It was the trade winds that dunnit

I foreshadowed last time a post on a paper that purports to explain the ‘hiatus’ in global warming through the action of trade winds. The paper is by Matthew England as lead author, and others, and it was published a few days ago in Nature Climate Change. You can view a three-minute talk about it by Professor England at the UNSW website, here. A good summary might be this: Heat stored in the western Pacific Ocean caused by an unprecedented strengthening of the equatorial trade winds appears to be largely responsible for the hiatus in surface warming observed over the past 13 years … a dramatic acceleration in winds has invigorated the circulation of the Pacific Ocean, causing more heat to be taken out of the atmosphere and transferred into the subsurface ocean, while bringing cooler waters to the surface.

The authors warn that when the winds slow down the warming will return. One of the newspaper reports called it a ‘landmark study’, and it has certainly gone global, with newspapers and websites everywhere commenting on it. And the ordinary reader is tempted to say, well, it may be the case. And it may be. But a curious reader might want to ask what caused the winds to accelerate. He or she might also wonder whether, if these winds can temper warming due to carbon dioxide accumulation over the past decade or so, might it have done so in the past as well, and might the winds rather than carbon dioxide have the predominant role in temperature change.

In short, Professor England seems to have accepted the fact of the ‘hiatus’, but his explanation for it rather brings into question the whole AGW hypothesis: that carbon dioxide is the control knob. Plainly, it isn’t, while these winds blow, if that really is the explanation. And what about this ‘dramatic acceleration’ in the winds? That puzzled me for two reasons. One is that we don’t actually have good data about winds in the past, and it turns out that Professor England accepts that is so: a lot of his paper is based on models and reanalysis, not on good hard data.

The other reason is that people were saying rather opposite things about the winds a few years ago. Here is one account, from Nature in 2006: The vast loop of winds that drives climate and ocean behavior across the tropical Pacific has weakened by 3.5% since the mid-1800s, and it may weaken another 10% by 2100, according to a study led by University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) scientist Gabriel Vecchi. Unsurprisingly, the author said that the only plausible explanation for the slowdown is human-induced climate change. The ABC Science Unit apparently reported both stories, much as they are summarised here, but apparently without noticing in these last few days that they went in opposite directions.

All in all, this is a paper that cries out for good data and better argument. Because the oceans are vastly larger than the atmosphere, one would normally expect the oceans to have a major effect on the atmosphere and thus on the winds, rather than the winds having a profound effect on the ocean. And if all this heat is being pushed into the oceans, two questions arise. The first is why we can’t actually find much evidence of the warming in the Argo buoy data. There is a bit of extra heat, on some measures, but there is also a good of uncertainty about the accuracy of the data. There’s not much evidence of sea-level rising because of the extra heat, which you would expect to be the case because of thermal expansion. And when there really was a lot of extra heat, in the 1980s and 1990s, there was no obvious increase in the sea-levels in consequence.

The second question is where the heat goes and how it is to come out again. The notion that the missing heat has somehow passed through the first 2,000 metres of ocean depth, and is hidden in the ocean depths, has always seemed to me a highly implausible hypothesis. The England hypothesis doesn’t seem any more powerful to me. The oceans are so vast that the small amount of warming that is involved would hardly be noticed there. Oh, and when and how and why does it emerge, to bring on ‘the return of warming’?

If you want to read a tough-minded and highly skilled assessment of the England paper, go to Jo Nova, where you will also find a thoughtful contextual account of the issue by William Kinninmonth, who used to be in charge of the National Climte Centre in our Bureau of Meteorology. So far, I have seen no defence by the authors or their supporters  of these analyses. Skeptical Science will tell you that the England paper is ‘consistent’ with climate research, but it doesn’t attempt at all to deal with the quite sceptical analyses that I have mentioned.

Join the discussion 16 Comments

  • Walter Starck says:

    As usual in alarmist climate science England et al. make selective use of data. In this instance no consideration is given to the fact that evaporation is proportional to wind speed. Stronger trade winds would result in more evaporation and thus removal of heat from the ocean to the atmosphere. The wind speed/vaporation relationship is real, measurable and well known. The driving of surface heat into the deep sea by trade winds suggested by England et al. is hypothetical, unmeasured and undemonstrated.

    • Peter Kemmis says:

      Spot on, Walter. But I think we should be kinder to the warministas. It’s quite unfair that we leave them to flounder, seeking to explain why the observations are so intransigent. We should devise a range of possible reasons for which they might seek all that good research funding. So here are a few, and perhaps other contributors may wish to add some –

      ** Planetary movements
      ** Dark matter and heat energy loss through inter-stellar photon exchange
      ** Extreme particulate discharge from African dung-based cooking fires
      ** Cooling of troposphere from naturally varying accretion of Antarctic ice, which itself has arisen from changed polar winds, that change arising from the theoretically claimed variations in trade winds . . .

