Study Sheds New Light on Global Warming “Hiatus”

 (3BL Media/Justmeans) - A recent joint study by scientists at the University of Delaware, NASA, and the Jet Propulsion Lab investigating the so-called global warming hiatus, was announced by the American Geophysical Union (AGU). The paper grew out of a special U.S. Climate Variability and Predictability Program (CLIVAR) panel session at the 2015 AGU Fall Meeting.

The study, which was published in the journal Earth’s Future, explores the causes of an apparent slowdown in the rise of surface temperatures in the period from 1998-2013 as compared to the later half of the twentieth century. This observation, which was announced by the IPCC in late 2013, was immediately pounced on by climate skeptics hurling accusations claiming that either the models upon which much of the science is based are flawed, that climate change has ended, or that it was never real in the first place.

As scientists offered explanations for the data, they were repeatedly put on the defensive by various guardians of the status quo.

This discussion in Nature provides the views of several scientist of the relative importance of short term vs. long term trends. While global temperature increases during the period in question were relatively small, they still continued to set new records, with the ten hottest years on record occurring since 1998, nine of them in the last ten years. Temperatures in the past two years have jumped well above those during the “hiatus” period, with 2015 being far hotter than any other year, a full 1.62 degrees F hotter than the 20th century average.

This latest report provides new insight into the planet’s temperature distribution mechanisms. A primary focus of the report was the role of the oceans in storing excess heat. Says lead author Xiao-Hai Yan of the University of Delaware, "To better monitor Earth's energy budget and its consequences, the ocean is most important to consider because the amount of heat it can store is extremely large when compared to the land or atmospheric capacity."

The fact that surface temperatures appeared to remain relatively flat, does not mean that the overall planetary system has not continued to heat up. The system is highly complex, and the role of the oceans, particularly with the high level of melting at the polar ice caps, is still far from completely understood. The authors suggest the climate community replace the term "global warming hiatus" with "global surface warming slowdown" to eliminate confusion.

The group found that some coastal areas, such as the US East Coast and China’s coast respond more rapidly than the broader ocean. More “real-time data and more research are needed to quantify and understand what is happening," said Yan.

The scientists stressed the importance of continued support of current and future technologies for ocean monitoring to reduce observation errors in sea surface temperature and ocean heat content. “This includes maintaining Argo, the main system for monitoring ocean heat content, and the development of Deep Argo to monitor the lower half of the ocean; the use of ship-based subsurface ocean temperature monitoring programs; advancements in robotic technologies such as autonomous underwater vehicles to monitor waters adjacent to land (like islands or coastal regions); and further development of real- or near-real-time deep ocean remote sensing methods.”

With the changing administration in Washington that appears likely to include climate skeptics at high levels, it is more important than ever the maintain clear scientific objectivity on the subject and to continue to support all efforts to better understand the phenomenon that could very well pose an existential threat to our way of life.

Image credit:Oleandra9: iStock