A Blog Memo to Kevin Trenberth – NCAR

UPDATE (May 23, 2013):  The Trenberth and Fasullo (2012) paper “Climate extremes and climate change: The Russian heat wave and other climate extremes of 2010” is no longer available through the UCAR website, so the link within the body of the post no longer functions. A copy of the paper can be found at Wiley.com:

Date:  September 20, 2012

Subject:  Trenberth and Fasullo (2012) paper “Climate extremes and climate change: The Russian heat wave and other climate extremes of 2010”

From:  Bob Tisdale – Climate Observations

To:  Kevin Trenberth – National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO

Dear Kevin:

First, let me congratulate you on the products of your El Niño-Southern Oscillation research. I still refer to many of your early papers about ENSO, especially Trenberth et al (2002) Evolution of El Nino–Southern Oscillation and global atmospheric surface temperatures. I learned a tremendous amount about ENSO from your early work. In fact, I still refer to that paper and provide links to it in my blog posts and in my recently published e-book.

I was (past tense) a big fan of yours. However, your recent papers have become nothing more than fodder for alarmists. Case in point: the title of the subject paper, Climate extremes and climate change: The Russian Heat Wave and other Climate Extremes of 2010, includes the word “extreme” twice in only 15 words. You used the word “record” as in “highest on record” or “record breaking” more than 25 times throughout the paper, and “extreme” more than 15 times. If you’re not aware of this, most readers see those repetitions and understand you intended your paper solely as climate extremist propaganda. Hence, that’s why the largest coverage of your paper came from the political website ThinkProgress with Joe Romm’s post Must-Read Trenberth: How To Relate Climate Extremes to Climate Change.

There were brilliant diagnostic efforts within the paper to explain the cause of the Russian heat wave and other weather events, but they are overshadowed by your unfounded claims about “global warming from human influences”, which “resulted in very high sea surface temperatures”. Apparently, you don’t understand the general public is slowly become aware of the realities of natural global warming. You, on the other hand, continue to preach fiction. There is no anthropogenic greenhouse gas signal in the sea surface temperature records for the past 30 years. For example, the sea surface temperature anomalies for the significant portion of the global oceans captured by the coordinates of 90S-90N, 20E-70W, which we’ll call the “Indian & Pacific Oceans Plus”, haven’t warmed in 19+ years. See Figure 1.

The “Indian & Pacific Oceans Plus” dataset includes those four little ocean subsets where you noted record or near record sea surface temperatures caused by “global warming from human influences”. I’ve highlighted in my Figure 2 the four small regions you examined, which is the lower cell of your Figure 2, and I’ve highlighted the “Indian & Pacific Oceans Plus” region in Figure 3, which captures them all.



Your abstract reads:

A global perspective is developed on a number of high impact climate extremes in 2010 through diagnostic studies of the anomalies, diabatic heating, and global energy and water cycles that demonstrate relationships among variables and across events. Natural variability, especially ENSO, and global warming from human influences together resulted in very high sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in several places that played a vital role in subsequent developments. Record high SSTs in the Northern Indian Ocean in May 2010, the Gulf of Mexico in August 2010, the Caribbean in September 2010, and north of Australia in December 2010 provided a source of unusually abundant atmospheric moisture for nearby monsoon rains and flooding in Pakistan, Colombia, and Queensland. The resulting anomalous diabatic heating in the northern Indian and tropical Atlantic Oceans altered the atmospheric circulation by forcing quasi-stationary Rossby waves and altering monsoons. The anomalous monsoonal circulations had direct links to higher latitudes: from Southeast Asia to southern Russia, and from Colombia to Brazil. Strong convection in the tropical Atlantic in northern summer 2010 was associated with a Rossby wave train that extended into Europe creating anomalous cyclonic conditions over the Mediterranean area while normal anticyclonic conditions shifted downstream where they likely interacted with an anomalously strong monsoon circulation, helping to support the persistent atmospheric anticyclonic regime over Russia. This set the stage for the “blocking” anticyclone and associated Russian heat wave and wild fires. Attribution is limited by shortcomings in models in replicating monsoons, teleconnections and blocking.


