9 Mankind in a cloud of confusion

The last chapter ended with these words: If we want to understand climate change we need to come to grips with the processes that are responsible for the change in the partial pressure of ozone in the polar atmosphere. This is the parameter that drives surface pressure, the planetary winds, cloud cover and surface temperature.  We will see that ozone levels climb to a peak in the polar atmosphere in spring but to a variable extent between the years and across the decades. We will see that this process is independent of man’s activities. Furthermore, it is a sufficient explanation of the change in surface temperature that has occurred. But this is a long story that is rich in evidence and will take time in the telling.

The basic parameters of the climate system are forever changing in a fashion that precludes effective modelling, unless we properly apprehend the forces involved.

This chapter is intended to be a brief general introduction to the nature of the atmosphere. It is informed by an unconventional view of climatic processes. I hope that the chapters that precede this chapter have prepared you for this!

Two very different accounts of the nature of the atmosphere are presented, first my own and then what might be describes as the orthodox version.  The latter emanates from a private company in the UK, not the Met Office. It can be found at: http://www.weatheronline.co.uk/reports/wxfacts/The-Earths-Atmosphere.htm

In the latter there are a number of jolting errors: Nitrogen represents 78%, not 70% of the Earth’s atmosphere. Secondly, there is in fact pervasive horizontal and vertical motion in the stratosphere. The stratosphere is anything but homogeneous in its composition.  Thirdly, the ozone content in the stratosphere is in a state of constant flux. Fourthly, the concept of a tropopause, if by ‘tropopause’ we mean a notional boundary separating ozone affected and ozone free air, that is coincident with a ‘cold point’  can not be found outside near equatorial latitudes.

There is however, an elemental truth in the orthodox description of the atmosphere relating to its importance to humans dwelling at the surface and it is encapsulated in the following words: “The atmosphere protects surface dwellers from the high energy short wave radiation from the sun and the frigid vacuum of space”.  Let me hasten to add that these points  should be qualified. The southern hemisphere is in fact, due to the relative deficiency of ozone’ much less protected from short wave radiation than is the northern hemisphere, a curiosity that needs to be accounted for. On the other hand, the northern hemisphere that is land rich and therefore develops large areas of high surface pressure in the winter,  regularly gets a taste of the frigid vacuum of space. That’s why Santa Clause lives in the relatively salubrious climate of the north Pole rather than in Siberia.  The relative warmth of the Arctic Ocean is infinitely preferable to the blizzards of Antarctica or the gut freezing grip of Oymyakon in Siberia. In 1924 a temperature of −71.2 °C was reported for Oymyakon  indicating that the air gained only  15°C in its passage from the mesosphere to the surface. This is no place for reindeer. At about -60°C the snow and ice loses its slipperiness and sleigh travel is no longer practical. Santa would be locked up for Christmas.


 Over a short vertical interval of about a thousand metres the atmosphere has a temperature that is close enough to surface temperature to be comfortable to humans but only over a restricted range of near tropical latitudes and a larger portion of the summer hemisphere. Fortunately the atmosphere and the waters of the oceans actively transfer energy tending to make cold places warmer and warm places cooler. This relates to storage and transport phenomena and simple conductivity rather than any supposed ‘greenhouse effect’. The oceans are a great moderating influence. By virtue of their transparency the oceans store energy to depth. Maritime locations have a relatively invariable temperature regime while landlocked places are subject to inconvenient diurnal and seasonal fluctuations in temperature. Accordingly the ocean rich southern hemisphere is warmer in winter and cooler in summer than the land rich northern hemisphere.



It is somewhat inconvenient that due to the tilt of the Earth on its axis, the winter sun falls low in the sky near the poles actually disappears below the horizon. The land surfaces do not store energy at all well.  In the land rich northern hemisphere surface temperature falls precipitously. The map above shows the extent of the inconvenience attached to the combination of low temperatures and dry moving air calculated as a ‘misery index’. This map relates to the early part of winter on January 18th 2016. The combination of cold dry air and the movement of the air induces a chilling effect.  the temperature ‘feels like’ the figures recorded above. The transition between black and blue takes one into the freezing zone.  Freeze drying chambers intended to freeze animal tissue operate at a temperature of -50 to -80°C , the latter being close to the temperature of the mesosphere and the middle stratosphere over the pole in winter.

