Global warming may occur more slowly and correct itself more quickly than computer models have been predicting, a new study says.
The study, published in the peer-reviewed science journal Remote Sensing by Dr. Roy Spencer, a principal research scientist in the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, reports the atmosphere may shed heat much more quickly than previously thought — a potentially serious problem for the computer models used to predict global climate trends.
For his study, Spencer compared a half dozen climate model predictions with actual satellite data during an 18-month period before and after warming events between 2000 and 2011.
“The satellite observations suggest there is much more energy lost to space during and after warming than the climate models show,” Spencer said in a University of Alabama press release. “There is a huge discrepancy between the data and the forecasts that is especially big over the oceans.”
In addition, the study reports that the atmosphere begins to shed heat earlier in the warming process than predicted. A major part of current global climate theory holds that CO2 traps heat in the atmosphere, resulting in more cloud cover and more heat — a positive feedback cycle.
Spencer’s analysis of satellite data shows the climate system starting to shed heat more than three months before the typical warming event reaches its peak. (RELATED: Polar bear climate change scientist under investigation for ‘integrity issues’)
Gavin Schmidt, a NASA Goddard climatologist, acknowledged the discrepancy between predictions and satellite data in an interview with LiveScience.
“What this mismatch is due to — data processing, errors in the data or real problems in the models — is completely unclear,” he said.
However, Schmidt continued: “Climate sensitivity is not constrained by the last two decades of imperfect satellite data, but rather the paleoclimate record.”
Other scientists assailed the study for alleged flaws in its methodology. “I cannot believe it got published,” said Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in the same LiveScience article.
But the study has found a warm reception among those critical of global warming science.
“The study illustrates how much scientists still need to learn about how our climate behaves, particularly how much heat carbon dioxide may or may not be trapping,” said James Taylor, a senior fellow for environment policy at the Heartland Institute. “When something so central has been so erroneously predicted, this tells us we have a long way to go before we can claim any future climate predictions are ‘settled science.’ “