Climate Alarmists Coming Around to At Least One Skeptic Position

As early as 2009 (and many other more prominent skeptics were discussing it much earlier) I reported on why measuring ocean heat content was a potentially much better measure of greenhouse gas changes to the Earth rather than measuring surface air temperatures.  Roger Pielke, in particular, has been arguing this for as long as I can remember.

The simplest explanation for why this is true is that greenhouse gasses increase the energy added to the surface of the Earth, so that is what we would really like to measure, that extra energy.  But in fact the vast, vast majority of the heat retention capacity of the Earth's surface is in the oceans, not in the air.  Air temperatures may be more immediately sensitive to changes in heat flux, but they are also sensitive to a lot of other noise that tends to mask long-term signals.    The best analog I can think of is to imagine that you have two assets, a checking account and your investment portfolio.  Looking at surface air temperatures to measure long-term changes in surface heat content is a bit like trying to infer long-term changes in your net worth by looking only at your checking account, whose balance is very volatile, vs. looking at the changing size of your investment portfolio.

Apparently, the alarmists are coming around to this point

Has global warming come to a halt? For the last decade or so the average global surface temperature has been stabilising at around 0.5°C above the long-term average. Can we all relax and assume global warming isn't going to be so bad after all?

Unfortunately not. Instead we appear to be measuring the wrong thing. Doug McNeall and Matthew Palmer, both from the Met Office Hadley Centre in Exeter, have analysed climate simulations and shown that both ocean heat content and net radiation (at the top of the atmosphere) continue to rise, while surface temperature goes in fits and starts. "In my view net radiation is the most fundamental measure of global warming since it directly represents the accumulation of excess solar energy in the Earth system," says Palmer, whose findings are published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

First, of course, we welcome past ocean heat content deniers to the club.  But second, those betting on ocean heat content to save their bacon and keep alarmism alive should consider why skeptics latched onto the metric with such passion.   In fact, ocean heat content may be rising more than surface air temperatures, but it has been rising MUCH less than would be predicted from high-sensitivity climate models.


  1. Gil G:

    The faulty assumption here is the tired canard that global warming stopped in 1998.

  2. sean2829:

    You can't look at ocean heat content without talking about temperature changes as that is what is actually measured. People love to toss around the 15 x 10 to the 22 power Joules of ocean heating in the last 4-5 decades but they don't discuss the actual temperature change over this period of time. It represents an average increase of 0.07C over 50 years. Most of this heating supposedly took place between the mid 80's and 2000 but they also fail to point out there has only been comprehensive coverage of ocean temperatures for the last 10 years, when the heating rate has been slower. Losing heat into the deepest part of the oceans is at best a temporary reprieve from the day of reckoning when the consensus climate community will have to explain why it used a straight edge to describe a roller coaster.

  3. Mike Powers:

    Of course they're coming around to the idea. It supports them now!

    Ocean temperature was never an important measure of global warming, until suddenly it was, at which point Oceania had *always* been at war with Eurasia.

  4. MingoV:

    Recent ocean heat measurements are unreliable. Merchant marine vessels are paid to measure water temperatures at specific places. The method is to lower a pole with a chamber at the bottom. The pole is lowered to a specific depth, the chamber door is opened and closed, and the temperature of the water is measured when the pole is retrieved. Training and spot inspections were used to ensure quality. The recent interest in proving that planet earth is melting resulted in a massive increase in ocean temperature monitoring. Many more ships were recruited to make many more measurements. Training was abbreviated. The number of spot inspections didn't increase despite a huge rise in measurements. The testers grew slack.

    The commonest flaw in the procedure was to not sample deep enough. In almost all places except the polar regions, ocean temperatures at one meter are warmer than at two meters. The recent increase in mean ocean temperatures correlates nicely with the increased numbers of temperature takers and of temperature measurements.

  5. Joe_Da:

    with due regard and irrespective of which side you believe - try to cite a credible scientific website. Skeptical science is not one of them.

