A reader question on OHC – discussion

clickable global map of SST anomalies

This comment seemed like a useful question to discuss, so I’m elevating it to post status

A. Patterson Moore says:

I see ocean heat content discussed here and elsewhere from time to time, but I have never seen a discussion of what causes it to increase. The clear implication is that it is increasing because of warmer atmospheric surface temperatures, but that makes no sense to me.

Surely the small increase in warming of the atmosphere to date could not transfer a significant amount of heat to the oceans. It seems obvious to me the only way that the oceans could accumulate much heat would be through direct heating from solar radiation. If that is occurring, wouldn’t that be direct evidence of a decrease in cloud cover, instead of evidence for AGW?


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A common sense question seemingly answered by the one doing the asking. Will we hear discussions on wave lengths of radiation or light; or other explanations that cause us to think of angels dancing on pinheads


So in this case we care about the ability to transfer energy in the form of heat. So the question is, can more heat be directly irradiated into the ocean versus contact-transferred from the atmosphere, or vice versa?
If we assume that the atmosphere transfers more heat into the ocean than sunlight, then we’re essentially saying that the ocean follows the atmosphere. This would mean that the total flow of energy through the atmosphere into the oceans would be larger than the total flow of energy from direct sunlight. This thinking has problems. Just off the top of my head, if the total flow of energy between atmosphere and ocean is larger than between sunlight to ocean then we’re saying the energy transfer through the atmosphere is larger than the direct sunlight to the ground. If this were the case, why would anyone seek the shade of a tree on a sunny day? Humans are mostly water, and if the flow of energy through the atmosphere (the air surrounding you) is greater than sunlight, why do you seek shade to cool down?


Warm air or sunshine could be warming sea water, but notice that both would happen near the surface. Neither air nor light penetrate deeply. Air will more quickly exchange heat when there is wind, whether through flat surface contact or the much faster effects due to turbulent wave action. Wind which is generating foam would increase reflectivity and reduce solar heating.
However, how would evaporating water affect the balance of heat?

That’s a very good point, one that we have been puzzling over since the direct link between PDO-AMO and climate became apparent. In 1977, the Northeast Pacific had a cool PDO. In 1977, the PDO switched abruptly to warm and global climate began to warm immediately. Clearly the ocean did not warm because of warming atmosphere (it was actually the other way around). In 1999, the PDO switched from warm to cool, bringing the 1978-1998 warm event to a close. We obviously don’t yet understand why these things happen so rapidly. Might be nice to spend some of those billions of dollars now going to CO2 research to find out more about the real cause of climate change!

Stephen Wilde

Change cloudiness to change albedo and energy input to the oceans.
Change the air circulation systems to change cloudiness.
Change the vertical temperature profile of the atmosphere to change the air circulation systems.
Change the ozone quantities in the atmosphere differentially at different levels to change the vertical temperature profile.
Change the mix of wavelengths and particles from the sun to alter the ozone quantities differentially at different levels.
Unless someone has a better idea ?


I’m not going to propose any causal relationships,
but measured trends show a decrease in relative humidity, and increase in specific humidity and an overall long term (> 15 year) trend in global temperature.
You start with some warming which causes more water vapor which causes more warming, and evidently this causes decreased relative humidity which means less clouds which could cause more direct ocean warming due to solar irradiance.
The reason it doesn’t runaway is Temperature to the fourth power relationship in the blackbody equation.
And it doesn’t matter what caused the warming in the first place.


Atmospheric CO2 absorbs radiative heat energy coming from below that would otherwise go out into space quickly. The CO2 re-emits this energy – half of which goes back down. The oceans absorb much of this. This extra energy heats the oceans and will eventually heat the atmosphere and will eventually go back out into space. The larger lag time from when the energy comes in to when it goes out into space determines the total increase in the Earth system’s thermal equilibrium energy. (How the warming distributed in the Earth system is complicated.) At least this is my non-expert understanding.
Some ocean warming is also occurring because of decreased ice cover in the summer Arctic.


Well, I have to agree 100% . The Air just cant warm the water in that manner. Otherwise the oceans would be much warmer all the time.

