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The Ocean Warming Enigma

January 16, 2021

By Paul Homewood



h/t MrGrimNasty



There has been a nice discussion on Twitter, regarding the GWPF’s latest bulletin inconveniently pointing out that there has been no global warming in the last 5 years:




But why does Richard Betts show a graph beginning in 1958, which implies that ocean warming suddenly started to accelerate after 1990? True, there is little reliable ocean heat content data prior to 1958, but some would argue that the data prior to ARGO buoys, rolled out in 2004, is also worthless.

Although the graph is labelled in Zettajoules, designed to make it look scary, the actual temperature changes involved are microscopic, and impossible to measure to such accuracy in pre-ARGO days.

Since 2004, for instance, ARGO data shows an increase of about one hundredth of a degree.



But we do have much longer records of sea surface temperatures, for instance the Hadley Centre’s HADSST3:



You will note a couple of things.

First, global sea temperatures actually fell between 1940 and 1980. (This coincided with sea level rise slowing down). Betts, of course, would like you to believe that the accelerating rate of rise since then is due to AGW, rather than a natural cyclical event.

Secondly, sea surface temperatures began rising from 1900, long before CO2 emissions could have had the slightest effect on the world’s climate.

Indeed the rate of rise from 1910 to 1940 was every bit as fast as since 1980. This also correlates with tidal gauge records of sea level rise around the world, which show a similar pattern.

Simple physics tell us that the oceans drive the world’s climate, and not the atmosphere. The heat capacity of the oceans is so much greater than the air, that the heat capacity of an atmospheric column of unit area cross section extending from the ocean surface to the outermost layers of the atmosphere is equivalent to the heat capacity of a column of seawater of 2.6-metre depth.

Put another way, rising ocean temperatures cause atmospheric temperatures to rise, and not vice versa. We can readily see that every time there is an El Nino.

So the real question is what has caused sea temperatures to steadily rise since 1900? And if you think it is greenhouse gases, then you need to explain how these also caused the pre 1940 rise.

  1. Devoncamel permalink
    January 16, 2021 1:15 pm

    If the heat capacity comparison is a known physical fact why do alarmists insist they know different? The science is, after all settled.

  2. January 16, 2021 1:41 pm

    Really? See last 5 years. Turn, Turn Turn.

    He who ignores the realities of historical cycles, is condemned to eat them, as a fool.

  3. January 16, 2021 1:45 pm

    Should have said… all the surface heat is in the oceans. The oceans control the climate, not a small part of the lapse rate which is an effect, not a cause or control, withing the dominant control system of oceanic negative feedback.. The climate cycle is at a maximum around now and will cool for some time going forward. The hiatus appears to be a natural turning point, obviously due as observed in the ice core and more recent proxy records.

    • Broadlands permalink
      January 16, 2021 2:14 pm

      The monthly Hadley Sea surface temperature data for the ENSO (Nino 3.4) do not correlate at all with the monthly Mauna Loa CO2 data. But, on a decadal basis they plot very well against the 20th century empirical air temperature cycles of warming and cooling.

  4. January 16, 2021 2:00 pm

    5 years or even decadal is too short of a time span to study global warming.

  5. Broadlands permalink
    January 16, 2021 2:04 pm

    “And if you think it is greenhouse gases, then you need to explain how these also caused the pre 1940 rise.”

    This is a question that was posed and evaluated by Guy Callendar in 1938. His carefully selected world-wide temperature data (to minimize the UHI effect) were quite consistent with increasing greenhouse CO2. The problem that arose right after he published his classic paper was that warming did not continue. The global temperatures dropped over the next 37 years while CO2 continued to rise. Bad luck?

    • January 16, 2021 3:10 pm

      The other oddity of Callendar 1938 is that thec1900 to 1938 warming that he had identified as agw is today understood as the ETCW anomaly in climate science.

    • Phoenix44 permalink
      January 17, 2021 9:57 am

      The solution is simple: CO2 plays a part but its effects are swamped by natural variation, as we see every day. For small periods of time there will be correlation but for much of the time there will be none or a negative correlation. Climate science has spent the last thirty years trying and failing to convincingly demonstrate the CO2 signal in the variation but has totally failed unless you are a gullible fool who wants it to be true. So now we have papers that compare one model run with another to “prove” the models are correct – a bizarre and obvious nonsense.

  6. January 16, 2021 2:09 pm

    Simple physics tell us that the oceans drive the world’s climate, and not the atmosphere.

    Hence the Gulf Stream effect, keeping Brits warmer than Canadians and Russians on similar latitudes.

