- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Researchers have walked back a high-profile study showing that the oceans are warming far faster than previously thought, thanks to climate change, after their conclusions were challenged by a prominent climate skeptic.

Co-author Ralph Keeling, climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said the Oct. 31 paper in the journal Nature would be corrected after mathematician Nic Lewis discovered an error with the study’s calculations.

“When we were confronted with his insight it became immediately clear there was an issue there,” he told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “We’re grateful to have it be pointed out quickly so that we could correct it quickly.”

Mr. Lewis posted his findings last week on Climate Etc., a blog on climate science and research hosted by Judith Curry, former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech.

The study, led by Mr. Keeling and Princeton geoscientist Laure Resplandy, suggested that the oceans soaked up 60 percent more heat from 1991-2016 than previously believed, indicating that global warming was occurring faster than anticipated.

The media coverage was extensive. “We’ve warmed up the world’s oceans way more than scientists realized, new research suggests — and time to avoid disaster is running out,” said the Oct. 31 headline in Business Insider.

After redoing the calculations, Mr. Keeling said he found that the ocean is still absorbing heat more quickly than the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change had predicted, but that the range of probability is far wider and in line with other scientific estimates.

“Our error margins are too big now to really weigh in on the precise amount of warming that’s going on in the ocean,” Mr. Keeling said. “We really muffed the error margins.”

The episode prompted a fresh round of criticism over the peer-review process for scientific studies, which has blasted as sloppy and biased, favoring papers with catastrophic climate predictions.

“The findings of the Resplandy et al paper were peer reviewed and published in the world’s premier scientific journal and were given wide coverage in the English-speaking media,” Mr. Lewis said in his post. “Despite this, a quick review of the first page of the paper was sufficient to raise doubts as to the accuracy of its results.” 

Roy Spencer, principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and former NASA climate scientist, said the Lewis finding underlined problems with the peer review process.

“If the conclusions of the paper support a more alarmist narrative on the seriousness of anthropogenic global warming, the less thorough will be the peer review. I am now totally convinced of that,” Mr. Spencer said. “If the paper is skeptical in tone, it endures levels of criticism that alarmist papers do not experience.”

Other problems include the “increased specialization of climate science (and other sciences in general), so that there are relatively few peers who know enough about what they are reviewing to pass expert judgment on it,” he said.

The ocean-warming study was the first to use a technique to measure temperatures using oxygen and carbon dioxide in the air, instead of “millions of spot measurements of ocean temperature,” according to the Princeton press release.

“Obviously this is difficult but I am glad we are setting it right,” Ms. Resplandy told Science magazine.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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