Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Measuring Climate Change With Oceans

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Climate Science has a couple of interesting articles recently posted.

The first one postulates that oceans, as giant heat reservoirs, are a potentially a better indicator of global warming and cooling than surface temperatures:

“• The earth’s heat budget observations, within the limits of their representativeness and accuracy, provide an observational constraint on the radiative forcing imposed in retrospective climate modeling.

• A snapshot at any time documents the accumulated heat content and its change since the last assessment. Unlike temperature, at some specific level of the ocean, land, or the atmosphere, in which there is a time lag in its response to radiative forcing, there are no time lags associated with heat changes.

• Since the surface temperature is a two-dimensional global field, while heat content involves volume integrals, as shown by Eq. (1), the utilization of surface temperature as a monitor of the earth system climate change is not particularly useful in evaluating the heat storage changes to the earth system. The heat storage changes, rather than surface temperatures, should be used to determine what fraction of the radiative fluxes at the top of the atmosphere are in radiative equilibrium. Of course, since surface temperature has such an important impact on human activities, its accurate monitoring should remain a focus of climate research (Pielke et al. 2002a)."

I have to admit that I've struggled a quite bit with this one... largely because I didn't have any scientific training in this area. First, I didn't quite understand how "the heat storage changes" would be accurately measured on a global, three-dimensional basis for the oceans... or even the nature of those measurements unless it is temperature changes. My first inclination was to view this information as telling me that because the oceans act as a giant heat reservoir, atmospheric temperatures are moderated by that effect and that was the importance. But Dr. Pielke was quick to reiterate the conclusions above from the paper as the important points.

The concept is intriguing because oceans are far less susceptible to weather fluctuations and short-temperature changes found in the atmosphere (just ask someone who lives in Michigan about that) which are often pointed to as "proof" of global warming or cooling. With this alternative, it is all about whether the oceanic heat storage is level, increasing or decreasing.

Are temperature monitoring (heat storage measuring?) devices located in the oceans around the world? Yes, but my personal lack of knowledge of whether heat conduction from various depths or major circulation patterns mixing surface with deeper water makes a difference in getting accurate readings of heat storage changes, led me to question our ability to measure global changes... at least over short time periods. This abstract is a regional example of what I am saying above.

Therefore, I posed the question of reliability and timeliness of using changes in the oceans' heat storage as a measure of global warming/cooling at the Climate Science site and got this response from Dr. Pielke late last night:

"Hi Bruce - The paper

Willis, J.K., D. Roemmich, and B. Cornuelle, 2004: Interannual variability in upper ocean heat content, temperature, and thermosteric expansion on global scales. J. Geophys. Res., 109, C12036, doi: 10.1029/2003JC002260.

discusses in depth the accuracy in which the ocean heat content can be measured.

This data quite accurately samples the upper ocean."

While I am working through this 13-page paper, I have no doubt that my questions will be answered and that is why I recommend that you take the time to learn about this novel approach, if you are concerned about climate change and global warming or cooling.

Dr. Pielke has been quite helpful in getting me to better understand this issue.


The second article
poses this hypothesis:

One possible cause of the linear increase [in temperature] may be that the Earth is still recovering from the Little Ice Age. World glaciers and sea ice in the Arctic Ocean have been receding since 1800 or earlier; these are not just recent phenomena. It seems to me that most climate researchers are so caught up in the CO2 effect, the Little Ice Age has been all but forgotten.


It is urgent that natural changes be correctly identified and removed accurately from the presently ongoing changes in order to find the contribution of the greenhouse effect. Some details are given at:

As I have said before, "Nothing is ever as simple as it first seems." ... and I hope I got it right this time.

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There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.
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“The Divine Afflatus,” A Mencken Chrestomathy, chapter 25, p. 443 (1949)
... and one could add "not all human problems really are."
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Tracking Interest Rates


SEARCH BLOG: FEDERAL RESERVE for full versions... or use the Blog Archive pulldown menu.

