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Is the government tinkering with global warming data? – Judith Curry

November 6, 2015

By Paul Homewood  





Judith Curry has this guest post on Fox News:


The hottest topic in climate research is the observation that global average surface temperature, as well as satellite observations of temperatures in the atmosphere, has shown little or no warming during the 21st century.

Now the political climate is heating up over the same issue. Heated words began circulating last summer, when a team of government scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), led by Thomas Karl, published a paper in Science titled “Possible Artifacts Of Data Biases In The Recent Global Surface Warming Hiatus.”

The press release from NOAA included this statement from Karl, who is head of the National Centers for Environmental Information:   “Adding in the last two years of global surface temperature data and other improvements in the quality of the observed record provide evidence that contradict the notion of a hiatus in recent global warming trends.”

Media headlines quickly touted the Karl conclusion that science now shows the hiatus in warming never existed.

The significance of the hiatus is that it contradicted the 2007 assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which projected a rate of warming of 0.2oC per decade in the early part of the 21st century.  The discrepancy between the climate models and the observations raised serious questions about the climate models.

Scientists on both sides of the debate have been critical of Karl’s paper and temperature adjustments made in the new data set, particularly the ocean data analysis.

Some said that adjusting reliable ocean surface buoy data upwards to match much less reliable data from engine intake channels in ships causes an artificial upward trend in the readings.

Another recent paper used a different NOAA ocean surface temperature data set to find that since 2003 the global average ocean surface temperature has been rising at a rate that is an order of magnitude smaller than the rate of increase reported in Karl’s paper.

Clearly, scientists have much work to do to better understand the problems with historical ocean temperature data, adjust the biases among different types of measurements, and understand the differences among different data sets.

But the hiatus fuss is also telling us about the politicization of climate science.

The surface temperature data set plays a central role in the political debate over climate change. In his 2015  State of the Union address, President Obama declared: “2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.”

This statement followed a joint press release from NOAA’s Karl and Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, that said the same thing. The release was widely criticized for failing to point out that 2014 was in a statistical tie with several other recent years.

NOAA’s press release in June for Karl’s paper on the hiatus also appeared just before a big event: EPA was getting ready to issue its very controversial Clean Power Plan. And the politics are heating up even more with the approach of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris at the end of this month.

Last month, the House Science Committee, chaired by Lamar Smith (R-Texas), subpoenaed NOAA for data and communications relating to Karl’s article.  NOAA is refusing to give up the documents, citing confidentiality concerns and the integrity of the scientific process.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex) called the request “a serious misuse of Congressional oversight powers.”

Is the subpoena harassment or appropriate constitutional oversight?

There are two legitimate concerns here.

The first is data quality, an issue that needs to be resolved owing to the central role that this data set is playing in U.S. climate policy.

The second issue is arguably more worrisome and difficult to uncover: a potential alliance between NOAA scientists and Obama administration officials that might be biasing and spinning climate science to support a political agenda.

Rep. Smith stated: “The American people have every right to be suspicious when NOAA alters data to get the politically correct results they want and then refuses to reveal how those decisions were made.”

The House Committee’s investigation should provide insight into the following questions that deserve answers.

To what extent did internal discussions occur about the more questionable choices made in adjusting the ocean temperature data?

Was any concern raised about the discrepancies of the new ocean temperature data set and NOAA’s other ocean temperature data set (OISST) that shows no warming since 2003?

Were any Obama administration officials communicating with NOAA about these statements prior to issuing press releases?

Was the release of the land and ocean temperature data sets, which were documented in papers previously published, delayed to follow Karl’s June press release?

Earlier this year, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., initiated an investigation into possible industry funding of scientists (including myself) who had recently provided Congressional testimony for the Republicans.

While potentially undisclosed industrial funding of research is a legitimate concern, climate science research funding from government is many orders of magnitude larger than industrial funding of such work.

If the House Science Committee can work to minimize the political influence on government-funded research, and also help to resolve legitimate scientific issues, it will have done both science and the policies that depend on science a big favour.


Judith Curry is professor and former chairwoman of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She is president of the Climate Forecast Applications Network

  1. Tom O permalink
    November 6, 2015 6:35 pm

    What irritates me the most about NOAA’s position is that every one that works in government are required to take a cyber security course every year, and the lead statement that comes out of that course is that there is no confidentiality or privacy when you use a government computer. That applies to every person that works for the government with, apparently, the exception of NOAA “scientists,” however NOAA defines that word.

    And I will be damned if I can understand how revealing how you did something working on the public’s dollar and is supposedly an educational piece at that, in anyway can affect the “scientific integrity” of what was done unless, of course, there was NO scientific integrity to start with.

    There is absolutely no reason for me as a tax payer and government worker, to believe there is anything scientific about the paper of that it has any integrity at all under the circumstances of stonewalling.

