38. Lunar temperature modulation

Let’s start with a graph.

Latitude averaged temperature anomalies versus date

Graph of latitude averaged temperature anomalies (in degrees Celsius), from 1 April 1986 to 31 March 1987. (Figure reproduced from [1].)

This graph shows temperature anomalies on Earth – that is, the difference between the recorded temperature on any given day and the average temperature for the same location on that day over many years. Yellow-red colours indicate the actual temperature was warmer than average, blue-green colours indicate the temperature was cooler than average. The results are averaged across latitudes, so each point on the graph shows the average anomaly for the entire circle of latitude. The data are Goddard Television Infrared Observation Satellite Operational Vertical Sounder surface air temperature readings from NOAA polar weather satellites.

As you might expect, the temperature across Earth varies a bit. Some days are a bit warmer than average and some a bit cooler than average. You might imagine that with all of the different effects that go into the complicated atmospherical systems that control our weather, days would be cooler or warmer than average pretty much at random.

However that’s not what we’re seeing here. There’s a pattern to the anomalies. Firstly, the anomalies in the polar regions are larger (red and dark blue) than the anomalies in the mid-latitudes and tropic (yellow and light blue). Secondly, there are hints of almost regular vertical stripes in the graph – alternating bands of yellow and blue in the middle, and alternating red and dark blue near the poles. If you look at the graph carefully, you may be able to pick out a pattern of higher and lower temperatures, with a period a little bit less than one month.

What could have an effect on the Earth’s climate with a period a little under a month? The answer is, somewhat astonishingly, the moon.

The creators of this graph took the latitude-averaged temperature anomaly data for the 20 years from 1979 to 1998, and plotted it as a function of the phase of the moon:

Latitude averaged temperature anomalies versus lunar phase

Graph of latitude averaged temperature anomalies (in degrees Celsius), from 1979 to 1998, plotted against phase of the moon. (a) annual average, (b) October-March (northern winter), (c) April-September (northern summer). (Figure reproduced from [1].)

These graphs show that the temperature anomalies have a clear relationship to the phase of the moon. In the polar regions, the temperature anomaly is strongly positive around the full moon, and negative around the new moon. In the mid-latitudes and tropics the trend is not so strong, but the anomalies tend to be lower around the full moon and positive around the new moon – the opposite of the polar regions.

What on Earth is going on here?

Aggregated measurements show that the polar latitudes of Earth are systematically around 0.55 degrees Celsius warmer at the full moon than at the new moon. This effect is strong enough that it dominates over the weaker reverse effect of the mid-latitudes/tropics anomaly. The average temperature of the Earth across all latitudes is not constant – it varies with the phase of the moon, dominated by the polar anomalies, being 0.02 degrees Celsius warmer at the full moon than the new moon. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but the signal is consistently there over all sub-periods in the 20-year data, and it is highly statistically significant.

The next puzzle is: What could possibly cause the Earth’s average temperature to vary with the phase of the moon?

Well, the full moon is bright, whereas the new moon is dark. Could the moonlight be warming the Earth measurably? Physicist and climate scientist Robert S. Knox has done the calculations. It turns out that the additional visible and thermal radiation the Earth receives from the full moon is only enough to warm the Earth by 0.0007 degrees Celsius, nowhere near enough to account for the observed difference[2].

There’s another effect of the moon’s regular orbit around the Earth. According to Newton’s law of gravity, strictly speaking the moon does not move in an orbit around the centre of the Earth. Two massive bodies in an orbital relationship actually each orbit around the centre of mass of the system, known as the barycentre. When one body is much more massive than the other, for example an artificial satellite orbiting the Earth, the motion of the larger body is very small. But our moon is over 1% of the mass of the Earth, so the barycentre of the system is over 1% of the distance from the centre of the Earth to the centre of the moon.

It turns out the Earth-moon barycentre is 4670 km from the centre of the Earth. This is still inside the Earth, but almost 3/4 of the way to the surface.

