Tag Archives: bias

Reliability of Surface Temperature Records

Anthony Watt has produced a report based on his excellent work at SurfaceStations.org document siting and installation issues at US surface temperature stations that might create errors and biases in the measurements.  The work is important, as these biases don’t tend to be random — they are much more likely to be upwards rather than downwards biases, so that they can’t be assumed to just average out.

We found stations located next to the exhaust fans of air conditioning units, surrounded by asphalt parking lots and roads, on blistering-hot rooftops, and near sidewalks and buildings that absorb and radiate heat. We found 68 stations located at wastewater treatment plants, where the process of waste digestion causes temperatures to be higher than in surrounding areas.

In fact, we found that 89 percent of the stations – nearly 9 of every 10 – fail to meet the National Weather Service’s own siting requirements that stations must be 30 meters (about 100 feet) or more away from an artificial heating or radiating/ reflecting heat source.

In other words, 9 of every 10 stations are likely reporting higher or rising temperatures because they are badly sited. It gets worse. We observed that changes in the technology of temperature stations over time also has caused them to report a false warming trend. We found major gaps in the data record that were filled in with data from nearby sites, a practice that propagates and compounds errors. We found that adjustments to the data by both NOAA and another government agency, NASA, cause recent temperatures to look even higher.

The conclusion is inescapable: The U.S. temperature record is unreliable. The errors in the record exceed by a wide margin the purported rise in temperature of 0.7º C (about 1.2º F) during the twentieth century. Consequently, this record should not be cited as evidence of any trend in temperature that may have occurred across the U.S. during the past century. Since the U.S. record is thought to be “the best in the world,” it follows that the global database is likely similarly compromised and unreliable.

I have performed about ten surveys for the effort, including three highlighted in the report (Gunnison, Wickenberg and the moderately famous Tucson site).  My son did two surveys, including one in the report (Miami) for a school science fair project.

Downplaying Their Own Finding

After years of insisting that urban biases have negligible effect on the the historical temperature record, the IPCC may finally have to accept what skeptics have been saying for years — that:

  1. Most long-lived historical records are from measurement points near cities (no one was measuring temperatures reliably in rural Africa in 1900)
  2. Cities have a heat island over them, up to 8C or more in magnitude, from the heat trapped in concrete, asphalt, and other man made structures.  (My 13-year-old son easily demonstrated this here).
  3. As cities grow, as most have over the last 100 years, temperature measurement points are engulfed by increasingly hotter portions of the heat island.  For example, the GISS shows the most global warming in the US centered around Tucson based on this measurement point, which 100 years ago was rural.

Apparently, Jones et al found recently that a third to a half of the warming reported in the Hadley CRUT3 database in China may be due to urban heat island effects rather than any broader warming trend.  This particularly important since it was a Jones et al letter to Nature years ago that previously gave the IPCC cover to say that there was negligible uncorrected urban warming bias in the major surface temperature records.

Interestingly, Jones et al can really hs to be treated as a hostile witness on this topic.  Their abstract states:

We show that all the land-based data sets for China agree exceptionally well and that their residual warming compared to the SST series since 1951 is relatively small compared to the large-scale warming. Urban-related warming over China is shown to be about 0.1°C decade−1 over the period 1951–2004, with true climatic warming accounting for 0.81°C over this period

By using the words “relatively small” and using a per decade number for the bias but an aggregate number for the underlying warming signal, they are doing everything possible to downplay their own finding (see how your eye catches the numbers 0.1 and 0.81 and compares them, even though they are not on a comparable basis — this is never an accident).  But in fact, the exact same numbers restate this way:  .53C, or 40% of the total measured warming of 1.34C was due to urban biases rather than any actual global warming signal.

Since when is a 40% bias or error “relatively small?”

So why do they fight their own conclusion so hard?  After all, the study still shows a reduced, but existent, historic warming signal.  As do satellites, which are unaffected by this type of bias.  Even skeptics like myself admit such a signal still exists if one weeds out all the biases.

The reason why alarmists, including it seems even the authors themselves, resist this finding is that reduced historic warming makes their catastrophic forecasts of future even more suspect.  Already, their models do not back cast well against history (without some substantial heroic tweaking or plugs), consistently over-estimating past warming.  If the actual past warming was even less, it makes their forecasts going forward look even more absurd.

A few minutes looking at the official US temperature measurement stations here will make one a believer that biases likely exist in historic measurements, particularly since the rest of the world is likely much worse.