Ocean Heat: New Study Shows Climate Scientists Can Still Torture Data until the Data Confess

A week or so ago, a troll left a link at my blog to a supposed-to-be-alarming blog post about a new climate study of ocean heat content. According to the study, a revised method of tweaking ocean heat reconstructions has manufactured new warming so that the top 700 meters of the oceans are warming faster than predicted by climate models. In other words, the “missing heat” is missing no more.

The new paper is Cheng et al. (2015) Global Upper Ocean Heat Content Estimation: Recent Progress and the Remaining Challenges. (Not paywalled, pre-print edition is available.) John Abraham, alarmist extraordinaire from SkepticalScience and The Guardian’s blog ClimateConsensus, was a coauthor. See Abraham’s post The oceans are warming faster than climate models predicted. Can anyone guess the goal of their study from the title of Abraham’s post?

While the stories about the paper focused on the newly manufactured warming, the paper itself was somewhat critical of (1) the large uncertainties in the reconstructions, (2) the lack of consensus in infilling (mapping) methods used in the reconstructions and (3) climate model simulations of ocean warming. The Cheng et al. abstract reads:

Ocean heat content (OHC) change contributes substantially to global sea level rise, so it is a vital task for the climate research community to estimate historical OHC. While there are large uncertainties regarding its value, in this study, the authors discuss recent progress to reduce the errors in OHC estimates, including corrections to the systematic biases in expendable bathythermograph (XBT) data, filling gaps in the data, and choosing a proper climatology. These improvements lead to a better reconstruction of historical upper (0–700 m) OHC change, which is presented in this study as the Institute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP) version of historical upper OHC assessment. Challenges still remain; for example, there is still no general consensus on mapping methods. Furthermore, we show that Coupled Model Intercomparison Project, Phase 5 (CMIP5) simulations have limited ability in capturing the interannual and decadal variability of historical upper OHC changes during the past 45 years.

Bottom line: To manufacture the new warming, Cheng et al. adjusted, tweaked, modified (tortured) subsurface ocean temperature reconstructions to the depths of 700 meters starting in 1970.

My Figure 1 compares the “unadjusted” data versus the much-adjusted ocean heat content reconstruction from the NODC. It is not the data presented in Cheng et al. (I used the UKMO EN3 reconstruction for the NODC “unadjusted” data. It used to be available through the KNMI Climate Explorer.) I’m providing Figure 1 to give you an idea of how horribly the data had already been mistreated to prepare the base NODC reconstruction.

Figure 1c

Figure 1

If you were to read Cheng et al., they bounce back and forth between the metrics of ocean heat content and average subsurface temperatures, both to depths of 700 meters. That is, in the text, Cheng et al. present trends in ocean heat content for the period of 1970 to 2005, but in their Figure 4, my Figure 2, they’re showing trends for subsurface ocean temperatures. (Their Figure 4 made the rounds in the warmist blogs and mainstream media.) It appears climate scientists have realized the public will relate better to temperature than joules. But the trends listed on the graph are so minute, shown in ten-thousandths of a degree C per year, they’re likely losing some of their audience with all of those zeroes.

Figure 2 - Fig 4 From Cheng et al 2015

Figure 2

Presenting the subsurface ocean reconstructions using those two metrics is not unusual. Subsurface ocean temperature reconstructions and ocean heat content reconstructions mimic one another because subsurface ocean temperatures are the primary component of ocean heat content. You just have to keep track of which metric they’re discussing and illustrating.

Take a closer look at the results of the revised Cheng et al. reconstruction (red curve) in the top cell (Cell a) of their Figure 4 (my Figure 2) and the curve of the data using the “NODC-mapping” method of infilling (blue curve), which is not the NODC data.  We can see Cheng et al. employed the cool-the-early-data method to increase the warming rate for the period of 1970 to 2005. [sarc on] They’re probably saving the warm-the-more-recent-data method for the next paper, which will then show the oceans warming even faster so the modelers can crank up climate sensitivities. [sarc off]

After seeing the trends listed on their Figure 4 for the “NODC-mapping” method, I decided to check to see what the vertical mean temperature reconstruction directly from the NODC website shows for the world oceans, to 700 meters, for the period of 1970 to 2005 (data here.) See my Figure 3.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Isn’t that amazing? Using the “NODC-mapping” method, Cheng et al. show a warming rate for the global oceans of +0.0045 deg C/year for the period of 1970-2005, but the reconstruction for the same depths of 0-700 meters directly from the NODC website show a warming rate of only +0.0033 deg C/year. Now consider that the outcome of Cheng et al.’s new method of infilling the oodles and oodles of missing data in the depths of the oceans shows the global oceans warming at a rate of +0.0061 deg C/ year.   In other words, for the period of 1970 to 2005, Cheng et al. have almost doubled the warming rate of the basic NODC reconstruction for the depths of 0-700 meters.

