The 15-Year Global Warming Hiatus Debunked

Chris Carnevale | June 9, 2015 | Climate Change

A new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) affirms that the globe has indeed been warming quickly in recent decades, in spite of arguments to the contrary. In fact, the report finds that the rate of global warming over the last 15 years has been as fast as, or even faster than, the general warming trend of the last half of the 20th century.

NOAA’s findings have resulted from analyses that incorporate more data and better quality datasets than were used for other recent climate analyses, particularly the most recent IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report. Specifically, NOAA incorporated climate data from 2013 and 2014 (the hottest year on record), and used better datasets on sea surface temperature and land surface air temperature, with data from more than double the number of weather stations than were previously available.

An overall warming trend can be broken into smaller periods that can look like hiatuses if you ignore the context in which they occur. Courtesy Skeptical Science.

This report is significant because it directly debunks the false-but-popular argument that emerged a couple of years ago asserting that global warming stopped in 1998. The year 1998 was a strategic year to pick for someone trying to demonstrate a stagnation in global warming because it was a particularly hot El Nino year which was then followed by years that were hot, but not 1998-hot. Isolating data from this short period of time can make it look like a hiatus, but the reality is that over a long period of time there are a number of ups and downs in the earth surface temperature with an overall upward trend.  This concept was illustrated wonderfully by Skeptical Science as “The Escalator,” pictured on the right.

In light of the newly available data, NOAA researchers have concluded that “that trends since 1998 were tenuous because the period was short and commenced with a strong El Niño. Two additional years of data are now available to revisit this point, including a record-warm 2014,” to confirm that global warming has not slowed. They go on to say that “the IPCC’s statement of two years ago – that the global surface temperature ‘has shown a much smaller increasing linear trend over the past 15 years than over the past 30 to 60 years’ – is no longer valid.”

Chris Carnevale
Chris is SACE’s Climate Advocacy Director. Chris joined the SACE staff in 2011 to help with building public understanding and engagement around clean energy solutions to the climate crisis. Chris…
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