    • January 16, 2021 3:18 pm

      Of the mass of the ocean and atmosphere taken together the ocean is 99.62% and the atmosphere 0.38% but in climate science the atmosphere tail wags the ocean dog in all respects.

    • dennisambler permalink
      January 17, 2021 5:12 pm

      Apparently the Gulf Stream is not our winter blanket:

      The Gulf Stream indeed contributes to Europe’s warmth, but it is wrong to conflate the climate difference across the North Atlantic with the northward flow of warm water in the Gulf Stream. This erroneous logic leads to such statements as (from The Times of London): “The British Isles lie on the same latitude as Labrador on the East Coast of Canada, and are protected from a similarly icy climate by the Atlantic conveyor belt.” Such claims are absolutely wrong.

  7. Coeur de Lion permalink
    January 16, 2021 2:13 pm

    All will explain itself during the prolonged upcoming cold spell.

  8. Don B permalink
    January 16, 2021 2:21 pm

    Assume that after filling the bath tub the bather decides the water is too cool. He does not turn on a space heater hoping that the warmer air will heat the bath water; no one with an IQ higher than 47 believes that would happen, yet climate enthusiasts claim with a straight face that CO2 heats the air, which warms the ocean, and rising ocean heat/temperatures are a sign of AGW.

    • theturquoiseowl permalink
      January 17, 2021 12:14 am

      Interesting analogy. Suppose though you just leave the filled bath for 12 months with the bathroom windows wide open. Are you saying the water will stay the same temperature throughout? I’d suggest it might warm a bit in the summer and cool a bit in the winter, because the air temperature has changed. Just as a pond ices over I guess.

      • January 17, 2021 5:06 am

        So, you’re saying that he has to wait till next summer to take a bath?

      • OldCynic permalink
        January 17, 2021 6:23 am

        I have a pool out of the back of the house (one of the benefits of living in Oz). It’s not artificially heated.

        It gets quite warm (>20C) in summer.
        I don’t know if its temperature rise is caused by:
        – sunshine on the water
        – the warm air in contact with the water
        – warm rain
        – all the chlorine that my wife pours in with monotonous regularity and not -insignificant expense.
        – something else / several of the above.

        I suppose the killer observation is that my pool is very small compared to the Pacific ocean, even though it will be an order of magnitude bigger than your bathtub. So maybe we need to recognize that generalizing from bathtub and pool to the volume of the world’s oceans may be an unsupportable move.

      • January 17, 2021 9:39 am


        To add to your list…

        How hot does the ground your pool is sitting on get? And is the ground covered with grass, or are there bare spots, like cement walkways, a driveway, etc?

      • Phoenix44 permalink
        January 17, 2021 10:05 am

        If the bath was at the air temperature when it was first run, I suspect you would be hard put to see its temperature change much or at all over the 12 months – given cooling at night for example.

    • January 17, 2021 4:00 pm

      Yes. Try boiling a pan of water with a blowtorch on the surface. You won’t get very far until all the water evaporates. The top surface only is evaporated by absorbing the incoming heat and converting it to Latent Heat. Done at CONSTANT TEMPERATURE. Due to buoyancy the Latent Heat is driven up into atmosphere for dissipation. In the case of the oceans the dissipation takes place in the clouds and space. Very little heat from the blowtorch ( or radiation) gets into the body of the water.

  9. bluecat57 permalink
    January 16, 2021 2:45 pm

    Despite claims to the contrary, scientists make assumptions.
    They are assuming warming is a bad thing.
    What if we assume it is a good thing? How does that change the conclusions we draw?

    • January 17, 2021 5:07 am

      They lose job security, and those remaining get paid less.

      • bluecat57 permalink
        January 17, 2021 3:15 pm

        EXACTLY! Scientists are VERY biased.
        You always hear claims like “There are no studies to the contrary.”
        Not enough people ask, “Why?”
        I trust that you do.

  10. January 16, 2021 3:08 pm

    It’s the sun what done it. There must be fewer clouds.

  11. MrGrimNasty permalink
    January 16, 2021 3:22 pm

    A while back researchers were saying the deep ocean(s) were still responding (cooling in the case of the deep Pacific) to the climate hundreds of years ago.

    It does indeed all become a bit chicken and egg – or maybe chicken omelette!

  12. Gamecock permalink
    January 16, 2021 3:57 pm

    Ocean heat content. Measured how?

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      January 16, 2021 7:22 pm

      Back calculated from measured temperature rise.

