In early April, the Guardian ran a story reporting that the world’s ocean surface temperature was at an “all time high” of 21.1°C, and this was leading to “marine heatwaves” around the globe. “The current trajectory looks like it’s heading off the charts, smashing previous records”, said arch-climate activist Professor Matthew England from the University of New South Wales. The story did what it was supposed to do and upped climate alarm, but, curiously, less publicity has been given to the recent fall to 20.8°C in just seven weeks.
The ‘boiling oceans’ trope is very popular these days in climate alarmists circles, not least because so many other scare stories around corals, polar ice and global warming are having to be retired. A month later, the Guardian’s Graham Readfearn followed up his ‘off the charts’ cherry-picked claptrap by promising there was a “huge payback” because the oceans had been absorbing the world’s “extra heat”. It was said that the United Nations’ climate assessment laid out “the unfathomable heat gain” between 1971 and 2018 of 396 zettajoules, equivalent to the power of 25 billion Hiroshima atomic bombs. In fact the UN’s sixth assessment report lays out a graph on page 350 showing a steady 500 zettajoules increase in ocean heat since 1900. There are 1,514,000 zettajoules of heat in the ocean, and the fact that this is a tiny 0.03% increase is not considered worthy of mention.
The Guardian’s claimed record is supplied by data from the U.S. weather service NOAA that measures only the warmest part of the ocean between 60°S and 60°N. Much of the world’s climate is determined by heat transfer from the tropics to the poles. At the moment, an El Niño is brewing in the Pacific which warms the top of the ocean and can transfer heat across the world. It is a natural oscillation, but alarmist scientists are rushing to claim any warming as human-caused climate change. The Guardian quotes a NOAA researcher Dr. Mike McPhaden who says a prolonged period of La Niña cold is coming to an end. Needless to say, the effect of these two oscillations have nothing to do with any changes caused by greenhouse gases, but with El Niño riding to the rescue, McPhaden suggests “we are likely seeing the climate change signal coming through loud and clear”.
Perhaps some basic physics at this point may help, although Guardian readers and those of a nervous ‘settled’ climate science disposition may care to look away now. Only a tiny fraction of the world’s heat resides in the atmosphere. If the atmospheric temperature rose by a huge 27°C and all that heat was then transferred to just the first 72 metres of the ocean, it would only be enough to raise sea temperatures at that level by 1°C. This is according to the latest work by the Clintel Foundation, a group of scientists who have recently produced a detailed analysis of the latest IPCC assessment work. It is noted that accurate data from the top ‘mixed’ level of the ocean has only been available for about 19 years. Various sea-surface and mixed-layer temperature measurements are said to have different trends, “some up, and some down”. From 100m to 2,000m it seems there is a current century warming trend of 0.4°C, about half that reported for the atmosphere at the Earth’s surface. Since El Niño and La Niña effects do not change water at this level, the rise is noted to be “remarkably linear”.
Of course heat transfers between atmosphere and ocean occur, but it is pushing it a bit to suggest all or most of the current warming in the ocean is caused by an atmosphere containing a tiny fraction of the heat already stored beneath the water. And it is pushing it even further to suggest that most oceanic warming is caused by humans adding just 4% to all atmospheric carbon dioxide, a gas that is only measured in trace quantities at around 400 parts per million. It is beneath the water that we can profitably find some answers about changing oceanic temperatures.
In a paper published last year, a group of oceanographers working out of the University of Miami found that warming in the Indian Ocean since 2000 could not be explained by air to sea heat transfers alone. It was found that warming down to 700m was driven by significant changes in oceanic fluxes and not by surface influences. In fact during the 2010s it was found that net air-sea fluxes are “near zero”. Reporting on the findings, the climate site No Tricks Zone noted that the Indian Ocean covers approximately 20% of the ocean surface, but the basin accounted for one half of overall warming in the global ocean’s top 700m from 2000 to 2019. No Tricks Zone observes that scientists have pointed out that internal ocean processes and natural circulating heat can explain decadal-scale warming and cooling in the global ocean.
Chris Morrison is the Daily Sceptic’s Environment Editor.
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