Climate Conversations: Be a Scientist

Clyde Burnett, Peak to Peak.  In contrast to the TV custom of ignoring science, you have no doubt been made aware of the prediction of an August 21 solar eclipse. There are theoretical predictions, based on Newton”s Law of Universal Gravitation with maybe slight modifications by Einstein. Will it be Real? You have an opportunity to make a ground truth scientific verification. But do you have an independent accurate time scale?


You may have even planned to make a visit to the predicted path of totality north of here. That could be the ultimate fantastic experimental verification. And I’m sure you will observe some very unique behaviors of a few extra humans at motels and on the highways. If you are not so fortunate, I’m sure there will be many recorded images, unless Mike Nelson, Channel 7 weatherman, fails to arrange for clear skies!


Or if you are not a denier of this corner of science, perhaps you could make some entirely original ground truth observations in your back yard. Say you just happen to be equipped with a bird feeder, thermometer, wind gauge, –and equipment like digital camera and sound recorder, Now a planned series of observations and you have documented the possible reactions of birds, maybe squirrels, and the atmosphere to the 92% decrease in solar illumination. Photos of the eclipsed sun also would be interesting, but that’s tricky and you will find plenty on TV and the internet.


Don’t have equipment? Make your own private visual observations; direct visual observations of the eclipsed sun would be good at totality, but for partial eclipse, eye protection from the bright sun is absolutely essential.


Our inability to see in the infrared makes it impossible to directly observe the heat trapping by the greenhouse effect. Still, I have on numerous occasions reminded you of the powerful atmospheric greenhouse result that gives us a global surface temperature of about 15oC rather than the –18oC degrees without atmospheric heat trapping. There is the political danger of some alternate explanation. So it is time that I expose you to the arithmetic that validates this result.


The global average temperature of the Earth is determined by the balance of the incident solar radiation and the infrared heat radiation from the Earth. We have a satellite measurements of the rate of incident solar energy per unit area at the top of our atmosphere. The 24-hour average, corrected for measured 30% reflection, is 240 watts/square meter.


The mathematical expression for the total heat radiation for all wave lengths may be found in any college physics textbook



5. 67 x 10-8 x T4 watts / square meter

(5.67 x 10-8 = 0.00000005.67)



If we now neglect any effects of the atmosphere and solve the arithmetic for the Earth’s Kelvin temperature T in the energy balance


5.67 x 10-8 T4 = 240

T = 255 K



The Kelvin zero for the point of no energy of motion is –273 C; the freezing temperature of water is + 273 K, and 255 K is –18 oC (or -.0.4 oF)


Clearly, it must be the atmosphere that is trapping the infrared heat energy to give our surface temperature of 15oC. Similar calculations for Mars and Venus clearly demonstrate that Earth is unique for our human, animal, and plant life.


There is no Planet B!