  6. rst1317:

    Are you going for irony? I can think of no more tiring of a canard that this approach than this, avoid addressing the science and instead try shifting things into this sort of doltish, grody stuff.

  7. obloodyhell:

    }}} it has been rising MUCH less than would be predicted from high-sensitivity climate models.

    As I noted seven months ago, time to update that piece.

  8. obloodyhell:

    }}} Recent ocean heat measurements are unreliable.

    Argo doesn't measure surface temp. It's much more sophisticated, and it's only been operational since 2003, meaning the baseline postdates the likely peak of warming, and we have no data to indicate if ocean temps lead or trail or what. Might be able to do some proxy studies of ocean cores for sea life, but I haven't seen anything on that just yet. So it's not a good metric of much of anything to do with long-term climate and deeper ocean temps.

  9. obloodyhell:

    }}} Of course they're coming around to the idea. It supports them now!

    No it doesn't. First off, look at that graph from 2011 -- that's pretty damned close to a horizontal line.

    Second, it's pretty much a guaranteed fact that ocean temps are strongly correlated to hurricane activity. And we are now in the longest run of **zero** Class-3 or above hurricanes NOT hitting the entire eastern seaboard (from Texas around up to NY) since 1870. If we make it through another season without one, IIRC, it will be the longest run since we could actually make any statements about such things in history (about 30-50 more years). Rising ocean temps lead to more and larger hurricanes, as close to an absolute correlation as there is. So fewer and lesser hurricanes mean lower, not higher, ocean temps. That was the main argument for AGW in 2005 when all those severe hurricanes hit the eastern seaboard. They've tried to predict that "this year will be bad" virtually every year since, only to wind up with their feet in it. Now they're just posting it hoping for people to not point out that they're nothing but Texas Sharpshooters.

  10. marque2:

    Good point since it actually has been cooling for a good 10 years now - even with the goosed NOAA numbers. They can't credibly goose fast enough to hide the cooling going on. Nice link - good laugh.

  11. Gil G:

    Only in deniers' dreams.

  12. Gil G:

    Like the NIPCC? Yeah, right!

  13. FelineCannonball:

    I'm confused as to who you are arguing with. The importance of ocean heat content and associated lag-times, circulation effects, vertical mixing, internal oscillations, etc. is a well accepted (and trivial) fact. And it has been for decades. You can't create a radiation budget or the simplest global climate model without addressing the ocean's heat content in some way. The complexities of ocean-atmosphere heat exchange and various climatic teleconnections has been a subject of research since the 1890s. It's still an active subject of research. No one is surprised by annual to decadal variations in atmospheric temperatures that exist on top of long-term driven change.

    You remember back in the early 1990's when they wanted to do long distance sonar-based thermal tomography of the oceans to create the best possible baseline for the changing thermal structure of the ocean? That's because ocean heat content matters. It's because the average temperature of the ocean would be a better record of changes in radiation balance than anything you can do interpolating weather station data.

  14. mlhouse:

    But in the end, ocean temperature simply does not matter. The Climate Alarmist modeled SURFACE TEMPERATURES. They hypothesized a relationship between surface temperatures and carbon dioxide levels and modeled those into the future. Their models forecasted a monotonically increasing level of temperture that human beings above the ocean would experience, and from those models of temperature increases predicted many bad things to happen.

    But their models were wrong. End of story.

  15. FelineCannonball:

    Or maybe they published modeled surface temperatures because they really only had surface temperature records to compare the results to.

    And maybe they left out a lot of complexity and short-term variation in their models because predicting weather and ocean-atmosphere heat exchange (say El Niño/southern oscillation) is currently impossible out more than a month/year respectively and is largely irrelevant to modelling long term shifts in the heat budget.

  16. mlhouse:

    So, in other words, the "science isn't settled", is it?

    Lets see all of the excuses you make.

    1. Limited data.
    2. Lack of knowledge about complex systems which meant a model specification that was incorrect to begin with.
    3. A model that cannot model short term variations accurately but is expected to model long term variations.
    4. Assumptions about what is relevant and irrelevant to the model.

