Fred Pearce: Has Global Warming Ground to a Halt?

Posted: January 11, 2013 by tallbloke in alarmism, atmosphere, Cycles, Natural Variation, Ocean dynamics, volcanos, weather

Fred Pearce, the journalist who covered the Lisbon workshop and got into hot water along with me for ‘Gavin-gate’, has a new piece in the New Scientist. He’s still very worried in the end about Trenberth’s mythical ‘missing heat’ coming back out of the ocean, but the first half of the article raises a couple of interesting discussion points. Bold is mine near the end of the excerpt:

The UK’s Met Office has downgraded its forecast for warming at the Earth’s surface over the next five years. Headlines this week announced that global warming is “at a standstill”. Climate sceptics crowed. But the Met Office said the outlook for later in the century remains unchanged. New Scientist looks at the facts.

Has global warming stopped, or hasn’t it?
Atmospheric warming has certainly slowed greatly in the past decade. The Met Office says this appears to be due to natural cycles that are counteracting the warming effect of greenhouse gases. After incorporating new analysis of natural cycles into its latest model of atmospheric and ocean circulation, it has concluded that we are in for a few more years of little change.

Having calculated annual global temperatures for the next five years, its best guess is that they will be, on average, 0.43 °C higher than the average for 1970 to 2000. That’s down from its previous prediction of a 0.54 °C rise. If the new prediction proves right, then 2017 will barely be warmer than most years in the past decade.

The forecast comes with a big error bar, however. The average warming for the next five years could be as much as 0.59 °C, or as little as 0.28 °C.

What has changed in their thinking?
There is a growing awareness among climate scientists of the importance of natural variability in predicting climate change, especially in the short term, where it can completely obscure the global warming signal. This realisation has been bubbling up for a while. Four years ago, New Scientist reported evidence – including research by the Met Office’s Doug Smith – that natural cycles were pushing the atmosphere into a cold phase. Back then, we said the research “suggests that surface air temperatures will remain steady for the next six years or so, as cooler sea surface temperatures keep the lower atmosphere cool despite ever higher greenhouse gas levels”.

So what are these natural cycles?
Mostly they involve the movement of heat between the atmosphere and the oceans. The oceans are the sleeping giant of climate change. They act as a huge heat sink: 90 per cent of the heat generated by accumulating greenhouse gases is absorbed by the oceans. How fast this happens is variable, depending on ocean currents and other fluctuations.

Scientists have known for a long time that in El Niño years, when warm water spreads out across the equatorial Pacific, heat leaves the ocean for the atmosphere. But there are also longer-term cycles. The biggest cycles are known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. Recently, both have been causing the oceans to absorb more heat, shutting off atmospheric warming.

There are other possible confounding influences. The 11-year solar cycle has a small effect. So do volcanic eruptions and smog that shades the earth. Longer term, changes in Earth’s orbit are thought to trigger ice ages. But all the evidence is that in recent times and over the coming decades, ocean-atmosphere interactions are the only influence comparable in scale to greenhouse gases.

Are these cycles just something scientists have invented to explain away the lack of recent warming?
No. The Met Office admits that we still know far too little about how these natural cycles work, and how big they are. And climate scientists are open to the charge that they ignored the potential impact of natural variability when it was accelerating global warming. According to Brian Hoskins of Imperial College London, it now looks like natural cycles played a big role in the unexpectedly fast warming of the 1990s.

Read the rest of Fred’s piece here:



  1. Denier666 says:

    I can’t claim to have been the first to notice this but reference this graph

    I notice the prediction seems to have accurately predicted the temperature
    drop that occurred due to the Mount Pinatubo eruption.

    So how can the model predict such a temperature drop when it seems to be
    acknowledged by scientists that this drop only occurred because of the eruption?

