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The Instrumental Record of Past Global Temperatures


Thermometer-Based Temperature Trends
 (Global and Hemispheric)

The earliest records of temperature measured by thermometers are from western Europe beginning in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The network of temperature collection stations increased over time and by the early 20th century, records were being collected in almost all regions, except for polar regions where collections began in the 1940s and 1950s. anomalies.gif A set of temperature records from over 7,000 stations around the world has been compiled by the NOAA National Climate Data Center to create the Global Historical Climatology Network - GHCN (GHCN Version 2 data set; Peterson and Vose 1997). About 1,000 of these records extend back into the 19th century.

Two widely recognized research programs have used the available instrumental data to reconstruct global surface air temperature trends from the late 1800's through today. Both use the same land-based thermometer measurement records from the GHCN, but the records contain some differences. These differences are due to different approaches to spatial averaging, the use and treatment of sea surface temperature data (from ship observations), and the handling of the influence of changes in land-cover (i.e., increases in urbanization). However, both show the same basic trends over the last 100 years. The units shown are departures from the 1960 - 1990 period. For larger viewing version of these graphed temperature records, please click here or on the graph. To view animations of mapped CRU-UK global temperatures, click here.

Global surface temperatures are constantly monitored to update and assess temperature trends in real time.

Satellite-derived Temperature Records

satellitepic.gif, Images courtesy of NGDC and NOAA Satellite Archives Satellite measurements have been used to reconstruct global atmospheric temperatures since 1979. The expectation is that the lower atmospheric temperature has warmed as the concentration of carbon dioxide has increased. For some time, these measurements appeared to indicate that warming was less rapid than ground-based thermometers and paleoclimate data suggested. Recent research, using an updated correction for a long-term change in the timing of satellite measurements, shows closer agreement between satellite and ground-based data. These results are described in the Synthesis and Assessment report produced by the Climate Change Science Program in 2006 (Temperature Trends in the Lower Atmosphere: Steps for Understanding and Reconciling the Differences).

At the following sites listed below you will find more information about the temperature data shown, as well as methods used.

NCDC - National Climatic Data Center

cruani image

CRU - Climate Research Unit, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK

NASA/GISS - NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

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