Anatomy of the Hottest Years Ever


Ocean temperature measurements come from a global array of 3,500 Argo floats and other ocean sensors. Credits: Argo Program, Germany/Ifremer

With the year end, media climate attack dogs are going after the Trump administration, throwing whatever they can (hoping for anything to stick). One thing they will surely trumpet is the temperature records for 2016 and 2015 as proof of dangerous man made warming.

Now the best context for understanding these two years comes from the world’s sea surface temperatures (SST), for several reasons:

  • The ocean covers 71% of the globe and drives average temperatures;
  • SSTs have a constant water content, (unlike air temperatures), so give a better reading of heat content variations;
  • A major El Nino was the dominant climate feature these years.

HadSST is generally regarded as the best of the global SST data sets, and so the temperature story here comes from that source, the latest version being HadSST3.

The chart below shows the last two years of SST monthly anomalies as reported in HadSST3.


Note that higher temps in 2015 and 2016 are first of all due to a sharp rise in Tropical SST, beginning in March 2015, peaking in January 2016, and steadily declining back to its beginning level. Secondly, the Northern Hemisphere added two bumps on the shoulders of Tropical warming, with peaks in August of each year. Finally, note that the global release of heat was not dramatic, due to the Southern Hemisphere offsetting the Northern one.

Much ado will be made of this warming, including claims of human causation, despite the obvious oceanic origin. Further, it is curious that CO2 functions as a warming agent so unevenly around the world, and that the Tropics drove this event, contradicting global warming theory.

Solar energy accumulates massively in the ocean and is variably released during circulation events.



  1. crypto666 · December 29, 2016

    Thanks for the simple, straight forward analysis. Based on what I have heard elsewhere, I suspect we will be seeing some cooling as the AMO and ENSO (and PDO?) transition. Your graphic appears to show us heading that direction. It will be fun to see all of the “research” that comes out to explain away the cooling.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ron Clutz · December 29, 2016

      Thanks crypto. It looks to me ocean temps are the signal, and air temps the noise, not the other way around. For a quantitative and longer term description of natural variability see:

      Liked by 1 person

      • crypto666 · December 30, 2016

        I tried the link, that’s going to take some time to digest. However, what is sticking in my mind is where I got my first close look at the natural range of variability (NRV); Matt Lachniet’s 2014 speleothem study. In it he determined that this location (60 degrees N Lat.) saw an increased rate of warming starting 1,600 ybp, in spite of decreasing insolation. This must be the work of oscillations.

        Not sure if the image will display, but here it is:



      • crypto666 · December 30, 2016

        And I would like to point out that Lachniet’s identified increase in warming rate is corroborated by the archaeological and botanical records.


      • Ron Clutz · December 30, 2016

        crypto, it looks like Lachniet thinks the warming is caused by humans. See the article linked below, especially the ending


      • crypto666 · December 31, 2016

        You might also find this interesting, following Lachniet’s 2014 study:

        Mid-Holocene drying of the U.S. Great Basin recorded in Nevada speleothems

        Elena Steponaitis, Alexandra Andrews, David McGee, Jay Quade, Yu-Te Hsieh, Wallace S. Broecker, Bryan N. Shuman, Stephen J. Burns, Hai Cheng

        Click to access Steponaitis_2015_Quaternary%20Science%20Reviews.pdf

        “Here we consider three potential explanations for the transition from relatively wet early Holocene conditions in the Great Basin to a drier mid-Holocene climate. First, and most briefly, orbital changes are an unlikely explanation of wet early Holocene conditions. If the shift toward slightly wetter conditions over the last ~4 ka documented by Great Basin lake level records (Fig. 8D) and by the growth rate record from a Leviathan Cave stalagmite (Lachniet et al., 2014) is taken to represent a response to insolation changes between the mid- and late Holocene (declining local summer insolation and increasing winter insolation), then early Holocene insolation (high summer insolation, low winter insolation) should have led to dry conditions in the Great Basin. Insolation changes may drive changes in atmospheric circulation reflected in stalagmite d18O (Lachniet et al., 2014), but it appears that at least in the early Holocene, factors other than insolation control Great Basin water balance.”
        “Studies of modern climate (e.g., Schubert et al., 2004; Seager et al., 2005) have found strong connections between tropical Pacific SSTs and precipitation in the western U.S, raising the possibility that changes in either the mean state of the tropical Pacific or in El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) variability led to the ~ observed Holocene hydrological changes in the Great Basin.”


  2. songhees · December 29, 2016

    I would like to tell you of my latest book and documentary.
    ‘The Deliberate Corruption of Climate Science’.
    My latest documentary and video of my presentation.

