ClimateProgress’s Joe Romm Is Promoting a Skeptical View of Global Warming: El Niño-Caused Steps

(And another proposal to Kevin Trenberth about us co-authoring a paper.)

I wasn’t too surprised to find Joe Romm’s June 16, 2015 blog post 2015 May Bring Long-Awaited Step Jump in Global Temperatures at the climate alarmist website ClimateProgress. For more than 2 years, his buddy Kevin Trenberth of NCAR has been promoting El Niño-caused upward steps in global surface temperatures.  But what Romm fails to recognize: a skeptic was the first to note this is how, when and why much of the global surface warming has occurred since the early 1980s.  Joe also fails to tell his readers that El Niño events are fueled by sunlight, according to Kevin Trenberth.

Joe Romm’s post also includes a classic sleight of hand and a reference to a dataset that even climate scientists are skeptical of.  Let’s dismantle his blog post.


The post began:

Historically, the global temperature trend-line is more like a staircase than a ramp. We now appear to be headed for a step-jump in global temperatures — one that scientists have been expecting.

The post linked in the above quote is Joe Romm’s April 2015 post Long-Awaited ‘Jump’ In Global Warming Now Appears ‘Imminent’.  In it, he presents snippets of a post at LivingOnEarth and of his interview with Kevin Trenberth of NCAR. Trenberth is back promoting El Niño-caused “big jumps” in global warming (Romm’s boldface):

How much of a temperature jump should we expect? Last month, Trenberth explained to Living on Earth:

Trenberth says it could mean a rise of two- or three-tenths-of-a-degree Celsius, or up to half a degree Fahrenheit. The change could occur “relatively abruptly,” but then stick around for five or 10 years.

I interviewed Trenberth this week, and he told me that he thinks “a jump is imminent.” When I asked whether he considers that “likely,” he answered, “I am going to say yes. Somewhat cautiously because this is sticking my neck out.”

Back to Joe’s more recent (June 16) post: He then goes off onto multiple tangents, which will be discussed in a moment.  After those “squirrel”-like focus diversions, Joe Romm returns to the topic of El Niño toward the end of his short post:

Climatologist Kevin Trenberth has explained that “a global temperature increase occurs in the latter stages of an El Niño event, as heat comes out of the ocean and warms the atmosphere.” This week, NOAA released its monthly El Niño Southern Oscillation [ENSO] report, which concludes, “There is a greater than 90% chance that El Niño will continue through Northern Hemisphere fall 2015, and around an 85% chance it will last through the 2015-16 winter.”

So — barring a massive volcanic eruption in the next few months — 2015 is all but certain to become the hottest year on record by far. And if the growing El Niño does extend into next year, than 2016 will be another blistering year.

The ClimateProgress post by Kevin Trenberth linked in the above quote is actually a cross post of Trenberth’s 2-year-old (May 2013) article Has Global Warming Stalled? published by the Royal Meteorological Society.  It’s the first of his “big jumps” discussions.  In that article, Trenberth shows (poorly) the upward steps caused by the 1986/87/88 El Niño and the 1997/98 El Niño, but Trenberth failed to explain what caused those steps.   Back then you needed to refer to the June 2013 blog post Open Letter to the Royal Meteorological Society Regarding Dr. Trenberth’s Article “Has Global Warming Stalled?”   (The cross post at WattsUpWithThat is here.)

It took a few months after my open letter to the RMS before Trenberth admitted that it was El Niño events that caused the upward steps. See the August 2013 interview with Trenberth on NPR.  Trenberth also discussed an El Niño-caused upward step in global surface temperatures in his May 2014 YouTube interview with Peter Sinclair of ClimateCrocks, which we discussed in The 2014/15 El Niño – Part 9 – Kevin Trenberth is Looking Forward to Another “Big Jump”.  Now Trenberth is back promoting the big jumps…and Joe Romm, for some reason, is happy to use ClimateProgress to publicize them, too.  Go figure.


A strong El Niño event can cause a tremendous volume of water from the surface and below the surface of the western tropical Pacific to be relocated to the eastern tropical Pacific, focused primarily on the equator and sometimes running poleward along the west coasts of the Americas.  Because the water in the western tropical Pacific is naturally warmer than it is in the east, when it is relocated to the east during an El Niño, the surface temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific are warmer than normal…an El Niño.

