April 18, 2010
Half Of Earth Heat Build Up In Unknown Locations

Where' the heat? Some scientists want to know.

Current observational tools cannot account for roughly half of the heat that is believed to have built up on Earth in recent years, according to a "Perspectives" article in this week's issue of the journal Science.

Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., warn that satellite sensors, ocean floats, and other instruments are inadequate to track this "missing" heat, which may be building up in the deep oceans or elsewhere in the climate system.

"The heat will come back to haunt us sooner or later," says NCAR scientist Kevin Trenberth, the article's lead author.

"The reprieve we've had from warming temperatures in the last few years will not continue. It is critical to track the build-up of energy in our climate system so we can understand what is happening and predict our future climate."

My reaction: So what system of satellites, temperature buoys, and other sensors would be needed to accurately measure the heat flow of the Earth? Why have to speculate about it when the stakes are so high? What's the price for sufficiently accurate measurements?

In the climate and global warming debate air temperatures end up being the main thing that most of the public thinks about. But the oceans have much more mass, cover most of the surface of the planet, and absorb most of the heat.

The oceans absorb about 90 percent of the solar energy that is trapped by greenhouse gases. Additional amounts of heat go toward melting glaciers and sea ice, as well as warming the land and parts of the atmosphere.

Only a tiny fraction warms the air at the planet's surface.

The heat might be in the deeper parts of the oceans.

Much of the missing heat may be in the ocean. Some heat increase can be detected between depths of 3,000 and 6,500 feet (about 1,000 to 2,000 meters), but more heat may be deeper still beyond the reach of ocean sensors.

Trenberth and Fasullo call for additional ocean sensors, along with more systematic data analysis and new approaches to calibrating satellite instruments, to help resolve the mystery.

Deeper measurements are planned.

The Argo profiling floats that researchers began deploying in 2000 to measure ocean temperatures, for example, are separated by about 185 miles (300 kilometers) and take readings only about once every 10 days from a depth of about 6,500 feet (2,000 meters) up to the surface.

Plans are underway to have a subset of these floats go to greater depths.

Given the economic impacts of restrictions in carbon dioxide emissions it would seem that much bigger efforts should be made to figure out what's really happening with heat flows.

The oceans, lakes, and rivers have total mass of 1.41021 kg versus the atmosphere's total mass of 5.3  1018 kg or about 264 times more ocean mass than atmospheric mass. I expected a bigger multiple for the difference.

I am slowly reading climate scientist James Hansen's Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity. One of the issues he brings up is the need for a satellite design that can measure net radiation into and out of the Earth's atmosphere. It is possible to put a few sensors on satellites that can measure all the frequencies of light entering the atmosphere and leaving it. We need this sort of measurement of infrared thru ultraviolet both entering and leaving the planet. This could prove whether the planet is in thermal balance and by how much it is out of balance.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 April 18 03:25 PM  Climate Trends

Underachiever said at April 18, 2010 4:02 PM:

(1.4*10^21)/(5.3*10^18) = 264

Among the cows in Iowa said at April 18, 2010 5:43 PM:


A quote:

"The salinity changes reported in this study are large and have a significant impact on the ocean stratification and density structure (to be described elsewhere) and thus will eventually influence the ocean circulation itself, especially at high latitudes where salinity is the dynamically active variable."

Aron said at April 18, 2010 5:46 PM:

So which is more reliable, the calculation that indicates the existence of 'missing heat' or the measurements that fail to indicate that heat is missing?

Tino said at April 18, 2010 6:35 PM:

You have to also adjust for the ratio of specific heat of water/air, which is approximately 4.186/1.005 ~=4.16.

So 4.16*264=1099 so, the difference between oceans and atmosphere is some 3 orders of magnitude in sink capacity. Which means, *drum roll* stop worrying, because once again it's a non-issue. Right? Simple buffering guarantees negligible changes in air temp when the sink side of the equation is 3 orders of magnitude bigger.

Remember, water vapor and clouds are the primary determinants on Earth of the planet's albedo. Vast amounts of energy are reflected to space. What's trapped ostensibly by greenhouse gases (a theory to explain Venus' atmosphere not our own) is 90% of a small amount, making the effects even less than the FUD media portrays.

