Proxy forecasting: Pacific sea level predicts global temperature changes

The Jason series of US/European satellites can measure the height of the ocean surface. CREDIT  NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Jason series of US/European satellites can measure the height of the ocean surface. CREDIT
NASA/JPL-Caltech

From the UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA and the bass ackward forecast department comes this story. Basically, sea level height, stacked up by El Niño winds, is used to predict temperature. It is sort of like a proxy. I wonder how well they do in La Niña conditions.


The amount of sea level rise in the Pacific Ocean can be used to estimate future global surface temperatures, according to a new report led by University of Arizona geoscientists.

Based on the Pacific Ocean’s sea level in 2015, the team estimates by the end of 2016 the world’s average surface temperature will increase up to 0.5 F (0.28 C) more than in 2014.

In 2015 alone, the average global surface temperature increased by 0.32 F (0.18 C).

“Our prediction is through the end of 2016,” said first author Cheryl Peyser. “The prediction is looking on target so far.”

Scientists knew that both the rate at which global surface temperature is rising and sea level in the western Pacific varied, but had not connected the two phenomena, said Peyser, a UA doctoral candidate in geosciences.

“We’re using sea level in a different way, by using the pattern of sea level changes in the Pacific to look at global surface temperatures – and this hasn’t been done before,” she said.

Peyser and her colleagues used measurements of sea level changes taken by NASA/NOAA/European satellites starting in 1993.

Using sea surface height rather than sea surface temperatures provides a more accurate reflection of the heat stored in the entire water column, said co-author Jianjun Yin, a UA associate professor of geosciences.

“We are the first to use sea level observations to quantify the global surface temperature variability,” Yin said.

The team found when sea level in the western Pacific rises more than average — as it did from 1998 to 2012 — the rise in global surface temperatures slows.

In contrast, when sea level drops in the western Pacific but increases in the eastern Pacific as it did in 2015, global surface temperatures bump up because the heat stored in the ocean is released, Yin said.

The paper by Peyser, Yin, Felix Landerer of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and Julia Cole, a UA professor of geosciences, titled, “Pacific Sea Level Rise Patterns and Global Surface Temperature Variability,” is being published online in Geophysical Research Letters.

People already knew the tropical Pacific Ocean was relatively higher in the west — the trade winds blow from east to west, piling up water on the western side of the Pacific.

However, the degree of the tilt from west to east changes over time, much like a seesaw. Sometimes the western Pacific near Asia is much higher than the ocean’s eastern coast with the Americas. At other times, Pacific sea level in the west is not much greater than sea level in the east.

Others had documented that two different climate cycles, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the El Niño/La Niña cycle, affected how much the surface of the Pacific Ocean tilted from west to east.

From 1998 to 2012, the rate at which the global surface temperature increased slowed down — a phenomenon dubbed “the global warming hiatus.” During the same time period, sea level in the western tropical Pacific Ocean increased four times faster than the average global sea level rise.

Yin wondered if the two phenomena – sea level and global surface temperature — were related and asked Peyser, his graduate student, to investigate.

To figure out whether there was a connection, Peyser used state-of-the-art climate models that show what the climate system would do in the absence of global warming.

The models showed that changes in sea level in the western Pacific were correlated with changes in global surface temperature.

Verifying the correlation allowed the researchers to calculate the numerical relationship between amount of tilt and global surface temperature.

Once the researchers had the correlation, they used actual Pacific sea level data from satellites to calculate the Pacific Ocean’s contribution to global surface temperature.

“What I found was that during years when the tilt was steep in the western Pacific, global average temperature was cooler,” she said. “And when the seesaw is tilted more toward the eastern Pacific, it’s warmer.”

“We could say that for a certain amount of change in the tilt, you could expect a certain change in the temperature,” she said. “Natural variability is a really important part of the climate cycle.”

Understanding the variability is crucial for understanding the mechanisms underlying the warming hiatus, Yin said.

During the global warming hiatus, more heat was being stored in the deeper layers of the western Pacific Ocean, muting warming at the surface, the researchers said. Because warmer water expands, that stored heat contributed to the extreme sea level rise in the western Pacific during that time.

Starting in 2014 the ocean’s tilt started to flatten out as the climate cycle changed to an El Niño pattern. The heat previously stored in the ocean was being released, warming the Earth’s surface and reducing sea level in the western Pacific.

