New research ends the battle about the pause in global warming. Neither side won.

Summary: The rise in temperatures during the past few years shows how both activists and skeptics have misrepresented the global warming story. This has been especially so during the decade-long debate about the warming pause. Since 1950 warming has occurred in stair-like steps, with pauses between them. That gives a useful frame to watch temperatures to understand what happens next.

Global Warming

The pause in global warming after the the 1997-98 El Niño sparked a decade of public bickering. Some climate activists denied the pause and the scores of peer-reviewed papers about it and its causes (e.g., here). Some skeptics declared that it proved the models wrong, or even that the two centuries of warming had stopped (not paused). All that ended with the warming spike brought by the 2015-16 El Niño. Now begins speculation about what follows — warming, cooling, or a new pause. It’s not a useful framing.

The warming since 1950 — the period in which over half of the warming comes from anthropogenic causes (IPCC AR5 WGI SPM) — occurred in steps: 1963/64, 1968–70, 1976/77, 1979/80, 1987/88 and 1996–98, with the big ones of 1979/80 and 1996–98 associated with big El Niños. Then climate scientists saw the “pause” (aka “hiatus”). There are various theories about the cause. That lasted sixteen years, then temperatures spiked during the 2015-2016 El Niño. Although the peak-to-peak rise, 1998 to 2016, was only 0.4°F — this appears to have marked another step-up in temperatures. As I wrote in June 2015, the pause has ended — and warming resumed.

To see the step up, look at this graph of February global temperatures (as anomalies vs. 20th C average). See the 2016 El Niño spike, and the tiny fall-off in February 2017 — like that in November 2016, Dec 2016, and Jan 2016. If this continues (it is too soon to say for sure), we begin the clock on the new plateau.

Global Surface Temperatures

What comes next?

The typical framing for activists fighting “deniers” is warming vs. none. So activists get excited at every increase in temperatures, no matter how small (even if not statistically significant, as in 2014 and in 2016). They scream “denier” at anyone pointing to the peer-reviewed literature describing the pause (e.g., here). Skeptics pointed to the pause as evidence (or even proof) that warming had stopped (rather than “paused”).

This is a clear example of how the public policy debate about climate change has become a cacophony, with neither side providing fragments of useful information mixed with misinformation. Naturally the result has been gridlock

Now the Republicans run the Federal government and most states, so the gridlock will continue. Eventually either we will get some big extreme weather — natural or magnified by anthropogenic factors — which will panic the public and force political action. Or global warming will slow or stop. Either way, the weather will decide which side wins.

A new paper explains why the stair-step warming

Reconciling the signal and noise of atmospheric warming on decadal timescales“, Roger N. Jones and James H. Ricketts, Earth System Dynamics, 8 (1), 2017 — Abstract…

“Interactions between externally forced and internally generated climate variations on decadal timescales is a major determinant of changing climate risk. Severe testing is applied to observed global and regional surface and satellite temperatures and modelled surface temperatures to determine whether these interactions are independent, as in the traditional signal-to-noise model, or whether they interact, resulting in step-like warming.

“This model indicates that in situ warming of the atmosphere does not occur; instead, a store-and-release mechanism from the ocean to the atmosphere is proposed. It is physically plausible and theoretically sound. The presence of step-like – rather than gradual – warming is important information for characterising and managing future climate risk.”

For More Information

New research from NOAA about “Global Warming and Hurricanes“: It is premature to conclude that global warming has affected hurricane or tropical cyclone activity.  You won’t see it in the news because journalists believe they know what’s best for you to know.

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 propaganda of climate change…

  1. Important: climate scientists can restart the climate change debate – & win.
  2. How we broke the climate change debates. Lessons learned for the future.
  3. A story of the climate change debate. How it ran; why it failed.
  4. Put the stories about record 2016 warming in a useful context.
  5. A look at the future of global warming. Our political response depends on its trend.
  6. An eminent climate scientist describes the frontiers of climate science.
 The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change
Available at Amazon.

