Blowing the whistle on the climate of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

A brief overview of on-going climate research.

by Dr. Bill Johnston


Australian taxpayers spend inordinate amounts of money each year on “saving” the Great Barrier Reef and to keep the bucket brimming with cash there is little wonder that the myriad of organizations involved want careful control over the spin and the people who do the work. The dust-up between Peter Ridd and James Cook University (JCU) is a case-in-point.

The Reef is indeed wonderful, big, can be seen from space; its worth this much or that depending on how its counted and of-course the bigger the better and therefore whatever they spend is an ‘investment for future generations’ … And JCU defends “Peter’s right to make statements in his area of academic expertise …”; except of course doubts he may have about other researchers’ research (otherwise known as the failing-to-act-in-a-collegial-way-and-in-the- academic-spirit-of-the-institution gotya). It does not help that with 15 coauthors, the Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies Professor Terry Hughes makes the ambit claim that “Global warming is rapidly emerging as a universal threat …to the long term future of these iconic ecosystems” in the prestigious journal Nature (; especially if it isn’t true.

The Number-1 problem faced by the Reef

The biggest problem faced by the Reef in the 21st century is the feeding-frenzy resulting from too much money being flung at too many institutions all pedalling their own exaggerated versions of catastrophe so they can demand more money and thus keep the gravy train puffing along. The players have habits to support – boards, over-paid vice chancellors and professors; administrators of this and that, travel budgets, meetings, multiple media-teams etc. all of which are proportionally paid-for from the Australian Research Council’s cash-for-science bucket. For every dollar that actually lands on the Reef, three or four dollars or more is likely to be swallowed by such overheads. Then there are the well-organised and well-funded climate drum-beaters like WWF, Nature Australia, GetUp!, Greenpeace, the Climate Council and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition doom-merchants, who prey on vulnerable children who are integral to the success of the enterprise.

It follows that if 50% of the big-spenders were forced to find something more useful to do, the amount of research done on the Reef could double or treble; alternatively, more could be spent on more pressing issues somewhere else. The question is, do the boards of the organizations, consisting mostly of lawyers, engineers, lobbyists, accountants and mates ever undertake due-diligence on their ‘brand’ or on the research they supposedly oversee?

As cause de jour for everything, climate change is looking very wobbly. Careful analysis cross-referenced by documents, plans and aerial photographs held by the National Library and National Archives of Australia shows that the Bureau of Meteorology has questions to answer about how data have been gamed to warm the climate. It is not feasible they can’t remember locations of the original Aeradio weather stations at Cairns, Townsville and Rockhampton and when they moved and changed. Rather than reciting untrue claims about climate warming to The Conversation, ABC and the Fairfax press, Blair Trewin et al. should front-up to taxpayers and explain how badly and why they got it so wrong. For their part, from CSIRO down, the good ol’ mates and fellows on flag-waving boards and in science institutes and academies have failed dismally to uphold their glossy governance statements. It is clear that scientists like Peter Ridd should be free to do their work without the burden of implied support for climate change, for which there is no evidence in any Australian weather station dataset. It’s also valid for scientists of Peter’s standing and repute to call out peers doing poor or shifty work especially where the hierarchy is more protective of their brand-and-gravy than they are concerned about excellence in science.

Behind the closed doors of political correctness and vested interests, Australian science has lost its way and it’s a hideous situation that taxpayers are constantly misinformed and manipulated by organizations they once held in high-regard. Despite the Bureau’s best efforts, including deliberate bias (, there is no evidence the climate has changed or warmed or that climatic extremes are increasing. Except in fluffy-duck-science stories based on modelling, which are mainly perpetuated by competing doomsayers and institutional catastrophists via the left wing press; neither the Reef nor the Murray-Darling Basin are or have been under threat from climate warming.

