What Do Observed Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies and Climate Models Have In Common Over The Past 17 Years?

One word answer: NOTHING!!!!


In this post, we’ll compare satellite-based sea surface temperature anomalies (Reynolds OI.v2) for the past 17 years to the multi-model ensemble mean of the climate models that were prepared for the 2007 4th Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. We’ve already showed how poorly the models simulate the warming rates of the global oceans on an individual ocean basis for the entire 30-year term of the Reynolds OI.v2 sea surface temperature data. Refer to the posts here and here, and more recently here. So the failings of the models come as no surprise. But this post does present something that will come as a surprise to many of you.

The choice of 17 years is based on the Santer et al (2011) paper, Separating Signal and Noise in Atmospheric Temperature Change: The Importance of Timescale. In the abstract, Santer et al (2011) conclude with:

Our results show that temperature records of at least 17 years in length are required for identifying human effects on global-mean tropospheric temperature.

Since sea surface temperature anomalies are not as variable as lower troposphere temperature (TLT) anomalies, we’ll assume that 17 years would also be an acceptable timescale to present sea surface temperature anomaly trends on a hemispheric, or greater, basis. This was the foundation for an earlier postthat compared models and the same sea surface temperature dataset. And we’ll also divide the oceans into their individual basins to illustrate why I’ve presented, as one combined dataset, the Indian and Pacific Oceans from pole to pole.

While the failings of the models might come as no revelation, something else might—but first a note to build the suspense. Combined, the Indian and Pacific Oceans from pole to pole (90S-90N, 20E-70W) represent about 75% of the surface area of the global oceans. See Figure 1. It’s a map of the global oceans that’s been divided into two sections: the “Indian & Pacific Ocean Plus” and “Atlantic Ocean Plus” where the “Plus” is used to note that the datasets have been extended to the South and North Poles.

Figure 1 (Revised to note which graphs present the data for the two regions.)

Why are we dividing the ocean into those two subsets? Here comes the surprise.

The sea surface temperature anomalies for the combined Indian and Pacific Oceans from pole to pole show basically no warming for the past 17 years. None, nada, zip. See Figure 2. The cooling of the entire Pacific Ocean is strong enough since 1995 and the Pacific is so large that we can merge its data with the still-warming Indian Ocean data and wind up showing the combined dataset has not warmed for 17 years. Again, the Indian and Pacific Oceans represent 75% of the surface of the global oceans and together they have not warmed in 17 years.

Figure 2

Also illustrated in Figure 2 is the multi-model ensemble mean for the IPCC’s climate model simulations of the sea surface temperature anomalies for that portion of the global oceans. The model data continued to climb contentedly skyward, projecting a blistering warming rate in sea surface temperatures for the “Indian and Pacific Oceans Plus” dataset of about 0.151 deg C per decade. That monumental divergence between models and observations for such a large part of the globe is a significant problem for the hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming—and for the alarmist proponents who believe in that hypothesis—a hypothesis that makes its presence known only in climate models, not in observational data. Anthropogenic Greenhouse Gases are supposed to force sea surface temperature to warm. The model mean of the climate model simulations of sea surface temperatures presented in this post show the response of the models to that forcing, yet the satellite-based sea surface temperature data for 75% of the global oceans show that they are not reacting to the anthropogenic forcing—not at all. One might think the modelers ought to reevaluate the assumptions they’ve made to divine the effects of greenhouse gases on sea surface temperatures, especially when they consider that 70% of the surface of the Earth is covered by ocean. Their assumptions just aren’t working.


If you’re for some reason hoping the data for the rest of the global oceans, the “Atlantic Ocean Plus” data, will make up the difference, you’re about to be disappointed. As illustrated in Figure 3, the models are showing a warming rate that’s about 50% higher than what has been observed. That’s not too good. Then when you consider the blatantly obvious model failings for the “Indian & Pacific Ocean Plus” subset, you wonder how the climate-model based anthropogenic global warming charade can continue. Yet it does.

Figure 3 (Revised: Added color coding to title block.)


