Global warming: ‘Missing’ heat found deep in the ocean

New study explains why global surface temperatures don’t rise in a straight line

A NASA temperature anomaly map for Aug. 2011, showing departures from normal compared to a 1951 to 1980 base period. Click on the image to create a map.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Changes in ocean currents and circulation are capturing some of the sun’s incoming heat deep in the ocean, according to researchers with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who said their latest computer models account for some of the global warming heat that’s “missing” from land and sea surface temperature readings.

The heat is stored at depths below 1,000 feet and could lead to periods as long as 10 years when the rate of heating on the Earth’s surface flattens. The findings also suggest that several more intervals like this can be expected over the next century, even as the trend toward overall warming continues.

“We will see global warming go through hiatus periods in the future,” said NCAR’s Gerald Meehl, lead author of the study. “However, these periods would likely last only about a decade or so, and warming would then resume. This study illustrates one reason why global temperatures do not simply rise in a straight line.”

The research, by scientists at NCAR and the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia, will be published online on September 18 in Nature Climate Change. Funding for the study came from the National Science Foundation, NCAR’s sponsor, and the Department of Energy.

The 2000s were Earth’s warmest decade in more than a century of weather records. However, the single-year mark for warmest global temperature, which had been set in 1998, remained unmatched until 2010.

Yet emissions of greenhouse gases continued to climb during the 2000s, and satellite measurements showed that the discrepancy between incoming sunshine and outgoing radiation from Earth actually increased. This implied that heat was building up somewhere on Earth, according to a 2010 study published in Science by NCAR researchers Kevin Trenberth and John Fasullo.

The sprinkling of global warming deniers and skeptics in the science community latched on to the concept of “missing heat,” claiming that it somehow showed that the existing global warming models are flawed.

Now, the latest study by the NCAR climate scientists suggests that the oceans might be storing some of the heat that would otherwise go toward other processes, such as warming the atmosphere or land, or melting more ice and snow.

Observations from a global network of buoys showed some warming in the upper ocean, but not enough to account for the global build-up of heat. Although scientists suspected the deep oceans were playing a role, few measurements were available to confirm that hypothesis.

To track where the heat was going, Meehl and colleagues used a powerful software tool known as the Community Climate System Model, which was developed by scientists at NCAR and the Department of Energy with colleagues at other organizations. Using the model’s ability to portray complex interactions between the atmosphere, land, oceans, and sea ice, they performed five simulations of global temperatures.

The simulations, based on projections of future greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, indicated that temperatures would rise by several degrees during this century. But each simulation also showed periods in which temperatures would stabilize for about a decade before climbing again. For example, one simulation showed the global average rising by about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit between 2000 and 2100, but with two decade-long hiatus periods during the century.

During these hiatus periods, simulations showed that extra energy entered the oceans, with deeper layers absorbing a disproportionate amount of heat due to changes in oceanic circulation. The vast area of ocean below about 1,000 feet (300 meters) warmed by 18 percent to 19 percent more during hiatus periods than at other times. In contrast, the shallower global ocean above 1,000 feet warmed by 60 percent less than during non-hiatus periods in the simulation.

“This study suggests the missing energy has indeed been buried in the ocean,” Trenberth siad. “The heat has not disappeared, and so it cannot be ignored. It must have consequences.”

The simulations also indicated that the oceanic warming during hiatus periods has a regional signature. During a hiatus, average sea-surface temperatures decrease across the tropical Pacific, while they tend to increase at higher latitudes, especially around 30 degrees south and 30 degrees north in the Pacific and between 35 degrees north and 40 degrees north in the Atlantic, where surface waters converge to push heat into deeper oceanic layers.

These patterns are similar to those observed during a La Niña event, according to Meehl. He explained that El Niño and La Niña events can be overlaid on top of a hiatus-related pattern. Global temperatures tend to drop slightly during La Niña, as cooler waters reach the surface of the tropical Pacific, and they rise slightly during El Niño, when those waters are warmer.

