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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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
YEP stupid is as stupid does


My momma always said, "Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8360
anyway going to work got four apartments to finish up for the first of the month check back in at lunch time or so
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
YEP stupid is as stupid does


Hey KOG, hows it going...
Looks like you may be pushing another cold front down towards the GOM, you trying to get us killed?
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476. IKE
Quoting Orcasystems:


Hmm you seem to have taken over the position of official "Stir Stick". I looked back, that appears to be the only thing you try to do on here.


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Quoting Orcasystems:


Hmm you seem to have taken over the position of official "Stir Stick". I looked back, that appears to be the only thing you try to do on here.
YEP stupid is as stupid does
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Quoting drg0dOwnCountry:
Read again.


Hmm you seem to have taken over the position of official "Stir Stick". I looked back, that appears to be the only thing you try to do on here.
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Quoting drg0dOwnCountry:
Read again.


lol you changed your post after he already quoted you, anyway, I think our debate was pretty civil
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8360
Quoting drg0dOwnCountry:
Read again.


Ok, so now you modified your comment to say intense. It was intense...that's all. I'm not sure what other adjectives you need me to throw out there to describe it.
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Quoting CaneWarning:


I didn't say any of it was interesting.
Read again.
Member Since: September 22, 2005 Posts: 11 Comments: 2032
Quoting growe:
Can we please stop worshipping peer review of papers as some guarantee that the conclusions reached by these papers are correct?
Go ahead post you evidence than, which is exactly (beside name calling)?
Member Since: September 22, 2005 Posts: 11 Comments: 2032
Quoting drg0dOwnCountry:
Maybe you say what in particular was so intresting to you?


I didn't say any of it was interesting.
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Quoting CaneWarning:
Wow, I was just reading back and I see there was a pretty intense discussion on GW last night. One thing I will say is glaciers melt.
Maybe you say what in particular was so intense to you?
Member Since: September 22, 2005 Posts: 11 Comments: 2032
Quoting CaneWarning:
459 & 460 & 462 I agree totally.
Surprise! More preassure now?

See also http://www.exxposeexxon.com/ or this nice movie http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8066462153626602821#
Member Since: September 22, 2005 Posts: 11 Comments: 2032



AOI

AOI

AOI

AOI

Humor in Comments
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Good read that directly addresses the credibility issue that is now very obvious in the IPCC ;)

January 26, 2010, 8:12 am
From Inside and Out, Climate Panel Is Pushed to Change
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459 & 460 & 462 I agree totally.
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Dr. Masters,
This article is not really an argument for or against global warming, but sounds more like a direct personal assault of Anthony Watts and his integrity.

You start the article off with "Former TV weatherman Anthony Watts..." It's curious that you start the article this way instead of saying "Meteorologist Anthony Watts..." or simply "Anthony Watts..." The fact that you purposefully included "TV weather", even though its true, sounds like an assault on integrity right away. After all, TV weather men aren't REAL meteorologists...only internet blog meteorologist are real.

Secondly,
You mentioned that surfacestations.org is funded by the heartland institution and that the heartland institution gets funding from tobacco and oil companies. Not just oil, but tobacco as well..they must be really bad to get funding from the two evils of corporate America! (cue Darth Vader theme)
After a quick search, I found no evidence that this statement is even true. On surfacestations.org's FAQs, Anthony specifically says that the only costs to the project are for web hosting, computer and bandwidth and that Mr. Watts funds it out of his own pocket. They do accept donations, but only from individuals and not corporations. Barring any other specific evidence about their funding (you provided no source to back this up), I am compelled to go by the information on Mr. Watt's site.
Also, even if this was true, how is receiving funding from big oil any different from receiving funding from big Government as the Pro-AGW camp is? I guarantee that big Government has much, much deeper pockets than big oil.

Also, you seem dismissive of the fact that poorly sited stations is a problem, even if no extra warming is observed. (As of writing this comment, I haven't done any research/analysis into the numbers you used to create your graph.) I do not think accepting poorly sited stations and adjusting is a proper way to measure temperature. And I agree with Anthony when he states that, if our temperature measuring network, which is the best in the world, is so poor, what does that say about temperature monitoring stations in other parts of the world? Even if we may be 'adjusting' or 'quality controlling' the data to account for biases or instrumental flaws, who's to say the rest of the world is as well? After all, the United States hasn't shown nearly as much warming as, say Northern Russia, where temperature sensors were found to be sitting next to old, poorly insulated pipes that are used for heating during the winter.

