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A Case Study of a Climate Scientist Skeptic

Posted on 4 February 2011 by dana1981

Previously, in A Case Study in Climate Science Integrity (which was picked up and re-published by The Guardian Environment Network), we qualitatively examined two errors which led the Universal Ecological Fund (Fundaciíon Ecológical Universal [FEU-US]) and Dr. Richard Lindzen to arrive at diametrically opposed, but equally wrong conclusions.  Here is Lindzen's (emphasis added):

"According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the greenhouse forcing from man made greenhouse gases is already about 86% of what one expects from a doubling of CO2 (with about half coming from methane, nitrous oxide, freons and ozone), and alarming predictions depend on models for which the sensitivity to a doubling for CO2 is greater than 2C which implies that we should already have seen much more warming than we have seen thus far"

In both publications, thermal inertia and negative forcings were neglected.  Both performed calculations which accounted for the positive anthropogenic forcings (carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases), but neglected these two factors.  The difference is that while the FEU-US completely ignored them, Lindzen did mention each factor in a halfhearted effort to justify neglecting them.  But before we get into the details, it's worthwhile to examine the history of Lindzen's "we should have seen much more warming" argument.

A Brief History in Lindzen Time

Dr. Lindzen seems to have first made this argument in a 2002 letter to his local mayor in Newton, Massachusetts. 

"the impact on the heat budget of the Earth due to the increases in CO2 and other man influenced greenhouse substances has already reached about 75% of what one expects from a doubling of CO2, and the temperature rise seen so far is much less (by a factor of 2-3) than models predict"

In 2005, Lindzen made the same argument in testimony to the UK Parliament House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee.  He later repeated the argument on National Public Radio (NPR) in 2006, again on NPR in 2007 in a public debate which included Gavin Schmidt and Michael Crichton, in an Energy & Environment-published paper in 2007, in an article in 2008, another article in 2009, and of course the 2011 article examined in the Case Study and re-published uncritically at WattsUpWithThat and many other "skeptic" media sources.  Suffice it to say, Lindzen makes this argument frequently.

Lindzen's argument has also been rebutted several times, including by Coby Beck in 2006 and Stefan Rahmstorf in 2008.  Let's examine the errors that these rebuttals have uncovered in Lindzen's arguments.  Schwartz et al. (2010) agree that just based on greenhouse gas changes, ignoring all other factors, we "should have seen" 2.1°C warming above pre-industrial levels by now.  However, Schwartz et al. went on to quantify the other effects which Lindzen neglected, and so will we.

Thermal Inertia

Due to the fact that much of the Earth is covered in oceans, and it takes a long time to heat water, there is a lag before we see the full warming effects of an increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases (this is also known as "thermal inertia").  In fact, we know there remains unrealized warming from the greenhouse gases we've already emitted because there is a global energy imbalance.  The amount of unrealized warming is dependent upon the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere (or other radiative forcing causing the energy imbalance) and the thermal inertia of the oceans (which causes a lag before the warming is realized).  Lindzen does briefly acknowledge thermal inertia in his UK Parliament testimony:

"the observed warming is too small compared to what models suggest. Even the fact that the oceans' heat capacity leads to a delay in the response of the surface does not alter this conclusion."

Unfortunately, Lindzen does not substantiate this claim, or provide any references to support it.  However, Stefan Rahmstorf does attempt to quantify the thermal inertia effect in his rebuttal:

"Data from about 1 million ocean temperature profiles show that the ocean has been taking up heat at a rate of 0.6 W/m2 (averaged over the full surface of the Earth) for the period 1993–2003 [21]. This rate must be subtracted from the greenhouse gas forcing of 2.6 W/m2, as actual warming must reflect the net change in heat balance, including the heat flow into the ocean."

Rahmstorf references Willis et al. (2004), which found an oceanic warming rate of 0.86 ± 0.12 watts per square meter (W/m2) of ocean.  Given that approximately 70% of the Earth's surface is ocean, this becomes approximately 0.6 ± 0.07 W/m2 of overall ocean heat uptake.  Schwartz et al. (2010) put the value at 0.37 ± 0.12 W/m2.  For our purposes, we'll put the figure at 0.25 to 0.67 with a most likely value of 0.4 W/m2.  Let's keep these numbers in our back pocket and move on to the second neglected factor.

