How not to measure temperature, part 45

I’ve covered California’s temperature stations and their exposure problems extensively, now it’s time to head north to Alaska. When you think of Alaska, you think of cold, snowy, pristine remote wilderness, right? Surely there are no worries about urbanization affecting thermometers in the great white north. Well as I’ve said before, the NOAA MMTS system used to measure temperature for climate has two fatal flaws that keep it close to human influences: 1) a need for a person to read the display and write it down 2) A cable from the display to the sensor.

So it’s no surprise to find that in Cordova, AK the official NOAA thermometer (COOP Number 502173  60.55611°N -145.75306°W)  is right next to the diesel power facility and it’s outdoor transformer. The display is inside where it’s warm and can be comfortably read.


Click for larger image – picture: John Papineau, National Weather Service, Anchorage AK

It’s not just the waste heat from power transformers nearby that can cause a bias, there’s also an air exhaust vent, and inside the building, which is known as the Orca Diesel Generation Plant is a very large diesel generator capable of providing 7 megawatts of electric power for the town of Cordova. Below is a view inside the facility from the Cordova Electric COOP web page.

It would seem a warmer than normal place, and you can see an aerial view of the power generation facility here from Google Earth.  You can also see the aerial view, the thermomter is located at the blue building to the left of the storage tanks in the foreground (click for larger images).

Aerial view of Cordova, Alaska

Aerial view of Cordova, Alaska – click for larger images

Of course, a temperature sensor with that sort of proximity would be measuring waste heat from electric power generation in addition to normal climate fluctuations. Below is the GISS temperature plot for this station. Note the discontinuity around 1940 due to a station move, but also notice the positive step change that begins around 1980, likely a result of the well known 1976-77 PDO (Pacific Decadal Oscillation) shift.


I wonder if power demand in Cordova has gone up in the last 20 years? The Cordova Electric Company was formed in 1978 by a town vote and this facility was completed in 1984.

One of the things that NASA GISS and other research institutions claim is that we’ve had a greater rate of warming near the higher latitudes, as seen in the map below.


Map from NASA GISS

One has to wonder though, just how much of that has to do with temperature measurements being taken in proximity to a growing human population at these locations? More on the Alaskan temperature story to follow.

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December 10, 2007 5:05 pm

Well, there’s alot less land in AK than one would think.

December 10, 2007 5:27 pm

Anthony, whats up with surfacestations Canada. He said he had some interesting pictures from the canadian artic. NOAA has some interesting pictures of Cambridge Bay, but they are unreferenced. BTW all I see is a big black cross instead of noaa map.
REPLY: Not enough information here to know what you are talking about – 3 sentences all talking about different things.

December 10, 2007 5:36 pm

Whats with the “1940” discontnuity – Did the Japanese drop a gobal cooling bomb? Or is some one adjusting data to support a continual rise in temprature over the last 60 years.
:- )

December 10, 2007 6:07 pm

I would wager that UHI in Alaska is very real. There are countless reasons why it should be.
But, Alaskans talk about the last 10-20 years as being substantially warmer than than we remember. Winters are generally less fun because we get less snow and the amount of time above freezing has increased. Skiers and snow machine riders just don’t have it as good as it used to be. Also, hockey players are missing a lot of outdoor skating rinks in Southcentral Alaska. They were everywhere up until the 1980’s.
So, statistics or not, measurement protocol or not, the climate has changed. Unprecedented? That is a different question entirely. But every single living old timer I know is quick to say it is different than they have ever seen, including the 1930’s.
REPLY: Three words to describe that change “Pacific Decadal Oscillation” aka PDO

Bill in Vigo
December 10, 2007 8:54 pm

I understand that the mmts is designed to be read remotely, what I don’t understand is why they would put in equipment that has such limited range. For me it would seem that to install a single or 2 strand fiber cable would give nearly unlimited distance to the remote display and reset device. This should help to reduce the microsite bias and possibly some of the uhi effect. Just food for thought.

December 10, 2007 10:40 pm

Even with the current UHI it look like Alaska was much warmer in the 1930s. You can see the jump in 1976/77 when the PDO shifted warm. I am betting that it is now shifting back to cool. It is going to get colder in this part of Alaska real soon now.

December 10, 2007 11:50 pm

This is hilarious (or would have been hilarious if this, together with the fantasy of future predicting models, wasn’t the basis for Bali and regulation in the economy).
The anomaly method “the bias method”, which McIntyre wrote about here…
…I’m sure standards of measurement we can follow here are quite important, regarding the importance of US stations James Hansen mention in the GISS methodology document.
OMG – period.