Alistair Ahs

Hmm, interesting question. A few points.
(1) For ocean heat content to increase then more energy has to be retained in the Earth system than lost. In principle this could be either through more incoming solar radiation or through less outgoing longwave radiation.
(2) The models – I know, but stick with me – suggest that the response of ocean heat content to a radiation imbalance is slow, taking hundreds of years to reach an equilibrium. It seems to me that this is consistent with the questioners observation that:
“Surely the small increase in warming of the atmosphere to date could not transfer a significant amount of heat to the oceans.”
This is one reason why the process is so slow.
(3) I don’t know whether anyone has compared how fast the [model] reaction time is to an increase in solar radiation compared to a decrease in outgoing longwave radiation. So I don’t know whether it would actually be faster [in the models] as the questioner assumes it is in real life.
One thing I would say is that a lot of solar energy bounces right off the ocean surface, particularly when incident at a shallow angle [think of the sun’s reflection off a body of water], so it’s not obvious to me that you would expect this to be an easier way of warming up the ocean.


For starters, that positive anomaly they are showing for the Caribbean..
…is really negative

I agree 100%! We have no idea how much heat is being pumped into the oceans from underwater volcanoes and rifts. We have no idea how much heat is being dumped into the oceans from river run off. We have no idea how much heat is produced by energy release in wave action.
Conversely, we don’t really have a handle on the heat loss to evaporation (which changes dramatically depending on both temperature and wave action).
We don’t have a handle on the mechanisms for heat transfer over long and short periods.
I for one have never seen a calculation that proves the El Nino (hope I got the warm one here) can be generated from sun and atmosphere alone. The volume of water and joules required to raise that volume 1°C would indicate to me there is a underwater geological component that can be augmented by solar radiance increases (which is driven by cloud cover and precipitation over the surface area – not solar output).
My opinion has been our climate is driven by plate tectonics more than anything else, at least in the Pacific basin.

Doug Proctor

There are three ways I see air temperature transfer to the oceans, two of which are reasonably efficient:
1) direct thermal conduction through contact (poor),
2) a turbulent contact, i.e. waves breaking (moderate)
3) rainfall (good).
Worldwide precipitation is estimated at over 1100 mm/yr, though the oceans only rise by 1.8 – 3.2 mm/yr. There is something like (I forget the ratio) 9 cycle times over land, that is the rain that falls evaporates and falls >9 times before reaching the sea, where it evaporates and falls again. Each time energy is taken from the air and put into the water. So rain “washes” the heat out of the atmosphere. (This only occurs because there is still a cooler ocean below.)
Hah! Maybe a rain/snow temperature record would show the downward movement of heat. Or not.

Do sunspot cycles have any standing as an agent of causation with this forum?
Asking in all seriousness – I’m not deep into the science here.
“Because the Only Good Progressive is a Failed Progressive”


If scientists assume that cloud cover hasn’t changed significantly and if solar output hasn’t changed significantly while ocean heat content is changing, then they will find a way to explain heat transfer from the atmosphere to the ocean since it is the only remaining option.
If you assume heat transfer from the atmosphere to the ocean must be small, then you have to find an explanation for ocean heat content changes – which only leaves changes in cloud cover.
Unless ocean heat transfer from the atmosphere or cloud cover changes can be accurately measured, neither is more likely to be true than the other.

AJStrata says:
May 11, 2011 at 8:04 am
I agree 100%! We have no idea how much heat is being pumped into the oceans from underwater volcanoes and rifts.
In addition, we have no idea when each of these rifts have opened, or whether their flow rate is variable, or whether we’ve identified them all.

Green Sand

What would be the most effective system to heat domestic water, solar water heating system or an air source heat pump?

