Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
In an insightful post at WUWT by Bob Dedekind, he talked about a problem with temperature adjustments. He pointed out that the stations are maintained, by doing things like periodically cutting back the trees that are encroaching, or by painting the Stevenson Screen. He noted that that if we try to “homogenize” these stations, we get an erroneous result. This led me to a consideration about the “scalpel method” used by the Berkeley Earth folks to correct discontinuities in the temperature record.
The underlying problem is that most temperature records have discontinuities. There are station moves, and changing instruments, and routine maintainence, and the like. As a result, the raw data may not reflect the actual temperatures.
There are a variety of ways to deal with that, which are grouped under the rubric of “homogenization”. A temperature dataset is said to be “homogenized” when all effects other that temperature effects have been removed from the data.
The method that I’ve recommended in the past is called the “scalpel method”. To see how it works, suppose there is a station move. The scalpel method cuts the data at the time of the move, and simply considers it as two station records, one at the original location, and one at the new location. What’s not to like? Well, here’s what I posted over at that thread. The Berkeley Earth dataset is homogenized by the scalpel method, and both Zeke Hausfather and Steven Mosher have assisted the Berkeley folks in their work. Both of them had commented on Bob’s post, so I asked them the following.
Mosh and/or Zeke, Stephen Rasey above and Bob Dedekind in the head post raise several points that I hadn’t considered. Let me summarize them, they can correct me if I’m wrong.
• In any kind of sawtooth-shaped wave of a temperature record subject to periodic or episodic maintenance or change, e.g. painting a Stephenson screen, the most accurate measurements are those immediately following the change. Following that, there is a gradual drift in the temperature until the following maintenance.
• Since the Berkeley Earth “scalpel” method would slice these into separate records at the time of the discontinuities caused by the maintenance, it throws away the trend correction information obtained at the time when the episodic maintenance removes the instrumental drift from the record.
• As a result, the scalpel method “bakes in” the gradual drift that occurs in between the corrections.
Now this makes perfect sense to me. You can see what would happen with a thought experiment. If we have a bunch of trendless sawtooth waves of varying frequencies, and we chop them at their respective discontinuities, average their first differences, and cumulatively sum the averages, we will get a strong positive trend despite the fact that there is absolutely no trend in the sawtooth waves themselves.
So I’d like to know if and how the “scalpel” method avoids this problem … because I sure can’t think of a way to avoid it.
In your reply, please consider that I have long thought and written that the scalpel method was the best of a bad lot of methods, all methods have problems but I thought the scalpel method avoided most of them … so don’t thump me on the head, I’m only the messenger here.
Unfortunately, it seems that they’d stopped reading the post by that point, as I got no answer. So I’m here to ask it again …
My best to both Zeke and Mosh, who I have no intention of putting on the spot. It’s just that as a long time advocate of the scalpel method myself, I’d like to know the answer before I continue to support it.
Regards to all,