Meanwhile, Sea Surface Temperatures Continue to Fall

October 5th, 2010 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

Since I just provided the September 2010 global tropospheric temperature update, I decided it was time to update the global SST data record from the AMSR-E instrument flying on Aqua.

The following plot, updated through yesterday (October 4, 2010) shows that both the global average SST, and the Nino3.4 region average from the tropical E. Pacific, continue to cool.

(click on the plot for the full-size, undistorted version. Note that the global values have been multiplied by 10 for easier intercomparison with Nino3.4)

Past experience (and radiative-convective equilibrium) dictates that the global tropospheric temperature, still riding high at +0.60 deg. C for September, must cool in response to the cool ocean conditions.

But given Mother Nature’s sense of humor, I’ve given up predicting when that might occur. 🙂 Gifts, gadgets, weather stations, software and here!

45 Responses to “Meanwhile, Sea Surface Temperatures Continue to Fall”

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  1. markinaustin says:

    not sure if it is just my imagination, but i have noticed the past few days the AMSU graph for channel 5 (14,000 feet) which I believe is what you suggest we look at Dr. Spencer, has been dropping rather quickly. does this presage the dropping air temperatures you are suggesting will come?

  2. Pooh, Dixie says:

    I saw your comment re “An over the top view of satellite sensor failure” on Watts Up With That. Since your post, Glenn says: (October 4, 2010 at 5:13 pm) “UAH apparently relies on data from other sources, however. AQUA has not been around for a decade.”

    You identify your global SST data source as “AMSR-E instrument flying on Aqua”. I think Glenn got it wrong.

    • Not sure what Glenn’s point is. Aqua has been around since mid-2002 (indeed, not 10 years), we use AMSU on Aqua as our main tropospheric temperature monitoring instrument these days (although other AMSUs extend back to 1998 on the NOAA polar orbiters); and the SST data come from AMSR-E on Aqua, the instrument I am the U.S. Science Team leader on.

  3. David L. Hagen says:

    That drop of 3 degrees across about 8-9 months in 2010 appears to be the largest and strongest transition in the period shown since 2002. It is similar in magnitude to the 3 degrees in 2007. Curious.

  4. londo says:

    I believe I read it here, but maybe somewhere else, that precipitation will release its latent heat to the troposphere and the surface below will cool. Isn’t that a possible explanation?

  5. Miroslav Pavlí?ek says:

    Dr. Spencer suggested a linear combination of asynchronously shifted indices PDO, SOI, and AMO as a quite good predictor of global temperatures. Then it would be extremely interesting if we had updated graphs of the indices available, too, besides the temperatures. In spite of the AMO has zero delay behind the temperature it could slightly guide our expectations.

  6. mark says:

    would like to see graph of sst and gtt together.

    • Catrun J says:

      I would like to be able to plot these too.

      Dr. Spencer, where is the SST data? I have been
      assuming that the first column in
      is the number you use to plot the global temps. Is that
      essentially correct?
      Are the SST somewhere too?

      Also, although the SST have “cooled” to below the
      2002-2010 average, this average is presumably historically
      high since the global temperature averaged over those
      8 years is much higher than any time in the satellite record.
      One shouldn’t expect the global temperature to come crashing
      down to 1970s levels.


      • You are correct about the warmer baseline for the SST data,

        Regarding availability of the SST data, they are not available in the form I have plotted them. They are my own global area-average calculations from the 3-day SST grids produced by Remote Sensing Systems, which are available at The files are large, binary, and RSS provides a Fortran reader if you are interested in doing some programming of your own.

        My averaging methodology, as well as mean annual cycle and anomaly computations, are unpublished — so use and interpret at your own risk.

        BUT…You might be able to download daily SST values from the Discover website, though. The averaging done there is pretty similar to what I have done. You would have to compute your own average annual cycle and anomalies, however, if you want to display them in that form.

  7. Sean2829 says:

    Londo has an interesting thought, that the latent heat. If the lower atmoshere is kept warm by moist humid air, would the steady temperature reading of +0.6 C in the UAH lower Troposher (while the oceans below them cooled) be accompanied by a steady drop in relative humidity as the heat of condensation of water vapor going liquid is tranfered to the atmosphere?

