Wednesday, September 5, 2012

RealClimate admits doubling CO2 could only heat the oceans 0.002ºC at most

A post at the RealClimate blog called, "Why greenhouse gases heat the ocean," acknowledges that infrared radiation emitted by greenhouse gases only penetrates the oceans by a few microns and therefore cannot directly heat the bulk of the oceans [71% of Earth's surface]:
"However, some have insisted that there is a paradox here – how can a forcing driven by longwave absorption and emission impact the ocean below since the infrared radiation does not penetrate more than a few micrometers into the ocean? Resolution of this conundrum is to be found in the recognition that the skin layer temperature gradient not only exists as a result of the ocean-atmosphere temperature difference, but also helps to control the ocean-atmosphere heat flux. (The ‘skin layer‘ is the very thin – up to 1 mm – layer at the top of ocean that is in direct contact with the atmosphere). Reducing the size of the temperature gradient through the skin layer reduces the flux. Thus, if the absorption of the infrared emission from atmospheric greenhouse gases reduces the gradient through the skin layer, the flow of heat from the ocean beneath will be reduced, leaving more of the heat introduced into the bulk of the upper oceanic layer by the absorption of sunlight to remain there to increase water temperature. Experimental evidence for this mechanism can be seen in at-sea measurements of the ocean skin and bulk temperatures."
The RealClimate post then shows the experimental evidence [a single paper] for the remaining claim that greenhouse gases reduce the size of the temperature gradient to reduce heat flow from the oceans to the atmosphere, showing this graph:
Figure 2: The change in the skin temperature to bulk temperature difference as a function of the net longwave radiation.

and stating:

"There is an associated reduction in the difference between the 5 cm and the skin temperatures. The slope of the relationship is 0.002ºK (W/m2)-1. Of course the range of net infrared forcing caused by changing cloud conditions (~100W/m2) is much greater than that caused by increasing levels of greenhouse gases (e.g. doubling pre-industrial CO2 levels will increase the net forcing by ~4W/m2), but the objective of this exercise was to demonstrate a relationship."
According to the IPCC, a doubling of CO2 levels allegedly increases forcing by 3.7 Wm-2 at the top of the atmosphere and by only about 1 Wm-2 at the surface. The paper cited by RealClimate is measuring the effect of longwave forcing at the surface, therefore we assume 1 Wm-2 from doubled CO2 at the surface. Using the slope of the relationship, 0.002ºK (W/m2)-1, we find that doubling of CO2 concentrations could only reduce the temperature gradient 0.002*1 = 0.002ºC. 

Furthermore, a reduced temperature gradient of 0.002ºC could at the very, very most result in an increase in bulk ocean temperature of 0.002ºC. In reality, this will never happen since the heat capacity of the ocean is more than 1000 times greater than the atmosphere, and therefore the ability for a doubling of CO2 to warm the oceans is essentially zero.

Related: New paper finds world's oceans have warmed only 0.09°C over past 55 years


  1. This is a topic close to my heart because the air will only get warmer if the oceans do.

    The fact is that the changes in the temperatures of the ocean surfaces in the late 20th century cannot be attributed to CO2 in the air because the energy involved is far too small given the huge thermal capacity difference between air and water.

    After much work I came to the conclusions set out in this article:


    Stephen Wilde

  2. I'm thinking that rain falling through a warmer atmosphere, either directly onto the oceans, or via rivers, will be a major driver in transferring heat from sky to sea, anyone know of papers on this?

    1. Doubt it - it's really the other way around
      Thunderstorms cool the surface

    2. If rain and runoff into the ocean is warmer than previously, they will be a driver towards a warmer ocean. Thunderstorms would only have an increased effect of cooling the ocean if the rain was cooler, or (assuming you're right that thunderstorms cool the ocean) if thunderstorms were larger and/or more frequent.

    3. Suggest you read Willis Eschenbach's paper

  3. Now I know why you focused on thunderstorms when I was referring to rain (and any other precipitation). Willis' hypothesis looks like a reworked version of Lindzen's iris hypothesis, it doesn't really have a lot to do with the effects of precipitation from a warmer atmosphere on ocean temperatures.

