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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Exploring South East Asian heat extremes of 2016 elicits silly comments from Anthony Watts

Sou | 7:23 PM Go to the first of 5 comments. Add a comment

There's a new paper out in Nature Communications this week, in which the authors explore the factors affecting the extreme heat in south east Asia last year.  In mainland south east Asia, April 2016 was the warmest April on record, by a long way. It was 0.9 °C hotter than the previous hottest April (1998).

The paper opens with the following:

In April 2016, southeast Asia experienced surface air temperatures (SATs) that surpassed national records, exacerbated energy consumption, disrupted agriculture and caused severe human discomfort.
It seems a worthwhile research project, particularly with global warming likely to cause more disruption and discomfort like this over time.

[The figure at the top right is from the paper, and shows the relative contribution of El Niño (green bars) versus global warming (red bar) for the 15 hottest Aprils on record in mainland Southeast Asia. Click to enlarge it.]

I came across the paper from a copy and paste of the press release that Anthony Watts posted at WUWT (archived here, latest here). He didn't provide any link to the paper itself or to the article he copied and pasted. The press release, though, did name the journal, Nature Communications, and the date the article was published, so it wasn't hard to find. The paper was written by Kaustubh Thirumalai, Pedro N. DiNezio, Yuko Okumura and Clara Deser, who variously hailed from the University of Texas at Austin and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado.

Global warming exacerbates extreme temperatures in April 

The paper was written very clearly. In the abstract, the authors summarised what they did and what they found in just four sentences, and added a sentence stating how their work can benefit the people in south east Asia.

The research involved examining observations, and using climate models to simulate the impact of global warming and ENSO. What the scientists found was that:
  • Virtually all extreme temperatures in the region in April occur in ENSO years (cold for La Nina and hot for El Nino)
  • Global warming increases the likelihood of record-breaking hot weather, with 29% of the 2016 anomaly from global warming, and 49% because of El Nino.
  • Because this can be anticipated (El Nino starts a few months earlier than April), societies can do what they can to prepare for these extreme events in the future. 
The region they studied was mainland south east Asia, which they defined as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and peninsular Malaysia. As said previously, in 2016 this region had the hottest April since records began. The records began there in the mid-twentieth century. The authors say they used data from GISTemp (NASA) and CRU (Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia) from 1940 to the present. I suppose that can be regarded as "mid". In any case, it's about 76 years of data, and goes back to a time before global warming kicked in with a vengeance.

Below is from Figure 1 of the paper, showing the extreme temperatures in the region in April last year.
Figure 1 | Extreme temperatures April 2016. Satellite-derived (MODIS instrument on Terra and Aqua satellites) land surface temperature anomaly during April 2016 in the Mainland Southeast Asia (MSA) region (base period: 2000–2016), where the dashed red box represents the region selected for our analysis. SourceThirumalai17

Detecting departures from the norm in the tropics

As you probably know, it's the high latitudes (polar regions) where average annual warming is expected to be the greatest. There is a lot of attention being paid to what is happening in the Arctic and Antarctica. What hadn't registered with me was a point made by the authors. Tropical land areas are expected to show the fastest intensification of peak seasonal temperatures. The authors say this particularly applies to Central Africa, the Maritime Continent and the Indian Ocean rim. They add that by the middle of this century, at least 60% of regional land areas are expected to exceed the late twentieth century maximum.

The reason that seasonal temperature changes in the low latitudes will stand out is that there is less year-to-year variability in the tropics compared to mid and high latitude land areas. That means that any departures from the norm will be easier to detect. The authors ask: "Perhaps the hot April of 2016 is an indication that the MSA region is already experiencing a departure from its pre-industrial climate, as predicted by the models?"

Anthony Watts made himself look a fool and declares he's now a greenhouse effect denier

Over at WUWT, Anthony Watts added his own bit. This is always dangerous for him because most of the time he comes across as an ignorant fool. The only thing that saves him is that his audience these days is made up of fools just as ignorant, so mostly they don't notice.

Here is what Anthony wrote above his copy and paste, under his usual "claim" headline: "From the UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN and the “what if it’s only El Niño, then what?” department:"

Dumb as, eh? He didn't bother to read the press release let alone the paper. (Perhaps he thinks that not only was it a big El Nino, it was the biggest super duper El Nino of all time, ever! Now what could cause that, I wonder.) Anyway, it's clear that the scientists separated out the impact of El Nino from the long term warming trend.

