Global Sea Surface Temperature Update: The Cooling Continues

July 30th, 2010 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

Sea Surface Temperatures (SSTs) measured by the AMSR-E instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite continue the fall which began several months ago. The following plot, updated through yesterday (July 29, 2010) shows that the cooling in the Nino34 region in the tropical east Pacific continue to be well ahead of the cooling in the global average SST, something we did not see during the 2007-08 La Nina event (click on it for the large, undistorted version; note the global SST values have been multiplied by 10): Gifts, gadgets, weather stations, software and here!

30 Responses to “Global Sea Surface Temperature Update: The Cooling Continues”

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  1. Miroslav Pavlí?ek says:

    It is interesting! Nevertheless, NOAA feeds us with tales about the hottest year, even hotter then 1998, and the fastest warming over the decade though the trend was slightly declining. I believe they are going to invent a homogenization that will proof that the South America and Pacific are actually warming within La Nina time.

  2. JayKay says:

    After examining the figure, would Al Gore conclude that the sea temperature has triggered la nina? Pardon the sarcasm.

  3. markinaustin says:

    is there a graph that goes back further? i would be curious to see when the last time (besides 2008) that the nino 3.4 got this low. of course, i think i can just look at the data page eh?

  4. Bob Tisdale says:

    Markinaustin: You asked, “is there a graph that goes back further?”

    For satellite based data, (different satellite than the one Roy is using) there’s the Reynolds (OI.v2) SST dataset that runs as far back as November 1981 for monthly data:

    The weekly data is broken down into two phases. Here’s the most current through July 21. It starts in Jan 1990.

    The update for the past week (and the preliminary monthly data for July) will be out on Monday. Here’s my update link page:

  5. Steve Fitzpatrick says:

    The failure of the global average to track the Nino3.4 trend may be related to the remaining heat from the El Nino that just ended. The ocean heat released by an El Nino event appears to gradually propagate from the tropics to higher latitudes over about 18 months, and so continues to contribute to a higher global average temperature, even though the El Nino event itself is “officially over” based on the Nino3.4 index. The 2008 La Nina event did not follow an El Nino, so the global average tracked the Nino3.4 temperature more closely.

    See the rather nifty graph at the RSS site:

    El Ninos show up as “C” shaped temperate increases in the plot (suggesting time propagation of heat to higher latitudes), while La Ninas do not seem to show this C-shaped pattern at all. This suggests that La Nina is a period where solar heat is accumulated in the surface layer of the tropical Pacific, while El Nino is a release of the accumulated heat from the tropical pacific. It would be interesting to compare calculated ocean heat content (from ARGO) to the ENSO cycle; is there really a significant net accumulation/release of ocean heat during the ENSO, or is there just a redistribution from one part of the ocean to another?

  6. J. D Lindskog says:

    Dr. Spencer
    It is interesting that this current oceanic negative thermal excursion is occurring at a point in time when solar irradiation is proceeding off the SC23 minimum. Per theory, La Nina like conditions allow marginally greater oceanic thermal absorption due to reduced winds. This should be a period of oceanic heat accumulation, however it appears that magnitude of this process will likely be diminished. The implication is: the expected low output solar cycle co-incident with cool oceanic periodic oscillation conditions will affect a planetary climate regime excursion. Your thoughts on these events would be appreciated.

    Old Submarine Sailor

    • ?? But La Nina experiences greater wind speeds, not lower wind speeds. But I agree, the rate of heat absorption by the ocean probably increases during La Nina.

      • J. D Lindskog says:

        Dr Spencer,
        Thanks for the reply.
        My understanding of conventional wisdom is such that during La Nina conditions, diminished (shear) wind flows into the equatorial Atlantic basins enhance hurricane development. I remain open to consider alternate mechanisms.

        My personal view is that relatively cooler equatorial Pacific SSTs allow higher local (seasonal) atmospheric pressure anomalies, reduction of vertical convection, with affects on the NH jet stream N/S latitude and energy levels. A quick look at the current Bermuda High pressure pattern (GFS panel)
        presents a less than organized appearance as result of NH jet stream distortions (IMO).

        Again, thanks for your time and thoughts.

  7. Dan Pangburn says:

    Does anyone want to bet on which way the average global temperature is headed? How about the trend for the next 20 years? Anyone?

  8. Joe Bastrdi says:

    As per forecast ideas from back in Feb
    1) la Nina coming on
    2) hot summer, big hurricane season
    ( hurricane season will cool atlantic basin, hot summer is simply analogging low solar and reversing ninos…1995,1998,2007 etc)
    3) Global temp crashes to post 97-98 nino levels by March 2011. with 50% chance of it reaching as low as post Pinitubo levels for at least 3 months of next year ( shorter term forecast
    4) by 2030, global temps back to where it was at start of sat era, which btw was near
    the end of the cold PDO

    5) Interesting ditty: soi has not been this high for July since the cold PDO of the 50-s through mid 70s.

    note: The crashing of global temps over the next year, to levels not seen since the 90s, and perhaps even the earlier part, should put to rest the co2 argument. Since 1998 we have had a 5% increase in co2, since 1993 closer to 7 or 8. If co2 is the driver, its intuitive we have no business seeing the temps go down to those levels. Since one will be able to note the temp drop occurring after the nina, the intuitive inference has to be its the ocean that is a prime driver.. in the shorter term, the enso shows us this, but in the longer term, the pdo, amo etc will be the bigger players.

    cheers ( and roebuck)

  9. Joe Bastrdi says:

    One more thing..

    what you are seeing now with global temps is what one sees in back bays at high tide.
    High tide occurs later in the back bays then on the ocean front since there is a cumulative affect of water rising, and temperatures have a similar effect. In fact the large scale temps
    over the multiyear are still high, but not rising because the earth did not reach a tipping point, but quite the contrary, the “high tide” mark. The proof will be over the coming year.. the tide is starting to go out now ( the main driver that caused the warming, the pdo is reversing) and, to borrow from civil war lingo by paraphrasing ” the high water mark of the Conspiracy ( AGW) will be beaten back.

    I wonder who Pickett is when it comes to global temps and will have to deliver the response
    which paraphrases Picketts when asked by Lee where his men were: “General Lee, I have no division now.”

    There is no global warming..caused by man

    • Anonymous says:

      Don’t underestimate the ability of the warmists to prove that a fall in temperatures is actually due to global warming and/or climate change and/or CO2 emissions and that the models predicted it all along.

    • Anonymous says:

      The credible “warmists” are very much aware of the fact that the ENSO cycle is trending cool, and the PDO went cool 2 years ago. These effects should cause the planet to cool, at least from the record temps set in each of the past 5 months. I understand your contention that there’s a bit of a lag before PDO especially, but also the SO, is reflected in the global temperature. Any good studies on how long that lag is? The fact that June and July were the warmest ever, despite being 2 years removed from a warm PDO and 3 months removed from el Nino conditions, as well as the fact that we’re at the end of a prolonged ebb in solar irradiation levels, almost demands that we articulate how long the lag is before we should see the cooling predicted by you and, to some extent, Dr. Spencer. While these two ocean cycles trend cool, we should be pulling out of the solar low … so they could very well cancel each other out.

  10. janama says:

    Good question markinaustin.

    here’s Roy’s temperature chart scaled over the NINO3.4 chart from here.

    they relate really well except for the temperature drop after the Pinatubo volcano which of course is explainable.

  11. JohnGalt says:

    Dr. Spencer,

    You do a great service, many thanks. Is there any similar data from the argos floats? I would think they would yield SST as well. As a physicist, I alway like to see similar data from independent sources.

  12. Michael hauber says:

    I see a strong La Nina response, and slow cooling global ocean temperatures, which is clear evidence of warming.

    I would think that a weak La Nina response and a fast cooling of global temperatures would be much better evidence for global cooling.

    As an AGW believer, I doubt we will see temperatures significantly cooler in 2011 than we saw in 2008. I consider the temperatures comparable to cool events during the 90s to be impossible.

