COVID-19 Global Economic Downturn not Affecting CO2 Rise: May 2020 Update

June 5th, 2020

爱情岛论坛亚洲品牌自拍速汇成The Mauna Loa atmospheric CO2 concentration data continue to show no reduction in the rate of rise due to the recent global economic slowdown. This demonstrates how difficult it is to reduce global CO2 emissions without causing a major disruption to the global economy and exacerbation of poverty.

爱情岛论坛亚洲品牌自拍速汇成After removal of the strong seasonal cycle in Mauna Loa CO2 data, and a first order estimate of the CO2 influence of El Nino and La Nina activity (ENSO), the May 2020 update shows no indication of a reduction in the rate of rise in the last few months, when the reduction in economic activity should have shown up.

爱情岛论坛亚洲品牌自拍速汇成

I had previously explained why the slowdown would likely not be large enough to affect measured atmospheric CO2 levels compared to natural variations in global sources and sinks of CO2. I calculated that the Energy Information Administration-estimated 11% reductions in CO2 emissions during 2020 would have to be four times larger to stop the rise of atmospheric CO2 over 2019 values (assuming no substantial natural variations in CO2 sources and sinks).

UAH Global Temperature Update for May 2020: +0.54 deg. C

June 2nd, 2020

The Version 6.0 global average lower tropospheric temperature (LT) anomaly for May, 2020 was +0.54 deg. C, up from the April, 2020 value of +0.38 deg. C.

The linear warming trend since January, 1979 is +0.14 C/decade (+0.12 C/decade over the global-averaged oceans, and +0.18 C/decade over global-averaged land).

Various regional LT departures from the 30-year (1981-2010) average for the last 17 months are:

 YEAR MO GLOBE NHEM. SHEM. TROPIC USA48 ARCTIC AUST 
2019 01 +0.38 +0.35 +0.41 +0.36 +0.53 -0.14 +1.15
2019 02 +0.37 +0.47 +0.28 +0.43 -0.02 +1.05 +0.05
2019 03 +0.34 +0.44 +0.25 +0.41 -0.55 +0.97 +0.59
2019 04 +0.44 +0.38 +0.51 +0.54 +0.49 +0.92 +0.91
2019 05 +0.32 +0.29 +0.35 +0.40 -0.61 +0.98 +0.38
2019 06 +0.47 +0.42 +0.52 +0.64 -0.64 +0.91 +0.35
2019 07 +0.38 +0.33 +0.44 +0.45 +0.10 +0.33 +0.87
2019 08 +0.39 +0.38 +0.39 +0.42 +0.17 +0.44 +0.24
2019 09 +0.61 +0.64 +0.59 +0.60 +1.14 +0.75 +0.57
2019 10 +0.46 +0.64 +0.28 +0.31 -0.03 +0.99 +0.50
2019 11 +0.55 +0.56 +0.54 +0.55 +0.21 +0.56 +0.38
2019 12 +0.56 +0.61 +0.50 +0.58 +0.92 +0.66 +0.94
2020 01 +0.56 +0.60 +0.53 +0.62 +0.73 +0.12 +0.66
2020 02 +0.76 +0.96 +0.55 +0.76 +0.38 +0.02 +0.30
2020 03 +0.48 +0.61 +0.34 +0.63 +1.09 -0.72 +0.17
2020 04 +0.38 +0.43 +0.34 +0.45 -0.59 +1.03 +0.97
2020 05 +0.54 +0.60 +0.49 +0.66 +0.17 +1.15 -0.15

The UAH LT global gridpoint anomaly image for May, 2020 should be available within the next week here.

