An Ocean of Overconfidence

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

I previously discussed the question of error bars in oceanic heat content measurements in “Decimals of Precision“. There’s a new study of changes in oceanic heat content, by Levitus et al., called “World Ocean Heat Content And Thermosteric Sea Level Change (0-2000), 1955-2010” (paywalled here). [UPDATE: Available here, h/t Leif Svalgaard] It’s highlighted over at Roger Pielke Senior’s excellent blog , where he shows this graph of the results:

Figure 1. From Levitus 2012. Upper graphs show changes in ocean heat content, in units of 1022 joules. Lower graphs show data coverage.

Now, there’s some oddities in this graph. For one, the data starts at year 1957.5, presumably because each year’s value is actually a centered five-year average … which makes me nervous already, very nervous. Why not show the actual annual data? What are the averages hiding?

But what was of most interest to me are the error bars. To get the heat content figures, they are actually measuring the ocean temperature. Then they are converting that change in temperature into a change in heat content. So to understand the underlying measurements, I’ve converted the graph of the 0-2000 metre ocean heat content shown in Figure 1 back into units of temperature. Figure 2 shows that result.

Figure 2. Graph of ocean heat anomaly 0.-2000 metres from Figure 1, with the units converted to degrees Celsius. Note that the total change over the entire period is 0.09°C, which agrees with the total change reported in their paper.

Here’s the problem I have with this graph. It claims that we know the temperature of the top two kilometres (1.2 miles) of the ocean in 1955-60 with an error of plus or minus one and a half hundredths of a degree C

It also claims that we currently know the temperature of the top 2 kilometers of the global ocean, which is some 673,423,330,000,000,000 tonnes (673 quadrillion tonnes) of water, with an error of plus or minus two thousandths of a degree C

I’m sorry, but I’m not buying that. I don’t know how they are calculating their error bars, but that is just not possible. Ask any industrial process engineer. If you want to measure something as small as an Olympic-size swimming pool full of water to the nearest two thousandths of a degree C, you need a fistful of thermometers, one or two would be wildly inadequate for the job. And the top two kilometres of the global ocean is unimaginably huge, with as much volume as 260,700,000,000,000 Olympic-size swimming pools …

So I don’t know where they got their error numbers … but I’m going on record to say that they have greatly underestimated the errors in their calculations.

w.

PS—One final oddity. If the ocean heating is driven by increasing CO2 and increasing surface temperatures as the authors claim, why didn’t the oceans warm in the slightest from about 1978 to 1990, while CO2 was rising and the surface temperature was increasing?

PPS—Bonus question. Suppose we have an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and one perfectly accurate thermometer mounted in one location in the pool. Suppose we take one measurement per day. How long will we have to take daily measurements before we know the temperature of the entire pool full of water to the nearest two thousandths of a degree C?

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Andrew30

How long will we have to take daily measurements before we know the temperature of the entire pool full of water to the nearest two thousandths of a degree C?
Until it has all evaporated, then the temperature of the liquid water in the entire pool will be Null with 100% accuracy, no data, no error.

trbixler

But but its peer reviewed and paid for. Of course it would be nice to know payment and support details along with the error bars to Thousands of dollars.

JPS

the answer to PPS is NEVER. unless of course you have some how devised an adiabatic pool environment.

James Annan found some gross maths errors in Levitus et al 2000. Once he pointed out the maths error, Levitus et al’s corresponding author stopped corresponding with him…
I don’t trust any OHC figures prior to ARGO and I don’t trust the manipulation of ARGO data after 2007 either.

