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Is 2002 Second Warmest in History?
Michael S. Coffman, Ph.D.
December 16, 2002
 
Figure 1

Figure 1: Trend of global annual surface temperature relative to 1951-1980 mean. Click for full-size GIF or PDF of this graph. From: "Global Temperature Trends: 2002 Summation," Goddard Institute for Space Studies, 2002.

Even as Europe and Siberia was experiencing its coldest November in decades, NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies announced that 2002 was the second warmest in climate recording history (Figure 1). Is that true, or is something else involved? NASA asserts:

The 2002 meteorological year is the second warmest year in the period of accurate instrumental data (since the late 1800s). The global surface temperature for 12 months from December 2001 through November 2002 is 0.51C above the climatological mean (1951-1980 average) in the GISS analysis, which uses meteorological station measurements over land and satellite measurements of sea surface temperature over the ocean.

But there is something NASA isn't telling you. This data comes from ground based temperatures --- usually measured by thermometers at airports. That presents a problem. Besides being moved a few times in their history and data being taken by an infinite number of people, all but a few of these stations in the first half of the twentieth century were surrounded by open countryside. The cities served by these airports  expanded beyond the airports in the latter half of the twentieth century -- especially from the mid-1970s on. The airports, and therefore the thermometers, are now surrounded by asphalt, tar-paper roofs and tall buildings that trap heat.

The surrounding or ambient temperature has therefore increased substantially because dark non-living surfaces trap and radiate more energy than living green surfaces. This is called the heat-island effect. When the ground data is compared against satellite data from nine geo-stationary microwave measuring sensors that sum the total tropospheric (about 5 miles deep) temperatures for the entire world the results are quite different, as depicted in Figure 2.

Figure 2. When the total tropospheric temperature is measured by very accurate satellite microwave sensors (blue), the warming is much less than measure by ground stations (red) --- suggesting only a modest warming that is easily explained by the recovery from the little ice age in the 1700s.

Global warming advocates claim a 5 mile deep mass of air is too much to determine if we have global warming. Global warming skeptics say it doesn't matter. If there is real warming, then the entire troposphere should warm. So far that warming is minimal and can be explained by the recovery from the little ice age in the 1700s when it was a full degree cooler than now. Besides, skeptics claim, the earth was a full degree warmer than today around 1200, during what is known as the climatic optimum, when the Vikings colonized and raised crops in Greenland.

The global temperature is estimated to be a degree cooler than today during the little ice age in the 1700s and a degree warmer in 1200 AD. The warming today is thought by skeptics  to merely represent the recovery from the little ice age.

The heat island effect is well known by NASA, and climatologists have attempted to correct the data for the United States. When that is done, the data for the United States more closely matches the satellite data. However, except some correction for Europe, little correction has been made for the rest of the world's data. Therefore, the data shown by NASA is highly skewed towards artificial warming. Besides, just how much correction can be used for the ground data? How do they know when enough correction has been applied since there is no benchmark to compare too? Fact is, the scientists can't know how much correction to apply. Therefore, any correction they apply is merely a best guess estimate.

The accuracy of satellite temperature data is a much better measure of global warming than ground-based data. It is never cited by NASA or the media, however, because it doesn't support the global warming agenda. President Bush was correct when he withdrew the U.S. from the Kyoto protocol in 2001. Global warming advocates proclaimed in the early 1990s that unless we reduced the emissions of CO2 by 2000, it would be too late to stop the world from being cooked. It is now nearly 2003 and their chicken little prophecies have proved false. In short, the evidence for man-caused global warming is waning, continuing to justify a wait and see policy.