Scroll To Top

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Anthony Watts' strawman and cherries and the hottest year on record

Sou | 4:08 PM Go to the first of 22 comments. Add a comment

Anthony Watts must be losing income or just getting desperate in his denial. He's jumped into Bob Tisdale's bed and is claiming that it's not extra greenhouse gases that's causing global warming, it's ENSO. Today he's got an article (archived here and here) about how he thinks 2015 wasn't proof of human-caused global warming. Well, I ask you: who ever said that a single hottest year was proof that humans are causing global warming? It's the ongoing onslaught of increasing temperatures over decades, together with physics, that shows that it's us who are causing the world to keep getting hotter and hotter and hotter.

What caused 2015 to be so hot?

Anthony is wrong when he claims that it was El Niño that made 2015 a record hot year. Scientists have worked out it would have been a record hot year anyway. The El Niño lifted temperatures a bit higher (around 0.07 °C), but it wasn't the only factor that caused the 0.12 °C jump in global mean surface temperature over that of the previous hottest year on record, 2014.

Below is a chart of the annual anomalies around the world from GISS NASA.

Figure 1 | Map of global mean surface temperature anomalies for 2015 vs the 1951-1980 mean. Source: GISS NASA
I've animated the monthly maps from 2015, so you can see where it was hottest month by month. The top left hand corner shows the month. The last in the series is the map above, showing the full year. Look for the brown and reddest areas. In much of the year it was the high northern latitudes that were the hottest, more than the equatorial Pacific:

Figure 2 | Animation of monthly global mean surface temperature anomalies for 2015 vs the 1951-1980 mean. Source: GISS NASA
So how did Anthony get the idea that 2015 was hottest because of El Niño? Well it's a sorry but common tale of some of the telltale techniques of science deniers. Anthony had to:
  • Cherry pick the data he liked while not showing the relevant data
  • Use irrelevant images from 2014 without saying what he was showing
  • Make unsupported assertions based on his cherry pick.

Sea surface height anomalies from 2014 and hottest ever 2015?

At the top of his article Anthony posted the image below as if it were evidence of something. It looked as if he said he got the chart below from Ryan Maue, but it wasn't. It was a chart of sea surface height anomalies as at 5 June 2014 from Jason 2 (h/t Nick Stokes):

Figure 3 | Sea surface height anomaly as at 5 June 2014. Source: WUWT that got it from another article at WUWT that got it from the Jason2 website of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Anthony doesn't say anything about the image except that:
Dr Ryan Maue of Weatherbell follows the data, wherever that data leads him. He’s not shy of telling it like it is. Yesterday he released what I consider the most important graph of the year.
There are some things you'll notice about his map.
  • First of all there is no information about what it represents..
  • Next there is no indication of the period it represents, though it's safe to say it was an El Niño year. (Actually it wasn't. My investigation shows it was 2014, which wasn't an El Nino year.)
  • Then it doesn't show anything about what's happening on the land
  • Finally it's not of the whole world. It doesn't include the Arctic or Antarctic.
The thing is, as I found out, it's not even a map of temperature. It's a map of sea level residuals. Nor is it a map from 2015, it's sea level residuals from 5 June 2014. (Sea height anomalies will increase where the water is warmer, because water expands as it warms.)

If Anthony wanted his readers to be informed by that map, then he should have said something about it. I expect he didn't because he didn't know anything about it. He just thought it looked pretty or something.

The GWPF chart from NASA

Anthony initially put up the image below, when he first wrote the article. It was labeled GWPF, and as far as I know, Ryan Maue doesn't have an association with the lobby group the GWPF, which agitates for the world to get hotter and hotter faster and faster.

Figure 4 | Still from a YouTube video from a silly article by David Whitehouse of the GWPF. Source: WUWT
Anthony didn't explain anything about that chart either or why he posted it, or why he swapped it out for the image of June 2014 sea level. It turns out that this was also a map of sea surface height. It was a still from a rather silly GWPF youtube video, which included a segment the GWPF filched from NASA. Below is the still from the same date from the NASA animation, which looks a bit cleaner than the GWPF video.

