'Missing' heat may affect future climate change

Apr 15, 2010

Current observational tools cannot account for roughly half of the heat that is believed to have built up on Earth in recent years, according to a "Perspectives" article in this week's issue of Science. Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) warn in the new study that satellite sensors, ocean floats, and other instruments are inadequate to track this "missing" heat, which may be building up in the deep oceans or elsewhere in the climate system.

"The heat will come back to haunt us sooner or later," says NCAR scientist Kevin Trenberth, the lead author. "The reprieve we've had from warming temperatures in the last few years will not continue. It is critical to track the build-up of energy in our climate system so we can understand what is happening and predict our future climate."

The authors suggest that last year's rapid onset of El NiƱo, the periodic event in which upper ocean waters across much of the tropical Pacific Ocean become significantly warmer, may be one way in which the has reappeared.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, NCAR's sponsor, and by NASA. A Science Perspectives piece is not formally peer-reviewed, but it is extensively reviewed by editors of the journal. Science had invited Trenberth to submit the article after an editor heard him discuss the research at a scientific conference.

Trenberth and his co-author, NCAR scientist John Fasullo, focused on a central mystery of . Whereas satellite instruments indicate that greenhouse gases are continuing to trap more solar energy, or heat, scientists since 2003 have been unable to determine where much of that heat is going.

Either the are incorrect, says Trenberth, or, more likely, large amounts of heat are penetrating to regions that are not adequately measured, such as the deepest parts of the oceans. Compounding the problem, Earth's surface temperatures have largely leveled off in recent years. Yet melting glaciers and Arctic sea ice, along with rising sea levels, indicate that heat is continuing to have profound effects on the planet.

In their Perspectives article, Trenberth and Fasullo explain that it is imperative to better measure the flow of energy through Earth's climate system. For example, any geoengineering plan to artificially alter the world's climate to counter global warming could have inadvertent consequences, which may be difficult to analyze unless scientists can track heat around the globe. Improved analysis of energy in the atmosphere and oceans can also help researchers better understand and possibly even anticipate unusual weather patterns, such as the cold outbreaks across much of the United States, Europe, and Asia over the past winter.

There's more to climate change than warmer air

As greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, satellite instruments show a growing imbalance between energy entering the atmosphere from the Sun and energy leaving from Earth's surface. This imbalance is the source of long-term global warming.

But tracking the growing amount of heat on Earth is far more complicated than measuring temperatures at the planet's surface. The oceans absorb about 90 percent of the solar energy that is trapped by greenhouse gases. Additional amounts of heat go toward melting glaciers and sea ice, as well as warming the land and parts of the atmosphere. Only a tiny fraction warms the air at the planet's surface.

Satellite measurements indicate that the amount of greenhouse-trapped solar energy has risen over recent years while the increase in heat measured in the top 3,000 feet of the ocean has stalled. Although it is difficult to quantify the amount of solar energy with precision, Trenberth and Fasullo estimate that, based on satellite data, the amount of energy build-up appears to be about 1.0 watts per square meter or higher, while ocean instruments indicate a build-up of about 0.5 watts per square meter. That means about half the total amount of heat is unaccounted for.

A percentage of the missing heat could be illusory, the result of imprecise measurements by satellites and surface sensors or incorrect processing of data from those sensors, the authors say. Until 2003, the measured heat increase was consistent with computer model expectations. But a new set of ocean monitors since then has shown a steady decrease in the rate of oceanic heating, even as the satellite-measured imbalance between incoming and outgoing energy continues to grow.

Some of the missing heat appears to be going into the observed melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, as well as Arctic sea ice, the authors say.

Much of the missing heat may be in the ocean. Some heat increase can be detected between depths of 3,000 and 6,500 feet (about 1,000 to 2,000 meters), but more heat may be deeper still beyond the reach of ocean sensors.

Trenberth and Fasullo call for additional ocean sensors, along with more systematic data analysis and new approaches to calibrating satellite instruments, to help resolve the mystery. The Argo profiling floats that researchers began deploying in 2000 to measure ocean temperatures, for example, are separated by about 185 miles (300 kilometers) and take readings only about once every 10 days from a depth of about 6,500 feet (2,000 meters) up to the surface. Plans are underway to have a subset of these floats go to greater depths.

"Global warming at its heart is driven by an imbalance of energy: more solar energy is entering the atmosphere than leaving it," Fasullo says. "Our concern is that we aren't able to entirely monitor or understand the imbalance. This reveals a glaring hole in our ability to observe the build-up of heat in our ."

