NASA Data Show CO2 Trapping Less Heat than Expected

Published August 2, 2011

NASA satellite data from the years 2000 through 2011 show the earth’s atmosphere is allowing more heat to be released into space than computer models have predicted, reports a new study in the peer-reviewed science journal Remote Sensing.

Study coauthor Roy Spencer, Ph.D., a principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer on NASA’s Aqua satellite, reports real-world data from NASA’s Terra satellite contradict multiple assumptions fed into computer models used to predict the future climate.

“The satellite observations suggest there is much more energy lost to space during and after warming than the climate models show,” Spencer said in a July 26 University of Alabama press release. “There is a huge discrepancy between the data and the forecasts that is especially big over the oceans.”

In addition to finding that far less heat is being trapped than computer models have predicted, the NASA satellite data show the atmosphere begins shedding heat into space long before United Nations computer models predicted.

Models Inaccurate
Scientists on all sides of the global warming debate are in general agreement about how much heat is being directly trapped by human emissions of carbon dioxide. However, the single most important issue in the global warming debate is whether carbon dioxide emissions will indirectly trap a much greater amount of heat by causing large increases in atmospheric humidity and cirrus clouds. UN computer models assume human carbon dioxide emissions indirectly cause substantial increases in atmospheric humidity and cirrus clouds (each of which are very effective at trapping heat), but real-world data have long shown carbon dioxide emissions are not causing as much atmospheric humidity and cirrus clouds as the computer models have predicted.

The new NASA Terra satellite data are consistent with long-term NOAA and NASA data indicating atmospheric humidity and cirrus clouds are not increasing in the manner predicted by UN computer models. The Terra satellite data also support data collected by NASA’s ERBS satellite showing more longwave radiation (and thus, heat) escaped into space between 1985 and 1999 than the computer models had predicted.

Together, the NASA ERBS, and Terra satellite data show that for 25 years and counting, carbon dioxide emissions have directly and indirectly trapped substantially less heat than UN computer models have predicted

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.