Denierville Dumpster Fire: New Satellite Data Shows Greater Warming

March 4, 2016

Tough enough to crank out these videos on a tight schedule, but the ground keeps shifting as I’m working.  That sound of grinding metal you hear is the wheels coming off the climate denial monster truck.

Right now, I am finishing a companion piece to the Satellite Temperature video that set off  an ongoing denierville dumpster fire a few weeks ago, and caused a climate denial stalwart, John Christy,  the Ned Flanders of climate denial, to break into a rant in congressional testimony about “well funded videos” attacking his work.

Anyhow, even as I’m working with video of Zeke Hausfather of Berkeley Earth predicting more adjustments to the satellite record – news breaks, of course, of new adjustments to the satellite record.  Of course, they show more warming in the very record that Ted Cruz likes to wave around at hearings and elsewhere.

Dana Nuccitelli in the Guardian:


RSS mid-troposphere temperature, v3.3 and v4.0. Illustration: Mears & Wentz (2016), Journal of Climate.

 This new adjustment also helps to reconcile the divergence between atmospheric temperature estimates from satellites and weather balloons. Over most of the temperature record, the estimates using the two different types of instruments have been similar, and the satellite data are calibrated with the weather ballon data. However, over the past decade, the weather balloons had shown significantly more atmospheric warming than the satellite estimates. RSS v4.0 goes a long way toward bringing these measurements into closer agreement.


As Joe Romm noted at Climate Progress, Roy Spencer and John Christy at UAH speculated over 4 years ago that the RSS diurnal drift correction method was introducing a cool bias into their record.

my UAH cohort and boss John Christy, who does the detailed matching between satellites, is pretty convinced that the RSS data is undergoing spurious cooling because RSS is still using the old NOAA-15 satellite which has a decaying orbit, to which they are then applying a diurnal cycle drift correction based upon a climate model, which does not quite match reality.

This new paper and latest RSS adjustment once again highlight the challenges scientists face in converting measurements of atmospheric microwave emissions by satellites in orbit into a synthetic temperature estimate. It’s a complicated process that requires a complex model with large uncertainties involved, and as Carl Mears has noted, it’s certainly unwise to rely exclusively on these estimates of one small component of the Earth’s climate to evaluate global warming.

Nevertheless, Spencer has just reported that February 2016 was the hottest month on record in the UAH data set; the same is true of RSS, and weather balloons are also registering record hot atmospheric temperatures, as the above chart shows.

It’s now clear that Senator Cruz has been hoisted by his own petard. He and his hearing witnesses claimed that the satellite data from RSS represent our best measurement of global warming. While that’s not true, this latest correction to the RSS record shows that global warming continues, in the atmosphere as with every other component of the Earth’s climate, at record hot levels. Instead of congressional hearings denying the existence of global warming, we need hearings to debate the best way to solve the problem.

Climate Progress:

February smashed monthly global temperature records, according to the satellite data analyzed by the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH). At the same time, a brand new study concludes that miscalculations explain why the Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) satellite temperature dataset had appeared to show a relatively slow rate of global warming.

So Ted Cruz and his fellow climate science deniers need a new meme to replace their “satellites find no warming since 1998” talking point, which replaced the “there’s been no warming since 1998” talking point after that one fell apart when 2014 became the hottest year on record — and again when 2015 blew away the 2014 record.

In fact, for those who live in reality, as opposed to in denial, satellite data, ground-based weather stations, sea-based buoys, and even weather balloons all reveal a steady long-term warming trend.

Let’s start with the UAH data, which show a stunning 1.5°F (0.83°C) warming in February 2016 compared to the historical (1981-2010) average for the lower troposphere (the lowest part of the atmosphere):


How amazing is this temperature jump? First off, remember that the 1981-2010 baseline used by the UAH is itself some 0.8°F (0.45°C) hotter than pre-industrial levels — so you can add that to all of the numbers here.

Second, February was more than half a degree Fahrenheit — 0.52°F (0.29°C) — warmer than January, which itself was “the warmest January in satellite record.”

Third, it was so hot last month that Dr. Roy Spencer of the UAH reports, “Incredibly, land areas outside the tropics in the Northern Hemisphere were a ‘whopping’ 1.46 degrees C above average, 0.5 degrees above any previous monthly anomaly.” This is a 2.6°F warming above the 1981-2010 average — topping the previous anomaly by 0.9°F.


Lower atmospheric warming over land outside of the tropics (vs. the 1981-2020 average) via UAH scientist Roy Spencer

Fourth, it was so hot last month that Spencer — one of country’s leading climate science deniers — told the Washington Post:

I’ve always cautioned fellow skeptics that it’s dangerous to claim no warming. There has been warming. The question is how much warming there’s been and how does that compare to what’s expected and what’s predicted.