Now, I guess you’re wondering about the differences in warming rates between the Cheng et al. “NODC-mapping” method and the reconstruction at the NODC website itself. Under the heading of “2 Data”, Cheng et al. write:

Assessment of OHC change relies on in-situ temperature observations. In this study, ocean subsurface temperature profiles for 1970–2014 are from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP) and the Global Ocean Temperature (IGOT) dataset (Cheng and Zhu, 2014b), which is a quality-controlled and bias-corrected dataset. The in-situ temperature profiles of the IGOT dataset are sourced from the World Ocean Database 2013 (WOD13) (Boyer et al., 2013).

In other words, it appears for the Cheng et al. results, the (1) data starts out as the observations-based data from the NODC’s World Ocean Database, then (2) the data are mistreated for the IGOT reconstruction, and, not satisfied with those results, (3) Cheng et al. tortured the IGOT reconstruction even more for this study and presented it two ways and one of those ways was the “NODC-mapping” method.

Did you notice the other remarkable coincidence? In their Figure 4 (my Figure 2) Cheng et al. show a climate model-simulated warming rate of +0.0053 deg C/year…for the multi-model mean of the climate models stored in the CMIP5 archive. That’s the archive used by the IPCC for their 5th Assessment Report published in 2013. The (good) “Observation” reconstruction presented by Cheng et al. has a trend of +0.0061 deg C/ year, while the already-tweaked and tweaked again (bad) “NODC-mapping” reconstruction shows a trend of +0.0045 deg C/year. The average of the “good” and “bad” reconstructions is +0.0053 deg C/year, exactly the same as the models. [sarc on.] Kind of, sort of, looks like the revisions to the data were planned to surround the models. Sheesh! [sarc off.]


For years, climate scientists have been concerned about the “missing heat”, which was the difference between modeled and observed ocean warming to depth. The actual value of the missing heat has always been hard to find because the modeled ocean heat content and depth-averaged temperature of the oceans are not available in an easy-to-use format…from the KNMI Climate Explorer for example. Luckily, for the depths of 0-700 meters, Cheng et al. listed a warming rate for the global oceans of +0.0053 deg C/year for the multi-model mean of the CMIP5 climate models, while the reconstruction directly from the NODC website show a warming of only +0.0033 deg C/year. While the missing heat isn’t actually half of what was predicted by the models, it’s still a big chunk…almost 40%. That missing heat, of course, suggested that the climate models were way to sensitive to carbon dioxide.

But things have changed rapidly in the past few years. Climate scientists have not only “found” the missing heat by tweaking their reconstruction methods, they’ve manufactured more heat than the models show by torturing the reconstructions even more.

Unfortunately for the climate science community, no matter how they mistreat the source data, their reconstructions are still make-believe. Why?   There’s very little source data, especially in the Southern Hemisphere.   See Figure 4, which is an annotated version of Figure 13 from Abraham et al. (2013) Review of Ocean Temperature Observations: Implications for Ocean Heat Content Estimates and Climate Change. The IPCC used an edited version of it in Chapter 3: (Observations Ocean) of their 5th Assessment Report. See the IPCC’s Figure 3.A.2. We discussed the IPCC’s version in the post AMAZING: The IPCC May Have Provided Realistic Presentations of Ocean Heat Content Source Data.

Figure 4

Figure 4

Is it any wonder why Cheng et al. didn’t bother trying to reconstruct the temperature observations below 700 meters?

For more information about the numerous problems with ocean heat content reconstructions, see the post Is Ocean Heat Content Data All It’s Stacked up to Be?

Once again, the climate science community has shown, when the models perform poorly, they won’t question the science behind the models, they are more than happy to manufacture warming by adjusting the data to meet or exceed the warming rate of the models.

This paper will make a nice addition to a chapter in my upcoming book. Thanks, Cheng et al.

