Judith Curry and the Ocean Heat Content

Judith Curry has a new post called the relentless increase of ocean heat content. It mentions two – very good in my opinion – alarming blog posts, one by Stefan Rahmstorf and the other by Joe Romm. These two posts discuss the relevance and significance of the continued rise of ocean heat content. I think they’re both very clear and make a compelling case as to the significance of this continued rise in ocean heat content. Judith, however, finishes her post with the comment

So, can anyone figure out why 0.06C is a big deal for the climate? Or how all that heat that is apparently well mixed in the ocean could somehow get into the atmosphere and influence weather/temperatures/rainfall on the land? Or is sequestering heat in the ocean a fortuitous ‘solution’ to the global (surface) warming problem?

Maybe I should really not be surprised by anything that is said by some with regards to global warming/climate change, but I was somewhat taken aback by Judith’s questions. A comment by someone called lolwot, maybe was similar to my first thought

I can. But really I shouldn’t be having to explain this to a climate scientist.

So, I thought I would try to explain why the continued rise of ocean heat content is significant and why we can’t expect it to be a fortuitous solution.

  1. The ocean is part of our climate system. Increasing its heat content will presumably have an impact on our climate. It’s also a reasonably sensitive ecosystem and so the ecology of the ocean will likely be influenced by rising ocean temperatures. This is in addition to issues related to ocean acidification.
  2. The continued rise of ocean heat content tells us that overall warming continues despite the slowdown in surface warming. This indicates that our basic understanding of the influence CO2 and other greenhouses gases is robust. Hence, the likely claim by the IPCC that scientists are 95% certain that the warming is anthropogenic. There is no other (natural) known way to explain the slow rise in surface temperatures, the continued rise in ocean heat content, and the rapid decline in Arctic sea ice.
  3. We can’t expect the ocean to continue sequestering this heat. There are probably two basic reasons for this.
    • One is that we would expect there to be ENSO events in which energy from the ocean is released to heat the land and atmosphere. That overall warming continues tells us that such an event would cause a step increase in surface temperatures that would remain, rather than decay back to the previous level. Hence we might expect to see surface warming as a series of step changes that ratchet up the surface temperatures, rather than as a smooth rise in surface temperature.
    • The other reason is that even though most of the heat is going into the oceans at the moment, surface temperatures continue to rise at about 0.05oC per decade. If this slowdown continues then the top-of-the-atmosphere energy imbalance will rise. The only way that surface temperatures could continue rising slowly is if an ever increasing fraction of this excess goes into the oceans. This may be possible, but seems highly unlikely. So even if we don’t see another ENSO event (which is also unlikely) the rate of surface warming should increase anyway as the energy imbalance increases (i.e., basic physics tells us that we can’t expect the slowdown in surface warming to continue).
  4. As I mentioned in point 2, the continued rise in ocean heat content tells us that our basic understanding of global warming is robust. That an energy imbalance exists, tells us that surface temperatures have to eventually rise so that the outgoing energy will match that coming in. Given that our understanding of the basics is robust probably indicates that our understanding of the equilibrium climate sensitivity is robust (within the uncertainties). We can’t avoid an eventual rise in surface temperatures unless our understanding of the basics is wrong and there is no evidence to suggest that this is the case.

So, that’s my attempt to explain to Judith why the continued rise in ocean heat content is significant. I’ll finish with another comment from lolwot (I don’t know who this person is, but they seem to make some very good comments on Judith’s blog. I hope she appreciates having such a knowledgeable commenter). This first part of this comment is a quote from someone else. The rest is lolwot’s response.

“The point is that the warmists keep pointing to the 10**23 joules that have gone into the ocean as evidence of global warming.”

Well it is! jesus christ!

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62 Responses to Judith Curry and the Ocean Heat Content

  1. Rachel says:

    I’m not a climate scientist but I’ll give it a go.

    Warmer water = increased evaporation = more rainfall = increased risk of flooding = failed crops = food insecurity = starvation = conflict = mass migration = ALARMING!

  2. Indeed, I’d missed that link. It’s hard to imagine how someone can think that we can increase the ocean heat content by close to 1022 J per year indefinitely without this having an impact on our climate.

