Data Watch: UAH Global Mean Temperature February 2013 Release

The University of Alabama-Huntsville (UAH) global average lower tropospheric temperature anomaly for February 2013 has been released via the web site of Dr Roy Spencer (one of the founders of the programme that produces this temperature time series). The anomaly refers to the difference between the current temperature reading and the average reading for the period 1981 to 2010.

February 2013: Anomaly +0.18 degrees Celsius

This is the eighth warmest February temperature recorded since the satellite record was started in December 1978 (35 February observations). The warmest February to date over this period was February 1998, with an anomaly of +0.65 degrees Celsius.

As background, five major global temperature time series are collated: three land-based and two satellite-based. The most high profile satellite-based series is put together by UAH and covers the period from December 1978 to the present. Like all these time series, the data is presented as an anomaly (difference) from the average, with the average in this case being the 30-year period from 1981 to 2010.

The official link to the data at UAH can be found here, but most months we get a sneak preview of the release via the climatologist Dr Roy Spencer at his blog.Spencer, and his colleague John Christy at UAH, are noted climate skeptics. They are also highly qualified climate scientists, who believe that natural climate variability accounts for most of recent warming. If they are correct, then we should see some flattening or even reversal of the upward trend within the UAH temperature time series. To date, we haven’t (click for larger image):

UAH February 2013 jpeg

One of the initial reasons for publicising this satellite-based data series was due to concerns over the accuracy of terrestrial-based measurements (worries over the urban heat island effect and other factors). The satellite data series have now been going long enough to compare the output directly with the surface-based measurements. All the time series are now accepted as telling the same story (for a fuller mathematical treatment of this, see Tamino’s post at the Open Mind blog here). Note that the anomalies produced by different organisations are not directly comparable since they have different base periods. Accordingly, to compare them directly, you need to normalise each one by adjusting them to a common base period.

I would hope that if the chart keeps showing a line rising up to the right—and old records keep getting broken—then Spencer and Christy will admit that their hypothesis is wrong. Unfortunately, my gut feeling is that they will take their opposition to the idea of significant anthropogenic global warming to the grave. The physicist Max Planck once said

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

This is frequently paraphrased, rather cynically, as “science advances one funeral at a time”. It is unfortunate, however, that we do not have the time to let opposition to concrete action to prevent climate change die off in a decade or two. By then, dangerous climate change will likely already be locked in.

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