    1. Well, best of luck in finding papers to support your theory. The fact is the heat capacity of the oceans is over 1000 times greater than the atmosphere, so even if your theory was correct [it isn't] the oceans would not warm.

  4. Heh, "New paper finds world's oceans have warmed only 0.09°C over past 55 years"

    Which means there's enough additional energy in the oceans to raise the atmospheres temperature by around 45C (allowing for warming only being in the top 2000m of the ocean), or, as the paper says "Ocean accounts for approximately 93% of the warming of the earth system that has occurred since 1955."

    1. Heh, 45C that's a good one.

      It is a shame that you and other alarmists fail to understand that only shortwave radiation from that huge fireball in the sky is capable of warming the oceans, as shown by this post and others. It doesn't have anything to do with man-made CO2 and there is nothing that man can do to control the temperatures of the oceans, which in turn control the temperatures of the atmosphere.

    2. Well, the average ocean depth is 4.3km, warming in the top 2000m is 0.09C, you recon the ocean has a thermal capacity 1000 times that of the atmosphere, so we get:
      2000m/4300m X 1000 X 0.09 = 41.40C

      Oh, and the "alarmist" label probably isn't quite fair, I accept AGW, not convinced on CAGW

    3. You think 0.09C warming of the oceans is going to warm the atmosphere 41C, but you are not convinced on CAGW. I see.

      The atmosphere would have to contain more than three orders of magnitude more heat than it does presently to budge the bulk temperature of the oceans. Even if it did, the oceans still would not warm since the heat would continue to be shed by both oceans and atmosphere by convection, conduction, and radiation.

    4. Obviously I've not made myself clear, I'm simply illustrating that a huge amount of heat energy has in fact been transferred from air to sea, despite your belief that such heat transfer is virtually impossible

    5. "I'm simply illustrating that a huge amount of heat energy has in fact been transferred from air to sea"

      No, you have absolutely not shown that whatsoever, and it is painfully obvious from this post and others that essentially all heat transfer has been from Sun > Oceans > atmosphere > space.

      I am now finished with your commentary. Got much better things to do. Bye

  5. a_ray_in_dilbert_spce said:

    MS, it is a shame that you [snip- unscientific emotional vitriol - see comment policy] have never managed to visit an ocean and see that there are phenomena such as wind and waves that continually break up the skin layer on the water and promote mixing and transport of heat.

    [snip- unscientific emotional vitriol - see comment policy]

    1. The paper cited by RealClimate is based on in-situ observations in the ocean that were subjected to "phenomena such as wind and waves that continually break up the skin layer on the water and promote mixing and transport of heat" Those effects are already incorporated in the slope of the relationship.

      a_ray_in_dilbert_spce: if you want your comments posted you will have to remove ad homs and not violate the comment policy.






    "A little-known fact is that the oceans are almost exclusively heated by sunlight (shortwave radiation) entering the surface layers."


    documents comment deletion at Skeptical Science on this topic





  16. The atmosphere is heating the Ocean?

    How is that possible? The ocean has 4000 times more heat than the atmosphere.

  17. Heat capacity of water is close to 4 kilojoules per degree per kilogram (litre). To convert ice from solid to liquid at 0.01C requires 334 kilojoules to produce 1 litre of (very cold) water. Assume we have an unlimited quantity of sea water at 4C (pick your own temperature). The energy in our seawater is 4 x 4 = 16 kilojoules per litre. Divide 334 by 16 tells us we will need 20.875 litres of sea water at 4C to provide sufficient energy to produce 1 litre of melted ice water. We now have 21.875 litres of water at 0.01C.

    So if 1 cubic kilometre of ice gets melted we will end up with 21.875 cubic kilometres of very cold, slightly less salty, water which will remain on the surface of the sea. That is enough cold water to cover the global sea area to a depth of 62 centimetres, over half a metre.

    And now we can expect the air, with a heat capacity of just 1 kilojoule per kilogram, to warm up that water so it can do it all again. Someone told me once that hot air rises, I believe it now.

