NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- A new study may shed some light on one of the most controversial aspects of the current global warming debate. The problem is frequently framed in headlines as a question, "Has Global Warming Stopped?"
The short answer is and always has been "no," it hasn't stopped. It hasn't even slowed down. Sea levels continue to rise inexorably. Arctic Sea ice and Antarctic glacier cover continue their shrinking trends. Weather patterns continue to change dramatically.
But let's back up.
Global surface temperatures have been rising more or less since the outset of the Industrial Revolution. Presumably this rise in temperatures is linked to the correlating rise in CO2 and other heat-trapping gasses in the troposphere, the layer of atmosphere closest to the earth.
However, for reasons scientists haven't been able to fully explain, those surface atmosphere temperatures have flattened out in recent years, beginning about 2001. Skeptics of global warming science love this: It seems to undercut the findings of the scientific mainstream and throw the whole question of long-term global warming into the trash heap. If CO2 emissions were causing global warming, then surface temperatures should continue to rise. Since they haven't, global warming can't be real.
Skeptics have termed this a "pause" or a "hiatus" in global warming. As recently as Feb. 3, in Forbes, this anomaly in the data was being touted as evidence that climate scientists have "oversold" the risks of climate change. Those denialist arguments ignore the larger trend, as I have pointed out in earlier articles. But even while the anomaly in the data may pose no threat to global warming models generally, it's cause remained a mystery.
Recently, in a study published in the most recent issue of Nature Climate Change, a scientific peer-review journal, a team of scientists led by Australian Matt England found that warmer surface water in the Pacific is being pushed westward by equatorial trade winds that are much stronger than expected. As the warmed surface water hits the western continental shelf it is driven downward into the lower depths. The action of the trade winds effectively cools the observable surface temperature by mixing the heat into the deep water.
"The oceans have this amazing capacity to suck up heat," England said in a phone interview from his home in Australia Wednesday (very early Thursday morning according to his clock). "The ocean absorbs 90% of the heat of the climate system, so if you're looking for global warming that's where you have to look."
While overall global warming predictions are panning out accurately, "I think we've discovered that the models are coming up short in terms of decadal variability," England said.