Compo and Sardeshmukh: Oceans a main driver of climate variability – it’s the heat AND the humidity.

An interesting paper has now been issued which shows support for the idea that the oceans and not the greenhouse effect are responsible for warming (and by implication) cooling of the atmosphere thereby giving some mainstream credence to my Hot Water Bottle Effect.

At this point the authors are only prepared to say that the balance between natural and anthropogenic influences is less clear than previously thought but at least that is a step in the right direction.

The big problem for the AGW theory now is the question as to how atmospheric temperatures can heat up the oceans enough to get the oceans to drive the atmospheric temperature.

We all know that hot air cannot heat cold water significantly don’t we ?

Anyway, here is a summary of the paper from ‘Watts Up With That’:

This paper has been out for a few days, and several people have alerted me to it. This new paper by Compo,G.P., and P.D. Sardeshmukh, 2008: Oceanic influences on recent continental warming. in the journal Climate Dynamics, is now in press.

This paper makes some significant claims regarding what is driving the observed climate changes. The emphasis is on the ocean as the main driving component, and the authors recognize that “a combination of natural and anthropogenic influences” may be at work. While they point to the oceans as a significant driver, they don’t offer much to explain what is driving the oceanic change.

Even so, this is a significant work, and I urge my visitors to read it, because it shows that GHG forcing is not the only occupant of the drivers seat. It also clearly illustrates the need to examine such cyclic ocean influences as the PDO and AMO more closely, and to consider them in projections of temperature.


“Evidence is presented that the recent worldwide land warming has occurred largely in response to a worldwide warming of the oceans rather than as a direct response to increasing greenhouse gases (GHGs) over land. Atmospheric model simulations of the last half-century with prescribed observed ocean temperature changes, but without prescribed GHG changes, account for most of the land warming. The oceanic influence has occurred through hydrodynamic-radiative teleconnections, primarily by moistening and warming the air over land and increasing the downward longwave radiation at the surface. The oceans may themselves have warmed from a combination of natural and anthropogenic influences.”


“In summary, our results emphasize the significant role of remote oceanic influences, rather than the direct local effect of anthropogenic radiative forcings, in the recent continental warming. They suggest that the recent oceanic warming has caused the continents to warm through a different set of mechanisms than usually identified with the global impacts of SST changes. It has increased the humidity of the atmosphere, altered the atmospheric vertical motion and associated cloud fields, and perturbed the longwave and shortwave radiative fluxes at the continental surface. While continuous global measurements of most of these changes are not available through the 1961-2006 period, some humidity observations are available and do show upward trends over the continents. These include near-surface observations (Dai 2006) as well as satellite radiance measurements sensitive to upper tropospheric moisture (Soden et al. 2005).”

Although not a focus of this study, the degree to which the oceans themselves have recently warmed due to increased GHG, other anthropogenic, natural solar and volcanic forcings, or internal multi-decadal climate variations is a matter of active investigation (Stott et al. 2006; Knutson et al. 2006; Pierce et al. 2006). Reliable assessments of these contributing factors depend critically on reliable estimations of natural climate variability, either from the observational record or from coupled climate model simulations without anthropogenic forcings. Several recent studies suggest that the observed SST variability may be misrepresented in the coupled models used in preparing the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, with substantial errors on interannual and decadal scales (e.g., Shukla et al. 2006, DelSole, 2006; Newman 2007; Newman et al. 2008). There is a hint of an underestimation of simulated decadal SST variability even in the published IPCC Report (Hegerl et al. 2007, FAQ9.2 Figure 1). Given these and other misrepresentations of natural oceanic variability on decadal scales (e.g., Zhang and McPhaden 2006), a role for natural causes of at least some of the recent oceanic warming should not be ruled out.

Regardless of whether or not the rapid recent oceanic warming has occurred largely from anthropogenic or natural influences, our study highlights its importance in accounting for the recent observed continental warming. Perhaps the most important conclusion to be drawn from our analysis is that the recent acceleration of global warming may not be occurring in quite the manner one might have imagined. The indirect and substantial role of the oceans in causing the recent continental warming emphasizes the need to generate reliable projections of ocean temperature changes over the next century, in order to generate more reliable projections of not just the global mean temperature and precipitation changes (Barsugli et al. 2006), but also regional climate changes.”

Roger Pielke writes in his blog:

This is a major scientific conclusion, and the authors should be recognized for this achievement. If these results are robust, it further documents that a regional perspective of climate variabilty and change must be adopted, rather than a focus on a global average surface temperature change, as emphasized in the 2007 IPCC WG1 report.

Compo and Sardeshmukh: Oceans a main driver of climate variability – it’s the heat AND the humidity.

Published by Stephen Wilde July 28, 2008

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