A blog about temperatures
Was July 2012 the hottest July in United States history? Was the last 12
months period the warmest ever? NOAA,the National Oceanographic and
Atmospheric Administration, says “Yes”. The agency released a map and
statement in early August stating without reservation that July 2012 and
the last 12 months were the hottest ever. The national media gave the report
a “headline play” as we say in the media business. And, many
of the media stories linked this hot weather with global warming.
However, skeptical scientists have produced studies that show that the last
15 years have seen a cooling in the United States. This is the NOAA
NCDC Climate at a Glance US annual mean temperature trend the last 15 years.
No doubt it has been very, very hot and very, very dry. But if you check
the facts behind these reports the claims are not all that certain.
Consider this; the data behind the NOAA claims shows the average
temperature in July 2012 was only 2/10's of one degree warmer than July
1936. And there are several papers posted on the internet that claim
that if the temperatures and the means of processing the data had not
been “adjusted” several times in the past 50 years, 1934 would still be
the warmest year ever, considerably warmer that the last 12 months. I
conclude that while there is some basis for the NOAA record warmth position
those who challenge NOAA's claims also make good cases. And it seems
to me that while the recent hot, dry weather is clearly out of the ordinary, as it
stands for now, it is not the sort of extreme event that might prove
global warming. And, any connection between the hot, dry weather and
warming caused by the activities of mankind remains totally unproven.
Global warming is about a predicted dramatic increase in the temperature
year after year leading to the melting of the polar ice caps resulting in
a dramatic rise in ocean water levels producing coastal flooding. It also
predicts non-stop droughts, massive world-wide, killer heat waves and
super storms. Were the conditions that have developed in the United
States this Summer to become world wide (which they have not) and
continue to increase in intensity for year after year for a decade, that
would be the sort of global warming event that would lead to
the devastating results predicted by Al Gore and the United
Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The runaway heating predicted by the global warming advocates computer
models, is predicted to occur as a result of the activities of our
civilized society, primarily the use of fossil fuels to generate
electricity and to fuel internal combustion engines in cars and trucks
and power jet airplanes. The theory is that carbon dioxide (CO2) in
the exhaust from burning fossil fuels is an extraordinary greenhouse
gas that amplifies the greenhouse effect in our atmosphere. Even if
the predicted warming of the climate occurs, that does not prove the CO2
causative theory. So far efforts to prove that theory with computer
models are totally off of the mark.
Mankind began to burn coal extensively in around 1770 and to use oil
extensively starting in the 1880s. The use of fossil fuels greatly
increased between 1945 to 2000. A measure of the atmospheric CO2 known
as the Keeling Curve (for the Scientists who set up the measuring system)
shows a steady rise in atmospheric CO2 as a result. (Despite the
increase, the total of CO2 remains much less than 1% of the atmosphere.)
So a key question in the global warming debate has been “How much
warming have we experienced so far as a result of our use of fossil fuels
and the related release of carbon dioxide exhaust into the atmosphere?”
This seems as though it would be a very simple question to answer. To
get the answer you just simply look at the chart of average temperatures
through the years and measure the warming. Compare the warming since man
has been using fossil fuels with the warming in a similar period before
that and bingo, the influence of man-kind's activities should be clear.
You might be surprised to hear that there are lots of complications that
make this seemingly simple exercise impossible.
So what the complications? After all, despite what anyone else has said
or done, shouldn't anyone be able to take all of the temperatures recorded
across the nation, average them out to get the temperature for each hour
and then average all 24 hours at the end of the day, resulting in the average
for that day, and so on.
Well, it turns out that is not possible because only a few,pre-selected
long term observation records have been saved on a raw, long term hour by
hour and day by day basis. The great mass of long term temperature
records are not available. Basically the historical data available is
not in a format that lends itself to basic, start-over analysis.
There has been a long series of competing research reports, papers,
charts and documents on historical temperatures and the long term trends.
There is no consensus on what they show and why, just prolonged
and spirited debate among the scientists. In the end, I fear, neither
side is going to “win” this argument.
My friend Anthony Watts, Chico,California based Meteorologist and the
man who hosts the Wattsupwiththat website which is the most popular
climate website in the world, and several other scientists have recently
released a draft version of a new paper detailing a re-analysis of the
temperature data for the United States.They applied a recently
developed, but well accepted international process, to long term
U.S.temperatures from a pre-selected set of “official” weather
observation points. They concluded that the temperature adjustments
used by the National Oceanographic and Ocean Administration
produce a temperature increase of .3 degrees Celsius per decade while
this new method results in half as much of an increase, 1.5 degrees
Celsius per decade. This paper has met with both cheers and jeers in the
meteorology community. It is a big deal. But, in the end, I fear it will
be countered by a paper that uses still another method of analysis and
the debate will only go on and on.
