New Misinterpretations of the Greenhouse Effect by William Kininmonth

I feel like we are witnessing the beginning of a new wave of climate change denial and misrepresentation of science. At the same time, oil and gas company CEOs are expressing optimism that fossil fuel exploitation will continue in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, at least here in Norway.

Another clue is William Kininmonth’s “reflection” on the greenhouse effect for the Global Warming Policy Foundation. He made some rather bizarre claims, such as that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) should have forgotten that the earth is a sphere because “most of the absorption of solar radiation takes place over the tropics, while there is excess emission of long-wave radiation to space at higher latitudes”.

What he didn’t realize was that the IPCC simply assesses published climate research, much of which is conducted with global climate models that effectively treat the earth as a sphere. This lack of knowledge is surprising from a man who, according to the biography, joined the Australian Bureau of Meteorology in 1960 and retired in 1998 as head of the National Climate Centre.

It is also clear that Kininmonth’s calculations are based on faulty assumptions. When looking at the effect of changes in greenhouse gases, one must look at how their forcing corresponds to the energy balance at the level at the top of the atmosphere. But Kininmonth rather looks at the energy balance at the surface where many other things are also happening, and where tangible, latent energy flows are present and complicate everything.

It is easier to deal with equilibrium at the top of the atmosphere or use a simplified description that includes convection and radiation as discussed here previously on RealClimate and presented in Benestad (2016).

Another weakness is Kininmonth’s assumption that water vapor is constant and at the same concentrations as in the tropics over the entire globe. Focusing on the tropics easily gives too high values ​​for water vapor if applied to the whole planet.

In addition, there are important feedback effects that were not taken into account in his calculations. Kininmonth used MODTRAN, but needs to show how MODTRAN was used to arrive at numbers that differ from other calculations, which also use MODTRAN. It is an important scientific principle that others can repeat the same calculations and arrive at the same answer. You can play around with MODTRAN on their website, but it’s still important to explain how you arrive at your answers.

Unlike Kininmonth’s simple estimates, feedback effects and clouds are much better captured with global climate models which also use the same physics as in MODTRAN (Huang et al., 2007). It is also important that these calculations and models are carefully evaluated (Benestad et al., 2015)and this also applies to Kininmonth’s calculations.

Another surprising claim by Kininmonth was that ocean currents are the only plausible explanation for the warming of the tropical reservoir, as he somehow thinks there has been a reduction in heat transport to higher latitudes due to a mysterious slowing of ocean currents. . It is easy to check trends in sea surface temperatures and look for signs that heat transport to higher latitudes has weakened. Such a hypothetical slowdown would suggest a weaker warming of the ocean surface in high latitudes, which is not supported by data (Figure 1).

Kininmonth also explains Arctic warming in terms of increased latent heat transfer from lower latitudes. It’s interesting that he needs to invoke both slowing and accelerating heat transport from the tropics to higher latitudes in this way, and it complicates his concept. And if that were true, we would expect to see increased cloud cover (and increased precipitation) there. Cloud cover has increased over limited areas where the ice has retreated, but this increase appears to be related to local moisture sources and likely not increased storm activity or water vapor from lows. latitudes.

We can end on another odd point that Kininmonth makes in his erroneous reworking of the greenhouse effect, which is that sea temperature in the tropics correlates well with atmospheric temperatures. This is of course related to ENSO, but it’s not new and it’s hard to see why it would be relevant in this case.


  1. RE Benestad, “A Mental Picture of the Greenhouse Effect”, Theoretical and applied climatology, flight. 128, pages 679-688, 2016.

  2. Y. Huang, V. Ramaswamy, X. Huang, Q. Fu and C. Bardeen, “A strict test of climate modeling with spectrally resolved radiances: GCM simulation versus AIRS observations”, Geophysical Research Letters, flight. 34, 2007.

  3. RE Benestad, D. Nuccitelli, S. Lewandowsky, K. Hayhoe, HO Hygen, R. van Dorland and J. Cook, “Learning from Mistakes in Climate Research”, Theoretical and applied climatology, flight. 126, pages 699-703, 2015.

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