Poorly sited U.S. temperature instruments not responsible for artificial warming

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 5:57 PM GMT on January 25, 2010

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Former TV weatherman Anthony Watts, who runs the popular global warming contrarian website, "Watts Up With That", was convinced that many of the U.S. network of surface weather stations had serious flaws in their siting that was causing an artificial warm bias in the observed increase in U.S. temperatures of 1.1°F over the past century. To address this concern, Watts established the website surfacestations.org in 2007, which enlisted an army of volunteers to travel the U.S. to obtain photographic evidence of poor siting of weather stations. The goal was to document cases where "microclimate" influence was important, and could be contaminating temperature measurements. (Note that this is a separate issue from the Urban Heat Island, the phenomenon where a metropolitan area in general is warmer than surrounding rural areas). Watts' volunteers--650 strong--documented the siting of 865 of the 1,218 stations used in the National Climatic Data Center's U.S. Historical Climatology Network (USHCN) for tracking climate change. As reported in Watt's 2009 publication put out by the Heartland Institute, the volunteers "found stations located next to the exhaust fans of air conditioning units, surrounded by asphalt parking lots and roads, on blistering-hot rooftops, and near sidewalks and buildings that absorb and radiate heat." Watts surmised that these poorly-sited stations were responsible for much of the increase in U.S. temperatures over the past century, due to "a bias trend that likely results from the thermometers being closer to buildings, asphalt, etc." Watts 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".


Figure 1. A poorly sited temperature sensor in Marysville, California, used for the USHCN. The sensor is situation right next to an asphalt parking lot, instead in the middle of a grassy field, as it is supposed to be. The sensor is also adjacent to several several air conditioners that blow their exhaust into the air nearby. Image credit: surfacestation.org.

Analysis of the data disagrees with Watts' conclusion
While Watts' publication by the Heartland Institute is a valuable source of information on siting problems of the U.S. network of weather stations, the publication did not undergo peer-review--the process whereby three anonymous scientists who are experts in the field review a manuscript submitted for publication, and offer criticisms on the scientific validity of the results, resulting in revisions to the original paper or outright rejection. The Heartland Institute is an advocacy organization that accepts money from corporate benefactors such as the tobacco industry and fossil fuel industry, and publishes non-peer reviewed science that inevitably supports the interests of the groups paying for the studies. Watts did not actually analyze the data to see if taking out the poorly sited surface stations would have a significant impact on the observed 1.1°F increase in U.S. temperatures over the past century. His study would never have been publishable in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.


Figure 2. Annual average maximum and minimum unadjusted temperature change calculated using (c) maximum and (d) minimum temperatures from good and poor exposure sites (Menne 2010). Poor sites showed a cooler maximum temperature compared to good sites. For minimum temperature, the poor sites were slightly warmer. The net effect was a cool bias in poorly sited stations. The dashed lines are for stations ranked by NOAA, while the solid lines are for the stations ranked by surfacestations.org.

Fortunately, a proper analysis of the impact of these poorly-sited surface stations on the U.S. historical temperature record has now been done by Dr. Matthew Menne and co-authors at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). In a talk at last week's 90th Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society, Dr. Menne reported the results of their new paper just accepted for publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research titled, On the reliability of the U.S. Surface Temperature Record. Dr. Menne's study split the U.S. surface stations into two categories: good (rating 1 or 2) and bad (ratings 3, 4 or 5). They performed the analysis using both the rating provided by surfacestations.org, and from an independent rating provided by NOAA personnel. In general, the NOAA-provided ratings coincided with the ratings given by surfacestations.org. Of the NOAA-rated stations, only 71 stations fell into the "good" siting category, while 454 fell into the "bad" category. According to the authors, though, "the sites with good exposure, though small in number, are reasonably well distributed across the country and, as shown by Vose and Menne [2004], are of sufficient density to obtain a robust estimate of the CONUS average". Dr. Menne's study computed the average daily minimum and maximum temperatures from the good sites and poor sites. The results were surprising. While the poor sites had a slightly warmer average minimum temperature than the good sites (by 0.03°C), the average maximum temperature measured at the poor sites was significantly cooler (by 0.14°C) than the good sites. As a result, overall average temperatures measured at the poor sites were cooler than the good sites. This is the opposite of the conclusion reached by Anthony Watts in his 2009 Heartland Institute publication.

Why did the poorly sited stations measure cooler temperatures?
The reason why the poorly-sites stations measured cooler temperatures lies in the predominant types of thermometers used at the two types of sites. An electronic Maximum/Minimum Temperature System (MMTS) is used at 75% of the poor sites. These MMTS sensors are attached by cable to an indoor readout device, and are consequently limited by cable length as to how far they can be sited from the building housing the indoor readout device. As a result, they are often located close to heated buildings, paved surfaces, air conditioner exhausts, etc. It turns out that these MMTS thermometers have a flaw that causes them to measure minimum temperatures that are slightly too warm, and maximum temperatures that are considerably too cool, leading to an overall cool bias in measured average temperatures. In contrast, only 30% of the "good" sites used the MMTS sensors. The "good" sites predominantly used Liquid in Glass (LiG) thermometers housed in wooden shelters that were more easily located further from the buildings where the observers worked. Since the poorly-sites stations were dominantly equipped with MMTS thermometers, they tended to measure temperatures that were too cool, despite their poor siting.


Figure 3. Comparison of U.S. average annual (a) maximum and (b) minimum temperatures calculated using USHCN version 2 temperatures. Temperatures were adjusted to correct for changes in instrumentation, station relocations, and changes in the time of observation, making the trend from good sites show close agreement with poor sites. Good and poor site ratings are based on surfacestations.org. For comparison, the data between 2004 - 2008 taken by the new high-quality U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN, black dashed line) is shown, and displays excellent agreement for that time period. Image credit: Menne 2010.

Independent verification of recent USHCN annual temperatures
Clearly, the siting of many of the surface stations used to track climate change in the U.S. is not good. To address this issue, in 2004 NOAA created the U.S. Climate Reference Network, a collection of 114 stations in the continental United States for the express purpose of detecting the national signal of climate change. The stations were sited and instrumented with climate studies in mind, and can provide an extremely high-quality independent check on the old USHCN network. Each of 114 stations at 107 locations (some stations were installed as nearby pairs) is equipped with very accurate instruments in a triplicate configuration so that each measurement can be checked for internal consistency. As shown in Figure 3, the USCRN air temperature departures for 2004 - 2008 are extremely well aligned with those derived from the USHCN version 2 temperature data. For these five years, the the difference between the mean annual temperatures measured by the old USHCN compared to the new USCRN was just 0.03°C, with a mathematical correlation coefficient (r-squared) of 0.997. Menne et al. concluded, "This finding provides independent verification that the USHCN version 2 data are consistent with research-quality measurements taken at pristine locations and do not contain spurious trends during the recent past even if sampled exclusively at poorly sited stations. While admittedly this period of coincident observations between the networks is rather brief, the value of the USCRN as a benchmark for reducing the uncertainty of historic observations from the USHCN and other networks will only increase with time". The authors finally concluded, "we find no evidence that the CONUS temperature trends are inflated due to poor siting".

Crediting Anthony Watts
The surfacestations.org effort coordinated by Anthony Watts has made a valuable contribution to science, helping us better understand the nature of the errors in the U.S. historical temperature data set. In his talk last week at the AMS conference, and in the credits of his paper, Dr. Menne had some genuinely grateful comments on the efforts of Anthony Watts and the volunteers of surfacestations.org. However, as of this writing, Watts has made no mention on surfacestations.org or on wattsupwiththat.com of Dr. Menne's study.

I'll have a new post Wednesday or Thursday.

Jeff Masters

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Hey, Flood... Maybe everyone needs to hear this one from George Harrison... kinda makes me feel better...

Member Since: June 20, 2005 Posts: 22 Comments: 1054
Quoting hydrus:
PATRAP!!!You are a Marine. You have no fear. You embrace pain and agony. You have weathered monster storms. What could she possibly have on that desk that could even phase you? An AK?...Bazooka??....Oh I know..Grenade!


A Saints paperweight...dem things is sharp!
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
Dr. Masters do you know of any good Carbon Footprint Calculators that are accurate?
Member Since: April 26, 2009 Posts: 3 Comments: 3667
Quoting Patrap:
Now I better go cuz my Wife is throwing objects at me from her desk..

Owww,dat frigging hurt.
PATRAP!!!You are a Marine. You have no fear. You embrace pain and agony. You have weathered monster storms. What could she possibly have on that desk that could even phase you? An AK?...Bazooka??....Oh I know..Grenade!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
725. JeffMasters (Admin)
Quoting hcubed:
However, as of this writing, Watts has made no mention on surfacestations.org or on wattsupwiththat.com of Dr. Menne's study.

