Sea surface skin temperature

By Andy May

In previous posts, see here and here, I’ve tried to show that because the oceans cover 71% of Earth and they contain 99% of the thermal energy stored on the Earth’s surface, they dominate the speed and magnitude of climate changes. In all my posts the Earth’s surface is defined as everything from the ocean floor to the top of the atmosphere. The details of the calculation of ocean and atmospheric heat content is detailed in this spreadsheet. The ocean’s huge heat capacity prevents large temperature swings and dampens and delays those that do occur.

Attempting to show the direction, speed, and magnitude of climate change by measuring and averaging atmospheric surface temperatures is pointless, in my opinion. The record we have of atmospheric and ocean surface temperatures is too short and far too inaccurate to provide us with useful trends on a climatic (30 years +) time scale. Further, these records are sporadic measurements in a chaotic surface zone that has large temperature swings. In Montana, United States, for example, recent minimum/maximum temperatures have been as low as -70°F (-57°C) and as high as 117°F (47°C). These enormous swings make measuring year-to-year global average differences of 0.1°C exceedingly difficult. Yet, this is the precision demanded if we are to properly characterize a climate that is only warming at a rate of roughly 1.4°C/century, which is 0.014°C per year and 0.14°C/decade.

The measurements are especially useful for predicting the weather but are inappropriate for measuring changes of less than half of a degree over climatic time spans. We need to measure something more stable and less chaotic for this purpose. This post and the next one present evidence that the mixed layer in the ocean seems to be well suited to the task.

In my opinion, to get a proper handle on the direction and speed of global warming, we must look to temperature changes in the ocean. Especially those portions of the ocean that are in constant contact with the atmosphere. Very long-time frame climate change, one-thousand years plus, involves the entire ocean. But for time frames of one-hundred years or less, we are dealing mostly with the upper few hundred meters of the ocean.

The temperature profile of the upper ocean is very complex. This is complicated by the poor quality of our ocean-surface temperature measurements, especially prior to the introduction of Argo floats and modern ocean buoy measurements, like the Triton buoys over the last 20 years. Ships cover a limited area of the ocean and the depth, consistency and quality of their temperature measurements are uncertain. Satellite measurements of the very top of the ocean are possible, but these measurements are complicated by what is called the ocean skin effect.

The Ocean Skin

At the ocean-air interface, temperatures change rapidly. The magnitude of the change and the thickness of the uppermost ocean affected is determined by cloudiness, whether it is night or day, and wind speed. This “skin” is thicker on calm cloudless days and thinner at night and on windy cloudy days. The temperature at the ocean-air interface (“SST”) is what is measured by radiometers and satellites. Unfortunately, the relationship between this temperature and the more stable mixed-layer temperature or “foundation” temperature is unknown. The relationship changes rapidly and is complicated. Various models have been proposed (Horrocks, O’Carroll, Candy, Nightingale, & Harris, 2003), but none have the reliability and accuracy required.

To make matters worse, right at the surface there is a population of cyanobacteria that works to change the temperature and lower the salinity of the surface water (Wurl, et al., 2018). The sea surface temperature problem is best illustrated with the diagram in Figure 1, from GHRSST or the Group for High Resolution Sea Surface Temperature. They are striving to understand the ocean skin layer so that satellite sea-surface temperature measurements can be properly combined with measured ocean temperatures.

Figure 1. The GHRSST diagram of the temperature at the ocean surface. Theocean conditions, especially the wind speed and daytime or nighttime can make a 2.5°C difference, or larger, in the temperature gradient from the surface to the foundation (stable portion of the mixed layer) temperature. The depth to the top of the stable portion of the mixed layer can vary from essentially zero to 10 meters. Source: GHRSST.

The temperature difference between the SST and the stable portion of the mixed layer can be three to six degrees daily (Wick & Castro, 2020). As Gary Wick and Sandra Castro explain:

“The daily cycle of solar radiation leads to periodic heating of the near-surface layer of the ocean. At low wind speeds, turbulent mixing is reduced, and a warm layer and diurnal thermocline can form near the ocean surface during the day. At night, mixing typically erodes this layer. While the amplitude of diurnal warming is relatively small on average [0.5 K], under conditions of very low wind speed and sufficient insolation, the warming at the surface sensed by satellites can be highly significant… In situ observations have shown warming in excess of 5K at depths of 0.3–0.6 m. Satellite observations from multiple sensors have observed extreme warming events up to 7K in magnitude at the surface, and it has been suggested that events exceeding 5K are not infrequent.” (Wick & Castro, 2020)

The temperatures in the quote are given in Kelvin (K), and equivalent to degrees Celsius. The main point is that exceptionally large differences in the ocean SST occur in calm conditions on clear (cloudless) days. Figure 1 shows that the temperature increases can affect water as deep as ten meters. But differences of more than 0.5°C are almost always limited to the top meter of the ocean. As we will see in the next post on the mixed layer, these known skin anomalies are ignored in ocean temperature datasets. They often have a measurement labeled as zero depth, but it is taken under the surface, usually at a depth of 20 cm or more. The mixed-layer temperature is often defined as the temperature of the layer that has a temperature within 0.5°C of the surface temperature (Levitus, 1982). This is not precise, what they mean is the temperature of the ocean just under the surface, perhaps 20 to 100 cm. Except on clear windless days, this will be the “foundation” temperature. At night and on cloudy or windy days, the temperature will always be the “foundation” temperature.

The mixed layer has homogenous properties due to turbulent mixing and using a temperature difference limit of 0.5°C is a convenient definition, but it breaks down near the poles in the winter where a more complex definition is needed. Numerous methods have been proposed, too many to list here, but the complex one described by James Holte and Lynne Talley (Holte & Talley, 2008) is currently favored. Their technique is widely used today to choose a “mixed-layer depth,” which is the bottom of the mixed layer. It is necessary because in the polar regions, in the winter, deep convection, driven by surface heat loss, can mix the water column to 2000 meters or even deeper. As we will see in the next post, it is in these areas that thermal energy from the surface is transmitted to the deep ocean.

There are many ocean temperature datasets, and we will discuss the data from several of them in the next post. Figure 2 is a plot of the global average December ocean temperatures from the surface to 140 meters from the University of Hamburg datasets. This plot illustrates the temperature profile terms we have discussed, with real global data.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 120920_1249_seasurfaces2.jpg
Figure 2. Global average December temperature profile from the surface to 140 meters. This graph shows the “foundation” temperature in the mixed layer, the temperature is close to constant from the surface to about 20 meters, then begins to decline. Once it is 0.5°C different from the temperature just below the surface, the “mixed layer depth” is reached. Data source: University of Hamburg.

The temperatures reported by the University of Hamburg are average temperatures over more than 12 years and do not represent any given year. The NOAA MIMOC temperatures, which we will look at in the next post, are the same. Figure 3 shows the average year of the measurements and the standard deviation of the years.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 120920_1249_seasurfaces3.jpg
Figure 3. The data used in Figure 2 is not from a single year, but the average of data from over 12 years. The central year for each depth is shown in blue (left scale) and the standard deviation of all years used is shown in orange (right scale). Data source: University of Hamburg.

Both the University of Hamburg and NOAA recognize that the Argo data, which is the bulk of their raw data, is sparse. There is one float per 3° of latitude and longitude (~32,913 sq. miles at 40° North or South or 84,916 sq. km.) This float sends one complete profile to us every ten days. The University and NOAA have decided that to combat the paucity of data, they should compile monthly averages of all data they could find. As we will see in the next post the big changes in the mixed layer occur by month and location, so this makes some sense.

Above the foundation or mixed layer, there are other zones identified in Figure 1. These are defined by GHRSST as follows. I’ve edited the GHRSST text for clarity, the original text can be viewed here.

The interface temperature (SSTint)

At the exact air-sea interface a hypothetical temperature called the interface temperature (SSTint) is defined although this is of no practical use because it cannot be measured using current technology.

The skin sea surface temperature (SSTskin)

The skin temperature (SSTskin) is defined as the temperature measured by an infrared radiometer typically operating at wavelengths 3.7-12 µm (chosen for consistency with the majority of infrared satellite measurements) that represents the temperature within the conductive diffusion-dominated sub-layer at a depth of ~10-20 micrometers. SSTskin measurements are subject to a large potential diurnal cycle including cool skin layer effects (especially at night under clear skies and low wind speed conditions) and warm layer effects in the daytime.

The sub-skin sea surface temperature (SSTsub-skin)

The subskin temperature (SSTsubskin) represents the temperature at the base of the conductive laminar sub-layer of the ocean surface. For practical purposes, SSTsubskin can be well approximated to the measurement of surface temperature by a microwave radiometer operating in the 6-11 GHz frequency range, but the relationship is neither direct nor invariant to changing physical conditions or to the specific geometry of the microwave measurements.

The surface temperature at depth (SSTz or SSTdepth)

All measurements of water temperature beneath the SSTsubskin are referred to as depth temperatures (SSTdepth) measured using a wide variety of platforms and sensors such as drifting buoys, vertical profiling floats (like Argo), or deep thermistor chains at depths ranging from 10 to 750m (like Triton and Tao). These temperature observations are distinct from those obtained using remote sensing techniques (SSTskin and SSTsubskin) and must be qualified by a measurement depth in meters.

The foundation temperature (SSTfnd)

The foundation SST, SSTfnd, is the temperature free of diurnal (daily) temperature variability. That is, the top of the stable portion of the mixed layer. Only in situ contact thermometry can measure SSTfnd.


