AGW Observer

Observations of anthropogenic global warming

Global warming hiatus claims prebunked in 1980s and 1990s

Posted by Ari Jokimäki on January 17, 2017

Recent global warming hiatus has been a subject of intensive studies during the last ten years. But it seems that there already was some research on global warming hiatus during 1980s and 1990s (earliest studies on the issue were actually back in 1940s-1970s). This seems to have gone largely unnoticed in the scientific literature of current global warming hiatus, and it certainly seems to have gone unnoticed by climate mitigation opponents who have made claims on global warming hiatus since at least 2006 and still continue to do so.

Some time ago I stumbled on a few old papers which discussed the temperature evolution of 1940s to 1970s. In the early 20th century there had been warming which seemed to have stopped around 1940 until it continued again in the turn of 1970s and 1980s. Here I will use “global warming moratorium” to describe this early hiatus (reason for this can be found below). Below I’ll go through some of the papers in question.

Early studies on the 1940s-1970s global warming moratorium

Global surface temperature increased during the first half of the 20th century. In 1940s, this warming apparently stopped. Possibly the first to notice this was Kincer (1946):

Up to the end of 1945, records for 13 subsequent years have become available, and these are here presented, supplementary to the original data, to determine tendencies since 1932. They show that the general upward temperature trend continued for several years but that the more recent records indicate a leveling off, and even contain currently a suggestion of an impending reversal.

This was confirmed by Mitchell (1961, 1963), as described by Wigley et al. (1985):

Mitchell (1961, 1963) extended Willett’s analysis beyond 1940, improved the method of area averaging, and found that the warming prior to 1940 had subsequently become a cooling trend (as suggested earlier by Kincer [1946]).

Later, Mitchell (1970) studied the effect of anthropogenic forcings (carbon dioxide and aerosols) on the temperature evolution of 20th century. Mitchell noted on the carbon dioxide forcing:

Changes of mean atmospheric temperature due to CO2, calculated by Manabe et al. as 0.3°C per 10% change in CO2, are sufficient to account for only about one third of the observed 0.6°C warming of the earth between 1880 and 1940, but will probably have become a dominant influence on the course of planetary average temperature changes by the end of this century.

And on the global warming moratorium:

Although changes of total atmospheric dust loading may possibly be sufficient to account for the observed 0.3°C-cooling of the earth since 1940, the human-derived contribution to these loading changes is inferred to have played a very minor role in the temperature decline.

Reitan (1974) extended the temperature analysis to 1968 and reported that the global warming moratorium had continued. Brinkmann (1976) extended the analysis to 1973 and saw the first signs of global warming moratorium ending and warming resuming.

Wigley et al. (1985) mention one further point worth mentioning about the global warming moratorium:

All seasons show the same long-term trends, trends that are also common to all other land-based data sets: a warming from the 1880s to around 1940, cooling to the mid-1960s/early-1970s (less obvious in winter), and subsequent warming, beginning later in summer and autumn than in spring and winter.

According to Wigley et al. (1985), the global warming moratorium remained largely unexplained, although there had been some relatively successful attempts to explain the short-term variability in the surface temperature by volcanic aerosols and solar variations, see for example the discussion and analysis in Hansen et al. (1981) and in Gilliland (1982).

Oceans and surface temperature studies in 1980s

Watts (1985) used a simple model to suggest that changes in the rate of the deep water formation can have an effect to surface temperature:

…variations in the rate of formation of deep water can lead to fluctuations in the globally averaged surface temperature similar in magnitude to variations in the earth’s surface-air temperature that have occurred during the last several hundred years.

Gaffin et al. (1986) got similar results:

The largest features of the northern hemispheric surface land temperature record can be simulated with our climate and deep ocean feedback formulation and CO2 forcing alone.

Jones et al. (1987) studied the rapidity of carbon dioxide induced climate change. Within this study, they also looked at how changes in deep water formation affected warming caused by carbon dioxide. They created a simulation, where there was a global warming caused by carbon dioxide, and then they turned off the deep water formation in the Northern Hemisphere (because the global warming moratorium was strongest in Northern Hemisphere). This resulted in surface cooling right after the deep water formation was stopped, and later warming continued again.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s there were some other similar studies also.

The global warming moratorium discussion of early 1990s

So, it seems that at the turn of 1980s and 1990s there had been several studies suggesting that oceans could have considerable effect on the surface temperature. At this point, there was a discussion in the scientific literature on the global warming moratorium, and this discussion has some interesting resemblance to the current global warming hiatus discussion.

Watts and Morantine (1991), in an editorial of Springer’s journal Climatic Change, reviewed the research which I already have discussed above. They noted the possibility of energy transfer between the surface and the deep ocean and concluded:

It is entirely possible that the greenhouse gas climate change signal is alive and well and hiding in the ocean intermediate waters, having reached there because of increased upwelling, or by some other mechanism that could effectively transport heat from the upper layers of the ocean into the huge thermal reservoir of the intermediate and deep ocean.

Kellogg (1993) revisited the issue, also in the same journal, with a letter named as “An Apparent Moratorium on the Greenhouse Warming Due to the Deep Ocean”. Kellogg described some new observational evidence for the ocean’s role in the issue. Based on this he suggested:

…oceans could sequester a significant part of the incremental greenhouse-generated heat over a period of a few decades, a period during which the surface warming would be curtailed.