When he does, will you report his reply?

Or, even better, let him have a guest post to refute the study?

Because part of his study also involved the type of paint used on the old wooden shelters. That's what caused him to move into the surface stations study.


If Mr. Watts publishes his reply in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, I'd be happy to feature his work. My goal in this blog is to present information on weather and climate that reflects the best understanding science has on issues that are important to people. I realize that my posts on climate change are upsetting to many, and they would rather see me talk only about weather and storms. That is not going to happen. The latest science on what is happening on climate change is viewed as important by a large number of people, so I will continue reporting on it. I ask those of you who are upset by such posts to please be tolerant of the large number of people on this blog who are interested in reading about the latest science on climate change. For the most part, I think this is happening. I've been very pleased that the blog has gotten less acrimonious on the issue of climate change over the past few years.

Jeff Masters
Quoting CaneWarning:
Anybody know of a more accurate carbon footprint calculator?


Wikipedia LOL
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8339
Quoting tornadodude:


alright, take care as well,

Who Dat gonna be losing the super bowl! ;)


Let's hope so!
Member Since: April 26, 2009 Posts: 3 Comments: 3667
Quoting Patrap:
Im my own Guy TD,,..I cant change for someones imparted challenge or Id be someone less than myself..so,one can garner the future from that statement easily.

Take care too.

Go Saints..

We DAT!!!


alright, take care as well,

Who Dat gonna be losing the super bowl! ;)
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8339
Anybody know of a more accurate carbon footprint calculator?
Member Since: April 26, 2009 Posts: 3 Comments: 3667
This is the website I used. I think it's wrong.

Link
Member Since: April 26, 2009 Posts: 3 Comments: 3667
Wow, I've been seeing some real ugliness in here the last few days or so; I agree that some of it has been brought by newcomers, but some of it has been regulars here.

I think the list that was put together a little while ago covers most of the things that cause the biggest arguments (with the exception of JFV; I really shouldn't name him because as soon as you do he creates a new avatar and handle and gets right back in here). The problem is that the extremists in either argument are going to screanm the loudest; they feeel that they're right and they want to make sure that no one pays attention to anyone other than themselves.

I was raised to be courteous, to allow everyone to have a say and to consider what others say and not just ignore it out of hand; while my views on the CC debate are public record, I will say that atmoaggie, pearlandaggie and I traded a great many WUMail messages and links to studies and while I knew that they wouldn't be overly influenced by the science behind my position, I knew that they would give them consideration. For my part, I went from being fairly rabid about CC to being closer to the middle; I still believe that something is happening that we have a hand in and I believe that we can do something about it, but the sky is NOT falling. What angers me is the money being spent not to disprove CC, but to make it seem a crackpot idea. There's phony science on both sides of the debate and that being a given, the level of heat involved is not called for. Until we can get the science identified all this infighting is a waste of energy and the instances of good folks in here acting like trolls is ridiculous...

As for there being favorites here, I hope I'm not considered to be one; I have spent plenty of time being banned for things I've said and posted and I will say that I cannot think of any of the regulars who haven't been banned. StormW was a featured blogger here at WU and he's been banned.

I guess what I'm trying to say is be decent to each other; calling one another names not only makes you look like a fool, but it wastes time here...

Thanks, by the way, Orca...I appreciated what you said about me. It's true, unless I've lost control on a troll, my jabs at people are meant to be good natured and that's who I am...the question for the rest of you, including the newcomers, is who are you?
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
Im my own Guy TD,,..I cant change for someones imparted challenge or Id be someone less than myself..so,one can garner the future from that statement easily.

Take care too.

Go Saints..

We DAT!!!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting P451:


You have a hard time comprehending my posts.

I haven't called anyone stupid.

Please try again before you attempt to defame me.


well, i surely think coming up with a nonsense and totally refutable base position ascribed to your opposition does exactly that. it calls AGW proponents stupid.
what YOU said was stupid... ceaseless warming, no cycles, etc. and then you're trying to pass that off as an entire community's belief?!
i read your posts. i read them thoroughly. usually i ignore my need to argue you, but this could not go without comment.
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Well, I just went to see what my carbon footprint was, and according to it, I may be a national security threat.

Emissions Comparison Tons of CO2 eq/year
120
Your Estimated Emissions (2 person household) 53
United States Average per Person(2 person household) 11
World Average per Person(2 person household)
Member Since: April 26, 2009 Posts: 3 Comments: 3667
Now I better go cuz my Wife is throwing objects at me from her desk..