In summary, SST and atmospheric surface temperatures are too affected by weather and diurnal variability to measure climate changes with any reliability or precision. Total ocean or deep ocean temperatures give us a hint at long climatic changes of a thousand years or more, but they tell us little about changes in the one-hundred-year range.

The ocean mixed layer is a zone that begins between one millimeter and roughly ten meters below the ocean surface. Above this depth, temperatures are affected minute-by minute by the atmosphere and sunlight. At night, the top of the mixed layer moves closer to the surface but can be affected by windspeed, precipitation, and cloudiness. Below the top of the mixed layer, the temperature is more stable than the atmosphere and ocean surface. The temperature, salinity, and density of the layer is nearly constant from the top to the bottom due to turbulence. It reflects surface temperatures but is a function of an average of the previous several weeks. The thickness of the mixed layer varies seasonally from a few tens of meters to several hundred meters. We will discuss the mixed layer in much more detail in the next post.

None of this is in my new book Politics and Climate Change: A History but buy it anyway.

You can download the bibliography here.

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December 9, 2020 2:14 pm

Berkley agrees with you Andy –

Berkley has this to say about one of the 6 types of biome (climate(s)) –
Marine –
“The world’s oceans have an even greater effect on global climate than forests do. Water has a high capacity for heat, and because the Earth is mostly covered with water, the temperature of the atmosphere is kept fairly constant and able to support life.”

Read that last part again – ” . . . because the Earth is mostly covered with water, the temperature of the atmosphere is kept fairly constant . . .”

Berkley must be cancelled for writing such heresy, Shirley?

Reply to  Mr.
December 9, 2020 5:11 pm

Berkeley has an E in the middle. .. … I know, I went there! L-O-L

Reply to  GoatGuy
December 9, 2020 6:18 pm

Yeah OK, I’m a pedant too.
But what about them saying that the atmospheric temp is “fairly constant”?
Shirley that flies in the face of everything the agw climate carpetbaggers have been telling the world?

Greg Goodman
Reply to  Mr.
December 9, 2020 11:38 pm

I think what they mean is that without thermal inertia of the oceans atmospheric temperatures would have wild swings much greater than we see in our actual climate. This is not a comment about 0.5 or 1 deg C of “climate change”.

in 2013 I compared the rates of change in ICOADS SST , hadISST and BEST ( which was a land only record at that time ). With the exception of the known issues with “uncorrected” ICOADS records around WWII, all there records follow each other quite closely with BEST land temps scaled down by a factor of 2. ie land temps change about twice as fast a SST.

It is rate of change of temperature which is the direct response to radiate “forcing”. Since water has about twice the specific heat capacity of rock or dry soil, this shows that land can best be considered as damp rock in terms of its thermal capacity.

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This also means the “averaging” land and sea temperature is physically meaningless in attempting energy budget or radiation “forcing” calculations. You should be adding heat energy, not temperature. Temperature is not a fungible quantity.

I discussed this in more detail at Climate Etc. :

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Greg Goodman
December 10, 2020 11:50 am

At the very least, when averaging two such disparate sources of temperature, the temperatures should be weighted in a manner to account for the difference in the specific heat capacity. However, I think that the best strategy is to keep the data separate and plot water temperatures and air-over-land temperatures separately. That way, one is not averaging the proverbial apples and oranges.

Reply to  Greg Goodman
December 10, 2020 10:45 pm

Considering heat energy and not only temperature was only of the things Miskolczi was crucified for, as well as for being Hungarian.

oeman 50
Reply to  Mr.
December 10, 2020 9:08 am

Don’t call me Shirley.

December 9, 2020 2:48 pm

You are correct that oceans matter. They accumulate the solar energy and release the lower grade energy to space to maintain the energy balance. However all you need to know beyond that is the fundamentals of the thermostatic controls on Earth.

Sea ice forms at 271.3K and that reduces heat loss from the ocean surface.

Then at 300K ocean surface temperature the atmosphere above the surface goes into cloudburst mode and that puts the shutters up with ice forming above 273K creating highly reflective cloud. By 302K the shutters are so effective that the sea surface can be giving up heat under the midday sun:!Aq1iAj8Yo7jNg3vzCCr-yZNwAEVd
Everything else is noise. These are precise temperature controls that work at the extreme end of the temperature spectrum for open ocean water to control energy release and uptake. Sea surface can never be lower than 271.3K and never higher than 305K.

The temperature plot for the skin temperature difference only applies if there is insolation reaching the surface. Once the surface gets to 27C, surface insolation becomes sporadic. There needs to be variation in the surface temperature to trigger cloudburst but cloudburst above 10 degrees latitude can spin up cyclones that create persistent, highly reflective cloud that hangs around for many days to weeks.

Climate models actually show the SST exceeding 305K, which is a physical impossibility for open ocean surface on planet Earth. Climate models are junk science based on the “Greenhouse Effect” fairytale; a glorious concoction of absolute drivel.