The global and regional monthly anomalies for the various atmospheric layers we monitor should be available in the next few days at the following locations:

Lower Troposphere: http://vortex.nsstc.uah.edu/data/msu/v6.0/tlt/uahncdc_lt_6.0.txt
Mid-Troposphere: http://vortex.nsstc.uah.edu/data/msu/v6.0/tmt/uahncdc_mt_6.0.txt
Tropopause: http://vortex.nsstc.uah.edu/data/msu/v6.0/ttp/uahncdc_tp_6.0.txt
Lower Stratosphere: http://vortex.nsstc.uah.edu/data/msu/v6.0/tls/uahncdc_ls_6.0.txt

Record Cold Upper Mesospheric Temperatures Suggest Another Good Noctilucent Cloud Viewing Season

May 31st, 2020

Noctilucent clouds (NLCs) are often visible in the extreme upper atmosphere (80-85 km altitude) well after sunset in the late spring and summer at high northern latitudes. They form from ice condensing on meteoric dust at extremely cold temperatures (below 150 Kelvin or -190 deg. F). The cold temperatures are due to adiabatic cooling from dynamic uplift combined with little ozone to absorb the sun’s ultraviolet radiation.

Noctilucent clouds on May 31, 2020 (Alan Tough, Scotland)

With current solar minimum conditions reducing solar heating by ultraviolet radiation, and slowly increasing CO2 in the atmosphere causing enhanced infrared cooling to outer space, record low temperature are occurring. This has extended the southernmost viewing opportunity for NLCs from the usual ~60 deg. N latitude to as low as 35N latitude last year, with NLC sightings near Los Angeles and Las Vegas in 2019.

This recent article by Dr. Tony Phillips suggested that 2020 is shaping up to be another good NLC viewing season. An earlier article by Tony included this nice plot of April-May temperatures at 80 N latitude from this year compared to previous years, showing the general cooling trend during the current solar minimum conditions.

Data plot courtesy of Dr. Lynn Harvey, U. of Colorado.

We downloaded some more recent Aura satellite Microwave Limb Sounder data, and plotted it as a function of latitude. Note how fast temperatures dropped in only 6 days… 1-2 deg. C per day depending upon latitude.

Upper mesospheric temperatures at 83 km altitude on two different days in May, 2020 as a function of latitude. Lines are 2nd order polynomial fits to the data, providing average temperatures as a function of latitude.

The 141 K average temperature on May 27 (Day 148) at 80N latitude appears to be a new record low if we compare it to the data in the previous plot by Dr. Harvey.

I will try to keep track of these temperatures as the NLC season progresses in the coming weeks. So far, NLC sightings have been mostly in northern Europe and the UK.

Why the Current Economic Slowdown Won’t Show Up in the Atmospheric CO2 Record

May 15th, 2020

爱情岛论坛亚洲品牌自拍速汇成 Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) continue to increase with no sign of the global economic slowdown in response to the spread of COVID-19. This is because the estimated reductions in CO2 emissions (around -11% globally during 2020) is too small a reduction to be noticed against a background of large natural variability. The reduction in economic activity would have to be 4 times larger than 11% to halt the rise in atmospheric CO2.

Changes in the atmospheric reservoir of CO2 occur when there is an imbalance between surface sources and sinks of CO2. While the global land and ocean areas emit approximately 30 times as much CO2 into the atmosphere as humans produce from burning of fossil fuels, they also absorb about an equal amount of CO2. This is the global carbon cycle, driven mostly by biological activity.

There are variations in the natural carbon cycle, such as during El Nino (more CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere) and La Nina (more CO2 removed from the atmosphere). Greater wildfire activity releases more CO2, while major volcanic eruptions (paradoxically) lead to greater photosynthesis from more diffuse sunlight and extra removal of CO2 from the air. The most dramatic variations are seasonal, as the land-dominated Northern Hemisphere experiences an annual cycle of vegetation growth (CO2 removal) and decay (CO2 release).

The increase in atmospheric CO2 observed since the 1950s is most likely dominated by anthropogenic CO2 emissions, which are twice as large as that needed to explain the observed rise. As I have shown before, a simple CO2 budget model driven by (1) estimates of global yearly anthropogenic CO2 emissions, (2) El Nino and La Nina activity, and (3) a CO2 removal rate that is proportional to how much “extra” CO2 is in the atmosphere compared to a “preferred baseline” CO2 level, yields an excellent fit to yearly CO2 observations at Mauna Loa, Hawaii.