Yin was surprised to find the Pacific Ocean plays such an important role in the global surface temperature. He said, “Our research shows that the internal variability of the global climate system can conceal anthropogenic global warming, and at other times the internal variability of the system can enhance anthropogenic warming.”

The next step, he said, is figuring out the mechanisms that allow the Pacific to change the global surface temperature so quickly.

###

NASA funded the research, including through the Strategic University Research Partnership Program of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Link to the paper’s abstract is here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2016GL069401/abstract

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80 thoughts on “Proxy forecasting: Pacific sea level predicts global temperature changes

      • “Yin was surprised to find the Pacific Ocean plays such an important role in the global surface temperature’
        And this guy is being paid for that kind of statement? Holy sh.t, where do I apply for a job?

      • asybot
        “Yin was surprised to find the Pacific Ocean plays such an important role in the global surface temperature”
        True; but Yang found the exact opposite.

      • I am shocked, shocked, I tell you. Whoever this “El Niño” person is, he must be incarcerated, found guilty, tried, and arrested on charges of terrestrial temperature tampering.

    • I read recently that universities are rated by the number of PhD’s they generate. In other words PhD’s are the primary metric by which they attract new students and attract funding.
      Spot the incentive to distort the ratings?
      Spot the incentive to achieve same by thinking up all sorts of ass backwards ‘science’ that looks plausible to the morons who make the funding allocations?
      Such ‘science’ then becomes an ‘app’ for every ‘science communicator’ and churnalist out there to ‘get online’, get noticed and get an audience.
      Spot the incentive to keep the gravy train fuelled up and puffing steam (never mind the CO2 though).

      • They are looking into natural variability, not spinning CO2 and AGW. Why do you criticise that?

        From 1998 to 2012, the rate at which the global surface temperature increased slowed down — a phenomenon dubbed “the global warming hiatus.” During the same time period, sea level in the western tropical Pacific Ocean increased four times faster than the average global sea level rise.

        So it seems that those investigating climate variations are not convinced by Karl et al’s ‘pause buster’ fiddling of the data. They are still trying to explain the hiatus.
        However, most of this study is based on analysing model output for correlations of their ’tilt index’ and global temps, so they are only analysing the deficient knowledge built into those models.
        Models do particularly poorly in producing ENSO type variability, so I don’t see much point in trying to analyse what they do in this area as a means of predicting anything.

      • Greg
        “Our research shows that the internal variability of the global climate system can conceal anthropogenic global warming, and at other times the internal variability of the system can enhance anthropogenic warming.”
        Why?

    • It makes sense if you look at it as the ocean rise being the cause of an equilibrium change. I’m skeptical about how well it will hold up, but it’s not nonsensical.

    • Whoever this “El Niño” person is, he must be incarcerated, found guilty, tried, and arrested on charges of terrestrial temperature tampering.

      That’s funny, because El Nino literally means “The Child” (article and noun both capitalized) as in the Christ Child, (a.k.a. Jesus of Nazareth), who was, indeed, arrested, incarcerated and executed (but not for temperature twiddling, of course).
      I think most people here already know this, but for those who do not, the reason we call Pacific warming off the coast of S. America “El Nino” is because the phenomena of profound warming of the sea surface was first noticed by fishermen of Western Peru who went out to sea during the season of La Navidad (The Birth, a.k.a. Christmas), and found no fish, and realizing the profound nature of the change, named it after the namesake of the season.

  1. I can correlate all sorts of “useful” information and show some really weird connections – except they are just non-causal artifacts. There is bad science and then there is the above sort of useless nonsense.

    • “There is bad science and then there is the above sort of useless nonsense.”
      It all pays the same…

    • “Verifying the correlation allowed the researchers to calculate the numerical relationship between amount of tilt and global surface temperature.”
      I believe they found “a” numerical relationship and not “the” relationship.

  2. With the El Nino seeming to rapidly shift to a likely La Nina, their prediction of .5 degrees in 2016 or large increase over 2015 looks a little weak vs reality.
    I have a thought…..if a prediction from a study proves wrong, the people have to give their grant money back that funded the original flawed study along with 10 percent of the grant from each pal reviewer that let the study get published.
    With that, caveat, perhaps we’ll have real science again instead of all these ‘it’s worse than we thought’ type fantasies.

    • There was net increase even after the following El Nino in 1998. The idea that there will probably be some residual warming seems pretty safe bet.

