Quantcast
Climate

Climate Change Denial at Its Worst?

Rep. Gary Palmer falsely claimed on a radio show that temperature data used to measure global climate change have been “falsified” and manipulated.

Alabama Rep. Gary Palmer’s claim that “we are building an entire agenda on falsified data” has no basis in evidence.

Palmer, a Republican from Alabama, cited the so-called Climategate episode of five years ago, in which emails written by climate scientists purportedly showed evidence of data manipulation, and a more recent accusation of climate scientists tampering with data from temperature monitoring stations. The Climategate scandal has been subject to several separate investigations, all of which exonerated all scientists involved from any wrongdoing, and the latest data manipulation charges are a mischaracterization of standard and well-validated methods for adjusting temperature records to eliminate factors that could produce inaccurate readings.

‘Manipulating Data’

Radio host Matt Murphy in Birmingham, Alabama, asked for Palmer’s thoughts on the snowstorms in the Northeast and climate change:

Palmer, Feb. 10: I think it might be a matter of the report that came out last week about the government manipulating data and misleading people a little bit. But two feet of snow ought to get their attention. … It’s not the first time. I mean, I wrote about this a couple of years ago, when it came out that the scientists at East Anglia University in England had done this, and that was the data that the United Nations report was based on. It was a huge scandal, there were emails going around where they were, the scientists were literally talking about how they were going to change the data. We are building an entire agenda on falsified data that will have an enormous impact on the economy.

The “report” to which Palmer referred was actually a series of blog posts, written by climate change denier Paul Homewood, which were then highly publicized in two stories by Christopher Booker in the Daily Telegraph in London. Both writers focused on the adjustments made to temperature readings at certain monitoring stations around the world, and claimed that those adjustments throw the entire science of global warming into question. This is not at all the case, and those adjustments are a normal and important part of climate science.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. agency responsible for monitoring national and global temperature trends, has addressed these types of adjustments several times before. NOAA addresses the subject in a Q&A on its website:

Q: What are some of the temperature discrepancies you found in the climate record and how have you compensated for them?

A: Over time, the thousands of weather stations around the world have undergone changes that often result in sudden or unrealistic discrepancies in observed temperatures requiring a correction. For the U.S.-based stations, we have access to detailed station history that helps us identify and correct discrepancies. Some of these differences have simple corrections.

NOAA maintains about 1,500 monitoring stations, and accumulates data from more than a thousand other stations in countries around the world (many national and international organizations share this type of data freely). There are actually fewer monitoring stations today than there used to be; modern stations have better technology and are accessible in real time, unlike some older outposts no longer in use. The raw, unadjusted data from these stations is available from many sources, including the international collaboration known as the Global Historical Climatology Network and others.

As the years go by, all those stations undergo various types of changes: This can include shifts in how monitoring is done, improvements in technology, or even just the addition or subtraction of nearby buildings.

For example, a new building constructed next to a monitoring station could cast a shadow over a station, or change wind patterns, in such ways that could affect the readings. Also, the timing of temperature measurements has varied over time. And in the 1980s, most U.S. stations switched from liquid-in-glass to electronic resistance thermometers, which could both cool maximum temperature readings and warm minimum readings.

Monitoring organizations like NOAA use data from other stations nearby to try and adjust for these types of issues, either raising or lowering the temperature readings for a given station. This is known as homogenization. The most significant adjustment around the world, according to NOAA, is actually for temperatures taken over the oceans, and that adjustment acts to lower rather than raise the global temperature trend.

Read page 1

The homogenization methods used have been validated and peer-reviewed. For example, a 2012 paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research confirmed the effectiveness of the homogenization processes for NOAA’s network of stations, and even noted that “it is likely that maximum temperature trends have been underestimated.” In other words, there may have actually been more warming than NOAA has reported.

