back to article 30-year-old global temperature predictions close to spot-on

In the ongoing debate over climate change, it's at times a good idea to check in with historial predictions made by climate modelers and see how well they have been able to predict global warming – which is exactly what a pair of researchers at the Koninklijk Nederlands Meteorologisch Instituut (KNMI) have done. Geert Jan van …


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  1. Term

    I'm confused...

    I thought the Reg was anti-climate change, this seems to support it? An editorial error perhaps?

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    2. Rufus McDufus

      Re: I'm confused...

      I don't think anyone is anti-climate change. It's just whether CO2 as a result of anthropomorphic activity is the main driver is what's being argued about.

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      2. Eddie Edwards

        Re: I'm confused...

        Really? You must skim-read the Orlowski and Lewis stories. They debate every single point, and plenty of stories have taken the stance that the world is not warming (they wouldn't shut up about the hockey-stick a year ago) or that the world isn't warming as fast as they say. Others, to be sure, have taken contrary positions such as "the world is warming; so what" and "the world is warming; but it's not our fault".

        In fact it would appear that their precise position depends on which counter-consensus research they've picked up that week, and the only general theme running through their work is "throw as much mud as possible because some may stick", and basic grass-roots contrarianism.


      3. Ian McNee

        Re: I'm confused...

        Rufus: you are clearly very confused - I don't think anyone is arguing that things taking on human form (anthropomorphic) causes climate change. Rather the argument is about human beings causing (anthropogenic) climate change.

        On this point this review of the predictive value earlier models based on the premise that CO2 is a climate change driver is yet another convincing straw breaking the pseudo-scientific back of the deniers.

      4. Ru

        "CO2 as a result of anthropomorphic activity"

        Right, I knew those furries were up to no good, and this is the proof we needed.

    3. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: I'm confused...

      The Register does not impose editorial bias on her writers. Some of us disagree with others, especially as pertains to the interpretation of scientific evidence, the importance of overwhelming scientific consensus and the importance of (and requisite standards for) evidence-based legislation.

      I suspect that if you trawl through the search history on this site, you will find examples of articles that present "just the facts, ma'am," with no discernable slant. You will also find articles that question the existence of climate change, the anthropogenic nature of it as well as those that accept the judgement of the IPCC on the matter and go on to discuss mitigation or consequences.

      Say what you will about El Reg, but she lets her hacks speak their piece. I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way.

      1. BlueGreen

        Re: I'm confused...

        While an editorial bias may not be imposed, there's some deliberately inflammatory churning, viz. some recent headlines <>


        Nature ISN'T fragile nor a bossy mother-in-law - top eco boffin

        Comment Get rid of hippies, save the planet


        EXTREME weather blown away from unexpected direction

        Comment Give us back our doom, plead hippies


        Which is why I'll skip anything AGM-slanted by Messrs. Page and Orlowski (and pretty well everything by the latter as well, as he wasted his credibility for no apparent gain).

        I don't like my chain being jerked. I'm not stupid, I want facts and informed commentary that might provide useful insight (I find slashdot commenters very good at this), not playground level us-V-them prattery.

        This article is an interesting exception, though I'm not buying the 'good match' conclusion without lots more data (even though I am very concerned about AGM).

        Casting some of us as hippies ... oh please.

        Of course there's some pieces with "with no discernable slant", but for some subjects, fewer of them.

        1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Re: I'm confused...

          Sure; that's fair enough. But Rik, Iain, Bird-Aine, Anna, Simon, Phil and above all Richard have done absolutely bang up jobs. Richard and Iain I want to single our for special praise: they make me proud to write for The Register. The science reporting they provide is absolutely top notch, going head-to-head with Nobel Intent, Christian Science Monitor, Mother Jones or any of the other major online science news sources.

          I just can’t see any complaints of bias as valid, when I start looking at the actual body of work represented here. Individual authors may have their own individual takes on the matter. Who among us doesn’t have a given viewpoint?

          But when I look at the past 6 months worth of Science reporting at The Register, I feel the overall quality has gone up significantly. And it continues to rise as people like Rik develop more contacts within the scientific community and gain ever more experience reporting on these difficult and complicated topics.

          I think you’ll find a lot more good science reporting than past experiences have led you to expect. Even on the climate change topics.

