Cherrypicking to Deny Continued Ocean and Global Warming

by Dana Nuccitelli, via Skeptical Science.

Cherrypicking global surface air temperatures is one of the most common errors associated with global warming. In reality, a very small percentage of overall global warming goes into heating surface air temperatures, while approxiately 90 percent is absorbed by the world’s oceans (in totality, at all depths). Because many other factors influence surface air temperatures on short timescales, the data are noisy, and as a result it’s easy to cherrypick temporary flat periods to wrongly claim that global warming has stopped.

Here’s the average of NASA GISS, NOAA NCDC, and HadCRUT4 monthly global surface temperature anomalies from January 1970 through November 2012 (green), with linear trends applied to the timeframes January 1970 – October 1977, April 1977 – December 1986, September 1987 – November 1996, June 1997 – December 2002, and November 2002 – November 2012:

However, climate contrarians are now more frequently shifting their cherrypicks to the relatively shallow layer of the oceans (the upper 700 meters). The average depth of the world’s ocean is nearly 4,000 meters, but the deeper the ocean layer, the more difficult it is to measure its temperature and heat accumulation.

Fortunately most ocean heat accumulation occurs close to the surface, but accounting for less of the deep ocean layers also means missing more global warming. The best ocean heat measurements are for the 0–700 meter layer, which accounts for over 60 percent of overall global warming. However, only considering ocean heat accumulation to 700 meters also means neglecting 30 to 40 percent of overall global warming.

Similar to surface air temperatures, the warming of the 0–700 meter oceans has slowed in recent years (since about 2003), which has made them a ripe candidate for cherrypicking. This was one of the key findings of Nuccitelli et al. (2012), in which we noted that while heat accumulation in the 0–700 meter oceans has slowed in recent years, at the same time it has accelerated in the 700–2,000 meter oceans.

Overall, there is no sign that the warming of the 0-2,000 meter oceans has slowed. In fact, they have accumulated more heat in the past 15 years than during the previous 15 years. Here’s data from the National Oceanographic Data Center, comparing ocean heat in the 0–700 meter layer and the 0-2,000 meter layers:


It should be no surprise that climate contrarians constantly ignore the accelerated warming of the 700–2,000 meter oceans, pretending that they simply don’t exist. In one recent example, a denialist blog disputed the results of Nuccitelli et al. (2012) by showing the data below (also discussed in this post by Tamino at the Open Mind blog). It shows 0-700 meter ocean heat accumulation from NOAA PMEL using the methodology described in Lyman et al. (2010), with an arbitrary yellow line drawn in an effort to indicate slowed ocean warming:

The ocean heat content data used in Nuccitelli et al. (2012) and the previous graph are from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Oceanographic Data Center (NODC) using the methodology described by Levitus et al. (2012), whereas the data in the graph immediately above are from the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) using the methodology described in Lyman et al. (2010).

The Levitus methodology fills data gaps with the averaged value of the available data, which has the tendency to underestimate any anomalies. The Lyman methodology infills the data gaps with anomalies from nearby grids. The end result is that Levitus is likely to underestimate any warming trend, as discussed in Lyman (2008). As a result, the data plotted on the denialist blog actually shows more 0-700 meter ocean warming than the data plotted in Nuccitelli et al. (2012). This is illustrated below, with 0-700 meter ocean heat content data from NOAA NODC (Levitus) and NOAA PMEL (Lyman) using the same baseline. The yellow arbitrary denialist line is shown, followed by the linear trends for 2003–2012 and 1993–2012 in red. Standard error bars are also shown:

Despite showing a larger ocean warming trend than Levitus, climate contrarians likely prefer the Lyman data because it does not include the ocean layers below 700 meters. However, even if we cherrypick this shallow ocean data and cherrypick 2003 as the starting point, the 0–700 meter ocean heat accumulation for 2003–2012 in the Lyman PMEL data is equivalent to 1.2 Hiroshima atomic bomb detonations per second over the past decade. For 1993–2012, this rate increases to the equivalent of 3.7 detonations per second, and when including global heat accumulation in Nuccitelli et al. (2012) including the 0–2,000 meter oceans, the Earth has accumulated the equivalent of 4 Hiroshima atomic bomb detonations per second over the past decade.