    A new role for the Met Office, – ‘Official Predictors Of Volcanic Eruptions to the World’

  2. tallbloke says:

    I’ve been saying for a long time now that if natural variability has the power to cancel the alleged anthropogenic effect, then it is a simple logical deduction that it must also be capable of doubling it. Therefore it is likely that at least half the rise in temperature from 1975-2005 was natural variation.
    Therefore climate sensitivity is much lower than the IPCC says. Therefore much less heat can be mysteriously defying the second law of thermodynamics and making its way down through 700m of cooling upper ocean to lurk in the abyss and come back to sauna us to death later.

    It surprises me that someone of Fred’s obvious intelligence doesn’t get this. I do hope he follows Richard Betts’ example and comes here to defend his viewpoint.

  3. From the New Scientist:

    “Even so, the fundamental physics about how greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere hasn’t changed. And we know that, even as atmospheric warming stalls, the oceans are continuing to warm. That may could explain why Arctic sea ice melted so dramatically last summer, even though air temperatures were not exceptional.”

    Yet when I plot the SST figures from HadSST2 for 1998 to 2012, the linear trendlines give:

    NH SST y = 0.0044x + 0.3421

    SH SST y = -0.005x + 0.3299

    Global SST y = -0.0003x + 0.3359

    So how can we say that the oceans are still warming, surely this shows they are now in cooling phase?

  4. tallbloke says:

    Adrian: Indeed. And this is an indication that the calibration of the satllite altimetry is to theory rather than observation. And the selective discounting of ARGO data to hide the decline suffers from the same basic fallacy of ignoring the scientific method.

  5. Stephen Wilde says:

    “Before it is safe to attribute a global warming or a global cooling effect to any other factor (CO2 in particular) it is necessary to disentangle the simultaneous overlapping positive and negative effects of solar variation, PDO/ENSO and the other oceanic cycles. Sometimes they work in unison, sometimes they work against each other and until a formula has been developed to work in a majority of situations all our guesses about climate change must come to nought.”

    From here:

    May 21st 2008

  6. David Blake says:

    Taking the NH only…

    1) If we accept the fact that the AMO is a natural cycle, then it’s clear that the AMO is the largest factor in heating the NH SST, and through the seas the NH Atmospheric temperatures.
    See: Wood For Trees Graph from 1960
    Wood for Trees graph from 1850. The rise from 1975 to now is steeper than previous rises in all data sets. Does this indicate an anthropogenic influence?

    2) The issue then becomes; what causes the AMO? And do the modern readings for the AMO pick up a proportion of anthropogenic warming that is mistaken for a natural cycle?

    3) The AMO is roughly correlated to a detrended sun spot / TSI cycle:

    Detrended Wood for Trees graph from 1960. Is the AMO correlated to some part of the sun’s actvity? For example high energy UV (no data available that I can find – anybody got a source?)?

  7. Stephen Wilde says:


    My suggestion is that the AMO is a lagging effect of the PDO.

    During an El Nino warmer water comes to the surface and releases some energy to the air but in addition that warmer water flows around the world affecting all the other ocean basins too.

    In the North Atlantic the flow backs up somewhat due to the narrow access to the Arctic Ocean and it seems to take about 10 years for the maximum effect of a positive PDO to reach the Arctic Ocean and then the effect takes several years to dissipate.

    The big El Nino of 1997/8 was followed by a high Arctic ice melt in 2007. The AMO is still not negative so the effect on Arctic ice is still continuing hence another low this year but most likely this years melt would not have been so great without favourable synoptic patters.

    AMO should go negative in a few years and then Arctic ice should really recover.

    Going back to the PDO it is my view that it is solar driven as regards the net balance between El Nino and La Nina events over and above the 60 year cycle which appears to be an internal system feature.

    The solar driver appears to be changing wavelengths from the sun (including UV) altering the vertical temperature profile of the atmosphere so as to change jet stream behaviour and cloudiness and alter the amount of energy getting into the oceans to fuel the entire system

    Any effect from human emissions being insignificant compared to the effects of sun and oceans.