Basically, a few sentences in the closing Discussion capture the overall findings of your paper, they are:

In this paper a global perspective is provided and, as shown here, is essential for addressing the phenomenology of the RHW [Russian Heat Wave], while other studies have taken a more regional approach… The importance of the strong La Niña that developed by June 2010 was not adequately appreciated in some previous studies but has been brought out by Schneidereit et al. [2012]. The negative diabatic heating anomalies in the tropical Pacific arise from the La Niña and help drive an anomalous Rossby wave train. The La Niña also focused the monsoon rains in southern Asia in conjunction with exceptionally high SSTs in the Indonesian and Indian Ocean regions and in the tropical Atlantic. Both regions feature strong convection and anomalous diabatic heating in the atmosphere (Figure 9) and associated atmospheric circulation anomalies. In part the high SSTs in the Indian and Atlantic sectors were a consequence of the previous El Niño [Trenberth et al., 2002]…

In short, the 2009/10 El Niño and 2010/11 La Niña events were ultimately responsible for the record rainfalls, the Russian Heat Wave, and the other meteorological weather extremes of 2010. Thank you for that.


But you destroyed your efforts with the continuation of that sentence, which reads:

…however, there is also a significant global warming component [Gillett et al., 2008]. The human influence is systematic and persistent and can be thought of as the underlying warming of order 0.6C since the 1950s while there are large regional and temporal fluctuations superposed on this warming by natural variability.

There is no “significant global warming component” of “human influence” in the sea surface temperature records. Climate model studies such as Gillett et al (2008) Attribution of cyclogenesis region sea surface temperature change to anthropogenic influence and the Santer et al (2006) paper Gillett et al referenced, Forced and unforced ocean temperature changes in Atlantic and Pacific tropical cyclogenesis regions, fail to consider the long-term effects of major El Niño events. Those long-term aftereffects of the 1986/87/88 and 1997/98 El Niño events are blatantly obvious in satellite-era sea surface temperature data. More on that later.

Let’s take a look at how well the CMIP3 climate models simulated the lack of warming for the “Indian & Pacific Oceans Plus” sea surface temperature data over the last 19+ years. See Figure 4. The multi-model ensemble mean of the CMIP3-archived climate models simulate continued warming of that dataset during that period. The simulated sea surface temperatures marched happily on their way skyward. Why? Because they’re FORCED by greenhouse gases, while the sea surface temperatures of the global oceans are not. As noted on the graph, If The SST Anomalies Of The “Indian & Pacific Oceans Plus” Dataset Were Warmed By Greenhouse Gases They Would Have Warmed 0.31 Deg C.  But they haven’t warmed.


You were realistic enough, though, to include the following as your final paragraph:

It remains a challenge for climate models to correctly simulate mean rainfall distributions, and as a result it is even more of a challenge to reproduce anomalies and associated teleconnections [Yang and DelSole, 2012], such as those observed in 2010. However, unless the diabatic heating, mainly from latent heating in precipitation linked to SST anomalies, is properly simulated in both its spatial and temporal character, it will likely not be possible to simulate, predict, or fully attribute blocking events and climate anomalies such as observed.

And that undermines any hope climate modelers may have at short-term (decadal or multidecadal) regional weather projections, which appears to be one of the main objectives of the IPCC’s upcoming 5thAssessment Report (AR5). Are you preparing policymakers to be disappointed?


You noted that the ultimate causes of the 2010 weather events were the combine effects of the 2009/10 El Niño and the 2010/11 La Niña. However, you failed to mention that climate models still do not model ENSO properly after decades of modeling efforts. These model failings were discussed in detail in Guilyardi et al (2009) Understanding El Niño in Ocean-Atmosphere General Circulation Models: progress and challenges. That paper served as the basis for my recent blog post here, which was a preprint of one of the chapters from my book. Let me call your attention to one paragraph from Guilyardi et al (2009) that reads:

Because ENSO is the dominant mode of climate variability at interannual time scales, the lack of consistency in the model predictions of the response of ENSO to global warming currently limits our confidence in using these predictions to address adaptive societal concerns, such as regional impacts or extremes (Joseph and Nigam 2006; Power et al. 2006).