G. Karst

I am 52.31847295482937529573648254482% confident in the results. GK

JPS

put another way- it looks to me that the gross energy content of the ocean is on the order of 10^27 J? so we are looking at changes somewhere around 0.01% to 0.001%? please

Bill Yarber

PPS answer(s)
Outdoor pool: Never, each new day brings different ambient conditions.
Indoor pool in a tightly climate controlled environment: 500,000 days
So the oceans have warmed about 0.1C over the past 57 years but the Earth has warmed by 0.8C since 1979. Whats wrong with that picture, especially since the oceans cover 70% of the Earth’s surface and constitute 98+% of the heat sinking capacity. I don’t believe it.
PPPS: How much CO2 will be outgassed from the oceans based on the presumed 0.1C temperature increase of the oceans?
Bill

reclaimreality

If the ocean heating is driven by increasing CO2 and increasing surface temperatures as the authors claim, why didn’t the oceans warm in the slightest from about 1978 to 1990, while CO2 was rising and the surface temperature was increasing?

This at least is possible and no contradiction. Ocean currents and therby connected heat transfer and overturn occurs on all timescales in the ocean. These variations may conceivably be due to heat moving in or out into/from deeper ocean layers.
Howver and regarding the ‘accurate measuring’ problem, a more viable method to determine (estimate) changes in in total ocean heat content would be through measuring sea level changes accurately. And this can be done at the surface, and with less probes (‘thermometers’) than in the swimming pool /the oceans, since gravity does not change over the time scales considered here.
Thermal heat expansion of ocean water is ~independent of water temperature, and thus changes in heat content and total volume match each other well. The contamination there is from melting land ice, and possibly a little from changing water content of cultivated land areas. Both these, however, should be easier to estimate/measure than 2000m ocean heat content using thermometers.

Inhuman claims of accuracy is a requirement of the job.
Climategate Email 0700.txt
K Hutter added that politicians accused scientists of a high signal to noise ratio; scientists must make sure that they come up with stronger signals. The time-frame for science and politics is very different; politicians need instant information, but scientific results take a long time
And stop insulting the work of other scientists Willis – Climategate Email 4693.txt teaches us:-
Maybe it is an illusion or prejudice on my part,
but somehow I am not convinced that the “truth” is always worth
reaching if it is at the cost of damaged personal relationships….

Rob Dawg

Deep sea thermal vents were not even discovered until 1977. Just sayin’.

stpaulchuck

And how many measuring devices were extant during this period that measured columns from 0 to 2000 meters and at what sampling frequency? Today our wide cast devices only meaure to 700 meters. So when and where did the other 1300 meters of measurement come from and at what percent coverage? To put it mildly, BULL HOCKEY! [ or.. water hockey (stick)]

MarkW

Are they actually trying to claim that after about 1994, they have 100% of the ocean measured?

JK

Whether they are right or wrong I don’t think that they are claiming that. They are claiming to measure the average heat content over a five year period. (It is because they are taking the average that it makes more sense to think in terms of heat content that temperature.) Maybe their error bars are too small. But the error bars on an average will be smaller than the error bars on an individual measurement. An intuition that starts by thinking about a point measurement in a larger body or over a short period of time is unlikely to be correct. What is needed is analysis, not simple incredulity.

Willis: A free draft of the Levitus et al (2012) paper is available through the NODC website:
http://data.nodc.noaa.gov/woa/PUBLICATIONS/grlheat12.pdf
Regards

Rich Lambert

Climate science needs something like the ISO 9000 quality control standards used by industry.
REPLY: Yep, I argued for this back in 2008:
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/09/23/iso-8000-data-quality-something-climate-science-could-benefit-from/
-Anthony

ferdberple

The numbers would appear to indicate the error lies in their estimate of ocean coverage
How did they achieve 100% data coverage at 700 meters starting in 1994? How did coverage at 2000 meters peak in 1994?
What exactly is their definition 100% coverage? Is it one reading per cubic meter per second, or one reading per cubic mile per year? Or is 100% coverage one reading per 1000 cubic miles per decade?
What is the volume of water measured and the number of readings over time, and how random is the sample?
If the measurements are taken from ships they are not at all random because shipping lanes are not random, they are determined by geography and weather patterns. There are large areas of the oceans where commercial shipping never travels, and other areas where shipping is highly concentrated.

Question #2

PPS—Bonus question. Suppose we have an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and one perfectly accurate thermometer mounted in one location in the pool. Suppose we take one measurement per day. How long will we have to take daily measurements before we know the temperature of the entire pool full of water to the nearest two thousandths of a degree C?

