Vague ramblings

World War 1: putting heat under the cauldron – literally

Posted in Musing, Reason by Ian Cundell on 5 August, 2014
NASA GISS: GLOBAL Land-Ocean Temperature Index - Jan-Dec : 10yr moving average

NASA GISS: GLOBAL Land-Ocean Temperature Index – Jan-Dec : 10yr moving average (Click to enlarge)

This chart plots Nasa’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies Global Land-Ocean Temperate Index data, with a 10 year moving average applied to smooth out the random lumps and bumps(1).

It shows very clearly the truth of global warming – over the course of the data, around a 0.9deg C increase in global temperatures since this record began.  That is a lot and the reason there is so much concern about climate change.

But that is not what caught my interest in this, of all weeks. Look at the run of data in the early years and see that the anomaly seemed to be falling. Despite the unfolding industrial revolution, the world economy was still, by and large, steam and sail driven. All of the parts – from Dreadnoughts to internal combustion engines – were available, but they were far from ubiquitous.

There is nothing like a war to drive the adoption of technology. From the front line, to the marshalling areas and the skies above and across the seas, the First World War was the first truly mechanised war and it was a lot more mechanised in 1918 than in 1914. In just 4 years aircraft went from small and rickety to sophisticated and large, horses gave way to tanks and trucks and entire economies were committed to the war effort. It shows up with shocking clarity in the data.

The trend continued through to the end of the Second World War as arms races drove industry and industry drove arms races, all spilling out into the wider economy. The anomaly never fell back and by the end of the 1970s – despite an oil price shock – the developing world began to play catch-up with the developed world. The results are not even slightly surprising.

But the cauldron was placed on the fire in the fields and in the skies of Flanders.


1. Specifically, it measures the temperature “anomaly” against a base period of 1951-1980. The nice thing about proper climate scientists is that they make all of their data available for anyone to inspect.

Do feel free to chip in...but be courteous when doing so. Ta.

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