Aerosols and Other Cooling Effects

Lindzen briefly addresses aerosols in his most recent article:

"Modelers defend this arguing that aerosols have cancelled [sic] much of the warming (viz Schwartz et al, 2010)...However, a recent paper (Ramanathan, 2007) points out that aerosols can warm as well as cool"

In short, Lindzen's argument is that the radiative forcing from aerosols is highly uncertain with large error bars, and that they have both cooling (mainly by scattering sunlight and seeding clouds) and warming (mainly by black carbon darkening the Earth's surface and reducing its reflectivity) effects.  These points are both accurate. 

However, neglecting aerosols in calculating how much the planet should have warmed does not account for their uncertainty.  On the contrary, this is treating aerosols as if they have zero forcing with zero uncertainty.  It's true that aerosols have both cooling and warming effects, but which is larger?

In his argument, Lindzen refers us to Ramanathan et al. (2007).  This study examined the warming effects of the Asian Brown Cloud and concluded that "atmospheric brown clouds enhanced lower atmospheric solar heating by about 50 per cent."  The study also noted that, consistent with Lindzen's claims about the aerosol forcing uncertainty, there is "at least a fourfold uncertainty in the aerosol forcing effect."  However, this study focused on the warming effects of black carbon, and did not compare them to the cooling effects of atmospheric aerosols.

Ramanathan and Carmichael (2008), on the other hand, examined both the warming and cooling effects of aerosols.   This study found that black carbon has a warming effect of approximately 0.9 W/m2, while aerosol cooling effects account for approximately -2.3 W/m2.  Thus Ramanathan and Carmichael find that the net radiative forcing from aerosols + black carbon is approximately -1.4 W/m2.  This is broadly consistent with the IPCC net aerosol  + black carbon forcing most likely value of -1.1 W/m2

Figure 1:  Global average radiative forcing in 2005 (best estimates and 5 to 95% uncertainty ranges) with respect to 1750.  Source (IPCC AR4).

Note that Lindzen's assumed zero net aerosol + black carbon forcing is outside of this confidence range; therefore, neglecting its effect cannot be justified.  However, since the IPCC provides us with the 95% confidence range of the total net anthropogenic forcing in Figure 1, we can account for the uncertainties which concern Lindzen, and evaluate how much warming we "should have seen" by now.

Expected Forcing Effects on Temperature Thus Far

In fact, this is a simple calculation.  The IPCC 95% confidence range puts the total net anthropogenic forcing at 0.6 to 2.4 W/m2 (Figure 1).  On top of that, as discussed above, ocean heat uptake accounts for between 0.25 and 0.67 W/m2.  Therefore, subtracting the ocean heat uptake, the total net anthropogenic forcing over this period is somewhere between -0.07 and 2.15 W/m2, with a most likely value of 1.1 W/m2.

A doubling of atmospheric CO2 corresponds to a radiative forcing of 3.7 W/m2, according to the IPCC.  Therefore, the net anthropogenic radiative forcing thus far is between approximately 0% and 58% of the forcing associated with a doubling of atmospheric CO2, with a most likely value of 30%. 

In order to be thorough, we can also include the natural radiative forcings.  Most have had approximately zero net effect since 1750, with the exception of the Sun, which has had a forcing of 0.06 to 0.30 W/m2 with a most likely value of 0.12 W/m2 over this period (Figure 1).  Therefore, net forcing since 1750 is approximately 0 to 2.45 W/m2, with a most likely value of 1.25 W/m2.  Thus the total net forcing thus far is between 0% and 66% of the forcing associated with a doubling of atmospheric CO2, with a most likely value of 34%.

What Does This Tell Us About Climate Sensitivity?

So far, global surface air temperatures have increased approximately 0.8°C  in response to these radiative forcings.  Since we're 0% to 66% of the way to the radiative forcing associated with a doubling of atmospheric CO2 (most likely value of 34%), the amount we should expect the planet to warm if CO2 doubles (also known as "climate sensitivity") has a most likely value of 2.4°C, with a minimum of 1.2°C (because of the large aerosol cooling effect uncertainty and the fact that we may only be 0% of the way to the doubled CO2 forcing, we can't place an upper limit on the climate sensivity parameter with this calculation).   Using a much wider range of evidence, the IPCC puts the likely climate sensitivity range to a doubling of CO2 at 2 to 4.5°C with a most likely value of 3°C.  Our calculation is consistent with the IPCC range.