The Reynolds OI.v2 sea surface temperature anomaly data is available for download from the NOAA NOMADS website and from the KNMI Climate Explorer. NOAA uses the bases years of 1971-2000 for anomalies. But we’re looking at the period of January 1995 to March 2012 and that extends outside of those base years. The base years are not adjustable at the NOAA NOMADS site, but they are adjustable at the KNMI Climate Explorer. I used the data through the KNMI Climate Explorer so that I could change the base years for anomalies to 1995-2011. This helped to reduce the strong seasonal signal that appears in the data of some ocean basins. The North Pacific (0-65N, 100E-90W) sea surface temperature anomaly data from NOAA, for example, has a very strong seasonal component, as shown in Figure 4. Using the base years of 1995-2011, also illustrated, the seasonal component is drastically reduced. And as shown, the trends are basically the same, so minimizing the additional seasonal component makes no difference to the model-data comparisons in this post. (And yes, the sea surface temperature anomalies of the North Pacific have been cooling for the past 17 years.)

Figure 4

The multi-model mean sea surface temperature dataset is identified as TOS (ocean surface temperature) at the KNMI Climate Explorer and is available through its Monthly CMIP3+ scenario runs webpage. If you were to scroll up to Figure 2, you’ll note that there are major year-to-year variations in sea surface temperature anomalies that don’t appear in the multi-model mean data. Those observed major variations are caused by El Niño events (the upward spikes) and La Niña events (the downward ones). There are a few things to keep in mind about the model-mean data and the resulting curves. They represent the average of the climate model simulations at the CMIP3 archive, which was used in the IPCC’s AR4. There are a couple dozen climate models in the archive and some of the models include multiple simulations. For example, GISS presented 9 simulations (ensemble members) for its Model-ER and 5 ensemble members for its Model-EH. Some of the climate models attempted to model the El Niño-Southern Oscillation; others didn’t. The models that tried to simulate ENSO did a poor job and none of them could match the observed frequencies and magnitudes of El Niño and La Niña events. And since each model simulation has a different frequency and magnitude for their ENSO signals, they are smoothed out when the models are averaged. But that’s a good thing. That leaves a signal that is supposed to represent the forced component of the models, which is why we use the multi-model mean.

The reasons I’m presenting the multi-model mean were discussed in more detail in an earlier post Part 2 – Do Observations and Climate Models Confirm Or Contradict The Hypothesis of Anthropogenic Global Warming?, under the heading of CLARIFICATION ON THE USE OF THE MODEL MEAN. Please refer to that discussion.


As shown in Figure 2, there has been no warming of the “Indian & Pacific Ocean Plus” sea surface temperature anomalies since 1995. That doesn’t mean that one of the individual ocean basins has not warmed. See Figure 5. The Indian Ocean (60S-30N, 20E-120E) sea surface temperature anomalies have warmed, except it’s at a rate that’s about 42% of what was simulated by the IPCC’s climate models. And as noted earlier, the North Pacific data shows that it has cooled. So has the South Pacific (60S-0, 120E-70W). Refer to Figures 6 and 7. Think about that for a moment. Not only has the largest ocean on this planet not warmed in agreement with the models, it’s actually cooled over the past 17 years.

Figure 5


Figure 6


Figure 7


The Southern Ocean (90S-60S) is the ocean “basin” that surrounds Antarctica. It has cooled over the 30-year term of the Reynolds OI.v2 dataset. See the graph here from this post. Since January 1995, the rate at which it’s cooling is even stronger. The difference between the rate that it’s cooling and the rate the climate models say it should be warming is 0.14 deg C/decade.

Figure 8


At the other end of the planet, the Arctic Ocean (65N-90N) has warmed over the past 17 years at a rate that’s about 2.5 times faster than the model simulations. See Figure 9. Surprisingly, we often hear from climate alarmists that the Arctic is warming faster than projected by climate models, with all of the dire consequences of that warming thrown in heighten the risks they perceive. But the doomsayers are actually heralding yet another failing of the climate models. The observations are the target the models are shooting for, and in the Arctic, the models have missed the planet the target’s nailed to.