      But as the scary enormous number of joules represents (I calculate) a tiny 0.0023C per year (at latest rate) warming in the top 2km, it’s absurd to claim such global ocean temperature measurement accuracy is possible.

      • Phoenix44 permalink
        January 17, 2021 10:08 am

        That’s the problem with all Climate Science – its claims rest on impossible accuracy. Its “proof” of Global Warming relies on adjusting the past – which literally cannot know if it is done correctly- by tenths of a degree and homogenising data over hundreds of square km to tenths of a degree.

        I remain entirely sceptical about the whole thing because their data is just not good enough to prove anything whatsoever.

  13. Pat Swords permalink
    January 16, 2021 4:31 pm

    Yes, what heats the ocean, others are questioning this and highlighting a hypothesis worthy of consideration:

    • Mad Mike permalink
      January 16, 2021 6:42 pm

      I can’t believe I actually read all that and, whilst not understanding most of the technical jargon, I got the idea of what he was trying to put across.

      One of the arguments sceptics use is that data from frozen core samples suggest that CO2 increases follow increases in temperature and not the other way round as the alarmists say. If I’ve understood this guy correctly, it appears at least some of his findings back up the sceptics view.

      What is abundantly clear is that further research is needed in to all aspects of the paper and we better do it quickly. Any chance?

      • MrGrimNasty permalink
        January 16, 2021 7:30 pm

        I don’t think you will find any serious scientist on either side that disputes the lag in the past climate record. The supposed danger and argument arises from forcing the cart before the horse.

    • January 17, 2021 9:11 am

      Warmer oceans release CO2 faster than thought

      If sea levels have slowly risen over recent centuries due to thermal expansion, net CO2 release should be expected. Clearly the thermal expansion comes first, followed by the CO2 increase. Humans can’t do anything about this.

      • Chaswarnertoo permalink
        January 17, 2021 11:20 am

        You and your facts and logic! The science is settled! 😇

  14. Anders Rasmusson permalink
    January 16, 2021 4:43 pm

    The sun heats up land and oceans.

    Long wave radiation from both oceans and land, is hindered from radiating in their full black body spectrum directly to the space by the absorbing/emitting components in the atmosphere, which although colder than the surfaces, being much warmer than the space at 3 K.

    Kind regards
    Anders Rasmusson

  15. Ulric Lyons permalink
    January 16, 2021 5:29 pm

    Weaker solar wind states since 1995 have driven a warm AMO phase (via negative NAO/AO) which drives a decline in low cloud cover, and which allows the upper OHC to rise. It’s a negative feedback.
    There was very little change in the upper 2000 meters during the 1965-1995 cold phase of the AMO.

    • Gamecock permalink
      January 16, 2021 5:58 pm

      The graph is nonsense. We had no such data until the launch of Argo in the early 2000s.

      Our resolution by them is 50,000 square miles, and a measurement every ten days. We know sweeping generalizations, that’s all. Two decimal place precision is absurd.

      Additionally, ‘anomalies’ mischaracterizes change. Put the chart on the Kelvin scale, and it’s silly. Flat horizontal line.

      “There was very little change in the upper 2000 meters during the 1965-1995 cold phase of the AMO.”

      You gotta be kidding me. 1965-1995 numbers are a complete fabrication. WE SIMPLY DON’T KNOW.

      • AZ1971 permalink
        January 17, 2021 4:10 am

        The graph is nonsense. We had no such data until the launch of Argo in the early 2000s.

        Truer words have not been spoken, ever.

      • Phoenix44 permalink
        January 17, 2021 10:13 am

        Exactly. All Climate Change claims are false because all are well within our ability to measure anything or know anything. They are making claims about the heat content of the entire planet, atmosphere and oceans, by sticking their finger into a swimming pool. Its absurd.

    • January 16, 2021 6:03 pm

      The AMO runs on a 50 to 60 yr cycle – does solar wind correlate with this?

      • Ulric Lyons permalink
        January 17, 2021 2:51 am

        The correlation is good in detail, with faster solar wind states during the cold AMO anomalies in the early-mid 1970’s, mid 1980’s and early 1990’s. Strong AMO warming with the general weakening of the solar wind since 1995. Minor AMO cooling around 2000-2003, 2014-2016, and 2018, corresponds to moderately faster solar wind periods.

        Measurements of the solar wind only go back to 1964.

        Since the late 1800’s centennial solar minimum warm AMO phase, there has been a 60 year and then a 70 year envelope.

