I suspect that the only really convincing evidence against global warming is a sustained period of no global warming or cooling — climate sensitivity and feedbacks are too esoteric.
I have followed the recent global temperature with some excitement, and started to prepare a follow up to a previous article I wrote on the failure of global temperature to meet AGW expectations.
The Nature publication “Recent Climate Observations Compared to Projections” by Rahmstorf, Hansen and others in 2007 claimed an up-tick in a graph showed that “global temperatures were increasing faster than expected”, and consequently climate change would be worse than expected. In “Recent Climate Observations: Disagreement with Projections”, using their methodology and two additional year’s data, the up-tick was shown to be an artefact of inadequate smoothing of the effects of a strong El Nino. Perhaps this rebuttal played some part in subsequent revisions of Rahmstorf’s graph with longer smoothing, which had the unfortunate effect (for him) of removing the up-tick, so they could no longer claim, “global temperatures were increasing faster than expected”.
Can we answer the question “Is the Atmosphere still warming” in a reasonable way?
From the field of econometrics comes empirical fluctuation processes (EFP), available to programmers in an R package called strucchange – developed to analyse such things as changes in exchange rates by the brilliant Achim Zeileis. The idea is to find a test of the null hypothesis that the slope parameter m for a section of a series has not changed over time:
H0: m1 = m2 versus the alternative H1: m1 not equal to m2
The idea is to move a window of constant width over the whole sample period, and compare local trends with the overall distribution of trends. The resulting process should not fluctuate (deviate from zero) too much under the null hypothesis and—as the asymptotic distributions of these processes are well-known—boundaries can be computed, which are only crossed with certain probability. If, on the other hand, the empirical process shows large fluctuations and crosses the boundary, there is evidence that the data contains a structural change in the parameter. The peaks can be dated and segmented regression lines fit between the breaks in slope.
I applied the strucchange function EFP to the five official global temperature data sets (CRU, GISS, NOAA, UAH and RSS) from 1978 using the latest values in 2011, and to mean global sea level. The results for the global temperature are below:
The fluctuation process (top panel) crosses the upper significance boundary a number of times, indicating that the trend parameter is unstable. For example, it crosses in 1998, coincident with the strong El Nino, and then relaxes. Most recently, three of the five data sets are at the lower boundary, indicating that at least the CRU, NOAA and RSS datasets have shifted away from the overall warming trend since 1978.
The middle panel shows the structural break model for the CRU data, with the optimal number of breaks given by the minimum of the Bayesian Information Criterion (BIC) (bottom panel). The locations of the breaks are coincident (with a lag) with major events: the ultra-Plinian (stratosphere reaching) eruptions of Mt Chichon and Mt Pinatubo, the Super El Nino and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) phase change in 2005.
Sometimes these types of models are sensitive to the start and end point, so I re-ran the analysis with data from 1950. Figure 2 is the resulting structural break model for CRU. While the fluctuation process did not show the same degree of recent downtrend, the structural break model is similar to the shorter series in Figure 1, except the temperatures since 1998 are fit with a single flat segment.
The temperature is plotted over random multiple AR(1) simulations, showing the temperature has ranged between the extremes of an AR(1) model over the period.
Another indication of global temperature is the mean global sea level, both barometric and non-barometric adjusted. Global sea levels tell the same story as atmospheric temperature, with a significant deceleration in sea level rise around the PDO shift in 2005.
By these objective criteria, there does appear to be a structural change away from the medium-term warming trend. Does this mean global warming has stopped?
What are the arguments that warming continues unabated?
Easterling and Wehner in their article “Is the climate warming or cooling?” lambasted “Numerous websites, blogs and articles in the media [that] have claimed that the climate is no longer warming, and is now cooling” for “cherry picking” the recent data. They examined the distribution of 10 year slopes of both the realized and modelled global temperature. They argued that because there were a small number of periods of flat 10 year temperatures that the long-term warming trend is intact.
Both E&W and EFP agree that there is a small chance of flat temperatures for 10 years (EFP says around 5%) during a longer-term warming trend. What E&W’s are saying is that given a small chance at one time, the chance of flat temperatures at any time, over the last 50 years say, is much higher. This doesn’t alter the fact that to an observer during any of those decades when temperature was flat (as now) there would still be a 5% chance of a break in the long-term trend.
Breusch and Vahid (2008 updated in 2011) chimed in with “Global Temperature Trends”, stating “there is no significant evidence for a break in trend in the late 1990s”, and “There is nothing to suggest that anything remarkable has happened around 1998.” As hard as I looked I could not find any estimates of significance to back up their claim of significant evidence.
The statement is even more puzzling as the last 15% at the ends of the series are typically not tested for breaks due to low power of the test on the diminishing numbers of data. The 1990′s fall in the outside 15%. Breaks the size of the break in 1976 would not have been detected on their data.
Of course, there are a variety of other observations of the Earth’s radiative balance and ocean heat content, supporting of the “no warming” claim, by top researchers such as Douglass and Loehle. There does not appear to be any credible empirical evidence from the AGW camp that the atmosphere is still warming.
I suspect that as in “Recent Climate Observations” where climate scientists were fooled into thinking that “climate change will be worse than expected” by the steep up-tick in global temperatures during a strong El Nino, they have also been fooled by a steep but longer-term up-tick in global temperatures associated with a positive phase of the PDO.