Another major item in the alarmist arsenal lately has been boiling oceans. OK, not lately. They can’t get enough of them, from James Hansen’s overheated Venusian comparison (in a video now curiously removed from YouTube, Hansen claimed that “you can get to a situation where, it just, the oceans will begin to boil and the planet becomes, uhh, so hot that the ocean ends up in the atmosphere, and that happened to Venus”) to Al Gore’s Davos rant that CO2 is “what’s boiling the oceans” that aren’t boiling to The Economist’s “Boiling point”. Now it’s that there was a sudden, brief, mysterious spike in temperature in the North Atlantic. Though if you actually go stick your hand into the ocean, you discover something odd: It’s still very chilly. Even there.
Interestingly, the original heat-into-the-sea trope was the result not of measurement but of its absence. The models were predicting warming that wasn’t showing up in the temperature record and rather than admit the models were wrong the kluge was that supposedly the heat was being hidden in the oceans. Yeah. That’s the ticket.
How anyone would know such a thing, given the massive physical and time scale of ocean currents, is clear: program a computer to say it, and when it says it, go told ya so. Remember that back in 2015 NOAA said:
“The most likely explanation for the lack of significant warming at the Earth’s surface in the past decade or so is that natural climate cycles – a series of La Niña events and a negative phase of the lesser-known Pacific Decadal Oscillation – caused shifts in ocean circulation patterns that moved some excess heat into the deep ocean.”
Meaning that this hypothesis about ocean heating was not based on actual measurements of warmer seawater. Rather, it was based on actual measurements of non-warmer land combined with a dogmatic assertion that the planet was heating no matter what the thermometer said and an unsupported hypothesis that the missing heat must have gone somewhere we couldn’t look.
Then when it showed up again, they smoothly pivoted to rhubarb about La Niña and El Niño. The latter having now been reinvented as a climate phenomenon, by the way, not because it hasn’t always existed and had the same effects as it does now but because it helps frame temperature readings in a scary way.
Data might seem a bizarre preoccupation to dedicated modelers. But as Roger Pielke Sr. recently demonstrated, there are pretty extensive efforts to collect it nowadays and they show not a whole lot of warming but, surprise surprise, less than the models predict.
Also, it’s very hard to tell whether you’re looking at cyclical variations or secular trends when we have very little reliable direct measurement data until quite recently. But what we do have suggests, and again we discussed this issue four years ago though some people seem to have missed it, that there was major heating of the oceans early in the century. Um as in the 20th century. Then they cooled so that we’re barely back to 1950s levels. Let’s see someone blame that on CO2.
Alas, historical data is also and especially for losers on climate. So instead The Economist got onto the panic only to concede of the 2023 temperature spike at the surface that:
“the biggest role in ocean-surface temperatures is played by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a natural phenomenon that influences weather patterns around the world. After an unusually long period of La Niña, one of ENSO’s two extreme phases, the Earth returned to its neutral phase at the beginning of March, according to America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a federal body.”
But of course it’s all man-made warming all the time:
“Even a weak El Niño will bring higher air temperatures in the short term and will be in stark contrast to previous years, when cool-trending La Niñas have masked the underlying warming caused by accumulating greenhouse-gas emissions.”
Then it lists a series of positive feedback loops with “more rapid melting of the ice sheets, coral bleaching, stronger storms and higher sea levels” and also the problem that “Hotter seas also absorb less heat and less carbon dioxide, which accelerates warming of the atmosphere.” The fact that warming seas cause more CO2 in the air, not the other way around, is not dwelt on; instead they close with the threat that “The consequences of warmer waters will be felt on land, too.”
Now we do want to credit The Economist for one thing that only they seem to have thought worth mentioning, and even then only in a footnote. Their chart titled “Boiling point” (which we do not credit them for) lists “Average global* sea-surface temperature, °C” and if you follow the asterisk on down you get “*Excludes polar regions”. Why? (The answer seems to be that the Argo buoys don’t tend to operate there.)