      • Maybe so if you cherry pick the data or data set but even if you accept sime minor warming, that says nothing about its cause. The significance of the hiatus/pause is that it implicitly contradicts the core thesis of CAGW that the CO2 ‘greenhouse effect’ is the dominant mechanism. That seems to be the driver of the so forecasting of the so called ‘models’ and the pause/hiatus pops the groupthink bubble.

  3. So the ‘missing heat’ over the last 16 years is really being absorbed and stored in the ocean, and suddenly it decides to come boiling out to warm the planet in 2016? Uh…Why?

  4. It’s pretty obvious that the magnitude of the ’tilt’ of the western pacific is greater or less depending on the strength, duration, and direction of the westerly trade winds [both N and S of the equator]. Since the tilt varies therefore these winds change. What is not clear is precisely WHICH temperatures, or average temperatures, are said to follow or precede these wind changes. And are these temperature (averages?) precisely enough known to to be able to detect any relationship that may or may not exist. It doesn’t seem that this research answers any of those questions.

    • I think the warmer the SSTs get the stronger the trade winds. Walker cell trade winds are caused, unlike hadley cell trades, by a temperature differential between the cool eastern pacific (where thermocline upwelling occurs) and warmer waters to the west. I used to see a lot of trade wind graphs a couple years back when trenberth was all the rage. Maybe some commentors in the know might produce some for you…

    • There are two aspects to the ’tilt’. One is water accumulating as it is pushed up again the land barrier in the W Pacific. The second is the lens effect where warmer water is less dense and thus floats with a surface above the global mean sea level.
      The latter aspect can not cause a flow back since it not out of equilibrium with gravity. The former will lead to some flow back when the prevailing winds calm and what flows back is from the hot surface lens , some of the hottest waters on the planet.

      • Yes, Greg, i’ve oft wondered about those winds calming. It seems to me that el ninos more often than not occur after a solar max or at a solar min… I wonder if a reduction in SSTs perhaps due to less solar output is the reason. (less temperature differential = weaker trade winds)

      • The surface skin of the ocean is cooler and saltier and thus much more dense than the layers below it, primarily because it is the surface that evaporates and radiates.
        The evaporation creates moist less dense air which is carried away and the cool surface skin sinks into the ocean.
        This is where the weather and climate is formed.

  5. We really need a societal collapse to clear these supernumerary, self-opinionated, self-aggrandizing and mutually-supporting, tendentious morons, hanging desperately at the public teat, out into the Real World and scrabbling (like most of us) for a crust of bread and affordable shelter.

    • Okay, Ross, let’s you and them have a societal collapse. I’ll hold your coat. 🙂 Personally, I think I could have a stellar academic career specializing in Climate Mopery.

  6. I see. It is well known that an El Nino event warms the planet. The just ended El Nino is an excellent example. So they are using sea surface height as a proxy for El Ninos.
    I suppose you could make a calibration plot of sea surface height vs. delta T (six months out).
    It is another matter whether such a plot could provide a generally useful prediction.

  7. Sometimes a proxy rings the alarm bells much better than the, often confusing, data.
    I can’t find the source for this story, which I heard years ago.
    A famous investor got into a taxi and was surprised to find that the taxi driver was very knowledgeable about the stock market. When he got to the office, the investor sold all his stocks. Why? Once the widows, orphans, and taxi drivers were in the market, it was saturated. There was no more upside, only down. Unsurprisingly, the market took a dive a short time later.

    • “Once the widows, orphans, and taxi drivers were in the market, it was saturated. There was no more upside, only down. Unsurprisingly, the market took a dive a short time later.”
      That’s an old rule of thumb.
      That’s what happened in March 2000, when the Internet Bubble burst and caused the Clinton-Gore recession. Everybody and their brother was in the market, because it was booming, and then the pullback happened and caught a lot of people with their pants down.

    • This analogy also occurred to me. Although…
      It is reasonable to expect a rebound of warmer water after it has piled up in the Western Pacific. Perhaps someone could explain why this is a revelation. I thought (perhaps incorrectly) that oceanographers already have predictive models showing demonstrating heat dispersion over time, across the Pacific, and into the atmosphere. A pendulum hovering at apogee will need to drop back.
      But I find the current markets anything but predictable. Is there a publicly available widow-orphan-taxi driver model?