    • November 6, 2015 7:31 pm

      The paper lacks integrity and Smith knows the internal emails will show this. At a minimum, Karl used colleague Huangs SST revision. That revision expressly used the method of Kennedy 2011 to find delta 0.1C. But neither Karl nor Huang gave the uncertainty in this adjustment. Kennedy’s paper did — 0.1C +/- 1.7C. That is for sure one thing NOAA is trying hide in contempt of congress.

  2. November 6, 2015 6:58 pm

    Reblogged this on Tallbloke's Talkshop and commented:
    Judy Curry has concerns about political agendas interfering with scientific objectivity.

  3. JWood-the-other permalink
    November 6, 2015 9:02 pm

    “integrity of the scientific process” is not why they won’t release the information. It’s about getting caught in a conspiracy.

  4. rah permalink
    November 6, 2015 10:09 pm

    The taxpayer paid for their positions and their work and the communications they carry out in doing their work. There is no concern about national security or trade secrets or problem with separation of powers in what they produce. Thus NOTHING they produced on the taxpayers dime is confidential or privileged. Further, the HR is responsible for the purse strings of the US Government. It has a Constitutional obligation to ensure it is getting quality work from the funds disbursed. There can be no legitimate legal argument for denying the HR it’s ability to ensure that public funds are being used properly. I don’t see how NOAA has a legal or ethical leg to stand on. But since this administration is lawless, as are many judges appointed over the years, I suspect that this will go to the courts.

  5. November 6, 2015 10:20 pm

    What hiatus? Global Forecast System (GFS) based estimates of global temperature since 2001 show a downward trend equivalent to -1.68C per 100 years.

    More details here:

  6. Brian permalink
    November 6, 2015 10:30 pm

    Clamor over industrial funding of climate research is not because it’s industrial.
    It’s because it opens the field to dissent – evidence that does not conform to the orthodoxy.
    As is apparent from recent events, government funded research has all but eliminated dissent. Why would anyone believe it is more kosher than industrial funded research?

  7. November 6, 2015 10:44 pm

    Reblogged this on WeatherAction News.

  8. November 6, 2015 11:27 pm

    Thanks, Paul. I think Dr, Curry is correct. I suspected the Karl paper was written for political purposes.

  9. AndyG55 permalink
    November 7, 2015 1:11 am

    Why did they put in USCRN if they are going to totally ignore that USCRN has a COOLING trend since it was established. !

    The trend in USA data for RSS and UAH match quite closely to the USCRN cooling trend, thus validating the data collect procedures in RSS and UAH.

    RSS and UAH show NO WARMING for 18 or so years.

    The ONLY warming in the whole satellite record is the 0.26C step from the 1997-2001 El Nino events.

    There is absolutely no CO2 warming signature in the whole of the satellite temperature data.

    Meanwhile CO2 levels climb steadily.

  10. Ted permalink
    November 7, 2015 1:54 am

    NOAA has deleted sea level data – you have to read this and pass it on:

    • November 7, 2015 11:35 am

      It’s still there

      I’ve told Tony

      • November 7, 2015 3:09 pm

        Paul they aren’t the same, not even remotely, On yours the filename begins with MSL_
        He’s talking about last captured on Wayback Sept 10th
        last version cached on Google is 30 Oct 2015
        they contain the phrase “given that the absolute global sea level rise is believed to be 1.7-1.8 millimeters/year”

      • November 7, 2015 5:53 pm

        My link is to the original data which Tony always refers to (see his graph which uses this data). This is still there, so there is no “conspiracy”.

        The only thing they have done is totally revamp their website , which now looks like this:

        The data table also appears under “Global Trend Table”

        The page they have left out as part of their revamp, which Tony refers to, is the Global Regional Trends Comparison, but I don’t see any ulterior motive in that.

        BTW – to be fair, when I first saw Tony’s post, I thought it was the table he was referring to, as his graph appeared right below the comment!

      • November 8, 2015 10:01 am

        No, Paul, His point is they just came out with Propaganda webpage saying sea level is rising at 3.2mm years now
        and that is a big increase on the previous trend.
        Yet on their own website this other page has that phrase “given that the absolute global sea level rise is believed to be 1.7-1.8 millimeters/year”
        – The day after he mentioned it they removed that page.

        His words “NOAA’s climate people claim that sea level is rising 3.2 mm/year. Their sea level people say it is just over half that.”

        NOAA Tweeted “NOAA @NOAAClimate. The rate of sea level rise has increased in recent decades. ”
        Look at the graph on that new page ..if the rate of rise had increased you wouldn’t see the straight line steadilygoing up, no instead the straight line would have got/be-getting steeper.

      • November 8, 2015 11:06 am

        It’s a question of context, Stew.

        The page that has gone (which had the link to the original table I thought Tony was bothered about) was about “Global Regional Trends”. These are essentially long term trends of a century or more.
        This is what the 1.7mm referred to, and there has never been any question that most analysis comes out with this sort of figure. The real debate, of course, is that it is now claimed that this has nearly doubled since 1993.

