In Honor of Secretary of State John Kerry’s Global Warming Publicity-Founded Visit to Greenland…

…A Few Model-Data Comparisons of Greenland Surface Air Temperatures

Guest Post by Bob Tisdale

Mass losses from Greenland’s ice sheets have been one of the focuses of alarmists for decades. In fact, last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Greenland on a (boreal) summertime tour of parts of Greenland in an apparent political publicity stunt. See The Washington Post article John Kerry just visited the most stunning example of our changing climate by Chris Mooney. It’s chock full of alarmist babble. Great for a laugh.  Why a laugh?  Read on.

One of the principal contributing factors to the losses of Greenland’s ice sheets is surface temperature. So we’ll focus this model-data comparison on the surface air temperatures of Greenland.  And speculation from the climate science community about Greenland surface temperatures and their impacts on ice sheet mass loss there and the contribution of those losses to sea level rise are based on climate models.  As you’ll see, the consensus of the climate models used by the IPCC show the models cannot simulate Greenland’s surface temperatures over any timeframe from 1861 to present.  Why then do people believe the model-based speculations about the future of Greenland surface temperatures, ice sheet losses and global sea levels?  Because John Kerry wasted taxpayer dollars on a fossil-fuel-consuming trip to Greenland and then tweeted about it?


We illustrated and discussed the wide ranges of modeled and observed absolute global surface temperatures in the November 2014 post On the Elusive Absolute Global Mean Surface Temperature – A Model-Data Comparison. Not long after came a post at RealClimate of modeled absolute global surface temperatures, authored by Gavin Schmidt, the head of the Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS).  Gavin’s post is Absolute temperatures and relative anomalies.  (Please read it in its entirety.  I believe you’ll find it interesting.)  Of course, Gavin Schmidt was downplaying the need for climate models to simulate Earth’s absolute surface temperatures.

In this post about Greenland’s surface temperatures, we’ll present a few examples of why climate modelers need to shift their focus from surface temperature anomalies to absolute surface temperatures.  But the problems are much greater than that, as you’ll see.

In the past, we’ve compared models and data using time-series graphs of temperature anomalies, absolute temperatures and temperature trends, and we’ll continue to provide them in this post.  But to help illustrate why absolute temperatures are important, we’re adding a new model-data comparison graph:  annual cycles based on the most-recent recent multidecadal period. Don’t worry, that last part will become clearer later in the post.


We’re using the model-mean of the climate models stored in the CMIP5 (Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5) archive, with historic forcings through 2005 and RCP8.5 forcings thereafter.  (The individual climate model outputs and model mean are available through the KNMI Climate Explorer.) The CMIP5-archived models were used by the IPCC for their 5th Assessment Report. The RCP8.5 forcings are the worst-case future scenario.

We’re using the model-mean (the average of the climate model outputs) because the model-mean represents the consensus of the modeling groups for how surface temperatures should warm if they were warmed by the forcings that drive the models. See the post On the Use of the Multi-Model Mean for a further discussion of its use in model-data comparisons.

I’ve used the ocean-masking feature of the KNMI Climate Explorer and the coordinates of 60N-85N, 75W-10W to capture the modeled near-land surface air temperatures of Greenland.

Surface air temperature data for Greenland are available from the Berkeley Earth website, specifically the Greenland data here. While the monthly data are presented in anomaly form (referenced to the period of 1951-1980), Berkeley Earth also provides the monthly values of their climatology in absolute terms, which we then simply add to the anomalies of the respective months to determine the absolute monthly values.   Most of the graphs, however, are based on annual average values to reduce the volatility of the data.

The model mean of surface temperatures at the KNMI Climate Explorer starts in 1861 and the Berkeley Earth data end in August 2013, so the annual data in this post run from 1861 to 2012.


