Satellite Scientist: Surface Temps are More Accurate

January 25, 2016

Above, more from my conversation with Carl Mears PhD, senior scientist behind the RSS (Remote Sensing Systems) satellite temperature data set, one which has been used and misused by climate deniers over recent years.

In a December 2015 hearing, Senator Ted Cruz held up a carefully chosen slice of the RSS data, improperly, according to Dr. Mears, purporting to contradict the mainstream science of climate change.  Dr. Mears is clear that the globe is warming, if you look at the complete satellite record, (as well as thousands of other independent supporting datasets), the planet is warming, and humans are causing it.

The Conversation:

Research has identified several telltale signs that differentiate denial from skepticism, whether it is denial of the link between smoking and lung cancer or between CO2 emissions and climate change.

One technique of denial involves “cherry-picking”, best described as willfully ignoring a mountain of inconvenient evidence in favor of a small molehill that serves a desired purpose. Cherry-picking is already in full swing in response to the record-breaking temperatures of 2015.

Political operatives such as James Taylor of the Heartland Institute – which once compared acceptance of the science of climate change to the Unabomber in an ill-fated billboard campaign – have already denied 2015 set a record by pointing to satellite data, which ostensibly shows no warming for the last umpteen years and which purportedly relegates 2015 to third place.

So what about the satellite data?


If you cannot remember when you last checked the satellites to decide whether to go for a picnic, that’s probably because the satellites don’t actually measure temperature. Instead, they measure the microwave emissions of oxygen molecules in very broad bands of the atmosphere, for example ranging from the surface to about 18km above the earth. Those microwave soundings are converted into estimates of temperature using highly-complex models. Different teams of researchers use different models and they come up with fairly different answers, although they all agree that there has been ongoing warming since records began in 1979.

There is nothing wrong with using models, such as those required to interpret satellite data, for their intended purpose – namely to detect a trend in temperatures at high altitudes, far away from the surface where we grow our crops and make decisions about picnics.

But to use high-altitude data with its large uncertainties to determine whether 2015 is the hottest year on record is like trying to determine whether it’s safe to cross the road by firmly shutting your eyes and ears and then standing on your head to detect passing vehicles from their seismic vibrations. Yes, a big truck might be detectable that way, but most of us would rather just have a look and see whether it’s safe to cross the road.

And if you just look at the surface-based climate data with your own eyes, then you will see that NASA, the US NOAA, the UK Met Office, the Berkeley Earth group, the Japan Meteorological Agency, and many other researchers around the world, all independently arrived at one consistent and certain end result – namely that 2015 was by far the hottest year globally since records began more than a century ago.

Enter denial strategy two: that if every scientific agency around the world agrees on global warming, they must be engaging in a conspiracy! Far from being an incidental ornament, conspiratorial thinking is central to denial. When a scientific fact has been as thoroughly examined as global warming being caused by greenhouse gases or the link between HIV and AIDS, then no contrary position can claim much intellectual or scholarly respectability because it is so overwhelmingly at odds with the evidence.

That’s why politicians such as Republican Congressman Lamar Smith need to accuse the NOAA of having “altered the [climate] data to get the results they needed to advance this administration’s extreme climate change agenda”. If the evidence is against you, then it has to be manipulated by mysterious forces in pursuit of a nefarious agenda.

This is like saying that you shouldn’t cross the road by just looking because the several dozen optometrists who have independently attested to your 20/20 vision have manipulated the results because … World Government! Taxation! … and therefore you’d better stand on your head blindfolded with tinfoil.

So do the people who disseminate misinformation about climate actually believe what they are saying?

The question can be answered by considering the stock market. Investors decide on which stock to buy based on their best estimates of a company’s future potential. In other words, investors place an educated bet on a company’s future based on their constant reading of odds that are determined by myriad factors.

Investors put their money where their beliefs are.

Likewise, climate scientists put their money where their knowledge is: physicist Mark Boslough recently offered a $25,000 bet on future temperature increases. It has not been taken up. Nobel laureate Brian Schmidt similarly offered a bet to an Australian “skeptic” on climate change. It was not taken up.

People who deny climate science do not put their money where their mouth is. And when they very occasionally do, they lose.

This is not altogether surprising: in a recent peer-reviewed paper, with James Risbey as first author, we showed that wagering on global surface warming would have won a bet every year since 1970. We therefore suggested that denial may be “… largely posturing on the part of the contrarians. Bets against greenhouse warming are largely hopeless now and that is widely understood.”

So the cherry-picking and conspiracy-theorising will continue while it is politically opportune, but the people behind it won’t put their money where their mouth is. They probably know better.

UPDATE: Turns out Dr. Mears told the Australian TV program “The Project” pretty much what he told me – starting at 3:20 or so here:


7 Responses to “Satellite Scientist: Surface Temps are More Accurate”

  1. ceist8 Says:

    Check out the video from “Friends of Science” trying to trash your video.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      78 views so far. and deserves every one.

      • skeptictmac57 Says:

        I really liked (not) the way she referenced Kyoto as a failure to limit Co2, as though there was something wrong with the premise rather than the fact that the powers that be fought against doing anything.
        Also the graph that she showed where Co2 continues to climb referenced against the temperature trend seems to be implying that their slopes should match, which is not how Co2 forcing plays out. They are not one to one.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Those 78 views are probably from WUWT lemmings, traveling across the border via the web to drool and nod in slack jawed agreement with their fellow crackpots and deniers from the north. Friends of Science is Canada’s answer to WUWT, Morano, Delingplole, et al. Go to desmogblog for the full skinny, but (surprise, surprise) FOS is another fossil fuel funded right wing BS spreader like Heartland.

        And not to get personal and insulting (although I’m getting pretty old and “ugly” and nobody’s going to be putting me on TV as a “spokes old guy”), but Michelle Stirling is NOT Cindy Crawford—-nothing moved for the first minute of the video but her mouth, did she even blink?. Did they ever hear of production values? Or did they think the BS they threw against the wall was all they needed?

    • Maybe some one needs to teach this woman about error bars….

  2. Lionel Smith Says:

    Stirling’s description of UAH satellite data being adjusted four times transparently and openly skates around the exposure of Christy being reluctant to share data and code as he expected others to do.

    Mike Mann in his book ‘The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars’ described how Christy was exposed at the Barton Congressional Hearing.

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