Kellogg also discussed some issues relating to timing of the global warming moratorium and what would have happened if oceans wouldn’t have had a role in the surface temperature. Relating to the current global warming hiatus discussion, Kellogg made an interesting note:

One of the arguments most frequently advanced by the skeptics is that the observed warming in this century should have been larger, based on climate models that do not take account of ocean circulations, and that there should theoretically have been no such ‘moratorium’ between 1940 and 1975.

Kellogg then notes that if the oceans played a role, there wouldn’t be such a problem.

Watts and Morantine (1993) also revisited the issue (perhaps the journal sent them Kellogg’s letter and asked for their response). There were couple of additional interesting points in their response relating to current discussion on global warming hiatus. They noted on the significance of the moratorium:

In a recent article by Galbraith and Green (1992), a series of statistical tests were performed on the global average temperature time series from 1880 to 1988 (Hansen and Lebedeff, 1987). A statistically significant trend that can be approximated by a linear term was found, and the deviation from this trend during the period between 1940 and 1970 was found to fall within the range of sample fluctuation.


Even though the surface temperature of the Earth is an important piece of information, the distribution of thermal energy is a three-dimensional problem.

What I have shown here is just a sample of all papers that were studying the issue. The research on the issue also continued after the papers presented here.

The significance for current hiatus discussion

It is clear that before 2000s there had been lot of research on the subject of short-term variability of surface temperature in a presence of long-term warming trend. The research back then also pointed to probable causes of the short-term variability.

Apparently, the first claims of global warming hiatus after 1998 were made in 2006 by well-known climate change mitigation opponents. This was obviously far too soon statistically to make those claims, and there was no indication that the claims were made with knowledge of the earlier discussion and research on the subject. It also should be noted, that the claims in question were not made in scientific literature but in popular media (a situation that has continued after that and largely continues even today).

However, lots and lots of papers have been published on the recent global warming hiatus. I have sampled the reference lists of some of them and it seems that also scientific community has largely forgot that the issue has already been studied. This seems a bit unfortunate and makes one wonder if we will have forgotten the current research when the next moratorium or pause or hiatus or whatever happens.


Waltraud A.R. Brinkmann (1976), Surface temperature trend for the Northern Hemisphere-updated, Quaternary Research, Volume 6, Issue 3, September 1976, Pages 355-358, doi:10.1016/0033-5894(67)90002-6.

Gaffin, S. R., M. I. Hoffert, and T. Volk (1986), Nonlinear coupling between surface temperature and ocean upwelling as an agent in historical climate variations, J. Geophys. Res., 91(C3), 3944–3950, doi:10.1029/JC091iC03p03944.

Gilliland, R.L. (1982), Solar, volcanic, and CO2 forcing of recent climatic changes, Climatic Change, 4: 111. doi:10.1007/BF00140585.

J. Hansen, D. Johnson, A. Lacis, S. Lebedeff, P. Lee, D. Rind, G. Russell (1981) Climate Impact of Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, Science 28 Aug 1981: Vol. 213, Issue 4511, pp. 957-966, DOI: 10.1126/science.213.4511.957.

P. D. Jones, T. M. L. Wigley, , S. C. B. Raper (1986), The Rapidity of CO2-Induced Climatic Change: Observations, Model Results and Palaeoclimatic Implications, in Abrupt Climatic Change, Volume 216 of the series NATO ASI Series pp 47-55.

Kellogg, W.W. (1993), An apparent moratorium on the greenhouse warming due to the deep ocean, Climatic Change 25: 85. doi:10.1007/BF01094085.

Kincer, J. B. (1946), Our changing climate, Eos Trans. AGU, 27(3), 342–347, doi:10.1029/TR027i003p00342.

Mitchell, J. M. (1961), RECENT SECULAR CHANGES OF GLOBAL TEMPERATURE. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 95: 235–250. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1961.tb50036.x

J. Murray Mitchell Jr. (1970), A Preliminary Evaluation of Atmospheric Pollution as a Cause of the Global Temperature Fluctuation of the Past Century, 139-155. In, S.F. Singer (ed.), Global Effects of Environmental Pollution. Springer Verlag, New York, New York.

Clayton H. Reitan (1974), A climatic model of solar radiation and temperature change, Quaternary Research, Volume 4, Issue 1, March 1974, Pages 25–38,

Watts, R. G. (1985), Global climate variation due to fluctuations in the rate of deep water formation, J. Geophys. Res., 90(D5), 8067–8070, doi:10.1029/JD090iD05p08067.

Watts, R.G. & Morantine, M.C. (1991), Is the greenhouse gas-climate signal hiding in the deep ocean?, Climatic Change 18: iii. doi:10.1007/BF00142966.

Wigley, T.M.L., Angell, J.K. and Jones, P.D., 1985. Analysis of the temperature record. In: M.C. MacCracken and F.M. Luther (Eds.), Detecting the Climatic Effects of Increasing Carbon Dioxide, (DOE/ER-0235), U.S. Department of Energy, Carbon Dioxide Research Division, Washington, D.C., 55-90.


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