  3. verytallguy says:

    Judith’s is a pretty unpleasant place. I used to comment there occasionally but was eventually repelled by the level of discourse, going as far as homophobic abuse (not aimed at me). Intellectually, it’s living proof of the accuracy of Lewandowsky’s analysis of climate denial, and provides little or no insight into climate science.

    IMHO it’s a mistake to think of Judith or her blog as being about the science (1), and therefore pointless to engage there on the facts. Her platform has, however provided her ample opportunities to denigrate colleagues and engage politically (2)(3) and I think that’s a more meaningful context to understand the content of her blog..

    Quotes from Curry recently:

    (1)“Without having done the arithmetic, I figured that the actual temperature increase when averaged over the global ocean is probably pretty small.”

    (2)“Yes, Trenberth has since been educated on the topic of the 2nd law of thermodynamics”

    (3) “I have a fairly lengthy op-ed that has been published in The Australian.”

  4. Nick says:

    Curry is just sending signals. By linking to two well-argued pieces by scientist-advocates, then shrugging her shoulders, she’s just doing the passive aggressive thing. She doesn’t care a whit for their thoughts. And she doesn’t know anything about weather, it seems, in guesstimating about small figures averaged over global scales.

    So the minor enigma of Curry’s journey continues,and that’s about as far as it goes.

  5. Tom Curtis says:

    Rachel, the increase in temperature in the Ocean below 200-300 meters is in fact very low. It cannot increase evaporation directly as that takes place at the surface, and a 0.06 C increase in surface temperature would have an inconsequential effect on evaporation in any event. The significance is not in the actual increase in temperature, but in the heat that it represents – which shows that there currently exists a significant TOA energy imbalance and that therefore that global temperatures are not in near equilibrium. Even using Otto et al’s low estimate of ECS at 2 C per doubling of CO2, that means we can expect a further 0.3 C degrees of warming, even if forcings are held constant (ie, there are no further GHG emissions).

  6. Yes, that’s probably a good point. A quick question, though. It’s my understanding that there is already evidence of a change in ocean ecology (movement of fish populations, increase in jelly fish, for example). Is this correct and do you have any idea how robust this is if it is?

  7. Sadly, I think you’re probably right. I find Judith’s blog quite interesting in that I’m amazed that a climate scientist can say the things that she does. I’ve never engaged in comments on Judith’s blog, but did try on WUWT and found it remarkably unpleasant. I couldn’t see any point in continuing there and the motivation behind starting this blog (spur of the moment admittedly) was as a mechanism for commenting on WUWT without actually having to engage directly there. I’ve since expanded my horizons somewhat 🙂

    The whole second law of thermodynamics comments is also interesting since, as far as I can tell, those who invoke it are the ones who are showing a lack of understanding of basic fluid dynamics.

  8. Tom Curtis says:

    I believe there has been some indications that rising ocean temperatures are effecting the ranges of some fish. I am, however, very unfamiliar with that area and wouldn’t want to comment further, other than to note that most fish dwell in the upper 100-200 meters of the ocean, in which temperatures more or less follow the rise in SST. My point with regard to Rachel was not that her overall chain was wrong, but that it was based on the wrong first link (ie, on OHC rather than on SST). I would note that links in the chain are far more tenuous than is suggested by the equals sign she uses.

  9. I see, thanks. I would agree that it’s increased SST that would drive enhanced evaporation, but I’ll let Rachel clarify if by warmer water she meant “SST” or “OHC” 🙂

  10. andrew adams says:

    Yeah, my reaction was exactly the same as yours (and lolwot’s) – I couldn’t believe someone who is actually a climate scientist could be asking such a question. I mean it would be fair enough if she posed the question in a rhetorical sense and then used her expertise to answer it for the benefit of her readers but she acts as if she doesn’t actually know any more than they do, which is especially worrying considering the kind of readers she attracts.

    There are plenty of other examples of her bizarre behaviour, my recent favourite being quoting from a Spectator (enough said) editorial, calling it a “really good piece…well worth reading” and then claiming in the comments that this did not mean she personally endorsed it.

    And I can’t resist quoting this from another recent post

    I’m a big fan of The Onion, and I have been looking for an opportunity to incorporate some of their material into a post.