Temperature across Australia are being reported as getting warmer because in November 1996 the Bureau changed to networked automatic weather stations, and over the ensuing 2 decades sacked their trusty observers and reduced the size of instrument shelters (Stevenson screens) from 230 to 60-litres. Without even considering site biases (obvious in time-lapse Google Earth Pro satellite images) unattended small screens beside dusty tracks and at airports are biased-high from accumulated grime. Biased data that changes the colour of summer from red to purple looks scary, but doesn’t change the climate.

Pushed from the top by CSIRO and the Australian Research Council’s money bucket and from the bottom by green groups; climate change is a billion-dollar scam the likes of which Australians have never experienced before. Chairman David Thodey who heads-up the CSIRO brand has no relevant scientific credentials (, yet via silo-structures it is Thodey and his Board that oversees the Bureau and signs-off on “The State of the Climate”; “Climate change: Science and Solutions for Australia”; “Climate projections”; … “Climate Adaptation” ….. It is a problem that individual weather station data don’t support their rhetoric. Unlike Peter Ridd, Thodey didn’t have the spine to push back. He and his Board have allowed science to be hijacked for political purposes and the Great Barrier Reef gravy train is the product of that failure. Further, it’s well known that like JCU; within the Bureau and CSIRO, jobs are on the line for speaking-out.

In the name of ‘climate-justice and ‘climate-action’ and with a general election looming, it is time to put climate fallacies to bed so Australians can get on doing and making things that build wealth and contribute to the country’s future; and hopefully, so wannabe-politicians co-opted by vested interests like WWF don’t run amok and make decisions that affect everyone for all the wrong reasons.

Exemplified by Peter Ridd vs. JCU and for the sake of our nation’s future, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison should commit to an open inquiry into climate change including the role of the Bureau of Meteorology in creating trends and changes that don’t exist.

Here’s the backstory, complete with photos and diagrams:

GBR climate backstory_1.1

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Dan Sudlik
March 28, 2019 5:55 am

As always, it’s all about the money. Always was, always will be. Not sure you can ever smite this dragon.

Reply to  Dan Sudlik
March 28, 2019 6:28 am

You beat me to it.


Reply to  Dan Sudlik
March 28, 2019 7:39 am

The dragon can be smoted, it will just take a different scarier dragon. Possibly a real one.

Bryan A
Reply to  RHS
March 28, 2019 10:13 am

Much like the Quixotic Windmills

Bill in Oz
March 28, 2019 6:07 am

Sorry Bill, in my opinion you did not focus enough on the legal proceedings that have been happening the past three days in Brisbane. Peter Ridd has taken the James Cook University to court for unfair dismissal.

And has come out of that process smelling & covered with ‘sewerage’.

Video of IPA ‘s reports on each day of the hearing can be found here:

A C Osborn
Reply to  Bill in Oz
March 28, 2019 7:25 am

Peter Ridd has come out smelling & covered in sewage?

Reply to  A C Osborn
March 28, 2019 7:46 am

There’s the common saying, come up smelling like a rose.

(idiomatic, colloquial, simile) To be regarded as appealing, virtuous, or respectable; to be untainted or unharmed.

So, coming up covered in sewage would mean that Peter Ridd is regarded as unappealing, unvirtuous, or unrespectable; to be tainted or harmed.

It seems that the university tried to slime him. I’m guessing that’s what Bill in Oz meant.

Jennifer Marohasy has a good comment. She points out that there has been zero coverage of the case by the ABC and the rest of the media. I haven’t been able to find any really good coverage.

Trying to figure out what a judge will do, based on her comments, is unrewarding. I have observed on many occasions that intelligent, well educated, people watching a case will be completely surprised by the outcome.

If Peter wins, he will come up smelling like roses.

Reply to  commieBob
March 28, 2019 8:10 am

There’s good coverage on Sky, as virtually all of the main Sky presenters are covering it in detail and talking about it from every direction.

Reply to  WXcycles
March 28, 2019 9:08 am

Do you have a link? The only thing I can find is something by Andrew Bolt on the 19th of March which doesn’t have details of the trial.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  commieBob
March 28, 2019 6:21 pm

The MSM in Australia are keeping this case under tight control. IMO, there is only one reason why something so important to be protected from climate change, the GBR, is being suppressed in such a heavy way is because there is a very string chance Ridd will win his case. Australian employment law is quite a beast.

