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Climate Hustle

Infographic on where global warming is going

Posted on 20 January 2011 by John Cook

Scott Mandia has written an excellent article explaining climate sensitivity, clearing up a common misconception about climate change. The evidence indicates that a doubling of CO2 levels will cause 3°C warming. However, this doesn't mean that the moment CO2 levels reach 560 parts per million (doubling from the preindustrial 280 parts per million), that global temperatures will at that moment be 3°C warmer than preindustrial temperatures. Most of the heat is going into the ocean. Just as it takes time for a cup of coffee to release heat into the air, so to it takes time for the ocean to release its heat into the atmosphere.

Scott uses a Skeptical Science infographic Where is global warming going?, to illustrate that over 90% of global warming is going into the oceans. This graphic seems to have been popular - the NOAA used it in their 2009 State of the Climate Report (without attribution but who's counting?  :-)

So I figure I might as well add this to our list of Climate Graphics. As with all the other graphics, this one is under a Creative Commons licence so everyone is free to use the graphic in any non-commercial use (or for commercial use, just contact me first). To get hold of the different file formats available, go to the Where Is Global Warming Going? infographic (or use the links below):

You are welcome to reuse these graphics in any non-commercial use with attribution. Skeptical Science is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. For commercial use, please contact me.

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Comments 1 to 35:

  1. Less than 2% going into ice (Greenland, Arctic, ice caps) gives us the melt rates we've observed??? I'm stunned.
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  2. I'll second that observation.

    Of course, a good part of that melt results from warm ocean waters rather than direct heating of the ice - I hope.
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  3. That is a good question: if less than 2% is causing this much havoc with melting ice at both poles, what will happen when the oceans release the rest of it?

    Better yet, what is all that heat doing to the oceans? Perhaps we just aren't seeing the damage. We still do not know the deep oceans that well.
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  4. According to UAH satellite records the planet has cooled half a degree Celsius since this time last year.Now I think that represents close to two thirds of our total warming in 130 years. We can probably all agree that natural variability caused this cooling.So how much of the previous warming was caused by natural but longer term climate cycles? If only half the previous warming was natural doesn't that mean that the doubling of c02 should lead less that 1 degree of warming?
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  5. @ muoncounter

    Once the albedo flip (from Artful Dodger over at Neven's) kicks in, the Arctic will be absorbing a sight more than that.

    The Yooper
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  6. #4: "the planet has cooled half a degree Celsius since this time last year"

    Of course, you're aware that a year isn't a significant time period.

    If you are interested in 'natural cycles', there's a thread for that. If you are interested in sensitivity to doubling CO2, there are several threads for that. You can find them using the Search feature -- and they are free to download.

    If you are interested in a significant look at warming, there's a great new post for that at Tamino's blog.

    all trends are statistically significant — strongly so. The conclusion is inescapable: the globe is warming, and shows absolutely no sign whatever of stopping or even slowing its warming. Any talk of “cooling” or even a “levelling off” of global warming over the last decade is absolute nonsense. -- emphasis added
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  7. #5: Yooper,
    And I thought an albedo flip was a refreshing if somewhat frou-frou beverage.
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  8. adrian smits (4)

    Per muoncounter's link above, corrected for El Nino, volcanoes, solar variation and the residual annual cycle:

    UAH proves you wrong. All the temperature records show significant warming, and that it is indeed global.

    The Yooper
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  9. adrian @4:

    Your comment and my response to it is off topic but I'll bite just this once.

    I think that basics, such as whether we were headed towards a moderate El Niño a year ago versus a strong cooling La Niña right now, should be taken into consideration before making comparisons to the past 130 years.

    Take a look at the entire 30 years worth of UAH data as well as 10 years before it with a focus on El Niños and La Niñas as separate weather entities. You will find two jumps in temperatures that rise quickly then level off for a few years only to repeat the same process again.

