Will 2014 be the hottest year ever?

A few days ago the World Meteorological Organisation came out with a strange press release or media statement with this headline:

2014 on course to be one of hottest, possibly hottest, on record. Exceptional heat and flooding in many parts of the world

The ABC faithfully followed, and gave the media statement prominence. Why would the WMO not wait until January 1st, when it could say whatever it wanted to say with at least 365 days of data? Ah, well, you see the statement was to coincide with the meeting in Lima of the organisers of next year’s epochal, historic, unprecedented meeting in Paris that is to agree, finally and at last, on something about climate.

Now the media statement sounded scary, and in my view it was a political, not scientific, statement that ought not to have been issued at all — and it speaks abundantly to the dreadful state ‘science’ has achieved in the field of climate. The WMO became a UN agency in 1951 to provide good information about weather, but it has become hijacked by people who believe in climate doom. I now find it difficult to take anything the WMO says as being accurate or unbiassed.

And what is the point of saying that 2014 is on course to be the hottest year on record? Well, it suggests that ‘warming’ has resumed, and that the ‘pause’ or ‘hiatus’ is over. But is it? Well, no one knows, and that includes the WMO. Judith Curry thinks all that stuff is a red herring (I agree with her), and that the real issue is the growing divergence between the models and their projections, on the one hand, and what is really happening, on the other.

I want to make a slightly different point, and to do it I’ll take advantage of a diagram that Steven Mosher developed for Dr Curry when she was presenting  testimony to the American Senate. There is a real disjunction in discussions about temperature. On the orthodox side there are those, like the WMO, who see evidence of a possible new ‘warm’ record as clear indication that warming has resumed (or never stopped) and that carbon dioxide is having its wicked way. Or they say that the years of the last decade have all been on average hotter than the 1990s.

On the sceptical side there are those who look for the trend over time in warming and cooling. Yes, I know that time series are dubious constructs, because I wrote about it recently. The doubtful will argue that if CO2 is the villain, then there is something odd about the last fifteen years or so, because carbon dioxide has gone on increasing in the atmosphere, but temperature has not followed suit. And here is Mosher’s graph.


The vertical axis shows the dear old global temperature anomaly, with time on the horizontal axis. Five datasets are used, and you can see that they show a strong measure of agreement: the story they present for the last 35 years is essentially the same. And what is it? Well, the anomaly goes up and down, with a great peak in 1998 (the super el Nino of that year). Very generally, the anomaly hovered around the 0.2 level from 1980 to 1997, when it shot up. Since then it has hovered around the 0.5 level. Though the graph doesn’t point this out, the highs and lows have a strong correlation with el Nino and la Nina events.

Now 2010 was a warm year, too, and maybe 2014 will approach it; the graph is foreshortened with respect to 2014 data, so we can’t be confident. Nonetheless,  there is no indication in this graph of a resumption of the very rapid rise (given a hiccough or two) from say 1993 to 1998. And more: there are six little peaks since the 1998 el Nino, and all of them are higher than the ordinary years of the 1990s.

And that is what people do when they talk about the last fifteen years having been hotter than the 1990s — they look at those peaks. There is no doubt about it. Those years are hotter than anything before 1998. But what is also true is that they haven’t gone on getting hotter and hotter. No — they fluctuate around the 0.5 C anomaly. And that is important too, for a couple of reasons. One is that that if CO2 is the control knob for global warming, and its presence in the atmosphere is growing every years, then it has to be said that temperature is not following suit. And that suggests that CO2 is not a powerful control knob.

The second reason is that the GCMs, the global circulation models, have predicted that temperatures will rise, and they haven’t. So the models, too, because they are fitted with the CO2 control knob, are just wrong. This is the issue that Dr Curry thinks is most important, in part because it is the models, not the observations, that seem to drive the climate policies of the world. And they are not well suited for such a task at all.

