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Update day 2020!

Following more than a decade of tradition (at least), I’ve now updated the model-observation comparison page to include observed data through to the end of 2019.

As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, 2019 was the second warmest year in the surface datasets (with the exception of HadCRUT4), and 1st, 2nd or 3rd in satellite datasets (depending on which one). Since this year was slightly above the linear trends up to 2018, it slightly increases the trends up to 2019. There is an increasing difference in trend among the surface datasets because of the polar region treatment. A slightly longer trend period additionally reduces the uncertainty in the linear trend in the climate models.

To summarize, the 1981 prediction from Hansen et al (1981) continues to underpredict the temperature trends due to an underestimate of the transient climate response. The projections in Hansen et al. (1988) bracket the actual changes, with the slight overestimate in scenario B due to the excessive anticipated growth rate of CFCs and CH4 which did not materialize. The CMIP3 simulations continue to be spot on (remarkably), with the trend in the multi-model ensemble mean effectively indistinguishable from the trends in the observations. Note that this doesn’t mean that CMIP3 ensemble means are perfect – far from it. For Arctic trends (incl. sea ice) they grossly underestimated the changes, and overestimated them in the tropics.

CMIP3 for the win!

The CMIP5 ensemble mean global surface temperature trends slightly overestimate the observed trend, mainly because of a short-term overestimate of solar and volcanic forcings that was built into the design of the simulations around 2009/2010 (see Schmidt et al (2014). This is also apparent in the MSU TMT trends, where the observed trends (which themselves have a large spread) are at the edge of the modeled histogram.

A number of people have remarked over time on the reduction of the spread in the model projections in CMIP5 compared to CMIP3 (by about 20%). This is due to a wider spread in forcings used in CMIP3 – models varied enormously on whether they included aerosol indirect effects, ozone depletion and what kind of land surface forcing they had. In CMIP5, most of these elements had been standardized. This reduced the spread, but at the cost of underestimating the uncertainty in the forcings. In CMIP6, there will be a more controlled exploration of the forcing uncertainty (but given the greater spread of the climate sensitivities, it might be a minor issue).

Over the years, the model-observations comparison page is regularly in the top ten of viewed pages on RealClimate, and so obviously fills a need. And so we’ll continue to keep it updated, and perhaps expand it over time. Please leave suggestions for changes in the comments below.


  1. J. Hansen, D. Johnson, A. Lacis, S. Lebedeff, P. Lee, D. Rind, and G. Russell, "Climate Impact of Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide", Science, vol. 213, pp. 957-966, 1981.
  2. J. Hansen, I. Fung, A. Lacis, D. Rind, S. Lebedeff, R. Ruedy, G. Russell, and P. Stone, "Global climate changes as forecast by Goddard Institute for Space Studies three-dimensional model", Journal of Geophysical Research, vol. 93, pp. 9341, 1988.
  3. G.A. Schmidt, D.T. Shindell, and K. Tsigaridis, "Reconciling warming trends", Nature Geoscience, vol. 7, pp. 158-160, 2014.

10 years on

Filed under: — gavin @ 17 November 2019

I woke up on Tuesday, 17 Nov 2009 completely unaware of what was about to unfold. I tried to log in to RealClimate, but for some reason my login did not work. Neither did the admin login. I logged in to the back-end via ssh, only to be inexplicably logged out again. I did it again. No dice. I then called the hosting company and told them to take us offline until I could see what was going on. When I did get control back from the hacker (and hacker it was), there was a large uploaded file on our server, and a draft post ready to go announcing the theft of the CRU emails. And so it began.

From “One year later”, 2010.

Many people are weighing in on the 10 year anniversary of ‘Climategate’ – the Observer, a documentary on BBC4 (where I was interviewed), Mike at Newsweek – but I’ve struggled to think of something actually interesting to say.

It’s hard because even in ten years almost everything and yet nothing has changed. The social media landscape has changed beyond recognition but yet the fever swamps of dueling blogs and comment threads has just been replaced by troll farms and noise-generating disinformation machines on Facebook and Twitter. The nominally serious ‘issues’ touched on by the email theft – how robust are estimates of global temperature over the instrumental period, what does the proxy record show etc. – have all been settled in favor of the mainstream by scientists plodding along in normal science mode, incrementally improving the analyses, and yet they are still the most repeated denier talking points.

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Just the facts?

In the wake of the appalling mass shootings last weekend, Neil DeGrasse Tyson (the pre-eminent scientist/communicator in the US) tweeted some facts that were, let’s just say, not well received (and for which he kind of apologised). At least one of the facts he tweeted about was incorrect (deaths by medical errors are far smaller). However, even if it had been correct, the overall response would have been the same, because the reaction was not driven by the specifics of what was said, but rather by the implied message of the context in which it was said. This is a key feature (or bug) of communications in a politicized environment, and one that continues to trip up people who are experienced enough to know better.

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Koonin’s case for yet another review of climate science

We watch long YouTube videos so you don’t have to.

In the seemingly endless deliberations on whether there should be a ‘red team’ exercise to review various climate science reports, Scott Waldman reported last week that the original architect of the idea, Steve Koonin, had given a talk on touching on the topic at Purdue University in Indiana last month. Since the talk is online, I thought it might be worth a viewing.

[Spoiler alert. It wasn’t].

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The best case for worst case scenarios

The “end of the world” or “good for you” are the two least likely among the spectrum of potential outcomes.

Stephen Schneider

Beware the worst case scenario

Scientists have been looking at best, middling and worst case scenarios for anthropogenic climate change for decades. For instance, Stephen Schneider himself took a turn back in 2009. And others have postulated both far more rosy and far more catastrophic possibilities as well (with somewhat variable evidentiary bases).