It gets worse though. Anthony unusually went to the trouble of adding his own thoughts underneath his copy and paste. Here is his first dumb thought:
Only back to 1980? Hmm seems like cherry picking to me, While El Niño is a only recently known phenomenon, there are proxies that could indicate previous past ENSO strengths, which may have been even greater. To assume that 2016 is the largest because of a supposed controbution [sic] of global warming is pure folly, on many levels.
Huh? What is Anthony smoking with his "only back to 1980"? It shows he didn't even bother to read his copy and pasted press release, nor the paper.  1980 was 37 years ago, not 80 years ago. Is Anthony going senile?
  • The press release, as posted at WUWT, states: "Their analysis looked at the 15 hottest April temperatures over the past 80 years. All of them occurred after 1980, and all of them but one coincided with El Niño."
  • In the paper itself, the authors wrote that they analysed data going back to when there was a sufficient density of records in the region - back to 1940. Not only that, but they used records going back to 1870 for Bangkok.  They said they could have used data going back to 1813 but chose not to, because there was insufficient sea surface temperature data, which was necessary for their analysis.

As for Anthony's "pure folly" - does that mean he's turned into a full-blown greenhouse effect denier?

Anthony's gish gallop of bad advice to the researchers

Next Anthony decides that he can offer some suggestions to the scientists. This is the sort of "what if" advice that you'll often see on climate conspiracy blogs, together with some straight up lies about what Anthony says they "don't know".
They don’t know if the increase in SST is due to the previous Super El Nino and subsequent ones adding heat to the ocean in that area, or not. They don’t know if it’s a contribution of cloudiness (lack of it) or other factors. As many have observed, getting the atmosphere to heat the ocean is quite the trick. Direct solar insolation change is a far more likely candidate, as is wind patterns changing the surface albedo due to roughness. Have they considered algae, and turbidity too? How about population and infrastructure/land use changes in that area affecting temperature measurements over time?

Again, if only Anthony had read about the research before he wrote his dumb comments. I've no idea what he based them on. It's clear that he didn't read the paper, and his press release doesn't mention sea surface temperature or cloud cover.

This is what the researchers found:
  • Sea surface temperature (Anthony's SST) is how El Nino is measured.  Of course sea surface temperature in the equatorial Pacific is higher in an El Nino. The area surrounding the land that the researchers were studying is outside the ENSO regions, and straddles the Pacific and Indian oceans. The bigger point is that the researchers found a robust relationship between El Nino years and high temperatures for the land area they were studying, so it's hard to figure out what Anthony was getting at here.
  • Cloud cover was a specific aspect that the researchers looked at, contrary to what Anthony wrote.  Again, clouds weren't mentioned in the press release. Anthony would have had to read the paper to see what the scientists found. He didn't. The authors wrote quite a bit about cloud cover, including: "Our analysis shows that during April, the area of reduced rainfall and cloud cover has moved from the Maritime Continent, where El Niño impacts are more pronounced at their winter peak, to over MSA [mainland southeast Asia] and the Philippines, explaining the region's sensitivity to ENSO."
I really don't know why Anthony focused on sea surface temperature instead of mainland temperature, which was the subject. Sea temperature is obviously relevant because of its effect on land surface temperature. However Anthony doesn't seem to understand or perhaps accept that almost half (49%) of the extreme temperature anomaly in April 2016 was attributed to El Nino, with just 29% being attributed to global warming.  

That leaves 22% to explain. The authors wrote: "If some amount of the unexplained portion of the 2016 April SAT, apart from the contribution of weather-related noise, arose from a nonlinear change in the rate of global warming, the imprint of regional warming on the 2016 extreme would be even larger than our estimate."

As for his algae and turbidity, it looks to me as if Anthony's stretching to find anything but global warming (abgw) responsible for the record heat. He doesn't say why algae or turbidity should have been so much different in April 2016 than any year prior. In the same way he doesn't explain why he thinks that the 2015/16 El Nino was so much worse than any previously recorded. (No scientist has made that claim. Anthony's on his own.)

The only other point of note that Anthony made was: "Bob Tisdale suggests that changes in the Pacific Warm Pool might be a factor:". If Bob did suggest that, he must have done it privately, because the article to which Anthony linked didn't suggest any such thing. Bob's article was written in 2008, eight years before the extremely hot April 2016. 

Here's an article by John Weier, from 2001, on NASA's Earth Observatory website, which discusses the Pacific Warm Pool. That's seven years before Bob Tisdale discovered it :) There's a more recent paper (2016) that looks quite useful, by Patrick De Deckker. It discusses points similar to those raised in this Nature Communications paper. (Although the paper and its supplement don't mention the Indo-Pacific Warm Pool by name, the authors do talk about the seas in the region, and the changes in the atmosphere above, particularly cloud cover.)

The point is that one still has to explain why the Indo-Pacific Warm Pool got so warm in 2016. It's not enough to say it exists. (The Indo-Pacific Warm Pool is an area of very warm ocean, it's not an "event" such as ENSO events.) In this case, the high heat of the Indian and Pacific oceans in the region can probably be attributed, at least in part, to the heat released by El Nino on top of global warming.

