Global Temperatures and Incomplete Rationale of My Own Skepticism

Ok I admit it!  Apparenlty I can’t quit blogging completely, but doing software calculations is way beyond the scope of my time abilities.   There is a detail which may interest some here that has too little discussion in the ‘climate wars’ .  It’s a matter of reason, again which doesn’t disprove AGW but which seems to me should be cause for pause in the alarmist message.

From this link:

Heat capacity of ocean water: 3993 J/kg/K
Heat capacity of air: 1005 J/kg/K

This is the number of Joules (energy) to raise temperature 1 degree Kelvin which is the same as 1 degree Celcius. Energy cannot be created or destroyed to my knowledge so these are physically knowable values.  Since they are in kilograms, we only need to look at kilograms atmosphere vs kilograms of ocean to make the following graphs.

From Wikipedia – The atmosphere has a mass of about 5×1018 kg

From Wikipedia – The total mass of the hydrosphere is about 1,400,000,000,000,000,000 metric tons (1.5×1018 short tons) or 1.4×1021 kg,

So multiplying out, the energy content of the atmosphere is – 1005 *5×1018 kg =5 x1021 Joules/Degree Kelvin

Energy content of the ocean is – 3993 *1.4×1021 =5.6×1024 Joules/Degree Kelvin

So we know increasing CO2 captures more heat in the lower atmosphere and we know that this heat is claimed to be the cause of global warming. Where everything gets real fuzzy is when the energy content of the ocean is taken into consideration.  Models do use the ocean heat content, but in order to demonstrate warming, only the energy of the surface ocean layers can be considered.    Of course there are layers and layers (pun intended) of papers that discuss the issues, but in reality very little is actually ‘known’.

Why is it important that climate models only look at surface layers?   Because subsurface ocean temps exhibit little variance and even with the worst IPCC scenario’s would exhibit little variance from AGW.   It is assumed that all ‘significant’ heat comes and goes from the ocean surface.  I wonder though if anyone would be able to demonstrate a tenth of a degree change in the deep ocean over the last 100 years?   The answer again is we don’t know if it did, but we do know that a 0.1C release of oceanic subsurface energy would measurably change the surface temperature of the earth in that time period.  All that would be required would be ocean current changes but we really don’t have a clue if deep ocean current’s have changed. CO2 atmospheric temp change depends on the assumption of stability 0f heat flow from the deeper oceans. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this but in case you wonder why many of us are skeptics of catastrophic global warming:

Click for full size Fig1


So when they show you the scary graphs of UHI contaminated surface temperature as compiled by Zeke, including graphs from myself using what I believe are superior anomaly combination methods developed by Roman M:

Global Land Air Temps Fig 2


Remember, they/we are showing you the increase in atmospheric energy of the near zero thickness PANCAKE on the left side of Figure 1, the huge energy column on the right is not included in air temperature graphs of Fig 2 or on the left side of Fig 1.  When you see the reconstructions of global temperature including ocean surface temps,  the energy pancake on the left isn’t much thicker.

If you were to transfer enough ocean energy directly to the atmosphere to create 4 degrees of atmospheric warming, how much would that change the average temperature of the Earth’s water?

Would you believe —  0.001 Degrees C of ocean temp change?  The left side pancake wouldn’t look any different in Fig 1!   Hell, it wouldn’t change if we were in another oceanic current inspired ice age — think about that.

It’s just math folks.   The ocean contains so much energy that a thousandth of a degree change can throw 1C into our air temp instantaneously.  Unfortunately the discussion is more complex than this because we need then to look at what happens to the release of that heat to space.  The real balance is about energy flow vs content rather than instantaneous heat, but realistically tenths of a degree C of atmospheric  warming over 30 years are absolutely NOT proof of CO2 global warming doom.

Of course climate models take all of this into account.  They also take Hadley cells and cloud formation into account.  They take convection, conduction, evaporation, precipitation etc. all into account.  The whole exercise is layers of guesses and estimations.  Some with less scientific honesty than others but before chucking them all to the wind, some of these people are good people and even good scientists.

I’ve spent enough time on this today, but continued overconfidence in the meaning of UHI contaminated surface temperatures IS one of the main reasons I’m a skeptic of catastrophic global warming.   Every time you see a plot of surface temperatures, we should shoulder shrug and ask – what about total oceanic energy.

86 thoughts on “Global Temperatures and Incomplete Rationale of My Own Skepticism

  1. I put together a post about the validity using global surface temperature anomaly with opinions from a few climate scientists but I haven’t yet posted it. However, here are a few quotes that I think agree with your skepticism.

    My question:

    1. Do you believe that global annual average surface temperature anomaly is the best available metric to discuss climate sensitivity?

    John Christy’s response:

    No. The surface temperature, especially the nighttime minimum, is affected by numerous factors unrelated to the global atmospheric sensitivity to enhanced greenhouse forcing (I have several papers on this.) The ultimate metric is the number of joules of energy in the system (are they increasing? at what rate?). The ocean is the main source for this repository of energy. A second source, better than the surface, but not as good as the ocean, is the bulk atmospheric temperature (as Roy Spencer uses for climate sensitivity and feedback studies.) The bulk atmosphere represents a lot of mass, and so tells us more about the number of joules that are accumulating.

