Climate Catastrophe: A Superstorm for Global Warming Research

By Marco Evers, Olaf Stampf and

Part 4: The Smoking Gun of Climatology

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Most of all, however, Jones controlled the "smoking gun" of climatology: the Earth's temperature curve. The temperature records dating back to the beginning of industrialization are intended to prove that the average global temperature has already increased by almost one degree Celsius since 1850.

There are various pieces of indirect evidence that support the theory of global warming. Glaciers are receding, sea levels are rising and sea ice in the Arctic regions is disappearing. But these signs are nothing compared with the readings taken at weather stations.

The problem is that the quality of the raw data derived from weather services around the world differs considerably. At a number of weather stations, temperatures rose because houses and factories had been built around them. Elsewhere, stations were moved and, as a result, suddenly produced different readings. In all of these cases, Jones had to use statistical methods to correct the errors in the temperature readings, using an approach called "homogenization."

Did Jones proceed correctly while homogenizing the data? Most climatologists still believe Jones' contention that he did not intentionally manipulate the data. However, that belief will have to remain rooted in good faith. Under the pressure of McIntyre's attacks, Jones had to admit something incredible: He had deleted his notes on how he performed the homogenization. This means that it is not possible to reconstruct how the raw data turned into his temperature curve.

'One of the Biggest Sins'

For Peter Webster, a meteorologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, this course of events is "one of the biggest sins" a scientist can commit. "It's as if a chef was no longer able to cook his dishes because he lost the recipes."

While amateur climatologist McIntyre spent years begging in vain for the raw data, Webster eventually managed to convince Jones to send them to him. He is the only scientist to date who has been given access to the data. "To be honest, I'm shocked by the sloppy documentation," Webster told SPIEGEL.

Unnoticed by the public, Webster has spent several months searching for inconsistencies in the Jones curve. For example, it has been known for some time that there are noticeable jumps in ocean temperature readings. The reason for the inconsistencies is that, beginning in the 1940s, water temperature was no longer measured in buckets filled with seawater, but at the intake valves for the water used to cool ship engines.

But when he analyzed Jones's data, Webster discovered suspiciously similar jumps in temperature -- but on land. "Water buckets can't explain this," says Webster.

Curious Inconsistencies

The Jones team attributes another sudden jump in temperature readings to the decline in air pollution since the 1970s as a result of stricter emissions laws. Particles suspended in the air block solar radiation, so that temperatures rise when the air becomes cleaner. Air pollution in the south has always been much lower than in the north, because, as Webster explains, "there is less land and therefore less industry in the Southern Hemisphere."

Oddly enough, however, the temperature increase in the south is just as strong as it is in the north. "That isn't really possible," says Webster.

Webster doesn't believe that inconsistencies like these will invalidate the Jones curve altogether. "But we would like to know, of course, what's behind all of these phenomena." If a natural mechanism were at least partly to blame for the rise in temperatures, it would decrease the share of human influence in current global warming.

Urban Heat

Critics reproach Jones for not taking one factor, in particular, sufficiently into account: the growth of urban areas. Stations that used to be rural are now in cities. And because it is always warmer in cities than outside, the temperatures measured at these stations are bound to rise.

Environmental economist Ross McKitrick, one of McIntyre's associates, examined all rapidly growing countries, in which this urban heat effect was to be expected, and found a correlation between economic growth and temperature rise. He submitted his study in time for the last IPCC report.

Jones did everything he could to suppress the publication, which was critical of him. It proved advantageous to him that he had been one of the two main authors of the temperature chapter. In one of the hacked emails, he openly admitted that he wanted to keep this interfering publication out of the IPCC report at all costs, "even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!"

Jones failed in the end, but he did manage to smuggle a devastating sentence into the IPCC report, which states that McKitrick's findings were "statistically insignificant" -- in other words, meaningless.

Regaining Lost Trust

German climatologist Hans von Storch now wants to see an independent institution recalculate the temperature curve, and he even suggests that the skeptics be involved in the project. He points out, however, that processing the data will take several years.

"There is no other way to regain the trust that has been lost," he says, "even if I'm certain that the new curve will not look significantly different from the old one."

And if it does? "That would definitely be the worst-case scenario for climatology. We would have to start all over again."