Explore further: NASA balloons begin flying in Antarctica for 2014 campaign

Provided by National Center for Atmospheric Research

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winthrom
1.8 / 5 (6) Apr 15, 2010
Consider two elements that hold energy:
1. Biomas creation transforms solar insolation into chemical storage of energy.
2. TRansvaporation (plants putting moisture into the atmosphere) stores energy of evaporation into the atmosphere that is realized as temperature when laten heat of condensation is released. Ast the atmosphere heats, the amount of moisture it can hold increases
marjon
2.1 / 5 (17) Apr 15, 2010
Current observational tools cannot account for roughly half of the heat that is believed to have built up on Earth in recent years,

'believed'? That is the current excuse?
But the sensors are adequate enough to predict a disaster so great all the world's governments must tax away carbon?
PinkElephant
3 / 5 (12) Apr 15, 2010
That's right, clown. Don't bother reading past the first sentence of the article, before you make a fool of yourself yet again...
Shootist
2.2 / 5 (17) Apr 15, 2010
Observational data doesn't match their massaged data?

Whoda thunk it?
PinkElephant
3.8 / 5 (10) Apr 15, 2010
Actually, it's a case of observational data not matching other observational data.

Read the article first, or risk turning into marjon 2.0
Don_WV
1.8 / 5 (9) Apr 15, 2010
What I do not understand is the article states that
"Some of the missing heat appears to be going into the observed melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, as well as Arctic sea ice" But latest reports from NSIDC states "The chilly weather conditions allowed the ice to cover more territory and much later in the season than any other March since satellites started measuring arctic ice in 1979. On March 31, the ice measured 5.89 million square miles -- 260,000 square miles more than the 2006 record low for the month of March." So something must be wrong with the satellite data? By all indications the earth is cooling but the satellite data shows it has to be warming?
thermodynamics
3.4 / 5 (10) Apr 15, 2010
Don WV: Wow - did you get this wrong. I was surprised by your information so I went to NSDIC to see for myself what you were talking about:

http://nsidc.org/...610.html

You took the sentences out of context. I hope that others will go to the site and actually read what is there. What it is saying is, NOT that this was a record year for ice. Instead, it just barely touched the average for ice coverage. In fact, it is stating that the ice grew faster in March than ever before, not that there was more ice. It is more than the record, but less than many other years and if you look at the chart you can see it is also melting very fast. What an amazing job of twisting the words on the page. Please, everyone, read this yourselves to see what they are saying. What a sham from Don. Don, either you can't read or you like making things up. The earth is not cooling. March was among the top 3 in GLOBAL temperatures not necessarily local weather.
Don_WV
2.1 / 5 (11) Apr 15, 2010
thermodynamics,March had the warmest ocean temps on record, not global temps! March was the 4th warmest land temps. As far as being misleading, I do not intend to mislead anyone! Maybe I should have quoted more of the article. Sea Ice is only 250,000 square miles low from normal, this may sound like a large area but compared to 5.83 million square miles of ice at the pole right now is not a large percentage. So once again I say the hidden solar energy cannot be melting artic sea ice if this article from the NSIDC is correct! Plus the rate of melting has reversed for now ice has been increasing. (some) The last 4 years Ice has increased and the satellite data shows more energy absorbed on the earth than is reflecting into space, my question is the same as the article states "where is the energy going?" If the data is correct. For the record this is a record for march for ICE EXPANSION!
PinkElephant
3.9 / 5 (11) Apr 15, 2010
@Don_WV,

Yeah, maybe you should have quoted more of the article. Then you might've avoided the nonsense in your follow-up post, if only you had quoted this:
this replenishment consists primarily of younger, two- to three-year-old multiyear ice; the oldest, and thickest multiyear ice has continued to decline.
Or this:
The late date of the maximum extent, though of special interest this year, is unlikely to have an impact on summer ice extent. The ice that formed late in the season is thin, and will melt quickly when temperatures rise.
Or this:
The linear rate of decline for March over the 1978 to 2010 period is 2.6% per decade.
JDoddsGW
1.5 / 5 (8) Apr 16, 2010
A paper is available at www.scribd.com called Gravity causes Climate Changes. http://www.scribd.com/doc/27343303/Gravity-Causes-Climate-Change and http://www.scribd.com/doc/19476991/John-Dodds-Wobble-Theory-of-Global-Warming-

It claims that the IPCC and GCMs FAIL to properly implement the Greenhouse Effect, by

1. ignoring that the amount of energy photons coming into the Earth limits the GHE, and

2. instead claiming that the simple addition of CO2 without added energy, causes warming in violation of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics

3. An additional source of incoming energy in the force of gravity and gravitational potential energy has been totally ignored in the IPCC analysis.

