Oceans continue to warm, especially the deeps

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When discussing global warming, the public eye is mostly directed to global average surface air temperatures, but that’s just one slice of the climate pie. If you haven’t noticed, the ocean is awfully big, and it holds a great deal more heat energy than the atmosphere. In fact, about 90 percent of the energy that’s been added to the climate system by human activities has gone into the ocean.


Unfortunately, it’s hard to monitor that. There are a multitude of measuring stations for surface air temperatures, but our presence in the ocean is limited. With the advent of the Argo array—a fleet of autonomous, drifting floats that measure ocean temperatures—in the early 2000s, our data improved drastically. Still, the uncertainty has historically been greater for deeper waters.

In 2010, researchers identified an imbalance in our global energy arithmetic. If we measure the energy that's being trapped by increasing greenhouse gases, some of it seems to disappear—there wasn’t enough warming in the atmosphere or shallow ocean to account for all that extra energy— and there's been a deficit since 2004. (Though a later study suggested the mismatch might be within the margin of error for the temperature estimates.)

Some expected the “missing energy” would be found in deeper waters, but we didn’t have the data to demonstrate that. Meanwhile, the rapid atmospheric warming trend of the 1990s, boosted by strong El Niños, slowed in the La Niña-ridden 2000s, prompting some to posit that global warming was over and the scientists could all go home.

A new paper published in Geophysical Research Letters compiles the available measurements of the ocean’s heat content, including information on the deep ocean. The study finds that those deep waters have absorbed a surprising amount of heat—and they are doing so at an increasing rate over the last decade.

The researchers—Magdalena Balmaseda and Erland Källén of the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) and Kevin Trenberth of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research—assembled the available data from 1958 to 2009 using a reanalysis model. These models are used to reconstruct global conditions from available measurements. In this case, the reanalysis model focused on the ocean, though atmospheric conditions were also included to complete the picture.

Written By: Scott K. Johnson
continue to source article at arstechnica.com

10 COMMENTS

    • In reply to #1 by rod-the-farmer:

      I would be interested to read more, especially about how the heat is transferred to the deep ocean.

      2nd Law of Thermodynamics? Heat replaces cold everywhere in the universe so if the surface warms more than usual, change must follow by flow? Do I have that right?

    • In reply to #1 by rod-the-farmer:

      I would be interested to read more, especially about how the heat is transferred to the deep ocean.

      The biggest component of heat transfer to the deep ocean is through downwelling by the global overturning circulation in the north Atlantic and Southern oceans. The world’s deep oceans are big and can store lot of heat, but the fear was that the downwelling would slow as a result of increased surface temperatures and reduced salinity (caused by increasing fresh water run off from melting ice caps). That seems less likely now, although we still don’t know if we might reach some ‘tipping points’ soon that could trigger increased effects, such as a release of methane from sea floor clathrates as the upper ocean warms.

    • In reply to #1 by rod-the-farmer:

      I would be interested to read more, especially about how the heat is transferred to the deep ocean.

      Both the atmosphere and the oceans are moved by a combination of heating in the tropics and freezing at the poles, in combination with the Coriolis effect, generated by the Earth’s rotation.

      http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/encyclopedia/coriolis-effect/?ar

      Although much heat is transported in surface waters, the circulating movements of the oceans and wind-driven currents, interact with obstructing land to cause up-wellings of cold water and down-wellings of warm water, as the Coriolis effect churns the oceans..

      Surface ocean currents carry heat from place to place in the Earth system. This affects regional climates. The Sun warms water at the equator more than it does at the high latitude polar regions. The heat travels in surface currents to higher latitudes. A current that brings warmth into a high latitude region will make that region’s climate less chilly.

      Surface ocean currents can create eddies, swirling loops of water, as they flow. Surface ocean currents can also affect upwelling in many places. They are important for sailors planning routes through the ocean. Currents are also important for marine life because they transport creatures around the world and affect the water temperature in ecosystems. http://www.windows2universe.org/earth/Water/ocean-currents.html

  1. no need to worry about it! …Its somebodies god that is doing it deliberately…probably because some humans have or haven’t done something!

    But seriously, I think the consequences will be increased frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones and hurricanes as I understand that these are triggered by ocean temperatures rising above 26deg C.

  2. Seems traditional weather patters have and are changing.

    Europe has undergone the coldest winter temps in spring on record, this is neither a glitch or a perception error.

    It has been postulated that the Atlantic drift that determines European temps has remained southerly much longer then previously experienced…and has been cited as a indicator in previous scientific studies and papers of encroaching seasonal instabilities and weather pattern change.

    Flooding and high winds, temperatures, shifting seasonal periods, all seem to be pointing at the elephant perched in the room.

    All we need for the set is just a couple degree drop in the current itself and then we are in deep doo doo if we are not already.
    Interesting to note that this geological era we are experiencing, the Holocene, which encompasses the bulk of human activity on Earth, is considered an interglacial epoch….jus’ sayin’…not postulating!

    Scuttlebutt is that the previous 12000 years of stable and beneficent weather balance in the system seems to be going a tad off bias, might only be the beginning and could, as such, last a few thousand years of cockamamie seasons, but this seems to be the pattern for the foreseeable future…and then it gets real ugly!