    Pielke Sr’s response:

    A more appropriate metric to assess the sensitivity of the climate system heat content to forcing is the response in Joules of the oceans, particularly where most the heat changes occur. I discuss this metric in

    Pielke Sr., R.A., 2008: A broader view of the role of humans in the climate system. Physics Today, 61, Vol. 11, 54-55.

    Click to access r-334.pdf

    Pielke Sr., R.A., 2003: Heat storage within the Earth system. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 84, 331-335.

    I know this is specifically relating to climate sensitivity but I think that their answers are relevant. I’ll get around to posting it one day.

  2. “Rational” is not a noun. It’s an adjective, meaning reasonable. “Rationale” (emphasis on the last syllable) is a French borrow-word, a noun. It means the justification or reasons given for a position or conclusion.

    Common error.

  3. Thanks, Jeff, for important information, clearly presented.

    Doing software calculations with multiple variables is also way beyond the scope of my abilities.

    Folks who devote their lives to model calculations usually tie themselves into knots anyway.

    Not to worry: Simplicity is the best approach and math is the most powerful tool of all !

    “It’s just math folks” is what I tried to tell astronomers and astrophysicists in 1983 after we “just did the math” and showed that the solar mass fractionation that enriches lightweight xenon isotopes (from Xe-124 to Xe-136) in the photosphere by 3.5% also enriches the (H-1)/(Fe-56) ratio in the photosphere by 100,000,000, i.e. 10^8.

    They refused to consider the powerful implications of “just math” and continued to promote misinformation on the Sun’s origin, the Sun’s composition, the Sun’s source of energy, and the Sun’s dominant influence on Earth’s climate for the next 28 years.

    Another “just math” devotee,
    Oliver K. Manuel
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo

  4. Jeff your consideration highlight the ocean issue in the climate debate well.
    I too have the greatest difficulties to see that there is nowadays the slightest possibility to say anything about the “ocean heat content”. This is not a matter whether it would be “the best means to diagnose global warming, a proposed e.g. by Prof. Roger Pielke Sr. (FN. 1), but a question whether that is in anyway possible today, which seem to lack a critical assessment.
    Yesterday day Joe Bastardi said at WUWT/05Apr. (Fn.2): “But the amazing thing about the nino forecast is THE PROOF OF MY POINT THAT IT IS THE OCEANS,..” (emphasis by Joe Bastardi)

    Maybe one day the climate definition in science is: “Climate is the continuation of the ocean by other means”. Thanks again for getting the possibility for discussing it here recently.
    More definition related texts here:

    ___FN. 1:; Excerpt: “However, the ocean heat content provides the most appropriate metric to diagnosis global warming in recent (since ~2004 when the Argo network became sufficiently dense) and upcoming years, as recommended, of example, in Pielke Sr., R.A., 2008: A broader view of the role of humans in the climate system. Physics Today, 61, Vol. 11, 54-55. “
    __FN 2:

  5. The top 15 feet (meters? Did the numbers a while ago) of the oceans contains as much energy as the entire atmosphere. All it takes is a 15 ft submerged layer of a different temperature to pop to the surface to change the atmospheric temperature.

  6. Jeff,
    I don’t see the logic of this post. Are you saying that AGW couldn’t happen because the oceans would absorb all the heat, and barely rise in temperature themselves?

    But we know air temperatures can change by large amounts, in the ice ages. Even very quickly, as at the end of the Younger Dryas.

  7. Nick – No, I think that he’s saying that we don’t know what the hell is happening in the oceans. Modelers have guesstimated that nothing is changing, but no one really knows. All of the warming currently being attributed to AGW COULD instead be caused by some microscopic increase in heat flow from the oceans to the atmosphere.

    Given that this is a plausible hypothesis, all this certainty that CO2 is to blame for climate change is pretty foolish. BTW, there are many other causes for uncertainty.

    PS I think that Gavin only has a couple years left for temps to surpass 1998 before he (in 2007?, at least) said that he would have to acknowledge that he and his compatriots didn’t understand the way the Earth’s climate works nearly as well as they thought they did.

  8. “some of these people are good people and even good scientists”

    Perhaps. I haven’t seen much evidence to support either proposition. I have seen quite a bit of evidence to support the proposition that there are a number of corrupt people in climate science and even more who are grossly incompetent. Based on the evidence, most are also infected with a fatal hubris.

  9. #9 No I am absolutely NOT saying AGW couldn’t happen. I’m saying that more variance should be expected.

    With a thin layer on top of the ocean being primary in maintaining global temps, it wouldn’t take much to change the air temp globally. Jim has it right IMO.

  10. Most interesting post Jeff.

    This is something that I have pondered about from time to time. Prior to anthropogenic CO2, isn’t it true that the sun must account for variability in OHC and sea levels. I seriously doubt that the effect of the sun was limited to the ocean surface layers. If there is a time variable amount of solar energy (cloud modulated?) which penetrates oceans beyond a certain depth during a given solar cycle, then how fast does the ocean release this heat to the atmosphere? If the ocean is not capable of releasing this deep(ie non surface) heating to the atmosphere within a given 11 year sunspot cycle (or possiblly even longer scale solar cycles) then wouldn’t ocean accumulation of energy or heat continue to increase with each cycle until it equilibrates? Of course this imbalance would be reversed in the case of a prolonged solar minimum.

