Contributing to Science

I got to make a real contribution to science this weekend, and I will explain below how you can too.  First, some background.

A while back, Steve McIntyre was playing around with graphing temperature data form the US Historical Climate Network (USHCN).  This is the data that is used in most global warming studies and initializes most climate models.  Every climate station is not in this data base - in fact, only about 20 per state are in the data base, with locations supposedly selected in rural areas less subject to biases over time from urban development (urban areas are hotter, due to pavement and energy use, for reasons unrelated to the greenhouse effect).  The crosses below on the map show each station.

He showed this graph, of the USHCN data for temperature change since 1900 (data corrected for time of day of measurement).  Redder shows measured temperatures have increased since 1900, bluer means they have decreased.

He mentioned that Tucson was the number one warming site -- you can see it in the deepest red.  My first thought was, "wow, that is right next door to me."   My second thought was "how can Tucson, with a million people, count as rural?"   Scientists who study global warming apply all kinds of computer and statistical tricks to this data, supposedly to weed out measurement biases and problems.  However, a number of folks have been arguing that scientists really need to evaluate biases site by site.  Anthony Watts has taken this idea and created, a site dedicated to surveying and photographing these official USHCN stations.

So, with his guidance, I went down to Tucson to see for myself.  My full report is here, but this is what I found:

The measurement station is in the middle of an asphalt parking lot!  This is against all best practices, and even a layman can see how that would bias measurements high.  Watts finds other problems with the installation from my pictures that I missed, and comments here that it is the worst station he has seen yet.  That, by the way, is the great part about this exercise.  Amateurs like me don't need to be able to judge the installation, they just need to take good pictures that the experts can use to analyze problems.

As a final note on Tucson, during the time period between 1950 and today, when Tucson saw most of this measured temperature increase, the population of Tucson increased from under 200,000 to over 1,000,000.  That's a lot of extra urban heat, in addition to the local effects of this parking lot.

The way that scientists test for anomalies without actually visiting or looking at the sites is to do some statistical checks against other nearby sites.  Two such sites are Mesa and Wickenburg.  Mesa immediately set off alarm bells for me.  Mesa is a suburb of Phoenix, and is often listed among the fastest growing cities in the country.  Sure enough, the Mesa temperature measurements were discontinued in the late 1980's, but surely were biased upwards by urban growth up to that time.

So, I then went to visit Wickenburg.  Though is has been growing of late, Wickenburg would still be considered by most to be a small town.  So perhaps the Wickenburg measurement is without bias?  Well, here is the site:


That white coffee can looking thing on a pole in the center is the temperature instrument.  Again, we have it surrounded by a sea of black asphalt, but we also have two building walls that reflect heat onto the instrument.  Specs for the USHCN say that instruments should be installed in an open area away from buildings and on natural ground.  Oops.  Oh, and by the way, lets look the other direction...


What are those silver things just behind the unit?  They are the cooling fans for the building's AC.  Basically, all the heat from the building removed by the AC gets dumped out about 25 feet from this temperature measurement.

Remember, these are the few select stations being used to determine how much global warming the US is experiencing.  Pretty scary.  Another example is here.

Believe it or not, for all the work and money spent on global warming, this is something that no one had done -- actually go document these sites to check their quality and potential biases.  And you too can have the satisfaction of contributing to science.  All you need is a camera (a GPS of some sort is also helpful).  I wrote a post with instructions on how to find temperature stations near you and how to document them for science here.

For those interested, my paper on the skeptics' arguments against catastrophic man-made global warming is here.  If that is too long, the 60-second climate skeptic pitch is here.

  • Craig

    I've done three stations in Utah. The biggest problem I've found is trees. Two of my stations have been within 10 feet of trees, and partially or wholly shaded.

    This is a fun project. I also encourage others to get involved.

  • Wow. Did you contact anyone at the university about their station?

  • These are interesting finds, and I linked to this post. That said, don't we really care about the trendlines? In which case, it's not enough just to show a snapshot showing that at time X, a given number of stations are misplaced. What you'd need to show is that between time X-minus-1 and time X, a greater proportion of stations are misplaced, or that parking lots and buildings are starting to encroach on previously rural stations, or that these urban stations are disproportionately affected in some way. Otherwise, if a station is surrounded by a parking lot both in 1950 and in 2007, and it shows a warming trend of 1 degree, the trend might still be accurate. Right?