From the WUWT comments

I first saw the WUWT article shortly after it was posted, when there was only one "thought" below it. I took note of Anthony's silly comments and wondered how long it would take for anyone to discuss the paper itself. Turns out that didn't happen until just before I started to write this, several hours and a sleep later. The second last comment in the thread was by lorcanbonda, who is the only person as far as I could see, who made the effort to search for the paper and see what the authors found. He had some criticisms, though I'm not sure they were well-founded. I say that not because I've been fair or even-handed and taken the time to analyse or check that comment. It's because in an earlier comment lorcanbonda wrote sarcastically:
June 7, 2017 at 4:04 pm
I’ve done careful research and determined that “El Niño and kitten fluffiness combine to cause record-breaking heat in Southeast Asia.” — As long as I include El Niño in the title, it is not wrong.

Most of the other comments were from the dimwit climate conspiracy theorists. The ones who never know what it is they are mocking, it's just a knee jerk reaction to whatever is the latest WUWT article.

Tom Halla set the ball rolling. He didn't read the paper or even the press release Anthony posted. He just skipped all that and went straight for Anthony's notes at the bottom. Otherwise he'd have seen that the land surface temperature data started in 1940, not 1980. The 1980 April marked the first of the fifteen hottest Aprils in that record. 
June 7, 2017 at 10:31 am
I totally agree that starting at 1980 seems to be special pleading. What the bleep happened to records before 1980?

The rest of the comments are from long term disinformers. You can't say someone who's been making climate comments for years is merely a "denier". They have to have picked up by now that global warming is real and that we're causing it. For example, ATheoK went for outright lies when he wrote:
June 7, 2017 at 1:13 pm
You’ve nailed it Greg.
The whole alleged research is a classic distraction ploy.
Use just enough actual information to obscure the faked simulations.
Note the stacked “warming trend”, not measured or even calculated; just a bias assumption and hard coded into the model.
Nor do they present a rational explanation for how they determined “El Nino” effect. From the looks of their graph, that is another hard coded extrapolation apparently based on a strength of “El Nino” assumption.
Other was simply remaindered.
All assumptions from concept through confirmation bias modeling.

Note his false allegation of "fake simulations". His false claim that the warming trend is neither measured nor calculated (when it is). His big lie about the authors providing no "rational explanation for how they determined "El Nino" effect", when they did.

Like ATheoK, a lot of the WUWT people bashing away on their computers to see their "thoughts" in electronic print, are dead against using computers for science. (They all despise models.) It looks as if they only value computers as a means of seeing their thoughts reflected back at them. In other words, they see no value in computers at all. Scientists should stick to using the abacus (or count on their fingers and toes) as far as dim deniers are concerned. Latitude is of the opinion that computers are of no use to science. Because he's a complete dolt, he thinks everyone else is, too:
June 7, 2017 at 10:37 am
computer model simulations designed to disentangle the natural and human-made causes…..
Stop right there…..this can’t be done

Latitude is like most of the commenters and was completely unskeptical of Anthony Watts' fake claim. He also got the year wrong. The highest temperature was in April 2016, by a long way, not in 1983.
June 7, 2017 at 11:28 am
It’s all bullcrap….
The highest recorded temp was in 1983…they started in 1980
The most they can say is it’s stayed the same………

ristvan is another woeful Dunning-Krugerite, who thinks he knows science better than career scientists. (He's a lawyer who ran some tech firms before retiring to take up climate science denial, AFAIK. He's never been a climate scientist.)
June 7, 2017 at 10:43 am
There is no statistical technique that can reliably sort natural (El Nino) from AGW causes of land warming in that region. Not without a host of unsupportable assumptions.

This is what probably passes for a clever comment at WUWT. Gobbledygook from the greyfoxx:
June 7, 2017 at 11:13 am
The City of Austin, TX, is a hotbed enclave of Democrat political activism and Illegal Immigrant Sanctuary City tolerance. So why should we be surprised with an assertion that anthropological endeavors MUST have some unusual influence, like a 1* C temperature increase anomaly once in 36 years.
Maybe those Chinese smokestacks are contributing way too much H2O moisture and other pollutants into the atmosphere. The UNIPCC should mandate they curtail their emissions severely.