      And then we could move into the behavioural sciences (there’s sure to be a quid in that for some research) –

      ** Denialism as an extreme form of capitalism
      ** Religion, authority, and global warming – with the decline in religious authority, denialism is just another protest movement
      ** Denialism – a major threat to social cohesion . . .

      • dlb says:

        Good idea Peter, perhaps they could also do some studies on the following anecdotes.

        1. Why is the number of sceptics squared proportional to the length of the pause?

        2. Why is the number of MSM articles on climate change inversely proportional to the length of the pause?

        3. Why is the number of AGW faithful constant regardless of the length of the pause?

        4. Why is the number of ABC features on climate change a constant through the length of the pause?

        5. Is (3) and (4) related?

        • Peter Kemmis says:

          Delightful! However, I note with some dismay that all of your suggestions fall into the category of behavioural sciences. Does this indicate a lack of correct scientific knowledge and understanding on your part, or have I missed something?

          Perhaps I’ll have to go away and do something serious with my time, such as to think.

          Nevertheless, if your first assumption is correct (and I am reminded of the number of angels one can fit on the end of a pin), there must be a clear mathematical but inverse correlation between the square of the number of sceptics, and the number of MSM articles on climate change. If this is true, does it mean that non-sceptics are becoming a diminishing readership of those MSM articles?

          Concerning your outrageous proposals # 3 and # 4, should these in the unlikely event turn out to be true, I can suggest no more than some form of intellectual rigor mortis has set in, and in that case, #3 and #4 are indeed related.

          On reading Macbeth the first time, I could wonder what might happen. Older, and reading it the second time, I can but wonder that it could unfold in any other way. So it will be with CAGW, which despite our Fool’s humour, has been and still is a stupid, stupid tragedy, like the wash of an unseen war against the defenceless and the voiceless.

  • Peter Bobroff says:

    Very interesting site on world winds and lots of other stuff.
    I found it a bit confusing at first.
    Holding the left button down allows dragging the map.
    Clicking on the word “earth” brings up the settings box
    and then clicking on “earth” again removes the settings box.
    Double left clicking on the map zooms in.
    Only way to zoom out seems to be the browser “back” button
    or changing the language in the “earth” setting box go back to full world.

    Here is the Pacific with winds and the Total Precipitable Water.,-6.78,425

  • Mike O'Ceirin says:

    As you dealt with in the last post the key thing is the models. It really does not matter what the reason is for the now increasingly admitted pause.

    All the models are wrong and despite spending billions and devoting huge resources we are no
    closer now to predicting future climate than we were in 1988 when Hansen started it all. What has happened is a lot of people have made lots of money from the scam and scientific credibility has suffered greatly. Climatology is populated in the main by fraudsters or fools.

  • Barry's mum says:

    You should add this one to your blogroll:

    Mark does a great job at keeping the bastards at the ABC honest and has actually won some complaints (which, from a climate skeptic pov is quite an achievement). I believe (??) he’s a geologist by trade so he knows his stuff. From my own surfing Mark was the first one with this story (and has submitted a complaint/question to the ABC).

  • David says:


    Another week and another theory. Put your “new” ideas in a model and test them. 🙂

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Surely we’ve been through this before, unless your post is a jest. I don’t have new ideas, or a model, and I have no need of them. I don’t have to have an alternative theory. My sceptical position is to examine the claims that doom awaits us, and use my nous and experience to guide me in considering what I read. I don’t have to have my ideas accepted by a peer-reviewed journal, either.

      And you can’t test models except by reference to actual observations. That is why the climate models are no good — the observations just don’t support them.

      • David says:

        Yes Don that comment was meant in jest, hence the “:).” So, no I don’t expect you to produce model of your own. But if you did I would be interested.

        You are extremely confident in your own analytical abilities. A statement like

        “That is why the climate models are no good — the observations just don’t support them.”

        is very black and white outlook. Models produce coefficients with confidence intervals. You need to examine both elements before inferring some conclusions. I would have though a more circumspect position would be wise.

        • Don Aitkin says:


          OK, it was a quick summary, but the previous post

          showed a diagram where only two of the 90 models were any good at all for getting the temperatures so far in the right quarter. I don’t need to be extremely confident in my own analytical abilities when the work has already been done for me by an expert!

          • David says:

            Well lets put it this way you are extremely confident in your ability to select the correct climate expert. 🙂

          • Don Aitkin says:

            I see the jest this time, but the data are the key, not the expert. All the expert did was to draw the diagram. The data are publicly available.

            One of the real changes in this domain over the last ten years is the increasing amount of data that is now available. People play around with models, but they have to be given real data at some point, and the dissident side contains plenty of people who are competent at the analysis of data too. The speed with which the England et al. paper was dissected provides an excellent example.

          • David says:

            Very true. The data are key and I the end they will reveal which theory is correct .
            I think one thing we can all agree on is that we hope the warmists are wrong!

Leave a Reply