Roy Clark

The ocean is heated by the sun, which can penetrate down through the ocean to depths of up to 100 meters. The ocean cools at the surface through a combination of evaporation (moist convection) and long wave IR (LWIR) emission. There is a ‘balance’ at the surface between the downward LWIR emission from the atmosphere and the upward blackbody LWIR emission from the surface, so the net LWIR emission is about 50 W.m-2 in round numbers. The evaporation increases significantly with ocean surface temperature. Long term average ocean evaporative cooling fluxes can reach 140 W.m-2. However, the evaporation and the LWIR exchange occur very close to the surface, within the first 100 micron or so over most of the LWIR region. Thiat is about the width of a human hair. Over the last 200 years, a 100 ppm increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration has produced an increase in ‘clear sky’ downward LWIR flux of 1.7 W.m-2. This is ‘buried in the noise’ of the wind driven surface evaporation.
The ocean can only cool at the surface. There are three ocean layers that form as the sun heats the ocean. There is a very thin ‘skin layer’ that is cooler that the bulk ocean surface temperature. This is where the evaporation and LWIR cooling take place. Below this there is a uniform diurnal mixing layer. The cooler water from the surface diffuses downwards (sinks) and produces a uniform temperature layer that varies in depth with season and latitude. The third layerbelow this, typically 50 m to 100 m is where the solar heat accumulates. A temperature gradient builds up during the spring and summer. As the solar heating diminishes in the fall and winter, the diurnal layer depth increases and ‘takes out’ the thermal gradient layer underneath.
However, near the equator, the depth of the mixing layer is insufficient to remove the accumulation of heat below about 50 m. Heat is stored over long periods of time and gives rise to the ENSO oscillation etc. The details get complicated and are not very well understood. This is in part because of a lack of data and partly because this is not part of the usual global warming dogma.
Small changes in the solar constant, of the order of 1 W.m-2 are sufficient to cause major climate change as this heat accumulates in th ocean over long periods of time. For example, 0.4 W.m-2 is sufficient to melt the ice from the last ice age – coupled into the ice sheet over 10,000 years.
There is a more detailed description at Energy and Environment 21(4) 171-200 (2010) and on my website at http://venturaphotonics.com/GlobalWarming.html.
(Hope this helps)

Alistair Ahs’s point #1 is correct: it’s the net energy accumulation that matters. The presence of the radiative imbalance at the top of the atmosphere is an indication that the sea surface has not warmed up sufficiently to match the forcing.

chris b

Ocean floor volcanoes, geothermal heat transfer, and ocean current changes could have an impact also.


Heat from ocean-floor vulcanism is totally unmeasured and can go unnoticed, as did the 10 km2 pyroclastic flow at the Gakkel ridge in the Arctic ocean, which was only discovered after the fact in 1999. All reports I have seen on ‘Arctic thaw’ have neglected this unpredictable and impossible to model event.


Add the refractive index too. I don’t know the RI of water off the top of my head (it is roughly 1.54 for quartz), but there will be a critical angle where the sunlight also reflects off of the water instead of penetrating it. Add that to the equations too. Expect heating to increase significantly as the sun transitions to an angle where it is no longer reflecting from the surface. That might be your isolating stat for the difference between heating by air vs heating by solar irradiance directly. Somewhere in the northern temperate zones there should be a place that transitions like this in the fall and spring?


OK, how about a dumb idea?
Ever see a liquid in a jar with two layers of nearly equal density? You can set up motion in the lower layer that moves with a strangely slow periodicity. Of course, you can describe this behavior perfectly with physical laws, it’s just that we don’t usually see things like that. Now imagine a similar oscillation in warm/cold layers of the Pacific Ocean (and others). With a large bowl, the oscillations could be very slow, and there might be a mix of deep waves of different frequencies and directions.
What do we see with ENSO? It looks like upwellings of cold water, e.g. Humboldt from Chile/Peru/Ecuador. I find it hard to believe that the surface temperatures are driven primarily by surface phenomena. The temperature patterns on the SST map are very orderly, almost like the wake of a ship. How would a chaotic atmosphere produce such reproducible order? These temperature waves on the surface recur. It looks more like a circular ripple pattern stretched out by ocean current along the equator.
Hey, I said it was a dumb idea.


Throws hands up in the air. This is a complex non-linear mathematically chaotic system. Strange attractors aka Lorenz “owl eyes” plus lots of other stuff come to mind. Model all you want, but this system is exquisitely sensitive to initial conditions and assumptions about the physical processes involved. About all we can say is that Hansen’s tripe is worthless.

Eric Anderson

I have never seen any good information (maybe someone can point us to it?) to demonstrate that a massive body of water can be heated to any meaningful extent by a diffuse body of air contacting the surface. It is almost always happens the other way around.


