Where’s the Heat Going? Global Warming Lull Befuddles Scientists

Despite record levels of greenhouse gas emissions, global surface temperatures have risen at a much slower rate over the past 15 years than the 20 years prior. Scientists are struggling to explain a warming plateau.
June 17, 2013, 11am PDT | Melody Wu
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The conclusions and predictions of climate scientists are among the most scrutinized scientific work in the world. So the enduring mystery of why global warming has slowed for extended periods twice in recent history is a significant one; opening the door to climate change denialists.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, and again for the last 15 years, global warming slowed markedly. In both instances, scientists remain unable to accurately accredit the cause of this climate change plateau. One of many proffered explanations is the 'deep-ocean theory', suggesting that surface heat is being trapped by the ocean through shifts in winds and currents. Evidence also points to air pollution from dirty factories that could be blocking sunlight.

“[I]n any event,” says Justin Gillis, “computer forecasts of climate change suggest that pauses in warming lasting a couple of decades should not surprise us.”

When the prior lull came to an end, it was followed by “an extremely rapid warming of the planet,” he notes. “So, if past is prologue, this current plateau will end at some point, too, and a new era of rapid global warming will begin.”

“We might one day find ourselves looking back on the crazy weather of the 2010s with a deep yearning for those halcyon days.”

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Published on Monday, June 10, 2013 in The New York Times
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