The Oceans v. EPA

Wed, 2009-05-20 14:46Jeremy Jacquot
Jeremy Jacquot's picture

The Oceans v. EPA

Out of sight, out of mind,” is a pithy saying that aptly sums up the attitude most industrialized countries have toward ocean acidification. While there has been much (justified) hand-wringing about the terrestrial impacts of climate change, policymakers have largely ignored the threats posed by acidic seas – which are considerable.

For one, ocean acidification could wipe out a significant fraction of the world’s coral reefs – perhaps even all of them – by mid-century if we don’t curb our emissions. In late 2007, 17 marine biologists co-authored a review article in Science in which they warned that, under a worst-case emissions scenario (450 – 500 ppm and a temperature increase larger than 5.4°C), all reefs could disappear, taking up to half of all marine life with them.
Also, by inhibiting the formation of calcium carbonate shells or skeletons in phytoplankton, depressed pH levels would significantly reduce the oceans’ ability to act as a sink for carbon dioxide.

Despite the growing clamor among scientists, no steps have yet been taken to make ocean acidification a key component of future climate negotiations. At last week’s World Oceans Conference in Manado, Indonesia, delegates from 76 countries met to discuss the deplorable state of ocean and coastal areas and to draft a resolution urging the international community to put ocean acidification on the agenda of December’s Copenhagen climate meeting.

Many of these delegates represented islands and developing countries, which have the most to lose from rising sea levels and acidic waters. Couple these problems with other anthropogenic impacts, including pollution, coastal development and overfishing, and you have the makings of an imminent catastrophe.

The election of the pro-environment Obama administration gave many hope that the United States would reclaim the mantle of global leadership and push for an ambitious successor to the Kyoto Protocol. In particular, the appointment of Jane Lubchenco, a renowned marine ecologist, as President Obama’s NOAA administrator heartened many scientists concerned about the lack of focus on the oceans.

The administration’s environmental credentials are about to be put to the test, thanks to a new lawsuit filed last Friday by the Tucson, Arizona, based Center for Biological Diversity. The non-profit group is suing the EPA over its failure to acknowledge the impacts of ocean acidification on Washington’s coastal waters.

More specifically, it wants the EPA to add any waters that fail to meet federal water quality standards because of ocean acidification to its impaired list if a state does not act. When a water body is added to the list, the EPA or the state has to set limits on the amount of pollutants entering the system; in this case, it would mean reducing emission production.

Billed as the first case to tackle ocean acidification, it will test whether the reach of the Clean Water Act, under whose auspices the lawsuit was brought, extends to the regulation of carbon dioxide as a pollutant. Current EPA guidelines dictate that waters be placed on the impaired list if their pH deviates by 0.2 or more units.

A report published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences determined that the pH of Washington’s coastal waters had dropped by more than 0.2 units since 2000. Despite this, the EPA did not add Washington’s waters to its impaired list when it approved the state’s list earlier this year. The CBD had previously raised concerns during the list’s public comment period.

In recent months, the EPA has shown signs that it may be warming to the CBD’s position, initiating a public process to review its water quality criteria and invoking the Act to request more data on ocean acidification. Therefore, there is a good chance the lawsuit could force the EPA’s hand a bit and give the U.S. its first regulations for ocean acidification.


Oh, I just love this regularly regurgitated scare.

The fact of the matter is coral evolved when CO2 levels were several times higher than present.

They also seem to be forgeting that as water warms up (at least with their scenario- but the latest ARGO data suggest a cooling- but never mind- why ruin a good scare?), gas solubility decreases.

But in any case recent work by Pelejero et al (2008) shows that there is no notable trend toward lower pH values over the last 300-years. Furthermore skeletal extension and calcification rates for the Flinders Reef coral fall within the normal range for Porites and are not correlated with aragonite saturation state or pH.

Pelejero, C., Calvo, E., McCulloch, M.T., Marshall, J.F., Gagan, M.K., Lough, J.M. and Opdyke, B.N.  2005.  Preindustrial to modern interdecadal variability in coral reef pH.  Science 309: 2204-2207.


that those were different species of coral from those extant today.

Never mind that extant corals evolved to cope with lower CO2 levels and higher pH levels.

Never mind that the trend toward lower pH values is much more recent than the last 300 years.

Never mind that phlogiston has his fingers planted firmly in his ears.

Wrong again, JIm. You really should check the literature before rushing to condemn the “Denier”

It has been generally thought that scleractinian corals form purely aragonitic skeletons. We show that a well-preserved fossil coral, Coelosmilia sp. from the Upper Cretaceous (about 70 million years ago), has preserved skeletal structural features identical to those observed in present-day scleractinians. However, the skeleton of Coelosmilia sp. is entirely calcitic. Its fine-scale structure and chemistry indicate that the calcite is primary and did not form from the diagenetic alteration of aragonite. This result implies that corals, like other groups of marine, calcium carbonate–producing organisms, can form skeletons of different carbonate polymorphs.


And what was the CO2 concentration 70 million years ago?

Well let’s see about 1000ppm

A Cretaceous Scleractinian Coral with a Calcitic Skeleton (2007)

Jarosaw Stolarski,1* Anders Meibom,2 Radosaw Przenioso,3 Maciej Mazur4 Science:Vol. 318. no. 5847, pp. 92 - 94





I think Jim’s point was that 70 million years ago will take you to different era with different species of corals and to an altogether different climate than the kind that exists today.  Unlike today’s marine life, the prehistoric precursors to modern-day coral reefs had sufficient time to “adapt” to their changing climate over the course of several millions of years.  This is called evolution. 

Today the key indicators of climate change (rise of temperatures, SSTs, acidification, and atmospheric and oceanic CO2, etc.) are changing at a pace beyond anything seen in the past 800,000 years or more.  So the queston is not whether ancestors of current species of coral reefs could survive a doubling of CO2 but rather whether the current species of marine life can survive a doubling of CO2.  And ultimately–whether humans can.  That is to say, just because prehistoric coral reefs survived higher temperatures with a CO2 level at 1000 ppm a hundred million years ago doesn’t mean that every or most species of coral reefs can survive it today.  Unless they too can have several million years to “adapt” to this rapidly-changing climate via evolution as did their ancestors.   

Or as Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg would say,

Perhaps it is time for [Phlogiston] and [Jim] (but really this only applies to Phlogiston, since Jim is not disputing this widely-known scientific fact of evolution) to propose a mechanism (with solid evidence) for how physiological traits such as thermal tolerance are able to evolve fast enough to keep rate with oceans that are warming and acidifying at rates which dwarf even the most rapid changes over the last several million years.


Your evidence that the prehistoric scleractinian coral were able to thrive in acidified and CO2 abundance (1000 ppm) several million years ago (for example–and without dissolving, I suppose) is unconvincing if you are suggesting that the same situation exists in modern coral descendants, since it presupposes that an identical form of calcium carbonate skeletal structure exists in modern scleractinian coral today which can also survive extreme climate as did their prehistoric ancestors.  This is not necessarily the case.  Whereas the prehistoric form of calcium carbonate skeletal structures of the  scleractinian coral was a non-aragonite form of calcium carbonate that was internal, today’s scleractinian coral have evolved a calcium carbonate that is crystalline (aragonite form of calcium carbonate) that is external to the polyps suggesting that the skeletal structures of these modern descendants are far more fragile today than the sturdier skeletal structures that existed back then in their prehistoric ancestors.  And this is all from the study that you cited; so a matter of perspective.  Here is what Wikipedia has on this particular study:


The modern scleractinian skeleton, which lies external to the polyps that make it, is composed of calcium carbonate in the crystal form aragonite. However, a prehistoric scleractinian (Coelosimilia) had a non-aragonite calcium carbonate skeletal structure.[1]


Oh, and one last thing: the thing you mention about “the oceans are cooling” was widely circulated on the net by contrarian websites (and still is, apparently) in spite of the experts correcting for this error and reporting that the “apparent cooling” of the ocean was a mistake in November 2008.  Josh Willis of NASA, who conducted this particular study, discovered that bad data from the Argo Floats was the cause of the apparent cooling.  After correcting for these errors, Josh Willis’s observations are now in agreement all other devices, satellites, and scientists who have made this observation: that the oceans are warming.  Just thought you should know in case you weren’t aware of this fact.


The example above illustrates how preconceived notions can lead most skeptics and deniers to naively and blindly embrace any and every contradictory viewpoint or data that comes along so long as it opposes the consensus view. A more objective and skeptical mind wouldn’t have relied so heavily on a single data source to ignore every other source merely because the discrepancy it achieves happens to be compatible with a certain ideology (“The science isn’t settled!”), but would have allowed for the possibility that the all other data were perhaps right all along and maybe “oceans are cooling” was wrong. That way, once the discrepancy between Josh Willis’s and other scientists’ data has been corrected, one can freely and dispassionately accept the fact that all observations to date are showing warming oceans.

“A more objective and skeptical mind wouldn’t have relied so heavily on a single data source to ignore every other source merely because the discrepancy it achieves happens to be compatible with a certain ideology.”

Tide gauges going back many decades show no acceleration in sea level rise. However, satellite altimeter data going back only 15 years shows a more rapid rise in sea level. Instead of reconciling the discrepancies beween the two data sets, climate experts state that sea level rise is “accelerating” by comparing the apples and oranges of two different methods of measurement.

In this case, climate experts simply ignore the tidal gauges after 1993 (which continue to show no acceleration) and graft on a completely different data set (satellite altimetry) to support a certain ideology also.

In regards to the Argo data, it is natural to want to rely on it more also as it is far more accurate (or is at least evolving to be so), extensive and data rich then previous SST data.

Paul–Were the acceleration shown by satellite altimeters truly a case of comparing “apples to oranges” due to switching data sets, then the first years of satellite altimetry would not have overlapped to agree with tide gauge measurements.  It was not until a few years after the use of satellite altimeters that this acceleration in sea level rise was observed.  

Tide gauges are less accurate than satellite altimeters because they measure sea height relative to the tide gauge, which in turn could be affected by shifting land mass or sinking elevations where the measurement occurs (among other disadvantages, such as the fact that sea level is falling in some parts of the ocean and rising in other parts).  Satellite altimeters are superior to tide gauges because they measure ocean height or surface from space relative to the Earth’s center, but both are used today. 

Given that it was only after some years of overlap that this difference between satellite altimeters and tide gauges became apparent, the notion of “comparing apples to oranges” is  not valid in this context. 

Sorry barbiplease, but I can’t buy your explanation.

You claim the tidal gauges are inaccurate but then use the tidal gauge data to show that it is in sync with the satellite data in the first years of satellite operation. So is the data good or is it bad?

If the tidal gauge data is as bad as you claim, it’s correlation with the satellite data during the inital periods has no statistical validity; the initial correlation is meaningless. Which means calibration of the TOPEX measurements with faulty data (as you claim) from the tidal gauges can not be done.

 What that leaves us with then is satellite data from 1993 that shows no acceleration.

University of Colorado graph:

Sea Level Rise Since 1993


Simply because tide gauge measurements aren’t as accurate as satellite altimetry doesn’t mean that they have no statistical validity whatsoever. Historical records of accelerated sea level rise have been documented for 200 years using tide gauge measurements alone.  So they’re not as “bad” as whatever you suppose that I claim.


The initial correlation between satellite altimetry and tide gauge measurements does indeed have statistical validity.  The evidence from proxy data indicates that between 0 A.D. and 1800s, sea level changed very little but began to rise some time in the 19th century, according to tide gauge measurements.  The evidence indicates that the steric component (ocean thermal heating) from global warming made the largest contribution to sea level rise over most of the late 19th-20th century at an average rate of 1.0 mm/year during the late 19th century to 2.0 mm/year during the 20th century.  Currently, the acceleration is over 3.0 mm/year.  An increase in ocean mass due to land ice melt from global warming combined with steric contribution accounts for the most recent acceleration of 3.2 mm/year.  The most recent acceleration actually began prior to 1993 and thus prior to satellite altimetry, but the evidence indicates that this acceleration was partially masked by volcanic eruptions during the mid to latter half of the 20th century.  Were it not for these volcanic eruptions and other natural variations, it is very likely that this additional acceleration of SLR would have been detected by tide gauge measurements prior to satellite altimetry.  


