GO FIGURE: Figuring the odds of Earth's global hot streak

January 17, 2015 bySeth Borenstein
In this July 25, 2014 file photo, a roofer works under the mid-day sun in Gilbert, Ariz. Federal science officials announced Friday that for the third time in a decade, the globe sizzled to the hottest year on record. Both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA calculated that in 2014 the world had its hottest year in 135 years of record-keeping. Earlier, the Japanese weather agency and an independent group out of University of California Berkeley also measured 2014 as the hottest on record. (AP Photo, File)

The global heat streak of the 21st century can be explained with statistics that defy astronomical odds.

First, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration calculates global average temperature going back to 1880. That's 135 years. So if no other forces were in play and temperatures last year were totally at random, then the odds of 2014 being the warmest on record are 1 in 135. Not too high.

But record and near record heat keep happening. Climate scientists say it's not random but from heat-trapping gas spewed by the burning of coal, oil and gas. You know, . And one of their many pieces of evidence is how statistically unlikely it is for the world to have warmed so much.

So how likely are these temperatures to be random? The Associated Press consulted with statisticians to calculate the of this hot streak happening at random. Here are some statistics and the odds they calculated, with the caveat that tend to persist so that can skew odds a bit:

The three hottest years on record—2014, 2010 and 2005—have occurred in the last 10 years. The odds of that happening randomly are 3,341 to 1, calculated John Grego of the University of South Carolina. Kai Zhu of Stanford University, Robert Lund of Clemson University and David Peterson, a retired Duke statistician, agreed.

Nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred in the . The odds of that being random are 650 million to 1, the statisticians said.

Thirteen of the 15 the hottest years on record have occurred in the last 15 years. The odds of that being random are more than 41 trillion to 1, the statisticians said.

All 15 years from 2000 on have been among the top 20 warmest years on . They said the odds of that are 1.5 quadrillion to 1. A quadrillion is a million billion.

And then there's the fact that the last 358 months in a row have been warmer than the 20th-century average, according to NOAA. The odds of that being random are so high—a number with more than 100 zeros behind it—that there is no name for that figure, Grego said.

Explore further: The heat is on; NOAA, NASA say 2014 warmest year on record

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Jeffhans1
1.9 / 5 (13) Jan 17, 2015
I am now confused. Are they using raw data or historically adjusted data? I have to assume they are using the adjusted data otherwise none of this warming is evident. If I published something with exactly the same level of degree of adjustments over any equal time period, I could show the same degree of warming.
zz5555
4.4 / 5 (13) Jan 17, 2015
I am now confused. Are they using raw data or historically adjusted data? I have to assume they are using the adjusted data otherwise none of this warming is evident. If I published something with exactly the same level of degree of adjustments over any equal time period, I could show the same degree of warming.

I doubt you could. You'd need to be able to justify the adjustments and that would always lead to the current warming. For example, because temperature readings haven't historically been taken at the same time every day, using the raw data leads to a cooling bias (ie, temperature readings at noon are generally warmer than temperature readings at dawn). So you must perform adjustments if you wish to be honest. Regardless of the claims about "improper" temperature adjustments, other data clearly shows that the current global temperatures are warmer than the earth's been in 1000s of years - and there's no indication of the current warming stopping.
gkam
4.4 / 5 (7) Jan 17, 2015
There is no question of what is happening, no matter the opinions of the Ignorati and the Deniers.
Shootist
1.4 / 5 (9) Jan 17, 2015
Dairy farms in Greenland for 400 years between 850CE and 1250CE. Greenlanders have only recently, within the last few decades (1990s), been able to grow cabbages (for which they are very pleased). But Greenland is still TOO COLD for dairy farms.

Carry on.
Jeffhans1
1.5 / 5 (11) Jan 17, 2015
There is no question of what is happening, no matter the opinions of the Ignorati and the Deniers.

