Has global warming stopped? No - it’s just on pause, insist scientists, and it's down to the oceans

Temperatures still expected to reach predicted 2015 levels with only a five-year delay after 12 of the 14 hottest years on record

Science Editor

Huge amounts of heat – equivalent to the power of 150 billion electric kettles – are being continuously absorbed by the deep ocean, which could explain why global warming has “paused” over the past 10 to 15 years, scientists have concluded in a series of reports to explain why the Earth’s rate of warming has slowed down.

Global average temperatures are higher now than they have ever been since modern records began. However, after a period of rapid temperature increases during the 1980s and 1990s there has been a significant slow-down since the turn of the century, leading some sceptics to claim that global warming has stopped.

A scientific assessment of the planet’s heat balance has found that the most likely explanation for the recent hiatus in global warming is the continual absorption of thermal energy by the huge “heat sink” of the deep ocean many hundreds of metres below the sea surface, according to scientists from the Met Office.

Senior climate scientists said that they had always expected periods when the rate of increase in temperatures would level off for a few years and emphasised that the last decade was still warmer than any previous decade, with 12 of the 14 hottest years on record occurring since 2000.

Professor Rowan Sutton, a climate scientist at Reading University, said the temperatures have levelled off in the past, the latest example being in the 1940s and 1950s when sulphate pollutants from the post-war boom in industrial production may have acted as a shield against incoming solar radiation.

“Some people call it a slow-down, some call it a hiatus, some people call it a pause. The global average surface temperature has not increased substantially over the last 10 to 15 years,” Professor Sutton said.

“Climate scientists absolutely expect variations in the rate at which surface temperature will rise….but that is not to say we understand all the details of the last 10 to 15 years,” Professor Sutton said.

The problem for the Met Office is to explain why the rate of increase in global temperatures has declined in recent years while concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have continued to accelerate. Sceptics claim that this shows there is not a strong link between the two, whereas climate scientists insist that rising carbon dioxide concentrations are largely responsible for the rise in global temperatures.

Professor Stephen Belcher, head of the Met Office Hadley Centre, said that a pause in the rate of increase in global temperatures lasting this long is unusual but not exceptional, with similar pauses of about 10 years expected on average twice every century.

The most likely explanation for the current pause is that excess heat trapped by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is being transferred from the atmosphere to the oceans where it is being transported down to deeper layers that cannot be monitored by satellites, Professor Belcher said.

“It looks like the Earth is continuing to accumulate energy but it looks like it is being re-arranged and hidden from view,” he said.

However, measurements from hundreds of ocean floats released over the last decade, which descend and drift to depths of up to 2,000 metres, show that huge amounts of heat from the sea surface is now being transferred to the deep ocean, with unknown consequences for the environment, the scientists said.

“In summary, observations of ocean heat content and of sea-level rise suggest that the Earth system has continued to absorb heat energy over the past 15 years, and that this additional heat has been absorbed in the ocean,” says the Met Office report.

The pause, however, is unlikely to change the predictions over the future course of global warming. Temperature increases expected by 2015 will only be delayed by a further five or ten years, the scientists said. Average surface temperatures are still on course to increase by 2C this century, with further rises expected by the end of the century if nothing is done to curb carbon dioxide emissions, they said.

It is not possible to account for the recent lack of surface warming solely by looking at the difference between amount of heat being received from the Sun and the amount of thermal energy being lost from the planet – calculations show that extra heat continues to be absorbed by the Earth at a rate of 0.6 Watts per square metre, equivalent to about 300bn 1KW electric heaters or 150bn 2KW kettles distributed across the planet.

“Observations of ocean heat content and of sea-level rise suggest that the additional heat from the continued rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations has been absorbed in the ocean and has not been manifest as a rise in surface temperature,” the Met Office says in one of its three reports into the global warming pause.

“Radiated forcing by greenhouse gases has continued unabated; that heat is being held in the system but is not manifest as a rise in global mean surface temperature. Observations of ocean heat content and of sea-level rise suggest that this additional heat has been absorbed by the ocean,” it says.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
tech

Apple has been hit by complaints about the 1.1GB download

Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff
tv

Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Arts and Entertainment
tv

Life and Style
i100

Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Technical Architect - Surrey - £35k-£45k DOE - Permanent

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Infrastructure / Network Engineer (VMware, Windows, LAN/WAN)

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Primary teaching jobs in Thetford

£1036224 - £1513056 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Educatio...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week