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A new paper from the Global Warming Policy Foundation looks at how scientists monitor changes in ocean temperature and finds a story of huge uncertainties and surprising findings.

For example, while warming might be expected to be fairly uniform, measurements suggest that it is regionalised, with parts of the South Pacific, in particular, warming more than elsewhere. 

As the report’s author, Dr David Whitehouse, says, it is hard to draw firm conclusions about what is happening in the seas:

“The oceans can absorb far more heat than the atmosphere, so temperatures changes are extremely small and therefore hard to measure reliably.”

“The energy that would raise the temperature of the atmosphere by 4 degrees C would only raise the ocean temperature by a thousands of a degree, barely detectable.”

“Measuring changes in the ocean heat content are at the limits of our current capability and are made with significant uncertainties and unknowns.”

A recent claim that warming of the oceans was accelerating had to be withdrawn after errors were found in its uncertainty estimates by an independent scientist.

Dr Whitehouse is available for comment at

Cold Water? The Oceans and Climate Change can be downloaded here (pdf)