    I managed to resist the temptation to point out that some of us thought she had already been doing this for some time.

    Still, Willard has a lot of fun there.

  11. Rachel says:

    Perhaps I should clarify by saying an increase in ocean heat content will lead to an increase in sea surface temperatures which will lead to an increase in evaporation and so on.

    From NOAA: “Heat absorbed by the ocean raises ocean temperatures, in particular SSTs.” source: http://www.oco.noaa.gov/oceanHeatContentTransport.html

  12. verytallguy says:

    Tall’s Law of thermodynamics:

    The frequency a person invokes the 2nd law of thermodynamics in debate is inversely proportional to their understanding of it

  13. That sounds like a reasonable law. I was trying to develop Wotts’s law which goes something like “Anyone who invokes Popper in order to win a scientific debate, loses the debate by default”. It hasn’t really caught on yet, but I’m still hopeful 🙂

  14. As much fun as it would have been to make such a comment, I suspect resisting was probably the best course of action. Willard does indeed seem to have great fun there. I just wish I could understand what he was getting at sometimes 🙂

  15. You could also see it the other way around. By asking funny questions and her regular character assassinations of scientists, Curry is able to present climate ostriches with links to real science and typically with long quotes from it.

    This way these people at least get some contact with real scientific thought. One can hope that in the long run, the smarter readers of Climate Etc. start noticing the difference in quality of arguments between the quotes and the funny questions and strange comments.

  16. Maybe he is not getting at something. Maybe he is just having fun.

    I sometimes wonder whether the same thing is true for the climate ostriches. They just want to have fun. And a good way to have fun as a cripto-libertarian is to annoy those stupid progressives that always want to be right and dictatorially steer the public discussion into the wrong direction with these weird things called “arguments”.

  17. KR says:

    Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are driven by energy balance, just like the rest of the climate. Currently the ocean heat sink is well behind the forcing imbalances, meaning there is an excess of energy in the surface waters that is being redistributed by ocean circulation.

    However (the important point here)the entire ocean doesn’t have to warm by 2C for surface temperatures to warm by 2C. That’s a strawman argument, and Dr. Curry should have the background (considering her publication history) to know that. Ocean temperatures form a gradient with depth (colder water is deeper), and an increase in surface temperatures just means, in the short term, a higher thermal gradient with depth.

    What’s going to happen is that SSTs will increase until the climate is once again in radiative balance, a process only slowed by ocean thermal mass. Slowed, not stopped.

  18. To be honest, that’s been my assumption with regards to Willard. I certainly normally have a good laugh when I read his comments.

    Your latter point is interesting. I suspect slightly tongue-in-cheek but maybe not all that far from the mark. It does seem as though there sometimes is a different attitude toward how we should approach problems and maybe also with regards to how we should discuss science that may mean that some simply see it as their right to approach it in the way they do. If it also ticks off “progressives” even better.

  19. Indeed, I agree. Presumably as we approach the radiative balance, the distribution of the excess energy will change so that a bigger fraction is heating the land and atmosphere than is the case today (or, alternatively, a smaller fraction being absorbed by the oceans). As you say, it is very surprising that Judith Curry doesn’t get this basic point. That ocean heat content continues to rise while surface warming slows would seem (obviously I would have thought) to indicate a radiative mismatch that will reduce as the system absorbs more energy, and that we shouldn’t assume that this implies anything that significant with regards to long-term surface warming.

  20. Nick says:

    Ha! Yes, she’s gone undercover…the agent’s life is a long, lonely journey.

  21. An amazing double bluff, in other words 🙂

  22. Jp says:

    Had a peep over at Curry’s place. Depressing _ just another WUWT, a cesspool of dumb denial with some scientific pretense.

    They seem to all be arguing that it doesn’t matter if the oceans warm, the oceans can’t in turn warm the atmosphere. Now, I don’t understand the mechanism by which the oceans do that warming, but the Enso/atmosphere temperature coupling seems to be well accepted, a point that every one of the commenters over there has conveniently ignored. It wasn’t that long ago that they were attributing ALL the atmospheric warming trends to enso ( the Carter/McLean paper I think), and now none of them mention it.

