Basic Science For Dummies

Anything which impedes energy flow, increases the potential energy upstream.

This includes

  • Dams on rivers
  • Electrical resistors
  • Greenhouse gases and other insulators
  • Narrow hoses
  • Not getting laid often enough

About stevengoddard

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84 Responses to Basic Science For Dummies

  1. gator69 says:

    The last two are potentially related.

    • Louis Hooffstetter says:

      Try to keep it between the lines and stay on topic. We don’t want to feed the Trolls or encourage the lunatic fringe.

  2. Curt says:

    These guys would look at a cashier making change for a purchase and say: “That’s all wrong! The cashier should not be giving the customer any money when the customer is buying from the store!”

  3. Scott Scarborough says:

    Give up! They won’t understand. I found this out years ago when I tried to explain the concept of a Ponzi scheme to my father-in-law.

  4. nickreality65 says:

    No it doesn’t. It only slows the transfer unless it is a perfect insulator. The energy upstream can remain the same or decrease (entropy), but it cannot increase. In a closed system. If something is feeding energy into the upstream, well, it’s not closed, it is it?

    • I see, so adding a resistor doesn’t increase the voltage – putting your thumb over the end of the hose doesn’t increase the pressure, and damming a river doesn’t increase the elevation of the water.

      Twilight zone music.

  5. tom0mason says:

    Surely we all agree with the simple statement “Anything which impedes energy flow, increases the potential energy upstream.”

    What is in debate is the nature of GHG, downwelling energy, and the form that the energy takes – IR, kenetic, a dynamic mix, others…

  6. “Anything which impedes energy flow, increases the potential energy upstream”

    Sure, but anything which impedes energy flow can be “short-circuited” by anything else in the same circuit that impedes energy flow less, i.e. radiative forcing being “short-circuited” by convection. The thermodynamics of convection, evaporation, adiabatic lapse rate/pressure/atmospheric mass/gravity dominate the troposphere and “short-circuit” most of the radiative forcing, as shown in fig 4 of this paper describing radiative-convective equilibrium in planetary atmospheres:

    Click to access convection.pdf

    also subsequently demonstrated by a paper in Nature by Robinson & Catling to apply to all planets with thick atmospheres in our solar system:

    Click to access Robinson2014_0.1bar_Tropopause.pdf

    one of several posts describing the Robinson & Catling paper at

    i.e. convection dominates over radiative forcing in the troposphere until the atmosphere becomes too thin to sustain convection at P=0.1 bar, i.e. where the tropopause begins and radiative forcing takes over.

  7. Patrick Hannon, Statistician says:

    Hi Tony, I’ll take a stab at these examples …
    1) Dams on Rivers: A Dam restricts and channels the flow of water. If the dam is set to restrict flow that is lower than the average rain fall in the areas feeding behind the dam, the water level behind the Dam will rise, and the potential energy of the dam-system rises. If the release rate of the dam is greater than what’s feeding the dam then the water level goes lower, and the potential energy of the dam system rises.
    2) Electrical resistors: A power supply can be modeled as a perfect voltage source with an internal resistance. So when you restrict the current by placing an extra resistor in series with an already closed circuit set-up, then voltage drop across the internal resistance will drop, hence the available voltage will increase … this is of course a minor effect unless you are demanding too much power from the power supply to begin with.
    3) Narrow hoses: assuming we’re talking about comparing a narrow hose to a wide hose, and that say we’re getting this water and pressure from an upstream system that is placing water in, say a water tower, at a constant fixed rate (as all pumps are prone to deliver at), then … the narrow hose will intuitively result in less water flow than the big hose, and so if the water pump feeding the hose was set for the demand of the big hose, then the water level in the water tower will rise, creating more potential and pressure.
    4) Not getting laid enough: fortunately I have no experience with this condition. 🙂

  8. Patrick Hannon, Statistician says:

    Of course my comments here follow a similar vein of thought as what I provided in the “One more time” post. Energy budgets when you have incoming and outgoing energy flows in a closed system matter.

  9. Patrick Hannon, Statistician says:

    My big picture understanding of down-welling IR from an increased greenhouse effect due to increased co2 in the atmosphere is clear and widely accepted. The problem of course is that this effect is but one of so many known and unknown factors controlling the “global temperature”. This physical effect may well be a moot point even though true because of the impact of other more important factors. Even if the empirical measurements of the earths total outgoing radiative energy doesn’t show a decrease, that doesn’t mean that the greenhouse effect of more co2 is wrong. There are many physical ways the earth’s climate system could bring that energy out of the system and off to space.