When we consider all the available data, it becomes quite clear that ocean and global warming continue unabated at a rapid rate. Cherrypicking cannot change that reality.

— This piece was originally published at Skeptical Science and was reprinted with permission.

47 Responses to Cherrypicking to Deny Continued Ocean and Global Warming

  1. Jack Burton says:

    I just had this debate with the climate skeptics on a certain economics blog. Every time I illuminate how they are wrong and they have no real come back. Then I am sworn at and called a *%!#@*!$&*! Liberal.
    Hmmm, liberal? Me?
    The mind of a typical denier is certainly a thing of beauty, in it’s elegant simplicity that is!
    Heat, going into the oceans? A liberal hoax, surely!

  2. rollin says:

    Nice article but a sad message, no halt in global warming. I think what is already in the pipeline will be enough to kick the atmosphere up to the 2 degree limit.
    The big question is no longer about the science, the big question is what are doing about it on a big enough scale to make a difference? Or do I sense that no one really believes we can stop this?

  3. Scott Thomas says:

    No compassionate person would say that we can’t stop this, and rational people just don’t want to say it out loud. The deniers are just dishonest.

  4. Thanks rollin. We should be committed to closer to 1.5°C surface warming above pre-industrial levels.

    Can we stop global warming? Absolutely. Are we doing enough to stop it right now? Absolutely not. But there’s never a point where it’s too late to try. 2°C is much worse than 1.5°C, 2.5 much worse than 2, etc. etc.

  5. Lore says:

    Climate Progress may turn into more of a survivalist blog then it already is.

  6. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Jack, please don’t call them sceptics. Sorry to quibble, but every such usage plays into their hands. These people are the exact opposite of sceptics. Their denialism is absolute, unquestioning and rooted in ideological and psychological bedrock. The climate scientists, like all scientists, are true and perennial sceptics, knowing that their knowledge will never be complete and inerrant, but yet it grows steadily broader and deeper, driven by the quest for truth.

  7. bill says:

    I keep hearing that ‘global warming’ has ‘paused’ since 1997. Since one of the main proponents of this notion is Mr. Watts himself, could he highlight this pause on his heat content chart, please? Ta.

  8. prokaryotes says:

    This graphic cant be shown enough.

    Yes, we got a drinking problem and it’s more serious already then we previously thought! Because we are still pumping that Co2 into the atmosphere…

  9. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Thank you Dana, that needs to be heard more frequently on this blog, ME

  10. Superman1 says:

    “Can we stop global warming? Absolutely.” Ah, the power of words. In theory, there may still be a chance, depending on how the Arctic plays out. In reality, I have more chance of winning the Powerball Lottery than stopping global warming. There is zero evidence, after all this talk, of any effective action (yesterday, today, tomorrow) to stop global warming.

  11. Superman1 says:

    “Or do I sense that no one really believes we can stop this?” I suspect that, down deep, very few believe we can really stop this; there is no evidence for optimism. But, it is in the interest of the Carnival Barkers that hope be expressed, so that they can have one final run at the casino.

  12. Superman1 says:

    Mulga, How is their denialism of the reality of climate change science fundamentally different from the denialism of our chances of avoiding catastrophic climate change that we see expressed on this site?

  13. Superman1 says:

    “No compassionate person would say that we can’t stop this”. Words are cheap. In my view, the only truly ‘compassionate’ people are those who would express their ‘compassion’ by making whatever sacrifices are necessary to avoid major climate change. They are very few and very far between.

  14. Superman1 says:

    “Yes, we got a drinking problem”. And, if you’ve ever dealt with addicts, you know that, many times, the addiction is more precious than life itself. Unfortunately, that’s the central problem we face with those who are addicted to the high energy intensive lifestyle enabled by the unlimited availability of cheap fossil fuels: the fossil addicts.

