Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Deep oceans can mask global warming for decade-long periods

Date:
September 19, 2011
Source:
National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
Summary:
The planet's deep oceans at times may absorb enough heat to flatten the rate of global warming for periods of as long as a decade even in the midst of longer-term warming, according to a new analysis.

The ocean conveyor belt transports water -- and heat -- around the globe.
Credit: NOAA

The planet's deep oceans at times may absorb enough heat to flatten the rate of global warming for periods of as long as a decade even in the midst of longer-term warming, according to a new analysis led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

The study, based on computer simulations of global climate, points to ocean layers deeper than 1,000 feet (300 meters) as the main location of the "missing heat" during periods such as the past decade when global air temperatures showed little trend. The findings also suggest that several more intervals like this can be expected over the next century, even as the trend toward overall warming continues.

"We will see global warming go through hiatus periods in the future," says NCAR's Gerald Meehl, lead author of the study. "However, these periods would likely last only about a decade or so, and warming would then resume. This study illustrates one reason why global temperatures do not simply rise in a straight line."

The research, by scientists at NCAR and the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia, is published online in Nature Climate Change. Funding for the study came from the National Science Foundation, NCAR's sponsor, and the Department of Energy.

Where the missing heat goes

The 2000s were Earth's warmest decade in more than a century of weather records. However, the single-year mark for warmest global temperature, which had been set in 1998, remained unmatched until 2010.

Yet emissions of greenhouse gases continued to climb during the 2000s, and satellite measurements showed that the discrepancy between incoming sunshine and outgoing radiation from Earth actually increased. This implied that heat was building up somewhere on Earth, according to a 2010 study published in Science by NCAR researchers Kevin Trenberth and John Fasullo.

The two scientists, who are coauthors on the new study, suggested that the oceans might be storing some of the heat that would otherwise go toward other processes, such as warming the atmosphere or land, or melting more ice and snow. Observations from a global network of buoys showed some warming in the upper ocean, but not enough to account for the global build-up of heat. Although scientists suspected the deep oceans were playing a role, few measurements were available to confirm that hypothesis.

To track where the heat was going, Meehl and colleagues used a powerful software tool known as the Community Climate System Model, which was developed by scientists at NCAR and the Department of Energy with colleagues at other organizations. Using the model's ability to portray complex interactions between the atmosphere, land, oceans, and sea ice, they performed five simulations of global temperatures.

The simulations, which were based on projections of future greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, indicated that temperatures would rise by several degrees during this century. But each simulation also showed periods in which temperatures would stabilize for about a decade before climbing again. For example, one simulation showed the global average rising by about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.4 degrees Celsius) between 2000 and 2100, but with two decade-long hiatus periods during the century.

During these hiatus periods, simulations showed that extra energy entered the oceans, with deeper layers absorbing a disproportionate amount of heat due to changes in oceanic circulation. The vast area of ocean below about 1,000 feet (300 meters) warmed by 18% to 19% more during hiatus periods than at other times. In contrast, the shallower global ocean above 1,000 feet warmed by 60% less than during non-hiatus periods in the simulation.

"This study suggests the missing energy has indeed been buried in the ocean," Trenberth says. "The heat has not disappeared, and so it cannot be ignored. It must have consequences."

A pattern like La Niña

The simulations also indicated that the oceanic warming during hiatus periods has a regional signature. During a hiatus, average sea-surface temperatures decrease across the tropical Pacific, while they tend to increase at higher latitudes, especially around 30°S and 30°N in the Pacific and between 35°N and 40°N in the Atlantic, where surface waters converge to push heat into deeper oceanic layers.

These patterns are similar to those observed during a La Niña event, according to Meehl. He adds that El Niño and La Niña events can be overlaid on top of a hiatus-related pattern. Global temperatures tend to drop slightly during La Niña, as cooler waters reach the surface of the tropical Pacific, and they rise slightly during El Niño, when those waters are warmer.

"The main hiatus in observed warming has corresponded with La Niña conditions, which is consistent with the simulations," Trenberth says.

The simulations were part of NCAR's contribution to the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5). They were run on supercomputers at NCAR's National Science Foundation-supported Climate Simulation Laboratory, and on supercomputers at Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, both supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Gerald A. Meehl, Julie M. Arblaster, John T. Fasullo, Aixue Hu, Kevin E. Trenberth. Model-based evidence of deep-ocean heat uptake during surface-temperature hiatus periods. Nature Climate Change, 2011; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1229

Cite This Page:

National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. "Deep oceans can mask global warming for decade-long periods." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 September 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110918144941.htm>.
National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. (2011, September 19). Deep oceans can mask global warming for decade-long periods. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110918144941.htm
National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. "Deep oceans can mask global warming for decade-long periods." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110918144941.htm (accessed September 20, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

AFP (Sep. 20, 2014) — Some 125 world leaders are expected to commit to action on climate change at a UN summit Tuesday called to inject momentum in struggling efforts to tackle global warming. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) — Jars, bottles, caps and even a pizza box, recovered from the trash, were the elements used by four musical groups at the "RSFEST2014 Sonorities Recycling Festival", in Colombian city of Cali. Duration: 00:49 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Wildfires in CA Burn Forest Asunder

Raw: Wildfires in CA Burn Forest Asunder

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) — An out-of-control Northern California wildfire has nearly 2,800 people from their homes as it continues to grow, authorities said Thursday. Authorities said a man has been arrested on suspicion of arson for starting the fire on Saturday. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) — Grand the elephant has successfully undergone surgery to remove a portion of infected tusk at Tbilisi Zoo in Georgia. British veterinary surgeons used an electric drill to extract the infected piece. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins