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A study from the Boulder, Colo.-based National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) claims to have found all that missing heat from global warming’s “lost decade: ” It’s lurking in Davy Jones’s locker.

According to official science, global temperatures were meant to rise this century in line with increasing levels of man-made carbon dioxide, but didn’t. Now the puzzle has allegedly been solved: the heat is more than 300 metres below the world’s oceans, where it appears conveniently safe from physical verification.

According to the study’s official press release, “deep oceans may absorb enough heat at times to flatten the rate of global warming for periods of as long as a decade – even in the midst of longerterm warming.”

Note “may” and “at times.” Note also how “periods as long as a decade” matches nicely with the (most recent) period of no warming that has to be explained (away).

The report, which claims that we should be prepared for several similar periods of non-warming in the coming century, “even as the trend toward overall warming continues,” is revealing on several counts. It amounts to a reluctant admission that global temperatures have indeed stalled. This fact has so far either been denied, ignored or buried beneath the claim that the past decade was still the hottest in the past 100 years (even if not by much).

Also, this newly identified mechanism, or at least hypothesis – by which greater depths heat up faster than the ocean surface – should, whatever its merits, confirm that climate science is far from “settled.” This comes on top of recent intense debate over the role of the Sun and clouds in Earth’s climate.

Meanwhile, the suspicion that politics continues to rule science is aroused by the identity of one of the authors of the NCAR study, Kevin Trenberth. Followers of the Climategate scandal – in which a series of internal emails to and from the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia clearly demonstrated that research results had been falsified and peer-review perverted – may remember Dr. Trenberth’s 2009 lament that: “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.. Our observing system is inadequate.”

Note that Dr. Trenberth doesn’t seem to countenance the possibility that the whole anthropogenic thesis – that the climate is driven by man-made industrial emissions – might be wrong. It is the absence of the real world to follow the models that is the alleged “travesty.”

Dr. Trenberth, it seems, has now found the explanation he needs in the NCAR study, but it doesn’t come from advances in the “observing system.” There is major controversy over measurement of surface temperatures – with monitoring stations being found near heat ducts and on hot tarmac – so you can imagine how difficult it would be to track ocean temperatures below 300 meters. The conclusion that the heat has been deep-sixed comes entirely from computer models.

According to the report, “simulations indicated that temperatures would rise by several degrees during this century. But each simulation also showed periods in which temperatures would stabilize for about a decade before climbing again.” Apparently, the claim that the deep ocean is warming faster than the upper ocean is explained by the fact that “surface waters converge to push heat into deeper oceanic layers.”

Interesting hypothesis, but it should be remembered that there is another aspect of Dr. Trenberth’s record that casts an even longer shadow not just over his objectivity but that of all official climate science. That revolves around the resignation from the IPCC in 2005 of hurricane expert Chris Landsea. Dr. Landsea quit because of flagrant misrepresentation of hurricane science by Dr. Trenberth, with the apparent backing of the IPCC’s highest authorities.

Dr. Landsea had been asked by Dr. Trenberth, an IPCC “Lead Author,” to write a section on Atlantic hurricanes for the Fourth Assessment Report. Shortly afterwards, Dr. Landsea was “perplexed” to see that Dr. Trenberth was to participate in a press conference to peddle the notion that global warming was “likely to continue spurring more outbreaks of intense hurricane activity.” Dr. Landsea noted that none of those participating were hurricane experts. Moreover, their alarmist conclusions – which were widely reported – clashed with the fact that no reliable, long-term upward trend in hurricane activity had been identified. Nor did Dr. Landsea and other experts project that global warming’s impact on hurricane activity would be significant.

When Dr. Landsea took his concerns to the head of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, Mr. Pachauri tried to brush him off by suggesting that Dr. Trenberth was somehow speaking in a personal capacity, and/or that he had been misquoted by the media. Neither claim was true. Dr. Landsea wrote in his letter of resignation, “It is beyond me why my colleagues would utilize the media to push an unsupported agenda that recent hurricane activity has been due to global warming.” The perception that Dr. Trenberth was speaking for the IPCC could, in Dr. Landsea’s view, only undermine the institution’s credibility. Dr. Landsea concluded that “Because of Dr. Trenberth’s pronouncements, the IPCC process . has been subverted and compromised, its neutrality lost.”

Dr. Landsea’s complaints were swamped by Hurricane Katrina. This latest study may thus have resolved Dr. Trenberth’s “travesty,” at least to his own satisfaction, but the travesty of the IPCC process – and the economic policy destruction for which it provides the justification – remains outstanding.

National Post, 21 September 2011