“The main hiatus in observed warming has corresponded with La Niña conditions, which is consistent with the simulations,” Trenberth said.

The simulations were part of NCAR’s contribution to the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5). They were run on supercomputers at NCAR’s National Science Foundation-supported Climate Simulation Laboratory, and on supercomputers at Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, both supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy.


13 thoughts on “Global warming: ‘Missing’ heat found deep in the ocean

  1. Or it could be we are being fed a line of crap that the liberals are trying to put over on the general population to continue to soak them for money. When you try to continue to soak the American People for money when the rest of the world is not falling for the ploy really means you have no control over the climate or the sun or a country using nuclear bombs or volcanoes or the weather in general yet this so called Green initiative is just another way to lead the gullible in to believing that you can save them from some made up devastation to this planet. It deplorable and its another large ponzi scheme.

  2. Perfect example of logical fallacy.

    If we do not have warming for 10 years:
    1) make 20 “projections” (make sure that it supports global warming)
    2) take one which is most convenient to you
    3) due to data shows cooling trend – you need to generate idea where warming is hidden (deep in ocean, in the center of earth…).
    4) make simulation based on projection + idea (but not on actual data)
    5) tout that your simulation is proof (because you have powerful computer)
    6) result: cooling = hidden warming. Approved to publish.

  3. When I click on the image to “generate a map” the resulting page listed James Hansen. All I needed to know to confirm my suspicion that this is agenda-driven “science”.

  4. HEAT GOES UP, the ocean currants might pull some heat down for a short period of time perhaps weeks or even a month or two, but never 10 years. Water is a great conductor of heat, the exact amount of time it will take a measurement of heat to pass from one point in water to another can be found in simple physics tables that were developed hundreds of years ago. This is just another made up science theory in order to get more funding to preserve their jobs.

  5. Variations on a theme, computer modeling, different disciplines, man vs machine, fits & starts, who do you believe? Why can’t we all work together, instead of arguing who’s right & who’s wrong? We’re all in this together, the last time I looked.

  6. This explanations a lot about climate change, especially with regards to Texas, Lots of studies have attributed Texas’ massive drought and Record temperatures to La Nina. What the modeling actually shows, is that the resultant weather patterns actually mimic La Nina with Cooling in the Pacific and warming in the Atlantic (See map). These seem to validate those record temperatures we are seeing in Texas, I mean 5.4 Degrees above normal temperatures all Summer, and now predicted to last till the end of the Year. Their last droughts were in 2005-2006, 2008-2009, normally Texas droughts are once in a decade occurrence on average.

    1. Danny, first you let the people claiming it’s not normal, define what is normal. And you fell for it….
      Summer temperatures in Texas have not changed, no trend, since 1895.
      It’s actually perfectly normal………….

  7. Bob, they didn’t “find” the missing heat.
    Another computer climate game/model said so…..
    No one has been able to actually measure or find the missing heat.

    Bob, admit it, computer climate programs are an epic fail…
    The climate models say there is heat, there has to be heat.
    It wasn’t in the troposphere where another computer model tried to say it was..and now all they are doing is running more computer models to try and find it…..

    How are we supposed to still believe computer climate models, when those models say there is missing heat….and no one can find it?

  8. Gosh Bob, you did it again. Have a good week end, I’m off for 3 weeks of fun, but I will stay in touch, as this is what keeps a body young, at least the mind.

  9. lol, Bob, you really didn’t buy into this one, did you? Bob, you need to be following NCAR and Trenberth. They all seem to be slipping from reality. I think it was Spencer that sent Trenberth over the edge…….. There’s not one shred of evidence that the deep oceans are somehow hiding heat.

    It was a computer program wrote to give the answer desired. It isn’t a big trick. I can do the same. What we are seeing now is simply a mockery of science. Bob, take care that you don’t also fall into the same trap.

    Best wishes,


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