  10. From the Earth’s surface to the tropopause, the energy flow is governed solely by the lapse rate in temperature, which is due solely to the gravitational acceleration g and the effective specific heat of the atmosphere–completely independent of just how the atmosphere is warmed, as for example by absorption and emission of IR radiation by IR-active (“greenhouse”) gases in the atmosphere. “Greenhouse gases” don’t impede the energy flow upward (as–again–my Venus/Earth temperatures comparison proved (simply: it precisely–precisely–confirmed the Standard Atmosphere, which is based upon the temperature lapse rate as the governing physical condition of the atmosphere–and this, despite local and transient, as well as latitudinal, variations of the real troposphere from its precise definition in the Standard Atmosphere). Your argument is based upon a false premise, and is therefore irrelevant, immaterial, and incompetent.

  11. Patrick Hannon, Statistician says:

    🙂 ok I’ll bite … you said specific heat of the atmosphere, how does that get set, what determines that specific heat. If something can alter that then it’s in play. You’re words are rather shrill, suggesting a certain level of insecurity/lack of confidence. I say suggesting because I don’t know you. I really take my hat off to Tony with his infinite patience with the tone of voice of some of the people on these dialogs. Convince me through peaceful dialog, facts, and explanations, not labeling someone incompetent. I assure you I’m not. 🙂

    • Patrick Hannon, Statistician says:

      Of course, I forgot to ask, what exactly was the false premise? I’ve been invoking several pillars of physics.

  12. KevinK says:

    Tony, with all due respect, in the case of free space propagation of optical radiation in dielectrics (gases, glass, etc.) that portion of Maxwell’s equation dealing with “resistance” equals zero.

    There is no optical analog to the electrical resistor. The specific conductivity gets multiplied by the electric field vector to yield the current density. Di-electrics have a conductivity equal to zero (by definition,otherwise they would be semi-conductors or conductors) hence no current density.

    Ohm’s law simply does not apply.

    If you put a neutral density filter into a beam of optical radiation it has no effect on the “upstream” radiation flow. The filter absorbs optical radiation converting it into heat, but there is no “resistance”, “back-pressure” or “impedance” to the flow of optical radiation.

    This is covered in Chapter 1 of Born and Wolf’s “Principles of Optics”, on page 3 in my old (1980) edition. This is considered a very definitive book on the topic and no one seriously disputes the equations therein.

    Cheers, Kevin.

    • A bogus analogy. The atmosphere is almost opaque to many frequencies of longwave radiation. They absorb the light and warm, and re-radiate downwards. You are talking about a different topic.

      • KevinK says:

        Tony, you started the electrical resistor analogy, I was pointing out that it does not apply.

        The re-radiation analogy is closer, but still incorrect.

        Do you understand at all how an optical delay line functions ? It does not matter if the gases are opaque (as long as they are opaque in a narrow band).

      • richard says:

        if i direct light back on itself with a mirror do i create more light? I believe only in areas where there is no light.

    • Curt says:

      Kevin: Open up any engineering heat transfer textbook and you will see radiative heat transfer problems treated by analogy to electrical circuits, with resistors between nodes representing the radiative thermal resistance to power flow. The nodes have a (voltage-like) potential representing the 4th power of temperature multiplied by the emissivity.

      • KevinK says:

        Curt, lots of engineering fields use resistors as analogies, and that works to a degree (pun intended). But only if you redefine the units properly and have actual sources of energy. Passive loads re-radiating absorbed energy do not act as sources.

        • Kristian says:

          KevinK, you say:

          “(…) only if you (…) have actual sources of energy. Passive loads re-radiating absorbed energy do not act as sources.”

          Curt doesn’t understand the distinction. He has been told many times. To him, anything radiating is a source of energy to everything else, and so is able to increase its internal energy and hence temperature (as he would say, ‘above what it would’ve been if the extra energy didn’t arrive’). To him, as soon as the cooler atmosphere absorbs thermal radiation from the warmer surface, warming a bit in the process, it is all of a sudden turned into a second source of energy to the surface, in addition to the Sun, sending back down energy that already added to the energy fund (internal energy, U) of the surface when coming in from the Sun before being emitted back out (to the atmosphere), to add to the energy fund of the surface a second time and warm it even more than the first time around. This is a compleeeetely natural thing to Curt, and nothing you can say will ever make him change his mind (that is, wake up to reality).

    • tom0mason says:

      Online copy (and downloadable pdf) of Born and Wolf’s “Principles of Optics” 4th ed. at –

  13. KevinK says:

    Oh, and also, light traveling “backwards” towards it’s source has no effect on light traveling away from the source. The “back-radiation” exerts no pressure, impedance or resistance against the upwelling radiation.

    Several precision optical measuring techniques rely on optical radiation traveling along exactly the same path in exactly opposite directions. There is simply no interaction, measurable or theoretical.

