Frozen in Time
May 09, 2009
Have Changes In Ocean Heat Falsified The Global Warming Hypothesis?

By William DiPuccio on Climate Science

The Global Warming Hypothesis

Albert Einstein once said, “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.” Einstein’s words express a foundational principle of science intoned by the logician, Karl Popper:  Falsifiability.  In order to verify a hypothesis there must be a test by which it can be proved false.  A thousand observations may appear to verify a hypothesis, but one critical failure could result in its demise.  The history of science is littered with such examples.

A hypothesis that cannot be falsified by empirical observations, is not science.  The current hypothesis on anthropogenic global warming (AGW), presented by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is no exception to this principle.  Indeed, it is the job of scientists to expose the weaknesses of this hypothesis as it undergoes peer review.  This paper will examine one key criterion for falsification: ocean heat.

Ocean heat plays a crucial role in the AGW hypothesis, which maintains that climate change is dominated by human-added, well-mixed green house gasses (GHG).  IR radiation that is absorbed and re-emitted by these gases, particularly CO2, is said to be amplified by positive feedback from clouds and water vapor.  This process results in a gradual accumulation of heat throughout the climate system, which includes the atmosphere, cryosphere, biosphere, lithosphere, and, most importantly, the hydrosphere.  The increase in retained heat is projected to result in rising atmospheric temperatures of 2-6C by the year 2100.

In 2005 James Hansen, Josh Willis, and Gavin Schmidt of NASA coauthored a significant article (in collaboration with twelve other scientists), on the “Earth’s Energy Imbalance:  Confirmation and Implications” (Science, 3 June 2005, 1431-35).  This paper affirmed the critical role of ocean heat as a robust metric for AGW.  “Confirmation of the planetary energy imbalance,” they maintained, “can be obtained by measuring the heat content of the ocean, which must be the principal reservoir for excess energy” (1432).

In 2007 Roger Pielke, Sr. suggested that ocean heat should be used not just to monitor the energy imbalance in the climate system, but as a “litmus test” for falsifying the IPCC’s AGW hypothesis (Pielke, “A Litmus Test”,, April 4, 2007).

A comparison of these projections to observed data is shown below.  Despite expectations of warming, temperature measurements of the upper 700m of the ocean from the ARGO array show no increase from 2003 through 2008.  Willis calculates a net loss of -0.12 (plus or minus 0.35) x 1022Joules per year (Pielke, Physics Today,55) from mid-2003 to the end of 2008 (Dr. Pielke received permission from Josh Willis to extend the ARGO data to the end of 2008).

According to a recent analysis of ARGO data by Craig Loehle, senior scientist at the Illinois-based National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, the loss is -0.35 (plus or minus 0.2) x 1022Joules per year from mid-2003 to the end of 2007 (see Loehle, 2009: “Cooling of the global ocean since 2003.” Energy & Environment, Vol. 20, No. 1&2, 101-104(4)).  Loehle used a more complex method than Willis to calculate this trend, enabling him to reduce the margin of error.

My calculations for observed global heat, shown below, are based on observed upper ocean heat.  Since upper ocean heat is calculated to be 80% of the global total, observed global heat equals approximately 125% (1/0.8) of the observed upper ocean heat.


Projected Global Heat Accumulation


Heat Deficit.  The graph below shows the increasing deficit of upper ocean heat from 2003 through 2008 based on GISS projections by Hansen, Willis, Schmidt, et. al.  Actual heat accumulation is plotted from observed data (using ARGO) and shows the overall linear trend (after Willis and Loehle).  Seasonal fluctuations and error bars are not shown.


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