We are bound to hear, I think, that 2014 was a hot year, and one at least of the datasets (GISS) will probably show it to be the hottest, or close to the hottest, since records were made. None of that means much unless 2015, then 2016 and 2017 go on be hotter than 2014. If that occurs, then it will be possible to say that warming has resumed. But we have a while to go before that happens.

And you’ll notice that every little peak so far in the past fifteen years has been followed by a drop. My guess is that this will happen in 2015, too, as the not-quite-el-Nino we are in passes. But, you say, what about Lima? What has happened there? As I press the Publish button, nothing at all. Even though the meeting has been extended, no one can agree on anything, which is what I expect to happen in Paris next year.

[Update: After I had written this post I read another similar essay by Chip Knappenberger and Pat Michaels, which uses different data but comes to the same conclusions. You can read a version of it here.]

Join the discussion 26 Comments

  • Doug Hurst says:

    Well put as usual. The graph tells us that warming of about 0.3C occurred in the last 35 years. Not shown is the previous increase from1880 to 1980 of about 0.5C – or about 0.8C in 135 years. The IPCC now concede that some of this increase – perhaps as much as half – is natural, so the human contribution is somewhere between 0.4C and something more. This small change is in no way unprecedented or dangerous. Nor is there enough correlation with CO2 levels to suggest this essential trace gas drives anything other than plant growth.

    Your comments on temperature shifts with el-Nino and la-Nina are timely – as I understand things these systems, along with the related Pacific Decadal Oscillation, are getting increasing focus from people looking for explanations other than CO2 as the Earth’s thermostat.

    Along with all that has been said at Lima, this provides even more evidence that the RET should be cancelled, not simply adjusted, and no further action on climate taken until the evidence improves and the big guys get serious.

  • Gus says:

    Indeed, on the graph, 2014 clearly looks colder than several other years in the recent past. There is one problem with the graph that is worth pointing: where should the zero point be? Should it be determined by the 1960s and 1970s? But that was a particularly cold period that was preceded by warmer 1930s, 40s and 50s.

    The other thing that can be read from the graph is that a linear fit is simply incorrect. A far better fit would be a sinusoid: it would nicely explain the “hiatus,” by assuming a maximum there and the flatness of the 80s by assuming a minimum at that time.

    There are two fundamental factors that create climate on earth: the sun and the ocean. The ocean surface receives more energy at times of high activity: it has to do with cloud cover that is modulated by the activity, ultraviolet component and so on. But the ocean does not respond to this instantaneously, other than right on the surface–this can be seen if you look at the satellite ocean surface data: there is a clear correlation there with solar activity. The deep ocean responds with delay, because of the thermal inertia of the ocean and because ocean currents and multi-decadal ocean oscillations distribute and store heat around the globe in complex ways.

    In any case, given that the sun is the only source of energy in this system (all others, i.e., geothermal and human being globally negligible) and that this source is variable, with diminishing activity global temperature must fall sooner or later. I reckon, this will become evident in the next 10 years.

  • Sam Harris says:

    Only a truly ignorant person would ignore the overwhelming evidence that the exponential increase in temperture isn’t due to man production of C02. If you look at this chart that dates back 65,000 there is a clear pattern of the temperature increasing and decreasing. Our current C02 levels are the highest levels ever recorded. Please pull this article as its an insult to you’re own intelligence.

    • Don Aitkin says:


      I think you meant to say ‘is’ instead of ‘isn’t’ in your second line.

      If you are arguing that CO2 drives temperature then you need to show, not the ice ages, but what has happened in the last century or so. There are plenty of graphs to use, but none of them shows an unequivocal relationship.

      And there is plenty of suggestion from ice-core data that the CO2/temperature relationship is actually the other way round — that is, that as the seas warm up they release more carbon dioxide.

      • David says:


        Nice try. But no one is promising you evidence of an “unequivocal relationship”. 🙂

        • Don Aitkin says:

          Fair enough. But what the graphs show, as you know, is that sometimes it looks as though CO2 and temperature rise in synch, and sometimes , like now, it looks as though there’s no relationship. Ergo, something else is important. What is it/are they?