    Investigate how a displacement measuring interferometer functions if you doubt this.

    Similar to a poorly terminated transmission line; reflections from the load do not affect (resist or impede) energy flowing from the source.

    Cheers, Kevin.

    • Aaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Robert B says:

      I think that a better analogy is osmosis. Water molecules move in both directions but the net flow is towards the solution with higher concentration of solutes until the pressure builds up on one side. If you change the concentration of the solutions, there is net flow in one direction until a new difference in pressure is reached. Flow in one direction is impeded more than in the other by the membrane and solutes, not the flow of water in the other direction.

      In the atmosphere, it should be hotter where EM energy is absorbed more and emitted less (high concentration of GHG at a colder temperature) if nothing else was happening. So with half the atmosphere above 6 km and >40°C colder than the lower half, the net flow of LWIR absorbed and re-radiated by the atmosphere is upwards (twice as much up as down, roughly).

      The net flow of energy from the ground/sea in the absence of an atmosphere would be greater than with an atmosphere with GHG (there is a blanket) but the flow from the Earth would still be the same by the time equilibrium is reached.

      Does adding CO2 to the atmosphere reduce the latter so that the surface warms up to get back to equilibrium? Well if transfer of heat from the ground/sea to the atmosphere is maxed out, then no. If you are already wrapped in your space-blanket, putting on another tightly wrapped layer that is blacker is not going to help.

    • Kristian says:

      Yup, and there goes the ‘reduced cooling’ of the source by way of ‘back radiation’ explanation. What they’re really promoting is increased HEATING. They just prefer not to call it that. Because then everyone would see the flaw in their hypothesis, its blatant of the Laws of Thermodynamics. But what they in fact do is, they ADD an extra energy flux (separate from and in addition to the solar heat flux) to make the surface directy warmer than with only the solar input. Meaning, they add another HEAT flux. The only problem is, the heat in this case happens to move from cold to hot, not the normal from hot to cold. And since most any sane person knows that to be impossible in nature, something that simply doesn’t happen, they make sure not to say it out loud. The EFFECT is expected to be exactly as if it were from an extra heat transfer. But still it’s somehow not. Because that would be absurd …

  14. rishrac says:

    ” ◾Narrow hoses
    ◾Not getting laid often enough

    ” My left hand ‘s free, OMG ” I wonder if there is any relation been that and the amount of porn people watch, in between fighting CAGW.

    • Louis Hooffstetter says:

      i have to agree with Steve. Some commenters here are so smart they come across as F’ing morons. How can one convoulte a simple analogy of impeding energy flow and not getting laid enough into an esoteric physics discussion about resistors and longwave radiation?!

      Good Lord, get a life you guys! And strive for clarity, instead of sowing confusion.

      • RivenOne says:

        Why does demonstrating intelligence or knowledge always invoke the “get a life” mantra? I did get a life- by getting educated in engineering and making well into six figures for most of my career. What are you proposing, exactly? A life of head nodding and no critical thinking? Isn’t the point of this site to question things and fight the consensus groupthink?

  15. KevinK says:

    Ok, Tony since you do in fact believe that anyone that does not accept the “radiative greenhouse effect” as a proven theory how do you discount several empirical experiments demonstrating that it in fact does not exist ?

    Starting with Robert W Wood who disproved it over 100 years ago, (recently replicated). And the studies showing it is quite possible to build fully functioning agricultural greenhouses out of IR opaque and transmissive materials. Both materials show the same temperature inside (within the error bounds).

    This is quite the effect, dis-proven many times but folks still cling to it like gospel…

    It generates extra energy, nope, it acts likes a blanket, nope, it acts like a resistor, nope, it’s in the temperature data, nope, it’s in the model’s nope, the missing heat is missing someplace we just don’t really known where……

    Amazing belief system.

    Cheers, Kevin.

    • OK, so you believe that humid cloudy nights are just as cold as dry clear nights. Got it. Over and out.

      • KevinK says:

        Tony, I never disputed your observations (re humidity moderating temperature swings). In fact I fully believe that water (with it’s high thermal capacity) is in charge of the temperature.

        Simply that the situation is far more complex involving radiation, conduction, air flow, convection and phase changes. Quite the complex problem.

        Cheers, Kevin.

        • cdquarles says:

          I agree here. Tell me what the dew/frost point temperature is and if it is changing, tell me which direction and speed, and I can tell you what the overnight low 2/3 meter air temperature will be within a few degrees F. What is often forgotten is that the skin temperature will not be the same as the air temperature and is often cooler. So yes, the ‘greenhouse’ effect can warm the *ground* at night, but not necessarily the air.