Fig. 1. Yearly Mauna Loa, HI CO2 observations since 1959 (red) versus a simple CO2 budget model (blue).

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But those are yearly measurements, and we are now interested in whether the recent global economic slowdown is showing up in the monthly Mauna Loa CO2 data. If we remove the large seasonal variations (driven by the seasonal growth and decay of Northern Hemisphere vegetation), we see no evidence of the economic slowdown through April, 2020.

Fig. 2. Monthly CO2 data since 2015 from Mauna Loa, HI after the average seasonal cycle is statistically removed.

As can be seen in Fig. 2, there are some pretty large month-to-month jumps and dips around the long-term increase (represented by the dotted line). These are probably natural variations due to fluctuations in the average seasonal variations in vegetation growth and decay, wildfire activity, and El Nino and La Nina activity (which are imperfectly removed in the solid blue line in Fig. 2). Variations in economic activity might also be involved in these fluctuations.

The point is that given the large month-to-month variations in natural CO2 sources and sinks seen in Fig. 2, it would be difficult to see a downturn in the anthropogenic source of CO2 unless it was very large (say, over 50%) and prolonged (say over a year or longer).

Instead, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that the global economic slowdown this year due to the spread of the novel coronavirus will amount to only about an 11% reduction in global CO2 emissions. This is simply too small of a decrease in CO2 emissions to show up against a background of considerable monthly and yearly natural variability in the atmospheric CO2 budget.

That relatively small 11% reduction also illustrates how dependent humanity is on energy, since the economic disruption is leading to U.S. unemployment rates not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Everything that humans do requires access to abundant and affordable energy, and even the current economic downturn is not enough to substantially reduce global CO2 emissions.

ADDENDUM: How much of a decrease in CO2 emissions would be required to stop the atmospheric rise in CO2?

An interesting aspect of the observed rise of atmospheric CO2 is that it indicates the greater the CO2 concentration, the faster the “extra” CO2 is removed by biological activity. The observed annual rate of removal is 2.3% of the excess above a baseline of 295 ppm. The greater the “excess”, the faster the rate of removal.

Because of this rapid rate of removal, the anthropogenic CO2 emissions do not have to go to zero to stop the observed rise in atmospheric CO2. Using my simple model (blue line in Fig. 1, above), I find that a 43% reduction in anthropogenic CO2 emissions in 2020 would — in the absence of natural fluctuations in the carbon cycle — lead to a halt in the observed rise of atmospheric CO2 in 2020 over 2019 levels. This is about 4 times larger than the EIA estimate of an 11% reduction in CO2 emissions for the year 2020.

UAH Global Temperature Update for April 2020: +0.38 deg. C

May 1st, 2020

UPDATE: Changed emphasis from Northern Hemisphere extratropics to entire Northern Hemisphere (h/t John Christy)

In April, 2020, the Northern Hemisphere experienced its 2nd largest 2-month drop in temperature in the 497-month satellite record.

The Version 6.0 global average lower tropospheric temperature (LT) anomaly for April, 2020 was +0.38 deg. C, down from the March, 2020 value of +0.48 deg. C.

The Northern Hemisphere temperature anomaly fell from +0.96 deg. C to 0.43 deg. C from February to April, a 0.53 deg. C drop which is the 2nd largest 2-month drop in the 497-month satellite record. The largest 2-month drop was -0.69 deg. C from December 1987 to February 1988.

The linear warming trend since January, 1979 has now increased to +0.14 C/decade (but remains statistically unchanged at +0.12 C/decade over the global-averaged oceans, and +0.18 C/decade over global-averaged land).

