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The climate conundrum - why aren't global temperatures higher?

News that carbon dioxide levels have reached 400 parts per million – a level widely thought by scientists not seen for at least 3 million years – caught the headlines last month.

It comes at a time when global temperatures have remained largely flat since the late 1990s, despite climate forecasts of a rise of 0.2C per decade.

Through the 1980s and 1990s, as carbon dioxide levels rose, so did global temperatures, until a peak in 1998.

Since then it’s become increasingly clear that the science is not as straightforward as it seemed, and after 15 years of flat-lining temperatures, scientists are trying to work out what has caused this apparent halt in global warming.

One of the criticisms of mainstream climate scientists, by sceptics, is that they have been very slow in acknowledging this obvious levelling-off in global temperatures.

So why have we seen very little warming in recent years? Is the science in which global warming projections are based flawed?

Calculations based on simple physics show that if levels of carbon dioxide double, the earth’s temperature should rise by approximately 1C.

Mainstream climate scientists believe that this initial rise will then lead to further global warming due to feedback mechanisms.

For example, melting ice and permafrost could potentially release billions of cubic feet of natural methane gas, which is around 20 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Levels of water vapour in the atmosphere are likely to increase, itself a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Some climate sceptics argue that a warmer earth with more water vapour in its atmosphere will lead to a cloudier planet; more cloud cover will act to cool the planet by reflecting some of the suns warmth back onto Space; the earth is in equilibrium with itself, and will adjust itself accordingly, according to this theory.

Climate sceptics, though, have yet to come forward with a plausible reason as to why carbon dioxide wouldn’t increase the earth’s temperature; in other words, why in this instance would basic physical laws not apply?

But assuming that the science is sound, an explanation is still required as to why the rise in global temperatures has ground to a halt and why it wasn’t forecast.

Because according to data used by Climate lab book in association with the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (based at Leeds University) ‘global temperatures are tracking at the bottom of the range in which 90 per cent of the model simulations lie’.

Put simply, the vast majority of climate models predicted that global temperatures would be higher than they are today.

So why are global temperatures not higher?

One explanation put forward lies in the oceans, which cover 70% of the earth’s surface.

The top two and a half metres of the ocean can hold as much heat as the atmosphere. So could the missing global warmth be here?

Some scientists believe it's buried deep in the oceans, but if this is the case, measuring it is a real problem.

Some recent research has suggested that the earth may not be quite as sensitive to increased levels of carbon dioxide as scientists previously thought.

But whatever the explanation as to where the ‘missing heat’ is, and whatever the actual level of warming turns about to be, with carbon dioxide levels continuing to rise year on year, altering the chemical composition of the atmosphere, most scientists believe that further global warming is only a matter of time, but by how much and how fast is the real conundrum.

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Comments

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  • Comment number 106. Posted by QuaesoVeritas

    on 5 Jul 2013 19:18

    It appears that I am in good company!

    http://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/ed-dawkins-on-the-hottest-decade/

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  • Comment number 105. Posted by QuaesoVeritas

    on 5 Jul 2013 19:01

    #101. Lazarus

    "Had a look and I am a little confused. You seem to be talking about less warming (not cooling) during the last decade. Is that right? It is just that greensand is insisting your figures show cooling,"

    My figures (because they are 10 year averages), show less warming but as we know, the linear trends show cooling since 2000.

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  • Comment number 104. Posted by QuaesoVeritas

    on 5 Jul 2013 18:58

    #99. Lazarus

    "However I assume that you are only looking at the surface/air temperatures, and not the whole climate system. "

    That's because the IPCC model projections related to surface/air temperatures.

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  • Comment number 103. Posted by John Marshall

    on 5 Jul 2013 14:28

    #95 john _cogger

    NO I said that the Spencer explanation of cool warming hot was wrong in fact this process is a violation of 2nd law. Perhaps you failed to read what I actually said. His explanation was contrary to what actually happens.

    Getting warm in bed is due to the insulation properties of the bedclothes and your generated heat providing the energy not the GHE and violating 2nd law. The GHE is nothing to do with insulation but surface radiated energy returned to the surface to increase that temperature. If your argument includes anything else you are wrong with your assumptions about the GHE.

