Not Even the Briefest of Pauses for Human-Forced Global Warming — Oceans During 2017 Were the Hottest on Record

Where does most of the heat trapped by human fossil fuel and other greenhouse gas emissions ultimately end up? Given our fixation on global surface temperatures, many people would say ‘the atmosphere.’ But this answer is incorrect. The vast majority ends up in the world ocean.

(Global change in ocean heat content through 2015. Image source: Skeptical Science and CMIP5.)

The world ocean system is the largest heat sink on our planet’s surface. This is due to the fact that liquid water contained in the oceans both has a far greater mass and overall heat capacity than the atmosphere. Just a fraction — less than 1/30th of the heat trapped by human-emitted greenhouse gasses ends up in the atmosphere. Similar portions end up getting soaked in by the land and by melting glaciers. The rest, about 90 percent, finds its way into the oceans.

The ocean is thus the best, most reliable global thermometer available. For good reason, most scientists wait for readings from this big, wet thermostat to get an idea where global temperatures are headed and how fast. And what some of the world’s top ocean researchers found this week was that during 2017 the top 6,000 feet of the world’s oceans experienced their hottest year ever recorded.

(Ocean heat content change since 1958. Illustration: Cheng and Zhu (2018), Advances in Atmospheric Sciences.)

Not only was 2017 the hottest ocean year on record, the heat gain from the previous hottest ocean year (2015) was quite considerable. In all 15,100,000,000,000,000,000,000 Joules of heat energy were added by the world ocean from 2015 to 2017. By comparison, 61,500,000,000,000 Joules were produced by the Hiroshima bomb. The world ocean is now taking in a similar amount of heat every 3-5 seconds.

In the atmosphere, we tend to focus on El Nino years as the hot ones in an ongoing upward trend. This is because warm surface waters spreading across the Equatorial Pacific belch a bit of that huge volume of stored ocean heat back into the atmosphere. But during La Nina years, cooler surface waters across wide regions of the Equator swallow up more of the atmospheric heat. It is during these years that oceans tend to warm the most swiftly even as atmospheric warming tends to take a break. 2017 saw a weak La Nina and a comparatively strong rate of related ocean heat gain. And though atmospheric temperatures were ‘only’ the second hottest ever recorded according to NASA, ocean temperatures tracked further into uncharted territory.

(During El Nino years [left], the global oceans transfer a portion of their vast store of warmth to the atmosphere. During La Nina years [right] the oceans draw in more of the atmosphere’s heat. Image source:

It’s worth noting that ocean heat gain is presently both quite rapid and rather steady. All of the past five years were each one of the five hottest ocean years ever recorded. Global temperature gain thus hasn’t slowed. And though atmospheric temperature gain has accelerated during recent years, the ocean measure hints that overall heat gain per year has been pretty steady since the mid 1990s. At least for the top 6,000 feet of the world’s surface waters (though other measures provide some hints at acceleration [see image at top of this post]). An observation that would seem to reinforce the present decadal rate of temperature increase in the range of 0.15 to 0.20 C every ten years or about 30 to 50 times faster than the warming that ended the last ice age.

To be clear, the primary driver of what is a very rapid warming in the geological context is human fossil fuel burning and related carbon emissions in the range of 11 billion tons per year. Halting fossil fuel burning is therefore critical to slowing down and ultimately stopping the present rate of warming and dangerous related atmospheric and ocean carbon addition.

Elephant Tears Over Lost Climate Cherries — House Republicans’ Most Recent Witch Hunt Targets NOAA

We live in dark times.

Dark times of rampant, media-supported climate change doubt and denial mongering. Dark times when global temperatures are hitting new all-time record highs and extreme weather and climate change related events are growing in scope, scale, and danger. Dark times when it is becoming all-too-obvious that the fossil fuel companies of the world are committed to continue burning their dangerous and heat amplifying fuels regardless of the cost or pain or devastation inflicted upon others. Inflicted on persons, communities and the very nations of this world. Dark times when public officials level unfounded and baseless attacks against the very science upon which we depend to track the dangerous and growing crisis that is human-forced warming of the globe.

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NOAA September Hottest On Record

(Most recent NOAA global analysis graph showing that land and ocean temperatures for September of 2015 were the hottest on record. Republican climate change deniers in Congress have singled out NOAA for a Witch Hunt, implying that NOAA scientists aren’t telling the truth about warming. However, every temperature monitor around the globe shows warming since the 1880s and every major monitor shows that we are now experiencing the hottest period ever recorded. The Republican assault on NOAA is therefore not just an attack against a single agency. It’s an attack against the whole of climate science. A false and unfounded attack made for the financial benefit of their fossil fuel backers. Image source: NOAA Global Analysis.)

Over the past few weeks this continued commitment to inflicting climate harm could not have been more plainly obvious than in the actions of the Republican House Science Committee. The Committee, led by Representative Lamar Smith, made baseless accusations that NOAA was intentionally manipulating climate data. Lamar Smith, in a recent statement seen here at Ars Technica blustered:

The American people have every right to be suspicious when NOAA alters data to get the politically correct results they want and then refuses to reveal how those decisions were made. NOAA needs to come clean about why they altered the data to get the results they needed to advance this administration’s extreme climate change agenda. The agency has yet to identify any legal basis for withholding these documents. The Committee intends to use all tools at its disposal to undertake its Constitutionally-mandated oversight responsibilities.

