Sunday, July 22, 2012

Getting the Basic Stuff Wrong

Fred Guterl started a recent piece in the New York Times with
"SO far 2012 is on pace to be the hottest year on record."
That's not true at all, globally. Year-to-date 2012 ranks 10th, as measured by GISS*, and that's before you get into error bars and such. (YTD, 2010 is warmest at +0.71°C, while 2012 is at +0.50°C for January-to-June.) GISS says the "2-sigma (95%) uncertainty for comparison of global temperatures in nearby recent years is estimated to be 0.05°C."

It is true that, for the lower 48 states of the U.S., 2012 is the warmest year so far, as measured by NOAA. There the spread is more meaningful: 52.88°F for 2012, with the next-warmest YTD year being 2006 at 51.68°F. But then, the lower 48 states are only 1.6% of the Earth's surface area, blah blah blah. Guterl's piece has a global focus, so the global ranking would be the most relevant number.

Anyway, I know writing about climate change is in fashion this summer because of the US heat wave and drought**. But science writers don't do anyone any favors if they get the basic stuff wrong.


* Why is the Climate Research Unit holding back their version 4 numbers after 2010? I don't understand how they can calculate the anomalies until then, but not after. If they're going to wait a year to two until all the station data rolls in before releasing an anomaly number, that dataset is not going to be as useful as it could be (and was).
** In this respect, Oregon is a lousy place from which to watch climate change. This June was 2.8°F below its 1981-2010 average, and the YTD has been 0.7°F below that baseline.

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