Fat Man said at April 18, 2010 7:03 PM:

While they are looking for the heat, if they find my 1/4" screwdriver with the green handle, I would really appreciate it if they were to return it to me. Thanks so much.

Jake said at April 18, 2010 7:16 PM:

These guys are reeking with desperation in a last gasp attempt to save their sinking con game. I almost feel sorry for them.

Hong said at April 18, 2010 7:32 PM:

Hansen is a global warming activist (shill even) who's not above altering data to reflect his narrative. Skeptics like Christopher Horner do an admirable job of deconstructing much of the man's advocacy in NASA along with some of his colleagues.

Steve Koch said at April 18, 2010 9:16 PM:


Re: the AGW religion, there are (at least) 4 camps: true believers, agnostics (aka skeptics), athiests, and innocents (uninformed). After reading up on AGW, I'm skeptical that man caused global warming is a serious problem. I'm a luke-warmist, i.e. man is causing CO2 to rise, which is causing a quite small increase in temp that is not a big problem (and may even be beneficial).

There is a consensus that doubling CO2 raises global temp by 1.2 degrees C. As the IPCC itself reports, there is not an informed consensus about the feedbacks (check out uncertainties in radiative forcing in the IPCC report: http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch2s2-9-1.html). Currently CO2 is at a bit less than 400 ppm and going up 2 ppm/year. At that rate, it is going to take nearly two centuries for CO2 to double from today's levels. That is, it will take about two centuries for the temp to rise 1.2 degrees C due to increased CO2. My guess is that we can adjust.

All of the GCM models failed to predict the lack of global heating since 1998. They were way, way off, epic fail. The guys who are modeling clouds (which are enormously important because they reflect sunlight back out to space) admit they are not close to succeeding. Obviously the oceans are not totally understood. The biological feedbacks (for example, impact on cloud formation) are not understood. Man is not close to understanding earth's incredibly complex climate system.

The idea that this huge amount of heat could be absorbed by the oceans and get deeper than Argo measures without being detected by Argo in transit is absurd. I suggest reading "The Resiliant Earth". It is free, online, and easy to read.

ijk said at April 18, 2010 9:59 PM:

The key phrase, to me, is in the first sentence:"... is believed ...".
Enough of this AGW-doom belief system.

Randall Parker said at April 18, 2010 10:36 PM:

Underachiever, Thanks, I fixed it.

Aron, Obviously we take better measurements to find out.

Steve Koch, How fast the atmosphere warms depends very heavily on how fast ocean surface warming gets transferred into deeper water. If the warming gets transferred quickly into the depths then less warming will happen at the surface. We need more measurements to find out the speed of the transfer.

GCM models: James Hansen says that between A) the paleoclimate history, B) measurements in the current era, and C) climate models the least reliable are the climate models. They have big errors and simplifications.

The paleoclimate history is key. Hansen's argument is easy to understand: The glacial ages go in cycles corresponding to Earth orbital changes. But those changes cause forcing changes too small to warm and cool the planet as much as it warms and cools. That means there must be positive feedbacks in both directions. Sure enough, CO2 does go up and down with warming and cooling and it absorbs UV. Also, melting and freezing changes albedo which is another positive feedback. He's saying we are changing a bigger forcing (CO2) and more rapidly. So why wouldn't it cause the same change?

I find his argument very compelling. The denialists are too busy doing character assassination and arguing minor issues to address it.

LarryD said at April 19, 2010 7:19 AM:

Compare the paleoclimate reconstruction of CO2 with the reconstruction of temperature for, say, the last 600 million years. The correlation is not apparent. And even the low end of the error bar has CO2, at times, in the 1000ppm range.

There is a lot we don't understand yet about glacial epochs, but CO2 levels are clearly far from the whole explanation.

Among the cows in Iowa said at April 19, 2010 8:21 AM:

In the last 600 million years, the continents have re-arranged themselves several times and the Sun has brightened by about 6%. For issues affecting the next hundred years, what's relevant past the last million or so?

Steve Koch said at April 19, 2010 9:51 AM:

For the last 600 million years, the average global temp has topped out at about 22 degrees C. There is some set of negative feedbacks that limit the warming of the earth over this period. For the last million years, the earth has been cycling through periods of intense glaciation roughly about every 100k years. We're currently in an inter glacial period but sooner or later (in the next few thousand years) the earth will start getting colder again.