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). From the publisher…

“In recent years the media, politicians, and activists have popularized the notion that climate change has made disasters worse. But what does the science actually say? Roger Pielke, Jr. takes a close look at the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the underlying scientific research, and the data to give you the latest science on disasters and climate change. What he finds may surprise you and raise questions about the role of science in political debates.”


28 thoughts on “New research ends the battle about the pause in global warming. Neither side won.”

  1. This looks like a sound idea. I believe Bob Tisdale showed this could be the case, but he limited himself to making an observation, and didn’t discuss the core mechanism.

    Not too long ago I saw a NASA webpage which mentioned that “60 % of emissions stays in the atmosphere”. This doesn’t jibe with the figures I’m seeing (I think it can be pinned down to between 40 and 50 %). The carbon models used to project how much co2 stays in the air are barely discussed, but it seems to me they could be used to trick results. What do you thnk?

    1. Fernando,

      Good question, but I’m not a climate scientist — or scientist. These posts about climate science are journalism.

      One thing I learned in 3 decades doing investment research: I could invest time and learn a great deal about a field (e.g., biotechnology, energy production) — but once I believed I actually knew something about it, I was toast.

    2. Just another attempt to provide credibility to the AGW fanatics human caused catastrophic global warming predictions. It won’t work, there is no AGW in our future.

      I have been very concerned about the threat the AGW (human-caused catastrophic global warming) “scientific consensus” poses for our nation’s socioeconomic health. As a response to this potential threat I have written a paper titled:

      “History and Ignorance of “Sky Is Falling” Theories with Special Emphasis on Anthropogenic Global Warming”

      Here is a link to the paper. If you read it and believe it has value, please pass the link on to others.

      1. Brad,

        “It won’t work, there is no AGW in our future.”

        Write it up for a journal. If you are correct, there’s a Nobel in your future. However almost every climate scientist, “skeptic” or “almarist”, disagrees with you. The actual debate is about magnitudes, timing, and effects of the warming.

  2. Dr. Peter Stott of the UK Met Office concluded in january 2017 that the pause is still here, based on (Hadcrut) data for all of 2016.

    The problem with this study is that it is a model study, relying on dubious climate models. It is more than somewhat lacking in credibility. An example: If we look at observational data for “The Grand Hiatus” (roughly from 1942 to 1977) almost all studies from the 1970ies concludes that we had a global cooling in this period. Roughly 0,3 degrees C. A clear step down the ladder from the previous two decades.

    The ENSO events of 1997–98 and 2015-16 consists of an energy exchange between surface water and the lowest part of the atmosphere. This energy then leaves our planet. It does not make it warmer, unless of course, if the observers start with the conclusion and torture the data until they have the confession.

    Most scientists I have asked, like professor Ole Humlum who made this higly interesting report, “State of the Climate” by the Global Warming Policy Foundation wants to conclude about the pause only after we have been through the second phase of ENSO, commonly referred to as La Nina. Which is somewhat into the near future. 2 or 3 years? There are only 3 possibilities, warmer (IPCC-camp), colder (solar physicists) or a longer pause.

    1. Jargeir,

      (a) “Dr. Peter Stott of the UK Met Office concluded in january 2017 that the pause is still here, based on (Hadcrut) data for all of 2016.”

      He said nothing remotely like that (see the Met Office report here). The report does not even mention the “pause” or “hiatus”. He commented on the causes of warming in 2016, and compared the rate of warming in the past 15 years to the preceding 15 years. Warming in every year – every second — has physical causes. Whatever caused temperature change in 2016 does not mean the pause continued or ended.

      (b) “wants to conclude about the pause only after we have been through the second phase of ENSO, commonly referred to as La Nina.”

      Yes, climate scientists reserve judgement until they have more information, which is why I said it is “it is too soon to say for sure”. Also note, that statement is not correct.

      (1) El Nino and La Nino are not alternating phases of an ENSO cycle. An El Nino or La Nina can be followed by a second one. Look at NOAA’s list of ENSO events. Back-to-back events in 1951-54, 1957-59, 1973-76, 1976-83, 1991-95, 2002-07, 2010-12. There were three sequential events in 1976-83 and 2002-07.

