There's a new paper out that shows that, contrary to what you'll read on denier blogs, NOAA's latest version of global sea surface temperature is probably the best and most accurate around. It's the closest to observations, when you compare it to measurements from moored and floating buoys, Argo floats and radiometer-based satellite records of sea surface temperature.
Umpteen denier protests
Deniers tried every trick in the book to demonise the paper. Some claimed (wrongly) that there was "something wrong" with adjustments to correct the bias from the shift from ship-based temperature readings to buoy readings. Others like Bob Tisdale thought (wrongly) that the global trend in sea surface temperature, using readings from buoys and ships, should exactly match the trend just using night time marine air temperature. Anthony Watts went as far as accusing the NOAA scientists of fraud, which didn't go down well with Andy Revkin of the New York Times. Other deniers didn't understand what was being discussed, they just knew that if scientists had a paper published in Science then it had to be a scientific conspiracy, and wrong.
The odd part about all this is that the rate of warming over the full NOAA record as reported in Karl15 in the new version was lower, not higher, than the uncorrected version. As well as that, the NOAA global mean surface temperature (land and sea) has a trend that is middle of the road compared to other data sets. The table below is a bit out of date - it's the linear trends per decade from 1970 to the end of 2015, as reported here.
Deniers are never satisfied - "something must be wrong" with everything science. I expect this study won't satisfy them either. I wonder how long it will take for WUWT to write about it, and what form their protests will take. (Usually they love satellites and Argo floats. I suspect they'll suspend that adoration for the duration.)
New analysis shows that the NOAA sea surface temperature record is the best of the lot
In a new paper published in Science Advances today, a team of scientists led by Zeke Hausfather analysed the different sea surface temperature records, comparing them with observations from buoys, Argo floats, and radiometer-based satellite measurements, which measure the temperature of the sea "skin" or surface. You might recognise some of the other members of the team too. They are: Kevin Cowtan, David C. Clarke, Peter Jacobs, Mark Richardson and Robert Rohde.
|Argo floats. Source: JAMSTEC|
Using observations from moored and floating buoys, Argo floats and satellites, the authors found that the old NOAA sea surface temperature record (ERSST version 3b) was way too cool. They also found that the sea surface temperatures reported by the Hadley Centre (UK Met Office) and Japan Meteorological Agency were also too cool, though not as off as NOAA's ERSST version 3b. They found that the new NOAA record (ERSST version 4) agreed rather well with the instrumental records.
Putting together a long-term sea surface temperature record is very complicated
You're probably wondering why the difference. Well, the different organisations use slightly different observation sets when working out global sea surface temperature changes. They also have different techniques for analysing the data and putting it all together to form a composite global record. The authors explain in a background article on Kevin Cowtan's website:
Both Hadley and NOAA (as well as the Japanese COBE-SST record) are what we call composite records. That is, they try and take data from multiple different types of instruments that are changing over time and combine them in a single long-term climate record. This poses challenges when the way measurements taken change (e.g. switching from buckets thrown over the side of ships to engine room intake valves, or more recently from ships to buoys) and requires some judgment calls of how to calibrate each set of data and correct for any biases.
The new paper is detailed and, as is usual with these authors, easy to follow and full of good information. The authors discuss the work that must be done to develop a comprehensive record of sea surface temperature, particularly because the sources have changed over time. They wrote about the shift from ship measurements to buoy measurements:
Before the past two decades, a large majority of SST measurements were taken by ships, first with buckets thrown over the side and increasingly through engine room intakes (ERIs) after 1940. Since 1990, the number of SST measurements coming from buoys has increased around 25-fold, whereas the number of observations from ships has fallen by around 25% (3, 4). The observations have gone from 80% ship-based in 1990 to 80% buoy-based in 2015. Modern ship-based measurements (primarily ERI, although hull contact sensors and other devices are also used) tend to be biased warm by around 0.12°C relative to buoys, whose sensors are directly in contact with the ocean’s surface (1, 5, 6). As the number of ships actively taking measurements available in the International Comprehensive Ocean-Atmosphere Data Set (ICOADS) database (4) has fallen, a growing portion of ships are also using non-ERI systems that may introduce further changes in the combined record (1). Although buoy records are widely considered to be more accurate than ship-based measurements, their integration with ship records into longer SST series poses a number of challenges (3).
How the new study compared observations with composite data sets
The authors of the new paper looked at relatively recent observations and compared them individually with the composite data sets. That is, they compared each data set with buoy-only data, and with satellite-only data (both from 1997 to the end of 2015). Satellite data measures the temperature of the "sea skin" - or right at the surface. Moored buoys record temperature at about three metres below the surface and floating buoys at around half a metre below the surface. They also compared them with only data from Argo floats, which is only useful from 2005 to the present. Most of the measurements from Argo floats (in this exercise) are taken at about five metres below the surface, and the authors refer to those measures as "near-SST". (Ships today take in water through engine room intake valves, which are at depths of seven to 11 metres for large ships and at one to three metres for small ships.)
