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Blaming global warming on the oceans - a basic rebuttal

Posted on 24 October 2010 by gpwayne

The argument attributing the warming of the Earth to heat being released by the oceans was clearly articulated by William M Gray, one of the world’s foremost experts on tropical storms. Unfortunately, his views on oceans and their part in global warming appear to contradict the published science. Gray believes that the increased atmospheric heat – which he calls a ‘small warming’ – is “...likely a result of the natural alterations in global ocean currents which are driven by ocean salinity variations." (BBC Interview 2000)

The Science

The problem with Gray’s argument is that unless more heat was being poured into the oceans, they would be obliged by the laws of physics to cool when heat was transferred to the atmosphere.

80% of the heat in the planet's ecosystem is stored in the oceans, and they have been getting consistently warmer over time (Ocean cooling: skeptic arguments drowned by data). There would also be other indicators e.g. sea levels, which would be static or go down by some small amount as a result of thermal contraction. There are no indicators of ocean heat driving temperature changes that are supported by the evidence. It should also be noted that Gray has never published, nor offered any proof, of these theories, so his views are purely speculative.

Claims that the warming of the planet is due to heat being released from the oceans into the atmosphere are not supported by any empirical evidence or peer-reviewed science.

This post is the Basic Version (written by Graham Wayne) of the skeptic argument "It's the ocean".

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Comments

Comments 1 to 30:

  1. "There are no indicators of ocean heat driving temperature changes that are supported by the evidence."

    Did you really just say that? Water vapour feedback is considered by AGW theory to dominate the heating and that comes from the warmer oceans.

    Perhaps you need to rephrase what you mean to be a bit more specific?
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  2. TTTM

    No, the water vapour content of the atmosphere is proportional to the temperature. It follows, not leads temperature. As it follows temperature it can not be driving warming.
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  3. kdkd, The theory goes CO2 drives the warming of the oceans and through increased water vapour, the oceans drive the warming of the earth.

    Its a matter of perspective.
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  4. I dont think I explained that well. Read his statement again. Critically read it.
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  5. TTTM

    No you certainly didn't explain that well. You appear to be providing a circular argument - a form of logical fallacy. Remember that unlike anthropogenic climate change, logic is something that we can prove is true or false.

    Think about it like this: If we have a x quantity of CO2, then the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere will go up by y such that y = f(x). To the extent that the oceans exist, and they contain the largest surface area of water with which to create vapour, we can solidly assume that the oceans drive water vapour greenhouse feedback. This is not the same proposition as 'the oceans drive warming'.
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  6. @TimTheToolMan

    I would assume the author's use of the term 'driving' refers to the culprit initiating the warming, not any of the ensuing feedback cycles. The 'driver' of car is the person behind the steering wheel, not the axle.
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  7. I recall having this conversation with a skeptic on my blog several months ago. I asked him how it was possible that the oceans were releasing heat to cause the climatic warming and yet were still gaining heat themselves?

    My analogy: I cannot get richer by giving away my money unless I have a donor that is giving me money at a faster rate than I am giving it away.

    I try to use money examples because people seem to relate well to money (it makes cents). {groans expected}
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  8. @cbp, Yes but this is rebuttal against someone who also is saying oceans drive the warming. Do you see the problem with the statement now?
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  9. "My analogy: I cannot get richer by giving away my money unless I have a donor that is giving me money at a faster rate than I am giving it away."

    This is an interesting point. Were you aware of the rate at which energy is both input into the ocean from the sun and radiated away from the earth?

    Roughly the amount of ocean heat that was accumulating each year when it was accumulating energy quickly some years ago is the same as the oceans recieves in just one day from the sun.

    There is plenty of energy around to both heat the oceans and have it produce increased water vapour.
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  10. TTTM: #8

    No, on the face of it your argument looks like circular reasoning. If you think that you have a valid argument, you must spell it out for us clearly and unambiguously. Insinuating that there's some special insight that you have that we can become privy to if we just think about it in the right way is not a terribly valid argument. I think you need to spell it out for us, so that we can assess its arguments on your merits, not on what we think that you think that it means.

    #9

    Yes, there's some sort of optimisation function that will show you the conditions necessary to meet these conditions. Perhaps that work has already been done in the literature, or perhaps the algebra is straightforward. Perhaps you could enlighten us as to the conditions that are necessary to confirm your hypothesis?
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  11. "There are no indicators of ocean heat driving temperature changes that are supported by the evidence."

    There is nothing tricky about this. Gray attributes the warming to ocean heating and doesn't attribute the ocean warming to CO2 (presumably he thinks its something else) and AGW theory attibutes the warming to ocean heating and does attribute the ocean warming to CO2

    So I think the statement at the top that I requoted is inadequate in the context of this rebuttal.

    I'm not quite sure how you get that I'm using circular logic. Perhaps you could explain that?
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  12. TTM:

    Circular logic:

    "The theory goes CO2 drives the warming of the oceans and through increased water vapour, the oceans drive the warming of the earth."

    Only one of these three things (c02, h20(g) and h20(l)) is the primary causal agent. Your statement can only be true if we assume that none of the above are the primary causal agent. The scientific theory tells us that co2 is the primary causal agent, therefore can be described as the "driver" of the system under examination.

    The "none of the above" answer could be true on some level of analysis, but is not a terribly useful proposition for the present discussion.
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  13. Gray attributes the warming to ocean heating


    No, Gray's argument infers ocean cooling. He posits that oceans are losing heat to the atmosphere, driven by salinity variation in the oceans - not water vapour.
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  14. Indeed, he states that water vapour is a negative feedback - he is certainly not saying that water vapour is a driver. Never mind that his various statements are completely at odds with the consensus of evidence.
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  15. @barry : "Gray's argument infers ocean cooling."

