This paper is to be published on-line on Friday in Physics Letters A Dr. Douglas graciously sent me an advance copy, of which I’m printing some excerpts. Douglas and Knox show some correlations between Top-of-atmosphere radiation imbalance and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). The authors credit Dr. Roger Pielke Sr. with reviving interest on the subject due to his discussions on using ocean heat content as a metric for climate change.
Ocean heat content and Earth’s radiation imbalance
D.H. Douglass and R, S, Knox
Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, University of Rochester, PO Box 270171, Rochester, NY 14627-0171, USA
Earth’s radiation imbalance is determined from ocean heat content data and compared with results of direct measurements. Distinct time intervals of alternating positive and negative values are found: 1960–mid-1970s (−0.15), mid-1970s–2000 (+0.15), 2001–present (−0.2 W/m2), and are consistent with prior reports. These climate shifts limit climate predictability.
A strong connection between Earth’s radiative imbalance and the heat content of the oceans has been known for some time (see, e.g., Peixoto and Oort ). The heat content has played an important role in recent discussions of climate change, and Pielke  has revived interest in its relationship with radiation. Many previous papers have emphasized the importance of heat content of the ocean, particularly the upper ocean, as a diagnostic for changes in the climate system [3–7]. In this work we analyze recent heat content data sets, compare them with corresponding data on radiative imbalance, and point out certain irregularities that can be associated with climate shifts. In Section 2 the conservation of energy is applied to the climate system and the approximations involved in making the radiationheat content connection are discussed. In Section 3 data sources are enumerated. Section 4 gives the radiation imbalance for the Earth’s climate system. In Section 5, climate shifts, radiative imbalances and other climate parameters are discussed. A summary is in Section 6.
What is the cause of these climate shifts? We suggest that the low frequency component of the Pacific Decade Oscillation (PDO) may be involved. The PDO index changes from positive to negative near 1960; it remains negative until the mid-1970s where it
becomes positive; then it becomes negative again at about 2000. This mimics the FTOA data. The PDO index is one of the inputs in the synchronization analysis of Swanson and Tsonis . One would like to be able to predict future climate. Such predictions are based upon the present initial conditions and some expectation that changes in the climate state are continuous. However, if there are abrupt changes such as reported by Swanson and Tsonis then this is not possible. These abrupt changes presumably
occur because the existing state is no longer stable and there is a transition to a new stable state.
We determine Earth’s radiation imbalance by analyzing three recent independent observational ocean heat content determinations for the period 1950 to 2008 and compare the results with direct measurements by satellites. A large annual term is found in both the implied radiation imbalance and the direct measurements. Its magnitude and phase confirm earlier observations that delivery of the energy to the ocean is rapid, thus eliminating the possibility of long time constants associated with the bulk of the heat transferred. Longer-term averages of the observed imbalance are not only many-fold smaller than theoretically derived values, but also oscillate in sign. These facts are not found among the theoretical
Three distinct time intervals of alternating positive and negative imbalance are found: 1960 to the mid 1970s, the mid 1970s to
2000 and 2001 to present. The respective mean values of radiation imbalance are −0.15, +0.15, and −0.2 to −0.3. These observations are consistent with the occurrence of climate shifts at 1960, the mid-1970s, and early 2001 identified by Swanson and Tsonis. Knowledge of the complex atmospheric-ocean physical processes is not involved or required in making these findings. Global surface temperatures as a function of time are also not required to be known.