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Why GHGs Cannot Heat The Deep Oceans

October 22, 2016

By Paul Homewood




NASA have a webpage, which lists the so-called facts about climate change.

One section covers “warming oceans”:




Now, if these figures are correct, and it’s a big if, what does this imply for AGW theory?

According to NASA,


“The oceans store more heat in the uppermost 3 meters (10 feet) than the entire atmosphere (above it).”


For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the computer models are correct, and that extra GHGs should raise atmospheric temperatures by 0.2C/decade. Since 1969 this would equal about 0.9C.

However, because ocean heat content is thousands of times greater than that of the atmosphere, it also takes thousands of times more energy to raise ocean temperatures by the same amount.

Assuming that the oceans had somehow absorbed their share of AGW, we can do a simple calculation of the temperature change we should expect to see in the top 700 meters:


700 meters divided by 3 meters = 233.3


0.2C divided by 233.3 = 0.00085C


0.00085C X 4.6 decades = 0.0039C



There is a slight difference between 0.0039C and 0.302F! If oceans have warmed by 0.302C since 1969, it cannot be due to GHGs. There has to be some other explanation.

And if GHGs really have been responsible for warming the deep ocean by 0.0039C, it would be utterly impossible to measure such a microscopic amount across the world’s oceans and over several decades.


All of this presupposes that there is a proven mechanism whereby infrared radiation, emitted from GHGs, can heat up the deep ocean.

Oceanographer, Dr Robert E Stevenson, had this to say on the subject in his paper, Yes, The Ocean Has Warmed; No, It’s Not Global Warming, published in 2000:


Warming the ocean is not a simple matter, not like heating a small glass of water. The first thing to remember is that the ocean is not warmed by the overlying air.

Let’s begin with radiant energy from two sources: sunlight, and infrared radiation, the latter emitted from the “greenhouse” gases (water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and various others) in the lower atmosphere. Sunlight penetrates the water surface readily, and directly heats the ocean up to a certain depth. Around 3 percent of the radiation from the Sun reaches a depth of about 100 meters.

The top layer of the ocean to that depth warms up easily under sunlight. Below 100 meters, however, little radiant energy remains. The ocean becomes progressively darker and colder as the depth increases. (It is typical for the ocean temperature in Hawaii to be 26°C (78°F) at the surface, and 15°C (59°F) at a depth of 150 meters.

The infrared radiation penetrates but a few millimeters into the ocean. This means that the greenhouse radiation from the atmosphere affects only the top few millimeters of the ocean. Water just a few centimeters deep receives none of the direct effect of the infrared thermal energy from the atmosphere! Further, it is in those top few millimeters in which evaporation takes places. So whatever infrared energy may reach the ocean as a result of the greenhouse effect is soon dissipated.


This is plain, basic physics. We are constantly told that we should not deny the science, yet NASA, NOAA, and seemingly most climate scientists are quite happy to ignore this basic science because it rather spoils their own theories. Indeed, it is the elephant in the room that they are desperately hoping nobody has noticed.




What is absolutely certain though is that if oceans really have warmed up as suggested, regardless of the cause, atmospheric temperatures will also rise as a direct result.


I’ll finish with this quote from NOAA, in their article, Climate Variability:  


Climate is affected by both the biological and physical processes of the oceans. In addition, physical and biological processes affect each other creating a complex system. Both the ocean and the atmosphere transport roughly equal amounts of heat from Earth’s equatorial regions – which are intensely heated by the Sun – toward the icy poles, which receive relatively little solar radiation. The atmosphere transports heat through a complex, worldwide pattern of winds; blowing across the sea surface, these winds drive corresponding patterns of ocean currents. But the ocean currents move more slowly than the winds, and have much higher heat storage capacity. The winds drive ocean circulation transporting warm water to the poles along the sea surface. As the water flows poleward, it releases heat into the atmosphere. In the far North Atlantic, some water sinks to the ocean floor. This water is eventually brought to the surface in many regions by mixing in the ocean, completing the oceanic conveyor belt (see below). Changes in the distribution of heat within the belt are measured on time scales from tens to hundreds of years. While variations close to the ocean surface may induce relatively short-term climate changes, long-term changes in the deep ocean may not be detected for many generations. The ocean is the thermal memory of the climate system.



