Does the El Nino Cycle Reveal a Flaw in Man-Made Global Warming Theory?

tropical pacific oceanMost people are unaware that the bulk of anthropogenic (man-made) global warming theory (AGW) is built on the concept of atmospheric water vapor feedback—not rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. Plenty of climate critics have questioned the soundness of this assumption, however, and evidence of its flaws may be more obvious than we realize.

Here’s the essence of AGW theory: CO2 is something of a limited greenhouse gas, in that it rapidly becomes saturated in the atmosphere. CO2’s limitations stem from the fact that, even in minute concentrations, it quickly renders the atmosphere opaque to a certain spectrum band of infrared radiation. And past that saturation point, additional concentrations of CO2 can offer only a minuscule and ever-diminishing amount of further heat-trapping function.

However, climate alarmists propose that the small amount of additional heat that CO2 traps in the atmosphere (before it becomes saturated) can sustain a corresponding rise in atmospheric water vapor content. Notably, water vapor is the primary “greenhouse” gas in the atmosphere and accounts for the overwhelming majority of atmospheric “greenhouse” function.

This additional quantity of atmospheric water vapor is expected to trap more heat, leading to a positive feedback “loop” of further heat-trapping, which will sustain yet more atmospheric water vapor, further raising temperatures, etc.

The obvious question mark in all of this is the issue of cloud formation. Atmospheric water vapor inevitably condenses into clouds, and transitions to rainfall that exercises some of this trapped energy. And cumulus clouds in the troposphere also reflect sunlight back into space.

Thus, the only way for water vapor to succeed as a positive feedback is for relative humidity to remain constant—that is, for the proportion of moisture forming into clouds to remain perpetually constant, no matter the increase in temperature—and not yield additional cloud cover.

The need for relative humidity to remain constant puts climate scientists in a bit of a quandary, however, since cloud formation is an inevitable result of atmospheric humidity.

Suppose, though, that we could look at an example of a massive injection of heat and humidity into the atmosphere, and then study the results. What might we find?

Fortunately, it’s not hard to conduct such an experiment, since El Nino weather patterns offer exactly the sort of warming needed to consider the impacts of added heat and humidity.

In 1998, the planet experienced a major El Nino, with temperatures spiking by several tenths of a degree for almost a year. A 2010 El Nino was more muted. But the recent 2015-2016 El Nino was a massive occurrence, with temperatures soaring globally to potentially record heights.

It’s important to consider that El Ninos are not simply ephemeral, and they are not random occurrences. They do in fact represent a profound shift in Pacific Ocean circulation patterns.

Typically, equatorial winds blow east to west in the Pacific. These winds continually push warm surface water toward the western Pacific. Over time, a large surplus of this warm water accumulates in the west. When this pile of warmer water begins to leak back eastward it can shift rising convection patterns, helping to shut down the prevailing east-to-west winds.

Once that happens, the warm, trapped water in the west comes spilling back, unfurling a massive surface area of trapped heat—which rises upward, carrying tremendous amounts of heat (and humidity) into the atmosphere. This huge, added volume of heat content not only raises global temperatures but also succeeds in shifting weather patterns worldwide. (The recent El Nino yielded such strange occurrences as the Northeast United States experiencing balmy winter days at the same time that the Southwest was plunged into unusually cold weather.)

Significantly, the injection of such a whopping amount of heat into the atmosphere, along with far more atmospheric humidity, duplicates some of the presumptions of AGW theory. Not only did global temperatures rise, but the added humidity helped to trap additional heat at the same time—further spiking temperatures. And the overall process took months to build, with temperatures progressively rising during that time.

But as was seen with even the most recent El Nino, these higher temperatures inevitably wash out. There are obvious weather disturbances during an El Nino, but cycles of rainfall help to gradually equalize conditions, eventually leading to a sharp drop off, as global temperatures fall back to their “starting point.”

Meteorologists often watch for a post-El Nino transition to a “La Nina,” wherein east-to-west winds reinitiate, drawing up colder, underlying waters in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. La Nina activity can drive an accompanying drop in global temperatures as these colder, upwelling waters absorb surface heat.

While no apparent La Nina has yet developed after the most recent El Nino, global temperatures still dropped precipitously at the end.

What’s interesting to ponder in watching this El Nino cycle is how clearly the additional heat and humidity failed to sustain itself, or drive a concurrent, longer-term rise in temperatures. Some of the elements of projected water vapor feedback (as expressed by AGW theory) were indeed present, yet atmospheric processes inevitably countervailed, and temperatures eventually fell.

If AGW theory trusts that an ongoing rise in atmospheric heat content will support an accompanying rise in evaporated water content, and thus lead to positive feedback for further warming, the El Nino cycle demonstrates that the mechanism to do so is more tenuous than presumed. Indeed, the global weather cycle readily demonstrates that evaporation and rain cycles innately tend to “wash out” such added humidity.

Overall, the water vapor feedback of AGW theory assumes a very high climate “sensitivity” to CO2. But just as the issue of cloud formation makes the issue more problematic, El Nino cycles show that water vapor feedback has obvious limits. And so, we see another reason to scrutinize man-made global warming theory, and to question its overall plausibility.

