Skip to main content

See also:

Is the Atlantic Ocean a key to climate change pause?

Did some factors cause climate change to stall over the past decade? Climate Central reports this morning that a study released last Thursday in the journal Science has an answer. The key lies in the Atlantic Ocean.

California Central Valley Farming Communities Struggle With Drought
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Ka-Kit Tung, an atmospheric scientist and applied mathematician at the University of Washington in Seattle stated in the research paper that there is a hold on increased temperature. He and Xianyao Chen at Ocean University of China in Qingdao think that the heat has gone deep in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. There was a contrary report earlier that the heat went into the Pacific Ocean.

A more in depth explanation is that the temporary slowdown in rising temperatures from a 30-year current cycle in the Atlantic Ocean is pushing heat into the ocean. Movement of heat deep into the Ocean does not let the planet and humans off the hook from warm temperatures and change for the future with its consequences.

However, at the end of the cycle warmer temperatures will continue to rise higher at the end of each decade. A study published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has noted that each of the last three decades since 1850 is warmer at the Earth’s surface than prior to 1850. The period of 1983-2012 is likely the warmest of the last 1400 years.

Tung adds another note of caution. It was thought that El Nino-El Nina was causing a push of warm temperature into a sink in the Pacific Ocean. This would end with the next El Nino. If the Atlantic is pushing warm temperatures into the Atlantic sink, then there may be a 15 year break. It is important he warns that a break in warming temperatures do not cause a signal that climate change is not in fact in action. He is afraid that climate change could be dismissed in error due to a lack of understanding that the warm temperature is merely deeper into the Atlantic Ocean at this time.

Sensors placed in the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic and Southern Ocean nearly a mile beneath the surface measured the temperature and salt content of the water. The Atlantic held a high level of salt which caused the heat to be pushed down.

“We were surprised to see the evidence presented so clearly. When you go with the energy, you cannot argue with that,” said Tung.

Jon Robson, a climate scientist at the University of Reading and who is unconnected to the study, gave his interpretation of the research study in an interview with the Guardian. He states that the new study brings the importance of the Atlantic’s role but cautions that there are many factors. The warmer water from the meltdown in Greenland has caused the push to go deeper into the Atlantic. The Pacific is still rising from the Arctic melt which is not in any form of pause.

Josh Willis, a climate scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, recommends to look at other observation data around the globe and not just one set of sensor data. He suggests that sea level rises due to the heat and satellites could provide measurement of this increased height factor.

Gerald Meehl, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, first suggested a look at the Atlantic Ocean. He believes that global warming has not stopped but shifted below the surface.

Short term trends from short term records do not offer long-term climate trends. Tung summarizes the study’s indication that continued ice melt will increase water flow around the oceans and salt density will lessen. He states that global warming hasn’t halted. Tung compares it to a grand staircase which rises between plateaus and “we are not on the flat part of the staircase.”