If oceans really have got warmer, we are seeing the result of long term changes caused by natural forces.      

Until science can satisfactorily explain this phenomenon, we have no idea what has caused the world to warm up since the little ice age.

42 Comments leave one →
  1. Dr Ken Pollock permalink
    October 22, 2016 5:01 pm

    Slight confusion between Centigrade and Fahrenheit. Does not affect the main argument but please revise…

  2. October 22, 2016 5:05 pm

    ‘we have no idea what has caused the world to warm up since the little ice age.’

    Here’s one idea: the disappearance of the Little Ice Age, which shifts the question to ‘what caused the LIA in the first place?’

  3. AlecM permalink
    October 22, 2016 5:19 pm

    There has been substantial AGW, but not from CO2. It was Asian industrialisation producing sulphate and other aerosols. In 2006, Ramanathan, who is a good experimentalist but a crap theoretician, showed that this Asian effect could have led to half modern age global warming.

    [The mechanism is increased absorptivity of clouds, resulting in lower solar heating of underlying ocean, higher convection of latent heat. There is no ‘back radiation’, for reasons I have already discussed, and anyone who claims it is real has to prove it by calorimetry….]

    PS the Asian industrialisation effect is, at an upper bound, about half the amplification of Milankovitch warming from the end of the last ice age to just pre-industrial. The proof is 3% fall in apparent cloud area from 1983 – 1997, in reality reduction of cloud albedo leading to lower reported cloud area from satellite image analysis. Basically, Climate Alchemists are science numpties supported by data fraud. Most of them have no right to be employed in science.

    • Shooter permalink
      October 25, 2016 7:24 am

      Even that is debatable. We could have argued that was the case for Britain during Industrialization. Emphasis on ‘could’.

  4. Broadlands permalink
    October 22, 2016 5:24 pm

    What happens to the cold, upwelled nutrient-rich waters off the South American coast? What upwells somewhere has to downwell somewhere else… along with some heat? The same takes place in the Weddell Sea where man-made CFCs were rapidly downwelled to abyssal depths, presumably along with heat? Those cold abyssal waters upwelled somewhere. Is all this the result of our added CO2 that has gone along for the ride… in both directions?

    • AlecM permalink
      October 22, 2016 5:38 pm

      The heat balance takes car of that**.

      **Ist Law of Thermodynamics.

  5. October 22, 2016 6:28 pm

    Whack-a-mole : There is another from the sciencey advertising sheet New Scientist
    Hundreds of deep-sea vents found spewing methane off US coast 19 October 2016

  6. AndyG55 permalink
    October 22, 2016 6:49 pm

    This is BS.

    They had no way of accurately measuring ocean heat measuring ocean heat back in 1969.

    As you can see, until 2003 the coverage was minimal at best.

    Even with ARGO, anyone that thinks we can measure sea temps to 0.3F is fooling themselves.

    • Bloke down the pub permalink
      October 23, 2016 1:46 pm

      I was going to have a little rant, but I think you’ve covered it nicely there thanks. One of my favourite questions to warmists is how many thermometers would they need to accurately measure the temp of a swimming pool. When you then point out to them how many times bigger the ocean is and how few measurements are taken just stand well back as their head explodes.

      • Keitho permalink
        October 25, 2016 7:27 am

        The ocean is indeed rather big. 1.3 billion cubic kilometers in fact. Average temperature is around 3 deg C.

  7. October 22, 2016 6:53 pm

    Oceans are warmed by penetration of sunlight. They are primarily cooled by evaporation, and secondarily by IR emission at the surface. Backradiation doesn’t warm per se. The GHE is by definition just an absence of cooling. The enormous temperature difference above and below the thermocline says that if oceans are warming near the surface the implication is simply less overturning. Positive phase PDO plus positive phase AMO does the trick.

