Category Archives: blogs

Rapidly warming satellite data sends “skeptics” scurrying to models

Most people remotely familiar with climate “skeptics” know that if you can count on them for anything, it’s the following:

  1. “Skeptics” love satellite temperature data.
  2. “Skeptics” hate computer models. 

“Skeptics” claim to reject the surface instrumental temperature record because of alleged biases in the data, supposedly fraudulent “adjustments”, etc. These objections are not based in reality, as multiple analyses of the surface data have shown. In reality, “skeptics” reject the surface instrumental record for the same reason they reject so much of modern science: it doesn’t show what they want it to.

“Skeptics” claim that satellite temperature data, derived from microwave brightness soundings of the lower troposphere, are superior. The reality is that the satellite data cover a shorter record (and thus capture less of the warming), use a more recent baseline (and thus have cooler “anomalies” relative to the surface record), and are more sensitive to natural climatic variability like ENSO (and thus make the human signal harder to pick out visually). In other words, they like the satellite data because they show them more of what they want to see, and less of what they don’t. That one of the groups producing a satellite record is comprised of Roy Spencer and John Christy is icing on the cake.

And if there’s one thing “skeptics” disdain more than the surface instrumental record, it’s computer models. The ostensible justifications are legion, but the underlying cause is simple: they show things that “skeptics” don’t want to see.

So it was with great amusement that I took note of the “skeptic” reaction to the UAH satellite record’s rapid January warming, which reached temperatures exceeded only during the strong El Niño years of 1998 and 2010:

Rather than accept their beloved satellite data at face value, “skeptics” cast about for any alternative data set that didn’t show the inconvenient warming. Over at the wretched hive of scum and villainy known as WUWT, the innumerate and oft-beclowned Anthony Watts seized upon NCEP data showing much less January warming:

Of course NCEP isn’t actually an observational data set. It’s a reanalysis product created by those evil and untrustworthy models. You know, the ones “skeptics” demonize regularly in outlets like WUWT:

When the satellites don’t show what they want to see, “skeptics” waste no time in fleeing to the models they otherwise disdain.

Because climate “skeptics” are anything but skeptical.

And just for the record, the RSS satellite record showed a similarly large (+0.341°C) increase in January 2013.

Common sense gets Rogered

Roger Pielke Sr. has spent the past few days casting about for anything to which he can latch onto in hopes of promoting an upcoming paper that supposedly shows how terrible the surface instrumental record is.

On Tuesday, he wrote about an image from NOAA using the GHCN surface data (which shows May as quite a warm month) and then shows an image using UAH to claim that the differences between the two show that the GHCN surface data are biased warm:

The above figure shows a picture of warmer than average land surface temperatures almost everywhere. This image is from the NOAA report…

While the lower tropospheric data shows a very warm May, it is not as anomalous as at the surface as diagnosed by the Global Historical Climatology Network. The spatial map of lower tropospheric temperatures for May 2012 is shown below

In this data, May 2012 has a global composite lower tropospheric temperature anomaly of +0.29 C (about 0.52 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for May. The NOAA plot above has a global composite of “more than 1°F above the 20th century average” according to the NOAA article.

3. This divergence between the surface temperature analysis and the lower tropospheric temperature analyses is further demonstration of the divergence between these two data sets as we reported on in [lengthy onanistic bout of self-citation follows].

Today, Roger does much the same by comparing the NOAA/GHCN May 2012 image to an image generated using NASA MODIS land data:

It does not take a quantitative analysis to see regions of large differences, such as the cool anomalies in the NASA data in Africa, Scandinavia, and elsewhere. While they are not measuring the same temperatures, the anomalies should be quite similar {For the GHCN, NOAA NCDC uses air temperature measurements which are supposed to be 2m above the ground; they also use the mean temperature anomalies which are computed using maximum and minimum temperatures}.

The areal coverage of the temperature anomalies, however, are not the same. The NOAA analysis shows much larger areas of warmer than average surface temperatures than seen in the NASA NEO analysis.

Presumably some of you have seen where Roger’s gone wrong immediately. Congratulations, because Roger obviously still hasn’t. Note what he compares in the first set of images:

In this data, May 2012 has a global composite lower tropospheric temperature anomaly of +0.29 C (about 0.52 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average [i.e. 1981-2010] for May. The NOAA plot above has a global composite of “more than 1°F above the 20th century average” according to the NOAA article.