  8. Fred says:

    so the simplistic explanation . . . a drop in SST mans energy is being transferred somewhere . . . the likely culprit is the lower tropo.

    As energy is transferred into the lower tropo, it heats up.

    Coefficient of heat explains the time differences.

    just figurin’

  9. John Galt says:

    Dr. Spencer,

    I had a similar thought to Fred above. It’s hard to get much of a feel for what’s going on by looking at world monthly average troposphere and sea surface temps. I would expect that the flux of energy between the two changes sign depending on location, season, day and night. I also understand this flux is affected by various cycles. Is it possible that presently, the net flux is such that there is an imblance (compared to long term means) which favors a warmer troposphere at the expense of SST? Of course, the SST could also be affected by variations in energy transport between the SS and the deeper sea.

  10. slimething says:

    It seems to me the oceans are releasing their heat at a rapid pace and that is the reason for LT temps spiking and stalling this late in the year. With SST and OHC dropping, what other explanation is there? Is it possible we are witnessing a climate shift similar to that of ~35 years ago only to a cooling phase? As simplistic a view that may be, isn’t it plausible?

    Looking at the current SOI data, there looks to be a temperature crash developing, to me anyway.

  11. Catrun J says:


    I hadn’t noticed the “show as text” feature
    on the discover page.


  12. Richard Baldwin says:

    I think that the reason the Tropospheric temperature is not falling as the SST falls is because there is a transfer of heat from the oceans to the atmosphere. The atmosphere will have to increase its temperature inorder to radiate more energy tio space in response to the increased energy that it is receiving from the oceans. Presumably the temperature of the top several x meters of the ocean is cooling and it would be interesting to see how the global ocean heat content is changing. I have seen some NOAA data but it was not for the last few months. If the layer of the ocean that is cooling is consistent then if the above theory is correct the rate of cooling will determine the troposheric response and therefore I would not expect troposheric temperatures to fall until the rate of SST cooling reduces i.e. heat transfer rate reduces.

    If this theory is correct it possibly gives an opportunity to measure climate sensitivity. As this is a sharp change in SST, and hence global ocean heat content, it may be possible to observe how the troposphere responds to a finite increase in heat flux.

  13. maxwell says:


    there is an interesting article in this week’s issue of Nature on the spectral effects of sunlight on climate. What seems especially interesting in the context of your site is the fact that those researchers seem to come to the conclusion that the amount of energy in the visible portion of the EM spectrum has increased in the last few years, despite the fact that the total irradiance of the sun has decreased.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you hypothesis that the ‘missing energy’ in the global budget as expressed by Trenbreth was in the visible? If you did, how does this new result affect the way you’re seeing the situation?


  14. Bill Hunter says:

    The radiative flux anomaly graphs you provided in an earlier article were very interesting. I noted they only went through 2008. Is this product updated regularly somewhere?

  15. Xela says:

    according to your dataset the global ocean isn’t cooling.In August 0,49 and September 0,6.

  16. Slimething says:

    The .6 you are referencing is for the lower troposphere, not SST.

  17. Xela says:

    Then I don´t understand why there are different column with different numbers as shown below taken from the dataset.

    Year Mo Globe Land Ocean
    2010 9 0.60 0.59 0.60

  18. Xela says:

    Oh, now I get it 😉 It’s for the lower troposphere above ocean. Sorry, but I haven’t check something like this before that’s why the stupid question. Thanks Slimething!

    Another question, were can I find some SST data? The link above to doesn´t work.

  19. Richard says:

    There is obviously a lag between when the Sea Temperatures fall and when the Global temperatures do, specially after they have been in +ve territory. The SST’s have been in strongly +ve territory for sometime, as can be seen from the graph. This could mean that stored ocean heat is being let off into the atmosphere heating it, while the seas cool.

    This lag could exist everytime SST’s fall after they have been in +ve territory.

    The other unusual feature is that SST’s are offset (lagging) Nino this time more than the previous years.