Various regional LT departures from the 30-year (1981-2010) average for the last 16 months are:

 YEAR MO GLOBE NHEM. SHEM. TROPIC USA48 ARCTIC AUST  2019 01 +0.38 +0.35 +0.41 +0.36 +0.53 -0.15 +1.15 2019 02 +0.37 +0.47 +0.28 +0.43 -0.02 +1.04 +0.06 2019 03 +0.35 +0.44 +0.25 +0.41 -0.55 +0.97 +0.59 2019 04 +0.44 +0.38 +0.51 +0.54 +0.49 +0.92 +0.91 2019 05 +0.32 +0.29 +0.35 +0.40 -0.61 +0.98 +0.39 2019 06 +0.47 +0.42 +0.52 +0.64 -0.64 +0.91 +0.35 2019 07 +0.38 +0.33 +0.44 +0.45 +0.10 +0.33 +0.87 2019 08 +0.39 +0.38 +0.39 +0.42 +0.17 +0.44 +0.24 2019 09 +0.62 +0.64 +0.59 +0.60 +1.14 +0.75 +0.57 2019 10 +0.46 +0.64 +0.28 +0.31 -0.03 +0.99 +0.50 2019 11 +0.55 +0.56 +0.54 +0.55 +0.21 +0.56 +0.38 2019 12 +0.56 +0.61 +0.50 +0.58 +0.92 +0.66 +0.94 2020 01 +0.57 +0.60 +0.53 +0.62 +0.73 +0.12 +0.66 2020 02 +0.76 +0.96 +0.55 +0.76 +0.38 +0.02 +0.30 2020 03 +0.48 +0.61 +0.34 +0.63 +1.09 -0.72 +0.17 2020 04 +0.38 +0.43 +0.34 +0.45 -0.59 +1.03 +0.97

The UAH LT global gridpoint anomaly image for April, 2020 should be available within the next week here.

The global and regional monthly anomalies for the various atmospheric layers we monitor should be available in the next few days at the following locations:

Lower Troposphere: http://vortex.nsstc.uah.edu/data/msu/v6.0/tlt/uahncdc_lt_6.0.txt
Mid-Troposphere: http://vortex.nsstc.uah.edu/data/msu/v6.0/tmt/uahncdc_mt_6.0.txt
Tropopause: http://vortex.nsstc.uah.edu/data/msu/v6.0/ttp/uahncdc_tp_6.0.txt
Lower Stratosphere: http://vortex.nsstc.uah.edu/data/msu/v6.0/tls/uahncdc_ls_6.0.txt

March 2020 CO2 Levels at Mauna Loa Show No Obvious Effect from Global Economic Downturn

April 7th, 2020

The COVID-19 disease spread is causing a worldwide shutdown in economic activity as business close, airlines cancel flights, and people shelter in their homes. For example, there was a 28% decline in global commercial air traffic in March 2020 compared to March of last year.

Last month I described a simple method for removing the large seasonal cycle from the Mauna Loa CO2 data, and well as the average effects from El Nino and La Nina (the removal is noisy and imperfect), in an effort to capture the underlying trend in CO2 and so provide a baseline to compare future months’ measurements too.

What we are looking for is any evidence of a decline in the atmospheric CO2 content that would be strong enough to attribute to the economic downturn. As can be seen, the latest CO2 data show a slight downturn, but it’s not yet out of the ordinary compare to previous month-to-month downturns.

I personally doubt we will see a clear COVID-19 effect in the CO2 data in the coming months, but I would be glad to be proved wrong. As I mentioned last month, those who view the economic downturn as an opportunity to reduce atmospheric CO2 would have to wait many years — even decades — before we would see the impact of a large economic downturn on global temperatures, which would occur at great cost to humanity, especially the poor.

Correcting Recent U.S. Weekly Death Statistics for Incomplete Reporting

April 6th, 2020

I am seeing an increasing number of people on social media pointing to the weekly CDC death statistics which show a unusually low number of total deaths for this time of year, when one would expect the number to be increasing from COVID-19. But what most people don’t realize is that this is an artifact of the late arrival of death certificate data as gathered by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

This first came to my attention as a tweet by some researchers who were using the CDC weekly death data in a research paper pointing out the downturn in deaths in early 2020 and had to retract the paper because of the incomplete data problem. A disclaimer at the CDC website points out the incomplete nature of recent data. While they say that the new totals could be adjusted either upward or downward, it appears that the adjustments are almost always upward (i.e. recent data have a low bias in reported deaths).