Owww,dat frigging hurt.
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Quoting Patrap:


Im as open minded as one can get most likely TD,..but I go with the learned Phd's and the consensus as Ive no formal schooling in such matters,save for what Ive learned to past 50 years from a lotta obs and folks way smarter than dis avg bear.


alright, fair enough. so, that's a no on the challenge?
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8339
Quoting tornadodude:
So Pat, here is a challenge.

How about we both be more open-minded, and both of us actually listen to both sides and not refute each others arguments with an attitude that suggests that we are right, and that's all that matters?

This is by no means a personal attack, it is an idea. I am as guilty as anyone of this, but I do tend to be a lot more open minded than many on here.


I remember when I opened my mind. Once the barn door was opened the bats left the belfry.

I feel much better now thank you.
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Quoting tornadodude:
So Pat, here is a challenge.

How about we both be more open-minded, and both of us actually listen to both sides and not refute each others arguments with an attitude that suggests that we are right, and that's all that matters?

This is by no means a personal attack, it is an idea. I am as guilty as anyone of this, but I do tend to be a lot more open minded than many on here.


Im as open minded as one can get most likely TD,..but I go with the learned Phd's and the consensus as Ive no formal schooling in such matters.
Save for what Ive learned to past 50 years from a lotta obs and folks way smarter than dis avg bear.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Yeah,,we heard dat yesterday Jeff.


One thing about a wet field,..both teams have to Play on it..

And when is Fla ever gonna Build a Stadium with AC,we've had one for 35 years.


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Quoting barryweather:
You know what I like the most about this blog? I rarely ever have to say anything because someone has already said it by the time I get here.

You guys rock!!!


Happy to oblige. :)

(Oh wait, I suspect you weren't referring to me. )
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
So Pat, here is a challenge.

How about we both be more open-minded, and both of us actually listen to both sides and not refute each others arguments with an attitude that suggests that we are right, and that's all that matters?

This is by no means a personal attack, it is an idea. I am as guilty as anyone of this, but I do tend to be a lot more open minded than many on here.
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8339
Quoting tornadodude:
And if the Colts lose to the Saints, I will never hear the end of it :P


Ya think? lol
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back to lurking
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting tornadodude:
And if the Colts lose to the Saints, I will never hear the end of it :P



U betcha..LOL

Remember,Peyton is a New Orleanian,born and raised here.

And Drew Brees is a ,,well,you know,,a Purdue bro.


And alot of us remember when Indy was just a Race Car town,,and the Colts were in Baltimore.

And Johnny Unitas wore Weird Big Hi topped cleats as well.

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
You know what I like the most about this blog? I rarely ever have to say anything because someone has already said it by the time I get here.

You guys rock!!!
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Quoting runningfromthestorms:
That was the global cooling in the 1970's that I referenced and also pulled from Wiki - the cimputer generated models to confirm the aerosol causation were run from 1999 0n


oh ok, thanks!
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8339
A fuzzy warm feeling between 2,dosent change anything as to FACT.

All it does is re-enforce a warm fuzzy feeling.

But hey,,I do Like the quoted part..LOL
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
That was the global cooling in the 1970's that I referenced and also pulled from Wiki - the cimputer generated models to confirm the aerosol causation were run from 1999 0n
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
And if the Colts lose to the Saints, I will never hear the end of it :P
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8339
Quoting PcolaDan:


Think it's more to do with you having more hair on your head than your face, unlike some of us. ;) hahahahahaha


Nope..its the hat :)
Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511
Quoting PcolaDan:


Think it's more to do with you having more hair on your head than your face, unlike some of us. ;) hahahahahaha


hahaha and I might have more hair on my face then some do on their heads ;)
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8339
agree - well said 686.
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Quoting runningfromthestorms:
Quoting tornadodude:
isnt it also a little arrogant to assume that we can have a significant impact on the way the earth behaves?

As you stated your "young mind" leaves you open so, think on this....some of us were around when some aerosol propellants were banned to halt the cooling process caused by the dimming of sunlight by all the aerosol in the air...man's impact on the world's environment. Per Wiki: The cooling period is well reproduced by current (1999 on) global climate models (GCMs) that include the physical effects of sulphate aerosols, and there is now general agreement that aerosol effects were the dominant cause of the mid-20th century cooling. However, at the time there were two physical mechanisms that were most frequently advanced to cause cooling: aerosols and orbital forcing. Just some food for thought about how man can have an impact.


