If The Atmosphere Was A Perfect Insulator, The Earth Would Melt

If the atmosphere allowed solar energy in, but no energy out, – the Earth would keep getting hotter, and would eventually melt.

About Tony Heller

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43 Responses to If The Atmosphere Was A Perfect Insulator, The Earth Would Melt

  1. gator69 says:

    If my aunt had a d*ck she would be my uncle. 😉

    • You are missing the point. This is an important boundary condition in the discussion.

      • Jason Calley says:

        Hey Tony! Hope you are having a nice time and some well deserved relaxation!

        Yes, boundary conditions can tell us a lot; push any situation to it’s logical extreme and you can learn something about how the system works. Of course, if you always pump in more sunshine and nothing comes out, we would burn up. I wonder how many of the GHG-cannot-cause-warming people are just caught up in a semantic confusion. They are right only in the verbal sense that GHG by themselves, absent any energy input from anywhere else, cannot make a planet warmer. Of course that is not our planet, and that is not the context that is being discussed. In the real world, a planet with sunshine (that’s us!) and with GHG (that’s us!) will maintain a higher temperature than a planet with sunshine and no GHG.

        • Curt says:

          Al: That was written by a guy so confused that he couldn’t understand that a power-dissipating device like an electrical resistor has to be hotter than ambient temperature in the steady state condition:


          If he could not understand that, with a constant electrical power thermal input, the temperature has to be higher than ambient in order for it to transfer heat to ambient so it is in thermal balance, he cannot even start to analyze the earth’s system, even with the greatest simplifications. He makes the same basic mistakes analyzing the earth’s energy balance.

          And in your link, he brings in “Rosco” to demonstrate that the difference between two Planck curves at different temperatures does not result in another Planck curve, which is a huge waste of electrons to show absolutely nothing — there is nothing in climate science that claims that it is, or that depends on such a finding.

      • davidswuk says:

        if it ever were then it would still be a ball of magma irrespective of what Sunshine Sam might (not) be doing……………….

    • Jason Calley says:

      Why on Earth would a woman with a duck want a sex change?!

    • daver766@yahoo.co.uk says:

      That’d be determinate upon the millions of degrees currently inhabiting Earth’s core. Still, it’s a zillion to one chance we’re here (and carbon is a loose isomer), capable reason of goes unfound but good heart to you.

  2. Jason Calley says:

    Actually, even with the very much imperfect insulator which we have, most of the Earth’s surface has already melted. If you are still in Cozemel, you might be able to look out your window and see the near edge of the vast sheet of molten water that covers most of our planet.

    (In the interest of complete accuracy, I need to point out that our southernmost continent has not melted. It remains covered with a mile thick layer of sedimentary water which seems to be at least stable, and perhaps growing!)

  3. Abel Garcia says:

    Wrong, as global warming people sometimes claim HEAT causes COLD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. If this hypothetical perfect one way insulator prevented the incoming solar heat/energy from leaving, all of the water would have to be vaporized first before the melting could commence.

    The fireball in the furnace of a utility power boiler ranges between 2,500 and 3,000 F. What prevents the steel tubes of the water walls from melting? The water boiling in the tubes. Evaporating water moves a tremendous amount of heat. And at a constant temperature.

    • Pointless straw man argument. Your constant attempts to smokescreen the core issue, tell me that you have an agenda.

      • Well, yeah, cut the legs out from underneath AGW/CCC. I’ve followed this issue for 25 years and it been bogus the entire time.
        So, what is it with Miatello’s paper? Unless there is some critical scientific failure in his work, seems to me it’s essentially the death certificate for AGW/CCC.
        How am I “smoke screening the issue?” Thermo is thermo, heat transfer is heat transfer, in any application.
        Water vapor controls the climate, not CO2 & GHGs. How smoky is that?

        • Because he’s talking about melting the whole earth and you say the oceans need to boil first. That’s like saying you can’t fry an egg because the saucepan is still wet.

    • Yes, because an 8,000 mile planet with a 4 mile deep ocean really cares about the ocean.

      • Tel says:

        I’ve always wondered what the planet cares about, but I’ve never heard the planet’s opinion on the matter.

        I do regularly find people with their own opinions who believe they know what’s good for the planet. None of them can explain how they asked 8000 miles of rock what makes it happy.

      • My back of the envelope say it would take about 1.27E14 watts to vaporize the oceans.

        • So what? How much did it take to vaporize the N2 and O2? How much will it take to vaporize all the SiO2 and Ca(CO3)? Then the basalt and iron core. Why do you care so much about the H2O?

        • wayne says:

          Huh? Watts? Over what amount of time NickReality?

          Lets have some fun and compare some figures.

          My $15 calculator instead of the back of an envelope says there are 1,347,000,000 cubic kilometers of ocean water not counting fresh water and that is 1.347e+018 m³ that is 1.347e+024 cm3 and it takes 2260 joules/cm³ to vaporize water.

          This is 3.04e+027 joules.

          Since the the oceans area is 3.6E+14 m² of the earth’s surface it is going to take 8.5e+012 joules per m² to preform this feat. Still not to watts.

          Now with 31,560,000 seconds per year and average insolation of lets say 240 J/s/m² global average with albedo it is going to take some 1100 years to vaporize all of the ocean water if the Earth were perfectly insulated, that is no energy loss to space.

          Seems it’s going to take an about an eon to melt the Earth without the ability to shed any insolation. Does your envelope agree?

        • Jason Calley says:

          Hey wayne, “Now with 31,560,000 seconds per year and average insolation of lets say 240 J/s/m² global average with albedo it is going to take some 1100 years to vaporize all of the ocean water if the Earth were perfectly insulated, that is no energy loss to space.”