  8. Yin was surprised to find the Pacific Ocean plays such an important role in the global surface temperature.
    Words fail me.
    “Our research shows that the internal variability of the global climate system can conceal anthropogenic global warming, and at other times the internal variability of the system can enhance anthropogenic warming.”
    I’m shocked. Shocked I say. Sometimes natural variability is +ve and sometimes it is -ve? And it is big enough to swamp the AGW signal? For how long have skeptics been saying this?

    • Yes, Dr Spencer once referred to natural internal variability as the “800 pound gorilla in the room” before the U.S. Senate. And, no, he was not metaphorically referring to senator boxer (even though she was “in the room”)… ☺

    • “I’m shocked. Shocked I say. Sometimes natural variability is +ve and sometimes it is -ve?”
      Well this is an improvement. Usually climatologists want to cite natural variation as the reason for the pause without acknowledging that this also means it is responsible for part of the OMG warming of the late 20th c.

    • davidm, That statement was enough to stop reading, ( I made the same comment upthread) I just cannot believe these people. Did he not read and/or re-read the submission before it was printed?
      Just more money wasted and that to me is more off a PO than anything, it is blatant garbage!

      • Perhaps we need to rethink the idea that the nonsense posing as climate research has all been a waste. After all, the research findings have relentlessly demonstrated the baseless foolishness of the whole CAGW meme.

  9. Much science advances in terms of dependent and independent variables, even for simple uses such as graphs that traditionally have the Y-axis for the dependent variable.
    It is hypothesised by these authors that temperature, T, depends on ocean level. It is also known that excessive winds over the ocean cause evaporative cooling, so T depends on wind strength. We then have an experiment where the temporary dependent variable, T, depends on both ocean level and wind speed. This is not a good structure for customary analysis, because ocean levels are separately affected by wind speeds and the contribution of each to T has to be split out.
    In this muddle, what is missing is a direct mechanism to support their hypothesis that temperatures depend on ocean levels. Yuk.

    • Geoff,
      you seem to have the causation backwards. The authors claim that the best way to measure the
      heat stored in the ocean is in the total height of the water column (since water density decreases with temperature about 4 degrees C). Thus if the height of the water column is decrease then the ocean is losing energy and ergo (since energy is conserved) the atmosphere must be gaining it.
      So the point of the article seems to be that the claim that the simplest way to predict average atmospheric temperatures one year in advance is to measure the height of the pacific ocean.

  10. Yeah and Colorado University’s Fasullo just released their “Is the detection of accelerrated sea level rise imminent?” Paper.
    Looks like two BS papers propping each other up to me.

    • “Is the detection of accelerrated sea level rise imminent?”
      Well at least they are now admitting that there has been NO acceleration in MSL. That is a bit of problem after half a century of “run-away global warming”.
      Still not doubt detection of the missing acceleration is “imminent”. They will probably be rather disappointed when they do though because all the indications are form Jevrejeva’s tide gauge work, that the acceleration will be negative. That will really blow them out.

      • CU adjusts their data on a regular basis, so they “are” going to find acceleration. It won’t be much, but we will all hear about it, and the news media will blow it out of proportion.

  11. To figure out whether there was a connection, Peyser used state-of-the-art climate models that show what the climate system would do in the absence of global warming.

    Whew! Had me going for a minute there. I thought he might have used one of those old cr@p climate models from back in the ’80s.
    Hey everybody! He used a state-of-the-art climate models. It’s all good.
    (sigh)

  12. Interesting “proxy” conjecture. That third of a degree C of warming is really messing things up.
    I have a better proxy. Look at the ground to see if it is white. Snow in Montana. Frost warning tonight (August) in western Alberta. The sea level variation is really “heating” things up. Like ‘They Day After Tomorrow’ kind of heating.
    http://www.climatedepot.com/2016/07/11/july-snowfall-in-three-states-snow-reported-in-montana-idaho-and-wyoming/
    Mind you, it is pretty much an annual thing. Our children will never have to worry about not seeing snow – in any month. It was snowing on the Trans Canada Highway two weeks ago when I went over the Rogers Pass to Revelstoke. SNAFU.
    https://weather.com/news/news/canada-summer-snow-alberta

  13. Well, gee whiz, the evidence for global worming is really starting to be overwhelming, guys . . I guess it’s time to get over our grieving process, and accept the Siants . .