          I do wish people would consider how much energy gets consumed moving air up in altitude (partly returned on the way down) and moving air horizontally toward the poles, away from the poles and laterally. Oh, then add the amount of energy needed to move the water around collected in basins around the world.

          Wake me up when they start sounding air column carbon dioxide like they do water and can use that concentration to improve weather forecasts.

      • PeterMG says:

        Tony you need to read a book called The fourth phase of water. The water molecule is little understood and far more complicated than everyone realises. And whats more this book probably only scratches the surface. To attribute your’s and billions of others observations on overcast and humid nights to the “greenhouse” effect is to over simplify a very complicated process, to the point that what is described as the “greenhouse” effect has little or no effect.

    • Curt says:

      Kevin: You completely misunderstand Wood’s experiment. In what he admitted was a pretty slapdash effort, he couldn’t find a difference in systems that let sunlight in and suppressed convective losses between one that blocked more infrared radiation out and one that blocked less.

      Now, everyone who has considered the question knows that actual greenhouses work primarily by suppressing convective losses, not radiative ones. (So the atmospheric “greenhouse effect” is not a perfect analogy.) But others, such as Roy Spencer, have been able to find a difference between these two cases in more carefully controlled experiments.

      But these say nothing about the (poorly named) atmospheric greenhouse effect, because there are no conductive or convective losses from the atmosphere to space.

      • KevinK says:

        Curt, with respect, Dr. Spencer’s experiment controlled almost nothing. First, He inferred temperatures with IR detectors (always less accurate that actual thermometers, an IR thermometer makes “assumptions” about what the surface temperature really is).

        Second he did not control for the thermal mass of his experimental setup. He inserted a large (thermal capacity WRT the air mass) plastic plate into the experiment. It was poorly done, would never pass muster in a real experiment where real dollars ride on the result.

        And why is it that a bunch of “farmers” at Penn State (of all places) could not find the elusive “radiative greenhouse effect” by building simple greenhouses (IR opaque and IR transmissive) and inserting thermometers in them ?

        Woods experiment was replicated a few years ago and the results are clear, the “radiative greenhouse effect” is a HOAX.

        Cheers, Kevin.

  16. Tel says:

    Dams on rivers
    Electrical resistors
    Greenhouse gases and other insulators
    Narrow hoses

    These are all one-direction flows. However energy at the Earth’s surface flows in two distinct directions… during the day, the sun will warm the surface and energy flows inward, if clouds are obstructing this flow then it will not warm as much.

    During the night, the Earth surface cools and the energy flow is reversed, clouds cannot warm the surface, but they can slow the cooling process at night and sometimes cloud will increase the AVERAGE temperature (if the cloud happens more at night than during the day).

  17. tom0mason says:

    “Anything which impedes energy flow, increases the potential energy upstream.”

    This can easily be experienced by going to the bar and increase your energy levels by many pints of alocohic beverage and then leaving before you’ve visited the bathroom.

  18. Patrick Hannon, Statistician says:

    Had my enjoyable evening of watching the Carolina Panthers getting pounced by the Eagles in the first half, didn’t have the stomach to watch the second half. Why on earth they keep Cam Newton in there is beyond me.

    But getting back to climate science … stop with the insults and obtuse arguments. We do ourselves no favor. We all know the “new climate scientists” are out to lunch. Also thousand of engineers and scientists that have signed positions saying “something doesn’t smell right”. Tony has developed and worked hard to provide a forum here where a difference might be made. I have my expertise, others have theirs, why not combine? I’ve been in communication with John Christy, and he has my attention as to the unmistakable pattern of 8 year dips in global temps, and also accompanying 4 year “overtones”. He has tried with his graduate students to try to find a model that explains this. This pattern is present not only in the satellite data but also the ground based observations. I’ve told him to watch out for the next 6 months to year and a half as the empirical data is suggesting a massive dip. He’s told me he’s interested to see what happens as a large el Niño event has been forecast for some time. Yeah, that forecast has been back peddling for some time now.

    Over and Out, Pat the Statistician and Ham operator.

  19. Phil Jones says:

    You guys need to drop it…

    It was a simple analogy which rings true… Yet folks on here are applying all these tangential complexities to it… Time to move on.

  20. richard says:

    “Dams on rivers” – if using as an analogy of blocked energy in the atmosphere we should try and make a better comparison, we should say that at a certain point as the water rises this triggers vents to open to allow out this trapped energy ( Rain, winds etc)

  21. mkelly says:

    In these examples I agree with Steve/Tony. Air itself impedes energy flow from the sun and from the earth with H2O being the greatest of them all.

  22. DedaEda says:

    Does delay line increase potential energy? Nope, it simply shifts a time constant. Greenhouse gases do the same.

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