 + CERES EBAF Ed2.8 vs. ISCCP (cloud fraction); tropics, 1985-2009 (25 years).)

(ERBS Ed3_Rev1 (red) and ISCCP FD (black) vs. models (multicoloured); near global, 1985-1999 (15 years).)

(Same as above, only inverted and with scaled TSI added at the top, to show Earth system solar gain, the increase starting around 1988-89 and stabilising at a significantly higher level through the 90s.)

Now, how did this increase in solar input to the Earth system affect the ToA radiative balance? The ToA radiative balance (“NET”, lower graph, green curve in the figure below) equals the incoming heat (net SW) from the Sun (the ASR, TSI minus refl SW) minus the outgoing heat (net LW) from the Earth (OLR):

As you can easily read from this, the increase in the NET (the opening up of the substantially positive radiative imbalance at the ToA, the gap of which the Earth system to this day is still struggling to close in order to stop accumulating net energy) is ALL due to the reduction in reflected SW (blue middle curve) (-> +ASR) and rather counteracted somewhat by an increase in Earth’s heat to space (+OLR, red top curve).

This is the complete OPPOSITE of what is claimed by the “Climate Establishment” as the cause of the estimated current ToA radiative imbalance: “enhanced GHE” (–OLR), slightly counteracted by a reduction in solar input (–ASR).

So what is the cause of the rise in OLR? What is the causal chain here? Clearly what the data shows us is this:

+ASR (heat IN) -> +T (system temp) -> +OLR (heat OUT)

OLR at the ToA appears simply to track tropospheric temps over time:

We know the physical relationship between tropospheric temperatures and OLR at the ToA: the latter is (principally) a direct radiative effect of the former. And so this tight fit is to be expected. Only NOT by the “AGW hypothesis”. There, OLR is rather considered a driver of tropospheric (and surface) temps over time, because of a steady increase in the so-called “radiative forcing”.

However, we do not see any trace of this AGW mechanism operating in the real Earth system. We see the short-term cloud/humidity perturbations to the tropospheric temp-OLR relationship during strong ENSO events, but beside these, the two parameters follow each other basically in lockstep over time. We see the same thing pre 2000 as we do post 2000, only now between UAH (and RSS) and ERBS Ed3_Rev1:

This is what the available data is telling us.

8 comments on “What caused the current ToA radiative imbalance?

  1. okulaer says:

    Norman says, April 7, 2017 at 12:15 PM:
    “(…) it would also help Kristian.”

    I don’t need “help”, Norman. You do. The difference between us, after all, is that I see and fully understand your position, while you just absolutely refuse to even acknowledge the possibility that my position could potentially have some merit. And because you’re in such a perpetual mode of reflexive offhand dismissal to everything I say, you’re not even attempting to understand where I’m coming from, what I am actually saying, and what I am in fact describing. There is nothing exceptional about any of it. It is all firmly based in standard modern physics, and multiple times I have posted links for you to read that details specific principles or descriptive models that I’ve been trying to outline to you. You appear to summarily ignore them all, reverting directly instead to these perennial thought-up experiments of yours that you think I should do to somehow see the light, while at the same time accusing me of being some kind of religious zealot that thinks the very idea of a bidirectional transfer is the work of the Devil himself. It seems you don’t want to know or find out. It seems you don’t even want to be given the opportunity to expand your horizon on this particular subject in the least. Who’s really the religious zealot here …?

