Skip to navigationSkip to content

Scientists have busted a major myth about global warming

AP/Gregorio Borgia
Climate scientist Wally Broecker might say, “I told you so.”
This article is more than 2 years old.

Global warming probably didn’t slow down during this century after all, according to newly published research by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  The revelation undercuts a favorite argument of politicians who are skeptical of climate change—that the earth has experienced a “hiatus” in warming since 1998.

The narrative of a steadily warming planet resonates deeply with many citizens who accept it as true, but skeptics have found plenty to challenge. One point that the nay-sayers have harped on (and believers labored to explain away) was the apparent slowdown in the rate of rising global temperatures over the past decade and a half. The world’s temperature records indicated that “temperatures from 2000 to 2014 had warmed at about two-thirds the rate of temperatures from 1950 to 1999,” according to a June 4 piece in the New York Times about the intricacies of global temperature record-keeping and the recent recalculations from NOAA.

Ocean surface temperatures make up a huge portion of the dataset collected throughout the 20th century. Based on modern understandings of the variations in ocean surface temperatures, NOAA has retroactively corrected some of that data. In publishing their findings, the researchers at NOAA wrote that analysis of the new, complete dataset shows ”the rate of warming during the first 15 years of the 21st century is at least as great as the last half of the 20th century.”

At least one think tank in Washington D.C. has already taken issue with the study. The libertarian-leaning Cato Institute called the science “dubious” and raised questions about the validity of adjusting old ocean temperature measurements. The officers who wrote the statement include a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and a meteorologist with affiliations at Harvard and MIT. They insist “that the warming is taking place at a much slower rate than is being projected.”

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.