  8. David Blake says:

    Very plausible Stephen. You say that the PDO is solar driven, yet it seems that the AMO is more directly effected by the TSI/ sun spots, while the PDO is anti-phase with the TSI. This is not contrary to what you are saying (I beleive) – the energy from the atlantic is passing back and forth from the pacific to the atlantic.

    I’d be interested to hear what this tells us about forthocoming temperature changes? Note that the PDO is currently negative, while the AMO is positive. The PDO has s rough range of 3 Centigrade, while the AMO has only a 0.6 centigrade range. If the heat from the Pacific (a big number) moves, over time, to the Atlantic (still big, but smaller) wouldn’t that negate the forthcoming cooling of the AMO?

    I don’t think though that we can rule out an anthropogenic component, although much smaller that the “authorities” are currently saying.

  9. Berényi Péter says:

    He’s still very worried in the end about Trenberth’s mythical ‘missing heat’ coming back out of the ocean”

    A ridiculous meme, it is. According to the NOAA NODC OCL Global Ocean Heat and Salt Content site pentadal average ocean heat content of the upper 700 m of oceans has increased by 16.733×10²² J, while the same figure for the layer between depths 700 m and 2000 m is 7.157×10²² J. It happened in 52 years, between 1957 & 2009.

    If we take into account mass and specific heat of water involved, it turns out average temperature of the upper 700 m increased by 0.16°C, while that of the layer below it by 0.04°C. As average surface temperature has increased more than that during the same period (by about 0.5°C for sea surface temperature, according to HadSST), temperature difference between surface and volume has increased as well.

    It means heat stored in the oceans at depth can’t possibly start to come back until the surface cools down by some 0.4°C again. Until then oceans keep sucking heat in, at a very slow (and highly variable) rate, one should add. Equilibration would apparently take many centuries, which severely limits rate of surface warming.

  10. Stephen Wilde says:

    Well David, I’m content to accept the proposition that any human contribution to ocean heat content would be minute but my problem with that is getting any of the human contribution into the ocean in the first place given that it would increase evaporation which is a process with a net cooling effect.

    In the meantime the PDO seems to be in a natural negative phase for the next 20 years or so and (I think due to the inactive sun) the recent attempt at an El Nino has stalled with a likely return to La Nina conditions shortly.

    So when the AMO goes negative too there isn’t going to be much energy coming through from the Pacific.

    As regards the relative sizes of the energy amounts involved in PDO and AMO please bear in mind that the energy from an El Nino event goes all round the world so only a small proportion goes to the AMO.

  11. oldbrew says:

    Talking of natural variability – is this just coincidence?

  12. anon says:

    Brian Hoskins participated in the Stern review

  13. vukcevic says:

    Thanks for reminding me of a great theorist Timo Niroma, the ‘planetarist’ that kept Svalgaard at bay, sadly he died too soon. He used to be regular on now defunct the ‘Solar Cycle24’ blog where by the way Rog tb and I were also regulars. Se also:

  14. oldbrew says:

    ‘Are these cycles just something scientists have invented to explain away the lack of recent warming?’

    Until recently ‘natural cycles’ were thought in some quarters to be something so-called sceptics had invented in order to undermine IPCC-type theories. Official climate science tried to ignore or suppress the Medieval Warm Period, Little Ice Age etc. and now they have some backtracking to do.

  15. weltklima says:

    To: ….Natural cycles. Now recognized, but which cycles?
    There are 5 of them enumerated in

    of which 3 of them are explained in detail. All are of astronomical

  16. Paul Vaughan says:

    Mother Natue has helped Bob Tisdale force ukmo attention to the East Pacific:

    “Figure 4: Difference in decadal mean sea surface temperatures observed between the 1990s and the 2000s.”

    Harmonizing with nature is the effortless way (efficient wei wu wei) to be right in climate matters.