Other central predictions of climatologists, such as that involving a noticeable rise in sea levels, would also have to be reevaluated. How high sea levels will go in the future is already a matter of debate.

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1. Will humans, for once, be sensible?
plotinus 04/01/2010
I constantly point out, and people constantly ignore, that, in the absence of countervailing forces, if you pour carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the atmosphere _*must*_ warm up. This is just basic physics, and is as certain as the Law of Gravity. Of course there are possible mitigating factors, such as changes in cloud cover and the injection of certain types of dust into the atmosphere; but these factors are, as yet, far more problematical than the raw fact of global warming. The Earth has already become warmer and sea levels have already risen. These facts are clearly visible in what is happening to low island nations and to the arctic regions. The Spiegel article is calmer and more reasonable than those in many other popular journals, but I would fault it for not mentioning that changes in the arctic must necessarily increase heat absorption in those regions, and for not mentioning the release of greenhouse gases as polar permafrost melts. Also, it is important to point out that it is not relevant that humans and other life forms survived even greater changes in climate in the past. Those changes almost always were very slow, occurring over many hundreds and thousands of years. There was time to adjust. The global warming which we are creating will, from the point of view of Earth history, occur in the blink of an eye. The effects on life on the planet will be incalculable and much more serious than those that occurred in the past. We must tune out the noise created by zealots, self-interested moneyed interests, and political and religious ideologies. For once in the life of the human species, let us be careful and rational.
2. Climate catastrophe?
StSwithin 04/01/2010
An excellent article which presented a balanced view of the current situation. One fact, which is often ignored, is that sceptics like McIntyre actually believe that global warming is taking place. They just do not believe all the forecasts of tipping points and imminent catastrophe. One of the weaknesses of the IPCC stance is that they only present selected data. When you look at longer term data it is clear that claims such as "the rate of temperature rise is accelerating" are just not true. Temperature rose just as fast from 1910 to 1945 as they did at the end of the last century. For a balanced review of the data see: www.climatedata.info
3.
vespasian678 04/03/2010
---Quote (Originally by plotinus)--- Also, it is important to point out that it is not relevant that humans and other life forms survived even greater changes in climate in the past. Those changes almost always were very slow, occurring over many hundreds and thousands of years. There was time to adjust. The global warming which we are creating will, from the point of view of Earth history, occur in the blink of an eye. The effects on life on the planet will be incalculable and much more serious than those that occurred in the past. ---End Quote--- I am an archaeologist who works with Holocene climate records on a regular basis (part of our project involves the palaeoecology of our region). The statement above is incorrect. The Younger Dryas, for instance, saw abrupt changes of perhaps 5 degrees Celsius in the mid-latitudes and 10 degrees in high latitudes over the course of a few decades (at most; cf. http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/res/pi/arch/examples.shtml). Mid-latitude precipitation also changed rapidly and dramatically, at least in Europe (contrary to popular belief, as temperatures warm it tends to get wetter, at least on a large scale - there may of course be regions of decreasing precipitation). Although I think energy policy should be managed as if global warming was imminent (more nuclear and other non-CO2 emitting generation, incentives for conservation, internalising the externality of CO2 emissions through taxation, etc. - call it the "Pascal's Wager" approach to AGW) It seems to me that the "skeptics" in this debate hardly have a monopoly on "zealots, self-interested moneyed interests, and political and religious ideologies".
4. An excellent article which presented a balanced view?
jensmacha 04/03/2010
Obviously,there are other opinions out there! First of all: Jones was rehabilitated. Secondly there seems to be a certain climate bashing around. I recommend: http://www.wissenslogs.de/wblogs/blog/klimalounge/medien-check/2010-04-01/klimaforscher-bashing-beim-spiegel http://blogs.ajc.com/kyle-wingfield/2010/04/02/climate-er-change-a-papers-sober-look-at-the-science/
5. CO2 GH effect is logarithmic, no linear
tomfp 04/03/2010
[quote=plotinus;108476]...if you pour carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the atmosphere _*must*_ warm up. False. The GH effect of CO2 is logarithmic, not linear. At some point, therefore, rises in concentration MUST cease to produce a significant rise in GH effect. Much reputable opinion holds that at present concentrations it is already at that stage. You can find a good discussion of this flaw in the "basic science" of AGW alarmism here: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/03/08/the-logarithmic-effect-of-carbon-dioxide/
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