          I can’t and won’t attempt to “defend” this that or the next thing; offensiveness – like faith, truth and beauty – are ultimately in the eye of the beholder. But I will say this: by my very cynical and difficult-to-please standards, there is a far more excellent than questionable when it comes to El Reg’s science reporting.

          That’s just my $0.02, of course. My opinions are mine and mine alone. In no way do my personal opinions represent El Reg, scientists, commenttards, cats, the beer icon, or sane/insane/differently sane/orthogonal individuals anywhere.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    However, the deniers will soon be along to point out ...

    ... that a mere thirty years of scientific measurements corresponding to model is not sufficient proof, and that therefore we should accept their hypothesis, with its.... erm... zero years of measurements matched up to a model.

    1. Graham Dawson

      Re: However, the deniers will soon be along to point out ...

      Actually us global warming "deniers" are more likely to point out that there are a number of falsifications of AGW out there already, such as the lack of stratospheric cooling, the lack of tropospheric hotspot, the fact that CO2 and temperature don't correlate over significant timescales, the fact that the models can't hindcast (they are tuned to roughly correlate with the late 20th century and are incapable of producing anything that resembles historic temperatures), the fact that most all the models miss at least one of the major warming and cooling events of the 20th century (To hide this they use an ensemble mean, which is pointless; averaging a bunch of wrong answers doesn't magically produce a right answer) don't account for clouds, don't account for changes in TSI, don't properly model dust and are generally useless as a result, and the fact that this "prediction" is essentially just a straight line over a thirty year period.

      And this is before we get into the serious doubts over the temperature data and repeated, documented adjustments that lower the temperatures in the past to make the present look warmer.

      1. NomNomNom

        Re: However, the deniers will soon be along to point out ...

        "Actually us global warming "deniers" are more likely to point out that there are a number of falsifications of AGW out there already. Now let me list some things that don't falsify AGW"


        1. Graham Dawson

          Re: However, the deniers will soon be along to point out ...


          All the things I listed do falsify AGW. The tropospheric hotspot is mentioned as a predicted effect of AGW in the IPCC reports but it has not appeared at all. In fact, the upper troposphre where the hotspot is supposed to be has barely changed its temperature. If a theory makes a prediction and the opposite occurs, the theory is wrong.

          The fact that CO2 and temperature don't correlate over the long term is in itself a huge falsification of AGW as it demonstrates there's no direct relationship between CO2 and temperature - if there's no relationship, there is no effect and no problem.

          It only takes one of these things to demonstrate that AGW is wrong. We have two right there. There are plenty of others out there.

          And on the subject of ensemble means: Weather forecasts average several runs of a single model, not several runs of several models. Given that a single model will tend to produce similar results with each run it is more likely to be "right" when you average it, but only for a given value of "right". After more than 3 days they are not very right at all and all the averaging in the world won't change that. You can get you position on a map "right" if you make a bunch of random dots and take the average to be where you are, but it's only "right" within a huge margin of error and if you start moving (changing over time as temperature does) the margin of error becomes so wide that it's functionally useless.

          The ensemble mean of GCMs takes the averaged outcomes of several different models and averages them again. Given that each of these models does indeed miss out one or more major warming or cooling events in the 20th century, taking average of the averages of each models runs is also going to have such a wide margin of error as to be functionally useless. Each model gets it "right" in a very wide margin of error. The average get it "right" in an even wider margin of error. given we're talking about 10ths of a degree changes in temperature, and given these models diverge more than that from each other, taking the average seems to be a rather pointless exercise.

          1. NomNomNom

            Re: However, the deniers will soon be along to point out ...

            " The tropospheric hotspot is mentioned as a predicted effect of AGW in the IPCC reports but it has not appeared at all."

            It's not a predicted effect of AGW. It's a predicted effect of warming fullstop. Even if the warming is caused by the Sun a hotspot is expected. The lack of a hotspot would not rule out any cause of warming, eg AGW.

            It isn't a literal "hotspot" that has to "appear" anyway, it's that the warming trend in air temperature over the tropics is expected to be greater than near the surface.

            Going back decades the tropics is one of the most ill sampled area of the world and the uncertainty is massive. I notice you berate temperature data in your earlier comment. To be consistent you should admit the tropics surface and atmospheric balloon temperature measurements are highly uncertain and so you cannot conclude the hotspot isn't there.