But whatever the case, your University of Colorado graph offers little insight as to your claims about tidal gauge data prior to 1993 having statistical validity or not or whether SLR after 1993 shows no acceleration since it graphs only satellite measurements (e.g. TOPEX and Jason I) without tide gauge data for comparison.  And if you look at the start year, the time series starts at 1993.  How do you figure disproving acclerated sea rise after 1993  if the years prior to 1993 to compare the accleration with is excluded from the graph?



A graph showing tidal gauges and satellite altimeters.  Click image for “A Broader View of Sea Level Rise”


Now you are using three completely independent datasets in an attempt to prove your point. Salt-marsh peat samples to the 1850’s, tidal gauges from 1856 to the mid 1990’s and satellite data from 1993 to present. The overlap of each dataset is extremely short suggesting the validity of the correlation may be suspect.

Secondly, the acceleration claimed by the study occurred in the late 19th century, well before the effects of AGW could have influenced results.


The graph above uses two (not three) independent data sets: tide gauges measurements and satellite altimetry.  As shown above, a slight overlap exists in the beginning years of satellite altimetry in the early 1990s.  Not sure where you see data from salt-marsh peat samples in the graph.  The graph only includes data from tide gauge measurements and satellite altimeters.

If the validity of the extremely short correlations between tide gauge measurements and satellite altimeters are suspect, perhaps you are looking for an exact data match between two vastly different technologies.  Correlations of this kind may not even be possible given the vast differences in precision between the two data sources.  Nevertheless, considering these technological and methodological differences in calibrations, the limited coverage of tide gauge data, and the limitations of tide gauge measurements to measure absolute sea height, the linear trends recorded by both tide gauges and satellite altimeters are such that a reasonable and a statistically significant correlation exists between the two independent data sets (irrespective of whether or not an exact overlap exists between the two data sets however briefly) given these inherent limitations we are working with.  The difference we are talking about is very slight (roughly +/- 1.4 mm/year, which is likely to be obscured, exaggerated, overcome, or vary from year-to-year due to natural variations (i.e. ENSO, solar activity, volcanic eruptions, etc.), changing shorelines where the tide gauge instruments are docked, and the overall inadequacies of tide gauge measurements to determine absolute sea height to begin with.

Here is a very limited sample taken from salt-marsh peat data, which also shows a remarkable correlation when you consider the vastly different methodologies utilized for obtaining measurements from proxy data as opposed to modern tide gauge measurements:



As you can see, an exact linear “match” (correlation) exists for a half century between two independent data sets when looking at their trend lines (salt-marsh peat samples (red line) and tide gauge data (black line) in Connecticut from 1850-1900).  However, the data from these two sets begin to diverge somewhat noticeably after the 20th century. How do we account for this sudden divergence, discrepancy, and ever-widening gap in calibrations?  Are we to conclude from the above that one or the other data sets is bad (or that correlations between the two data sets are spurious or no longer valid)?  That is my impression of your reaction to differences between satellite altimetry “vs.” tide gauge measurements or other data sources.

Insofar as proxy data (as above), I do not consider 50 years of correlation to be an extremely short overlap as you contend although do see how the very short overlap between satellite and tide gauge data could be argued as invalid or statistically insignificant given the short time frame.  That being said, I do not consider the extremely short exact correlation between satellite altimeters and tide gauge data to be terribly problematic or arbitrary.  At any rate, I think it is unreasonable to expect precise correlations to be found between various kinds of technology from different ages of technological advancement and precision.  There may never be a way to remove this slight discrepancy unless the technology for tide gauges are improved upon (or are otherwise linked to GPS tracking systems to track for shifting elevations or locations where the tide gauges are mounted.  Or were more tide gauges installed and monitored throughout the globe for greater area coverage extending beyond the shore lines).  

Secondly, the acceleration claimed by the study occurred in the late 19th century, well before the effects of AGW could have influenced results.

I’m not sure which study you are referencing above.  Evidence suggests that sea level initially began to rise by 0.5-1.0 mm/year with the onset of the Industrial Period.  This was after two millenia of little to no change in sea level.  SLR began to accelerate to 2.0 mm/year over the course of the 20th century and then accelerate further to 3 mm/year toward the latter half of the 20th century to the present.

The onset of the Industrial Age varies depending on the source (starting anywhere from 1600-1900 depending on the discipline), but from a climatological standpoint this acceleration was perceptible by the latter half of the 19th century (if not prior). Between 1870-2004, global-averaged sea level rose almost 20 cm, with an average rate of rise of about 1.7 mm/yr over the 20th Century.  This is quite a dramatic change after two full millenia of little to no change in sea level. I suspect that the acceleration will increase even more rapidly now that land ice melt is adding to sea level rise.  Recent data indicates that contributions from land ice melt from Greenland and Antarctica are beginning to overtake the contributions made by thermal expansion and hence the the most recent acceleration.

I am not aware of the lag time (if any) between AGW and sea level rise but would guess that it would be no more than a few decades at most, thus giving ample time for the effects of AGW to result in sea level rise.  Contrary to your claim, the Industrial Period, the widescale burning of fossil fuel, and AGW began many decades prior to the late 19th century.

Thanks for your response barbiplease. I got the reference to the peat sample data from Donnelly 2004 which was a link from the site your graph is posted at.

Donnelly 2004 does say however, that:

“the nearly three-fold increase in the regional rate of SLR to modern levels likely occurred in the later half of the 19th century.”

Also of note is that whenever the method to determine sea level rise is changed, the rate of sea level rise increases. That, along with the short “coupling” period does raise questions.


Here is the abstract (Donnelly et al 2004,”Coupling instrumental and geological records of sea-level change: Evidence from southern New England of an increase in the rate of sea-level rise in the late 19th century” (pdf)):


“We construct a high-resolution relative sea-level record for the past 700 years by dating basal salt-marsh peat samples above a glacial erratic in an eastern Connecticut salt marsh, to test whether or not the apparent recent acceleration in the rate of sea-level rise (SLR) is coeval with climate warming. The data reveal an average SLR rate of 1.0 ± 0.2 mm/year from about 1300 to 1850 A.D. Coupling of the regional tide-gauge data (1856 to present) with this marsh-based record indicates that the nearly three-fold increase in the regional rate of SLR to modern levels likely occurred in the later half of the 19th century. Thus the timing of the observed SLR rate increase is coincident with the onset of climate warming, indicating a possible link between historic SLR increases and recent temperature increases.

Sorry that this is a bit longish.  I try to keep my words down to a bare minimum but am never good at summarizing my thoughts when responding to responses.  I still have others to respond to because I rather enjoy the learning process and the intellectual challenge that comes with fact-checking various studies or claims.  Here is my interpretation of the data:

According to Donnelly et al (2004), accelerated sea level rise (SLR) has been observed worldwide since the beginning of tide gauge records in the 1850s.  As such this accelerated SLR must have had its onset some time prior to official tide gauge records, and that human activity is likely to have influenced this acceleration prior to the 1850s  [e.g., Donnelly 2004? or Nydick et al., 1995; Varekamp and Thomas, 1998?  That is my question]. To test this hypothesis, it was necessary to differentiate natural from human-induced changes in climate and sea level rise by extending historical tide gauge records further back to 700 years ago to include proxy data from peat excavated from salt marsh sediments.  

Based on this data (via analysis of stratiography to identify and carbon-date the various flora, fauna, heavy metals, pollen, and other fossilized remains deposited in the various layers of peat sediment), Donnelly et al determined that SLR occurred at an average rate of ~1.0 mm/year between ~1300-1850.  According to local tide gauge data, however, SLR averaged 2.8 mm/year between 1856–2001 A.D. suggesting that an increase in the rate of SLR took place some time after the previous 1.0 mm/year from ~1300-1850.  This acceleration in rate of sea level rise is also supported by marsh-based data, which indicate (and/or confirm) that (in chronological order):


–All basal peat samples going back to 700 years BP contained Spartina patens (Sp) or both Juncus gerardi (Jg) and Sp remains.  The mean elevation for these fossil remains ranged from 4.0-6.7 [m?] ± 7.8-10.6 cm above MHW (mean high water)..  [What that means, I am not sure what it means but moving on..].

–The initial rise in Rumex spp. pollen (a native weed) ( 46.5 to  50.5 cm) coincides with land clearance for agriculture between 1650 and 1700 A.D.[Clark and Patterson, 1985; Donnelly et al., 2001].

–The appearance of Plantago lanceolata (an introduced species) between 32.5 and 35.5 cm (Figure 3) suggests deposition in the early 19th century [Clark and Patterson, 1985].

–Increases in the concentration of Pb [lead] and Cu [copper] at 23.5 to 27.5 cm (Figure 3) suggest that this interval was deposited during the onset of the industrial period (1850–1900 A.D.) [Bricker-Urso et al., 1989; Donnelly et al., 2001].

–An increase in the rate of SLR at this time [beginning around ~1870] is also supported by the onset of transgressive migration of low-marsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) into the high marsh in the region [Donnelly and Bertness, 2001].

–This evidence of an increase in the rate of SLR in the late 19th century differs from previous findings of ‘‘single core’’ studies from Connecticut marshes that argued for an initiation of higher SLR rates prior to the 19th century [e.g., Nydick et al., 1995; Varekamp and Thomas, 1998].  [Previous studies were interpreted to indicate that “the recent increase in the rate of SLR initiated in the 16th century A.D. and accelerated around 1800 A.D.[e.g., Varekamp and Thomas, 1998]. However, these studies have been criticized for not accounting for vertical displacement due to peat autocompaction” (Donnelly 2004).  That is to say, by avoided areas where vertical displacement could occur, Donnelly et al accounted for peat autocompaction and thus differ in their conclusions in that this recent increase in rate of SLR had its onset in late 19th century rather than the 16th or 18th century as reported in previous studies].

–The likely increase in the rate of SLR in the late 19th century A.D. is roughly coincident in time with climate warming observed in both instrumental and proxy records [e.g., Mann et al., 1998; Pollack et al., 1998]. The results indicate that this recent increase in the rate of SLR may be associated with recent warming of the global climate system.

There is only so much information about sea level rise that we can extrapolate from proxy data such as peat sample data.  However, based on this data alone, I think it is reasonable to couple it with tide gauge data if only to make a comparison between two independent data sets for a point of reference.

Donnelly’s “coupling” of marsh-based data (~1400-Present) with tide-gauge data (1856-Present) raises questions for me but not in a suspicious way as it seems to do for you.  That is to say, while I certainly don’t claim to be a climate expert, I think that I am scientifically-informed enough to know that the sources that cite or publish this particular study (CSIRO, etc.) are highly credible sources such that I am satisfied with the credibility of the results and conclusions of the study itself.  However, as an intelligent layperson with very little background in biology or paleoclimatology, the paper does present certain questions of a technical (or perhaps semantic) kind for me such as why does the paper initially claim that human activity may have influenced accelerated SLR prior to the 19th century when it concludes that accelerated SLR began in the late 19th century?  

It is very possible that I may have misinterpreted the paper’s introduction by assuming that Donnelly, et al 2004 are maintaining two logically incompatible truth-claims simultaneously (e.g., that human-caused climate change accelerated SLR prior to as well as beginning in the late 19th century).  So my question has to do with semantics and correctly interpreting the data as a non-expert rather than with questioning the validity of the study as a climate non-expert.  Of course, you may well be a biology and climate expert so that you can evaluate the errors in the study better than I.  All I can say that I am somewhat more informed on climate change than your average Joe the Plumber-type.  But considering that this study is cited in CSIRO and elsewhere, I assume that it was rigorously peer-reviewed.  So I’ve no reason to suspect that Donnelly et al are engaged in some kind of trickery (i.e., by merely embellishing the peat sample data with tide gauge data to make it seem as if the peat sample data is in agreement with tide gauge data and the AGW theory).  

