Using remotely sensed temperature to estimate climate response functions

Temperature data are commonly used to estimate the sensitivity of many societally relevant outcomes, including crop yields, mortality, and economic output, to ongoing climate changes. In many tropical regions, however, temperature measures are often very sparse and unreliable, limiting our ability to understand climate change impacts. Here we evaluate satellite measures of near-surface temperature (Ts) as an alternative to traditional air temperatures (Ta) from weather stations, and in particular their ability to replace Ta in econometric estimation of climate response functions. We show that for maize yields in Africa and the United States, and for economic output in the United States, regressions that use Ts produce very similar results to those using Ta, despite the fact that daily correlation between the two temperature measures is often low. Moreover, for regions such as Africa with poor station coverage, we find that models with Ts outperform models with Ta, as measured by both R 2 values and out-of-sample prediction error. The results indicate that Ts can be used to study climate impacts in areas with limited station data, and should enable faster progress in assessing risks and adaptation needs in these regions.