the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

What we don’t know.

Posted by Jeff Id on January 31, 2010

An interesting paper from Science.

Contributions of Stratospheric Water Vapor to Decadal Changes in the Rate of Global Warming

Susan Solomon,1 Karen Rosenlof,1 Robert Portmann,1 John Daniel,1 Sean Davis,1,2 Todd Sanford,1,2 Gian-Kasper Plattner3

Stratospheric water vapor concentrations decreased by about 10% after the year 2000. Here, we show that this acted to slow the rate of increase in global surface temperature over 2000 to 2009 by about 25% compared to that which would have occurred due only to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. More limited data suggest that stratospheric water vapor probably increased between 1980 and 2000, which would have enhanced the decadal rate of surface warming during the 1990s by about 30% compared to estimates neglecting this change. These findings show that stratospheric water vapor represents an important driver of decadal global surface climate change.

1 NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, Chemical Sciences Division, Boulder, CO, USA.
2 Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, USA.
3 Climate and Environmental Physics, Physics Institute, University of Bern, Sidlerstrasse 5, 3012 Bern, Switzerland.

Is Water Vapor in the Stratosphere Slowing Global Warming?

“We found that there was a surface temperature impact due to changes in water vapor in a fairly narrow region of the stratosphere,” explains research meteorologist Karen Rosenlof of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Aeronomy Laboratory, one of the authors of the study. “The reason for the water vapor change is the temperature drop at the interface between the troposphere and the stratosphere over the tropics. What we don’t know is why the temperature dropped.”

All told, stratospheric water vapor declined by 10 percent since 2000, based on satellite and balloon measurements, yet that was enough to appreciably affect temperatures at ground level according to climate models. “Reduce the water vapor and you have less long-wave radiation coming back down to warm the troposphere,” Rosenlof says. Conversely, an apparent increase in water vapor in this region in the 1980s and 1990s exacerbated global warming.

Of course, the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere is also affected by another potent greenhouse gas—methane—which has unexpectedly failed to increase in recent years. “The other influence is methane, which breaks down into two water molecules and CO2 in the stratosphere,” explains climate scientist Drew Shindell of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). “Methane’s growth rate has dropped, so it’ll have become a weaker source of stratospheric water, but we don’t fully understand why its concentrations have not increased as rapidly in recent years as they did for the previous several decades.”

17 Responses to “What we don’t know.”

  1. “methane, which breaks down into two water molecules and CO2”

    Huh? Methane is CH4 – where’s the oxygen coming from? Is this a sloppy way of saying that methane reacts with something else to make water molecules and CO2?

  2. Deimos said

    CH4 + 2 O2 -> CO2 + 2 H2O
    where is oxigen coming from? I have a theory, it comes from the air…

  3. Sleeper said

    CH4(g) + 2 O2(g) → CO2(g) + 2 H2O(l) -890 kJ/mol

  4. That’s what I figured, but I wouldn’t have termed that as “methane breaking down”.

  5. P Gosselin said

    “…we don’t know…”
    “…limimited data…”
    “…probably increased…”
    “…we don’t fully understand…”

    I thought the science was settled. What a bunch of windbags.
    Just come out and say it: You’re a long way from “fully understanding” anything. Welcome to complex, chaotic, nonlinear systems.

  6. Gary Palmgren said

    The drop of water vapor in the upper atmosphere is striking confirmation of Miskolczi’s theory on a constant optical density for the atmosphere.
    data from here:
    water vapor discussion here:

    Miskolczi’s theory shows that the Earth’s atmosphere is in a state of dynamic equilibrium in regards to the average optical density for infrared radiation being emitted. This is because the atmosphere is semi-transparent and is in contact with an effectively infinite source of green house gas in form of water in the Earth’s oceans.

    The paper from Science is behind a pay wall but I’m surprised that they do not refer to the most relevant theory in their abstract.

  7. AJStrata said

    Sorry to think the obvious – but isn’t this expected? Water vapor has always been the dominant Green House Gas (GHG). It just proves CO2 is dwarfed by the water cycle in terms of climate and temperature on global scales.

    Also fairly well known to us space cadets is how the atmosphere expands with temperature (which causes greater drag on Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellites), thus bringing GHG to higher altitudes.

