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Revised estimate of global ocean heat content (10-1500 mtrs deep) for 2005-2010 derived from Argo measurements.
Global warming is the result of a greenhouse gas-caused imbalance between incoming solar energy and heat that the Earth radiates away to space.
Previous attempts to estimate this planetary imbalance relied on climate models rather than observations because sufficiently detailed observations were not available then. Loeb (2012) combined ocean heat content data, top-of-the-atmosphere satellite observations, heat absorbed by the land and atmosphere, and the energy required to melt ice. The uncertainties are large due to the short length of robust observations, and because ARGO only samples down to 2000 metres — less than half the average depth of the global oceans. Although the deep ocean will have absorbed far less heat the the surface ocean it cannot be neglected in order to adequately balance the Earth’s energy budget. Increased concentrations of greenhouse gases, from the burning of fossil fuels, slows the loss of heat from Earth’s atmosphere to space. Because this planetary heat imbalance is tiny compared to the energy coming in from the sun, and the heat being radiated back out to space, it is too small to be measured directly by satellites. Loeb (2012) takes an updated look at the issue and finds that, using observations rather than modeled estimates, the Earth’s energy imbalance is consistent with heat building up with the Earth system.
Earth’s energy budget is determined by measuring how much energy comes into the Earth system from the sun, how much is lost to space as heat, and accounting for the remainder on Earth. The oceans, however, cover over 70% of the Earth’s surface, are dark-coloured (meaning they absorb sunlight readily) and, due to their enormous heat capacity compared to that of the atmosphere and land, store over 90% of the excess energy from global warming. The ARGO float network consists of 3000 autonomous devices, distributed around the world’s oceans, that sink down to depths of up to 2000 metres taking measurements of ocean temperature as they ascend up through the water column. These are ship-launched devices that unfurl a trailing a copper wire as they descend down into the depths.


From 1990 to 2002 these XBT’s made up the bulk of ocean heat measurements, however because they were sparsely sampled in both time and space, numerous corrections and mapping strategies have had to be employed to remove errors and bias from the data set. The light green area I’ve highlighted (in figure 2[a]) is the time period where the XBT were the dominant source of ocean heat content data. Also notable is the substantial variation in ocean heating rates between the three different ocean heat content data sets.
As mentioned in the introduction, the satellites which measure incoming and outgoing radiation at the top of Earth’s atmosphere (TOA) cannot measure the small planetary energy imbalance brought about by global warming.
El Nino and La Nina are not only intervals when heat within the system is distributed around the planet, but also periods which see a net loss of heat by the Earth (El Nino) and a net gain of heat (La Nina). In order to compare these satellite-based observations with ocean heat content it is necessary to anchor the data to an absolute scale.
An obvious feature of the satellite TOA observations (figure 4) is that they do not show a sharp decline between 2002-2005 – the time of the transition from XBT to ARGO. Hell Solar Jim, my math, (not to be trusted) says that is only 13,500,000 Hiros a year melting ice in the polar regions, how can that hurt us?
I understand that some of the missing heat is going into the oceans, but some of it is also going into the melting of the ice caps.
Earlier attempts to quantify this planetary heat imbalance were made in Hansen (2005) and Trenberth (2009) using earlier climate model-based estimates. Quite obviously then, accurate measurements of ocean warming are crucial to balancing Earth’s energy budget. The system began to be rolled out in 2000, and by 2003 made up the majority of ocean heat measurements. From around 2002-2003, during the transition from XBT to ARGO, global ocean heating seems to decline.


In figure 2(b) are shown the ocean heating rates for the three data sets and their uncertainties. With some half trillion ton ice melt per year at present, is there any politician who perceives a possible cause and effect (from past fossil carbonic acid gas emissions, ie present atmospheric concentration)? Any of the three US branches of government consider this a national security issue (especially in relation to fossil subsidies across the tax and fiscal system)? Uncertainties for all annual upper-ocean heating rates are given at one standard error and are derived from OHCA uncertainties.
The period where ARGO data makes up the bulk of data (2004-2008 in red) has a greater uncertainty only because their period of observation is much shorter (5 years), versus 11 years for the interval where XBT data predominates (1993-2003 in blue). But, despite lacking absolute precision, the measuring instruments aboard the satellites are very stable.
Uncertainties for upper-ocean heating rates are given at one standard error derived from OHCA uncertainties.
Of this global surface heat flux, some eight percent transfers into the planet’s ice.
These uncertainties in ARGO will diminish as the length of the observational record grows, and indeed a decline in the scale of the annual fluctuation seems be occurring even within the 2004-2008 period. Positive and negative values of MEI correspond to El Nino (red shaded) and La Nina (blue shaded) conditions, respectively. TOA radiation anomalies are determined from monthly averages by removing the seasonal cycle then smoothing with a twelve-month running mean.



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