Figure 1 includes the modeled and observed annual near-land surface air temperature anomalies for Greenland from 1861 to 2012. Other than slightly underestimating the long-term warming trend, the models do a horrible job of simulating the warming (and cooling) of Greenland’s surfaces…horrible seems to be too weak a word to describe how poorly the models simulate the surface air temperatures of Greenland. The consensus of the models misses the early multidecadal warming that caused Greenland surface temperature anomalies to rise well above a zero anomaly in the late-1920s through the late-1940s. Because the models fail to simulate that early warming, they fail to capture the cooling that lasted until the late-1980s/early-1990s. And because the models fail to capture that long-term cooling, they underestimate the recent warming.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Figure 2 compares the modeled and observed temperatures on an absolute basis. Not only do the models miss the multidecadal variations in Greenland’s surface temperature, the consensus of the models is running too cold.  That of course would impact how well the models simulate ice-sheet mass losses there.  More on that later.

Figure 2

Figure 2


Climate is typically defined as the average conditions over a 30-year period. So for Figure 3, I’ve smoothed the data and model outputs in absolute form with a 30-year running-mean filter, centered on the 15th year.

Figure 3

Figure 3

The models obviously fail to properly simulate the observed surface temperatures for Greenland and their multidecadal variability. As a result, the most recent modeled 30-year temperature-based climate is comparable to the 30-year temperatures observed in Greenland centered about 18 years ago…and centered about 8 decades ago.   In fact, the present modeled 30-year values are far below the 30-year temperatures centered on about 1940.  Considering how poorly climate models simulate Greenland’s surface air temperatures, how then could the modelers ever hope to be able to simulate the contributions to sea level rise of the Greenland ice sheet loss in the past and in the present…and the future?  They can’t. What they’re presenting to us is nothing more than science fiction.


Figure 4 shows the modeled and observed 30-year trends (warming and cooling rates) of Greenland’s surface air temperatures. If trend graphs are new to you, I’ll explain. First, note the units of the y-axis.  They’re deg C/decade, not deg C.  The last data points show the 30-year observed and modeled warming rates from 1983 to 2012, and it’s shown at 2012 (thus the use of the word trailing in the title block). The data points immediately before it at 2011 show the trends from 1982 to 2011. That running of 30-year trends continues back in time until the first data point at 1890, which captures the observed and modeled slight cooling rates from 1861 to 1890.

Figure 4

Figure 4

A few things stand out in Figure 4. First, the observed 30-year warming rates ending in the late-1930s, early-1940s are comparable to the most recent 30-year trends. In other words, there’s nothing unusual about the most recent 30-year warming rates of Greenland surface air temperatures.  Nothing unusual at all.

Second, notice the disparity in the warming rates of the models and data for the 30-year period ending about 1940. According to the consensus of the models, Greenland’s surface air temperatures should only have warmed at a rate of (less than) 0.2 deg C/decade over that 30-year period…if the warming there was dictated by the forcings that drive the models.  But the data indicate Greenland’s surface temperatures warmed at a rate that was almost 1.0 deg C/decade during the 30-year period ending about 1940…more than 5-times higher than the consensus of the models.  That additional 30-year warming observed in Greenland, above and beyond that shown by the consensus of the models, logically had to come from somewhere.  If it wasn’t due to the forcings that drive the models, then it likely resulted from natural variability…with the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation and polar amplification being the likely causes.

Note: For those new to the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, see Chapter 3.3 of my free ebook On Global Warming and the Illusion of Control – Part 1 (25MB .pdf). And for readers new to polar amplification, see Chapter 1.18.  As you’ll discover, climate models do not properly simulate the naturally occurring phenomena known as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation or polar amplification. [End note.]

Third thing to note about Figure 4:  As noted earlier, the observed warming rates for the 30-year periods ending in 2012 and 1940 are comparable.  But the consensus of the models show, if Greenland’s surface air temperatures were dictated by the forcings that drive the models, the warming rate for the 30-year period ending in 2012 should have been noticeably higher than the 30-year period ending about 1940…more than twice as high.  Yet the data show that did not happen.

Fourth: The fact that the models better simulate the warming rate observed during the later warming period is of little value.  The model consensus and data indicate that Greenland’s surface temperatures can warm naturally at rates that are more than 5 times higher than shown by the consensus of the models.


Let’s add insult to injury. The top graph in Figure 5 compares the modeled and observed average annual cycles of Greenland’s surface temperatures for the most recent 30-year period (1983 to 2012). Over that period, data indicate that Greenland’s average surface temperatures varied from about -30 deg C in January to roughly -1.2 deg C in July.  On the other hand, the consensus of the models show they appear to do well over parts of the year but come up short (by about 2 deg C ) at the critical peak temperatures in June, July and August.