      (2) There was a La Nina in 2015-16.

      1. a) The GWPF analysis of the Met Office report is quite clear, the logical conclusion is that the Pause never went away.

        That Met Oficce is quite creative with newspeak cannot conceal that fact. It is well known that both the Met Office as well as certain institutions in the US are expected to produce reports showing global warming. The situation is the same in most western countries where the climate-industrial complex is rarely opposed.

        I should of course have referred to the above link in my first comment, for all of the releant context.

        b) Usually but not always the El Nino/La Nina combo returns the temperature to the same level we had before the event. What is relevant in this discussion is not the smaller ENSO events, but the two large ones in 1997/98 and 2015/16 since these two are causing temperature records.

        The detailed US observational record goes back only so far, but what we have contains no indication that there is anything non-natural taking place.There is a graphic version of the ONI index here, easier for analysis. Under Ooeans, La Niña and El Niño episodes:

    1. Bean,

      Truth and honesty are rare in all social activities. As discussed in this passage from G. B. Shaw’s Arms and the Man.

      BLUNTSCHLI (dubiously). There’s reason in everything. You said you’d told only two lies in your whole life. Dear young lady: isn’t that rather a short allowance? I’m quite a straightforward man myself; but it wouldn’t last me a whole morning.

      RAINA (staring haughtily at him). Do you know, sir, that you are insulting me?

      BLUNTSCHLI. I can’t help it. When you get into that noble attitude and speak in that thrilling voice, I admire you; but I find it impossible to believe a single word you say.

      RAINA (superbly). Captain Bluntschli!

      BLUNTSCHLI (unmoved). Yes?

      RAINA (coming a little towards him, as if she could not believe her senses). Do you mean what you said just now? Do you know what you said just now?

      BLUNTSCHLI. I do.

      RAINA (gasping). I! I!!! (She points to herself incredulously, meaning “I, Raina Petkoff, tell lies!” He meets her gaze unflinchingly. She suddenly sits down beside him, and adds, with a complete change of manner from the heroic to the familiar) How did you find me out?

      BLUNTSCHLI (promptly). Instinct, dear young lady. Instinct, and experience of the world.

    2. Your faith in climate model studies is remarkable, most people are relying more on empirical studies. These show that your last comment can be ignored.

      1. jarlgeir,

        “most people are relying more on empirical studies.”

        Do you have a supporting cite for that?

        I track (in a layman’s sense) the literature on climate models somewhat closely (as you’ll see in the long and current list of cites in posts such as this one). Papers show a strong stream of research in both modeling and observational analysis — just as it should be. The two streams inform one another.

      2. The empirical studies from the 1970ies agree on the global cooling “Grand Hiatus” in a 30-year period form the 40ies to the 70ies. They largely estimate the cooling as 0,3 degrees Celsius. You will find more than 250 such studies here:

        The Climate Modeling done in the IPCC-camp largely consists of curve-fitting. None of the models have been validated, and therefore they have very little if any, scientific value. It follows from this that the liteature spawned by the climate modellers will be of the same quality. Any layman can easily understand this, but regrettably the western academic tradition ensures that very few scientists will speak clearly about this regrettable fact.

        The modellers are actuvely working to “get rid of” the MWP, the warm period in the first half of the 20th Century and the recent Hiatus. The same with the many regional warm trends, like the 65-year warm-and-cold ocean cycles in the NE Atlantic Ocean

        The bottom line: Climate modeling may be defined as research, but it has very little to to with science since scientific methods are largely ignored.

        I was recently guided to this website by a prominent scientist, and as a layman I found the information there highly useful

      3. jarlfeir,

        These attempts to retcon history show one reason climate policy has become gridlocked: it has fallen into the hands of activists who distort our vision for their gain. The debate about the view of climate scientists during the 1970s perfectly illustrates that. Both sides give cherry-picked lists of papers that suit their needs, ignoring the others.  Sad that they do so. Even sadder that we are so gullible as to believe them.

        The best example of this is the peer-reviwed “The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus“, Thomas C. Peterson, William M. Connolley, and John Flect, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, September 2008.