Bill Johnston
Reply to  Bill in Oz
March 28, 2019 1:46 pm

Thanks Bill,

I’m a scientist not a legal expert; also a member of IPA and I’m most interested in the case and its outcome.



John in Oz
Reply to  Bill in Oz
March 29, 2019 12:28 am

Pedant warning

Sewer – the entire system
Sewerage – the pipes and fittings that a sewer is built with
Sewage – the stuff that flows through the sewerage

JCU might come out of the Peter Ridd case covered in sewage

March 28, 2019 6:12 am

Link to summary of day 3 of Peter Ridd hearing.
Sounding good.

March 28, 2019 6:15 am

For those interested, read Professor Garth Paltridge’s book “The Climate Caper”.
Paltridge is a former senior member of CSIRO.
The sad state of CSIRO and BOM is best summed up by him,
“ There is a fair amount of reasonable science behind the global warming debate, but in general, and give or take a religion or two, never has quite so much rubbish been espoused by so many on so little evidence.”

Reply to  Herbert
March 28, 2019 7:24 am

Human behavior is not so much different from a bacterial colony. Give it a medium to growth and a food source and it will expand to consume all.

Reply to  ResourceGuy
March 28, 2019 8:18 pm

Pretty much all life forms will multiply quickly as long as excess food and space are available.
And we are not doing that at all.
We could have twice as many people here, at least, in the USA with zero problems.
Our country is largely uninhabited outside of a handful of population centers.

March 28, 2019 8:26 am

To put this corruption into perspective. The previous Australian PM (Malcolm Turnbull), gave the Great Barrier Reef hoax 1/2 a $billion without consultation. He was a leftist who had fallen for all the propaganda and just decided that the problem needed 1/2 a $billion thrown at it.
That’s the sort of money we are talking about with these scams.

March 28, 2019 8:31 am

The thief of the reef comes to grief.

Pop Piasa
Reply to  shrnfr
March 28, 2019 4:54 pm

For Pete it’s relief beyond belief (he really should be the department’s chief)!

March 28, 2019 8:57 am

Well done. When having a conversation about how media works people seem receptive to the idea that bias begins at deciding what to cover. I don’t live in Australia but sounds like that editorial decision is being made along predictable lines. Expected but still shameful.

March 28, 2019 9:24 am

Bill, you say that there is no evidence of Climate Change, that is not a credible position to take, and damages brand-sceptic IMHO. There is plenty of evidence that monthly average temperatures in SE Australia are around 1C higher than they were, on average, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Here are my home made reconstructions for some regions:

Pat Frank
Reply to  climanrecon
March 28, 2019 12:13 pm

There’s no reason whatever to suppose any change in air temperature is due to human CO2 emissions, clima. That’s the rub with empirical inferences such as yours.

Bill Johnston
Reply to  Pat Frank
March 28, 2019 2:35 pm

I don’t know what you mean Pat,



Bill Johnston
Reply to  climanrecon
March 28, 2019 2:33 pm

Dear climanrecon,

Rutherglen has been through the mill dozens of times; and I have also investigated most of those other stations you mention. (There is an aerial of Rutherglen that shows where the screen was in 1941, before it is believed to have moved to the vicinity of the office and then to the paddock where it is now. (Except for the probable move near the office, this is documented by BoM metadata.)

There are problems with all the other sites you use, which when ironed-out one by one, leaves no trend in Tmax or Tmin.

Beechwoth is an obvious example for instance;. At Benalla the screen supplied in (about) 1899 moved in 1921; in 1939; in 1951; in 1960; in 1968; then 1985. The challenge is to work out which of those moves caused a change in data. Data for Rutherglen before 1914 were from the post office in town and data were infilled and amalgamated until 1924; the screen opened to the west at least until 1939; they didn’t maintain the site very well; but by 1975 it was judged to be a good site with no changes. There was no airport at Corowa until before WWII so data was from somewhere else; the screen was non-standard before 1960 when observations ceased, then they recommenced in 1970 but at a different site. The screen moved for a week in 1976, then 150 m in 1977 then to the airport in August 1978, where it moved again in 1992, then again probably.