For the next 100 years or so, most likely CO2 will continue to rise, with a small impact on temp. There are billions of people who need more energy to have even the most rudimentary elements of civilization. If they have to burn coal to get that energy, that is what they will do. Wind mills are not going to provide enough energy and are going to be in political trouble once the greens realize how many birds are getting killed by wind mills. Nuclear energy can provide lots of energy but most of the people who are true believers in AGW devastation tend to hate nuclear energy. Besides, do we really want countries like Somalia operating nuclear power plants?

philw1776 said at April 19, 2010 11:13 AM:

Another warmist skeptic here. NASA's ideolog Hansen says that paleoclimate history and modern temperature measurements provide our best info. I agree. But we've seen over millions of years, and several different times many times more CO2 in the atmosphere and we have not seen any runaway climactic effects. In fact paleoclimate CO2 and temperatures do not correlate throughout the last several hundred million years. Epic fail.

Then he says that CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing more rapidly since the industrial revolution or start of the 20th century, another fact. But if this major CO2 forcing function as he terms it, has a positive feedback effect then over the last couple decades the rate of change of temperature increases should be increasing relative to that rate of change in the 50s, 60s. It is not. Why when CO2 is measurably higher have the 90s and this century not seen a substantially increasing rate of change of temperature? Answer, the positive feedback effect is either not there or there are other unknown factors that are larger climate influencers. My bet.

Placebo said at April 19, 2010 3:16 PM:

How does "heat" get transferred into the depths (not surface) of the ocean? I thought heat always rises via changes in density. Why would heat remain in the deep ocean?

Paul R said at April 19, 2010 4:02 PM:

How could heat pass from the atmosphere to the deep ocean without measurably warming the surface and shallow ocean, which forms a layer in between?

th said at April 19, 2010 6:10 PM:

"The paleoclimate history is key. Hansen's argument is easy to understand: The glacial ages go in cycles corresponding to Earth orbital changes. But those changes cause forcing changes too small to warm and cool the planet as much as it warms and cools."

yeah, this is so easy, when you consider the atmosphere as a kilometer in length, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is equal to a hair's width of the entire km, yeah this is real easy, nice try, CO2 levels right now are at a low in its paleoclimate history, yeah this is real easy, what's apparently not so easy is breaking away from 30 or so years of jefferson airplane "science".

Randall Parker said at April 19, 2010 7:19 PM:

LarryD, Steve Koch,

600 million years is probably a wrong time period to compare solely between temperature and C02. As "Among the cows" said, the continents have moved relative to each other. 65 million years ago India was near southern Africa. 50 million years ago it collided with Eurasia and the planet began a long cooling trend, dropping 12C in the last 50 million years. Antarctic ice started forming only 40 million years ago. See page 153 of Hansen's book for a temperature chart that shows when India slammed into Asia and what happened with temperature.

Go back 250 million years and Siberia opened up for 1 million years of intense huge volcanic activity. Something like 90% of all species went extinct as a result.

Hansen says the CO2 change over the Cenozoic ranging from 170 ppm to 1000 ppm to 2000 ppm represents about 3 doublings and each doubling caused a 3C increase in temperature. He says the total forcing change from coldest to warmest part of the Cenozoic was 15 watts and therefore 4/3 of a watt causes each 1C of climate change.

If orbital changes can cause only .2 to .4 watt forcing change then orbital change by itself can't even cause 1C global temperature change. There has to be a positive feedback whereby a small warming causes other changes.

Placebo, Paul R,

Could be we aren't watching in the right places. For example, when Pacific ocean winds cause warm surface water near South America to go all the way across the ocean to near Indonesia (which it sometimes does - El Nino/La Nina is all about those winds and water surface temperatures) then the warm water could get bunched up and pushed down to lower depths in a fairly small area. Temperature probes in other areas wouldn't pick up on it.

There's a need for much finer granularity of ocean temperature measurements to track the flow of heat.