Figure 5 | Origin of Figure 4 above, comparing the sea surface height anomaly ion 19 February 1997 with that on 19 February 2015. Source: Animation on NASA's website.
The point is that neither Anthony's new image nor his GWPF YouTube still was of surface temperature. Not the surface temperature of the sea and certainly not the surface temperature of land. Both his maps were of sea surface height anomalies on a particular date. 19 February 2015 in the case of his GWPF YouTube still, and 5 June 2014 in the case of the image he substituted.

Anthony Watts builds a strawman - it's the long term trend not a single year

So having dealt with Anthony's pictures of sea surface height anomalies, let's see what he did next. Well, what Anthony did was build a strawman:
For all those people that want to claim 2015/2016 “proves” that human caused global warming is at work (while at the same time ignoring a record El Niño event as seen above), this graph indisputably proves that the El Niño is the driver of record high temperatures, not carbon dioxide.
Do you know anyone who claimed that 2015/16 "proves" that human caused global warming is at work? I don't. I cannot imagine anyone would. The evidence that humans are causing global warming lies in the long term warming, not a single hot year.

Figure 6 | Decadal global mean surface temperature from 1880 to 2015. Data source: GISS NASA

The effect of El Niño

For his so-called "evidence", Anthony triumphantly pastes a tweet from Ryan Maue, which doesn't claim (or show) what Anthony claims it claims.

Figure 7 | What looks like recent weekly surface temperatures from NCEP/CFSR reanalysis. Source: WUWT
Ryan's chart is shown as Figure 7. It uses data from the NCEP Climate Forecast System Reanalysis (CFSR) and is a plot of tropical temperatures vs global temperatures. There are no other zones plotted. I don't know what was going through Ryan's mind when he posted his chart. He just said it was "easy to see the effect of El Nino". Well, to my mind, without showing the surface temperature changes in other zones, one can conclude nothing much from his chart, except that:
  • In the tropics it started getting warmer from May-June onwards, after the El Niño started, and
  • Globally it got progressively hotter in the hottest respective months on record - October 2015 to February 2016 inclusive.
It looks to me as if Ryan's chart is a weekly chart, which is very noisy. Here is a monthly chart from GISTemp, from the beginning of the 1997/98 year (the last big El Niño) up to and including February this year. It's also very noisy. I've marked February in the second years of the El Niños: February 1998, February 2010 and February 2016:

Figure 8 | Monthly global surface temperature anomalies from January 1997 to February 2016. The chart has February highlighted from the second year of the last two El Niños and the current one. Data source: GISS NASA
I think this is a much starker view of what's been happening on a monthly basis. However monthly plots are very noisy. Annual charts remove the seasonal fluctuations. The chart below shows the annual temperature with February in recent El Niño years added - February 2016 is off the chart. February 1998 was also hotter than any annual average so you mustn't make too much of a single month. What it does show, however, is that the world as a whole is getting a whole lot hotter and it's not just ENSO magically causing the world to heat up.

Figure 9 | Annual global surface temperature anomalies. The chart also shows the anomalies for February from the second year of each of the last two El Niños and the current one. Data source: GISS NASA

Where is it warming? It's the high northern latitudes!

I don't have monthly zones at my fingertips, but I can plot annual temperatures for different zones. Here are some zones for the northern hemisphere so you can see where it's been getting hottest:

Figure 10 | Annual surface temperature anomalies for selected zones in the Northern Hemisphere. Data source: GISS NASA

As you can see in the Northern Hemisphere the temperatures have been going up most in the Arctic and sub-Arctic, more than the tropics and latitudes closest to the tropics.

For comparison, here is the southern hemisphere, with and without the Antarctic. There the story is different. It's the tropics and sub-tropics that have been warming more than down near the south pole. (Antarctica is all over the place, possibly in part because it's so remote that it's hard to get a handle on what's happening.):

Figure 11 | Annual surface temperature anomalies for selected zones in the Southern Hemisphere. Data source: GISS NASA

To really appreciate the difference between north and south, look at the scale on the Y axis of the above charts. The Arctic has hit more than 2C above the 1951-1980 mean.

Telltale techniques of science deniers

What Anthony Watts has done is called cherry-picking. First he showed maps of sea height level anomalies from 5 June 2014. Wrong year, not surface temperature and it didn't include the Arctic.

Then he showed a chart that only had the tropics and global mean surface temperature. It didn't include other latitudes so it wasn't sufficient to demonstrate anything except that both the world as a whole and the tropics have been getting warmer in the past few months.

