New Study Shows Global Warming Isn’t Pausing

The entire universe in blog form
Dec. 16 2013 11:00 AM

Yeah, About That Global Warming “Pause” …

global warming pause
A new analysis of temperature data shows global surface air temperatures are rising as usual (thick red line) and have not "paused" (thin red line).

Illustration by Kevin Cowtan, from the video below

If you’ve been paying any attention at all to the ongoing noise about global warming, then you’ve heard of the so-called pause. This is the idea that the planet hasn’t actually been warming for the past 15 years or so.

However, this is baloney. First off, the plot used by people who would deny the Earth is warming up (and that humans are behind it) only shows the temperature of the air over land and ocean. But our atmosphere (pardon the weird metaphor) doesn’t exist in a vacuum; the extra heat retained by our planet is also warming the oceans. In fact, most of that heat is going into deep ocean waters.

Advertisement

Second, if you look at temperatures historically, we see ups and down like this every few decades; you have to look at the overall multidecade trend and not focus on some short (and cherry-picked) time frame.

And now we have something else to add to that list: The “pause” may not exist at all.

A new study shows that the temperatures over the past 15 years are still on the rise. The problem, say the authors, is that the global surface temperatures have been based on incomplete data, with some regions left out (most notably over Africa, the Arctic, and Antarctica). The most northerly latitudes have been warming faster on average than other spots on Earth since the late 1990s, so if you leave them out you see a somewhat cooler global average than you should.

global warming not pausing
Temperature anomaly plot showing new results: Warming hasn't stopped.

Plot by Cowtan and Way, from their paper

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

The graph above shows their results. It’s what’s called a “temperature anomaly” plot, which shows how temperatures deviate away from an average over a period of time. The usual plot you see is in black—what’s called the HadCRUT4 data, derived from ground measurements—and you can spot the “pause” in the more recent temperatures. The green line is from a more detailed mathematical analysis of the data, and the blue line includes satellite data that can fill in much of the missing temperature records from the poles and Africa. (You can get more details on this in an excellent article in the Guardian by John Abraham and Dana Nuccitelli.)

One of the authors of the journal article, Kevin Cowtan, created a video to explain this new method and what it means.

Clearly, these new techniques show that the pause has gone away. When you include better coverage and analyze the data more carefully, the Earth’s surface is warming right along with everything else. As the authors themselves say:

The existence of bias in recent global mean temperature estimates has been confirmed by multiple means. This bias leads to an underestimation of recent temperature trends.

By the numbers, far from pausing, overall the Earth is warming 2.5 times faster since 1997 than the previous figures indicate. To be clear, warming over the past few years has slowed a bit compared with a few years before but not nearly as much as has been previously claimed, and we know that most of that heat is going into the oceans anyway.

In other words, global warming hasn’t stopped.

I’ll note that this is one paper, and one result. I’m sure there will be legitimate debate over it in the climate-science community. And you can bet every last dollar you have that there will be illegitimate “debate” over it in the science-denial community. As I, and many others, have pointed out time and again, all they have is noise.

The problem is, they’re loud, and they have convinced some media they have something to say (c’mon CNN, really?) when really they don’t. The evidence, the facts, the science, and the reality are clear: The Earth is warming up, the climate is changing, it’s happening faster now than it has for thousands of years, and we’re the reason behind it.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 8:15 AM Ted Cruz Will Not Join a Protest of "The Death of Klinghoffer" After All
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 9:03 AM My Father Was James Brown. I Watched Him Beat My Mother. And Then I Found Myself With Someone Like Dad.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 8:27 AM Only Science Fiction Can Save Us! What sci-fi gets wrong about income inequality.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 7:30 AM Ring Around the Rainbow
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.