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Richard Kerr (Science) in 2009: Warming ‘Pause’ About to Be Replaced by ‘Jolt’

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- January 14, 2014

“Pauses as long as 15 years are rare in the simulations, and ‘we expect that [real-world] warming will resume in the next few years,’ the Hadley Centre group writes…. Researchers … agree that no sort of natural variability can hold off greenhouse warming much longer.”

– Richard Kerr, Science (2009)

That’s Richard A. Kerr, the longtime, award-winning climate-change scribe for Science magazine, the flagship publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The article, “What Happened to Global Warming? Scientists Say Just Wait a Bit,” was published October 1, 2009.

The article is important in the history of climate thought because it captures neatly the (over)confidence of the scientists who turn to models to justify their faith that past overestimation will soon be reversed. Judith Curry’s recent discovery of F. A. Hayek’s Nobel Prize Lecture in Economics, The Pretense of Knowledge, marks a new front in the mainstream climate debate. [1]

Secondly, today’s explanation for the “pause” (a term used in Kerr’s 2009 article) is not mentioned back then—ocean delay.

Third, Kerr frames the debate in political terms with Copenhagen just ahead—and fails to interview or include the contrary views about how climate sensitivity might be less than the climate models assume in their physical equations.

Here is the guts of the Kerr article as the 5th year anniversary comes this year:

The blogosphere has been having a field day with global warming’s apparent decade-long stagnation. Negotiators are working toward an international global warming agreement to be signed in Copenhagen in December, yet there hasn’t been any warming for a decade. What’s the point, bloggers ask?

Climate researchers are beginning to answer back in their preferred venue, the peer-reviewed literature. The pause in warming is real enough, but it’s just temporary, they argue from their analyses.

A natural swing in climate to the cool side has been holding greenhouse warming back, and such swings don’t last forever. “In the end, global warming will prevail,” says climate scientist Gavin
Schmidt of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City.

The latest response from the climate community comes in State of the Climate in 2008, a special supplement to the current (August) issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. Climate researcher Jeff Knight and eight colleagues at the Met Office Hadley Centre in Exeter, U.K., first establish that—at least in one leading temperature record—greenhouse warming has been stopped in its tracks for the past 10 years.

In the HadCRUT3 temperature record, the world warmed by 0.07°C±0.07°C from 1999 through 2008, not the 0.20°C expected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Corrected for the natural temperature effects of El Niño and its sister climate event La Niña, the decade’s trend is a perfectly flat 0.00°C.

So contrarian bloggers are right: There’s been no increase in greenhouse warming lately. That result came as no surprise to
Knight and his colleagues or, for that matter, to most climate scientists.
But the Hadley Centre group took the next step, using climate modeling to try to quantify how unusual a 10-year warming pause might be.

In 10 modeling runs of 21st century climate totaling 700 years worth of simulation, long-term warming proceeded about as expected: 2.0°C by the end of the century. But along the way in the 700 years of simulation, about 17 separate 10-year intervals had temperature trends resembling that of the past decade—that is, more or less flat.

From this result, the group concludes that the model can reproduce natural jostlings of the climate system—perhaps a shift in heat-carrying ocean currents—that can cool the world and hold off greenhouse warming for a decade. But natural climate variability in the model has its limits. Pauses as long as 15 years are rare in the simulations, and “we expect that [real-world] warming will resume in the next few years,” the Hadley Centre group writes.

And that resumption could come as a bit of a jolt, says Adam Scaife of the group, as the temperature catches up with the greenhouse gases added during the pause.

Pinning the pause on natural variability makes sense to most researchers. “That goes without saying,” writes climate researcher Stefan Rahmstorf of Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany by e-mail. “We’ve made [that point] several times on RealClimate,” a blog.

Solar physicist Judith Lean of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., and climate modeler David Rind of GISS reached the same conclusion in a peer-reviewed 15 August paper in Geophysical Research Letters. They broke down recent temperature variation into components attributable to greenhouse gases, pollutant aerosols, volcanic aerosols, El Niño/La Niña, and solar variability.

Combined, those influences explain all of the observed variability, by Lean and Rind’s accounting. But unlike the Hadley Centre’s model-based analysis, this assessment attributes a good deal of climate variability to variability in solar activity. That’s because most models can’t translate solar variability into climate variability the way the actual climate system can (Science, 28 August, p. 1058), Rind says.

