Tag Archives: measurement

Two Scientific Approaches

This could easily be a business case:  Two managers.  One sits in his office, looking at spreadsheets, trying to figure out if the factory is doing OK.  The other spends most of his time on the factory floor, trying to see what is going on.  Both approaches have value, and both have shortcomings.

Shift the scene now to the physical sciences:  Two geologists.  One sits at his computer looking at measurement data sets, trying to see trends through regression, interpolation, and sometimes via manual adjustments and corrections.  The other is out in the field, looking at physical evidence.   Both are trying to figure out sea level changes in the Maldives.    The local geologist can’t see global patterns, and may have a tendency to extrapolate too broadly from a local finding.  The computer guy doesn’t know how his measurements may be lying to him, and tends to trust his computer output over physical evidence.

It strikes me that there would be incredible power from merging these two perspectives, but I sure don’t see much movement in this direction in climate.  Anthony Watts has been doing something similar with temperature measurement stations, trying to bring real physical evidence to improve computer modellers correction algorithms, but there is very little demand among the computer guys for this help.  We’ve reached an incredible level of statistical hubris, that somehow we can manipulate tiny signals from noisy and biased data without any knowledge of the physical realities on the ground  (“bias” used here in its scientific, not its political/cultural meaning)

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.