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Global Warming Includes Oceans Too - and Continues to Rise Fast

Posted on 6 September 2013 by greenman3610

This is a re-post of Peter Sinclair's latest Yale Forum video

Slow-down in global surface temperature increases and flawed emphasis on land surface temperatures, at expense of ocean temperatures, explored in ‘This is Not Cool’ video. They call it ‘global’ warming for a reason.

They don’t call it “land-surface warming,” and they don’t call it “oceans-only warming.”

It’s called “global warming” for a reason, and one of the principal reasons is that climate change takes into account not only the approximately 29 percent of the Earth’s surface that consists of land, our continents, but also the 71 percent comprised of oceans.

In this month”s “This is Not Cool” video debriefing, independent videographer and climate analyst Peter Sinclair, of Midland, MI, presents and interviews an all-star cast of climate scientists helping tell what one — Ben Santer of Lawrence Livermore Laboratory — describes as “an internally physically consistent story” based on a wide body of scientific evidence on climate change.

As Columbia University scientist James Hansen explains in the video, global temperatures over the past decade-plus have increased about 1/10th of a degree, versus the 2/10ths of a degree increase in the previous decade. “But that’s just natural variability. There’s no reason to be surprised by that at all.”

Such “hiatus periods” have occurred in the past and are expected to again in the future, the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Jerry Meehl explains. The increased heat, he says, is going into the ocean, which NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Josh Willis calls “our most accurate thermometer for measuring climate change.”

The video comes at a time of confusion in some quarters about just how sensitive the global climate is to an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations — and just how significant the resulting temperature increases are from a practical standpoint — and amidst widespread scientific curiosity and inquiry to explain an observed slow-down in global temperature over the past 15 years or so.

Those issues are expected to be at the forefront of coming points emphasized by parties interested in debunking the science as represented by the upcoming releases of IPCC “AR 5″ (Assessment Report 5) studies, due to begin being released at the end of September.

Scientists from a diverse collection of academic and government research institutions explain in Sinclair’s video that, NASA/JPL’s Willis says, sea-level rise over the past 20 years has shown an “incredibly steady background trend” that can be explained only by human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Several point out that more than 90 percent of increasing global heat resulting from GHGs is taken-in by the oceans, and rising ocean temperatures — and resulting sea-level rise, particularly in the deepest ocean depths — are testimony to that continued warming.

So, what about the whole current debate about global warming having “ended” or at least “slowed down” over the past decade-and-a-half? The whole issue of the warming “pause” or, more accurately, slow-down, and its practical implications and significance will be subjects of several upcoming Yale Forum postings — including both new work and encore repostings of two well-received earlier explanations — and will be the subject explored also in Sinclair’s next “This is Not Cool” video, to be posted around the end of the month.


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Comments 1 to 11:

  1. Another pearl of wisdom from Peter Sinclair. Even the 'Thanks' credits reflect a cross-section of scientific knowledge and probity.

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  2. Will the heat stay locked away in the ocean's depths or will it all come back and global warming accelerate?

    Is it possible that global warming can increase the probability of La niñas? A negative feedback?

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  3. Interesting graphics. They show that none of the ocean warming in lower latitudes penetrates polar oceans - which is not the case and is misleading.

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  4. martin,

    The inter-relationship of the various things being measured and discussed is important to understand.

    The oceans gathering heat will affect global average surface tempeature when the next strong El Nino event develops. The history of global average surface temperatures shows a statistically significant effect from the ENSO cycle. The global average is bumped up by El Nino and is bumped down by La Nina. ENSO is currently fairly neutral and the global average temperture is as high as values were during the big El Nino bump of 1997-98.

    Therefore, anyone tracking the global average surface temperture should also include an adjustment for the phase and degree of the ENSO cycle that is influencing it. The other understood variable impacts on the global average surface temperature should also be included.

    When that is done there is no recent significant slowing down or pause in the global average surface temperature values.