  23. I think you’re right that ENSO events can act to heat the land and atmosphere through releasing energy from the oceans. The subtlety is that the energy going into the deep ocean is likely to remain there for a long time. So what skeptics are suggesting is that if this was the energy that was meant to be heating the land and atmosphere, it’s now trapped and can’t be released (at least on short timescales). Although this may be technically true, it’s largely irrelevant as (as far as I’m aware) the most it can do is maybe reduce the TCR and increase the lag (i.e., it will take longer to reach equilibrium) but even this may not be strictly true as this may simply be some kind of short term variation that will simply average out. There are others who comment here who can probably explain this better than I have and correct any of my basic errors.

  24. > quoting from a Spectator (enough said) editorial, calling it a “really good piece…well worth reading” and then claiming in the comments that this did not mean she personally endorsed it.

    “You may ask yourself”, as Judy asks her Denizens, if that is an endorsement of the Spectator’s piece, Andrew:


    You ask yourself that question whatever Judy might justify her stance.

    Who let the dogs out?

  25. You may ask yourself that question however Judy might justify her stance, that is.

  26. Wott,

    If you ask me to make myself clearer, I can always try. When a Denizen ask me to clarify myself, he usually does not ask a second time. Even I can be forthright, e.g.


  27. cvdanes says:

    In response to item 1 on your list, coral reefs are particularly sensitive to changes in the ocean environment.

    Also, the high specific heat capacity of water means that the oceans provide a tremendous stabilizing effect on global temperature. If you consider the amount of energy required to heat a pot of water on the stove, then the energy differential required to raise ocean temperature by even 0.06C is quite a big deal.

    The long-term problem, of course, is that this works both ways. In the same way that the oceans may act as a heat sink to slow down planetary warming, they will conversely act as a heat source to slow down any subsequent cooling.

    The planetary systems that make up our biosphere are huge and have tremendous inertia. If you consider the amount of energy it has taken to heat up the climate, consider what it will take to cool it down again 🙂

  28. I hope you don’t see my comment as a criticism. I both enjoy your comments and find them challenging 🙂

  29. Challenging?

    When I was young, I often watched an afternoon cooking program. Almost every time program ended with the moderator tasting the food and her face showing how disgusting she found it, then she would put up a big smile and say: “very special”.

    Just having fun. 🙂

  30. andrew adams says:

    Well to be honest I think that tweaking the noses of people whose opinions you perceive as absurd can be fun and is not always a wholly dishonourable motive, although it can be tiresome if overdone.

    But there is a more serious side to it for the skeptics – as long as there are arguments going on at all about the basic case for action they can point to these as evidence of “controversy” over AGW. And there is always the possibility that uncommited people who are watching* might be swayed.

    So in a way it’s lose/lose for us – they win in one sense simply by us agreeing to play the game, but if we let them have the game to themselves they will declare a walkover and some might believe them.

    Welcome to climateball – a game of tactics, strategy, rhetorical tricks and so forth. I think that’s what Willard is largely interested in, and if you see his comments in that context they do make sense, especially if you are familiar with some of the regular commenters and kind of arguments which commonly occur. So I don’t think he’s only having fun, there’s a serious side to it as well. (Apologies if that’s not a fair appraisal).

    *I’m not convinced that there are large numbers of uncommited people attracted to climate blogs. But we are talking about people who watch but don’t comment (he ones who do are generally committed) so by definition it is hard to count them.

  31. That’s a very good point and one that I think many (myself included initially) do not appreciate. The whole system is always tending towards some kind of equilibrium which – as you say – means either adding a lot of energy to the oceans or (if we wished to try and cool the system down) removing a lot of energy from the oceans.

  32. Yes, you’re right it is a game and you’re probably right that there’s an element of lose-lose for those on our side of the debate. Logic might dictate that those who make arguments that are not backed up by scientific evidence should simply be ignored. Reality makes it clear that that isn’t possible.

    What I do find amazing is the people (and I won’t name names, but you can all probably think of some) who regularly make statements, comments or write articles that are demonstrably incorrect and yet this doesn’t appear to really dent their credibility at all.