            "The fact that CO2 and temperature don't correlate over the long term is in itself a huge falsification of AGW"

            They do though. Over the ice core records CO2 and temperature do correlate. Over distant geological time CO2 and temperature again correlate - if you take into account the Sun was significantly fainter in the past. In fact one study used the CO2/temperature correlation over hundreds of millions of years to derive climate sensitivity and found it was about 3C, just as the models also find.

        2. Tom 13

          Re: some things that don't falsify AGW

          You only have to falsify it ONCE for it to be busted. AGW has too many epicycles to be treated as real science.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: some things that don't falsify AGW

            Very good, I see what you did there. The thing is that it's the deniers who add the epicycles, it's the scientific establishment (including pretty much all the actual specialists in the field) who keep pointing out when they're wrong. What you did do, however, is show up a classic denier "discussion" technique - say that the other side don't know what they're talking about, then keep saying it, someone will believe you in the end. I'd also throw in a bit of keep making the same argument again and again regardless of it being debunked.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: However, the deniers will soon be along to point out ...

        Graham, weather forecasting is done using an ensemble mean. It turns out that actually putting together a bunch of "wrong" answers does get a "right" answer. There's all like maths and stuff behind it, too. That's why they can now forecast reasonably well over 5 days.

        But keep up with the binary thinking! You can go on to "disprove" evolution and even gravity that way!

      3. mhenriday

        «Actually us [sic !] global warming "deniers" are more likely to point out ...»

        Alas, Graham, I fear your reasoning is on the same level as your English grammar....


      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: However, the deniers will soon be along to point out ...

        I can't be bothered with dealing with everything you wrote, I'll pick one:

        Models are run from points in history forward (sort of like hindcasting, but actually predicting the "future" from the past). The models aren't designed to run backwards, why would they be?

        Cohort tests are run.

        These models can "predict" what happened in the past based on a starting point further in the past.

      5. Jean-Luc Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        Re: However, the deniers will soon be along to point out ...

        My dear Graham, are you seriously suggesting that changing the atmospheric concentration of a known greenhouse gas from 260-280 to 380 ppm, and counting, will NOT increase temperature?

        I mean, that is the basic position of the global warming doubters, innit? Basic high school level science taught to us over decades about how atmospheres retain heat. Everybody went along with that theory. Only now are the implications problematic and have a political and economic dimension.

        As far as your brilliant argument goes, how about a simpler one?

        If you pick up a number of different temperature prediction studies done in the past, you are bound to find some that fit well. So, judging solely from the contents of this article, it is hard to determine the significance of this prediction. You'd have to know how many other models there were and what they had to say.

        Honestly, I wouldn't mind if the whole global warming thingy was a hoax. But I am not going to judge science based on my political outlook or personal consumption preferences. Right now, the main thing that gives me pause with the general scientific consensus is that there is a lot of money on the table for scientists to research global warming, which could tempt fudging.

        If you, and a minority of scientists, are right, we have public policy being subverted, freewill limited and economic growth stifled. All for naught.

        If you are wrong, we could have major ecological shifts in a much shorter time period than organisms will be likely be able to adapt to. Possibly famine and even positive feedback loops.

        It's a question of value at risk and probabilities - you don't make a compelling case for me, but each voter has to make up her own mind. I think we are getting there, slowly.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: However, the deniers will soon be along to point out ...

      ...that they are a measurement of the thickness of stockings or tights.

  3. Sean Timarco Baggaley

    Different reporters have different views on the topic. The Register itself is (or tries to be) neutral.

    Don't equate Andrew Orlowski or Lewis Page with the entity that is known as "The Register". They are not the same thing.

    Interesting article though. My personal stance boils down to "insufficient data" as the media fog has not yet thinned sufficiently for me to make a decision. (I'd get a Ph.D. in the topic myself, but time—like life—is short. The news media's job should be to inform and educate, but they've lost the trust of many, including myself. A surfeit of circuses, but insufficient bread.)

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  4. Mikel

    Everything is refreshing if true

    Unfortunately on this topic the truth is hard to find. There are many who guarantee their words are true, unfortunately there are many and their reports are contradictory. Some offer consensus, which, if you'll remember the Spanish Inquisition, is an unlikely way to do science.