        You cite a collection — not peer-reviewed – of articles with cherry-picked excerpts — instead of showing the abstracts, which give an accurate summary of the paper.

        The actual story is that was no visible consensus. Some worried about increasing levels of aerosol particles, which cool the world. Others worried about rising levels of CO2. This was a debate about the future of human activities — not a disagreement about the atmospheric science.  But there was also disagreement about the global temperature data and climate models (primitive by modern standards).  This tells us as much about modern climate science as 17thC debate about gravity (pre-Newton) proves that NASA can’t sent probes to explore the  planets.

        What we lack for the 1970s is an IPCC to show the middle of the debate. There were individual scientists who did so, such as this by Professor Reid A. Bryson.  Bryson was an atmospheric scientist, geologist and meteorologist; Director of the Institute for Environmental Studies at the U of Wisconsin – Madison; designated Global Laureate by the UN Global Environment Program in 1990. it is the preface to The Cooling by Lowell Ponte (1974).

        The Cooling will be controversial, because among scientists most of the matters it deals with are hotly debated.

        • There is no agreement on whether the earth is cooling.
        • There is not unanimous agreement on whether it has cooled, or one hemisphere has cooled and the other warmed.
        • One would think that there might be consensus about what data there is — but ther is not.
        • There is no agreement on the causes of climatic change, or even why it should not change among those who so maintain.
        • There is certainly no agreement about what the climate will do in the next century, though there is a majority opinion that it will change, more or less, one way or the other.
        • Of that majority, a majority believe that the longer trend will be downward.

        Just to be clear, a majority of a majority is a minority.

        (2) Your comments about climate modeling are too bizarre to discuss, part of the smearing of scientists that has become the primary mode of debate among activists on both sides of the debate.

      4. The number of scientists who believe the trnd is one way or another in the future is of little interest.

        Of more interest is the fact that those who argue for the downward trend are referring to accumulated knowledge about the sun. While the upward crowd mostly ar referring to unvalidated models.

        Of most interest are the observations showing us what is actually happening.

        The efforts to rewrite climate history to serve the needs of the climate acitivists are well known. Referring to the notorious climate modeller Mr. Connolly only serves as further proof that anything alarmist can pass peer review. Please let me know if you have a scientific reference.

        Your faith in unvalifated climate models and curve fitting has been noted.

      5. Jarlgeir,

        “The number of scientists who believe the trnd is one way or another in the future is of little interest.”

        To you. It’s a major input to public policy in the thinking of lots of other folk.

        “Your faith in unvalifated climate models and curve fitting has been noted.”

        Read more carefully. Attempt to draw correct inferences. Perhaps you’ll get it right the next time.

  3. Since there is no truth, the closest I have come to finding a means of looking at climate science for real facts upon which to base a decision was outlined by Karl Popper in this clip from Conjectures and Refutations where he searches for the “truth” of science.

    Based on Popper’s 7 criteria, the anthropogenic warming theory of climate science today is not testable/ falsifiable. The models “predict/ forecast/project” unacceptable warming at a distant time in the future. [an untestable prediction]. Arguably climate science has devolved into less of a science and more of a philosophy.

    1. Bean,

      “Since there is no truth”

      Absurdly sophomoric. Hit your toe with a hammer. That will introduce you to truth. NASA launch probes on decades-long expeditions based on predictions, with fantastic accuracy.

      “Based on Popper’s 7 criteria, the anthropogenic warming theory of climate science today is not testable/ falsifiable”

      While interesting that you believe climate scientists to be fools, in fact the current body of climate science does consist of testable propositions. Here are discussions of this from different perspectives.

      To make a reliable public policy about climate change, we need validation for the predictions of climate models. That can be done. Scientists could re-run the models used in the IPCC’s reports, esp two and three, using actual emissions as inputs (not projections) and comparing their forecasts with observed temperatures. These multi-decade predictions would provide objective, powerful data that might resolve the policy debate — or create a clear majority of public opinion to one side. For details see:

      “models “predict/ forecast/project” unacceptable warming at a distant time in the future. [an untestable prediction].”