Kralizec said at April 20, 2010 6:45 AM:

I understood it was customary to take measurements before announcing conclusions, for conclusions announced before observations are prophecies. I understood that measurements, observations, and experiments must be repeatable and must be repeated, for faith in men's reports of their unrepeatable observations is the general class of which faith in miracles is a specific sort. I have not forgotten that your authority James Hansen would not let men see his programmatic source code until 2007. He was like Joseph Smith, hiding his holy tablets and his urim and thummim and demanding faith and obedience. We are not assassinating men's character by describing it, Randall. Your scientists resemble priests and prophets.

Among the cows in Iowa said at April 20, 2010 8:34 AM:

Most researchers never release source code, they release algorithms. The algorithm is more useful than source code because they all have simplifications, and it is much harder to refine an implementation without a good description of what it is implementing.

Anyone who wants to run the same test over again writes their own source code. This is going to be a problem for non-scientists who are interested in political opposition rather than research, because they may not have any idea how to turn an algorithm into working code. Obviously, real researchers should do everything possible to allow non-scientists to make scurrilous political attacks on their work.

Jeff said at April 20, 2010 11:07 AM:

Most researchers in Global Warming "Science" never release source code but they are suppose to. Journals need to start demanding submission and release of Source Code, algorithms, and all Raw Data prior to publication. No release no publication!!! This is actually the norm in most other fields all though some do break the rules and don't release the required materials if they have enough clout to get away with it.

Jeff said at April 20, 2010 11:20 AM:

If Journals wish to remain credible they're going to need to start cleaning up their acts and read about the Serious cases of misconduct that happened in High Temp Superconductor in the 90's this stuff still goes on(theft of ideas, sitting on papers, etc. I know it's still rampant in the Biological Sciences.

Among the cows in Iowa said at April 20, 2010 2:22 PM:

Placebo, heat gets transferred to the deep ocean when saltier water cools and sinks. The Atlantic Conveyor is driven by warm, saltier water in the Gulf Stream going up east of Europe, cooling off and sinking while still relatively warm. If that surface water was replaced by fresh water from melting ice, it would never sink. The saltier water from the Gulf Stream would flow beneath fresh water even if the fresh water was colder, and ice is even more buoyant.

Hong said at April 21, 2010 6:42 AM:

"Most researchers never release source code, they release algorithms. The algorithm is more useful than source code because they all have simplifications, and it is much harder to refine an implementation without a good description of what it is implementing."

Yet Hansen resisted even releaseing his algorithms for years stonewalling FOIA requests. What does that say about his credibility? The troll activists here may want to treat Hansen as a gospel source but remember his flawed methodology.

Kralizec said at April 21, 2010 11:49 PM:
Among the cows in Iowa said at April 20, 2010 8:34 AM: ... Anyone who wants to run the same test over again writes their own source code. This is going to be a problem for non-scientists who are interested in political opposition rather than research, because they may not have any idea how to turn an algorithm into working code. Obviously, real researchers should do everything possible to allow non-scientists to make scurrilous political attacks on their work.
I did not pay "Among the cows" to write the quoted paragraph. He supplied that fresh example of men's elevation of soi-disant scientists to a holier class without any prompting from me.

We are interested in such questions as whether some particular man has conducted reliable research in a particular case, but "Among the cows" represents mankind as already cleaved into scientists and non-scientists, the latter uninterested and unequipped to judge the former or their work. On one side are real researchers, who do work that is ipso facto research, who do not have any politic aims or activities worth mention, but who do know how to do things such as turn an algorithm into working code. On the other side are men to whom "Among the cows" grants neither their own name nor any good attribute, and scarcely even any positive attributes. They are merely non-scientists whose politics is merely oppositional. Their political opposition is to the research of the real researchers; that is, they somehow politically oppose men and activities that "Among the cows" does not acknowledge as having any political motive or bearing. The non-scientists are scurrilous, or at least their attacks are. And the non-scientists have "a problem," because all those tens of millions "may not have any idea how to turn an algorithm into working code."

I have re-organized the account by "Among the cows" to show it is a caricature, but it is that writer's caricature. "Among the cows" has raised barriers to inquiry into the status of the soi-disant climate scientists and their science, as if those men are the righteous being judged by the unrighteous. He makes them like saints in their devotion to real research, and he makes them stand outside our polities like gods. But "Among the cows" has raised barriers to his own inquiry, not ours.

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