  15. Icarus62 says:

    Global sea level rise is an effective integrator of both the rise in ocean heat content and ice melt, and that shows no sign of slowing down at all. In any case, we know that interannual variability in surface and lower troposphere temperature is dominated by the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which has been in predominantly La Niña conditions in recent years. My understanding of ENSO is that La Niña conditions mean cooler water being brought to the surface of the Pacific and absorbing heat – hence the lower rates of warming in surface air temperature series in recent years is actually just a sign of more of the climate system’s heat going into the oceans rather than the surface and atmosphere. See Tamino’s recent article “Once is not enough” and his succinct observation that as far as temperature change over the last decade is concerned, There’s nothing to explain. Temperature is simply doing what we would expect it to do as a result of known forcings and natural unforced variability.

  16. Superman1 says:

    PART 1 OF 2
    I would like to see a climate change poll conducted that reflects some relation to reality. We see fantasy polls that conclude 60-70% of Americans are concerned about climate change (which the Carnival Barkers love to cite), yet we see 1/10,000 Americans showing up for a climate change rally a couple of weeks ago. No secret which of these two polls I believe!

  17. Superman1 says:

    PART 2 OF 2
    The desired poll would describe the world under 1 C, 2 C, etc temperatures. It would then identify the sacrifices required in order to achieve 1 C, 2 C, etc, using existing climate models and adjusting for the inclusion of positive feedbacks. The people would identify the temperature for which they are willing to make the appropriate sacrifices. My guess; 4 C at the very best, and I’m being generous here.

  18. TJinBoulderUT says:

    Stopping Climate Change is not really about the energy sources we use or technology at this point. It is more about the box we are in in terms of the combined needs of 7+ billion humans for energy, food and transportation. Even if a global disaster was declared today there is no way to make the necessary changes in the limited time window we have before the release of huge amounts of methane, changing deep ocean currents and the rest the are already beginning. Meanwhile, there are no major changes in our energy infrastructure planned before 2020 – 2025.
    The only realistic plan at this point is amelioration and adaptation.

  19. TJinBoulderUT says:

    The comparison to addict behavior is quite apt. The amount of individual energy available is finite and greater portions go to obtaining the object than to assessing the objective reality. Our culture in not just addicted to cheap energy ; which is just a means to and end. We have an addiction to the American lifestyle – cheap easy convenience.
    I’ll believe we have made a commitment to real change when NASCAR is limited to solar fueled electric cars, a carbon tax is initiated and airlines are limited to emergency flights.

  20. Camburn says:

    I see that the last step of the muddled graph continues to elongate.

  21. David Smith says:

    I don’t think it’s a drinking problem. I think it’s more like an addiction to playing in the passing lane of south bound I95 or possibly playing with guns in down town Damascus.

  22. It’s simple, Supe.

    The right-wing deniers’ reactions are rooted in selfishness, rigidity, suppression, domination, and hostility.

    Our actions, to the extent they don’t yield entirely to despair as some seem to advise, are rooted in community, openness, compassion, ethics, and hope.

  23. It’s asking a lot that everyone be an energy martyr. As you yourself would recognize, there isn’t much one can do if one is acting alone, unless one has the charisma and calling of a Gandhi. And how many of those can there be? By definition, very few.

    Perhaps you could be our climate Gandhi. Lead us to the sacrifice you envision. I think many yearn to follow, just as many followed Gandhi. This, rather than castigating the rest of us for failing to be him.

    We’re here to build the community that might make pooled individual action meaningful. It’s consciousness-raising.

    I understand why you’re bitter, but I don’t understand why you take it out on those who are as saddened as you at our predicament. It could easily be argued that anyone on a computer is using more than his fair share of the commonweal. It’s a trap that none of us avoid.

  24. Gingerbaker says:

    There is a fundamental dishonesty about the argument that warming has stopped, which does not get mentioned.

    We have satellites in orbit which measure the energy of the sun’s rays which hit the Earth as well as the energy radiated back into space from the Earth. They are not in balance – the Earth retains more heat than it reflects back into space. This proves that the Greenhouse effect is real.