Reply to  RickWill
December 9, 2020 2:52 pm

With regard to the SST skin temperature, the moored buoys take temperature readings at 1m depth and they no doubt have some fouling that acts to dampen temperature response.

Reply to  RickWill
December 9, 2020 4:45 pm

Rick – excellent…phase change rules physical reality just as stupidity rules social reality…who’da thunk it?

mike macray
Reply to  meiggs
December 11, 2020 3:55 pm

..phase change rules physical reality just as stupidity rules social reality…

Excellent! Love it!

Steve Z
December 9, 2020 3:28 pm

A very interesting article, although the second graph does seem to indicate that there is a fairly linear gradient of temperature from 40 m to 140 m depth, of about -0.027 C/m. Does that mean that the temperature at 10 m depth can be considered the “foundation” temperature, if temperatures are lower at greater depths?

Also, the top graph seems to indicate a fairly uniform temperature over the top 10 m for “nighttime or strong winds”, and a strong temperature gradient for calm, daytime conditions. But what about calm conditions at night (winds tend to be lighter at night), where there could be heat conduction through relatively calm water, and heat loss to the atmosphere at the surface?

Also, it is difficult to characterize all “daytime” conditions the same way. On sunny days, there will be far more surface heating and evaporation during the middle of the day (due to the high sun angle) than in early morning or late afternoon (due to the low sun angle), but this effect would not occur on overcast days, or in late fall or winter in temperate regions (due to low sun angle).

Precipitation would also tend to cool the layer close to the surface, as condensed water from clouds over 1 km above the surface is likely cooler than the ocean surface. This effect would be much stronger for snow falling on the ocean, due to the latent heat required to melt snow at the ocean surface.

I agree with Andy May that there is much about the heat content of the oceans which is not well known, due to the paucity of measurements. When some researchers publish articles about the heat content increasing by X zettajoules, the oceans are so vast and have such a high heat capacity that this corresponds to an average temperature increase of a few thousandths of a degree, which we don’t currently have the ability to measure.

December 9, 2020 3:33 pm

“especially prior to the introduction of Argo floats and modern ocean buoy measurements, like the Triton buoys”

The main contributors to modern SST measurement are the drifter buoys. They are far more numerous than Triton, and unlike ARGO they are continuously observing on the surface.

“Satellite measurements of the very top of the ocean are possible”
and they are done, and are a huge trove of information. I track the 1/4° AVHRR data here with hi-res maps. It has missed the last few months, but I’ll fix that. The extensive data complements the thermometer data of SST. Clouds are an interference, and surface skin effect does make a difference, so the AVHRR data is not usually used in the GMST measures, but it fills out the picture.

Wim Röst
Reply to  Nick Stokes
December 9, 2020 5:07 pm

A very interesting tool for the AVHRR data! Lots of data for every region. Great source.

Reply to  Andy May
December 9, 2020 5:15 pm

There are currently 1610 buoys. But they observe 24/7, not once every ten days.

Reply to  Andy May
December 9, 2020 8:34 pm

Has there been any study of wether the surface bouys gravitate to faster moving warmer ocean flows, or are directed by surface winds toward warmer coastal water.

If they drift there is no record of a single area, just moving targets. Is there any tangible value in that.

Reply to  Ozonebust
December 9, 2020 10:58 pm

There is a map here of where there are. There are sparse patches.

Reply to  Nick Stokes
December 9, 2020 11:43 pm

Thanks Nick, interesting.

Oddly there are very few across the equatorial Pacific and coast of S. Am, where all the “Nino” regions are.

I just the moored TRITON array covers some of that.

December 9, 2020 4:41 pm

Something to ponder. It is generally well known that the Pacific Ocean collects more energy than it releases. To contrast this the Atlantic Ocean collects less energy than it releases. So there is energy transfer from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

Now take a look at the tropical SST in both oceans. Do either have an open ocean water temperature higher than 32C? Do both oceans have surprisingly similar tropical SST despite one being a net energy absorber and the other a net energy emitter?

Then take a look at the Indian Ocean. Does any open ocean SST in the Indian Ocean exceed 32C.

So three almost separate oceans, having limited interconnection yet they all have the same maximum SST. Is that pure accident of the delicate balance of the “Greenhouse Effect” or the result of the very powerful temperature control system that limits the maximum SST?

Reply to  Andy May
December 9, 2020 6:01 pm

I do not see it as a delicate balance and I have grave doubts that there has been any warming in the past thousand years or two hundred years. There is no global measuring system up to that task. Australia was very hot in the late 1890s and early 1900s. It was a devastating period like the 1930s in the USA.

There are three oceans that have good connection through the southern ocean and there are much weaker connections in northern latitudes – but important for neighbouring regions. So there is bound to be reinforcing and cancelling of warm or cool blobs as they progress around the oceans. They provide noise to temperature measurement. In fact the run-off of rivers in the northern hemisphere in Ausgust create a great deal noise in the SST measurement.

