The World Meteorological Organization has sounded the alarm that 2014 is on track to be the warmest year on record and a preview of what’s to come as global warming gets worse — that is, unless you look at the satellite data.
Satellite datasets show that 2014 is nowhere near the warmest year on record, so far only ranking as the 7th warmest on record, according to data compiled from the Remote System Satellite (RSS) datasets. (TheDCNF’s Definitive Guide To Understanding The Pause In Global Warming)
RSS and the University of Alabama, Huntsville are the two main satellite datasets used to measure temperature. They record radiances in certain wavelengths in the lower troposphere, which are then converted into temperature readings by scientists. So far, neither dataset shows 2014 on track to being the warmest on record.
“Our satellite estimates of global temperature, which have much more complete geographic coverage than thermometers, reveal that 2014 won’t be even close to a record warm year,” writes Dr. Roy Spencer, climate scientist at UAH.
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“In fact, the satellite and thermometer technologies seem to be diverging in what they are telling us in recent years, with the thermometers continuing to warm, and the satellite temperatures essentially flat-lining,” Spencer adds.
Climate scientists with the WMO and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say surface temperature readings show that 2014 is on track to beat 1998, 2005 and 2010 as the warmest year on record — although only by “a few hundredths of a degree,” according to the WMO.
“The first ten months of 2014 (January–October) were the warmest such period since record keeping began in 1880,” NOAA reported. “2014 is currently on track to be the warmest year on record.”
The WMO reports that “the global average air temperature over land and sea surface for January to October was about 0.57° Centigrade… above the average of 14.00°C (57.2 °F) for the 1961-1990 reference period.”
“If November and December maintain the same tendency, then 2014 will likely be the hottest on record, ahead of 2010, 2005 and 1998,” WMO notes. “This confirms the underlying long-term warming trend.”
Spencer, however, argues that agencies like NOAA and WMO rely on global surface temperature readings over the land and ocean which suffer from serious quality issues. While satellites can cover every inch of the world, surface temperatures rely on weather stations, buoys and ships that don’t cover every inch of the world. In fact, one can drive hundreds (maybe even thousands) of miles between weather stations.
The absence of weather stations covering every inch of the globe means that surface temperatures must be extrapolated over large areas that may have drastically different terrain and climates.
Spencer also notes that surface temperatures suffer from what’s called the “urban heat island effect” — an artificial warming caused in population centers due to cars, asphalt, buildings and other factors that bias thermometer readings.
“Most thermometers measure temperature where people live, and people tend to build stuff that warms the local environment around the thermometer,” Spencer writes, adding that “most of the warming occurs long before the thermometer site actually becomes ‘urban.’”
“This effect, which has been studied and published for many decades, has not been adequately addressed in the global temperature datasets, partly because there is no good way to apply it to individual thermometer sites,” Spencer continues.
Despite criticisms from Spencer and other skeptics of man-made global warming, WMO scientists argue that 2014 is further proof of the long-term warming trend the world has entered into due to increased fossil fuel use.
“The provisional information for 2014 means that fourteen of the fifteen warmest years on record have all occurred in the 21st century,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “There is no standstill in global warming.”
“What we saw in 2014 is consistent with what we expect from a changing climate,” Jarraud said. “Record-breaking heat combined with torrential rainfall and floods destroyed livelihoods and ruined lives.”
But even if 2014 ranks as the hottest year on record according to surface temperature readings, it will only be so by hundredths of a degree — which isn’t high enough to breach the margin of error for thermometer readings.
“A couple hundredths of a degree warmer than a previous year (which 2014 will likely be) should be considered a ‘tie,’ not a record,” argues Spencer.
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