After Overhyping Global Warming “Pause,” Media Ignore Ocean Warming Study

TV Media Neglect To Cover Evidence Explaining The “Pause” They Amplified

Warming ocean surface temperatures brought on by climate change prompt coral bleaching events and alter ocean chemistry via Duke University

A new study found that over the last 60 years the intermediate depths of the Pacific Ocean have warmed 15 times faster than in the past 10,000 years, providing more evidence that the “slowdown” in atmospheric temperature warming over the last 15 years may simply be due to the oceans storing more heat. However, this study was neglected by the same TV outlets who hyped the “slowdown” or “pause,” sometimes without including this crucial context.

The study, published in Science on November 1, shows the enormous potential for oceans to act a “storehouse for heat and energy,” providing support for the notion that a recent speed bump in atmospheric temperature rise in the past 15 years can be explained by excess heat from global warming being absorbed by the oceans. Study coauthor and Columbia University climate scientist Braddock Linsley explained, “We're experimenting by putting all this heat in the ocean without quite knowing how it's going to come back out and affect climate.”

Rate of ocean warming - Brad Linsley via Washington Post

The recent findings were not covered by top U.S. TV outlets,* even though many of those same outlets recently focused on the “slowdown.” A Media Matters study found that forty-one percent of media coverage of the the United Nations' International Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) major report mentioned the “slowdown.” A CBS segment on the report, for example, focused on the speed bump, calling it an “inconvenient truth” that “the global atmosphere hasn't been warming lately,” and turning to a “skepti[c]” without a climate science background to cast doubt on climate change.

Focus on the warming “pause” has received criticism as it's misleading to use a short-term time period to draw conclusions. The IPCC explained, “natural variability and short term factors” causes uncertainty, and the short time period is “very sensitive to the beginning and end dates and do not in general reflect long-term climate trends.” For example, many use the start date of 1998, but this year had an abnormally strong El Nino, temporarily amplifying atmospheric temperatures. As Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at NASA told Mother Jones, “If you shift just 2 years earlier, so use 1996-2010 instead of 1998-2012, the trend is 0.14 C per decade, so slightly greater than the long-term trend.” 

This chart from Skeptical Science illustrates the phenomenon:

Skeptical Science

The recent ocean heat study reportedly “suggests that the recent pause in global warming may just reflect random variations in heat going between atmosphere and ocean, with little long-term importance.” Or as physics professor Richard Muller put it, “The current pause is consistent with numerous prior pauses. When walking up stairs in a tall building, it is a mistake to interpret a landing as the end of the climb.”

*based on a TV Eyes search for “Pacific Ocean” from October 31, 2013 - November 4, 2013 for ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.