Researchers may differ about exactly what’s behind recent natural climate variability, but they agree that no sort of natural variability can hold off greenhouse warming much longer. “Our prediction is that if past is prologue, the solar component will turn around and lead to rapid warming in the next 5 years,” says Rind.

Climate modeler David Smith of the Hadley Centre, who was not involved in the State of the Climate analysis, says his group’s climate model forecasts—made much the way weather forecasts are made—are still calling for warming to resume in the next few years as ocean influences reverse (Science, 10 August 2007, p. 746). Whether that’s in time to boost climate negotiations is anyone’s guess.

The ball is back in Richard Kerr’s court. Dr. Kerr, let’s have a five-year update for Science with a headline like “What Happened to Global Warming: Can Mainstream Climate Science Regain Its Footing?” His update might well take into account Judith Curry’s current post, IPCC AR5 weakens the case for AGW), that documented “several key elements … weakening of the case for attributing the warming [to] human influences:

  • Lack of warming since 1998 and growing discrepancies with climate model projections
  • Evidence of decreased climate sensitivity to increases in CO2
  • Evidence that sea level rise in 1920-1950 is of the same magnitude as in 1993-2012
  • Increasing Antarctic sea ice extent
  • Low confidence in attributing extreme weather events to anthropogenic global warming.”



[1] Curry cited this quotation from Hayek’s 1974 lecture: “I confess that I prefer true but imperfect knowledge, even if it leaves much indetermined and unpredictable, to a pretence of exact knowledge that is likely to be false.”


  1. Otter  

    Excellent article! I especially enjoy the fact that a pro-AGW climate scientist lays out the truth (zero trend) of the ‘pause.’
    May I repost? I always post links back to the original.


  2. Ed Reid  

    “Predictions are hard, especially about the future.”, Yogi Berra, American philosopher

    We all face the risk of outliving our predictions, except when the prediction period is a century long.

    In this same spirit, it might be time to revisit the model scenario graphic used during the 1988 Hansen/Wirth “warm hearing room trick” presentation to Congress. (http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/03/20/how-well-did-hansen-1988-do/)


  3. Ray  

    The so called climate scientists are claiming they can predict the future and control the climate. I want to see some examples where they have done this successfully. Dr. Hoyt (PhD physics) used to keep a scorecard on modelers predictions. All the predictions were wrong. See here. http://www.warwickhughes.com/hoyt/climate-change.htm


  4. rbradley  

    It’s a tough world: Joe Romm is mad about falling coverage of climate issues in the mainstream media: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/01/14/3149961/silence-lambs-climate-coverage-drops/.

    Maybe there is a reason? Alarmism Not!


  5. Andrew  

    I confess that I am ambivalent about Curry’s discovery of Hayek and his (classic) essay. Maybe it’s because I watch Curry rather wearily from my memories of her days promoting alarm and some political comments on Climate Audit.

    But it’s also probably because I have a philosophical problem with it. Hayek is absolutely correct that the methodological approach of hard science is not really appropriate for the study of exchange-whether we call it human action, or as he preferred (following Richard Whatley) Catallactics. But, at least in principle, the study of the climate is a problem of physics, not analogous to economics at all. It is probably helpful, yes, to acknowledge that in the short run, in practice, the study of climate is analogously intractable. But in the long run, it is a physical science, and at some point it has to advance to the level of hard science. I think I agree with Curry that in many respects it is “not there yet,” but I caution that whereas Hayek’s admonition to the economist on methodology is *absolute* and *eternal*, no such in principle insurmountable obstacle can exist in a purely physical problem.


    • rbradley  

      This is a good point Andrew. But the problem with the alarmists is that they want to profess certainty when the science is just not there yet. So in the present, it is a ‘soft’ science. (and an ‘art’ the way some are using controversial techniques and data samples to drive their results).

      Andrew Dessler at Texas A&M, for one, I think really believes he has the answers ahead of everyone else.

      Also, the alarmist scientists quickly go from physical science to political economy and public policy. Hayek ‘pretense’ applies to them in this way.


  6. Andrew  

    Oh, yes, I definitely agree with you there.


  7. Sundance  

    I had contacted the MET Office about this and asked if they intended to update their testing of the IPCC models. They responded that they always evaluate the IPCC models as well as their own and they would do so again. Shortly after the MET Office published a downward revision of their future warming forecast and now with the 5 additional years of data they should update the IPCC model evaluation.

