Why Pictures Matter


Above: Tifton, GA Sewage Treatment Plant – a good place to measure climate?

There have been some claims on the blogosphere of limited or no value to the taking of pictures for the www.surfacestations.org project. This is my view of why pictures are vitally important to an assessment of the accuracy of the near surface temperature record gathered by USHCN and other weather stations, where the data gathered is used in climate studies.

Photography is well established as a diagnostic tool in many fields. Take astronomy for example. If data and computer models of the universe is all that was needed to move the science forward, we certainly wouldn’t need the Hubble Space Telescope.

Do pictures work very well in illustrating problems that need correction? Well I say ask any doctor who uses xrays, or MRI images, or ultrasound. Do you think doctors can define an illness solely on chart data such as BP and body temperature? No of course not, they need pictures. They DEMAND pictures.

Or how about the NASA’s loss of the space shuttle Columbia in 2004? The spacecraft is covered in sensors, yet after a photo showed foam striking the shuttle during booster burn, engineers pleaded to get photos under the wing from Department of Defense DOD. NASA Engineering made three separate requests for DOD imaging of the shuttle in orbit to get photos to determine if there was damage. NASA management did not honor the requests for DOD photos and in some cases intervened to stop the DOD from assisting.

On reentry, sensors on the shuttle started showing problems, and flight controllers struggled to understand what was happening. Photos and video taken by amateurs on the ground showed clearly what had happened. I don’t recall CNN showing pictures of sensor data in announcing this failure to the world.

Given NASA’s unwillingness to listen to engineers first with Challenger (frost and o-rings) and Columbia (possible wing damage – just get us a picture so we can be sure) I have even less respect for the NASA armchair UHI analysis called “lights = x” ironically done by counting the number of streetlights near weather stations using DOD nighttime photos. This method can give an approximation of the urbanization around a weather station, but it can’t possibly discern the nearby microsite effects like asphalt and air conditioners that have seen so far.

The worlds of science, engineering, medicine, forensics, astronomy, biology, and many more use photos to cross check gathered data or to confirm observations or theory. Climatology shall be no exception.

We are getting pictures of stations, lots of them, and we’ll get every one if possible. Then we are going to analyse them against existing published standards, and then we will publish the results of that analysis. And unlike some prominent climatologists, the pictures, the methods, the code, and the results will be publicly available to anybody, be it scientist, layman, or citizen. And, it will be done without wasting once cent of taxpayer money.

Then after that, critics can determine just how useful the pictures are.

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Evan Jones
July 18, 2007 10:54 am

I see I’ll just have to be patient, then.
Meanwhile, I will enujoy the spectacle.

July 18, 2007 11:57 am

I’m afraqid the critics will always be critics, Anthony. You’re horning in on their territory, and they don’t like it. You tell them they’ve got something on their face, they can’t see it so they think you’re making it up. you have to rub their noses in it, and even then they’ll say “you must have put that there!”
I applaud your efforts, but the propaganda machine will still pass by with its throng of sycophants.

July 18, 2007 2:54 pm

I can see you are getting excited about this issue. Althoug I can absolutely understand that (I would get very excited myself) I can only encourage you to stay calm.
My opinion is, like you pointed out, that images are ALWAYS better to illustrate a point or connection. Imagine the IPCC report without graphs (a graph is just a very simplified image)…
That is a fact proved by psychologists (sorry, I cannot link to a scientific paper) and I don’t think any reasonable person would deny that. What wrong could a picture do if it’s not a fake? I mean who would deny the use of pictures?
In other words: you’re right, every one who diagrees is a sceptic or better yet – a denier. 😉

July 18, 2007 3:06 pm

Lots of rhetorical questions there, Anthony…. It is pretty obvious that the http://www.surfacestations.org detractors would much rather have wars of words over some long-winded, pointy-headed, nebulous, arguable written scientific observations and theories. Particularly since most folks would never take the time to read ‘em.
But, THOSE Dog Gone Pictures!
Those pictures immediately illustrate to even us Weather Sensing Simpletons the severity of problems with some measurement sites, the utter disregard for site standards, and how several problems at a site compound to become unmistakably significant…. All very nicely done with a few photos and some explanatory captions.
As usual, a picture says a thousand words…. In some of these cases, it would be more like 5 thousand words….