The New York Times agrees that hot water puts us in hot water. David Wallace-Wells wrote soberly that:
“Even for those of us who watch things like temperature anomalies and extreme weather events as likely portents of the climate to come, the off-the-charts rise of global sea surface temperature this spring has been eye-popping. As is much of the language recently used to describe it: ‘record breaking,’ ‘huge,’ ‘alarming,’ ‘unprecedented,’ ‘uncharted,’ ‘an extreme event at a global scale.’ Perhaps most simply: ‘trouble.’”
And then not trouble. After a brief spike of “three-quarters of a degree… the size of the anomaly has since shrunk, to a temperature level only about one-quarter degree above the previous record.” However he assures us that “scientists talk about global temperature rise using very small numbers – sometimes describing the difference between 1 degree Celsius of warming and 2 as an almost civilization-scale chasm”. But of course when you’re dealing with something very large, very small numbers are subject to significant error bars.
And very significant hype. He goes on:
“In a paper published in March, researchers suggested that under a high-emissions scenario, rapid melting of Antarctic ice could slow deepwater formation in the Southern Ocean by more than 40 percent by 2050, disrupting the ‘conveyor belt’ that regulates and stabilizes not just the temperature of the oceans but much of the world’s weather systems.”
Could. As much as. And of course “a high-emissions scenario”. Could it be the exploded rubbish RCP8.5? Why yes. Yes it could. (Or rather its even worse spawn, SSP5-8.5.) How did we guess? Because it always is. And evidently if you feed enough absurdly pessimistic assumptions into a computer model, something bad lurches out.
On the other hand, someone called “The Ethical Skeptic” argued that this sudden, brief surge after the normal ocean temperature peak could not reasonably be attributed to the alleged slow steady impact of man-made CO2. As he put it:
“Over a span of 14 weeks, ocean temperatures had risen by the expected 0.4 degrees Celsius. But starting in the first week of March, they experienced another jump of 0.29 degrees Celsius within a mere 3 weeks (Exhibit 6C below). This velocity of kinetic energy gain was 4.3 times faster than what the sun and atmosphere combined could account for.”
What on Earth could deliver such a wallop? He argued that “The Earth’s exothermic core stood as the sole local energy source capable of generating such a large and rapid kinetic energy surge.” Otherwise why didn’t the atmosphere also heat up, and why didn’t the ocean heat stay hot?
Joe Bastardi also puts forward the geothermal possibility. But then he’s a chump, so he produced a chart showing actual temperature correlating quite closely to actual undersea volcanic activity not a computer model demonstrating the need for global communism.
The same difficulty in attributing a sudden local surge to gradual global accumulation of atmospheric CO2 also affects other more local panicky stories about huge temperature spikes. For instance Euronews.green with:
“Meteorologists are monitoring what they believe to be record-breaking marine heatwaves off northeast England and northwest Ireland. Sea temperatures around the UK and Irish coasts are up to five degrees Celsius warmer than normal for this time of year, smashing records.”
Seriously? Five degrees Celsius? Sounds like a local surge since nobody says the world’s oceans are that much warmer. The piece even quoted “Bangor University physical oceanographer Thomas Rippeth” that this phenomenon was very odd:
“‘The ocean is not like the atmosphere. It doesn’t heat up and cool down quickly. It takes a long time to warm up and it takes a long time to cool down,’ he said.”
Also, it seems the UK itself has seen no rise in average temperatures in the last 20 years. So did Euronews.green explore the possibility of something local and non-climate related? No, of course not. Instead they peddled the usual all-effects-are-bad stuff:
“Warming seas could bring jellyfish and basking sharks closer to the shore, and cause poisonous algae to bloom.”
Could. Not did. But we are all going to die, eaten by boiled sharks sauteed in jellyfish. Even if the fact that it’s local suggests that it’s not global.