This Climate Study Claims to Have the “Right Stuff”

This graph shows the predictions of the most popular global climate models (lines with no squares or circles) compared to global temperature measurements made by weather balloons (circles) and satellites (squares).  [The graph is from the report being discussed.]

This graph shows the predictions of various IPCC global climate models (lines with no squares or circles) compared to global temperature measurements made by weather balloons (circles) and satellites (squares). [The graph is Figure 1.1 from the report being discussed.]

It is well known in the scientific literature that the computer models being used by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have done a miserable job in predicting the change that has occurred in global temperature over the past two decades. You can see that for yourself by looking at the graph shown above. The various lines that have no circles or squares on them are the results of the climate models used by the IPCC. Notice that no model comes close to lining up with the actual data (the squares and circles). Indeed, the later the date, the worse the models become when compared to the data.

A group of retired NASA scientists and engineers led by Dr. Harold H. Doiron, a mechanical engineer who is best known for his work on eliminating unstable vibrations in liquid propellant rockets, has decided that these models simply can’t be used to make rational decisions about earth’s future climate. As this group says:

We have concluded that the IPCC climate models are seriously flawed because they don’t agree very closely with measured empirical data. After a 35 year simulation the models over-predicted actual measured temperatures by factors of 200% to 750%. One could hardly expect them to predict with better accuracy 300 years into the future required for use in regulatory decisions.

So what are we to do? If we can’t properly model how the earth will respond to increased carbon dioxide concentrations, how can we estimate what the consequences will be if we do nothing to curb the activities that are filling earth’s atmosphere with excess carbon dioxide?

In this research team’s mind, the answer is to look at the actual data and develop an empirical estimate. After all, we have about 100 years of measured data when it comes to global temperature, and we have a few thousand years of data that can help us estimate how the earth’s temperature has changed over that timeframe. In addition, we have measurements and estimates for how the amount of carbon dioxide in earth’s atmosphere has changed over time. If we look at past correlations between carbon dioxide and temperature, perhaps they can tell us what future correlations will be.

I have to admit that I am surprised no one has used this approach before. Sure, climate scientists have studied the correlations between past global temperatures and past atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, but this is the first time of which I am aware that scientists (and engineers) have tried to use those correlations to make definitive predictions about the future.

To those who spend a lot of time analyzing the global warming issue, the most important unknown is the climate sensitivity, which is defined to be the amount that global temperatures will increase when the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere doubles. The IPCC currently estimates the climate sensitivity at somewhere between 2 and 4.5 degrees Celsius, with a most likely value of 3 degrees Celsius.

According to these retired NASA scientists and engineers, however, this is based on flawed computer models that have no connection to reality. In their report, they note that many peer-reviewed climate papers conclude that the climate sensitivity is much lower than the IPCC’s estimate. Indeed, in Figure 4.9 of their report, they show that 15 climate studies published in the peer-reviewed literature from 2011 to 2013 all conclude that climate sensitivity is much lower than the IPCC’s estimate.

What do the retired NASA scientists and engineers conclude in their report? They say that at maximum, the climate sensitivity for all greenhouse gases combined is 2.9. This means that if the total amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere doubled, the earth’s temperature would increase by 2.9 degrees Celsius. However, they conclude that if you just look at carbon dioxide, the climate sensitivity is only 1.8. Thus, if the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubles (which is supposed to happen in 2080, according to current emission projections), the global temperature will rise only 1.8 degrees Celsius. This is far below what the IPCC concludes, but it is in line with the most recent peer-reviewed research on the issue.

In the end, here is what they conclude:

There is no convincing evidence that Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) will produce catastrophic climate changes. AGW can only produce modest amounts of global warming that will likely be beneficial when the substantial benefits to crop production from more CO2 in the atmosphere are considered.

As far as I know, none of the researchers involved in the project are climate scientists. Indeed, they call themselves “The Right Climate Stuff Research Team” to emphasize that they are among the scientists and engineers who put men on the moon. While that is very impressive, it has little to do with climate science. At the same time, however, their analysis is rather unique, and I like their approach. Given that we know the climate models used by the IPCC are downright awful, using past data to make predictions about future climate might very well be a much better way to go.


  1. lindy abbott March 10, 2014 9:05 am

    I always love how unbiased your articles are. It seems obvious that scientist would want to be “using past data to make predictions about future climate…” Indeed, I would have thought that this would have already have been the ideal model all along.

  2. C. R. March 13, 2014 9:44 am

    Au contraire, mon ami.

    It’s more that the current climate models are along the lines of: “My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with the facts!” You just can’t let a few data get in the way of your pet predictions.

    Thank you, Jay, for your continued enlightenment on so many topics.

  3. Evan Arcadi March 22, 2014 7:00 pm

    Fascinating article! I have a question for you related to this topic. I am a student at university studying general sciences and a colleague of mine claims that ice core samples prove that the earth is much warmer than in the past (in particular before the industrial revolution). What are your thoughts on this?

    • jlwile March 24, 2014 8:04 am

      Thanks for your question, Evan. Ice core samples become very hard to analyze the further one goes back in time, so I am not sure exactly how good it is for determining climate in the deep past. However, here is the typical graph that is shown. As you can see, the temperature in Greenland has been significantly warmer in the past. I suspect that the timescale gets less and less reliable the further back the graph goes, but even if you look at the past 1,000 years, temperatures were warmer. Other temperature proxies agree that the earth was warmer around 800-1000 AD, which is often called the Medieval Warm Period. These proxies, of course, are an indirect method of trying to estimate global temperature, so it’s not clear exactly how reliable they are. At the same time, I do think the conclusion that the earth has been warmer in the past is quite solid.