You might be saying to yourself, it’s only 2 deg C.

But if we run the modeled annual cycle ahead in time, the bottom graph in Figure 5, we can see that the models do not come close to achieving the observed (1983-2012) annual peak temperatures in Greenland until the 30-year period of 2031-2060, more than 4 decades from now.

Figure 5

Figure 5

We could never have shown that climate model failing using temperature anomalies.


Climate science is a model-based science, inasmuch as climate models are used by the climate science community to speculate about the contributions of manmade greenhouse gases to past, present and future global warming and climate change.

The climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) IPCC cannot properly simulate Greenland’s surface air temperatures over any timeframe from 1861 to present.  Basically, they have no value as tools for use in determining how surface temperatures have impacted ice sheet mass loss in the past or how they may be impacting those losses presently or how they may impact them in the future. That also draws into question any speculation about past, present and future contributions of the Greenland ice sheet losses to sea level rise.

As noted a few times in On Global Warming and the Illusion of Control – Part 1, climate models are presently not fit for the purposes for which they were intended.

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June 20, 2016 6:41 am

the long monthly mean temp record for Nuuk, Greenland

Reply to  chaamjamal
June 20, 2016 9:16 am

Greenland temperature records actually go back to the 1780’s, though there are gaps in the early years:
“SW Greenland temperature data 1784-2013”

Bryan A
Reply to  tty
June 20, 2016 10:16 am

So what can be gleaned from the apparent descrepancy that the models are almost consistently running cooler than measured temperatures?

Reply to  tty
June 20, 2016 11:00 am

Probably that the models don’t properly simulate the influence from the AMO and AO.

June 20, 2016 6:44 am

I was just thinking some of those corporate  office jobs won’t be missed.

June 20, 2016 6:48 am

The purpose for which models were intended is to create a scare. For that they are working fine.

Tom Halla
June 20, 2016 6:49 am

So Lurch got Greenland warming wrong? Listing what Kerry got right would be a much shorter list than what he got wrong.

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  Tom Halla
June 20, 2016 7:41 pm

Our non-US-Canada friends here at WUWT may not get the Lurch reference.
To help them out:
Lurch was the Frankenstein-like butler to the Adams Family comedy TV series that ran in 60’s. An afternoon staple growing up as an after school TV babysitter.

Reply to  Tom Halla
June 21, 2016 5:39 am

You can start with Iran and his anti-American attitude.

Richard M
June 20, 2016 6:55 am

The relationship to the AMO is so obvious and clearly the biggest factor in the Greenland climate. Now that the AMO has reached its peak and started to decline the temperatures should fall off as well.

June 20, 2016 7:00 am

Bob Tisdale …”In Honor of Secretary of State John Kerry’s Global Warming Publicity-Founded Visit to Greenland…” ….Should that be “publicly FUNDED” ??
[No, it really does read properly as-is. .mod]

Reply to  Marcus
June 20, 2016 8:10 am

…Yes thanks, misread “publicity founded”…strange term….. !!

Reply to  Marcus
June 20, 2016 12:00 pm

Publicity-Founded or Publicly-Funded?
Why can’t it be both?

bill johnston
Reply to  Marcus
June 22, 2016 6:11 am

I agree. Maybe “inspired” would have been better.

Reply to  Marcus
June 21, 2016 7:59 am

Na, John Kerry and the word “honor” or any form there of, do not belong in the same sentence.

Bruce Cobb
June 20, 2016 7:15 am

The climate models are intended to show manmade warming. Oops, they can’t even do that.

June 20, 2016 7:34 am

Greenland warming is negative North Atlantic Oscillation driven. Rising CO2 according to the circulation models will increase positive NAO, that will cool Greenland.

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  ulriclyons
June 20, 2016 7:47 pm

Which contradicts Greenland SMB decreases as a source of global SLR. They cant have it both ways in reality. But Kerry and the Alarmists live in Alt-Reality where CO2 can do anything and any observed outcome is attributable to rising CO2.

Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
June 21, 2016 7:26 am

True, and it also contradicts AGW warming the AMO and the whole Arctic.

June 20, 2016 8:19 am
Reply to  Griff
June 21, 2016 4:59 am

At the time, so much ice was melting that scientists at the DMI couldn’t believe what they were seeing. “We had to check that our models were still working properly,” said Peter Langen, a climate scientist.
from your link above
why not check reality?

Sandy In Limousin
June 20, 2016 8:29 am

According to DMi at this page

Note that the accumulated curve does not end at 0 at the end of the year. Over the year, it snows more than it melts, but calving of icebergs also adds to the total mass budget of the ice sheet. Satellite observations over the last decade show that the ice sheet is not in balance. The calving loss is greater than the gain from surface mass balance, and Greenland is losing mass at about 200 Gt/yr.

To me that reads that the Greenland Ice Sheet is not melting, what is happening is that ice is breaking away from Greenland at the Sea to Ice interface. The question is, is more ice calving than in the past or is it remaining constant and snow fall is reduced?

Reply to  Sandy In Limousin
June 20, 2016 10:05 am

The DMI comment on calving being the reason for ice loss on Greenland caught my attention a while ago and I asked the same question. The DMI ice monitoring begins in 1990 and as can be seen from Bob’s graph, this is the low point in Greenland’s temperature cycle. It can then be inferred that the ice would be at it’s maximum extent in 1990. The warming part of the cycle since then would naturally increase the calving. I now have a new question. Given that there is an accumulation of ice in the core of the sheet, will there be more ice in the next low temperature period (which, if it follows the historical cycle would be 2020-40)?

June 20, 2016 8:34 am

So, the IPCC models are basicly junk.

Reply to  TomRude
June 20, 2016 9:40 am

Actually it can get pretty warm on an arctic glacier on a sunny and calm summer day (I know – been there, done that). I shouldn’t think he really needed that overcoat either. But he really should use sunglasses or he might get snow blindness – very nasty.

June 20, 2016 9:12 am

Ever thought why is it called Greenland, and not for instance, Pinkland?

Reply to  urederra
June 20, 2016 9:32 am

Actually the name was a publicity stunt by Eirik Raude who discovered Greenland in c. AD 986. This is mentioned by Ari Torgilsson in frodhi (the wise) in his Islendingabok (Chapter 6), written c. AD 1130.

Reply to  tty
June 20, 2016 11:34 am

I’ve never bought that story, especially when the source is from something written over 100 years after the fact. Other theories on the name exist, like that it was simply a bad translation from Gruntland (ground land). Iceland was already named before Greenland was, so I doubt “green” had anything to do with luring Norse settlers there. Would you want to scam a bunch of Vikings into settling into your town?
Besides, southern Greenland where they lived can actually get quite green in the summer, and probably greener ca. 1,000 AD during the Medieval Climate Optimum. We know that it was green enough to support livestock throughout the summer and still produce enough grass to for feeding them over winter.

June 20, 2016 9:19 am

Don’t use the term “boreal.” A lot of people don’t know what that word means, including many with college degrees.

Reply to  GPHanner
June 20, 2016 9:34 am

Then it’s about timed that they learn. What would you suggest calling the boreal forest belt for example? “All those trees up north”?

Reply to  tty
June 20, 2016 11:37 am

Dem’r connofr’ trees up’n da north.

bill johnston
Reply to  tty
June 22, 2016 6:16 am

RWturner: The correct pronunciation is “nort”.

June 20, 2016 9:48 am

Reposted comment from Bob Tisdale’s original notification:
tomwys1 says:
June 20, 2016 at 9:39 am
You’re “spot on” as climate models used for policy decisions “…have no value as tools for use in determining … past, present and future contributions of the Greenland ice sheet losses to sea level rise.”
What is worse is that the stunning acceleration of Atmospheric CO2 since the 1800s generates NO signal in the steady, linear, non-accelerating, methodical rise in sea level as measured by Tide Gauges in tectonically inert places. The impact of CO2 isn’t just minimal, it just DOESN’T EXIST!!!

