Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The old man and the warming ocean

One of the bunnies in the comments, pointed Eli to a posting by Josh Willis of JPL (and the ARGO floats) which provides as good an explanation of variability as the Rabett has seen. Go read it:

My wife likes to gamble. She’s no high roller or anything, but give her a hundred dollars, a spare weekend and a room full of slot machines and she’s happy.
Not me, though. Somewhere along the way, I guess I took one too many math classes and betting against the house just isn’t much fun anymore.
But I understand why she likes it. It’s the ups and downs of gambling that are fun. You lose, lose, lose and then every once in a while you win a great big jackpot. Maybe you even win enough to make up for the last 30 or 40 bets you lost. But like any game in the casino, the odds are stacked against you. If you play long enough, you will eventually lose.
Global warming and climate change work in much the same way. Wait long enough and odds are, the Earth will be warmer. But will tomorrow be warmer than today? Who knows! There are plenty of things about the atmosphere and ocean that can’t be predicted. Over a period of days or weeks, we call these unpredictable changes “the weather.”
but the real fun is in the comments, where RPSr drops by to beat his drum
I am puzzled by your weblog, and have weblogged on it. You are ignoring the value of heat in Joules (not surface temperature) as the primary global warming metric, despite your pioneering research using heat content change in Joules in the upper ocean to diagnose the radiative imbalance of the climate system..
Willis' answer is classic
True, ocean heat content is the better metric for global warming, and the past few years of no warming are interesting. But tacked on to the 50-year-record of ocean warming before that, the last four years pretty much ARE just a wiggle. And yes, the estimates of global surface temperature do have errors and uncertainties. But the record of sea surface temperature also shows about 1 degree C of warming over the last 100 years. Remember, the oceans are 2/3 of the Earth’s surface and that record has fewer problems than the temperature data over land. Between the long-term records of ocean heat content, land and ocean surface warming, global sea level rise (about 20 cm over the last 100 years) and the increase in atmospheric CO2, you get a pretty simple, consistent picture of man-made warming. No models required.
Of course, the data are not perfect. Our understanding and our climate models are missing important pieces of the puzzle. But let’s not miss the forest for the trees. You don’t have to count every tree around before you realize you’re in the woods, just like a casino doesn’t have to win every bet to turn a profit.
Despite all the uncertainties, I think it is pretty clear that humans have already warmed the planet. And if we continue to add more CO2 to the atmosphere, we will warm it even further.
Very much in the tradition of if we had such measurements we would use them, but we don't so why are you asking for them.

UPDATE: The readers remind Eli to point them to the earth observatory article explaining how the interplay of measurement and models strengthen each other and allow a better understanding of oceanic warming and sea level rise.

Fill the comments young hares.


Anonymous said...

and the funniest part of all was that, in that Mother Jones interview PR Sr named Josh Willis as support for the idea that global warming has "stopped".

MJ: I remember hearing that last year was the warmest year on record, and a few years before that was the warmest year on record. I hadn't heard that global warming has stopped.

RAP: Josh Willis is one of the people I've worked with in the past, and he has a paper that came out recently that showed that at least since mid-2004, the upper oceans have not warmed.


One of those "support" references that is not quite what it is claimed to be.

Like son like father?

Paul said...

Earth Observatory has an excellent review of the "ocean cooling" issue. It looks like the way science ought to be done.


Arthur said...

Pielke Sr. shows Willis' "ocean cooling" graph prominently in his Physics Today "opinion" piece this month - apparently solicited by the editors of Physics Today. What is with these guys!? First Scafetta and West in "Physics Today" on how it's really the Sun, then Monckton in "Physics and Society" mixing it up on climate sensitivity, then Pielke Sr. in "Physics Today" again, asserting that it's not just CO2!

Here's Pielke's from his site, in case you don't have a PT subs:


I mean, really! Can we grab some physics magazine editors by the collars and shake some sense into them? How about a few prominent commentaries from Jim Hansen, or Gavin Schmitt, or Al Gore, say, for balance? One such incident I can forgive. Two I can say, ok, maybe coincidence. But three in a row? What are they thinking?

Anonymous said...


In case you had not noticed, physicists have a tendency to think they know everything about everything.

It was physicists, after all, who came up with the theory of everything, you know (even called it that).

That takes some hubris, especially when it explains and predicts nothing!

Anonymous said...


Despite the noted opposition from Willis, it speaks volumes that RPSr. has to resort to "opinion" pieces to sell a story that 4 years of ocean cooling is significant - and that it marks the end of global warming(?!?!?!).

You know, I have a copy of his excellent text on Mesoscale Meteorological Modeling that I used to read in my youth. Now when I see it, I feel nothing but pity for the author. He used to be relevant, now he's just raging against the rising tide.

How the mighty have fallen.

David B. Benson said...

Guess I can't comment since I'm not young anymore.

Far from it.

TokyoTom said...

Eli, thanks for the link to the post about ocean temps; I hadn't realized that Josh had changed his mind.