Earth's surface temperatures have mainly increased since 1880. Credit: NASA

Scientist Discusses Latest Report of Rising Global Temperatures

Article Updated: 24 Dec , 2015

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A new NASA report says the past decade was the warmest ever on Earth, at least since modern temperature measurements began in 1880. The study analyzed global surface temperatures and also found that 2009 was the second-warmest year on record, again since modern temperature measurements began. Last year was only a small fraction of a degree cooler than 2005, the warmest yet, putting 2009 in a virtual tie with the other hottest years, which have all occurred since 1998. This annual surface temperature study is one that always generates considerable interest — and some controversy. Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) offered some context on this latest report, in an interview with the NASA Earth Science News Team.

NASA’s Earth Science News Team: Every year, some of the same questions come up about the temperature record. What are they?

Gavin Schmidt: First, do the annual rankings mean anything? Second, how should we interpret all of the changes from year to year — or inter-annual variability — the ups and downs that occur in the record over short time periods? Third, why does NASA GISS get a slightly different answer than the Met Office Hadley Centre does? Fourth, is GISS somehow cooking the books in its handling and analysis of the data?

NASA: 2009 just came in as tied as the 2nd warmest on record, which seems notable. What is the significance of the yearly temperature rankings?

The map shows temperature changes for the last decade—January 2000 to December 2009—relative to the 1951-1980 mean. Credit: NASA


Gavin Schmidt: In fact, for any individual year, the ranking isn’t particularly meaningful. The difference between the second warmest and sixth warmest years, for example, is trivial. The media is always interested in the annual rankings, but whether it’s 2003, 2007, or 2009 that’s second warmest doesn’t really mean much because the difference between the years is so small. The rankings are more meaningful as you look at longer averages and decade-long trends.

NASA: Why does GISS get a different answer than the Met Office Hadley Centre [a UK climate research group that works jointly with the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia to perform an analysis of global temperatures]?

Gavin Schmidt: It’s mainly related to the way the weather station data is extrapolated. The Hadley Centre uses basically the same data sets as GISS, for example, but it doesn’t fill in large areas of the Arctic and Antarctic regions where fixed monitoring stations don’t exist. Instead of leaving those areas out from our analysis, you can use numbers from the nearest available stations, as long as they are within 1,200 kilometers. Overall, this gives the GISS product more complete coverage of the polar areas.

NASA: Some might hear the word “extrapolate” and conclude that you’re “making up” data. How would you reply to such criticism?

Gavin Schmidt: The assumption is simply that the Arctic Ocean as a whole is warming at the average of the stations around it. What people forget is that if you don’t put any values in for the areas where stations are sparse, then when you go to calculate the global mean, you’re actually assuming that the Arctic is warming at the same rate as the global mean. So, either way you are making an assumption.

Which one of those is the better assumption? Given all the changes we’ve observed in the Arctic sea ice with satellites, we believe it’s better to assume the Arctic Ocean is changing at the same rate as the other stations around the Arctic. That’s given GISS a slightly larger warming, particularly in the last couple of years, relative to the Hadley Centre.

NASA: Many have noted that the winter has been particularly cold and snowy in some parts of the United States and elsewhere. Does this mean that climate change isn’t happening?

Gavin Schmidt: No, it doesn’t, though you can’t dismiss people’s concerns and questions about the fact that local temperatures have been cool. Just remember that there’s always going to be variability. That’s weather. As a result, some areas will still have occasionally cool temperatures — even record-breaking cool — as average temperatures are expected to continue to rise globally.

NASA: So what’s happening in the United States may be quite different than what’s happening in other areas of the world?

Gavin Schmidt: Yes, especially for short time periods. Keep in mind that that the contiguous United States represents just 1.5 percent of Earth’s surface.

NASA: GISS has been accused by critics of manipulating data. Has this changed the way that GISS handles its temperature data?

Gavin Schmidt: Indeed, there are people who believe that GISS uses its own private data or somehow massages the data to get the answer we want. That’s completely inaccurate. We do an analysis of the publicly available data that is collected by other groups. All of the data is available to the public for download, as are the computer programs used to analyze it. One of the reasons the GISS numbers are used and quoted so widely by scientists is that the process is completely open to outside scrutiny.

NASA: What about the meteorological stations? There have been suggestions that some of the stations are located in the wrong place, are using outdated instrumentation, etc.