    Anyway, this is nothing more than “thinking out loud” on my part and would appreciate expertise which could enlighten on these matters.

  11. I suspect, LL, that some integral of some manifestation of the sun’s output goes in and out of the deep oceans, and accounts for the millenial scale temperature departures, such as the Minoan, the Roman, and the Medieval Warm Periods and the intervening colder ones. This could be happening within an even larger environment of temperspatial chaos, and of Milankovitch cycles, and of blossoms of earthbound feedbacks.

  12. Nick Stokes said
    April 6, 2011 at 12:36 am

    I don’t see the logic of this post. Are you saying that AGW couldn’t happen because the oceans would absorb all the heat, and barely rise in temperature themselves?

    But we know air temperatures can change by large amounts, in the ice ages. Even very quickly, as at the end of the Younger Dryas.


    BOTH ends of the Younger Dryas reflect abrupt changes. One commonly used description of the YD is “an abrupt return glacial conditions.” If you compare terminal Pleistocene temperature trends before and after the YD. The t.erminal Pleistocene warming pattern, while interrupted, appears to continue at the same rate after the YD. The simplest conclusion is the the YD delayed the onset of the Holocene by about 2,000 years. The important aspect of the discussion then is the question of what the oceans were doing during the YD, and in what sequence. If as seems most reasonable the oceans really are the oscillation damping mechanism in the climate system, what happened during the YD? The problem of a huge radiocarbon anomally that marks the initial YD suggests that the event may have been tied to some form of change in solar weather.

    If the sun became abruptly cooler, the oceans may have been the culprit that triggered the YD, pulling in energy from the atmosphere faster than the sun was providing it. The oceans would have had a huge energy deficit compared to the present due to slower mixing of newly warmed water with deeper, much colder water than is currently the case. Abruptly lower available energy at the ocean surface would result in increased marine cooling as the thermal masses in the ocean trended back toward a more Pleistocene-like equilibrium. Which, I think, would support Jeff’s thesis.

  13. Jeff ID, back of the envelop calculations can be both fascinating and revealing and I suppose oversimplifications, but they do get us to thinking. Could not you take a simple calculation further and estimate some heat transfer rates to the lower levels of the oceans assuming various conditions? What effect would a frozen ocean have on heat tranfers? I am thinking here in terms of a snowball earth which has been seriously conjectured. Does not DeWitt Payne do heat sinks and heat tranfers?

  14. OK, for some of the things they do not model, in their own words..

    As I posted recently,
    Whilst doing a bit of searching around I have come across,
    which worked yesterday…
    From that I found,
    Full excerpt,
    ” SRERROR.TXT 2000/03/28
    Model ERRORs in calculating Solar Radiation at top of Atmosphere

    Calculation for insolation in the Atmosphere-Ocean Model has
    inaccuracies that should be kept in mind. These are roughly
    ordered according to importance.

    1. We assume the Earth revolves through its orbit in exactly 365 days.
    2. We assume that the Vernal equinox always occurs on March 21, hour 0.
    3. We calculate the Earth in its orbit only once a day.
    4. Instead of integrating insolation over a GCM grid box, we integrate
    insolation over a single latitude line within the box. That line
    is the area weighted latitude of the box. This error causes global
    insolation to increase by .0001 and is accentuated at the poles.
    5. We keep the orbital parameters fixed during long runs.
    6. We keep the meridion where the sun is overhead on noon Greenwich
    mean time as the Greenwich meridion. (That meridion is calculated
    but not used.)
    7. We treat the Sun as a point; its radius does not affect our
    distance to the sun.
    8. We treat the Earth as a point; its radius does not affect the
    distance to the sun.
    9. We ignore the existence of the Moon, and assume that the center of
    the Earth-Moon system is the center of the Earth.
    10. We assume that the Earth is spherical.
    11. We assume that the orbit is a perfect ellipse; other heavenly
    bodies do not affect it.
    12. We use Berger’s orbital parameters. ”

    It would appear that Point 10 has implications for my calculations, BUT,
    I note it is dated 28th March 2000, so it maybe out of date?
    End of post at GWS forum thread excerpt.

    BTW – Regarding oceans / heat retention..

  15. Jeff Id writes in the post: “Of course climate models take all of this into account. They also take Hadley cells and cloud formation into account.”

    They do? Papers that I’ve read about the rise in OHC, Hansen et al (2005) for example, exclude ENSO, and ENSO not only has significant impacts on Hadley and Walker circulation, it also has major impacts on the OHC of all ocean basins. Domingues et al (2008) included volcanic aerosols in an attempt to explain some of the variability, but I don’t recall any mention of ENSO, and if you look at the NODC data for the individual basins, it’s very difficult to find a volcano signal.

  16. Duster

    If you suddenly stop oceanic circulation in its tracks you will get a dramatic change in air temperature. One does not need to look off the Earth for a viable cause. All you need to do is abruptly change the salinity of the surface waters in the Atlantic and its sub-oceans and seas north of about 50 deg latitude. That causes a major decrease in the formation of “bottom water” and puts the brakes on the worldwide conveyor of cold dense bottomwater.