  33. Or sleeper? 😉 Would be a more modern term.

    I must admit, I have been wrong before. In The Netherlands, we had a very unsympathetic leader of a racist party, Hans Janmaat. He was doing his job so badly, was so clumsy and unlikeable, that I had the impression, his aim was to keep his party small. He also went to the same secondary school as the then leader of the green party.

    However, Janmaat passed away some years ago and contrary to my expectations, no will showed up that stated that the just played a role and had sacrificed his life for the good cause.

  34. The way to win in such lose/lose situation, is to not only refute the argument (play the game for the onlookers), but also show that the argument has long been debunked and is not a serious contribution to any scientific debate (disqualify the game at the meta-level).

  35. A first comment I could catch:

    Joshua | September 27, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    Max, –

    I thought I posted a reply but somehow it must have gotten lost:

    I have two responses to your two comments:

    The first is that I think that Judith is perfectly capable of defending herself – especially since she has the hammer here. I see no reason why she should get special treatment because she is a “lady.” She mixes it up just like everyone else. That her expertise is higher than anyone else here does not seem to me to be a reason to [NOT] criticize her thinking in areas outside of her expertise: where her approach is more along the lines of “normative” or that of an “advocate.”

    The second is that I am not trying to “educate” Judith on the science of climate change or on anything else. If you think that I have been trying to do so, you are mistaken.

    So once again, I criticize Judith’s approach to the dynamics of the debate (not even on her approach to the science), and in response I get attacked personally.

    Not that it makes any difference, but it certainly is interesting.


    This one did not last long.

  36. If I may indulge into a cryptic comment, as I need to go:

    They are playing a game. They are playing at not

    playing a game. If I show them I see they are, I

    shall break the rules and they will punish me.

    I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game.


    Casual readers need to become aware of the Comedy of menace while Waiting for Godot.


    If I may also add my own judgement:

    I don’t think it’s a lose/lose situation, as contrarians are not winning.
    The only way for the establishment to lose would be to play as if it was losing.
    You may ask yourself why contrarians are overselling their bandwagon.


    If you think about it, most contrarian posts convey “we are winning”.
    And most pushback posts, “we’re not losing”.
    My suggested presentation would be:

    Thank you for your concerns.
    Please continue.

    You may ask yourself why this last line, inspired by ID debates, has evolved into a meme.

  37. Joshua says:

    That was re-post (the first similar comment was deleted), as a check so that I could retain a copy if it got deleted again.

    Interestingly, it didn’t get deleted the second time, and an explanation was offered:

    curryja | September 27, 2013 at 12:40 pm |

    Actually, I have been deleting a number of your comments that seem likely to start a food fight and haven’t had substantive content.

    It is interesting logic.

    (1) I post a comment offering my opinion of her advocacy. I have not even criticized her scientific analysis, but her approach to the debate.

    (2) In response, I get attacked personally.

    (3) In respond to the attack, I politely explaining the errors my attacker made. (on other occasions I quoted Judith’s statement that she will be deleting comments that contain “sniping.”)

    (4) And as a reaction to that, Judith deletes my comment (that was responding to an attack) because it might start a food fight. (She even deleted the responses to the attacks where I quoted her statement that she would be deleting “sniping.)

    It is a pattern that has repeated a number of times now.

    It is hard to know how to respond, other than the futile and juvenile “But Judith, he started it.” It seems there are two other possibilities. The first is simply to not respond to the attacks. That might work. There seems to me to be a basic “unfairness” there, but hey, this is the blogosphere, and expecting “fairness” seems a bit silly to me.

    The second choice is to simply not post anything that is critical of Judith’s reasoning, as doing so inevitably engenders an attack.

    Given the whole putative ethos of “skeptics” – that what they’re doing is voicing criticism and as a result they are being unfairly attacked and marginalized – the situation certainly strikes me as amusingly ironic.

  38. BBD says:


    I always liked your application of “comedy of menace” to the antics of the punch & Judy crowd – and the rest.

  39. Paul says:

    Given that I am not in the field, maybe you can clarify for me where the 0.05 C per decade increase in global surface temps comes from.

