Andrew Dessler on Satellite Errors

January 20, 2016

Twitter has certainly been a joy over the last few days, as climate deniers have gone off like Orville Reddenbacher’s premium popcorn over my most recent video, showing that the satellite temperature record has, well…problems.

It’s a big deal for deniers, because, the big pushback they were preparing for today’s announcement – 2015 is the hottest year in the record by far – was going to be “but the satellites”. The video has been making the rounds of thought leaders from the media, to capitol hill, to the Pentagon, and pretty much killed off that prospect.

Not that every record doesn’t need some adjustments – that’s normal for any data set. But when climate deniers like Ted Cruz, seek to take one small slice of one rather shakey data set (among tens of thousands) and proclaim that it is the truth, the whole truth, and the only truth – well, they kind of reveal themselves.

Andy Dessler was one of 15 scientists I interviewed last month at the American Geophysical Union Fall meeting in San Francisco – and certainly one of the most animated.  He was one of the stars of the video, and here’s his core take on satellites and temperatures.


But those who try to cast doubt on accepted science — most often non-scientists — prefer satellite data that goes back to 1979. And the data shows that 2015 was only the third-warmest year on record.

Politicians who reject mainstream climate science, such as Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, especially cite one satellite measurement system, Remote Sensing Systems, in asserting that there has been no global warming for 18 years. That’s a claim scientists, including the one who runs RSS, say is misleading.

Carl Mears, senior scientist for Remote Sensing Systems, told The Associated Press in an email: “The satellite measurements do not measure the surface warming. They are measurements of the average temperature of thick layers of the atmosphere” about 50,000 feet off the ground.

“For impacts on human society and the environment, the surface data are more important,” Mears said.

Mears said his analysis of his own satellite data has five times the margin of error of ground measurements. That’s because satellites use complex mathematical algorithms and thousands of bits of code to translate wavelength measurements into temperature readings, Hayhoe said.

Scientists routinely use ground measurements to calibrate and validate satellite information, said Marshall Shepherd, a University of Georgia meteorology professor. He and several other scientists called surface measurements “the ground truth.”


31 Responses to “Andrew Dessler on Satellite Errors”

  1. Ron Voisin Says:

    Andrew has a point.

    Come to think of it, Hg thermometers don’t measure temperature. They measure the thermal expansion of mercury. Then we use a scale “model” next to the mercury stack to interpret a temperature.

    Same with electric thermocouples. They measure a voltage and then we use a “model” to translate that voltage into a temperature.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      interestingly, that’s the second time I’ve heard that today. Coincidence, I am sure.
      What you don’t have to do with thermometers is calibrate them against the backdrop of space, correct for orbital decay and diurnal drift, and knock out stratsopheric contamination. As Dr. Mears, (who created the RSS satellite record that Ted Cruz and others distort,) says – “”..his own satellite data has five times the margin of error of ground measurements”

      Other than that, right. Exactly the same.

      • Ron Voisin Says:

        True. However, the satellite data are independently confirmed by balloon observations.

        • greenman3610 Says:

          weather balloons have their own issues. Any issue you ascribe to surface temps applies ten fold to sensors high in the sky subject to ice buildup, etc.
          That’s why, Dr. Mears, and everyone else who does not have an ideological agenda to support, says look at ALL the data sets.
          There are literally tens of thousands of data sets, completely independent measures, showing warming. This is what you would like to ignore in favor of the custom picked slice of one measure that tells you what you wish to hear.

          • Ron Voisin Says:

            I’m not ignoring anything and I’m not picking a slice of one measure that tells me what I want to hear. I’m making the point that no device directly measures temperature. Is that out of line?

        • izen Says:

          The satellite data are diverging from the balloon observations which have more closely followed surface measurements.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          “interestingly, that’s the second time I’ve heard that today. Coincidence, I am sure”.

          No, Peter, it’s not coincidence. Ron Voisin is a regular guest commentator on WUWT, and it’s highly likely that he is on a secret mission from the denier world to try to sabotage Crock, and that others will follow. As usual, the truth will win the day, and they don;t have any. Yes, your video has certainly gotten the popcorn popping and heads exploding Mars Attacks style—-feel good, VERY good, about that.

          It’s too bad that Ronnie’s little straw men are so inept, weak, and laughable.
          Balloons? LMAO! And obfuscatory BS about “models”? LMAO again!

          Ronnie, would you care to expand the discussion into how humans senses operate? We take in data with see-touch-taste-smell-hear receptors and our brains use functional “models” to make sense of that data and turn it into “thoughts”. Ooooooops, sorry, not all of us do that—-you and the deniers turn it into deluded horseshit instead. Some day they may find a cure for that condition—-good luck.