    This is an issue with more heat than light. I'll go ahead and promote my own prediction: this isn't going to change.

  5. Spud2go

    Curious to think...

    ..that the human animal seems to be the only specie hell bent on screwing itself into the ground over this contentious & self imposed issue, whilst all other existing flora & fauna on this planet will (if there is indeed a grain of genuine wisdom amongst the current paper-waving, panic-peddling & chest-beating) simply adapt.

    For me, there's entirely too much money & politics in the whole climate change shooting match for anything sane or useful to arise out of it. In fact, I'm reminded of a line from a George Carlin routine many years ago - "...don't worry about the planet - the planet is fine ... the PEOPLE are fucked!"

    1. tapanit

      Re: Curious to think...

      "the human animal seems to be the only species hell bent on screwing itself into the ground over this contentious & self imposed issue, whilst all other existing flora & fauna on this planet will [...] simply adapt"

      Well, yes, but "simply adapting" will often mean going extinct. :-)

      Of course, that is the way of evolution: as the environment changes, some species will survive while others won't, and there's little doubt that nature as a whole will cope. But from a narrow human viewpoint, it is of some interest if the human species is among the survivors.

      1. g e

        Re: Curious to think...

        Surely extinction would be a _failure_ to adapt?

  6. Winkypop Silver badge

    2050, 2100!

    Oh, that's alright then.

    You had me worried for a bit

  7. Ben M

    Climate models from the 80s?

    And yet this paper from 1980 said we wouldn't get to a 4C increase unless we added 4x the amount of CO2.

    Who to believe? Who to believe?

    1. Steve Knox Silver badge

      Re: Climate models from the 80s?

      I'd believe (and by believe I mean use until a better one comes along) the model whose predictions have thus far come closest to the observed data. That's science in a nutshell.

      You see, the point of this article wasn't "Look, here's a climate paper from the 80's! It must be true!" It was "Look, here's a climate paper from the 80's -- and the prediction matches the last 30 years pretty well." So just chucking another 30-year-old paper into the mix is meaningless. Check that paper's predictions against the observed data and then get back to us. Thanks.

  8. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Interesting indeed.

    TBH given the size of the whole graph and the error bands on that I'm not quite sure you can say that quite so unequally. Those peaks go up an awful *long* way.

    Perhaps Hansen et all might dust off their old data sets?

    But good point.

    Anything equivalent from the denialist camp?

  9. Cucumber C Face

    But how many 1980's papers were wrong?

    There are large numbers of predictive models and a relatively small range of plausible outcomes (i.e. a trend of at most a few degrees C either way over decades or nothing). Inevitably, in retrospect, some are bound to have been 'right' whether their model was valid or not.

    [No axe to grind here either way. Personal opinion is that C02 is smoke not the fire. If we could seal the excess CO2 in a box and magic it away we still have to address f*****g the planet with over-populatation, pollution, over-exploitation, deforestation etc.]

    1. bill 36

      Re: But how many 1980's papers were wrong?

      I agree with you and its interesting to note that over the last 60 years, the temperature has risen by about 0.6 C. Hardly surprising when the worlds population has doubled in the same period.

      This is the problem is it not? If we go on multiplying we are bound to produce more and more CO2.

      1. g e

        Re: But how many 1980's papers were wrong?

        I remember reading somewhere years ago that a human being dissipates about 1.5kW per bod avg...

        Hmm double the population that's another 3Bn x 1.5kW = 4.5 TW. Something to think about maybe.

        Meatsack warming anyone? Where's my quango application form...

        1. A J Stiles

          1.5 kW? Not.

          No. A human being needs about 2000 kcal of food per day. That's 8400 kJ in 86400 seconds, or just shy of 100 watts.

    2. ARaybould

      Re: But how many 1980's papers were wrong?

      So the existence of unsuccessful models (and failed experiments, for that matter) bring into doubt the successful ones? That's not the way the scientific method works; it is designed to pay a great deal of attention to what works, and the gold standard in that regard is successful prediction. Contrary to its presentation in introductory texts, the history of science is not a simple progression of successful experiments, valid observations and correct deductions, and if the failures counted against the successes, science would have long ago collapsed under the weight of accumulated falsehoods and idle speculation.

