Thursday, May 12, 2011

Let the rubbishing begin....

Anthony Watts has devoted years to running a citizens project to identity poorly sited temperature stations in the US, all the while suggesting that such carelessness meant the temperature record there was unreliable.

Now he's had a paper published (worked on with Roger Pielke Snr, whose attitude towards climate change is to say it is very serious and CO2 production should be addressed, while simultaneously playing footsies with a "skeptic" like Watts who has run numerous wrong, misleading and deceptive arguments over the years to encourage popular belief that CO2 is not a serious problem).

Pielke has a guest post up at WUWT discussing the paper in which the exclamation marks are, I think, intended to hide the lack of importance [update: in the sense of anti-climatic failure] of their findings:

The Surface Stations project is truly an outstanding citizen scientist project under the leadership of Anthony Watts! The project did not involve federal funding. Indeed, these citizen scientists paid for the page charges for our article. This is truly an outstanding group of committed volunteers who donated their time and effort on this project!

Then we get this key point:
The inaccuracies of measurements from poorly sited stations are merged with the well sited stations in order to provide area average estimates of surface temperature trends including a global average. In the United States, where this study was conducted, the biases in maximum and minimum temperature trends are fortuitously of opposite sign, but about the same magnitude, so they cancel each other and the mean trends are not much different from siting class to siting class. This finding needs to be assessed globally to see if this also true more generally.
Yes: the world should be sure that they don't make the same mistake as the US has: errors that cancel each other out!

It gets better:

One critical question that needs to be answered now is; does this uncertainty extend to the worldwide surface temperature record? In our paper

Montandon, L.M., S. Fall, R.A. Pielke Sr., and D. Niyogi, 2011: Distribution of landscape types in the Global Historical Climatology Network. Earth Interactions, 15:6, doi: 10.1175/2010EI371

we found that the global average surface temperature may be higher than what has been reported by NCDC and others as a result in the bias in the landscape area where the observing sites are situated.
And here's a handy question and answer summary of his findings:
A: The minimum temperature rise appears to have been overestimated, but the maximum temperature rise appears to have been underestimated.

Q: Do the differing trend errors in maximum and minimum temperature matter?

A: They matter quite a bit. Wintertime minimum temperatures help determine plant hardiness, for example, and summertime minimum temperatures are very important for heat wave mortality. Moreover, maximum temperature trends are the better indicator of temperature changes in the rest of the atmosphere, since minimum temperature trends are much more a function of height near the ground and are of less value in diagnosing heat changes higher in the atmosphere;
So, the temperature which is most important for temperature in the rest of the atmosphere is the one that he thinks may be underestimated. Right. Got that.

With friends like these, the climate skeptic movement is really on a roll.

I've been saying for ages that I can't really make head nor tail of Pielke Snr's position. He just seems to like spending his time snarking at how other climate scientists are not looking at things in quite the right way (that is, his way.) The snark seems to lead to his willingness to work with anyone in an attempt to score points against the rest of the climate science community. You could say much the same of Judith Curry, although she seemingly likes to spend her time even more on the fence of the fundamental question: does she believe there is a serious need to start reducing CO2 now? She's just happy to carp on and on about uncertainty instead, but in a way which (as far as I can tell) fails completely to advance the question of how to assess or reduce the claimed uncertainty.

Watts and his supporters in comments are trying to paint this as an important contribution to the science of climate change. Well, it tells us nothing much that others hadn't already expected, but I suppose its good to have the confirmation. But it is impossible to believe that it has worked out in the way he would have hoped. All those posts of photos of weather stations too close to concrete, etc. Obviously he was encouraging belief that US temperature rise were all a silly, silly mistake that he had seen through.

Anthony Watts is already in defensive mood in the comments. He's fully expecting the snark, which so far has not been appearing at his blog in large numbers.

That should be rectified soon, I hope.

Expect much discussion of this around the climate blogs.

UPDATE: looking back through Watt's previous surfacestation posts, I see he was happy to promote a Orange County Register editorial in 2009 about his work:

These influences produce readings higher than actual ambient temperatures, Mr. Watts said. Moreover, the research revealed “major gaps in the data record that were filled in with data from nearby sites, a practice that propagates and compounds errors.”

These inflated, error-prone, tinkered-with temperature recordings are one of several measurements cited by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as evidence man-made global warming is a threat. But the Heartland study concluded, “The U.S. temperature record is unreliable. And 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.”

When will the apologies start?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Anthony has finally managed to proudly tape a "kick me" sign on his own back, which requires quite a lot of twisting, and his friends who haven't been able to completely ignore the AGW evidence, are kicking as half-heartedly as possible.

It's highly unlikely that Anthony will admit the contradictions he has been pushing, he's all about noise and distraction. Consistency and logic have no bearing on his tactics.