    I looked at the NOAA site and got their data set for “The Annual Global (land and ocean combined) Anomalies (°C)” since 1950. I did a linear regression fit and got a fit of 0.1 C per decade increase with r = 0.9. I then did a linear regression fit over 10 year intervals since 1950 every 3 years and plotted the decadal slope results on a histogram with bins for the fit slopes from -0.25 C/decade to +0.45 C/decade with widths of 0.1 C/decade. The slopes distributed as a Gaussian with a mean of 0.1 C/decade and an SD of 0.2 C/decade. So, it seems to me that the best estimate is 0.1 C/decade. The most recent 10 year fit 2002-20012 had a slope of -0.04 C/decade. But, that is within 1 SD of the mean, so I don’t see why this indicates anything significant. Indeed, given a normal stochastic process and this large of an SD I would be suspicious of the data if such negative anomalies weren’t observed. Obviously, the studies of heat going into the oceans is likely important for understanding the underlying processes that are creating this level of stochastic variability, but I don’t see how they have any relevance for disputing that the current temperature time series is in anyway anomalous for a process with an underlying slope of 0.1 C/decade with 0.2 C/decade SD.

  40. To be honest, I’m not in the field either. The 0.05oC per decade is the linear regression fit to the HadCRUT4 data, but the 2σ errors are large. I also believe that the HadCRUT4 dataset does not cover the high latitudes regions as well as some of the other datasets so GISSTemp gives 0.07oC per decade but NOAA gives 0.04oC per decade (all for the period 1998 – 2013). This all comes from the Skeptical Science Trend Calculator. Essentially, if I understand your comment correctly, you’re probably quite right. The supposed slowdown in surface warming is based on a short time interval over which the scatter in the data produces quite large errors and hence isn’t all that significant. That’s the message that many have been trying to get out, but it’s not really getting through to some.

  41. Willard, I think you are right. Being in the winning group and following a winner are very important for conservatives. That is likely why the proclaim to be winning so often.

    That was also the motivation for me to investigate this claim and find that the ranking of WUWT and most other ostrich blogs are actually decreasing and that the recent peak in web traffic of WUWT is fake.

    Also interesting if you look at the sitemeter at WUWT is that WUWT has more readers during the week as in the weekend. Looks like they read WUWT while being bored at work, but they are not willing to sacrifice their free time to this nonsense.

  42. Tom Curtis says:

    As Rachel was using Judith’s figure, which she got from the ARGO website, it is clear she means the mean temperature increase of the ocean from 0-2000 meters.

    With her clarification below, that is fairly clear in any event.

    Even with that clarification, the causal link is tenuous. Heat absorbed by the ocean does indeed raise SST, because that is were most of the heat goes. But heat stored below 700 meters (and for the most part below 300 meters) will not return to the surface and increase temperatures there for reasons of thermodynamics. (The exception is that part of the additional heat stored at greater depth due to ENSO or other similar mechanics.) An increase of middle ocean (700-2000 m) temperatures relative to surface ocean temperatures (0-700 m) will slow the rate at which heat enters the deep ocean by diffusion or conduction, thereby allowing a more rapid rise in SST; but this effect must be small at current levels of mid ocean temperature rise, both because the rise is very small and because diffusion/conduction account for a very small part of heat transport to the depths.

    We can be confident from the rise in OHC that SSTs will resume their former rapid rise not because the heat from the ocean will return to the surface at a later date (a common an inaccurate metaphor) but because no amount of increase of subsurface temperatures will close the energy imbalance, and nature must work someway to close it.

  43. Tom Curtis says:

    Wotts, I don’t think that follows at all. Rather, as we near radiative balance, the total excess energy entering the system will decline so that both surface and ocean warm slower. There may be shifts in the distribution, but they will be slight. If anything, increased temperatures will drive increased wind speed and hence increased surface water mixing which will allow a greater proportion of the heat to enter the ocean; although that may be partially or wholly countered by a slowdown in the thermo-haline circulation.

  44. Yes, I probably expressed that poorly. Indeed as we near overall radiative balance then the total excess energy entering the system will decline. I was simply referring to a balance between the oceans and the atmosphere that could shift the distribution so as to increase surface warming. What you say at the end of your comment is something I hadn’t considered. So, there’s a possibility the mixing in the ocean could increase as temperatures rise?