Lets look at the history. There were no actual thermometers until after
1724 when a man named Fahrenheit made the very first one.
All temperature data before that is calculated using such methods as
analyzing tree rings and ice cores. While the scientists who do that
work are certain that they produce accurate data, there are all sorts of
issues such as what type of tree rings to use, the geographic
distribution of the trees, how to figure the temperature since other
issues such as the amount and time of rainfall also influence the tree's
growth. And, ice cores are clearly only in the polar regions and mountain
glaciers and don't represent the entire world temperature pattern. I can
accept basic trends from these systems, but I have trouble believing they
produce temperature records with the accuracy of less than 2 or 3
As for the thermometer, the early ones were crude; tubes of colored
mercury were stapled onto wooden backboards with degree markers printed
on them. How accurate a temperature reading can you get from looking at
something like that? I conclude you should not regard those readings accurate
within a tenth of a degree. And, actually I am skeptical of even one degree differences.
In the early days of the Weather Bureau here in the United States,the
thermometers were housed in little wooden, louvered boxes with legs that
held them five feet above the surface. A study by Watts, several years
ago, showed that whether the boxes were painted white or white-washed actually
had a measurable impact on the temperatures on the thermometers inside.
For many years some of these measurements where made on the roof tops of
buildings in the middle of cities while others were in rural pastures.
Very often the temperatures were so effected by the siting of the
observation point that they had little to do with the average temperature
of the surrounding region. This led to studies, again a major one under
the direction of Mr. Watts, that show the “siting” of thermometers is a
major issue in producing reliable temperature readings. His volunteer field
observers and he, himself, visited 1007 of the 1221 observations stations
in the United States. They found some located near asphalt parking
lots. Others are near air conditioner exhausts. A trash burning barrel
was just a few feet from another official thermometer. So when you look
at historical temperature records, it is difficult to know the accuracy
of the readings and how representative they are of the area.
For decades the number of thermometers was rather limited.Weather
observation points spread across the nation with migration of
the population. For years, the thermometers that were used to
produce official, written down logs of readings over the long term were
mostly in cities and towns. As aviation developed most official weather
observation points moved to airports which were mostly on the edge of the
cities or even out in the nearby country side. All of this impacted the
temperature readings. Now most major airports are surrounded by
extensive business centers and the exhaust of the departing jet aircraft
increase the air temperatures as well.
As the United States Weather Bureau was established and evolved, standards
for making observations were adopted the data became more reliable.
Eventually a National Climate Data Center (NCDC) was established in 1934.
Each official observation center then sent a monthly report of temperatures and
other weather data from it's official weather observation station via a form paper
report to the NCDC. In the 1970's this data was entered into computers for the
first time. The monthly paper mailed reports continued for decades, however, and
on some level continues today.
As the sites changed and the system of data collection became organized,
the thermometers themselves were evolving. Mercury thermometers were
replaced with thermocouple thermometers at some weather observation
stations in the mid 1900's. And eventually resistance thermometers that
use a length of plutonium wire wound around an insulator to measure
temperature replaced thermocouples. And at many locations those louvered
instrument sheds were replaced by metal tubes with fans to circulate the
air over the thermometer inside.
Meanwhile, inexpensive battery powered automated weather stations began
to spring up at homes, schools and business everywhere. When the home
computer and the internet swept the world, these automated stations hit
the world wide web. Soon there were tens of thousands of them. All sorts of
websites now display these readings. Eventually even the successor to the
Weather Bureau, the National Weather Service (NWS), began to link to them,
plot them on maps and redistribute them on official NWS websites. Then came
the smart phones and their widgets picked up these automated, internet stations.
They were eventually organized into an official National Oceanographic and
Atmospheric Agency (NOAA/NWS) group called Madis (Meteorological Assimilation
Data Ingest System). But these observations are not saved or used in any official
So while 100s of thousands of temperatures are now available worldwide,
the NCDC continues to use only a network of government weather stations.
And in recent years has made extensive data adjustments. In one of
these, it altered the older data to supposedly match the current data
produced by the newer instruments. This change results in a cooling of the
temperatures in the previous decades which has the net effect of making
more recent temperatures comparatively warmer and therefore increases
the long-term warming of temperatures.