  18. Specific heat of sea water 3.9 kJ/kg SHC of air 1.006 kJ/kg. Mass of oceans 1.4 x 10^21 kg Mass of Atmosphere 5.8 x 10^18 kg…….

  19. Bob Tisdale shows the models have to artificially warm the oceans by double the rate actually observed in order to warm land temps close to what was observed. This demonstrates the physics assumed by the models regarding influence of greenhouse gases on the oceans is clearly incorrect.



  22. Genghis says:
    November 13, 2013 at 11:03 am
    I have been noticing lately that it is what the warmers are saying, it is what they aren’t saying.

    If the ocean is heated by SW radiation and cools via evaporation, then warmer temps and higher winds from Global warming will cause increased evaporation and more cooling. GHG’s do not increase SW radiation into the ocean.

    Also notice that we don’t hear any more about increasing temperatures driving higher CO2 levels? “Positive feedback between global warming and atmospheric CO2 concentration inferred from past climate change
    Marten Scheffer1, Victor Brovkin2 and Peter Cox3″

  23. paper: ocean skin temp is 0.2C cooler

  24. from:

    Kristian says:
    April 24, 2014 at 6:56 AM

    Ah, that sad story once again. That’s all you alarmists have ever had, isn’t it? So you’re still to this day forced to refer to it. That silly, specious article published at in 2006 (!) but never published as a peer-reviewed scientific paper. (Wonder why …)

    Minnett obviously misinterpreted his results. He started out with the assumption that something postulated as DWLWIR could actually directly warm (raise the temperature) of the ocean’s surface skin. Then, when he observed a short-term warming of the skin, he immediately interpreted his assumption to be correct, that what he observed was in fact direct DWLWIR warming of the skin.

    This is called circular reasoning AND confirmation bias. Both are all-pervasive in today’s ‘Climate Pseudoscience’.

    First of all, they were at sea in the tropics. It is a well-known circumstance that clouds on average cool the surface in the tropics. The stronger the sun, the more they cool. So close to the equator, they’re cooling influence would be rather large.

    This means that in the end, Minnett’s observed short-term skin warming would transition into a significant skin cooling.

    No one is denying, though, that clouds also have a cooling-reducing influence on the surface. This is trivial and happens for the most part during the night (when the sun is away).

    The net effect of clouds in the tropics, though, is clearly cooling.

    So, what was it that Minnett actually observed? It sure as hell wasn’t ‘DWLWIR’ from the cool clouds raining down on the warm surface, raising its temperature directly and in absolute terms. That would after all violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics. An energy flow from one system to another giving the direct result of a higher temperature for the receiving system is in physics defined as HEAT. HEAT in nature never flows from cold to hot. So that’s a given, a done deal. This is NOT what caused Minnett’s ‘effect’. It doesn’t matter how he interpreted it. His interpretation was wrong, based on simple first principles.

    So what happens when you slide a lid (a cloud layer) over an open atmosphere? You confine the space. You have fundamentally changed the system properties. This has got nothing to do with ‘radiative forcing’ or anything silly like that (radiation, however, is also affected, this is what Minnett observed/measured). This has to do with perturbing the free air column, the temperature profile, first and foremost affecting convection (the movement of air) and evaporation rates, the latter one being by far the biggest and most responsive heat loss mechanism of the ocean.

    We know that convection is what transports energy from surface to tropopause, not radiation. You can easily verify this by lighting a candle. Hold you hand just a few inches to the side of the flame and you can no longer feel its radiative heat. (And remember, the flame is MUCH hotter than the surface of the earth.) Where did it go? Up. The radiative energy is quickly absorbed by the surrounding air, whereupon it warms, expands and floats up. This happens instantaneously.

    By this we can also know that any potential downward radiation from a cloud one mile up could never reach the surface, let alone warming it. If it were able to warm anything upon absorption (this could only happen if there were cooler air just beneath the cloud), then this would happen within inches (or even less) from emission and the energy simply be briskly transported back up by the resulting buoyancy of the air.

