In spite of rising greenhouse-gas levels, global mean sea surface temperature has not increased notably during the past decade — and may even have dropped slightly. So what has happened to the surplus energy? According to researchers in Colorado, it has warmed the deep ocean.

Gerald Meehl and his team at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder ran a set of global atmosphere–ocean models to project twenty-first-century climate. The model runs yielded several roughly decade-long intervals with slightly negative trends in mean sea surface temperature but significantly enhanced ocean heat uptake.

Ocean warming during these periods was most pronounced in layers at a depth of more than 300 metres. Prolonged intervals with little or no surface warming, possibly linked to La Niña-like conditions, seem to be common in a warming climate, the team says.

Nature Clim. Change 10.1038/nclimate1229 (2011)