Some climate scientists are criticizing government climate agencies for declaring 2014 the warmest year ever recorded, despite reports that government scientists were only 38-48 percent sure that 2014 broke records, given the margin of error.
Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA said 2014 was the warmest year on record at about 0.69 degrees Celsius above the 20th century average temperature. Last year beat out the next warmest years of 2010 and 2005 by only about 0.04 degrees Celsius. But the four-hundredths of a degree difference between 2014 and previous records is within the margin of measurement error, meaning scientists can’t be 100 percent sure last year was actually the hottest ever recorded.
Scientists with NOAA said 2014 only had a 48 percent probability of actually being the warmest year on record, while NASA only gave last year a 38 percent chance of being the warmest. But government climate scientists, environmentalists and politicians sounded the alarm that global warming was getting worse, hiding the many uncertainties behind NOAA and NASA temperature measurements.
“The data from NASA and NOAA is the latest scientific evidence that climate change is real, and we must act now to protect our families and future generations,” said California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. “Deniers must stop ignoring these alarms if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”
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Some climate scientists have been critical of NOAA and NASA’s claims that 2014 was the warmest year on record despite it actually being a “statistical tie.”
“With 2014 essentially tied with 2005 and 2010 for hottest year, this implies that there has been essentially no trend in warming over the past decade,” said Judith Curry, a climate scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “This ‘almost’ record year does not help the growing discrepancy between the climate model projections and the surface temperature observations.”
“I am embarrassed by the scientific community’s behavior on the subject,” wrote Dr. Roy Spencer, a climate scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). “I went into science with the misguided belief that science provides answers. Too often, it doesn’t.”
Spencer and his colleague Dr. John Christy operate one of two primary satellite datasets for measuring global temperature. According to Spencer and Christy’s UAH satellite data, 2014 only ranked as the third-warmest on record. The other main satellite temperature dataset, the Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) dataset, found that 2014 was only the sixth warmest on record.
“Science as a methodology for getting closer to the truth has been all but abandoned. It is now just one more tool to achieve political ends,” Spencer opined. “Reports that 2014 was the ‘hottest’ year on record feed the insatiable appetite the public has for definitive, alarming headlines. It doesn’t matter that even in the thermometer record, 2014 wasn’t the warmest within the margin of error.”
“The satellite and balloon data of the deep atmosphere have 2014 in a cluster of warmish years well below the hottest two of 1998 and 2010,” echoed Christy. “With the government agencies reporting that the surface temperature as highest ever, we have a puzzle. The puzzle is even more puzzling because theory (i.e. models) indicate the opposite should be occurring– greater warmth in the deep atmosphere than the surface.”
But other climate scientists say it doesn’t matter if 2014 is the warmest year on record or not, because it’s not nearly as warm as the climate models have predicted.
“Whether or not a given year is a hundredth of a degree or so above a previous record is not the issue,” said Patrick Michaels, director of the Center for the Study of Science at the libertarian Cato Institute. “What is the issue is how observed temperatures compare to what has been forecast to happen.”
Michaels noted that studies have shown that “the average warming predicted to have occurred since 1979 (when the satellite data starts) is approximately three times larger than what is being observed.”
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