AIR•For higher accuracy – a value of cp = 1.006 kJ/kg.K (equal to kJ/kg.oC)
The average mass of the atmosphere is about 5 quadrillion (5×1015) tonnes
SALT WATER Specific heat capacity, Cp . . . . . . . . . .
3985 J kg−1 K−1
3993 J kg−1 K−1
The total mass of the hydrosphere is about 1,400,000,000,000,000,000 metric tons (1.5×1018 short tons)
How is something (air) that has 1/4 the heat capacity and 3 orders of magnitude less mass going to heat the oceans?
Sunshine works for me.

don penman

I think that wind patterns can affect ocean temperatures.I know that air does not hold as much heat as water but it does circulate faster than ocean currents and can transfer heat/cold around over a period of time,we saw this during the recent blocking in the North Atlantic when the the normal west winds were replaced by cold winds from the North and the North sea gradually cooled.

John Blake

Global ocean-warming is not an atmospheric but a plate tectonic phenomenon. From the 1830s on, worldwide deep-ocean basins from the Arctic to Atlantic and Pacific have been subject to increasing “large magmatic episodes,” that is, the opening of extreme high-temperature vents surrounding continental landmasses at their margins.
On this basis, we hypothesize that since Planet Earth is not merely an oblate spheroid but very slightly “pear-shaped,” minuscule instabilities cause Gaia to wobble geophysically, expand and contract by a factor of about half a mile (or less) on her 4,000-mile equatorial radius, ie. by ~.0125% (1.25 parts per 100,000).
Geophysical effects tied to Earth’s marginally skewed departure from sphericity are the parsimonious explanation for observed bathymetric warming over nigh 175 years. Try submitting a grant application to depict and interpret this phenomenon in detail, and see how far you get.

Stephen Wilde

Roy Clark says:
May 11, 2011 at 8:30 am
I agree with Roy that extra warmth in the air from more downward infra red radiation or from warmer air above cannot significantly warm the ocean bulk due to an increased rate of evaporation and the net cooling effect of the evaporative process.
I have been saying as much in various blogs for several years now.
However Roy then goes on to say that the changes in solar irradiance are sufficient to achieve the observed changes in ocean heat content over time. I am more doubtful about that because proportionately the solar changes are very small so long periods of time would be involved yet we have seen changes in ocean heat content occur quickly.
Thus I prefer the changes in cloudiness and albedo as the primary cause over short to medium timescales with solar variations other than raw TSI being responsible for shifts in the air circulation systems.
It is nice to see these topics being taken more seriously now. I have up to now felt out in the wilderness against overconfident AGW proponents and certain solar ‘experts’ who deny any solar involvement in climate changes.


I’m not a scientist, but an experienced life guard. I work at a city pool. On a sunny 90 degree summer day the pool is about 10 degrees warmer than it is on a cloudy 90 degree summer day.
The pool temp is taken at the surface. At what depth is ocean temperature taken?

Josh Grella

This one is pretty simple to answer and the concept can be used for a science fair project for younger grade school students. When I was a kid, we used to make what we called sun tea. All that was needed was a glass container, water, and a few tea bags (of course, a couple mint leaves from the mint patch added just the right flavor enhancement!). When put out in the sun for a couple of hours, the water would heat enough to steep the tea and by dinner time, the tea would be ready. Place that same concoction in a shady area and you were out of luck. The tea would always have a higher temperature than the ambient air temp, so obviously the sun was heating the liquid more than the air temp. The one left in the shade would not always reach ambient air temp, though it would if left out there long enough. Regardless, the change in temp always occurred MUCH faster for the one in the sun than the one in the shade. Now, there are aspects of the physics of it all with the closed glass containers and all, but it became quickly obvious to me that the sun can heat much more and much faster than the air.

