Clearing Up the DeSmog Blog: Reducing Online Pollution

Published June 14, 2017

The latest issue of DeSmog Blog, a left-leaning anthropogenic global warming website, contains a number of statements intended to defame me, the Heartland Institute, and the journal Environment Pollution and Climate Change, an OMICS publication for which I serve as the editor in chief. Their June 11 article “Editor of New ‘Sham Journal’ Is Climate Science Denier with Ties to Heartland Institute” is highly incendiary, and is one of the crassest indictments I have ever seen in a “professional” discourse.

At the heart of this smear lie two studies I produced that challenge the “canon” of modern climate science. The papers from these studies, “The Correlation of Seismic Activity and Recent Global Warming (Journal of Earth Science and Climatic Change, 2016) and “The Correlation of Seismic Activity and Recent Global Warming: 2016 Update (Environment Pollution and Climate Change, 2017) conclude that the recent rise in global temperatures may be driven by additional geothermal flux from the ocean floor, not enhanced radiative trapping by anthropogenic CO2. This deduction is convincingly depicted by the time series (1979 – 2016) curves of global temperatures (gray) and mid-ocean seismic activity (red), a well-known proxy for geothermal heat release.


It is easy to see that the graph above shows a tight relationship between mid-ocean seismicity (and by association, geothermal flux) and global temperatures, a relationship that produces a correlation coefficient of 0.814. What this effectively says is that this relationship has only a 1% probability of occurring by chance, and it strongly suggests that there is some sort of cause and effect relationship at work. More importantly, refusing to explore the nature of that relationship would be considered scientific malpractice.

One has to engage the oceanographic literature to solve this puzzle, as the oceans hold roughly 1,000 times as much heat as the atmosphere. Although the total geothermal store for the oceans is small, its impact on ocean dynamics is immense. As Ballarotta et al. posit:

Although the ocean is largely heated and thermally driven at the surface, several recent studies suggest that the OGH (ocean geothermal heating) can also affect the ocean dynamic and heat budget. ….  By applying spatially constant or variable heat flux in Ocean General Circulation Models (OGCMs) forced with the present day climate, it is shown that the OGH is a significant forcing that can weaken the stability of the water column, warm the bottom water and strengthen the thermohaline circulation…” (Ballarotta, M. et al., (2015), “Impact of the oceanic geothermal heat flux on a glacial ocean state”, Climate of the Past Discussions11, 3597-3624).

The impact of this strengthened ocean circulation is profound. As reported by Mahajan, Zhang, and Delworth, a strengthening of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC is a component of the thermohaline circulation) is strongly linked to Arctic warming. To quote:

“An intensification of the AMOC is associated with an increase in the upward surface longwave, sensible, and latent heat fluxes from the ocean to the atmosphere along with an increased net downward surface shortwave heat flux into the ocean via the reduction in the surface albedo over the Labrador, Greenland, and Barents Seas in the fall and peaking in the winter…. The increased net upward heat flux from the more open ocean surface … as well as through the thinly ice-covered ocean to the atmosphere in the fall further increases the SAT (Surface Air Temperature) and inhibits sea ice formation in the winter … leading to the largest decrease in sea ice concentration and increase in Arctic SAT over the Labrador, Greenland, and Barents Sea in March.” (Mahajan, S., Zhang, R., and Delworth, T. (2011) “Impact of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) on Arctic Surface Air Temperature and Sea Ice Variability”, Journal of Climate, DOI:

These are the key points that the smear merchants at DeSmog have overlooked, ignored, or misunderstood. As Mr. Sherwood says in the DeSmog post:

“The peer-review process is meant to ensure that contributions to the literature explain clearly, do not violate known physical laws, and only make claims that are proportionate with the evidence presented. The paper does not explain how a tiny heat flux at the bottom of the ocean could drive global warming while CO2, which traps hundreds of times more energy in the system, cannot. Even worse, the overturning time of the deep ocean is over a thousand years, so it would take a thousand years for the heat to arrive at the surface making the alleged detailed relationship over the last few decades impossible.”

clearly explain this phenomenon in my papers, and, as such, I am not violating known physical laws, nor am I making disproportionate claims. Furthermore, Mr. Sherwood doesn’t seem to understand that the entire ocean does not need to overturn for this to have an impact. All that is necessary is an acceleration of the circulation, as this will cause heat to be transported at a faster rate into the Arctic. As every student of climate knows, it is the Arctic region that has seen the greatest over warming the past 20 years.

What I gather from this is that Mr. Sherwood has neither read the details of my work nor has he read the research that my work references. My advice to him and all of his compatriots at DeSmog blog is this: do your homework. If you have done the homework (i.e., thoroughly read my work and the accompanying references) and still stand by what you’ve said in your blog, then I will state for the record that you are, in fact, the true deniers.