Satellites and Stuff

As an inadvertent card-carrying climate blogger (or maybe it was advertent) I feel some obligation to make note of the trio of papers published today in Science that attempt to settle nagging discrepencies between the satellite temperature record and the models. The fact that the satellite data disagrees with climate models, showing less warming in the lower troposphere than at the surface, has been one of the key arrows in the climate skeptics quiver, so this is an important bit of climate wars science.

The RealClimate people have taken a crack at it, and the LiveScience story on MSNBC captures the key climate wars significance in its headline: “Key claim against global warming evaporates.” Andrew Revkin at the New York Times also has a good explanation.

But – credit where credit is due – the most useful explanation I read this evening came from Roy Spencer at Tech Central Station. Just when I’d finished savaging Spencer over on my work blog, he’s come through with a relatively straightforward and easy-to-digest explanation. It praises papers that offer strong disagreement with Spencer’s own previous work.

It’s worth pointing out that Spencer was not so charitable last time someone questioned his reading of the satellite data. When Qiang Fu published a paper last year in Nature suggesting a problem in the satellite numbers, Spencer savaged him: “Is the quality of peer review in the popular science journals getting worse? (The answer is ‘yes.’)” Now that the new papers suggest Fu was probably right, Spencer seems to have learned his lesson. This is refreshing. I was frankly dreading my bloggerly duty reading the back and forth on the new papers, because I expected them to stake out tiresomely familiar climate wars turf, but Spencer showed me wrong.

Spencer and John Christy, his University of Alabama colleague, seem to be sticking to their line that the warming detected is nothing to worry about. Christy, in Revkin’s story, calls it “modest.” But the argument that the satellite data shows little or no warming at all should now be a thing of the past.