          • greenman3610 Says:

            thanks. I would have no idea who posts at WUWT, because I’m too busy looking for actual facts to waste time there.
            But if that’s their idea of a hot-shit “gotcha” comment, uhhm.. not awesome.
            Understand “Lord” Monckton is whipping up the spittle flecked masses with talk of my monstrous lies. And I thought he was tied up with the clinical trials on his AIDS cure.
            This keeps getting better.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            This keeps getting better, indeed! I don’t go to WUWT since I got banned there in no time flat for speaking truth to the ignorant lemmings that inhabit that site, but that’s Watt’s style. NOT awesome brainpower—-just lots of little turds of lies sprinkled into truth to confuse the low-IQ types. If Voisin really is on a “mission” here, things must be bad in denier land—-a Mutant Ninja Turtle Navy Seal Delta Operator he is NOT. Here’s what hotwhopper had to say about Ronnie.

            And Monckton? Having him speak against your video is a good thing. That’s as good as having Ted Cruz do it.

        • lerpo Says:

          Radiosonde (balloon) data lines up with RSS pretty well up until about 2000. After that it shows WAY more warming. What happened around 2000 to make the satellite data go off the rails? here’s Tamino showing RSS minus RATPAC:

          • Ron Voisin Says:


            Look a little closer at Sou’s own comments regarding her head-scratching discovery that insects and microbes are, in fact, enormously larger CO2 emitters that all of humanity (by >20X).

    • And do they directly measure a local phenomenon –– where the instrument itself resides –– and where the interpretation or translation is according to constant, objective, well established, well understood, stable observations and principles of physics?

    • ubrew12 Says:

      Voisin said: “Hg thermometers don’t measure temperature. They measure the thermal expansion of mercury.”
      Uhh… by WHAT means, other than temperature…
      can you effect the THERMAL expansion of Mercury?
      Seriously… I’m ALL ears…

    • This is a legitimate point, but I think it trivializes the problem facing geophysical temperature measurements. The goal is not to measure temperature, but to measure a *trend* in temperature, which is a much, much harder problem. It requires a model to make adjustments to back out the true signal, and that must be done with exquisite accuracy. The model used by the UAH group has a long history of not doing this correctly, and many people (including me) think the retrieval still has issues.

  2. […] P.S.  No, really.  Satellite temperature measurements are not the gold standard.  Let climatologist Andrew Dessler, Ph.D., explain why in Peter Sinclair’s new video. […]

  3. Ron Voisin Says:

    Wow…a somewhat sensitive group.

    Obviously Andrew was backhandedly defending “Models” in pointing out that satellites do not directly measure temperature. But no device directly measures temperature as explained above. And the type of “models” used in observational metrological devices should not be used to justify the use of “models” of a chaotic, coupled, non-linear system – especially for far-future predictions of that chaotic, coupled, non-linear system (which I believe was his point as I doubt he was actually criticizing the use of “models” in general as he elsewise relies on them heavily).

    ubrew12: I cannot think of anything that affects the THERMAL expansion of pure Mercury other than temperature. However, a calibrated scale “model” in required to translate that expansion into temperature. What is more: any impurities in the mercury used will affect its rate of expansion; and any variation in the capillary cross-section will affect the perceived expansion. All thermometers have their error sources.

    I’m trying to be quite respectful and polite with my comments. And I learn a lot visiting this site.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      What we’re “somewhat” sensitive to is attempts by paid denier whores and other assorted denier morons to disrupt the sharing of facts and intelligent discussion among the scientifically literate people on Crock.

      You’re trying to be “quite respectful and polite with your comments”? I call bullshit on you. You are deliberately wasting our time in an attempt to clog the thread and confuse any casual visitors who may drop in for a look—-we have seen your kind here before.

      You say “I’m making the point that no device directly measures temperature” and ask “Is that out of line?” The short answer is Yes, because that has NO relevance to the discussion, and the long answer is that you’re just trying to distract, deflect, and obfuscate—-Merchant of Doubt style. That contention is borne out by the TOTAL load of bullshit about “chaotic, coupled, non-linear systems” and “impurities in the mercury used will affect its rate of expansion; and any variation in the capillary cross-section will affect the perceived expansion”. Do you think we’re stupid? Save that for the morons on WUWT, who will nod in agreement with that and say “Isn’t he smart”.

      You say you “learn a lot visiting this site”? LOL Why don’t you shut up and do some “learning” now? (Better yet, go back to WUWT and join the minions there).

      • Ron Voisin Says:


        In many other settings I would genuinely appreciate your vigor. Say, as a wing-man for a bar visit.

        In this setting you might consider cooling your jets.

        The unpredictable “modeling” of a chaotic, coupled, non-linear system just happens to be the IPCC’s stated position. Is it wrong to point that out.

        Regarding your “Do you think we’re stupid?” comment. Ahh…I think your thinking that I’m thinking I’m delivering a silver-bullet to your perception of reality. I don’t think that. But the facts I’ve pointed out happen to be true.

        Bet You a Bar Bear

        • dumboldguy Says:

          I have been an admirer of Chaos Theory since reading Glieck’s book back in the late 1980’s, and anyone with a brain knows that climate change is a chaotic, coupled, non-linear system, and that’s we have difficulty modeling it. What IS wrong is to use it as you have done, as part of a load of obfuscatory bullshit in an attempt to confuse the casual observer.

          If we were in a bar together, you would have already have found yourself flat on your ass, Ronnie, both figuratively, as you are here, and literally, because that’s what happens to folks like you in the real world.