Theo Goodwin

What a wonderful post this is. Only WUWT has achieved a level of clarity that permits answering commonsense questions while fully respecting the scientific background.
My approach to these questions is from scientific methodology. I’ll try to be brief. There is no known physical mechanism that would explain how the atmosphere can heat the ocean.
As regards the Sun, there is a physical mechanism that can explain in general that radiation from the Sun does heat the oceans. However, no one has been able to formulate hypotheses based on this physical mechanism that enables prediction of the temperature changes in the oceans that we care about. In other words, no one has been able to rigorously formulate a set of physical hypotheses that explain the behavior that we want to explain.
Voila! At this time, there is no physical science that enables explanation or prediction of the changes in ocean temperature that we wish to explain and predict. Warmista know this fact. That’s why all they offer are model runs and various collections of “temperature data” from proxies or whatever. Among all the Warmista, there is not one physical hypothesis that could serve to explain and predict ocean temperature changes. Yet they claim to be scientists. They would do better to claim to be Al Gore.
If science is to produce a physical explanation of the ocean temperature changes that we care about then the first step is that scientists must describe the natural regularities upon which these temperature changes ride. To take an easy and familiar example, if we are to explain the temperature changes associated with La Nina then scientists must first identify and describe the physical processes occurring in the ocean, in the atmosphere, and at the boundary during the course of a La Nina event.
Unfortunately, no one has ever attempted to describe the physical processes that make up La Nina. Much to their discredit, Warmista dogmatically claim that La Nina is statistical noise rather than a physical process. Others are happy to look at the temperature numbers associated with La Nina and call that a science. Of course, temperature numbers are no less in need of explanation through use of physical hypotheses than are the phenomena.
Briffa is an excellent example of this point. After his tree rings began declining in 1960, he had no idea why they declined. Was it because of temperature? Moisture? Something else? Without a set of physical hypotheses which explain how the tree rings respond to changes in temperature, moisture, and everything else that affects them, the numbers that come from temperature readings are worthless.
Let us all learn this one important lesson. In science, physical hypotheses that are not rigorously formulated and specify no data (particular phenomena that we care about) are useless. Data that are not explained by some physical hypotheses are unorganized nonsense.
With the exception of Arrhenius’ CO2 hypotheses, today’s climate science has no physical hypotheses. Arrhenius’ hypotheses predict warming or cooling depending on the feedbacks from increased CO2. Yet no one has physical hypotheses which explain one or more feedbacks. Once the physical science of feedbacks are known, Arrhenius’ hypotheses predict nothing for Earth’s climate. Climate science will not advance out of infancy until climate scientists give up the computer models, the statistical arguments, and get into the field and develop techniques for detecting and describing the natural regularities that govern such phenomena as cloud formation, La Nina, and other wonderful things to study.

David L. Hagen

Nicola Scafetta addresses the different rates at which the atmosphere and ocean react, as well as evidence for solar driven climate change. e.g.
Empirical analysis of the solar contribution to global mean air surface temperature change
“Empirical evidence for a celestial origin of the climate oscillations and its implications”. Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics 72, 951–970 (2010), doi:10.1016/j.jastp.2010.04.015 PDF
Solar/planetary modulation of magnetic fields when modulate cosmic rays which modulate clouds when change albedo/solar absorption is one model increasingly being studied by researchers.

Hundreds of thousands of new undersea volcanoes have recently been discovered [millions, if volcanoes under 300 meters height are counted]. For some unknown reason, the number of undersea volcanoes is far out of proportion to the number of land-based volcanoes.
Surely these undersea volcanoes must have some effect on OHC.


This is weird.. some of the comments, I mean.
Evaporation cools water surface. Ever jump into an unheated pool in the desert SW on a 95 degree afternoon?
Seems to me that heat from that pool isnt lost, it’s added to the air around it by the vapor. Yep, heat goes from lower to a higher temp molecule. But that’s just a hunch and assumes LW IR radiation.
Try heating your tea water with a hairdryer blowing on the water surface. THEN try aiming your hairdryer on the side of the pan.
The only way temp can transfer close to efficiently from air to water is at 100% RH. And it’s STILL by LW IR, I would think.
“Half of CO2 absorbed heat” does NOT go back to the surface. The earth is still a GLOBE, is it not?. I’m not a scientist or anything but seems to me the higher in altitude the GHG, the less LW IR makes it back to the surface and it ALL ultimately ends up in space.
But that’s just my guess.