I have photograph of the 60-litre screen at Benalla; a small screen is also in-use at Wangaratta; the site at Wagga was never at Kooringal, it was in Turvey Park on the western side of Willians Hill; it also moved at the post office and Police station a few times before then.

Comparative methods like you use, take all these effects in, which results in false confidence that the methodology is reliable when its not.

For all those stations there are inhomogeneities that result in spurious trends. The other point is that resolving problems for a single station may take months of investigation.

From all this spaghetti, how is it possible to be confident that a trend exists?


Dr Bill

Reply to  Bill Johnston
March 29, 2019 1:21 am

Thanks for the detailed reply, and I know that you are a former meteorologist, whereas I’m an amateur, … but, SE Australia is fairly unique in having a dense sampling of stations with long records, with in my opinion enough consistency (despite the many problems that you cite) to be confident that approximate trends in regional average monthly temperature averages can be established back to the late 19th century.

The BoM uses mainly the Simon Torok thesis summary of station changes, and very recent histories when they finally got themselves some quality control. It appears that you have additional information on some stations, but again in my opinion the averaging methods used by me and others can cope, as they have been designed to do so.

Bill Johnston
Reply to  climanrecon
March 29, 2019 2:45 pm

The problem is, you can’t correct a fault in Station A’s data by using data from a clutch of other stations which are also faulty. The Torok thesis, which is available on-line only summarises commentary from Bureau files and its not complete anyway. It only partially covers what happened at Mildura for instance. He did not mention that the former RAAF aerodrome at Deniliquin (a widely cited dataset) was irrigated to control sand-drift (post office data were not very good either!) Torok didn’t say anything about airport sites at Cairns, Townsville or Rockhampton, yet he was reviewing filed up to 1993, possibly 1996.

Lighthouse sites like Gabo Island and Cape Otway appear to have been over-exposed to sea-spray and sea-mist (which affected thermometer responses to temperature) and high winds (which tended to re-set instruments) etc.


Dr Bill

Reply to  Bill Johnston
March 29, 2019 6:35 am

A few more points.

I would never attempt to portray a single station record as being representative of a region, a major weakness with ACORN-SAT. As you say most station records have multiple changes affecting the recorded temperature. But an average over 20 station records has a good chance of being representative, unless there are systematic biases in many of them.

There is an inconsistency in what you are saying. On the one hand you point out the multiple changes in station records, suggesting that its impossible to get a trustworthy answer, but then you say that in fact you have obtained a trustworthy answer, with no trends in temperature.

Bill Johnston
Reply to  climanrecon
March 29, 2019 3:21 pm

For reasons that I’ve mentioned, each station needs to be examined on its own merits. Many changes are time-synchronous (metrication is an obvious example), but there are others (the change to AWS, the changeover to small Stevenson screens). The RAAF got out of the met-business in about 1954 and around that time when they transferred to the BoM, many airport sites were upgraded (Stevenson screens at some RAAF bases were on a platform on the roof of the met-radio office (the 1940 RAAF screen at Townsville is a case in-point; the USAAF had their own set-up at the northern end of the airport and they didn’t operate out of the same office (which was the Aeradio office) until 1941). There was a US Weather Bureau office at Rockhampton separate from the Aeradio office, but I don’t know what they did.

Resolving issues for a single weather station, like I have for Cairns, Townsville and Rockhampton (and Gladstone Radar, still working on Bundaberg and Mackay) is a time-consuming task (very interesting at the same time).

It should also be accepted that some datasets are too poor (too infilled, too many missing observations, too much extraneous noise, simply too ‘rough’) to be much use in climate studies. So just grabbing data and hoping for the best using Excel is a mistake. It is even worse for data-pluckers – those who deliberately chose the data they use in order to support a particular hypothesis.


