The automatic adjustment procedure is almost guaranteed to produce spurious, artificial warming, and here’s why.
Guest essay by Bob Dedekind
Auckland, NZ, June 2014
In a recent comment on Lucia’s blog The Blackboard, Zeke Hausfather had this to say about the NCDC temperature adjustments:
“The reason why station values in the distant past end up getting adjusted is due to a choice by NCDC to assume that current values are the “true” values. Each month, as new station data come in, NCDC runs their pairwise homogenization algorithm which looks for non-climatic breakpoints by comparing each station to its surrounding stations. When these breakpoints are detected, they are removed. If a small step change is detected in a 100-year station record in the year 2006, for example, removing that step change will move all the values for that station prior to 2006 up or down by the amount of the breakpoint removed. As long as new data leads to new breakpoint detection, the past station temperatures will be raised or lowered by the size of the breakpoint.”
In other words, an automatic computer algorithm searches for breakpoints, and then automatically adjusts the whole prior record up or down by the amount of the breakpoint.
This is not something new; it’s been around for ages, but something has always troubled me about it. It’s something that should also bother NCDC, but I suspect confirmation bias has prevented them from even looking for errors.
You see, the automatic adjustment procedure is almost guaranteed to produce spurious, artificial warming, and here’s why.
Sheltering occurs at many weather stations around the world. It happens when something (anything) stops or hinders airflow around a recording site. The most common causes are vegetation growth and human-built obstructions, such as buildings. A prime example of this is the Albert Park site in Auckland, New Zealand. Photographs taken in 1905 show a grassy, bare hilltop surrounded by newly-planted flower beds, and at the very top of the hill lies the weather station.
If you take a wander today through Albert Park, you will encounter a completely different vista. The Park itself is covered in large mature trees, and the city of Auckland towers above it on every side. We know from the scientific literature that the wind run measurements here dropped by 50% between 1915 and 1970 (Hessell, 1980). The station history for Albert Park mentions the sheltering problem from 1930 onwards. The site was closed permanently for temperature measurements in 1989.
So what effect does the sheltering have on temperature? According to McAneney et al. (1990), each 1m of shelter growth increases the maximum air temperature by 0.1°C. So for trees 10m high, we can expect a full 1°C increase in maximum air temperature. See Fig 5 from McAneney reproduced below:
It’s interesting to note that the trees in the McAneney study grow to 10m in only 6 years. For this reason weather stations will periodically have vegetation cleared from around them. An example is Kelburn in Wellington, where cut-backs occurred in 1949, 1959 and 1969. What this means is that some sites (not all) will exhibit a saw-tooth temperature history, where temperatures increase slowly due to shelter growth, then drop suddenly when the vegetation is cleared.
So what happens now when the automatic computer algorithm finds the breakpoints at year 10 and 20? It automatically reduces them as follows.
So what have we done? We have introduced a warming trend for this station where none existed.
Now, not every station is going to have sheltering problems, but there will be enough of them to introduce a certain amount of warming. The important point is that there is no countering mechanism – there is no process that will produce slow cooling, followed by sudden warming. Therefore the adjustments will always be only one way – towards more warming.
UHI (Urban Heat Island)
The UHI problem is similar (Zhang et al. 2014). A diagram from Hansen (2001) illustrates this quite well.
In this case the station has moved away from the city centre, out towards a more rural setting. Once again, an automatic algorithm will most likely pick up the breakpoint, and perform the adjustment. There is also no countering mechanism that produces a long-term cooling trend. If even a relatively few stations are affected in this way (say 10%) it will be enough to skew the trend.
1. Hansen, J., Ruedy, R., Sato, M., Imhoff, M, Lawrence, W., Easterling, D., Peterson, T. and Karl, T. (2001) A closer look at United States and global surface temperature change. Journal of Geophysical Research, 106, 23 947–23 963.
2. Hessell, J. W. D. (1980) Apparent trends of mean temperature in New Zealand since 1930. New Zealand Journal of Science, 23, 1-9.
3. McAneney K.J., Salinger M.J., Porteus A.S., and Barber R.F. (1990) Modification of an orchard climate with increasing shelter-belt height. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 49, 177-189.
4. Lei Zhang, Guo-Yu Ren, Yu-Yu Ren, Ai-Ying Zhang, Zi-Ying Chu, Ya-Qing Zhou (2014) Effect of data homogenization on estimate of temperature trend: a case of Huairou station in Beijing Municipality. Theoretical and Applied Climatology February 2014, Volume 115, Issue 3-4, 365-373