The chronology of the stratiography above should be sufficient to show that the correlations between peat sample data and tide gauge data are valid and real such that the coupling of this data with tide gauge records would be appropriate and necessary.  After all, you can’t get any more “real” than actual artifacts (both natural and man-made) that are dug up from the Earth, analyzed, and carbon-dated to show the presence of a species of weeds at a certain elevation and time interval (indicating the clearing of land by European settlers between 1650-1700), grass migrations dating to 1870s (indicating accelerated SLR), or that an increase of copper and lead was found at x-depth (indicating that at x-interval (carbon-dated to late 19th century), human-caused climate change due to industrialization may have initiated the most recent acceleration in SLR).  

So my question is not the study’s credibility but only my interpretation of the first portion of the data.  As for the coupling of data, I think it is necessary since “We need it all,” after all: we need to compare all valid historical, instrumental, and proxy data from as many independent and diverse sources and methodologies as possible in order to meaningfully evaluate the proxy data and to refine our understanding of climate. (With the exception perhaps of those data that are truly “questionable,” such as the kind cited from non-peer reviewed or soft-reviewed publications (i.e. Energy and Environment, which poses as legitimate objective science but has a well-known political agenda).

But back to your initial comment, the only truly direct way to measure ocean height and current rate of global sea level rise is globally via satellite altimetry.  This too is an emerging technology with its own set of limitations and issues (such as possible orbital drifting from a directed path or the not as-yet optimal margin of error included in the satellite data).  But so too are other data sources hampered by limitations and issues peculiar to them.

On the surface, tide gauges may appear to be more “direct” since unlike satellites, tide gauges are “on location” (so to speak) by being in direct contact with the ocean water.  Yet it is precisely for this reason that tide gauges can only provide a local or regional perspective on sea level rise but not a global perspective on ocean height and mean global SLR.  

But where on Earth exactly is the ocean located?  Seems like pretty much almost everywhere (70% of the Earth’s entire mass or surface area?).  Obviously, tide gauges are inadequate for providing a global perspective since the rate of SLR isn’t uniformly spread throughout the globe to give the same reading everywhere.  In addition, the ocean encompasses a much greater surface area than the shorelines of coastal cities where the tide gauges are situated.  Thus it is the relative distance from Earth and freedom of directed movement by humans that a satellite can offer a global perspective of ocean height and SLR via monitoring a much greater area of ocean surface (approximately 95% of the total ocean surface is monitored by satellite altimetry; the remaining 5% is obscured by ice).  For this reason, data from satellite altimeters are likely to differ from data from other instruments but is also likely to be more accurate than these older technologies.  

Whereas tide gauges are constrained by space or location in space (making them stationary and regional, not global) proxy data such as peat sample data are constrained by time (so are temporally-bound to the past).  Satellite altimeters are not constrained so much by space and time but still require the coupling with other data sources for a fuller picture of what is going on globally in the present.  Since sea level is not globally uniform and the rate of SLR varies widely depending on the location (not to mention that tide gauges are subject to changes in land elevations from pumping water out of the ground, earthquakes, deglaciations and other factors causing shifts in land elevation), they can only go so far in terms of accuracy or offshore but do not encompass the entire ocean.

After all, how do we expect something like this

schematic of a tide gauge

To measure something like this


Satellite altimeters vs. tide gauge


(Click “play” to see satellite altimetry tracking of global sea level rise over time).  

Note the many changes in sea level in mid-ocean recorded by satellite altimeters which are not being monitored by tide gauges.  That’s because tide gauges are located at piers along shore lines.  So there is no question in my mind that data from satellite altimeters differ from tide gauge data no matter how closely they are calibrated initially to agree with other data sources. (Not to say that that is how these satellites are programmed or calibrated, since the initial correlations with other data sources may have been coincidental). So in spite of these slight differences in measurement, I would say that a 1.4 mm/year discrepancy between rates of SLR between tide gauges and satellite altimeters is not at all surprising given the vast area that tide gauges do not monitor. So I would say that satellite altimeters differ in their results but are more accurate than tide gauges which merely extend to the length of a pier and cannot provide a global perspective of changes.



Also of note is that whenever the method to determine sea level rise is changed, the rate of sea level rise increases. That, along with the short “coupling” period does raise questions.

I would say that yes, the rate of sea level rise has changed (increased significantly) at least once in recent history but more likely twice: first, with ocean thermal expansion due to rising temperatures with the onset of human-induced global warming beginning 150-200 years ago and then once again with the added contributions of land ice melt from Greenland and West Antarctica beginning in the latter half of the 20th century.  The most recent acceleration in SLR is evidently the result of two centuries of persistent and ongoing global warming inevitably triggering some positive feedback mechanisms perhaps.  SLR is likely to continue to accelerate as global warming triggers more positive feedbacks and an irreversible tipping point is approached.  It appears that we are at that juncture now: hence the recent melting of land ice in addition to an increase in ocean heat content and thermal expansion adding to sea level rise.

I would also maintain that yes, the onset of statistically-significant SLR and later acceleration of SLR happens to coincide with the arrival of new technology (initially with the introduction of tide gauges whose arrival coincided with the initial onset of AGW and SLR due to ocean thermal expansion and AGW, although centuries would pass before AGW and ocean thermal expansion would be linked to rising sea levels).  By coincidence, satellite altimetry arrived just in time to document the secondary (most recent) phase of accelerated SLR due to land ice melt contributions.  So I think you are incorrect to assert that “whenever the method to determine sea level rise is changed, the rate of sea level rise increases” because that would suggest that sea level didn’t really “change’; just the instruments changed but not the sea level itself.  

It is likely that with so much research currently focused on climate change throughout the world, improvements to satellite altimetry or perhaps an altogether new system or technology will emerge to replace satellite altimeters to track and monitor global sea level rise more accurately.  As with the previous two accelerations in SLR, I predict that this new technology will emerge at the very moment when the next significant acceleration is scheduled to occur so as to document it, but may possibly be criticized for the very same reasons that present technologies and methodologies are being criticized today by skeptics or deniers of human-caused climate change. 

I would be curious to see a graph of just tide gauge data alone from 1856-Present to confirm that the rate of sea level rise is still at 1.8 mm/year.  If so, I would suspect that even tide gauges would eventually begin showing accelerated SLR.  As for the initial correlation between the peat marsh data and tide gauge data and the later discrepancies noted (see graph comparing peat marsh data with tide gauges), it’s not like tide gauges emerged on the scene one day to replace 700 years of solid proxy data research.  This study–while focused on the paleo-cllimate–took place in 2004 so did not precede the tide gauge data, although its findings are likely to be less precise than tide gauge data since peat sample data are not direct measurements of the sea level but are an indirect way of assessing it via analysis of the peat marsh itself–which is not the ocean so is likely not to explain everything about SLR.

There’s a lot to digest in your posts barbiplease. I’ll read it more thoroughly first before posting a response.

Ok, finally time for a reply.

“The data reveal an average SLR rate of 1.0 ± 0.2 mm/year from about 1300 to 1850 A.D. Coupling of the regional tide-gauge data (1856 to present) with this marsh-based record indicates that the nearly three-fold increase in the regional rate of SLR to modern levels likely occurred in the later half of the 19th century.”

How long of a time period is this “coupling”? If it is very short (as I suspect it is) then less credibility can be given to the 3x increase in SLR supposedly detected in the late 19th century.

A much more credible method would be to show the marsh-based record and tidal gauge record independently. Let the two records runs in tandem for as many years as possible. But the fact that a 3x increase in SLR is supposedly detected at the precise moment the method of measurement changes, leaves me skeptical.

“So there is no question in my mind that data from satellite altimeters differ from tide gauge data no matter how closely they are calibrated initially to agree with other data sources.”

Agreed, and another reason not to couple the two data sets. But without coupling them, no claim of an accelerated SLR from the early 1990’s can be claimed. As we all know, tidal gauges DO NOT show an acceleration in SLR since the early 1990’s.

So to end off, I’m left at where I began … somewhat skeptical of the belief that SLR has ramped up appreciably in the last 150 years.

The short coupling period is too convenient but not sufficiently robust scientifically and the fact the rapid increase in SLR appears anytime the method of measurement is radically changed leaves me wondering why these scientists themselves are not more cautious about what they claim the data is showing them. Myself, as a layperson, remain unconvinced.

Paul, you’d be skeptical of the existence of gravity even if you saw a rock being dropped off a cliff.


Click here for bigger image:

The study only discusses the time when the rate of SLR begins to accelerate, which it concludes began in the late 19th century when it increased three-fold, rather than the 16th or 18th century as previously reported.  The previous study was criticized for failing to account for peat autocompaction.  After accounting for peat autocompaction, this study concludes that the onset of SLR acceleration occurred in the late 19th century.  This correlates with tide gauge measurements taken from the same period as shown in the graph above although the graph seems to suggest that this acceleration began around 1850 so mid-19th century, but perhaps the study regards 1850 as “late 19th century” rather than mid.  

The study does not say how long this correlation between the two data sets agree or when peat marsh data and tide gauge data begin to diverge. Based strictly on my interpretation of the graph above from CSIRO (which if I recall is data taken from the same study), correlations between peat marsh data samples and tide gauge measurements looks like a pretty long time, about 50 years from 1850-1900.  

It still correlates even now.  Just not as precisely, but I think that this type of slight divergence is  inevitable between any two data sets over time whenever one data source utilizes a different methodology or technology from that of another which may be slightly less precise than the other.  How can it be otherwise?

Based on your logic, this long correlation of two records running in tandem reinforces conventional scientific thinking that this acceleration occurred at the onset of the Industrial Revolution in the mid to late 19th century beginning around 1850.

I’m not sure what you mean by “short coupling period” with respect to the peat marsh study.  Tidal gauge records go back to the 1850s in CT, if I recall, and the graph shows a 50-year correlation between the two data sets.    Are you demanding that tide gauge records go back further in time to 700 years?  I think you are being unreasonable in your skepticism.  There is always going to be a degree of uncertainty in every kind of data set that exists (whether analyzed as an isolated unit of measurement or coupled or combined with other data sets).  That’s why combining as many methodologies and data sets as possible is necessary to get a fuller picture. When seen in isolation, there is higher ambiguity or uncertainty.  But when taken all together–everything points unequivocally to human activity through the burning of fossil fuels beginning at the onset of the Industrial Period as the start of this acclerated global warming and climate change.  It takes a tremendous amount of denial to deny that.

Seems like you are looking for a way to refute the data or are simply not “seeing” it. 

Thanks for the more detailed explanation barbiplease. The short coupling period I refer to is in regards to the tidal gauge data and satellite data. I may disagree with your use of the word “unequivocal” but will strive to remain open-minded on the subject.


Another thing to consider (rather than immediately suspect satellite altimeters of error or foul play by only comparing them to less accurate tide gauges) is to observe the dramatic changes that have been occurring in changing land mass from glacial ice melt worldwide over the past 10 years.  Between 1993-2003, contributions by land ice melt and ocean thermal expansion to sea level rise averaged to be about 50/50.   Land ice melt surpassed ocean thermal heat as the largest contributor to sea level rise approximately 10 years ago, and today land ice melt accounts for 80% of SLR.  This correlates well with accelerated SLR recorded by satellite altimeters since 1993–but not nearly so well with tide gauge data by comparison which have shown no increase in rate of SLR since 1993.  

There’s also been a measurable increase in ocean volume caused by land ice melt within the same time frame recorded by GRACE satellites beginning roughly a decade ago.  This confirms that land ice melt began adding to SLR roughly 10 years ago if not prior.  This correlates well with satellite altimeter data but not with tide gauge data.

There’s also been an ongoing melting of sea ice via both thinning and extent of year-round summer Arctic sea ice, which is turning into seasonal ice and melting in warmer months (which does not add to ocean mass but can indirectly add to SLR via loss of albedo reflection and ocean warming causing thermal expansion).  Please see note on “Corrections” below in response to Iron Man/Athelete.

Satellites monitor 95% of the total ocean surface every 10 days.  What is the percentage of the ocean surface coverage by tide gauges?  Recent bottom water warming of the deep ocean has been observed in different parts of the deep ocean.  This would lead to thermal expansion from the deep ocean and rise in sea level somewhere in the middle of the ocean where the water is deepest, but perhaps not at the coast where the tide gauges are.

So which data source is more reliable when you consider all the evidence?  Do the observations fit the tide gauge data?  