Dr Bill

Reply to  climanrecon
March 28, 2019 3:00 pm

Here is the record from my home town:
The station has been in one place in the centre of a large park.
Yep. There is climate change – there is always climate change, but has human activity, and in particular an optically weak, trace gas much to so with it?

Bill Johnston
March 28, 2019 3:28 pm

Thanks Kelvin.

If the climate has changed it should be evidenced in data ex any other factors.

I don’t have data for Christchurch, neither do I know anything about the site; however, I am very familiar with Cairns, Townsville and Rockhampton and for those three replicates (and Gladstone Radar, which I have also closely examined (and stations from central Quesnsland across to Broome and down to Hobart (over 200 of Australia’s long and medium term weather station datasets), there is no trend or change. As site change effects are additive to observed data, fiddling using Excel is entirely misleading.

For Christchurch, I don’t know if they reduced the screen size like they have in Oz, sacked the local observer, who would have kept the site in order and dusted-down the screen to reduce bias; or if the local environment changed, but any or a combination of those factors can create fake-trends and changes. It is up to the person making a counter-claim to assure themselves of their case before they make it.

Yes, it could be argued that the climate always changes; but has the climate changed is the question not whether the weather is different today compared with yesterday.


Dr Bill

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Bill Johnston
March 28, 2019 9:44 pm

IIRC, NIWA in NZ uses 3 devices to calculate the NZ national average, Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland.

Bill Johnston
Reply to  Patrick MJD
March 28, 2019 11:07 pm

Says it all really and I didn’t know what they did in NZ. What if one or two or all of those sites were biased? What about the north of the north island or the top of Mt Kikamoocow where its colder?

Why do they ever bother; why not just look out the window.

Thanks for your input,


Reply to  climanrecon
March 29, 2019 2:17 am

Climate recon,
With your Rutherglen example, you do pattern matching with some nearby weather stations. To quote you –
“Hay Miller Street data was used between 1881/08 and 1899/12, as it was found to be reasonably consistent with Rutherglen-region temperature variations, and to be free of any obvious inhomogeneities in that period
Forbes data was examined but not used, as it was found to be insufficiently consistent with that in the Rutherglen area”
Three BIG objections are:
1. You cannot cherry pick between sites that suit you objectives and those that do not;
2. You have not provided evidence that the comparison sites are close enough in distance to have some predictive power for others. Yes, I know of the separation/correlation approach but it is thin gruel for this type of work. Try using cross-semivariograms to satisfy yourself about how poor the relationship between sites can get.
3. You have produced no evidence that your data from CDO is original as taken by the first observer and not subsequently adjusted before being represented by BOM as raw. Try looking at patterns in first differenced daily data to see if any sharp jumps happen at ends of calendar years. They do – and too often for chance. Geoff

Reply to  Geoff Sherrington
March 29, 2019 6:04 am

Geoff, thanks for the comments, here are some responses:
1. Cherry picking. I always consider ALL data in a region, and sometimes some that is uncomfortably far away for early periods where data is always sparse. Yes, some data are omitted from regional averaging, but I always show it anyway, so the reader can decide if the the rejection is reasonable. I have no “objectives” besides getting the best possible temperature history.
2. I provide validation plots for all data examined, with consistency assessed visually. Sorry, but I don’t trust anything but my eyeballs in this business, and that approach might help others to trust the results.
3. Yes, I have to take the data that are available to the public. Thanks for the tip about year ends, that issue is new to me.

March 28, 2019 10:55 am

“climanrecon March 28, 2019 at 9:24 am
Bill, you say that there is no evidence of Climate Change”

Interesting, a specious strawman argument is attributed to Dr. Bill Johnston, entirely false.

Then you add in a few cherry picked analyses while claiming your own false strawman is wrong.

Jennifer Marohasy and JoNova published an in depth analysis of BOM’s individual station temperatures.
“The BOM: Homogenizing the heck out of Australian temperature records”
Which includes Rutherglen; not just the minimum temperature profile after BOM homogenized the #ell out of the data.