    1. Have you or anyone tracked the correlation of SST’s with Global temperatures?

    2. If so is there a lag? and if so is it there after the SST’s have been in +ve territory? and is it quantifiable?

  20. Richard says:

    PS I did a plot of HADSST2’s with RSS temperatures. This seems to be only upto 2009? There seems to be some correlation except towards the end when RSS tracks down and HADSST2’s track up.

    Have I done this right?

  21. Newbie says:

    Dr. Spencer,

    I’m really new to climate science. I’m trying to learn all I can so that I can have an informed opinion on the matter of global warming. So I hope that I am not going to sound foolish with what I am about to point out.

    I looked at the trend on the AMSU-A ch05 for average, 2009 and 2010. Something looks very wrong. The step change that occurred in January 2010 from December 2009 (and has persisted to date) does not look like natural variation. It appears to have an offset. Is it possible that the data has been corrupted?


  22. Claude Culross says:

    Dr. Spencer – I’d be grateful if you provided a link that explains how satellites derive temperature for different elevations.

    Many thanks.

  23. Xela says:

    Thanks Andrew, but even if I replace the http://with ftp:// it doesn´t works.

  24. Richard says:

    Hi Werner thanks for that. It made my head spin but I’m still none the wiser with my basic question, when will the global temperatures come down as they should with the SST’s?

    Dr Spencer has said he’s given up predicting when that might occur. I was hoping some other brave soul may have a stab at it. And since this is all a bit like astrology, I’ll have a go. They will come down in November, with October being slightly warmer than last year.

  25. Hi Richard,

    I know exactly what you mean! I found it interesting that mention was made of one transition that was not as steep as the others. It turns out the La Nina was not as strong that year. Perhaps the depth of the decline depends on the strength of the La Nina or perhaps on the difference in strength between the preceding El Nino and the later La Nina. Check out the following:
    It appears that this will be one of the strongest La Ninas with the value of 1 for August and September. As for when the downward spike will start, who knows, but I found it interesting that several UAH graphs spiked down sharply between the 11th and 12th month. So this would seem to put it during the month of December, right when the Cancun conference is taking place!

  26. Ray says:

    My own analysis of long term linear trends within the HadCRUT3 data series, suggest that global temperatures are about to enter a downward phase in a roughly 60 year cycle, which should see annual global temperatures stabilize then fall over the next 30 years. As a result of this, I estimate that the average HadCRUT3 global temperature anomaly for the next 5 years will be about +0.37c and it is unlikely that any of these years will be warmer than 1998, as predicted by the UK Met. Office and others. Of course, this is based on HadCRUT3, but we are already seeing the start of a fall in global temperatures based on GISS and NOAA/NCDC. Unfortunately there is insufficient data to calculate long term changes in trends for UAH, but I see no reason why they should be different to other measures and we should see a decline in UAH global temperatures over the next few months. Had it not been for the unusually high SH anomaly figure in the UAH data for September, the UAH global anomaly would have shown a fall last month and if the SH figure turns out to be temporary, as it did in July 2009, then the global UAH figure should start to show significant falls from October onwards. Please note, that this downward phase does not represent a total contradiction of the long-term rise in temperatures, which seem to be rising at a rate of about 0.5c per century, (which may well be caused by greenhouse gasses) and in the long-term i.e. around 2070, we will again see record global temperatures, after a “cool” period around 2040.

  27. Richard says:

    Werner – I just looked up Cancun, they will escape the cold.
    Ray – Who knows what other factors might kick in 60 years from now.

  28. Ray says:

    True, but I think that the pattern of temps. during the next 5 years will confirm the long-term cycles.

  29. Richard says:

    Ray I agree. I heard the climate models do not allow for a 15 year period with constant or falling temperatures? Is that true? If so AGW will be in trouble if the temperatures remain stable or fall. In any case it will give us an idea of the trends at the end of it.

  30. Ray says:

    Sorry, I can’t confirm that. Do you mean that the models are “fixed” to prevent long periods of rises or falls? If so, I haven’t heard that. Seems unlikely.

