A new paper makes Ted Cruz’s favorite chart obsolete, as atmospheric temperatures set a new record
March 3, 2016 — In a new paper, Carl Mears and Frank Wentz at Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) have revised their data set estimating the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere. At his recent congressional hearing, Ted Cruz presented the RSS data to incorrectly claim that there’s been no global warming in over 18 years.
As I noted at the time, RSS had the only data that could remotely support Senator Cruz’s argument. Surface and ocean temperatures have warmed, ice has melted, sea levels have risen, species have been forced to migrate, spring has begun earlier, and so on.
Even other estimates of the atmospheric temperature, of the same satellite data by scientists at the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH), and by weather balloons, indicate that the atmosphere is warming. Ted Cruz cherry picked RSS because it was the lone outlier that seemed to support his preferred argument against the need to take action to mitigate the risks posed by human-caused global warming.
That’s no longer the case. In their new paper, Mears and Wentz detail the revised RSS method to account for drift in the time of day at which satellites measure the same location on Earth (known as “diurnal drift”, discussed by Mears at the 0:47 mark in the above video). They applied a method suggested by Stephen Po-Chedley and colleagues at the University of Washington in an important paper covered by John Abraham last year. As a result, the new version of RSS (v4.0) shows about 60% more warming than the previous version (v3.3) since the record began in 1979.
This new adjustment also helps to reconcile the divergence between atmospheric temperature estimates from satellites and weather balloons. Over most of the temperature record, the estimates using the two different types of instruments have been similar, and the satellite data are calibrated with the weather balloon data. However, over the past decade, the weather balloons had shown significantly more atmospheric warming than the satellite estimates. RSS v4.0 goes a long way toward bringing these measurements into closer agreement.
As Joe Romm noted at Climate Progress, Roy Spencer and John Christy at UAH speculated over 4 years ago that the RSS diurnal drift correction method was introducing a cool bias into their record.
This new paper and latest RSS adjustment once again highlight the challenges scientists face in converting measurements of atmospheric microwave emissions by satellites in orbit into a synthetic temperature estimate. It’s a complicated process that requires a complex model with large uncertainties involved, and as Carl Mears has noted, it’s certainly unwise to rely exclusively on these estimates of one small component of the Earth’s climate to evaluate global warming.
Nevertheless, Spencer has just reported that February 2016 was the hottest month on record in the UAH data set; the same is true of RSS, and weather balloons are also registering record hot atmospheric temperatures, as the above chart shows.
It’s now clear that Senator Cruz has been hoisted by his own petard. He and his hearing witnesses claimed that the satellite data from RSS represent our best measurement of global warming. While that’s not true, this latest correction to the RSS record shows that global warming continues, in the atmosphere as with every other component of the Earth’s climate, at record hot levels. Instead of congressional hearings denying the existence of global warming, we need hearings to debate the best way to solve the problem.