    How is this achieved? All one needs is the sudden emptying of a very large freshwater lake. For instance the one formed around the Southern margin of the melting Laurentide ice-sheet. The lake empties over a few weeks, raises global sealevel by a metre or two, and shuts down the thermohaline circulation. Fresh water is less dense so it tends to spread across the ocean surface like a thin oil sheen. The capping of low salinity water slows the delivery of warm surface water to the north Atlantic and beyond, wrecking havoc on the weather/climate.

    It also causes abrupt changes in the global carbon cycle. The absorption of 14C into the surface ocean is impacted. The release of 12C and 13C from the ocean surface is impacted. The ratio of 14C to 12C and 13C in the atmosphere is altered very quickly. And to top this all off there are impacts on the creation of new 14C in the upper atmosphere.

    So the change in global temperature at the transition either side of the Younger Dryas clearly is impacted by oceanic circulation. More than that, oceanic circulation is the prime cause of the changes in atmospheric temperature. The effects can be seen throughout the Northern Hemisphere, but not so strongly in the Southern Hemisphere. Anyway one can see the speed with which such dramatic changes can take place. It only takes about 1 decade.

    Its not just down to the ocean though. There are albedo effects, like a sudden increase in the year-round average area of sea ice in the Northern Hemisphere, and a sudden change in the extent of snow-cover on land (positive feedback).

    The upshot is that heat absorption/release by the ocean is impacted in an abrupt manner but is not the initial trigger. Salinity is the trigger/tipping point. The other major point to emphasise is that we do not need to finger the sun for this one.

    There has been lots of good research into this whole issue. An understanding of it is crucial to our ability to use radiocarbon dating with confidence. One of the nice things is that the scientists involved have not been trying to solve modern climate-change issues so the science connected to the initiation of Younger Dryas is relatively uncontaminated. The main issue I have with modelling related to atmosheric and oceanic circulation in that time period is the continued assumption that changes in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere have a large impact on air temperature. Note that the atmospheric CO2 content changed abruptly in response to, but did not cause the Younger Dryas.

  17. Bob Tisdale said
    April 6, 2011 at 5:44 pm
    Jeff Id writes in the post: “Of course climate models take all of this into account. They also take Hadley cells and cloud formation into account.”

    I took that as a mild sarcasm, could be wrong. Welcome back Jeff, and good thoughtful post.

  18. Jeff. I made this comment on WUWT, then relented.
    Having thought about it again, I think I may have been right.
    That 4°C should be 1.12°C

    My reasoning is as follows.

    1) A drop of 0.001°C would release 5.6 * 10^21J
    2) Divide that by the number of Joules to raise the atmospheric temp 1°C ie 5.6 * 10^21/(5 * 10^21) = 1.12

    I could be wrong but am willing to be corrected.


  19. TGSG said, “I took that as a mild sarcasm, could be wrong. Welcome back Jeff, and good thoughtful post.”

    And therein lies the problem with sarcasm that’s not identified as sarcasm. I assume it’s not sarcasm unless it’s identified as such.

  20. Bob and TGSG,

    The models do have sections for these various parameters. What happens is that the equations are simplified and parametrized based on assumptions which allow the model to be computed efficiently. CAM 3 has a lot of on line documentation.

    There was a tweak of sarcasm as the point when you read the CAM 3 model is that the result is pre-determined by the limited ability of the parameterization to represent the unknown. It is way beyond my time scope to explain what I read, Nick Stokes knows what goes on in the CAM 3 model now, I wonder about his take. He gets a lot of heat for always playing the foil (sometimes with amazing tirelessness) but he has a deep understanding.

  21. Jeff,

    Are you just speculating on a ‘what if’ here or is there any scientific evidence that something is occuring? Just to continue your speculation let’s say deep ocean changes can affect SAT on centennial/millenial time scales. The changes could equally be having a negative effect on the SAT trend ATM and thus holding back the warming. Where is the evidence that the oceans are warming or cooling the surface ATM? Purkey and Johnson seem to have the deep ocean warming in recent times which would suggest the role of the ocean in recent times is to hold back SAT. You could be correct in the role of the oceans and it could actually means things are more dire than presently predicted. Unless there is evidence that the oceans are contributing in one way or the other (or not at all) then it seems reasonable in scientific terms to set it to one side as a caveat.

  22. HR, the article is about variance. More specifically, ocean induced variance. Interpretation of atmospheric temperatures is left to Ms Cleo.

  23. # HR „Unless there is evidence that the oceans are contributing in one way or the other (or not at all) then it seems reasonable in scientific terms to set it to one side as a caveat.”

    What you suggest is just the problem of climatology. The ocean is much too complex to say in what way they are contributing, every second, minute, week, months, years. The ocean is much to big to say anything about the heat content. It is just wrong to assume that the deep ocean can effect SAT only on a centennial/millennial time scale. Even if there would be 1 Million devices in place throughout the ocean, you will not get more than a small picture. The post illustrates the ocean dimension very well. But it is not only the dimension that matter. For example: the mean temperature of the ocean is below 4°C, the ocean supply the atmosphere with vapor about 35 times a years (by a complete exchange), and the ocean is an important supplier of condensation nuclei a.s.o. By the way, it seems also possible that: “Jellyfish help mix the world’s oceans. Marine creatures could stir up seas as much as do winds and tides.” At:
    IMO climate research has to be based on ocean research, and therefore it is necessary to define the terms “weather” and “climate” in a scientifically reasonable manner, e.g. climate as suggested in my comment above (No.7) .