          It might be a little faster, because you do not need to factor in albedo (or more accurately, the albedo would be zero.) Remember that the hypothetical insulator was perfect — zero energy goes out, which means that to an outsider looking at the Earth, it would be completely and perfectly black

  5. etudiant says:

    Most people have very little practical experience with managing heat flows and insulation.
    So getting people to form a coherent picture of our atmosphere dynamics is never going to be easy, even if there were not a whole flock of agenda driven analysts confusing the picture.
    Warmer earth and colder earth have both happened within even the last few thousand years and we have no robust understanding of why. So a little more humility all around seems apposite.
    Will Rogers explained it best:
    It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.

  6. jjfox says:

    Steve/Tony, I think you are finally starting to get It. The IR activity that is exhibited by our planets atmosphere is actually a cooling effect, not a warming effect.

    1. The sun warms the planets’ surface.

    2. The planet’s surface warms the atmosphere through convection, conduction and radiation

    3. The atmosphere radiates that energy to space.


  7. Smokey says:

    If The Atmosphere Was A Perfect Insulator, The Earth Would Melt

    Then it would look like John Kerry’s face.

  8. Cornelius says:

    I hope you’re not going down a path to derail your own web site. I can see these discussions are important to you, but will we be seeing some of that biting commentary on recent news items soon? I’m going through withdrawal …

  9. Tel says:

    It is of course impossible to create a device that allows energy in, but does not allow energy out again. That would be the Maxwell Daemon. Thermodynamics does not allow free lunch.

    You can create a device that allows sunlight in and reduces the thermal loss (convection, conduction, etc) and what you get is an “Evacuated Tube Solar Collector”. These things get pretty hot (during the day), they can easily boil water, and they keep working in lower light conditions, or when the ambient air is cold, even above the snow line. A heat-pipe is used to channel the generated steam into some other useful activity (like your hot water system, or space heating, for example). Needless to say, they don’t get anywhere near as hot as the Sun!


    They use the vacuum to prevent convection loss, and they use a variety of coatings to attempt to optimise the radiation balance. People have been tweaking the concept for some decades now.

    • Jason Calley says:

      Tesla did some experiments with solar collectors in Colorado — one of which was so simple that I still admire it. He built a pool of water with a black bottom; the bottom of the pool gets hot and the water near it heats up. So far, pretty standard stuff, but then he threw in salt crystals that dissolved to make a saturated solution at the bottom of the pool. The dense, saturated solution was enough to stop the normal convective motion of the hot water on the bottom. Because of the temperature inversion, the bottom water continues to heat and will actually reach near boiling. Wonderfully low tech! Also a great example of how prevention of convection can cause a radical change in how a system warms up from radiation.

  10. “If The Atmosphere Was A Perfect Insulator, The Earth Would Melt”

    First the vacuum of space is a perfect insulator for conduction & convection. So either you are referring to the status quo and certainly wrong, or you are saying no energy enters or exits the earth.

    “If the atmosphere allowed solar energy in”
    …. so it is not a perfect insulator … already we have a physically impossible system.

    “, but no energy out,”
    Now we are in cloud cuckoo land. A system that only allows radiation to travel in one direction. The only physical system with anything like this is a black hole/

    – the Earth would keep getting hotter, and would eventually melt.” … who knows what happens as we cannot know what happens in a system from which nothing escapes.

    I can only imagine that rather than the system you have actually outlined, you intended to have a system which is opaque to IR and not to visible.

    As we all know the earth can lose all the radiation from the sun at its present temperature. Therefore, if you cut off all IR, it would have to lose it via visible. So, it would heat up until it was just visible in the deep red. Iron at 480C glows red – so the earth would likely be at this temperature.

    It takes temperatures between 600 and 1,300 degrees Celsius (1,100 and 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit) to melt a rock, turning it into a substance called magma (molten rock).

    Therefore you are wrong in every detail.

  11. markstoval says:

    “If the atmosphere allowed solar energy in, but no energy out, – the Earth would keep getting hotter, and would eventually melt.”

    That would be some weird kind of insulator that allowed energy in but not out, but let us go with that “perfect” insulator.

    If the earth heats up as you say, then that leads to the loss of the atmosphere either by it being inflated so much that it drifts off to space. If the atmosphere drifts off into space then there goes your “perfect insulator”.

    • Gail Combs says:

      Wrong, Mark.
      Look at the moon. ‘space’ aka vacuum allows the surface to radiate directly without anything (atmosphere) blocking that radiation.

      That is why the surface during the moon’s night drops -387 Fahrenheit (-233 Celsius), at night while it increases to253 Fahrenheit (123 Celsius) during the day.

      • markstoval says:

        Wrong? About what? You went off about the moon not having an atmosphere — interesting but that has nothing to do with the fact that as our atmosphere heats up it will expand outward until it starts drifting off into space. Since Steve’s “perfect insulator” was the atmosphere then his “perfect insulator” will dissipate before his prediction of the earth becoming a molten mass of fire. (unless he also wants to drastically increase gravity to hold the gasses in place — not any more silly than the “perfect insulator”)

        Steve’s boundary condition was the topic, not the moon.

  12. Bob Knows says:

    Yes, the earth is exothermic. Most of it is melted already. If the atmosphere were a perfect insulator, no heat in or out, the rest of it would also melt. Fortunately for us. air is not much of an insulator at all. Convection currents move heat higher and away from melted places on the surface. Upper air warms up by convection until enough heat escapes by radiant cooling on the night side.

  13. Albert says:

    To know if a insulator is good or not,you need professional testing machine for them.See page:

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