The uncertainty of climate science

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For the past five years, I have been noting on this webpage the large uncertainties that still exist in the field of climate science. Though we have solid evidence of an increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we also have no idea what the consequences of that increase are going to be. It might cause the atmosphere to warm, or it might not. It might harm the environment, or it might instead spur plant life growth that will invigorate it instead. The data remains inconclusive. We really don’t even know if the climate is truly warming, and even if it is, whether CO2 is causing that warming.

While government scientists at NASA and NOAA are firmly in the camp that claims increasing carbon dioxide will cause worldwide disastrous global warming, their own data, when looked at coldly, reveals that they themselves don’t have sufficient information to make that claim. In fact, they don’t even have sufficient information to claim they know whether the climate is warming or cooling! My proof? Look at the graph below, produced by NOAA’s own National Centers for Environmental Information.

NOAA's global temperature data

The graph, which the NOAA website allows you to create for yourself, shows the places on land where the temperature in September 2015 was either above or below the baseline temperature average, established by data from the period from 1981 to 2010. If a region was hotter than that long term average, it is showed in red tones. If it was cooler, it is shown in blue tones.

A lot of red there, ain’t there? September must have been the hottest month in recorded history!

Not! Note the large areas of grey, as well as the little note near the bottom of the graph: “Please note: Gray areas represent missing data.” In other words, except for Europe and the United States and a scattering of other well-developed regions, the land data is quite limited These government scientists have almost no data for either the north or south poles and much of Africa. In fact, most of their best data is confined to urban areas, regions that are prone to increased temperature readings merely because their urban environment, a phenomenon climate scientists have even named as the urban heat island effect. Stations in urban areas show increased heat because they are often near a lot of asphalt and heat-producing equipment, making the place seem warmer than it actually is.

Moreover, they are very vague about the meaning of the square data points. Do they represent one weather station or many? In the U.S. I would assume that there are many data-gathering stations within each square. In places like Greenland and Antarctica, however, I suspect that each square represents only one station. That means that in these two places their data is based on a very small number of stations, 9 for Antarctica and 5 for Greenland, all strung out along the coasts with no interior data points.

My point here is not to disprove the theory of human-caused global warming. My point is to note the limited nature of the data, and how this makes coming to any conclusion at this time difficult if not impossible. Satellite data fills in many of the blank areas of this graph, but it also shows absolutely no warming for almost the last 20 years. According to all global warming models, however, the climate should have continued to warm during this period because the CO2 in the atmosphere was also increasing.

The models were wrong however. Or to put in another way, the science remains uncertain. Keep this in mind the next time you hear a politician demand you give up your rights and freedoms in order to prevent global warming.


  • wodun

    Think how many times the local official temperature varies when compared to the thermometer at your house. A few degrees variation is pretty normal but a few degrees is larger than the hundredths of a percent rise in average temperatures claimed by AGW advocates to make recent months hottest evers.

    Looking at wundermap weather stations where I live, the range is from 38-46 degrees right now.

  • Phill O

    I am in the camp that says the planet has warmed as have other planets in the solar system. The CAUSE, now there I do not believe AGW but rather solar powered climate change. In the Canadian Rockies (and the Alps) there is no question that the glaciers have retreated in the past 100-200 years. The question is why. The CO2 can not build up due to cleansing of the atmospher by rain. Rain has a pH of 5.5 due to CO2 from “natural” sources.

    Thanks Bob for keeping the pressure on the AGW zealots.

  • wodun

    “The question is why.”

    While humans certainly affect their environment, there is also natural warming taking place. We are in an interglacial period of an ice age. The last ice sheets retreated about 14,000 years ago and we can see geological traces of megafloods from those sheets melting. Ever since then, ice and glaciers have mostly been in retreat, with some peaks and valleys in temperature like the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age.

    With all of the focus on AGW, the reasons for natural change are being ignored. We don’t know why the last round of glaciation ended and we don’t know when the ice sheets will be back, but they will be. IMO because we do not even understand the process that lead to natural change, its hard to make the leap to claim we know how humans impact this complex and mysterious system.

    We just don’t know how they climate system works.

