We have highlighted the fact that the planet does not warm uniformly. Air temperatures warm faster than the oceans, air temperatures over land warm faster than global air temperatures. When you put a number on global warming, that number always depends on what you are measuring. And when you do a comparison, you need to ensure you are comparing the same things.The model projections have generally reported global air temperatures. That’s quite helpful, because we generally live in the air rather than the water. The observations, by mixing air and water temperatures, are expected to slightly underestimate the warming of the atmosphere.
One key complication that arises is that the observations typically extrapolate land temperatures over sea ice covered regions since the sea surface temperature is not accessible in that case. But the distribution of sea ice changes seasonally, and there is a long-term trend toward decreasing sea ice in many regions. So the observations actually represent a moving target.
When accounting for these factors, the study finds that the difference between observed and modeled temperatures since 1975 is smaller than previously believed. The models had projected a 0.226°C per decade global surface air warming trend for 1975–2014 (and 0.212°C per decade over the geographic area covered by the HadCRUT4 record). However, when matching the HadCRUT4 methods for measuring sea surface temperatures, the modeled trend is reduced to 0.196°C per decade. The observed HadCRUT4 trend is 0.170°C per decade.
Robust comparison of climate models with observations using blended land air and ocean sea surface temperatures
Authors Kevin Cowtan,Zeke Hausfather, Ed Hawkins, Peter Jacobs, Michael E. Mann, Sonya K. Miller, Byron A. Steinman, Martin B. Stolpe, Robert G. Way
The level of agreement between climate model simulations and observed surface temperature change is a topic of scientific and policy concern. While the Earth system continues to accumulate energy due to anthropogenic and other radiative forcings, estimates of recent surface temperature evolution fall at the lower end of climate model projections. Global mean temperatures from climate model simulations are typically calculated using surface air temperatures, while the corresponding observations are based on a blend of air and sea surface temperatures. This work quantifies a systematic bias in model-observation comparisons arising from differential warming rates between sea surface temperatures and surface air temperatures over oceans. A further bias arises from the treatment of temperatures in regions where the sea ice boundary has changed. Applying the methodology of the HadCRUT4 record to climate model temperature fields accounts for 38% of the discrepancy in trend between models and observations over the period 1975-2014.