2007: One of the Warmest Years on Record

Lisa MooreThis post is by Lisa Moore, Ph.D., a scientist in the Climate and Air program at Environmental Defense.

The results are in for 2007, and it was a warm one. How warm? It depends who you ask. According to NASA, 2007 was the second warmest year on record. NOAA’s analysis put it in fifth place. The University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) ranked it eighth.

The results differ because it’s not as straightforward as you might think to take the temperature of the globe. There are many subtleties to consider.

For one thing, how do you deal with that fact that temperature sensors aren’t evenly spaced? Which temperature trend are you measuring – just land, just ocean, or a combination of the two? And how do you handle "urban heat islands" – the tendency of cities to become warmer than nearby rural areas?

Different research groups take different approaches. For example, NOAA’s map of temperature has grids of 1 degree latitude x 1 degree longitude. CRU, in addition to 1 x 1 degree grids, produces grids of 5 degrees latitude x 5 degrees longitude and 0.5 degrees latitude x 0.5 degrees longitude. And it’s not just about the grid. CRU doesn’t extrapolate to include the Arctic, which is experiencing rapid warming; NASA does.

NASA scientists made two other observations to put 2007 in context. First, last year’s warmth was "noteworthy because it occurs at a time when solar irradiance is at a minimum." And second, the Pacific Ocean has shifted into a La Niña phase, when global temperatures are normally cooler than average. So 2007 should have been cooler than average, yet it’s one of the hottest.

Despite the complexities in measurement, scientists agree on two things. No matter which trend you’re looking at or how the data are processed, global warming is unequivocal. And this warming is caused by increasing levels of greenhouse gases due to human activities. It’s past time to cap our emissions!

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  1. Posted February 5, 2008 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    I was with you until you said the warming is caused by increasing levels of greenhouse gases due to human activities. It seems that CO2 really does not significantly affect the global temperature. Please see the report of Dr David Evans discussing why it was thought CO2 was the cause but now it cannot be based on better data (higher resolution ice samples and satellite data showing that the CO2 hypothesis does not match the actual heat patterns.


    New more accurate data can wipe out old obsolete data in one fell swoop. The old ice core data had only invervals of around 1000 years and it was ASSUMED CO2 was the cause. You know what assume spells.

  2. kenzrw
    Posted February 7, 2008 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    If I trusted any organization in its ability to correctly determine the planet-wide temperature, it’d be NOAA. NOAA and its predecessor Weather Bureau has been around since 1870 and knows how to take and record temperatures. Let’s be careful that we don’t over-hype current computer models from NASA and others when they simulate and average-out worldwide temperatures. We need to be careful that we don’t change past temperature readings just to fit some current computer model, and I trust NOAA not to do this more than the other two organizations.

  3. Posted February 7, 2008 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Hi kenzrw,

    NASA uses raw temperature data from NOAA. You can learn more from RealClimate, particularly this post (see “Mistaken Assumption #3).

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