Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Surface Stations Project: Science Auditers or Enviro Vigilantes?

Anthony Watts is a climate change skeptic and member of what I would call the "Climate Audit" movement, in which citizens with some small grounding in the relevant fields attempt to bring mainstream scientists in the debate over Global Warming "to account". For example, Mr. Watts has launched Surface Stations, a website created to document deficiencies in the sites used by the United States Historical Climatological Network (USHCN) and Global Historical Climatological Network (GHCN), which record changes in surface temperatures around the U.S. His goal is to call into question "the whole surface temperature record ", a project which would, if successful, put a good part of the foundation behind contemporary AGW science into question. To contribute to this project, you surf over Surface Stations, download the appropriate reporting forms, and traipse off to visit your local station, where you are expected to provide a photographic and written report.

Except that the NOAA/NCDC (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and National Climatic Data Center) have been "throwing up road-blocks"-- essentially banning Watts' volunteers from their stations, and pulling information on these stations from their website:

It sounds as though you’ve used the system enough that once you’ve located a station using the search, you’re clicking on the station name hyperlink and opening a separate station details window. The managing party for a station has always been visible by clicking on the “Other Parties” tab. In the case of NWS Coop stations (the USHCN research network relies upon a subset of stations in the NWS Coop program), this is usually the NWS office that administers the site. This information was previously included at the bottom of the Identity tab’s “form view,” but was removed from that view early this week because in some cases it also revealed the name of the Cooperative observer.

Cooperative observers are volunteers who donate their time in the interests of the public good with a reasonable expectation that their personal information will remain private. It is the NCDC’s policy to protect observer details, based upon Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Update, Vol.X, No. 2, 1989, which exempts the application of FOIA in certain cases and establishes privacy protection decisions in accordance with the Privacy Actof 1974 (2004 edition). This exemption applies when the personal privacy interest is greater than any qualifying public interest for disclosure.

Naturally Mr. Watts is "shocked, shocked" by this, and suspects a conspiracy.

However, if you look at past actions by the various participants in the Climate Audit movement, they have often crossed the line into the downright assholish. For instance, there's Steve Mcintyre's now famous inadvertant DOS attack on NASA, which was launched in an attempt to access GISS information that (it turns out) he could have just asked for, and which got him booted from NASA computers. Furthermore, both McIntyre and Pielke sling the term "cover-up" at pretty much any piece of research they don't like, and the wilder among their readers seem to think that Al Gore is ferried around in a black helicopter, and that the weather stations under investigation are likely to harbour a basement full of U.N. soldiers.

It is from this pool of readers that Mr. Watt's is drawing his volunteers.

So I for one take the NOAA/NCDC comments noted above at face value: they are simply attempting to protect their volunteers from harassment by the kind of fruit-loops that might come out of the woodwork to join Mr. Watt's project.

And I would make the following suggestion that might help Mr. Watts weed possible kooks from his pool of volunteers. Sir, while there is data on the various surface stations at your site, there is no information at all on your volunteers. It therefore does not seem possible for the operator of one of these stations to check names and contact information against a master list to determine (perhaps by a return call) whether or not the voice at the other end of the phone line is a member of your team or not. There also seems to be no process by which station operators can lodge complaints against your volunteers.

I don't know that making such changes will get your people onto the sites they wish to investigate. I do, however, think that will remove some of the stench of wingnuttery from your project, and will increase its credibility in the eyes of legitimate media sources (ie folks beyond Rush Limbaugh and Fox)


Anonymous said...

it is truly wonderful how ordinary citizens can get the Enviro PR machine off its Kyoto rails so easily. Just a few pictures of weather stations in the middle of acres of asphalt or over BBQ pits outside Fire Halls. No data corruption there.

The amount of systemic road blocks and pure obfuscation by those in charge means they have data they want hidden.

The leadership of your WARMonger Believer Club are very afraid their gravy train of funds and self imposed self importance is being exposed for the internationalist socialist fraud that it always has been.

They are afraid. The final blow will be when Al Gore abandons your movement and reveals it was all really just a proxy campaign for his 2008 leadership run.

If he can't get elected Pres by inventing the Internet, maybe he can by seducing Mother Gaia.

