Scientists behind an important study that claimed that Earth's oceans are heating faster than it was thought that now says that their work contained inadvertent errors that made their conclusions seem more true than they really are.
Two weeks after the high profile study was published in Nature, its authors sent corrections to the publication. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which welcomes several researchers involved, also noted the problems in the work of scientists and corrected a press release on its website, which had previously stated that the study detailed how the Earth's oceans "absorbed 60 percent one hundred more heat than previously thought. "
"Unfortunately, we made mistakes here," said Ralph Keeling, a climate scientist at Scripps, who co-authored the study. "I think the main lesson is that you work as quickly as possible to solve the errors when you find them."
The central problem, according to Keeling, came in that the researchers addressed the uncertainty in their measurements. As a result, the findings have too much doubt to definitively support the conclusion of the article on the amount of heat that the oceans have absorbed over time.
The central conclusion of the study – that oceans retain more and more energy as more heat is getting trapped in the Earth's climate system each year, it is in line with other studies that have given similar conclusions. And it has not changed much in spite of the errors. But Keeling said the authors' mistakes calculations mean that there is actually a much greater margin of error in the results, which means that researchers can find out with less certainty than they thought.
Where it makes no sense – with this, it's pretty obvious it does not make sense – I look towards them more deeply
"I accept responsibility for what happened because it is my role to make sure that kind of details were delivered," Keeling said.
The main author of the study was Laure Resplandy at the University of Princeton. Other researchers have been with institutions in China, Paris, Germany and the United States of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Laboratory of Geophysical Fluid Dynamics.
"Maintaining the accuracy of the scientific record is of paramount importance to us as editors and we recognize our responsibility to correct errors in the documents we publish," said nature in a statement from The Post. "The issues related to this article have been brought to the attention of Nature and we are looking at them carefully. We take all the concerns related to the articles we publish very seriously and we will issue an update once other information is available."
The original study, which appeared on October 31, resulted from a new method to measure the amount of heat that the oceans absorb. In essence, the authors measured the volume of gases, specifically oxygen and carbon dioxide, that escaped to the ocean in the last decades and went to the atmosphere while it warms up. They found that warming "is at the top of previous estimates" and suggested that, as a result, the global warming rate could be accelerated.
The results, the authors wrote, may suggest that there is less time than previously thought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The study attracted considerable media attention, including from The Post.
However, not long after the publication, an independent British-based investigator, named Nicholas Lewis, published a long blog post saying that he had found a "big problem" with the investigation.
I think the main lesson is that you work as quickly as possible to solve the errors when you find them
"As far as I can see, his method greatly underestimate the uncertainty," said Lewis in an interview on Tuesday, "in addition to stagnating significantly, almost 30 percent, the central estimate."
Lewis added that he tends "to read a lot of papers and, having a mathematics and a background of physics, having to look at them with enough care and I see if they make sense. And where does it make sense – with this, it is quite obvious it makes no sense – I look towards them more deeply. "
Lewis argued in previous studies and comments that climate scientists are forecasting too much heat due to their dependence on computer simulations and that the current data of the planet themselves suggest global warming will be less severe than the feared one.
It is not clear if the authors agree with all the criticisms of Lewis, but Keeling said: "We agreed that there were problems along the lines that he identified."
Paul Durack, a research scientist at the California Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said he soon acknowledged the errors in the study "is the right approach to the benefit of transparency."
But he added in an email: "This study, although there are additional questions that are emerging now, confirms the known outcome that the oceans have been warming up on the observed record and the rate of warming has been increasing," he said.
Gavin Schmidt, head of the Goddard Institute of Space Studies at NASA, continued the growing debate about the study about Twitter and said that measures on heat absorption in the oceans have been solved by data problems for some time and that new research debut In this area it is difficult.
"Obviously, it depends on your co-authors and reviewers to take on most of the problems, but things still sometimes disappear," Schmidt wrote in an email.
Schmidt and Keeling agreed that other studies also support a higher level of oceanic heat content than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), saw in a historical report of 2013.
In general, Schmidt said the episode could be seen as a positive one.
"The key is not to make mistakes, but as they are dealt with – and Laure and Ralph's response here is exemplary. There is no panic, but a careful re-examination of their work, despite a somewhat hostile environment," he wrote.
"So, plus one for some post-publication review, plus one for the authors to re-examine the entire calculation constructively. We will all become wise."