>Recent Differences Between GISS and NCDC SST Anomaly Data And A Look At The Multiple NCDC SST Datasets

>OR There are Increases in Trend with Each Update While The Causes of Downward Biases Are Deleted

In the recent WUWT post Something hinky this way comes: NCDC data starts diverging from GISS, the differences between GISS and NCDC global temperature anomaly data was discussed. I commented that the GISS and NCDC global surface temperature anomaly data relied on two different SST datasets.

NCDC has their own SST anomaly dataset for their global surface temperature product, and they calculate anomalies against the base years of 1901 to 2000. GISS has used the NCDC OI.v2 SST anomaly data since December 1981, and before that they had used the Hadley Centre’s HADSST data. GISS then splices the two datasets together. This post does not discuss the HADSST data, but delves into the differences between the multiple NCDC SST anomaly datasets, one of which is used by GISS.


I have not been able to find GISS SST anomaly data as a separate dataset, so for a short-term comparison, I’ll use their source, the OI.v2 SST anomaly data available through the NOAA NOMADS system. Unfortunately, the OI.v2 SST data uses a third climatology for their anomalies (with base years of 1971-2000), but don’t let that concern you. It just makes for an unusual comparative graph.

Figure 1 is a short-term comparison (November 1981 to April 2009) of the OI.v2 Global SST anomaly data (used by GISS) and the NCDC’s “Global Ocean Temperature”. The NCDC data is available toward the bottom of the NCDC Global Surface Temperature Anomalies webpage here:
Figure 1

The two datasets appear to track one another, and the obvious difference, the shift in the data, is a result of the different base years. But if we subtract the OI.v2 SST data from the NCDC “Global Ocean” SST anomaly data, we can see that one dataset rose more than the other since November 1981. Refer to Figure 2. The NCDC “Global Ocean” SST anomaly dataset rose at a greater rate than the OI.v2 SST anomaly data that’s used by GISS. This would bias the NCDC global surface temperature upward over this time span, or bias the GISS data down, depending on your point of view.
Figure 2

So to conclude this section of this post, part of the difference between the GISS and NCDC global surface temperatures discussed in WUWT post Something hinky this way comes: NCDC data starts diverging from GISS results from the use of different SST anomaly datasets.


The use of satellite data appears to have an impact.

NOAA describes the Optimum Interpolation (OI.v2) SST anomaly data (used by GISS) as, “The optimum interpolation (OI) sea surface temperature (SST) analysis is produced weekly on a one-degree grid. The analysis uses in situ and satellite SST’s plus SST’s simulated by sea-ice cover.” The in situ data is from buoy and ship measurements. The full description of the OI.v2 data is here:

The NCDC identifies the “Global Ocean Temperature” dataset as SR05 in its Global Surface Temperature Anomalies webpage:

Linked to the webpage is a paper by Smith et al (2005) “New surface temperature analyses for climate monitoring” GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 32, L14712, doi:10.1029/2005GL023402, 2005.

On page 2, Smith et al describe the SR05 data as, “The SR05 SST is based on the International Comprehensive Ocean Atmosphere Data Set (ICOADS [Woodruff et al., 1998]). It uses different, though similar, historical bias adjustments to account for the change from bucket measurements to engine intake SSTs [Smith and Reynolds, 2002]. In addition, SR05 is based on in situ data.”

It appears, from that quote and the rest of the paper, the SR05 SST dataset does NOT use satellite data. This is consistent with NCDC’s other long-term SST datasets. They also abstain from satellite data.


In addition to the SR05 SST data, the NCDC also has two other long-term SST datasets called Extended Reconstructed SST (ERSST) data. The ERSST.v2 (Version 2) data was introduced in 2004 with the Smith and Reynolds (2004) paper Improved Extended Reconstruction of SST (1854-1997), Journal of Climate, 17, 2466-2477. Many of my early Smith and Reynolds SST Posts used ERSST.v2 data through the NOAA NOMADS system. Unfortunately, ERSST.v2 data is no longer available through that NOAA system, so the latest ERSST.v2 global SST anomaly data from NOMADS I have on file runs through October 2008.

The ERSST.v2 data was updated with ERSST.v3 data. In my opinion, it provides the most detailed analysis of high latitude SST in the Southern Hemisphere (the Southern Ocean). The ERSST.v3 data was introduced last year with the Smith et al (2008) paper: Improvements to NOAA’s Historical Merged Land-Ocean Surface Temperature Analysis (1880-2006), Journal of Climate,21, 2283-2296. The NCDC updated it with their ERSST.v3b version later in 2008, but more on that later. A limited number of datasets (based on latitude) for the ERSST.v3b data are available from NCDC (though it is available on a user-selected coordinate basis through the KNMI Climate Explorer website, as is ERSST.v2 data).

