By Jim Steele
In the summer of 2020, the media hyped various versions of “Tropical Oceans on the Path to Collapse within the Next 10 Years”. One outlet warned: "Global warming is about to tear large holes in the earth's delicate web of life." A single peer-reviewed paper instigated these apocalyptic headlines, which predicted that warming from CO2 would accelerate species extinction in tropical oceans. In contrast, I confidently bet any climatologist that something like this won't happen.
Unfortunately, some researchers are hoping to improve their fame and fortune by offering Dooms Day scenarios. Benefit from hungry media and scientific journals with the business models “If it bleeds, it leads”, which make you fear deception. Scientists are also consumed with their own fearful visions. Gaia scientist James Lovelock, predicted by global warming of 2100, would render the tropics uninhabitable and "billions of us will die," with some breeding pairs surviving in the Arctic. (To his credit, Lovelock retracted his alarmism.) Dr. Stanford's Paul Ehrlich falsely predicted that "hundreds of millions of people will starve to death" by the 1970s. So we have to wonder if ocean collapse is a real problem or just another scientist from the Chicken Little School of Science crying the wolf. We will know by 2030.
Fortunately, good scientists urge “ocean optimism” and teach lessons from our mistakes and successes. Overfishing and overhunting are definitely a significant threat to ocean ecosystems. Whales and sea lions, once near extinction because of their oils, are now recovering rapidly. Thanks to wise hunting regulations, Hawaii's endangered humpback whales grew from just 800 individuals in 1979 to 10,000 in 2005. The number of turtle nests in Florida rose from "62 in 1979 to 37,341 in 2015" as the green turtle populations of North and South America increased South Atlantic increased by 2,000% 3,000% each.
Likewise, fish populations will recover with better fishery management. Uncontrolled bottom trawls off the west coast of the United States have wiped out several species. Therefore, the fisheries managers put in place a total ban on fishing, as scientists expected a recovery of more than 100 years. Within just 10 years, a dramatic improvement has led both environmentalists and regulators to agree to reopen much of the coast for towing. Critical photosynthetic algae, diatoms, thrive quickly when swelling brings nutrient-rich, deep CO2-deep water back to sunlit surfaces. Diatom blooms stimulate the abundance of zooplankton that feed fast-growing bait fish such as anchovies and sardines, thus maintaining a food web from tuna to whales. And even more good news, since warming in the 1850s, buoyancy and marine life have increased dramatically.
Michael Mann and Kevin Trenberth run the neighborhood within the little chicken science school. You recently co-authored a "scary" paper called "Record Breaking Ocean Warmth, Continued 2019". Using the energy metric Zetta (1021) Joules, an incomprehensible foreign language to the public, they estimated that 25 Zetta Joules were heated in 2019. This results in a not-so-frightening increase of 0.009 ° C (0.016 ° F). Five thousand years ago, marine organisms thrived in waters that were about 2.7 ° F to 3.6 ° F warmer than they are today. At their supposed "record warming rate," it would take four to six hundred years to reach those earlier temperatures.
To be fair, it is extremely difficult to measure the heat content of the oceans. To improve our knowledge, a worldwide series of floating buoys, ARGO, was set up by 2003 to measure temperature up to 2000 meters and to regularly transmit data via satellite. We now know that ocean currents are far more complex than previously thought, and due to constant changes in the heat transport in the ocean, such as those caused by El Niño, the heat content of the ocean must differentiate between warmer temperatures due to heat redistribution versus warming by the sun or CO2 will. Unexpectedly by climate models, ocean heat transport caused 90% of recently increased ocean heat to accumulate in a narrow band of the Southern Ocean outside of the tropics, while the rate of warming in the Northern Hemisphere declines. However, ARGO data also reported cooler temperatures than previous less reliable ship measurements. Oddly enough, 0.216 ° F is added to the ARGO data. Such a large adjustment makes the estimated increase of 0.016 ° F / year very uncertain.
There is one more complication. Outside the tropics, the earth loses more heat than the sun or a greenhouse effect can provide. It is the heat transport to the poles that keeps the temperatures outside the tropics much warmer than usual. In the ancient climates of the Cretaceous and early Eocene periods, the polar regions with crocodiles in Greenland and lush coastal vegetation in Antarctica were much warmer than they are today. Such “fair climatic zones” can be explained by changing continental configurations and stronger ocean currents, which transport more heat from the tropics to the poles. However, the tropics did not cool down. The exported tropical heat was offset by a decreased cloud cover, which increased the solar heat. Ocean vibrations, which increase ocean heat transport today, most likely explain the warming of the Arctic in the 1930s.
Similarly, recent poleward, ice-melting heat transport with reduced cloud cover that increases solar heat may explain much of our recent climate change. We should know by 2030.
For publication in Battle Born Media newspapers
Jim Steele is Director Emeritus of San Francisco State's Sierra Nevada Field Campus, author of Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist's Journey to Climate Skepticism, and a member of the carbon coalition