Steve Reynolds
July 18, 2007 4:57 pm

Excellent defence of your photographic record. Please keep up the good work.

July 18, 2007 5:45 pm

Well said.

July 18, 2007 8:57 pm

You have posted a good point that photography is a useful tool for research.
I have noticed that in my city area I daily read several differing weather forcasts outlooks.
Then I see the normal high and lows for the date be also different from each other.From 3 reporting locations.
I know that the Airport is one such data location.A Radio station another and HANFORD weather reporting station another.(15 miles NW of my city on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
The Weather Channel makes a forcast often different than the National Weather Services forcast from the city of Pendleton.Sometimes radically different.
I had wondered why so many different data points for the same region.Different weather forcasts.
It seems to be based on their set of data points they like.A selection among available data to chose from.

Lionel Brooks
July 18, 2007 10:42 pm

You are doing a good public service. However, the public should recognise that the proponents of global warming and climate change are paid in the form of grants to say so. If they change their minds the grants stop and they probalby will lose their jobs.
Another aspect is that if your results show the globe is cooling, it is still climate change and there will be a flip-flop..

Ian Random
July 18, 2007 11:23 pm

Hmm, looks like grant dispensing doesn’t require any science background.
(NSF)Grants Administrator, GS-1101-9/11 NF
To qualify at GS-09, you need to have one year of specialized
experience equivalent to the GS-7 level in the Federal Service.
Examples of such experience include reviewing routine grants and
agreements for completeness; obtaining additional information;
completing related assignments to develop skills and knowledge in
grants management; OR have completed a master’s or equivalent
graduate degree, 2 full years of progressively higher level graduate
education leading to such a degree or LL.B., or J.D., if related.
To qualify at GS-11, you need to have one year of specialized
experience equivalent to the GS-9 level in the Federal Service.
Examples of such experience include: analyzing and evaluating
routine grants (e.g., conference grants, block type grants);
resolving grant problems (e.g., date revisions, indirect cost
calculations, database corrections); OR possess a Ph.D. or
equivalent doctoral degree, 3 full years of progressively higher
level graduate education leading to such a degree or LL.M., if

July 19, 2007 7:13 am

Just wait, there will be someone saying the photos were faked.

David Walton
July 19, 2007 9:46 am

I could not imagine why anyone would assume the position that taking photographs has limited or no value and then argue it. That is until I gave it some thought and imagined what such a person could have in mind and why they would try to make it an issue.
Photography is a liberal art and as such could have little or no intrinsic value to some folks.
Conversely, if your photos document a site’s characteristics and are useful as a diagnostic then a devious person who has an ax to grind might argue that they have no worth.
It could be that your detractors either hate liberals or fear the utility and power of a photo.
But, of course, this is only speculation on my part.

David Walton
July 19, 2007 10:07 am

Just one more comment on photography.
Photos have little or no value? Ridiculous! Without photos it would have been impossible to fake the Apollo moon landing the Mars Surveyor projects.

David Walton
July 19, 2007 10:09 am

OOPS, corrected —
Just one more comment on photography.
Photos have little or no value? Ridiculous! Without photos it would have been impossible to fake the Apollo moon landing or Mars Surveyor projects.

John Goetz
July 19, 2007 11:38 am

Ian, some have already suggested that the grill photos might have been faked. See comment #250 at http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/07/no-man-is-an-urban-heat-island/#more-454
I have seen more suggest that the team taking the photos are cherry-picking the sites and only photographing those sites with obvious problems.