  • Joel McDade

    What the heck?

    This guy likes his beer *really* cold.

    Maybe he's a mortician?


    If the station was moved in 1950 to a place next to a parking lot, NOAA may account for the move via a homogeneity adjustment (though I'm extremely dubious). If the station was there already and the parking lot was paved around it, that's another story. Apparently, nobody is checking this stuff... there is not the first effort at quality control, as far as I can see.

    Remember, the 1,200 USHCN are supposed to be a super select group of "high quality" sites among the thousands of NWS weather sites around the country. LOL.

  • So you've found a few shoddy science projects. It doesn't change the fact that we live with too much air pollution, and have cheap and effective measures available to us to reduce it. Is your point to improve the practice of science, or to cover up the urgent need to reduce pollution by casting doubt on the occurrence of climate change?

  • Stu and Sask are more absorbed in the "narrative" that their ideology demands, and completely unconcerned with facts.

    Bottom line is that enough poorly planned sites have been uncovered to indicate a very sloppy approach to the supposed science that proves the global warming narrative.

    And I don't know where Sask lives at, but here in Arizona, it makes a great deal of difference where one puts the station.

    If some stations are in shade, I would think that would need changed if over 50% of the day the station is shaded. If the station is shaded half of the day or less, and otherwise in a good spot, it would still seem to be an accurate measure.

    I need to go read some more into this, but would a completely unshaded station be accurate? The more I think about it, a thermometer of some sort under a minimal shade would seem to be best actually. Direct sun light for hours on end would heat the device until the housing of the device would actually begin affecting the reading as well.

  • "a few shoddy science projects"??

    I'm sorry, I thought these were the official climate reporting stations for the US Historical Climate Network. Dismissing them as shoddy science projects should actually cast a cloud on the very dubious climate change information being utilized to support "man made global warming".

  • Ray, I'm from [not surprisingly] SASKatchewan Canada.

    "absorbed in the "narrative" that their ideology demands, and completely unconcerned with facts."

    And so my question goes unanswered, except with the accusation that I'm absorbed in a narrative.

    So I'll ask again, "Is your point to improve the practice of science, or to cover up the urgent need to reduce pollution"? Because someone involved in a narrative might forget that the point of all of this science is simply to show how urgently we need to be reducing our pollution. If some of the scientists conducting the tests are doing it wrong, it doesn't remove the primary purpose of testing for the damage we're doing.

  • Jamie

    Saskboy, the statement "the point of all of this science is simply to show how urgently we need to be reducing our pollution" is sooooo wrong.

    The point is that science will show us how it really is, not how you or I wish or think it is. The fact that the science is now suspect should point to reexamination of all the "statements" and "theories" that use the suspect science as a proof.

  • Jamie, that would be true if we didn't know intuitively (not to mention scientifically) that pollution is bad for us, and reducing it is important. We also know scientifically that the greenhouse effect is real. The only people who are saying global warming isn't happening are people with a vested interest in seeing humans continue to pollute at least as much as we are today, if not more.

  • Keith

    Saskboy, your comment, "...we live with too much air pollution, and have cheap and effective measures available to us to reduce it..." is rather off the mark in this discussion. There is only one way to decrease CO2 emissions: stop burning fossil fuels. If you burn any hydrocarbon, even with 100% efficiency, you get water vapor and CO2. There is no "cheap and effective measure" which can change this basic chemistry and decrease CO2 emissions. This is why calls for decreases in CO2 emissions will be so harmful to everyone's economy. A call for CO2 emission decreases is a call for less energy usage which means a contraction of the economy.

    If you really believe all the global warming hype, start promoting nuclear power. It's the only realistic power source which produces no CO2.

  • Jamie

    Saskboy, Climate change is/has been/will continue to be happing all the time and to be so arrogant to think that we humans can alter the climate, other than locally, is akin to the way they thought in the dark ages about everything revolving around us (the earth not the sun).
    I know it's a stretch for someone with a "global warming faith" mind set to think that we (humans) are pretty insignificant in the global climate scheme. But to deny the growing science that is debunking the "human global warming connection" is just that faith/gut feeling, not science at all.

