Where’s the Heat?

In the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination contest, Sen. Paul Tsongas repeatedly charged the establishment in his party with lacking “new ideas.” When he and front-runner Walter Mondale, former senator and vice president, locked up in a televised debate, Mondale correctly pointed out that Tsongas had no new ideas. Riffing on a popular Wendy’s TV ad, Mondale said to Tsongas, “Where’s the beef?”

There was no beef and Tsongas was toast, as Mondale had hit on the key vulnerability of the slick Massachusetts senator. There were no new ideas coming from the Democrats. Mondale, whose prime, elderly idea was that he would raise taxes, went on to lose big time to President Ronald Reagan, who won a second term in the White House.

Segue to the present debate over climate. While it’s not been well covered by the (often credulous) general media, the globe has not seen statistically-significant warming in around 18 years (the period varies based on what temperature series one chooses). This is not statistical legerdemain, but empirical evidence, well known among the scientists. It’s variously termed the “pause,” or the “hiatus,” terms implying that it’s a temporary phenomenon.

The vaunted climate models do not predict such a long lag in global warming. The overall temperature record is close to falling out of the bottom of the models’ uncertainty bands. Could the models be wrong? Where is the missing heat?

This has climate catastrophists wringing their hands. Kevin Trenberth at the National Center for Atmospheric Research is among those hand-wringers. He’s called it a “travesty” that climate scientists haven’t found the missing heat.

Defenders of the global circulation models, including Trenberth, often point to the deep ocean as the most likely hiding place for the missing heat that isn’t appearing in the global climate data. That makes theoretical sense, suggesting that the missing heat will show up later. But it is also a characteristically glib assertion, akin to the now discredited notion that global warming is already producing extreme weather events (another fiction that a credulous media and committed activists have embraced on the basis of flimsy anecdotal evidence).

Now we have some direct evidence, from two articles by a two quartets of climate scientists, in the current issue of the scientific journal Nature Climate Change. One paper consists of a group from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore Lab and Cal Tech’s Jet Propulsion Lab. The other is from a group from JPL and UCLA scientists. Both are loaded with empirical measurements.

Without getting lost in the weeds of academic science, the two articles challenge the hypothesis that the heat is hiding in the depths. The website Reporting Climate Science.com summarizes, “The deeper ocean has cooled rather than warmed in recent years while the upper layer of the ocean has warmed more than had been thought previously.”

What does this mean? Says the web site analysis, “The implication of this is that a buildup of heat in the deep oceans is not the solution to the so called missing energy mystery that has puzzled climate scientists trying to match the observed heat buildup on the planet with what the theory of global warming suggests should be happening.”

Georgia Tech’s Judith Curry – despised by many of the most ardent of the climate catastrophe cause for her cool-headedness – commented, “The bottom line is that uncertainties in ocean heat content are very large, and there is no particularly convincing evidence that the ‘missing heat’ is hiding in the ocean.” Note that she did not say the issue has been resolved, only that the riddle of “where’s the heat” remains unsolved. So much for “settled science.”