Why is Water Vapour, the Most Important Greenhouse Gas, Ignored?

by Dr. Tim Ball on May 4, 2011

in Astronomical,Atmosphere,Data,History,Politics,Temperate

Marston Bates said, “Research is the process of going up alleys to see if they are blind.” But what happens if a research alley is avoided or ignored? Often the answer is in what is ignored, not what is presented. It”s an unacceptable practice in science, and only indicates the political nature of the climate change research and debate.

We should change the name of the planet from Earth to Water. It covers much more of the surface than land, makes it unique from the other planets, and without it, life as we know it would not exist. Search for water is a constant theme in space exploration.

Despite all this, what we actually need is more knowledge about water and its functions on Earth, especially with regard to weather and climate. All the emphasis is on temperature, but what happens to precipitation is far more important for plants and agriculture. Precipitation is mentioned in claims of increased droughts with global warming, but it”s a scare tactic and illogical. Warmer temperatures mean more moisture in the air with more precipitation potential, not less. The illogic eludes notice because of lack of understanding of the role of water in atmospheric processes.

Ignorance and Misunderstanding is Everywhere

Generally, the public is unaware that water vapor is 95% of the greenhouse gases by volume and CO2 is less than 4%. Water vapor is virtually ignored. Here is a web site devoted to greenhouse gases (GHG) but water vapor, by far the most abundant and important one is listed under . Consider a major scientific error in lesson information for Biology 301 at Oregon State University. Water vapor is listed under “Other trace gases”, while CO2 has its own section. It says warming means more evaporation and more water vapor in the atmosphere.

Whether this will amplify or dampen warming is unclear, as the effects of water vapor in the atmosphere depend on the droplet sizes and their height in the atmosphere.

This is wrong. Water droplets are not water vapor: the first is a liquid, the second a gas. Water droplets as clouds influence the weather, usually causing cooling. The role of clouds are a major failure of the computer climate models. Why is water vapor ignored? Part of the answer is excessive, deliberate, and political focus on CO2. Part is because water is taken for granted, and few are aware of the unique physical and chemical properties that make it different from most other elements on the planet.

Few know water vapor percentage varies more in the atmosphere than any other gas. It”s almost zero percent at the poles and 4 percent at the equator. Percentage changes significantly from region to region and in a matter of hours. But these are vague figures – the reality is that we have very little information about actual amounts. Global temperature measures are very limited and inadequate as Anthony Watts” work shows, but precipitation and atmospheric moisture measures are worse. An August 2006 Science article titled Waiting for the Monsoon notes,

Africa’s network of 1152 weather watch stations, which provide real-time data and supply international climate archives, is just one-eighth the minimum density recommended by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Furthermore, the stations that do exist often fail to report.

Satellites offered hope with a system that measured sunlight reflected by water vapor molecules, but measurement error was very high. They claim that is reduced.

After years of sustained research efforts into the accuracy of atmospheric water vapor measurements, researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy”s ARM Program have succeeded in reducing measurement uncertainties from greater than 25% to less than 3%.

This looks promising, but it is only a reduction of uncertainties. Regardless, an accuracy of three percent is inadequate to support the claims made about the role of greenhouse gases, especially CO2. But this won’t resolve the almost complete lack of any historic record.

A Positive Feedback That Is Actually Negative

There”s a problem even if you accept the assumption an increase in CO2 will cause a temperature increase. The atmosphere is almost saturated with respect to CO2″s capacity to delay heat escape. A good analogy is the objective of blocking light coming through a window. A single coat of paint will block almost all the light, and is like the current level of CO2 in the atmosphere. Second and third coats block very little more light, just as doubling or tripling CO2 will cause very little temperature increase. This created a dilemma for the theory that a human increase in CO2 would create significant warming.

It was supposedly resolved by claiming an increase in CO2 causes a temperature increase that causes increased evaporation putting more water vapor in the atmosphere. Now the most important greenhouse gas they essentially ignored received attention. Temperature increases projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) depend totally on increased water vapor. It is known as a positive feedback and is at the center of the debate of climate sensitivity. Evidence shows the positive feedback is wrong and climate sensitivity is overestimated.

Negative trends in [water vapor] as found in the NCEP data would imply that long-term water vapor feedback is negative—that it would reduce rather than amplify the response of the climate system to external forcing such as that from increasing atmospheric CO2.

But this is not surprising, because as Lord Monckton notes,

…the laboratory experiments in which evaluation of the CO2 forcing is attempted are of limited value when translated into the real atmosphere.

And of the claim that “…the 3.7 Wm–2 CO2 forcing at doubling is “determined by the underlying physics,” he says, “If only it were!”

Reality Provides the Ugly Fact

All computer models have the positive feedback mechanism built in, so warming predictions are no surprise. The problem is that the real world is not cooperating. Richard Lindzen demonstrated this clearly at the Third International Conference on Climate Change (June 2009). He presented this diagram that compared model predictions with real world data (top left graph):

Richard Lindzen ICCC diagram comparing model predictions with real data

Richard Lindzen ICCC diagram comparing model predictions with real data

As Lindzen noted, “What we see, then, is that the very foundation of the issue of global warming is wrong.” He then identified the real problem:

In a normal field, these results would pretty much wrap things up, but global warming/climate change has developed so much momentum that it has a life of its own – quite removed from science.

Thomas Huxley said, “The great tragedy of science – the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.” The hypothesis that human CO2 is causing warming is slain because they essentially ignored the role of water vapor in the atmosphere, but when used, it was done incorrectly. Of course, none of this speaks to clouds, the other major water problem in the atmosphere for the global warming hypothesis and computer models. Now the world is in a blind alley with energy and economic policies based on predictions from climate models that omit major elements and use false assumptions.