Anonymous said...

ho hum . . . "I'm a Believer" NOT

Alarmist global warming claims melt under scientific scrutiny

June 30, 2007
In his new book, The Assault on Reason, Al Gore pleads, "We must stop tolerating the rejection and distortion of science. We must insist on an end to the cynical use of pseudo-studies known to be false for the purpose of intentionally clouding the public's ability to discern the truth." Gore repeatedly asks that science and reason displace cynical political posturing as the central focus of public discourse.

If Gore really means what he writes, he has an opportunity to make a difference by leading by example on the issue of global warming.

A cooperative and productive discussion of global warming must be open and honest regarding the science. Global warming threats ought to be studied and mitigated, and they should not be deliberately exaggerated as a means of building support for a desired political position.

Many of the assertions Gore makes in his movie, ''An Inconvenient Truth,'' have been refuted by science, both before and after he made them. Gore can show sincerity in his plea for scientific honesty by publicly acknowledging where science has rebutted his claims.

For example, Gore claims that Himalayan glaciers are shrinking and global warming is to blame. Yet the September 2006 issue of the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Climate reported, "Glaciers are growing in the Himalayan Mountains, confounding global warming alarmists who recently claimed the glaciers were shrinking and that global warming was to blame."

Gore claims the snowcap atop Africa's Mt. Kilimanjaro is shrinking and that global warming is to blame. Yet according to the November 23, 2003, issue of Nature magazine, "Although it's tempting to blame the ice loss on global warming, researchers think that deforestation of the mountain's foothills is the more likely culprit. Without the forests' humidity, previously moisture-laden winds blew dry. No longer replenished with water, the ice is evaporating in the strong equatorial sunshine."

Gore claims global warming is causing more tornadoes. Yet the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated in February that there has been no scientific link established between global warming and tornadoes.

Gore claims global warming is causing more frequent and severe hurricanes. However, hurricane expert Chris Landsea published a study on May 1 documenting that hurricane activity is no higher now than in decades past. Hurricane expert William Gray reported just a few days earlier, on April 27, that the number of major hurricanes making landfall on the U.S. Atlantic coast has declined in the past 40 years. Hurricane scientists reported in the April 18 Geophysical Research Letters that global warming enhances wind shear, which will prevent a significant increase in future hurricane activity.

Gore claims global warming is causing an expansion of African deserts. However, the Sept. 16, 2002, issue of New Scientist reports, "Africa's deserts are in 'spectacular' retreat . . . making farming viable again in what were some of the most arid parts of Africa."

Gore argues Greenland is in rapid meltdown, and that this threatens to raise sea levels by 20 feet. But according to a 2005 study in the Journal of Glaciology, "the Greenland ice sheet is thinning at the margins and growing inland, with a small overall mass gain." In late 2006, researchers at the Danish Meteorological Institute reported that the past two decades were the coldest for Greenland since the 1910s.

Gore claims the Antarctic ice sheet is melting because of global warming. Yet the Jan. 14, 2002, issue of Nature magazine reported Antarctica as a whole has been dramatically cooling for decades. More recently, scientists reported in the September 2006 issue of the British journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Series A: Mathematical, Physical, and Engineering Sciences, that satellite measurements of the Antarctic ice sheet showed significant growth between 1992 and 2003. And the U.N. Climate Change panel reported in February 2007 that Antarctica is unlikely to lose any ice mass during the remainder of the century.

Each of these cases provides an opportunity for Gore to lead by example in his call for an end to the distortion of science. Will he rise to the occasion? Only time will tell.,CST-EDT-REF30b.article

Ti-Guy said...

Speaking of the stench of wingnuttery...BCL posts something on climate change and two of Kate's psychos are right on it.

The wingnuts weaken their case by just opening their mouths.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't take much to impress the readers of Climate Audit. One the 'smoking guns' they have 'discovered' is that weather station records contain jumps and discontinuities. Duh! Problem is, those sorts of effects have been compensated for (or striken) by NOAA computer software for more than two decades. And all the previous records were processed too . . .

But there is no a mention of that on Climate Fraudit. (or if mentioned, it disappears) For an example of what the conspirators fret about, see Fig 1 -

Anonymous said...