And in the second:

Today, I present at the top of this post the May 2012 surface temperature anomaly analysis from NASA’s Earth Observations program.

As written on the NASA’s Earth Observations program website

Land surface temperature is how hot or cold the ground feels to the touch. An anomaly is when something is different from average. These maps show where Earth’s surface was warmer or cooler in the daytime than the average temperatures for the same week or month from 2001-2010. So, a land surface temperature anomaly map for May 2002 shows how that month’s average temperature was different from the average temperature for all Mays between 2001 and 2010.

Roger’s entire premise is that there is a significant difference between the GHCN surface data used by NOAA, GISTEMP, HadCRUT, and others versus satellite data, and that this demonstrates that the surface data are biased warm. But Roger has completely failed to do the most cursory step of making such a comparison- looking at those data in reference to a common baseline.

Obviously, temperature anomalies relative to the 1901-2000 average are going to appear warmer than anomalies relative to a 1981-2010 baseline.

Obviously, temperature anomalies relative to a 2001-2010 baseline (a timescale in which short-term fluctuations like ENSO are much more significant than over 30 or 100 years) are going to be different in both magnitude and spatial structure.

For something a little more apples-to-apples, how do the size of the UAH satellite and GHCN-based surface anomalies compare?

It turns out that for Roger’s month of interest (May 2012), the UAH temperature is actually warmer than NOAA (and basically identical to GISTEMP):

Is the spatial pattern of the GHCN data really so different than that viewed by MODIS?

Northeastern Atlantic cooling (which becomes even more pronounced using a smaller interpolation length), cooling over much of Africa, cooling over the Pacific Northwest, cooling over Central America, much of Australia, much of Antarctica, etc. are all apparent in the GHCN-based GISTEMP land data when you bother to use the same baseline:

Identical? No, but even Roger admits they’re not measuring the same things exactly. But simply using the same baseline shows that the spatial structure of the temp anomalies is in much closer agreement than Roger would like you to believe.

Is the surface instrumental record biased warm? It’s possible- though many independent evaluations have failed to bear this out. When you hear someone say “It does not take a quantitative analysis to see…” particularly someone with such a lengthy history of cherry picking and apples to oranges comparisons as Roger*, it’s a good time to get… well, skeptical.

*Some examples can be seen herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, etc.

UPDATE: Thanks to Marco in comments, forgot about some gems at Tamino’s here, here, here, etc.

No one could have predicted

Remember how a few years back, supporters of aggressive climate mitigation legislation were castigated for being shrill, tribal, hippies? And how if only we tried a “third way” of making incremental progress with opponents of greenhouse gas limits, a bipartisan tide would lift us all to new clean energy heights?

Good times.


My apologies to Judith Curry

Image courtesy of Flickr user messtiza, used under Creative Commons

Boy, is there ever egg on my face for suggesting that Judy Curry’s blogging efforts would support ridiculous doubt-mongering (as opposed to serious criticisms). I couldn’t have been more wrong.

For instance, Curry wants you to know that Murry Salby thinks [new window, MP3] we aren’t driving the increase in atmospheric CO2, and he doesn’t believe the ice core record.

IPCC AR4 Figure TS.1. Variations of deuterium (δD) in antarctic ice, which is a proxy for local temperature, and the atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) in air trapped within the ice cores and from recent atmospheric measurements. Data cover 650,000 years and the shaded bands indicate current and previous interglacial warm periods. {Adapted from Figure 6.3}

Salby ostensibly gave this presentation at IUGG. But the topic of his talk was actually on antarctic ozone. Where are his data and analysis? He can’t show them to us. Why not? Because he’s “operating in the traditional mode of waiting until the paper is published”. Didn’t he say he was actually going to sell a book about this before he got the paper published? Uh, that was a different half of the data. Or something.

This isn’t silly, it’s serious.  How serious? “Wow” serious! It’s important. How important? “[S]ufficiently important that we should start talking about [it].” Why? Because it “could revolutionize AGW science”. In what way? Curry will get back to us on that, I’m sure.

No needless doubt-mongering here! Just digging into the areas of the issue that are really uncertain, based on hard evidence and with complete transparency.

I also note that Curry has taken to citing such bastions of accuracy and credibility on climate issues as Andrew Bolt and Joanne Nova. And to think anyone had ever warned Curry against becoming a purveyor of doubt.

[UPDATE: Fred Moolten has a worthwhile defense of what he believes Curry’s blog is doing.

