Tim Barnett, a leading oceanographer just retired from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, this Monday gave a talk to a convention of fire ecologists in San Diego called Future Climate of Earth: A Sneak Preview.
Barnett began by saying that he had seven grandkids, and he didn’t like to think about the world they were going to inherit from us. He then went on to succinctly explain why we know global warming is human-caused. Most of the warming in the earth is stored in the oceans–84%, Barnett said–and we have exact measurements of that warming, from millions of observations collected at various depths by over 3,000 buoys in oceans around the world over the last fifty years.
Because global temps have begun to soar in recent years, even as solar radiation has varied little, the sun can be eliminated as a cause, as can volcanic activity.
And if you look at the chart below, which tracks observations of warming in oceans around the world, you will see that natural variability does not come close to matching the observed warming, and that variability in a greenhouse gas scenario matches well. This is one reason scientists are confident that greenhouse gases are the cause of the recent warming of the planet.
Or, as Barnett put it in his talk: "The models got it right, and in six different oceans," each with its own warming.
But what troubles Barnett is that these models, which are already predicting huge climate changes, do not consider "the physics" of two known warming factors. Neither of these planetary changes was a significant factor in the past, which is why they are not incorporated into today’s models, but both are likely to become major problems soon, if they are not already.
One is the break-up of the Greenland Ice Sheet, which James Hansen discussed–with alarming slides–last year.
The other is the vast amount of methane, a greenhouse gas over twenty times more potent than carbon dioxide in the short run, being released by permafrost melting in warming Arctic regions. Barnett pointed out that in Alaska, travel over roads in the Arctic tundra passable only when frozen is now down to 100 days a year or less, from 200 days a year just thirty years ago.
"That’s the "olden times,"" Barnett noted. "Thirty years ago, the olden times." He had a number of other striking remarks.