The oceans are warming since 2003? What toal garbage. Better read your link again. Neither Willis or your link say any such thing. In fact there’s a graph in your link that uses the revised data and it still shows ocean cooling since 2003. You’re obviously not familiar with Willis’s “Corrections to cooling in the upper ocean” or Loehle et al 2009. I would link to these and other studies but the spam filter here will not allow me to post when I provide links.

Posted in reply to Athlete

Quite a thoughtful, but ultimately flawed and unreferenced response to my previous post by Barbiplease.


Let’s look at your main points

1) “Today the key indicators of climate change (rise of temperatures, SSTs, acidification, and atmospheric and oceanic CO2, etc.) are changing at a pace beyond anything seen in the past 800,000 years or more.”

Contrary to what you state, the evidence shows that much more rapid climatic change has occurred in the past- and within the time-frame you state. Thus

“climate shifts up to half as large as the entire difference between ice age and modern conditions occurred over hemispheric or broader regions in mere years to decades.”

Alley, R.B.  2000.  Ice-core evidence of abrupt climate changes.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 97: 1331-1334.


2) “So the question is not whether ancestors of current species of coral reefs could survive a doubling of CO2 but rather whether the current species of marine life can survive a doubling of CO2.”

Herfort et al. (2008), note (correctly) that an increase in atmospheric CO2 will cause an increase in the abundance of HCO3- (bicarbonate) ions and dissolved CO2. However contrary to your (unsupported) premise they show that their “work revealed that additions of HCO3- to seawater continued to increase the calcification rate of Porites porites until the bicarbonate concentration exceeded three times that of seawater, while photosynthetic rates of the coral’s symbiotic algae were stimulated by HCO3- addition until they became saturated at twice the normal HCO3- concentration of seawater.”

Herfort, L., Thake, B. and Taubner, I. 2008. Bicarbonate stimulation of calcification and photosynthesis in two hermatypic corals. Journal of Phycology 44: 91-98.


3) “Unlike today’s marine life, the prehistoric precursors to modern-day coral reefs had sufficient time to “adapt” to their changing climate over the course of several millions of years.  This is called evolution.”

It is, indeed and can be extremely rapid- as it has to be to survive in what can be (and has been in the past) a rapidly changing World.

Take this conclusion from Harmon et al (2009) “evolution can occur so rapidly that it cannot be ignored, even in the short term.”

Harmon, J.P., Moran, N.A. and Ives, A.R. 2009. Species response to environmental change: Impacts of food web interactions and evolution. Science 323: 1347-1350.

Moreover there is increasing evidence that your beloved “modern” corals have repeatedly have lost and reacquired skeletons as conditions favorable to calcification waned and waxed.

The Origins of Modern Corals

Stanley, G.B. and Daphne, G. F.(2001) The Origins of Modern Corals. Vol. 291. no. 5510, pp. 1913 – 1914.


Over to you.





I’ve been busy but am glad that my response has generated a few more responses.  I still have to fact-check your sources, but here are my preliminary thoughts to your comments:

While I appreciate your efforts to reference your responses with certain peer-reviewed studies, I frankly don’t feel compelled to do the same as I am not the one who is trying to debunk the science: you are.  As such the burden of proof is on you and other skeptical contrarians to refute legitimate science on the role of human-caused global climate change on the current rapid changes.  So “show me the evidence” (as they say in the court of public opinion).

As to your references, I suppose that this is what you have for evidence.  I’m not familiar with those studies and do not have access to full reports from scientific publications beyond the abstracts themselves.  So I may have to take your “word” for it that you believe what you believe, but am doubtful that you have anything that has not already been considered at length and rejected by due scientific process.  Especially given that the two other studies that you offered as evidence to refute the consensus were found to be either obsolete (e.g. the NASA study that previously reported ocean cooling) or irrelevant (but taken out of context to disprove the fragility of modern coral reef skeletal structures by pointing to ancient corals with calcium-rich “bones” that had once evolved to thrive in ancient green acidic oceans when a natural greenhouse effect was in effect).  Neither of these studies contradict but actually reinforce the vast and ever-growing body of scientific evidence that continues to mount for human activity as the primary cause for the current changes that we are witnessing globally.  Not to say that I blame you for being defensive as I’d probably be the same way too (defensive and touchy about my knowledge of science) if I were to start out with such a forgone scientific conclusion and were in a position to have to defend this position or ideology to the end at all cost no matter how ridiculous from a rational standpoint.

By contrast, what I’ve posted thus far is pretty elementary and “mainstream” and can be supported in abundance in the vast body of scientific literature that currently exists.   To cite these many studies specifically is beyond the scope of this work and redundant at best, since they are widely understood and since this is m erely a comment to a blog and not some kind of dissertation.  Should you need specific materials for evidence or “proof,” my suggestion is to google the various unreferenced quotes, names, and phenomena that I’ve posted and or look them up on Google Scholar, the IPCC website, or maybe the “Global Warming 101” course that they offer here at Desmog Blog for intelligent laypersons who are unfamilar with the history of climate science and the current state of climate change. This goes for 1) as well, “Today the key indicators of climate change … . are changing at a pace beyond anything seen in the past 800,000 years or more,” but only so long as it is understood in context that we are not disputing that many abrupt climate changes have occurred in the past, but are merely acknowledging the overwhelming evidence that continues to implicate human activity during the Anthropocene as the primary cause of the current climate change.  Which, unlike previous abrupt climate changes, cannot be accounted for by natural variations, cycles, or by freak erratic accidents of nature alone without including “man” as part of these “natural variations” and freak or erratic accidents of a natural kind.  In a certain sense it is somewhat erratic, since what we have essentially done is taken 300 million years of carbon vegetation and injected it all into the atmosphere in 200 years via the burning of fossil fuels–but I wouldn’t call it “natural.” 

Thus, while I applaud your efforts to reference your claims with peer reviewed studies, you seem to have missed the “big picture” of science which says that human activity is “very likely” (over 90%) to be the cause of the current climate crisis.  This is up from “likely” (over 66%) from just a few years ago in 2005.  Of course, there is no way to ever know with absolute certainty (with 100% accuracy) that human activity is the “cause” for specific events such as the disintegration or bleaching of coral reefs, ocean acidification, and rising atmospheric and oceanic temperatures to name but a few changes occurring right now, yet I am highly suspicious of those who take advantage of scientific uncertainty manipulate this uncertainty to offer some fringe counter theory as an alternative to the currently accepted view that human GHGs and, in particular–industrial CO2 emissions–are the cause of the current rapid changes.  Thus while acknowledging scientific uncertainty of these events in the absolute sense, we should not overlook the more obvious fact that when taken all together, it is no longer scientifically tenable to continue sticking our heads in the sand and pretend that these rapid changes don’t exist or dismiss them all as unrelated natural variations caused by numerous different complex physical processses working independently of each other and occurring simultaneously since time immemorial and independently of humans.  

Occam’s Razor would dictate that once other explanations have been sufficiently investigated and refuted and eliminated by the scientific method, that we consider the possibility of a common underlying cause or mechanism that can simplify and replace these numerous alternative theories based on a variety of independent but different natural variations with the exception of man and human GHGs to explain the motion of  these chains of events were it not for man to trigger and disrupt these natural processes via human interference by the burning of fossil fuels and triggering some “tipping point” that is then irreversible.  And given that abrupt climate changes have occurred in the past without humans interfering with the climate, this revelation should not be cause for celebration to continue “business as usual” but be all the more reason to assume that the Earth’s ecosystem is far more sensitive to human interference with climate than previously assumed and taken for granted as a “right” to pollute.  Thus, reinforcing the current scientific thinking and recommendation for mitigation of CO2 emissions–not negating the consensus or resigning ourselves to a certain fate which is only inevitable if and only if we fail (or failed) to act on scientific warnings in a timely manner because of endless debate and delay.  Could be–it’s already too late.  But even then, even if it is too late for humanity as a whole, the less CO2 we put into the atmosphere, the better off our chldren and grandchildren will be when they are forced to deal with this catastrophic climate change.  

Given the overwhelming empirical evidence that supports AGW and the fact that we cannot replicate these past climate changes under the current scenario with sophisticated climate model simulations unless the contributions of human activity via the burning of fossil fuels are included in these calculations, and that contrarian viewpoints appear biased on the whole to exclude the role of humans and carbon emissions whatsoever by focusing on paleoclimatology, I cannot trust your ability to meaningfully evaluate, contextualize, and integrate your referenced material into a coherent and integrated whole (although, to be sure, we can’t rule out the possibility of freak accidents of nature such as the eruption of a supervolcano, giant wandering wormhole tunnels, asteroid collisions, or some new exotic physics to explain them, but I prefer to defer to the experts in mainstream science than rely on contrarian viewpoints apeing as skeptical scientists who appear to approach their inquiry with certain forgone conclusions and unspoken agendas).


Phlogiston: Whenever 1) abrupt climate change results in 3) rapid evolution, this generally means that a major disruption has occurred in the ecosystem and that many organisms and species have died or have gone extinct in response to rapid climate change.  Only those species that possess a certain genetic advantage to adapt to the changed climate will survive (in which case, such species had already adapted genetically as a whole prior to the onset of rapid climate change.  Which means that rapid evolution for the species itself would be unlikely having sufficiently undergone it, although evolution would continue on at a normal pace).  So with respect to rapid evolution and abrupt climate change, we are referring to the elimination of a once-dominant gene or trait that had previously provided a genetic advantage to the species as a whole prior to the onset of rapid climate change.  The elimination of this once-dominant trait represents the death of most of the species, and the survival of a very few lucky individual organisms possessing a mutant gene via random mutation or recessive genetic trait at the time of the onset of the rapid climate change.  Only those individual organisms possessing the genetic mutation or recessive trait would survive to repopulate the species to become the dominant trait.  Thus “evolutionary progress” is a double-edged sword in that with rapid evolution, many species of corals may have repeatedly lost and reacquired skeletons as conditions favorable to them waxed and waned.  Yet it is still the case that the “lost” skeletons were not simply discarded by the corals in exchange for a different skeleton when conditions became unfavorable but rather the corals possessing those skeletons died too.  Thus the “lost skeleton” represents a once-dominant gene or trait that was eliminated from the gene pool with the massive dying-off of a large percentage of individuals or corals possessing those skeletons.  How this massive die-off and evolutionary “progress” impacts the food chain, the ocean, and the ecosystem as a whole is uncertain, but is likely to have a negative, not positive, impact for humans.

Phlogiston:  Your reference to 2) Herfort et al 2008 appears to be invalid in this context as well.  The study appears to be a controlled bicarbonate (HCO3) enrichment experiment that was done to argue that increased carbon dioxide and ocean acidification doesn’t harm corals (or at least interpreted that way in the CO2 Science website).  Ocean acidification is the result of declining pH caused by the uptake of atmospheric CO2.  The parameter that determines acidity is pH, not bicarbonation.  Since the Herfort et al. kept their pH constant at 8.2 across all treatments but enriched it with bicarbonation instead, their results are totally irrelevant to the major problems of ocean acidification and acidosis of cellular mechanisms such as photosynthesis.

My apologies, Barbiplease, I missed your last point


that the oceans are warming.  Just thought you should know in case you weren’t aware of this fact”


Maybe, they are but not as much as you would like to think….


Carson et al (2008) “most of the ocean does not have significant 50-year trends at the 90% confidence level and only 30% of the ocean at 50 meters has 90% CL trends and the percentage decreases significantly with increasing depth.” In comparison with prior calculated trends, they also note that “trends based on the more interpolated analysesshow more warming.”


Well that IS a surprise!


Carson, M. and Harrison, D.E. 2008. Is the upper ocean warming? Comparisons of 50-year trends from different analyses. Journal of Climate 21: 2259-2268.



And if it is, it is nothing out of the ordinary. I don’t even need to quote from this paper- the title says it all….


Hobson, V.J., McMahon, C.R., Richardson, A. and Hays, G.C. 2008. Ocean surface warming: The North Atlantic remains within the envelope of previous recorded conditions. Deep-Sea Research I 55: 155-162.