December 11, 2007 5:56 am

Wow. I had no idea that those Alaska pictures would become the new series.
We do run the risk of hearing “They found nothing in the U.S pictures, so they’re moving on to Alaska.”
You might have to create a new map showing the AK stations and their ratings (coverage, etc). Otherwise, the “cherry-picking” claim surfaces again. If the chart shows overabundance of poor sites, we’re beating that claim, too.
Now for my question of the day:
Your listing of stations is for the USHCN stations. Does GISS use the same stations? Once again, curious if the data that GISS is using is skewed the same way.

December 11, 2007 10:22 am

I’m just going off the map on surfacestations, which doesn’t have AK on it. Or Hawaii, for that matter.
I know full well that AK is part of the US, was stationed in Galena AK in the early 90’s (northernmost fighter base in the US, on the banks of the Yukon river, pitstop for the Iditarod). It was there I lived through the coldest week in my life (35 below for a week, and that was WITHOUT any wind). Where was global warming then?
I really don’t worry much about the other blogs, either, at least here I get honest answers.
I guess what I’m getting at about the US GISS stations is, how many have been hit so far. It seems you have a list that breaks down stations into the reporting categories (the COOP “a” stations for example). Didn’t see this column in your surfacestations lists. Was wondering if there was an available list of US GISS stations. Cant seem to find one anywhere. Over at CA, Steve & Co. were trying to sort out the Global GISS list.
Just point me in the right direction, I’ll go from there.

December 11, 2007 1:10 pm

An interesting thing about Cordova and other coastal SE Alaskan locations is that they are technically in a Marine West Coast climate zone. Admitedly, we are talking about the extreme northern most sliver of Marine West Coast, sometimes only found literally at the beaches. Nonetheless, one thing you will find about these SE Alaskan places is that the temperature and rainfall do not vary as widely in a seasonal sense as in other places in Alaska. The typical day is overcast and rainy, with no more than 15 deg F diurnal variation. Sometimes the diurnal variation is far, far less than that, almost zero.

December 12, 2007 10:15 am

Also, looking at that picture, one wonders how close the sensor is to that hill in the background. That, along with the buildings, may prevent air from circulating (wouldn’t it?)

An Inquirer
December 12, 2007 2:58 pm

You probably are aware that John Vliet
took note of your work on auditing surface stations, made a data set out of those that you classified as high-quality rural stations, and concluded that there is no significant difference in the trend of these versus the official NASA GISTEMP temperatures. In other words, Hansen’s adjustment methodology holds up quite well by using this reasonable approach. Of course, Mr. Vliet did this well before you were finished on you audit. However, I have not found any reply to his study. Can you direct me some place?
REPLY: Today is the first I’ve seen this article, I had no knowledge of it. There is no reply to his study, because the survey is not completed yet. VanVliet did his study with only 17 CRN1 stations in the dataset, hardly a broad sample. Unfortunately the “journalist”, Zeke Hausfather, there at Yale, didn’t bother to ask me any questions, not a single one, and proceded to take potshots at other journalists for the way they have reported the project so far as if he had some sort of handle on proper reporting.
So much for balanced journalism – “let’s not bother to ask the central figure of the article any questions”. But this is the kind of unprofessional thing that happens in MSM regularly, and I can state that with firsthand knowledge because I spent 25 years in television.

December 12, 2007 6:29 pm

I spent 25 years in television.

Wow, musta been pretty cramped in there. 😉

John D.
December 12, 2007 9:21 pm
December 14, 2007 8:28 am

I guess this is the answer to “wheres Waldo?”. I used to joke that the Russians had a weather machine back in the cold war days. Funny that the Russians are the ones most skeptical of global warming. What are they trying to hide? 😉

Julian Flood
December 14, 2007 2:05 pm

I’m looking forward to the Barrow temperature graph — when you look at the data, will you also get a chance to download the sunshine figures? I’m trying to get a handle on fog/low level cloud cover. Unalaska would also be helpful.
There’s a perceptive quote on CA — ‘it’s getting warmer because it’s getting sunnier.’ I’m wondering if that’s true for Barrow.

Evan Jones
December 14, 2007 2:52 pm

>When you think of Alaska, you think of cold, snowy, pristine remote wilderness, right?

Evan Jones
December 17, 2007 11:24 am

I’m also looking forward to the Barrow site. I’ve been inundated about what a wonderful, pristine site it is. So I’m very keen to get the real skinny on it.

December 18, 2007 1:12 am

Have you ever just googled the town or local of an unaudited USHCN thermometer, then sent an email directly to the local folks to solicit photos of the site from them?
Anthony: I’ve tried a few, some have responded, the majority have been ignored.

December 18, 2007 2:10 pm

I’ve tried a few, some have responded
That’s the operative part.
Good. Something for me to do.

January 27, 2008 4:32 pm

[…] Earlier I wrote up an essay on the NOAA climate station at Cordova, AK. […]

February 3, 2008 10:04 am

I especially like the little pile of rocks at the base of the pole helping to keep the temperature sensor from falling against the building or the transfromer !

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