About Bob Tisdale

Research interest: the long-term aftereffects of El Niño and La Nina events on global sea surface temperature and ocean heat content. Author of the ebook Who Turned on the Heat? and regular contributor at WattsUpWithThat.
This entry was posted in Ocean Heat Content Problems. Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Ocean Heat: New Study Shows Climate Scientists Can Still Torture Data until the Data Confess

  1. Your figure 3 is typical of the noisy data one sees everywhere in climate science. Any data analyst can tell at a glance–from long experience–that the devil is in the noise (and the shortness of the time period involved), and that the trend could easily be, not 0.0033°C/yr, but as small as, say, 0.0016°C/yr., in other words an uncertainty of about +/- 0.0016°C/yr in the trend (and that’s just for the featured 35-year time period; the longer-term trend could easily be zero.) The point is that the 0.0045°C/yr, for the “NODC mapping method” differs from the “NODC website” trend of 0.0033°C/yr by almost the full uncertainty in the underlying data, and the 0.0061°C/yr of the “Cheng-infilling” method differs by twice that uncertainty, implying Cheng et al. tortured the data by fully twice the standard deviation in the data to get their “ha ha, it’s worse than we thought, so there” result. So I for one consider the use of the term “torture” in describing their efforts to be appropriate. As I recently wrote in my blog post, “It Is Fraud, Not Climate Science At All”, “The proper lesson of the present debate … is that the data used to calculate the global mean surface temperature (GMST) by today’s climate scientists is too noisy (naturally varying and uncertainly measured) to support any claim of global warming at all, and it has to be tortured–fraudulently, to any truly competent physical scientist–to do so. That’s what the man on the street should be hearing from any so-called “expert”.

  2. Centinel2012 says:

    Reblogged this on Centinel2012 and commented:
    These minions of the progressive movement have forfeited any and all of degrees they were given as they have violated every principle of science. Worse the are creating propaganda just like those the did the bidding of Hitler in the 1930’s. I see no difference between either group other than the language they they spoke.

  3. logodile says:

    Bob, we really have to be grateful for your continued skepticism with regards to all those publications. Your work is invaluable because without you, us “normal” people would have to accept all those pal-reviewed for not knowing better or for not knowing at all. Your critical and skeptical distance in these matters gives us, the public, other points of view to ponder. As long as you stick with available, reproducible and trustable data, you win hands down.
    Thank you for your eye-openers.

  4. Pingback: Paris World Summit of Conscience, International interfaith gathering #2 | Marcus Ampe's Space

  5. MRW says:

    I want to reinforce logodile’s comment. Thank you, Bob.

  6. Pamela Gray says:

    Bob, could you do me a big favor by teasing apart this graph and telling me what you think of it? If the depth of the isotherm is less (more) than climatological average in the El Nino 3.4 region, why do they call that a discharge (recharge) phase? Is it because during La Nina the mixed layer causes the 20D isotherm to be deeper and that during the El Nino phase the thermocline is more definitive, the water layered more clearly, thus the 20D isotherm is closer to the surface?

  7. Pamela Gray says:

    Forgot the link.
    Scroll down to “West and East WWV anomaly” under the bulleted “Tropical Pacific Ocean” sub heading.

  8. Bob Tisdale says:

    Pamela, I’ve never seen that “[NINO3.4, WWV] Phase Space” graph before. That might be a question for the NOAA ENSO blog.


  9. Pamela Gray says:

    Thanks for the link Bob. I sent in my question. I will let you know when they answer back.

  10. jlurtz says:

    Hi Bob,
    The El Nino, as you have artfully pointed out, consists of the deep ocean heat returning from Indonesia combined with the North Pacific and South Pacific currents. In addition, we know that the Sun creates the enormous upwelling of moist air that eventually causes the Trade Winds [Hadley Cell]. The Trade Winds move the Pacific Ocean Surface water to the West providing the energy to create the surface and deep ocean currents.

    Now that the Sun has reduced output [and will for the next 8 years, Solar Cycle Minimum], it will be interesting to watch how the El Nino surface water temperatures response. My view is that less Solar input causes reduced intensity Trade Winds and cooler ocean surface temperatures.

    I think that the El Nino will quietly go away; an opposite view to NOAA which states that this will be an extreme El Nino.

    What are your thoughts?

  11. Bob Tisdale says:

    jlurtz says: “Now that the Sun has reduced output [and will for the next 8 years, Solar Cycle Minimum]…”

    Sunspots are higher now than they were for the 1997/98 El Nino.

  12. jlurtz says:

    The Canadian surface water temperature image is one that removes a lot of noise. It gives a good view of the trends. My view is that there is a three year delay in the Ocean currents movements.
    Lets watch the El Nino ocean surface temperatures and see what happens.