  24. But we already know this, right? The El Nino/La Nina patterns have huge implications for the climate either side of the pacific. The weather patterns are markedly different depending on the phase (certainly in terms of human impact such as rainfall/drought) and all this from a comparatively small change (0.5 deg c) in ocean surface temperature. The little swings in ocean temperature cause much bigger swings in atmospheric temperature – Eastern Australia just recorded the coldest March on record, IIRC.

  25. There is something here that has been bothering me for a while – you calculate the heat content of the atmosphere as global mean temperature times specific heat capacity of air, which is ok as an approximation to compare with the oceans, but assumes a constant (in space and time) specific heat capacity for air. This is surely not correct since it must depend on humidity (and probably lots of other things) which varies hugely. Given that a lot of the recent warming has been in cold places (eg west Greenland and east Canada)which must have low humidity does this not imply that the trend in global mean temperature could be a very bad proxy for the trend in atmospheric heat content? It is perfectly possible that the heat content could go down at the same time as the mean temperature goes up, if the heating is in areas with low specific heat capacity. Or the opposite could happen of course.

  26. Re: Bob Tisdale (Apr 6 17:44),
    Bob, I think volcanos are routinely included via stratospheric aerosol forcing. Here are the GISS Model E forcings, where volcanoes are a dominant feature.

    ENSO is supposed to be an outcome, not a driver, of a coupled model. It doesn’t currently work so well. Hansen et al 2007 identify the weaknesses of their current version:

    “Principal model deficiencies include unrealistically weak tropical El Nino-like variability and a poor distribution of sea ice, with too much sea ice in the Northern Hemisphere and too little in the Southern Hemisphere. Greatest uncertainties in the forcings are the temporal and spatial variations of anthropogenic aerosols and their indirect effects on clouds.”

  27. Nick Stokes said, “ENSO is supposed to be an outcome, not a driver, of a coupled model.”

    I’m not sure that I said ENSO was a driver. It’s a process that causes surface temperatures to vary through diabatic and adiabatic processes. A single ENSO event can and does have multiyear aftereffects.

  28. Nick Stokes: Sorry. We’re discussing OHC, not surface temps. My mistake. I’ll take a sip of coffee.

    Back to your statement: “ENSO is supposed to be an outcome, not a driver, of a coupled model.”

    Revised reply: I’m not sure that I said ENSO was a driver. It’s a process that causes OHC to vary through diabatic and adiabatic processes. A single ENSO event can and does have multiyear aftereffects on OHC.

  29. RE: Comment #34 (above)

    The above earthquake warning was apparently unfounded. I posted the following message to Piers Corbyn this morning:

    “This is to express my concern that a fellow scientist, Piers Corbyn, would distribute a video containing apparent misinformation about ongoing earthquakes in this area:


    An explanation would be appreciated.”

    With kind regards,
    Oliver K. Manuel

  30. Too bad the GCM’s ignore the amount of bright sunshine hitting the ocean and land. They might have a chance of working if they didn’t ignore the #1 input.

  31. Hi Jeff,

    Just one quick observation.

    Solar energy (especially the shorter wavelengths – 350nm to 470nm) penetrate quite deeply into the ocean, unless there is a lot of turbidity from small suspended particles (including micro and mini organisms, of course). In most of the open ocean the water is extremely clear, so a substantial fraction of solar energy is deposited below the surface, at depths to well in excess of 100 meters. Indeed, a relatively deep “well-mixed layer” in the tropics (often reaching over 150 meters in depth) is clear evidence of deposition of substantial solar energy well below the surface. This means that Earth’s short-term thermal capacity is quite a lot higher than that of the atmosphere alone; for sure more than an order of magnitude greater, and more likely 20 or more times that of the atmosphere alone. Really fast temperature changes seem to me unlikely in light of the total short term thermal capacity.

  32. Re: Steve Fitzpatrick (Apr 8 10:34),

    I wouldn’t say well below 100m. There’s some penetration below 100m, but not much. About 99% of solar energy is deposited in the first 100 m with most of that going in the first 20m. Any significant deposition of energy below 100m is going to be due to eddy diffusion or turbulent mixing.

  33. Jeff,

    Joe Bastardi is propping your post big time. He says something just wonderful was posted at WUWT. Check it out.

  34. DeWitt:

    I wouldn’t say well below 100m. There’s some penetration below 100m, but not much. About 99% of solar energy is deposited in the first 100 m with most of that going in the first 20m. Any significant deposition of energy below 100m is going to be due to eddy diffusion or turbulent mixing.

    Doesn’t upwelling and downwelling thermohaline-driven circulation would contribute to the heat exchange between the deep ocean and the surface too? That’s not necessarily eddy or turbulence driven.