The scientists selected only the period after the records were dominated by ship data (buoys are about 80% of the NOAA data over recent years), and a time span when there are sufficient data from other sources to provide reliable information around the globe. In this way, they were able to do a like for like comparison without having to make all those pesky adjustments that the longer composite records require. The composite records don't just have to adjust for differences between ships and buoys, they also have to make adjustments for different designs of ships over the years. It is a very complicated exercise.
By looking at recent records using the most modern instrumentation available, the authors were able to see how the composite records compared with these up-to-date instrumental measurements.
Below is a chart from Kevin Cowtan's website that highlights the differences between the observations from buoys and satellite data, and three different composite data sets.
Caveats, coverage and a video
It's worth reading the paper (it's open access), because the authors explain their study in considerable detail and talk about the differences in coverage of the different data sources at different periods. They also suggest reasons for the differences between the composite data sets (NOAA, HadSST3 and JMA's COBE-SST.
The video from Peter Sinclair (below) is worth watching too. It's only five minutes long, and has Zeke Hausfather explaining the work. If you're Australian (or British), don't be too distracted by Zeke's "boo-eys" :D
References and further reading
Zeke Hausfather, Kevin Cowtan, David C. Clarke, Peter Jacobs, Mark Richardson, and Robert Rohde. "Assessing recent warming using instrumentally homogeneous sea surface temperature records." Science Advances 3. no. 1 (2017): e1601207 (open access)
- Article by the authors on Kevin Cowtan's blog
- NOAA challenged the global warming ‘pause.’ Now new research says the agency was right - article by Chris Mooney at Washington Post
- NOAA Scientists Didn’t Cook The Books On Climate Change, Study Finds - article by Chris D'Angelo at Huffington Post
- Global warming hiatus disproved — again - article by Robert Sanders at UC Berkeley
- Political Investigation Is Not the Way to Scientific Truth - article by Kevin Cowtan and Zeke Hausfather at Scientific American
- Forget About Global Warming Pause — It Doesn't Exist - article by Laura Geggel at Live Science
- Oceans are warming up, and there should be no controversy about it - article by Alessandra Potenza at The Verge
- No 'cooking the books': New study confirms global warming hiatus didn't happen - article by Peter Hannam at Sydney Morning Herald
- For the last time, warming is not slowing down! - article at Grist
- New analysis shows Lamar Smith’s accusations on climate data are wrong - article by Scott K. Johnson at Ars Technica
- The famous 'global warming hiatus' of the early 21st Century never existed, new data confirm - by Martha Henriques at International Business Times
- New study confirms NOAA finding of faster global warming - article by John Abraham at The Guardian
- Debunking the myth of climate change 'hiatus': Where did it come from? - article by Eva Botkin-Kowacki in Christian Science Monitor
- Climate change: Fresh doubt over global warming 'pause' - article by Matt McGrath at BBC
Thomas R. Karl, Anthony Arguez, Boyin Huang, Jay H. Lawrimore, James R. McMahon, Matthew J. Menne, Thomas C. Peterson, Russell S. Vose, Huai-Min Zhang. "Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus." 4 June 2015. doi:10.1126/science.aaa5632 (pdf here)
Huang, Boyin, Viva F. Banzon, Eric Freeman, Jay Lawrimore, Wei Liu, Thomas C. Peterson, Thomas M. Smith, Peter W. Thorne, Scott D. Woodruff, and Huai-Min Zhang. "Extended Reconstructed Sea Surface Temperature version 4 (ERSST. v4), Part I. Upgrades and Intercomparisons." Journal of Climate 2014 (2014). doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-14-00006.1 (pdf here)
Peter W. Thorne, Kate M. Willett, Rob J. Allan, Stephan Bojinski, John R. Christy, Nigel Fox, Simon Gilbert, Ian Jolliffe, John J. Kennedy, Elizabeth Kent, Albert Klein Tank, Jay Lawrimore, David E. Parker, Nick Rayner, Adrian Simmons, Lianchun Song, Peter A. Stott, and Blair Trewin, 2011: "Guiding the Creation of A Comprehensive Surface Temperature Resource for Twenty-First-Century Climate Science." Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 92, ES40–ES47. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/2011BAMS3124.1 (open access)
- NOAA: No pause in the global surface temperature - June 2015
- Biased Bob Tisdale is all at sea - July 2015
- The perversity of deniers - and the "pause" that never was with Tom Peterson - June 2016
- More perversity from Anthony Watts @wattsupwiththat - June 2015
- More denier protests etc.