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Why the NASA Planetary Atmospheres Website Doesn’t Mention Greenhouse Gases

Discussions with people holding a different view are obviously quite likely to help bring one’s reasoning forward (as long as there is no name-calling or other infantilism).

For an example of what can happen, look no further than this exchange with Ed Darrell at his Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub. The topic is, what is the relevance of the fact that the NASA Planetary Atmospheres website (PDS-A) doesn’t mention greenhouse gases.

To which my answer has been:

if the experts in the field don’t take it into consideration, I surely want to know why!!

Ed has replied with an interesting suggestion:

The site doesn’t pretend to be an exhaustive resource for all studies of all atmospheres everywhere. It’s a site to get a line into work NASA has actually done.

But if that’s true, it means that in all these years, NASA has seldom if ever looked at ways to investigate the same greenhouse effect that keeps Earth’s average temperature above freezing, and Venus with a surface temperature higher than an oven. And furthermore, there is a dearth of data in this most practical of planetary atmospheric fields!!

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Let’s try to figure out if Ed’s interpretation is right. In its About page, the PDS-A site says “As an additional service, the Atmospheres Node provides information on relevant planetary atmospheres topics for educational purposes”.

There are links for Educators, including to the NASA Planetary Data System College Student Investigators (CSI) webpage that states

The objective of this activity is to involve undergraduate students in research and development projects related to the holdings of NASA.s Planetary Data System (PDS). Through the PDS College Student Investigators activity, the PDS strives to prepare the next generation of PDS science investigators.

A recent proposal is about investigating the role of dust in the thermodynamics of the Martian atmosphere. Neither there nor elsewhere there is any mention of greenhouse gases, a topic that evidently and mysteriously does not interest “next generation of PDS science investigators”.

Going back to PDS-A, there are educational links also to “Broker Forums“. One of them is the web site for the “Sun-Earth Connection” at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center, curiously linking to another website “Space Weather” containing a few unorthodox remarks on the Sun and Earth’s climate.

Another link for the Broker Forums goes to NASA’s Solary System Educational website where (finally!) there is some serious content about the greenhouse effect (GH).

And what does that refer to? Step forward ESA’s Venus Express, that lists among its scientific objectives the investigation of

what is the role of the radiative balance and greenhouse effect in the past present and future evolution of the planet?

==============

Chapeau to Ed Darrel, then…for all intents and purposes, NASA has dedicated no mission to the study of the greenhouse effect. That’s why there is no mention of it in the PDS-A site, the Planetary Data System for Atmosphere: simply, there is no data to report. Because nobody ever looked for those.

Is the current state of Climatology on this planet and everywhere else sad or what? If Goddard’s Director and climate worrier James Hansen is unable to gather funds for a terrestrial or planetary mission on the greenhouse effect; or worse, if even he is not interested enough to put one together: then how solid will the science of the climate ever be?

ps Still, the PDS-A Encyclopedia could have had a page on the GH effect. Its equations albeit simplified, still are possible

  1. papertiger
    2008/08/18 at 00:17

    It’s odd that NASA was studying Venus in general back in 1980 – and never once mentioned the existence of two low pressure polar holes, analog of Earth’s “ozone hole” .
    They all just sort of took a nap and let the ecologists run over the science.
    Now we are shown NASA avoidance of the global warming issue.

    If NASA isn’t deeply involved in discrediting humbugs, starting with the NOAA and GISS, then they aren’t worth a damn penny of tax money.

  2. 2008/07/24 at 15:29

    omnologos, I would like to get back to you, but I am off on another project for a bit.

    I think I may be able to help you see your way past this. In fact, the major greenhouse formulae are provided in the cited page. Your use of the students proposals associated with PDS-A is a sample size of 1, which doesn’t tell you anything at all about the range of topics. PDS is not primarily about research, but about support; and so PDS people themselves are a poor guide to what the data is actually being used for. The collection of data for the PDS is a bigger task than you might think, and it is far from complete; so a lot of data is still being used from other repositories. There’s also a lot more data relating to the atmosphere on Venus than is within the scope of the PDS database brief; including other ESA probes and ground based work. Etc. etc, etc. I started to put together a better reply for you, but got sidetracked into another project, so I put it on hold. Sorry about that. The above is very scrappy; but it may be a bit of a help as to how you are reading this whole situation rather badly.

    Best wishes for the time being. Duae Quartunciae.

  3. 2008/07/23 at 23:39

    DQ: I am not trying to use PDS-A “to look for information relevant to the greenhouse” and surely am not using that site “to draw any conclusions at all about the extent to which NASA has an interest in the subject“.

    All I am trying is to understand why the GH effect is absent from THE planetary atmospheres NASA website.