    Nice work Bob. You’re just chillin’ & coastin’ easy while they overheat in increasingly goofy spin that now has to pretend the ocean & atmosphere are uncoupled (to accommodate their silly forecasting analogy).

    Ignorant of global constraints on circulation they blindly are.

    — — —

    @ David & Stephen :

    Figure 4 from Wyatt et al. 2011:

  17. Doug Proctor says:

    The warmists are getting themselves in such a pickle. As Roger noted, if natural variability is signficant enough for negating the CO2 warming, it is capable of doubling the CO2 warming.

    What they are saying is that WEATHER has a bigger impact than expected, but CLIMATE is still subject only to CAGW concerns. They are trying to justify CO2 warming without losing IPCC radiative forcing of GHGs or negating the certainty that the Scenarios accurately reflect future climate.

    This is like saying the nature of the forest exists separate from the nature of the trees, i.e. oaks and maples exist right now, but really this is a tropical forest of palms and eucalyptus in transition.

  18. michael hart says:

    “New Scientist looks at the facts.” And then I woke up.
    If that is true, then why don’t they more often make a serious attempt to understand or even describe the facts?

    And is Trenberth’s missing CO2-heat lurking in the ocean with it’s big-brother and partner-in-crime, the Water-Vapour feedback? I don’t think so. There isn’t much water-vapour in the liquid phase. Stainbrains.

    (Sorry for being grumpy, but Prince Charles has been winding me up again at WUWT.)

  19. Paul Vaughan says:

    How do we expeditiously get through to intransigent agencies like UKMO on thermal wind’s conventionally-underestimated role in solar-terrestrial-climate relations?…

    “[…] teach in such a way that no course of action is dictated to a student (they are just told raw facts for use, and left to their own creative devices), so they assume that they have been taught nothing […]”

    Quantitatively, that’s sound advice, but might defiantly-intransigent authoritative agencies need a little more “motivation” than fresh innocents?

    A combination of strategies might be necessary…

    Here’s the solar-terrestrial weave in marginal view:

    Integrating the changing pitch of semi-annual solar-terrestrial helical twist multidecadally (at ~64 year complex envelope extent) reveals exponentially damped equator-pole heat & water pump equilibration to the frequency disturbance (simple Doppler effect in a system with memory but no clock locked to a gently shifting disturbance tempo) acting via Rossby average jet stream waveguide deflection (simple multidecadal aggregate meridionality vs. zonality), most noticeably at steep northern hemisphere winter continental-east-coast—ocean-basin-western-boundary gradients:

    As Jean Dickey (NASA JPL) emphasizes…
    Temperature, mass, & velocity are coupled:
    Figure 4 from Wyatt, Kravtsov, & Tsonis (2011)

    (spatiotemporal chaos in a “box”, constrained among other things by the finite size of Earth ….for example, we don’t have eddies the size of the Milky Way on Earth)

    The derivative (i.e. 1/4 wave earlier) points to the primacy of Pacific multidecadal variation, its effect on Antarctic ice mass, & the concurrent subtle effect of coupled multi-shell mass shift on geomagnetic field orientation:

    The underlying mechanism is nothing more than thermal wind (an uncontroversial concept).

    What this says is that existing terrestrial GRADIENTS act as a MAJOR filter, spatially channeling differentially and thus mixing instantaneous solar input. So while the direct global average surface impact of solar activity on temperature averages may be small and sometimes audaciously portrayed as yet smaller, this sort of ignorant &/or deceptive modeling is fundamentally misconceived and misdirected.

    The spatiotemporally accumulating effect of solar-amplified gradient-driven circulatory heat & water redistribution is at least an order of magnitude larger than what conventional “wisdom” admits, as becomes obvious with carefully tuned macroscopic focus.