Another paper, from 2010, looked into the siting of U.S. monitoring stations in particular, and again found no problem with the homogenization methods. “[T]he adjusted [U.S. Historical Climatology Network] temperatures are extremely well aligned with recent measurements. … In summary, we find no evidence that the [conterminous United States] average temperature trends are inflated due to poor station siting.”

Berkeley Earth, a climate science nonprofit founded in early 2010 by scientists expressing skepticism at the time about global warming, has also found no undue manipulation of temperature data in its own analyses. Its page specifically on the Paraguayan Puerto Casado station that Homewood mentioned shows the adjusted readings do in fact show a rise in temperature over time.

An October 2011 paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research provides an overview of the entire Global Historical Climatology Network’s temperature data set, including detailed information about adjustments. In total, at least one “bias correction” was applied to 3,297 of the 7,279 stations in use at some point since 1801, though most of these occurred from the 1950s through the 1980s. As the chart below shows, there are approximately equal numbers of adjustments in the positive and negative directions.

A spokesman for Palmer told us in an email that “it’s very apparent that some of the temperature records have been mangled by the computer in an attempt to make them conform to certain standards.” As the research we describe above shows, no such “mangling” or other manipulation is at all apparent. The spokesman cited a 2007 paper by an economist at the University of Guelph and a scholar at the Cato Institute that found that correlations between temperature readings and socioeconomic data call into question the overall global temperature trend. A subsequent paper by a NASA climate scientist highlighted the problems with this finding, most notably a very limited set of correlations (primarily the U.S., Japan and Western Europe). He concluded that “there is no compelling evidence from these correlations of any large-scale contamination.”

Scientists have criticized the Telegraph’s Booker (and by extension Homewood) for spreading misinformation on climate science. In a post on RealClimate.org, Norwegian Meteorological Institute senior researcher Rasmus Benestad quickly debunked the details of Booker’s and Homewood’s claims. He said of the Telegraph story, “a person who writes such a misleading story shows little respect for his readers.”

Climategate Revisited

The supposed manipulation of data by East Anglia and other scientists in the Climategate affair also proved to be completely unfounded, as we have written twice before.

Climate skeptics claimed that leaked emails between many climate scientists around the world showed there was a coordinated effort to inflate the global warming signal in temperature data. But several separate investigations, including by the U.S. Department of Commerce Inspector General and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, found no such wrongdoing or manipulation.

According to one independent international investigation, known informally as the Oxburgh Report: “We saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it is likely that we would have detected it.” Palmer’s spokesman said the congressman had no comment on the repetition of this claim in spite of the repeated exonerations.

Palmer’s claim that “we are building an entire agenda on falsified data” has no basis in evidence. Even as these claims of data manipulation have resurfaced, there is now a general consensus that 2014 was the hottest single year since temperature record keeping began. This same conclusion has been reached by NOAA and NASA, Japan Meteorological Agency and World Meteorological Organization. The United Kingdom’s Met Office said that 2014 was among the warmest along with 2010, but it is impossible to say for sure that 2014 was hotter. According to NASA, nine of the 10 warmest years have all occurred since 2000, with 1998 the lone exception.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Global Divestment Day: A Huge Success

NASA Scientists: Future Megadroughts Could Last 30+ Years ‘Thanks to Human-Induced Climate Change’

National Academy of Sciences Says Geoengineering Is Not the Answer to Climate Change

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Animals
The turkey ranch in Sonora is where Diestel keeps its pasture-raised birds. Jeanne Cooper

Popular Diestel Turkey Sold at Whole Foods Tests Positive for FDA-Prohibited Drugs

Diestel Turkey, sold by Whole Foods and other retailers at premium prices, says on its website that its "animals are never given hormones, antibiotics or growth stimulants."

But Diestel Turkey samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggest otherwise, leading consumers to wonder: Can these companies be trusted?

Keep reading... Show less
Animals

Slaughter of 90,000 Wild Horses Could Proceed Despite 80% Objection From American Public

The American Wild Horse Campaign on Thursday harshly criticized Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke's appointment of Brian Steed, the former chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), as the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as dangerous and out of step with the wishes of the vast majority of Americans.

