It was widely reported that 2014 was the hottest year since records began in 1880. This information came from US government scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); and was “confirmed” apparently by analysis from the US space agency NASA. When words mean exactly what you want them to mean you can imbue information with enhanced verisimilitude. In this case, as the data itself came from the GISTEMP global temperature series complied by NASA it would be passing strange if NASA did not confirm it.
Wordplay aside, my scepticism cut in. By the way, it is not true that I am, in any specific way, a climate sceptic. I am a non-discriminating a-priori sceptic about anything where vested interest lurks. On global warming, I simply don’t know. The recent hiatus in warming might be significant; it might not. I reserve my objections for the counterproductive ways governments are attempting to deal with what they believe is anthropogenic global warming and for the jiggery-pokery which taints climate information.
While there are others; there are four major temperature series relied upon. There are two land and sea based series: The HadCRUT series produced by the Hadley centre in the UK (dating back to 1850) and the GISTEMP series produced by the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (back to 1880). There are two lower troposphere temperature series, both dating from 1979: The UAH series produced by the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the RSS series sponsored by NOAA.
I consulted Woodfortrees.org and verified that the GISTEMP series has 2014 as the hottest year with 2010, 2005 and 1998 close behind in that order. There isn’t much in it, of course, which reportedly prompted John Christy, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (and known for his scepticism about the seriousness of global warming) to point out that 2014 had surpassed the other record-warm years by only a few hundredths of a degree, well within the margin of error. Still I suppose a record is a record; but is it in this case?
Unfortunately, the HadCRUT series are not yet available for the whole of 2014 so I couldn’t check this series to see whether it backed up the GISTEMP series. However, both satellite series are available. Neither shows 2014 as the hottest year. In fact, the UAH series has 2014 sixth behind 2007, 2009, 2005, 2010 and 1998. The RSS series (which recall is sponsored by NOAA) has 2014 fourth behind, 2005, 2010 and 1998.
One thing is clear and one thing not. It is clear that the temperature outcome for 2014, whatever series is used, is consistent with the continuation of a hiatus beginning around 1998 to 2000. It is not clear whether 2014 was the hottest year on record. Both satellite temperature series – which are almost certainly more reliable that land and sea based measurements – support a different conclusion. Moreover, recorded temperatures using land and sea gauges are so subject to sampling, measurement, adjustment, and compilation errors as to render reliance on small differences extremely moot.
Where is the jiggery-pokery? It lies this time in NOAA and the compliant media publicising one temperature series while ignoring others, and in the scientifically unwarranted emphasis on something being a record when it was well inside the margin of error. In this case too, one of those other series (RSS), which NOAA chose not to report is sponsored by them.
Fame depends, I imagine, on what results you churn out. The lads and lasses producing the RSS series better get their act together and make sure temperatures rise next time. That is, if they want a place in the climate industry sun.