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Water Vapor In Mid-Troposphere May Double Warming Effect

Analysis of seven years of data from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite indicates that increased levels of atmospheric water vapor, a naturally occurring greenhouse gas, creates a powerful positive feedback loop which could more than double the climate warming effects from carbon dioxide, absent any yet-unidentified factor that could mitigate the effect.

Airs
NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument prior to installation in the Aqua satellite, launched in 2002. Source: NASA. Click to enlarge.

The findings were presented by climatologist Andrew Dessler of Texas A & M University at last week’s American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco. Although scientists have long believed that water vapor is a key amplifier of the effects of climate change, efforts to quantify the potential effect have so far been elusive. However, the AIRS instrument now provides observational data that has been used to validate earlier computer models. The models had predicted a rise in humidity resulting from increased atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, producing water vapor which in turn would store more heat.

The AIRS instrument measures gas levels in the mid-troposphere, which lies approximately 5 to 12 kilometers (3 to 7 miles) above Earth’s surface, and is an important transport layer for greenhouse gases, including CO2, methane, and water vapor. Clouds that hold increased moisture, and thus increased reflectivity, could potentially reduce the effect.

“The implication of these studies is that—should greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current course of increase—we are virtually certain to see Earth’s climate warm by several degrees Celsius in the next century, unless some strong negative feedback mechanism emerges elsewhere in Earth’s climate system,” Dessler said.

The AIRS project was originally designed to complement NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) (earlier post) as part of an international “A-Train” of climate satellites. However, OCO crashed in February after failing to reach orbit (earlier post). OCO would have orbited three minutes ahead of Aqua, mapping CO2 sources and sinks from Earth’s surface to as high as 20 kilometers (12 miles).

Last week, the US Senate approved funds to construct and launch a second Orbiting Carbon Observatory. The measure had already been approved by the House of Representatives, and is expected to be signed by President Obama.

—Jack Rosebro

Comments

ejj

"Water Vapor In Mid-Troposphere May Double Warming Effect"...but the Chinese cloud-seeding operations would likely cancel out any warming effects....

The Goracle

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Awesome!!! We similar to CO2 (exhaling)the EPA can now call water a form of pollution and regulate the use, emission, and ownership of it! Woo hoo!!!! Water is EVIL.

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Sean Prophet

Goracle: Stupid, lying, or pumping out agitprop for James Inhofe. Which is it?

The Goracle

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Sean Prophet said: "Stupid, lying..."

Name calling = Science! Good job Sean Prophet. You have now convinced many that your argument is correct.

Now lets all be nice people and get back to digging Wasington D.C. out of the record cold and record snow that Global Warming® (since rebranded Climate Change® since rebranded CO2 Pollution®) has caused!

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HarveyD

If more high altitude humidity creates warmer climate; creating more evaporation; creating more rain falls etc. The snow ball effect could give us a much warmer cycle during our own life time.

How fast will it really be and how far will it go before it reverses?

Naysayers certainly have the answers.

mahonj

It is a pity that they cannot get a model that is correct.

Sam

climate scientists are engaging in very complex modeling of our earth ecosystem, with an extraordinary amount of data. nonetheless, the models will have flaws, just like your weatherman is not always going to be right. to think that these climate models are going to be exact is bogus (they are general models to predict weather trends). there will still be snowstorms. bottom line is that some of the most educated people in the world engage in some form of modeling and are successful in doing so. in any modeling exercise, it is important to realize the limitations - we cannot possibly model everything. but, any one who has used models before can tell that they are can be valuable for understanding the dynamics of physical systems. the reason models are used is because performing the physical experiment required to observe those dynamics is impossible due to technical and/or financial constraints. in essence, climate scientists see the industrial revolution as an experiment from which they can obtain data about how anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions could affect the planet's climate. sure, they can't measure everything and predict everything, but the scientific valor of their results is pretty sound as these models are undoubtedly derived from first principles (physical laws of the universe, mass/energy balances, etc.). do we really believe that all of these climate scientists are making full careers of just generating bunk data and models? it is more realistic to believe that these folks are applying their knowledge and experience to try to understand the extremely complex dynamics of earth's climate, just as the rest of us do the same in our own respective professional pursuits. sure there are probably some that are looking to profit from their work, but most of us are just trying to put food on the table and a roof over our heads.

The Goracle

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...these models are undoubtedly derived from first principles...

Sadly, many, if not most, of these lofty "scientists" refuse to release their models for review so the above statement can not be verified. Models that, for the most part were funded by government dollars and therefore are not proprietary property of an individual or corporation. Models that apparently are so special that "scientists" break laws (FOIA) to keep them from getting into the hands of fellow researchers.

If the "scientists" would simply release their methods and data they could stop all doubt. Or, they could be seen as frauds. Why do they refuse to eliminate doubt?

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ds

if it was jets - oh my!
why is it not raining in lebanon , kenya.

sulleny

"do we really believe that all of these climate scientists are making full careers of just generating bunk data and models?"

Unfortunately yes, since the science is so politicized and the massive grant programs are biased to purchase findings confirming the AGW theory.

All that grant money would be far better spent helping poor nations, global health, hunger, education. Instead it supports the Western elite's pet theory of AGW (aka climate change.) Pathetic.

Kelly

Sulleny:

Can you specify the findings in Dessler's paper that you believe to be inaccurate or incorrect?

Also, can you specify what the correct findings would have been, and explain how you came to your conclusions?

sulleny

The Dessler paper is behind a pay wall. However, in an earlier paper(1) Dessler claims that his mid and upper tropospheric H20 LSC climate models are confirmed by AIRS sat measurements w/o need for detailed microphysics. Yet in his conclusion he writes:

"If detailed microphysical processes play a role in determining the large-scale wind field, then microphysics might indeed be playing an important role in regulating H2O. Our analysis provides no insight into this question."

It is precisely these microphysical processes that Lindzen et al argue determine large-scale wind field.

Question remains if such a positive water vapor forcing mechanism is accurate - where is it demonstrated in the paleo-climate record?

(1) JGR,VOL. 112, D10120, doi:10.1029/2006JD007683, 2007

Kelly

Sulleny:

So you haven't actually read the paper that you are calling into question?

sulleny

Let's see, if H2O is the warming culprit now... We could request people stop respiring AND put covers over the rivers, lakes, streams and er, oceans. That oughtta be worth another $25M in government grants!

Kelly

Sulleny, since you won't say whether or not you have read the research paper that you have criticized, I guess it's time for the questions that Goracle and Reel$$ have so far declined to answer:

Are you compensated in any way for the posts that you write?

Do you post under multiple names?

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