  8. Tony Price permalink
    October 22, 2016 7:33 pm

    At least NASA is (almost) right about the 10 feet. My own calculation, done 5 years ago, gave the result as 3.7 metres depth of sea-water, or 12 feet. The “extra heat” in the atmosphere will make very little difference to water temperature. Try heating a bath of cold water with a fan heater in your bathroom. As @ristvan said, it’s sunlight which warms the water, and for only half a day at that. Back radiation cannot penetrate the surface as water molecules are too close together – a kind of “Faraday cage”. It IS absorbed in the surface “skin” and results in evaporation, which cools the top few mm.

    As the great Ernest Rutherford once said: “When you’ve got a flea and an elephant, it’s the flea that jumps”. He was discussing the structure of the atom, with very light electrons, and a relatively massive nucleus, but the same can be said of the oceans. They are the elephant, and the atmosphere the flea.

    • Edmonton Al permalink
      October 23, 2016 3:36 pm

      We know that a radio signal can be “jammed” by a stronger signal at the same frequency.
      Then why would any “back radiation” not be jammed by the outgoing IR frequencies, as the CO2 absorbed radiation would immediately re-emit at all the IR frequencies. [No?]

      Therefore, CO2 “back radiation” is impossible.
      It is jammed by the existing more powerful outgoing IR. IMHO.

      What do you experts think about this??

      • Tony Price permalink
        October 23, 2016 11:26 pm

        The signal isn’t “jammed” at all. The receiver picks up both, and the received result is radio noise. IR radiation is flux- it’s a vector, and has “direction”, up is positive and down is negative. Add the two to get net flux. In the case of the Earth’s surface, the net flux is positive – upwards. 350 w/squ.m up and 300 down results in 50 up for example.

        CO2 absorbs and re-emits in specific bands, as do all GHGs. Absorption of specific quanta bend or stretch molecular bonds. When the stored energy is released, the same frequency/ energy quanta are emitted. Whatever goes in comes out as an identical quantum, and can be emitted in any direction, so 50% goes up, and 50% down. Down-welling radiation is routinely measured these days, in some cases by weather stations with the improved and simpler instruments available today. You can’t measure something that doesn’t exist. You can’t deny well-established and observed science. Science that obeys the laws of physics. To do so is to bury your head in the sand, and I’m afraid (as a sceptic myself) that many sceptics do just that.

      • JonA permalink
        October 24, 2016 1:37 pm

        Tony, is not the vast majority of IR absorbed by CO2 thermalised at the
        surface though? It’s not until the atmosphere becomes more rarefied that
        re-emission dominates over thermalisation. Hence the concept of the
        effective emission height.

  9. Chris Manuell permalink
    October 22, 2016 8:49 pm

    As I understand it infrared cannot penetrate the Oceans but ultraviolet does to some meters depth.

  10. October 23, 2016 12:38 am

    Relax, there is no greenhouse effect. The southern hemisphere has not warmed in December for seven decades.

    Plants need less water when there is more CO2 in the air. Its a bonanza of growth that we are witnessing via enhanced photosynthesis.

    It’s all good.

    • AndyG55 permalink
      October 23, 2016 1:42 am

      Despite Antarctica reaching 400ppm CO2..

      NO WARMING in the whole satellite era.

      Polar amplification?

  11. John, UK permalink
    October 23, 2016 9:39 am

    Please forgive my ignorance but I am totally failing to follow the reasoning behind your calculation:-

    700 meters divided by 3 meters = 233.3

    0.2C divided by 233.3 = 0.00085C

    0.00085C X 4.6 decades = 0.0039C

    Could you give a simple verbal explanation of the reason for steps 1 and 2 in your calculation?

    Thanking you in anticipation of a reply.

    • October 23, 2016 10:09 am

      If the top 3 meters of ocean stores as much heat of the atmosphere above it, the top 700 meters should stores 233.3 times as much.

      Therefore if AGW is causing atmospheric temps to rise by 0.2c/decade, its effect on the temperature of the top 700 meters of ocean (assuming it can have any effect at all) would 233.3 times smaller.

