Tracing the upper ocean's “missing heat”
Article first published online: 30 JUL 2011
Copyright 2011 by the American Geophysical Union.
Geophysical Research Letters
Volume 38, Issue 14, July 2011
How to Cite
2011), Tracing the upper ocean's “missing heat”, Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L14610, doi:10.1029/2011GL048417., and (
- Issue published online: 30 JUL 2011
- Article first published online: 30 JUL 2011
- Manuscript Accepted: 15 JUN 2011
- Manuscript Received: 7 JUN 2011
Vol. 38, Issue 20, Article first published online: 25 OCT 2011
- ocean heat content
 Over the period 2003–2010, the upper ocean has not gained any heat, despite the general expectation that the ocean will absorb most of the Earth's current radiative imbalance. Answering to what extent this heat was transferred to other components of the climate system and by what process(-es) gets to the essence of understanding climate change. Direct heat flux observations are too inaccurate to assess such exchanges. In this study we therefore trace these heat budget variations by analyzing an ensemble of climate model simulations. The analysis reveals that an 8-yr period without upper ocean warming is not exceptional. It is explained by increased radiation to space (45%), largely as a result of El Niño variability on decadal timescales, and by increased ocean warming at larger depths (35%), partly due to a decrease in the strength of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation. Recently-observed changes in these two large-scale modes of climate variability point to an upcoming resumption of the upward trend in upper ocean heat content.