There are firm temperature controls that are solely dependent on the formation of ice as sea ice or reflective cloud. One provides powerful negative feedback for energy loss and the other provides powerful negative feedback for energy uptake. Both are temperature dependent although the cloud formation is a bit more complicated because cloudburst relies on creating a level of free convection and that is a function of the relative densities of dry air and most air at a common temperature.

These two charts really highlight the significant of the 30mm water column:!Aq1iAj8Yo7jNg2_DukRksyuhIkZ8
They compare the energy rejected by the oceans at different months of the year. The change in the response of ocean waters in the northern hemisphere between these two months is interesting as it pivots around the 35mm level.

By the way the energy rejected by the oceans in ONE month is more than FIVE decades of so-called global warming as measured by the questionable 0-2000m temperature measurements. Absolutely trivial. In fact 3 cyclones would remove all that calmed stored heat. The missing heat is a joke – so much nonsense.

Reply to  Andy May
December 9, 2020 7:44 pm

This should not require password:!Aq1iAj8Yo7jNg2_DukRksyuhIkZ8
But it is the same as the previous one. There should be no limit on viewing, same as the link above and the two below.

Can others view it?

Reply to  Andy May
December 9, 2020 9:51 pm

no problemo.

Reply to  Andy May
December 9, 2020 10:01 pm

Image on Rick’s link

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Reply to  RickWill
December 9, 2020 8:44 pm

It is not only the temperature, but the volume of water at that temperature that convects at any given time.

Tropical cyclone inception and rapid increase is strictly controlled by the volume and rate of convection.

Most of the worlds climate including the poles is controlled by low latitude convection volume. This year was a doozy.

Reply to  Ozonebust
December 9, 2020 10:02 pm

Probably saying the same thing but being more specfic – Cloudburst is a result of convective available potential energy. It is created by OLR emissions above the level of free convection, usually above 273K. It is responsible for monsoonal cloud and is essential for spinning up cyclones.

A level of free convection can form in any atmosphere where the TPW exceeds 30mm. That is the level where a parcel of moist air can have buoyancy on a parcel of dry air at a lower altitude.

Cloudburst is usually triggered by a cooling surface. That causes the altitude of free convection to reducie and moist air burst into the dry zone where OLR cooling the water vapour causes condensing or solidifying. The TPW needs to exceed 38mm to get recurring CAPE building up to drive daily cloudburst. It is an unstable process that needs some variation in the surface temperature to trigger cloudburst. Hence my plots show a lot of scatter over the 1 degree surface grid I am using but the trends are clear.

Alasdair Fairbairn
Reply to  RickWill
December 10, 2020 2:11 am

The reason for this 32C temperature lies in the water vapour pressure V temperature graph which escalates rapidly once around 25C is reached. This results in a rapid increase in evaporation rate in response to incoming radiation. This evaporation takes place at constant temperature so thus acts to oppose any temperature increase.
Due to the many other variables involved such as wind, humidity and water movement etc. the overall equilibrium balance appears to be this figure of 32C maximum which is found across the oceans.
Additional to this is the resulting buoyancy of the water vapor/gas which carries the Latent Heat upwards for dissipation in the clouds with some to space.
The rate of evaporation is function of the difference between the vapour pressure of the liquid and the Partial Pressure of the vapor/gas in the surrounding atmosphere.

IMO the collection of large databases on observed temperatures is not helpful in the understanding of the basic thermodynamics involved at the ocean atmosphere interface.

Reply to  Alasdair Fairbairn
December 10, 2020 3:05 am

I always felt that the rapid rise in water vapour was the key to the SST limit. However the conditions for cloudburst are not progressive. It is a change in behaviour of the atmosphere.

It is the ice that forms during cloudburst that causes the high altitude, highly reflective ice laden cloud. Cloudburst is an atmospheric instability that occurs once there is a level of free convection, which enables the formation of convective available potential energy (CAPE). The process is well known. What is not well known is that it requires a TPW of at least 30mm and will produce a daily cloudburst cycle once the TPW reaches 38mm.

This is a precise atmospheric phenomena that forms and the cloudburst is triggered by instability when the surface cools. It is a well known process in the tropics and sub-tropics that gives rise to monsoon. CAPE is also responsible for spinning up cyclones. They cannot develop without CAPE.

Cloudburst is a sharper moisture dependent process than just the rise in water vapour with temperature. The atmosphere changes gear once TPW reaches 30mm and moves into high gear once the TPW is above 38mm.

The Persian Gulf is an exception. It is the warmest sea surface on the globe. It has an incredible rate of evaporation and the lower atmosphere has high humidity. However the prevailing dry northerly winds prevent the the development of CAPE as the upper atmosphere is always dry. It is the only tropical water above 28C that has not experienced a tropical cyclone in human history. There have been cloudbursts on the southwestern and southern shore but they are rare.

