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Global Warming Blog

Ocean Waters Cooler than Expected
Did you hear that NOAA found surprising drops in temperature?
Posted September 22, 2006 by Nathan Cool

Global warming, as its name implies, is a continued heating of our world. But on September 21, 2006, NOAA issued a report that was conveniently overlooked by many in the mainstream media. This new report--a seemingly diametric view on our recently warming world--revealed that the water held within our planet's vast oceans has "cooled significantly" since 2003. This seems counterintuitive to the apocalyptic gloom and doom sermonized by those in the sky-is-falling camp, which at the same time formulated fantastic fodder for the skeptics in the crowd, especially since NOAA hasn't figured out why our world's oceans are chilling off, and not heating up. There could though be more at play here than meets the eye.

If you may recall, I pointed out in a previous blog (here) that despite melting ice and glaciers around the world, some glaciers are actually becoming thicker. This--as explained in my previous blog--could merely be just a side effect of climate change, and possibly something to be expected (although not likely preached by stump thumpers in the pro-warming brigade). The recent drop in ocean temperature though is a bit of a conundrum, and serves as a prime example of how little we actually know about our world and just exactly how our planet will react to human-induced climate elements.

The findings of the lower than expected ocean temperatures are a product of data analysis pulled from ocean moorings, floats and shipboard sensors. Researchers confirmed and bolstered their results with data collected by NASA satellites, finding that the average temperature of the upper ocean rose by 0.16 degrees Fahrenheit from 1993 to 2003, but then fell 0.055 degrees Fahrenheit from 2003 to 2005. While this meager 0.055 degrees of cooling may not seem like much, bear in mind that this dip, in only two years, is equal to about one-fifth of the heat gained by the world's oceans over a span of 48 years between 1955 and 2003.

One explanation for the cooling could be decadal oscillations. As I point out in chapter 3 of Is it Hot in Here?--The simple truth about global warming, these swings of Mother Nature's Goldilocks complex can last for ten years or more, and are often pointed to as being responsible for such things as fluctuations in hurricane seasons and various meteorological events. What isn't mentioned very often though, is that decadal oscillations were only discovered about twenty years ago. This may seem ironic, given that these decade-long undulations of Earth's oceans have waxed and waned for millennia but only came under the microscope of scientific study shortly after bell-bottom leisure suits went out of style.

There's something else too that seems a bit odd about the recent ocean cooling trend: the changes run deep--literally. In NOAA's recent study, researchers found that a small amount of cooling was detected at the ocean's surface, but the maximum amount of anomalous cooling was seen at a depth of about 1,300 feet and "substantial cooling" was observed at 2,500 feet. According to NOAA's report, the cooling appears to extend even deeper. This could have a serious--albeit positive--impact on the estimates purported for our future generations, and could very well lead to another demotion of global warming's dire.

The data that NOAA is collecting now will help tighten-up climate models, which are the primary source for predictions of a warming world. As you may recall from another one of my recent blogs (here), climate models are still being tweaked to get it right--which certainly won't happen overnight. There have been gross errors in climate models over the years with the most recent adjustments apparently resulting in a toned-down view on sea level rises for 2100 (17 inches versus 3 feet), which the IPCC is expected to report next year in their AR4 assessment report (more on that here). With cooler ocean temperatures now being discovered, rising sea levels from thermal expansion will likely be reduced as well.

There's no doubt that 2006 will go down in history as "the year of the climate"--an epoch when it became in vogue to side with doomsayers and global warming dogmatists. In the media frenzy that picked up momentum in just the past few months, alarmist rhetoric can dangerously cloud perception on reality. Is our world warming? Sure. Is this human-induced? Yes, but...

Uncertainties abound in the field of climate research, and there is much we don't know about nature's role in global warming--no matter what politicians in the pulpit may preach. Scientists, including those publishing IPCC assessment reports, stress the fact that uncertainties do indeed exist. That's to be expected. NOAA's recent study will help scientists work to improve their studies, models and predictions, which is what helps make science science. This process will take time. Yet as we wait--and I risk sounding like a conspiracy theorist typing feverishly away in some remote wilderness cabin--believers of the sky-is-falling faith cherry-pick only the facts they want us to hear, instead of the whole truth and nothing but.

Interestingly enough, this evening's news on NBC covered polar bear problems in Hudson Bay from melting ice, as well as Branson's new move to donate $3 billion to the global warming effort. Mainstream media's view on uncertainties though (e.g. NOAA's recent report on ocean cooling) or anything else not flowing with the in vogue, and often coined inconvenient story of the year were once again left out of the broadcast. Surprise, surprise...

More information on thermal expansion, uncertainties of climate change, sea level rises and other topics discussed in this blog can be found in my new book, Is it Hot in Here?--The simple truth about global warming. Click here to get your copy.