Is Global Warming's 'Hiatus' Really Just a Statistical Error?

By Botkin-Kowacki, Eva | The Christian Science Monitor, September 17, 2015 | Go to article overview

Is Global Warming's 'Hiatus' Really Just a Statistical Error?


Botkin-Kowacki, Eva, The Christian Science Monitor


In a changing climate, it's easy to understand the impulse to seek out good news. But some scientists may have been too hopeful.

Many climate scientists have observed that, since 1998 or so, the rise of global temperatures had stopped, or at least slowed down, in what has been variously called climate change's "pause" or "hiatus."

But, there was no global warming "hiatus," say Stanford scientists.

The pause was actually a statistical error, according to a new study published Thursday in the journal Climatic Change.

"The alleged or purported hiatus in the warming of the global climate system does not have a sound scientific basis," says study lead author Bala Rajaratnam, an assistant professor of statistics and Earth system science at Stanford University.

Dr. Rajaratnam and his team examined all the data published relating to a global warming pause. "Using the language of statistics and the discipline of mathematics, we tested to see if these claims could stand up to statistical scrutiny," he says.

It did not. The researchers found no statistical evidence that the rate of global warming stopped or slowed down between 1998 and 2013, as previously thought.

Climate change skeptics had hailed the supposed hiatus as a sign that global warming had ended, or that the warming was just part of natural variances.

Climate change researchers had been baffled by the hiatus, as it contradicted models predicting continued global warming.

But Rajaratnam says his work restores confidence in those climate projections. The temperatures that initially caught scientists' attention as a potential climate change pause are actually within expected ranges for variability, he says.

The existing statistical methods weren't appropriate to handle the data related to the purported hiatus, which was one of the problems with previous studies, says Rajaratnam. The Stanford researchers had to create new methods to thoroughly examine the statistical question.

One reason Rajaratnam and his team had to reconsider statistical methods was that the classical techniques needed more data points than the 15 year period provided.

Furthermore, the team had to consider the relationship of one temperature data point to the ones that were taken leading up to that instant. …

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