Research & Commentary: The Hydrosphere and Oceans

Published October 17, 2013

People concerned that manmade greenhouse gas emissions, in particular carbon dioxide (CO2), may be causing dangerous climate change worry such a change may disrupt the hydrosphere, which comprises all of the water on Earth and in its atmosphere. This disruption, they argue, would lead to increased rainfall and erratic weather patterns that would greatly increase sea level and produce potentially devastating consequences.

A report from the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), an independent group of some 50 scientists from 15 countries, titled Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science, summarizes a large body of research disputing these claims and finds the hydrosphere has exhibited only mild volatility over the past century in concert with natural climate cycles and with no correlation to human CO2 emissions.

The data show short-term precipitation volatility is not correlated with either CO2 emissions or general climate warming. For example, monsoon intensity displayed no increase later in the century despite increased CO2 emissions, but instead was correlated with solar activity.

In addition, monsoons were generally more intensive during the Little Ice Age (LIA) than the Medieval Warm Period (MWP), which runs directly contrary to the alarmist claims. On the other end of the volatility spectrum, CCR-II disputes the strength of the commonly cited connection between global warming and droughts, as evidenced by the similar rates of drought occurrence in the LIA and MWP.

As with precipitation, CCR-II finds no significant connection between sea level or ocean temperature and human CO2 emissions. Sea level is determined by a multitude of factors, and CO2-induced global warming is a minor one. Ocean temperatures have remained virtually unchanged for nine years, according to data of the Argo buoy network.

CCR-II found numerous problems with the consensus view of sea-level change. The global sea level has increased by an average of only 1–2 mm annually over the century, with a wide range of intra-year volatility between +5mm and -5mm away from the mean. Supposed instances of environmental harm caused by sea-level rises, such as coral reef destruction, are often the result of unaccounted alternative factors.

Concern over manmade greenhouse gas emissions has been the impetus for many destructive public policies, including renewable portfolio standards, alternative energy subsidies, and high gasoline taxes. Yet, despite ever-increasing levels of CO2 emissions, scientists have been unable to demonstrate a connection to its alleged effects, such as hydrosphere alteration, over the previous century. CCR-II‘s findings demonstrate precipitation and ocean activity have little to no connection to human CO2 emissions. Therefore, energy production, the lifeblood of the global economy, should not be hindered by state intervention to reduce CO2 emissions.

The above introduction was based on text from Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science and its Summary for Policymakers, published by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC).

The following documents provide additional information about the hydrosphere and oceans.


Chapter 6 of Climate Change Reconsidered II
In Chapter Six of Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science, Willem de Lange and Robert M. Carter find little evidence for an overall increase in global precipitation during the twentieth century independent of natural multidecadal climate rhythms. 

Summary for Policymakers of Climate Change Reconsidered II
The IPCC claims to know, apparently with rising certainty over time, that “most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations” (IPCC AR4 SPM, p. 10). This Summary for Policymakers summarizes and interprets Climate Change Reconsidered II, a major scientific report that refutes this claim. 

More IPCC Misdirection: Its Dodgy Sea Level-Rise Assessment
Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. Knappenberger of the Cato Institute criticize the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s analysis of sea-level changes in a September 24, 2013 blog post. The authors point out the IPCC cherry-picks data clumps that coincide with their conclusions, while ignoring broader data that contradict them. For instance, the IPCC attributes the recent abnormally high increases in sea level to a new long-term trend, even though the rate of increase has already begun to decline to normal levels, thereby indicating this period was just another short-term cyclical increase. 

Precipitation Measurements and Trends in the Twentieth Century
A research paper published in the International Journal of Climatology in 2002 presents the trends in precipitation over the last century. Global precipitation increased by only 9 mm per year over the century, despite enormous short-term volatility of up to 40mm. Short-term variability can be attributed to natural climate cycles, including reoccurring ENSOs, Arctic Oscillation, and Antarctic Oscillation. The authors admit global precipitation measurement is still primitive and not wholly reliable. 

Little Change in Global Drought Over the Past 60 Years
In this paper published in 2012 in Nature, Justin Sheffield, Eric F. Wood, and Michael L. Roderick cast doubt on the supposed connection between global warming and the frequency of droughts over the past 60 years. The standard analysis used to estimate global moisture levels is highly flawed and underestimates moisture levels, they note. In reality, global moisture levels have barely changed, and by extension, theories that blame hydrosphere changes on global warming are also flawed. 

Research Explores Hidden Benefits of Intensive Rainfall in East Africa
Maggie Clune looks at a new study published in 2012 in Nature Climate Change, which demonstrates some benefits of increased rainfall. Generally, climate scientists tend to focus on only the negative effects of climate change while ignoring the positive results it produces. One of these is that increased rainfall replenishes freshwater sources more often. This makes underwater aquifers, rivers, streams, etc. more bountiful, especially in technologically less-developed regions that are heavily dependent upon natural water sources, such as Central Africa. 

Indian Monsoon Variability in a Global Warming Scenario
A paper published in 2003 in Natural Hazards applies to real historical data the IPCC’s theory that global warming increases monsoon intensity. The researchers determined there is no correlation between monsoon intensity and global warming. Monsoon strength naturally oscillates along decade-long time intervals regardless of carbon production. Furthermore, increased global temperatures have no effect on intra-cycle variability.


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