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Severe problems found in temperature monitoring network.

Earlier this year, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration reported 2006 as ”the warmest year on record" for the United States-- a statement the media trumpeted from coast to coast.  A few months later, the NOAA revised their figures, saying it was actually the second warmest on record.  Unsurprisingly, the correction drew little attention.

But just how accurate are these figures?  The NOAA generates them from a network of 1,221 simple weather stations, usually no more a thermometer inside a tiny wooden hut, most operated by volunteers, not scientists.  The network has been in operation since 1900, and provides the official baseline data for both the NOAA and global warming modelers.  To ensure accurate data, the sites are supposed to conform to several guidelines, such as minimum distance from other buildings, hot pavement, etc.

California meteorologist Anthony Watts began surveying these sites recently, to see just how well they're being maintained.   His site, surfacestations.org, has detailed a surprising number being operated in a manner guaranteed to compromise their data.  The problem is recent development, which has placed many sites next to direct or indirect sources of heat.

In a prime example, a site in Orland, CA (which meets good guidelines) has shown a pattern of declining temperatures for many years.  A few miles away, a station in Marysville has shown a rising pattern...but the station is now next to dark asphalt, and only a few feet from the exhaust vent of a commercial AC unit.  Another site is near a large barrel used for burning trash.  One site even had a light bulb burning inside the tiny enclosed hut, effectively warming the thermometer by several degrees.

Surfacestations.org has only surveyed 48 of the total sites, but problems abound.  Watts says this raises serious doubts about the accuracy of the network, the only source of long-term historical data for US temperature data.

The NOAA did not return a request for comments on the accuracy of their monitoring network.





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