Saturday, December 16, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

2006: the coldest year in the last five years

Update (January 2008): 2007 turned out to be the coldest year of this century according to RSS MSU.
According to the most recent data from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the year 2006 is set to be
  • colder than 2005
  • colder than 2004
  • colder than 2003
  • colder than 2002
  • ... and, most obviously, ...
  • colder than 1998,

despite the new El Nino that has been warming the Earth again for a couple of months at the end of 2006 and that will probably continue in 2007. Yes, right now it seems that 2006 will become the coldest year among the most recent five years, and it will belong to the colder half of the years in the last decade.

The number of hurricanes in 2006 was below the long-term average. The total number of Atlantic tropical storms was the second lowest number during the last 12 years, after 1997.

Using the WMO terminology, 2006 is set to become the "sixth warmest year" after 1998, 2005, 2002, 2003, and 2004: see WMO's top five. Nevertheless, when a naive and innocent girl would read most of the newspapers, she would most likely start to think that we live in an era of a spectacular global warming. In reality, we live in an era of a spectacularly inexpensive propaganda produced by unusually blinded ... pundits.

And that's the memo.

P.S.: See for a similar analysis of the news and a more complete graph including the years 1999-2001. Don't you think that the graphs resemble currency exchange rates and follow similar fuzzy logic? See also the NOAA report.

Also, the new HadCru data released in January 2007 confirm the ordering of the years captured in the following graphs: the temperature anomalies from 1998 to 2006 were 0.526, 0.302, 0.277, 0.406, 0.455, 0.465, 0.444, 0.475, 0.422.

Figure 1: Global cooling. This graph, depicting 6 warmest years since 1998 according to their rank, shows how Al Gore and other people with comparable scientific standards would be presenting the recent temperature records if cooling or a new ice age became more convenient for their goals than warming.

Note that various tricks that are popular with some politicians and journalists-activists are used although not as intensely as in the media. The beginning of the graph is appropriately chosen. Some years that would lead to undesirable conclusions are removed. The decreasing links are emphasized and scientifically interpreted while the increasing links are suppressed and painted as scientifically irrelevant episodes.

Some particular years, in this case 2005, are drawn as exceptions from the underlying trend if it can help the case. In fact, I forgot:

They would also add pictures that would make it clear that the past climate is what it should be while the future is a disaster: yes, the guy is stuck in between two glaciers and all of us will be. ;-)

They would also extrapolate the graphs in some catastrophic way up to 2050 and beyond and shoot a cynical movie about all these threats. A campaign showing that the CEOs of the companies producing heating devices - together with the nasty owners of the ski resorts - are vampires who are ready to sacrifice the planet to increase their profits would follow. Steve Jobs is a vampire, too: he is selling millions of white iPods that increase the reflectivity of the Earth, via the mirror effect, and bring us closer to the new ice age.

Media would inform you that they want to hide that a new ice age is imminent. We would be constantly reading about 25,000 Britons who froze to death during the 2005-2006 winter. Scary hurricanes would be described as a consequence of global cooling and heat waves would either become unimportant weather events or consequences of the global cooling.

The world would be different in details but the general picture would be isomorphic.

The Improving State of the World

Indur Goklany, a former EPA official, has collected 450 pages of data showing that the world is cleaner, happier, and healthier than ever before. The new book is recommended by various famous people such as Nobel prize winners and Chicago economists but not only them.

Goklany shows amazing numbers how the economic growth and technological progress has improved nutrition the in the third world, how it has made the environment cleaner - the countries that have abandoned communism are an important example. The food prices in real terms dropped by 75 percent in the last 50 years. The life expectancy has grown tremendously and the infant mortality has decreased four-fold. Also, it is cheaper to adapt to different temperature than to try to stop its change by introducing heavy-handed interventionism.

One of the things that the book disproves is the hypothesis that the economic growth leads to an increasing damage of the environment.

Some additional well-known climate articles on this blog

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snail feedback (16) :

reader Orthoclase said...

Cooling is caused by global warming.

Ask any liberal.

They will tell you.

reader Luboš Motl said...

The only purpose of this snail comment is to check formatting.

reader Unknown said...

Why does the actual mean temperature graph, you know, with data measured in degrees Celsius, look like this: NASA Temperature Record Data? You'd have to blind or stupid to not acknowledge that the graph, it goes up with time.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Chaotic,

your graph doesn't cover the last decade that this article is about which is why your comment is off-topic.

It seems obvious that the temperatures went up in the last 200 years. They had to go somewhere. If they went down, a similar hysteria would follow anyway.

The new data from the last few years show to anyone who is not blind or silly that there exists no urgent or imminent trend that would deserve a global attention.

Merry Christmas,

reader Unknown said...

Hmmm... thanks for quick response, and a Merry Christmas to you as well!

Oh, it's not _my_ graph - it's NASA's. Hence the at the end of the uniform resource locator.

That last data point at the extreme right end of the graph is 2005, which is last year's mean temperature. The only way they could put more data on their graph would be if they estimated the mean temperature for 2006, which has hasn't finished yet. The post seems relevant to me.

The reason that many folks are worried about the climate can be seen on this chart as well. Between 1880 and 1970, the temperature went up maybe 0.25 degrees Celsius. That is much like you said, "the temperature has to go somewhere". Between 1970 and 2005, it has gone up 0.5 degrees. If you take the ratio of the two rates, warming appears to be happening 5 times faster now than in the twentieth century. That's a lot of up direction for me.

Best of the New Year to you!

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Chaotic,

if you look at your graph carefully, you will see that the rate of warming between 1910 and 1942 is exactly as large as your most intense recent warming you can find.

Your choice of the intervals is exactly the bias that I criticized in the article. You intentionally included the cooling between 1940s and 1970s to make the "old" warming look smaller.

But it was not smaller.

I can make the same tricks, too. The warming between 1892 and 1897 was 38 times bigger than warming between 2002 and 2006.

Your factor of 5 much like my factor of 38 is just a random ratio of two carefully selected numbers, a large one and a small one, and it certainly doesn't imply anything about the rate of warming.

It is not difficult to see from the graph that the rates of warming and cooling are not changing even though our greenhouse gas emissions indeed jumped by a factor of more than 5. This disproves that hypothesis that exponentially growing CO2 emissions lead to exponentially growing temperatures, at the scales in the foreseeable future.

All the best

reader Unknown said...

Hey, Lubos.

Well, only time will tell. Here's a question for you: what would it take to convince you that the global temperature is warming? What is a good standard of proof in your mind: warming of 0.75 degrees Celsius from the mean? 1 degree Celsius? 1.5 degrees? I'm just wondering so that we can share a Pils in 2035 and you can tell me I was right. :)

You're quite right about the warming between 1910 and 1942: that is the same rate of change over a comparable interval. Of course, anyone with your background would know that deviations from the mean get larger as smaller intervals of time are considered - unless of course real change is happening in the underlying time-series. In that case, longer intervals give the same signal: an unbiased estimate of the underlying rate-of-change.

There is one important difference between my interval (1970-2005) and yours: mine ends with the most recent data. That gives me one degree of freedom, where you took two. Therefore, I'm only half-cheating. You're absolutely right about the other end, I picked 1970 because of a clear qualitative difference in the temperature behaviour there, and because it gives the longest baseline. The climate modellers say that the apparent lack of significant warming between 1940 and 1980 was largely due to the US and the USSR dumping megatons of soot with their coal-fired plants into the air, masking an existing temperature increase from the CO2. Of course, that inference relies on other data from the pure temperature graph, and so I'm guessing that you will reject it out of hand. I don't reject it, which is why I'm looking forward to the Pilsner later. :)


reader Luboš Motl said...

Hi Chaotic,

you ask: "what would it take to convince you that the global temperature is warming?"

This question is deliberately vaguely defined. It depends what object or region is supposed to be warming, what timescale do we use to compute the averages, and how reliable or strong the effect is supposed to be.

A short sentence "the climate is warming" is only used by extremely sloppy people who don't want or can't think quantitatively and rationally, and if you are asking what will convince me to accept this meaningless prayer, the answer is that nothing will convince me to behave in the same way as the sloppy people do.

If the warming means that a particular temperature T1 computed according to a definition D1 is higher than a particular temperature T2 computed according to a definition D2, I would have to see the difference measured or calculated with such an accuracy that the error bar, including all types of errors, is at least five times smaller than the claimed difference. Moreover, there would have to be enough evidence that this fact wasn't artificially constructed out of many random datasets.

If someone wanted to claim that the global-averaged surface temperature (something that I don't think is a terribly important or interesting quantity, theoretically or practically) is rising every year, for example, she would have to show me the graph that implies this conclusion using the accuracy standards from the previous paragraph. Both of us know that this is nonsense: the global climate is not getting warmer every year. It is not getting warmer every 5 years either. So realistically speaking, nothing will convince me about that.

If someone wanted to convince me that the global temperature of the Universe is getting warmer, she would first have to debunk the whole theory of the Big Bang which is unlikely, too. According to the Big Bang cosmology, the Universe is getting cooler as it expands.

If someone wanted to convince me that our impact on the climate is significant in comparison with the natural background and deserves an attention, she would have to show me a recent decadal warming that exceeds the absolute value of the average decadal warming trends in the previous decades on the instrumental record by the same factor of five. If the factor were 3, it could be viewed as a first hint that something could be there in the future but it could still be a coincidence.

I've already given this answer to several other people. Needless to say, reality is so far incredibly far from such an outcome because the decadal warming is essentially equal to the decadal warming of any other previous decade we know, in absolute value, up to a factor of less than 2. This is noise, not a signal, that is consistent with the assumption that the warming is purely natural.

I agree with you that the random-walk-like graphs have more significant "trends" as measured at smaller timescales. This is why the weather is more important and probably will remain more important than the climate. The "scary" projected changes of temperature for 100 years are about 10 times smaller than the typical changes of Boston temperature in 3 days.

"That gives me one degree of freedom, where you took two."

That's a very nice argument except that it also carries its disadvantages: my number will stay fixed while your number won't and your argument will have to be changed as the time goes. Unless you believe that 2006 is the last year that is mathematically possible or otherwise extraordinary year that determines the laws of physics more than other years. ;-)

This disadvantage has already shown its impact. The people who claimed in 1998 that there had been a real extraordinary warming by 1998 found out that their argument would be getting weaker and weaker with time as the temperatures cooled down after 1998.

I also find it totally plausible that the aerosols have contributed cooling that will once be quantified and well-established. The same effect may be used to cool the climate artificially in the future if it is done more efficiently. This was discussed in the article abot Crutzen's artificial volcanos. But we don't know today whether the apparent overlap of the aerosol emissions and the cooling is a coincidence or an inevitable fact.

Pilsner is great.


reader Ivan Janssens said...

I have a question about El Nino. You say it has been warming the earth over the past few months. Do you mean the whole earth? I mean, would Europe have been cooler over the past months without El Nino? I ask this question because in Belgium at least the first six months of 2006 were rather cold. But the second part of the year rather hot. El Nino? And when did El Nino it's warming work before the current phase?

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Ivan, sorry for the delay. The answer is No.

El Nino is just a system of oscillations that manifests itself by higher temperatures in the Eastern Pacific Ocean - essentially the U.S. and Latin American West Coast.

La Nina (woman) is the opposite of El Nino.

You can't expect El Nino to directly influence European weather but it does influence the global average and precipitation in America.

It seems to be fading away, and my guess is that the predictions that it will last until May will be shortened.

All the best

reader Hudd said...

Maybe you should have waited until the month was over.

Climate Experts Worry as 2006 Is Hottest Year on Record in U.S.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Michael, I believe that you have already figured out what your incredibly dumb mistake was. In the case you have not, the answer is that you have confused the world with the United States of America. 2006 will very likely remain the 6th warmest year in the world on record, i.e. coolest in the last 5 years.

reader Rhysickle said...

Here's a possible explanation, if you need one (NB - as a scientist you should know that fluctuations over a mere few years are no indication of a long term trend, so God knows why you see the need to explain what can easily be dismissed as a temporary and minor blip)

In the mid 20th century temperatures dipped due to (the general consensus today says) global dimming - i.e. dust from burning unclean fuels blocking the sun. Isn't it possible that the rapid growth of countries like China (added to less rapid growth of other developing countries), relying almost entirely on unclean energy production has created a global dimming effect, temporarily masking the effects of global warming.

reader Z said...


Are you familiar with the change that was made to the MSU data to make historical atmospheric temperatures match the historical surface temperature record?

Sounds kind of fishy and convenient to me.

Best regards,


reader Unknown said...

I would like to add a thought to this. I think that building cities, roads, airports etc... would have more to do with temp change then CO2.
Concrete holds the heat in and releases it back after the sun goes down. Trees, brush grass help cool.
I am just an average Joe but can feel the difference every evening as I leave town for my home in the country. I don't believe we are experiencing global warming (at least not man made) as weather has had swings from tropical to ice age with out cars, factories or people.

reader Paul said...

No amount of warming proves that it is anthropogenic, so although the discussion about warming or cooling is interesting, it doesn't prove anything about anthropogenic causes.

By the way, I pick the blonde on the beach over the guy in the ice. We had -47 C two weeks ago and about now I could use a nice warm beach.


Pavel from Canada

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