If these scientists took their blinders off they would see that there is more to energy than just solar insolation. Try the force of gravity that causes Earth rotation and hence friction. Then try eccentric orbit induced gravitational potential energy that probably takes kinetic energy away.
verkle
2.3 / 5 (19) Apr 16, 2010
Please "scientists", before crying wolf, PLEASE come up with a real scientific model of the environment, and figure where more of the half of the heat is going. Otherwise keep your mouth shut.
Parsec
2.1 / 5 (7) Apr 16, 2010

1. ignoring that the amount of energy photons coming into the Earth limits the GHE, and

2. instead claiming that the simple addition of CO2 without added energy, causes warming in violation of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics


1. The earth absorbs a fraction of the protons, reflecting some, and re-emitting some. Increasing the amount absorbed increases the energy diet of the Earth.

2. The sun provides lots of energy to add to the system. This is an entirely bogus idea.
Parsec
2.8 / 5 (9) Apr 16, 2010
3. An additional source of incoming energy in the force of gravity and gravitational potential energy has been totally ignored in the IPCC analysis.

If these scientists took their blinders off they would see that there is more to energy than just solar insolation. Try the force of gravity that causes Earth rotation and hence friction. Then try eccentric orbit induced gravitational potential energy that probably takes kinetic energy away.


Run the numbers. The amount of energy from tidal forces from the sun (or moon) is negligible. Not only that but that energy is constant over time. There is simply no mechanism that would allow it to start increasing temps exactly when we would expect the rising CO2 levels to increase temps, i.e. in the last 40 years.
eurekalogic
2.3 / 5 (6) Apr 16, 2010
So many of these folks dont get it. Stop the focus on inward measurments and start looking at both directions. If we have radient energy escaping and you dont measure it what do you think is going to happen! Absolute basic observation is to be complete and as detailed as possible. That is what floors me. Bright minds that cant tie their shoe! Maybe you missed something!
JayK
2.7 / 5 (7) Apr 16, 2010
eurekalogic, do you even understand what you're talking about? Do you know anything about the studies of dimming or are you just here to try to get in a few licks and run?

As for the others attempting to spin things here: Sea ice in the arctic grew to an almost average amount but most of that is thin and will not last as long as the ice has lasted in the past, so we will see rapid arctic ice melt this summer to another low, possibly a record low amount of "old ice". If you don't understand that concept, either, please don't waste everyone's time by commenting.
Skeptic_Heretic
4.5 / 5 (4) Apr 16, 2010
This is an interesting statement from climatology.

There's no "evidence" for or against anything in the abstract, this is simply about systemic understanding.

We know what the incomming and outgoing energy balance looks like according to our current observational methods and we're witnessing a large disparity above and beyond the deviation of measurement for the respective measuring devices. Color me intrigued.

The only thing this article speaks to is a hole in our understanding of the system, there's not a single word on where the heat is going because we were improperly assuming we were in a state of greater understanding than we are.

Everyone rejoice, the truth is still to be determined and we should all look forward to the results of the work.
deatopmg
2.3 / 5 (12) Apr 16, 2010
It appears that their BELIEF is simply WRONG! The heat must simply be radiating into space, not building up. Maybe we should call that missing heat "dark heat" because we can't see it or measure it.

The hypothesis that the upper portion of the atmosphere should be warming because of increased absorption of IR by ever increasing CO2 cannot be supported by the evidence. There is simply no warming. We should keep checking for any warming but after 30 yrs which appears correct, the hypothesis or the measurements?
mysticshakra
2.1 / 5 (11) Apr 16, 2010
Measurements? Scientists don't do measurments anymore, they pronounce dogma from on high. When facts contradict their theories....they adjust them until the problem goes away.

