30 Years of Warming with Dr. Ricky Rood

February 28, 2015

More from my chat this week with Dr. Richard Rood at the University of Michigan Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Science – soon to be renamed the Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering.
Dr. Rood has a large audience online owing to his blogs at Weather Underground, and recent posts to the “Conversation” series. He’s got a new one this week.

The Conversation:

If you’re younger than 30, you’ve never experienced a month in which the average surface temperature of the Earth was below average.

Each month, the US National Climatic Data Center calculates Earth’s average surface temperature using temperature measurements that cover the Earth’s surface. Then, another average is calculated for each month of the year for the twentieth century, 1901-2000. For each month, this gives one number representative of the entire century. Subtract this overall 1900s monthly average – which for February is 53.9F (12.1C) – from each individual month’s temperature and you’ve got the anomaly: that is, the difference from the average.

The last month that was at or below that 1900s average was February 1985. Ronald Reagan had just started his second presidential term and Foreigner had the number one single with “I want to know what love is.”

These temperature observations make it clear the new normal will be systematically rising temperatures, not the stability of the last 100 years. The traditional definition of climate is the 30-year average of weather. The fact that – once the official records are in for February 2015 – it will have been 30 years since a month was below average is an important measure that the climate has changed.

Choosing one month, February in this instance, perhaps overemphasizes that time in 1985 when we had a below average month. We can get a single yearly average for all the months in an entire year, January-December. If we look at these annual averages, then the ups and downs are reduced. In this case, 1976 emerges as the last year in which the global-average temperature was below the 20th century average of 57.0F (13.9C) – that’s 38 years ago, the year that Nadia Comaneci scored her seven perfect 10s at the Montreal Olympics.

I am not a fan of tracking month-by-month or even year-by-year averages and arguing over the statistical minutia of possible records. We live at a time when the Earth is definitively warming. And we know why: predominately, the increase of greenhouse gas warming due to increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Under current conditions, we should expect the planet to be warming. What would be more important news would be if we had a year, even a month, that was below average.

The variability we observe in surface temperature comes primarily from understood patterns of weather. Many have heard of El Niño, when the eastern Pacific Ocean is warmer than average. The eastern Pacific is so large that when it is warmer than average, the entire planet is likely to be warmer than average. As we look at averages, 30 years, 10 years, or even one year, these patterns, some years warmer, some cooler, become less prominent. The trend of warming is large enough to mask the variability. The fact that there have been 30 years with no month below the 20th century average is a definitive statement that climate has changed.


5 Responses to “30 Years of Warming with Dr. Ricky Rood”

  1. 45 secs into the video, a voice over, “The summer of 1976 broke all records…” That is Ian Stewart who produced “The Climate Wars” for the BBC. I believe that bit of video might actually be from the BBC program.

    So is this:

    It shows how filling a transparent tube with carbon dioxide puts out the infrared image of a candle on the other side while the candle continues to burn. The carbon dioxide absorbs the infrared radiation — just as it does in the atmosphere as shown by the Atmospheric InfraRed Sounder aboard the Aqua satellite.

    Anyway, Trenberth is talking how the Pacific Decadal Oscillation has entered new positive territory — and how this may lead to a new period of rapid global warming. 2016 may be the new 1976.

  2. redskylite Says:

    Great video with Dr Rood, and comments from Timothy Chase above, I have been following the PDO Index with interest after reading comments about its affect on global surface temperatures from Kevin Trenberth and indeed from the contrarian Judith Curry (who seems to agree with Kevin in that aspect). All pointers seem to suggest the temperature climb will steepen once again. Keeping my spreadsheets up to date in anticipation.

    An article appeared recently that fascinated me, involving empirical measurements of CO2’s radiative blocking effects. Curiously Watts has published the same article, stating he always agreed with the CO2 IR transfer science, he just doesn’t like modelling predictions (and seems to enjoy denial on every other topic).

    Seeing is believing as scientists trace greenhouse effect


  3. John Says:

    Reblogged this on jpratt27.

  4. […] From a blogger that devotes their life to debunking climate denial comes this chart… […]

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