Climate models can’t simulate ENSO. And as you noted, models can’t simulate precipitation patterns. Another and: as I showed in my Figure 4, climate models assume sea surface temperatures are warmed by greenhouse gases, when they clearly are not.

In short, climate models have no value as tools to predict future climate based on projections of future greenhouse gas emissions. As shown in Figure 4, the only function they serve is to confirm that anthropogenic greenhouse gases DO NOT warm sea surface temperatures.


During my first pass through your paper, I noted that you had included a long-term graph of the seas surface temperature anomalies for only one of the four small regions you had examined. It showed an almost continuous warming of sea surface temperature anomalies since 1900. I’ve replicated your Figure 1 as my Figure 5 below. I’ve also added a horizontal line in red that represents the peak monthly SST anomaly for 2010.

Since you elected not to provide graphs of the other three regions, readers of your paper understand a couple of things. First, the graph you furnished provided the image you wanted to present—one of continuous warming—and, second, the graphs for the other small datasets likely did not warm in a similar fashion. They would be correct as shown in Figures 6, 7 and 8.



The Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico data clearly show multidecadal variations consistent with the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. The North Australia sea surface temperature data, on the other hand, is in a region that can be warmed by a number of ENSO-related factors: (1) changes in atmospheric circulation caused by the El Niño that work their way eastward around the globe, (2) residual warm surface waters left over from an El Niño that are swept back to the western tropical Pacific when trade winds resume, (3) the aftereffects of downwelling Rossby waves that return warm subsurface waters to the western tropical Pacific at the end of strong El Niño events, and (4) by La Niña events. But you know that.


As illustrated in Figure 9, the sea surface temperature anomalies for the Gulf of Mexico subset have not warmed in 24 years—since its response to the El Niño event of 1986/87/88. And the North Australia sea surface temperature anomalies, Figure 10, have not warmed in 17 years—since its response to the 1994/95 El Niño. I’ve also highlighted the period of July 1990 to December 1994 just to show that the initial dip then occurred before the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo.



If you’re not aware, for more than 3 ½ years, I have documented in dozens of blog posts that ENSO-caused natural variability, not anthropogenic greenhouse gases, is the primary cause of the warming of sea surface temperatures for the past 30 years. In fact, no anthropogenic component is evident in the warming of global oceans.

Further, as an aid to those without technical backgrounds who are interested in understanding the cause of the natural warming of the global sea surface temperatures, I have recently published an e-book in pdf form titled Who Turned on the Heat? – The Unsuspected Global Warming Culprit, El Niño-Southern Oscillation. The introductory blog post can be found here, and a preview is here, and you can purchase a copy here. It’s only US$8.00. Buy two or three. In fact, why not buy a copy for each of the members in your department?

The following three graphs sum up my argument. They are from my recent blog post The Warming of the Global Oceans – Are Manmade Greenhouse Gases Important or Impotent?

The sea surface temperature anomalies for the East Pacific Ocean (90S-90N, 180-80W) have not warmed in 30 years, Figure 11. That of course contradicts climate models, which show the East Pacific sea surface temperature anomalies should have warmed more than 0.4 deg C over that period if they were warmed by greenhouse gases.

The sea surface temperature anomalies for the Rest-of-the-World (90S-90N, 80W-180), Figure 12, show they warmed only in response to the major El Niño events of 1986/87/88 and 1997/98—and possibly 2009/10, but it’s a little soon to tell. Between those major El Niño events, there is no evidence of warming. Though not illustrated in this letter, I’ve confirmed that with linear trends, and I’ve further isolated the North Atlantic from the Rest-of-the-World data to show that the additional mode of natural variability in the North Atlantic—the AMO—is what keeps the sea surface temperature anomalies of the Rest-of-the-World data so flat between the major El Niño events. That is, the sea surface temperatures for the combined South Atlantic-Indian-West Pacific data progressively cool between the major El Niño events. Once again, they should be warming according to climate models, not cooling.