As a first attempt to possibly correct for this under-reporting problem, I downloaded the data two weeks in a row (approximately March 30 and April 5, 2020) to examine how the recent data changes as new death certificate data are obtained. I realize this is only one week’s worth of changes, and each week would provide additional statistics. But the basic methodology could be applied with additional weeks of data added.

I first use the 4.5 years of reported weekly death data to compute an average seasonal cycle in deaths, with the slow upward trend included (red line in the following figure). Also shown are the total deaths reported on 2 successive weeks, showing the increase in reported deaths from late reports coming in.

Although it is not obvious in the above plot, there were new deaths reported as much as 1 year late.If we use the difference between the two successive weeks’ reports as an estimate of how many new reports will come in each week as a percentage of the average seasonal cycle, and sum them up for 52 weeks, we can get a rough estimate of what the totals will look like a year from now (the blue line in the following figure).

The blue line shows behavior quite close to that seen last year at this time. Keep in mind that Week 10 is only through early March, at which point there were only 30 COVID-19 deaths reported, which is too small a number to show up on these plots. I’m posting this as just a suggestion for those who want to analyze recent weekly death data and make some sense out of it.

It is also of interest how bad the 2017-18 flu season was compared to this season. I’m sure many medical people are aware of this, but I don’t recall it being a huge news story two years ago.

Australia Bushfire Smoke Now Warming the Lower Stratosphere? March 2020 Update

April 1st, 2020

Last month I noted how the global average lower stratospheric temperaturehad warmed considerably in recent months, especially in February, and tentatively attributed it to smoke from the Australian bushfires entering the lower stratosphere. You can read more there about my reasoning that the effect was unlikely to be due to the recent Taal volcanic eruption.

Here’s the March 2020 update, showing continued warming.

The effect cannot be as clearly seen in regional averages (e.g. tropics or Southern Hemisphere) because those regions routinely see large changes which are compensated for by changes of the opposite sign in other regions, due to strong adiabatic warming (sinking motion) or cooling (rising motion) in the statically stable stratosphere. Thus, global averages show the best signal of something new going on, even if that something new is only occurring in a specific region.

UAH Global Temperature Update for March 2020: +0.48 deg. C

April 1st, 2020

The Version 6.0 global average lower tropospheric temperature (LT) anomaly for March, 2020 was +0.48 deg. C, down substantially from the February, 2020 value of +0.76 deg. C.

The northern extratropics (poleward of 20 deg. N) experienced the 12th largest drop in tropospheric temperature out of the 495 months of the satellite record. For those interested in speculating regarding reasons for this, it could not be from reduced CO2 emissions from the response to the spread of COVID-19; to the extent that recent warming has been due to more CO2 in the atmosphere, the radiative forcing from extra CO2 would not change substantially even if all CO2 emissions stopped for a full year.

Another possibility is reduced air travel reducing the amount of jet contrails in the upper troposphere, which I am not going to discount at this point.

The linear warming trend since January, 1979 remains at +0.13 C/decade (+0.12 C/decade over the global-averaged oceans, and +0.18 C/decade over global-averaged land).