        In the “propaganda page” you highlight, they actually say:

        The pace of sea level rise almost doubled from 1.7 mm/year throughout most of the twentieth century to 3.2 mm/year since 1993

        So there is no attempt to cover up this fact.

        It does us no good building up imaginary conspiracies. It just distracts from the real issue about the 3.2mm claim. (For instance, 3.2mm includes the 0.3 GIA, which has nothing to do with sea level and therefore makes comparison with the 1.7mm meaningless.)

      • November 9, 2015 4:11 am

        Agreed Paul, “It does us no good building up imaginary conspiracies”
        – Warmists often jump to conclusions
        – Gung-ho Goddard* often jumps to conclusions
        – but that is no reason why we should jump to conclusions about Goddard
        – Seems to me Paul that’s what you have been drawn into
        by ultimately asserting the STRAWMAN that Goddard is saying ‘NOAA deleted a whole lot of 1.7mm data’

        – Ted said “NOAA has deleted sea level data”
        but that is NOT what Goddard said on the page Ted linked to
        His simple point was that he answered their 3.2mm tweet by referring to their own page mentioning 1.7mm, then the next thing is that page disappears.
        Of course he goes beyond the evidence it asserting that is not a coincidence but a grand FRAUD
        but he never asserted anything like ‘NOAA deleted a whole lot of 1.7mm data’

        Only after then does he move on with a new post asserting
        “NOAA’s climate people claim that sea level is rising 3.2 mm/year. Their sea level people say it is just over half that.”
        Which is a bit of an overclaim, cos the only new evidence he gives is a link to NOAA tide-guage raw data (which is down today when I check)
        ..I don’t think it tells me what their “sea level people say” as they might make adjustments to this raw data to account for things like landmass sinking.

        Now you are coming up with assertion that there are 2 sets of trend data the year to year one vs the 100year trend. I don’t know about that, Goddard hasn’t mentioned it.
        You said “The page they have left out as part of their revamp, which Tony refers to, is the Global Regional Trends Comparison, but I don’t see any ulterior motive in that.”
        – In fact that ORIGINAL page is now BACK UP intact as before with the 1.7-1.8mm/yr trend still mentioned.

        So that hoo-ha that Goddard and Ted made about NOAA deleting that page is no longer an issue
        The issue is as you say about how the hell do NOAA come up with this 3.2mm number ? And that is discussed in the noisy comments of his Nov7th post.

        * Steve Goddard (real name Tony Heller) is so gung ho and dramaqueening with language that it’s a hinderance.

  11. Paul from Melbourne permalink
    November 7, 2015 11:14 am

    “Adding in the last two years of global surface temperature data and other improvements in the quality of the observed record provide evidence that contradict the notion of a hiatus in recent global warming trends.”
    I am not a scientist and rely on my high school science over 40 years ago, and I know history shows science is never settled, ask Galileo or Copernicus.
    Yet we have been told over and over again year after year that the AGW science is settled. Guess what? it’s not quite settled is it? The science shows hiatus then it doesn’t!
    Just like the temperature data records so diligently recorded for well over a hundred years were the foundation of the AGW, only to be told that they are wrong as they don’t fit the models.
    As I see it there are two problems with settled science.
    1. It’s not.
    2. Not enough scientists have the courage to speak up against it.

  12. Franklin T. permalink
    November 11, 2015 11:05 pm

    Go to the National Weather Service Site of your choice click on the Climate bullet on the left hand side and when the local cities daily climate they choose to keep track of there. Click on the Daily Summary and you will see the current Daily Temperatures are compared to Climatological Normal as they should be. The two values of the Daily Max/Min Temperatures are averaged UP when the sum has an odd quotient. However, If the sum of the Max/Min values of the Daily Climatological Normal Temperature is an odd number they average DOWN the daily climatological normal temperature when the quotient is odd . They should have been averaged up as well. Doing that, could create a rising base table of temperatures current daily temperatures compared to an artificial lowered climatological normal. A half of a degree here and a half of a degree there through out each month over years. making current temperatures appear warmer than they are when compared to the 30 year normal. I did volunteer work for the NWS in the past, and in 2003 I saw that pattern emerging, and I actually asked an employee about that and he said that the data was refined and corrected at the National Climate Data Center. I redressed that with the question “What was wrong with averaging two numbers correctly the first time and save a step”? I got no reply on that one. I still see it happening many times a month. Whenever the Daily Climatological Normal has an odd numbered quotient. Which is regularly. I have plans of buying NCDC data in the future that I have been keeping track of here just to see if it has been “corrected”. They have mega computers… how could they miss averaging two number?

  13. TonyM permalink
    November 20, 2015 1:26 am

    As long as the government provides funding, the process will be political. How can it be otherwise? As long as the government can giveth and takeith away, they will influence the outcome. It is not that dissimilar than buying votes though entitlement programs. Cynical? Yes. But no matter how cynical I get, I just can’t keep up.

  14. December 14, 2015 5:11 am

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.


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