In case you missed it, Roy Spencer performed a unique and valuable analysis comparing International Hourly Surface data to population density to provide a simple gauge for the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect. It was presented at WUWT yesterday with this result:
There were lots of questions on the method. Dr. Spencer adds to the discussion below.
UPDATE #2: Clarifications and answers to questions
After sifting through the 212 comments posted in the last 12 hours at Anthony Watts’ site, I thought I would answer those concerns that seemed most relevant.
Many of the questions and objections posted there were actually answered by others peoples’ posts — see especially the 2 comments by Jim Clarke at time stamps 18:23:56 & 01:32:40. Clearly, Jim understood what I did, why I did it, and phrased the explanations even better than I could have.
Some readers were left confused since my posting was necessarily greatly simplified; the level of detail for a journal submission would increase by about a factor of ten. I appreciate all the input, which has helped clarify my thinking.
RATIONALE FOR THE STUDY
While it might not have been obvious, I am trying to come up with a quantitative method for correcting past temperature measurements for the localized warming effects due to the urban heat island (UHI) effect. I am generally including in the “UHI effect” any replacement of natural vegetation by manmade surfaces, structures and active sources of heat. I don’t want to argue about terminology, just keep things simple.
For instance, the addition of an outbuilding and a sidewalk next to an otherwise naturally-vegetated thermometer site would be considered UHI-contaminated. (As Roger Pielke, Sr., has repeatedly pointed out, changes in land use, without the addition of manmade surfaces and structures, can also cause temperature changes. I consider this to be a much more difficult influence to correct for in the global thermometer data.)
The UHI effect leads to a spurious warming signal which, even though only local, has been given global significance by some experts. Many of us believe that as much as 50% (or more) of the “global warming” signal in the thermometer data could actually be from local UHI effects. The IPCC community, in contrast, appears to believe that the thermometer record has not been substantially contaminated.
Unless someone quantitatively demonstrates that there is a significant UHI signal in the global thermometer data, the IPCC can claim that global temperature trends are not substantially contaminated by such effects.
If there were sufficient thermometer data scattered around the world that are unaffected by UHI effects, then we could simply throw away all of the contaminated data. A couple of people wondered why this is not done. I believe that there is not enough uncontaminated data to do this, which means we must find some way of correcting for UHI effects that exist in most of the thermometer data — preferably extending back 100 years or more.
Since population data is one of the few pieces of information that we have long term records for, it makes sense to determine if we can quantify the UHI effect based upon population data. My post introduces a simple method for doing that, based upon the analysis of global thermometer and population density data for a single year, 2000. The analysis needs to be done for other years as well, but the high-resolution population density data only extends back to 1990.
Admittedly, if we had good long-term records of some other variable that was more closely related to UHI, then we could use that instead. But the purpose here is not to find the best way to estimate the magnitude of TODAY’S UHI effect, but to find a practical way to correct PAST thermometer data. What I posted was the first step in that direction.
Clearly, satellite surveys of land use change in the last 10 or 20 years are not going to allow you to extend a method back to 1900. Population data, though, ARE available (although of arguable quality). But no method will be perfect, and all possible methods should be investigated.
My goal is to quantify how much of a UHI temperature rise occurs, on average, for any population density, compared to a population density of zero. We can not do this directly because that would require a zero-population temperature measurement near every populated temperature measurement location. So, we must do it in a piecewise fashion.
For every closely-spaced station pair in the world, we can compare the temperature difference between the 2 stations to the population density difference between the two station locations. Using station pairs is easily programmable on a computer, allowing the approx 10,000 temperature measurements sites to be processed relatively quickly.
Using a simple example to introduce the concept, theoretically one could compute:
1) how much average UHI warming occurs from going from 0 to 20 people per sq. km, then
2) the average warming going from 20 to 50 people per sq. km, then
3) the average warming going from 50 to 100 people per. sq. km,
If you can compute all of these separate statistics, we can determine how the UHI effect varies with population density going from 0 to the highest population densities.
Unfortunately, the populations of any 2 closely-spaced stations will be highly variable, not neatly ordered like this simple example. We need some way of handling the fact that stations do NOT have population densities exactly at 0, 20, 100 (etc.) persons per sq. km., but can have ANY population density. I handle this problem by doing averaging in specific population intervals.
For each pair of closely spaced stations, if the higher-population station is in population interval #3, and the lower population station is in population interval #1, I put that station pair’s year-average temperature difference in a 2-dimensional (interval#3, interval#1) population “bin” for later averaging.
Not only is the average temperature difference computed for all station pairs falling in each population bin, but also computed are the average populations in those bins. We will need those statistics later for our calculations of how temperature increases with population density.
Note that we can even compute the temperature difference between stations in the SAME population bin, as long as we keep track of which one has the higher population and which has the lower population. If the population densities for a pair of stations are exactly the same, we do not include that pair in the averaging.
The fact that the greatest warming RATE is observed at the lowest population densities is not a new finding. My comment that the greatest amount of spurious warming might therefore occur at the rural (rather than urban) sites, as a couple of people pointed out, presumes that rural sites tend to increase in population over the years. This might not be the case for most rural sites.
Also, as some pointed out, the UHI warming will vary with time of day, season, geography, wind conditions, etc. These are all mixed in together in my averages. But the fact that a UHI signal clearly exists without any correction for these other effects means that the global warming over the last 100 years measured using daily max/min temperature data has likely been overestimated. This is an important starting point, and its large-scale, big-picture approach complements the kind of individual-station surveys that Anthony Watts has been performing.