    The first jump is in 1976. The second in 1995/1998. And now the apparent beginnings of a third jump in 2010. The UAH chart below should help you visualize the trend after 1979.

    It doesn't seem like we're losing anything. The cooler La Niñas are also getting warmer.

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  10. adrian smits:

    According to UAH satellite records the planet has cooled half a degree Celsius since this time last year

    Likewise last summer's extreme heat proves that global warming is far worse than you imagine.


    Get real.
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  11. Hansen 2011 features the "albedo flip" as a melt mechanism, on P. 10.

    The Yooper
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  12. Adrian, As John's graph shows, 90%+ of the warming is in the oceans. If you want to talk about 1/2 of that disappearing due to natural variability, then you might be on to something. And in case you may have missed it - we certainly here in Eastern Australia - this is a huge La Nina period. La Nina's cool the atmosphere so no surprise there that the short term result is cooling. That's Weather for you.

    Now, to talk about Climate, what is the 30 year average value? That is the WMO definition of climate; time scales of 30 years or more.
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  13. And if someone wonders how on earth the ocean gets that much, part of the reason is the radiation gets a bit deeper in the water than in the earth.
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  14. If more than 2% was melting ice, we wouldn't have any ice at all. Ice is ice for a very good reason.
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  15. @adrian smits

    The next step in your reasoning is you will be announcing a new Ice Age every winter and a new Global Warming every summer, since temperatures tend to go a bit up and down during the year.

    Global temperature is a noisy signal, and if you look at only a short period of time (let’s say a year), you are only seeing the noise. You have to take a step back and look to a longer period (for instance 30 years or more) to see the trend. Anyone who draws conclusions about the earth’s climate based on just one year is … well, wrong (and that applies to both skeptics and AGW proponents).
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  16. #4 Adrian:

    UAH only measures the atmosphere, you're particularly looking at the lower troposphere. Part of this cooling is probably related to heat being dumped into the Pacific during a La Nina. Although ENSO does have a radiative forcing associated with it (as a positive feedback related to atmospheric temperatures as well as circulation etc).

    This happened at the last La Nina and the WUWT crowd did the same thing then: claiming that global warming was being 'wiped out' (they changed focus when we warmed up by more than we'd cooled down again though).

    Global warming is a sum of all the heat flows including ice and ocean as well as atmosphere. The 2.4% portion in the atmosphere has drastically decreased, but the amount in ice probably hasn't and even if the oceans do dump heat, the last time we had 'ice age cometh' shouts in 2008 the oceans had actually gained heat.

    Ocean heat content is here.

    We are confident it's not natural cycles because the oceans have gained so much heat, the mean atmospheric temperature has increased and there has been no noticeable trend in these natural cycles that could explain the warming. The mean solar output for the past decade has been lower than the '90s, and so has the mean ENSO index. Yet the past decade was warmer than the '90s with more heat in the atmosphere, melted ice and oceans.
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  17. to it takes time for the ocean to release its heat into the atmosphere.

    Why would the ocean release heat? I think it's that as equilibrium is reached the ocean stops absorbing heat resulting in it no-longer cooling the surface.
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  18. Ed,

    The oceans are huge so the total heat content is quite impressive. Heat fluxes are just not able to move this heat out very quickly.

    All three heat transfers are involved but it appears that latent heat released by condensing water vapor is what provides the air with most of the heat that originated in the ocean.

    Globally averaged values:
    Conduction adds 24 watts per square meter to the air
    Net back radiation warms the air by 66 watts per square meter
    Heat loss by evaporation is 78 watts per square meter
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  19. #1 Do not be amazed that the GIS melt is just 0.2%. Recall that the acceleration of the Greenland glaciers is from changes at the terminus due to thinning. The thinning results in reduced friction and increased calving. The most likely candidate for thinning at the terminus is bottom melting from warmer ocean waters. As noted for Petermann and West Greenland, which brings us back to the largest blue ball that is the one to keep your eye at present even for the ice sheets.
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  20. I think the storage and releasing of heat by the ocean has two components, the long term one is OHC increases to reach equilibrium. However, that rise is smaller than OHC fluctuations due to irregular cycles like ENSO. When ENSO causes large areas of high SSTs, OHC goes down (the ocean is releasing heat) and vice versa.

