If you’re climate-curious, you’ve probably seen some of the research revealing why globally averaged surface air temperatures have warmed less quickly over the last decade or so than they did in the 1990s. The oceans are the dominant heat reservoir in the climate system, and they have been in a greedy phase lately, giving up a little less warmth to the atmosphere.
This has largely been the product of a string of La Niñas in the Pacific driven by stronger easterly trade winds. In those conditions, a pool of colder deep water takes the place of warmer surface water in the eastern Pacific. The warmer water that would normally be there is instead moved westward and mixed downward.
But here’s the puzzling thing: while records show a buildup of heat below the surface, the heat's generally not in the Pacific. If that’s where so much downward mixing is taking place, where is the warm water going?
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