A bodyguard of woo
Sep 1, 2013
Bishop Hill

In a leader just published, the Guardian is covering the plateau in global temperatures and is to be congratulated on telling half the story. That's considerably better than telling none of the story at all, as is its wont.

There is, however, a serious debate about why the observed temperatures have not kept pace with computer-modelled predictions and where the heat that should have registered on the global thermometer has hidden itself. One guess – supported by some sustained but still incomplete research – is that the deep oceans are warming: that is, the extra heat that should be measurable in the atmosphere has been absorbed by the sea. This is hardly good news: atmosphere and ocean play on each other, and any stored heat is likely to be returned to the atmosphere sooner or later, in unpredictable ways. The real lesson from the latest finding is that there is a lot yet to be understood about how the planet works, and precisely how ocean and atmosphere distribute warmth from the equator to the poles.

To describe the deep-ocean explanation for the hiatus as a guess seems reasonable to me. It is genuinely no more than that, although I think to be truly clear about it one would have to point out that it is somewhat implausible for the missing heat to have found its way to the deep ocean without being detected nearer the surface. Nevertheless, I think you do get a sense of the puzzlement of climatologists, so one should probably commend the Guardian for raising its game.

Of course one can't expect the whole article to be that good, and the Guardian appears to have adapted Winston Churchill's famous maxim somewhat, ensuring that its scientifically sensible statement is attended by a bodyguard of woo to keep its readers happy - referring to Australian floods and melting Arctic ice with none of the context that would allow the uninitiated to make sense of such statements.

But hey, let's recognise the progress.

Article originally appeared on (http://www.bishop-hill.net/).
See website for complete article licensing information.