A New Look at the Physics of Earth’s Atmosphere

Irish researchers Michael Connolly and Ronan Connolly present three papers based on radiosonde data that may change our understanding of how the atmosphere works.


Traditionally, the temperature of the atmosphere has been estimated from measurements at the bottom of the atmosphere (surface temperatures) and from the top – satellite measurements. The Connolly’s use balloon-borne radiosondes to look within the atmosphere from the surface to 25 miles up.

Their findings contradict the predictions of current atmospheric models, which assume the temperature profiles are strongly influenced by greenhouse gas concentrations. This suggests that the greenhouse effect plays a much smaller role in barometric temperature profiles than previously assumed.

The Connolly’s discovered a phase change associated with the troposphere-tropopause transition, which also occurs in the lower troposphere under cold, polar winter conditions. They found that when this phase change is considered, the changes in temperature with atmospheric pressure (the barometric temperature profiles) can be described in relatively simple terms. These descriptions do not match the radiative physics-based infra-red cooling/radiative heating explanations used by current models.

The phase change is due to partial multimerization (weak bonding) of the main atmospheric gases, and therefore is a phase change which has not been considered by the current climate models. If this theory is correct, then this offers new insight into the formation of jet streams, tropical cyclones, polar vortices, and more generally, cyclonic and anti-cyclonic conditions. It also offers a new mechanism for the formation of ozone in the ozone layer, and a mechanism for radiative loss from the atmosphere which has been neglected until now.

In the third paper, they identify a mechanism for mechanical energy transmission that is not considered by current atmospheric models, which they call pervection. They carry out laboratory experiments which reveal that pervection can be several orders of magnitude faster than the three conventional heat transmission mechanisms of conduction, convection and radiation. This could be fast enough to keep the atmosphere in thermodynamic equilibrium over the distances from the troposphere to the stratosphere, thereby contradicting the conventional assumption that the lower atmosphere is only in local thermodynamic equilibrium.

Download the papers:

The Physics Of The Earth’s Atmosphere I. Phase Change Associated With Tropopause

The physics of the Earth’s atmosphere II. Multimerization of atmospheric gases above the


The physics of the Earth’s atmosphere III. Pervective power

The Connolly’s work seems consistent with that of Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell who proposed in his 1871 book “Theory of Heat” that the temperature of a planet depends only on gravity, mass of the atmosphere, and heat capacity of the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases have nothing to do with it. (see my post)



Evidence that CO2 emissions do not intensify the greenhouse effect

The Broken Greenhouse – Why CO2 is a minor player in global climate

An examination of the relationship between temperature and carbon dioxide

Book Review: Physics, an Illustrated History of the Foundations of Science

Physics coverTom Jackson has put together another great book on the foundation of science.  This large-format (9″ x 11″) book contains abundant illustrations and concise, to-the-point text explaining scientific principles and how scientific thought developed through the ages.

This book on physics complements Jackson’s book on chemistry which I reviewed earlier (See The Elements an Illustrated History of the Periodic Table).

“Physics is the foundation of all science.  Without it all of our other knowledge would crumble and collapse.”  Physics covers Nature from the smallest to the largest scales.

The book is structured into 100 chapters, each just a half-page to two pages long, that begin with the very basic concepts and end at the cutting edge of modern physics. These short chapters will probably induce many readers to want to find out more on many subjects.  (See the table of contents in graphics at the end of this review.)

These book reviews  “100 breakthroughs that changed history” and simply explains famous experiments and concepts that led to discoveries. The book also contains a 12-page pullout chart in the back pocket that shows a time line of the history of discovery.  The last few pages of the book give short biographies of famous scientists.  It has a good index so the reader can quickly find subjects of interest.

This book will be valuable to students just beginning their study of science because it puts things in context.  It will also be interesting to adults who are curious about how Nature works and how scientists and philosophers discovered Nature’s ways.  The structure of this entertaining reference work allows readers to quickly focus on subjects of interest to them.