But the El Niño doesn’t consume all of the warm water that made its way to the east. There’s still lots of leftovers, with much of those leftovers below the surface. That leftover warm water is returned to the western tropical Pacific (much of it carried west below the surface just off the equator) when the weather conditions in the Pacific transition from El Niño to La Niña phases. (Keep in mind, El Niños and La Niñas are weather events…of monstrous proportions.)  Ocean currents carry that leftover warm water poleward in the western Pacific and into the eastern Indian Ocean, where it rises to the surface and surface temperatures warm in what appears to be an upward step jump.  With time, ocean currents carry the leftover warm into the western Indian Ocean and the South Atlantic as well.

You can actually watch the leftover warm water being returned from the eastern tropical Pacific to the west in the gif animation here of sea level residuals, immediately after the peak of the 1997/98 El Niño.  The animation is from the JPL video “tpglobal.mpeg”. Watch what happens when the leftover warm water reaches the western tropical Pacific.  It’s like an El Niño is taking place in the western tropical Pacific, while everyone is focusing their attention of the La Niña taking place in the eastern equatorial Pacific. Also see the full YouTube version of the JPL animation “tpglobal.mpeg”, which runs from 1992 to 2002.

Because the Eastern Pacific Ocean is only the temporary host of the El Niño-related warm water, it shows a very small warming rate during the satellite era, which started in late 1981 for sea surface temperatures. See Figure 1.  As a reference, the East Pacific data covers about 33% of the surface of the global oceans and shows warming at only 0.03 deg C/decade. And that trend should drop, of course, during the trailing La Niña.

Figure 1 East Pacific SSTa

Figure 1

(Note:  Prior to The Blob in the eastern extratropical North Pacific, which made its presence known in 2013, the sea surface temperature data for the East Pacific Ocean showed no warming for more than 3 decades. With The Blob, it’s showing a very small warming rate for 3+ decades. )

But the step-like impacts of the strong multiyear 1986/87/88 El Niño, the 1997/98 super El Niño and the strong 2009/10 El Nino (shown in red) can be seen very easily (Figure 2) in the sea surface temperature data for the South Atlantic-Indian-West Pacific subset…which covers more than 50% of the surface of the global oceans.  To help highlight those steps, I’ve included the period-average temperatures before, between and after those three strong El Niños. (That is, the blue horizontal lines are not trend lines.)

Figure 2 S. Atl-Ind-W. Pacific SSTa

Figure 2

That leaves the North Atlantic, but up until about a decade ago, its surface temperature data had shown the additional warming associated with the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. Since then, the sea surface temperatures of the North Atlantic have flattened or cooled slightly. See Figure 3.

Figure 3 N. Atlantic SSTa

Figure 3

Figures 1 through 3 are from the most recent monthly sea surface temperature anomaly update.


First: It was a climate skeptic, me not Trenberth, who first noted that strong El Niño events can cause upward shifts in surface temperatures for much of the global oceans, which obviously contribute to the long-term warming trend. See the two part series written in January 2009, four years before Trenberth jumped on the bandwagon:

Over the next few years, with the help of a multitude of people who commented at WattsUpWithThat and at my blog ClimateObservations, we worked to expose and detail the processes that cause those upward steps.  A reasonably easy-to-read overview can be found in the illustrated essay The Manmade Global Warming Challenge (free here).  The processes that cause those upward steps are described and illustrated in minute detail in my ebook Who Turned on the Heat?  – The Unexpected Global Warming Culprit, El Niño-Southern Oscillation (available here at the discounted price of U.S. $5.00. Please buy a copy to support a skeptic.)

Oddly, Joe Romm is now promoting a skeptical view that strong El Niño events cause long-term global warming through “step-jump” effects.

Second:  Romm overlooks something critical to this discussion…something that has been presented a couple of times in peer-reviewed papers by his chosen El Niño expert Kevin Trenberth:  El Niño events are fueled by sunlight.  Maybe Trenberth forgot to mention this to Joe.