    You write further, Norman:
    “If he would read through pages 7 and 8 of the book he would see conventional physicists use two stream to describe the radiant flow, one up and one down and this author gives detailed equations to determine the intensity of each stream (or flux of energy…definitely bidirectional (…)”

    I don’t get you. You act as if I were somehow oblivious to this! OF COURSE “conventional physicists” use the two-stream model to DESCRIBE radiant transfer, whenever they want to CALCULATE the net flux. It is one of several ways to DESCRIBE radiation. That doesn’t mean that it fully encapsulates what radiation really IS, physically. I also – I guess to your eternal and utter surprise – use the two-stream model whenever I want to calculate a radiant heat transfer between two regions or surfaces at different temperatures using the Stefan-Boltzmann equation. I do it out of convenience. Mathematical convenience. It doesn’t thereby mean that I’ve signed with my own blood some kind of contract forever binding me to a sacred pledge of having no other Descriptive Models of Radiation than the Bidirectional One in my life. I’m still allowed to THINK. As a free human being. Still allowed to entertain more than ONE idea in my mind at the same time. To lift my chin and look beyond the tip of my nose. To see that this subject is more complex, more nuanced, than just two straight arrows on a piece of paper.

    Here are a few examples:



    Levels of Description

    Depending on the properties we wish to emphasize and the level of accuracy and approximation that we are willing to accept, we can describe a radiation field in one of several ways:

    1. As a quantum-mechanical field. This is useful when we wish to consider the interaction of radiation with matter at the microscopic level – the emission, absorp tion, or scattering of individual photons by individual atoms, molecules, or electrons. This description is the most accurate, but it is often not well suited to describing macroscopic phenomena.

    2. As a classical electromagnetic field. This description is familiar from undergraduate physics, but it is not especially useful in stellar atmospheres, as wave phenomena are only important for far-infrared and radio waves, which account for a negligible fraction of the total luminosity. Still, it is worth keeping in mind the possibility of wave phenomena when considering other applications of radiation transfer.

    3. As a semi-classical gas of photons. Again, this description is familiar from undergraduate physics. We consider the radiation to consist of a gas of photons traveling in straight lines at speed c and only being destroyed or created by discrete interactions with matter. This is useful as a bridge between the quantum mechanical and thermodynamic descriptions.

    4. As a flow of energy. This thermodynamic description is unlikely to be familiar from undergraduate physics, as undergraduate classical thermodynamics courses typically deal only with matter. However, considering radiation in this manner is extremely useful when considering the macroscopic thermodynamics of the atmosphere, such as the restriction that the atmosphere must be in thermal equilibrium.

    We will use both the photon gas and energy flow descriptions in stellar atmospheres. In reality, the two are closely linked, as photons carry energy at a speed c, so converting from one to the other often involves little more than multiplication or division by factors of and c.

    I urge you to read the entire document, Norman. To gain some perspective on what the phenomenon of radiation actually incorporates. It is pretty interesting.

    This link essentially describes the same parameters:

    Please do read.

    Here’s a quote from another source that cuts right to the chase:

    The radiation field consists of a large number of particles or quanta distributed in space and time moving in various directions with differing energies. A description of such a system is necessarily statistical in nature and rests on the introduction of a six-dimensional phase space, the direct product of configuration space and momentum space constructed from the position and momentum co-ordinates.

    This goes right back to Planck himself, when he described radiation like this:

    (…) the state of the radiation at a given instant and at a given point of the medium cannot be represented, as can the flow of heat by conduction, by a single vector (that is, a single directed quantity). All heat rays [photons] which at a given instant pass through the same point of the medium are perfectly independent of one another, and in order to specify completely the state of the radiation the intensity of radiation must be known in all the directions, infinite in number, which pass through the point in question (…)

    You can’t extract two neatly distinct macroscopic fluxes opposing each other inside the same radiation field from such a profound quantum chaos. Only mathematically. And not unless your MIND first conjured such an image up to simplify the description. And not unless the geometry of the situation that you want to describe itself naturally encourages you to draw such a conclusion: Two objects facing each other, two fluxes moving through each other from either side. Your radiometric “sensor” pointed at the one object will detect an incoming flux, and pointed at the opposite object, lo and behold! it will detect a second flux. But is this really real? Is this how radiation really works? Or are you merely tricking yourself into thinking it’s real?

    Try and think this through …

  2. okulaer says:

    Tim Folkerts says, April 18, 2017 at 8:18 PM:

    Apparently there are indeed direct measurements of back radiation.

