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John Wheeler, Published January 12 2013

Weather Talk: Satellite-based temperature readings more accurate

Satellite-based lower atmosphere temperature data released this past week indicated that 2012 was the warmest year in the continental United States (including Alaska) since satellite measurement began in 1979. Much of Europe, Asia and Australia, however, were cooler than average.

Around the entire world, 2012 was the ninth warmest year since 1979. It is significant that 11 of the warmest years globally since 1979 have occurred since 2001. In fact, since 2001, only one year, 2008, has had an average temperature below the 1979-2012 mean.

The satellite temperature record is based on infrared radiation and is far more complete than temperatures based on surface thermometers because the satellites are able to “see” the temperature everywhere, whereas the thermometer record is limited to where they are, which leaves large gaps, particularly over oceans.

The primary drawback of the satellite record is that it dates back only to 1979. The warmest year according to satellite records was 1998.

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