  31. Hello Richard and Ray,

    Regarding the 15 year period, it is my understanding that no model initially predicted the 10 year lull we have at the present time. I also read somewhere that even if global warming were in fact true, that there was a 12.5% chance that there could be a period of 10 years where nothing happens. But now that it did happen, the warmists say that in thousands of simulations, it will happen several times that we have a 10 year lull. So should this extend to 15 years, I predict they will say global warming is still real, although there is a 1 in 1000 chance of a lull of 15 years, and we just happened to hit it.

    P.S. I also know that much will be made of the fact that 2010 may be the second warmest on record after 1998, if it turns out that way in the end.
    In February, Phil Jones said
    “C – Do you agree that from January 2002 to the present there has been statistically significant global cooling?

    No. This period is even shorter than 1995-2009. The trend this time is negative (-0.12C per decade), but this trend is not statistically significant. ”
    But even if 2010 does come in first or second, that would not prove anything. Just like the hot August in Moscow is not proof of global warming, a warm year due to an El Nino is also not proof of global warming either. If the lowest estimates of the IPCC projected temperature increases were correct, the 1998 mark should have been beaten several times, even without an El Nino. To put things into some perspective, the warmest monthly anomally on the 2010 Hadcrut data set was for March, 2010 when it was 0.586. Had this high number held up for the whole year, it would have set a new hot record. On the other hand, the lowest number so far is September where the anomaly was 0.391. Had this low number held up for the whole year, then from 2001 to 2010, only 2008 would have been colder. The difference between hottest and coldest for the 10 years from 2001 to 2010 is less than 0.2 of a degree (0.325 to 0.511). (1998 was 0.548.)

  32. Ray says:

    Thanks, I understand what you mean now. I have no doubt that the proponents of climate change will change the rules, according to circumstances. The UK Met. Office has emphasised this more and more since predicted annual temperatures have proved inaccurate. It is often forgotten that they also predicted that 2007 would be warmer than 1998 and it wasn’t (the excuse was a “much quicker than usual decline in El Nino) and even though they predicted that 2008 would be cool, they over-estimated the temperature.
    In September 2009, when they made the prediction about 2010 being a record year, they also said that “at least half” of the years to 2015 would be warmer than 1998. A month ago I asked the M.O. whether that prediction was still valid, but I haven’t yet had a reply. I find this strange, since I would have thought that after 12 months, they would have updated the prediction. As far as I know, they haven’t issued an official update on this, so maybe they have a prediction but are still working out how to explain why it has changed. I have no doubt that one explanation will be that it is not individual annual temperatures which are important, but the long-term trend, but meanwhile, they continue to issue predictions for individual years. Maybe they will drop such predictions, in a similar manner to their long-range seasonal forecasts. My own prediction is that none of the next 5 years will exceed 1998 and if that turns out to be correct, I look forward to seeing the explanation.

  33. Peter Sørensen says:

    At last the average temperatures are comming down, the temperature is droping like a rock and just hit the long term average.

  34. Ray says:

    If my analysis of long-term trends in global temperatures is correct, temperatures are likely to continue to fall, increasingly rapidly, for some time. Some might say this is due to the declining El Nino, but it actually appears to be a much longer cyclical trend of about 60 years, which is visible in series such as HadCRUT3, but not in relatively recent series such as UAH. However should be seen as a decline in the current long-term trend (of about +0.5c per century), rather than an actual decline in temperatures. As a result of this, while we appear to be at the peak of a cycle, in which record warm years are possible, the frequency of warm years is likely to fall over the next 30 years.

  35. Hello Ray,You say

    “A month ago I asked the M.O. whether that prediction was still valid, but I haven’t yet had a reply.”

    Lord Monckton also experienced lack of replies and had this to say: “The unanswerable is usually not answered” or something like that. So unless you hear otherwise, I think it is safe to assume they probably agree with you but cannot admit it. I agree with you about the next 5 years. In my opinion, every year that goes by without the 1998 mark being beaten is another nail in the coffin of AGW. At the moment the 1998 mark has not been beaten according to Hadcrut3 and with the present La NIna, it is highly unlikely to be beaten in 2010 or 2011. So one already has to go back to the 1940s according to the Hadcrut3 data to find a period where a high mark was not beaten in 10 years or less.