It is an interesting thought, something I will have to research a lot more
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8339
Quoting tornadodude:
Maybe people's vendetta against me has to do with my hat? ;)


Think it's more to do with you having more hair on your head than your face, unlike some of us. ;) hahahahahaha
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting P451:


I remember a glacier in the 1980s in Alaska that was expanding and the local officials feared it was about to overtake a vital highway. It stopped pretty close to the highway and eventually retreated.

You see, with the AGW theory (yes, I said I was done talking about this, but this is a different topic somewhat I wanted to chime in on), the idea is it's all over. Temperatures are rising on a straight line and will continue to do so exponentially.

Of course, that is my interpretation of the theory.

There is no room for cycles. There is no room for that at all. There is no such thing as a cycle. If the temperature is rising, it will continue to rise unabated to infinity.

I....really don't think that's what we are experiencing.


whaa?? i've never heard that theory in my life. you're basically saying these AGW people are stupid cause they believe something you just made up. you must tell yourself this very often, cause you seem to have adapted it as information worthy of telling others. you seem to think it's true. i don't doubt that you can source such madness.. i'm very positive you can. i do challenge you to source a credible scientist, any one on earth, that has produced such a claim. after all, if the scientific community is leading a hoax and the AGW people are saying what the scientists tell them, than you should be able to back this claim about what AGW people think pretty easily.
but what's this about an interpretation?? is that your disclaimer? -we are passing through the looking glass
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Quoting tornadodude:
isnt it also a little arrogant to assume that we can have a significant impact on the way the earth behaves?

As you stated your "young mind" leaves you open so, think on this....some of us were around when some aerosol propellants were banned to halt the cooling process caused by the dimming of sunlight by all the aerosol in the air...man's impact on the world's environment. Per Wiki: The cooling period is well reproduced by current (1999 on) global climate models (GCMs) that include the physical effects of sulphate aerosols, and there is now general agreement that aerosol effects were the dominant cause of the mid-20th century cooling. However, at the time there were two physical mechanisms that were most frequently advanced to cause cooling: aerosols and orbital forcing. Just some food for thought about how man can have an impact.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
686. Excellent post!
Member Since: April 26, 2009 Posts: 3 Comments: 3667
Quoting PcolaDan:


Geez, tried to pay you a compliment and see where it gets me. Was no retort on my part. You have been banned a few times that I know of, but are generally respected so not attacked like others. Never mind.


No slight intended PD..its been a tuff sell today,so If ya feel slighted,sowwy my man.

I have no issues with anyone here....

Life too short,..and well,

Hate is Easy,Love takes courage.

We lubs ya man.

Now I really gotta GO...literally.

LOL



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Maybe people's vendetta against me has to do with my hat? ;)
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8339
I wasn't alive for this, but I seem to remember hearing that in the 1970's global cooling was a big concern. My how times change.
Member Since: April 26, 2009 Posts: 3 Comments: 3667
One thing that really bothers me is the way people judge on here. Sure, most people here are older than I am, and that gains them a certain level of respect. But respect is earned. Constantly bashing me because of my age and year in school is certainly not going to attribute to the respect level.
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8339
Quoting tornadodude:


that's about what I look like after this beating Ive taken :p


lol
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Quoting Patrap:
Always someone to my East bringing my perceived status onto his retort,..fine.

Dad said long before he was Buried,if they quoting you,or thinking about you..at least your reaching.

Been banned as much as any other,..its no thing to me,maybe to others,,but hey.

Life isnt here..its outside,.and Im heading out to it now.


But I sleep well at night knowing I've helped make a difference,and I thank Jeff Masters daily in my prayers as well as his site.

For one can make a difference....and I like to believe I have.

Toodles.


Geez, tried to pay you a compliment and see where it gets me. Was no retort on my part. You have been banned a few times that I know of, but are generally respected so not attacked like others. Never mind.
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Quoting Orcasystems:


I think if you keep it light hearted.. or take humorous jabs at people.. like Floodman :) then its all good... but if you are going to come in and spout some BS or take offensive action with your quotes.. then you might find some of the regulars taking offense.

I for one.. enjoy it in here. There are some new people in here who leave a lot to be desired... most of them arrived with the Hockey stick...and they aint playing Hockey.
:) yet, they still tend to body check...
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.