I responded: I would be more sympathetic to that narrative if it actually had the productive qualities that Judith probably does at the end of the day intend. However, I’ve seen no evidence of such. If you have, that’s wonderful and I’d love to know about it.

The threads I’ve read at length seem to be largely “skeptic” echo chambering and backslapping, with admirable contributions of sanity by you, Pekka, and a few others. The “technical ‘skeptics’” that Judith so relentlessly pursued for an audience fall largely in with the former, and only rarely in with you in the latter.

While it may be true that Judith intended this blog to be a place where climate science was strengthened in trials by fire, its impact so far has been to bury the field under garbage (I believe that Judith has a T-shirt with a related theme). I see this blog cited approvingly by “skeptics” online, and it has without exception been in the context of dismissing, ridiculing, or otherwise attacking the mainstream. Whenever I myself have tried to cite it or Judith’s writing at say Climate Audit in a reinforcing or supporting role (to say nothing of her actual publications), these efforts are dismissed. No matter how hard Judith tries to earn her “skeptic” bona fides and proclaim herself an outsider, when she has the temerity to acknowledge the reality of anthropogenic warming and the threat it poses, she’s written off behind her back as a “warmer”.

She may believe she’s building bridges between “skeptics” and the mainstream, but so far these bridges have been decidedly one way.]

[LATER UPDATE: Curry is getting a little defensive over repeatedly getting called out for supporting nonsense like Salby by the relatively sane among her commentors. She has a new post on her “editorial policy”, wherein she- shockingly- paints herself as some sort of rebel at the bleeding edges of science discourse for having the courage to suck up to the denialosphere and bash the IPCC.

I responded:

JC writes: The frustration that the “warm” bloggers (e.g. RC et al.) seem to have with Climate Etc. is that I stray from the party line of the consensus.

This is crap.

People get upset because you promote, credulously repeat, or make on your own behalf, claims that sound at best far-fetched. When pressed for specifics, you frequently backpedal or move goalposts. When you get called on it, you play the victim, seeking (but never quite succeeding) to further promote your self-styled image as a rebel.

This Salby thread is a great example. On some level, I suspect you know that it’s ridiculous, but it’s “Not IPCC”, so what the heck- you put up a thread. You get pressed on specifics of why you support it, and you cannot name a single concrete thing mentioned in the presentation you are promoting.

JC: I am striving for something different, sort of an e-salon where we discuss interesting topics at the knowledge frontier.

That humans are increasing atmospheric CO2 levels was at “the knowledge frontier” decades ago.

This “knowledge frontier” “e-salon” you describe sounds incredibly fascinating. Let me know when you trade in this dumping ground for “Not IPCC” for something remotely like it.]

[LATER UPDATE: Curry predictably ducks.

My response:

JC writes: I am not ‘promoting’ anything

So what word that is non-synonymous with “promote” would you use to describe the act of someone writing a blog post about something, exclaiming “wow” about it, saying it’s “sufficiently important that we should start talking about [it]“, saying it “could revolutionize X science”, etc.?

JC: open discussion and integrity and science

In the interest of ‘open discussion and integrity and science’, what scientifically (not “he used to be a coworker”) about the presentation do you think was deserving of all the ‘totally not-promotion’ you were throwing around in the last thread?]

Outstanding science writing

Via Ed Yong (who is no slouch himself), an excellent piece by Carl Zimmer: The Human Lake. Go read it right now.

Who isn’t taking adaptation seriously?

Image courtesy of Flickr user "Arty Smokes (deaf mute)"

Keith Kloor apparently thinks that adaptation to climate change isn’t being seriously undertaken by policy-makers because of a clandestine cabal of “green pressure groups” and the climate blogosphere’s lack of enthusiasm.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I don’t really find these explanations to be credible. From my perspective, it would seem that the relative weight of the climate blogosphere and environmental groups pales in comparison to that of an organized campaign by Republicans to annihilate US aid for adaptation in developing countries.

As Kate Sheppard reports, this comes at a time when “[o]ther countries are growing increasingly worried that the US will not follow through on its commitment to provide money” for adaptation and mitigation. And given that the Republicans’ ostensible concern is over wasteful spending in light of the deficit and these same Republicans claim that anthropogenic climate change is a hoax, it’s hardly a giant leap to worry that domestic adaptation funds might appear on their chopping block as well.

Meanwhile, adaptation remains a central point of environmental (or here or here) and climate science efforts to educate the public and policy-makers on what needs to be done in response to climate changes that we may not prevent in time.

