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It’s Getting Hot In Here: Data Science vs Fake News

While some opponents still hold the misconception that the 'science is not yet in' on the culprit, the scientific community has long reached a consensus to the drivers behind the increase in global temperatures.

Editor's note: This blog took 2nd place in Data Science vs Fake News Contest, organized by KDnuggets, Data for Democracy, and data.world. Additional entries will be published in the coming weeks.

By Austin Schwinn, University Jean Monnet.

"I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there's tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming that we see."

-Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the EPA. March 9, 2017 (The CNBC Interview)

The United States has come a long way from the days of total denial of global-warming. Despite how politicized the subject has become, people on both sides of the aisle have started to acknowledge the presence of climate change. Today, concern has shifted from questioning its existence to questioning the cause behind it. While some opponents still hold the misconception that the 'science is not yet in' on the culprit, the scientific community has long reached a consensus to the drivers behind the increase in global temperatures. Using historical climate data, I intend to illustrate how we know the climate is changing and its cause… carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases.  

Stretching from our prairies and forests to our cities and farmland, humans have a long history of altering the environment to suit their needs, for better or for worse. The larger climate hasn’t been exempt from the human touch either. Through the use of tree rings and ice core samples, scientists have been able to identify, with precision, the concentration of greenhouse gases as far back as prehistoric times.

Climate change

From 800,000 BCE to recent history, there was a clear pattern in the concentration of gases on our planet. On the far right of our larger graph within Historical Greenhouse Gas Concentration, we see a distinct break from this cycle that is well above any former precedent. The graph on the right presents an expanded view of recent history. This chart focus on an important change, the Industrial Revolution, and the 1750’s mark the point in time when humans began to produce carbon dioxide on a massive scale. We’ve seen continual growth since this point, with a concentration of 400 parts per million (PPM) in 2015 compared to the historical average of 243 PPM. This distinct break from the historical norm becomes even more alarming when you combine this with our knowledge of the behavior of greenhouse gases, known as the greenhouse effect.

Scientists have been testing and verifying the greenhouse gas effect for nearly 200 years. Physicist Joseph Fourier first documented the heat trapping properties of gases like CO2 in 1824. This long tested principle is the foundation that demonstrates carbon dioxide’s significant role in altering our climate.  

Scientists even have the capacity to measure the effect of each gas on global warming, through radiative forcing. Radiative forcing is the measure of the influence a gas has on tilting the earth’s energy balance (solar energy escaping vs. remaining with our atmosphere) towards retaining more heat from the sun.

Climate change

Since first measuring the radiative forcing of each greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide’s influence has continually grown. Today, scientists understand that CO2 has exceeded historical norms and they can measure its impact on the retention of solar energy on our planet. Now, what is its impact?

Climate change

The first total global average temperature (land and sea) was recorded in the mid 1800’s. Since its inception, CO2 concentration and the global average temperature have followed the same upward trend with rapid growth after the 1950’s.

"According to the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2013 assessment report, scientists are 'virtually certain' (99 percent to 100 percent confident) that natural climatic variability 'alone cannot account for the observed global warming since 1951.' The report concludes that it is 'extremely likely' (95 percent to 100 percent confident) that more than half of the observed temperature increase since 1950 is due to human activities."

-”Precision in Climate Science” by Vanessa Schipani, FactCheck.org

Here’s what we know. The climate is changing and humans are to blame for this break from historical norms. We now stand at a crucial time in the future of our planet’s health and the climate that sustains all known life. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the remainder of references included in this paper, provide excellent information and data on climate change. Information that is readily available to our nation’s leaders, such as Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the EPA. As we see record-breaking sea ice melts and warming global temperature year after year, Pruitt may find it prudent to examine all the data his agency has to offer, before continuing to spread false and misleading information.


  • EPA Climate Indicators Information
    “Climate Change Indicators in the United States." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, 19 Dec. 2016. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.

  • Precision in Climate Science
    Schipani, Vanessa. "Precision in Climate Science." FactCheck.org. SciCheck, 3 Mar. 2017. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.

