An independent climate scientist recently cast doubts on a major ocean warming study, causing the researchers to pull their findings and make corrections.
Nicholas Lewis, who has a background in mathematics, posted his critique on Nov. 6 regarding the study that was authored by scientists at Princeton University, the University of California-San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and several other research facilities. The paper was published in the journal Nature on Oct. 31.
The research purported to show that the world’s oceans are warming much more rapidly than prior estimates, which “suggests that Earth is more sensitive to fossil-fuel emissions than previously thought,” according to a press release.
Lead author Laure Resplandy, assistant professor of geosciences at the Princeton Environmental Institute, said the research team estimated that oceans have absorbed 60 percent more heat per year than what was predicted by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2014.
Lewis, who is based in the UK, said that he was asked to take a look at the group’s paper, and in his critique, he called the results “obviously doubtful.”
— Seeker of Knowledge (@ipkmaven) November 14, 2018
“The method used by Resplandy et al. was novel, and certainly worthy of publication,” Lewis wrote.
However, he argued they had miscalculated the amount of heat the oceans had absorbed over time, and he demonstrated what he believed to be the correct calculations. Lewis ended up with a much higher level of uncertainty in the final estimates, making the results of the study significantly less surprising than before.
“Because of the wide dissemination of the paper’s results, it is extremely important that these errors are acknowledged by the authors without delay and then corrected,” Lewis said.
Co-author Ralph Keeling, a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, accepted responsibility for the mistake and thanked Lewis for pointing it out.
“When we were confronted with his insight it became immediately clear there was an issue there,” Keeling told the San Diego Union Tribune. “We’re grateful to have it be pointed out quickly so that we could correct it quickly.”
The researchers’ alarming findings were uncritically reported by numerous mainstream-media outlets but Nic Lewis, a mathematician and popular critic of the consensus on man-made climate change, quickly identified errors. https://t.co/ovSjeNrTWg
— Nancy Clay (@NancyLClay) November 15, 2018
The researchers have redone their calculations, according to the Tribune, and resubmitted their findings to “Nature.” The new numbers indicate the oceans are likely still warmer than the IPCC’s estimate. However, due to the large amount of uncertainty, the new estimate resulted in a large range of possibilities between 10 percent and 70 percent. This result is no different than what other studies have found previously.
“Our error margins are too big now to really weigh in on the precise amount of warming that’s going on in the ocean,” Keeling said to the Tribune. “We really muffed the error margins.”
Prior estimates of ocean warming used isolated measurements of ocean temperature, according to the study’s press release. However, there were parts of the world’s oceans that were not fully covered, which also led to uncertainty in the results.
“A network of robotic sensors known as Argo now makes comprehensive measurements of ocean temperature and salinity across the globe,” stated the release.
The Argo network has also given higher temperature estimates than the IPCC predictions.
Nicholas Lewis has been criticized in the past for his skeptical view of climate change research, and he has even been added to a so-called “Climate Denier” online list. At the same time, he is the author or lead author of at least eight peer-reviewed publications, as well as a number of other reports, articles, and critiques.