Simply because confidence level in ocean heat decreases significantly with increasing depth does not mean that the long-term trend overall isn’t ocean warming.  It merely means that the ocean is akin to a very vast and deep pot of water that takes a long time to “boil.” 

The long-term trend is still ocean warming, the sea is still rising, and satellites measuring for net flux energy at the top of the Earth’s atmosphere still show a positive radiative imbalance.  This imbalance means that more solar energy is coming in than going out, and that it is likely that much of this solar energy is being trapped by the ocean–which comprises 70% of the total mass of Earth, after all–and stored in the ocean depths.  Please see my responses to Paul’s and Athlete’s comments for further details.

Occam’s Razor  is indeed a useful tool. One has to wonder why then when

1) CO2 levels in the past 500 million tears have shown no relationship to Global temperature,

2) temperature rises at a glacial termination, yet CO2 rises some 800 years later (so much for cause and effect!)

3) and there has been no Global warming since 1998, yet CO2 continues to rise,

that Alarmists cling to the complex and obscure theory that CO2 is the main driver of climate, rather than the simple solution that recent changes, rather than being unique in their (Human) cause are related to changes in Solar output acting both directly and indirectly.

In short “it is the Sun wot did it!”

your arguments are slipping to second-string or even third-string level.

No relationship between CO2 and temperature over the past 500my?

Still using the end-glaciation CO2 lag?

No global warming since 1998?

You might as well just throw in the towel, instead of recycling your worn-out long-debunked nonsense.

Athlete wrote:

The oceans are warming since 2003? What toal garbage. Better read your link again.

OK, I read it again.  Not sure why you would attribute such a claim to the NASA link or to me.  Instead, it confirms that a long-term linear trend of ocean warming has been observed for at least a half century (not since 2003), but that the apparent ocean cooling between 2003-2006 was an error caused by bad data from the ARGO floats so was discarded.  This apparent cooling contradicts other data sources, which have meanwhile confirmed and continue to confirm that the ocean is on a long-term linear warming trend.  This can be inferred both directly via XBTs, corrected ARGO devices, or tide gauge measurements or indirectly via positive radiative imbalance as shown by satellites measuring for net flux energy and by thermal expansion via satellite altimeters measuring ocean height from the Earth’s center. 

In addition to satellite altimeters, thermal expansion and, hence, ocean warming, can also be inferred by GRACE satellite (which monitors the shifting gravitational pull of land masses caused by changing land mass and land ice melt), in addition to satellite altimeters which continue to show accelerated sea rise and hence thermal expansion (warming oceans).  All of these data sources are in contradiction to the notion of ocean cooling. 

Of course, this doesn’t mean that a long term linear trend toward ocean warming doesn’t occasionally hit a speed bump to display a temporary “ocean cooling” due to natural variations.  In fact, the graphs show that a 3-5 year period of temporary ocean cooling on a long-term linear warming trend is not uncommon.  But to suppose that these short-term temporary cooling trends mean anything beyond an occasional “speed bump” on a long-term linear rise is not logical.

“Positive radiative imbalance” means that more energy is coming in than going out of the Earth’s atmosphere.  Since ocean water is denser than air and takes up 70% of the Earth’s total mass, a significant percentage of this incoming solar energy gets trapped and stored as latent energy in the deep ocean prior to being released into space as heat.  The sheer mass of the ocean creates a “lag time” for the ocean to react by “boiling” from this added energy.  Thus the accumulated energy is stored as latent energy in the deep ocean after heating up the surface temperature for some time (think of a very large pot of water and the “lag time” required for all the water to boil in a very large pot).  However, data from the ARGO floats only go to 750m so do not measure changes to deep ocean temperatures as shown by other data sources.

As for the accuracy of the ARGO data, on 24 May 2009, the ARGO website posted a bulletin requesting that all users to discontinue deploying these devices for the time being due to additional errors found.

 Neither Willis or your link say any such thing.

I’ll give you credit for one thing, however: I checked and by golly, neither the article nor Willis state explicitly that “the oceans are warming since 2003?” (which is inferred by looking at the many graphs from the article which reveal ongoing increases in positive radiative imbalance since 1955).  So technically speaking, “correcting for ocean cooling” does not necessarily mean that the ocean warmed between 2003-2006 but could also mean that the ocean was neither warming nor cooling between 2003-2006.  However, even if this were the case, there is no logical reason for you to suppose that this temporary cooling (whether accurate or no) represents a permanent directional shift toward ocean cooling after 50 years of long-term ocean warming.  Especially given that throughout the 20th and 21st century, this linear rise in ocean temperature is interspersed with occasional speed bumps representing occasional temporary spells of ocean cooling for a period of 3-5 years.

In fact there’s a graph in your link that uses the revised data and it still shows ocean cooling since 2003.

Perhaps you are looking at the uncorrected version of Willis’s data or did not see all the graphs.  The long term trend is still warming, according to the article and the many graphs that it features.

You’re obviously not familiar with Willis’s “Corrections to cooling in the upper ocean” or Loehle et al 2009. I would link to these and other studies but the spam filter here will not allow me to post when I provide links.

Hmm.  Is it Loehle et al or just Loehle et al?

The reason I ask is because I couldn’t help but notice what scientific journal Loehle’s work is published to (from Wikipedia):

Energy and Environment

I suppose I am trying to figure out why you would cite a substandard scientific journal that isn’t listed in the ISI to argue ocean cooling and why you would choose 2003 as your “starting point” for this.  Not only that, but Loehle takes an indeterminate period with lots of noise (Willis’s corrected temperatures) from a very short time series and then applies his own filters and equations to them to argue that the ocean is cooling.  So it’s not NASA’s “spin” but rather Loehle’s spin on Willis’s corrections for ocean cooling.  Talk about total garbage…  Seriously.  Is this the best you can do?

I’ll give you credit for one thing, however: I checked and by golly, neither the article nor Willis state explicitly that “the oceans are warming since 2003?”

Thanks for agreeing with the point I made. As for the other 99% spin, falsehoods and doublespeak-I’ll deal with that on another day.

In short, it appears that Athlete is confusing short-term weather events and natural variations with long-term anthropogenic warming trends.  But to suppose that a “wiggle” or noise for a decrease in ocean heat content on a long term linear rise is anything but a wiggle or noise is not logical.

Figure 2: global ocean heat from 1955 to 2008. Blue line is yearly ocean heat content for the 0–700 m layer (Levitus 2008). Red line is the global mean stratospheric optical depth, indicating the timing of major volcanic eruptions (NASA GISS, data ends in 1999).

Here’s a blow-up altered graph of 2003-2008 from Loehle’s paper (courtesy SkepticalScience):


Loehle’s spin on 2003-2008 “wiggle” or noise takes a very short time series amids lots of noise (Willis’s corrected data) and then applies his own filters and equations to Willis’s data to show a linear decrease in ocean heat content.

Are temperatures and ocean heat content rising? Well, with climate, it’s all about trend.

Thus over time they are rising

but the skeptic/denier trick is to do this

or, and this is being done, this

Do I think you can draw conclusions about climate trends for ocean heat content using the second and third graph. I do not.

Here’s a great article on the Loehle “paper”:

Yay!  More science and less spin!  Methinks we have another scientist on the blog!

Excellent post!


Goodness gracious barbiplease. You are never ever going to have an ounce of credibility on anything you do or say until you fix this amazing lack of reading comprehension problen you have. You first linked to an article and said the oceans are warming since 2003. When I pointed out the article said no such thing you responded and agreed with my statement. Fine. In your next post you said

…it appears that Athlete is confusing short-term weather events and natural variations with long-term anthropogenic warming trends.

Huh? When did I say anything or pass any comment on long term trends? Of course the long term trend in ocean temperature is upward. Do you honestly think there is one single solitary person on this planet that thinks otherwise? Do you think 20th century atmospheric temperature is going to increase 0.6C and ocean temps are not going to follow? It seems you spent your whole post arguing with your own back-pedaling.

Remember, Athlete: it is YOU who claimed that I or some link said that “the oceans are warming since 2003”–not I. So you are actually arguing with your own back-pedaling.

To reiterate: the long term trend is ocean warming.  That is all that I “claimed.”  For you to suppose that I claimed otherwise (e.g. that the oceans have been warming “since 2003”) appears to be a bit of misunderstanding and confusion on your part on what I actually said, and is likely due to your putting too much stock into substandard scientific journals for contrarians who wish to show ocean cooling from 2003 to 2008.

At any rate, the period between 2003-2008 appears to be a short-term uncertainty period with lots of noise (including solar minimum) so it is difficult to determine whether there as been an increase in ocean heat content within this very short time series.  Argo floats indicate a rise in steric contribution to sea level rise despite recording ocean cooling.  Since then two more problems have been found with the Argo devices, which is not unexpected given that it is relatively new technology.

But I am glad to see that you do not dispute historical records for long-term ocean warming.  Judging by your selection of inferior data (Loehle), I would have guessed that you were arguing for ocean cooling.


Remember, Athlete: it is YOU who claimed that I or some link said that “the oceans are warming since 2003”–not I. So you are actually arguing with your own back-pedaling.

Good grief. You’re going bad to worse. Why do you insist on digging yourself a deeper hole? Do you not remember who said these immortal words?

After correcting for these errors, Josh Willis’s observations are now in agreement all other devices, satellites, and scientists who have made this observation:that the oceans are warming.  Just thought you should know in case you weren’t aware of this fact.

This link and the errors to which you refer is primarily referencing the period 2003-present. The article that you linked is even titled “Correcting Ocean Cooling”.

Loehle paper deals with 2003-2008 and is even titled “ Cooling of the global ocean since 2003”. Yes, 4.5 years is a short period of time and time will tell if this is just an anomally or a change in trend. But let’s face it- this whole debate takes place on a short period of time. One century is aproximately 0.00000002 of the total age of this planet (hope I did that right-I used 4.5 billion years). Hansen et al 2005 (which Willis put his name to) was suppose to be “the smoking gun” and it dealt with 9.5 years of warming oceans. 4.5 years is noise and 9.5 years is a smoking gun? Of course the long term trend in the last century was for warming oceans, just as it was for the 19th century, 18th century and 17th century.

Regarding the cooler oceans since 2003, that is very selective (i.e. cherry-picking).  Since the period of 2007-09 featured La Nina or near-La Nina conditions, the oceans will obviously be cooler as a whole than under neutral ENSO conditions or El Nino conditions.  (See here for the recent Southern Oscillation Index chronology.)

If one were to determine the average of the period 2003 to 2009, one would find that positive SOI conditions (i.e. near-La Nina or La Nina) would exist, and that towards the end of the period, conditions would trend towards La Nina.

This absolutely refutes the idea that the globe is cooling.  It is simply cherry-picking at its worst.

After correcting for these errors, Josh Willis’s observations are now in agreement all other devices, satellites, and scientists who have made this observation:that the oceans are warming.  Just thought you should know in case you weren’t aware of this fact.

Please study carefully my so-called “immortal words” above and think carefully before posting a response.  I see no date or year attached to any of those words above.  So rather than “immortal” (which suggests an eternity), perhaps they are to be understood as “timeless words” or “temporally indefinite words” for the fact that I made no reference to the year 2003 or to any other time frame that you seem so intent on attributing to me or to the article link.  Evidently, you are doing this to set up a straw man argument based on a nonexistent claim (“the oceans are warming since  2003”) so as to pit this nonexistent argument in a dual opposition to your Loehle counter-argument of “Cooling of the global ocean since 2003.”

So does “the oceans are warming” mean that “the oceans are warming since 2003”?  Only if qualified with the words, “since 2003.”  Is it?  Umm, no, doesn’t look like it to me.  Is “the oceans are warming since 2003” what I meant to say instead?  Uhh, no.

The NASA article and the many graphs that it contains furthermore makes it abundantly clear that these data errors for ocean cooling between 2003-2006 are to be understood from the wider context of a long-term ocean warming trend.  Otherwise, the time series on the majority of the article’s many featured graphs would not have extended back to a half century ago but would have narrowed its focus to the very narrow range of uncertainty years that you wish to focus on instead (2003-Present).  

