A failure of peer review

Judith Curry’s website has a comment about the recent paper in Nature, stating that the oceans are absorbing unexpectedly large amounts of heat. The writer, Nic Lewis, finds some problems with it. (Hat tip: Legal Insurrection)

On page 1 they say:

From equation (1), we thereby find that ΔAPOClimate = 23.20 ± 12.20 per meg, corresponding to a least squares linear trend of +1.16 ± 0.15 per meg per year[ix]

A quick bit of mental arithmetic indicated that a change of 23.2 between 1991 and 2016 represented an annual rate of approximately 0.9, well below their 1.16 value. As that seemed surprising, I extracted the annual ΔAPO best-estimate values and uncertainties from the paper’s Extended Data Table 4[x] and computed the 1991–2016 least squares linear fit trend in the ΔAPOClimate values. The trend was 0.88, not 1.16, per meg per year, implying an ocean heat uptake estimate of 10.1 ZJ per year,[xi] well below the estimate in the paper of 13.3 ZJ per year.[xii]

Later, he concludes:


The findings of the Resplandy et al paper were peer reviewed and published in the world’s premier scientific journal and were given wide coverage in the English-speaking media. Despite this, a quick review of the first page of the paper was sufficient to raise doubts as to the accuracy of its results. Just a few hours of analysis and calculations, based only on published information, was  sufficient to uncover apparently serious (but surely inadvertent) errors in the underlying calculations.

Moreover, even if the paper’s results had been correct, they would not have justified its findings regarding an increase to 2.0°C in the lower bound of the equilibrium climate sensitivity range and a 25% reduction in the carbon budget for 2°C global warming.

Because of the wide dissemination of the paper’s results, it is extremely important that these errors are acknowledged by the authors without delay and then corrected.

Of course, it is also very important that the media outlets that unquestioningly trumpeted the paper’s findings now correct the record too.

But perhaps that is too much to hope for.