Is NOAA Reporting False Higher Temperatures?

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Sun, Jul 29, 2012, 11:17 am  //  John Servais

Gee, maybe those U.S. heat waves are not setting records after all.  Maybe NOAA has left temperature guages in places which once were surrounded by fields and are now next to hot asphalt parking lots.  Maybe NOAA has even been managing the temperature readings in other ways - unknown to most of us. 

A new report - out today - presents such a view.  It will no doubt be condemed, unread, by many.  And most will skip even that and just go after the authors as irreputable.  I am posting links to the report because for three years now I have been a climate warming skeptic.  Yep, coming out of the closet - a socially dangerous move in Bellingham.  I think believing in Anthropogenic Global Warming has become a religion and it is heresy for a liberal to not fully embrace it.  I am liberal and do not embrace it.   Having spent my military service years in the Air Force Weather Service, I do know a few things about siting temperature guages and accurate weather reports. Not an expert, but not ignorantly taking a stand either.  

For those with an open mind, check out this report.  For those who are at this moment feeling outraged or upset to see a post like this on NWCitizen, I merely note that we can see what the future brings us.   And for all of us, we need the scientific process to be depoliticized - and it is the scientists themselves who have to do this.  Until then, we will all see more reports like this which are not done by traditional scientists.  The question is not who wrote it, but whether the facts stand up to scruitiny.  Dialogue is the most humanly effective way to move closer to the truth.  I predict - pun intended - that this report will be part of our national dialogue over the next few weeks and months.  That is why I am posting today.

Related Links:

-> Reanalysis of U.S. surface station temperatures - a study and report

Dick Conoboy  //  Sun, Jul 29, 2012, 5:59 pm


I went to the study.  How am I to evaluate:  “Well sited stations consistently show a significantly lower trend than poorly sited 47 stations, no matter which class of station is used for a baseline for comparison, and also 48 when using no baseline at all. Well sited stations, using a localized Class 4 (the most 49 common class) baseline show a trend that is 0.09°C per decade lower than poorly sited 50 stations for raw mean temperature trends. Raw mean temperature trends for well sited 51 stations are 0.145°C per decade lower than adjusted mean temperature trends for poorly 52 sited stations, and 0.145°C per decade lower than adjusted mean trend for all stations.” ????  Or this: “Given that the WMO has endorsed the Leroy (2010) classification system in CIMO-XV 166 (2010) as a WMO-ISO standard, it is suitable for use in re-assessing the station quality 167 issues reported by Watts (2009)., Menne et al.,(2010), Fall et al.,(2011), and Muller et 168 al.,(2012).” ???

Don’t these guys write in English?

And what are “reports not done by ‘traditional’ scientists”?  If the above is such an example, I am at a loss.  Either it is done by the scientific method or not.  Tradition?  This is not Fiddler on the Roof”. 

Dick Conoboy  //  Mon, Jul 30, 2012, 7:30 am

It seems that former climate change skeptic Dr. Richard A. Muller, Professor of Physics at Berkeley, whose work is cited in the study by Watts, et. al., has changed his mind about climate change as he writes in a NY Times editorial yesterday entitled The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic (see: + Link ) Muller states: “Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.”

John Servais  //  Mon, Jul 30, 2012, 8:29 am

Yep.  So I read in the Herald this morning.  And, so, that means ...?  Something new?  The whole point of the article was not that Muller is notable so much as it was a politically charged reversal.  Politics.  Think that is covered that in my post above.

Tip Johnson  //  Mon, Jul 30, 2012, 8:32 am

It is interesting that on the bar graphs comparing monitor classes, their general relationship is constant.  That strongly indicates a problem with placement.  It also strongly suggests that placement adds considerable uncertainty. 

It may be hazardous to draw a conclusion from this about global warming or its source, but it’s easy to conclude they ought to fix the dang monitor placement and reduce the uncertainty.