The article makes no mention of Loehle so is not about “Cooling oceans since 2003” but is instead about how bad data from Argo floats showing ocean cooling between 2003-2006 does not agree with historical trends and data from all other data sources to date.  All of which–with the one exception of the bad Argo data from the Willis study–point to ocean warming.  

If I failed to include Loehle’s “data” for ocean cooling in the above, it is because anyone can access Willis’s corrected data from the Argo database and alter these corrected figures even further using elaborate equations and filters to bias the data to show ocean cooling.  Then take this altered data and publish a paper for a soft review in a substandard scientific journal without even conducting any original research.  What it amounts to is taking Willis’s already-corrected Argo data and “correcting” it even further (e.g.–altering the results using questionable methodologies and elaborate mathematical equations (which is just what Loehle, a mathematician, did) ).  So he’s not even an oceanographer or a climatologist but a mathematician instead publishing to a “social science” end of environmentalism journal which is known for its political agenda.  But given the discrepancies that exist between Loehle’s contention of ocean cooling and all other data sources which point unequivocally to positive radiative imbalance and ocean warming, I am curious to know how you can express such high confidence in the Loehle paper which appears to be based on only one data set from a very short time series while ignoring all other data sources which point to ocean warming.  

So what is it exactly about the this paper that you find so compelling?  Here is your chance to shine.  Inquiring minds wanna know if you can offer any further details beyond the paper title with respect to Loehle’s methodologies for arriving at his conclusions that the ocean has been cooling since 2003.

Unlike you, Athlete, barbiplease actually has laid out some hard, peer-reviewed science to back up her (I assume you’re a she, barbiplease!) points of discussion.  Until you do the same, then maybe you can comment on whether she has “an ounce of credibility” as you claim she doesn’t have.

Also, stop your ad-hominem attacks.  Saying she has a lack of reading comprehension is uncalled for and is ridiculous given her obvious well-readedness with respect to climate change science.

Unlike you, Athlete, barbiplease actually has laid out some hard, peer-reviewed science to back up her (I assume you’re a she, barbiplease!) points of discussion.

Another “reading comprehension challenged” post. I did reference a peer-reviewed paper-Loehle et al 2009. Barbieplease had to stoop to the “My peer-review is better than your peer-review” argument despite the fact that Loehle deals with the most recent data. I’ve never understood this warmists argument about peer review. I could probably link to 1000’s and you just ignore them. There’s over 600 alone on the extent of the MWP. None of this is the point anyway. Everyone agrees the long term trend has been warming oceans. Oceans get warmer and seas levels rise between Interglacials. This is hardly newsworthy or in dispute by anybody. I’m not going to link to more studies when everyone agrees. Maybe if you read my posts again you’ll understand what my issue is/was.

(Note to stephen and barbie. I am currently having problems with my account. Whenever I link to an outside artilce the spam filter here will not accept my post. I have contacted admin and they have not fixed the problem. Stephen, you’ve been here long enough to know that I usually provide lots of links. That is why I only referenced Loehle et al and did not actuaaly provide the link. In fact, my entire posts is diminished because of this problem.)

Btw, I don’t consider it a ad hom to point out that someone has put words in my mouth or has linked to an article that doesn’t support their claim.

Stephen: I’m a she not a he.  I think the name “barbiplease” may be a dead give-away.  Nor am I a scientist but can say that I was a liberal arts major in college (B.A.s in Philosophy and History with a minor in Religious Studies), but I do appreciate the compliment anywayz.

Athlete: I’m still awaiting your explanation of the methodologies used by Loehle et al to argue for ocean cooling using only one data set (Willis’ study on Argo floats) in a short period of uncertainty and why you would find such a paper so compelling in light of your knowledge of long-term ocean warming.

I find it interesting that the same person (Loehle) who argues for ocean cooling based on one questionable data set would be the very same individual who tried to refute the Mann hockey-stick study by attempting to “throw out” “erroneous” proxy data (tree ring data).  So apparently not only is Loehle a mathematician but is also claiming to be a climatologist, oceanographer, and evolutionary biologist.

Yes, oceans do tend to warm and rise during interglacials, but do you really want to exacerbate natural variations via human interference to make it happen in your or your children’s lifetime?  Studies to date indicate that this would not occur in our or our children’s or grandchildren’s generations were it not for the burning of fossil fuels resulting in human-caused global warming.  

Recent study on coral reefs indicate that the last interglacial 125,000 years ago resulted in a 4-6 meter sea level rise above current sea level within a matter of decades due to natural variations.  Given this “given” and the fact that the current world population stands at 6,706,993,152 (July 2008 est.–with a significant percentage of the species concentrated near the coasts), do you really think that this change would not have consequences for the human species?  Or are you suggesting instead that a significant reduction in human population due to anthropogenic warming is a natural variation?


(Note: Athlete has now changed his SN to IronMan)

Athlete: I’m still awaiting your explanation of the methodologies used by Loehle et al to argue for ocean cooling using only one data set (Willis’ study on Argo floats) in a short period of uncertainty and why you would find such a paper so compelling in light of your knowledge of long-term ocean warming.

Good grief. Did you not see my comment

Yes, 4.5 years is a short period of time and time will tell if this is just an anomally or a change in trend.

That being said, you seemed to have missed the point. Willis opened up this can of worms when he put his name to Hansen et al 2005. This studied ocean heat content (OHC) between 1993-2003 (a relatively short period of time). Hansen stated that the Earth had an energy imbalance and this was being stored in the ocean. He modeled OHC that was 0.60 Watts per meter squared. Converting to joules that would be

2003 ~0.98 * 10** 22 Joules
2004 ~1.96 * 10** 22 Joules
2005 ~2.94 * 10** 22 Joules
2006 ~3.92 * 10** 22 Joules
2007 ~4.90 * 10** 22 Joules
2008 ~5.88 * 10** 22 Joules
2009 ~6.86 * 10** 22 Joules
2010 ~7.84 * 10** 22 Joules

Hansen proudly proclaimed

“This energy imbalance is the ‘smoking gun’ that we have been looking for,”

Well unfortunately, Hansen`s gun is shooting blanks. Instead we see (at best)

2003 ~0 Joules
2004 ~0 Joules
2005 ~0 Joules
2006 ~0 Joules
2007 ~0 Joules
2008 ~0 Joules

Since Hansen has now admitted that his 1988 predictions before congress aren`t worth the toilet paper they`re written on, Hansen (and Willis) et al 2005 has immediately gone to the top of the `how far off can a model be` list. Of course, this is not a big surprise since Hansen states that his climate forcing numbers are `pretty much pulled out of a hat`.

So go ahead and trash peer review if you want. It really doesn`t matter if you use Loehle or Casenave et al 2008 or Pielke Sr. or Willis et al 2008 or Levitus et al 2009 they all agree there has been at the very least some slight ocean cooling since 2003. Willis himself said in 2008 that

Despite the short period of the present analysis, these results have important implications for climate. First, from 2004 to the present, steric contributions to sea level rise appear to have been negligible. This is consistent with observations of ocean surface temperature, which show relatively little change in the global average between 2003 and 2006… Although the historical record suggests that multiyear periods of little warming  (or even cooling) are not unusual, the present analysis confirms this result with unprecedented accuracy.”

Of course, you don`t have to take my word for it or rely on some fancy paper. You can see for yourself just by looking at the actual data from NOAA.

So it`s not Loehle that I find compelling. It`s the fact that Willis and Hansen`s `in the pipeline` and `smoking gun` OHC has failed to materialize for 5 straight years. That is extremely significant in itself. As I said before, time will tell if it`s an anomally or  a change in trend. For now it`s egg all over the face of alarmists mantra.



Hansen may or may not have initially overestimated the figures for ocean heat content because his estimates were based on a model as I understand it, not on direct measurements.  There’s no way to directly measure OHC.  It has to be inferred from a variety of different sources.  The actual measurements do indicate a positive radiative imbalance.  


“Well unfortunately, Hansen`s gun is shooting blanks. Instead we see (at best)

2003 ~0 Joules
2004 ~0 Joules
2005 ~0 Joules
2006 ~0 Joules
2007 ~0 Joules
2008 ~0 Joules”

Hey I recognize those figures.  They are from Pielke.  (seems like “2003-2008 ~0 Joules” would have sufficed but evidently, presentation and affect is more important, but whatever).  

It is nice magician work, but unfortunately magic only has an affect on entities that are lower in consciousness than the consciousness of the magician who cast the spell. Those who are higher in consciousness than the spell-caster are unaffected by the spell because the numbers are fictitious.  These figures are in disagreement with every single peer-reviewed study that has ever measured ocean heat content to find a positive radiative imbalance.  None of them measure net flux energy balance of 0.

You still have not explained the method by which Loehle arrived at his ocean cooling.  Now you have the opportunity to explain how Pielke arrived at his 0 net flux energy which is in disagreement with every peer-reviewed study and why you would trust his blogging entry over peer-reviewed studies.

Despite the short period of the present analysis, these results have important implications for climate. First, from 2004 to the present, steric contributions to sea level rise appear to have been negligible. This is consistent with observations of ocean surface temperature, which show relatively little change in the global average between 2003 and 2006… Although the historical record suggests that multiyear periods of little warming  (or even cooling) are not unusual, the present analysis confirms this result with unprecedented accuracy.”

Land ice melt from Greenland and Antarctica surpassed steric contributions to SLR decades ago making it negligible by comparison.  So what else is new?  The sea level is still rising and land ice is melting at an accelerated pace although ocean thermal expansion was initially the largest contributor to SLR until it was overtaken by increasing land ice melt from Antarctica and Greenland beginning in the late 20th century.  This increased land ice melt, which is accelerating over  time combined with a relatively weak El Nino and relatively strong La Nina (in addition to Willis’ inability to measure below a certain ocean depth due to limitations of the Argo devices) can definitely make steric contributions seem negligible by comparison because it probably is.  

There is still a positive radiative imbalance so I do not understand your point for quoting it.   Willis still maintains that that the sea level is rising and a positive radiative imbalance exists.  


SkepticalScience does a nice job in critiquing Loehle’s and DiPuccio’s various arguments on ocean cooling (Pielke doesn’t argue for ocean cooling, but simply argues that there is no ocean warming by presenting numerous years of “~0 joules” in a row):

Some general conclusions:

Ocean heat content does not increase monotonically. Records show that 4-5 year periods of short-term decreases in ocean heat content are not uncommon during a long-term ocean warming trend.

A discrepancy exists between Willis’s (2008) data for ocean cooling from 2003-2008 and Leuliette’s (2009) analysis of the same raw Argo data indicating ocean warming during the same time series. Leuliette suggests that poor sampling in the early years of Argo deployments accounts for this discrepancy. A comparison between independent data sets to determine which of the two studies was more correct reveals the following:

2003-2008 appears to be a short-term period of uncertainty, since all other data sources–with the exception of Willis’s Argo data (and I’m including here Loehle’s extrapolation of Willis’s data and then DiPuccio’s extrapolation of Loehle’s extrapolation of Willis’s Argo data since they are all based essentially on Willis’ data)–point to ocean warming during this very short period. Thermal expansion is a measure of total ocean heat content and has continued to rise despite the apparent cooling in the upper ocean, according to reconstructions of steric sea level via GRACE satellites and satellite altimetry.

A relatively weak El Nino followed by a strong La Nina accounts for the recent slight cooling in the upper ocean (2007-Present), since warm water from trade winds is blown and piled up to thicken in the west Pacific leaving a depression, allowing for the upwelling of deeper cooler water from the ocean depths to rise to the surface to cool the upper ocean where these measurements are predominantly taken. The long-term trend is still ocean warming.

Some additional interesting tidbits (from comments):

There does not appear to be any study that refutes observations of Recent Bottom Water Warming in the Pacific Ocean (Johnson, 2007):

Moreover, this abysmal warming appears to be occurring in many different parts of the ocean (please refer to first link for abstracts):

Johnson GC et al. (2006) Recent western South Atlantic bottom water warming Geophys. Res. Lett. 33, L14614

Johnson GC et al. (2007) Recent bottom water warming in the Pacific Ocean J. Climate 20, 5365-5375.

Johnson GC (2008) Warming and Freshening in the Abyssal Southeastern Indian Ocean J. Climate 21, 5351-5363.