    Let me try some logic…

    (a) The PDS-A website is “for the acquisition, preservation, and distribution of all non-imaging atmospheric data from all planetary missions (excluding Earth observations)“. Furthermore, “as an additional service, the Atmospheres Node provides information on relevant planetary atmospheres topics for educational purposes“. Part of that is an Encyclopedia that “contains Standard Planetary Information, Formulae and Constants

    (b) The Greenhouse effect, affecting at least three planest (Earth, Venus, Mars) and one moon (Titan), obviously pertains to and depends on the compositions of the atmospheres of those celestial bodies.

    therefore…

    (c) It would be perfectly reasonable to expect the Greenhouse Effect to appear in the PDS-A website, on a par level with Beer’s Law, the Dry Adiabatic Lapse Rate and the Ideal Gas Law.

    The same concept more briefly: PDS-A is about atmospheres. The GH effect is an effect of the atmosphere. Hence PDS-A should cover the GH effect.

    One must then ask oneself, why it is not so (*).

    Please point to any flaw in the logic above.

    NB: It is not strictly needed for PDS-A to devote much space to the GH effect: they could publish a text about it linked to another NASA section, with a more in-depth analysis of that effect. Or they could simply list it, with the most basic of equations.

    (*) After much thinking and searching, the most likely answer is that there is not enough data for the PDS-A people to devote themselves to the GH effect.

    Undergraduates doing research and development with PDS either can proceed (rather oddly) with no reference at all to the GH effect, or are taught in the subject in some other way that (rather mysteriously) does not directly involve data from planetary atmospheres.

  4. 2008/07/23 at 17:52

    I am glad we are on the same page with Gh studies! But I am still not sure what you are looking for on that PDS site.

    If you are looking for educational material; then you are simply in the wrong place. NASA has a good education program, covering many space related topics for children and school students especially; and there is also plenty for college level enthusiasts. The navigation quality varies from good to poor. But the pds-atmospheres site is not where you find that educational material, so the google site search won’t help. There is a Education and Outreach page, which you can take as a stepping off point to other NASA sites for a world of information; and where if you chase up Venus as a topic of interest you can get some stuff on greenhouse. The PDS education page is not part of that: it simply “describes the PDS role in undergraduate education” (i.e. how can you work with PDS as part of your college course.) This is NOT a sensible way to look for information relevant to the greenhouse or to draw any conclusions at all about the extent to which NASA has an interest in the subject. You appear to have built your case on looking at a small number of projects that happened to be listed as on offer for students. That’s not an enumeration of all the research going on at NASA!

    As for the PDS site itself (of which PDS-atmospheres is one of the eight nodes) check the FAQ: “Do I need to be a scientist to use the system?

    No, but it helps.🙂 The system was designed for the science user, and much of the data are “low level”, and require quite a bit of background knowledge to understand. If you are mainly interested in the pictures taken by various NASA missions, you are encouraged to visit the Planetary Photo Journal.”

    This is the core of the matter. There’s plenty there for those who want to research greenhouse effects on Venus at an advanced level – and it gets used. But much of it you won’t even recognize as relevant. That’s because you don’t know enough about the topic; not because it isn’t there. I’m not trying to cause offense by saying that, by the way; just a normal consequence of your lack of technical background.

    So… if you are genuinely looking for something in particular that you want to use for some purpose, I can probably help you find it. But if you are only attempting to draw to conclusions about the status of greenhouse research based on what you find in that page, you are destined to go astray.

    I looked at your discussion with Ed. It’s rather surreal. You’ve constructed a house of cards and missed the point at every turn. Walking through the exchange to see where precisely you went wrong in each chain of reasoning is beside the point; you can do that best for yourself once you’ve sorted out the basic question that you were trying to answer.

    The atmospheric greenhouse on Venus has been a continuous ongoing focus at NASA for as long as they have had any interest in Venus at all. Try this. Go to the NASA technical reports server, and search for Venus and greenhouse, limiting your search to the abstract only.

    You might also like to let Ed know what you find.

  5. 2008/07/23 at 13:33

    > I think you must be looking for the word greenhouse

    I went to Google and searched for many things, on that site and that site alone, not just “greenhouse”. See this for example

    http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&q=site%3Apds-atmospheres.nmsu.edu+venus&btnG=Google+Search&meta=

    Abstracts abound, about the GH effect. Somebody must have forgotten adding it to the Education area.

    Thank you for the heads-up about Pioneer-Venus and studies on the the GH effect. And no I don’t think Gh studies are a recent invention out of political reasons.

    And so then…in all these years, NASA has just once looked at ways to investigate the same greenhouse effect that keeps Earth’s average temperature above freezing, and Venus with a surface temperature higher than an oven. Obviously, there is a dearth of investigations in this most practical of planetary atmospheric fields!!

  6. 2008/07/23 at 12:26

    There are measures of composition, thermal emission measurements, albedo measurements, opacity, and much else which is directly relevant — indeed essential — for investigation of greenhouse heating. I think you must be looking for the word greenhouse, rather than the data that is relevant to greenhouse heating. The word greenhouse might not even be there; but I assure you, greenhouse on Venus is a major focus of interest for atmospheric data.