    P.S. On October 26, I had my sixth letter to the Edmonton Journal (Canada) published since November 30 last year that dealt with this issue. If you are interested in reading it, here is what I wrote and what they published. I am expecting some very contradictory feedback.

    “Re: “Loans mean gov’t coming up short on climate-change pledge” The Journal, Oct. 23.
    The portion of the money that is earmarked for “managing clean-energy projects that help reduce pollution in developing countries” is great and every penny that was pledged for this should be given. However the portion “to reduce greenhouse gas emissions” is a total waste. It makes much more sense to spend the whole amount fighting pollution.
    I know that “global warming” is a needlessly emotionally charged issue. But cutting CO2 is not the answer.
    If the lowest estimates of the IPCC projected temperature increases were correct, the 1998 mark should have been beaten several times by now, even without an El Nino. At the moment (to the end of September) despite an El Nino this year, 2010 is a distant second to 1998 according to the Hadcrut3 data set. When the El Nino was strong at the beginning of this year, the March anomaly for 2010 was 0.586. So for the 10 year period from 2001 to 2010, this makes it the second warmest March, with only March of 2002 being warmer. On the other hand, with a strong La Nina at the present time, the September anomaly for 2010 was 0.391. So for the 10 year period from 2001 to 2010, this makes it the second coldest September, with only September of 2008 being colder. With a strong La Nina at the present time, this winter is expected to be colder than average. Carbon dioxide is not the major driving force of our climate.
    So exactly what should the Harper government have done about this? Should it have decreased CO2 to make March colder or should it have increased CO2 to make September warmer? Or should it have concentrated on other things that it had some real control over?”

  36. Ray says:

    I would find it difficult to understand how the M.O. couldn’t have the info to answer the question, since (as I have now pointed out to them), I would have expected them to have done an update by now, on a matter of such importance. The only conclusion is that they may have an update and are concealing it. The can’t agree with me, since at the time, I only asked the question in a neutral manner, without implying any opinion of my own. After a month, I have reminded them of my question and have expressed my opinion. So far, the only response is that “the specialist” on the subject, presumably on the Weather Desk, is out of the office until next week, but I am promised a response next week. I expect something along the lines that it is the long-term trend which is important.
    Your letter to the Edmonton Journal raises several interesting topics, including whether action by individual nations has any point or is even desireable. The UK has exported much of it’s CO2 emissions to China, but that has made no difference to overall emissions. In fact, due to the general inefficiency of power generation in China, it has probably made things worse. If global temperatures do start to fall, I suspect that this may be attributed to global action, even though all there has been is talk.

  37. Hello Ray,

    Christopher Monckton made that same point a few months ago in Australia that if a country like Australia wants higher standards and just exports jobs to China, the overall global impact just gets worse and the country wanting to look good just suffers hugely economically. As for “If global temperatures do start to fall, I suspect that this may be attributed to global action, even though all there has been is talk.” I really do not see how anything could be attributed to global action unless CO2 actually fell. According to the ‘warmists’, slowing down the CO2 rise would just slow down the temperature rise. However it may be technically possible for the CO2 to actually drop over the next year, but not due to global action but due to the La Nina that could be huge. Since as we know, if ocean temperatures drop, they absorb more CO2. However I have not done the math to figure out if a 0.5 degree C drop in ocean temperatures for example would accomplish this or not. According to Dr. Spencer’s latest graph, they have already dropped 0.34 degrees.

    Assumptions on how much of the ocean can be assumed to be 0.5 colder if cooling continues, whether 100 m or 700 m or some other number would be important to know. But apart from the ups and downs of the annual cycle, it seems highly unlikely that a two year La Nina for example would actually decrease the CO2. It seems the ‘best’ that could happen is a leveling off of the CO2 concentration. And in theory, a leveling off should not, in itself, cause a temperature drop. According to the following, a number 1 was reached now in August/September of 2010:
    The last time it reached that low previously was September/October 1975. Were some not predicting an ice age at that time?

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