Ozaki H et al. (2009) Long-term bottom water warming in the north Ross Sea J. Oceanograph. 65, 235-244.

Johnson GC et al. (2009) Deep Caribbean Sea warming Deep Sea Research. 1 –Oceanograph. Res. 56, 827-834.

Johnson GC (2008) Reduced Antarctic meridional overturning circulation reaches the North Atlantic Ocean Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L22601

Another interesting point discussed by a few commentators above and in the article was that as SST rises and evaporates, the increased salinity and the increased density of the upper ocean pulls heat downward toward the ocean depths:

Since Willis’ discovery of bad data from the Argo floats, two more errors have been found which is not unexpected given that they are relatively new technology. At least Willis attempts to contextualize this data from the wider context of climate and many other independent data sources. Yet the entire argument for ocean cooling on WUWT appears to be based on one data set–Argo data–while excluding evidence from other data sources that suggest ocean warming.  So watt’s up wit that?  Not only that–but without contextualizing this apparent cooling from the wider context of a 40-year long-term trend for ocean warming, and without mentioning that many 4-5 year periods of short-term temporary cooling have occurred in the past.

That being said, there is still much uncertainty in the reconstruction of ocean heat. For this reason one cannot conclude with confidence that the ocean is cooling, but independent analyses point to a statistically significant warming trend over the past half-dozen years.


BTW, your last link that you have for NOAA produced the following:


1880   -0.0256
1881    0.0117
1882   -0.0335
1883   -0.0486
1884   -0.0868
1885   -0.0773
1886   -0.0635
1887   -0.1606
1888   -0.0528
1889   -0.0262
1890   -0.2009
1891   -0.1038
1892   -0.2033
1893   -0.2277
1894   -0.2156
1895   -0.1147
1896    0.0077
1897   -0.0233
1898   -0.1608
1899   -0.0834
1900   -0.0034
1901   -0.1391
1902   -0.1729
1903   -0.2878
1904   -0.3455
1905   -0.1891
1906   -0.2156
1907   -0.2969
1908   -0.3892
1909   -0.4154
1910   -0.3986
1911   -0.3568
1912   -0.2810
1913   -0.3174
1914   -0.1765
1915   -0.0822
1916   -0.2630
1917   -0.2848
1918   -0.1744
1919   -0.2041
1920   -0.1711
1921   -0.1908
1922   -0.2506
1923   -0.2302
1924   -0.2067
1925   -0.1644
1926   -0.0702
1927   -0.1136
1928   -0.1358
1929   -0.1939
1930   -0.0463
1931   -0.0321
1932   -0.0752
1933   -0.1336
1934   -0.0580
1935   -0.0480
1936   -0.0129
1937    0.0901
1938    0.0420
1939    0.0316
1940    0.1164
1941    0.1390
1942    0.1396
1943    0.1121
1944    0.2008
1945    0.1315
1946   -0.0396
1947   -0.0738
1948   -0.0792
1949   -0.0620
1950   -0.0746
1951    0.0143
1952    0.0874
1953    0.0890
1954   -0.0847
1955   -0.1216
1956   -0.0831
1957    0.1041
1958    0.1110
1959    0.0750
1960    0.0462
1961    0.0877
1962    0.0894
1963    0.1101
1964   -0.0866
1965   -0.0379
1966    0.0164
1967    0.0023
1968    0.0341
1969    0.1757
1970    0.0678
1971   -0.0514
1972    0.1215
1973    0.1267
1974   -0.0215
1975   -0.0466
1976   -0.0236
1977    0.1383
1978    0.0838
1979    0.1814
1980    0.2017
1981    0.1708
1982    0.1624
1983    0.2379
1984    0.1354
1985    0.1037
1986    0.1433
1987    0.2883
1988    0.2413
1989    0.1974
1990    0.3065
1991    0.2921
1992    0.2083
1993    0.2203
1994    0.2511
1995    0.3075
1996    0.2730
1997    0.4255
1998    0.4831
1999    0.2875
2000    0.3075
2001    0.4025
2002    0.4510
2003    0.4792
2004    0.4642
2005    0.4722
2006    0.4536
2007    0.3784
2008    0.3715
2009 -999.0000
The last number for 2009 is not real.  2009 ~ -999.0000 Joules? Degrees?  
I hope you are not suggesting that this last number by 2009 is a real number 
God help you if you are...
This is apparently a list of annual ocean mean temperature anomalies from 1901-2008.  
2009 has not been computed annually; so -999.0000 is a placeholder 
(were it a "real" numeric quantity, the decimal point would 
be in front of -999 like this -0.9990000 instead of like this: -999.0000).
What we are left with is annual ocean mean temperature anomalies increasing over time.  
Your point is?





The last number for 2009 is not real.  
2009 ~ -999.0000 Joules? Degrees?  
I hope you are not suggesting that this
 last number by 2009 is a real number 
This is apparently a list of 
annual ocean mean temperature anomalies from 
the 1901-2000 mean temperature.  
2009 has not been computed annually; 
so -999.0000 is a placeholder 
(were it a "real" numeric quantity, the decimal point would 
be in front of -999 like this
 -0.9990000 instead of like this: -999.0000).
What we are left with is 
annual ocean mean temperature anomalies 
increasing over time from the 1901-2000 mean.  
Your point is?


Land ice melt from Greenland and Antarctica surpassed steric contributions to SLR decades ago making it negligible by comparison.  So what else is new?  The sea level is still rising and land ice is melting at an accelerated pace although ocean thermal expansion was initially the largest contributor to SLR until it was overtaken by increasing land ice melt from Antarctica and Greenland beginning in the late 20th century.  This increased land ice melt, which is accelerating over  time combined with a relatively weak El Nino and relatively strong La Nina (in addition to Willis’ inability to measure below a certain ocean depth due to limitations of the Argo devices) can definitely make steric contributions seem negligible by comparison because it probably is.  

Land ice melt contribution to sea level rise and thermal expansion contributions were roughly the same until about 2003.  So land ice contribution to SLR did not surpass steric contributions “decades” ago as posted above, but surpassed the steric contribution about 10 years ago instead.  Land ice melt currently accounts for 80% of sea level rise, according to a recent study (see below).  If steric contribution returns to 1990 levels, a 4 mm per year rise is possible.

This is very within the realm of possibility if year-round Arctic sea ice continues to melt and thus darkening the surface area of the Earth, thereby reducing the Earth’s capacity to reflect solar heat back into space and triggering a positive feedback mechanism of more sea ice melting and increasing ocean warming.  However, it could also trigger melting of glaciers and ice sheets which would increase ocean mass and cool the ocean. 

By “decrease,” this is not merely in reference to sea ice extent or area but to sea ice thickness as well.  More important than sea ice area or extent is the thickness of the ice, since it is the ice thickness that determines whether it will continue to remain as year-round ice or become seasonal ice due to thinning and melting in the warmer months.

As I understand it, thermal expansion increases ocean heat content and sea level rise but does not increase ocean mass; only glacial melt from land ice increases ocean mass.  In recent years, there has been an increase in ocean mass in addition to SLR from land ice in addition to a slight contribution from thermal expansion.  Given this increase in ocean mass, I would think that there should be a decrease in ocean heat content due to melting land ice increasing ocean mass, cooling the water, and diminishing the impact of thermal expansion from rising temperatures.  Perhaps this is the reason (among many other reasons) why we are observing a slight decrease in ocean heat content in the upper ocean since 2003.  However, the Willis study says that according to GRACE satellites and measurements of land mass, there was not enough contribution from land ice melt to cause such a decrease in ocean heat content.  It would seem, however, that if land ice melt is contributing to 80% of SLR, it would cool the ocean. 

Actually, the Willis study was referring to the perceived dramatic ocean cooling that was caused by bad Argo data between 2003-2006 that GRACE satellite measurements could not account for via melting land ice.  So it is still very possible that land ice melt and increased ocean mass could have reduced or negated the effects of thermal expansion and warming that would have happened otherwise, I would think.  In which case “ocean cooling” can be triggered by global warming and increased ocean heat content.

Global sea level is currently rising as a result of both ocean thermal expansion and glacier melt, with each accounting for about half of the observed sea level rise, and each caused by recent increases in global mean temperature. For the period 1961-2003, the observed sea level rise due to thermal expansion was 0.42 millimeters per year and 0.69 millimeters per year due to total glacier melt (small glaciers, ice caps, ice sheets) (IPCC 2007). Between 1993 and 2003, the contribution to sea level rise increased for both sources to 1.60 millimeters per year and 1.19 millimeters per year respectively (IPCC 2007).


Ice loss in Antarctica increased by 75 percent in the last 10 years due to a speed-up in the flow of its glaciers and is now nearly as great as that observed in Greenland, according to a new, comprehensive study by NASA and university scientists.

Citation: Recent Antarctic ice mass loss from radar interferometry and regional climate modelling, Rignot, E., Jonathan L. Bamber, Michiel R. van den Broeke, Curt Davis, Yonghong Li, Willem Jan van de Berg & Erik van Meijgaard, NATURE GEOSCIENCE, Vol.1, No. 2, pp106 – 110, doi:10.1038/ngeo102, 2008.

Global sea level rose about 17 centimeters (6.7 inches) in the last century. In the last decade, however, the rate of rise nearly doubled.3

Paris, November 18, 2008

Sea levels are still rising but for different reasons

Researchers at the Laboratoire d’Etudes en Géophysique et Océanographie Spatiales (1) (CNRS/Université Toulouse 3/CNES/IRD) and at a subsidiary of CNES (CLS) (2) have discovered that the accelerated melting of continental icepacks is the major reason for the rise in sea level over the 2003 to 2008 period, something which has minimized the effect of thermal expansion of seawater. This question was resolved thanks to data from the French-American Satellite Jason-1, from two satellites of the GRACE space gravimetry mission and from the buoys of the Argo system. These results have been published online on the website of the journal Global and Planetary Change.

An Argo buoy.

Between 1993 and 2003, the global mean sea level, measured very accurately by the French-American Topex/Poséidon satellites and their successor Jason-1, showed a relatively constant progression of 3 mm/yr. The last  GIEC report, published in 2007, showed that more than half of this rise (approximately 1.5 mm/yr) was due to sea water expansion as it warmed up (steric contribution), while 1.2 mm/yr resulted from the reduction in mass of polar ice sheets and mountain glaciers. Since 2003 however, the situation has changed; a quite rapid rise (2.5 mm/yr) in sea water levels is still observed but, over the same period, the warming of the oceans is showing a plateau, only accounting for a rise of 0.4 mm/yr.

Thermal expansion was calculated using two independent methods:
- The Argo network of buoys transmits water temperature and salinity profiles across all of the world’s oceans. Since 2003, the analysis of all relevant data in the topmost 900 meters of sea water resulted in a steric contribution of about 0.4 mm/yr. 
- This value was independently confirmed by measurements from space by calculating the difference between the water level observed by the altimeters on Topex/Poséidon and Jason-1 and the increase in the ocean volume as witnessed by GRACE. The satellites indicate a steric contribution of 0.3 mm/yr, which is very similar to the value from the Argo buoys.

Consequently, it is above all the increase in the mass of sea water rather than its heat content that is behind the rise in sea level that has been observed since 2003. The increase in the mass of the oceans is equivalent to a rise of 1.9 mm/yr of the mean sea level. What is the source of this extra water in the oceans? Melting continental ice sheets. Data from GRACE has made it possible to measure changes in the mass of the two polar ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland. These were responsible for a 1 mm/yr increase in sea level (i.e. twice as much as in the previous decade). For mountain glaciers, the most recent estimates from glaciologists show a contribution of 1.1 mm/yr (also higher than during previous years).

Thus, losses from glacial masses can easily account for why the mass of sea water is increasing and are responsible for 80 % of the average rise in sea level in recent years. Given the accelerated melting of glaciers and polar ice sheets, if the steric contribution returned to the values of the 1990s, a rise in sea level of around 4 mm/yr could not be excluded.



(2) Collecte Localisation Satellite.