  25. Old paper shows LWIR cools the ocean skin surface

  26. Heat of Vaporization

    The Heat (or Enthalpy) of Vaporization is the quantity of heat that must be absorbed if a certain quantity of liquid is vaporized at a constant temperature. In a solution with both a vaporized and liquidized states, the kinetic energy of the vapor is higher than the kinetic energy of the liquid. Temperature follows kinetic energy, showing a lower temperature in the remaining liquid.

    (from )

  27. Paper finds solar UV penetrates the oceans up to 100 meters and that between "50–70 meters there is still 10% of the surface UVA radiation" proving that solar UV penetrates deeply to heat the oceans, as compared to a few millionths of one meter for IR from greenhouse gases


    RMB says:
    August 10, 2014 at 8:23 am
    I’ve got to keep saying this until somebody listens. Co2 is innocent. If you fire heated gas at the surface of water the water will not accept the heat indeed even the surface itself is not affected by the heat, so the story that heat can be stored on this planet or that evaporation can be increased by the heat leaving the atmosphere doesn’t stand up to testing. Heat will not pass through the surface of water by means of convection because it is blocked by surface tension.
    Surface tension is not a powerful force but is enough to get the job done so you cannot put additional heat into the ocean and the good news is you can’t boil the ocean away. AGW is utter rubbish.

  29. This paper is consistent with Roy Spencer's estimate of climate sensitivity of +1.3degC.


    I set out the logic for this as a comment to this Hockeyschtick Blog here:

  30. New post at WUWT confirming that LWIR from greenhouse gases cannot warm the oceans:

    A Comparison Of The Efficacy Of Greenhouse Gas Forcing And Solar Forcing

  31. also see this comment at RealClimate by an oceanographer which debunks the notion "The balance is NOT, as portrayed here, between up and down infrared; rather it is downward “visible” (including ultraviolet, even), versus upward NET infrared and latent heat fluxes."

    See more at:

    J. A. Smith says:
    6 Sep 2006 at 3:03 PM
    As an oceanographer working on air/sea interaction and mixed layer dynamics, I hope I can clarify this issue somewhat (in fact, I’m at sea right now on the R/P FLIP, gathering data to study wave and mixed layer dynamics, but this is off the point).

    I think a major aspect of the balance has been glossed over: the ocean is heated mainly by the visible part of the spectrum, the energetic part of the sun’s glare. This penetrates several meters (blue-green can penetrate several 10′s of meters, particularly in the clear water found away from coasts). In contrast, the only paths for heat LOSS from the ocean are infrared (blackbody) radiation and latent heat (evaporation). The sun heats the uppermost few meters; this has to find its way to the actual very thin surface layer to be lost. In equilibrium, then, there is a significan flux toward the surface a few cm under, and the sense of flux from infrared alone has to be significantly upward. Given this, it is quite clear that any reduction in the efficiency of upward radiation (by, say, reflecting it right back down again), will have to be compensated for by increasing the air/sea (skin) temperature difference, hence having a warmer subsurface temperature.

    This still leaves aside the latent heat flux, which in general accounts for something like half the upward heat flux.

    The balance is NOT, as portrayed here, between up and down infrared; rather it is downward “visible” (including ultraviolet, even), versus upward NET infrared and latent heat fluxes.

    Once trapped in the mixed layer, any excess heat makes its way down into the interior via much larger scale processes, including lateral advection and mixed-layer deepening due to wind and wave induced motions. This large-scale vertical redistribution takes a while- decades to hundreds of years- before equilibrium is re-established. The fact that we can already see this is quite remarkable.

    - See more at:

  32. richard verney October 11, 2014 at 7:40 pm
    I comment further to the interesting comments by Hockey Schtick
    October 11, 2014 at 1:48 pm, and Konrad’s experiment that suggests that LWIR cannot heat water at least not when water is free to evaporate.

    I have been posting this info for years on this site, with several of the charts referred to.

    There is a major problem with DWLWIR and the oceans, and there is a great deal left to be understood. This is an area which has not been sufficiently studied by the Climate Science community and is an extremely important one since it is the oceans that drive climate here on planet Earth. Not only do they cover approximately 70% of the globe, they represent about 95& of the total heat capacity of the syste. They are the heat pump that circulates energy absorbed in the equitorial and tropical regions polewards.

