Errors by scientists bring some doubt to results of recent ocean warming study
Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Scientists say they made some miscalculations in a report that claimed oceans have been absorbing more heat than experts originally thought. In a note added to the report, authors said while there are errors, it doesn't "invalidate the study's methodology or the new insights into ocean biogeochemistry on which it is based."
In a note from co-author Ralph Keeling, dated Nov. 9, he reported the following: "I am working with my co-authors to address two problems that came to our attention since publication (of the original report). These problems, related to incorrectly treating systematic errors in the O2 measurements and the use of a constant land O2:C exchange ratio of 1.1, do not invalidate the study’s methodology or the new insights into ocean biogeochemistry on which it is based. We expect the combined effect of these two corrections to have a small impact on our calculations of overall heat uptake, but with larger margins of error. We are re-doing the calculations and preparing author corrections for submission to Nature."
According to the original report published by Scripps Institution of Oceanography, for each of the past 25 years, oceans have absorbed an amount of heat energy that is 150 times the energy humans produce as electricity. The study was led by researchers at the University of California, San Diego and Princeton University.
Per reporting at the time, "strong ocean warming the researchers found suggests that Earth is more sensitive to fossil-fuel emissions than previously thought." Originally researchers said they thought that the study, lead author Laure Resplandy, a Princeton assistant professor of geosciences, said that this estimate is more than 60 percent higher than the figure in the most recent assessment report.
The original study appeared in Nature on Nov. 1.
"The result significantly increases the confidence we can place in estimates of ocean warming and therefore helps reduce uncertainty about climate sensitivity," Keeling said.
The researchers' findings suggest that if society is to prevent temperatures from rising above that mark, emissions of carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas produced by human activities, must be reduced by 25 percent more than what was previously estimated, Resplandy said in a statement in relation to the original study.
However, the study, "Quantification of ocean heat uptake from changes in atmospheric O2 and CO2 composition," funded by the Climate Program Office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Princeton Environmental Institute, suggested the consequences of global warming may come even sooner than previously anticipated.
U.N. metrics claim that global temperatures "are likely to rise 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels sometime between 2030 and 2052." Experts said in that time frame, there will be global consequences, like more wildfires and food shortages.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the findings in Nature weren't necessarily conclusive, saying they'd need to be reproduced to be accepted by scientists on a large scale.
According to original reporting by the researchers in Nature, calculating total heat content meant that previous estimates relied on millions of measurements of ocean temperature, many of which came from a network of robotic sensors developed by Scripps researchers. This was known as Argo.
Gaps in the robotic sensor coverage made this approach "uncertain."
Researchers said they made measurements of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the air made at stations around the world to determine how much heat the oceans have stored during the time span they studied.
Thus, as the oceans warm, gases are released into the air meaning an increase in APO levels. "APO also is influenced by burning fossil fuels and by an ocean process involving the uptake of excess fossil-fuel CO2. By comparing the changes in APO they observed with the changes expected due to fossil-fuel use and carbon dioxide uptake, the researchers were able to calculate how much APO emanated from the ocean becoming warmer. That amount coincides with the heat-energy content of the ocean," the researchers said.
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