On the dark side ozone proliferates intensifying the production of polar cyclones that collectively lower surface pressure between  50° of latitude and the pole. The transfer of atmospheric mass to lower latitudes and the summer hemisphere that is due to enhanced polar cyclone activity is recognized as the major mode of inter-annual climate change. It depends upon the amount of ozone in the air in high latitudes, the agent for the generation of polar cyclones. That depends in turn upon the extent of incursions of cold mesospheric air from above and tropospheric air from below. Both contain oxides of nitrogen that are involved with the destruction of ozone.

The transfer of mass engendered by waxing and waning polar cyclone activity engenders change in processes responsible for cloud cover and surface temperature. Northern landmasses in winter can suffer from accelerated descent of cold upper air as surface pressure rises in the mid latitudes. The extent of cloud cover in the mid latitudes is reduced as surface pressure increases over those parts of the oceans occupied by high pressure cells.  Cloud can reflect up to 80% of incident solar radiation. The energy stored in the oceans represents a buffer that, via the movement of the sea makes maritime locations more tolerable than inland locations and offers a store of energy that tends to maintain planetary temperatures above inconvenient minima, especially in spring and autumn. This buffer is sore needed in the northern hemisphere in winter.

The temperature of the surface of the Earth varies with change in the amount of energy  that finds its way into the ocean according to variations in cloud cover rather than any supposed inefficiency in the process of  transferring energy to space.  The atmosphere is invariably efficient in transporting energy from the surface of the planet to space. There can be no inhibition due to back radiation in an atmosphere characterised by constant movement. The properties of a thin envelope of gas surrounding a planet spinning in space that is warm at its equatorial region and cold elsewhere, where the gas envelope loses density with elevation at a very fast clip, all together, ensure that the celebrated ‘greenhouse’ mechanism is simply  a work of the imagination rather than an atmospheric reality. If the atmosphere was static, like a jelly, then perhaps, yes. But in an atmosphere that is characterised by uplift of any parcel of air that becomes slightly warmer…no, definitely not.


The atmosphere contains a very large molecule much subject to destruction via photolysis by short wave radiation from the sun, a molecule that is distributed quite unequally, a molecule that is energised by radiation from the Earth itself, that becomes the dominant influence on the circulation of the atmosphere at the surface and the temperature of the cloud bearing layer. The concentration of that molecule in the atmosphere  is affected by  interaction with the very much rarefied upper portion of the atmosphere that is hungry for oxygen and ozone and equally he Nox rich troposphere below. Ozone is subject to destruction via the impact of  Nox metered into the stratosphere over the poles at a faster rate in the southern than the northern hemisphere.  It is also affected by the uplift of NOx from the troposphere and particularly so over the equator. To a slight extent the atmosphere responds to changes in the Earth’s magnetic field forced by the solar wind due to the diamagnetic properties of ozone and the presence of particles carrying an electric charge in turn due to the activity of cosmic rays.  Once initiated a reduction in high latitude surface pressure is  magnified by the increase in the ozone content content of the polar atmosphere that immediately occurs. These factors combine to ensure that climate at the surface must inevitably change over time according to the concentration of ozone in the atmosphere and clouds in the sky.


Man makes sense of his environment and promotes communication, cooperation and order by classifying things according to their character and giving them names. He draws maps and puts up fences to suit his own convenience. He builds houses on the sea shore, on slopes subject to slippage, in terrain subject to earthquakes and valleys subject to flooding. This is not wise.