  13. Ian Holton says:

    All sounds right to me Mike! Looks pretty well on track, as solar downturn with lag is only just starting to work.
    “I consider the temperatures comparable to cool events during the 90s to be impossible” Quote Mike…We will see how that one works out Mike! “impossible”…How many times have we heard that word being contradicted over time!!!

  14. Joe Bastardi says:

    A duel.. competition (my name now spelled correctly) Mike thanks for taking stand as we need more people willing, on your side of the debate to actually make a forecast..and doubt is trumped by impossible. Duly noted and logged.

    According to the objective sat temps by uah

    The 1999 post nino yearly temp was .05 C. So there is the target as the base point
    of my forecast. If it falls to lets say , within .1 of that, from the warmth of this year…
    you still must admit we have no business running year that cool if co2 is
    the culprit. After, all if we are hitting a tipping point, why cool at all?

    So the forecast here is we get to the 1999 levels for 2011, and we may even get as low as 1993. Now if its stays this warm and doesnt fall off, then I will be forced to rethink my position ( which I do all the time anyway, as one does not blindly accept anything about the future) Perhaps next year at this time, if we see my forecast being closer than yours, you will at least rethink yours.

    It is a simple, though risky proposition if ones belief system is challenged.. Being someone who only is paid if correct enough to be of value, I do have sympathy for people who have not gone through that type of testing. But the test is in front of us.

    Now mike, one more thing. What will the 2011 temp be, via UAH, which is an objective record since the end of the last cold PDO? I better not see a forecast form anything lower than what it is now, since the key here is the overall temps should be going up.. not up and down in a way they are balanced out to no significant change since the 90s.

    So is it .5? It cant be much lower because then you have to admit it must be the change in the ocean that is causing it, and a cold PDO over the coming year does not bode well
    for your argument… it simply says it is the pdo. ( and other drivers)

    In any case we have a test case in front of us!!!!

    Competition and free exchange of ideas.. A wonderful thing for society to have! Lets all cherish it while it still actually exists

  15. harrywr2 says:

    I’ll land in the middle.

    Using the ‘eyeball’ method of estimation.

    The slopes of 1910-1940 and 1970-2000 trends using Haldey CRU data are not significantly different. There is about 4/10 degree difference in the troughs and peaks. I.E. 1970 is about 4/10 a degree warmer then 1910, and 2000 is about 4/10 a degree warmer then 1940.

    So I’ll put 2030 at 4/10 a degree warmer then 1970 but cooler then 2000.

  16. Michael hauber says:

    Three previous years which were cool ENSO following warm are 2008,2006,1999,1995, and 1988. If I add 0.18 degree warming trend for Co2 to each of those years and average I get a forecast for 2011 of 0.28.

    I can think of three reasons why this would be biased warm: the solar minimum, the fact that 2011 looks like being a strong La Nina and that my prediction is modelled on a set of years including weaker cool events such as 2006, and the fact that the actual warming trend in Uah is a little lower than the model warming trend of 0.18/decade.

    If 2011 is as low or lower than 2008 (say 0.1) I would consider that unexpected. Warming for Co2 between 2008 and 2011 is only 0.054 deg, so assuming a stronger La Nina response in 2011, it would seem quite reasonable that 2011 could get cooler than 2008. However 2008 seems to have been rather cool in comparison to the longer term warming trend than a typical La Nina, and counts in my mind as an unusal cooling event than can be expected from time to time, but if it happens regularly it becomes a trend.

    What I consider ‘impossible’ could perhaps be better worded ‘very unlikely’. It is what I consider my personal falsification criteria. A temperature similar to 1993 of say lower than -0.1 should not happen according to my belief, based on a La Nina and Co2 warming. I would need a reason to explain this. If an appropriate volcanic eruption occurs, that could be the reason (if strong). A La Nina could not be the reason, unless it is exceptionally strong (equivelant of 1998). Without such a reason then I would have to consider ‘co2 doesn’t warm as much as I think’ the likely cause.