        The solar wind strength shifts in and out of phase with sunspot cycles according to each AMO phase, resulting in annual AMO anomalies being in and then out of phase with sunspot cycles in alternate AMO phases.

        So I would predict faster solar wind states in the three cold AMO anomalies around 1904, 1914, and 1924, which would relate to positive North Atlantic Oscillation conditions. From 1925 there would have been a series of years with weaker solar wind episodes and negative NAO to drive the AMO warming from then.

  16. January 16, 2021 5:36 pm

    When you look at a period in the record when SST didn’t change much for a decade or so and average the monthly sunspot number over that period, you get ~40SSN (old sunspot numbers). You get a very similar value when you average the monthly sunspot number over the entire period of record since 1749.

    This means the high heat capacity ocean response to the cumulative change in solar variation, is not seen in short term spikes and troughs in decadal activity, but in the longer term integration of solar variance, as a running total of departures from the long term average.

    Converting the 40 SSN to TSI and using the Steinhilber et al TSI reconstruction from 10Be records as input data to the integration method, we see that the resulting proxy for ocean heat content (and thus SST and near surface air temperature) correlates closely with the 2008 multiproxy reconstruction of global temperature since 1200AD produced by none other than Michael Mann. I’m sure he’d approve.

  17. mwhite permalink
    January 16, 2021 6:21 pm

    The natural warming of the oceans. Parts 1 & 2 by Bob Tisdale, worth a watch.

  18. Cheshire Red permalink
    January 16, 2021 6:24 pm

    On Twitter ex-Guardian cry-baby Leo Hickman is citing that Carbon Brief graphic (he works there) as ‘the most terrifying thing he’s ever seen’! (Or some-such absolute Horlicks)

    The question he should be asking is if OHC is so dangerous why has it had sweet FA impact on global T these past 5 years, with no T increase as per this article?

    AGW is such an absurd gravy-train of gibberish.

  19. January 16, 2021 6:34 pm

    the data you posted of the sea temperature were tampered with to disappear with the abrupt cooling of the middle of 1940. below is the link to the old sea temperature chart:

  20. theturquoiseowl permalink
    January 17, 2021 12:50 am

    Why do they show Ocean Heat Content and not temperature?

    Is it because temperature would show something like a 0.002C rise per year (which I understand is the estimated rate of current temperature increase below 700m)?

  21. dave permalink
    January 17, 2021 9:26 am

    Any discussion of ocean heat content (a ‘stock’) has to take account of the transfer of heat to the atmosphere from the surface of the ocean by means of evaporation and condensation (a ‘flow’).. It also has to take account of the stratification of the ocean.

    Heat transferred to atmosphere from the uppermost layer of the ocean is quickly lost to space by radiation*; while heat not so transferred is slowly lost to the deeps by mixing. If you include the deeps as part of ‘the world’ this is technically warming of the world – but irrelevant to climate, or life in the deeps, on any scale of time less than one marked in thousands of years.

    *After a bit of recycling involving ‘back radiation.’.

  22. Cheshire Red permalink
    January 17, 2021 9:58 am

    When atmospheric temps aren’t showing any warming ignore that and scream about something else.

    When atmospheric warming is showing scream from the rooftops.


    • Phoenix44 permalink
      January 17, 2021 10:16 am

      When there’s lots of rain scream about flooding, when its dry for a bit scream about drought. Ignore the fact it’s rarely average in the historical record and that therefore the average is the rare event. Repeat.

  23. Ben Vorlich permalink
    January 17, 2021 10:26 am

    Experts love frightening the gullible with big numbers. In climate change and diseases the bigger the better

  24. January 17, 2021 11:49 am

    using graphs to prove a point; all you do is adjust the scale to give an apparent large rise or fall. But if the vertical axis is not balanced by a scale relative to the measured object it is meaningless.
    For example, in Mr Betts graph, prior to 1960 it is zero. Does that mean that there was no heat in the ocean prior to then? (scientifically zero heat is minus 273 degrees K, if my schoolboy physics is correct?)

    • Gamecock permalink
      January 17, 2021 4:50 pm

      Right idea, but . . .

      C = K – 273.15

      Zero heat would be zero K. Physics teachers say, “would approach zero.” Zero K being theoretical, but believed impossible.

  25. ThinkingScientist permalink
    January 18, 2021 10:55 am

    HadSST3 warming over the 35yr period 1910 – 1045 is faster than the 35yr period 1975 – 2010:

    But the mean CMIP6 model forcings for the second period are 3x larger than the first period. Go figure that one with physics……

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