How Much Warming Should We Have Seen?

We can also flip the calculation backwards, assuming the IPCC most likely climate sensitivity of 3°C for a doubling of atmospheric CO2 and using the numbers above.  In this case, we should have seen from 0% to 66% of 3°C, or about 0 to 2.0°C.   Clearly the amount of warming we have seen so far is well within this range.  Additionally, the most likely amount of warming is 34% of 3°C, which is 1.0°C.  In other words, we have seen very close to the amount of warming that we "should have" seen, according to the IPCC.

Warming is Consistent with What We Expect

In short, contrary to Lindzen's claims, the amount of surface warming thus far (0.8°C) is consistent with what we "should have seen" based on the IPCC numbers.  Moreover, this calculation puts the most likely climate sensitivity parameter value within the IPCC's stated range, whereas the much lower value claimed in Lindzen and Choi (2009) (less than 1°C for CO2 doubling) is inconsistent even with our calculated climate sensitivity lower bound (1.2°C).  For additional discussion of the errors with Lindzen and Choi (2009), see here

When we actually account for thermal inertia and negative forcings, we find that the amount of warming we have seen is consistent with what the IPCC would expect, but inconsistent with Lindzen and Choi 2009.  Thus the correct conclusion is that if Lindzen is correct about low climate sensitivity, we should already have seen much less warming than we have seen thus far.

This post has been adapted into the rebuttal to the argument "Earth hasn't warmed as much as expected".

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Comments 51 to 80 out of 80:

  1. OK, in the absence of vertical circulation ocean warming (based on thermal conductivity) would have a time constant of 230 years. But we know there's vertical circulation, there's already benthic heating, it's on the order of 75-100 years from what we've seen. Again, johnd, please don't make assertions without evidence. It's the equivalent of "crying wolf", and does not dispose anyone towards taking subsequent statements seriously.
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  2. KR at 17:09 PM on 5 February, 2011, it can't be considered both a fair question and a strawman argument. It is indeed a fair question to seek clarification as to that if "unrealised heating" has been identified as presently being "in the pipeline", what evidence is there that it hasn't always been "in the pipeline" After all, I am responding to your earlier statement "I have spent a fair bit of time point out that "in the pipeline" means unrealized heating that will occur given current circumstances, but hasn't yet."
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  3. dana1981 at 17:07 PM on 5 February, 2011, precisely, and it was the hand waving about some indeterminate "unrealised heating" "in the pipeline", two unknowns, that I was seeking to be clarified by an explanation of the mechanism involved which should include a timeframe, both looking forward, and looking back to the origins of what is supposedly yet to be expressed.
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  4. johnd - The question (are current variations due only to recent heat content changes) is reasonable. The assertion (that there are >100 year OHC changes) is unreasonable given a lack of evidence. If you have an alternate explanation, please provide it. If you have no evidence of such an alternative, why are are you asserting it's possibility?
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  5. johnd - "Unrealized heating" is my term; one of a number I proposed as a replacement for the easily mis-interpreted "In the pipeline" phrase. It's the heating required to cancel out the radiative imbalance currently seen. Nothing more, nothing less. The timeframe is primarly determined by the thermal inertia of the oceans with regard to the (rather small by comparison) radiative imbalance. No hand waving whatsoever.
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  6. My prediction is this article will be quotemined by some. I'm not going to comment this more.
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  7. KR #47 Quote "You appear to be claiming that "in the pipeline" energies are not evident, and hence GW is false". endquote. I did not claim that at all. I said in #45 that "The energy absorbed from future forcing imbalance will cause 'future' temperature rise as KR#6 correctly says." I think that the lack of understanding of the 'terms' is in your court if you can't follow plain language. My piece does not deny GW up until now - nor that the current purported imbalance of anywhere from 0.4 up 0.9W/sq.m will not cause future warming if it continues. I criticised dana1981's original piece because he made errors which finally suggested that 1.1W/sq.m of warming was lurking somewhere 'in the pipeline' IN ADDITION to the 0.4- 0.6W/sq.m already claimed to be measured in the oceans. Clearly incorrect.
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  8. The heating we are experiencing now is definitely due to what happened in the past. This is the same reason why the radiative imbalance we're experiencing now will affect temperature for many decades. Just to put a number, if the response time is 50 years, what we see now is due to what happened in the last 50 years and the radiative imbalance we see still now will affect temperature for another 50 years. Reality is much more complex than my trivial example. The oceans respond on several different time scales and it's impossibile to reduce them to a single accurate response time.
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  9. #43 Agnostic: "Why? Do feedbacks already contribute to global warming? Will that contribution increase significantly as a result of on-going global warming?" It's quite complicated. Many models (AOGMs etc) don't include a proper carbon cycle but you determine expected CO2 levels from a carbon cycle model based on expected emissions and then prescribe them in the model. New models (so called ESMs) often include a carbon cycle model. But they often don't capture features which we suspect are there but haven't managed to constrain. Most don't capture how the Amazon became a net CO2 source in '05 and '10 or tell us with good confidence if and when other stores or sinks might 'fail'. That's why we can't be sure that models are doing a good job here. And measurements of carbon cycle feedbacks now are unlikely to be representative of carbon cycle feedbacks in a world with 1200 ppm CO2 and 5 C higher temperatures. So that's why recent measurements don't capture them.
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  10. #6 KR "I keep seeing skeptics yelling about the "in the pipeline" heating, as if the energy discussed were somehow already here, hiding under a bush or something" I thought it was Trenberth who first started yelling about the energy hiding under a bush. If by bush you mean the abyss or arctic ocean. If Trenberth has to look under bushes to find the energy to make his calculations work then where is this fraction accounted for in Dana's calculation?
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    Moderator Response: [Daniel Bailey] See here for context, provided by Trenberth himself, on the quote so many use out of context from the stolen emails.
  11. HumanityRules Trenberth's missing heat and the heat in the pipeline are two completely different things. The formes is already here and we are not able to track it; the latter is what will be here to restore the radiative balance.
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  12. #21: "How about 'observed warming' for the part we've already seen and 'committed warming', as suggested by Wetherald et al 2001?" Is it for 'TCR' and 'additional warming commitment' like in the IPCC TAR-O9, figure 9.1 ?