  • C Sherman

    FWIW, that Tucson station is on the University of Arizona campus. I walked past it on my way to class in the early 80's, and I walked past it on my way to work for nearly two years until this spring. I can attest to the significant changes in the surroundings over the last 30 years. Once in a relatively open area, surrounded by grassy patches, it is now hemmed in by tall buildings on all sides and is well sheltered from any breeze. That parking lot is in use, and normally is much more crowded. This is especially true in the 'cooler' months, when it is not unusual to have University utility trucks parked right up against the enclosure fence.

    If this is an example of a high-quality measuring station, the entire body of data is very suspect and probably useless for any but gross approximations of anything.


  • Saskboy: "We also know scientifically that the greenhouse effect is real."

    The extent to which "the greenhouse effect is real" would be determined by scientists with the use of accurate thermometer readings, would it not?

    Saskboy: "The only people who are saying global warming isn't happening are people with a vested interest in seeing humans continue to pollute at least as much as we are today, if not more."

    So it's "fake but accurate" in service to the truth. And you have to be paid off by Big Oil to believe that accurate temperature readings might be a useful part of this science/religion.

  • Thaiphoon

    Wow Saskboy - so many ill-advised comments and so little time to refute them. Let me hit your "lowlights"...

    [i]Because someone involved in a narrative might forget that the point of all of this science is simply to show how urgently we need to be reducing our pollution. If some of the scientists conducting the tests are doing it wrong, it doesn't remove the primary purpose of testing for the damage we're doing.[/i]

    What point is the science if it deliberately gets the results wrong? I say "deliberately" as the guidelines state not to site these instruments where they have been sited. So either the people who are doing it are either A) doing it on purpose to influence the result or B) morons. Take your pick.

    Going further you said;

    [i]The only people who are saying global warming isn't happening are people with a vested interest in seeing humans continue to pollute at least as much as we are today, if not more.]/i]

    I could counter with the same logic - the only people saying that Man is warming the Earth are those with a vested interest (government grants anyone?).

  • No grants needed here Thaiphoon, just some clean air to breathe. Do you want to reduce pollution or not?

  • I'm living in a urban area of millions and I have plenty of clean air to breathe. Some other cities I've visited certainly have a problem with pollution, but that's a local problem, not global. There's no need to destroy our civilization just because the Chinese can't keep Beijing healthy.

  • Surveying these sites is a great idea that has nagged at me for a few years now. Your surveys confirm my suspicion about urban heat effects. However I am also very suspicious about rural locations.

    I have worked on watershed restoration projects. Not only in California but globally we have lost 50% of our wetlands. Wetlands with their higher heat capacity moderate temperature fluctuations. And this loss of wetlands is not incorporated in any climate models that I am aware of. However this wetland loss does not include degradation of stream channels in which down cutting of these channels have lowered the water tables. In our watershed this led to a loss of willow habitat that was replaced by sage brush. The loss of transpiring plants can lower local humidity and affect temperatures by 2 degrees. Estimates in California are that 99.9% of our streams have been dgreaded.

    My 2 degree temperature difference due to transpiration comes from studies on hydraulic redistribution and its effect on temperature. This was in part motivated by scientists trying to understand why climate models have tropical rain forest overheating more than measured.


    I feel like the CO2 advocates have stolen the environmental movement and are taking away funds that could be put towards restoring wetlands. Attacking big oil and carmakers does nothing to restore our wetlands and safeguard the majority of species that use that habitat. And even if CO2 advoacates are right, restoring wetlands maybe the best hedge to ameliorate temperature change up or down.

    Great site. Keep the debate going!

  • Saskboy wrote "Is your point to improve the practice of science, or to cover up the urgent need to reduce pollution by casting doubt on the occurrence of climate change?"