          • David says:

            So that’s like saying there may be many factors which cause heart disease. Some known (e.g. weight, blood pressure, diet & exercise) and others unknown.

            So would you have your doctor address the known risk factors today or wait until he/she has a “complete” understanding of all causal relationships before intervening.

            btw., I disagree with ” it looks as though there’s no relationship”

          • Don Aitkin says:

            What is the relationship you see, then? CO2 is going up, and temperature goes up and down…

          • David says:

            yes up and down, it called an error term 🙂 Its all in Stats 101.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            The only error term in the graph is given for the BEST measurements (the grey shading). I suppose we could argue that the error around the others would be of the same magnitude. If that were the case, you’d still have peaks and troughs.

            What is the point you are trying to make?

      • David says:

        ” And there is plenty of suggestion from ice-core data that the CO2/temperature relationship is actually the other way round — that is, that as the seas warm up they release more carbon dioxide.”
        And how does this help your argument? All you have done is propose a mechanism for runaway warming.
        Increase CO2 from Humans, increases sea temperature, which (according to you) results in more CO2 and, which inturn would result in more warming. ???

        • Gus says:

          It’s not a “run-away warming,” if CO2 does not warm by itself, which it doesn’t.

          • David says:

            Gus, lets just say with respect to AGW hypothesis, you channel Justice Michael Kirby is an much as you are the “Great Dissenter”. 🙂

            Merry Christmas

          • Gus says:

            The only thing I “channel” is science, as it is published in peer reviewed scientific journals.
            … and a happy New Year!
            It’ll be cooler, you know, than this one!

    • Gus says:

      There is no “overwhelming evidence.”

      This graph is a fallacy. It ignores the simple fact that we really don’t have good data pertaining to past epochs. The reason for this is that resolution in ice cores, for example, diminishes the farther back you go in time. This, in turn, implies that short term variations in CO2 atmospheric concentrations, e.g., on the scale of decades only, would not be visible in ice cores pertaining to, say, 300,000 years ago.

      The other aspect the graph ignores is that CO2 atmospheric concentration is not identical around the globe. It varies widely from place to place. For example, it is likely to be much higher on top of a massive active volcano surrounded by warm ocean, like Mauna Kea, than in the middle of the Siberian forest. The concentration varies not only with location but with seasons too: this is shown by the GOSAT satellite. For example, in the spring and early summer, the Great Lakes region of the US and Canada absorbs more CO2 than it emits. The Amazon and Congo jungles emit CO2 pretty much round the clock. The northern ocean absorbs more CO2 than it emits in winter and emits more than it absorbs in summer. The boreal forest of Canada, Russia and Northern Europe is a net CO2 absorber.

      This is what satellite data is telling us. We’ll see more when the NASA Carbon Observatory 2 already in orbit starts sending data, which is expected next year (2015).

      Rothman discusses atmospheric carbon dioxide levels for the last 500 million years in doi:10.1073pnas.022055499. This is summarized in figure 4, page 4170. You can see there dramatic drop in the atmospheric CO2 levels over the past 150 million years. In effect of this the earth nature is almost at the CO2 starvation threshold. During the last ice age, earth nature was CO2 starved, which is visible in pine trees recovered from Labrea tar pits of California, doi:10.1073/pnas.0408315102.

      Until we have reliable, accurate, satellite data pertaining to CO2 concentrations around the globe and CO2 fluxes, we really can’t say much about where it comes from and where it goes. As to its effect on earth temperatures, it’s minimal.

      The slight warming of about 0.7C observed since the end of the Little Ice Age some 150 years ago has nothing to do with it. Most of it has occurred when atmospheric CO2 levels were too low, as far as we can tell, to have any impact, yet the global temperature was already rising 150 years ago. It was rising in response to increased levels of solar activity, which attained the Grand Maximum throughout most of the 20th century, doi:10.12942/lrsp-2008-3. This is the real cause of the warming, not man-made CO2.

      Most of atmospheric CO2 isn’t man-made to begin with. Humans contribute only about 3.4% to natural emissions.