The author, Tom Jackson, is a science writer with over 80 books to his credit. He studied zoology at the University of Bristol, U.K. where he resides.

The book is published by Shelter Harbor Press, New York and can be found on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Physics is one of the publisher’s “Ponderables” series. Other books in this series (which I have not seen) are:

An Illustrated History of Numbers. Editor: Tom Jackson

An Illustrated History of Astronomy By Tom Jackson

See other Wryheat book reviews.

The Contents of Physics:

Physics contents 1

Physics contents 2

Book Review: For the Love of Physics

Physics coverThis book is a great introduction to physics for both new college students and anyone interested in learning the way things work. The authors “present physics as a way of seeing our world, revealing territories that would otherwise be hidden to us…”

The principle author Walter Lewin is an astrophysicist who teaches core physics courses at M.I.T. His co-author is Warren Goldstein, chair of the history department at the University of Hartford. In the introduction, Goldstein writes that Lewin “gives a hint of Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown in the movie “Back to the Future,” the intense, otherworldly, slightly mad scientist-inventor.”

The book covers, in an understandable way, everything from Newton’s laws of motion, gravity, atmospheric pressure, electricity, magnetism, the physics of rainbows, and the strange world of black holes. Each of the 15 chapters gives a narrative of principles of physics and some practical examples along with some history of how the principles were developed. They describe experiments you can do (and experiments you shouldn’t do) and provide weblinks to videos of many of the experiments and classroom lectures.

Within the larger story are some interesting tidbits. For instance, Lewin notes that his grandmother told him that we are shorter standing up than lying down. Lewin tests this and finds that gravity tends to compress our bodies to make us short in the vertical position. Apparently NASA was ignorant of this fact. In the early days of space flight, the astronauts complained that their spacesuits were too tight. In the weightlessness of space, a 6-foot astronaut would be 2 inches taller, thus making his suit too small.

I found the explanation of rainbows quite interesting and will now look at them for some special features Lewin points out.

Reading this book made me think of some of those “home video” TV programs that show people falling, getting hit, or crashing into things. They are learning physics the hard way. Make it easier on yourself by reading the book.

I also learned that M.I.T. provides free courses online:

You can view videos of Lewin’s lectures and experiments here.

The book is published by Free Press a division of Simon & Schuster. You can find the book at Amazon.

Book Review: The science of everyday life

This book is fun and informative. It is about science, scientists, and the scientific concepts behind common activities, and the author, Len Fisher, tells his stories without burdening the reader with mathematical formulas (except for the one on the cover).

Some of you may be old enough to remember the “Mr. Wizard” TV program in which the “Wizard” used everyday objects to conduct sometimes explosive experiments demonstrating a scientific principle. This book is reminiscent that program.

The book is structured so that each chapter stands alone, so you can read it in any order according to your interest.

Here is a very brief summary of the nine chapters.

Chapter 1: The Art and Science of Dunking

This chapter is about dunking doughnuts and cookies and introduces the concepts of diffusion and capillary action. After extensive laboratory tests, Fisher concludes that cookies should not be dunked for more than five seconds or you will risk having a soggy mess drop to the bottom of your drink. He also notes that chocolate-covered cookies are much sturdier that plain cookies. In a later chapter he notes that cookies taste better when dunked in milk rather than the British habit of dunking them in tea. That’s because the fat in milk can dissolve molecules that produce aroma while water cannot.

Chapter 2: How does a scientist boil an egg?

This chapter is about heat transfer. Fisher explains the difference between heat and temperature. In the case of a soft-boiled egg, one must apply just the right amount of heat to cause the string-like albumin molecules in the white to become entangled while assuring similar molecules in the yolk to remain untangled. Fisher also explains why you should let a roast rest before carving it.

Chapter 3: The Tao of tools

This chapter deals with the physics of hand tools and provides some suggestions for efficient use. Fisher classifies tools as levers, wedges, or percussive instruments (hammers). He notes that some of these tools don’t just make work easier, they make work possible. He also has a story of a machine invented by Archimedes that would pluck enemy ships out of the sea. It was just a simple lever. There are many little tidbits. For instance, Fisher explains why a nail driven into wood with a pre-drilled hole is much harder to extract than a nail driven without a hole.