Representative Smith and his committee, in a now typical tactic among those serving fossil fuel corporate interests over the past two decades, has basically decided to conduct a witch hunt. He has no reason to suspect that NOAA is manipulating data. He has merely accused NOAA of such a manipulation by claiming that NOAA temperature data revisions are somehow a reason to suspect foul play. This despite the fact that NOAA often revises data based on new information as it becomes available. Despite the fact that the data is publicly available and has been published for peer review in the broader scientific community. Data that if it had been inconsistent, manipulated, or baseless, would have been revealed as such during the peer review process. NOAA’s updates and data refinement are not fraud. They are simple due dillegence.

Elephant Tears over Lost Climate Cherries

But despite the fact that both the methods and data are publicly available, Representative Smith, his committee, and the members of the fossil fuel media that support them continue to generate trumped up accusations. This is likely due to the fact that the NOAA revision came up warmer than their previous data set by a margin of 0.06 degrees Celsius. A margin that isn’t really too significant when it comes to overall warming. But it is significant when you look at the most recent years in the climate graph following the monster El Nino year of 1998. The section that climate change deniers claim represents a pause in global warming. With the revision, the new span of the graph really doesn’t look like a pause anymore — much to the grief and outrage of climate change deniers everywhere.


(Elephant tears over lost cherries. NOAA’s most recent global temperature trend analysis revision for the period of 1995 through 2014. Note that in both versions the hottest years on record remain 1rst 2014, 2nd 2010, 3rd 2005, 4th 1998. Also note that neither graph really supports the notion of a ‘pause’ in the long term warming trend. Basically what climate change deniers have done is focus in on the section of the graph that follows the record 1998 El Nino year temperature spike. A period that was also followed by a cool phase in natural variability called negative Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Image source: NOAA.)

As a part of their attack on NOAA for the outrage of making their fake pause look even less like a pause, the Republican Committee (which may as well be named the Fossil Fuel Committee for the sake of accuracy and consistency) continued to single out the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as the object of its attacks. This action despite the fact that the whole of climate science basically confirms NOAA’s data even as any rational or informed analysis clearly finds no pause in the rate of atmospheric warming.

Attacking Individual Scientists, Demanding All Internal Communications

Naming individual scientists, particularly scientists who in the words of Andrew Rosenburg had the “temerity to express … views that fossil fuel companies should be held accountable for climate change,” the committee had the audacity to falsely imply, yet again, that global warming isn’t actually happening or that it stopped and that NOAA is somehow at fault for reporting the fact that, yes, it is happening and, no, it didn’t stop. It was, sadly, a scene that could have come straight out of Animal Farm when the Republican House Committee then made the ridiculous and unreasonable demand that NOAA surrender “All Internal Communications” for its review.

Japan Meteorological Agency Global temperatures through 2014 end

(Japan’s Meteorological Agency shows global annual temperature averages on a consistent and continued rise since the dawn of widespread fossil fuel burning in the late 19th Century. Japan’s data confirms that of NOAA — the Earth is warming, we are hitting new all time record high temperatures now. Image source: Japan’s Meteorological Agency.)

Unfortunately, the top scientists of the world have been subjected to this ridiculous and baseless bullying time and time again. A prime example was the manufactured Climategate scandal in which IPCC scientist emails had sentences taken out of context by members of the conservative media in an effort to claim that global warming science was a fraud. The scientists, after years of fake controversy and doubt-spreading, have since been vindicated time and time again. But not after being subjected to the most heinous bullying to include constant calls for internal records, court appearances, endless attacks and demonizing by the corporate media, and even the receipt of death threats to themselves and members of their families.

In a recent article published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, representative Ed Markie’s (D) outrage at the new order is plainly noted. He points out that all of the scientific data is already public and that requesting all internal documents amounted to basically bullying and harassment:

However, obtaining all of the data and methods used in this study seemingly was not enough for the majority. You also demanded internal communications by NOAA scientists regarding their scientific research. NOAA, rightfully, has been reluctant to waste their time and resources, not to mention break confidence with their superb research scientists by responding to this demand…

I cannot help but note that your requests in this case echo the tactics of notable climate change skeptics, who frequently submit similar FOIA requests of climate scientists in both the federal government and in state universities. One of the most publicized occasions of harassment occurred when then-Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and the American Tradition Institute (ATI) sought email communications of former University of Virginia climate scientist Michael Mann.

Knowing that the Republican House Committee was likely involved in another fake fishing expedition, the NOAA head courageously refused to submit to Republicans’ demands. And, now, predictably, the fossil fuel media screams its fake outrage about what NOAA supposedly has to hide.  According to a recent report in Media Matters:

Conservative media outlets are wrongly claiming that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is hiding data related to a recent study that challenged the so-called “pause” in global warming, and echoing Republican House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith’s baseless accusation that NOAA manipulated temperature records to show a warming trend. In reality, the NOAA study’s data is publicly available online, and NOAA routinely makes adjustments to historical temperature records that are peer-reviewed and necessary to account for changes to measuring instruments and other factors.