Various regional LT departures from the 30-year (1981-2010) average for the last 15 months are:

 YEAR MO GLOBE NHEM. SHEM. TROPIC USA48 ARCTIC AUST  2019 01 +0.38 +0.35 +0.41 +0.36 +0.53 -0.15 +1.15 2019 02 +0.38 +0.47 +0.28 +0.43 -0.02 +1.05 +0.06 2019 03 +0.35 +0.44 +0.25 +0.41 -0.55 +0.97 +0.59 2019 04 +0.44 +0.38 +0.51 +0.54 +0.49 +0.92 +0.91 2019 05 +0.32 +0.29 +0.35 +0.40 -0.61 +0.98 +0.39 2019 06 +0.47 +0.42 +0.52 +0.64 -0.64 +0.91 +0.35 2019 07 +0.38 +0.33 +0.44 +0.45 +0.11 +0.33 +0.87 2019 08 +0.39 +0.38 +0.39 +0.42 +0.17 +0.44 +0.24 2019 09 +0.62 +0.64 +0.59 +0.60 +1.14 +0.75 +0.57 2019 10 +0.46 +0.64 +0.28 +0.31 -0.03 +0.99 +0.50 2019 11 +0.55 +0.56 +0.54 +0.55 +0.21 +0.56 +0.38 2019 12 +0.56 +0.61 +0.50 +0.58 +0.92 +0.66 +0.94 2020 01 +0.57 +0.60 +0.53 +0.62 +0.73 +0.12 +0.66 2020 02 +0.76 +0.96 +0.55 +0.76 +0.38 +0.02 +0.30 2020 03 +0.48 +0.61 +0.34 +0.63 +1.09 -0.72 +0.17

The UAH LT global gridpoint anomaly image for March, 2020 should be available within the next week here.

The global and regional monthly anomalies for the various atmospheric layers we monitor should be available in the next few days at the following locations:

Lower Troposphere: http://vortex.nsstc.uah.edu/data/msu/v6.0/tlt/uahncdc_lt_6.0.txt
Mid-Troposphere: http://vortex.nsstc.uah.edu/data/msu/v6.0/tmt/uahncdc_mt_6.0.txt
Tropopause: http://vortex.nsstc.uah.edu/data/msu/v6.0/ttp/uahncdc_tp_6.0.txt
Lower Stratosphere: http://vortex.nsstc.uah.edu/data/msu/v6.0/tls/uahncdc_ls_6.0.txt

The UAH Global Temperature Dataset at 30 Years: A Look Back at the Early Days

March 30th, 2020

Today (Monday, March 30) is the 30th anniversary of our publication in Science describing the first satellite-based dataset for climate monitoring.

While much has happened in the last 30 years, I thought it might be interesting for people to know what led up to the dataset’s development, and some of the politics and behind-the-scenes happenings in the early days.What follows is in approximate chronological order, and is admittedly from my own perspective. John Christy might have somewhat different recollections of these events.

Some of what follows might surprise you, some of it is humorous, and I also wanted to give credit to some of the other players. Without their help, influence, and foresight, the satellite temperature dataset might never have been developed.

Spencer & Christy Backgrounds

In the late 1980s John Christy and I were contractors at NASA/MSFC in Huntsville, AL, working in the Atmospheric Sciences Division where NASA managers and researchers were trying to expand beyond their original mission, which was weather support for Space Shuttle launches. NASA/MSFC manager Gregory S. Wilson was a central figure in our hiring and encouragement of our work.

I came from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a Ph.D. in Meteorology, specializing in the energetics of African easterly waves (the precursors of most Atlantic hurricanes). I then did post-doc work there in the satellite remote sensing of precipitation using microwave radiometers. John Christy received his Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science from the University of Illinois where he did his research on the global surface atmospheric pressure field. John had experience in analyzing global datasets for climate research, and was hired to assist Pete Robertson (NASA) to assist in data analysis. I was hired to develop new microwave satellite remote sensing projects for the Space Shuttle and the Space Station.

James Hansen’s Congressional Testimony, and Our First Data Processing

In 1988, NASA’s James Hansen testified for then-Senator Al Gore, Jr., testimony which more than any single event thrust global warming into the collective consciousness of society. We were at a NASA meeting in New Hampshire. As I recall, UAH’s Dick McNider on the plane ride up had just read a draft of a paper by Kevin Trenberth given to him by John Christy (who had been a Trenberth student) that discussed many issues with the sparse surface temperature data for detecting climate change.