Here’s a thought- when you’re more interested in trying to assign blame to the groups trying to fix a problem than the ones making sure it will only get worse, perhaps it’s you who isn’t taking the issue seriously.

Pre-emptively debunking the coming “La Niña equals ‘global cooling'” meme

Back in early August, I noticed a rather curious claim from Roger Pielke Sr. [insertions and emphases mine]:

We are, also, of course, at the time of the year in Russia with the warmest temperatures at these levels. [ed. note: i.e. “summer”] However, the absolute temperatures will soon start to fall both in Russia [ed. note: i.e. “winter”] and globally (i.e. we will have global cooling for the next 6 months or so) . If global warming (as diagnosed by an annual global average) was a more-or-less linear accumulation of heat, than the heat accumulated (as a positive temperature anomaly) in the lower troposphere must remain in the coming months. The regional anomaly in Russia, of course, can be displaced to other locations.

We will  follow this analysis in the coming months, as we have a valuable test as to whether global warming in the annual average is progressively continuing or if natural (or human) climate forcings and feedbacks provides higher than average cooling in the coming months.

Let me set the stage.

At the time, Moscow’s environs looked like a holocaust, Pakistan was flooding, we were experiencing record temperatures globally, and people finally seemed to be recognizing that leaked emails and some IPCC errors didn’t mean that global warming was a hoax.

The 12 month record global temperatures were reached in no small part due to an El Niño boost atop the underlying anthropogenic warming signal. But already, we had transitioned to La Niña conditions and forecasts we being made for the La Niña to prevail for at least several months . And just as El Niños bump the globally averaged temp up, La Niñas bring them down.

ENSO is the one of the dominant drivers of interannual temperature variance. This has been and remains true even as anthropogenic warming marches on (though ENSO’s relative importance might somewhat decrease as unchecked warming progresses). We should expect a significantly strong La Niña to not only temporarily counterbalance, but even overwhelm underlying the anthropogenic warming signal. This in no way means that the planet will not continue to warm to a higher equilibrium due to the build up of GHGs in the atmosphere.

Clearly, a La Niña could push global temps down from their record highs, and if strong enough, would even push them temporarily below average. It happened in 2008, after all, and yet here we were in August 2010 with record temperatures. Pielke hadn’t claimed that 2008 represented a falsification of global warming (to the best of my knowledge). Yet in August he was saying something suspiciously like that. Was I misreading him? It was such a blatant cherry-picking excercise I thought I must have somehow misunderstood him. I sent a few emails noting his post [one saying: “The developing La Niña is almost sure to cause ‘higher than average cooling in the coming months.’ Who [knew] how easy it was to falsify this silly “global warming” nonsense?”] and more or less forgot about it.

Then I’m pointed to this post, in which Pielke not only reiterates his intent to cherry-pick the La Niña as evidence against warming, but adds the twist that it will somehow be positive evidence for some as-of-yet-undiscovered negative feedback in the climate system:

What is very interesting in this latest analysis is that almost the entire globe has above average lower tropospheric temperatures. If this persists while we are in a La Niña pattern (when we expect cooling) it will provide strong support for those who expect a long term warming to occur as a result of the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. On the other hand, if the temperatures cool to average or below average over large portions of the globe, this would indicate that the climate has a self regulation which mutes temperature excursions.

I couldn’t believe it. ENSO will continue to drive short term variation atop the underlying anthropogenic warming signal. The multivariate ENSO index is showing this current La Niña to be stronger than the one from 2008.

If it persists (currently forecast to do so at least until Spring 2011), we can and should expect a drop to average or possibly even below average lower troposphere temps for a little while. And if/when we do, that is hardly a falsification of enhanced greenhouse warming or positive evidence of some sort of self-stabilizing climatic negative feedback. If we don’t (although it might be unexpected) that isn’t in and of itself “proof” of anthropogenic warming. (Were it actually true, by Pielke’s own standards we’d already have “proven” global warming, as La Niña conditions first developed in May-June and global temperatures have remained above average for the interim five months.)

I’m open to the possibility that I’m simply reading Pielke wrong. It’s certainly possible. But I’m also a little hesitant to unduly extend the benefit of the doubt to someone who claimed that Arctic sea ice conditions over the past several years show there has been no recent decline. So rather than wait until a neutral or below average UAH lower troposphere temperature reading, I thought I might as well get out in front of this one.

UPDATE: Like clockwork.