    These people keep assuming they know cause (GHG rising in altitude) when it reality what they could be seeing is the effect (of increased solar output or solar storms). We are back to energy balance. Whatever the cause for increased Energy (could be solar, could be geothermal in response to gravitational forces, could be geothermal due to plate tectonics leaking out more core heat, could be all of the above) created a new balance where heat was dissipated at a different rate. If that increased energy then drops back down, then the system goes back to another normal dissipation structure.

    These people are so arrogant, they have lost the ability of wonder and amazement at this planet and its capacity for ‘change’. It is all about their white knightedness.

  8. Espen said

    StratosphereTroposphere interaction, ocean currents, deep ocean currents,…. The earth is an immensely complicated system, and there’s so much we still don’t understand. But even when we understand more, it may be too much of a chaotic system to be really predictable. My hunch is that in not too many years, we will conclude that the precise prediction of climate is simply impossible.

  9. stumpy said


    Watervapour – we are clueless
    Methane – we are clueless
    Decal variation – clueless
    Statosphere – clueless

    But we are 95% confident co2 will cause 2-5 degrees of warming!

    What they are seing probably refers to changes in ice crystals which in turn affect albedo, this is regulated by the various decadal ocean patterns, which inturn some theorise are driven by the sun and our magnetic field.

    oh, nut I forgot, Gavin Schmitt looked at his magic climate model and concluded the sun made sweet FA differance to the earths temperature!

    Climate scientists are clueless when it comes to how the climate works, why dont they just admit it! We have a loooong way to go before we even understand ENSO etc…hence no one can blame any warming on man, and we havent ruled out all the natural variation. Stop focussing on Co2 and starting filling in the blanks!

  10. Bill Parkyn said

    An alarmist friend sent me this as if it helped his case! There’s no reasoning with people who are OK with thermometer ‘adjustments’ and the bandying of ‘globally averaged temperatures’, as if such a number had any significance by itself. Just because they can fiddle with their models to ‘retrodict’ doesn’t mean squat.

    In truth, the AGW climatic hypothesis has yet to rise to the status of a theory, since none of its ‘predictions’ have happened. Belief in it by the public, however scientifically unwarranted, adds greatly to the money and power of the AGW statists, so that according to Marxists (which most AGW-believers are at heart) the statists’ class interest will forever blind them to the true science. AGW believers, go deconstruct yourselves!

  11. It should be obvious by now to the EPA and strident Ministers of Climate Change that water vapour must be urgently classified as a pollutant gas.
    Perhaps I could get research funds for studying the sequestration of water vapour as ice!!!

  12. Paul Linsay said

    “Reduce the water vapor and you have less long-wave radiation coming back down to warm the troposphere,” Rosenlof says. Maybe I’m being picky here, but unless the initial source of the LWIR is above the stratosphere, this violates the second law. At best, it slows down the rate of cooling of the earth and atmosphere below.

  13. DG said

    Re: stumpy (Jan 31 14:33),

    Gavin Schmidt explains why GISS is diverging from other data sets. There, I feel much better now.

  14. julie said

    “temperature drop at the interface between the troposphere and the stratosphere over the tropics.”

    Isn’t this the bit where the ‘hotspot’ is supposed to be?

  15. hempster said

    “But one thing remains clear: More greenhouse gases in the atmosphere equals more warming. “It doesn’t say that CO2 warming isn’t going on,” Rosenlof adds. A drier lower stratosphere may simply have slowed the warming caused by the thickening greenhouse gas blanket.”

    Or, by searching for missing “hot spot”, dr. Susan Solomon discovered purely accidentally The Negative Feedback?

    Maybe this will be in the annals of climate science as the final shot to the head of deadly wounded IPCC, who knows.

  16. enough said

    This paper may be all and well, but Solomon published the paper claiming a CO2 residence lifetime/effect of a 1000 years. Absolute BS. So why do we beelive anything she writes.

  17. […] a firma, tra gli altri, di Susan Solomon. Per ora disponiamo solo dell’abstract e del commento di Jeff Id, nei prossimi giorni cercheremo di entrare nello […]

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