John Servais  //  Mon, Jul 30, 2012, 8:33 am

One more point, Dick.  This issue is not my personal belief.  The point of the post is the skewing of actual temperatures in the US by NOAA management for the past 30 some years.  You can write any comment you want, but you are ignoring the issue in my post.  As I suggested, comments will be directed at most anything but the issue in the post.  Thanks for getting that started.

Dick Conoboy  //  Tue, Jul 31, 2012, 7:22 am

I am sorry but the report by Watts is virtually unreadable for most Americans who normally read at an 8th or 9th grade level.  I got considerably farther than that in my schooling but I still can’t parse Watt’s gobbledygook.  Nonetheless, I assume that scientists will give the study a careful review as should be the case in a peer review process.  One should note here that this process has not yet been completed.  That being said, my reference to Dr. Muller was twofold.  First, a major player in the climate change debate, Dr. Muller, whose research has been funded in part by the Koch brothers [ a well-known apolitical duo :-) ] has renounced his prior stance based on research he has conducted himself - a delicious irony you must admit.  Second, the work of that same Dr. Muller has been cited in this new study on US surface station temperatures.  Were I Dr. Watts, I would certainly want to review my own study prior to publication if one of the works I cite is from someone who has just done a reversal on a major aspect of the topic. 

I feel no outrage upon reading your piece whether or not it comes from inside or outside the closet.  Being a skeptic is not inherently unwise.  I await the judgment of the scientific community.

Douglas Smith  //  Tue, Jul 31, 2012, 10:08 am

John Servais  //  Tue, Jul 31, 2012, 12:30 pm

Douglas, Muller’s changing his mind about climate warming has no relevance to the post about NOAA mismanaging the temperature gauges in the US.  If I am wrong, please point out how. 

Dick, not sure how many scientific papers you or most of us wade through.  They are not known for their elegant writing.  If the worst you can do is criticize the quality of the writing - but not the content - then there is nothing to respond to.  And for you also, Muller has nothing to do with this subject.  Of course, as a commenter you can change the subject - and you certainly are trying.  You are basically dancing around the issue of NOAA doing a lousy job with our temperature gauges for the last 34 years.

And these comments bear out what I anticipated in the last graph of my post - that comments would dwell on everything except the issue of temperature gauge accuracies.  Except for Tip.

David Wallin  //  Wed, Aug 01, 2012, 9:59 am

This dead horse has been beaten to death…again and again….and again….and it is still dead.  The “urban heat island” effect on the land-based temperature record has been a well known issue for more than 30 years.  Here is a thoughtful response to the article the JS has posted:

+ Link

David Wallin

John Servais  //  Thu, Aug 02, 2012, 10:21 am

David,  thanks for the link.  Andrew Revkin has posted an excellent article on the issue.  His Dot Earth column on the NY Times is respected by the AGW community.  And your post, David, actually addresses the issue of my post.  Actually, Revkin mostly references and links to other studies and reports and suggests they show Watts to be wrong.

A point about your need to say it is a dead horse that I am beating.  Last time I was accused of beating a dead horse was by a Port Commissioner in - I think - January 1991.  To a room full of laughter and big smiles by the other two commissioners, my questions about the KAP contracts each month were mocked and made fun of.  Two months later, the Port was trying to explain a $4 million loss on what turned out to be fraud by KAP on the Port and at the expense of Whatcom taxpayers.  None of those commissioners were reelected, the Executive Director found another job and several port staff were fired.  Some dead horse.  I should write here about it sometime.  The Herald has an agreement with the Port to never mention it. 

Andrew Revkin does not seem to think Watts’ study is a dead horse.  Indeed, he quotes a researcher he respects who says, “The Muller and Watts studies no doubt represent a lot of hard work and may eventually prove to be valuable contributions to science. But we should reserve judgment on their significance.”  He goes on to disapprove of the advance posting of draft reports.  But that is a subject for another time.