Answer
You will never know the temperature of the pool to within two thousandths of a degree C. All you will know is the temperature at that particular spot, to within the accuracy of your thermometer. The pools that I have been in have warm and cold spots.

Interstellar Bill

When Warmistas promulgate their cargo-cult ‘science’,
you’re supposed to genuflect and vote to outlaw carbon dioxide.
Error-finding critiques are only for ‘deniers’, not for Warmista Scripture.
When a Warmista claims accuracy of 1 part per trillion, then accept it!
Have faith in science and shut up! Don’t scrutinize, don’t doubt, don’t even look!

Mark

G. Karst says:
April 23, 2012 at 7:30 am
I am 52.31847295482937529573648254482% confident in the results. GK
============================================
And it’s a well-established fact that 76.38% of all statistics are made up on the spot

gerrydorrian66

Thank you for your analysis – I’m going to show this to my teenage daughters as an example of how what some scientists present as “settled science” can be demolished in several paragraphs by other scientists; ie in minefields we cannot afford to passively “be informed” but must consider different views.

Curiousgeorge

Willis, I agree completely; having spent 15 years with a Fortune 50 Aerospace company as the senior process/quality engineer for the division, and also as a past Chairman of the American Society for Quality. You’ve just encapsulated everything I see wrong about the entire AGW meme. Thank you. 🙂

John F. Hultquist

Leif provides a link to the paper (Thanks!), that includes this scarey bit”
If this heat were instantly transferred to the lower 10 km of the global atmosphere it would result in a volume mean warming of this atmospheric layer by approximately 36°C (65° F).
Then they admit this can’t and won’t happen. I wonder whose idea it was to make this calculation and why? Why not calculate how many vaporized climate scientists can dance on the head of a pin? Equally useful.

Urederra

You don’t have to be a climate expert to see how badly the paper has been reviewed.
The legend for the y-coordinate in Figure 1 should read “Heat content ANOMALY”

Gary Swift

From a process engineering standpoint, it is impossible to get such high precision.
I work at a bakery, where we make about a million lbs of bread each week (seasonally averaged). We have a machine called a proof box. It is a room with about the same internal volume as an olympic sized swimming pool. The bread moves through this room on a continuous conveyor line. We have both wet and dry bulb thermometers placed throughout the interior, and we run a device called a mole through periodically to callibrate our climate controls. The climate controls inside our proof box are state of the art. There is a direct connection between our ability to control that environment precicely and our quality/profitability. Bread that doesn’t rise properly ends up going in the pig feed trailer. When money is at stake, you can bet your left leg that every effort is made to get it right. I can tell you that in a fluid such as air or water, convection can lead to very uneven temperature profiles. The temperature you read at any given location may be totally unrepresentitive of the temperature just a few feet away, and no given set of temperature/humidity readings can ever be assumed to be representative of the area as a whole. We have seen faulty trends of increase and/or decrease many times due to the quirky ways air can circulate inside the box and/or problems with the instruments.
As an added note: Taking two readings seperated by some space and assuming that the area between them has a value averaged between the two measurements is insane.

Matthew R Marler

Suppose we take one measurement per day. How long will we have to take daily measurements before we know the temperature of the entire pool full of water to the nearest two thousandths of a degree C?
Excellent question!

This is the same game as the precision and accuracy problem we all face when we try to treat a dynamic, heterogeneous, gross, and I mean Gross, amount, volume in this case, as if the work was being done in a laboratory. Nonsense is not a strong enough term. We can’t even achieve this in relatively static volumes such as large rock masses (hundreds of cubic meters not millions of cubic kilometers.) Who knows maybe they believe in the tooth fairy too. More seriously I have written a number of essays trying to address the precision/accuracy business from a practical and philosophical point of view. It is another one of those seemingly simple things that turns out to be highly complex.