    Koutsoyiannis (2011) wrote: “Complex natural systems consisting of very many elements are impossible to describe in full detail and their future evolution cannot be predicted in detail and with precision. Here, the great scientific achievement is the materialization of macroscopic descriptions rather than modeling the details. […] laws of large numbers, central limit theorem, principle of maximum entropy […] seeks invariant properties in complex systems.” (bold emphasis added)

    Click to access 6-3JAWRA_HKDynamics.pdf

    Unfortunately, Koutsoyiannis’ approach unnecessarily severely limits achievable insight by being aspatial & temporally-global.

    “The decadal ‘‘noise’’ involves coupled variations in the distributions of temperature, mass, and velocity (21, 22) and so is manifested in the steric sea level, moments of inertia, and the Earth’s variable rotation.” (bold emphasis added)

    Munk, W. (2002). Twentieth century sea level: an enigma. PNAS 99(10), 6550-6555.

    Click to access 6550.full.pdf

    (21, 22) = work of Jean Dickey (NASA JPL)

    (In North America the highest concentration of enlightened souls with enhanced awareness of aggregate constraints seems to be at NASA JPL.)

    Might we be able to trick UKMO & related intransigent agencies into awareness & appreciation of thermal wind’s aggregate spatiotemporal role in solar-terrestrial-climate relations?

    Sensible advice from mathematician George Pólya:
    Solve a simpler problem.


    Did you know that your paper might win that award and so you just….

    HvL: I didn’t have the slightest idea. Chester had nominated it. I know now why he did it. I was making a heat balance study. I wanted to explain the semiannual oscillation physically, and then how it worked dawned upon me. I was enthusiastic, and Chester and I were having coffee, and there was a blackboard, and I explained it to him. I could see, if you know Donald Duck’s cousin, the bulb light up on top of Chester. From that point on he thought he would nominate it, apparently. But it had a very funny fate. Is the name Clarence Palmer known to you?

    That tropical meteorologist was a very fine meteorologist, but as alcoholic as you could be. He was out at UCLA. I submitted the paper in late 1966. I heard nothing from them and I was a greenhorn in those days, I should written in and said what the hell is going on. After eight months it was too much for me. I wrote to AMS “Why haven’t I gotten the reviews of my paper?” They called Clarence Palmer. He must have been sober at the time. He wrote a wonderful letter saying that this is the best paper he had ever read. Publish it immediately without changes. So it came out without any changes. (bold emphasis added)

    Click to access vanloon.pdf

    The reference is to Harry’s 1967 classic (follow the next link below).

    Grasping thermal wind’s role in SAO may try patience, but grasp in that simpler context is well within the reach of any reasonably intelligent individual applying basic effort. I’ve volunteered guidance to help streamline a crash-course path to enlightenment in the simpler context:
    (includes link to van Loon’s 1967 classic mentioned above)

    Connect 4 dots (from spatially adjacent annual cycles).

  20. Ref. sunspots and temperature.

    Skeptical science

    Figure 3 shows a divergence between the sunspot plot and temperatures around 1990.

    If you look at the number of temperature stations vs. temperature

    then 1990 is a significant year, the year that the number of stations used dropped, and at the same time the temperatures shot up.

    If the presumption is that global temperatures from 1990 are corrupted, it brings the plot of sunspots vs. temperature back into line.

  21. It was already noted that climate models under estimated the warming in the 1990s, and that this was probably due to natural variability adding additional warming to the long-term anthropogenic trend – see this paper published in 2007 by Stefan Rahmstorf and others (including Jim Hansen). They say:

    Given the relatively short 16-year time period considered, it will be difficult to establish the reasons for this relatively rapid warming, although there are only a few likely possibilities. The first candidate reason is intrinsic variability within the climate system.

    So I don’t think it’s true that climate scientists “ignored the potential impact of natural variability when it was accelerating global warming”.

  22. tallbloke says:

    Richard – and yet the iPCC’s sensitivity figure seems to be based on the assumption that vast majority of the rise in temp was due to increased co2, Why is that?