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461. IKE
Has anyone read anything about changes countries have or are going to make from Copenhagen? I think the earthquake in Haiti has put any hope of changes(if you're looking for any), on the back-burner.
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After reading the latest post by Dr Jeff, all I can say is that it is a sad day in the history of climatology.

Mediocrity has now become an accepted mainstay in the gathering and interpretation of weather data.

If the data is flawed, fudge it...

just make sure it conforms with anthropomorphic global warming restrictions.

So terribly sad.

I am so disappointed you, Dr Jeff.
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459. growe
Can we please stop worshipping peer review of papers as some guarantee that the conclusions reached by these papers are correct? As was shown in the wake of the hockey stick fiasco and more recently in the Climategate emails, in climate science, peer review is little more than a buddy system in which collaborators peer review each others' work, and close ranks against anyone who disagrees with them.
Casting aspersions at the Heartland Institute while accepting work from NOAA and NCDC, both of which are currently embroiled in controversy over selectively eliminating data to make it look with AGW is worse than it is, is a bit rich.
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458. IKE
Beautiful sunny day here in Defuniak Springs,FL....high in the low 60's. Nice breeze. Beautiful day.

On a side-note...58 million tuned in.

It is the best and most popular sport in America.
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Quoting IKE:


Hard to believe many of them wouldn't have already checked in somehow. I hope I'm wrong.

I've kept up daily with the news stories from the Hotel Montana. Awful story.


It is awful. I understand that the families are very upset about the search effort. I do somewhat agree with them that the American forces sent should concentrate on finding Americans first.
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456. IKE
Quoting CaneWarning:


Yes, the court would have to issue a death certificate if no body is found. I would assume they are either under rubble, or maybe in mass graves. It's also possible that many of them are alive and just haven't checked in yet.


Hard to believe many of them wouldn't have already checked in somehow. I hope I'm wrong.

I've kept up daily with the news stories from the Hotel Montana. Awful story.
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Quoting IKE:


What I would like to know is....where are they at? All underneath rubble?

Suppose you had life insurance on a family member last seen in Haiti? Court will have to declare them dead.


Yes, the court would have to issue a death certificate if no body is found. I would assume they are either under rubble, or maybe in mass graves. It's also possible that many of them are alive and just haven't checked in yet.
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454. IKE
Quoting CaneWarning:


Wow, so this quake may claim more American victims than 9/11.


What I would like to know is....where are they at? All underneath rubble?

Suppose you had life insurance on a family member last seen in Haiti? Court will have to declare them dead.
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Wow, I was just reading back and I see there was a pretty intense discussion on GW last night. One thing I will say is glaciers melt. They've been melting before SUVs were invented. They will probably continue to melt until something changes and then they refreeze. I'm not too worried about that. It is pure arrogance to think that something as tiny as man (even several billion of us) can have any affect on the weather.
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Quoting IKE:


I should have sourced it....yeah, it's CNN.

I'll edit the post.


Wow, so this quake may claim more American victims than 9/11.
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451. Boca
Bad science discovered today indicates VERY bad science on the same issues years, decades before.
And those issues can not be re evaluated and corrected. If the base line is wrong how can the subsequent findings be valid?

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Quoting IKE:


You don't have AC?

I have a portable AC, only use it 2 or 3 times a year.
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449. IKE
Quoting AussieStorm:

It is, Nice cool breeze coming through the window right beside me.


You don't have AC?
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Quoting IKE:


Sounds nice.

It is, Nice cool breeze coming through the window right beside me.
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447. skipl
Thanks for the review of the article, Dr. Masters. I bet Mr. Watts hasn't gotten around to that presentation because he is either: reviewing it OR still gleaning great and amazing information from the IPCC report on how much of a con effort there was. He was on top of that too. He is just casting a critical eye on data as opposed to having an agenda... though if he had an agenda it would be to find the truth.
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446. IKE
Quoting severstorm:
JEFF9641, You got that right about the cold in z-hills. Today 38.8 Ok now i'm gone.


And I only got to 41.7.

Have a nice day.
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JEFF9641, You got that right about the cold in z-hills. Today 38.8 Ok now i'm gone.
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444. IKE
Quoting AussieStorm:


Sounds nice.
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443. IKE
Quoting severstorm:
Ike, My house 1600 sq. ft. and i live in zephyrhill florida. About 40 miles ne of Tampa.


I could see yours going to $250, but 441.23..I almost hate to see mine next month.