    What this indicates to anyone that would care about the forecasting accuracy of a such a model is that the model builders created a model to model their biased conclusions. THey cherry picked the data, fitted the model specifications to the results they wanted, and then made wild speculations of the consequences of such forecasts.

    If such modelers worked in a job where the the performance of the their models was related to their job tenure they would have the prefic "ex-" in front of their job title.

  17. FelineCannonball:

    No. What there appears to be is a fundamental misunderstanding of what is being modeled.

    Fundamentally it's a heat budget. The total energy in and out of the system before and after you tweak a few atmospheric variables (basically adding a few layers of radiation opaque gases and aerosols). If you measured two variables, the radiation in and radiation out, you could precisely constrain the total effect (energy increase per unit time) in real time with one simple equation. And the accuracy of the statement would only be constrained by the accuracy of the measurements. It wouldn't depend on the complexity of the system, internal heat transfers, weather, etc. Modeling the direct effects of a CO2 increase (energy gained per year) on the entire system is also relatively trivial. Modeling a new equilibrium "average temperature" based on the direct effects on the entire system -- equally trivial.

    But things do get more complicated because we're not particularly interested in some vague total energy number, we are less interested in long-term equilibrium than rates of change in our lifetime, we do recognize significant temperature-mediated feed backs (water vapor, ice albedo, metastable carbon reservoirs, etc.) and changes in the structure and dynamics of the system, we're particularly interested in temperature changes in a tiny part of the system where we live (earth's surface) that represents a relatively small component of the total heat energy, and in fact we're interested in the spatial and geographic distribution of temperature changes, precipitation changes, storm event changes on that surface. It's a mixed blessing that models are constrained primarily by proxy and measurement records from the earth's surface. It's the change we actually care about the most and having it's past variation and sensitivity to forcing constrained is a good thing, but it's a derived variable and it's a noisy variable.

    Your argument is a bit like claiming that we can't model the flow of a large low gradient river or we can't model the tides because it's too complex. It's true that we can't very well model the short-term velocity of a floating twigs in these complex systems. We never will. But, we understand the large-scale driving force, we understand the total potential energy, we can model average and total flow rates, and our predictions for the velocity of floating twigs gets better and better as time period modeled gets longer.

    Engineers without the the term ex- in front of their job title model complex systems all the time without trying to predict the short-term behavior or internal complexity of systems -- heat flow, magnetic fields, fluid dynamics, friction, air resistance. They just have to recognize what they are modeling, what assumptions they are making, and limitations of any predictions in terms of detail, timescale, and uncertainty.

  18. marque2:

    Hard to present factsnto those who believe in a pagan religion.

  19. marque2:

    Hard to present facts to someone who believes in a pagan religion.

  20. CTD:

    I stopped reading after the bait and switch they pulled in the first sentence.

  21. mlhouse:

    Nice try. But that is NOT what was modeled or at least what "climate scientist" claim they have modeled. They claim they have modeled "temperature" and forecasted catastrophic results because their models predicted increased temperatures. But now, in the bait and switch world of "climate scientist" they are simply modeling "heat budgets" of a "tiny part of the system" that represents a "tiny part" of the total heat energy. INCREDIBLE.

    Apparently now we are going from "the science is settled" to a "derived" and "noisy" variable based on "constrained"by limited measurement records. MY GOD.

    And, getting back to your comments about my claims. NO, I am not claiming that we CANNOT model a complex system like theflow of tides, low gradient rivers, or even WEATHER or TEMPERATURE. We certainly can. But, if my model of a complex system such as tides or consumer behavior, or the forecasted value of the stock market SUCKS, then I need to reevaluate my model process, its underlying model specification, and the conclusions that I infer from my model.

    That is what a real scientist or engineer does. Instead, the "climate alarmist" simply double down. Shout everyone else down. And continue to make conclusions based on obviously flawed models. They know that they have the cover of a friendly media that is not inquisitive enough to contest their methods. They know that they have the cover of their fellow academics. And they know that they have the cover of friendly liberal politicians who want to use their findings as rational to support their political policies.