My question is actually extremely relevant as the conclusions in the article ignore that the data has been manipulated multiple times and cannot be relied on. The extreme result is due to the most extreme climate change event in the history of Man, or the result of helpful but mistaken editing to the historical numbers. If the results are beyond question, prove it instead of showing your true religious fervor rather than scientific objectivity.
Maggnus
4.7 / 5 (12) Jan 17, 2015
And then there's the fact that the last 358 months in a row have been warmer than the 20th-century average, according to NOAA. The odds of that being random are so high—a number with more than 100 zeros behind it—that there is no name for that figure, Grego said.
It's a conspiracy, a conspiracy I tells ya!
gkam
4.6 / 5 (9) Jan 17, 2015
Your fears are understandable. However, you are probably unaware of how many folk have looked and looked into this area trying to make a name for themselves by proving others wrong. It is a professional field, and everything must be provable, unlike in business or politics, law, or religion, the fields we invented.
Water_Prophet
1.9 / 5 (9) Jan 17, 2015
Since the results are causal, inputs and effects, only a fool would regard the statistics.
zz5555
4.6 / 5 (11) Jan 17, 2015

My question is actually extremely relevant as the conclusions in the article ignore that the data has been manipulated multiple times and cannot be relied on. The extreme result is due to the most extreme climate change event in the history of Man, or the result of helpful but mistaken editing to the historical numbers. If the results are beyond question, prove it instead of showing your true religious fervor rather than scientific objectivity.

Let me see if I understand you. No one has found any issues (besides claiming that there must be an issue) with the temperature record. Even climate "skeptics" have found no problem with it (the latest I'm aware of is from Anthony Watts) when they've actually looked at it. Neither you nor the climate "skeptics" can find any problems with it. But despite all this, you require that "the results are beyond question" and that someone "prove it" - something required of no other part of science.

Cont.
zz5555
4.6 / 5 (11) Jan 17, 2015
Just so you understand, there is no such thing as "proof" in science. There also is no such thing as "the results are beyond question" in science. In fact, a true skeptic will have doubts about just about anything in science. But here's where true skeptics and "skeptics" differ. A true skeptic will look at something (as objectively as they can) and, if they can't find anything wrong with it, will accept it conditionally (until more evidence can be found). A "skeptic" will continue to say there must be something wrong and ask for something to be proven - which is, again, something that's impossible in science. And, if you're not able to understand the science (and that seems likely in your case since you asked for proof), then your best bet is to go with the experts. And unless you believe that most of the scientists involved in the climate are in cahoots, your only choice is to accept the temperature record (even if it doesn't agree with your political beliefs).
zz5555
4.6 / 5 (11) Jan 17, 2015
Oh, and as for the temperature record, it is almost certainly wrong - that's why there are error bars in data. But, and here's the interesting part, there is good evidence that the earth is warming faster than seen in the NOAA (or GISTEMP) records. So an error in the temperature record isn't likely to be helpful to those opposing the science.
rgw
1 / 5 (7) Jan 18, 2015
We are doomed! Release the hounds and let them fend for themselves! Toss fair maidens into the volcano to appease the angry gods. If this disaster continues and the sole guarantee of help is Draconian population reduction, whom will you chose for the pyre? Your children or theirs?
gkam
4.2 / 5 (5) Jan 18, 2015
I'll bet grw got fooled, suckered, by the screams of "WMD!", and "Bring 'em on!".
JonasN
1.5 / 5 (8) Jan 18, 2015
Seriously, is this article with its 'claculated probabilities' for real?

Ever heard of the term 'autocorrelation'?

(I wonder if it stays up)
gkam
4.2 / 5 (5) Jan 18, 2015
Jonas we have to deal with "claculated probabilities" all the time, in every profession.
Shootist
2.6 / 5 (5) Jan 18, 2015
http://www.dailym...ght.html

38% confidence ratio is a good as a lie.
gkam
4 / 5 (4) Jan 18, 2015
"38% confidence ratio is a good as a lie."
-----------------------------------------------
The goobers had 100% confidence of "WMD!", so I see what you mean.
JonasN
1 / 5 (7) Jan 19, 2015
gkam ... we have to deal with nonsense dealt out by know-nothings and/or activists with an afgenda all the time, in every profession.

:-)

But I'll take it that you don't see the .... ehrm ... slight problem with these calculated 'probabilities'. Well, that figures ...
gkam
5 / 5 (3) Jan 19, 2015
Jonas, I understand your concern.
howhot2
5 / 5 (7) Jan 19, 2015
Last year, in the depths of the deep freeze of the deadly "Polar Votex" I predicted that 2014 would turn out being the hottest year ever. I may have even posted that on New Years but I'm not sure. It's an easy prediction to make and a safe bet when you see the linear progression that has happened since the 70's. Regardless of the non-existent pause in global temperatures the deniers point to (1990 or so), that just not how you use statistics.

We are right on track with the "Hockey stick" of Mann/Gore if not a bit faster than that.

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