February 3, 2006
Go back to 1999-2000 and see what the Fed did. They are following the same pattern for 2005-06. If it ain't broke, the Fed will fix it... and good!
August 29, 2006 The Federal Reserve always acts on old information... and is the only cause of U.S. recessions.
December 5, 2006 Last spring I wrote about what I saw to be a sharp downturn in the economy in the "rustbelt" states, particularly Michigan.
March 28, 2007
The Federal Reserve sees no need to cut interest rates in the light of adverse recent economic data, Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday.
The Fed chairman said ”to date, the incoming data have supported the view that the current stance of policy is likely to foster sustainable economic growth and a gradual ebbing in core inflation”.

July 21, 2007 My guess is that if there is an interest rate change, a cut is more likely than an increase. The key variables to be watching at this point are real estate prices and the inventory of unsold homes.
August 11, 2007 I suspect that within 6 months the Federal Reserve will be forced to lower interest rates before housing becomes a black hole.
September 11, 2007 It only means that the overall process has flaws guaranteeing it will be slow in responding to changes in the economy... and tend to over-react as a result.
September 18, 2007 I think a 4% rate is really what is needed to turn the economy back on the right course. The rate may not get there, but more cuts will be needed with employment rates down and foreclosure rates up.
October 25, 2007 How long will it be before I will be able to write: "The Federal Reserve lowered its lending rate to 4% in response to the collapse of the U.S. housing market and massive numbers of foreclosures that threaten the banking and mortgage sectors."
"Should the elevated turbulence persist, it would increase the possibility of further tightening in financial conditions for households and businesses," he said.

"Uncertainties about the economic outlook are unusually high right now," he said. "These uncertainties require flexible and pragmatic policymaking -- nimble is the adjective I used a few weeks ago."

December 11, 2007 Somehow the Fed misses the obvious.
[Image from:]
December 13, 2007 [from The Christian Science Monitor]
"The odds of a recession are now above 50 percent," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's "We are right on the edge of a recession in part because of the Fed's reluctance to reduce interest rates more aggressively." [see my comments of September 11]
January 7, 2008 The real problem now is that consumers can't rescue the economy and manufacturing, which is already weakening, will continue to weaken. We've gutted the forces that could avoid a downturn. The question is not whether there will be a recession, but can it be dampened sufficiently so that it is very short.
January 11, 2008 This is death by a thousand cuts.
January 13, 2008 [N.Y. Times]
“The question is not whether we will have a recession, but how deep and prolonged it will be,” said David Rosenberg, the chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch. “Even if the Fed’s moves are going to work, it will not show up until the later part of 2008 or 2009.
January 17, 2008 A few days ago, Anna Schwartz, nonagenarian economist, implicated the Federal Reserve as the cause of the present lending crisis [from the Telegraph - UK]:
The high priestess of US monetarism - a revered figure at the Fed - says the central bank is itself the chief cause of the credit bubble, and now seems stunned as the consequences of its own actions engulf the financial system. "The new group at the Fed is not equal to the problem that faces it," she says, daring to utter a thought that fellow critics mostly utter sotto voce.
January 22, 2008 The cut has become infected and a limb is in danger. Ben Bernanke is panicking and the Fed has its emergency triage team cutting rates... this time by 3/4%. ...

What should the Federal Reserve do now? Step back... and don't be so anxious to raise rates at the first sign of economic improvement.
Individuals and businesses need stability in their financial cost structures so that they can plan effectively and keep their ships afloat. Wildly fluctuating rates... regardless of what the absolute levels are... create problems. Either too much spending or too much fear. It's just not that difficult to comprehend. Why has it been so difficult for the Fed?

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Michigan, United States
Air Force (SAC) captain 1968-72. Retired after 35 years of business and logistical planning, including running a small business. Two sons with advanced degrees; one with a business and pre-law degree. Beautiful wife who has put up with me for 4 decades. Education: B.A. (Sociology major; minors in philosopy, English literature, and German) M.S. Operations Management (like a mixture of an MBA with logistical planning)