Jimmy Haigh added the only comment I saw in support of the research (which was investigating why April 2016 was very hot).
June 7, 2017 at 11:23 am
I live in Pattaya in SE Thailand. Last year’s hot season was as hot as hell. This year’s? Normal. Muggy, sweaty…

I've no idea what caused Joel Snider to write this. Since industrialisation, we have added more than 40% extra CO2 to the atmosphere, not 3%. No-one cared enough for Joel to correct him or answer his question. There's not much love at WUWT.
June 7, 2017 at 12:15 pm
So… pardon my laymen’s density… I assume the claim that ‘global warming’ caused 1/3 of the warming, means ‘Anthropogenic’, so how does a 3% contribution to C02 get you 33%?
Or is this just a word game to allow the reader to confuse the two? 

highflight56433  wonders how there can still be record lows. I don't think there have been many record lows on mainland south east Asia in recent years. (If he lives in the USA he'd have seen that "record-warm weather has occurred five times as frequently as record cold in U.S. cities since 2010, according to a new analysis". )
June 7, 2017 at 12:22 pm
Why do we continue to have record lows? How many record highs are there in comparison to record lows? And what is the land mass trend of overnight lows? How much jungle is there today compared to 1980? If the earth is slowing in rotation, will we see an increase in both record lows and record highs simultaneously, and is the opposite true?
How much cloud cover has there been? 

Steven F made up an answer to a non-question out of thin air. He's wrong. The chart Anthony showed was from 1980 because that's when the first of the 15 hottest Aprils on record began. The land data the scientists used went back to 1940 (and 1870 in the case of Bangkok).
June 7, 2017 at 12:26 pm
They only went back to 1980 because the best El Nino data is from satellites. Prior to 1980 satellite data for the ocean is very limited and no El Nino’s were observed. In fact most scientist didn’t know El nino existed and the few that had heard of it though it was isolated to south america. That changed in the early 80’s when the first observed El Nino occurred. Since then we have looked over past records and can see evidence of El Nino’s to about 1940. If they had used the surface temperature record of El Nino’s they probably would only sen a correlation with El Ninos. 

Forrest Gardener was astute enough to query Steven F, but not so clever as to read the press release at WUWT, or the paper, to find out for himself.
June 7, 2017 at 3:29 pm
Steven, did they give that reason or are you just being helpful? 

One of the odder comments came from another conspiracy theorising denier, Geoff Sherrington. From his comment below he's not just a climate science denier, he's also a weather denier. He's been around denier traps for a long time, so he's another one who's either too thick to understand or a deliberate disinformer. (In his case I think it's the former, brought on by an ideological affliction.)
June 7, 2017 at 7:38 pm
A simple inspection of the anomalous temperatures shown over the study areas shows how ‘nuggety’ this heating is on a global scale. You can imagine selection of a point in the central part of this SE Asia map, then a correlation of temperature with distance from the center. Like a bulls eye, in concept.
I will remain a skeptic of global warming explanations until an explanation is given for this lumpiness of global temperatures. Why does the shape of the land appear to interact with the shape of the anomaly? Ab initio, one would expect global warming from CO2, if correct, to exert a more uniform rise all over the globe, not a selective jump from one location to another every couple of years. (Especially after subtraction of El Nino effects).
I do wish researchers would
(a) get the basics correct before waffling on about detailed minor aspects; and
(b) derive and show proper, formal error envelopes, showing both accuracy and precision, with all data.
That's enough. The comments above are fairly representative of the dismal state of affairs at WUWT these days.

References and further reading

Kaustubh Thirumalai, Pedro N. DiNezio, Yuko Okumura, Clara Deser. "Extreme temperatures in Southeast Asia caused by El Niño and worsened by global warming." Nature Communications, 2017; 8: 15531 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms15531 (open access)
De Deckker, Patrick. "The Indo-Pacific Warm Pool: critical to world oceanography and world climate." Geoscience Letters 3, no. 1 (2016): 20. DOI: 10.1186/s40562-016-0054-3 (open access)

Reverberations of the Pacific Warm Pool - article by John Weier at Earth Observatory, NASA, 2001

Extreme warmth has dominated U.S. weather records since 2010. This is climate change. - article by Capital Weather Gang at Washington Post, 1 June 2017.


  1. Anthony Watts: "Only back to 1980? Hmm seems like cherry picking to me"

    So no more going back only as far as 1998 at WUWT then?

  2. Have any of the WUWT commenters woken up to the fact that their comments are reproduced here? Thought they might like their fleeting seconds of fame.

    1. Some WUWTers are regular readers here at HW. Some only find their comments after a vanity search. Sometimes (mostly) they only make it worse for themselves, contradicting the words they wrote, or worse, repeating them, or otherwise getting themselves tied up in knots. (One person complained loudly that I copied his comment exactly, including typos. Imagine the furore if I changed the words they wrote at WUWT.)

    2. The most recent visitor from WUWT was good enough to inform us that ice ages are caused by supernatural forces. We were all very impressed.

  3. dear god

    when are these idiots going to give up

    it is like the terminator does "science denial" - they just will not stop


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