In his notions of what constitutes the atmosphere man is less wise than the birds who rise upon the thermals and wing their way across the hemispheres in vast annual migrations. In particular the notions of a troposphere and a stratosphere with a notional boundary between the two have hampered man’s understanding of his atmospheric environment. Earth is an orb spinning about the sun rather than a flat surface uniformly illuminated from above and the implications of this are difficult to grasp. This ‘orbital character’ fundamentally shapes the character of the atmosphere ensuring that in almost every respect the atmosphere is very different in its summer and winter modes. Climate Science of the official academic variety has yet to come properly to grips with this reality.


The first mistake made in the description of the atmosphere that is provided below comes in the very first sentence. The atmosphere has none of the properties of a blanket. The second mistake is in the second sentence. For practical purposes, so far as atmospheric energetics is concerned, the atmosphere is not 200 kilometres in thickness but somewhere between 20 and about 30 kilometres in thickness, encompassing 97% and 99% of its total mass respectively … a mere skin.

Within  that skin like layer the atmosphere  has charged particles subject to electromagnetic influences and chemical interactions but less so at the equator and more so at the poles. The behaviour of these changed particles when the Earth’s electric and magnetic field is affected by the solar wind is a matter of conjecture but of fundamental importance to the climate system that can be nudged one way or the other  according to tendencies that are maintained over long periods of time. The Earth system itself tells us that this must be happening. There is a consistent date stamp in the surface temperature record indicating that polar processes govern the  inter-annual variation in  surface climate and that same date stamp appears in the historical evolution of surface temperature across the decades. The date stamp is applied to the pulse of extremes associated with those months of the year when polar atmospheric processes engineer the strongest shifts in atmospheric mass. And to top this off the movements in mass change high latitude surface pressure over long time cycles, of the order of perhaps 200 years so far as the Antarctic is concerned and shorter intervals for the Arctic.

The two hemispheres are very different kettles of fish. The change in surface pressure over time should not be swept under the table as a matter of little consequence because the distribution of atmospheric mass and surface pressure determines the temperature of the air that we perceive as we emerge from under the blankets each morning. Our first interest is to work out what to wear to keep ourselves warm.


Wind is air in movement travelling from a high to a low pressure zone. Low pressure is produced by heating of the atmosphere reducing its density. The three major modes of heating are via contact with a warm surface, via the release of latent heat associated with condensation and sublimation  (as in a tropical cyclone) and via the absorption of infra-red energy by ozone utilizing the energy emanating from the earth itself. The proportion of the atmospheric column that contains ozone increases with latitude and more so in winter. Lowest surface pressures are produced in high latitudes where the air is cold and dense. One can with difficulty imagine the extent of the influence of ozone that is required to produce this phenomenon. It is this latter source of heating that drives shifts in atmospheric mass from high latitudes on inter-annual and longer time scales. In fact it drives Hadley cell dynamics and the change in the velocity of the winds that accounts for the relative share of the tropics inhabited by cold waters up-welling from the deep. One can perhaps appreciate the shift in thinking that is required to accommodate this reality.


When one emerges from ones cosy bed in the morning and steps outside the air is observed to be warm or cold, moist or dry according to the point in the compass from which it blows. between the frigid zones surface temperature is dictated by the origin of the air mass present at the time. The temperature of the air is influenced by the surface over which it blows. The sea is much windier at the surface than the land and it more strongly reflects the surface pressure regime that varies with latitude. The surface pressure regime is a function of the distribution of atmospheric mass that depends upon the ozone content of the air.

In the Frigid zones the origin of the air alternates between the warmer surface that is always more equatorial in origin and the very much colder air aloft. If surface pressure is high the air will be descending.


The most limiting nutrient  so far as plant growth is concerned is carbon dioxide. The increase in the carbon dioxide content of the air enables plants to survive with less water. The increase from near starvation levels to levels that will continue to be well short of optimal is enabling a well documented greening of the arid lands and will increase the carrying capacity of the globe. If man exhausts sources of energy that involve the emission of carbon dioxide plants will have to survive on the carbon dioxide breathed out by warm blooded animals. Then perhaps it will be a question of the survival of the fittest.



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