      You appear confused.

      (1) Model predictions about the late 21st C can be tested by their multi-decade predictions made decades ago. That’s not definitive, but then little of science consists of definitive results. Science is a small pool of light in the greater darkness.

      (2) All predictions rely on time for validation, because they are predictions about the future. Some can be tested in seconds, some require thousands or millions of years. Which is why while Popper says predictions are the gold standard of testing, they are not the only method.

  4. The NASA space program worked with well tested proven physics theories that long ago passed Popper’s gold standard. The data supported the physics.

    Dr. John Christy has presented a reasonable case that the observed data does not match the present climate warming model predictions. By Popper’s gold standard, or Dr. Richard Feynman’s theory vs data criterion, the present models are already proven wrong.

    There have been other equally convincing papers on the physics of green house gasses causing atmospheric warming. What is needed is a model that can be validated and supported by existing data that can demonstrate the degree to which man is responsible for the observed warming. Only the anthropogenic fraction is subject to remediation by policy.

    The IPCC has stated that climate is a non linear chaotic system. Modeling nonlinear chaotic systems to produce reliable predictions is extremely challenging. Some argue that it isn’t possible.

    The earth is warming but with the present noise level in the climate debate, if there is truth out there to support policy making, it isn’t easy to discern it.

    1. Bean,

      (1) “The NASA space program worked with well tested proven physics theories that long ago passed Popper’s gold standard. The data supported the physics.”

      I believe we all agree with that statement.

      (2) “Dr. John Christy has presented a reasonable case that the observed data does not match the present climate warming model predictions. By Popper’s gold standard, or Dr. Richard Feynman’s theory vs data criterion, the present models are already proven wrong.”

      Absurdly wrong. I doubt if many climate scientists would agree with that statement, whether an “skeptic” or “alarmist” scientist. Can you cite some peer-reviewed papers by Christy in which he says that? No blog posts, please. Those are useful in a sense, but this is a serious discussion about public policy.


    Here’s his congressional testimony: but perhaps his testimony does not meet the requirement for science in support of policy

    For another point of view by a political scientist who has worked on government policy issues, read this book. He has an MA in public policy and a PhD in Political Science. Dr. Roger Pielke Jr. – The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change ISBN-10: 0692297510

    Until both sides in the debate can stop the name calling, trying to win by emitting more decibels, ad hominem attacks, and then reasonably and rationally present considered scientific views and counter views supported by actual measurement data, I cannot believe that we will find enough truth in climate science with its present political infighting to underpin an effective policy where we would have a reasonable understanding of what effect should be achieved by the policy and at what cost.

    thanks for listening.

  6. I think that there are a few areas where your article could be improved.

    First, the discussion of the slowdown should be more informed by science. Here is a good summary of the paper Hausfather et al (2017), which has confirmed the Karl (2015) adjustments that show there was less slowdown than originally thought.

    NOAA was right: we have been underestimating warming

    The discussion of the El Nino / La Nina could be improved by making the point that El Nino / La Nina is an internal variation caused by ocean currents, and it does not add any energy to the system. Thus, it cannot cause warming by itself. Its effect on the global average temperature trend is to superimpose an oscillation on the general warming trend, which is steadily up.

    The NOAA graph you show does not appear to be based on the best selection of parameters. It is a sequence of the months of February only. This choice seems to exaggerate the slowdown. Annual averages (12 month) are more representative, such as this one.

    Finally, I think that referring to Rojer Pielke Jr. “To learn more” is misguided. Pielke is an AGW contrarian, a policy person who minimizes the science. He is hardly a good source for learning more unless your objective is to cause confusion.

    1. Smith,

      (1) You appear unclear what you are reading. This is a thousand word note making one narrow point, not a 5,000 word Britannica about climate science. People who want to learn more can click on the links about the pause, which go to compendiums of reports by the major climate agencies and the p-r literature. One of the most common and absurd criticisms is that there is more to be said about the subject of the post. Duh. There is always more to be said. Readership falls off fast at over 800 – 1,00 words.