June 20, 2016 11:14 am

Anyone remember this,
Seems they’ve lost faith in the Northwest passage being ice free.
“UK-funded ice breaker in ‘elite’ Arctic tourism row”

Reply to  mwhite
June 20, 2016 11:28 am

Perhaps this lot will follow them through? if they get that far.

Bryan A
Reply to  mwhite
June 20, 2016 12:33 pm

Here is their ice breaker concept (don’t worry they’ll be tied to the bow of the ship).

And here is a view of their marvelous passenger accomodations

Bryan A
Reply to  Bryan A
June 20, 2016 12:39 pm

Definitely a work out but is it Carbon Neutral?

June 20, 2016 11:47 am

The 2014 DMI paper by Cappelen and Vinther shows measured Greenland temperatures since 1784. Also, it correlates measured surface temps to the ice core proxy record. The bottom line is that Greenland surface temps have zero trend from 1784 to 2005. The 1930s were the warmest decade from 1784 through the 20th century. The 2010s decade showed a sudden jump, becoming the warmest decade based on the surface temperature records. The simplest explanation for a sudden jump in temps for the last decade is reduced surface albedo due to soot (or dust) accumulation, causing an increase in absorption of solar energy. Has nothing to do with carbon dioxide. It would be interesting to see if there are any studies of Greenland surface albedo over multi-decadal time scales. It’s also possible that the recent Greenland temperature record is faulty for the same reason that many other surface temperatures are faulty, poor quality control, thermometers placed poorly, etc.
The 2014 paper is an extension of an earlier (2005) paper for Greenland surface temperature record

Svend Ferdinandsen
June 20, 2016 1:23 pm

It is funny how these high ranking figures just by a single look at a gletcher can see global warming.
You don’t need any long records or climatologist to detect that climate change is happening in front of your own eyes. John Kerry, Obama and Donald Tusk have seen global warming and climate change, be very afraid.
The only problem might be, that they only visit these places in the warmer parts of the year. They have never seen it in the midst of winter, with freezing cold blizzards and few icebergs calving.
After such a visit they might revive the old ice age scare, and that would not be appropriate.
I remember that Al Gore for some years ago was visiting Antarctica to look at global warming. I believe he froze his ass of, so nothing to see here, move on.

don penman
June 20, 2016 1:50 pm

Measuring air temperatures above frozen ice seems quite pointless to me obviously it is going to be below freezing as the surface reflects all radiation. If they were measuring air temperatures above unfrozen ground and the extent of that unfrozen ground, then it might give them a clue as to how much ice might melt or not melt. I thought the warm ocean was supposed to melt the ice from below not from above.

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  don penman
June 20, 2016 7:53 pm

Not to mention the elevation of the surface interior in MSL.

Gunga Din
June 20, 2016 3:25 pm

Hmmm….does crow taste better with Heinz Ketchup?

June 20, 2016 4:15 pm

There are no inductive inferences.
Karl Popper.

Gary Pearse
June 20, 2016 5:26 pm

“Climate science is a model-based science…”
Even when empirical evidence can be had.

June 20, 2016 6:13 pm

Greenland quakes have been on the rise since the mid 90’s. bout the time the Earth’s momentum started to increase. Which coast was SOS Kerry visiting? lol
Time period also correlates with the increase in METHANE. Greenland has more gas….. You should see the methane maps looks bad…
Earthquakes Rattling Glaciers, Boosting Sea Level Rise
“””..They produce seismic signals equivalent to those found in magnitude 5 earthquakes, which can be felt thousands of kilometers away. And there are many more of them today than there were just a couple of decades ago: six to eight times more than in the early 1990s have been recorded at outlet glaciers along the coast of Greenland….”””
Glacial Earthquakes Point to Rising Temperatures in Greenland
Rise of seismic activity linked to the movement of glaciers may be a response to global warming
“”..In addition, the number of glacial earthquakes in Greenland increased markedly between 1993 and 2005. Annual totals hovered between 6 and 15 through 2002, which was followed by sharp increases to 20 earthquakes in 2003, 24 in 2004 and 32 in the first ten months of 2005. A single area of northwestern Greenland, where only one seismic event was observed between 1993 and 1999, experienced more than two dozen glacial quakes between 2000 and 2005…”””

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