In your 2002 paper, Evolution of El Nino–Southern Oscillation and global atmospheric surface temperatures, you provide the following disclaimer (my boldface):

The main tool used in this study is correlation and regression analysis that, through least squares fitting, tends to emphasize the larger events. This seems appropriate as it is in those events that the signal is clearly larger than the noise. Moreover, the method properly weights each event (unlike many composite analyses). Although it is possible to use regression to eliminate the linear portion of the global mean temperature signal associated with ENSO, the processes that contribute regionally to the global mean differ considerably, and the linear approach likely leaves an ENSO residual.

To illustrate those ENSO residuals in the Rest-of-the-World sea surface temperature anomalies, all one needs to do is detrend the Rest-of-the-World data and compare it to scaled and lagged NINO3.4 sea surface temperature anomalies. See Figure 13. It clearly shows the Rest-of-the World sea surface temperature anomalies do not cool proportionally during the La Niña events of 1988/89 and 1998/99/00/01, which followed the two strong El Niño events. I have explained in detail in my book why the Rest-of-the-World sea surface temperature anomalies do not cool during those La Niña events.

Consider this: If the Rest-of-the-World sea surface temperature anomalies had cooled proportionally during those two La Nina events, there likely would be no long-term trend in that dataset. That is, the Rest-of-the-World data would look very similar to the East Pacific data.

Before you attempt to argue using other datasets, I have also addressed the natural warming of Ocean Heat Content, Land-Plus-Sea Surface Temperature and Lower Troposphere Temperature anomalies in my past posts and in my book.


Thank you for confirming that the combined effects of the 2009/10 El Niño and the 2010/11 La Niña were responsible for the 2010 Russian Heat Wave and other climate extremes of 2010.

Thank you for confirming that your belief that the “very high sea surface temperatures” in specific regions were caused by “global warming from human influences” has its basis in blatantly and fatally flawed climate models.

I hope your research efforts can someday return to the days when they were not tainted by the erroneous assumption that anthropogenic greenhouse gases have a measurable impact on the sea surface temperatures of the global oceans. On second thought, I’m having a hard time recalling any of your papers when you did not at least imply a manmade global warming component.

I understand the ClimateGate emails are kind of a sore subject with you, but I just wanted to remind you of one of your statements in your October 14, 2009 email to Michael Mann, which was, I believe, a follow-up to your infamous “travesty” email. You wrote:

Where did the heat go? We know there is a build up of ocean heat prior to El Nino, and a discharge (and sfc T warming) during late stages of El Nino, but is the observing system sufficient to track it?

The aftereffects of the naturally created heat, in the form of warm water, from the 1986/87/88 and 1997/98 El Niño events are plainly evident in Figures 12 and 13.


Bob Tisdale

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About Bob Tisdale

Research interest: the long-term aftereffects of El Niño and La Nina events on global sea surface temperature and ocean heat content. Author of the ebook Who Turned on the Heat? and regular contributor at WattsUpWithThat.
This entry was posted in El Nino-La Nina Processes, Model-Data Comparison SST, Natural Warming, Weather Event Hype. Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to A Blog Memo to Kevin Trenberth – NCAR

  1. Otter says:

    How much of that do you suppose he even bothered to read?

  2. Bob Tisdale says:

    Otter: All he’d have to do is scroll down through the headings and images.

  3. Lady in Red says:

    Good morning, Mr. Tisdale. No, it appears our paths have not crossed; I ransacked files.

    Once upon a life, I danced around the periphery of the mainstream ocean science, and atmospheric science, the likes of Trenberth et al,. before it became corrupted.

    Send me an email and I will send you the story I was invited to write for the 20th anniversary
    issue of the TOS mag, Oceanography.

    Best. ….Lady in Red

  4. Lady in Red says:

    Hmmmm…. Did I just lose a comment into the ether?