    So-called deniers who argue that various temperature records do not show warming have an obligation, which they never fulfill, to explain to us where that extra heat – that the satellites confirm is collecting on Earth – has disappeared to. It can’t have just disappeared – the Laws of Thermodynamics do not allow for energy to be destroyed. So where has it gone?

    Is it hiding in Aunt Mary’s garage? Has it been sent by Federal Express to a parallel universe?

    Remember, this is not a small amount of incremental heat we are talking about – it is equivalent to 4 Hiroshima bomb’s worth of heat being released every second of every day.

    If they are going to assert that global warming is not occurring, because some temperature record or another does not give evidence of this, then they really need to account for where that extra heat is hiding, don’t they?

  25. Superman1 says:

    I spent decades in the world of science and technology, where the performers tried to understand and abide by nature’s laws. Yes, our results were exploited and misdirected, and that’s a large part of the bind we’re in. I don’t see the same adherence to what nature is telling us in the proposals on this site; I see proposals aimed to enrich a few renewables investors, independent of the climate consequences. That’s my problem here.

  26. Superman1 says:

    Excellent observations! Could you expand on ‘amelioration and adaptation’? What actions would you recommend to keep the situation from worsening?

  27. Superman1 says:

    “and hope”. Isn’t that a pseudonym for denial of what science is telling us lies ahead? To have any chance, we need at least two major tools/resources: a credible plan, and a very large reserve of energized people willing to do whatever is necessary to solve the problem. I see neither.

  28. Superman1 says:

    I don’t see my response above as reflecting ‘bitterness’; it reflects my looking at data without the rose-colored glasses.

  29. Superman1 says:

    Your last paragraph: yes, yes, yes, and yes. Outstanding! Your first one is very true as well.

  30. Joan Savage says:

    Let’s look at outcomes of the increased heat content deeper in the ocean (see chart). Approximately 5 x 10^22 Joules is now added in to the deeper ocean, with another 20 x 10^22 Joules still in the top 700 meters of the net increase of about 25 x 10^22 Joules since the 1960s and 1970s.

    Anyone who has heated a pot on the stove knows that if you do it long enough, the area around it in the kitchen heats up as well, and can take a long time to cool down. Same applies to a deeply heated and swollen ocean.

  31. Jim Baird says:

    The first law of thermodynamics – the change in the internal energy of a closed system is equal to the amount of heat supplied to the system, minus the amount of work done by the system on its surroundings.

    Since the heat is accumulating in the ocean, it is from the ocean we must produce our work.

    Nature governs her own laws and is deaf to spin.

  32. Sadiq says:

    First they figured out climate; now they’re finally figuring out humanity: the comments here are slowly trending towards nihilism.

    No sarcasm here btw: that’s the way to do it!

  33. Paul Kyprie says:

    I believe the extra heat is in H20. The extra 5% humidity in our atmosphere. The oceans, including the layer 2000-4000 ft. The lakes, especially the great lakes where evaporation is wreaking havoc on harbor water levels costing millions this summer to dredge. Water is a very, very high specific heat. I would like some feedback from this group on my ideas.

  34. SecularAnimist says:

    Superman1 wrote: “In my view, the only truly ‘compassionate’ people are those who would express their ‘compassion’ by making whatever sacrifices are necessary to avoid major climate change.”

    Perhaps could inspire us all by describing the “sacrifices” you have made.

    Surely you eat an exclusively vegan diet? Surely you obtain all your electricity from renewable energy? Surely you have eliminated or nearly eliminated your use of fossil-fueled transportation?

    And of course, those things can be done by the vast majority of Americans with little or no real “sacrifice” at all, and indeed they provide significant health and financial benefits.

    So I’ll be interested to hear about the REAL “sacrifices” you have made.

