The Climategate saga continues to unfold. The latest chapter involves the apparent cover-up by Phil Jones of the beleaguered Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at East Anglia University and a Chinese-American colleague, Wei-Chyung Wang, about the significant movement of weather stations in China. These are weather stations whose records are a crucial piece of the data demonstrating rapidly rising temperatures — and their movement, perhaps from rural areas to urban centers, could in part undermine the conventional wisdom about why the Earth warmed in the late 20th century.
Ronald Bailey at Reason Magazine has one of the best summaries of this particular episode — which, like much of the Climategate story, has depended on yeoman’s work by British journalists while most of their American colleagues pooh-pooh it. (Example: Search for “Wei-Chyung Wang” on Google News and you get 55 results and just under 300 articles, or less than 10 percent of the hits generated for “Punxsutawney Phil.”)
The story centers on a 1990 study that Jones, Wang and other colleagues published in Nature. The study’s authors argued that temperature records from rural parts of Russia, Australia and China showed that the heating effect of cities was minimal compared to warming by greenhouse gases. This has been one key point of contention between true believers and skeptics.
As London’s Guardian newspaper reports, skeptics asked to see the locations of the 84 Chinese weather stations used in the study:
But when Jones turned down [the] requests…arguing that it would be “unduly burdensome”, they concluded that he was covering up the error.
And when, in 2007, Jones finally released what location data he had, British amateur climate analyst and former City banker Doug Keenan accused Jones and Wang of fraud.
He pointed out that the data showed that 49 of the Chinese meteorological stations had no histories of their location or other details. These mysterious stations included 40 of the 42 rural stations. Of the rest, 18 had certainly been moved during the study period, perhaps invalidating their data.
Keenan told the Guardian: “The worst case was a station that moved five times over a distance of 41 kilometres”; hence, for those stations, the claim made in the paper that “there were ‘few if any changes’ to locations is a fabrication”. He demanded that Jones retract his claims about the Chinese data.
Now, Jones and Wang say the data are lost — a now-familiar admission by some of the world’s biggest proponents of anthropogenic global warming theory (AGW). The Guardian further reports:
In 2008, Jones prepared a paper for the Journal of Geophysical Research re-examining temperatures in eastern China. It found that, far from being negligible, the urban heat phenomenon was responsible for 40% of the warming seen in eastern China between 1951 and 2004.
This does not flatly contradict Jones’s 1990 paper. The timeframe for the new analysis is different. But it raises serious new questions about one of the most widely referenced papers on global warming, and about the IPCC’s reliance on its conclusions.
The Guardian, which has long been one of AGW’s biggest media cheerleaders, tries to play down the revelation, citing another U.K. climate scientist who keeps up the party line about urban warming being a minimal factor. Bailey counters that with this reporting:
In an email to University of Alabama [in Huntsville] climatologist John Christy I asked, “Is there a possibility that the teams that compile temperature data could all be making the same set of errors which would result in them finding similar (and perhaps) spurious trends?” Christy replied that he believed this was possible and cited some recent work he had done on temperature trends in East Africa as evidence. In that article he found that using both the maximum and minimum temperature rather than the mean temperature (TMean) used by the three official data sets gives a better indication of actual temperature trends in the region.
Christy found that the maximum temperature (TMax) trend has been essentially zero since 1900 while the minimum temperature (TMin) trend has been increasing. In his email to me, Christy explained, “As it turns out, TMin warms significantly due to factors other than the greenhouse effect, so TMean, because it is affected by TMin, is a poor proxy for understanding the greenhouse effect of ‘global warming’.” Or as his journal article puts it, “There appears to be little change in East Africa’s TMax, and if TMax is a suitable proxy for climate changes affecting the deep atmosphere, there has been little impact in the past half-century.” So if Christy’s analysis is correct, much of the global warming in East Africa reported by the three official data sets is exaggerated. Christy has found similar effects on temperature trend reporting for other regions of the world.
What could be increasing minimum temperatures? Christy’s study suggests that the turbulence and thus temperatures in the lower levels of the atmophere are…
…highly dependent on local land use and perhaps locally produced aerosols, the significant human development of the surface may be responsible for the rising TMin while having little impact on TMax in East Africa.
Along with recent revelations about the faulty “science” used to predict human-induced doom for Himalayan glaciers, this story indicates that the “consensus” about AGW rests in part on sand rather than rock.
Yes, human activities would still be contributing to changes in the climate. But if Christy is right, these activities might not be limited at all by the caps on carbon dioxide emissions which the AGW crowd promotes.
In such complex scientific work, the bad science cannot simply be dismissed as having no effect on the conclusion. We need a full accounting of which work, studies and conclusions are reliable, and which ones aren’t.