Jeff C.
July 19, 2007 4:07 pm

Good post. Unfortunately, as your work gets more exposure the criticism will become more shrill and intense. Please keep up the good work and don’t let them get to you.
You’ve commented about the importance of station move records along with photo records to determine site quality. I’ve just finished my preliminary analysis of the USHCN station history from data obtained from the NCDC website. I used an algorithm that looked for reported moves and also flagged unreported moves based on lat-long coordinate changes (making sure GPS updates were not flagged as moves).
Here are some early statistics regarding the 1221 USHCN sites since 1920 (data before 1920 seems unreliable in most cases):
– average number of station moves per site: 5.3
– median number of station moves per site: 5
– average total distance of moves per site: 5.7 miles
– median total distance of moves per site: 4.0 miles
– number of sites with 2 moves or less: 215
– number of sites with 12 moves or more: 54
– number of sites with total moves 1/2 mile or less: 190
– number of sites with total moves 15 miles or more: 83
– number of sites with zero moves: 27
– number of sites with 2 moves or less totalling 1/2 mile or less: 126
(my somewhat arbitrary definition of a “stable” site)
– site with largest distance of station moves: Gainesville Lock, AL (87.9 miles)
– site with most station moves: Poplar, MT (19 moves)
Note that many of the sites that show large distance moves are actually many disparate Coop sites strung together by the USHCN to form a single “site” with a long temperature record. The practice seems suspect, at best.
I’m still refining my algorithm so some of these numbers might change slightly, but the bottom line is that perhaps 10% of the stations could be called stable.

steven mosher
July 20, 2007 6:40 am

Anthony, you forgot the most ironic use of photos.
TREE RING studies.

Evan Jones
July 20, 2007 9:54 am

If you had no pics can you imagine the response?
Instead of dissing the concept of pictorial evidence, they’d be very likely be questioning your findings.
I can’t say if GW is “real” or not, but I can say that I have rather strong opinons about this so-called “post-modern science” that is hostile to critical peer review. (No time for that! The ship is sinking! etc., etc.)
I am highly suspicious of anyone who:
a.) refuses to divulge methods,
b.) refuses to divulge data,
c.) attacks the evidence of others without offering any alternative or even saying why (other than claiming that seeing is not believing).
d.) doesn’t fall all over himself trying to correct their own bad data once it has been pointed out. Like a proper scientist.
e.) Attempts to declare the debate to be “settled”.
Hit the line hard.
BTW, what happened to Doc Pielke’s blog? I keep getting a null hit. (Has he been. um, er, “removed”?)

July 20, 2007 8:17 pm

Anthony, I noticed that while the Stevenson Screens are painted white, while the new sensors are housed in some kind of beige colored plastic or resin. Wouldn’t that effect the readings more than the type of paint?

July 20, 2007 11:58 pm

For an “official” twist to this story: Check out the USCRN Documentation on Station Installation/Maintenance. See page 45 of http://www1.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/uscrn/documentation/program/USCRN%20Installation%20Guide.pdf
They are taking tons of pictures when setting up sites and EVERY YEAR: “To be retaken at each annual site visit […]”
Now, is that mandatory? That’s what I haven’t found out, yet. But hey, what’s mandatory? If they can get any rising temperaturen the cause is proved. After all it’s about saving billions of lives! Who cares about science? It’s about life!
The USCRN network of weather stations is only a couple of years old. It has virtually no lenght of record. I’m concentrating on the USHCN network which goes back 100 years in some stations.
And, so far nobody ( at least nobody whom is rational )has claimed that global warming will claim “billions of lives”.

steven mosher
July 21, 2007 11:29 am

Anthony have you had a look at any of the CRN data? I know they are only a couple of years into it, but at some point I would expect them to start comparisons. The best I could find was current data. No historical records.

David Walton
July 21, 2007 2:25 pm

Re: Too many Gin Tonyx, “Who cares about science? It’s about life!
Right, who cares about science, it’s about hysterical drunks.

July 22, 2007 11:18 am

I was not going to reply because we are sliding off the topic… But this too hilarous not to point out: World Climate Report has a story about our dear friend Al Gore setting the bar higher:
Quote: “The habitability of this planet for human beings really is at risk”.
Wow, now it’s about roughly 6.6 billions of human lives…

July 23, 2007 7:19 am

Are you arguing against yourself, Gin? I think you need to get some coffee.

David Walton
July 23, 2007 11:33 am

I am not really sure what Gin Tonyx is arguing (not that it matters) but citing Al Gore pretty much speaks for itself.

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