Frankenstorm-steria: Five degrees of Separation from Reality and Eleventy Gazillion Joules Under the Sea

 I ran across this really bizarre blog post from “The Energy Collective” on Real Clear Energy…

This bit is just “nutty”…

Five degrees:

The Atlantic ocean is five degrees warmer than is was when most of you were born. Let that sink in for a minute. The entire Atlantic ocean averages five degrees warmer.

What does that mean for hurricanes? Hurricanes get their power by feeding on the warm water under them. That means that a warmer Atlantic has a lot more fuel to contribute. How much more? Hard to say for sure but the the number is astronomical. Take the top inch of ocean surface below hurricane Katrina (125,000 sq. miles) then run out the math to heat that volume by five degrees. What you get is an amount of energy in that water eight times greater than was released in all the nuclear tests in the history of the world.


“The Atlantic ocean is five degrees warmer than is was when most of you were born.” Really?
I was born in 1958. I don’t have a handy temperature plot of the Atlantic Ocean, but the folks a the UK Hadley Center & Climategate CRU do have a plot of Northern Hemisphere sea surface temperatures. If the Atlantic has warmed by 5 degrees since 1958, it should show up on this plot, unless the North Pacific Ocean has been cooling…

Figure 1. HadSST Northern Hemisphere (Hadley/CRU via Wood for Trees)

I get a warming of 0.3-0.5°C since I was born… And only about 0.6°C of warming since the last time a Whig held the presidency…

Figure 2. HadSST… What five degrees?

The author noted that, “We’ve only been aware that the earth revolves around the sun for some 500 years.” This is true. It’s also true that New England was hit by at least four storms, rivaling Sandy, between 1300 and 1650 AD. But our temperature records only go back to about 1850.

Fortunately, there are little critters living in the oceans called “Foraminifera,” or Foram’s as we tend to call them in oil exploration. Foram’s have the capacity to act as geochemical thermometers. Globigerinoides ruber is a particularly good geochemical thermometer. Back in 1996, Lloyd Keigwin of WHOI published a really good paper in which he reconstructed a 3,000-yr record of the sea surface temperature of the Sargasso Sea.

Keigwin was able to calibrate his proxy temperature series to a 50-yr long instrumental record (Station S). Station S matches the HadSST NH quite well…

Figure 3. HadSST and Sargasso Sea Station S (Keigwin, 1996)

If we add in the Foram proxy record, we can see how warm the Atlantic Ocean was back when those pre-1650 monster storms hit New England…

Figure 4. HadSST, Sargasso Sea (Keigwin, 1996) and Major New England Hurricanes (Donnelly, 2001)

The 1351 AD (±56-yr) storm occurred when the Atlantic was most likely a bit cooler as when I was born. The 1425 (±21-yr) storm occurred when the Atlantic was most likely a bit warmer than I was born. The 1635 and 1638 storms occurred when the Atlantic was a lot cooler than when I was born. And the 1815 storm occurred when the Atlantic was a bit cooler than when I was born.

It appears to me that the climatological state of the Atlantic Ocean hasn’t really been a controlling factor in the frequency of major storms hitting New England. If a climatologically warm Atlantic was the cause of these monster storms, the Medieval Warm Period must have been a veritable hurricane nightmare…

Figure 5. HadSST, Sargasso Sea (Keigwin, 1996) and Major New England Hurricanes (Donnelly, 2001)

And the Minoan Warm Period must have been an absolute hurricane apocalypse, even though the Atlantic was only about 2°C warmer than when I was born.

Well, that’s enough on the “five degrees”… On to the really nutty bit…

Gazillions of joules!

A five degree rise for just the first inch of ocean, for a static area 900 miles in diameter (the size of hurricane Sandy) requires 95-million terajoules of energy. If we assume it gets used the most efficiently it can be, a ton of coal gets you about 35 gigajoules. That means we’d need a cube of coal .9 of a mile/side to generate the energy needed to heat just that first inch of water five degrees. All that energy is a fraction of the heat being trapped, just a fraction. We’re going to see a lot more storms get charged up this way.

The best way to alarm the scientifically illiterate is to convert 0.8°C into eleventy gazillion joules.

Ocean Heat Content for the upper 700 meters of the oceans increased by about 16 gazillion (10^22) Joules over the last 40 years or so! 16 gazillion is a huge number! Unfortunately for Warmists, 16 gazillion is a very tiny number relative to the volume of the top 700 meters of the oceans and the heat content that normally resides in the oceans…

Figure 6. Change in Ocean Heat Content from Levitus et al., 2009 via Bob Tisdale – Climate Observations (

16 gazillion Joules is enough heat to increase the average temperature of the upper 700 meters of ocean by a whopping 0.168 degrees Centigrade.

The average temperature of the upper 700 meters of ocean is somewhere in the ballpark of 10 degrees Centigrade…

Figure 7. Approximate average oceanic thermocline (Windows to the Universe).

How much heat content is required to raise the temperature of the upper 700 meters of ocean from 0 to 10 degrees Centigrade?

A bit less than 950 gazillion Joules.

16 gazillion is less than 2% of 950 gazillion.

More fun with gazillions of Joules

This is a graph from a Skeptical Science post…

Figure 8. An unreliable representation of recent changes in Earth’s total heat content (Skeptical Science).

Frightening, right?

In addition to lacking any context, the title of the graph is amazingly and ignorantly wrong. There’s a lot more to the Earth than water, ice and air… There’s that whole solid(ish) thing in the middle.

The heat flow at the surface (the coolest part of the solid Earth) of the Earth is ~47 Terawatts (TW). A Joule is 1 Watt*second of power. 47 TW is 47,000,000,000,000 joules per second (47*10^12 J/s). Over the 40-yr period (1969-2008) the Earth’s heat flow transferred 6 gazillion (10^12) Joules of heat from the interior to the surface. That 6 gazillion is a very tiny fraction of the total heat content of the Earth (~12,600,000,000 gazillion Joules). So the SkepSci graph doesn’t even come close to capturing the “change in the Earth’s total heat content.”

Here’s a little more context… Unsurprisingly, ocean heat content and sea surface temperature are highly correlated…

Figure 9. Cross-plot of ocean heat content (Levitus, 2009) and sea surface temperature (Hadley/CRU via Wood for Trees).

So, we can very easily estimate OHC from SST to see what the OHC was
doing before we started measuring it…

Figure 10. Historical ocean heat content calculated from HadSST and OHC (Levitus, 2009).

Wow!!! The OHC had to have increased by 13 gazillion Joules from 1910-1941. How did that happen? CO2 was mired in the “safe” range of 310-320 ppmv (assuming Antarctic ice cores are accurate sources of paleo-CO2 data).


One Response to “Frankenstorm-steria: Five degrees of Separation from Reality and Eleventy Gazillion Joules Under the Sea”

  1. Lisette Ehrat Says:

    Good work. I heard Harry Smith say this on the Today Show about hurricane Sandy:

    “And there’s a piece in the paper trying to figure out is it climate change, what’s going on? The temperature in the western Atlantic, 5 degrees above normal for the end of October. There’s something going on.”

    I looked up NOAA’s data but it didn’t support this claim. I even went to and got a reply from a staff member. He sent me a NOAA map that agreed with what I had already found. So where did Harry Smith get his information?


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