  45. Tom, what you say in your last paragraph is a point that I think many do not get.

  46. Tom Curtis says:

    There are possibilities of all sorts of things 😉

    What I know is that the large amount of thermal mixing in the upper ocean is driven by wave action, which is in turn driven by wind speed. In essence, wave action mixes surface water down to the thermocline, whose depth varies by season and latitude in the same way that waves do. Below the thermocline, without turbulent mixing, heat transfer is very slow leading to nearly constant temperatures with depth.

    As it happens, it is predicted under global warming that wind velocities, and hence wave heights will increase, which should turbulent mixing, and hence the rate at which oceans warm. What is more, some of the predicted increase has already been observed. Of course, the observed increase may be due to natural variability, and does not have the same pattern as predicted in the first article. Further, I am not expert in this (or any) area, so I may by missing significant sections of contradicting literature. But as I understand it, that is what we should expect.

  47. Rob Painting says:

    Wotts – I think you have failed to convey the absurdity of Judith’s ‘argument’. Consider this analogy:

    All the students and staff at a university are weighed and body fat tested over a period of time. At the end of this period the results are tallied and it turns out that, averaged over all the participants, including those that have lost or gained bodyweight and bodyfat, the average weight gain is 1 kg and an increase in bodyfat of 3% (figures plucked from thin air here). Upon hearing this, two of the participants who gained 15 kgs of bodyweight and a massive 20% bodyfat are elated, they’ve got nothing to worry about they reckon. To celebrate they’re off down the pub to knock back a few ales and gorge themselves on meat pies (it’s a New Zealand thing) because their health is fine.

    This is essentially the argument Curry is making. She’s either taking the piss, or has wandered far off the reservation.

    The surface ocean has warmed a lot. It is endangering the viability of coral reefs and we are seeing the emergence of marine heatwaves which can be devastating. The one which occurred off Western Australia a few years back killed so much marine life that it effectively restructured local ecosystems on the times scale of weeks. Coral are very sensitive to any further warming because they are near a thermal tolerance threshold. The ocean circulation has helped to minimize mass coral bleaching because of the strong export of warm surface water out of the tropics during the negative phase of the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO). When this switches phase (and it is trending in that direction) the tropical sea surface will become anomalously warm.

    I suspect we are underestimating how damaging that will be to marine life. Indeed, the large-scale retreat of coral reefs away from the equator during the last interglacial highstand portend a bit of a disaster up ahead.

  48. BG says:

    Completely agree with you. Perhaps if you replaced ” = ” with ” => “, Tom might be happier. 🙂

    Having spent a significant amount of time this year researching and building a presentation about the intersection of global warming, national security and the US DOD, they are also in complete agreement with you. And btw taking more positive actions to reduce the problem than our society at large is.

  49. Rob, I suspect you’re quite right. In trying to include some element of balance (and sometimes failing) I may indeed sometimes fail to convey how absurd something is. Sometimes that’s because I can’t quite believe that someone has actually said what they’ve just said. As I think I said in the post, maybe I should stop being surprised by what some people are willing to say, but that – in itself – can be quite difficult 🙂

  50. Rachel says:

    Yes, I think => would have been better. I’ve read that the Australian Department of Defence is also taking the issue seriously.

    There’s a very recent paper -http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6151/1235367.abstract – which found that when rainfall and temperature patterns deviate from the norm, the risk of conflict increases substantially.

  51. Another rather obvious consequence of rising OHC is sea level rise via thermal expansion (which accounts for close to half of current sea level rise rates).

    These are rather ignorant comments I would expect from someone like Watts or Tisdale. But I’m not surprised to see them coming from Curry, because frankly I don’t see her as having much more understanding than your average climate contrarian blogger. It’s a bizarre thing – I certainly used to be surprised by it, given that she’s a climate scientist with a solid publication record.

    But at this point I’ve become desensitized to her climate ignorance. I don’t understand it, but it’s been going on for long enough on her blog and in various media articles that I’ve simply come to view her in much the same light as I view folks like Watts/Ridley/Lomborg/etc. For the most part they just don’t know what they’re talking about. The big difference is that Curry really has no excuse, because she should have the climate expertise to know better. For whatever reason, she doesn’t.