    The people making these claims are no longer scientists. Instead, they have become advocates of a belief. Beliefs are not based on facts.

  22. FelineCannonball:

    Actually, it is what is being modeled with GCMs. People may try to incorporate ocean-atmosphere exchange dynamics, but as they can't predict El niño cycles out more than a year what they do is run the model a very large number of times and give you an averaged short-term trend with a very large error bars. Their dynamic simulations give you a large spread of uncertainty because the system is not determinant on that time scale. Heat budget models give you a prediction of average surface temperature impacts over longer periods. They do not give you a prediction of precise weather patterns this coming June or the timing of natural climatic oscillations like the strength of El niño in 2016.

    The analogy to the twig in a wide section of the Mississippi is valid. It might go upstream for the next 20 seconds. It's really difficult to say. But we all know approximately where it will be in an hour.

  23. mlhouse:

    Again, nice try. At best your argument demonstrates the disconnect between what is found in the science and the models, and what conclusions are being spread about in the media and politics. Hell, Al Gore told us that the polar ice caps would be gone by 2014.

    Further, sorry but I think you are now trying to cover for models that have failed with the essential "Yeah, sure our models failed in their first 15 years and have been horrifically inaccurate. But just wait to see how accurate they are 150 years from now. You will be amazed". Sorry, but if I built a model that predicts a future value to increase from100 to 105 in time 1, 110 in time 2, ....., 175 in time 15 and the actual increase in that value over timewas essentially zero, arguing that I can't give precise short term forecasts is a very weak one. The most logical conclusion to make in that case is that the specifications of my model were poorly designed and that it picked up short term correlation in the data sample that were not as strong or did not exist outside of the sample.

    Next, one thing that made me a sceptic on this subject from day 1 was the ABSENCE of exactly what you are claiming: error. In every model there are error ranges, but the fact is that whenever this information is published to the general public there wasn't any +/- given. That immediately made me suspicious about the purpose of the report. These models were purposefully presented that way to drive policy choices based on these models.

    And your example of the twig in the wide section of the Mississippi is actually an extremely poor example to present to support your case because you really don't know where it will be in an hour. Sure, you can model it with assumptions that should give you a reasonable approximation but reality is much different. But in the real world it might not get downstream at all.

    Lastly, again, you come back from "the science is settled" to enumerating many things that are "subject to debate. Like lawyers at the bottom of the sea, maybe that is a good start.

  24. FelineCannonball:

    You probably should read more science and less Al Gore. Believe it or not I'm not that worked up by the topic. The precise climate sensitivity to CO2 is a number. It's the dynamics that are interesting -- forcing, internal oscillations, feedbacks and constraints. As a geologist I have access to a 4 billion years of proxy data and my questions are such that I'm not troubled by the problems with short term prediction accuracy of simplified heat budget models in a chaotic complex system. I guess it's troublesome to those worrying about it in the present, but it's not really troublesome when you're looking at Oligocene climate. The fact that climate has chaotic internal oscillations at the 1-50 year scale or has lag times to forcing sometimes measured in 10s of thousands isn't bothersome. It's just the way the system works.

    In the twig analogy it really is average twigs that we're talking about. You can have a dynamically accurate model of the system and run it 10,000 times. What you get is a distribution of possibilities, each equally possible. With time it gives you a pretty good idea of what gravity does with water.

    When you look at a climate projection, read the caption. If they are giving you the mean model result, you are only looking at the mean model result. If there is a tilted gray funnel cloud behind it they are usually trying to show you where 95% of the model realizations fall. This means that 5% fall outside this range due to the chaotic nature of the complex system. Those 5% are perfectly consistent with the dynamics in the model -- meaning you want to consider them if you are trying to understand all the short-term possibilities. Others graphs will include individual model realizations with narrower lines behind the mean trend. And still others will include multiple models and multiple model realizations. Discussing the differences between models really is computer nerd territory. They are always trying to tear each other apart and so far MIT usually wins. It's beyond my pay level.