      Put another way, it would need 233.3 times more energy to raise ocean temps by 0.2C than atmospheric ones.

      This of course is a pretty crude analysis, but it makes the point that it would be physically impossible for infrared radiation to raise ocean temps by 0.3F, or anything remotely like it.

      • John, UK permalink
        October 23, 2016 6:29 pm

        Many thanks Paul, got it now!

  12. October 23, 2016 10:06 am

    Not impressed by this, Paul.
    GHG’s don’t have to warm the deep ocean. All they do is slow the escape of radiant heat to space – nobody is claiming anything else. And, even if we confine our consideration to the top 700m of ocean, the heat capacity therein is overwhelmingly vast (and in my view, practically impossible to measure changes to useful accuracy at present) And there is plenty of overturning to exchange heat between atmosphere and ocean. So, even as an AGW sceptic, I’m quite easy with the idea that the oceans should modify or delay any warming, and that global warming might well manifest itself staccato fashion as a series of ‘burps’ which could be noticed as El Nino events of changing strength or frequency.

    • AlecM permalink
      October 23, 2016 10:44 am

      Your argument fails because the thermodynamic equilibrium that controls Earth’s surface temperature is based on OLR = SW thermalisation plus the almost infinite negative feedback exerted by water vapour on surface temperature rise from increase of [CO2].

      The real driver of surface temperature is cloud albedo and area, controlled by biofeedback plus cosmic ray flux entering the planet’s atmosphere.

      The proof is the Faint Young Sun Paradox; liquid equatorial water 4 billion years ago when SW flux was 70% of present level, [CO2] and atmospheric pressure was about the same and there was no life. Later iceball planet status was from high cosmic ray flux.

      The hot-house Earth was caused primarily by high surface pressure because bacteria-and chlorophyl produced oxygen was ~35%. This continued until bacteria which consumed lignin evolved and excess oxygen was changed to CO2, which dissolved in the oceans. Present [CO2] is controlled by ocean temperature, which has risen a bit since the mid 19th Century as we exited the last mini-ice age.

      • October 23, 2016 11:31 am

        We’re at cross-purposes, Alec. I’m not a warmist. Merely pointing out that ocean heat content is likely to have a big effect on how any warming (if it occurs, and of whatever origin) manifests itself.

        For what its worth, I happen to believe that the water vapour cycle, far from potentiating CO2 warming, acts as a kind of thermostat, which is not too far off what you are saying, if I understand you correctly. I can’t comment on your statements about early and snowball earth.

      • AndyG55 permalink
        October 23, 2016 11:35 am

        The main point is that oceans cannot be heated by mythical back-radiation for CO2. And CO2 does NOT slow down any cooling or evaporation.

        There is no mythical CO2 blanket.

      • Broadlands permalink
        October 23, 2016 11:50 pm

        Alec That “Faint Young Sun” was producing 4-8 times the UV flux that it does today. But, the evidence for life now goes back beyond 4.5 billion years (cyanobacterial stromatolites). They drew down CO2 and added oxygen that created a stronger stratospheric ozone screen. It goes on today. CO2 is “captured” but restored by aerobic respiration unless biology forms skeletal carbonates… e.g. Cretaceous Dover chalks.

        This why it is hopeless for us to think we can capture and rebury what took nature millions of year to do. If our added CO2 is not BURIED somewhere? it will be reoxidized.

    • AndyG55 permalink
      October 23, 2016 11:32 am

      “All they do is slow the escape of radiant heat to space ”

      Only H2O has the ability to do that, and only temporarily, once it has already transferred energy upwards.

      CO2 is nothing but another conduit for cooling in the atmosphere. In the lower atmosphere, its re-emittance time is many magnitudes longer than its conduction time to other molecules.
      It does not re-emit much below 11km, instead, passing any energy to the other 99.96% of the atmosphere where it is dealt with by convection the same as other energy would be.

  13. tom0mason permalink
    October 23, 2016 10:52 am

    NASA’s write up is the usual nonsensical blather.
    It is supposed to be science but mixes-up the words and meaning to push the advocate message.