The linked paper presents a study on the role of CAPE in cyclone development:

Thomas Gasloli
Reply to  RickWill
December 10, 2020 9:16 am

Thank you . Reading you has been more informative that most articles.

December 9, 2020 4:51 pm

Nick “clouds are an interference”…its a can’t see the forest for all the leaves situation.

You are ignoring the basics of what causes planetary albedo. And the effect of the Clausius Clapeyron equation. A 1 degree change in sea surface temperature, SST, causes a 7% increase in water vapor molecules above that surface, and significant buoyancy of the warmed air parcel, and 2545 KJ/Kg of ocean evaporative cooling.

As the water vapor convects to top of troposphere which is -55 C, where CO2 content is 400 ppm, but water is only 20 ppm, having all rained and snowed out, …that water vapor forms clouds, clouds, and more clouds, the condensation described again by the basic thermodynamics of the Clausius-Clapeyron equation….

Clouds reflect sunlight away from the planet at hundreds of watts per square meter. A few minutes of clouds reflect much more sunlight than all day of CO2 forcing in a couple of narrow frequency bands. CO2 is limited to its actual absorption of about 1.2 degrees per doubling, but probably much less due to cloud increase. Clouds bring the heat balance back to a balance within hours or days depending on whether the wind is blowing the clouds towards or or away from lower humidity land masses, mostly driven by Coriolis force, as you can see daily at , which also makes it clear that the revered Hadley, Ferrell and Polar cells are mainly academia mythology.

The Albedo of clouds is .5 to .8, ocean is .06, land is .12….Because clouds cover 55% of the planet, the Earth’s Albedo averages 0.3. The average radiative temperature of the Earth is about the temperature half the way up the troposphere. That equation is T=278(1-Albedo)^.25
For Earths A= .3, the temp is 254 K, If A=.06 for ocean, that temp is 274 K, .12 for land gives 269 K, and say .7 for a cloud covered planet gives 206 K which is much colder. You can add approximately 35 C to those temps to get the resultant surface temp for those Albedo extremes, assuming a lapse rate similar to today.

The point is that increased SST causes more evaporation….causes more clouds….causes more reflection of incoming sunlight….causes surface temperature to drop. You can quite easily do a little spreadsheet and calculate how little cloud increase offsets 2 Watts of CO2 forcing. And you probably won’t even get to the bit about how 1 sq.M of 1 degree warmer SST can make about 10 times as many sq.M of cloud cover….

CLOUDS and and the vapor pressure water of at any given SST are what control the planet’s temperature, not CO2….

Reply to  DMacKenzie
December 9, 2020 5:36 pm

The cloud formation over tropical oceans is very precise. When the water column reaches 30mm, irrespective of the SST, the atmosphere moves into cloudburst mode. For daily cloudbursts, there must be enough water vapour above the level of free convection to support condensing/solidification over a 24 hour period. That requires 38mm TPW.

So any water column in excess of 38mm will support cyclic cloudburst. That occurs when the SST reaches 26C. Most of the OLR is released above freezing level so water vapour solidifies and forms the highly reflective cloud. Cloudburst requires a trigger, which is usually cooling surface temperature. So cloudburst tends to be an afternoon phenomena that is observed in the tropics as monsoonal rain and that can become cyclones at latitudes above 10 degrees.

Cloudburst is far more powerful in terms of negative feedback than just the increasing water vapour. It kicks in around 26C:!Aq1iAj8Yo7jNg3qPDHvnq-L6w5-5
Resulting in rapid increase in reflective power. By 28.5C it is so powerful that it begins to reduce the net heat input despite OLR emitting from much lower temperature:!Aq1iAj8Yo7jNg3vzCCr-yZNwAEVd

The emissive power of some parts of tropical oceans averages 160W. Try to get Modtran to produce that result above a 302K water surface. More proof that the “Greenhouse Effect” is non science.

So the water vapour is critically important but the actual process of the shutters going up is extraordinarily sharp as a function of temperature. So powerful that the SST in open ocean can never exceed 305K; in fact it rarely exceeds 304K.

Reply to  Andy May
December 9, 2020 7:51 pm

As far as I know no one has had prior problems with the ms onedrive links. A large number of people have viewed the linked files. The links state no password required when I copy them.

If you know another hosting site that allows access I can post them there.

Alastair Brickell
Reply to  RickWill
December 9, 2020 8:08 pm

December 9, 2020 at 7:51 pm

Yes, I agree…I can open them fine with Firefox. No password required.

Reply to  RickWill
December 9, 2020 9:58 pm

And the second link

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Reply to  RickWill
December 9, 2020 10:00 pm


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Reply to  Andy May
December 9, 2020 9:54 pm

Here are Rick’s graphs (hope you don’t mind, Rick)

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Reply to  fred250
December 9, 2020 10:05 pm

Thanks Fred.

They are there for enlightenment from the dark religious forces dedicated to the church of Climate Change.