    Try googling"climate model realizations" to see some of the possible variation due to the chaotic nature of the system. Figure 1.4 in the recent IPCC report comes to mind.

  25. mlhouse:

    LOL...whatever. You may think that the most important things are the dynamics, but that is almost meaningless. The danger of all of this is the policy ramifications of these issues. Climate alarmists want to radically change how we live and how our economy functions based on this "settled" science. One of the sceptics biggest arguments is that climate has constantly been changing, that there have been periods of earth's history, even recent, were the termperatures were warmer than what they are forecasting, and that it is readily apparent that the "bad, bad, bad" activities of mankind was not the causation of those changes in climate. On that we are in total agreement.

    Next, lets review the "twig" analogy and why it doesn't fit here. Because this experiment can be conducted thousands ir not millions of times we can form certain a priori assumptions about our probability model and be quite confident that if the stick does not flow downstream at some point that this posterior piece of information will not change our original assumptions about this model. Climate models are not the same. The absence of predicted warming is an event that needs to cast large doubts on the assumptions of the model. (BTW, I doubt that the distribution of the position of the stick has equally likely outcomes because that means your model cannot predict where the stick will end up).

    Next, you again miss the point I am making about error terms. I sorta know what they are. It is the absence of their reporting that is the critical issue here. These point forecasts are presented with the implied claim they are almost certain (again, the science is settled) when the real error terms are rather large. And frankly, I believe the real error terms are much much larger than anything you see in "the captions". Reported error is within sample error based on the estimators from the statistical procedure. The dependent variable has a huge error term built in, and even the independent variables should be viewed as having large measurement errors after they are manipulated to account for missing data and other factors like weather station locations, urban heat islands, and other factors.

  26. FelineCannonball:

    LOL. I don't get excited about policy ramifications because no one is ever going to seriously restrict fossil fuel use. Just like no one is going to take away your hunting rifles. This stuff strikes me as equally alarmist -- "a hippy is going to take away my F150" and "New York City is going to flood by 2030."

    So to me the modeling is just a science question revolving around past and future dynamics of the climate system. Sort of interesting like understanding the supernova that initiated the condensation of our solar system, or the meteorite that ended the Cretaceous.

    To the extent that policies will be implemented, like conservation rebates or fuel taxes, it probably has enough policy benefits with respect to cost efficiency and conservation of non-renewable resources (for later use) that I don't think it's worth getting worried about whether you choose to believe the science or not.

    Yes, uncertainty is larger than the sum of model realizations. 95% of model realizations is 95% of model realizations. It's utility is dependent on the model reflecting reality. Multiple competing models giving similar projections is heartening, but they're still simplifications and systematic errors might exist. Constraints from the paleo record do fall in line with large scale inferences though.

  27. mlhouse:

    Totally disagree with you about the policy ramifications. They are very real. And part of the problem with your statement is that while the hyperbole about New York City is going to flood by 2030 is something that has actually been stated by the left, the "sceptic" statement is rather a strawman. With that stated, the probability of a carbon tax and other redistributionist policies based on "climate change" are very significant. I guess the viewpoint of whether the implemtation of such policies are worth getting worried about lies in the eye of the beholder.

    AS for "believing" the science, that is an entirely different story. I essentially agree with the blogger of this site that there very well could be slight impacts on the climate caused by the emissions of carbon dioxide into the enviroment, but those impacts are modest and unknown. I do know that when such things are sold with the inflated rhetoric, propaganda like "the hockey stick", and the shutting down of legitimate debate, most likely the other side does not have a legitimate argument.

    Lastly, again, I point to the utility of hte model NOT reflecting reality. And that multiple competing models give similar results is not that big of a selling point because of the obvious group think around the subject.

  28. renewableguy:
    It always has been an important component. There has been a pretty continuous warming of the oceans.