Figure 9

In the North Atlantic (0-70N, 80W-0), the observations are warming at a rate that’s about 65% of the rate simulated by the models, Figure 10. And as shown in Figure 11, in the South Atlantic (60S-0, 70W-20E) over the past 17 years, the models are doing remarkably well. There, the trend is only about 31% too high. So we’ll give the modelers a “B-” for one basin.

Figure 10


Figure 11


In the Northern Hemisphere, Figure 12, according to the models, the sea surface temperatures should be warming about 3.4 times faster than has been observed for the past 17 years. The model performance in the Southern Hemisphere is even worse, Figure 13. There, the models show a warming rate that is about 8.5 times higher than the actual warming rate. In total, for the global oceans, the models have projected a warming that’s 5 times higher than the rate the oceans have actually warmed. The model trend isn’t 50% higher, not twice as high, not three times. The models are off by a factor of 5. Written another way, global sea surface temperatures have warmed at a rate over the past 17 years that’s only 20% of the rate projected by the multi-model mean of the climate models presented to the CMIP3 archive for use by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its 4thAssessment Report published in 2007.

Figure 12


Figure 13


Figure 14


For more than a year, in posts here at Climate Observations and in cross posts at WattsUpWithThat, we have presented and discussed numerous ways in which the climate models show no skill at being able to simulate the warming, or lack thereof, of global surface temperatures. Keep in mind global surface temperature is the metric most commonly used to define global warming.

This post was primarily intended to show that 75% of the surface area of the global oceans, the Indian and Pacific Oceans from pole to pole, has not warmed in 17 years. This lack of warming opposes the continued rise in anthropogenic greenhouse gases—which only appear to make the sea surface temperatures warm consistently in climate models. There’s nothing alarming about the rate at which sea surface temperature anomalies have warmed. In fact, the 30[-year] rise in sea surface temperatures can be explained by natural factors. So the only thing that should be sounding any alarms is the lack of skill shown by the climate models. [corrected typo]


As illustrated and discussed in If the IPCC was Selling Manmade Global Warming as a Product, Would the FTC Stop their deceptive Ads?, the IPCC’s climate models cannot simulate the rates at which surface temperatures warmed and cooled since 1901 on a global basis, so their failings illustrated in this post are not abnormal.

Additionally, the IPCC claims that only the rise in anthropogenic greenhouse gases can explain the warming over the past 30 years. Satellite-based sea surface temperature disagrees with the IPCC’s claims. Most, if not all, of the 30-year rise in satellite-based global sea surface temperature is shown to be the result of a natural process called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO. This is discussed in detail in If the IPCC was Selling Manmade Global Warming as a Product, Would the FTC Stop their deceptive Ads?, which is available in pdf and Kindle editions. A copy of the introduction, table of contents, and closing in pdf form can be found here.


The modeled and observed sea surface temperature data presented in this post are available through the KNMI Climate Explorer:


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.
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14 Responses to What Do Observed Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies and Climate Models Have In Common Over The Past 17 Years?

  1. Reblogged this on The GOLDEN RULE and commented:
    This information is significant in that it departs from the “cherry-picking” techniques used by the ‘warmists’ and claimed by them to be used by the ‘skeptics’. So Bob’s look at the total ocean picture reveals clear evidence of the lack of global warming as claimed by the IPCC and related organizations. These include the Australian government which persists in introducing a suicidal ‘carbon tax’. The data presented here is relevant because it is compared to the same parameters that are used to try and prove that AGW is real.
    I would like to see a similar treatise using ocean heat as a metric for ‘average global warming’. Warmists argue that the heat (they predicted), that has disappeared has been absorbed by the ocean. Bob proves that this is not so when looking at ocean surface temperatures and that is probably quite conclusive. However, regardless of the physical fact the heat rises and therefore is not likely to be found deeper than the ocean surface, currents including vertical mixing and transfer does occur, making total ocean heat content difficult to assess as a measure of a trend average for a global parameter.