Reply to  fred250
December 9, 2020 10:53 pm

Hate to say this Rick,

But there is not much possibility of most of these climate clowns reaching enlightenment !

The minds are closed shut !

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  DMacKenzie
December 10, 2020 12:10 pm

The albedo of oceans, meaning the apparent relative brightness from a nadir viewing position, may well be about 0.06. However, the reflectance from water is both specular and diffuse, where the diffuse component is a function of suspended particles, such as plankton and sediment, and varies with the time of year and weather. The specular component varies with latitude and time of day, and can vary from 2% to 100%. As the specular reflectivity component approaches 100%, the diffuse component decreases because less light is making it into the water. There can also be a ‘glitter’ component when there are a lot of whitecaps, which increases the reflectivity because of specular reflection off the wind-driven waves. In summary, the total reflectivity of oceans is almost certainly higher than 6%.

Alasdair Fairbairn
December 10, 2020 2:36 am

Am I being pedantic when I read the often repeated claim, which is true, that the oceans comprise around 71% of the Earth’s surface and think that ‘Well that may well be; but what of the ACTUAL area of the water/atmosphere interface’? For that is what is important in climate matters. This area being immense when you consider what goes on in the leaves of plants etc. Indeed much the same as what goes on on the surface of the oceans.

December 10, 2020 4:10 am

In order to produce clouds and rain (which we witness happening), the water at the very top layer of the oceans must be ca. 100 C or close (at 1 atm).
It is only the UV and all radiation < 200nm that can do this.
Find the variation in this radiation coming through the atmosphere, and you will find the one good reason for the warming of the oceans, and thus the earth.
Did you guys notice the difference in warming rate of the NH and the SH?

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  HenryP
December 10, 2020 12:20 pm

You said, “… the water at the very top layer of the oceans must be ca. 100 C or close (at 1 atm).” Water molecules can transition to the vapors state at less than 100 deg C. Observe a pan of hot water steaming when carried outdoors on a cold day. What is important to consider is the partial pressure of water vapor above the liquid. Wind can add energy to the surface of water and allow water molecules to break free of the surface and become a vapor. Water molecules can even skip the intermediate liquid state and go directly to vapor in the process called sublimation.

Mickey Reno
December 10, 2020 6:53 am

If we try to take a small cross-section of any portion of the climate/energy budget system as representative, we’re going to get into the same kind of game-playing we have now with using dodgy statistics and replacing real world observations with bulls*** FORTRAN grid models to simplify a wickedly complex problem. What we need to measure is the BIG FLYWHEEL. Claiming we’re measuring overturning of large ocean basins and El Nino cycles are likewise, fraught with complicating factors that will lead to mischief.

That’s why I have repeatedly advocated for the measuring of ocean currents at fixed sites, at depth, to try and ascertain how much water and energy is being moved, so we can then hope to extrapolate how much is being buffered and/or released. After we have some of this data for a couple of hundred years, we might be able to claim we know something about how atmospheric temperature relates to ocean heat storage. Your Progressives and your AOCs and your Sheldon Whitehouses don’t want to think about periods of hundreds of years, because that defeats their Fabian socialist Utopia (i.e. their Venezuelan-style command economy) from happening right now.

December 10, 2020 7:40 am

The amount of energy required for evaporation to occur is related to the pressure of the atmosphere bearing down on the ocean surface The higher the atmospheric pressure the higher the water temperature has to become in order to break the bonds between water molecules so that they convert to a gas.
Therefore, the amount of energy that the oceans will hold is determined by the weight of atmospheric mass at any given level of insolation.
The structure of the temperature profile across the top layer is proof that evaporation takes energy out of the water faster than sunshine and conduction from the air can put it in. It is common knowledge that that profile is reversed by the speed of energy taken out in evaporation so that the coolest water is at the top despite that being where insolation is strongest.
Thus the temperature of the oceans is controlled by atmospheric mass and not radiative gases.
I went into it all in some detail several years ago:

and I long ago wrote about Ocean Cycles controlling atmospheric temperatures and even introduced the term ‘Hot Water Bottle Effect’ as an alternative to the radiative Greenhouse Effect.

Reply to  Stephen Wilde
December 10, 2020 10:06 am

Hi Stephen!
Good to hear from you again. Good sceptics keep going ….

We had the big accident here with a Japanese vessel spilling an enormous of oil at the coast of Mauritius. On my holiday here to the coast (ca. 100 km below Durban, South Africa) I noticed oil washing ashore. I made some pictures which I will soon turn into a blog post.
The pollution is really scary. We missed seeing sea birds. However, my question is: do you (also) think that oil on the surface of the water could serve as trap keeping heat in?