  35. The heat in the atmosphere is a rounding error compared to the heat in the ocean. The average sea surface temperature is apx. 3C warmer than the surface air temp at 2 meters. Measuring air temps is measuring under the curve so to speak. The average temperature limit is set by the sea surface temperature. The fact that our average temperature measurements are fluctuating so much is proof that we don’t have a good handle on the average temperature. If we had truly accurate temperature measurements our global average temperatures would be rock steady. Measuring the temperature of a pool filled with water with a thermometer 2 meters away is idiocy.

    The scientific inquiry has to be based on absolute temperatures first before any trends can be determined. The reason it has to be based on absolute temperatures is because of the phase changes of water at various temperatures and pressures.

  36. When a pan of water is boiled, it may appear to be in “equilibrium”,
    “heat in, equals heat out or BOOM….”
    but that don’t account for the water vapour (changes) in the room does it.
    Such may be “invisible” staring at the pan, but that ain’t the whole story is it.

    Very, very similar to a climate models or global heat budgets actually.

    Where’s life, the moon, tides, just for starters.

  37. Re: Carrick (Apr 8 14:44),

    Doesn’t upwelling and downwelling thermohaline-driven circulation would contribute to the heat exchange between the deep ocean and the surface too?

    Of course. That’s why the depth of the thermocline is relatively stable over time. If there were no large scale circulation, the thermocline depth would steadily increase in the tropics. But I think that’s a small fraction of the daily solar energy deposition, most of which is lost again at night.

  38. “Water selectively scatters and absorbs certain wavelengths of visible light. The long wavelengths of the light spectrum—red, yellow, and orange—can penetrate to approximately 15, 30, and 50 meters (49, 98, and 164 feet), respectively, while the short wavelengths of the light spectrum—violet, blue and green—can penetrate further, to the lower limits of the euphotic zone. Blue penetrates the deepest, which is why deep, clear ocean water and some tropical water appear to be blue most of the time.

  39. DeWitt, #48,
    Please look at

    Note the absorption constant for water between 300 nm and 500 nm. 100 meters of water for these wavelengths represents an attenuation of roughly 63% of the surface intensity (on average). Please also note that the solar intensity in this wavelength range is by no means low. I have not calculated the fraction of total energy that passes each depth, but I think that value for what is absorbed relatively near the surface (eg 20 meters) does not tell us so much… most (including all infrared adn red wavelengths) is of course absorbed within a fe meters of the surface.

    But the only significant route of escape for all energy absorbed in the well mixed layer is convective overturning to bring heat to the surface… and that is why the well mixed layer in the tropics is often very deep. The “downmixing” of heat by convection/turbulence is small by comparison. The bottom of the well mixed layer in the tropics is the depth at which heat needed to warm upwelling (colder) deep water (typically a fraction of a cm per day vertical motion) just balances the total solar energy passing that depth.

    The mixing processes you refer to are only dominant below the bottom of the well mixed layer. The depth of the well mixed layer in the tropics depends mainly on the local rate of upwelling and the penetration depth of solar energy. In areas where the upwelling rate is low, the well-mixed layer can become very deep indeed, sometimes reaching 200 meters or more. In areas where upwelling is much more rapid (up to several cm per day) the depth of the well mixed layer is automatically much less.

  40. Agreed that the comparison of energy content of atmosphere and oceans is less important than the dynamics of exchange between them.

    I keep coming back to the 1998 hot year. The recovery from the anomaly seems to have been mostly complete in 6 months. This recovery can be read from graphs of surface air temperatures, but it also seems to appear in ocean temperature aggregates. See for example the monthly graphics here

    In 1998 the tropical Pacific goes from a long red streak of up to 2 deg above mean to 2 deg below over the year and in the last months the southern Indian Ocean also drops below mean in SST. It looks like much of the hot year was caused by this excess of hot water in the tropical Pacific. (Please correct me if this is wrong). My interest is not so much that the hot surface water can go cool in a few months. My wonder is what caused it to get hot in the beginning, again over a few months.

    It’s not quite enough to say that it was from PDO or El Nino or any other set of acronyms. I’m wanting to track down the ultimate source. I can accept that there was a change in the pattern or rate of change of currents that allowed hot water to come to the surface, but I do not know how. This pool of hot water does not seem to exist in Argo data so far as I know, but Argo had just started 1997-98 and was not fully deployed until 2003. So there are no comparable earlier figures to see the lead-up to 1988. So far the Argo results are fairly constant, but there are small deviations. e.g. “The water temperature in the subtropical Atlantic Ocean has cooled down since 1998, oceanographers report. Measurements since 1957 had shown a rise of more than ¼ of a degree up to that point, but between 1998 and 2006 the ocean stopped warming and cooled by 0.15°C in the same area”.

    Perhaps I’m missing the main point of Jeff’s opener, that tiny heat changes in the ocean produce larger changes in the air above. But, it’s not only in the air above the oceans. The 1998 hot year has some quite peculair features, like seeming to start all over the globe in the space of a few months, and stopping just as fast. But “all over the globe” is not the same as “at every weather station on the globe”. There are many. many stations where there is no 1998 high at all and quite a few where there is a low. Some say that they can see a pattern of high temperature movement from the tropics towards the poles in that few months, but I can’t see such movement in the satellite data.