During lunch Dick asked, given all the issues with the lack of global coverage and siting issues with surface data sets discussed by Trenberth, if there wasn’t satellite data that could be used to investigate Hansen’s global claims? NASA HQ manager James Dodge was there and expressed immediate interest in funding such a research project.

I said, yes, such data existed from the NOAA/NASA/JPL Microwave Sounding Unit (MSU) instruments, but it would be difficult to access approximately 10 years of global data. Note that this was before there was routine internet access to large digital datasets, and ordering data from the government had a very large price tag. No one purchased many years of global data; it came on computer 6250 bpi computer tapes each containing approximately 100 MB of data, and computers then were pretty slow. The data we wanted was from NOAA satellites, and NOAA would reuse these large (10.5 inch) IBM tapes rather than to keep the old data tapes around using up storage space.

It turns out that Roy Jenne who worked data systems at the NSF’s National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder had years before taken it upon himself to archive the old NOAA satellite data before it was lost altogether. He kept the data on a “mass storage system” (very large and inefficient by today’s standards) and I believe it was Greg Wilson who John Christy made the connection to gain us access to those data.

We obtained somewhat less than 10 years of data from NCAR, and I decided how to best calibrate it and average it into a more manageable space/time resolution. I had frequent contact with JPL engineers who built the MSU instruments, Fred Soltis in particular, who along with Norman Grody at NOAA provided me with calibration data for the MSU instruments flying on different satellites.

We enlisted John Christy to analyze those data since he brought considerable experience with diagnosing global datasets for climate purposes. One of the first things John discovered was from comparing global averages from different satellites in different orbits: They gave surprisingly similar answers in terms of year-to-year temperature variability. This was quite unexpected and demonstrated that the MSU instruments had high calibration stability, at least over a few years. It also demonstrated that NOAA’s practice of adjusting satellite data with radiosondes (weather balloons) was backwards: the differences others had seen between the two systems were due to poor spatial sampling by the radiosondes, not due to changes in the satellite calibration stability.

In addition to the critical historical data archived by Roy Jenne at NCAR, we would some of the more recent satellite data that was kept at NOAA. We didn’t have quite ten years of data, and an editor at Science magazine wanted ten full years of data before they would publish our first findings. We were able to order more data from NOAA to get the first 10 years’ worth (1979 through 1988), and Science accepted our paper.

The NASA Press Conference

On March 29, 1990 we held a “media availability” at the communications center at NASA/MSFC. For some reason, NASA would not allow it to be called a full-fledged “press conference”. As I recall, attendance was heavy (by Huntsville standards) and there was no place for me to park but in the grass, for which I was awarded a parking ticket by NASA security. JPL flew a remaining copy of the MSU instrument in as a prop; it had its own seat on a commercial flight from Pasadena.

Jay Leno would later mention our news conference in his monologue, and Joan Lunden covered it on Good Morning America. While we watched Ms. Lunden on a monitor the next morning, a NASA scientist remarked that he was too distracted by her long, slender legs to listen to what she was saying.

Our 1990 Senate Testimony for Gore

After we published our first research results on March 30,1990, we received an invitation to testify for Al Gore in a Senate committee hearing in October, 1990 on the subject of coral bleaching. Phil Jones from the University of East Anglia was also there to testify.

As people filed into the hearing room, I saw a C-SPAN camera being set up, and having noticed that Al Gore seemed to be the only committee member in attendance, I asked the cameraman about the lack of interest from other senators. He said something like, “Oh, Senator Gore likes it this way… he gets all the media attention.”

We still used overhead projectors back then with view graphs, and I thought I’d better check out the equipment. The projector turned out to be seriously out-of-focus, and the focus adjustment on the arm would not fix it. I remember thinking to myself, “this seems pretty shoddy for Congress”.

Senator Gore launched into some introductory remarks while looking at me as I struggled with the projector. From his comments, he was obviously assuming I was Phil Jones (who was supposed to go first, and who Gore said he had previously visited in England). I thought to myself, this is getting strange. Just in time, I realized the projector arm was bent slightly out of alignment, I bent it back, and took my seat while Phil Jones presented his material.

