Category Archives: surface temperature

Coverage bias and recent trends in global surface temperature, part 1

In retrospect, 2014 was an interesting year for climate watchers, and a turning point of sorts. That year, global mean surface temperature matched record highs for the instrumental period, without any assist from the El Nino weather pattern that usually accompanies such warm years.  That turned out to be a prelude to a record-smashing 2015. And 2016 may well provide an unprecedented third surface temperature record in a row, as the influence of  the current super El Nino will likely peak in the first half of this year.

But 20GMST 1990-201414 was also notable scientifically for the emergence of a previously under-examined scientific issue: namely coverage bias in observed surface temperature series, especially the HadCrut4 record issued by the UK Met Office.

This most widely cited temperature series does not account for missing areas, especially in high latitudes, likely leading to an underestimate of the overall rise in global temperature since the 19th century.

Not only that, but there is increasingly compelling evidence that the recent short-term slowdown in the surface temperature record was much less pronounced than previously estimated, if rapid Arctic warming is fully reflected, along with potential biases from the changing mix of sea surface temperature measurement sources in recent years.  Thus the discrepancy between very short-term and multi-decadal trends in the observations appears to have been exaggerated in prior estimates, including IPCC AR5.

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