    I note that the last daily value for Uah channel 5 is 0.37 degrees warmer than same day in 2007. I will be watching with great interest to see whether this value will stay higher than same day 2007 for the rest of this year, and same day 2008 early next year.

  17. Geoff Sharp says:

    I am with Joe on the long term prediction, the NAO and AAO also looking to help out the expected cooling. The AAO especially looking to boost the La Nina.

    This graph showing an interesting correlation between the SOI and AAO.

    I dont think all these oscillations coming together is a coincidence, maybe it is just a normal trend influenced by low EUV during times of solar slowdown.

  18. BenjaminG says:

    Joe Bastardi wrote:

    What will the 2011 temp be, via UAH, I better not see a forecast form anything lower than what it is now, since the key here is the overall temps should be going up.. not up and down in a way they are balanced out to no significant change since the 90s.

    So is it .5? It cant be much lower because then you have to admit it must be the change in the ocean that is causing it,


    There is nothing about the theory of AGW that predicts the influence of ENSO will decrease. It predicts will continue to see large oscillations around a warming trend.

    The warming trend observed in the UAH TL2 dataset is .14°C/decade or .014°C/year. We have an example of what a strong La Nina combined with the solar minimum gives us as recently as 2008. In 2011 we will remain under the influence of the longest and deepest solar minimum in 100 years, and this La Nina has started out gangbusters, so I would predict a similar temperature for 2011 as observed in 2008, plus the .014°C/year warming trend.

    That would give us .051 + 3*.014 = .09°C as an average predicted temperature for 2011 in the UAH dataset, assuming the warming trend continues and we see similar influences at play as in 2008. 2008, though, did see the influence of back to back La Nina’s, which is unusual, so I’d probably bump the prediction up some to account for a more normal recovery to neutral conditions by mid 2011. So I’d put my final prediction around .2°C.

    .09°C is right about what Mr. Bastardi predicts, being only a little higher than the .04°C seen for 1999, so I would say that if his prediction comes true it in no way would disprove AGW. How is it consistent with AGW? 1999 saw a warmer input from the sun than we saw for 2008 or can expect for 2011, and it had the lingering influence of the monster El Nino of 1998, both boosting temperatures over the influences at play in 2008 or, probably, 2011.

    On the other hand he gives a 50% chance of seeing temps as low as during the influence of Pinatubo. Monthly anomalies reached as low -.39°C and trailing 12 month average as low as -.25°C in ’92-’93. If we were to observe such lows in 2011, it would be a shocker that would bring mainstream theories into question, no doubt. I’d rate the chance of that happening in the absence of a major volcanic eruption to be very slim indeed.

  19. Paul K2 says:

    Dr. Spencer, I see the AMSU-A site now shows much higher record highs on the graph labeled AQUA ch05 v2 than previously shown. Is this data from the AQUA satellite, or from previous data from another satellite?

  20. Buzz Belleville says:

    Well, yeah, the el Nino/la Nina cycle has entered a phase that brings cooler water to the surface. I’m having a hard time figuring out how that is pertinent to the discussion about climate change. I thought the scientific literature was pretty settled that, once we go down to 2000 meters, the oceans are still accumulating heat. So it’s cooler on the surface due to well-known cycles … so what? What am I missing?

    • hmmm…where do I begin?

      The last 30 years has experienced more frequent El Nino’s, and we know they cause quasi-global warming. What if More El Ninos have been responsible for most of the warming during that time? Whet if we start having more La Ninas, which might be happening now as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation looks like it has switched phase?

      Also, ENSO is the most important climate cycle of interest to weather-sensitive industries. So, I report on its progress.

      Also, when we have unusual warmth from El Nino, the media reports that this is what we can expect more of with global warming. If they are going to be objective, they need to state that unusual cold is NOT consistent with global warming. Otherwise, their reporting can not be relied upon to give an unbiased view of what’s happening in climate.

      I’m sure others can think of more answers to your question…these were off the top of my head.