      • dlb says:

        “Humans contribute only about 3.4% to natural emissions.”
        Yes, but nature is only taking back half of this, leading to an atmospheric increase of 0.5% per year.

        • DaveW says:

          dlb – Have you seen a study on carbon flux that convincingly demonstrates that half of human emitted CO2 is taken back by the biosphere? CO2 is heavier than most air molecules, human production is concentrated in particular areas, and one would assume produced in greatest concentration in the Northern Hemisphere winter. Yet, season fluctuations seem remarkably stable and the gradual increase in atmospheric CO2 also seems rather monotonic. Are you sure these claims are not just arm-waving?

        • Gus says:

          Accounts pertaining to CO2 circulation are full of errors and as new papers on this are being published we see considerable revisions of earlier numbers. For example, Sun et al find that plants absorb 17% more CO2 than has been estimated so far, see doi:10.1073/pnas.1418075111 in PNAS 2014. Levy et al find that it is the oceans, not humans, that are the #1 source of atmospheric CO2 increase, see doi:10.1002/gbc.20092 in Global Biochemical Cycles 2013. A huge new CO2 accounting exercise by Quere et al (tens of co-authors from tens of institutions) finds that nature absorbs 83% of human CO2 emissions, see doi:10.5194/essdd-7-521-2014 in Earth Systems Science 2014.

          This is why what is really needed are not accounting exercises but a measurement. All that is said about CO2 at present, or nearly all, is based on accounting, not measurement. The NASA Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 satellite, finally launched in July this year (the previous one exploded on launch) is meant to measure this. The Japanese GOSAT has been there for some time now, but its deliverables, although most interesting and surprising even, lack the required precision to help with the detailed budget.

          At present, in spite of all that’s been said about this, and billions of dollars spent on research, we really don’t know what Nature does with our CO2, neither do we really know where most of it comes from and where it goes.

    • BoyfromTottenham says:

      Sam, your insults aside, are we looking at the same chart as you? The chart in your post (with no source quoted, so I don’t know whether to trust it or not), purports to show atmospheric CO2, not temperature. Don’s article was about the lack of correlation between CO2 and global temperature. It looks like you didn’t put your brain in gear before opening your mouth. Do you want to calm down and try again when you cool off?

  • David says:

    Don this quote should be familiar to you

    ” Lesson 3 Look at the data.

    The data are what you have (this is DA speaking). Don’t ignore outliers — they’re telling you something. What is it? Don’t homogenise (see lesson 1). ”

    Those data are increasing. 🙂

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Which data are increasing? The graph I offered doesn’t show any kind of consistent increase.

      • David says:

        Of course it does. Simply eyeball the data and run a line of best fit through the data. In the jargon to minimize the error sum of squares. It is clearly increasing with respect to time.

        • Don Aitkin says:

          Since when has it been increasing? 1995,1998, 2000 or from the beginning (1980)/ I’d agree that if you run a line through from 1980 it has been increasing, but as i wrote, that doesn’t seem the most sensible thing todo with the data. Go back to the time series essay: aren’t there two distinct patterns in the data? Why is a single line of best fit the most appropriate treatment?

  • Patrick Caldon says:

    “So the models, too, because they are fitted with the CO2 control knob, are just wrong”

    – What do you mean by this sentence? Where I’m going to go with this is to ask you: on which specific model has which particular parameter changed to what specific value, where you fell a different value is appropriate.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      I’m not sure that I understand the question. The CIMP5 models all predict higher temperatures than have been experienced, and they are tuned, as I understand it, on the assumption that CO2 has an effect amplified by climate sensitivity in the range 1.5 to 4.5. A reasonable assumption is that these tunings are wrong, and that CO2 does not have the forcing effect that is claimed. I had no particular model in mind.

      If you are aware of one or more models that work as predicted, that would be most interesting.

  • […] was 2014 the hottest year ever? It all depends on where you go for information. The Japanese Met agency says it was. The two […]

Leave a Reply