    In science when has heat (as a form of energy) been equal to temperature?
    When has warming (a change in temperature) been equal to heat (a form of energy)?
    When has temperature changes and rates of change in temperature ever been so mangled in what purports to be science?

    It is just atrocious bunkum!
    Shame on NASA for putting this dross out!

    On the ‘Evidence’ page comes —

    The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases was demonstrated in the mid-19th century.2 Their ability to affect the transfer of infrared energy through the atmosphere is the scientific basis of many instruments flown by NASA. There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause the Earth to warm in response.

    No NASA, no!
    Professor Wood debunked the heat-trapping idea back in the early 1900.
    As to the unverified assertion “There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause the Earth to warm in response.” where’s the observations, the measurements, the evidence?
    Where are the definitive data-sets from “Their ability to affect the transfer of infrared energy through the atmosphere is the scientific basis of many instruments flown by NASA.” that prove CO2 traps heat and so heats the planet. After all this time there is none!
    Until they release this data there is every question as to NASA’s veracity on this subject.

    • AndyG55 permalink
      October 23, 2016 11:27 am

      But tom0… the climates scammers honesty is legendary…..

    • Edmonton Al permalink
      October 23, 2016 3:52 pm

      Will a NASA scientist that believes that CO2 “traps” heat ever change his/her mind?
      Not bloody likely.
      Hence, the truth in the statement: science progresses one funeral at a time………

    • Bartemis permalink
      October 24, 2016 3:35 pm

      “The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases was demonstrated in the mid-19th century.”

      It was postulated, not demonstrated. The demonstration had to wait for the satellite era. So far, the results are, at best, inconclusive.

  14. October 24, 2016 11:15 am

    Reblogged this on Jaffer's blog.

  15. October 24, 2016 3:48 pm

    They are stuck with the fact that temperature, pressure and density are closely inter-related. It’ll take a lot more than a few extra molecules of a trace gas to upset those equations.

    Ideal gas law, standard atmosphere and all that.

  16. October 31, 2016 7:51 pm

    The important observation is that the heat capacity of the ocean is huge relative to the human greenhouse driving function. A decade worth of extra energy resulting from greenhouse gas can be buried in the ocean with a very small change (near unmeasurable, even if we had the hardware and coverage) in the mixing caused by winds like trade winds.

    Mixing is the key and that couples the oceans to the atmosphere. That means the climate models must be coupled to even more uncertain (lack of initial conditions as shown by the commenter above) ocean models. This means that climate models looking at short term heat balances (ignoring the ocean coupling) have implied assumptions about the dynamics of the ocean that are wrong and have no hope of achieving valid short term (year to decade time scales) predictions.

    • October 31, 2016 9:44 pm

      So which part of all that ocean warming is the unmeasurable CO2 part, and what has caused the rest that totally dwarfs the first bit

      • October 31, 2016 11:57 pm

        If you look at our scanty 3-D thermal data on the ocean, we don’t know the temperature over time accurately enough to make any valid statements like claimed in the NASA article. The temperature on the surface may be 25ºC but on the bottom, it is near zero. What we are talking about is shifts in the halo/thermoclines and we don’t have good data over time. We do know the trade winds have increased and that would increase mixing.

  17. October 31, 2016 7:58 pm

    Mixing the heat in the oceans also implies that it won’t go away and can effectively make climate change a one-way ratchet. We increase heat stored in the ocean with our CO2 emissions letting us think that no warming is occurring, but then we find it is a problem (Greenland melts) and we then put on a revenue neutral carbon tax and eliminate the extra CO2, but the climate doesn’t go back to normal as all that heat has to come back out of the oceans.

    Ocean heat storage just effects the dynamics, not the results.

    • October 31, 2016 9:42 pm

      Except Greenland was just as warm 80 years ago

      • AndyG55 permalink
        November 1, 2016 1:38 am

        So was the AMO. And many parts of the Arctic.

  18. November 19, 2016 5:24 am

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.

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