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  13. There often seems to be some confusion about what is meant by future warming 'in the pipeline' so perhaps this might clarify things a little. Before the advent of AGW, the oceans and atmosphere were at temperatures which represented a thermal equilibrium between them. Net energy flows between them, as part of the broader range of energy flows in the environment, kept them at equilibrium and their respective average temperatures, and the temperature differential between them reflected this. Then along comes AGW and they start to heat and their temps are rising. The atmosphere relatively quickly but the oceans far more slowly due to their much greater themal mass. So the temperature differential between the oceans and atmosphere starts to grow. The atmosphere is now warmer, relative to the oceans compared to what it was at equilibrium. So the net energy flow between them starts to change due to this altered temperature differential. Relative to the equilibrium case, more energy is flowing from the atmosphere to the oceans than previously. So the oceans are having a cooling effect on the atmosphere, partly offsetting the warming effect of AGW. So the atmosphere hasn't warmed as much as it would have due to AGW as a consequence of the oceans cooling effect because of the increased temperature differential between the two. So the common characterisation that the extra temperature increase in the atmosphere that is 'in the pipeline' will be because the oceans when they have warmed further will start heating the atmosphere is not quite correct. Say rather that in the future the oceans will STOP COOLING the atmosphere. Heat wont start to flow out of the oceans. It will stop flowing out of the atmosphere!
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  14. Glenn, that's the clearest explanation I've seen. Thanks
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  15. No Problemo
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  16. Agreed, very good explanation Glenn. Andrew Dessler was nice enough to review my post before publication. He noted that by subtracting off the heat going into the oceans from the total forcing, I was basically treating the thermal inertia as a negative feedback to the surface air temperatures (which he didn't have a problem with). Glenn provides a good explanation why it makes sense conceptually.
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  17. 63 Glenn Tamblyn There's one problem I have with your explanation. You say that air heats up quicker than ocean. This causes a temperature differential. This disequilibrium is restored by a net flow of energy into the oceans to restore the equilibrium. This suggests to me that the atmosphere is now actually warmer than it should be during the disequilibrium phase (i.e. now). If we imagined that we stopped adding CO2 to the atmosphere today it seems that the return to equilibrium would occur via a net flow of energy into the ocean. More explanation is required for my tiny mind.
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  18. 66 dana1981 "He noted that by subtracting off the heat going into the oceans from the total forcing, I was basically treating the thermal inertia as a negative feedback to the surface air temperatures" The thing I'm struggling with is that given Glenn's explanation in #63 I had it that the ocean is acting in exactly the opposite way to this ATM. I'll have a go at explaining what I see, somebody can can point out where I'm going wrong. So the imbalance is not in the amount of energy in the system as a whole (ocean, air and others) but in how the energy is distributed about the different parts of the system. If we are going to imagine the system returning to equilibria then we have to imagine the radiative forcing no longer changing. If the dis-equilibrium is represented by the temperature differential between the ocean and air (as Glenn suggests) and the disequilibrium is only restored once the forcing stops changing then the only way to restore the equilibrium is by a net flow of energy into the ocean (from the air). While I take that thermal inertia can be seen as a sort of forcing I'm going to suggest that once the system is returned to equilibrium that the thermal inertia is 'forcing neutral'. You could divide the disequilibrium phase into two sections, the period when the radiative forcing is increasing and energy continues to build up in the system and the period when radiative forcing stops increasing and the system slowly restores the thermal differential and equilibria. It strikes me that in the first period thermal inertia appears as a positive forcing warming the surface more relative to the ocean. In the second phase there is a net flow of energy into the ocean (from the air) and this phase appears as a negative feedback. The overall impact is neutral in terms of it's forcing-like appearance. This is obviously ignoring the complexities of the climate system, slower feedbacks etc. So I've thought of an analogy for my description because I've never really understood the significance of a boiling pot of water. Imagine two large vessels half filled with water connected by a very, very thin tube. One of the vessels has a large tap above it. The vessel with the tap represents the air, the other vessel the ocean. The thin tube is 'thermal inertia', the tap is radiative forcing and the water is energy. Turn the tap on and the 'air' vessel begins to fill up, because the flow through the tube is slower than from the tap then the water in the 'ocean' vessel increases much more slowly. Turn off the tap then there is no further forcing of the system but the water level in the 'air' vessel begins to drop and the level in the ocean rises as wtare continues to slowly pass through the tube restoring the system to equilibria. As I said this is for a simple system ignoring long term feedbacks and chnaging feedbacks during the restoritive phase. Anyway where am I going wrong?
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  19. HR #67 I think you might be misunderstanding this a bit because you question you ask suggests you are only considering the flows between atmosphere & ocean without putting this into the context of the other flows in the system. Perhaps I can explain this best with a simple analogy. I have a small water tank. A pipe at the top delivers a constant flow into the tank. And an outlet at the bottom allows the water to drain away again. What is the water level in the tank? 1. It will be at a level where the water depth in the tank creates a pressure at the bottom of the tank sufficient to cause a flow in the outlet pipe equal to the inlet flow. Then everything stabilises. This is the simplistic case of an Earth with no Ocean effects and no GH Effect. The tank is the atmosphere and the water level is the temperature. 2. Then we add a valve on the outlet that constricts the outlet flow somewhat. Now, the level in the tank rises until the pressure at the bottom is high enough to generate the required balancing outlet flow even with the constriction. This is the GH effect. 