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NY Times: In the ocean, clues to change

Developing robots able to go deeper has been a technical challenge, but scientists think they are about to lick it, permitting temperature measurements of virtually the entire ocean — a milestone in science. The experts say a replacement for the pollution-measuring satellite that exploded is also an urgent priority.

While scientists scramble for better information, this might be the most important thing for citizens to know about the warming hiatus: It has happened before.

In fact, surface warming has always proceeded in fits and starts, with the longest hiatus lasting roughly 30 years, from the 1940s to the 1970s. Scientists do not really understand that one, either. But it ended, and a period of extremely rapid warming followed.

Daniel P. Schrag, a geochemist and head of Harvard’s Center for the Environment, said the inability of scientists to explain these ups and downs highlighted a deeper problem. At a time when people are causing profound changes on the planet, he said, governments had failed to invest enough in monitoring systems like satellites, causing gaping holes in the information that scientists have to work with. Even though they have the big picture right, they’re struggling to predict shifts that really matter in the near term.

“I think the most likely thing is that we’re going to see a rapid warming in the next five or 10 years,” Dr. Schrag said, “and we still won’t know why.”

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