The state of climate temperature data.
Posted by Jeff Id on May 11, 2010
Bart Verheggan left a comment on the recent global land temperature thread which supports Eric Steig’s comment, that one of the reasons scientists don’t have good surface temperature data, is because it’s unglamorous.
Eric Steig made some very insightful comments here. I have the same experience as he describes:
– monitoring and data archiving is deemed uninteresting by most scientists
– it’s difficult to get it funded by the regular scientific funding channels.
Part of the problem lies with how scientific work is valued: Largely by the quantity of papers. Monitoring and data archiving are therefore a very poor investment in the way science is currently set up. That is indeed a problem, and I know lots of scientists who argue for more monitoring (e.g. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v450/n7171/full/450789a.html), and many scientists who loath the very narrow minded criterium of the number of papers.
The link Bart provided has to do with CO2 monitoring, however, it is applicable to several areas of climate science and worth reading. One of SteveMcIntyre’s main concerns has been reasonable archiving of paleoclimate data. Many of our concerns have revolved around the lack of data and quality control for surface temperatures, others have spent many keystrokes lamenting the quality of CO2 measurements or ocean pH. Climatology is different with respect to other sciences in that we’re measuring something very big and in nearly every case, the instruments are poorly suited to carry out the work. This does not mean the data is unworkable, but it does mean that the best quality control is required.
I think climate scientists see skeptic complaints about these data as obstructionist, preferring to use bulk averaging methods to say it will come out in the wash. Some critics and bloggers overstate the problem in comment threads which doesn’t help the issue but I believe both are wrong to some extent. No matter what we do, surface temperatures will show warming of the planet, the temperature rise may even be of the same magnitude, but there is plenty of room to imagine that a fair chunk of the warming we see is caused by UHI effects. Currently, with instrument data in the state it is, we cannot tell the true magnitude of CO2 warming by simply processing the data. We have to make assumptions of quality (i.e. reasoned guesses).
Jones, participated in a study which was widely critiqued on UHI due to its unsupportable claims of instrument quality. Their conclusion was that UHI wasn’t a factor, however the study was incomplete and um…unconvincing. Eric Steig wrote an RC post where 60 random stations were selected that produced the same trend as Crutem3 land data. Again, we don’t know where these stations were from, and the selection process could have led to selecting city centers.
We know that UHI caused warming of many thermometers, simply by understanding that UHI exists. It is warmer inside city centers than in the countryside, and these city centers were tiny a hundred years ago. Therefore we have at least some warming of the surface measurements which is completely unrelated to CO2 driven climate change. If Eric Steig’s RC post accidentally selected all city centers (and I suspect it did), and his result matched CRU, we could reasonably conclude that UHI is a significant factor in CRU data — but how much would still be unknown.
Recently there has been a massive dropout of GHCN surface stations on record. More than 2/3 of the stations recorded since 1990 have vanished from the record. Why and which stations are poorly understood. There is potential for the missing data to have measured greater warming or less, we don’t know but 2/3 is enough to bias the record. Some skeptics have uselessly tried to divine the difference by region or finding a few stations, but without funding and cooperation from the climate community there is little hope. Some scientists have uselessly tried to say the record is good by similar methods. This situation is alarming to those of us who don’t share the excitement for the political solutions presented by the UN and IPCC while it’s a shoulder shrug for those who prefer the result.
Like many here, I see the politics of the solutions as highly destructive and the lack of concern by the climate community as misguided. I’ve got a ton of experience measuring unglamorous data, at least enough to know that what you expect is not always what you find. Were this not the case, measurement would be a lot less important. Sure taking data isn’t glamorous work, but it is absolutely, positively, necessary. This is more important than glamor.
In any case, I suspect that Phil Jones did about as good a job as can be done, and it’ll be an utter waste of time to redo it, especially if it doesn’t change the credibility problem at all. And I don’t see how it will. I mean, if the results show less warming, maybe people will believe it, but that’s not likely since CRU’s work shows less warming than anyone else. And what if the MET office finds that actually CRU greatly underestimated the warming? Then what? You really think that all of a sudden the ‘numbers’ will change people’s minds? That’s pretty naive. And please don’t tell me the difference will be ‘transparency’. Someone will always find something minor to complain about, and blow it completely out of proportion. So even if the work is totally ‘credible’, those that don’t like the answer will find a way to make it appear ‘not credible’.
As natural skeptics of big claims, most of the readers here disagree about Jones doing the best that could be done, and even about the wasting of time to redo it. Declarations of accuracy are a bit of crystal ball work IMO but he may turn out to be completely right. In any case, we won’t know from these records in their current condition. He is right on his point about people still finding ways to criticize whatever the result is, there are always critics. This has been occasionally used at the embattled RC to justify the arguments against skeptics.
There is one very big difference between the current situation where we have appropriate and deserved criticism of the climate measurements today and one where the data is properly recorded and open for examination. Were the records clean (within reason guys) and raw data openly available, those remaining who were still critics of climate data…,
wouldn’t be right.
The climate community, after climategate, is passing on a singularly unique opportunity to change tack and approach the science in a supportable fashion. Scientists do mundane work all the time, it’s past time we had a proper structure for long term recording, quality control and storage of global climate data, we can start with temperature.