    The archaeological record gets pretty sparse the farther back in time we go. Many great discoveries await us in Africa and the bottom of the Black Sea but think about how far humans have progressed since the end of the last ice age. Almost all of known human technological advancement has taken place in the last 12,000 years, especially after the adoption of agriculture. But humans have existed for 200,000 years, so there are many things we don’t know about our early history.

    Much of the debate about climate change is focused on the last hundred years or so. Its mind boggling to me that we seem to ignore the context of where we are at in the development of human civilization and geological happenstance.

  • Cotour


    You illustrate the reality of the situation perfectly.

  • Sigivald

    The CO2 can not build up due to cleansing of the atmospher by rain. Rain has a pH of 5.5 due to CO2 from “natural” sources.

    Don’t we have varying levels of CO2 from the paleoclimatologic record, and a doubling or so since the start of the Industrial Age, fairly well established?

    I’m not in the “unknown – and so far undetected – forcing factors exist that make CO2 really, really warm the planet” camp, but the idea that CO2 levels can’t change is … unsupportable, to the best of my knowledge.

    (A cursory search on rain pH suggests the main natural agents of acidification there are sulphur and nitrous oxides, rather than carbon dioxide.)

  • Edward

    Sigivald wrote: “Don’t we have varying levels of CO2 from the paleoclimatologic record, and a doubling or so since the start of the Industrial Age, fairly well established? … but the idea that CO2 levels can’t change is … unsupportable, to the best of my knowledge.”

    The CO2 emissions did not start in earnest until about 1940. At the beginning of the industrial age, we used more natural sources of power, such as water wheels. Coal fired steam plants started to come online in the 19th century, but it wasn’t until WWII that industrialization and the production of steel really took off. Worldwide, it has been increasing ever since (although the US has returned to 1992 levels, per the Kyoto agreement, to which we never agreed).

    Before WWII, the problem with wars was the limit on production of war materials, such as ammunition. A lack of ammunition was one of the reasons for the years-long stalemate during WWI — there were only two months worth of ammunition on either side, which is why everyone expected it to be over quickly. WWII came with an abundance of production capacity, fired by coal and by oil. This is why WWII did not come to a stalemate.

    The end of the little ice age came about a century before the start of the industrial age. Further, the records show that CO2 concentrations have been far higher than the 400 ppm that we have today, just not “recently” (in geologic terms).

    Whether man is overpowering natures ability to control the additional CO2 generation is unknown (man contributes about 2%; decaying vegetation, volcanic activity, forest fires, etc. provide the other 98%).

    Even Al Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Truth” points out that CO2 levels and temperatures have changed naturally over the past half-million years. Even *he* supports the idea that CO2 levels can and do change.

  • Phill O

    I am not saying the CO2 concentrations do not change, rather there is a buffering effect through cleansing the atmosphere by rain. Localized acid rain is SO2 and NOx, the Sudbury area being a good example. Even these are cleaned. Distilled water left to the atmosphere changes pH to 5.5 from adsorption of CO2.

    Any attempt to calculate CO2 concentrations in the past involve assumptions!

    The ice cap over the Canadian Rockies was not there 5,000 years ago as evidenced by plant growth found under a glacier feeding into the Athabasca glacier. Radio-carbon dating put it’s age at 5,000 years. Even with this technique, there are assumptions.

  • Cotour

    Well, that’s it, were all apparently done for.

    I assume that after the U.N. gets to run the world this will all come under control?

  • Phill O

    I sure hope the USA elects a non democrat. All we need is some one to bolster Trudeau!

    The huffington post data (what data?) is sure different from Bob’s, or at least, the sources he draws upon..

  • Max

    The science may be uncertain, but the math is not. Carbon dioxide, at 400 ppm, is less than one half of 1/10 of 1% of the atmosphere. The radiation been absorbed by carbon dioxide therefore could at most be less than one half of 1/10 of 1% of all the energy the earth receives. (carbon dioxide is mostly affected by heat at the 700 nm range which is a small part, only a fraction of the energy the earth receives) The heat retention of carbon dioxide is nearly identical to oxygen and nitrogen and is therefore unimportant.

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