I have found no source of SR05 SST anomaly data, other than the Global, Northern Hemisphere, and Southern Hemisphere “Ocean Temperature” datasets linked to the Global Surface Temperature webpage.

Figures 3 and 4 are long-term comparisons (1880 to “present”) of the “NCDC Global Ocean” (SR05) SST anomaly data to the ERSST.v2 and to the ERSST.v3b SST anomalies. Based on the linear trends, the “NCDC Global Ocean” (SR05) data resides between the older ERSST.v2 and the more recent ERSST.v3b data.
Figure 3
Figure 4

But note that the trend increases with each SST dataset improvement.


In “Improvements to NOAA’s Historical Merged Land-Ocean Surface Temperature Analysis (1880-2006)”, Smith et al note the use of satellite data for ERSST.v3 data in their abstract, “Beginning in 1985, improvements are due to the inclusion of bias-adjusted satellite data.” That’s a positive description. They further proclaim, “Of the improvements, the two that have the greatest influence on global averages are better tuning of the reconstruction method and inclusion of bias adjusted satellite data since 1985.” In fact there is a whole subsection in the paper about the satellite adjustments.


Reynolds, Smith, and Liu write in a November 14, 2008 attachment to their main ERSST.v3b webpage, “In the ERSST version 3 on this web page WE HAVE REMOVED SATELLITE DATA from ERSST and the merged product. The addition of satellite data caused problems for many of our users. Although, the satellite data were corrected with respect to the in situ data as described in reprint, there was a residual cold bias that remained as shown in Figure 4 there. The bias was strongest in the middle and high latitude Southern Hemisphere where in situ data are sparse. THE RESIDAL BIAS LED TO A MODEST DECREASE IN THE GLOBAL WARMING TREND AND MODIFIED GLOBAL ANNUAL TEMPERATURE RANKINGS.” [Emphasis added.]

The link for that quote is here:

Note that the “merged product” referenced above is their ERSST.v3b-based land plus sea surface temperature data.

Figure 5 illustrates the difference between the ERSST.v3b and ERSST.v3 global SST anomaly data (ERSST.v3 data MINUS ERSST.v3b data). The “dip” after 1985 would appear to be the satellite bias.
Figure 5

Hmmm. It looks as though, if you’re a SST data producer, downward biases are bad, but increases in trend with each update are good.


The ERSST.v3b SST anomaly data is available through the NCDC’s ERSST.v3 webpage:
Link to the available datasets:
I used this dataset for this post:

The NCDC’s “Global Ocean Temperature” dataset is available through:

ERSST.v2 data are no longer available through the NOAA NOMADS System. I relied on ERSST.v2 global SST anomaly data from my files for this post. I also used the ERSST.v3 I also had on file for the comparison to the ERSST.v3b data.

The OI.v2 data is available through the NOAA NOMADS system:


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 GISS, SST Dataset Info. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to >Recent Differences Between GISS and NCDC SST Anomaly Data And A Look At The Multiple NCDC SST Datasets

  1. BillM says:

    >I have a question. What are the parameters for accuracy and precision of measurement for the temperature data points? Since you show a computed increase of 0.07 Celsius degrees over 29 years and use two sets of data each with their own variabilities it might imply that precision and accuracy are on the order of =/- 0.0007 Cesius degrees. Color me sceptical.

  2. Bob Tisdale says:

    >BillM: Scroll up to the SOURCES heading, or cut and paste the following:ftp://eclipse.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/ersstv3b/pdo/aravg.mon.ocean.90S.90N.ascThe last column should be the data you seek for at least one of the datasets–the error standard deviation for that ERSST.v3b dataset, in degrees C. NCDC does not provide it readily for the “Global Ocean” (SR05) data used in their Global Surface Temperature anomalies data or for the OI.v2 SST data, though I’m sure you could find it if you really needed it.Skepticism is a good thing. I’m simply plotting the data they present, and the linear trends are created by EXCEL.

  3. BillM says:

    >I never noticed your reply. The data you quoted had a measurement accuracy of .0004 in the 1800's and nothing for many other values. I know of NO thermometers with this kind of accuracy and precision earlier than the late 20th century. This is garbage!

  4. Bob Tisdale says:

    >BillM: You wrote, "I know of NO thermometers with this kind of accuracy and precision earlier than the late 20th century. This is garbage!"You'll have to have to review the methods they use to determine the errors.Regards

  5. Bob Tisdale says:

    >BillM: Just one more thing: I've elected, regardless of the accuracy of the data, to illustrate the errors in the AGW hypothesis using the data upon which the AGW proponents base their hypothesis.Regards.

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