    I have talked to many people who (previously) agreed with the global warming and CO2 connection. As we debated they all readily admitted they do not know the science but take the scientists word. They will then typically concede my points but but argue that we still need to prevent air pollution. I agree. The point is that CO2 is not a air pollutant and the scientists who misrepresent the data are polluting true scientific efforts and the public trust. My concern is that sincere attempts to improve the enviroment will meet a wave of backlash when the shoddy science of CO2 warming unravels.

  • Sotosoroto, smog and smoke obviously travels hundreds of kilometers, so your opinion holds no water.


    "The point is that CO2 is not a air pollutant "

    Nonsense! It's oxidized carbon released from underground (in the case of fossil fuels) and strewn willy nilly into the air. Pollution is the undesired distribution of a material into a space we don't intend for it to build up in.

  • Doug

    If man can control earth's temperature, who gets to control the thermostat? If the temperature gauge is off by a few degrees, does that not affect the set point?

  • The point isn't that we can "control" it Doug. It's that we can ABUSE our atmosphere, like we abuse our water and soil, at our own peril.

  • jamie

    Saskboy, Your not the least interested in any science except the "science" that supports your belief (blind faith might be a better description) that we as people are responsible for global warming. You ignore the fact that this is NOT the "warmest" the earth has been nor the "coldest". People, I would hope you would agree, had nothing to do with influencing global temperatures 10,000 to 20,000 years ago so what caused the global warming/cooling then?

  • Bret

    I'm curious, the article states that the device being placed in the middle of an asphalt parking lot will bias the measurements high. However if the goal is to measure temperature *change* from year to year, it may bias it high, but it will bias it high every year. The same with trees, etc.

    An asphalt parking lot will not be hotter next year than it is this year. So if the readings suggest that it is getting hotter, it's not because it's in a parking lot.

    This article is of course the worst kind of spin, worthy of Faux news. Nice job on snagging those of us not intelligent enough to think as we read the article though.

  • e.m.smith

    Jamie: The issue with asphalt is that it is added to places over time. One thermometer shows a step function, but many locations averaged together looks like a smooth trend. It's that average rising trend that is the "average global warming" and is wrong.

    One year in one site it's asphalt. At another site it's A/C. At another site it's cars parking near by. The average over time shows heat accumulation. The reality is that the world is not getting warmer, the thermometers in areas changing from rural to urban are in ever warmer locations due to the stuff near them changing.

  • Malena

    What's the science involved in parking? Gatwick Parking

  • Perry Cole

    They should have selected urban areas in the database as these areas are more prone to global warming then rural areas.

    Secondly, I wonder why the scientists have recorded the data areas that are not prone to global warming .Are they recording data about the increase in population? They should have gone and surveyed the sites before recording the measurement data.

    Anyways, you are doing a great job 🙂 , in making them realize, to visit the site before recording measurement data..Keep it up!!

    Cheap valet parking

  • carla grace

    science and its wonders are always surprising . the parameters recorded about global warming are weird and man is itself responsible for this. well great survey and in that case to make your car secure

    airport parking gatwick is the possible source
    by pre-booking your car.

  • Sohaib Ahmed

    Thanks for Posting keep it Up.
    Meet and Greet parking Gatwick

  • Sajehd Asi

    Rubbish, CO2 is essential to life and optimum at between 800 and 1200 ppm
    It is currently less than .04% of the atmosphere. CO2 won't go over 560 by 2100 even if we burn everything.

    A pollutant is detrimental to the environment relative to the individual entity being harmed, CO2 is not a pollutant to nature and not to humans at levels below 4000ppm, submarines and the ISS have what that much, the room you are in has about 800ppm, why do you think people talk to plants?

    A pollutant in any amount is detrimental. CO2 is not a pollutant.

    Greenhouses and botanic gardens pump in CO2 and children go there, into levels 3 times the outside air.

    It doesn't matter where the CO2 molecules came from, they are all the same if they are C O 2/

    "strewn willy nilly into the air" lol. Nature immediately consumed more than half of what we produce.

    You exhale about 40.000ppm of CO2 when you breathe out you crazy green zealot, baahahahahahahahaha

    There is just nothing more than models to connect CO2 and warming, nothing more, and there is 0 attributing evidence of CO2 causing extreme weather (that has declined in frequency and intensity over the last century)