    Here’s the article I wrote for TO”S:


    Good story, if I do say so myself. ….smile… ….Lady

  5. Bob Tisdale says:

    Lady in Red, our having crossed paths before was a long shot.

    Corrupted is a great word with which to capture the current state of climate science. I’ll have to remember to use it in an upcoming post.

    Thanks for the link. I’ll read the article with interest when I return from my walk.


  6. Bob Tisdale says:

    My apologies, Lady in Red. Did you want the article linked here? I can remove it if you’d prefer.


  7. Lady in Red says:

    I don’t care, Mr. Tisdale. It’s a good story, back in the days when science was science.

    Here’s a story I left out:

    Hank Stommel was one of the very greats of ocean science, an incredible observer of the world, marvelous details, especially about how the oceans work. No doctorate, but a full prof of oceanography at Harvard, MIT, and WHOI. He knew a lot about mathematics and astronomy — and philosophy.

    But, he was daft, like Sherlock Holmes, about facts he felt he didn’t need to retain. Like the password to his SCIENCEnet electronic mail account. Once a week, or so, he would phone and apologetically, ask that it be re-set. Which we always did, graciously and with a chuckle.

    It bothered him, though, so one day he solved his problem and shared his secret with us, with enthusiastic glee:

    If you muck up your member name or password the system responds: Name or Password Invalid.

    Hank could remember that his name was not “Invalid,” so he just changed his password to “Invalid” and everything was fine. ….Lady in Red

  8. Pascvaks says:

    Old saying:
    “What we see depends on where we stand.”

    If so, then maybe:
    “Who we become depends on who we’re with.”

    No one, and nothing, is immune from their environment,
    all of us bend and conform to pressures (and ‘not’) about, upon, within, and between us.

    Trenberth is like each of us in that: a.) We all change in time, b.) Sometimes we grow, c.) Sometimes we do not, and d.) Sometimes we become less than we were. Remember the poet: “No man is an island, complete unto himself.”? Maybe his change, and current perspective, has had more to do with where he works and with those he prefers to associate with after work? He’s just a man. “Ecce Homo!”

    PS: Knowledge is not talent and nothing approaches wisdom like experience, good and bad, and thoughtful reflection.

  9. Dear Lady in Red: Your story
    Intrigued me; I read and enjoyed.
    So I’m writing you back:
    This old techie hack
    Says it didn’t get lost in the void

    I was starting a software business
    Not too long before Omnet began.
    Your work did impress
    I wish you the best
    And I’m sad for the loss of your man.

    Bob Tisdale: A nicely done write-up
    With a gentle but meaningful skewer.
    Would that those who seek grants
    Take you up on the chance
    To rescue their work from the sewer.

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

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  12. Bob, you are too kind about Trenberth. He just has no understanding of heat and mass transfer. He should have studied the work of the great Prof Hoyt Hottel at MIT. I have seen in blogs that Gavan Schmidt does not know/understand the Schmidt number. That cartoon of global heat balance demonstrates that Trenberth has less understanding than Gavan Schmidt (if that is possible).

  13. Max™ says:

    Great story, Lady in Red, kinda got me emotional actually, wish I could give you a hug for it.

  14. Richard Scott says:

    No response from Trenberth?

    Did you try Santer?

    Is there any group that you think are fair minded enough to review?

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  16. Rosco says:

    Am I wrong to think it is impossible for a gas to have a “radiative forcing” effect but have a low thermal conductivity – experimentally determind properties must include any radiative effect surely ?

    Am I also wrong to think that the atmosphere at a density of ~1.2 kg/cubic metre has no chance of transmitting significant energy to substances with densities at least 1000 times this ?

    Am I further wrong ro think that when one factors in the low concentrations of “greenhouse gases” – a maximum 2% water vapour and 0.04% CO2 – the proposed energy transfer becomes completely negligible ?

    The sort of energy transfers proposed by the GHG hypothesis just do not appear to be available.

    How can these facts not matter ?

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