So when Anthony Watts wrote his headline:
One graph proves that record high year of 2015 and record months of 2016 are not AGW driven
,,,he was wrong. It didn't prove anything at all. In fact El Niño wasn't responsible for all the warming last year. Much of it was from anomalous warmth in the high northern latitudes.

Anthony is on a crusade to persuade the world that humans aren't causing global warming, He resorted to cherry-picks and irrelevancies. Going by what he wrote, he's shifted away from accepting the greenhouse effect and into Bob Tisdale's "global warming is caused by El Niño's and blobs". Which is pretty dumb. If El Niño's were causing global warming, does that mean that El Niño events only started last century? (They didn't, in case you were wondering.)

When Anthony Watts wrote in relation to Ryan Maue's chart of monthly temperatures for the tropics and global averages:
...this graph indisputably proves that the El Niño is the driver of record high temperatures, not carbon dioxide.
... he was wrong. That chart didn't "indisputably" prove anything at all. It was just a chart. It didn't include temperatures for any other regions. If he'd included monthly temperatures for other latitudes, the chart may have been more informative. He didn't, so it wasn't.

A discussion of El Nino probably isn't complete without a comparison of El Nino years. Here it is:

Figure 12 | Global mean surface temperature for El Nino years. Source: HotWhopper. Data source: GISS NASA

Bob Tisdale has been busy over the past two years arguing that the 97/98 El Nino was the biggest ever. He's been trying to show that it was stronger than the current one. If that's the case then it can't be El Nino alone that caused these past few months to be the hottest on record, can it. Deniers need to get their story straight.

From the WUWT comments

SMC complained about the GWPF picture:
March 15, 2016 at 12:08 pm
The GWPF ‘Sea Surface Height Anomaly’ picture is kind’a misleading.

Anthony Watts agreed and said he replaced it with another misleading picture. He was wrong again. It wasn't a 2015 El Nino event, it was of a non-El Nino year - from June 2014:
March 15, 2016 at 1:04 pm
Yes, I replaced it with a better representation of the 2015 ENSO event. 

Nick Stokes found it somewhere else on WUWT - it's from Jason2 and is of sea level, not temperature:
March 15, 2016 at 1:25 pm
It’s worth noting that it is showing sea surface height, not temperature. and it is May 21, 2014, from here.

Francisco is just being silly. He's a climate conspiracy theorist:
March 15, 2016 at 12:12 pm
But, but, El Niño was super fueled by evil fossil fuels!! It is unprecedented since the last big one on record and there could not have been any as big in the past where we do not have records, the tree rings prove this.
I am sorry, with this scam any and all excuses, no matter how far fetched they are, are fair game it seems.

Rudd Istvan sinks further and further into wackiness with each passing day. I don't know if he knows that he's lying or if he's just another deluded denier. If he wasn't deluded, he's been around climate stuff for long enough to know he's lying. Could be he's a wacky conspiracy nutter. He's wrong in pretty well everything. For one thing, global warming didn't stop. ristvan wrote:
March 15, 2016 at 12:56 pm
Tomeb. Please look closely at your posted WMO melange of three underlying ‘adjusted’ records. Ignore the OLS lines. NO warming from 1950 to ~1976. Clear warming from ~1976 to ~1998. NO warming since. Natural Variation is evident, since CO2 was monotonocally increasing the entire time (proven by the MLO Keeling curve starting 1957 IIRC). So OLS is inapplicable.
Now realize that the CMIP5 archive was, by peer reviewed ‘experimental design’ parameter tuned to best hindcast from YE 2005 back 30 years to 1975. A problem that resulted in model failure to predict the now ~19 year pause, resulting in model falsification. They failed because of their parameter attribution problem, which you have so nicely (if inadvertently) illustrated here. Previous guest post had the why and how.

Here's the latest chart of CMIP5 with monthly anomalies. And that's the uncorrected CMIP5 models, which have a net overestimate of positive forcings from 2005. This month is way, way above what was modeled. It doesn't mean the models are "wrong" because the observations are against the multi-model mean. (Models aren't designed to show month to month variability, they are for long term projections.)

