Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Problems With Temperature Data


Last week I proposed a question to Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr., Anthony Watts, and Joseph D'Aleo:

I'm wondering if there is subset of the data used to track/calculate global average temperatures that is rural ['dark"] only?

It occurs to me that if there is such an unadjusted subset that can be filtered for stations that have a consistent location and cover the entire last century, it may provide a unique sampling basis for looking at global temperatures that have fewer environmental variables than the total subset. That might give a different perspective of the trend in world temperatures than the total population of reporting stations which are subject to all sorts of problems reported by Anthony. Certainly the data may be sparse in many continents, but it might be worth a look.

Are any of you aware of such an analysis?
The responses from Dr. Pielke and Joe D'Aleo were not as encouraging as I had hoped, but certainly illustrate the problems inherent in the present methodology for calculating a global average temperature:
  • Such a binning (into rural/urban sites) is useful, however it is not as straightforward as one might suspect as there are a diversity of problems even with rural sites; e.g. see
    Pielke Sr., R.A., C. Davey, D. Niyogi, S. Fall, J. Steinweg-Woods, K. Hubbard, X. Lin, M. Cai, Y.-K. Lim, H. Li, J. Nielsen-Gammon, K. Gallo, R. Hale, R. Mahmood, S. Foster, R.T. McNider, and P. Blanken, 2007: Unresolved issues with the assessment of multi-decadal global land surface temperature trends. J. Geophys. Res., 112, D24S08, doi:10.1029/2006JD008229.
    For example, rural sites can be poorly sited (e.g. next to a building; adjacent to an irrigated field on one side, etc).

    My bottom line conclusion is that the surface data has so many problems with respect to multi-decadal trends as a metric for global warming and cooling, it should be scraped all together. The upper ocean is the more appropriate metric; see
    Pielke Sr., R.A., 2008: A broader view of the role of humans in the climate system. Physics Today, 61, Vol. 11, 54-55.
    Pielke Sr., R.A., 2003: Heat storage within the Earth system. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 84, 331-335
    The surface temperature data is still valuable with respect to weather patterns, and certainly agricultural interests can use the values for their needs. But as a climate metric, it has many problems. [Pielke]

  • Anthony mentioned to me many moons ago that none other than Gavin Schmidt argued that you could get a climate signal from just 60 well placed stations worldwide.

    We talked about how we could find them and access the raw data before homogenization which is akin to mixing pure spring water with sludge. Claiming you improved the sludge but in the process made the spring water undrinkable.

    Phil Jones claim, that he no longer has the original data but only the 'value-added' adjusted data is scary. I am sure there is raw data out there we can find but as Roger says, I don't know how easy it will be to get at the metadata needed to determine station history and whether it is one of the true desired rural locations.

    One place to start may be the late and great John Daly's WHAT THE STATIONS SAY He picked what he thought were representative worldwide stations with links to plots. [D'Aleo]
This may be a possibilty if enough sites in the sampling were both truly rural and high quality, but looking at John Daly's site [above], it appears that many of those sites may have disappeared in the recent purge... with a lot of data ending at 1999 or 2000.

Perhaps you will find it disconcerting, as I do, that very respected individuals in the scientific fields of climate and weather have such serious concerns about the temperature history that is being used to establish our government's policy and spending priorities... and the influence on the rest of the world.

And if it's that difficult to come up with a clean sampling, how messed up must the total data set be?


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SEARCH BLOG: FEDERAL RESERVE for full versions... or use the Blog Archive pulldown menu.

February 3, 2006
Go back to 1999-2000 and see what the Fed did. They are following the same pattern for 2005-06. If it ain't broke, the Fed will fix it... and good!
August 29, 2006 The Federal Reserve always acts on old information... and is the only cause of U.S. recessions.
December 5, 2006 Last spring I wrote about what I saw to be a sharp downturn in the economy in the "rustbelt" states, particularly Michigan.
March 28, 2007
The Federal Reserve sees no need to cut interest rates in the light of adverse recent economic data, Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday.
The Fed chairman said ”to date, the incoming data have supported the view that the current stance of policy is likely to foster sustainable economic growth and a gradual ebbing in core inflation”.

July 21, 2007 My guess is that if there is an interest rate change, a cut is more likely than an increase. The key variables to be watching at this point are real estate prices and the inventory of unsold homes.
August 11, 2007 I suspect that within 6 months the Federal Reserve will be forced to lower interest rates before housing becomes a black hole.
September 11, 2007 It only means that the overall process has flaws guaranteeing it will be slow in responding to changes in the economy... and tend to over-react as a result.
September 18, 2007 I think a 4% rate is really what is needed to turn the economy back on the right course. The rate may not get there, but more cuts will be needed with employment rates down and foreclosure rates up.
October 25, 2007 How long will it be before I will be able to write: "The Federal Reserve lowered its lending rate to 4% in response to the collapse of the U.S. housing market and massive numbers of foreclosures that threaten the banking and mortgage sectors."
"Should the elevated turbulence persist, it would increase the possibility of further tightening in financial conditions for households and businesses," he said.

"Uncertainties about the economic outlook are unusually high right now," he said. "These uncertainties require flexible and pragmatic policymaking -- nimble is the adjective I used a few weeks ago."

December 11, 2007 Somehow the Fed misses the obvious.
[Image from:]
December 13, 2007 [from The Christian Science Monitor]
"The odds of a recession are now above 50 percent," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's "We are right on the edge of a recession in part because of the Fed's reluctance to reduce interest rates more aggressively." [see my comments of September 11]
January 7, 2008 The real problem now is that consumers can't rescue the economy and manufacturing, which is already weakening, will continue to weaken. We've gutted the forces that could avoid a downturn. The question is not whether there will be a recession, but can it be dampened sufficiently so that it is very short.
January 11, 2008 This is death by a thousand cuts.
January 13, 2008 [N.Y. Times]
“The question is not whether we will have a recession, but how deep and prolonged it will be,” said David Rosenberg, the chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch. “Even if the Fed’s moves are going to work, it will not show up until the later part of 2008 or 2009.
January 17, 2008 A few days ago, Anna Schwartz, nonagenarian economist, implicated the Federal Reserve as the cause of the present lending crisis [from the Telegraph - UK]:
The high priestess of US monetarism - a revered figure at the Fed - says the central bank is itself the chief cause of the credit bubble, and now seems stunned as the consequences of its own actions engulf the financial system. "The new group at the Fed is not equal to the problem that faces it," she says, daring to utter a thought that fellow critics mostly utter sotto voce.
January 22, 2008 The cut has become infected and a limb is in danger. Ben Bernanke is panicking and the Fed has its emergency triage team cutting rates... this time by 3/4%. ...

What should the Federal Reserve do now? Step back... and don't be so anxious to raise rates at the first sign of economic improvement.
Individuals and businesses need stability in their financial cost structures so that they can plan effectively and keep their ships afloat. Wildly fluctuating rates... regardless of what the absolute levels are... create problems. Either too much spending or too much fear. It's just not that difficult to comprehend. Why has it been so difficult for the Fed?

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Michigan, United States
Air Force (SAC) captain 1968-72. Retired after 35 years of business and logistical planning, including running a small business. Two sons with advanced degrees; one with a business and pre-law degree. Beautiful wife who has put up with me for 4 decades. Education: B.A. (Sociology major; minors in philosopy, English literature, and German) M.S. Operations Management (like a mixture of an MBA with logistical planning)