The lowest temp. I had was 20.5.
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morning jeff9641, Yes i heard it could be some heavy thunderstroms again this time. Ok i have to go back to the grind. I'll see ya all later.
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439. IKE
From Mobile,AL. discussion....

"THE SFC LOW AND ATTENDANT COLD FRONT IS NOT EXPECTED TO CLEAR EAST OF
THE FORECAST AREA UNTIL LATE FRIDAY EVENING. BEHIND THE FRONT...A
MODIFIED ARCTIC AIRMASS WILL FILTER INTO THE AREA FOR THE WEEKEND.
CONSIDERING THAT A SIGNIFICANT ICE AND SNOW STORM MAY OCCUR FROM THE
SOUTHERN PLAINS TO THE TENNESSEE VALLEY...THE AIRMASS MAY NOT MODIFY AS
MUCH AS GUIDANCE IS SUGGESTING. WILL CONTINUE TO STAY SLIGHTLY BELOW
MEX GUIDANCE...WITH TEMPS AROUND 10 DEGREES BELOW NORMAL. THESE TEMPS
MAY TREND COLDER AS THE EXTENT OF THE SHALLOW ARCTIC AIRMASS IS
BETTER RESOLVED.
"
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Ike, My house 1600 sq. ft. and i live in zephyrhill florida. About 40 miles ne of Tampa.
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436. IKE
Quoting Jeff9641:



Mine was $463 and is usually $145 to $160 a month. I'm glad the extreme cold is gone.


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It is a fact that the issue of AGW is too important to get wrong. Its my opinion that the issue has become way too political and the scientific process has been subverted. We need honest, un-biased research! Unfortuneately I think that may be impossible tho with the current state of things.
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London's Mail on Sunday reports on the latest climate-science scandal:

The scientist behind the bogus claim in a Nobel Prize-winning UN report that Himalayan glaciers will have melted by 2035 last night admitted it was included purely to put political pressure on world leaders.

Dr Murari Lal also said he was well aware the statement, in the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), did not rest on peer-reviewed scientific research.

In an interview with The Mail on Sunday, Dr Lal, the co-ordinating lead author of the report's chapter on Asia, said: "It related to several countries in this region and their water sources. We thought that if we can highlight it, it will impact policy-makers and politicians and encourage them to take some concrete action.

"It had importance for the region, so we thought we should put it in."

London's Times, meanwhile, reports that the IPCC's head, Rajendra Pachauri, "admitted that there may have been other errors in the same section of the report":

"I know a lot of climate sceptics are after my blood, but I'm in no mood to oblige them," he told The Times in an interview. "It was a collective failure by a number of people," he said. "I need to consider what action to take, but that will take several weeks. It's best to think with a cool head, rather than shoot from the hip."

The Sunday Times turns up more errors:

The United Nations climate science panel faces new controversy for wrongly linking global warming to an increase in the number and severity of natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods.

It based the claims on an unpublished report that had not been subjected to routine scientific scrutiny--and ignored warnings from scientific advisers that the evidence supporting the link too weak. The report's own authors later withdrew the claim because they felt the evidence was not strong enough.

But politicians have picked up on these false claims:

Ed Miliband, the [British] energy and climate change minister, has suggested British and overseas floods--such as those in Bangladesh in 2007--could be linked to global warming. Barack Obama, the US president, said last autumn: "More powerful storms and floods threaten every continent."

We are supposed to believe the politicians when they warn us about global warming because they have the authority of scientists behind them. The more we learn, however, the more it seems that scientists are merely playing politics.

The Science and Technology Committee of Britain's House of Commons is now investigating the University of East Anglia emails, with an eye to answering the crucial question: "What are the implications of the disclosures for the integrity of scientific research?" When will Congress follow suit?
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432. IKE
Quoting severstorm:
Ike, Plus i wrapped my lower house like you did. I guess 4 nights in the teens dosent help much does it.


How many square feet is your house and where do you live?

My heater was set at about 77. Once it got down to 3 degrees below that, it cut on and stays on until reaching what I have it set at.
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Ike, Plus i wrapped my lower house like you did. I guess 4 nights in the teens dosent help much does it.
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Yes that is correct Ike the heat never shut off much Kept it 65 at night and 68 during the day.
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429. IKE
My latest electric bill goes from Dec. 3rd to Jan. 3rd. The cold started on New Years Day, but got colder as the days went on....my total is $206.75.

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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.

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