Gavin Schmidt: Global weather services gather far more data than we need. To get the structure of the monthly or yearly anomalies over the United States, for example, you’d just need a handful of stations, but there are actually some 1,100 of them. You could throw out 50 percent of the station data or more, and you’d get basically the same answers. Individual stations do get old and break down, since they’re exposed to the elements, but this is just one of things that the NOAA has to deal with. One recent innovation is the set up of a climate reference network alongside the current stations so that they can look for potentially serious issues at the large scale – and they haven’t found any yet.

Sources: NASA, NASA Earth Observatory



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Russ
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Russ
January 22, 2010 1:18 PM
Written by James Delingpole, Telegraph | January 22 2010 Before we get too worried about NASA’s latest stamping-its-little-feet claims that the world is getting hotter it is it is it IS, let us first remind ourselves why we should trust their temperature records slightly less far than we can spit. Then let’s have a closer look at the character and motives of the man in charge of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), Dr James Hansen. Last year, he was described by his former course supervisor at NASA, Dr John Theon, as an “activist” and an embarrassment. Or as the Great Booker puts it: If there is one scientist more responsible than any other for the alarm… Read more »
Russ
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Russ
January 22, 2010 1:24 PM

Read the rest of the story on Climate Change Fraud.
The story head-line is;
James Hansen: Would you buy a used temperature data set from THIS man?

The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
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The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
January 22, 2010 1:40 PM
The bottom line of this story is the amount of meteorological and climatology data that supports the view that indeed global temperatures are on the rise, whose cause is highly likely.humankind’s gross cumulative exploitation of the environment. This particular story gives an excellent example of how science interprets draws conclusions from the available It is nearly completely free of any divisiveness or motive If the debate on climate change is to sink in to the nations and population of the world, then all the sceptics must learn and speak clearly in the language of science and avoid speaking in ‘absolutes.’ Yet another “perfect storm” scenario for the religious crackpots and the climate change deniers about rising global temperatures… Read more »
star-grazer west coast
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star-grazer west coast
January 22, 2010 2:19 PM
The devloped nations uses a 30 year period, the current standard is 1971-2000-these 30 year standard have been in place in the US since about the early 20th century and in Europe about a century earlier. In European colonialism times, the 30 year periods were used if possible. I don’t deny there has been warming in the poles of the Earth for a few decades, the Sierra Nevadas’ of Spain lost its’ glacier recently and SW Australia now has only 60% of its’ precipitation compared to 1920-1950, however, what gets me is this-since the end of colonislism since the end of WW2 , most areas of Africa and vast areas of Asia and South America lost the ability… Read more »
Lawrence B. Crowell
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Lawrence B. Crowell
January 22, 2010 3:48 PM

With the Supreme Court decision yesterday we can all expect before long a continual stream of political adverts claiming global warming is a hoax. This drumfire of denialism nonsense will drown out science 10 to 1 before long.

LC

star-grazer west coast
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star-grazer west coast
January 22, 2010 4:06 PM

@Lawrence B. Crowell Says
Please give URL to Supreme Court decision as I can’t seen to find the URL at the moment- thank you in advance.

William928
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William928
January 22, 2010 7:06 PM

@star-grazer:

Simply google recent Supreme Court decisions. You’ll discover all the bad news you can handle. Sorry to ruin your weekend. This decision completes the transfer of our lives to the corporations. And I thought the worst decision they could make was installing Bush as President. Almost makes me ashamed to claim America as my home. It certainly doesn’t look like the America of my youth. Pity….

star-grazer west coast
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star-grazer west coast
January 22, 2010 7:42 PM

@William928 Says
Thank you for locations tips. Such a bad decision did not surprize me. Went from bad to worst!!!!