I don't doubt that there has been a general slow increase in atmosphere
temperatures. You must understand this is a natural warming trend, a
natural result of the continuing interglacial period that began with the
melting of the great ice sheets 12,000 years ago. This warming trend has
nothing to do with mankind's use of fossil fuels.
In the 1980's NCDC and other agencies that have sprung up as offshoots of
NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) began to greatly
reduce the number of reporting points used in their temperature calculations.
So as tens of thousands of new thermometers came on line,they trimmed these
government agencies were greatly reducing the number observations used in
their world wide temperature calculations. The number used dropped from 6,000
in the 1970s to just 1,500 a decade later. And, the new system averaged these
temperatures to produce readings on spaced grid points. As these changes took
effect, the average annual temperature produced by their systems, rose
quickly as compared to their own temperature charts in previous years.
NCDC and supporting researchers have presented numerous scientific
papers to justify these changes. Others have produced papers, reports
and charts to strongly refute the government agencies claims.
Essentially, much of the distortion may come from the selected observation
points not being representative of the average for the grid box in which
they are located. The problem of using a relatively few temperatures to
represent regions gets very complex in coastal and hill and valley, rural
and city complexes. As an example, if a grid box is in west central
Colorado and the observation at Grand Junction is used to present the
area. Mountainous terrain that surrounds Grand Junction averages 10
degrees cooler. Think about San Diego County, California where
the weather zones range from cool, Pacific coastal 60's to 80's in
inland valleys, from 40's to 90's in mountains ranging up to 7,000 feet
high (mountain temperatures vary enormously depending on season) to below sea level
desert where temperatures are regularly over 100. How do you pick one or
two temperatures to represent this county? Those who have put together
and use these grids based on a relatively small set of observations
have done studies that they say prove that is all averages out and adding
more points to the observation network has little impact on the final
averages. I might consider their argument but am totally sure they are
out of bounds when they start to base claims of record warmest or record
increases on measurements based on fractions of a degree or even a degree
In this discussion, so far, I have looked at the temperature issues mostly
from the viewpoint of only my home country, the United States. But the
matter of temperatures is global. Elsewhere across and around the planet
the problems of coming up with reliable data explodes. The United States
constitutes less than 4% of the surface of the Earth. On the other hand, the
Oceans cover 71% of the Earth's surface. Deserts, unpopulated mountain
ranges,tropical forests and the polar regions cover significant parts of the planet.
Historical and even current temperature measurements from these regions
remains skimpy to non-existent.
Take the case of the oceans. For 100s of years, we depended on
measurements made by freighters and passenger ships to lift a bucket of
water from the ocean along their routes and measure the temperature and
make reports when they reached port. Later buoys would be used to collect
temperatures. The ship buckets were eventually replaced by sensors in the
ship intake valves of the ships, a method that measured temperatures at
different levels. Ship intake values were slightly warmer than the buoys.
Later these buoys placed at intervals off shore radioed in temperatures.
In recent years, sophisticated buoys that communicate via satellite have been
deployed worldwide. This data from them so far, does not show any significant
warming of the ocean water and is being discounted by global warming advocates.
In any case, there is not a long term useable ocean temperature data base to
use to produce a meaningful long term data base.
In the past forty years there have been measurements of the total atmospheric
temperatures on a global basis from satellites. It system is being used to build a new
data base that in a hundred years will make a significant data base for measuring
climatic changes. For now, however, forty years is too short term to be hugely
significant. What is does show, for now, the satellite data shows a rather steady,
gradual increase in global temperatures in line with the long term increase over the
last 12,000 years. It does not support the dramatic increases predicted by the global
warming advocates models.
My friends who are climate change skeptics would say the lack of a dramatic rise
is the final “nail in the coffin” for global warming alarmists. I have to hold back on
reaching that conclusion. I simply hold to my skeptical position. I don't believe that
carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas and our use of fossil fuels is creating a
climate crisis now and it will not do so in the future as well. I don't see any evidence
that there is a CO2 “tipping point” when temperatures will go out of the control. In
fact, there is evidence that CO2 has been much higher in the historic past.
I also point out that CO2 is fertilizing our crops producing a food supply significantly
greater than it would be if we were not adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
I conclude the temperature data does not prove global warming. The alarmists are
wrong. But the temperature data is so unreliable and garbled that neither alarmists
or skeptics can use it to conclusively prove they are right.