Conservative media are attempting to use a new paper by climate contrarian Anthony Watts to question the reliability of global temperature records. But the paper, which has not been peer-reviewed, only addresses surface temperature records in the continental U.S., which have been confirmed by satellite data.
Conservative Media Falsely Claim Study Undermines Global Temperature Record
Fox: Watts' Results “Show The Planet Warming” At About Half The Rate “Cited By The Government.” In a press release posted on his blog, former television meteorologist Anthony Watts claims that his analysis shows that “reported 1979-2008 U.S. temperature trends are spuriously doubled” as a result of poor site selection for temperature stations and adjustments made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to correct for errors in the temperature data. FoxNews.com claimed that the paper raises questions about global temperature records:
Watts cherry-picked the well-sited stations and reanalyzed their data; his results show the planet warming at just 0.155 degrees Celsius per decade, rather than the 0.309 C per decade cited by the government.
The article has been significantly revised from an earlier version that claimed the study “calls into question just how hot our planet is getting,” without noting the correction. FoxNews.com promoted the article on its front page with the following headline:
Other Media Outlets Suggested That Watts' Paper Casts Doubt On Global Temperature Data.
- Politico: Watts' Paper Concluded “Researchers Have Nearly Doubled The Actual Effects Of Global Warming.” [Politico's Morning Energy email, 7/30/12]
- Human Events Suggests Study “Debunk[s]” Global Warming. [Human Events, 7/30/12]
- Breitbart: Watts' Paper “Crushes Global Warming Data Claims.” [Breitbart.com, 7/30/12]
Scientist: Watts' Data Only Concerns The Continental U.S. “Which Is Approximately 2% Of Global Surface Area.” Scott Mandia, Professor of Earth and Space Sciences at Suffolk Community College and co-founder of the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, stated: "Fox News is incorrect. Watts' data is for the 48 continental US states which is approximately 2% of global surface area. His analysis cannot be used to speak to global climate change." [Email to Media Matters, 7/31/12]
Satellite Data Confirm Warming Trend Globally And In The U.S. Professor Mandia further noted that “The rate of warming measured in the US is in line with satellite inferred trends and satellites do not have thermometers nor are they 'poorly sited.'” The following graph created with 2010 data provided by NOAA shows that surface temperatures for the continental U.S. (red and blue bars) closely track two methods of analyzing satellite temperatures (yellow and teal lines):
Dr. Carl Mears, senior scientist at Remote Sensing Systems, said last year that globally “both the overall amount of warming and the spatial patterns of warming in the surface datasets are in general agreement with satellite measurements of atmospheric temperature.” The following graph shows that global temperatures measured by satellite data also closely tracks surface temperatures:
Fox Claims Peer-Reviewed Corrections Are “Hidden” “Data Manipulation”
FoxNews.com: “Many Skeptics Take Issue With What They Call Systematic Data Manipulation Hidden From Their View.” FoxNews.com claimed that the peer-reviewed adjustments that NOAA applies to correct for known problems in the data, such as the urban heat island effect, is “hidden from” skeptics:
Many skeptics take issue with what they call systemic data manipulation hidden from their view. For example, climate blogger Steve Goddard told FoxNews.com that “adjustments” made in the past to climate data have merely conflated the problem Watts uncovered. [FoxNews.com, 7/30/12]
NOAA Uses Openly Peer-Reviewed Methods To Correct Data. NOAA explained the peer-reviewed science behind their data adjustments:
The observations come from the U.S. Historical Climatology Network (USHCN), a network of 1221 climate observing stations in the continental United States. These data are extensively quality controlled for errors and for small biases that may have occurred through time due to artificial changes at each observing station. These artificial changes include station relocations, different instrumentation, and changes in the landscape surrounding the station (e.g. urbanization, removal or planting of vegetation, etc.).
Methods that have been used to correct temperature data are described in more than a dozen peer-reviewed scientific papers by NOAA's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). A series of data corrections was developed to specifically address potential problems in trend estimation of the rates of warming or cooling in the USHCN. They include:
2. changes in observing practices, such as observing time changes (Karl et al. 1986), and
WaPo: “Watts' Failure To Make Certain Adjustments To The Raw Data ... Is A Serious Flaw.” The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang noted that Watts failed to apply needed adjustments to the data:
Watts' failure to make certain adjustments to the raw data, as NOAA has done, is a serious flaw knowledgeable bloggers say. Specifically, Watts did not apply a time of observation bias correction according to Howard University chemistry professor Josh Halpern, who blogs under the pseudonym Eli Rabett. McIntyre also pointed out this problem: “There is a confounding interaction with TOBS [time of observation] that needs to be allowed for, as has been quickly and correctly pointed out.” [Washington Post, 7/31/12]
When Subjected To Peer-Review, Previous Station Siting Concerns Have Proven Unfounded
Lack Of Peer-Review Casts Doubt On Credibility Of Watts' Paper. The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang noted that Watts' paper has not yet been peer-reviewed by scientists and explained why that casts doubt on the credibility of the paper:
Science blogger David Appell had it exactly right when he said the Watts paper is “exactly the kind of paper that most needs peer review: based on a lot of judgements and classifications and nitty gritty details....”
Furthermore, given the serious accusations Watts et al. make about the integrity of NOAA's temperature analysis, it's critical NOAA be given the opportunity to respond just as they did the last time Watts issued such a challenge in 2009. NOAA's U.S. temperature record has been painstakingly constructed by many scientists over many years and many peer-reviewed publications support its methodologies. [Washington Post, 7/30/12]
A Peer-Reviewed Study Found “No Evidence” That Temperature Trends Are “Inflated Due To Poor Station Siting.” A 2010 peer-reviewed study by NOAA scientists and published in the Journal of Geophysical Research addressed photographs promoted by Watts of temperature stations sited near heat sources and found “no evidence” that the temperature trends “are inflated due to poor station siting.” Peter Thorne of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center referenced the study, and told the New York Times' Andrew Revkin that “if anything, we are under-estimating the real world warming trends for the contiguous United States.” [Journal of Geophysical Research, 6/8/10] [New York Times, 7/30/12]
Watts' Previous Study Found That Station Siting Isn't Exaggerating The Warming Trend. In a May 2011 analysis published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, Watts and his co-authors stated that the overall temperature trends from properly placed stations are “nearly identical” to those from poorly placed stations. Watts now claims that the site rating method used in the paper was “incomplete.” From the 2011 study co-authored by Watts:
Temperature trend estimates vary according to site classification, with poor siting leading to an overestimate of minimum temperature trends and an underestimate of maximum temperature trends, resulting in particular in a substantial difference in estimates of the diurnal temperature range trends. The opposite-signed differences of maximum and minimum temperature trends are similar in magnitude, so that the overall mean temperature trends are nearly identical across site classifications. [Journal of Geophysical Research, 5/3/11] [Watts Up With That?, 7/29/12]