  10. Dave 126 Silver badge

    I didn't steal your horse and it was a rubbish horse anyway


    From about twenty years ago, those who choose to disbelieve (as opposed to genuine, unbiased scepticism) have progressed through a series of arguments:

    1. There is no problem.

    2. There might be a problem, but it's not our problem.

    3. It might be our problem, but it can't be fixed.

    4. The problem could be fixed, but it would cost far too much.

    When one looks at the pressures that politicians are under, it is easy to see what motivates this disingenuous argument.

    It's getting beyond daft.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I didn't steal your horse and it was a rubbish horse anyway

      Just more propaganda.

      The alarmists would like to believe that outright deniers are mellowing resulting in all the sceptics but I think it is the opposite is also true.

      Due to all the misinformation, exaggerations and ridiculous predictions of global floods, run away temperatures etc. unquestioning believers in AGW have slowly gained more knowledge and realised that the case is far from settled.

      But that doesn't fit the way they like to spin things, the last thing alarmists want to admit is that a significant proportion of the people claiming AGW isn't proven were once in the AGW is a fact supported by consensus camp.

      1. NomNomNom

        Re: I didn't steal your horse and it was a rubbish horse anyway

        The thing is AGW is proven.

        You are supposed to be beating a retreat to the acronym CAGW now.

        GW -> AGW -> CAGW

        1. Hoop-a-joop

          Re: I didn't steal your horse and it was a rubbish horse anyway

          Proven? LOL Let me guess, you're not a science major.

  11. Dave 126 Silver badge

    from Yes, Minister:

    HAPPY MINISTER: "They've made me Transport Supremo!"

    CIVIL SERVANT: "We don't have a Transport Supremo... we have a Transport Muggins"

  12. MacroRodent Silver badge

    And the bad news is

    What's really worrying that the observations match best the projected "fast growth" curve, and are in fact warmer than it is!

    Confirms my long-held belief that: (a) Human-caused climate change is real, and (b) due to human nature, no significant mitigation is going to be done. So we have to live (or die) with the consequences.

    1. Yag

      Re: And the bad news is

      I almost stopped reading at "belief".

      a) This chart only prove that climate is changing and getting quite hotter. It does nothing to prove that it is man-made.

      b) This chart does not helps understanding human nature either.

      There's far enough evidence to get an opinion on the subject, but confusing science with religion is not helping...

      DISCLAIMER : Unfortunately, my stance on the human nature is the same as yours... We're screwed.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: And the bad news is

        "I almost stopped reading at "belief"."

        I do, someone once told me the difference between a 'thought' and a 'belief', they said "a belief is a thought you make real"

        You only have to look at how people behave when they believe something (such as the creationist intelligent design crowd), they ignore all evidence that may contradict their viewpoint and see only the stuff that agrees with it.

        Belief has no place in science, thats the realm of religion.

      2. NomNomNom

        Re: And the bad news is

        "I almost stopped reading at "belief"."

        I am glad you said almost. A pet peeve of mine is people who claim to have "stopped reading at X", because you just know they read the whole thing. Although another pet peeve of mine is people who use the phrase "pet peeve"

      3. MacroRodent Silver badge

        Re: And the bad news is

        > but confusing science with religion is not helping...

        I did not mean any kind of religious reference. I probably should have used the word "opinion" instead. I am not a native speaker of English, and was under the impression that "belief" is more or less interchangeable with "firm opinion", but apparently the religious overtones are too strong. Must remember this in the future.

        I'll get my coat.

        1. Yag

          Re: And the bad news is

          Sorry for being so blunt then - I'm not a native english speaker either, and I had my fair share of beating too.

          How about a nice beer to cool it off?

  13. clean_state

    What does this really tell us?

    Notice that the data match occurs in a region where ALL hypothesis produce roughly the same data. I wonder what the probability is of this data matching by chance. After all, if ANY hypothesis you consider in your model produces a curve that matches your data, something is probably amiss.

    1. John Hughes

      Re: What does this really tell us?

      Re-read the article.

      The different scenarios are based on our behaviour, not the science. As we seem to be in the "burn all the fossil fuels we can get our hands on" scenario we'd expect the warming to be at least as much as the worst case prediction.

      And it is.


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