We’ve presented these quotes from Trenberth-authored papers numerous times over the past few years. But for those new to these discussions:

The first quote is from Trenberth et al. (2002) Evolution of El Niño-Southern Oscillation and global atmospheric surface temperatures (my boldface):

The negative feedback between SST and surface fluxes can be interpreted as showing the importance of the discharge of heat during El Niño events and of the recharge of heat during La Niña events. Relatively clear skies in the central and eastern tropical Pacific allow solar radiation to enter the ocean, apparently offsetting the below normal SSTs, but the heat is carried away by Ekman drift, ocean currents, and adjustments through ocean Rossby and Kelvin waves, and the heat is stored in the western Pacific tropics. This is not simply a rearrangement of the ocean heat, but also a restoration of heat in the ocean.

That paragraph is the basis for my constant description of ENSO as a chaotic, naturally occurring, sunlight-fueled, recharge-discharge oscillator, where El Niño events act as the discharge phase and La Niña events act as the recharge and redistribution phase.

The second quote is from Trenberth and Fasullo (2009) Tracking Earth’s Energy: From El Niño to Global Warming. It confirms the cause of the increased sunlight over the tropical Pacific during La Niña events, and the role that temporary blast of sunlight plays (my boldface):

Typically prior to an El Niño, in La Niña conditions, the cold sea waters in the central and eastern tropical Pacific create high atmospheric pressure and clear skies, with plentiful sunshine heating the ocean waters. The ocean currents redistribute the ocean heat which builds up in the tropical western Pacific Warm Pool until an El Niño provides relief (Trenberth et al. 2002).

In the post Open Letter to the Royal Meteorological Society Regarding Dr. Trenberth’s Article “Has Global Warming Stalled?”, we confirmed that sunlight provides the warm water that serves as fuel for El Niños.  It can’t be downward longwave (infrared) radiation, because infrared radiation decreases during La Niña events, when the ocean heat in the tropical Pacific is replenished. Also see the more recent post New Paper Tries to Explain Disparities in Deep Ocean Warming Between Two Basins.

So, without his knowledge, Joe Romm is promoting naturally occurring global warming, fueled by temporary blasts of sunlight over the tropical Pacific during La Niñas…or maybe he knows and he just doesn’t want to advise his readers.  That would take all of the fun out of being an alarmist…and he wouldn’t want that.


In his June 16 post, Joe Romm states and includes the following graph after the opening paragraph:

NASA reported this week that this was the hottest five-month start (January to May) of any year on record. Climate expert and UK Guardian columnist John Abraham put together this chart of how the start to 2015 compares to previous years:

Romm Figure 01 AbrahamNASA5-15

As Abraham notes, “2015 is a whopping 0.1°C (0.17°F) hotter than last year, which itself was the hottest year on record.”

Did you note the sleights of hand in John Abraham’s graph and Joe’s discussion of it?  That graph compares the average surface temperature anomalies for January-May 2015 (the first 5 months of this year) to the ANNUAL surface temperatures from 1880 to 2014 based on the GISS global land-ocean temperature index. The fact that he’s not comparing comparable annual time periods doesn’t come across clearly in Romm’s introduction.  If John Abraham had bothered to show the January to May averages for each year, my Figure 4, the data would have shown that 2002, 2007 and 2010 values were also greater than the +0.7 deg C upper range of his graph.  That is, the data for those years would be off the graph too.

Figure 4

Figure 4

And Joe Romm didn’t bother to tell his readers that the January to May 2015 average for the GISS LOTI data was +0.766 deg C, which is only 0.006 deg C higher (that’s read 6 one-thousandths of a deg C) than the January to May value of +0.760 in 2010.  That 0.006 deg C difference is minuscule, well within the uncertainties of the GISS data.


In his June 16th post, Joe Romm continues:

The recent study, “Near-term acceleration in the rate of temperature change,” explains why a speed up in the rate of global warming is imminent — with Arctic warming rising up to 1°F per decade by the 2020s.

Oddly, that linked post has nothing to do with El Niño events or the “big jumps” associated with El Niño events. It’s about the recent alarmist paper Smith et al. (2015) Near-term acceleration in the rate of temperature change, which has two strikes against it right off the get go.  (1) It treats proxy-based paleoclimatological temperature data as though they were reality. (2) It treats climate model projections as if they’re credible.