Every Major Climate Monitor in the World Shows the Earth is Warming — So Why Are Republicans Aiming Their Fake Outrage at NOAA?

It’s not like the NOAA data is new or unique. Sure, NOAA shows the world is warming. But so does everyone else in the global scientific community. NASA GISS shows the world is warming. Japan’s Meteorological Agency — warming. The Hadley Center — warming. NCAR — warming. The UN’s IPCC — warming. Every sensory system, every monitor that tracks global temperatures all shows the same — warming.

NASA Land Ocean Temperature Index

(NASA’s Land-Ocean Temperature Index showing that the world is entering its hottest period ever recorded. Image source: NASA GISS.)

And all this warming backed up by reams and reams of scientific evidence. The Himalayas have lost 20 percent of their ice as 90 percent of the glaciers around the world are melting. Greenland is melting, and at an ever more rapid rate. The North Atlantic Overturning Circulation is weakening. The Oceans are becoming more stratified. The wetlands of the world from the Arctic to the Equator are belching out more methane (a feedback that comes about with warming). And everywhere temperature records are falling, supplanted by new records that last for a few years or maybe a decade before they fall again. Wildfires are increasing in both intensity and frequency. The severity of droughts and rainfall events are increasing. And we, as a global community, are now treated to 100 or even 1,000 year floods, hurricanes, droughts and fires on an annual basis.

Over the past few weeks residents of Texas and South Carolina alike were subject to freakish flood events of the kind that we’ve really never seen before. The intensity of rainfall in South Carolina was so horrific that residents now report that they suffer from Post Traumatic Stress disorder. Scientists warned us that rainfall events would tend to become more intense as human-forced warming loaded up the atmosphere with more and more moisture. Now, around the world, it’s happening.

And last of all — sea levels are rising. Rising more rapidly than at any time in the Holocene. Rising because they are warming up and because the world’s glaciers are melting.

Sea level rise Hansen

(For most of the Holocene, global seas were remarkably stable — neither rising or falling at a significant rate. By the late 19th Century, seas had begun to slowly rise. As the Earth warmed and oceans sucked up more heat, thermal expansion combined with glacial melt to cause the seas to rise at an ever-more-rapid rate. As the world’s oceans trap more than 90 percent of the excess heat re-radiated by greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, rates of sea level rise are a good confirmation that global temperatures are also rising. Image source: Dr. James Hansen.)

This mountain of scientific proof that global warming is indeed real, worsening, and ongoing is probably greater than any other proof for any other science in existence. And yet the Republican House Committee has the temerity to single out NOAA as some kind of sacrificial offering to their demonic fossil fuel masters. And to imply what is basically the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on the American public — that climate change somehow isn’t real and that NOAA, somehow, is hiding something in its email that proves that.

What a ridiculous pile of festering nonsense!

Republicans Fighting Against the Public Welfare

The real reason Republicans are conducting a witch hunt against the faithful public servants at NOAA is due to the fact that the corporations who have supported their election campaigns simply cannot continue to exist as they are now in a world that responds to climate change. They would be forced to switch to new energy sources or to learn how to effectively capture the carbon emitted by their operations. Doing this would cost them money and put them in a position where they no longer dominate markets. Where consumers start to have more and more choice regarding what forms of energy they use.

Having enjoyed market dominance for more than a Century, these entities are not at all enamored with the prospect of having to compete or to allow energy customers a broader range of choices or freedoms. They have therefore made the cynical and ridiculously amoral decision to attempt to deceive the public. To generate doubt about the veracity of climate science reports. And to use this doubt to block government policies that address the issue of human-forced climate change.

Since a failure by government to enact effective climate policies will result in a growing risk of inflicting damage to an ever larger group of the US and global populace, those companies, media figures, and politicians involved in this effort are complicit in what amounts to a vast campaign to inflict harm on individuals, communities, and nations. It does not matter if their original intent is simply to preserve the profits of powerful fossil fuel corporations, the net result is the same — the inflicting of harm on the public.

House Republicans and the fossil fuel companies they serve are therefore complicit in a heinous act. And their actions over the past month in their leveling of trumped up charges against NOAA, is a stark proof for what they’re doing — committing themselves to inflicting climate atrocities upon the public for the benefit of fossil fuel companies which they represent.


NOAA Global Analysis

Congressman Accuses NOAA of Doctoring Results

Conservative Media Defend Congressman’s Baseless Attacks Against NOAA

Dr James Hansen

NASA/GISS Global Temperature Analysis

Japan Meteorological Agency Global Temperature Analysis

The House Science Committee’s Witch Hunt Against NOAA Scientists

The New Normal — South Carolina Flood Victims Suffer from PTSD

Denying the Neverending Heatwave

Please support public, non-special interest based science like the fantastic work provided by the now politically persecuted scientists at NOAA

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