What sort of "effects" are you talking about,a BBQ grill,swimming pool, an air conditioner? FYI, there are not adjustments made to the data for these things, that's the whole object of the project. If you have info that NOAA has adjusted for these things,let's hear it......

Otherwise,lay off the Kool-Aid....

BTW-Steve at "Climate Fraudit" (your words,not mine) has dedicated entire posts,heck-dozens of posts,on the various temperature adjustments.

Please,do some reading.....

Going Green said...

I'm a volunteer at I decided to help because I've been working with long temperature datasets for 10 years now and have found the QC lacking. The lack of quality assurance in the long term data records is a real problem and must be addressed. The question of how much of the surface warming can be attributed to increased carbon and how much can be attributed to land use changes is an open question whether people want it to be or not. You can try if you want to belittle the problem, but that won't help it go away. The only way this problem will go away is if a full analysis of the historical dataset is performed, and from looking at the data personally, I can tell you that the studies to date just don't cut it.

Liberty Tree Blog said...

This is so disingenuous. There have been no complaints of any harassment of NOAA volunteers documented anywhere I've seen, nor did the NOAA reference any. If the reader of your blog posts some whacked out polemic should I hide from you? That's the basic rationale you've offered in defense of the NOAA's action. From a position of no evidence of any harassment whatsoever you've gone straight to "hide the kids, here come the crazies!"

Occam's Razor might suggest they just don't want their sites being photographed as, so far, Watts, Pielke and others who've gone to the bother of seeing these sites have noted such blunders as trash burners and A/C exhausts situated near the thermometers and Watts' goal is to call the NOAA to account.

Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention the pictures of the aircraft parking facility directly adjacent to a weather station. The picture of a jet fighter with it engine exhaust pointed directly at the weather station was illuminating

Ti-Guy said...

Occam's Razor might suggest they just don't want their sites being photographed as, so far, Watts, Pielke and others who've gone to the bother of seeing these sites have noted such blunders as trash burners and A/C exhausts situated near the thermometers and Watts' goal is to call the NOAA to account.

Yum.. Scientilicious! I love scientific discovery based entirely on speculation and unrepresentative sampling.

Seriously, what about the dingo in Australia a few years back? Did it really eat her baby?

Liberty Tree Blog said...


Are you claiming that a A/C exhaust within 9 feet of a thermometer wouldn't bias it upwards is this just a delaying tactic to avoid the obvious? What exactly is speculative there?

And the issue here is that they've surveyed not many of the 1221 sites and already found a lot of issues. You know of some reason that the sites near the volunteers should be uniquely screwed up? It's readily apparent that a lot of these sites aren't following the NOAA's published quality standards, so your quibble is not particularly relevant.

Anonymous said...

And the London Bombings were part of a Denialist plot to keep Climate Change out of the papers. Don't believe me? Here are the indisputable facts:
Nearly all terrorist are a bit Arab looking.
They used expensive Mercedes in the failed bombings over the weekend - the car of choice for rich Arabs.

And where does nearly all the oil come from?

I rest my watertight case.

bigcitylib said...


...written in response to a paper by Pielke Sr., suggests that poor station placement has not biased the temperature record.

Also, the stations Watts has surveyed tend to be those around where he and his volunteers live, which means lots in California and lots in urban areas. This is not a random sample, and the kinds of issues he's dealing with tend to be associated with stations in Urban areas. Also, some of the deficiencies seem overstated. For instance the one with the BBQ. It would surely be bad news if the station operators are cooking under their monitoring equipment. But presumably, it was just being stored there.

Anonymous said...

I don't see the harm in what they are doing.
If they find that some stations are a problem and overstate temperature overall, by say, 0.4C, then the impact of CO2 is not as bad as thought and we don't need to do the drastic measures being suggested. We can then focus our Green efforts on other issues and feel grateful that the world isn't going to fry.

If they don't find problems after the whole network is being checked, then at least tax dollars have been saved because this should have been done 15 years ago, and careful records kept.
It has to be recognised that in a number of stations, whether random or not, standards need to be adhered to in order to be able to make meaningful scientific conclusions. After all, local short term weather predictions are important to farmers as well longer term climate ones.