    My website is
    Thank you.


  3. catweazle666 · December 30, 2016

    Sounds reasonable to me, Ron.

    And a (belated) Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


    • Ron Clutz · December 30, 2016

      Thanks for the greeting cat. I appreciate that you are engaged in these issues, and that you comment positively here and elsewhere. Best wishes to you as well.


  4. crypto666 · December 31, 2016

    Thanks for pointing that out Ron. All I can say is unbelievable.

    “Lachniet’s Great Basin research suggests that, based on the Earth’s orbit, the region should not be in a dry period. But it is. In any scenario, human-caused climate change, amplified over the next few centuries by natural warming, could be troublesome for a place that’s already notoriously dry and hot.”

    The first thing I will point out however, is that those are not his words. Those are the words of the article writer. It is also either an outright lie, or a mistake. Another writer from the UNLV paper tried saying that Matt’s research suggests humans started changing the climate 1,600ybp, which again is not the case.
    I know Matt, and he delivered his 2014 study to my colleagues and myself personally. After we talked for a bit, and surprised him by identifying that change in trend before he did in his work, which he identified as being 1,600 ybp, I asked him what his thoughts were on co2. What I vividly remember is Matt pointing to his chart and stating that he doesn’t think anyone will be able to identify co2’s contribution to climate change until we reached the point of his finger, which is where we should start the long road back to glaciation. It may have 2ky or maybe it was 55ky, at any rate what he says in person isn’t exactly what you get from news articles and twitter feeds.
    I will also point out this:

    A Speleothem Record of Great Basin Paleoclimate
    January 2016
    DOI: 10.1016/B978-0-444-63590-7.00020-2
    In book: Lake Bonneville – A Scientific Update, pp.551-569…n_Paleoclimate

    “The lag behind NHSI of d18O variations suggests that the forcing is indirect. Several possible forcings are associated with the Great Basin d18O variations. First, it is clear that CO2 concentrations increase abruptly around the MIS 2/1 and MIS 6/5d transitions, which may explain some of the warming over Terminations I and II. However, Nevada d18O values drop steadily throughout the Holocene, whereas CO2 remains high and even increases slightly over the last 8000 years (Ruddiman, 2003). Similarly, the strongly low d18O values during MIS 5d and MIS 7 happen during intervals with intermediate to high CO2 values. Thus, the CO2 changes may amplify a warming already in progress around ice volume terminations but are unlikely to be the source of the climate change, because they are decoupled during prominent intervals such as MIS 1 and 5d. A related hypothesis suffers from similar problems: the extent of the Laurentide Ice Sheet (LIS). The LIS retreated over the MIS 2/1 and MIS 6/5 transitions when temperatures in the Great Basin warmed (as inferred by increasing d18O values). However, decreasing d18O values from 8 ka to modern happened in the absence of any ice-sheet regrowth, and the prominent MIS 5d and MIS 7 minima also happened when ice sheets were small. Thus ice-sheet extent cannot be the primary driver of Great Basin d18O variations. The clear conclusion is that neither CO2 nor ice-sheet extent were the sole or dominant controls on Great Basin paleoclimate over orbital timescales.”

    That conclusion doesn’t strike me as coming from someone who believes co2 controls climate.
    There is a big leap from believing that co2 could cause increased heating of the atmosphere, and thinking co2 controls climate and/or we can control climate with co2.
    I have actually had people try to use Mr. Lachniet’s twitter account in an attempt to change the conclusion of his studies. Which is always entertaining.


  5. ArndB · December 31, 2016

    Hi Ron, having been to the Great Basin/NV recently, I couldn’t resist asking: what have 3,500 Argo floats and other ocean sensors (image caption) and the Matt Lachniet „nevada-caves-climate-change” (link in one of your comments) in common?
    In – MHO – a lot, as they are both of little help to understand how to prevent anthropogenic climate change sufficiently. Recalling my visit of the Lehman caves a few days earlier or later (on 9th September) as Matt Lachniet, the cave formation was impressive, but hardly of any use for current concern.
    3,500 Argo floats are certainly a more promising approach. But if one considers the dimension (& temperatures) in which they operate; nicely outlined recently at, it is like reading from stalactite about AGW matters.
    The use of Argo floats is an achievement, but by far too small. Observations below the sea surface would require a number of several hundred thousand, if not millions of devices (and the capability to process the data sufficiently). After all we need to understand the role of the oceans, and whether they bring a severe cooling, which is possible at any time.
    Ron, to you, your family and everybody calling at this side:


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