    1. Many people consider that DWLWIR penetrates to millimetres, but is is just microns.
    2. DWLWIR is omni-directional, such that much of the DWLWIR intercepts with the oceans at a grazing angle of less than 35 deg. The charts show the perpendicular vertical penetration.
    3. When one takes account of the omnidirectional nature of DWLWIR, at least 60% possibly ~75% of all DWLWIR is anbsorbed within just 4 microns.
    4. According to K&T, DWLWIR energy is approximately double that of solar. Just stop and consider the implication of that (if it were true) and the fact that solar is absorbed over and within a depth of about 1 metre (of course some solar penetrates much deeper and the depth of absorption extends well below 1 metre) whereas about 75% of DWLWIR is absorbed in just 4 microns.
    5. If DWLWIR energy is approximately twice the power of solar and if 75% of DWLWIR is absorbed in just 4 microns, in real terms one sees that about 1.5 times the equivalent energy of solar is being absorbed in just 4 microns.
    6.Now that is a hell of a lot of energy. In fact it is so much energy that one would expect to see upwards of 16 metres of rainfall annualy from the amount of water that would be evaporated from the amount of energy being absorbed in the first 4 microns of the oceans. We do not see anywhere near that amount of rainfall. WHY NOT?
    7. IF DWLWIR is capable of sensible work, the question is how can the amount of energy that is being absorbed in the first 4 microns be dissipated (and thereby diluted) at a speed quick enough so that it does not drive evaporation leading to approx 16 metres of rainfall?

    1. 9. It cannot be by conduction since we know that the temperature profile of the top millimetres of the ocean is upwards. Conduction cannot swim against the energy flow.
      10. Some suggest ocean over turning, but this is a slow mechanical process, and may even be diurnal such that for half the 24 hour period there is no or little ocean over turning.
      11. Of course there is the wind and waves, but is this truly effective? What about conditions of BF3 or less when there would be little wind and waves to drive mixing?
      12. And then you have the reverse problem what about BF8 and above? In these conditions, the very top of the ocean is skimmed off and there is a divorced layer of wind swept spray and spume which acts as a DWLWIR block, in much the same way as a parasol can block out solar. This wind swept spray and spume is a fine mist of water droplets, but these droplets are more than 4 microns in diametre and they would therefore absorb incoming DWLWIR before it reaches the ocean layer below!! In very windy conditions DWLWIR is being absorbed before it even reaches the oceans and is immediately being carried upwards thereby help powering the storm that is ravishing above the oceans.

      What needs to be studied in great detail is a column consisting of a few metres of the atmosphere above the ocean and the first few metres of the ocean. We need to know the energy profiles almost on a millimetre by millimetre basis, and for the top 20 cms of the oceans on a micron by micron basis.

      What are the energy flows? How is energy being distributed?

      Unless someone can put forward a convincing physical model explaining how the energy that is absorbed within the first 4 microns of the ocean is dissipated to depth at a speed faster than the energy so absorbed would drive evaporation, there is a major problem for those who claim that DWLWIR heats the oceans, and who promote the gross energy budget, rather than the net energy flow budget.

      Maybe DWLWIR is a signal incapable of performing sensible work. In the winter one often sees a hollow filled with dew. One side of the hollow may be in shaddow most of the day and the dew hangs around all day, whereas the other side of the hollow is sunny. Within an hour of sun up, even though early morning winter sun is weak, the dew, on the sunny side, is driven off. Why is that? Similar surface, similar atmospherice conditions, the only difference is that one side is receiving low energy solar which even in just a short duration can drive evaporation of the dew. Solar can do work that DWLWIR seems incapable of performing.

  33. The base assumption of the AGW hypothesis of 255K for “surface without atmosphere” is in grave error. The application of the short form of the SB equation to the oceans essentially treats them as opaque to solar SW. This clearly isn’t the case.

  34. Interesting to read and to read all the comments debating various theories

  35. Comprehensive list of citations proving IR from GHGs cannot heat the oceans