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  5. Brilliant video.

    The Radio 4 excerpt is typical of the BBC news reporting, which, dominated as it is by humanities graduates, is institutionally incapable of understanding the gigantic difference between evidence-based science and ideological-based propaganda.

    They are arrogant in their ignorance too, even choosing to ignore their own internal review carried out in 2011 by Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London, on the accuracy and impartiality of the BBC’s science output

    Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics puts it well.

    “But it is clear that the BBC’s cadre of unscientific senior staff has simply ignored this aspect of the review by Professor Jones. In his evidence to the House of Commons select committee on science and technology on 17 July, David Jordan, director of editorial policy and standards at the BBC and a graduate of economics and politics from the University of Bristol, told MPs: "[Professor Jones] also made one recommendation which we didn’t take on board which is that we should regard climate science as settled in effect, and therefore that we shouldn’t hear from dissenting voices on the science of climate change and we didn’t agree with that because we think the BBC’s role is to reflect all views and opinions in society and we’ve continued to do that."

    This is the result of erroneously believing that climate change is just a political issue, and based on a matter of opinion. But the laws of atmospheric physics are not a "point of view", and this wrong-headed approach by the BBC means it is sacrificing accuracy by being impartial between facts and fictions.”

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  6. It is unfortunate that our ordinary language doesn't match the facts of thermodynamics very well, in particular, that we don't have separate common words to distinguish between an increase of heat energy in a system and an increase of the temperature of the system. We consequently seem to have continuing confusion between an accelerating increase of heat in the global system and a varying increase of the temperatures of different parts of the system.

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  7. Stephen, let's back off the generalizations re the humanities.  Humanities majors don't have a lock on scientific non-expertise.  I also imagine that many of the people at the BBC have backgrounds in communications/journalism, which are not considered part of the humanities.  The problem is not a particular area of training.  The problem is the driving interest that leads people to say "yes" instead of "no" when it comes to manufacturing debate.

    Could scientific training help them say "no"?  It couldn't hurt, but it's certainly no universal medicine.  Witness Lindzen, Michaels, Spencer, Morner, Soon, et al.  Witness the 32,000 signers of the OISM petition, all allegedly with some scientific training. 

    As I've pointed out elsewhere, the general public doesn't know the difference between Nature and Energy & Environment.  One cannot appeal to scientific reason when speaking to the general public--at least not beyond a surface treatment.  The arguments of the Watts, et al., align with political platforms, not with measures of scientific credibility, and so the ideas of Watts et al. spread to a much greater audience.  The BBC receives that spread in return: pressure from the public and from policymakers.

    There's no easy solution.  Pushing critical thinking skills is important, of course, but I've seen the best of my student thinkers shortcut when thinking through an issue toward which he had little motivation.  Climate science is definitely not an area of science that can be untangled in a day with a sharp mind.  I frequently encounter people who are smart and understand the greenhouse effect but who argue from the equilibrium climate sensitivity that the IPCC has overestimated warming.  These are engineers and scientists in other fields, not humanities majors, and it takes a really long time to get them to understand what is blazingly obvious to me (the oceans), and I am trained in the humanities (ABD right now). 

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  8. Regarding comments 5 and 7:

    There's an interesting paper "The polarizing impact of scientific literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks" in Nature Climate Change, Vol 2, p 732, 2012 that is worth reading. Scientific literacy is no guarantee that someone will agree with you.

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  9. Bill BillEverett @ 6. I agree that the "energy level of our planet" is a main issue of the science of our planet's climate.

    The energy level of our planet is simply the balancing of "internal energy generation plus energy entering our planet's system" with the "rate of loss of energy from our planet's system". Humans are changing that balance toward a higher energy level by increasing the ability of our planet to retain energy that enters our planet's system.