Robertvdl

“If the ocean heating is driven by increasing CO2 and increasing surface temperatures as the authors claim, why didn’t the oceans warm in the slightest from about 1978 to 1990, while CO2 was rising and the surface temperature was increasing?”
Maybe because CO2 has nothing to do with Ocean heating.
“The solar radiation penetrates the ocean to 100 metres at visible wavelengths but to much shallower depth as wavelength increases. Back radiation in the far infra-red from the Greenhouse Effect occurs at wavelengths centred around 10 micrometres and CANNOT penetrate the ocean beyond the surface ‘skin’.”
http://www.klimaatfraude.info/images/sverdrup.gif

It is good to see the paper. It is good to read the serious questions. Nothing surprises me more than all the ocean heat content claims. The oceans are not only huge, but have only an average temperature of about 4°C.

Willis:
In your critique, you overlook a fatal flaw in the argument of Levitus et al. This is that they.mislead their readers by implying that their data contain far more information than is present in them. They accomplish this feat by a method of presentation that dupes readers into vastly overcounting the empirical basis for their conclusions.
If you are correct, Levitus et al. average the data over 5 years. However, it is a 30 year averaging period that is canonical in climatology,. It follows from a 30 year averaging period that there are either 0 or 1 statistically independent values in the interval between 1957.5 and 2010; that’s far too few values for generalizations to be made about the cause of fluctuations in the heat content. Generalizations cannot be made but it seems to the statistically naive reader as though generalizations can be made.

Even the draft paper at NOAA states a similar order of magnitude in temperature … which is silly as it is impossible in practice to achieve measurements of such precision across multiple sets of instruments operating over long periods in uncontrolled environments.

Kelvin Vaughan

Why don’t heated swimming pool owners pump carbon dioxide into their pools. They will need less heating then?

It is frequently possible to measure changes more accurately than absolute values.

Alan the Brit

Never believed that anyone can measure anything to any real sense to a thousanths of the degree C, rates of rise in temperature or actual rises in atmospheric or oceanic media. Phil Jones was always keen to show rates of atmopsheric warming to a thousanths of a degree which frankly strikes me as very unlikely to be achievable! I am alway open to persuasion!

John Endicott

Mark says:
And it’s a well-established fact that 76.38% of all statistics are made up on the spot
============================================
That was the old studies, newer, more accurate, studies put it at 82.3459% +-0.002% 🙂

Eric Worrall says: April 23, 2012 at 7:37 am
“………And stop insulting the work of other scientists Willis – Climategate Email 4693.txt teaches us:-
Maybe it is an illusion or prejudice on my part, but somehow I am not convinced that the “truth” is always worth reaching if it is at the cost of damaged personal relationships….”
********************
I beg to differ:
If the “lie” is part of a monumental hoax that will destroy the future of my children, then I believe coming to the “truth” IS worth a damaged personal relationship.
When perpetuating a “lie” causes the destruction of serious, honest, REAL scientists, then finding the “truth” IS worth a damaged personal relationship.
I believe that there is a different lesson in your quote: (Not necessarily in the context of this one report, but as part of the broader CAGW mime) When self-proclaimed “scientists” are destructively wrong using fraudulent data and McCarthy-ite tactics, then a failure to act is, at best, negligence, at worst, cowardice.
Regards,
Steamboat Jack (Jon Jewett’s evil twin.)

The way these guys make up statistics is chilling, and even more chilling is the way most gullible people believe them. Common sense contradicts many of the ‘statistics’ climate activists come up with. Help get the truth out by visiting ClimateTruthIreland.

markx

mtobis (@mtobis) says:April 23, 2012 at 8:56 am
It is frequently possible to measure changes more accurately than absolute values.
…unless you are measuring those changes with 3000 diving, drifting robot buoys, in an environment which changes every minute, and every day, and cycles through 4 seasons every year, and each year on a day by day basis has never, ever been the same as any other year, and no consecutive sets of measurements are ever taken in exactly the same place or under the same conditions….
What you need to get increasing accuracy with repeated measures is, strangely enough, repeatable conditions.

peterhdn

Never believed that anyone can measure anything to any real sense to a thousanths of the degree C, rates of rise in temperature or actual rises in atmospheric or oceanic media.”
Professor Spencer’s UAH measure satellite temperatures to the same accuracy.

