This National Weather Service image shows an instrument that is meant to be an example of what a modern temperature recording instrument should look like and how it should be set up but in fact the sensor is incorrectly sited (too close to a tree). I found the image randomly when searching for an image of an MMTS, and it is a wonderful indication of how problematic the U.S. temperature record really is.
There is a realm that the overwhelming majority of Americans have never visited. In that realm there are several operative truths:
- It matters how you measure atmospheric temperature
- It matters what you do to temperature data after you record it
- The United States is in possession of the best temperature-measuring system in the world
- The United States temperature-measuring system is deeply flawed
- The ways that various august United States scientific agencies deal with the deeply flawed temperature data are themselves deeply flawed
That realm I’m referring to is the climate change blogosphere. The King of the Climate Change Blogosphere is Anthony Watts, a meteorologist who was horrified when he started looking at temperature measuring stations a few years back and has been horrified ever since.
While Watts assembled an army of volunteers, quite literally, to assist in the recording of problems associated with temperature stations all over the United States, he also started to accumulate an impressively large following in the blogosphere. It turns out that there are more weather, climate, and science geeks than meet the eye.
But this reflection is not for them. Rather, it is for the non-climate obsessed, the hundreds of millions of regular folks who have, through no fault of their own, come to believe that the temperature data being discussed by New York Times reporters, CNN anchors, university professors, and politicians (including Al Gore), was sacrosanct. I mean, this had to be a no brainer – that you could trust scientists working after the splitting of the atom and travel to the Moon to operate thermometers correctly, right? Well, not so much.
Ironically, this very week, yet another seemingly unassailable study by the renowned Berkeley physicist Richard Muller linking temperature rise to manmade carbon dioxide emissions was out, being touted in The New York Times. Did we have to question the actual data that such studies and articles were based upon – weren’t we beyond this?
Sadly, we did have to, and we weren’t beyond this.
Parrying the efforts of Muller to dismiss questions about the temperature record, Watts announced the forthcoming submission of an article showcasing his work on the grim status of the U.S. temperature recording network. The article had been co-authored by Steve McIntyre, likely the climate change skeptic most feared by mainstream climate scientists, and satellite-temperature-recording expert John Christy of the University of Alabama at Huntsville.
Watts and his co-authors’ findings were extraordinary: of the warming alleged by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, fully half was produced by either faulty measurements or extraneous upward adjustments of temperature. The fact that temperature data is routinely adjusted, at all, is one of the givens in the realm visited by so few people. In fact, one of the principal activities of both NASA and NOAA’s climatologists is precisely to adjust temperature. Again, this is known and accepted (although questioned) in the climate geek community and something like an urban legend, on a good day, among regular folk.
Remember: The shoddy temperature recording and data adjustments taking place in the U.S. are as good as it gets. Known temperature-measuring issues, particularly having to do with ever-larger, ever-warmer airports around the world, may well play an even larger role in the supposedly catastrophic warming that still has yet to generate the kinds of warmth scientists see evidence of from earlier climate periods. Even Muller in his Times piece admitted that the Medieval Warm Period a thousand years ago may have been as warm – or warmer – than today.
Will Watts’ academic paper bring the reality of the ugly but seemingly invisible debates about temperature being had on a near-daily basis into the public eye? In e-mail response to my questions, Watts said he hoped it would. “I also expect bureaucracy to resist addressing the issue,” he wrote. “For example when I first started this project in June 2007 within two weeks of announcing it, NCDC shut down access to the public database. I had to make legal arguments to get it restored. Likewise when my paper came out in 2009 NOAA went around quietly closing some of the most embarrassing stations that I highlighted, but made no notice to anyone.”
To buy the only book detailing Anthony Watts’ work, click here.