Now we know there has been a lot of warming, it’s consistent with what scientists predicted, and, most worrisome of all, scientists now predict it will keep speeding up! Maybe we should start listening to them.

I’m sure you’ve heard from Ted Cruz and other climate science deniers that there hasn’t been any warming in the satellite record since 1998. What they really meant was there was not as much warming as expected in the lower troposphere in the (questionable) RSS data.

The UAH’s Spencer and Dr. John Christy — both leading deniers — reported just last month that the UAH data shows a “Global climate trend since Nov. 16, 1978 [of] +0.12 C [0.22F] per decade.”

In fact out of all the temperature datasets — land, sea, weather balloons, and two from satellites (UAH and RSS) — only one dataset had shown unexpectedly slow warming in recent years, the RSS data. Unsurprisingly, that is the dataset deniers like Ted Cruz have glommed on to — despite the fact that it was widely believed the RSS data was being misanlayzed.

Indeed, back in 2011, Spencer himself explained the discrepancy between the UAH data and the RSS data on his website: “my UAH cohort and boss John Christy, who does the detailed matching between satellites, is pretty convinced that the RSS data is undergoing spurious cooling because RSS is still using the old NOAA-15 satellite which has a decaying orbit, to which they are then applying a diurnal cycle drift correction based upon a climate model, which does not quite match reality.”

The drift correction is needed because different parts of the planet are observed by satellites at different times during the day — and because satellites drift from orbit to orbit. Spencer adds that the UAH data is probably better because “We have not used NOAA-15 for trend information in years…we use the NASA Aqua AMSU [advanced microwave sounding unit], since that satellite carries extra fuel to maintain a precise orbit.”

Since Spencer is a leading climate science denier, however, he did not urge his fellow deniers to avoid using the likely flawed RSS data. Quite the reverse:

But, until the discrepancy is resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, those of you who REALLY REALLY need the global temperature record to show as little warming as possible might want to consider jumping ship, and switch from the UAH to RSS dataset.

Seriously! Spencer is such a gung-ho denier of climate science he is telling his fellow deniers who want to minimize the reality of global warming that they should not use his own data set, which he and Christy believes is superior, but instead they should use the RSS data, which they believe had a flawed diurnal cycle drift correction.

So only hard-core climate science deniers should be surprised to learn that the new study in the Journal of Climate by members of the RSS team finds that the … wait for it … the RSS data had been low-balling recent global warming because of a flawed diurnal cycle drift correction. That study, aptly titled, “Sensitivity of satellite-derived tropospheric temperature trends to the diurnal cycle adjustment,” concluded, “Previous versions of the RSS dataset have used a diurnal climatology derived from general circulation model output to remove the effects of drifting local measurement time. In this paper, we present evidence that this previous method is not sufficiently accurate, and present several alternative methods to optimize these adjustments using information from the satellite measurements themselves.”

The researchers then use an improved and optimized adjustments methodology and report:

The new dataset shows substantially increased global-scale warming relative to the previous version of the dataset, particularly after 1998. The new dataset shows more warming than most other middle tropospheric data records constructed from the same set of satellites. We also show that the new dataset is consistent with long-term changes in total column water vapor over the tropical oceans, lending support to its long-term accuracy.

In short, once a long-standing analytical error was fixed, the RSS data showed long-term global warming comparable to UAH. Here is the result:


The corrected dataset shows a 0.125°C [0.225°F] rate of warming per decade from 1979 to 2014. The corrected trend is 60 percent higher than the earlier, flawed rate of warming.

For those wondering why the satellite trends are slightly lower than the surface temperature trends, which exceed 0.16°C (0.29°F) per decade — and rising: It is always worth remembering that the surface temperature data directly measures the temperature at the surface where we live. The satellites indirectly measure the temperature of the lower atmosphere, where we don’t. Also, given that 2016 is likely to be the hottest year in the satellite record, the satellite trend — like the surface temperature trend — appears to be speeding up.

The phantom slowdown in the last of the big global temperature datasets is gone. The reality is that the globe has warmed and will continue to warm — primarily because of human-caused carbon pollution — as climate scientists have been saying for decades.

No doubt the climate science deniers will find another talking point to urge delay. But it is time for the rest of us to redouble our efforts to preserve a livable climate.

As I showed in a video just last week, Ted Cruz’s talking point about “no warming since 1998” was already a whopper of a lie, and it’s now become totally inoperative.

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