Julian Flood

Sea drives land.
A 2008 study – “Oceanic Influences on Recent Continental Warming”, by Compo, G.P., and P.D. Sardeshmukh, (Climate Diagnostics Center, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, and Physical Sciences Division, Earth System Research Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), Climate Dynamics, 2008)
[http://www.cdc.noaa.gov/people/gilbert.p.compo/CompoSardeshmukh2007a.pdf] states: “Evidence is presented that the recent worldwide land warming has occurred largely in response to a worldwide warming of the oceans rather than as a direct response to increasing greenhouse gases (GHGs) over land. Atmospheric model simulations of the last half-century with prescribed observed ocean temperature changes, but without prescribed GHG changes, account for most of the land warming. … Several recent studies suggest that the observed SST variability may be misrepresented in the coupled models used in preparing the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, with substantial errors on interannual and decadal scales. There is a hint of an underestimation of simulated decadal SST variability even in the published IPCC Report.”
This document describes the El Nino / Southern Oscillation (ENSO).
Those interested in the Team’s take on this should Google ‘why the blip’ and see how the problem was smoothed away by an arbitrary adjustment when this simple truth got in the way of the narrative.
It’s the Kriegesmarine effect. Betcha. But not a lot.


Of course much of varied temperatures are caused by heat transfers but from water movement. I.e., the thermometer is stationary but the water is not, being in constant circulation.

A. Patterson Moore:
Sorry I missed your OHC question over on the UAH update thread. Natural factors can be shown to be the primary cause of the rise in global ocean heat content. These include the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), changes in sea level pressure, and multidecadal variability due to processes such as Atlantic Meridional Overturning. I illustrated these in posts over the past couple of years that Anthony cross posted here at WUWT. They include:

Mike Bromley the Kurd of Kanuckistan

Plate tectonic’s heat contribution is potentially huge. The water emanating from a ‘black smoker’ approaches 700 degrees C…and doesn’t boil due to the immense seafloor pressure. The mid-ocean ridge system is the world’s longest mountain range, at some 40,000 miles…some segments more active in spreading than others. Anomalous blisters like Iceland must be huge contributors. And what about CO2 contribution!


The sea is at about 290K on average. It has a very high emissivity so it is radiating a huge amount of long wave energy upwards. Some of this is lost directly to space and some warms the atmosphere. It is also losing a lot of energy to the atmosphere through evaporation (particularly in windy conditions). There is some cooling by conduction and subsequent convection but it is small because the air close to the surface is at roughly the same temperature.The reason it does not cool continuously is that for some part of every 24 hours (except in the arctic/antarctic circles) it gets a huge burst of short wave energy from the sun. It also gets a smaller amount of long wave radiation from the atmosphere day and night.
Sea temperature averaged over the globe and over the year is pretty constant so the losses and the gains are pretty much the same. We are roughly in energy balance. If this balance is lost the sea will either warm or cool. This can happen locally and at the surface but to heat or cool the bulk of the oceans significantly would take a very long time.
There is no doubt that the vast majority of the energy absorbed by the sea is in the form of the direct short wave insolation. However small changes in the energy balance can come from anywhere. We can change the insolation at the top of the atmosphere we can change the albedo of the clouds or of the sea surface, we can change the relative amount of UV (active sun) which may effect ozone or the depth at which absorption in the sea takes place, we can change the evaporation rates. Or we can change the amount of heat radiated from the atmosphere, which is what the “models” do. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this latter hypothesis. Indeed as the warmists continuously point out the science supports such a possibility.
So although it is a good question the answer is not really helpful. We are still in the situation of trying to decide whether there is a change in ocean heat content and, if there is, which of the many possibilities is the cause. As I have said before trying to argue that CO2 cannot be the cause is as silly as saying that it is the only possible cause.
However the actual cause of the imbalance should leave a signature. Increased atmospheric warming (say due to CO2) should be detectable day and night and winter as well as summer. Increased insolation or reductions in cloud cover should lead to greater peak temperatures in summer. However the caotic nature of the system makes such signatures very difficult to read.
For what it is worth my personal view is that the OHC plateau in the last 9 years suggests that, during this period, we have been in energy balance. That suggests that even if CO2 can be shown to be the cause of the previous imbalance its effect has already been neuralised by the surface temperature increase we have already experienced. This puts an upper limit on any CO2 effect and places it in the “why worry” category. That is assuming you are one of those who believe this is the best of all possible worlds and any change is for the worse. I personally would welcome another degree or so of warming in the winter and at night.

