Quantifying Underestimates of Long-Term Upper-Ocean Warming

TitleQuantifying Underestimates of Long-Term Upper-Ocean Warming
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsDurack, Paul J., Gleckler Peter J., Landerer Felix W., and Taylor Karl E.
JournalNature Climate Change
Volume4
Number11
Pages999-1005
Date Published10/2014
Abstract / Summary

The global ocean stores more than 90% of the heat associated with observed greenhouse-gas-attributed global warming. Using satellite altimetry observations and a large suite of climate models, we conclude that observed estimates of 0–700 dbar global ocean warming since 1970 are likely biased low. This underestimation is attributed to poor sampling of the Southern Hemisphere, and limitations of the analysis methods that conservatively estimate temperature changes in data-sparse regions. We find that the partitioning of northern and southern hemispheric simulated sea surface height changes are consistent with precise altimeter observations, whereas the hemispheric partitioning of simulated upper-ocean warming is inconsistent with observed in-situ-based ocean heat content estimates. Relying on the close correspondence between hemispheric-scale ocean heat content and steric changes, we adjust the poorly constrained Southern Hemisphere observed warming estimates so that hemispheric ratios are consistent with the broad range of modelled results. These adjustments yield large increases (2.2–7.1 × 1022 J 35 yr−1) to current global upper-ocean heat content change estimates, and have important implications for sea level, the planetary energy budget and climate sensitivity assessments.

URLhttp://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v4/n11/full/nclimate2389.html
DOI10.1038/nclimate2389
Journal: Nature Climate Change
Year of Publication: 2014
Volume: 4
Number: 11
Pages: 999-1005
Date Published: 10/2014

The global ocean stores more than 90% of the heat associated with observed greenhouse-gas-attributed global warming. Using satellite altimetry observations and a large suite of climate models, we conclude that observed estimates of 0–700 dbar global ocean warming since 1970 are likely biased low. This underestimation is attributed to poor sampling of the Southern Hemisphere, and limitations of the analysis methods that conservatively estimate temperature changes in data-sparse regions. We find that the partitioning of northern and southern hemispheric simulated sea surface height changes are consistent with precise altimeter observations, whereas the hemispheric partitioning of simulated upper-ocean warming is inconsistent with observed in-situ-based ocean heat content estimates. Relying on the close correspondence between hemispheric-scale ocean heat content and steric changes, we adjust the poorly constrained Southern Hemisphere observed warming estimates so that hemispheric ratios are consistent with the broad range of modelled results. These adjustments yield large increases (2.2–7.1 × 1022 J 35 yr−1) to current global upper-ocean heat content change estimates, and have important implications for sea level, the planetary energy budget and climate sensitivity assessments.

DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2389
Citation:
Durack, PJ, PJ Gleckler, FW Landerer, and KE Taylor.  2014.  "Quantifying Underestimates of Long-Term Upper-Ocean Warming."  Nature Climate Change 4(11): 999-1005.  https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2389.