  2. Neville. says:

    Bob I’m intrigued by this post and for once a layman like myself can understand the graphs and a lot of what you’ve written.
    But if you’re correct and there has been very little warming in the oceans over the last 30 years then why don’t we see this challenged in parliaments or courts all over the world?

    I’m writing this from the Mallee area of NW Victoria, Australia and everybody here is dreading the intro of the co2 tax from july 1st this year. Any spanner thrown into the works would be cheered on loudly here in OZ believe me.

    Tell me has anyone else looked at these numbers/figures and come up with the same conclusion? If not why not?

  3. Bob Tisdale says:

    Neville: You mentioned a timeframe of 30 years. This post presented sea surface temperatures for the last 17 years, not 30.

    As far as I know no one else done an analysis of the last 17 years of sea surface temperatures like this. I can’t answer your why not question. Anyone can do it. I explained how with step-by-step instructions in my book, Chapter 9, with annotated screen captures of the KNMI Explorer and EXCEL.

  4. Neville. says:

    Bob thanks for that clarification and I’ve now read your post on the 1980 to 2012 global SSTemps and I just wished I’d understood this a bit earlier. But I’m sorry for being thick but if your sure of the accuracy of the data and your use of it why don’t some of the MSM point this out?
    Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt in Australia would promote this if they were confident enough of its accuracy. Jones and Bolt have huge viewing, reading and listening audiences, by far the biggest in Australia. Check out the Bolt report on youtube and search “scientists” for example.
    But why do you seem to be the only one willing to use this data and produce your graphs and commentary, certainly for Santer’s last 17 years assessment?
    Why doesn’t Santer or Hansen or Trenberth etc check this out and come to the same conclusion?
    Trouble is I’m just a layman and haven’t the ability to check this myself, but I did link it to another site where some of the big hitters said that Tamino etc have destroyed your claims and it was all BS and not worth the time to refute it.
    Why doesn’t Spencer or Christy or Michaels etc check this out and show their results as well, I just can’t understand, it just doesn’t make sense?

  5. Bob Tisdale says:

    Neville: I can’t ask researchers to confirm this. It’s too easy to replicate my graphs. I’ll write a post that will allow anyone who knows how to use a spreadsheet to confirm the results. Then it’ll be up to you to generate the interest of your local media.


  6. Bob Tisdale says:

    Neville: Gotta link to that blog where you linked this post?

  7. Neville. says:

    Bob the site is Jennifer Marohasy’s blog , see 3 posts down “unwilling to consider evidence our ABC”. About 80+ comments, you’ll see Luke near the end get stuck into you. He’s CSIRO I think.
    Jennifer is currently looking at “Believing our oceans will keep warming” Levitus paper, see what you think. Bolt , Nova and Marohasy are all Aussies and keep in touch. Anthony Watts has met Bolt.when he visited Australia.
    Bolt is the top read journo in Australia with his own TV show plus radio.and Jo Nova is married to Dr David Evans, both scientists and Jennifer Marohasy is biologist etc.
    Just trying to give you some understanding about them, but CSIRO is our top science body in OZ and their scientists don’t like any challenge to AGW at all.

  8. Bob Tisdale says:

    You’re concerned about Luke’s comments? He’s blowing smoke out his butt. I’ll leave a reply to him later.

  9. Pingback: How You Can Confirm the SST Anomalies for the Indian and Pacific Ocean Subset have NOT WARMED for 17 Years | Bob Tisdale – Climate Observations

  10. Paul MacRae says:

    Bob: Just wanted to say thank you for this brilliant article. I’ve added you to my “Subscribe” feed and linked to your site on mine.

    Paul (the groupthink guy)

  11. Bob Tisdale says:

    Paul MacRae: Thanks on all counts.


  12. Bob Tisdale says:

    nevket240: Thanks for the link. Do you also have a link to a study that shows penguins are able to dive to the depths of the “Antarctic bottom water” discussed in the link you provided? 😉


  13. Norman Stockdale says:

    Hi Bob,
    Your investigative reports on Sea Surface Temperatures, in my view, are excellent—congratulations. Their impact on the world would be enhanced if you could tell the world something about your academic background.
    Norman Stockdale

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