In December 2013 we published an estimate of the global mean temperature up to the end of October 2013, based on an average of the three main global temperature datasets – Met Office and University of East Anglia (HadCRUT4), NOAA National Climatic Data Center (NOAA NCDC) and NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies (NASA GISS).
The United Nations’ World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the IPCC’s provisional estimate global mean temperature for 2013 is 0.5 °C ± 0.1 °C above the long-term (1961-1990) average.
For HadCRUT4, the provisional estimate for the whole of 2013 is between 0.39 °C and 0.59 °C above the long-term (1961-1990) average of 14.0 °C, with a central estimate of 0.49 °C.
This means 2013 is in the top ten warmest years on record and we continue to see near record global temperatures like those which resulted in 2000-2009 being the warmest decade in the instrumental record.
As always the latest figure has generated interest in the media, which focuses on how it relates to previous forecasts from the Met Office.
The global mean temperature is just one of many indicators – including sea level rise, shrinking glaciers and reducing Arctic sea ice – that give even more confidence that the world is warming. Climate models are an invaluable tool in helping us to understand past changes and predict how temperatures may change in the future; they have provided overall good advice capturing and representing the warmer world we now live in.
We can see from the IPCC AR5 report figure below how global temperatures have risen since 1860 and how the latest provisional observational estimates still lie within the range of the forecast models. This figure also shows that, looking back over the entire observational record there are a number of occasions where the observations lie close to both the upper and lower bounds of the model simulations, so what we are seeing at the moment is nothing new.
So, why might the global mean temperature be different from forecasts? Well, we know that, due to the lack of long-term observing sites in polar latitudes, HadCRUT4 underestimates the contribution from Arctic warming which has accelerated in recent years.
There is also increasing scientific evidence that the current pause in surface warming is associated with natural variability in the global oceans, as they absorb heat from the atmosphere. Changes in the exchange of heat between the upper and deep ocean appear to have caused at least part of the pause in surface warming, and observations suggest that the Pacific Ocean may play a key role. You can find out more about the recent pause in warming here.
*Figure modified from Bindoff, N. L., P. A. Stott, K. M. AchutaRao, M. R. Allen, N. Gillett, D. Gutzler, K. Hansingo, G. Hegerl, Y. Hu, S. Jain, I. I. Mokhov, J. Overland, J. Perlwitz, R. Sebbari and X. Zhang, 2013: Detection and Attribution of Climate Change: from Global to Regional. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T. F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S. K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P. M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, in press.