"Rep. Stewart is leading the charge to slaughter America's wild horses and burros over the opposition of 80 percent of Americans," said Suzanne Roy, AWHC Executive Director. "Putting his deputy at the helm of the agency charged with protecting these national icons is like putting the wolf in charge of the chicken coop."

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy

Bright Idea: This Lamp Harvests Its Own Energy From Plants

Now that's green energy. Dutch product designer Ermi van Oers and her team are working on the first atmospheric lamp powered by living plants.

The Living Light does not require an electric socket. It can harvest its own energy through the photosynthetic process of the encased plant, which means the potential of this off-grid light source could be "huge," as Van Oers told Dezeen.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate

Landmark Youth Climate Lawsuit Heads to Federal Appeals Court

There has been a significant development in the constitutional climate change lawsuit so far successfully prosecuted by 21 youth plaintiffs: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has decided to hear oral argument over whether the Trump administration can evade trial currently set for Feb. 5, 2018. Oral arguments will be heard before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Dec. 11 and can be watched on a live stream beginning at 10 a.m. PST.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Martin Schulz / Flickr

Pope Francis: These 4 'Perverse Attitudes' Could Push Earth to Its Brink

Pope Francis issued a strong message to negotiators at the COP23 climate talks in Bonn, Germany on Thursday, warning them not to fall into "four perverse attitudes" regarding the future of the planet—"denial, indifference, resignation and trust in inadequate solutions."

Francis, who has long pressed for strong climate action and wrote his 2015 encyclical on the environment, renewed his "urgent call" for renewed dialogue "on how we are building the future of the planet."

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza sits near the Statoil contracted oil rig Transocean Spitsbergen. Greenpeacce

Groups Sue Norway Over Failure to Protect Environment for Future Generations

By David Leestma

Greenpeace and the Nature and Youth environmental group opened a lawsuit this week over Norway's failure to abide by its constitutional obligation to safeguard the environment for future generations.

The lawsuit, which focuses on local environmental damage and the contribution that oil extraction will make to climate change, challenges 10 licenses issued by the Norwegian government for exploration in the Barents Sea. Given to Statoil, Chevron and other oil companies, the licenses violate Norway's constitution and the Paris agreement, according to the plaintiffs. Government lawyers claim the case is a publicity stunt that risks valuable jobs.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Food
Lia Heifetz of Barnacle Foods hauls kelp for salsa. Bethany Sonsini Goodrich

A Plea for Kelp: These Farmers and Chefs Want to Make Seaweed the Next Superfood

By Sarah Bedolfe

Summer in southeast Alaska is kelp season for the cofounders of Barnacle Foods, Lia Heifetz and Matt Kern. Each week, the pair watches the tides and weather, waiting for the right moment to cruise out to the abundant kelp beds offshore. They lean over the side of the boat and pull up the fronds and stalks, one piece at a time. As soon as they get back to shore, they start processing the day's harvest into a local delicacy: kelp salsa.

Salsa and Alaskan algae might seem like odd bedfellows, but for Barnacle Foods, it's a calculated decision. The kelp's savory notes make the salsa's flavor "a little more explosive," according to Kern. And the pairing is also a practical one. "Salsa is such a familiar food item," Heifetz said. It's "a gateway to getting more people to eat seaweed."

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Lorie Shaull / Flickr

Massive Pipeline Leak Shows Why Nebraska Should Reject Keystone XL

About 210,000 gallons (5,000 barrels) of oil leaked Thursday from TransCanada's Keystone oil pipeline near Amherst, South Dakota, drawing fierce outcry from pipeline opponents.

The leak, the largest spill to date in South Dakota, comes just days before Nebraska regulators decide on whether its controversial sister project—the Keystone XL (KXL) Pipeline—will go forward.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!