  35. SecularAnimist says:

    Superman1 wrote: “We see fantasy polls that conclude 60-70% of Americans are concerned about climate change (which the Carnival Barkers love to cite)”

    The “fantasy” is your baseless assertion that “half of Americans” don’t even KNOW about climate change, let alone care about it — an assertion for which you have failed to provide any evidence whatsoever.

    And when evidence to the contrary is presented in the form of multiple public opinion polls, conducted by multiple, reputable polling organizations, your response is puerile name-calling. That’s the behavior of a troll, not a serious person.

    Superman1 wrote: “yet we see 1/10,000 Americans showing up for a climate change rally a couple of weeks ago”

    Of course, in your comments at the time you ATTACKED all of the activists who attended that rally, just as you consistently attack anyone and everyone who is actually doing anything about climate change.

  36. Superman1 says:

    The renewables investors need a new pitch man; you’re too stuck on the Lee Atwater Playbook.

  37. Superman1 says:

    PART 1 OF 2
    My goal/contribution in messaging here is to identify and present the truth about climate change as clearly and honestly as possible. That’s it; no hype, no sales pitch. Given the misinformation and diversions in the technical literature and some of the comments on this site, that’s not an easy task. If some people are unhappy with my conclusions, so be it. Science is not a popularity contest.

  38. Superman1 says:

    PART 2 OF 2
    Your question is irrelevant. If you found that TonyWatts were a vegan, who lived on a self-sufficient commune with an organic garden and no car, would that change your opinion of him, or his ‘contribution’ to climate change? Your question is another diversion.

  39. Superman1 says:

    “Surely you eat an exclusively vegan diet?….And of course, those things can be done by the vast majority of Americans with little or no real “sacrifice” at all”. I am the only person I know who eats no meat. Every other person in my circle thinks I’m out in left field for not eating meat, and would think that a day without meat is almost the ultimate sacrifice. Don’t pre-judge the sacrifices you think Americans are willing to make.

  40. Superman1 says:

    “they provide significant health and financial benefits”. I would not extoll the health virtues of a vegan diet. My extensive reading of the biomedical literature shows the value of fish in providing highly bioavailable omega-3s and B-12, and the value of some types of yogurt/kefir in providing highly bioavailable probiotics. I also use kimchi and tempeh for the latter, and walnuts and flax for the omega-3s, but I don’t believe they substitute for the wild caught fish and free-range goats that supply the milk for yogurt/kefir.

  41. Joe Romm says:

    Gosh, we have the same exact mission! But I’m just a mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan….

  42. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Thanks, Change-I could not have said it as well, let alone better. Hope springs eternal, even after it is debased by the likes of Obama.

  43. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Giving any credence whatsoever to Watts in regard to science, of any type, is akin to consulting Mr Ponzi on the ins and outs of investment and Errol Flynn on the ins…ahem..the virtues of celibacy. I wish Mr Watts a long and healthy life, however, so that he might still be extant when the trials for crimes against humanity through obstructing efforts to prevent climate catastrophe are held.

  44. Mulga Mumblebrain says:


  45. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    What do you imagine is making Baron Monckhausen’s eye-balls bulge out so fetchingly?

  46. kermit says:

    I dunno, superman1, I’m not sure you’re taking this whole thing seriously enough.

    Perhaps if you used more exclamation points.

  47. J4zonian says:

    Do you know why people willing to sacrifice are so few, SM? Because almost everyone feels caught between the denying delayalists’ confusion and minimizing and the people who relentlessly harp on the hopelessness of our situation. Despite the fact that these folks have no special knowledge or insight into the situation, they let their personal despair interfere with their assessment of the world situation. Their constant drone of despair drives the average person away from even thinking about climate catastrophe, let alone doing anything about it.

    Rebeccah Solnit talks about despair being particularly easy for the relatively well-off, who can decide there’s no point in sacrificing and then retreat to the relative, though maybe temporary comfort of their lives. Poor people have no such option; those rich people who feel little connection to other beings still believe they can escape any consequences while others suffer and die around them.

    You do not know what’s going to happen in the future, SM. Want more people willing to help? Stop the debilitating litany of gloom.