His June 16 post continues with a discussion of ocean heat content and a graph of the NODC’s data…again, nothing to do with the step changes in surface temperatures caused by strong El Niños:

More than 90 percent of global heating goes into the oceans — and ocean warming down to 2000 meters (1.24 miles) has accelerated this century, as this recent NOAA chart shows:

Romm Figure 02 NODC OHC 0-2000m pentad and annual

Joe even presents the NODC data to depths of 0-2000 meters and claims the warming is accelerating, as if the data to those depths prior to the ARGO era represent the real world. The reality is that there are very few observations at those depths prior to ARGO, so it’s basically a make-believe dataset before about 2003. And he seems to forget something that’s just as important:  the ARGO-based data have to be adjusted to show warming of those magnitudes. See the posts:


It’s very possible that surface temperatures could make a Trenberth “big jump” in response to the current multiyear El Niño.  A tremendous volume of warm water has made its way into the eastern tropical Pacific in 2014 and 2015—a response to El Niño processes.  If history repeats itself, we could see an upward shift in surface temperatures.

In the post The 2014/15 El Niño – Part 9 – Kevin Trenberth is Looking Forward to Another “Big Jump” last year, in fact, I showed a couple of possibilities in Figure 2 of that post, which is included here as Figure 5.  As we well know, the El Niño did not develop into a super El Niño in 2014, but conditions this year are much stronger.  So in your mind’s eye shift the upward step back a year…there’s no reason for me to update that graph since it was shown only for illustration purposes, not as a prediction.  The graph simply assumes that surface temperatures will shift the 0.2 to 0.3 deg C as Trenberth suggested and that surface temperatures afterwards will follow what happened after the 1997/98 El Niño.

Figure 5

Figure 5


You gotta see this!  Gotta!

Joe Romm closes his June 16th post with a link the Amazon webpage for his book Hell — and High Water, published in 2006:

We are building a staircase to … Hell — and High Water.

Following the links, I came to the Kindle webpage and its preview. The following illustration is a screen cap that includes the first two paragraphs of its Introduction.

Kindle Preview Joe Romm Book

[Update:  Forgot to mention: the “ice sheets shrinking 100 years ahead of schedule”, comically, illustrates a climate model failing.  Funny that Joe Romm can’t see that. ]

“inland United States”…“ 10° F hotter”…“ravaged by mega-droughts”…”widespread wildfires”…“drowning from a 5- to 10-foot increase in sea level”… “relentlessly climbing 5 to 10 inches a decade or more”…“ultimate sea level rise of 80 feet”…“as soon as the second half of this century”.


I’ll let you readers comment on that.   Then again, you might not want to waste your time.


Kevin, I’d be happy to co-author a paper with you about these upward steps in global surface temperatures caused by strong El Niños.   If you like, we could even make it Trenberth and Tisdale (2016). Has a catchy ring to it, doesn’t it? Feel free to leave me a note at my blog Climate Observations if you’re interested. If you’d like to wait until after you retire from NCAR, that’s fine too.  Maybe we could get a head start on it, though.


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, Kevin Trenberth. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to ClimateProgress’s Joe Romm Is Promoting a Skeptical View of Global Warming: El Niño-Caused Steps

  1. Here is a quote from my blog at
    “The IPCC climate models are further incorrectly structured because they are based on three irrational and false assumptions. First, that CO2 is the main climate driver. Second, that in calculating climate sensitivity, the GHE due to water vapor should be added to that of CO2 as a positive feed back effect. Third, that the GHE of water vapor is always positive. As to the last point, the feedbacks cannot be always positive otherwise we wouldn’t be here to talk about it. For example, an important negative feed back related to Tropical Cyclones has been investigated by Trenberth, see:
    He says in Fig 2.

  2. Thanks, Bob. This is funny, you have been showing us these ENSO data and your interpretation of it for years.

  3. I think an interesting question from this debate would be: how exactly are the oceans heated by the sun and what is the most variable factor – i.e. UV -Vis or IR radiation – affecting the amount of heat going into the oceans.
    I think I found Trenberth’s missing energy ….

  4. Pamela Gray says:

    morecarbonok, you need to go into more detail for me. I fail to see how your graph forms an adequate supporting document for your thesis.

  5. Hi Pam
    Nice hearing from you again. How is the hearing going?

    thesis? Maybe, if you link the points in time, yes, it could become a theory.
    At the moment I am just showing here that the indicated linear down trend in ozone [e.g. man made] is less probable than a sinusoidal [e.g. natural] trend.
    Now, what would affect the manufacture of ozone, peroxides and nitrogenous TOA?

    Would you agree with me that as both solar magnetic fields are weakening, more of the most energetic particles are able to escape from the sun, forming more ozone, peroxides and nitrogenous TOA?
    Let me know.