Animation of lunar orbit

Animation showing the relative positions of the Earth and moon during the lunar orbital cycle. The red cross is the barycentre of the Earth-moon system, and both bodies orbit around it. Diagram is not to scale: relative to the Earth the moon is actually a bit larger than that (1/4 the diameter), and much further away (30× the Earth’s diameter). (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)

The result of this is that during a full moon, when the moon is farthest from the sun, the Earth is 4670 km closer to the sun than average, whereas during a new moon the Earth is 4670 km further away from the sun than average. The Earth oscillates over 9000 km towards and away from the sun every month. And the increase in incident radiation from the sun during the phases around the full moon comes to about 43 mW per square metre, or an extra 5450 GW over the entire Earth. The Earth normally receives nearly 44 million GW of solar radiation, so the difference is relatively small, but it’s enough to heat the Earth by almost 0.01 degrees Celsius, which is near the observed average monthly temperature variation.

Why are the polar regions so strongly affected by this lunar cycle, while the tropics are weakly affected, and even show an opposing trend? Earth’s weather systems are complex and involve transport of heat across the globe by moving air masses. The burst of heat at the poles during a full moon actually migrates towards lower latitudes over several days – you can see the trend in the slope of the warm parts of the graph. The exact details of the physical mechanisms for these observations are still under discussion by the experts. What is clear though is that there is a definite cycle in the Earth’s average temperature with a period equal to the orbit of the moon, and it is most likely driven by the fact that the Earth is closer to the sun during a full moon.

How might one possibly explain this in a flat Earth model? Well, the “orbital” mechanics are completely different. The phase of the moon should have no effect on the distance of the Earth to the sun. The only moderately sensible idea might be that the full moon emits enough extra radiation to warm up the Earth. But the observations of the moon’s radiant energy and the amount of heating it can supply end up the same as the round Earth case (if you believe the same laws of thermodynamics). The full moon simply doesn’t supply anywhere near enough extra heat to the flat Earth to account for the observations.

One could posit that the sun varies in altitude above the flat Earth, coincidentally with the same period as the moon, thus providing additional heating during the full moon. However one of the main modifications to the geometry of the Earth-sun system made in flat Earth models is to fix the sun at a given distance (usually a few thousand kilometres) above the surface of the Earth, in an attempt to explain various geometrical properties such as the angle of the sun as seen from different latitudes. Letting the sun move up and down would mess up the geometry, and should easily be observable from the surface of the flat Earth.

So, observations of the global average temperature, and its periodic variation with the phase of the moon provides another proof that the Earth is a globe.

References:

[1] Anyamba, E.K., Susskind, J. “Evidence of lunar phase influence on global surface air temperature”. Geophysical Research Letters, 27(18), p.2969-2972, 2000. https://doi.org/10.1029/2000GL011651

[2] Knox, R.S. “Physical aspects of the greenhouse effect and global warming”. American Journal of Physics, 67(12), p.1227-1238, 1999. https://doi.org/10.1119/1.19109

5 thoughts on “38. Lunar temperature modulation”

  1. I am having a suggestions:

    1.Earth’s circumference is about 40030 km or 24874 miles. So, to have an angle of 1° away from an observer, an object needs to be at 40030 km/360° = 111 km or 69 miles from the observer.

    Did any surveyor measured that,maybie you know,I wasnt able to find anything!

    2.Radio waves
    Ultra-frequency radio waves travel straight,so they can at sea level send signal only for few miles.Lower frequency waves can go more beacuse they bend.

    3.Radar.Radar horison is about 5% larger than normal one,so after boat dissapears on horison,it shortly after dissapears on radar!

  2. Paragraph 6 “…to 1998, and potted it…:” should be plotted.

    This is a good proof! I would not have thought such a little variation in distance would have made any difference in temperature, and the fact that it can’t be explained by any flat earth model i’m aware of makes it perfect for this list.

  3. I may not understand everything you post, but I can follow most of it.
    I’m of the opinion that one should learn something every day and you are helping my post-school studies.
    Thank you a whole lot.

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