Tidal Warming

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 21 2015 @ 9:22am

FT-150120-warmoceans.DISHCROP

Eric Holthaus points out that 2014’s heat record was based on ocean heat, not land heat, which was only the fourth hottest:

Here’s the basic physics: It’s very hard for Earth’s climate system to store heat year-to-year on land. That’s because the oceans can store energy much more easily than land and circulate it through the entire climate system. The global oceans act as giant heat reservoirs and add inertia to the steadily escalating push from human greenhouse gases.

He concludes that “it’s much less likely that this year’s global heat record was a one-off fluke – and that the extra ocean heat is probably here to stay.” Amy Davidson asserts that the denialists are running out of material:

The new numbers are so striking that they surprised even climate scientists; 2014 was, in science parlance, “an El Niño neutral year.”

El Niño is one of those “natural” forces that climate deniers say can account for fluctuations and for warming the ocean up; a reply might be that man-made climate-change may come to affect even the oceans’ currents. (It already appears to have affected their level of acidification; add to that a new report warning of impending mass oceanic extinctions.) But that point doesn’t even need to be made. This past year was hot without any room for disingenuous excuses.

Drum points to a popular one:

The year 1998 was an outlier, an unusually warm year. If you choose this as your starting point, the next decade will look pretty uneventful. You can do the same thing with lots of other decade-long periods. For example, 1969-85 looks pretty flat, and so does 1981-94. This is typical of noisy data. Planetary warming isn’t a smooth upward curve every year. It spikes up and down, and that allows people to play games with the data over short periods. Add to that the fact that warming really does appear to pause a bit now and again, and it’s easy for charlatans to fool the rubes with misleading charts.

But in the end, physics and chemistry will do their thing regardless. Earth is warming up, as any honest look at the data makes clear.

And there was another report out last week from 18 scientists working to determine how far the Earth can pushed:

The paper contends that we have already crossed four “planetary boundaries.” They are the extinction rate; deforestation; the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; and the flow of nitrogen and phosphorous (used on land as fertilizer) into the ocean. … These are not future problems, but rather urgent matters, according to [lead author Will] Steffen, who said that the economic boom since 1950 and the globalized economy have accelerated the transgression of the boundaries. No one knows exactly when push will come to shove, but he said the possible destabilization of the “Earth System” as a whole could occur in a time frame of “decades out to a century.”

They warn against tech complacency as well:

Technology can potentially provide solutions, but innovations often come with unforeseen consequences. “The trends are toward layering on more and more technology so that we are more and more dependent on our technological systems to live outside these boundaries,” “[Earth systems expert Ray] Pierrehumbert said. “. . . It becomes more and more like living on a spaceship than living on a planet.”

(Chart from NOAA.)