    Here is another Met Office gem where they predicted a .3C rise in global T from 2004 ‘to’ 2014.

    10 August 2007
    The forecast for 2014…

    Climate scientists at the Met Office Hadley Centre will unveil the first decadal climate prediction model in a paper published on 10 August 2007 in the journal Science. The paper includes the Met Office’s prediction for annual global temperature to 2014.

    Over the 10-year period as a whole, climate continues to warm and 2014 is likely to be 0.3 °C warmer than 2004. At least half of the years after 2009 are predicted to exceed the warmest year currently on record

    These predictions are very relevant to businesses and policy-makers who will be able to respond to short-term climate change when making decisions today. The next decade is within many people’s understanding and brings home the reality of a changing climate.

    The new model incorporates the effects of sea surface temperatures as well as other factors such as man-made emissions of greenhouse gases, projected changes in the sun’s output and the effects of previous volcanic eruptions — the first time internal and external variability have both been predicted.

    Team leader, Dr Doug Smith said: “Occurrences of El Nino, for example, have a significant effect on shorter-term predictions. By including such internal variability, we have shown a substantial improvement in predictions of surface temperature.” Dr Smith continues: “Observed relative cooling in the Southern Ocean and tropical Pacific over the last couple of years was correctly predicted by the new system, giving us greater confidence in the model’s performance”.

    •Total global warming, on a decadal average, is 0.8 °C since 1900 (IPCC 2007)
    •1998 is the current warmest year on record with a global mean temperature of 14.54 °C

    For further information:
    Met Office Press Office +44 (0)1392 886655
    E-mail: pressoffice@metoffice.gov.uk


    Here’s HadCRUT4V results.


  8. Sundance  

    I forgot trend line in my earlier post. We should be seeing a trend line approaching .8 on the followinng graph but instead we see it dropping.



  9. Wayne Lusvardi  

    I once worked in one of the largest regional water agencies in the U.S. with about 1,000 engineers. We used to have a saying that engineers (and scientists) can only explain the world in linear fashion and their thinking becomes linear as well. For example, civil engineers could not understand the real estate market concept “highest and best use” because it is non-linear and market based. The market was always devising novel uses of land that defied predication by even real estate appraisers and economists.

    Something of the same applies to statistical models of climate change where nature is too “rich” to explain linearly or even multi-linearly. That is why science is always falsifying the last theory or paradigm.

    What do the sociologists of religion call those who are absolute certaintists about religious knowledge, miracles, and apocalyptic prophecies? They call them “fundamentalists.” No matter how much social status and authority climate change scientists acquire, they are certaintists and abolutists, which is antithetical to the scientific enterprise.

    That is why even climate change “deniers” are open to the natural climate change that occurs when highly vegetated land changes into desert, as has occurred in paleohistory many times.

    It is also why climate change “deniers” do not deny that while one part of the world may be flooding another may be in a 10-year drought. In the southwestern U.S., engineers built a water hydraulic system powered by hydroelectric turbines to lift water uphill instead of depending on building civilization where water could flow by gravity. By conveying water the effects of “climate change” or drought was mitigated. No climate change “denier” denies this form of climate change.

    The climate modelers have been able to understand, albeit feebly, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a big term meaning 10-year changes in wet or dry cycles due to ocean temperatures (called “El Nino’s and La Nina’s). This is hardly science as even American Indians noticed such cycles, as well as many farmers I am sure. No “climate change” deniers deny such decadal changes in weather patterns.

    What climate change scientists claim they have “special scientific knowledge” about is a very long term trend of worldwide warming in the upper levels of the atmosphere due to industrialization. That all the scientists who embrace such a theory are of the so-called “Knowledge Class” and the deniers associated with the “Business Class” makes sociologists suspicious that such science is class based. The sociology of knowledge thus can be a powerful tool in understanding the “climate change” conflict and includes within it what sociologist Peter L. Berger calls a “debunking motif.” The science of climate change has its sects, cults, and denominations just as religion does. This is because life has so much uncertainty about it vis-a-vis the Certainty Wallah’s in religion or science who “pretend” to tell us otherwise.

    Hayek’s “The Pretense of Knowledge” fits in well with this sociology of scientific knowledge framework.


  10. rbradley  

    Joe Romm at Climate Progress: volcanoes have cancelled the heat, but the planet is about to really start warming up: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/02/24/3322721/small-volcanoes-global-warming/


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