    If the Sun is the ultimate driver, do we know of a mechanism that can let the Sun drive rapid SST changes – without the heat necessarily coming from below the water surface? It seems that there is some missing heat and that we can’t find it is a travesty.

  41. Another item that is needed to make reasonable determinations on heat content is rainfall.

    From Trenberth’s figures at

    78 out of 492 watts at earth’s surface goes into the latent heat of vaporization. At 15 C a blackbody would radiate an additional
    6.15 watts for a 1C increase in temperatures. Earth’s temperature changes are measured in tenths of a degree to hundredths of a degree, or about 0.615 to 0.0615 watts. 0.615 watts out of 78 watts is about 0.79%. If the temperature change over a given period of time is
    + 0.1 C, and rainfall has dropped 1%, there is actually LESS heat at earth’s surface. Conversely, if temperatures drop 0.1C while
    rainfall picks up 1%, there is actually MORE heat going into warming the earth. Giving average temperature anomalies without the
    rainfall anomalies ( which I suspect are unknown over a broad range), is just about meaningless in measuring global temperature changes.

  42. “Solar Radiation: Much of the direct and diffuse solar short wave (less than 2 micros, mostly in the visible range) electromagnetic radiation that reaches the sea surface penetrates the ocean (the ocean has a low albedo, except when the sun is close to the horizon), heating the sea water down to about 100 to 200 meters, depending on the water clarity. It is within this thin sunlit surface layer of the ocean that the process of photosynthesis can occur. Solar heating of the ocean on a global average is 168 watts per square meter.

    Net Back Radiation: The ocean transmits electromagnetic radiation into the atmosphere in proportion to the fourth power of the sea surface temperature (black-body radiation). This radiation is at much longer wavelengths than that of the solar radiation (greater than 10 micros, in the infrared range), because the ocean surface is far cooler that the sun’s surface. The infrared radiation emitted from the ocean is quickly absorbed and re-emitted by water vapor and carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases residing in the lower atmosphere. Much of the radiation from the atmospheric gases, also in the infrared range, is transmitted back to the ocean, reducing the net long wave radiation heat loss of the ocean. The warmer the ocean the warmer and more humid is the air, increasing its greenhouse abilities. Thus it is very difficult for the ocean to transmit heat by long wave radiation into the atmosphere; the greenhouse gases just kick it back, notably water vapor whose concentration is proportional to the air temperature. Net back radiation cools the ocean, on a global average by 66 watts per square meter.”

    Something tells me that even relatively short period of less clouds and more sunshine could change the amount of energy going into the oceans.

    But I have no idea if there is any data around measuring sunshine hours in the oceans.

  43. Re: Steve Fitzpatrick (Apr 8 19:06),

    I think you’ll still find that 95+% of solar energy will be absorbed by 100m, especially when you correct for sun angle over the day. You also only get absorption that low when there’s no dissolved organic matter.

  44. Dewitt #60,

    That may be the case, but even 5% represents quite a lot of energy in the tropics. But that is not really what I was trying to get at. I was pointing out that the convective layer (the well mixed layer) at the ocean surface is formed as a result of convection driven by relatively deep penetration of sunlight, especially in the tropics, and that the convective layer represents quite a large thermal buffer against rapid changes in temperature. This convective layer is closely linked to the atmosphere. The effective heat capacity of the atmosphere is not nearly so small as Jeff appeared to suggest in his original post.

  45. Interesting …

    Before 1977, sunshine was all over the place. From 1977 on , it was a nice constent rise hitting 71% in 1997 and staying there.


    Click to access section05.pdf

    Isn’t that when the PDO switched?

  46. Bruce said
    April 9, 2011 at 11:11 am Much of the radiation from the atmospheric gases, also in the infrared range, is transmitted back to the ocean,

    Genghis said
    April 8, 2011 at 3:26 pm
    The heat in the atmosphere is a rounding error compared to the heat in the ocean. The average sea surface temperature is apx. 3C warmer than the surface air temp at 2 meters.

    Laws of Thermodynamics: You can’t transfer heat from a cold body to a hotter one. So sea to air is OK. Air to sea is not (using the figures above).

  47. Jeff,

    I agree with your general point. And I too am a sceptic (American sceptic despite the Brit spelling).

    But please. No one gives a hoot about the average heat content of the oceans or the planet. What people care about is this: Are we in an ice age? Are we leaving an ice age? Are we in an interglacial. Are we headed for an ice age?

    Which says that an integrator is not the best tool for the problem. Maybe a linear model is best or a differentiator.

    You might want to look up “capacitor soakage” to see a similar problem in electronics. Although the long term reservoirs are smaller in that problem. The idea is the same.

    Here is a nice bit:,1570,28,00.html

  48. *64 – One day we will consider the latent heat of water vapourisation something like realistically,
    at present, sadly not.
    78, 80, or 90W/m2 is a K&T joke. Real movements are at least an order of magnitude larger,
    at best the K&T joke figure is a difference / net figure.

    Such is an example of how “AGW” divorced the “physics” from reality,
    in K&T type plots and climate models.

    BTW – “back radiation” which does not warm as presently incorrectly postulated, can not penetrate the sea’s surface anyway,

    therefore, such, even if it does warm, could only increase water vapourisation at sea surface.