    However that idea may be too simplistic. Figure 2 in shows the SST but also the discharge and recharge measurement which should also affect OHC.
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  21. 1, muoncounter,
    Less than 2% going into ice (Greenland, Arctic, ice caps) gives us the melt rates we've observed??? I'm stunned.

    Realize, I think, that the graphic says that this is the energy that has gone into actual melting, i.e. un-reversed transition of solid ice to liquid water. While the ice melt is dramatic and scary from a human point of view, it doesn't really represent the use of all that much energy to get there.

    What is more important is that a sizable chunk of the heat from the 93% of heat in the ocean, 2.3% in the atmosphere and 2.1% on the continents is geographically located at the north pole, and is how the heat gets "into position" to eventually melt frightening amounts of ice.

    I'd love to see this graphic modified to further split the ocean, atmosphere and continent numbers into three for five bands (SH, EQ, NH or else SP, SML, EQ, NML, NP), to show that geographic distribution.
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  22. Original Post and MarkR #16

    What is all this about the oceans 'releasing' and 'dumping' heat to warm the atmosphere?

    Global warming is supposed to be about a positive imbalance in the energy flux at TOA, causing a net energy gain to the biosphere over time.

    Although there is a small amount of geothermal energy flowing from the ocean bottom upward, surely the predominant flow is from the top down ie. direct radiation and convection from a warmer atmosphere into the oceans where over 90% (93.4% according to above)is absorbed by way of increased temperature via complex circulations.

    The oceans could only 'release or dump' heat to the atmosphere on a global scale if the positive warming imbalance turned negative which means that cooling forcings overtake warming forcings - which can't happen if CO2GHG forcing and feedbacks do act as claimed by the proponents of AGW.
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  23. I agree with 17 Ed Davies. I find the answer (18), and also the original statement in the top post misleading:
    "Just as it takes time for a cup of coffee to release heat into the air, so to it takes time for the ocean to release its heat into the atmosphere."

    The coffee-cup has a higher temperature than the air, and has already a lot of heat to release, thus lowering its temperature. This is not the case with the ocean. Even after reading the article at the underlying link in the above quote, I don't think the situation is correctly described.

    Before humans started adding CO2 en masse to the atmosphere, the oceans were (roughly) in equilibrium with the rest of the Earth (i.e. air, land).--Then AGW started. More (and more) heat stays within the system due to the greenhouse effect. Temperatures are rising. The oceans absorb most of the increasing heat content. As the process goes on, ocean temperatures will rise, they will absorb gradually less heat, and will release gradually more heat, until another equilibrium is reached (provided that there is an upper limit to the new CO2 content).

    The article gives the impression of an ocean that is currently building up enormous heat content that will later (suddenly?) be released to the atmosphere. That's not how it works. The ocean is both absorbing and releasing heat, all the time. Right now it's lagging behind a bit in temperature, because it takes time to raise the temperature of a billion cubic kilometers of water. Gradually it will catch up, and asymptotically a new equilibrium will be reached, with higher temperatures, and higher levels of heat transfer--both to and from the oceans.
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  24. #22, KL, the oceans will release heat when the SSTs are warmer than the atmosphere. There is no second law argument here since the local SST's in El Nino conditions are much higher than the local atmospheric temperatures. Those large local imbalances are what drives the global net ocean heat release. In ENSO neutral and La Nina, the net balance is for the ocean to absorb more heat. In 1998 there was no "cooling forcings overtaking warming forcings", there was simply a net release of ocean heat and corresponding spike in GAT.
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  25. 23, Anthony,
    The coffee-cup has a higher temperature than the air, and has already a lot of heat to release, thus lowering its temperature. This is not the case with the ocean.