    The times are a ‘changin’…as Bob so astutely claimed in the 60′s!

  3. Calling the problem ‘global warming’ or even ‘climate change’ has done us a disservice. It would better be called ‘Earth system change’, a less ‘sparky’ name, but a more descriptive one. The climate is part of a larger system involving the atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, cryosphere and biosphere, all intimately linked and all in constant (although often long-term) flux. It’s possible to imagine a situation (which wouldn’t happen in reality because of those linkages) where increasing greenhouse gases did not warm the atmosphere at all but continued to warm the oceans. We would still be in trouble as the oceans heated and acidified, continental and polar ice caps melted and ocean and then atmospheric circulation patterns changed.

    The short-termism driven by the low resolution of human attention (it’s a bugger only living for three score years and ten) just doesn’t see the accumulating effects over the long term of continually pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The physics of the greenhouse effect are well known and not in contention and all that trapped heat has to go somewhere. Sceptics rejoice when the upwards curve of average global surface temperature levels off for a few years, but they would be better off being more worried. If the extra heat isn’t manifest as rising temperatures where has it gone and what is it doing? It certainly hasn’t just gone away and the problem isn’t over just because it was cold last Tuesday.

  4. My oh my we’re all going to die!!!

    sigh

    I would like to have a decent summer for a change again. We haven’t had one here for ten years.

    Call me a climate denier if you want but in my opinion climate is a dynamic system that does involve the whole Earth and is so darn complex that it ‘ll take a whole lot of more intense research without any preconception, not pro not contra climate change.

    B.t.w. of course the climate is changing, it has done so for the past 4.6 billion years and yes people do influence it, just like volcanoes and cyanobacteria have in the past (and still do), and of course the time scales are different, we’re in a different epoch now. Which doesn’t release us from our responsibility to take care of the world we live in.

    I just hate panicking.

    • In reply to #9 by Klaasjansch:

      Call me a climate denier if you want but in my opinion climate is a dynamic system that does involve the whole Earth and is so darn complex that it ‘ll take a whole lot of more intense research without any preconception, not pro not contra climate change.

      You really have not looked at the research already done, or looked at the OP graph? This is not another pseudo-controversy whatever deniers would like people to think! The problems are well evidenced, real and urgent!

      Looking at the annual figures for coal oil and gas production and combustion, would be a good start:-

      Coal is the largest source of energy for the generation of electricity worldwide, as well as one of the largest worldwide anthropogenic sources of carbon dioxide releases. In 1999 world gross carbon dioxide emissions from coal usage were 8,666 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.[3] Coal-fired electric power generation emits around 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide for every megawatt-hour generated, which is almost double the approximately 1100 pounds of carbon dioxide released by a natural gas-fired electric plant per megawatt-hour generated. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coal

      Environmental effects

      A number of adverse health,[65] and environmental effects of coal burning exist,[66] especially in power stations, and of coal mining, including:

      • Coal-fired power plants shortened nearly 24,000 lives a year in the United States, including 2,800 from lung cancer.[67] Annual health costs in Europe from use of coal to generate electricity are €42.8 billion, or $55 billion.[68]
      • Generation of hundreds of millions of tons of waste products, including fly ash, bottom ash, and flue-gas desulfurization sludge, that contain mercury, uranium, thorium, arsenic, and other heavy metals
      • Acid rain from high sulfur coal
      • Interference with groundwater and water table levels due to mining
      • Contamination of land and waterways and destruction of homes from fly ash spills. such as the Kingston Fossil Plant coal fly ash slurry spill
      • Impact of water use on flows of rivers and consequential impact on other land uses
      • Dust nuisance
      • Subsidence above tunnels, sometimes damaging infrastructure
      • Uncontrollable coal seam fire which may burn for decades or centuries
      • Coal-fired power plants without effective fly ash capture systems are one of the largest sources of human-caused background radiation exposure.
      • Coal-fired power plants emit mercury, selenium, and arsenic, which are harmful to human health and the environment.[69]
      • Release of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, causes climate change and global warming, according to the IPCC and the EPA. Coal is the largest contributor to the human-made increase of CO2 in the atmosphere

      B.t.w. of course the climate is changing, it has done so for the past 4.6 billion years and yes people do influence it, just like volcanoes and cyanobacteria have in the past (and still do), and of course the time scales are different, we’re in a different epoch now.

      The evidence of humans causing an escalating problem is overwhelming!

      Which doesn’t release us from our responsibility to take care of the world we live in.

      It certainly does not.

      I just hate panicking.

      Urgent changes need to be made if last-minute panicking is to be avoided. Panicking after it is too late does not do much good! Extinction is final!

      There are plenty of low carbon alternative ways of generating power which we should be actively developing, and which have been discussed on this site.

      http://old.richarddawkins.net/discussions/632627-harness-the-sea-national-geographic-june-2011-tidal-wave-power-generation

      http://old.richarddawkins.net/discussions/643310-water-cooled-nuclear-power-plants-aren-t-the-only-option

      http://old.richarddawkins.net/discussions/642733-why-the-laws-of-physics-make-anthropogenic-climate-change-undeniable

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