John F. Hultquist

When a clean water body is viewed from directly above with the Sun behind — that ocean surface appears black. Something of this nature is seen in the image linked below. (I did not find the explanation of the color for this image.)
Envisat’s Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS) acquired this image on 1 March 2005. Posted 14 April 2006 – 12:37 PM
Earth from Space: The Gulf of Aden
An absence of returning wave lengths give the appearance of black. Earth is called the “blue” planet because of its atmosphere even though maps and globes provide, falsely, the notion of a blue ocean.
Views from space show a lot of energy entering the world’s oceans.


Nobody has ever warmed his bathwater by switching on the radiator’s bathroom.

bob says:
May 11, 2011 at 7:55 am
but measured trends show a decrease in relative humidity, and increase in specific humidity
According to NOAA satellite data, both relative and specific humidity are on a downtrend:

Bernie McCune

It seems to me that it is all about water. Not only the ocean liquid component and the cloud vapor component but also humidity that is still there on a clear sunny day. The relative humidity probably at various levels of the atmosphere.
In measuring incident solar levels at different solar furnaces where I worked for several years (all of which were in the desert of New Mexico about 32 deg N), I noticed that incident levels on clear sunny days varied dramatically from day to day, week to week, and season to season. These levels were generally correlated to surface humidity levels but it would be interesting to see how balloon sonde data through higher altitudes might affect the values. Low humidity produced higher incident solar readings. Summers in the desert are very warm and and often during the monsoon periods humidity in the mornings is very high. Afternoon cloudiness with thunderstorms of course would drop incident solar input to very low to generally non existent levels. Peaks (at solar noon) for solar surface readings during the long hot humid days of summer were often only 850 watts per m^2.
On clear dry fall days solar surface readings were often as high as 1050 watts per m^2. It is interesting to hear about CO2 forcing a few watts per m^2 while water in it’s “clear” vapor form (not clouds) seems to affect short wave incident solar radiation to the tune of up to 200 watts per m^2. This may only happen in desert areas but it is a very measurable day time effect of atmospheric (and stratospheric?) water vapor.
Variation in humidity patterns over 60 to 100 years would help explain part of the long term natural climate cycles that we have started to identify during our emerging insight over the past 10 or 15 years. Perhaps driven in part by small long term variations in day time surface solar incident values?

Joe Public

The specific heat of water (volumetric heat capacity) is about 3,200 x that of air, so the heat-exchange capability of air to water is miniscule.


The law of the blobs in an upside down slimy bugger lamp.


Consider a one square metre column of air over ocean water. The mass of that air will be about 10,330 kilograms. The specific heat of that mass of air will be the same as just 2.6 metres of ocean water under it. The oceans on average are much deeper than 2.6 metres. There is no way the atmosphere can heat the ocean. IR radiation in the range 3 to 100 microns does not penetrate water to more than a millimetre. Sunlight and especially UV can penetrate to 100 metres or so. Now that can heat a volume of water, not just the surface. Put a cloud in the way of the sun and that deep heat stops. James Lovelock pointed out back in the 1970s that phytoplankton will release DMS gas if they find the water too warm. This gas is an excellent cloud condensation nuclei. Those little beasties learned billions of years ago how to make a sunshade if things got too warm.


“Atmospheric CO2 absorbs radiative heat energy coming from below that would otherwise go out into space quickly. The CO2 re-emits this energy – half of which goes back down. The oceans absorb much of this. This extra energy heats the oceans and will eventually heat the atmosphere and will eventually go back out into space.”
This bolded portion seems questionable and overly simplistic to me. Assuming that the CO2 molecule re-radiates this heat equally in all directions, you get 360° of radiation. The 180° “half” do not all lead “down” to the ground. There’s a whole lot of “sideways” that you are assuming eventually makes it “down,” instead of outwards, and ultimately “up” back into space. Depending on the altitude of the subject molecule, the slice of its complete field-of-view occupied by the Earth’s surface would vary greatly. I would generously guess that this “one-half” estimate should be lowered to somewhere around “one-third.”
Heh. Since the Earth is a globe, you have some significant “round-ing bias” indeed.