    April 18, 2017 at 5:57 PM:

    [“Focal Plane Arrays”] are solid state devices used in a variety of detectors, including IR detectors. I haven’t done extensive research, but they detect incoming photons, NOT HEAT.

    Dear me. Tim, you cannot be serious!? This again?

    OF COURSE they also detect the radiant heat, that is, the net flux of photons from the surroundings to the detector. I have to ask you the same question as I asked Norman: How do you imagine yourself actually being able to detect discrete thermal photons coming in to you from somewhere cooler than yourself? How would you picture this to be physically possible? I mean, think about it for just ONE second! Look, I’m not saying there AREN’T photons from cooler surroundings being absorbed by a warm surface. I’m saying that you wouldn’t be able to tell. As long as the NET FLUX of photons through the radiation field between the surface and its surroundings is moving AWAY FROM the surface. It is ALWAYS the net flux that is “sensed”. Anything else would be … stupid, absurd, un-physical. If you microscopically detect single photons, they are specifically from a macroscopic POSITIVE net flux of photons coming IN.

    You’re saying:

    They often require cooling to low temperature (…)

    No. They ALWAYS require cooling to low temperature. If you want your detector to “see” LWIR or FIR photons, you better cool it down to cryogenic levels. The warmer your target is, the higher the detector temperature can be as well. That’s how these things work. Even the manufacturers of these instruments are careful to point out that if the detector itself were kept at a temperature that’s too high, then its OWN photons/radiation would basically flood its “field of view” and effectively “drown out” any potential signal of incoming photons.

    What these people realise is that, if you want the detector to be able to let you know that they have in fact detected incoming photons, then you need the ratio of incoming to outgoing photons at the detector surface to be as high as possible. Which is tantamount to saying that it’s not enough for there to BE a radiant heat flux (a net flux of photons) moving IN to the detector from the target/surroundings, meaning that the target/surroundings are warmer than the detector, but this net flux of photons (this radiant heat flux) needs to be as close as possible to a PURE one, meaning an ideal radiant heat flux from a blackbody into surroundings at absolute zero. This is a fundamental point understood already in the 19th century. Tyndall mostly measured the radiation from really hot objects surrounded by a MUCH cooler environment, and Stefan stressed the immutable fact of nature:

    “After distilling the data from all of the sources, he concluded that for a body at 373K and another at 273K, the radiative power was 697.8 W/m^2, although he was not terribly confident in the result. He noted that this analysis had a “hypothetical nature and reasoned support for [it] was impossible, so long as measurements are not made of radiation to surroundings at absolute zero, or at least a very low temperature” (translation from Dougal).

    What you want is basically for your target or your surroundings to act as a “pure radiator” into your detector:
    “For very hot objects, the role of the ambient temperature can be neglected. If the hot temperature is more than 3.16 times the ambient, then the contribution of ambient terms is less than 1%. For example, for 300K ambient on the earth, an object of temperature higher than 1000K can be treated like a pure radiator into space.”

    The radiation comes in as radiant heat (a net flux of photons) to the detector, but with the right technology you can also microscopically detect single photons making UP that net flux. That doesn’t mean it isn’t STILL just the radiant HEAT coming in, Tim.

    MICROscopically detecting a photon inside a MACROscopic net flux of photons isn’t equal to detecting a macroscopic “back radiation” power density flux (W/m^2) from somewhere cooler. And you know this perfectly well.

    So why do you pretend you don’t?

    Basically, Microbolometers operate like Kristian imagines; Focal plane arrays detect incoming photons like Norman imagines.

    No, because Norman thinks that radiometric instruments (all of them) can and do readily detect a separate macroscopic “back radiation” power density flux (W/m^2) from the cooler atmosphere to the warmer surface. A flux that doesn’t exist. A flux which is nothing but a conceptual (mathematically derived) entity.