I don't think it would be dark heat, how about cold heat? Sounds more oxymoronic and scientifically stupid.
thermodynamics
3.5 / 5 (8) Apr 16, 2010
mysticshakra and deatopmg: There is a difference between skeptical investigation and dogmatic denial. It is very clear that you are both dogmatic denialists. The report clearly lists a number of things that are being looked at including heat migration to depths they are not looking and the fact that ice melting is an isothermal process that is still not completely accounted for. It is not magic or "dark" magic. It is science and they are trying to get it right. They will come in with real numbers in the next few years and I am very sure it will not matter to you. Instead you will chalk it up to some conspiracy by scientists to get grants. Your dogmatic denialist view does not belong in the realm of science. If you are skeptical, please relate what you would like to see clarified, don't rant about conspiracies and scientists theories contradicting facts. That is not the case. Instead, they are refining and revising theories to reflect facts. That is called science.
thermodynamics
3.4 / 5 (9) Apr 16, 2010
Now, I am going to make a prediction. The Icelandic volcano that is erupting has the potential of dropping the temperature of the northern hemisphere for a while (how long depends on the continuation of the eruption). That will put a cooling trend on the chart of temperatures. I am waiting for the denialist trollers to come out of the woodwork to show the earth is cooling (of course it is you morons we have a volcano spouting aerosols into the air and the globe will cool because of it just as happened when Mt. Pinatubo blew). This does not negate the warming trend. It masks it. It will be interesting to see what is said over this new twist.
jonnyboy
Apr 17, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
MorituriMax
2 / 5 (3) Apr 18, 2010
JayK,
If you don't understand that concept, either, please don't waste everyone's time by commenting.


I see quite a bit of back and forth here, but what disturbs me is when someone tells someone else that they can't be "privileged" or "allowed" to enter the debate if their own ideas somehow conflict with the worldview of the critic. You really do yourself and everyone else a disservice and are pretty insulting when you say "your" view is above reproach and the only correct one around.

For all you know, your own views may be less than 100% correct. So do everyone a favor and descend from your ivory tower. I don't have a problem with anyone voicing their opinion, this isn't exactly a peer-reviewed forum after all. This is an open forum for anyone who wants to post. Let us, the readers, decide what we throw out, and what we research further.
MorituriMax
1 / 5 (2) Apr 18, 2010
Now, I am going to make a prediction. The Icelandic volcano that is erupting has the potential of dropping the temperature


Just curious what data you are basing this prediction on? Is the sum of your data the coverage on television or have you actually travelled to where you can gather samples of the material the volcano emitted? If you had samples you could determine if the materials entering the atmosphere would have more or less of the effect you are describing or none at all.

Or is this just an opinion, rather than a prediction?
MorituriMax
1 / 5 (2) Apr 18, 2010
What's funny, specifically about the volcanic eruption in iceland, is that we are watching how air traffic is collapsing because of the ash in the air and it's danger to jet engines.

Yet, most of the video seems to be from aircraft mounted cameras orbiting within sight of the ash clouds. Do the pilots of these aircraft receive extreme hazard pay, or is the danger to aircraft engines overstated? Just seems curious.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (2) Apr 18, 2010
Just curious what data you are basing this prediction on? Is the sum of your data the coverage on television or have you actually travelled to where you can gather samples of the material the volcano emitted?

The sum total of observations of that volcano, and all other volcanos of the same type, is that they spew large amounts of aerosols, particularly sulfur dioxide, which are known to contribute to global dimming.
JayK
3 / 5 (2) Apr 19, 2010
MorituriMax: Drive by trolls with limited education and leading questions that they really don't have and understanding of a possible answer are worse than useless.

As for the volcanoes, there is no reason to believe that the amount of ash, aerosols and SO2 will be enough to alter the climate on a global scale unless it continues for a long period of time. There just isn't enough of it.
thermodynamics
not rated yet Apr 19, 2010
JayK: I completely agree with you about the amount of aerosols and ash being insignificant Globally (unless the eruption continues or gets worse). However, this gives a great chance to check models and calibrate instrumentation systems for local interactions. The glacier is now covered by a layer of ash in most locations. New surveys can compare the albedo and melt rate from before and after. There are a number of hypotheses about the impact of ash on ice and this becomes a great experiment. In some scenarios, even though it lowers albedo it also insulates the ice and slows melting. If they can factor out the direct melting from the volcano they might be able to get good information. The question of how long (multiple snow seasons?) the effects will last will also be able to be answered. This is a great opportunity to verify or modify models.
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Apr 19, 2010
Don't forget that ash particles allow for greater levels of polymerization when dealing with SO2 and H2O.

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