Figure 13 | CMIP5 and observed temperature anomalies to February 2016. Data sources: KNMI climate explorer (CMIP) and GISS NASA (observations)

Sheesh there is some weird nonsense posted at WUWT. pochas94 thinks a whole heap of wrong, including the fact that he doesn't know that CO2 is a well-mixed greenhouse gas and is the same over Antarctica as in the air over the rest of the world, such as Mauna Loa.
March 15, 2016 at 2:53 pm
Because the antho CO2 never makes it to the antarctic. Contrary to the myth that CO2 persists in the atmosphere for hundreds or thousands of years, its lifetime is actually less than a year. In winter plant life goes dormant so that anthropogenic CO2 has persistence and there is a definite elevation of CO2 in the arctic which, in the absence of water vapor, produces the warming effect. In summer plants become active and the surplus disappears. Since there is little CO2 generated in the southern hemisphere and it is mostly ocean anyway, the southern hemisphere does not experience this effect. So “global warming” is largely confined to the arctic in winter and some to the northern extratropics. The tropics are affected by El Niño of course, but the southern extratropics do not experience “global warming” simply because there is no wintertime elevation of CO2.

Luke points out that Anthony ignored the long term trend:
March 15, 2016 at 12:41 pm
By focusing on April-October you missed the most important point, the temperatures are above the 30 yr mean for almost the entire year for both the tropics and the entire globe. That is the AGW signal.

This got a lot of protests from deniers, like markstoval who wailed, illogically:
March 15, 2016 at 12:50 pm
Luke, you are one of those guys who claim that wet sidewalks cause rain.
If Mark had said that wet sidewalks were a signal it had probably rained, his analogy would have been closer to the mark.

Ktm is wrong when he or she writes about the warming period in the early part of last century. It was a combination of dearth of volcanic eruptions, an increase in solar radiation, and an increase in greenhouse gases:
March 15, 2016 at 3:04 pm
The globe warms naturally, the globe cools naturally. What makes you think the baseline for natural warming/cooling is a flat line? Why can’t it be an upward sloping baseline?
The Warmists argue that they can’t explain the warming without CO2. But they can’t explain the warming from the 1910s to 1940s, with or without co2.
Their inability to explain natural phenomena does not prove co2 to be responsible for anything.

I wonder what words Steven Mosher put in Anthony's mouth that didn't come from Anthony's keyboard? We'll probably never know. It's been censored :)
March 15, 2016 at 1:17 pm
[snip – don’t put words in my mouth not written – you are welcome to resubmit – Anthony]

If I'd read this comment before writing the article it would have saved me (and you) a lot of time:) dcpetterson wrote:
March 15, 2016 at 2:54 pm
This blog entry is a brilliant textbook example of a straw man coupled with a red herring. No one actually believes the things you’ve set off to disprove. It’s entertaining, though.

The record high temperatures we’re experiencing now are the result of a very strong el Nino piled on top of the heating due to AGW. Neither one alone would currently result in the record high temperatures we are seeing. No one has claimed the 2015 and 2016 records are due solely to AGW. So the attempt to prove el Nino is involved is silly at best, since everyone is agreed on that already.

Nor does anyone say the record 2015 and 2016 temperatures “prove” the reality of AGW. Physics and chemistry prove the reality of AGW. The consistent long-term trendine is a symptom of (not a “proof” of) the physics behind climate science. The record-high temperatures of 2016 and 2016 are a result of a strong el Nino sitting on top of the high level to which the long-term trendine has brought us.

Some more meaningful questions: How long has it been since there was a record low global monthly or yearly temperature? How many global monthly or yearly record highs have there been since then? What does that tell you?

I notice at least some WUWT readers are beginning to acknowledge that the Earth is warming (which is a start) though they continue to question the cause. At least ya’all are moving in the right direction. 


  1. The comment by dcpetterson is the same in different words to the one I (Toneb) posted higher up the WUWT thread. Istvan's comment that Sue has quoted is his reply to me. I haven't even read it - as it would send me down the rabbit-hole in a rage - and I've learned (not always successfully) to resist.

    1. Going by some of the comments, Tony, I think some deniers get a lot more enraged by scientific facts than any normal person does when deniers do all they can to speed up warming. Deniers typically process science with emotion not reason.

    2. Read Harvard's take on Santer's "at least 17 years". He's so wrong words fail; it's hilarious.

  2. There's a good article at The Conversation about the February spike in surface temperatures.

  3. I have a simple way to filter out those who have no idea what they are talking about - such as Ktm who can't write CO2 correctly.