As for these being urban effects, that would be the case if the sites were classed as urban, but a lot of them are classed as Rural, leading to a potential underestimate of UHIE; since the Urban stations get compared to the Rural ones to measure the urban distortion due to UHIE. That makes the potential problem worse, since not only are incorrect measurements being taken in rural areas, but the urban station measurements might need to be adjusted further downwards for UHIE.

Liberty Tree Blog said...


1) From the paper you cited:

"Because the number
of stations evaluated in this study
is quite limited, the results cannot
be definitive, but they can supply some evidence
in support or rejection of a hypothesis."

I believe his analysis was performed on 5 stations. That is to say 5 out of 1221 USHCN stations, and 5 out of 10 stations Pielke looked at. I think that is what motivated his inclusion of the statement above. He has supplied *some* evidence. It is so limited as to not be very conclusive or useful.

2) Ok, maybe the BBQ is only stored there and maybe only after it has completely cooled. Maybe not. Who would know? After all the instrumental temperature record at that site is the thing in question. What about the banks of A/C exhausts? The large oil drum trashburner? The rusting hulk of a washing machine? The thermometers mounted in nice warm sewage treatment plants, surrounded by buildings, on tarmac, etc.? There have been a lot of anomalies, violations of the published NOAA siting standards. Correct me if I got it wrong but I thought the volunteers recorded Tmax and Tmin. How could Tmax not be biased by a trashburner being used underneath it, a A/C exhaust blowing hot air on it, etc.? It seems hard to adjust for an inhomogeneity, like A/C venting at indeterminate times, with some number pulled out of thin air, i.e. an "adjustment". I know the paper concluded otherwise, but that was a seriously limited sample size.

Thanks for the reply, and thanks a lot for the civil tone, but do you honestly think that fear of privacy violations and harassment is what motivated the website change seeing that the NOAA folks first discussed the privacy issue sometime around 1997 and didn't change a thing until Watts got going? I mean they print people's photographs along with their names and locations. That's not much of a privacy blanket. And doesn't there deserve to be some form of independent scrutiny given that this informs national policy? Why do privacy concerns based on no incidents at all, AFAIK, trump printing real directions and not lat. and long. map coordinates for public property in a publicly funded effort?

Anonymous said...

Realclimate is on it.

"...Mistaken Assumption No. 6: If only enough problems can be found, global warming will go away

This is really two mistaken assumptions in one. That there is so little redundancy that throwing out a few dodgy met. stations will seriously affect the mean, and that evidence for global warming is exclusively tied to the land station data. Neither of those things are true...

...the recent warming is seen in the oceans, the atmosphere, in Arctic sea ice retreat, in glacier recession, earlier springs, reduced snow cover etc., so even if all met stations were contaminated (which they aren't), global warming would still be "unequivocal"..."

Glen said...

I'm another volunteer. Though I live in California, my first submitted station was Tombstone, AZ.

Site auditing is a great vacation project. Give it some time and I'm sure we'll get all of the sites, or at least enough of them to have a good sense of what's going on. This is the sort of thing distributed internet projects do best.

Anonymous said...

So when they go exploring the alpine valleys where these European glaciers which have now "melted for the very first time ever" and they find evidence of man's prescence there, how do you explain it?

Could it be that glaciers come and go just like the seasons, only with a longer cycle than a Liberal's attention span?

John A said...

We have a movement now? I thought it was a weblog on auditing climate data.

If there's a movement then I'd like to know what my position is within this movement. And where's my cut of the money?

Perhaps the blog owner doesn't know (or chooses to keep him/herself ignorant) that the blog is about science and the proper exercise of science. As such there should be proper audit of claims made about climate, which is an inherent part of the scientific method and nothing more.

Surfacestations is conducting a physical check of temperature stations as they are sited today and in the recent past. Would that the scientists who have made categoric statements on future climate based on their analysis of data from these stations, do the same.

Oh and "Milo", we haven't just discovered discontinuities as if we didn't realise they were there. We have discovered that the surface record may be contaminated with non-climatic warming biases which are as large or larger than the warming in the local climate. That's the progress of science, Milo.

Geoff Sherington said...

Those who photograph non-conforming, sub-standard weather stations often give a reason as to why wrong science can result. Those who sneer at them offer no apology for the inclusion of wrong science in the record. An impartial scoentist would believe the former group and see the latter out of the door, permanently, before sunset.