Summary: Alarmists have gone hysterical about the third year of record global warming. Should we be hysterical? Fortunately NOAA and NASA provide graphics showing us the temperature record, so we can put the current warming in a larger context. The temperature trend is not the only piece in the climate change puzzle, but it’s an important one — worth taking a few minutes to understand. The climate does not care about our politics, and will have the last work in the policy debate.
Current trends: what’s the weather doing now?
The big news is that 2016 temperature anomaly was a record high: 0.07°F warmer than 2015 and 0.4°F warmer than the previous El Nino peak in 1998 (0.04 by the satellite data). Measuring temperatures from El Nino peak to peak is a crude but effect measure of warming because ENSO cycles are so powerful. NOAA “The global temperatures in 2016 were majorly influenced by strong El Niño conditions…“.UK Met Office: “A particularly strong El Niño event contributed about 0.2C to the annual average for 2016…”
Also, neither increase is even close to statistically significant. The 2016 anomaly was 1.69°F ± 0.27°F). Alarmists ignore the actual numbers, preferring to make alarming pronouncements about the coming climate apocalypse (vagueness is the alarmist’s best friend).
There is no one true way to show trends in global temperature. Here are three different perspectives; all give roughly similar results. First, a graph by NOAA of the global average surface temperature in Decembers (their excellent interactive website shows data since the reliable instrument era began in 1880). This graph minimizes the overall warming trend, which is concentrated in the months of May, June, & July. Click to enlarge.
This shows the modern global warming story: warming starts in 1979, the temperature jumps during the 1997-98 El Nino, pauses during 1998-2013, and jumps during the 2014-16 El Nino. The trend of warming is 0.25°F per decade since 1950, the era dominated by anthropogenic warming (0.29°F/decade since 1979).
What comes next? Will the temperature continue to rise, pause at the new high level (as after the 1998 El Nino), fall back to the level during 1998-2013, or begin steady growth? Each scenario has its own political implications. Unfortunately climate models cannot yet reliably make predictions for periods of five to ten years.
For a second perspective, see the lower troposphere temperatures recorded by satellites (prepared for NASA by U AL-Huntsville). The below graph is by lead scientists Roy Spencer. It tells a roughly similar story. Showing the full time series (not just Decembers) gives more detail than the above graph — with more noise. It shows an El Nino spike in 2015-16, followed by a drop. Will it return to the previous plateau, start a new plateau, or begin steady growth? The graph gives no clues.
In 2003 Roger Pielke Sr. said that the best measure of global warming is the total heat content of the world’s oceans (OHC). He was called a “denier”. Now ocean heat content (OHC) is the third measure of warming commonly used by climate scientists. NOAA posts this graph of annual OHC, showing the temperature anomaly vs. the reference period 1955-2006. The trend since 1970 is only 0.04°F per decade, even slower than the surface atmosphere trend of 0.31°F). OHC is little affected by the weather, and clearly shows the warming trend since 1970.
Ocean heat content, the best measure of global warming, has risen slowly since 1970.
Vital background about the temperature record
“It is extremely likely (95 – 100% certain) that human activities caused more than half of the observed increase in global mean surface temperature from 1951 to 2010.”
— One of the most important conclusions of IPCC’s AR5 Working Group I…
This statement about past warming is important. But for making public policy decisions future warming we need to know the odds of various amounts of warming during the 21st century. There is no easy answer to this, let alone a consensus of climate scientists about it. So climate activists either ignore the research (such as the 4 scenarios described in AR5) or focus on the worst of these (the truly horrific RCP8.5) while ignoring its unlikely assumptions.
So far the weather has sided with the skeptics, with little of the extreme weather activists predicted. No surge of hurricanes after Katrina (despite the predictions). No sign of the methane monster. Northern hemisphere snow extent has risen since in both the Fall and the Winter. There is little evidence that we have passed one of the often declared “tipping points”.
So it is logical that — despite the efforts of government agencies, academia, and many ngo’s — the public’s policy priorities have been unaffected by the warming campaign (details here). Republican control of the Presidency, Congress, and most States makes policy action almost impossible for the next 4 years (ceteris paribus). As a result, activists are going thru the 5 stages of grief for their campaign.
For More Information
Interesting article at the WaPo: “Scientists react to Earth’s warmest year: ‘We are heading into a new unknown’”. They included two eminent scientists, Judith Curry and Roger Pielke Sr., known as skeptics, who were the only ones discussing the data. The others gave advocacy.
If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information about this vital issue see the keys to understanding climate change and these posts about the politics of climate change…
- Important: climate scientists can restart the climate change debate – & win.
- How we broke the climate change debates. Lessons learned for the future.
- A story of the climate change debate. How it ran; why it failed.
- Science into agitprop: “Climate Change Is Strangling Our Oceans”.
- Ignoring science to convince the public that we’re doomed by climate change.
- A leaked memo about climate change explains why we’re unprepared.
- The 5 stages of grief for the failure of the climate change campaign.
To learn more about the state of climate change…
…see The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change by Roger Pielke Jr. (Prof of Environmental Studies at U of CO-Boulder, and Director of their Center for Science and Technology Policy Research).