      (2) You appear confused about the subject of the post. It is not about the details of the pause. Click on the links given to learn about the many different theories about the nature and causes of the pause.

      (3) You appear confused about how science works. There are many different explanations of the pause. One paper does not give the truth. Click on the link to learn what other scientists have given as explanations of the pause.

      (4) You appear confused about what is a reliable source. I cite the major climate agencies and the p-r literature. I don’t care what the activists at Skeptical Science say, and don’t understand why you do.

      (5) You do not appear to have read the post — or the graph — closely. The choice of the one-month option shows the monthly roll-off of the 2015-16 El Nino spike. An annual average cannot do that. Also, the monthly data does not “exaggerate” the slowdown. It doesn’t even show a slowdown, just a typical partial fall-off from the El Nino spike. It — tentatively — looks like another stair-step up. That’s the opposite of a “slowdown”. As I said:

      “temperatures spiked during the 2015-2016 El Niño. …this appears to have marked another step-up in temperatures.”

      (6) You appear not to understand how science works. It’s not baseball, where you root for fans and boo those you disagree with. Scientists opinions clash, often vehemently. Even they can’t tell who is correct until the dust settles. You certainly can’t do so. We have the IPCC and major climate agencies to show the start of the art. Pielke Jr’s conclusions were those of the IPCC’s AR5 report. Some scientists disagree with it — some one one side, some on the other. That’s inevitable, as the scientists writing it attempted to show the current consensus ground.

  7. You are making accusations about what you think I don’t understand or what I am “confused” about. I understand very well how science works and climate science in particular. I was not confused. Consider this response of yours:

    “I don’t care what the activists at Skeptical Science say, and don’t understand why you do.”

    The article to which I linked to was written by Zeke Hausfather of Berkely Earth. He is not an “activist”. He is a talented climate scientist. Did you read the article to which I linked, or did you skip it because of what you thought (wrongly) was an “activist” source? Would you have read the article if the source had been WUWT, a contrarian source?

    Like it or not, your February-only plot show a long down-trend after 1998, which is the bone of contention. It also shows 2016 being colder than 2015, which it was not, on average. Your graph is non-representative. That results from its being February-only. My annual average plot does not have those features. Did you look at my annual average plot and compare that with your February-only plot? Most scientists understand that averaging over longer time periods is more representative. Certainly one year averages are better February only. One mouse click gives you a better graph.

    You seem concerned about your 1000 words. “El Nino is internal and does not cause warming itself” is ten more words that might have clarified things. I am sure you could have rearranged words. Really, words is not the issue, is it?

    One of your links, referring to Pielke as an “eminent climate scientist” says it all. He is most certainly not. He is a political scientist. He is a climate scientist contrarian, hardly representative of the scientific consensus.

    Review my comment and your response again. I think you are being super-sensitive about a little scientific clarification.

    1. Smith,

      Try reading the post again. You don’t appear to have understood what it says. Or most of what I said in my reply to your comment. I’ll give a few replies, but I suspect it is a waste of time.

      “It also shows 2016 being colder than 2015”

      Only to people who don’t know how to read a graph. The peak bar is 2016. That is also clearly stated in the text: “See the 2016 El Niño spike, and the tiny fall-off in February 2017.”

      You appear unclear about the difference between research at blogs and research posted by the major climate agencies and in the p-r literature. Skeptical Science is esp riddled with errors — furthering its activis’ agenda — such as this one. Bothering to parse each article to determine its validity is a waste of time when there are ample sources of reliable information.

      “El Nino is internal and does not cause warming itself”

      That’s not material to this post. It’s also daft (only the Sun and Earth’s radioactive content “cause” warming).

      “One of your links, referring to Pielke as an “eminent climate scientist” says it all. He is most certainly not. He is a political scientist.”

      You appear to believe you are the Pope of Science. That’s a sad delusion, but there’s nothing to be done about it here.

      “I think you are being super-sensitive about a little scientific clarification.”

      Try reading with more attention to the text and less attempting to determine my internal psychological state. Coplay play Professor Xavier another time.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: