Doug L. Hoffman
Friday, Dec 18th, 2009
While climate skeptics have gleefully pointed to the past decade’s lack of temperature rise as proof that global warming is not happening as predicted, climate change activists have claimed that this is just “cherry picking” the data. They point to their complex and error prone general circulation models that, after significant re-factoring, are now predicting a stretch of stable temperatures followed by a resurgent global warming onslaught. In a recent paper, a new type of model, based on a test for structural breaks in surface temperature time series, is used to investigate two common claims about global warming. This statistical model predicts no temperature rise until 2050 but the more interesting prediction is what happens between 2050 and 2100.
David R.B. Stockwell and Anthony Cox, in a paper submitted to the International Journal of Forecasting entitled “Structural break models of climatic regime-shifts: claims and forecasts,” have applied advanced statistical analysis to both Australian temperature and rainfall trends and global temperature records from the Hadley Center’s HadCRU3GL dataset. The technique they used is called the Chow test, invented by economist Gregory Chow in 1963. The Chow test is a statistical test of whether the coefficients in two linear regressions on different data sets are equal. In econometrics, the Chow test is commonly used in time series analysis to test for the presence of a structural break.
A structural break appears when an unexpected shift in a time series occurs. Such sudden jumps in a series of measurements can lead to huge forecasting errors and unreliability of a model in general. Stockwell and Cox are the first researchers I know of to apply this econometric technique to temperature and rainfall data (a description of computing the Chow test statistic is available here). They explain their approach in the paper’s abstract:
A Chow test for structural breaks in the surface temperature series is used to investigate two common claims about global warming. Quirk (2009) proposed that the increase in Australian temperature from 1910 to the present was largely confined to a regime-shift in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) between 1976 and 1979. The test finds a step change in both Australian and global temperature trends in 1978 (HadCRU3GL), and in Australian rainfall in 1982 with flat temperatures before and after. Easterling & Wehner (2009) claimed that singling out the apparent flatness in global temperature since 1997 is ’cherry picking’ to reinforce an arbitrary point of view. On the contrary, we find evidence for a significant change in the temperature series around 1997, corroborated with evidence of a coincident oceanographic regime-shift. We use the trends between these significant change points to generate a forecast of future global temperature under specific assumptions.