  14. How boring – conducting research without leaving the computer screen. What ever happened to the field sciences? What ratio of research published at this site is desk based in comparison to field based? Little wonder city gyms do a roaring trade to cut the flab. It still shows – pasty and soft, plus a tunneled attitude (in many cases)

  15. “And when the seesaw is tilted more toward the eastern Pacific, it’s warmer.”
    “We could say that for a certain amount of change in the tilt, you could expect a certain change in the temperature,” she said. “Natural variability is a really important part of the climate cycle.”
    Understanding the variability is crucial for understanding the mechanisms underlying the warming hiatus, Yin said.”
    __________________________________________
    She said ‘I know what it’s like to be dead / I know what it is to be sad.’ / Lennon /McCartney

  16. “We are the first to use sea level observations to quantify the global surface temperature variability,” Yin said.
    Yin the first to know what it is to be dead.
    The unknown unknowns: as with Yin.

  17. The next step, he said, is figuring out the mechanisms that allow the Pacific to change the global surface temperature so quickly.
    __________________________________________
    Easy. ‘nough lives on computer models to step live for live on global surface temperature so quickly.

  18. I just… what the [snip]?
    On a geological timescale the margin of error is larger than THE ENTIRETY OF HUMAN HISTORY and they’re claiming they can predict weather changes by changes in the sea level?

  19. Here is the Abstract for the subject paper.
    Am I understanding this abstract correctly? If so, why would one compare climate model outputs when you have real measurements? Are we living in a virtual world or a real one?
    Regards, Allan
    Abstract
    During 1998–2012, climate change and sea level rise (SLR) exhibit two notable features: a slowdown of global surface warming (hiatus) and a rapid SLR in the tropical western Pacific. To quantify their relationship, we analyze the long-term control simulations of 38 climate models. We find a significant and robust correlation between the east-west contrast of dynamic sea level (DSL) in the Pacific and global mean surface temperature (GST) variability on both interannual and decadal time scales. Based on linear regression of the multimodel ensemble mean, the anomalously fast SLR in the western tropical Pacific observed during 1998–2012 indicates suppression of a potential global surface warming of 0.16° ± 0.06°C. In contrast, the Pacific contributed 0.29° ± 0.10°C to the significant interannual GST increase in 1997/1998. The Pacific DSL anomalies observed in 2015 suggest that the strong El Niño in 2015/2016 could lead to a 0.21° ± 0.07°C GST jump.

  20. I came for the prediction, and didn’t find any. So what did they do? They said they modeled, but didn’t provide any predictions of those models based on input to check against, hold on to your butts, reality. *GASP* you can’t do such a thing!

  21. It’s all driven by El Niño, not CO2? El Niño itself is driven by the PDO, the AMO and other ocean currents, which are all affected by submarine vulcanism, which appears in exactly ZERO models.

  22. I get the impression looking at the data that we are talking about a few millimetres difference in the Pacific because of the trade winds but this cannot be called piling up, it is just an attempt to make a statistical anomaly real.

  23. To figure out whether there was a connection (between sea level and global surface temperature), Peyser used state-of-the-art climate models that show what the climate system would do in the absence of global warming.

    It seems to me that every time I see references to “global warming” its meaning (if it ever had meaning) has undergone further obfuscation. Here, does it mean human-caused warming? What mystifying skill are they teaching in graduate programs across America that allows them to quantify and extract one type of warming from another and compartmentalize them?

  24. High tide and low tide is over 10 metres and we can usually observe this daily. Could we observe a half a metre over the length of the Pacific ocean over a few months?

  25. “…Yin wondered if the two phenomena – sea level and global surface temperature — were related and asked Peyser, his graduate student, to investigate…
    Sounds good! Let’s get some real-world data and investigate! Oh, wait…
    “…To figure out whether there was a connection, Peyser used state-of-the-art climate models…”
    Guffaw.

    • I picked up on the same thing. Still comes down to believing the models. I have to wonder how effective is what little “heat” comes out of the ocean water in raising atmospheric temperatures? The heat drawn into the ocean looses some of its energy overtime. Again, it is the models that are predicting this which makes it as susceptible as the whole AGW argument.

  26. I can have huge quantities of water at almost freezing temperature and that does not mean that the water must be warm. As climate goes up and down, it is quite possible to have water level rising while climate temperature is turning around into a decline. If anyone thinks that sea level rate of rise is a temperature indicator, they should consider the high rate of rise out of the last glacial period while temperatures were still low but clearly warming.

  27. “Our research shows that the internal variability of the global climate system can conceal anthropogenic global warming, and at other times the internal variability of the system can enhance anthropogenic warming.”
    “Unfortunately we tuned our climate models during the latter phase…”

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