      • Anonymous says:

        That’s fair Dr. Spencer. And I am very interested in continuing to expand my understanding of the global warming/cooling effect of the various oceanic and atmospheric cycles (I’ve read both your books carefully, and teach their basic premises in my Sustainable Energy Law class). But that seems like a different issue that what this report concerns … the fact that the water temps at the surface of the oceans are cooling, which does not correspond with the ocean heat accumulation at greater depths (and to ocean temps as a whole) and which is the result of the ENSO cycles, just doesn’t seem to add much to the serious issues surrounding AGW theory.

        With respect to the global temperature effect of the various oceanic and atmospheric cycles, I have studied them carefully (though admittedly not with your trained scientific eye). Obviously, like you say, the ENSO cycle has the greatest global effect. And as your most recent work suggests, there is certainly some rough correlation between warming and cooling phases and the PDO. Broadening to include the NAO, SOI, AO, ANO, AAO, etc., it doesn’t seem that there’s really any question that ocean and atmospheric oscillation cycles greatly affect the annual and even decadal variability in temperatures. I haven’t seen a serious AGW proponent who would argue to the contrary. But here’s the fundamental problem that I keep coming back to – over the course of the last century (1910-2010), each of these oscillation cycles averaged neutral, zero, no warming or cooling. The average global temp over that same century rose nearly 1 degree C. I want to try to understand how the cycles could be the dominant CLIMATE (as opposed to weather) forcing during that period.

        We can even assume that, cumalitively, the combination of cycles was warm from 1977-2009, when temps went up 0.6 degrees C. And that they were warm from 1910-1942, when temps went up 0.4 degrees C. I assume you’d say the combination was cool from 1880-1910 (or at least the PDO was), but temps fell only 0.05 degrees C. I assume you’d say the combination (or the PDO) was cool from 1942-1977, but temps fell only 0.1 degrees. The warming during warm cycles is greater than the cooling during cool cycles. So, yes, the combination of oscillation cycles has an impact, even a significant one, on global temps. But I’m having a hard time understanding how, for long-term global average temps, the cycles can possibly be in control. The only data we have that correspond with the long-term average global temp is CO2 concentration levels in the atmosphere.

        • good question. Because the ocean has inherently long time scales associated with its circulation, it would take only a small change in the coupled ocean-atmosphere circulation to cause a slight change in cloud cover.

          Decreased cloud cover would then cause long term warming, which will show up more strongly over land (even if the ocean is the source). Climate scientists, though, assume cloud cover has always been the same…even though they know clouds are very complex!

          Yes, increasing CO2 should have some warming effect, but assuming ALL of the warming is from CO2 is as much faith-based as it is science-based.

          If you look at the 18-proxy average temperature reconstruction for the last 2,00 years, you will see evidence that nearly every century has experienced substantial warming or cooling.

          While we know very little about natural climate variability, we do know a great deal about CO2 — because WE produce it! Blaming climate change entirely on humans is too anthropocentric for me.

          • Anonymous says:

            Thanks again for the response Dr. Spencer. I admire your availability.

            No question there’s been warming and cooling over the past 2000 years (and for the past hundreds of thousands of years). My understanding is that, for many of those shifts, there is a decent understanding of the natural forcing that caused them (whether prolonged solar minimums (Little Ice Age), prolonged NAO warming (MWP), or the various Milankovich cycles, volcanic activity or natural GHG releases for millenia in the distant past). But we’re really struggling to articulate a natural forcing to explain the current warming trend. Certainly if the warming continues for the next few years despite a cool PDO, the low solar irradiance levels, the slight ice accumulation effects of current orbital (Milankovich) cycles, and the current la Nina, at some point we’re going to need to concede a greater causal effect for non-natural forcings.

            Thanks in large part to your work and that of Dr Lindzen, there seems to be emerging some consensus that thin, low-level clouds cause warming, and a viable theory that increased moisture in the troposphere caused by something (the PDO from your view, anthropogenic warming from their view) will result in greater cloud cover. at the very least, you and Dr. Lindzen have succeeded in getting all of the major scientific compilations to acknowledge that clouds (whether as a feedback or a forcing) remain the great unknown in the global warming puzzle. Have we made any progress in accumulating empirical data as to the quantity of cloud cover globally?

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