John Christy: Expect More Warmth As El Niño Fades

  • Date: 07/01/16
  • Reporting Climate Science

Atmospheric temperatures will remain elevated and may even edge up higher as the El Niño Pacific Ocean warming event fades and the cooling sea gives up heat to the air above it, according to a leading climate scientist.


“Ocean temperatures related to the El Niño Pacific Ocean warming event are falling, which in the short term should mean temperatures in the atmosphere will continue to rise,” climate scientist John Christy of the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) is quoted as saying in a news release.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology reported this week that it thought that El Niño, which has been responsible for a number of weather events around the globe, was past its peak with temperature anomalies in the Pacific falling.

Christy is reported as saying that as the eastern central Pacific cools it releases heat into the atmosphere. There is a lag between the two, so the atmosphere should continue to see El Niño-influenced high (even record high) temperatures for the next several months, he explained. This is a pattern seen in most of the El Niño events during the past several decades, he said.

Christy makes his comments in a news release issued with the publication of the latest analysis of satellite measurements of the temperature of the atmosphere by UAH. These show that December was the warmest December since continuous measurement by satellite began in 1979 and that 2015 was the third warmest year in terms of the temperature of the lower troposphere as measured by satellite.

The UAH analysis of global atmospheric temperatures agrees with a different analysis of satellite data by US firm Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) which also placed 2015 third and showed that December 2015 was the warmest month of December in the satellite era.

Click to enlarge. Monthly average global temperature anomalies for the lower troposphere from December 1978 through to December 2015. Courtesy: UAH.

The fact that temperatures for the global lower troposphere during 2015 were behind those reported for 2010 and 1998, according to both RSS and UAH data, appears to be at variance to the surface temperature datasets from US space agency NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the US and the UK Meteorological Office which are all expected to show that 2015 was the warmest year on record in terms of global surface temperatures.

This discrepancy may be partly – but not wholly – explained by the time lag between sea surface temperature warming and atmospheric warming. However, the variance is likely to reignite debate around the changes to the way that sea surface temperatures are analysed that were introduced earlier this year by both NASA and NOAA which had the effect of boosting global average temperatures in recent years.

Five warmest years according to UAH (temperature anomaly – variance to the long-term average – oC)

1998    +0.48
2010    +0.34
2015    +0.27
2002    +0.21
2005    +0.20

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