Reply to  HenryP
December 11, 2020 2:44 am

Locally, yes but convection changes around the affected area will neutralise it for the planet as a whole.
If the entire Earth’s Ocean surface were similarly affected then there would be a suitable shift in global convective overturning to deal with that too.
The thing is that for any atmosphere to be retained long term the upward pressure gradient from the surface (temperature linked) must always match the downward force of gravity.
Anything that successfully alters surface temperatures permanently causes the atmosphere to be lost to space or to fall to the ground.
The vast variation in the proportion of GHGs in atmospheres shows that the thermal effects from those GHGs are being neutralised without a change in average surface temperature though the distribution around the surface will be affected.
The radiative greenhouse effect is false science. The real cause is the mechanical process of convective overturning. Climatologists currently have a radiative only concept which leads to an incorrect conclusion. Taking into account mechanical processes solves the problem.

December 10, 2020 10:10 am

Hi Stephen!
Good to hear from you again. Good sceptics keep going ….

We had the big accident here with a Japanese vessel spilling an enormous of oil at the coast of Mauritius. On my holiday here to the coast (ca. 100 km below Durban, South Africa) I noticed oil washing ashore. I made some pictures which I will soon turn into a blog post.
The pollution is really scary. We missed seeing sea birds. However, my question is: do you (also) think that oil on the surface of the water could serve as trap keeping heat in?

Reply to  HenryP
December 10, 2020 2:31 pm

Hi Henry.
I think I’ve got it nailed now with my work on convection assisted by Philip Mulholland and recently published here.
The enhanced surface temperature on planets with atmospheres is caused by convection within the mass of the atmospheric gases and not radiation and for a water planet like Earth the weight of the atmosphere on the ocean surface sets the equilibrium temperature of the oceans.
If radiative gases are present then convection adjusts to neutralise any thermal effect.

Richard M
Reply to  Stephen Wilde
December 13, 2020 10:38 am

“If radiative gases are present then convection adjusts to neutralise any thermal effect.

Exactly right. This leads to the ocean’s mixed layer driving the global atmospheric temperature.

One key factor often omitted in understanding ocean temperature is salinity. Higher salinity reduces evaporation and allow the oceans to warm. This is the likely cause of the warming we’ve seen since the depths of the LIA.

Steve Richards
December 10, 2020 12:09 pm


This paper from 1998 seems to back up your point of view re the SST of 27C to 32C seeming critical:

“Relationship between sea surface temperature, vertical dynamics, and the vertical distribution of atmospheric water vapor inferred from TOVS observations.”

Available from:

Reply to  Steve Richards
December 10, 2020 4:24 pm

It loses me in the first sentence:

Water vapor, owing to its abundance, is the most important greenhouse gas ..

Any paper that gives credence to a fairytale deserves derision.

However it does link SST to high clouds. What it fails to do is to consider the impact on reflected energy. It only looks at one side of the equation, OLR, so fails to look at what is important – the net energy flux.

I have developed a high vertical resolution single column atmospheric model that enables me to determine the precise conditions for a level of free convection and the radiating power of the column under different atmospheric conditions. That enables me to determine that 30mm total water column was the key factor in establishing cloudburst and over 38mm for daily cloudburst. All the data validates this.

I have not seen any published data on the 30mm being essential to cloudburst.

Wim Röst
December 10, 2020 3:20 pm
December 10, 2020 8:29 pm

Thanks, Andy, and I look forward to the rest.

re “ The ocean mixed layer is a zone that begins between one millimeter and roughly ten meters below the ocean surface. Above this depth, temperatures are affected minute-by minute by the atmosphere and sunlight.“: The top say 1mm is, as I understand it, indeed affected by atmosphere and sunlight. In the opposite direction, nothing outside that top mm can have any direct effect on atmosphere – any other water that wants to affect the atmosphere has to move into the top mm in order to do it. So that top mm controls the whole of the oceans’ impact on the atmosphere.

But sunlight in the visible spectrum can and does directoy affect water below the top 1mm.

To digress a bit : That’s why, again in my understanding, so many species developed with eyes that could see the visible spectrum – they were the only wavelengths that reached them in any quantity, and when species moved out onto the land there was no need to change.

Reply to  Mike Jonas
December 10, 2020 8:32 pm

typo: directly

December 10, 2020 10:50 pm

The temperature difference between the SST and the stable portion of the mixed layer can be three to six degrees daily

It’s worse dunn we fort!!

Ocean temperatures 3-6 degrees warmer than surface measurements?
That means we’re way past 1.5 degrees heating already!

So – why aren’t we all dead?
How are we still here?

December 11, 2020 8:31 am

This observation should be intuitively obvious to the most casual observer. Any person that has taken a large cooler on a camping trip has observed this phenomenon. The operators and engineers at power plants, refineries, storage facilities, water plants, etc. have observed this. The power plant I worked at had several million gallon water storage tanks. Those tanks temperature changed minimally from day to night and day to day. All above ground and uninsulated. The temperature chart recorder was essentially a straight line. It took months to see a drop in temperature as winter approached and the day time highs rarely went over freezing temps.

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