    The GHE is not well explained anywhere, because it seems to mean different things to different men, but the real explanation is only to do with re-radiated energy from the surface and positive feedback causing a temperature rise from -18C to +14C, the temperature shortfall due to the poor flat earth models used by warmists.

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  • Comment number 102. Posted by greensand

    on 5 Jul 2013 11:20

    98. Lazarus

    The last decade that is on record is the last 10 years or 120 months, starting June 2003 and ending in May 13. That decade shows that the world has cooled, not my numbers but actual UKMO data. Fact, not my fact, not my "interpretation" just a plain and simple fact. You might not like it but that is what is happening in the real here and now world.

    "You have missed the point about temperature lag in the climate system. Even if there was no current warming as you seem to want to believe, that is being influenced by emissions from decades ago, not the current ones - According to my thinking that is, which could admittedly be wrong if I have misunderstood how lag and equilibrium works in this case."

    Whilst I appreciate that we can all be wrong with our "thinking" we are not allowed to be wrong with our facts.

    Re lag in the climate system, if you "believe" that the present "cooling/lack of warming" is "being influenced by emissions from decades ago, not the current ones." You need to explain why it is accepted by all concern on both sides of the "divide" why the "hot" year of 1998 is universally accepted as being cause by the exceptional El Nino in that year. Lag? Also check out the numerous studies of the effect and speed of the effect that major volcano eruptions (emissions) have upon the climate.

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  • Comment number 101. Posted by Lazarus

    on 5 Jul 2013 10:00

    QuaesoVeritas

    "Check my figures!"

    Had a look and I am a little confused. You seem to be talking about less warming (not cooling) during the last decade. Is that right? It is just that greensand is insisting your figures show cooling,

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  • Comment number 100. Posted by Lazarus

    on 5 Jul 2013 09:47

    89.
    Fudsdad

    “ he shows that change in CO2 concentration lags temperature in the ice core record. Are you disputing this?”

    Of course not. Scientists have knowny about this for decades. The also understand why it happens. I gave a link so that you might understand too. Opportunity wasted it seems.

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  • Comment number 99. Posted by Lazarus

    on 5 Jul 2013 09:43

    QuaesoVeritas

    But CO2 has been rising steadily and temperatures not. Do we have to wait for another 30 to 50 years for warming?

    Well there is a standard measure of using a 30 year base line to smooth out natural variability, something that is always ignored by sceptics so that they can cherry pick short term intervals to make spurious claims about cooling.

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/graphics.php?g=47

    However I assume that you are only looking at the surface/air temperatures, and not the whole climate system. Total heat shows warming. We can measure, through satellites etc, how much energy is entering and leaving our climate system. There is continued warming, we don't have to wait for it.
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-cooling-intermediate.htm

    “Yes, the IPCC temperature projections which showed warming from 2000.”

    You too missed my point about lag. See my reply above to greensand. Are current temperatures, warming or cooling, affected by current anthropogenic emissions or those decades ago, because of lag? It is something I seriously don't really know. While I have seen lag and equilibrium mentioned in relation to future warming even if emissions stopped now, I haven't seen it in relation to past emissions in the way I'm suggesting.

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  • Comment number 98. Posted by Lazarus

    on 5 Jul 2013 09:21

    greensand

    "Yes, according to the actual WMO observational data (see QV above) for the last decade, the last 120 months, the WMO data shows that this planet has cooled not warmed."

    According to the WHO link, "The world experienced unprecedented high-impact climate extremes during the 2001-2010 decade, which was the warmest since the start of modern measurements in 1850 and continued an extended period of pronounced global warming."

    How does the warmest decade on record = cooling?

    "Yes, according to the actual observational data there is no "current warming" see above."

    You have missed the point about temperature lag in the climate system. Even if there was no current warming as you seem to want to believe, that is being influenced by emissions from decades ago, not the current ones - According to my thinking that is, which could admittedly be wrong if I have misunderstood how lag and equilibrium works in this case.

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  • Comment number 97. Posted by QuaesoVeritas

    on 4 Jul 2013 16:13

    #93.oldgifford

    "Rule 4: Nine or more consecutive points fall on the same side of the centerline."

    It must be getting close to that for IPCC climate models!

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