A group of scientists working on an ocean warming study discovered that their scientific work contained errors. As a result, they can’t reach a firm conclusion because they can’t be 100% certain that the study is correct. The study was published over two weeks ago, and it captured numerous news headlines.
The issues the teams found in the study “do not invalidate the study’s methodology or the new insights into ocean biogeochemistry on which it is based,” study co-author Ralph Keeling said in an update to the original news release from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography about the study. However, the issues do mean the team will have to reexamine their calculations and fix what needs fixing.
The study published in the journal Nature on Oct. 31 indicated that ocean temperatures are rising and warming the ocean “at the high end of previous estimates.” Laure Resplandy of Princeton University led the ocean warming study. The team used accurate measurements of atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide dating between 1991 and 2016. Using those measurements, they estimated changes in ocean heat during that period.
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According to CNN, there are two problems with the ocean warming study. One of the problems was an inaccurate approach to systematic errors in the measurements of oxygen.
“We expect the combined effect of these two corrections to have a small impact on our calculations of overall heat uptake, but with larger margins of error,” Keeling told CNN. “We are redoing the calculations and preparing author corrections for submission to Nature.”
The ocean warming study brought a new method for measuring the amount of heat being absorbed by the oceans. First the authors measured the volume of gases, particularly oxygen and carbon dioxide, which have left the ocean in recent decades. Based on this approach, the scientists suggested a result of this is that the ocean is warming faster than before.
The scientific journal Nature is also aware of the issue and is looking into the matter.
“Maintaining the accuracy of the scientific record is of primary importance to us as publishers and we recognize our responsibility to correct errors in papers that we have published,” Nature said in a statement to The Washington Post. “Issues relating to this paper have been brought to Nature’s attention and we are looking into them carefully. We take all concerns related to papers we have published very seriously and will issue an update once further information is available.”
The study captured a lot of attention and was shared by numerous media outlets. Not long after the study was published, independent Britain-based researcher Nicholas Lewis wrote a detailed blog post about the errors made in the ocean warming study.