          As I said, things must be very bad in the denier world if you are the best they have to send here to be a merchant of doubt. The only silver bullets in evidence here are the ones you keep shooting your toes off with. Thanks for coming by and proving that Peter’s excellent work is really getting under the denier’s skins.

    • ubrew12 Says:

      Voisin said; ‘ubrew12: I cannot think of anything that affects the THERMAL expansion of pure Mercury other than temperature. ” REALLY? NOTHING? Not orbital decay, orbital drift, sensor decay, sensor drift, sensor design, or interference from other layers of the atmosphere or surface effects like ice-reflection? And assuming fluid Mercury is ‘incompressible’ (and excellent assumption): no pressure or gravity effects?

      Owww, that’s such a disappointment to me. This almost seems as though Mercury would be an excellent choice for a thermometer.

    • ubrew12 Says:

      Voisin said: “I’m trying to be quite respectful and polite with my comments.”
      Dude: you questioned the adequacy of MERCURY as a temperature measuring device. This makes you disrespectful to 300 years of Scientific measurement (Mercury thermometer invented 1714).

      Honestly, you can HARDLY get more disrespectful than that.

  4. paulie200 Says:

    That whole gross misuse of RSS satellite sounding data keeps reminding me of the term “ground truth.”

    In a disagreement between a vast, pervasive, well-understood network of ground based thermometers, the latter calibrated to within an nth of a degree, traceable to NIST and SI techniques which DEFINE what a degree is and actually measuring kinetic energy directly, and a few microwave sounding units flying miles away from their target and looking at photons… there is ZERO debate as to which trend-line to trust.

    Whatever is going on with TMT data from the satellites (other than perhaps just “John Christy”) to make it not line up with otherwise skilled models and the hundreds of other data sets… it’s NOT the fault of ‘everything else.”

  5. Lionel Smith Says:

    Ron V (A clone of AV perhaps?) dropped this piece of bubkes:

    Look a little closer at Sou’s own comments regarding her head-scratching discovery that insects and microbes are, in fact, enormously larger CO2 emitters that all of humanity

    Now why no citation to back up that ‘opinion’?

    Maybe because it is RV and not Sou who came to that conclusion but Voisin turns Sou’s comments on their head, as I thought a clone.

    Here is, probably, the article in question Insects and microbes and OCO-2 conspiracy theories at WUWT, a quote:

    I can’t say it’s enjoyable making fun of the articles by Ronald D “OMG it’s insects” Voisin, because I do believe he is one of the few genuine deniers at WUWT, and probably a very nice, if very eccentric, chap. It’s just that he is a conspiracy theorist of the “climate science is a hoax” type, so much so that I’d not even rate his articles as pseudo-science. (Type Voisin into the search bar to learn more about how Ronald’s mind works, or fails to work.)

    and do follow Sou’s suggestion at the end of that for you will find that Voisin has ‘history’.

  6. I’ve lurked on a couple of discussions about Roy Spencer’s new UAH 6.0 data and it seems several people, including Andrew Dessler here and David Titley elsewhere, have identified the problem of Stratospheric data contaminating Tropopause and Lower Troposphere calculations.

    Had a lurk at Spencer’s site as well, would I be correct that diagram 7 on this page:

    basically applies a constant, altitude based weighting curve to all LT, TP and LS calculations, regardless of *latitude*…? Knowing that the tropopause is a low as 8km altitude in polar regions, and as high as 16 km around the equatorial belt, if there is no adjustment to these weighting curves, northern latitude temperature calculations would be especially compromised. Should we assume that Dr. Spencer has accounted for this? I see nothing in his news release above to indicarte that he has.

    • I think the issue here is not whether there is stratospheric contamination is in the data — there is — but rather how you compare these data to other data sets. If you’re comparing the satellite obs. to models, for example, you need to average the model data over the same altitude range as the satellite obs. I’m actually have no idea how Christy makes his plots and if he’s averaging the models over the same range as the satellite data b/c he’s never published that plot.

      It’s also worth pointing out that much of the lower stratospheric cooling comes from ozone depletion. So this means that models without realistic ozone trends could show differences with the obs., even if the amount of global warming in the model is realistic.

      As always, the simplest brain-dead interpretation (“models bad, satellites good”) does not convey the nuances of the science.

  7. Ron Voisin Says:

    Type Voisin into the search bar at WUWT and you’ll get a whole poop-load of his thinking.

  8. dumboldguy Says:

    Why would anyone want to go to WUWT and waste the time viewing Ronnie The Engineer’s poopy thinking? Better to spend the time viewing and re-viewing this post, the links it contains, and other related articles on Crock. Ronnie is just trying to distract us from the many (and very inconvenient) truths here that have got the deniers all atwitter. Nice try, Ron!

    PS Beware! I learned the hard way that if you type “Voisin” too many times, your keyboard will think it’s been “poisined” and lock up.

  9. […] Monckton issued thinly veiled threats to send Peter Sinclair to jail for FRAUD!!!! because of a perfectly reasonable video Peter made about satellite temperature […]

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