Our testimony, which was rather uneventful, led to the traditional letter of thanks from Gore for supporting the hearing. In that letter, Gore expressed interest in additional results as they became available.

So, when it came time to get the necessary additional satellite data out of NOAA, I dropped Gore’s name to a manager at NOAA who suddenly became interested in providing everything they had to us at no charge… rather than us having to pay tens of thousands of our research dollars.

Hundreds of Computer Tapes and an Old Honda Civic

It might seem absurd to today’s young scientists, but it was not an easy task to process large amounts of digital data in the late 1980s. I received box after box of 9-track computer tapes in the mail from NOAA. Every few days, I would load them up in my old, high-mileage, barely-running 2-door Honda Civic and cart them over to the computer center at MSFC.

NASA’s Greg Wilson had gotten permission to use the computer facility for the task. At that time, most of the computer power was being taken up by engineers modeling the fuel flows within the Space Shuttle main engines. As I added more data and processed it, I would pass the averages on to John Christy who would then work his analysis magic on them.

I don’t recall how many years we would use this tape-in-the-mail ordering system. Most if not all of those tapes now reside in a Huntsville landfill. After many years of storage and hauling them from one office location to another during our moves, I decided there was no point in keeping them any longer.

A Call from the White House, and the First Hubble Space Telescope Image

Also in 1990, John Sununu, White House Chief of Staff to President George H. W. Bush, had taken notice of our work and invited us to come up to DC for a briefing.

We first had to bring the NASA Administrator V. Adm. Richard Truly up to speed. Truly was quite interested and was trying to make sure he understood my points by repeating them back to me. In my nervousness, I was apparently interrupting him by finishing his sentences, and he finally told me to “shut up”. So, I shut up.

The next stop was the office of the Associate Administrator, Lennard Fisk. While we were briefing Fisk, an assistant came in to show him the first image just collected by the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). This was before anyone realized the HST was miss-assembled and was out of focus. In retrospect, it was quite a fortuitous coincidence that we were there to witness such an event.

As the day progressed, and no call was coming in from the White House, Dr. Fisk seemed increasingly nervous. I was getting the impression he really did not want us to be briefing the White House on something as important as climate change. In those days, before NASA’s James Hansen made it a habit, no scientists were allowed to talk to politicians without heavy grooming by NASA management.

As the years went by, we would learn that the lack of substantial warming in the satellite data was probably hurting NASA’s selling of ‘Mission to Planet Earth’ to Congress. The bigger the perceived problem, the more money a government agency can extract from Congress to research the problem. At one point a NASA HQ manager would end up yelling at us in frustration for hurting the effort.

Late in the afternoon the call finally came in from the White House for us to visit, at which point Dr. Fisk told them, “Sorry, but they just left to return to Huntsville”, as he ushered us out the door. Dr. Wilson swore me to secrecy regarding the matter. (I talked with John Sununu at a Heartland Institute meeting a few years ago but forgot to ask him if he remembered this course of events). This would probably be – to me, at least – the most surreal and memorable day of our 30+ years of experiences related to the satellite temperature dataset.

After 1990

In subsequent years, John Christy would assume the central role in promoting the satellite dataset, including extensive comparisons of our data to radiosonde data, while I spent most of my time on other NASA projects I was involved in. But once a month for the next 30 years, we would process the most recent satellite data with our separate computer codes, passing the results back and forth and posting them for public access.

Only with our most recent Version 6 dataset procedures would those codes be entirely re-written by a single person (Danny Braswell) who had professional software development experience. In 2001, after tiring of being told by NASA management what I could and could not say in congressional testimony, I resigned NASA and continued my NASA projects as a UAH employee in the Earth System Science Center, for which John Christy serves as director (as well as the Alabama State Climatologist).

At this point, neither John nor I have retirement plans, and will continue to update the UAH dataset every month for the foreseeable future.