    How many science classes must you have slept through not to know how to write simple chemical formulae?

    1. You can also use statistics. There's at least a 97% chance that a "thought" at WUWT is from a dimwit denier :)

    2. Well, to be strictly correct the "2" needs to be subscripted, but still.

    3. The reality is that most web site comment sections are configured to filter out the HTML 'sub' tag (HW filters this out, for example), so you can't exactly blame them for that. You came blame them for all the rest of their denier tendencies, of course :-)

    4. The inability to write a simple chemical formula or abbreviation correctly (e.g. co2, Co2, C02, PH, Ph, etc.) probably has a strong correlation with a commenter's general incompetence regarding the topic at hand. But sometimes it's just a typo.

      There are a number of numeric subscripts and superscripts in the Unicode character set, and one can write CO₂ by using the subscript 2, but it's generally more trouble than it's worth for a blog comment.

    5. I know the subscripts can be a problem, but writing lower case (e.g. co2) is a red flag to me. I'm happy with CO2, as subscripts sometimes don't work.

      I also agree with Magma re pH - the H is capitalised because it is hydrogen.

    6. Aha. Usually more than one way to skin a cat with HTML, as Magma shows. I think it's by using the unicode character 8322 to produce the subscripted 2 rather than the 'sub' tag. Let me try here: CO₂.

  4. It is not AGW because ... 2014 sea levels.


  5. Istvan's use of quotes in 'adjusted' - classic denier

  6. .this graph indisputably proves that the El Niño is the driver of record high temperatures, not carbon dioxide

    Seems as if WUWT and other AGW deniers are still looking for that magic bullet, that elusive single needle in the haystack that will bring the entire scientific consensus crashing down in ruins.

    Given the apparent over-representation of engineers among 'skeptics', I wonder if that lack of insight into scientific and technical matters carries over to their day jobs.

    Skeptical engineer: I've *run* the numbers. Given the tensile strength of the steel available at the time, there's NO way the Golden Gate Bridge could support its own weight, let alone traffic and wind loads. It's a hoax, probably just another socialist tax grab.

  7. I quoted Anthony

    'Pretty definitive, in my opinion."

    And I explained why it was not definitive

    I also explained his use of a false dilemma

    "this graph indisputably proves that the El Niño is the driver of record high temperatures, not carbon dioxide."

    I also had some comments about "settled science".

    1. Thanks, Steven. (He could have thanked you instead of censoring your comment.)

    2. Tony's head is going to explode when he is informed that S.M. has posted is good!

  8. Sou, being mentioned in your article is almost as satisfying as being referenced in a footnote. Thanks.

    Toneb and a couple of others are doing a smash-up job at WUWT being rational and informative and responding to the crazy. I know we won't have an effect, but at least it hones some writing and web research skills, and encourages the virtue of patience.

  9. Sou,
    "Nick Stokes found it somewhere else on WUWT - it's from Jason2 and is of sea level, not temperature:"
    There is more in the thread following here. AW didn't like my observation, but he did eventually add a caption saying a bit more about it, and also another plot which really is of 2015 temperatures. Also an update:
    "Note: based on comments, the first ENSO event graph caption was updated to clarify it, and a second SST graph was added for those who prefer that representation of the ENSO event."

    Meanwhile, my comments at WUWT now go to spam, and haven't been re-emerging.

    1. I see that the gracious host accepted your observation with his usual charm.

      Anthony Watts
      March 15, 2016 at 3:40 pm

      And it’s worth noting that your comment is pointless, since the graph was replaced. But it’s typical Stokes.

    2. That would mark a real turning point at WUWT, Nick. I guess we'll have to wait to see if it's permanent or just a temporary dummy spit (like deleting Steve Mosher's comment).

      Anthony's rattled. (Dummy spits and rattles. Hmmm.)

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.


Instead of commenting as "Anonymous", please comment using "Name/URL" and your name, initials or pseudonym or whatever. You can leave the "URL" box blank. This isn't mandatory. You can also sign in using your Google ID, Wordpress ID etc as indicated. NOTE: Some Wordpress users are having trouble signing in. If that's you, try signing in using Name/URL or OpenID. Details here.

Click here to read the HotWhopper comment policy.