DR

@Rich Lambert
The reason why climate science will not agree to adhere to ISO standards (there are many different standards depending on the industry) is because that would involve a ground up systems audit of all the processes, measurements etc. thereby exposing their work to scrutiny outside their control. We mustn’t have that. My company gets audited 4x per year.
If there are any fellow Metrologists following, do you also split a gut laughing when seeing the claimed error bars for many of these so-called “studies”? In the real world, uncertainty must be accounted for empirically, not by playing statistics games.

blogagog

I don’t think how to use significant figures is required learning to become an astrologist. Er, I mean climatologist.

Chuck Nolan

“And the top two kilometres of the global ocean is unimaginably huge, with as much volume as 260,700,000,000,000 Olympic-size swimming pools …”
——–
how much is that in gallons?

Just wanted to beat Robbie and Monty
Mr. Willis Eschenbach needs to publish this. /sarc off 🙂
Well…lllll…you KNOW they are gonna say it.

AnonyMoose

How long will we have to take daily measurements before we know the temperature of the entire pool full of water to the nearest two thousandths of a degree C?

Until we have a King and he answers that question.

Willis
I don’t know whats the matter with you. You’ll be claiming next that we don’t know the Global SST back to 1850 to fractions of a degree, or that tree rings can’t tell us about the global temperature a thousand years ago to fractions of a degree. 🙂
tonyb

Jason

Wow, amazing that I can keep my beer ice cold, despite all the CO2.

Roy

Its much easier to accurately measure volume than than temperature. Yet over the period considered by this study, estimates of ocean volume have been reduced by around 10 million cubic kilometres or 5 Gulfs of Mexico, or 1% of the total. Maybe the ‘missing heat’ was in that disappearing water? (http://www.tos.org/oceanography/archive/23-2_charette.pdf)

Willis Eschenbach

Tom Moriarty says:
April 23, 2012 at 7:59 am

Question #2

PPS—Bonus question. Suppose we have an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and one perfectly accurate thermometer mounted in one location in the pool. Suppose we take one measurement per day. How long will we have to take daily measurements before we know the temperature of the entire pool full of water to the nearest two thousandths of a degree C?

Answer
You will never know the temperature of the pool to within two thousandths of a degree C. All you will know is the temperature at that particular spot, to within the accuracy of your thermometer. The pools that I have been in have warm and cold spots.

Well done that man …
w.

Willis Eschenbach

Leif Svalgaard says:
April 23, 2012 at 7:13 am

paper here: http://www.leif.org/EOS/2012GL051106-pip.pdf

Many thanks, Leif. Do you (or anyone) have the Supplemental Online Information?
w.

GeneDoc

I have never understood the point of plotting these graphs (Figure 1) with a Y axis expressed in heat content (even heat content anomaly). What does it mean to have a value of -4 or +8 x 10^22 J? Do they truly mean to imply that the heat content ranges 100 fold? (0.1 to 10 x 10^22 J)?
Willis, your temperature plot makes more sense to me. And it’s interesting to contemplate that a 100x change in heat content can result in an imperceptible change (0.01°C) in temperature, illustrating once more how inconceivably enormous the ocean heat sink really is.
Specious accuracy and woefully inadequate precision are endemic in this field.
Hard to see how this protocol results in an estimate that has any bearing on the real values:
“From every observed one-degree mean temperature value at every standard depth level we subtract off a climatological value. For this purpose we use the monthly climatological fields of temperature from Locarnini et a. [2010]. Then we composite all anomaly values in each one-degree square by five-year running compositing periods. Next the same objective analysis procedure used by Locarnini et al. [2010] is applied to these gridded, composited anomaly values and a global, gridded field with temperature anomaly values defined in every one-degree square is produced for each standard depth level. To compute heat content at each gridpoint the specific heat and density were computed using annual climatological values of temperature and salinity from Locarnini et al. [2010] and Antonov et al. [ 2010].” –Levitus et al. (2012)