Correction: Ocean heat Buildup


oceansOn the 31st October a paper was published in Nature that laid out the evidence for Earth’s oceans soaking up about 60% more heat that had been previously estimated. On 2nd Nov I wrote a posting that highlighted it. Since then there has been an update on all of this.

Mathematician Nic Lewis, who is a critic of the scientific consensus around human-induced warming, posted a critique of the paper on the blog run by Judith Curry, another well-known critic of global warming.

You can find his posting here – A major problem with the Resplandy et al. ocean heat uptake paper

In response to this, the authors of the original paper confirmed that he was indeed correct, they got some of their maths wrong.

On 9th Nov, co-author Ralph Keeling issued the following …

I am working with my co-authors to address two problems that came to our attention since publication. These problems, related to incorrectly treating systematic errors in the O2 measurements and the use of a constant land O2:C exchange ratio of 1.1,  do not invalidate the study’s methodology or the new insights into ocean biogeochemistry on which it is based. We expect the combined effect of these two corrections to have a small impact on our calculations of overall heat uptake, but with larger margins of error.  We are redoing the calculations and preparing author corrections for submission to Nature.

Key Point

Publication within a Peer-review journal is not a declaration of irrefutable scientific “truth”. Instead it is the beginning of a conversation within the wider community. In other words, this is not a failure of the scientific process, instead it is a success – they published. Somebody points out an error. They happily acknowledge that and proceeded to correct it.

What is the conclusion after corrections have been applied?

Keeling said they have since redone the calculations, finding the ocean is still likely warmer than the estimate used by the IPCC. However, that increase in heat has a larger range of probability than initially thought—between 10 percent and 70 percent, as other studies have already found.

“Our error margins are too big now to really weigh in on the precise amount of warming that’s going on in the ocean,” Keeling said. “We really muffed the error margins.”

A correction has been submitted to the journal Nature.

So is the Ocean warming?

Yes, yes it is. No doubt some science deniers will be touting this as “evidence” that it is all a hoax, yet even with the corrections applied the oceans is still warming – the problem is the degree of uncertainty regarding the amount of the increase.

What we do also have is direct observational data from the Argo floats. This independently confirms warming. The problem there is that the Argo floats have not been around very long, so that data does not go back far enough in time. That led to research to see if there was another way of calculating the heat update. This is what the Nature paper was striving to do.

Keeling and Laure Resplandy, a researcher at Princeton University’s Environmental Institute who co-authored the report, calculated heat based on the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide rising off the ocean, filling round glass flasks with air collected at research stations around the globe.

Keeling said they will continue to experiment with the data in coming years in an attempt to fine-tune the data.

“It’s a promising new method, but we didn’t get the precision right on the first pass,” he said.

Further Reading

Resplandy et al. correction and response

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