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From Coast to Coast to Coast, Canada's Ocean Temperatures Approach 4 Degrees Celsius Above Normal

September and October were the hottest months ever recorded and continued the record breaking streak commenced in April that almost assures 2014 will be the warmest year ever.

The manifestation of these temperature increases is evidenced from coast to coast to coast about Canada as ocean surface temperatures for September, shown in the NOAA image below, approached 4oC above normal, which is where the entire planet may be headed by the end of the century according to the World Bank unless immediate action is taken.

In 2009 Canada committed under the Copenhagen Accord to cut its emissions 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020 in the effort to keep global temperature increases below 2oC. 

By the government’s own estimates it will not come anywhere near to meeting that greenhouse gas target and local water temperatures have already blown through the maximum safe limit.

Climate skeptics, deniers and procrastinators have argued for the past decade that at a minimum the slowdown in the increase of measured global averaged surface temperatures, which began around 1998 in spite of the continued increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, means the Earth’s atmosphere is less sensitive to greenhouse gases than had been proposed and thus the climate problem precipitated by fossil fuel burning is overblown.

At one extreme, which is closer to the norm in Canadian government circles, this so-called warming hiatus, which now appears to be ending, has been posited as confirmation global warming does not exist.

In the alternative a study authored by Kevin Cowtan of the University of York and Robert Way of the University of Ottawa proposes the hiatus has not been as significant as has been suggested. They concluded measurements simply haven’t been taken where the Earth is warming, which is the Arctic, Antarctica, and Africa, where temperature monitoring stations are few and far between.

There are solid scientific reasons why these regions should be warming and a failure to measure those increases would skew the global average. First the equator is the warmest region of the planet and Africa is the largest land mass that traverses it. In fact besides Africa, a small portion of South America is the only other major land mass that is crossed by the equator.

By far the majority of the tropics and in fact the world is covered by water.     

The second law of thermodynamics states that heat flows from a warm region to a colder one so since the Arctic and Antarctica are the coldest regions of the planet it is only natural that tropical heat would flow there.

Since the poles are smaller masses than the tropics it also makes sense that they would be the fastest warming regions of the planet, as in fact they are, and this would explain why Canada’s northern waters are warming.

The most widely accepted rationale offered for the hiatus is that accumulating heat is going into deeper ocean waters. This too should come as little surprise considering it is estimated that 93% of the stored energy from climate change has gone into the oceans and their depths on average are considerably colder than their surfaces.

These depths are the largest cold sink on the planet into which heat can flow. The reason they do not take up virtually all of the heat accumulating as a result of climate change is the natural tendency for heat to rise. As witnessed by hot air balloons and warming water on a stove, heated gases and liquids are less dense than when cold and therefore rise.

The oceans are warming gradually from the top down therefore it takes considerable time for heat to diffuse into deeper water. As shown in the following graph produced by The Science of Doom’s Steve Carson the top 10 meters of the ocean absorb 80% of solar radiation, which does not reach beyond the top 100 meters.

 

From there it takes about 350 years for surface heat to penetrate to a depth of 1000 meters whereas the industrial revolution and its consequent massive burning of fossil fuels only started 250 years ago.       

Such slow migration cannot therefore dissipate the heat accumulating in the oceans surface fast enough to save us from the consequences of that accumulation.

A team lead by Matthew England of  the Australian ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of New South Wales, suggested earlier this year Pacific trade winds were another mechanism moving surface heat into deeper water with the result global surface warming was stalled – for now (as of February 2014).   

These winds drove heat deeper into Western Pacific waters as shown in the following graphic.

 

As England presciently warned 10 months ago however, “when the hiatus ends, global warming looks set to be rapid.”

As the winds have subsided ocean surface heat has sloshed back towards the Eastern Pacific and much of it has moved up Canada’s west coast.

Another study released just three months ago says an Atlantic current carrying water north from the tropics has sped up this century and has sucked more warm water down to 1,500 metres as part of a natural shift that typically lasts about three decades. Those researchers claim this was the cause of the hiatus but also cautioned that the relief offered by this mechanism would be short lived.

As witnessed by the September sea surface temperature graphic, Atlantic sequestration seems less likely or else ended prematurely since the temperature of those waters above the equator is also rising, particularly off Canada’s east coast.

The common denominator for hiatus explanations has been heat movement from the surface to deeper water.

This Canadian has offered the same approach using heat pipes to overcome the natural resistance to rapid heat diffusion into the deep as an enduring climate and energy solution.

Perhaps in view of the unprecedented warming occurring now off our coasts more Canadian decision makers as well as interested parties might start considering solutions to the situation that is likely to soon become a predicament.  

Once back on the surface the heat that was safely sequester in the deep for most of this century is unlikely to naturally go back there anytime soon and instead will help to accelerate the planet towards 4C and its consequences.

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