    This is not true. It may seem this way to people who go to the ocean for a swim, where the water seems cold and it is hot on the beach under the sun, but that limited, specific (and anecdotal) environment is very, very different (hot, sunny day, coastal water, etc.) from the global picture.

    The interplay of land/air/ocean temperatures is complex, but in general... sunlight passes straight through the air and does not heat it much at all. It strikes the ground and some is reflected, while the rest heats the very surface. It strikes the ocean, penetrates and heats it to some small but not inconsequential depth, reflecting very little.

    At night, the land cools quickly, the oceans not as fast (because of the properties of shallowly heated solid objects versus a great depth of H2O).

    The upshot of all of this is that the oceans absorb a lot more energy from the sun during the day (since very little is reflected), and also take much longer to transfer that heat ("release it") to the atmosphere.

    That's how the air gets heated, through heating from both the land and the ocean, day and night -- not from the sun itself, directly. But the ocean's contribution to that heating is dramatically more pronounced than that of the land, and that's the only way that the atmosphere gains heat (which it ultimately loses through radiation out into space).

    The air is not, on average, day and night, around the globe, warmer than the ocean.
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  26. There are a lot of good comments above, even the ones that disagree with each other.

    My take on the discussion so far: The ocean provides enormous thermal buffering. This works in both directions, all the time. You can conceptualise this as the ocean acting as a heat sink at this point, and less of a heat sink as an approximate equilibrium is reached, or as an increased outflow of energy as it gains heat content. It makes little difference since both are true.

    Couple of points, that may be more or less obvious, apologies for stating the obvious:

    There will be no equilibrium until some time after the GHGs are stabilized. They won't stop increasing just because they have doubled. So, to talk of an equilibrium at any given level doesn't apply to the reality in which we live, until and unless that reality includes a stabilization of GHGs.

    Some people treat ENSO and other sloshing around of oceanic water as causes or forcings in and of themselves. They aren't; they are just instabilities in the system attempting to reach an internal thermal equilibrium. The cold water upwellings are driven by salinity and temperature differences, and wind (which is just the same process of entropy acting in the atmosphere). They are ultimately determined by relative energy distributions within the earth system; they don't add or remove energy from the system.
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  27. 25 Sphaerica,
    I totally agree with your description of the interplay of heat and temperatures. If you read the rest of my comment (other than what you quoted), you will see that I described a long term change towards another equilibrium in the future, other than the one we have today, whereas you describe the day/night cycle with its flows back and forth.

    I still object to the top post's: "... it takes time for the ocean to release its heat into the atmosphere." In the long term perspective, the ocean will gradually adapt its temperatures to the climate. We don't have to fear a future shock when the ocean will "release its heat". It's just a creeping change of balance that we are facing, and it changes year by year, slowly and continuously.

    I think 22-Ken Lambert has similar objections: "What is all this about the oceans 'releasing' and 'dumping' heat to warm the atmosphere?"
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  28. RE: #22 Ken, thanks to Eric @ #24 who effectively answered it for me. :)

    The atmosphere isn't a single isothermal 'block' and nor are the oceans. What Eric says seems correct: heat can be transferred between the oceans and atmosphere. That explains why ocean heat content increased in a year when atmospheric temperatures fell, for example.

    But ENSO also affects the total radiative forcing through changing clouds.