    This is a fair comment. He seems to say the following in the article...

    "This small warming is likely a result of the natural alterations in global ocean currents which are driven by ocean salinity variations."

    ...so yes its implied in his statement. However it takes a warmer ocean to increase the amount of water vapour (when it cools) so he's also implying warming in his natural alteration statement.

    " he is certainly not saying that water vapour is a driver."

    Nobody is saying that.
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  16. @kdkd : "Only one of these three things (c02, h20(g) and h20(l)) is the primary causal agent."

    What about something else entirely heating the oceans?
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  17. Evaporation occurs all the time at the surface of the oceans, but it is the temperature (and pressure) of the atmosphere that determines how much water vapour accumulates (on average), as per the Clausius–Clapeyron relation.
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  18. "Evaporation occurs all the time at the surface of the oceans"

    Are you suggesting a warmer ocean wont affect the moisture levels in the atmosphere? What about convection?
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  19. TimTheToolMan, water evaporates all the time, and it precipitates all the time. There are spatial and temporal lumps in the atmosphere's water vapor content, but as barry wrote, the overall average is determined by temperature and pressure of the atmosphere, not by temperature of the water pools.
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  20. How about we assume that GW is caused partly by ocean surface temperature, partly by CO2 level and partly by sunspots? Set up a rational equation incorporating all these with coefficients to determine the influence of each. If you do this you will discover that, since 1895, sunspots caused about 22% of the temperature increase with the rest divided about equally between ocean surface temperature and sunspots.

    See the equation which calculates average global temperatures since 1895 with an accuracy of 88%, an eye-opening graph of the results, and how they are derived in the pdfs at http://climaterealists.com/index.php?tid=145&linkbox=true
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  21. @Dan: Dude, 'climaterealists.com'? This is a denier website. You were misled by the innocuous URL.
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  22. #20

    How about we assume that GW is caused partly by ocean surface temperature, partly by CO2 level and partly by sunspots?

    How about we back up our assumptions with the best available science,
    instead of relying on dodgy pseudoscientific sites?
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  23. mbayer I think you'll find Dan Pangburn is a contributor to ClimateRealsists.com.

    Embarrassingly to the engineering profession he says he is a mechanical engineer.
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  24. Gray says global warming is "likely a result of the natural alterations in global ocean currents". Perhaps another argument against this is to examine the wavelengths of known ocean oscillations, like El Nino. These seem to occur in time periods less than 10 years, even less than 3 years, despite being global in extent. This argues that a natural alteration with a multi-decadal wavelength is unlikely. And if it involves salinity, how did that happen, if not through global melting, due to global warming? It seems the simplest explanation is still the best one.
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  25. I am always baffled by the inability of denialists to apply the 700 year old commonsense of William of Ockham. "Oceans releasing heat" is just one of many "mechanisms" that rely on no one noting the strange fact that they are supposed to have come into play just in the last 40 years at precisely the time that there has been industrialisation, population growth, and a resulting rapid rise in CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Some coincidence eh?
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  26. TTTM #16

    Recall my previous comment at #12 "The "none of the above" answer could be true on some level of analysis, but is not a terribly useful proposition for the present discussion."

    However, if you have some useful evidence that suggests that your new premise is correct please share with us. Otherwise it looks like you've moved on from a circular argument to some other sort of fallacy.
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  27. Dan,
    The issue that I have with your argument is that sea surface temperature is determined by the interaction of the atmosphere and the ocean. Your proposal suggests that global warming is caused by the ocean heating the atmospehre. What heats the ocean? Since both the ocean and the atmosphere are warming the heat has to come from somewhere. CO2 heats the atmosphere. The heated atmosphere heats the ocean. The energy to heat both comes from the sun.

    Your equation works because the ocean is heated by the atmosphere. Since the two are linked you observe this link with your calculation.
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  28. Dan, since oceans cant generate heat, then heat from oceans cant be forcing only a mechanism. So the correct approach is do what you do, but plug in the real forcings instead. Already done of course, looks within Benestad & Schmidt
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  29. scaddenp at 07:54

    "since oceans cant generate heat, then heat from oceans cant be forcing only a mechanism."

    This is simply not true,the rate of evaporation/water vapor, is dependent on the ocean surface T, the ocean surface T is a product of solar heating/back radiation/ back radiation is a product o atmospheric T, which is a product of ocean T/energy export in to the atmosphere, and the thermal characteristics of the atmosphere... the real variable being water vapor/or surface of the oceans T. So if you change the energy distribution around the globe, by moving energy from below the surface in the tropics to the surface at higher latitudes, you can force a change... By raising the average surface T, you raise the average evaporation/and the average GHE, and the back radiation will increase in line with atmospheric T's... you are going to have a hard time explaining past interglacial max T's without taking this into account... CO2 levels were lower, but T's were higher... You are assuming that its a linear relationship between surface T's and oceanic T profiles.
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  30. Joe, I have no doubt about the importance of ocean in climate mechanisms (why else include oceans in climate model) but I do not think you can attribute climate change on current scale to UNFORCED change in ocean circulation.

    As to higher glacial max T with lower CO2, I would point out that glacial cycle is very slow with time for equilibrium. Climate is currently out of equilibrium with forcing. (note TOA energy imbalance). Given ocean mixing rates, I find it hard to see how ocean can equilibrate to current CO2 forcing in much less than 1000 years.
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