Cazenave, A., K. DoMinh, S. Guinehut, E. Berthier, W. Llovel, G. Ramillien, M. Ablain, and G. Larnicol (in press), Sea level budget over 2003-2008: a reevaluation from GRACE space gravimetry, satellite altimetry and Argo, Global and Planetary Change. doi:10.1016/j.gloplacha.2008.10.004






arctic sea ice extent

Arctic sea ice extent has exceeded 2007’s record low. In addition, it is much thinner than before. Arctic sea ice is becoming seasonal ice. This means less albedo to reflect solar heat back into space. Solar energy will increasingly be absorbed by the ocean and the ocean will heat as more surface area of the planet becomes darker from loss of sea ice and albedo (Antarctic sea ice extent doesn’t count, since it is only very thin seasonal surface ice and melts every year in hotter months (when this albedo is most needed to regulate the Earth’s temperature) and reforms every year in the cooler months (when this albedo protection is least needed).

Your NOAA data from 1880-2008 shows increasing ocean warming. You argue that since 2003, the ocean is cooling and find this extremely significant. I find it extremely deluded, in light of all this.

If the ocean were truly “cooling,” the sea level would be falling instead of rising. Arctic sea ice would be increasing than decreasing to record lows and becoming seasonal surface ice. There is also the presence of a slight ocean thermal expansion detected by GRACE satellites which cannot happen in a cooling ocean. Glaciers and ice sheets are melting. Studies done on bottom ocean warming have not been refuted. There are still natural variations such as ENSO. Yet in spite of a relatively weak El Nino, strong La Nina, and solar minimum, all of these changes pointing to oceal and global warming are happening which is significant and a cause for concern; but the 2003-Present slight upper ocean cooling is not surprising given natural variations.

There is still a positive radiative imbalance measured by satellites at the top of the Earth’s atmosphere (although currently, only slight) and it has to go somewhere. OHC cannot be measured accurately because the ocean depths are not being measured, so you cannot say that OHC has failed to materialize for 5 straight years. The Argo data–even without the bad data–have a known cooling bias on which this 5 short years of upper ocean cooling is based. There is more to the ocean than just the upper ocean, after all; and you cannot base OHC on upper ocean only.  So in light of all these other changes going on, it is deluded to to think that 4-5 years of slight cooling in the upper ocean is extremely significant or even means anything.

Oh, I checked Pielke’s “paper.”  I mistakenly called it a blogging entry.  It is actually an opinion piece on Physics Today.  Not a peer reviewed study as you contend.  The other studies–Casenave, Willis, and Levitus are peer-reviewed, but they conclude that the trend is ocean warming overall. 



My head is spinning from trying to read your post. I feel like I’ve just watched a dog chasing its tail for a couple of hours. You’ve said everything and you’ve said nothing. You’re all over the map here.

To start with, I am talking about ocean temperature not sea level rise or ice melt. Your comment

If the ocean were truly “cooling,” the sea level would be falling instead of rising

is just plain silly. It isn’t even wrong. Wrong would be an improvement. Going from memory, AR4 states that 23% of SLR is due to thermal expansion. AR4 also states that even if humans did not emit a single molecule of CO2, sea levels would still rise for 500 years. Sea levels rise between glacials. I could link to dozens of peer reviewed papers that show no increase in the rate of SLR this century. In fact just the opposite. I’m afraid I don’t have the will or the time just now. I only referenced SLR with the Willis quote because it speaks to ocean temperature in the same staement (negligable).

I never said a 5 year downard trend (of course 2009 is an incomplete number-who would possibly think otrherwise?-5 years-2004, 2005, 2006 2007, 2008) in ocean temperature was significant. As I implied before, I don’t even consider a 30 year trend significant. What I said was significant was a 5 year trend after Hansen declared a “smoking gun” in proof of AGW and modeled ever increasing OHC. This was the heating “in the pipeline”. Hansen was not only wrong but the results turned out to be polar opposite to the “smoking gun”.

In case you didn’t notice, it was not “blogger” Pielke-who has more peer reviewed papers than Hansen, Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann combined- who stated 0 joules of OHC. As it is stated front and centre in his paper this number comes directly from Willis et al 2008 so your statement

These figures are in disagreement with every single peer-reviewed study that has ever measured ocean heat content to find a positive radiative imbalance

looks even sillier than your SLR statent. You obviously just make this stuff up as you go. I’m not sure why you think Loehle is playing some kind of magical computer game with numbers when the actual data clearly shows a 5 year downward trend. Willis and Loehle’s numbers are not even that far apart. Only a fool would deny the real raw data. I’m still not sure if you do or not. Again, You’re all over the map here. Pielke has publically called out for quite some time to Hansen and others to explain what went wrong with the “smoking gun” but so far just silence.

You should really read other commenters links before you cut and paste them or parrot their talking points. Your Johnson et al links are laughable. Since 85% of the energy imbalance is in the top 750 metres of the ocean ( according to Hansen and the IPCC), Johnson’s numbers are irrelevant. You obviously have not read the abstacts let alone the complete paper. Johnson uses assorted time periods as well and does not reflect the period of time were talking about here or your original link Correcting Ocean Cooling talks about.

So there you have it Ms Hammond. I’ve had enough of this nonsense for now. Best step of of your echo chamber and face reality. The oceans have been cooling for 5 years.




To start with, I am talking about ocean temperature not sea level rise or ice melt. Your comment

‘If the ocean were truly “cooling,” the sea level would be falling instead of rising’

is just plain silly. It isn’t even wrong. Wrong would be an improvement.

You’re wrong, IronMan.  By cooling, water becomes more dense and, therefore, less expansive than warmer water.  It’s simple chemistry, so much so that even someone who hasn’t taken university chemistry can understand that.  If you cannot understand this, a simple but critical component of sea level rise, then please refrain from commenting on this subject as you are misleading impressionable people who read this blog.

My ad hominem comment about barbiplease is: excessively generous and patient with boneheads.

Someone once said of a contemporary group that they did not have an ideology, they had a character disorder. Is it time to say something similar about climate change deniers?


From a post by John Mashy at :



Thanks to Barry & also Ruddiman PPP, Chapter 18.

The usual caveats apply, i.e., this is not about normal scientific skepticism and arguments, but where the science is denied/attacked for extra-science reasons.


Economics, ideology, politics, psychology
ECON -1, -2, -3 (professional) -4 (public)
IDEOL -1 (professional), -2 (public)
POL -1 (professional), -2 (public)
PSYCH -1 (professional), -2 (public), -3 & -4 (either), -5 (professional)

ECON-1 long-term major direct economic interest
Some fossil fuel companies and some family foundations whose wealth was derived from them.
Do not usually write/speak directly, but through ECON-2 and ECON-3. FF companies have mostly stopped direct public claims against AGW. FF companies vary widely, and should not all be tarred with the same brush.

This is a special case of companies that want to “privatize the benefits, socialize the costs”, starting with asbestos, cigarettes, some chemical companies, sometimes extractive industries (especially coal).

ECON-2 long-term, less direct economic interest, but get some funding from the some of the previous.
Thinktanks & front organizations.

Funding may be used to start an organization, or an existing organization may seek these funding sources. Some of these clearly compete for funding.]

ECON-3 personal, direct economic interest
Consulting, writing, speaking, lobbying.

This is for someone who has some relevant experience; money from ECON-1 or ECON-2.

ECON-4 fear (reasoned or unreasoned) of personal economic impacts from CO2 regulation
Many people in the public.

IDEOL-1 “Anti-regulation” professionals, i.e., sometimes get called free-market fundamentalists*
Some thinktanks, economists, some editors/writers, i.e. like WSJ OpEds, but not news, so far. May or may not get money from ECON-1. This should not be read as the business community in general, but emphasized by that subset described in ECON-1.

IDEOL-2 “Anti-regulation” public
Many people. As far as I know, nobody likes higher taxes or dealing with cumbersome regulation… the legitimate argument is about the appropriate levels, and reasonable people can disagree.

POL-1 “X says it,therefore it’s wrong”, professional
Some politicians & IDEOL-1, used as a wedge tactic, in their own self-interest, sometimes helps raise money.

Common are “Al Gore says it” or “job-killing left-wing greenie tree-huggers say it”. This is slightly different from IDEOL-1, in that it’s a negative tactic.

POL-2 “X says it, therefore it’s wrong”, public
Many people, in this case, some of whom may well be acting in ECON-1’s self-interest, but against their own.

PSYCH-1 “I like publicity, and being contrarian helps, especially if my career isn’t what I want it to be”, professional.
This is what Barry hypothesizes for BC, and akin to Bill Ruddiman’s descriptions in Chapter 18 of PPP. It might well fit Bjorn Lomborg, who didn’t really get much attention until TSE.

PSYCH-2 “I like being a contrarian”, professional or public
Many people, in extreme cases verging on conspiracy theories.
For public, it is ego-gratifying to believe you know more than supposed experts, even if you don’t get a lot of publicity for it.
For the professional, it may just be a personality trait, as opposed to a “get attention” trait, and of course, sometimes contrarians are right. [Thomas Gold, on some things.]

PSYCH-3 “High-bar, low bar”, professional & public
Serious work in science ~ pole vault in track.
One can be contrarian by stepping across a line on the pavement.
For a professional, this maybe related to PSYCH-1.

See my favorite Dunning-Kruger Effect.
In general, many people want to believe their expertise is higher than it is, and resent the idea that others’ expertise might be much higher.

As per how to learn… and following discussion, I said I was a 2 of 10 on my whimsical climate expertise scale. I’ve refined the scale a little, and I now think I’m a 3, although having had dinner with James Hansen this week, maybe not :-)]

PSYCH-4 ambiguity-intolerant personality
See ambiguity tolerance, which says:

“The converse, ambiguity intolerance…was defined in 1975 as a “tendency to perceive or interpret information marked by vague, incomplete, fragmented, multiple, probable, unstructured, uncertain, inconsistent, contrary, contradictory, or unclear meanings as actual or potential sources of psychological discomfort or threat.”

With appropriate reservations on personality theory, it is some people are are comfortable with fluid, ambiguous ideas, and quite often view propositions via probability distributions, error bars, etc.
Other people are very uncomfortable with this, needing “It’s A or B”, sometimes called all-or-none thinking. In really weird cases, people can flip between A or B without spending time in between!

PSYCH-5 Retired scientist off the rails. Professional.
Rarely, even brilliant scientists near/at retirement, start opining (but not in peer-reviewed journals) about some other domain, directly opposite the mainstream. This is sad, and seems to happen for any of a variety of other reasons. Fortunately, many top scientists remain quite sharp, and if they shift areas, go study first.


I’d suggest that a relatively small number of people [ECON-2, ECON-3, IDEOL-1, maybe POL-1] actually get paid for this,and actually, I (weakly) conjecture that more of the money for thinktanks comes from the family foundations, although it’s really hard to find out.

In some cases [PSYCH-1], I think the dominant motivation is that, although some may hope to also manage ECON-3.]

I conjecture that most people with anti-science websites, incessant anti-science posts, etc are in one or more of {ECON-4, IDEOL-2, POL-2}, not getting paid for it, and possibly with some of the PSYCH attributes. I’ve discussed this with psychologist friends, who mentioned the ambiguity-intolerance thing.

If you draw a graph: a) funders b) thinktanks/fronts c) individuals & some politicians d) public

$$ flows from a=>b=>c, and sometimes from d=>c) politicians

Mis/disinformation flows (b+c) => d, usually not publicly emitted by a).

Of course, lack of knowledge helps anti-science views, but clearly, even people who have knowledge can argue against science for such reasons.


There is a wide mix of reasons for anti-science positions, and very few people actually get paid for it. Most do it for free. Some pay to do it.


  • And before somebody says “Anti-free-market, leftwing, greenie, fellow-traveler dedicated to downfall of American capitalism” (don’t laugh, someone has said something like that :-)…

If that fit me, it would fit most of Silicon Valley, including a lot of business people and venture capitalists that I know / work for / invest with in the world center of high-tech capitalism :-)

Posted by: John Mashey | December 19, 2008 8:57 PM




climate change, IPCC

Human interference with the climate system is occurring, and climate change poses risks for human and natural systems.” IPCC WGII AR5

Every five years or so thousands of scientists from around the world release a major report on the...

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