  • UN Climate Change Report
    "Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis." Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. WMO UNEP, 2013. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.

  • Data.World Berkeley Earth Dataset
    "Berkeley Earth Global Climate Change Data." Data.World. Data Society, 2015. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.

  • Information on Radiative Forcing
    Butler, James H. "The NOAA Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI)." NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory. Global Monitoring Division, Spring 2016. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.

  • 2014 National Climate Assessment
    "National Climate Assessment." GlobalChange.gov. US Global Change Research Program, 2014. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.
    Melillo, Jerry M., Terese (T.C.) Richmond, and Gary W. Yohe, Eds., 2014: Highlights of Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program, 148 pp.

All the following are the 10 EPA combined underlying datasets:

EPA Historical Gas Concentration Information and Data

EPICA Dome C and Vostok Station, Antarctica: approximately 796,562 BCE to 1813 CE
Lüthi, D., M. Le Floch, B. Bereiter, T. Blunier, J.-M. Barnola, U. Siegenthaler, D. Raynaud, J. Jouzel, H. Fischer, K. Kawamura, and T.F. Stocker. 2008. High-resolution carbon dioxide concentration record 650,000–800,000 years before present. Nature 453:379–382. www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/pubs/luethi2008/luethi2008.html.

Law Dome, Antarctica, 75-year smoothed: approximately 1010 CE to 1975 CE
Etheridge, D.M., L.P. Steele, R.L. Langenfelds, R.J. Francey, J.-M. Barnola, and V.I. Morgan. 1998. Historical CO2 records from the Law Dome DE08, DE08-2, and DSS ice cores. In: Trends: A compendium of data on global change. Oak Ridge, TN: U.S. Department of Energy. Accessed September 14, 2005. http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/co2/lawdome.html.

Siple Station, Antarctica: approximately 1744 CE to 1953 CE
Neftel, A., H. Friedli, E. Moor, H. Lötscher, H. Oeschger, U. Siegenthaler, and B. Stauffer. 1994. Historical carbon dioxide record from the Siple Station ice core. In: Trends: A compendium of data on global change. Oak Ridge, TN: U.S. Department of Energy. Accessed September 14, 2005. http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/co2/siple.html.

Mauna Loa, Hawaii: 1959 CE to 2015 CE
NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). 2016. Annual mean carbon dioxide concentrations for Mauna Loa, Hawaii. Accessed April 14, 2016. ftp://ftp.cmdl.noaa.gov/products/trends/co2/co2_annmean_mlo.txt.

Barrow, Alaska: 1974 CE to 2014 CE
Cape Matatula, American Samoa: 1976 CE to 2014 CE
South Pole, Antarctica: 1976 CE to 2014 CE
NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). 2016. Monthly mean carbon dioxide concentrations for Barrow, Alaska; Cape Matatula, American Samoa; and the South Pole. Accessed April 14, 2016. ftp://ftp.cmdl.noaa.gov/data/trace_gases/co2/in-situ/surface.
Cape Grim, Australia: 1992 CE to 2006 CE

Shetland Islands, Scotland: 1993 CE to 2002 CE
Steele, L.P., P.B. Krummel, and R.L. Langenfelds. 2007. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations (ppmv) derived from flask air samples collected at Cape Grim, Australia, and Shetland Islands, Scotland. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. Accessed January 20, 2009. http://cdiac.esd.ornl.gov/ftp/trends/co2/csiro

Lampedusa Island, Italy: 1993 CE to 2000 CE
Chamard, P., L. Ciattaglia, A. di Sarra, and F. Monteleone. 2001. Atmospheric carbon dioxide record from flask measurements at Lampedusa Island. In: Trends: A compendium of data on global change. Oak Ridge, TN: U.S. Department of Energy. Accessed September 14, 2005. http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/co2/lampis.html.

Bio: Austin Schwinn is a graduate student in Machine Learning and Data Mining at University Jean Monnet. He is a nature enthusiast and former member of the US National Kayak Team. Austin would like to thank Regan and his two cats: Sebastian and Salvador.