    I note the scientists concerned didn’t seem to be too quick to disabuse the mainstream media of the notion that warming was nearly all down to human emission of co2 either. Their silence about natural variablity speaks volumes. When Hansen does talk to the press, you only ever hear him speaking of human emissions in relation to global warming.

    By the way, you latest comment went into moderation queue rather than the spam folder, which is a step in the right direction. Thanks for bearing with wordpress’ quirky systems.

  23. tallbloke says:

    Adrian: If you integrate the sunspot number as a running total departing from the ocean equilibrium value of around 40SSN, you get a curve which rises from 1934 to 2003 and then tops out and falls slightly. I contend that taking nto account the solar effect on upper atmosphere chemistry and cloud cover, this provides a reasonable proxy for ocean heat content. If you add in a simple sine wave or use the detrended AMO dataset for the oceanic oscillation, a little SOI, and a more realistic value for co2 contribution you can reproduce the history of Sea Surface Temperature for the last 140 years.

    In fact, you can leave co2 out of it altogether and still get an R^2=0.95 correlation for decadally smoothed data, or 0.87 for monthly data. However, for the model shown above, all the component contributions are well within the range of uncertainty for the relative magnitudes of their effects.

    I’d like Richard Betts to give that some serious consideration.

  24. oldbrew says:

    Doug Proctor says:
    January 11, 2013 at 11:59 pm

    All true. When will the forecasters realise their models would have a better chance of good results if they drastically downgraded the supposedly man-made factors?

  25. Paul Vaughan says:


    Now’s a natural time to take a break from quantifying clear reasons to patently distrust solar-terrestrial “experts” who disregard universal natural laws.

    I’ll be curious to see your exploration of the SAO, if you decide to pursue it.

    All the best.

  26. Bart says:

    Rog – I had linked to your long ago analysis discussing SSN and temperatures on WUWT a few months ago and wanted to link again in another venue, but had not saved the link and could not find it. Could you provide that, and any further analysis you have done since, as you discuss in the post at 1:59 pm above? Thanks.

  27. tchannon says:

    Bart, we have >1,000 posts here. Your best bet is use site search, in this case Google syntax ssn temperature

    Another way to try might be ssn temperature bart

    I guess you need to remember more so the search can be refined. A number of other facilities and tricks are possible.

  28. tallbloke says:


    Thanks for linking to my work. 🙂

    I haven’t had time to develop the model further recently, but I hope to improve the forecast element with an ENSO model this spring.

  29. suricat says:


    You could’ve picked a better ‘piece title’ for this thread. Like, ‘UK Met Office admits Natural Variation is more chaotic than expected’, or ‘Fred Tuttle is fearsome of Trenberth’s “Missing Heat”‘, or ‘something’. 😉 Just kidding. 🙂

    I’ve had thoughts on ‘M’s’ presumption that CO2 and H2O play out a ‘fixed’ relationship in Earth’s atmosphere. My thoughts bring me to the conclusion that this relationship may prove to be a ‘marker’ for ‘glacial/interglacial’ hysteresis. Thus, I’ll mail this post to Ferenc as well.

    I know this thread’s major content is about ‘natural variability’, but what my thoughts lead me to ‘is’ a natural variability, but also is a ‘tipping point’ (yeah, I know the punctuation sucks again). And, yes! Since I retired, I’m always ‘knackered’! 😦

    Involvement on your site has helped me to rationalise this scenario, so I’d like to offer the opportunity for you to partake an involvement in this discussion. If you wish to decline, that’s OK too.

    Please ‘mail me’ if you wish to participate. 🙂

    Best regards, Ray.

  30. Bart says:

    Thanks, Rog. That looks very interesting, oldbrew. Hope you consider getting it published.

  31. oldbrew says:

    @ Bart 8:37 pm — The author is Per Strandberg, here’s his blog.

  32. […] Fred Pearce: Has Global Warming Ground to a Halt? […]

  33. […] Fred Pearce: Has Global Warming Ground to a Halt? […]