(This appeared in Hawaii Reporter, December 3, 2007)
Imagine if you were tasked with measuring and tracking the global average per capita income. Then imagine if one year, hundreds of your offices including many in Africa shut down, and so you would simply get no information from this region. Would you be surprised if you added up all your numbers that year and suddenly your ‘average per capita income’ was higher? Would you consider that data reliable? Christopher Horner asks, “Would you expect some media skepticism if suddenly people read your numbers and declared that the word was getting much richer?”
When an analogous course of events unfolded in the world of climate science, the skepticism was notably absent. When the Soviet Union was falling apart from 1989 to 1992 folks there didn’t much care about keeping temperature monitoring stations. Thousands were closed and it’s important to note that many of these were in cold regions. Others around the world closed at the same time. Could this have helped making the decade that followed the ‘hottest decade’ ever?
Have you read about this in the media? I doubt it, although the inadequacy of sampling has not gone unnoticed. A 1997 conference on World Climate Research resulted in the statement in a resulting book Adequacy of Climate Observing Systems, “Without action to reverse this decline and develop the Global Climate Observation System, the ability to characterize climate change and variation over the next 25 years will be even less than during the past century.” It also mentioned that “The climate research community relies on a number of disparate observation systems to assemble a data base that it uses to analyze climate variability and change. A few of these systems function well, but for the most, there are clear warning signals that much be heeded if climate variability and change is to be observed with sufficient fidelity over the next decade.” Today, more than ten years after these observations, it’s not clear much has changed.
Enter Anthony Watts, a northern California meteorologist who is garnering national attention for his project of checking the condition and placement of weather stations used to monitor the nation’s climate. To date, Watts and his volunteers have found and photographed over 500 of the 1221 stations. This information is available on Watts’ site, surfacestations.org. The concern is that objects near a station affect what thermometers record. Buildings, parking lots, air conditioners, and sewage treatment plants near weather stations may emit heat and ultimately skew readings. Photos show some stations placed in parking lots near cars, on rooftops, next to diesel generators, and at non-standard heights. Clearly, many are far from meeting the guidelines to qualify as properly maintained temperature stations.
Others besides Watts are concerned about locations of weather stations. One is Roger Pielke Sr., a highly published geologist. Pielke and his colleagues reported in a recent paper, “the use of temperature data from poorly sited stations can lead to a false sense of confidence in the robustness of multidecaddal surface air temperature trend assessments.” They concluded that there are large uncertainties associated with surface temperature trends from the poorly sited stations.
A last note on this topic- Assume that there was evidence that some weather stations around the country were underestimating temperatures. Noel Sheppard asks, “Would a media fixated on expanding climate change alarmism investigate and report this phenomenon to demonstrate that the planet was actually warmer than people think? ‘60 Minutes,’ ‘Dateline’ and others would have all done rather lengthy exposes into the matter, correct?”