    The tracking of the change can be done through a variety of measurements of different observable aspects of our planet's system. And it is true that the "total energy change" is important to understand. However, it is the energy at the surface that matters most to the "climate and weather events" we experience. That is why the global average surface temperature is important to monitor even though it fluctuates significantly and is not an accurate measure of the "total energy of our planet".

    This leads to a clarification of my previous reply to martin.

    The "energy gathered in the oceans" will not substantially shift out of the oceans into the troposphere. However, the warmer ocean will likely have a warmer surface through the full range of ocean surface fluctuations like ENSO. If the magnitude of an ENSO condition is determined by the “temperature of the surface of the ocean” without any adjustment for the fact that the ocean is generally warmer then the next ocean current shift comparable to the 1997-98 El Nino will be noted as a “more significant or stronger El Nino” producing a correspondingly larger short-term bump in global average surface temperatures.

    Another point is that the warmer ocean will lead to other changes that are separate from the “climate of the surface of our planet”, including the mentioned raising of ocean surface levels. And the impacts of the accumulation of CO2 in the oceans are additional changes that are separate from the climate impact.

    The identification and improved understanding of these impacts resulting from the way the most fortunate humans obtain maximum short-term benefit leads to the inevitable “politics” related to this “scientific issue”.

    The term “politics” can have many interpretations. I identify the “political aspect” of this “scientific issue” as “the need to fundamentally change all human activity to be truly sustainable on our one and only planet”. It needs to be possible for the entire human population to develop to live a decent life in a way that can be continued and improved by all humans forever. Any “claimed improvement” that is due to activity that is not sustainable is actually counter-productive and damaging. And increased understanding of subjects like climate impacts helps identify sustainable activity.

    Industrial mass-consumption and waste is not sustainable but has developed significant popularity leading many to claim the system of human interaction that led to its development is the “best way for humans to behave and interact”. Only a limited number of people can enjoy the way of life of the current most fortunate. And even the limited number of current most fortunate cannot continue to live that way much longer, let alone indefinitely. It is simply not sustainable. However, many among the most fortunate, and many hoping to be among the most fortunate, do not care about how sustainable their pursuits are. That is what leads to politics or “deliberately deceptive pursuit of public support” related to this "scientific issue".

    The way the science is presented is its best defense against attempted attacks on its credibility by those who do not want the subject to become better understood by more people. That is challenging in mass-consumerism societies with growing numbers of people who want more for themselves and believe they can get all the information they need from any snippet of information from any website they choose, or a tweet or a news-bite. And critical thinking is not the answer when people abuse that to just be critical of someone who tells them something they don’t want to believe. Rational reasoned considerate thought is required. Caring to understand how to create a sustainable better future for all life on our one and only planet is required. Willingly reducing how much personal benefit you can obtain is required.

    I appreciate the need and desire for scientists to stay focused on the science, but the politics related to an issue like this one are unavoidable.

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  10. Typo. "observed slow-down in global temperature" S.B. "observed slow-down in global surface/air temperature". "Global warming" is an increase in OHC. Ice melt is ~1% or so. Fresh water warming is most of the ~9% residual. Surface/air temperature increase is (1) a symptom of special interest to land-based and shallow ocean-based fauna & flora (2) the physical necessary to balance and stop warming (3) a pretty good proxy measure when averaged over decades or longer. 

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  11. DSL @ 7. You make a fair point on a scientific/technical background being no safeguard against climate denial. Indeed, as you point out, some of the most entrenched individuals come from such a background. However my point was about the institutional failings, not individual.

    The BBC has an immense responsibility to inform the public, which it does fantastically well most of the time. However, as Bob Ward points out; BBC senior management does not get that, by giving news bulletin airtime to contrarians in the name of reflecting all views and opinions in society, it is misleading the public into believing that there is no scientific consensus about the causes and consequences of climate change.

    Their misunderstanding of the import of science, and refusal to take the formally sought expert advice of an eminent scientist, is testament to the unscientific monoculture that exists in senior echelons of that organisation.

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