I need to go back to to make a correction to my post.  The report is a “draft” and will go through another draft - posted online for all to read and criticize - and at some point be posted as the final report.  One can expect that the difficult sentence structure that Dick Conoboy latched onto will be rewritten.

Bottom line - the accuracy of temperature collecting is a viable subject and not a dead horse. Watts first brought attention to this issue about three years ago.  NOAA has responded and is continuing to try and explain how they make statistical adjustments to the raw temperatures - rather than fix the instruments and sitings and get more accurate raw temperatures. 

Revkin has made two Updates to his post, bringing Watts into the discussion.  David has provided us with a good link and Revkin is well worth reading.  Contrary to David’s suggestion, Revkin does not mention “urban heat Island”.  As David suggests, it is a thoughtful response, but it also respects the issue as a real and live horse.

David MacLeod  //  Mon, Aug 06, 2012, 7:28 pm

John, regarding the need for the scientific process to be depoliticized, I absolutely agree with that.

Unfortunately, however, politics continues to be very much at play, and I do believe that Richard Muller and his recent paper are very relevant to this discussion. First, because both papers are evaluating surface temperature results found in other studies.

It’s also relevant, because Anthony Watts was initially very supportive of Muller’s research. Last year, Watts wrote on his blog, “I think, based on what I’ve seen, that BEST [Muller’s group] has a superior method…I’m prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong. I’m taking this bold step because the method has promise.”

The result of the Muller Team’s (BEST) study? That the warming is real, and that humans are the cause. “We were not expecting this, but as scientists, it is our duty to let the evidence change our minds.” He added that he now considers himself a “converted sceptic” and his views had undergone a “total turnaround” in a short space of time.

“Our results show that the average temperature of the Earth’s land has risen by 2.5F over the past 250 years, including an increase of 1.5 degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.” + Link

Of course, when Muller’s results didn’t match Watts’ expectations, he and other skeptics did not accept the result, but began attacking Muller.  One of the criticisms being that Muller’s paper hasn’t passed peer review yet.

Ironic that Watts then proceeds to put out his own paper without peer review. Some are suggesting that the whole reason for Watts’ rushed paper is as damage control, to distract attention away from Muller and his paper. If you google Richard Muller and Anthony Watts, lots of interesting posts come up.

I’m not qualified to evaluate Watt’s claims, but it seems there is already a lot of peer-reviewed literature that supports NOAA’s procedures and results. The temperature records are corrected to account for various historical changes in station location, instrumentation, and observing practice.: + Link

Watts claims the adjustments are not warranted, but according to an evaluation of Watts’ paper at Skeptical Science, “They do not demonstrate this in the paper.  They also do not demonstrate that their own ‘raw’ trends are homogeneous.

Ultimately Watts et al. fail to account for changing time of observations, that instruments change, or that weather stations are sometimes relocated, causing them to wrongly conclude that uncorrected data are much better than data that takes all this into account.”

“...In its current form, the Watts paper contains little in the way of useful analysis.  There are too many potential sources of bias which are not accounted for, too many apples-to-oranges comparisons, and they cannot draw any conclusions about urban heat influences until their data are homogenized and other non-climate influences are removed.

...The primary conclusion of the paper, aside from not being supported by the analysis, is simply implausible.  The CONUS surface warming trend proposed by the Watts paper appears to be inconsistent with the satellite observations, and overall global trends in raw data do not differ dramatically from those in the adjusted data.  Comparing raw to adjusted data globally shows a rather small difference in long-term trends; far smaller than a factor of two.

The flaws we have identified entirely compromise the conclusions of the paper.”
+ Link

Incidentally, I’ve recently completed a couple of blog posts of my own, surveying recent news stories and events dealing with climate change, including references to both Watts and Muller.
“Global. Warming.” + Link
“Responses to Bill McKibben” (recent major article in Rolling Stone) + Link

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