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Comments (19)

  • Avatar

    Amber

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    But isn’t this article questioning the “settled ” science ?
    I hope so because they can’t even forecast a La Nina with any certainty
    but ALL Gore with his vast scientific training has warned us that the Arctic is supposed to be ice free by now . That ‘s why that sail boat is picking it’s way through ice fields despite having the best equipment available to dodge ice bergs .
    It will be really disappointing if the current warming cycle stops as we are all better off as the resident population of Antarctica proves .

    • Avatar

      Steven Capozzola

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      Thanks, Amber. I think the pause will essentially continue at this point, noting that CO2 is saturated. Or, if anything, the dropoff in solar activity could mean we will see lower temperatures starting in the next decade. Anyway, I always appreciate reading your comments on this site. Thanks.

  • Avatar

    houston gas

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    The way the mechanism is described would suggest that, in the absence of any anthropogenic caused increase in CO2, planet temperature and atmospheric water vapor are in some kind of static balance, i.e. an equilibrium. If so, saturating the atmosphere with CO2 (to the point of opacity) should only shift that balance, not start a run away reaction. Why would the proposed feedback loop not have burned up pre-industrial Earth. I think Le Chatlier would laugh the global warming alarmists and computer programmers out of the room even apart from all the other issues you raise, i.e., cloud formation, weather pattern changes, etc.

    • Avatar

      Steven Capozzola

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      Well said. I wonder how many of the folks who passively side with alarmist theory are even aware of the optical saturation issue regarding carbon dioxide?…

  • Avatar

    Stuart

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    I live in Palawan Philippines here we have two seasons Dry (low humidity) Wet (high humidity) I always look forward to the wet season because even though it is June to September it is much cooler (2 or 3 degrees celsius) obviously proving (to me anyway) that water vapour has more negative feedbacks than positive.

  • Avatar

    Steven Capozzola

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    Well, good to hear from you Stuart. And nice to have some real world experience added to this debate. Thanks.

  • Avatar

    Simon Ruszczak

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    There’s no feedback (high or low), because there’s no feed-forward. There’s no greenhouse gas (including water vapour). Finish getting out of the rabbit hole.

    • Avatar

      Me

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      Water is mostly the only cause of our climate, and for some they can thank God for it, but that is the reality. The other thing is that big yellow ball in the sky! Called the Sun!

      • Avatar

        Me

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        But hey it doesn’t help with that dynamo in the centre of the earth, Ya know that one that makesa magnit feild that saves us all, and makes all the heated magma in between with tictonic activity with in the ring of fire plays a role in the Pacific Ocean? Ya know the El Nenio and the La Nenia events?

        • Avatar

          Me

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          Fer christ sakes, they teach you that in highschool or they used to? What the hell is going on, is everyone that stupid now?

        • Avatar

          Simon Ruszczak

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          The overall total effect of water vapour is to cool the world, not warm it. I agreed with all your statements, even the first one. You’ll always be a “lukewarmist”, better than being a “libtard”.

          • Avatar

            Me

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            Well water is the controller of the climate and yes clouds cool in the dead heat of summer, but then clouds does the oposite in the winter. I am no warmist by any measure, I am of themind that your carbon BS is what it is, cause you can’t tax what is natural. and that is the difference between Me and you claiming Me o be a luke warmist! So nice try! Bwaaahahaha!

          • Avatar

            Simon Ruszczak

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            Reply, to below comment.
            Your right, carbon dioxide AGW is BS, I never said is wasn’t.
            I did say TOTAL effect. Mostly by clouds reflecting Sun radiation back into space.
            My “lukewarmist” statement is reaffirmed by yourself.

          • Avatar

            Me

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            Don’t make More of an ass of yourself than you are already making.

          • Avatar

            Me

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            The other thing no one ever mention here was the Jet stream, I made that right here, now suddenly people are taling about that in the msm! Never heard them ever mention that before. I said north will be cold south of it will be warm. I have watched it and seen it. What do they do? Now climatechange affects the jet stream?

          • Avatar

            Me

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            And I mademention of that after they were going all nuts over the polar vortex crap!

          • Avatar

            Me

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            So say what ya like numpty, Luke Skywalker warmist BS all you like, it doesn’t earn ya any brownie points, you are deflecting and diverting fer some reason. If I had to say, you are in the alarmist campfrom Me stand point. And ya know I bet there are others here that will think the same. So good luck!

  • Avatar

    Per Strandberg (@LittleIceAge)

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    Interesting article. I have built a sharp and effective Artificial neural network or NN which I used in researching the underlining drivers of ENSO. I recently presented my results and my ENSO forecast at a skeptic climate conference in London. In my forecast I predict that the current La Niña is going to deepen after this current autumn equinox, which by the way is today. La Niña is going to be strongest during the Feb, Mar, Apr timeframe of next year. The biggest factor for ENSO variations is the pressure pattern in strength and latitude variations which emerge during Strong tidal gravitational pulses when the Moon is closest to Earth. The variations in the Sun electromagnetic activity also plays a minor part as triggers for ENSO variations. Interestingly we know that ENSO variations is the strongest driver of temperature changes on a yearly basis, but some has calculated that over half of temperature changes since 1950 can be attributed to ENSO.
    http://www.coolingnews.com/the-cause-of-enso

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