2011-04-08 07:07:14The travesty of misquoting Trenberth on the "lack of warming"


"The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't." -Kevin Trenberth

Trenberth's statement was used completely out of context by those behind the fake "Cimategate" scandal. The statement is distorted to mean that there is no warming. That is not the case.

Trenberth's job is to track exactly how much energy is reaching us from the sun, how much is used in warming the air, land, oceans, and melting ice and how much is reflected or radiated from each of these places. The more global warming there is, the more energy is absorbed.

Therefore, Trenberth was talking about where some of the warmth has gone, not that there's a lack of warmth. The illustration below shows what the situation is. Please note the lack of information from the deep oceans.

Figure 1. The global annual mean Earth’s energy budget for the March 2000–May 2004 period in W/m2. The broad arrows indicate the schematic flow of energy in proportion to their importance. From Trenberth et al.a

The situation can be easily explained by the following analogy.

Suppose you are an accountant for a major corporation which grossed 1 billion dollars last year, an increase from the previous year. Your job is to find out where and how that money was spent. You take into account every detail such as salaries, benefits, purchases, etc.. Ideally, your goal as an accountant is to account for every dollar spent or left over as profit. Realistically you can be off by a small amount without worry.

Imagine, however, that 10% (100 million dollars) is unaccounted for. That would be serious. You know that the money has been there all along but where did it go? Was it due to waste or mismanagement of company resources? Is there someone stealing the money?

Suppose now, that the accountant makes sends an email to a fellow employee stating, "I can't account for the lack of money and it's a shame."

Now imagine that a person, whose intent it is to defame the company, hacks into the computer and acquires the email. He then quotes the accountant out of context by claiming that the company is actually losing money.

When Trenberth said, "...we can't account for the lack of warming..." he meant the same thing as that accountant. He could not accurately determine the Earth's increasing heat had gone because the measurements he had for the ocean's warming only went down to 900 metres (little over 1/2 mile) and oceans can be much deeper than that. However, our measurements of how much energy is in our atmosphere and land surface are accurately known.

a. Trenberth KE, Fasullo JT, Kiehl J; Earth's global energy budget. Bulletin of American Meteorological Society 2009, 90:311-323.

2011-04-08 07:34:56basic
Dana Nuccitelli

Is this intended as the basic version to 'Trenberth can't account for the lack of warming'?

2011-04-08 09:00:11Dana.


JC told me to set it up as a blog post "with a catchy headline" and that he would add it to "the schedule."




2011-04-08 09:12:07Sweet
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey

You may want to link reference the profile I did on Trenberth recently, here:


The "travesty" and Trenberth's thoughts on it are prominently featured.

2011-04-08 11:02:24catchy headline
John Cook


Yes, I do like the headline :-)

Have you set this up as a blog post in http://www.skepticalscience.com/admin_author.php or shall I?

2011-04-08 11:31:15Blog post.


John. I aleady posted it on your link.

2011-04-08 11:53:41Okay, it's in the schedule
John Cook


I notice the headline of the blog post is different to the headline of this forum thread - do you prefer the 'email scandal' headline?

2011-04-08 12:16:20Title on post.


John, I changed the title of the blog post since you last read it. Yes I want that title instead of the one on this forum thread.,