Nor are “plenty of evidence” claims worth a hoot in proving global warming that is caused by carbon dioxide threatens anyone.

N.B. The use of the term Global Warming, which is the title assigned thirty years ago. Unlike the recent propaganda attempt to substitute “climate change”; a vague term that ignores 4.5 billion years of Earth’s “climate change”. Climate change is eternal as long as Earth has an atmosphere.

Adherents who make specious claims regarding “climate change”, identify themselves and their claims as false,immediately.

Bill Johnston
Reply to  ATheoK
March 28, 2019 2:43 pm

Rutherglen is a really poor example, especially if analysts don’t do any research on the site and/or use the wrong statistical tests.

The ‘cherry-picked’ stations I used straddle the reef from north to south and for each I obtained every aerial photograph that is in the public domain (including at the National Library), which you could do AtTheoK. You could then spend weeks comparing the photographs with other documents in the National Archives, metadata etc.; then analyse each dataset to find-out what is going on. There is no straw man and no trend ir change attributable to the climate.


Dr Bill

March 28, 2019 2:29 pm

Recently I found a surprise in the data. Average Sea Surface temperatures over the Great Barrier Reef have not increased since 1980. Neither are the extreme bleaching years of 1998, 2016 and 2017 particularly warm. The other bleaching year of 2002 was unusually cool. HADSST3 divides the global data into 5×5 degree gridcells. I chose three covering the North, Center and South of the GBR.

comment image

The comparison more nuanced. Coral bleaching is meant to occur with above average temperatures, usually in the summer. I have gone into far detail.

Reply to  Kevin Marshall
March 29, 2019 12:21 am

Hopefully these will display.
First, lack of warming in the GBR area

comment image

Second, surface temperature anomalies for the summer months for the South of the GBR with the major bleaching years highlighted.

comment image

Note that the very warm El Nino years of 2016 and 2017 did not reflect in elevated temperatures in the area.
Note that

March 28, 2019 4:49 pm

Yes–it is all about the money.
And the formula from the old and speculative Vancouver Stock Exchange is worth repeating.
Definition of a promotion:
“In the beginning the promoter has the vision and the public has the money.
At the end of the promotion, the promoter has the money and the public has the vision.”

Old Ranga from Oz
March 29, 2019 12:35 am

Like the fabled Emperor, James Cook University has no clothes on.

March 29, 2019 2:27 am

Tonight I am feeling really shitty because my service supplier has changed my email password, without warning, for the second time in two days. Also because the compulsory connection to NBN that was to be completed today resulted in no connection, a plea that it was too hard and damage to a ceiling that will have to be repaired.
For the trifecta, there is the fact that I entered James Cook University to join the first class ever there in its history, in its second year, with credits from RAAF Academy, Point Cook. It is JCU that is in Federal Court today for Judge Vasta to hear the last submissions in the saga of the dismissal of Prof Peter Ridd, with 30 years of work on the Great Barrier Reef science. It is really ugly to see your alma mata acting like the people who invented Russian Collusion as a way to harm President Trump. Please accept my apologies for the way thet JCU has treated Dr Ridd.

My friend Bill Johnston who wrote this post is thus the to person to write what he did, because he said what I would say, only better. In my present mood, my demands for redress would start with investigations of criminal alteration of data. No need to name who needs correction, just read again what Bill wrote and infer.

WUWT sometimes hosts some extreme expressions, but sadly many of you who think you are aoutspoken simply do not comprehend just how bad the corruption of climate science has become in Australia. It is fearful and it entails fearful costs, against Nature and against innocent Society. Geoff

Don Andersen
Reply to  Geoff Sherrington
March 29, 2019 5:59 am

From another Point Cook graduate, it’s sad but it isn’t confined to JCU. It appears to be endemic across tertiary institution Australia wide. The slow march of Marxism thru the institutions has gathered pace.

Reply to  Geoff Sherrington
March 29, 2019 10:33 am

C’mon Aussie, we need you again:

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