3. Next we close the valve a little bit more. So the level rises again to a new equilibrium to overcome the greater constriction. This is AGW - the Enhanced Greenhouse Effect. But so far we are only considering the atmosphere alone. Now lets add the oceans. We add a humungously big tank; and this is connected to our little tank by a pipe. Repeat our process. 1 & 2. Eventually the common level of our 2 tanks stabilises at the level that still lets the small tank come into equilibrium with its inflows and outflows. And the NET flow between the huge tank and the tiny one is zero - they are in balance 3. Then we tighten the valve a bit. The small tank starts to fill because the outflow is constricted. So the flow in the outlet starts to slowly rise. But now the small tank's level has grown compared to the large tank, so there is now a net flow from little to large. So the level in the small tank at any one time is determined by the inbalance between the inflow and the TWO combined outflows. And since the other tank is so huge, adding more water to it only changes its level VERY SLOWLY. So the level in the small tank can rise substantially before it generates a sufficient flow to the large tank to bring everything into temporary balance. Then, if the constriction on the valve isn't changed, the level in the small tank is lower than in our first example since most of the imbalance is going to filling the large tank. Eventually the large tank approaches the level of the small tank and the small tank can rise further. Eventually it all comes back into balance again but in the intermediate period the small tank is being artificially drained by the imbalance with the large tank compared with the first, atmosphere only, situation. So the small tank isn't higher than what it will be in the long term, it is lower. And if we keep restricting the valve, the small tanks level can be continually diminished by the sheer volume of the large tank and never reach equilibrium.
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  20. Glenn the difference between your analogy (#69) and mine (#68) seems to be that you are changing the flow rate between the two vessels while I alter the flow rate into the whole system. I would have thought the effect of CO2 is to alter the rate of in flow into the whole system rather than between the two vessels. Stabalizing CO2 would return the net infow to the whole system to zero and equilibria is restored by the natural flow of water into the ocean vessel. I accept that the ocean vessel should be much larger than the air vessel but shouldn't the value in your system be controlling flow into the system rather than between the two vessels? I also didn't mention in my example when the radiative forcing stops increasing and after equilibria is restored then both vessels will be fuller than before the increase of radiative imbalance.
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  21. HR 'changing the flow rate between the two vessels while I alter the flow rate into the whole system.' That isn't the case. The flow through the system is reduced when we first constrict the valve. This is the initial change in the flow into/out of the entire system. This then starts to produce an accumulation of water in the 2 tank system. This imbalance can only be restored when the level of the smaller tank rises enough to force an increased outflow. However, the smaller tank cannot reach this new balance level until the larger tank also reaches this level. So most of the accumulation is actually going into filling the larger tank - around 90% in the case of the climate. Until then, the flow into the largert tank artificially limits the rise in the smaller tank. Only at equilibrium does it all come back to level
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  22. Ok Glenn in #69 were does thermal inertia come into play?
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  23. And where is the temperature differential? Where is the lag? You don't seem to capture the dynamic changes between the ocean and the atmosphere that you describe in #63. The ocean seems just to become a very big extension of the atmosphere.
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  24. With respect to the "in the pipeline" semantic issue, might "warming debt" in response to thermal inertia be a useful term to employ?
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  25. Gentlemen The essential point to this discussion is whether or not there is energy added to the whole Earth system (oceans, atmosphere, land, ice melt, evaporation). This is then an 'external' energy imbalance. Exchanges between oceans and atmosphere etc within the system are 'internal'. Thermal inertia is only relevant to the Temperatures showing in various parts of the system. The overal energy added or subtracted from the system is the time integral of the forcing imbalance 'prior' to the point in time we are considering - which in this discussion is NOW. There might be temperature rise in some part of the system from heat energy already absorbed there or transported there by circulations from elsewhere. However future rise in temperature of the whole system can only come from future energy gain from a forcing imbalance. The heat energy 'in the pipeline' is in fact in the 'time tunnel' looking forward, assuming there is an ongoing imbalance (currently claimed as about +0.9W/sq.m). But if this heat keeps eluding researchers in the measurement of ocean heat content for too much longer, we might conclude that the imbalance is small or non-existent.
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  26. Are you claiming that what we cannot observe trumps what we can observe?
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  27. Bibliovermis #76 Where are we observing the forcing imbalance?
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  28. Bernard J. it's correct and could be usefull to some. But unfortunately there's no single analogy/simplified terminology good for everyone, as you may notice from this discussion.
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  29. Empirically observed fingerprints of anthropogenic global warming Scroll down to "Increased top of the atmosphere energy imbalance".
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  30. Bibliovermis #79 The Ceres TOA imbalance measurement was +6.4W/sq.m last time I checked. This was 'corrected' down to 0.9W/sq.m to match Hansen's 2005 models. So the imbalance is based on models - not measurement.
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