    We are not talking about “current theories” here. The “greenhouse effect” is simply basic physics, known for well over a hundred years. A particularly strong CO2 driven greenhouse effect on Venus was first proposed in the 1930s, and greenhouse is explicitly mentioned many times in the scientific literature immediately before and after the Pioneer Venus probes. Greenhouse effects are also the main focus of interest when they are described in other terms, such as thermal structure, or longwave emissivity, or thermal opacity, and all kinds of data are collected specifically study this thermal structure of the atmosphere.

    Of course Pioneer was meant to study the greenhouse effect; not just as some incidental sideline, but a particular matter of special interest. Many of the experiments on board were designed in the light of the need to make this precise study. I’m treading lightly here, omnologos, but you seem to be under the impression that “greenhouse effects” are a minor and recent sideline in study of the atmosphere of Venus; related to a modern focus driven by some non-scientific political motive, but scientifically a bit disreputable.

    If so, you are mistaken. Here, for example, is a discussion of the experiments on board Pioneer published in 1977, shortly before launch. It is from The thermal balance of the atmosphere of Venus, by Tomasko, M.G. et al. in Space Science Reviews, vol. 20, June 1977, p. 389-412.

    “5.4 THERMAL OPACITY

    While the operation of a greenhouse mechanism can be inferred from measurements of the solar and thermal fluxes, an understanding of the mechanism requires a knowledge of the sources of thermal opacity as indicated in section 3. Perhaps our greatest needs in this regard are measurements of the mixing ratio of water vapour throughout the atmosphere and a knowledge of the thermal opacity of the cloud particles which depend on their size, composition, and number density.

    The LIR instrument aboard the Pioneer Venus probe held determine the opacity from both of these sources below 67 km altitude by including measurements at narrow spectral channels from 6 to 7 μm, 7 to 8 μm, and 8 to 9 μm in addition to its broadband channel. These spectral regions, which lie near the maximum of the blackbody curve for the temperature range which will be encountered, should be relative transparent in a pure carbon dioxide atmosphere. … [etc]”

  7. 2008/07/23 at 10:16

    Beats me, DQ. I am using Google and even looking for Venus on that website, nothing relevant to greenhouse heating shows up as such. If you can find it, please do tell.

    Pioneer Venus was a…pioneering mission so it wasn’t meant to investigate the GH effect: it was there to measure the characteristics of Venus in general. Obviously its data can then be used to study the GH effect, according to current theories.

  8. 2008/07/23 at 09:57

    The greenhouse effect on Venus has been an extremely active focus of research and study for decades, and space probes to Venus have made measurements specifically intended to inform that research from the very first. This data is all in the database.

    As an example of the data in use, see, for example: Pollack, J.B. et al. (1980) Greenhouse models of Venus’ high surface temperature, as constrained by Pioneer Venus measurements, in Journal of Geophysical Research, vol. 85, Dec. 30, 1980, p. 8223-8231.

    Venus is almost a cliche in any introductory undergraduate course in atmospheric physics or climatology. Certainly it is a stock standard example used to illustrate the equations and the theory that are used for the physics of planetary thermodynamics.

    I suspect that you have done a simple word search for “greenhouse” in the database page; which is not a good guide for looking at a database. What you want from a data base is lapse rate, temperature profiles, albedo, emission spectrum, composition, and so on. The term “greenhouse” is not particularly likely to show up in a database, I think. But it is common in the literature relating to Venus since the early sixties, and the database contains information that bear directly upon consideration of greenhouse effects.

    A scientific database will mention “carbon dixoxide”, “water”, “sulfur dioxide” and so on. No “greenhouse gases” generally; rather the specific composition, which is what you really need to do a scientific study of greenhouse effects on Venus. But even more important is thermal structure of the atmosphere, IMO; and frankly it’s not easy to figure out which data is relevant, or how to use it.

    tarpon is mistaken; it is pretty fundamental in the study of Venus and its atmosphere to recognize that the lighter gases are lost. Specifically, it is thought Venus might once have had an ocean and lots of water. But all the water ended up in the atmosphere, where it photodisassociates (is broken up into Hydrogen and Oxygen by solar radiation), and then gets lost from the top of the atmosphere. This also is a long standing part of the conventional understanding of the development of the atmosphere on Venus, back from the 1960s again.

  9. 2008/07/22 at 21:48

    I am always amused by the Venus argument. No one seems to want to mention Venus has no magnetosphere, and therefore the solar wind might just be free to blow away all the lighter gases.

    Science in the new age of politics. Government scientists, used to be thought of as honest brokers, can no longer be counted on when tax money is involved.

  1. 2012/03/21 at 01:01

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