  3. Tim Folkerts says:

    “OF COURSE they also detect the radiant heat”

    And is that what your digital camera detects? Do you think there is a detector in your smart phone that measures millions of temperatures on a chip? Nope!

    With silicon, the detectors are limited to visible and near IR due to the bandgap of Si. But other materials with a smaller bandgap can be used beyond 1 um. But the smaller band gap also means that thermal vibrations within the detector can cause a signal (ie noise). To limit the internal noise, they are chilled.

    • okulaer says:

      With silicon, the detectors are limited to visible and near IR due to the bandgap of Si. But other materials with a smaller bandgap can be used beyond 1 um. But the smaller band gap also means that thermal vibrations within the detector can cause a signal (ie noise). To limit the internal noise, they are chilled.

      No, Tim. The cutoff wavelength specifically goes down – for the same material – the higher the operating temperature of the detector. Which means that the temperature of the target/surroundings also has to be higher. The instruments are cooled to limit internal noise, indeed. But they wouldn’t detect a signal AT ALL if they weren’t MUCH colder than the detector’s target/surroundings in the first place. The manufacturers of these instruments even point this out themselves, Tim. The detectors need a close to pure radiant heat flux (net flux of thermal photons) coming IN from the target/surroundings.

      And is that what your digital camera detects? Do you think there is a detector in your smart phone that measures millions of temperatures on a chip? Nope!

      Where did I say that these detectors “measure temperatures”. They detect photons. They’re “quantum detectors”, after all. “Thermal detectors” are the ones responding directly to temperature differences. However, THERE NEEDS TO BE A RADIATIVE EQUIVALENT TO A TEMPERATURE DIFFERENCE, that is a downward gradient in “radiative intensity” from the targets/surroundings to the detector for the detector to able to “see” any incoming photons at all. Normal cameras detect in the visible light range of the spectrum. All the natural visible light around us, barring objects that are hot enough to be seen independently, comes indirectly from the Sun – reflected and scattered SW. It is PART OF the solar heat flux to us and to the camera detectors, yes. It isn’t the FULL solar heat flux, of course. Then you would have to point the camera straight at the solar disc itself. But it is PART OF it. Same with detected IR photons. They do not of course INDIVIDUALLY make up the radiant heat from the surroundings or from some specific target. And no one claims that. But they are distinctly PART OF IT. They come WITH an incoming radiant heat flux. How hard is this to understand?

  4. Norman says:


    Here: “The difference between the rates of radiation emitted by the surface and the radiation absorbed is the net radiation heat transfer. If the rate of radiation absorption is greater than the rate of radiation emission, the surface is said to be gaining energy by radiation. Otherwise, the surface is said to be losing energy by radiation. In general, the determination of the net rate of heat transfer by radiation between two surfaces is a complicated matter
    since it depends on the properties of the surfaces, their orientation relative to each other, and the interaction of the medium between the surfaces with radiation.”

    From this source:

    Do you understand the claim of this statement?
    “Everything around us takes in energy from radiation, and gives it off in the form of radiation. When everything is at the same temperature, the amount of energy received is equal to the amount given off. Because there is no net change in energy, no temperature changes occur. When things are at different temperatures, however, the hotter objects give off more energy in the form of radiation than they take in; the reverse is true for the colder objects.”

    From this source:

    • okulaer says:


      You act as though you think I’m totally unaware that this is what textbooks on this matter are saying. I use the Stefan-Boltzmann equation too, you know. I’ve studied physics. And I have quoted Stefan himself several times for you in stating the following: “The absolute amount of energy radiated by a body can not be determined by experiment. Experiments can only give the excess of the body’s emitted radiation over that simultaneously absorbed by it, the latter dependent on the energy radiated to it from its surroundings. If you, however, have the relationship between temperature and heat radiation established in a formula, you can use this to derive a value for the absolute amount of the body’s emitted energy. But such an absolute amount is only hypothetical in nature.”