  6. Pamela Gray says:

    Experts are confused. First they say ozone depletion was caused by continued pollution. Then in 2010 everybody got excited about the possibility that the quiet Sun was causing this depletion and that this depletion was warming the Earth!

    I still hold that Earth’s own oscillating teleconnected systems strongly create short and long term weather pattern variations noisy enough to bury anything anthropogenic CO2 or solar variations do.

  7. @Pam
    interesting report
    but it does not make it clear where exactly they did their final measurement, was it TOA (satelite?) or @ sea level?
    the period studied is a bit short
    they also still toe the CO2 line which I will prove is wrong

    very few of us have come to understand that there never was a man made ozone hole.
    it is just that above the oceans the reactions [the atmosphere TOA defense system against harmful radiation hitting on us and flora and fauna]:
    N2 + O2 + (UV -C) => 2NO
    3O2 g + (UV-C) =.> 2O3 g

    might be perhaps a bit in competition with this reaction
    2[OH] + (UV-C) = > H2O2 g
    the latter winning above the oceans
    Unfortunately we do not measure H2O2 and that leaves everybody clueless.
    If you look at the spectrum of O3 and H2O2 you find striking similarities. They both have absorption in the UV-A and UV-B regions, meaning that less radiation of that type will hit earth, when there is more ozone and/or peroxide. The end result is a small shift in the chi square distribution of energy coming from the sun through the atmosphere.

    The way to pick up this variation coming through the atmosphere is by looking at measurements of minima and maxima. I looked at 800000 of those, each, with the weather stations balanced by latitude and 70/30. I figured longitude does not matter as long as look at the regressions of the change in T per annum. I am finding around 1996 -1997 where global incoming heat starting to decline. True enough, it seems from the Arosa ozone time series that ozone started its incline at the end of the century.

  8. FYI

    I don’t have a picture for the drop in the rate of max. temp. in K/annum , the relationship there is:

    y=0.039ln (x) – 0.1112 (where y= years in the past)
    with r2 = 0.996
    valid for 1973 -2014
    Best wishes

  9. ItsGettingHotinHereSo says:

    Not related but have a question for you. Using WoodforTrees , I graphed the AMO index along side RSS and UAH Anomalies and they line up almost exactly. I know others have made this observation in the past. Have you commented on this previously? Would be interested in your insights. Your “Who Turned Up the Heat” book was fantastic. Appreciate all of your efforts.

  10. Hi Bob,
    it’s the sun, the oceans and the atmosphere, that causes weather and climate for millions of years on earth, it’s not the life spending trace gas CO2. Your work should show it clear for all sane people…


  11. Bob Tisdale says:

    ItsGettingHotinHereSo, thanks for the kind words about the book.

    I’ve never plotted the AMO index with the global RSS and UAH TLT data. But it makes sense that they’re similar. ENSO and volcanos would create the similar year-to-year wiggles in the AMO and the TLT anomalies. Then, of the major ocean basins, the North Atlantic has the greatest multidecadal variability, so it had the highest rate of warming from about 1975 to 2005. But once you detrend the long-term North Atlantic data to create the AMO index, you chop off about half of the North Atlantic SSTa trend during that recent warming period. And based on what you’re saying, that appears to bring it into line with the TLT anomalies.

  12. Alec aka Daffy Duck says:

    Bob, did you know that global warming has increased rain by 5-10%?…..

    Tee berth: “It means even here in Colorado we’re apt to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 to 10 percent more rainfall when we do have an event.”

  13. Alec aka Daffy Duck says:

    Trenberth: It means even here in Colorado we’re apt to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 to 10 percent more rainfall when we do have an event.”

  14. henry said
    henry says
    I must add to this that I suspect that in the 1930’s the equipment was probably quite primitive and more inaccurate than what we have now. There were some papers about that, too….
    So, it is quite possible that the readings in those days were too high.
    In addition, we know that besides the Gleissberg (ca. 87 yrs), there is also the DeVries longterm solar cycle (ca. 210 yrs).
    So, if you can imagine, by pushing my indicated polynomial best fit down a bit in the beginning, you can see a perfect sinusoidal appearing.
    Which is pretty amazing, actually, for me, as a scientist trying to solve a difficult problem.
    [= who put the heat off]

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