What Warming 1978 to 1997?


Flawed thermometers can lead to false results.

Those public opinion surveys on global warming/climate change often ask if you believe the world has gotten warmer in the last century. Most all of us answer “Yes,” because that is the data we have been shown by the record keepers.  Fred Singer, a distinguished climate scientist, asks a disturbing question: “What if trends in surface average temperatures (SAT) were produced by biases of the instruments themselves, rather than being a natural fact?.  He makes his case in an article at The Independent The 1978-1997 Warming Trend Is an Artifact of Instrumentation  Excerpts below in italics with my bolds.(H/T John Ray)

Now we tackle, using newly available data, what may have caused the fictitious temperature trend in the latter decades of the 20th century.

We first look at ocean data. There was a great shift, after 1980, in the way Sea Surface Temperatures (SSTs) were measured (see Goretzki and Kennedy et al. JGR 2011, Fig. 1), “Sources of SST data.” Note the drastic changes between 1980 and 2000 as global floating drifter buoys and geographic changes increasingly replaced opportunities for sampling SST with buckets.

Data taken from floating drifter buoys increased from zero to 60% between 1980 and 2000. But such buoys are heated directly by the sun, with the unheated engine inlet water in lower ocean layers. This combination leads to a spurious rise in SST when the data are mixed together.

The estimated biases for the global and hemispheric average SSTs are shown in Figure 3 (orange areas). They increase from between 0.0 and −0.2°C in the 1850s to between −0.1 and −0.6°C in 1935 as the proportion of both canvas buckets and fast ships increases. From 1935 to 1942, the proportion of ERI  (Engine Room Inlet) measurements increases (see also Figure 2) and the bias approaches zero. Between 1941 and 1945, the biases are between 0.05 and 0.2°C. The positive bias is a result of the large numbers of U.K. Navy and U.S. ERI measurements in the ICOADS database during the Second World War. In late 1945, the bias drops sharply and becomes negative again, reflecting an influx of data gathered by U.K. ships using canvas buckets. The bias then increases from 1946 to the early 1980s, becoming predominantly positive after 1975, as insulated buckets were introduced and ERI measurements become more common. After 1980, the slow decrease in the bias is caused by the increase in the number of buoy observations.

In merging them, we must note that buoy data are global, while bucket and inlet temperatures are (perforce) confined to (mostly commercial) shipping routes. Nor do we know the ocean depths that buckets sample; inlet depths depend on ship type and degree of loading.

Disentangling this mess requires data details that are not available. About all we might demonstrate is the possibility of a distinct diurnal variation in the buoy temperatures.

The land data have problems of their own. During these same decades, quite independently, by coincidence, there was a severe reduction in “superfluous” (mostly) rural stations—unless they were located at airports. As seen from Fig. 2, the number of stations decreased drastically in the 1990s, but the fraction of airport stations increased sharply…

Figure 2: Weather stations at (potential) airports. Source: NOAA.

…from ~35% to ~80%, in the fraction of “airport” weather stations, producing a spurious temperature increase from all the construction of runways and buildings. These are hard to calculate in detail. About all we can claim is a general increase in air traffic, about 5% per year worldwide (Fig. 19, “HTCS-1”).

We have, however, MSU data for the lower atmosphere over both ocean and land; they show little difference, so we can assume that both land data and ocean data contribute about equally to the fictitious surface trend reported for 1978 to 1997. The BEST (Berkeley Earth System Temperatures) data confirm our supposition.

The absence of a warming trend removes all of the IPCC’s evidence for AGW (anthropogenic global warming). Both IPCC-AR4 (2007) and IPCC-AR5 (2013), and perhaps also AR-6, rely on the spurious 1978–1997 warming trend to demonstrate AGW (see chapters on “Attribution” in their respective final reports).

Obviously, if there is no warming trend, these demonstrations fail—and so do all their proofs for AGW.

S. FRED SINGER is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia.



  1. ArndB · March 7, 2019

    Hi Ron,
    One can only wonder that even serious scientists seem unable to take into account the highly different situation at sea during the Second World War, which has been discussed in two detailed essays 20 years ago.

    Essay 1997 (pages 11): Pacific SST during World War II

    Click to access Pacific_SST_1997.pdf

    Essay 1998 (pages 10): Atlantic SST during World War II – Essay 1998

    Click to access Atlantic_SST_1998.pdf

    All the best,


    • Ron Clutz · March 7, 2019

      Thanks, Arnd, I know you have looked into sst impacts from both world wars. The Kennedy et al. (2011) paper provided many details new to me. I’d like to know what you think can be learned from that analysis.


      • Ron Clutz · March 8, 2019

        From Arnd Dr. Bernaerts:

        Good question, Ron, but not easy to answer. I will try in brief.

        I would not challenge any claim that sea surface temperatures have increased since the 19th Century. By CO2, shipping or ‘naturally’? Presumably that is the best one can get from the available data complied unison, as in JJ Kennedy’s Fig.3, for the N + S Hemisphere. He believes that:
        ‘[81] The understanding of uncertainties associated with in situ SST measurements can be improved by increasing the number of observations stored in digital repositories such as ICOADS.’ , will hardly work, as any already documented data have too little common ground for comparison.

        SST are only an extremely small part of the oceans, and what does SST actually mean: a surface layer of only 0,10 m , or 0,50 cm, or the water of a wave 5 meters high. JJ Kennedy and others will never get closer to the ‘truth’, but their work will result in adjustments, estimations and speculations, when writing:
        [85] …………..In order to bring this analysis up to date it will be necessary to either tackle this problem directly, or find some way around it…..

        [86] Finally, the estimates of biases and other uncertainties presented here should not be interpreted as providing a comprehensive estimate of uncertainty in historical sea surface temperature measurements. They are simply a first estimate.

        Let me finish with the following excerpt:
        [2] Historical records of sea surface temperature (SST) are essential to our understanding of the Earth’s climate. Data sets of SST observations are used to detect climate change and attribute the observed changes to their several causes. They are used to monitor the state of the Earth’s climate and predict its future course.

        The understanding of oceans make climate cannot be established on an historical set of SST.
        Best regards

        Thanks Arnd. A useful reminder that SSTs are by definition superficial.


  2. Hifast · March 7, 2019

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.


  3. rw · March 7, 2019

    My general impression is that there was warming on both sides of the N. Atlantic during the 80s and 90s. About 2010 it seemed to me that it had begun to cool on both sides. For one thing, in the early noughties snow was unthinkable in the winter where I am on the east side of the pond. But since 2010 we’ve had some snow every year (and last year we had the greatest snow storm in about 50 years, and extremely cold weather for this part of the world). If I’m right it may have started cooling around 2005.

    This is admittedly impressionistic, and it only covers a small proportion of the globe. Still, it’s a large enough swath of territory to be some sort of indicator (as it was during the mid-20th-century cooling).

    So I think Singer may be going too far in the contrarian direction. In any case the moral of the story may simply be that the temperature record is too problematical to be of real help in sorting out this and related questions.


  4. ArndB · March 10, 2019

    Thanks for transfer


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