    The missing heat ain’t in the oceans, it could not of got in there by the proposed mechanism in the first place.

  49. 68 – DeWitt, apologies this is a drive by as I’m not really following at the moment, but isn’t latent heat of vaporisation a bit of a hard one to quantify wrt global magnitude? Do you have any reasonable numbers for total global change in atmospheric humidity on any timescale? Thanks

  50. Re: curious (Apr 10 21:05),

    Quick and dirty. Water vapor is 0.4% of the atmosphere. There’s ~10,000 kg/m2 so 40 kg/m2. Latent heat of vaporization 2.5E6 J/kg so latent heat content is 1E8 J/m2. But that’s not what we really want. Let’s look at the effective heat capacity in the tropics assuming constant relative humidity. The tropical atmosphere surface temperature and relative humidity is 299.7 K and 75.53% means 0.01661 kg water/kg dry air. If we raise temperature by 1 degree, the mixing ratio increases to 0.017643 or an increase of 0.001033 kg times 2.5E6 = 2580 J compared to 1003 J for the increase in heat content of the dry air. The total then is about the same as for water on a kg/kg basis. The big difference between water and air is, of course, the density. Obviously, at high latitudes in winter the increase will be much less.

  51. Thanks DeWitt. So would you say in the tropics it takes 1e4*(2580 + 1003)J/m2 = 35MJ/m2 to raise air temp by 1degC? If we are seeing (say) 0.1degC/decade temp change does this equate to 3.5MJ/m2decade? So 3.5e6/(10*365*24*3600) = 1.1e-2 Watts/m2? = 11mW/m2 spread throughout the nominal atmospheric 1m2 column?… I must be getting this badly wrong somewhere?!?…

  52. DeWitt Payne said
    April 11, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    Re: curious (Apr 10 21:05),

    “Water vapor is 0.4% of the atmosphere.”

    Pardon, is that up to 4%.

    ” There’s ~10,000 kg/m2 so 40 kg/m2. Latent heat of vaporization 2.5E6 J/kg so latent heat content is 1E8 J/m2. ”
    Assumes only one change of state, yet water in the atmosphere can vaporize and re condense many times before falling back to earth.
    So, that must be an absolute (and unrealistic) bare minimum (possible) figure,
    because of,
    1) percentage used / quoted.
    2) Assumption of only one change of state, per “cycle”.

    May be this is at least partially what Curious is getting at in post 72.

  53. Re: curious (Apr 11 17:06),

    The 3583 J/m2/K only applies to the lowest level of the atmosphere, not the whole column. The actual number would be between 36MJ/m2 and ~10 MJ/m2. Also, you do have to heat up the surface of the ocean too. The land surface has significant heat capacity as well. A small radiative imbalance does add up to a lot of Joules for a full year. That’s also why radiative imbalance is so hard to measure unless you look at some sort of integrator like change in ocean heat content.

  54. # 63; Bruce said……

    May be you are interested to help? While meeting persons from Kauai (inSan Francisco) and attending a conference in Hilo in June 2010 I tried to get their interest in the enormous discrepancy of air temperature data in the early 1940th between : „Honolulu Obs Oahu“ and Honolulu Air Port. The subject is out lined in a post at: (Posted: 08 September 2010) , titled: “ Hawaii Gisstemp – Scrap or Bingo? A chance to show the impact of naval activities? “

    Concerning you question: “Isn’t that when the PDO switched?” see my paper that I presented at PACON 2010 in Hilo, at: ( The Pacific War and a climatic shift,1942-1945: Correlation or Causation?”

  55. There are too many variables, some of them we don’t know and variables can’t be measured with precision. The system if it exists a system is unpredictable and can’t be explained.

  56. Pingback: Air Temps
  57. Bruce said: /#comment-49183, quoting from, that “Solar Radiation: Much of the direct and diffuse solar short wave (less than 2 microns, mostly in the visible range) electromagnetic radiation that reaches the sea surface penetrates the ocean …,heating the sea water down to about 100 to 200 meters, depending on the water clarity.”

    This Solar imput (AGW KT97) is Visible Light with the two short waves either side of UV and Near IR, it does not include Thermal IR. These are not heat energies, they are not hot in themselves. Not all direct energy reactions create heat, photosynthesis for example is a chemical use of energy not producing heat, so for a start all that has to be taken out of ‘the AGW Energy Budget’ which claims it is only these short wave energies which heat the land and sea.

    This is nonsense. Until AGWScience can show that Visible light can heat land and seas, to convert to heat as it claims which then raises the temperature of the Earth, which then radiates out the amount of Thermal IR claimed, it stays nonsense. Gobbledegook. Thermal IR is the heat we feel from the Sun and which heats the earth and water, and this is not included in their Energy Budget.

    Try heating a cup of water with blue light, you’ll be waiting a long time for your cup of coffee.

    There is a concerted movement from AGWScience to promote this absurd science about light energies creating heat and are the ‘thermal energies’ we feel as heat from the Sun – the above links show that it is not traditional science, but it is fast disappearing. Children are being educated to be science dunces and as the columbia link shows, this is taught at graduate levels.

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