  52. dbostrom says:

    It’s a challenge to come up with an explanation that is not insulting as well as being speculative without the benefit of true insight. Anyway, insult doesn’t accomplish much; a publication record counts very heavily (as it should) and leaves invective falling short.

    Looking at a somewhat analogous situation, Lindzen provides fairly clear hints and even explicit information about his ideology; Lindzen’s expert testimony and extra-scientific writings show fairly clearly that the border between Lindzen the scientist and Lindzen the political animal is porous, breached. Despite the commonality of a juxtaposed publication record and seeming selective ignorance, Curry does not seem to provide us with any similar clarity about why she’d choose to ally herself with practitioners of motivated ignorance and political impressionists.

    In any case facts of this matter are separable from character and can be handled independently, as Wott shows.

  53. On cue, more absurdities from Curry, for example

    “[There’s] Growing realization that you can’t control climate by emissions reductions”

    “after several decades and expenditures in the bazillions, the IPCC still has not provided a convincing argument for how much warming in the 20th century has been caused by humans.”

    “the politically charged rhetoric has contaminated academic climate research and the institutions that support climate research” [sounds like psychological projection]


  54. dbostrom says:

    — “[There’s] Growing realization that you can’t control climate by emissions reductions”

    Absolutely true, if we choose not to reduce emissions.

    — “after several decades and expenditures in the bazillions, the IPCC …”

    In its last most active year, 2007, IPCC expenditure was about $6.5 million. What’s a bazillion? Presumably Curry is lumping any and all climate-related research to come up with bazillions. She herself is a beneficiary?

    — “the politically charged rhetoric has contaminated academic climate research and the institutions that support climate research”


    One of Curry’s particular skills is that of producing rhetoric that can’t be followed to any particular place where it can be verified or falsified. Witness Gavin Schmidt’s futile attempts at dialog, way back when Curry became bored with being a trench researcher and emerged as a member of the commentariat.

  55. BG says:

    Check out climate related issues in Syria that have contributed to the civil war there.

  56. Nick says:

    The sleeper shows no sign of waking, though….

  57. dbostrom says:

    Interesting. I just read Curry’s latest and now I have my own charitable speculation about what’s up her. Or at least it’s charitable in the sense that Curry is no more or less subject to human nature than the rest of us. Curry is fairly explicit in condemning what she sees as opportunity costs inflicted on the research community by overweening interest in anthropogenic climate change.

    So, the green-eyed monster?

    This reminds me of research meteorologist Cliff Mass, who frequently complains of weather prediction computational facilities being starved by climate researchers’ computational requirements. In Curry’s case, she chiefly speaks of a talent drain (“we’ve lost a generation of climate dynamicists”). In a world with 7 billion persons from which to draw talent that seems a stretch, as does Cliff Mass’ myopic focus on climate research as a budgetary indulgence when so much more money is spent on other things.

    In both cases the mistake is that of seeing the resource pool and division as being some kind of zero-sum game. Both Mass and Curry both are complaining in the wrong direction.

    I have to say, hearing these people fuss so over fake resource shortages when their entire government is about to be brought down around their ears as another bit of fakery makes me shake my head.

  58. Ah. I’d seen people recently saying “meh. 0.06C, so what” recently. I’d been too lazy to track back the source to the Alfred E Neuman School of Climimagination and Graphemathification.

  59. That's MR BALL to you. says:

    What’s a bazillion?

    This is a meme that appears more and more frequently in MSM comment sections. “Someone” is spending huge sums of My Tax Dollars on these climate schemes! When questioned, they have no idea how much their local government is spending on anything.

  60. One of the UK’s government ministers (Owen Patterson maybe) apparently claimed that we were spending £1billion per day on climate change/green agenda. Given a UK GDP of about £1.5 trillion, this would be about 25% of GDP. You’d have thought a government minister would at least know whether or not such a claim made any sense.

  61. deminthon says:


    Judith Curry is now referring to climate scientists as “warmists”? I hadn’t realized that she has crossed all the way to the other side.

  62. Pingback: A possible “told you so” moment? | And Then There's Physics

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