    A good metric for global warming is total heat, including the oceans, ice etc. Thermodynamics should stop long term divergence in trend signs, but total heat content (being radiative alone) should be less noisy than atmospheric heat content (which is also coupled through latent & sensible heat transfers from the surface).
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  29. The only problem I have with your graphs is you're cherry picking 1975. How about going back to 1936 and not adjusting it at all and we might see a very different slope.
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  30. adrian smits (29)

    Why your cherry-pick of 1936? Why not 1934? Why not go back to Year Zero:

    (and yes I know it's a NH graph; I'm hiliting the cherry-pick of the question with another cherry-pick; dramatis ironae in action)

    All silliness aside, the point in making adjustments for known cycles is to reduce the noise in the data to get at the signal in the data. The same principle as to why people wear sunglasses on sunny days: to see better. Let's look back to 1880 (global combined land+ocean):

    The overall trend is up, despite noise inherent in the signal. The point is: we have a pretty solid idea of how the system works, that it is heating up, and why that is.

    Getting pretty far off-topic here. Please use the search function to find a more appropriate thread if you wish to continue this discussion.

    The Yooper
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  31. #29:

    You stated in #4, "According to UAH satellite records"; going back to the '70s isn't cherrypicking, its using the entire satellite record.

    But rather than say 'we might see a different slope,' let's look at the actual temperature reconstructions. Per Figure 8 in that post, all trends are between 0.13 and 0.18 degC/decade. Not so very different after all.

    Further comments regarding temperature trends should go to the appropriate thread.
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  32. 25 Sphaerica.

    Confirming you point about the ocean being warmer at the surface than the air. The decadal mean sea surface temperature, Ts, is typically slightly warmer (0.6 to 1 degC on average globally) than the mean near-surface air temperature, Ta, at the same location. There are plots in section 2.2 of doi:10.1016/j.marsys.2008.01.009 (PDF).

    To me the surprising part of this result was how consistent these maps are (one from ship observations and the others from numerical weather predication reanalysis products, which use observed Ts as a boundary condition) and how well correlated mean Ta and mean Ts are over the entire range of observed values. In the short term Ta and Ts can be very different, but not in the long term.
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  33. ChrisG #26 and AG.W #27

    Very good comments ChrisG and AG.W - described the situation better than I did.

    The essential adjectives are 'global' and 'over time'.

    ENSO and La Nina are supposed to be 'internal effects' which redistribute heat energy already there within the land/atmosphere/ocean system.

    Eric #24 is also correct in describing the action of ENSO where large regional net release can spike global average surface temperatures, although the energy balance of ocean heat release should equal evaporation and land/air temperature rise energy equivalents.

    If not, then ENSO would become an 'external' forcing event -which changes the ballgame completely. It should then join the Table of forcings for the whole globe.

    MarkR seems to suggest this.
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  34. Ken, I was just stating what seems obvious which is that the OHC went down and the global average temperature went up. But I would also expand your comment about evaporation and other energy transfers, namely that these El Ninos tend to peak in the winter. I think one reason is that OHC spikes up in the winter (something I just noticed). So given an El Nino wind pattern, the evaporation increases and the latent heat transfer to the atmosphere increases all fed by the normal annual spike in OHC (perhaps supplemented by fewer clouds - more sunlight absorbed).
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  35. John,

    I edited my blog post because the cup of coffee example was not accurate unless one thinks of the air above the coffee as outer space and the coffee is the planetary system.

    The oceans are not really heating the air. My mistake and I did slap both of my wrists today.

    Here is what I have now on my blog:

    The simplest way to look at this is that the planetary system (ocean, surface, air) is warming because, due to increased heat trapping from gases such as CO2, the outgoing heat to space is not as large as the incoming heat from the sun. This means that the entire system has extra heat. We see that extra heat going into the oceans that are warming, the air that is warming, and the ice that is melting. To establish a thermal equilibrium (outgoing heat equals incoming heat) the entire planetary system must reach a new higher T. Most of the net heat imbalance caused by increasing CO2 is going into the oceans. This will continue until the surface ocean warms up enough to balance the radiative forcing. (Thanks to Gavin Schmidt for the previous two sentences.) For these reasons, one often hears that “there is about 0.6C (1F) warming still in the pipeline even if we stop adding CO2 today.”

    See: Hansen et al. (2005) for the details.
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