The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
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The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
January 22, 2010 8:19 PM
@ William928 The scenario sound like the future exalted in the film “Rollerball”, in which the world was run by corporations whose have their grubby fingers firmly placed in our everyday lives. It is not just an new American evil, but is part of the modern world and the way it is going for many other countries. I’ve been recently reading some of the works John Adams who was the 2nd President of your country. He rightly taught us about the real nature of the “aristocracy” and its evils, and I agree it does now seem the corporations are becoming our new masters – the new aristocracy. In a nutshell. Corporations will always deny climate change because it… Read more »
Russ
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Russ
January 22, 2010 9:37 PM
Hon. Salacious B. Crumb, Lawrence B. Crowell, Have you heard about Climategate? I think not by the way you post here, The science is proving Global warming wrong every day, the IPPC and every one under them has made a mockery of this science. Scientist will be lucky if it will ever be trusted again with out double and triple studies now. Al Gore doesn’t want to debate anything, why? Because there is a census by the scientific community!!! Really then why is there 30000 scientist against the IPPC’s 2500? I guess 2500 is the majority over 30000. The same 2500 that the global panel of over 2,500 scientists is facing flak for having said Himalayan glaciers would… Read more »
Russ
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Russ
January 22, 2010 9:56 PM
Hon. Salacious B. Crumb, The scenario sound like the future exalted in the film “Rollerball”, in which the world was run by corporations whose have their grubby fingers firmly placed in our everyday lives. Really, Have you seen whose changed their way lately? Beyond ( British ) Petrolium, and SHELL from the last comercial I have seen on TV, I don’t know about the rest because I havn’t seen their commercials on the tube. Big OIL taking one for the cause eh, I wonder why? Not that I am against alternative energy sources I hope the more the better so Big OIL don’t get the lions share of the market, Alternative energy anyone, you or me can get… Read more »
The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
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The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
January 22, 2010 10:12 PM

@ Russ

Eh? What an truly amazing tirade of irrelevancies. (Gives our Anaconda a good run for his money methinks.)

Can you actually read? What you say and what is in this story appear to be is two different things.

See the first graph in this article? How do you explain the data of the last hundred years?

Delusional? You have it in absolute spades, jackass!

Russ
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Russ
January 22, 2010 10:13 PM

Unlest you are with the Big corperations why would you buy into this stuff. Even a tree hugger with half a brain should be able to see through this. For crying out loud wake up and smell the coffee, or drink coffee, but just wake up.

Russ
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Russ
January 22, 2010 10:18 PM
Written by Richard Foot, National Post | January 21 2010 Typical weather station Call it the mystery of the missing thermometers. Two months after “climategate” cast doubt on some of the science behind global warming, new questions are being raised about the reliability of a key temperature database, used by the United Nations and climate change scientists as proof of recent planetary warming. Two American researchers allege that U.S. government scientists have skewed global temperature trends by ignoring readings from thousands of local weather stations around the world, particularly those in colder altitudes and more northerly latitudes, such as Canada. In the 1970s, nearly 600 Canadian weather stations fed surface temperature readings into a global database assembled by… Read more »
Russ
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Russ
January 22, 2010 10:21 PM

Hon. Salacious B. Crumb, What do you have to say about that, all you can do when been proven wrong is resort to name calling. So you call me a jackass, like that really hurts my feelings. HAHAHA

The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
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The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
January 22, 2010 10:46 PM

Rubbish. You are even more insane than I thought. Clearly your objectivity is completely flawed, as you can neither prove or disprove what you say, let alone understand the science behind an conclusion. Also only a true jackass would consider “Climategate” relevant , especially considering the dubious way it was obtained and what context it was presented.

In the end, you really know nothing.

Russ
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Russ
January 22, 2010 11:04 PM
Hon. Salacious B. Crumb I can say the same about you and the debate isn’t over. Climategate just proves my point of where you stand. You just want to believe no matter the cost because it is what it is, a religion to you. Take it all in faith, Eh, No science required for you, but the junk science they tell you, you are ok with, or are you part of it? Let’s put a scenario out there. Say there is a company that looks promising and you like to invest in it. But there is a or hacker that exposes it as a ponzi scheme? Would you say Nahhhhhh it was hacker info and it that is… Read more »
Russ
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Russ
January 22, 2010 11:07 PM
Written by Tony Hake, Climate Change Examiner | January 20 2010 Confronted with the reality that a claim about the loss of glaciers in the Himalayas was bogus, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) today issued a statement saying it was wrong. Contained within the group’s 2007 AR4 report was a paragraph saying the glaciers would disappear by 2035. That has since been discredited. In their statement the United Nations’ global warming advocacy group said that the questionable claim “refers to poorly substantiated estimates of rate of recession and date for the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers.” The IPCC said it expects better of its work but that in this case if failed to adhere to “clear and… Read more »
Russ
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Russ
January 22, 2010 11:12 PM
The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
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The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
January 22, 2010 11:28 PM

Cherry picking makes no difference to me. Your still a jackass for believing you own delusions.

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