      You really are impervious to perspectives different from your own. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to get my message through to you. And you’re STILL stuck on this two-way vs. one-way issue. That is NOT my main concern. My main concern is how you choose to USE your two-way transfer approach. Norman, read again your two quotes and see if you spot the central pieces of information for you to take in.

      In the first quote it is pointed out: “If the rate of radiation absorption is greater than the rate of radiation emission, the surface is said to be gaining energy by radiation. Otherwise, the surface is said to be losing energy by radiation.”

      Did you get that? In other words: The surface GAINS NO ENERGY in its thermal radiative exchange with the atmosphere above. It LOSES ENERGY. This is exactly what I’ve been trying to tell you from the get-go.

      You, Norman, are quite specific in claiming that the surface does indeed GAIN energy from the atmosphere (the DWLWIR “adds” energy to the surface, according to you), making the surface temp higher distinctly as a result of this gain. You think the surface gains energy from the atmosphere simply because you arbitrarily SPLIT the DWLWIR from the UWLWIR. You can’t do that. NO ONE applying standard physics does that.

      From the second quote comes this key part: “Because there is no net change in energy, no temperature changes occur. When things are at different temperatures, however, the hotter objects give off more energy in the form of radiation than they take in; the reverse is true for the colder objects.”

      So how come the energy flux in from the cooler atmosphere to the warmer surface (the DWLWIR) in your scenario – directly and all by itself – is allowed to raise the temperature of the latter from 232 to 289K, leaving the UWLWIR a mere resultant of the set temperature? Like this:

      The energy in from the Sun, after all, could only ever raise it as far as 232K (from an input of 165 W/m2), and at solar equilibrium ALL of the corresponding radiation would also freely ESCAPE the surface. So it cannot contribute beyond that point. It will just maintain the 232K baseline (165 IN, 165 OUT). Which means your claim amounts to a situation where, from solar equilibrium, the added energy in from the cooler atmosphere is what causes the rest of the absolute rise, from 232 to 289K (165+345-112= 398 W/m2).

      But how can this be? When we know from the first quote that the surface, being at all times warmer than the atmosphere, always LOSES energy (cools) to it, never GAINS energy (warms) from it …

      Again, the problem is NOT the two-way flux model of radiative transfer itself. It is ONLY when you choose to SPLIT your two opposing component fluxes that you end up in trouble. You cannot do that. Because then you end up – unwittingly or not – turning them both into separate HEAT fluxes. Notice in your two links how they are ALWAYS careful to keep the two component flux terms safely TOGETHER inside one and the same composite expression when addressing the radiant heat transfer between two bodies. The exchange of photons between sfc and atm happens instantaneously, continuously and simultaneously. It’s not like we first see some initial warming from absorption of atm photons and then stronger subsequent cooling from emission of sfc photons as a result of this warming. No, everything happens at once. At each point in space and time. We only ever see the net loss. In reality, it is all there is. Macroscopically, there is only the net transfer. It is all we can ever actually physically detect and put to use. I really have a hard time understanding how this is SOOO difficult to get … It is such a basic fact.

      * * *

      Finally, have you ever noticed how the arrangement of the CONVECTIVE heat transfer equation follows the exact same pattern as the RADIATIVE heat transfer equation (the Stefan-Boltzmann one)?

      Qconv/A = h (Th – Tc)
      Qrad/A = εσ (Th4 – Tc4)

      where Qconv/A is the convective heat flux, Qrad/A is the radiative heat flux, h is the convective heat transfer coefficient, and σ is the radiative heat transfer coefficient (the Stefan-Boltzmann constant).

      Parsing the upper equation above, it is quite easy to be fooled into thinking that, say, the cooler atmosphere always convects a certain amount of heat back to the warmer surface (hTc), that the surface simply convects more UP (hTh), and that the Qconv/A term is just the “NET convective heat transfer” between the two systems. Yet we would NEVER portray convective heat transfer this way. And we would never describe CONDUCTIVE heat transfer this way either. Because it has no real physical purpose. We could nitpick and claim that – at a MICROscopic – level, a conductive heat transfer is ALSO a NET transfer of energy. But it would be pointless. Irrelevant to what we’re really after, what is really thermodynamically useful: The amount of HEAT TRANSFERRED.

