Few people know that skin is an organ; even fewer know it’s the largest organ of the body. It is the contact, called an interface, between two completely different environments: the body and the world. It controls movement of gases, liquids and solids in both directions all the time. The surface of the Earth is similar as the interface between the atmosphere and the underlying surfaces. Accurate measurement and understanding of processes are critical to what is happening in the atmosphere, underground and in the oceans. Unless we understand the dynamics across the interface, we will not know what is going on above and below the surface.
Science divides the world and its atmosphere into layers depending on what they are studying. For example, geophysicists start in the centre of the Earth with the Solid Inner Core extending through the Liquid Outer Core, the Mantle and the crust. Climate science identifies layers (Figure 1) but even at this point we begin seeing the limitations. The layers are based on energy from the Sun. They ignore volumes of geothermal energy that move through the crust, especially under the oceans where the crust is thinner and more perforated.
Simple, but major, differences between land and water illustrate the problems. Movement of heat from within the earth is different primarily because of circulation. Solar energy penetrates up to 50 meters into the ocean while it hardly penetrates the soil at all. It takes much more energy to raise the temperature of water than land, but it also cools much slower. Rates of evaporation that is molecules of water that are given enough velocity by heat energy to escape the surface, are also very different. There is an unlimited supply of molecules in the oceans. Since this is the major source of energy transfer to the atmosphere, it is critical to weather and climate.Figure 1
Atmosphere layers determined
by temperature and pressure
Figure 1 shows atmospheric layers. It shows the boundaries (interfaces) above the surface, such as the Tropopause and the Stratopause but leaves out the major critical interface between the atmosphere and the earth. These boundaries separate by temperature, but you can use other measures; the term atmosphere encompasses the entire region to the edge of space and is different from the lithosphere and hydrosphere. It also includes the thinnest but most important zone – the biosphere – which contains virtually all life on the planet, yet is mostly within a few meters of the surface. What happens here is critical to weather and climate, as Rudolf Geiger (1894-1981) recognized in his remarkable work Climate Near The Ground (1950). In weather and climate research, it is akin to the Boundary Layer. An early book by R.E. Munn identified its dynamics and importance.
A measure of the failure of modern climate science is that there is a Wikipedia entry for Geiger, but it is a single line and asks for expansion.
His book has been updated and a sixth edition with two other authors is now available. Others like Sellers and Oke produced useful research, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ignore the entire issue. They make an incorrect understatement. Temperature changes are one of the more obvious and easily measured changes in climate, but atmospheric moisture, precipitation and atmospheric circulation also change, as the whole system is affected.
No, temperatures may be obvious but they are not an easily measured change in climate. The comment also fails to acknowledge that changes in temperature are a direct input to changes in the other variables.
Officially, but incorrectly, it’s called the surface temperature. Actually, it is atmospheric temperature in a ventilated box called a Stevenson Screen that can be between 1.25-2 m above the surface. The significance of this is shown in a graph (Figure 2) of temperatures. Those at 2.5 cm are quite different in degree and daily range than even 1.2 m. This converts to dramatically different monthly and annual averages that are climate. For example, one station in Ohio had a full 90 days difference in the length of the frost-free season at the ground or at 1.5 m. A crop such as barley can grow in that length of time.
Apart from heat exchange at the surface there is the issue of evaporation. The atmosphere is heated in three different ways. First is conduction as molecules of air touching the surface are heated by direct contact. Second is convection as these heated molecules rise by convection or are moved away by the wind (advection). Third, and the most important but underestimated way, especially in the tropics, is evaporation. The latter is directly determined by temperature right at the surface, not 1.5 m above.Figure 2
Daily range of temperatures
at different heights in summer
Source: Oliver and Hidore, After Geiger 1950
All the discussion and measures are about bare surfaces, but it is never that simple. Changes in the color and the texture make a difference. Most life forms are within that 1.5 m; add vegetation and it changes the entire dynamics. In a bizarre instruction, an early technical report for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in order to set up a weather station for a forest, you begin by clearing a 200 m site. Of course, you’re no longer measuring the weather or determining the climate of a forest.
Change wind speed, and the dynamics change becoming even more complicated. Vegetation makes it especially difficult over land. This is matched by the complications of changes in the ocean surface with everything from ripples to large waves altering the surface area and angle at which sunlight strikes. The list of complications goes on and on. For example, what happens to global energy when snow covers large areas of the northern hemisphere and varies in extent from year to year? Or how snow is deeper in vegetated areas? Do they consider the heat energy that passes through polar sea ice to warm the atmosphere?
Gases moving across the interface are critical to climate research. We have few and only recent measures. As a 2006 report noted,
In the last few years, more and more research has focused on the biosphere; particularly, on how gases which influence the climate are exchanged between the biosphere and atmosphere.
They were amazed to find how much methane was released from the rainforest. There are virtually no studies for deserts, grasslands or tundra. For example, we know oceans are critical to amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Surface station numbers are inadequate, and they’re not measuring what is necessary for understanding changes in weather and climate. But none of this is important to the IPCC, who only wants the results to support the political conclusion.