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  1. S. Schneider, "The worst-case scenario", Nature, vol. 458, pp. 1104-1105, 2009.

The Climate Scientists are Alright

Filed under: — group @ 22 January 2019

Guest commentary from Eric Guilyardi (IPSL) and Valérie Masson-Delmotte (IPSL/IPCC)

[This is a translation of an article in Le Monde (Jan 11).]

In recent weeks in France, there has been a profusion of articles about the “climate scientist blues” (Le Monde 21/Dec, JDD 9/Dec, France Info 26/Sep), which has apparently affecting them “scientifically”. This follows a spate of similar articles in the US and Australian media (Esquire, 2015; The Monthly, 2018; Sierra Club Magazine, 2018). But what is the point of knowing the mood of scientists, or whether so-and-so is optimistic or pessimistic?

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NOAA-thing burger officially confirmed

Filed under: — gavin @ 6 January 2019

Back in February 2017, I wrote about the tediously predictable arc of criticisms of the Karl et al (2015) paper, and in particular the comments of John Bates at Judith Curry’s blog.

an initial claim of imperfection spiced up with insinuations of misconduct, coordination with a breathless hyping of the initial claim with ridiculous supposed implications, some sensible responses refuting the initial specific claims and demolishing the wilder extrapolations. Unable to defend the nonsense clarifications are made that the initial claim wasn’t about misconduct but merely about ‘process’ (for who can argue against better processes?). Meanwhile the misconduct and data falsification claims escape into the wild, get more exaggerated and lose all connection to any actual substance.

The outcome was easy to predict:

the issues of ‘process’ will be lost in the noise, the fake overreaction will dominate the wider conversation and become an alternative fact to be regurgitated in twitter threads and blog comments for years, the originators of the issue may or may not walk back the many mis-statements they and others made but will lose credibility in any case, mainstream scientists will just see it as hyper-partisan noise and ignore it, no papers will be redacted, no science will change, and the actual point (one presumes) of the ‘process’ complaint (to encourage better archiving practices) gets set back because it’s associated with such obvious nonsense.

But I missed out the very final outcome which I should have been able to predict too: a report, commissioned from learned experts, who spent months poring over the details (including more than 600,000 emails!) and in the end, concluding there was nothing significantly wrong in anything Karl et al did.

That report has now been made public. [Update: apparently this happened in December]

In it the authors make some sensible recommendations to clean up the thicket of conflicting requirements at NOAA for publishing science papers, they spot one mistake made by Karl et al (submitting to Science the day before the NOAA internal review was officially completed), but overall find no substance to the allegations of “thumbs on the scale”, no improper interference by politicians, no rush to publish to influence political discussions, no data tampering, no missing archives. Nothing.

But there is one curious revelation. It turns out that the person in charge of the NOAA internal review about which John Bates was so concerned was…. John Bates!

And even more curiously:

“The MITRE Committee learned that the internal review, later criticized by Bates, was conducted and approved under his own authority. The MITRE Committee found no evidence that Bates ever mentioned this fact in his blog, email, or anywhere else in his discussion of the matter in public.”

Did he mention this to David Rose or Judith Curry in private perhaps? If so, you’d think that they would have publically said so. If not, it adds one more misrepresentation to the pile.

What a colossal and counter-productive waste of everyone’s time.


  1. T.R. Karl, A. Arguez, B. Huang, J.H. Lawrimore, J.R. McMahon, M.J. Menne, T.C. Peterson, R.S. Vose, and H. Zhang, "Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus", Science, vol. 348, pp. 1469-1472, 2015.

Scientists: Resolve to Protect Yourself from Harassment in 2019

Filed under: — group @ 6 December 2018

Guest commentary by Lauren Kurtz

The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund (CSLDF) protects the scientific endeavor from anti-science attacks. Since our founding in 2011, we’ve assisted hundreds of scientists with issues ranging from invasive open records requests to death threats.

As part of this work, our staff will be at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting from December 10-14, offering free legal services to scientists and leading sessions on how to get involved in the policymaking process and how to be an expert witness.

For those who won’t be at the meeting — and with 2019 around the corner — we put together a list of suggested New Year’s resolutions for scientists. Adopting these best practices will help you reduce your risk of being harassed or attacked.

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Cracking the Climate Change Case

I have an op-ed in the New York Times this week:

How Scientists Cracked the Climate Change Case
The biggest crime scene on the planet is the planet. We know the earth is warming, but who or what is causing it?
Emilia Miękisz

Many of you will recognise the metaphor from previous Realclimate pieces (this is earliest one I think, from 2007), and indeed, the working title was “CSI: Planet Earth”. The process description and conclusions are drawn from multiple sources on the attribution of recent climate trends (here, here etc.), as well the data visualization for surface temperature trends at Bloomberg News.

There have been many comments about this on Twitter – most appreciative, some expected, and a few interesting. The expected criticisms come from people who mostly appear not to have read the piece at all (“Climate has changed before!” – a claim that no-one disputes), and a lot of pointless counter-arguments by assertion. Of the more interesting comment threads, was one started by Ted Nordhaus who asked

My response is basically that it might be old hat for him (and maybe many readers here), but I am constantly surprised at the number of people – even those concerned about climate – who are unaware of how we do attribution and how solid the science behind the IPCC statements is. And judging by many of the comments, it certainly isn’t the case that these pieces are only read by the already convinced. But asking how many people are helped to be persuaded by articles like this is a valid question, and I don’t really know the answer. Anyone?

European climate services take an important leap forward 

An important milestone was passed during the second general assembly of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, which took place in Berlin on Sept 24-28 (twitter hashtag '#C3SGA18'). The European climate service has become operational, hosted by the European Centre for Medium-Range Forecasts (ECMWF).

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