    Thanks Bob

  13. Henry P says:

    jlurtz says
    Now that the Sun has reduced output [and will for the next 8 years, Solar Cycle Minimum],
    Henry says
    where did you measure that output? TOA? Sealevel, where?

  14. Pamela Gray says:

    I got a response regarding the phase graph over at the NOAA blog. The usual responder to questions, Anthony Barnston, said he didn’t see that particular graph in the particular blog I put my question in so could not explain it. I put a link to the graph in my question but for some reason unknown to me he can’t see it. I clicked on it and could see it just fine. Oh well.

  15. Pamela Gray says:

    I found an article by William S. Kessler who apparently first introduced this kind of graph.

    Click to access 2002GL015924.pdf

    And here is a powerpoint that uses his work.
    http://fizika.pmfst.hr/SWAP/files/jadrankap.pdf by this researcher http://jadran.izor.hr/~sepic/publications.html

    His work is very well respected in the continued development of knowledge surrounding the oscillator thesis, such as in this recent paper:

    Click to access dinezio.lanina_persistence.jclim14.pdf

    Kessler is still publishing on this and related topics:

  16. jlurtz says:

    I don’t use Sunspots; I use flux which is an actual energy measurement.

  17. Brad says:


    Someone had this comment when I posted your link on a Facebook page. I requested he come here and comment but believes you will ban him if he challenges you.

    “Well first of all, he seems to think that the y axis scale on Figure 2 is in ten thousandths of a degree, when it’s hundredths of a degree…”

    Maybe he will, maybe not.

  18. Bob Tisdale says:

    Brad, sounds like the person who wrote the comment is just playing games. Anyone who follows the link and reads the post can see quite clearly that I was talking about the trends listed on the graph, not the scale of the y-axis.

    PS: Why would the person who wrote the obviously erroneous comment worry about being banned here? That makes no sense, either. Is there a name associated with that comment?

  19. Bob Tisdale says:

    Pamela, thanks for all the links and the follow-up.


  20. Brad says:

    Thanks Bob. Maybe he’ll show up and comment.

  21. Bob Tisdale says:

    Brad, I’m not a FB member so I can’t track down the comment. Sounds like HotWhopper fan, though.


  22. Pamela Gray says:

    Here is Kessler’s home page. He has a fantastic Q&A section on El Nino.


  23. Henry P says:

    jlurtz says
    I don’t use Sunspots; I use flux which is an actual energy measurement.
    henry says
    so how does that work out in in joules per square meter on earth?

    It is winter here in southern Africa, and from where I stand, I could feel that the sun is hotter here than it was 20 years ago.

    Yet my finding is that earth as a whole is cooling down a bit.

    Go figure that out.

  24. Alec aka Daffy Duck says:

    Morning Bob… New this morning:

    The role of dynamically induced variability in the recent warming trend slowdown over the Northern Hemisphere

    Since the slowing of the trend of increasing surface air temperature (SAT) in the late 1990 s, intense interest and debate have arisen concerning the contribution of human activities to the warming observed in previous decades. Although several explanations have been proposed for the warming-trend slowdown (WTS), none has been generally accepted. We investigate the WTS using a recently developed methodology that can successfully identify and separate the dynamically induced and radiatively forced SAT changes from raw SAT data. The dynamically induced SAT changes exhibited an obvious cooling effect relative to the warming effect of the adjusted SAT in the hiatus process. A correlation analysis suggests that the changes are dominated primarily by the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), and Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). Our results confirm that dynamically induced variability caused the WTS. The radiatively forced SAT changes are determined mainly by anthropogenic forcing, indicating the warming influence of greenhouse gases (GHGs), which reached levels of 400 ppm during the hiatus period. Therefore, the global SAT will not remain permanently neutral. The increased radiatively forced SAT will be amplified by increased dynamically induced SAT when the natural mode returns to a warming phase in the next period.


  25. Bob Tisdale says:

    Thanks, Alec aka Daffy Duck. That closing sentence would be better written:
    The increased radiatively forced SAT will ONCE AGAIN be amplified by increased dynamically induced SAT when the natural mode returns to a warming phase in the next period AS IT WAS BEFORE THE RECENT SLOWDOWN.

  26. Bob Tisdale says:

    nevket240, thanks for the link. The not-so-surprising thing: It took the climate science community decades to realize they were comparing apples and oranges.

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