Mind the Gap!

GISS-CRU warming difference over 1996-2004

Figure caption: The 2007 mean temperature anomaly wrt to 1961-90: (upper left) HadCRUT 3V, (upper right) GISTEMP, and (lower) temperature evolution for the Arctic (red=GISTEMP, black = HadCRUT 3v).

A comparison between temperatures over the most recent available 30-year period (1978-2007) shows high temperatures over parts of Russia (Figure below – upper left panel), and the difference between the GISTEMP and HadCRUT 3v shows a good agreement apart from around the Arctic rim and in some maritime sectors (upper right panel). The time evolution of the Northern Hemisphere mean for the two data sets is shown in the lower panel, showing a good agreement over most of the record, but with slightly higher GISTEMP estimates over the last 10 years (the global mean was not shown because my computer didn’t have sufficient memory for the complete analysis, but the two data sets also show similar evolution in e.g. the IPCC AR4).

GISS-CRU mean difference over 1976-2005

Figure caption: (upper left) HadCRUT 3V mean T(2m) anomaly over 1976-2005 (wrt to 1950-1980) ; (upper right) The GISS – HadCRUT 3V difference in mean T(2m) over 1976-2005; and (lower) the Northern Hemisphere mean temperature variations (red=GISTEMP, black=HadCRUT 3v).

Note, the low Arctic sea-ice extent over the last summers are independent evidence of high Arctic temperatures.

The insufficient observational coverage has also been noted by the IPCC AR4 and by Gillett et al. (Nature Geoscience, 2008), who argue that the observed warming in the Arctic and Antarctic are not consistent with internal climate variability and natural forcings alone, but are directly attributable to increased GHG levels.

They also suggested that the polar warming is likely to have discernable impacts on ecology and society (e.g.).

In their study, there are at least 15 grid boxes with valid data (usually representing one measurement) over 1900-2008 period. Furthermore, the only valid observations they used from the Northern Hemisphere were from the Arctic rim, as opposed to in the high Arctic itself. The situation is slightly better for the Antarctic (with one observation near the South Pole). Nevertheless, the title ‘Attribution of polar warming to human influence’ [my emphasis] is a bit misleading. Parts of the high-latitudes yes, polar no.

The attribution study was based on series of 5-yr-mean temperatures and spatial averages of 90 degree sectors (i.e. to four different sectors), where sectors and periods with no valid data were excluded.

There are some caveats with their study: The global climate models (GCMs) do not reproduce the 1930-1940 Arctic warm event very well, and the geographical differences in a limited number of grid-boxes in the observations and the GCMs may have been erased through taking the average value over the 90-degree sectors.

The 1930-1940 Arctic warming was probably not externally forced, but one could also argue that the models do not capture all of the internal variations because few reproduce similar features. Furthermore, the present GCMs have problems reproducing the Arctic sea-ice characteristics (which tends to be too extensive), ocean heat content, and fail to capture the ongoing decrease in Arctic sea-ice area. Most of these problems are seen in the gap with no CRUTEM 3v data, but there are also some uncertainties associated with the lack of data in the Polar regions.

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