Chapter 4: How to add up your supermarket bill

This one is about math tricks at the supermarket and pricing strategies used by the store. If you want to figure what the total will be without using a calculator: add just the dollar amounts, forget the cents. To that number add two-thirds the number of items. That will get a number surprisingly close to the actual total. Fisher explains why.

Chapter 5: How to throw a boomerang

Aerodynamics, design, and precession of gyroscopes or tops are covered in this chapter. If you are really into this subject, then within notes at the end of the book you can learn some of the rules for the Mudgeeraba Creek Emu Racing and Boomerang Throwing Association.

Chapter 6: Catch as catch can

This chapter is about catching a ball. It deals with Newton’s first law of motion, Newton’s law of gravity, and the study of parabolas (the curve described by a tossed ball). Here’s a short quiz. If you are riding a bicycle and toss a ball vertically, where will the ball fall? Behind you or back in your hand? Here’s a hint: “Suppose a marksman fires a rifle bullet horizontally, and simultaneously drops a second bullet from the hand supporting the rifle. Both bullets will hit the ground at the same time. Horizontal speed is independent of vertical speed.

Chapter 7: Bath foam, beer foam, and the meaning of life

This chapter examines the properties of colloids, which are suspensions of small particles in a medium. Examples of colloids include milk, paint, smoke, and blood. Fisher also examines why oil and water don’t mix.

Chapter 8: A matter of taste

We are back to food again. This chapter deals with taste, flavors, and aromas… and pain. Fisher notes that bitter foods are pharmacologically active and the bitter taste a warning. He notes that a little salt can reduce the bitter perception of tannin in red wine and can also enhance your perception of sweetness. Does your chewing gum lose its flavor? Take a sip of something sweet. That will reset your sweetness receptors and restore the gum’s flavor.

Chapter 9: The physics of sex

I will leave the content of this chapter to your imagination. Fisher does claim, however, that there is no real aphrodisiac substance, the only aphrodisiac is in your mind.

You can have fun with this book and perhaps learn a thing or two.

Len Fisher, an Australian, is a research fellow in the Department of Physics, University of Bristol, England.

The cover mentions that Fisher is a recipient of the Ignobel Prize in physics. This is a tongue-in-cheek award for “science that cannot, or should not, be reproduced” or for projects that “spark the public interest in science.”

The book is published by Arcade Publishing, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing. The book is also available at Amazon.

Book Review: The Manga guide to Relativity

This book takes a “novel” approach to teaching Einstein’s Special and General Theories of Relativity. Since the book is geared toward teenagers, it takes the form of a graphic novel adventure.

Each chapter in the graphic novel is followed by a standard text section (with diagrams and, horrors, algebraic equations) that complements and expands on the principals covered in the graphic portion. The device of a graphic novel and standard text also allows one to gain some familiarity with the subject by reading just the novel or just the text, but read both since they are complementary.

After a short section to set up the graphic novel premise, the story begins with a review of classic Newtonian physics and then shows how Einstein turned physics on its head. We delve into time warps, the bending of space, and examine some classic paradoxes that result from the sometimes mind-boggling implications of Einstein’s theories.

The authors use some interesting analogies. For instance, they use Pythagorean theory, that we all learned in high-school geometry class (didn’t we?), to prove time dilation of objects traveling close to the speed of light. They also explain how both the Special and General theories make GPS (global positioning systems) possible.

If you were at all interested in the weird world of relativity, but thought you could not understand the concepts, try this book. Its unique approach can help you understand.

The author, Masafumi Yamamoto, and the supervising editor, Hideo Nitta are both PhD. physicists. The book was illustrated by Keita Takatsu.

The book is available from Amazon and this, and other Manga science books are available from No Starch Press (“the finest in geek entertainment”) here.