      So why can’t we just stick to this same practice when it comes to radiative transfer. We KNOW there are photons flying in ALL directions through the radiation field. But this MICROSCOPIC fact is completely redundant to our inherently THERMODYNAMIC problem. Only the NET movement of ALL photons through the field is relevant. That’s the UNIdirectional radiant heat. The net exchange.

  5. okulaer says:

    David Appell says, April 24, 2017 at 2:22 PM:

    Kristian, no I don’t read most of what you write, because it’s obviously very very wrong.

    Hahaha! How can you possibly know if you don’t read it!? That’s stupid even for you, David.

    But it’s quite an admission. How can you expect to be taken seriously in a scientific discussion if you don’t actually read (and try to understand) what your opponents are writing!?

    That means your answers will always be responses to your OWN ideas of what you THINK your opponents are saying, and only that. You build straw men for yourself and then you proceed by responding to THESE instead of the things your opponents are actually saying. That’s just ridiculous …!

    And it’s quite plain to see that you’re being honest. You’re actually not joking. You have indeed not read what I’m writing.

    So why do you respond. Why don’t you just shut up until you HAVE read what I’m writing.

    I have no problem with people objecting to and questioning what I write; it’s the best way to learn.

    But what I do expect from people who object to and question the things I write, is for them to have ACTUALLY read it. And not just that, but actually made an effort to understand what I’m actually trying to say. If it’s unclear or vague, then ASK!

    Don’t just reflexively dismiss something you don’t understand, because it SEEMS to disagree with your world view! That’s what religious people do. Rather try to understand it first. THEN, and only then, are you in a position to question it, to challenge it.

    And especially (!) don’t just reflexively dismiss something you haven’t even READ! Just because you don’t like the messenger (he normally disagrees with you) and thus just ASSUME he’s wrong. That’s only stupid and it effectively disqualifies you from any real scientific argument. Here’s a striking case in point: “(…) I don’t read most of what you write, because it’s obviously very very wrong.”

    Let’s parse your comment further:

    You wrote:
    “No, David. When they detect individual photons, that means they detect individual photons to the detector, NOT a separate power flux of radiant energy from atm to sfc, which is something else entirely.”

    A sequence of detection individual downward photons *IS* an energy flux.

    You quote me directly, but don’t even bother to read what the quote says before responding to it. OF COURSE a radiative flux is made up of photons. But I didn’t even discuss that, did I? I wrote: “NOT a separate power flux of radiant energy from atm to sfc”.

    You don’t know your radiation physics. And you certainly don’t know your thermodynamics.

    And most importantly, YOU’RE OBVIOUSLY NOT READING WHAT I WRITE. The issue is NOT whether there are incoming photons from a cooler place being absorbed by an already warmer place or not. The issue is ONLY what this photon absorption is able to accomplish THERMODYNAMICALLY.

    Hence my MICRO vs. MACRO. Hence my quantum vs. thermo.

    Honestly, what is your goal here??

    My goal is to try and get people to wake up.

    You’re trying to deny reality.

    Hehe, no, I’m trying to make people wake UP to reality.

    • okulaer says:

      David Appell says, April 24, 2017 at 2:28 PM:

      The observations of Feldman et al, that I’ve cited many times now, used spectroscopic measurements from the Atmospheric Emitted Radiance Interferometer (AERI) instrument.

      David, I seem to remember it was me who brought up the AERI instrument first. Don’t worry, I know perfectly well what it is and how it works.

      It does not measure a separate macroscopic flux from a cool atm to a warm sfc, if that’s what you think. Its cryogenically cooled detector receives radiant heat from the sky and detects radiation through a quantum effect.

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