NASA'S Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) is one of the world's primary sources for climate data. GISS issues regular updates on world temperatures based on their analysis of temperature readings from thousands of monitoring stations over the globe.
GISS’ most recent data release originally reported last October as being extraordinarily warm-- a full 0.78C above normal. This would have made it the warmest October on record; a huge increase over the previous month's data.
Those results set off alarm bells with Steve McIntyre and his gang of Baker Street irregulars at Climateaudit.org. They noted that NASA's data didn't agree at all with the satellite temperature record, which showed October to be very mild, continuing the same trend of slight cooling that has persisted since 1998. So they dug a little deeper.
McIntyre, the same man who found errors last year in GISS's US temperature record, quickly noted that most of the temperature increase was coming from Russia. A chart of world temperatures showed that in October, most of Russia, the largest nation on Earth, was not only registering hot, but literally off the scale. Yet anecdotal reports were suggesting that worldwide, October was actually slightly colder than normal. Could there be another error in GISS's data?
An alert reader on McIntyre's blog revealed that there was a very large problem. Looking at the actual readings from individual stations in Russia showed a curious anomaly. The locations had all been assigned the exact temperatures from a month earlier-- the much warmer month of September. Russia cools very rapidly in the fall months, so recycling the data from the earlier month had led to a massive temperature increase.
A few locations in Ireland were also found to be using September data.
Steve McIntyre informed GISS of the error by email. According to McIntyre, there was no response, but within "about an hour", GISS pulled down the erroneous data, citing a "mishap" and pointing the finger of blame upstream to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration (NOAA).
NOAA's Deputy Director of Communications, Scott Smullens, tells DailyTech that NOAA is responsible only for temperature readings in the US, not those in other nations.
The error not only affected October data, but due to the complex algorithm GISS uses to convert actual temperature readings into their output results, altered the previously published values for several other months as well. The values for August 2008, for instance, changed by 0.11C and the global anomaly as far back as 2005 increased by a hundredth of a degree.
GISS is run by Dr. James Hansen, a strident global warming advocate who has accused oil companies of "crimes against humanity". Hansen recently made headlines when he travelled to London to testify on behalf of a group of environmentalists who had damaged a coal plant in protest against global warming. Hansen also serves as science advisor to Al Gore.
Dr. Hansen could not be reached for comment.
quote: by Catalyst on November 12, 2008 at 4:56 PMSNIPAs to the content of the piece, I find it hard to gain any real sense of the validity or implications of the findings by the blog posters as there doesn't seem to be any sort of scale for measuring the impact of the result. Is this "discovery" game changing or just a distinction without a difference? Like "You said the remote was on the cushion of the sofa, but it was actually on the floor by the sofa!" It seems as if it is just an attempt to cloud the water, and not a meaningful critique of anything.
quote: by Catalyst on November 13, 2008 at 6:31 AMI think the main issue is that there seems to be much confusion about the state of the natural sciences and the application of the scientific method in general. While I think the thrust of you position is valid, some of the conclusions drawn seem dubious.A problem that often occurs, though I am not ascribing it to anything you said directly, is the confusion generated about the distinctions between climate and weather. Many skeptics throw out "well, it is cold right now, so where is global warming?" A single event, and even a warm month like October, is a weather event, where long term average temperatures or weather conditions represent climate. So Hansen's statement about October temperatures as well as the statement you made are insignificant on their own; a single event does not indicate a trend or lack thereof . Only by comparing it to a broader dataset can context be ascertained.Which leads to the criticisms of the models. Your point (which is, I assume, echoed by others) that a model that cannot reliably predict conditions is useless is quite valid on an academic level but not really at a practical one. Your explanation of the model that predicts building power usage is excellent. A model that should have predicted the 3,000KW per day usage that but came up with 3,400KW instead would be an inaccurate and clumsy tool. However, if the previous model only predicted energy use with an error range of plus or minus 55,000KW, you would say that your new tool was quite accurate and a step forward.The argument is really about whether or not the degree of certainty justifies action. From what I understand (in my limited capacity) the formerly wide-ranging and rough tools used to predict climate are getting better and better as the decades wear on, and that each additional degree of certainty generally backs the conclusion that the trend is getting worse, not better.More importantly, this coupled with the indications that the longer we wait the more expensive fixing the problem becomes, as well as the more damaging and disruptive the effects will be, suggests that logically we should act now and "leap our asses into the river" rather than wait. Our models may be imperfect, but may be accurate enough to say it is just more cost-effective at this point to make the mistake at this end than to wait and be wrong at the other.Skepticism the twin to discovery, so clearly you can't have science without both, I just worry that the techies seem to be skeptical in only one direction when it comes to the environment.
quote: “Now suppose that, based on my model, I'm demanding that your new convention center be only 100,000 square feet, that it be completely underground, and that it be lighted only with bio-luminescent fungus because my model clearly shows that convention centers are destroying the Earth. Remember that my model, while accurately modeling earlier times, has been a miserable failure in predicting energy usage in the twenty years I've been using it.”
quote: “I think most reasonable people would say I'm not going to radically change my proposed convention center until your model can do a better job at predicting new buildings. In other words, I'm not convinced there IS a problem to fix vis-a-vis climate (although I agree that reductions in CO2 would be good for many things, from acid rain to ocean acidification, and that research in that direction should be solid.)”
quote: by Catalyst on November 16, 2008 at 2:35 AMSNIPquote:“I think most reasonable people would say I'm not going to radically change my proposed convention center until your model can do a better job at predicting new buildings. In other words, I'm not convinced there IS a problem to fix vis-a-vis climate (although I agree that reductions in CO2 would be good for many things, from acid rain to ocean acidification, and that research in that direction should be solid.)”This statement reflects the heart of what I am interested in. Built into the first part of the argument (and most like it) is the false assumption that the status quo unquestionably represents best practices, and paradoxically that the burden of proof of no harm falls upon those who want to avert pollution. If you are undertaking an action that you know is damaging (polluting), clearly the burden of proof falls on you to demonstrate that doing so would not have deleterious effects. If there is evidence that there is significant impact, the burden is again on you to remediate or eliminate that impact. This is the logical position, but not the one taken by most climate skeptics when arguing the conclusions they draw from the matter. It seems to indicate that the issue for them is ideological or dogmatic and not with the science portion of the equation. The tone also seems to indicate that even if the science were irrefutable, they would take issue with having to change their stance. This seeming inflexibility is what I find odd in the normally future forward tech community. I wonder does this come from the business side or are there specific influential leaders in the tech crowd that shape the community view?