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Rep. Lamar Smith has valid reasons for investigating NOAA

June 9, 2016

By Paul Homewood 




Climate Change Dispatch have a good guest post from Steven Capozzola about Lamar Smith’s investigation of NOAA’s “Pausebuster” data fiddling:


Reading the news lately, one might think that Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) is some sort of backwards character from the 19th century, a “member of the Flat Earth Society.” So great is the venom directed at him that the UK’s Guardian has referred to him as a “Witch Hunter.”


lamar smith


But what exactly is Smith’s crime?

Under his authority as chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, he’s chosen to investigate the research methods of the taxpayer-funded National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Last year, NOAA released a study that found there has been no “pause” in recent global warming. Because the findings contradict every other set of observed data on global temperatures, and were issued ahead of the Paris Climate summit, Smith wants to know if political bias factored into the report’s formulation.

Adding weight to Smith’s inquiry was the subsequent publication of a study in Nature Magazine that disagreed with the NOAA report, saying the observed “slowdown” in warming is real, and occurred at a time when carbon dioxide emissions have been rising steadily.

Because Smith has chosen to investigate the means by which NOAA reached its conclusions, however, he has been accused of holding “anti-science” views and trying to “intimidate” the scientific community.

Sometimes when there’s smoke, though, there’s fire. And it appears that the Texas congressman may indeed be on the right track.

The NOAA paper, ‘Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus’ (Karl et al, 2015), contends that there has been no halt to the rise of global temperatures over the past 15 years. This differs with much of recent climate science, including even the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) view that “the rate of warming over the past 15 years…is smaller than the rate calculated since 1951.”

In fact, satellite and weather balloon readings of global temperatures have steadily borne this out—that net temperatures have remained relatively stable since the start of the 21st century.

The NOAA study, though, used “significant improvements in the calculation of trends” to assemble “improved versions of both sea surface temperature and land surface air temperature datasets.”

So what exactly did NOAA do to improve its data collection—and thus arrive at a new graph of temperatures that improves on all other recent methods?

  1. They disregarded satellite data of global temperatures.
  2. They included readings from ocean buoys, but disregarded measurements from the nearly 4,000 Argo floats that have been amassing real-time ocean data since the early 2000s.
  3. They included seawater temperature measurements collected from the engine intake valves of ocean-going vessels.
  4. They estimated Arctic Ocean temperatures by extrapolating from nearby land areas.

The result? When compared to satellite, weather balloon, and Argo data, the new findings eliminate the net flatlining of global temperatures in the 21st century, and instead show a series of scraggly rising temperature lines.

A gut check is necessary here—since we’re being told that eliminating satellite and Argo data, while including readings from engine thermometers, will yield a more accurate temperature record.

First, the thermometers installed in ships weren’t intended for such precise measurements. There’s also the possibility of “heat contamination” from the ships themselves. And seawater intake valves vary in depth according to the size and shape of a vessel’s hull—presenting a problem for collecting samples of uniform depth.

Interestingly, NOAA gives priority to these ship readings. As one of the report’s authors explained, “[D]ata collected from buoys are cooler than ship-based data. In order to accurately compare ship measurements and buoy measurements over the long-term, they need to be compatible. Scientists have developed a method to correct the difference between ship and buoy measurements, and we are using this in our trend analysis.”

How exactly did NOAA adjust for this discrepancy? They added 0.12 degrees Celsius (0.25°F) to each buoy to bring their measurements in line with readings taken from ship gauges.

It’s somewhat amusing to look at NOAA’s website, though, and see their justification for using engine intake readings. Essentially, they portray engine readings as a step forward in scientific progress, thanks to the “change from ships throwing a bucket over the side, bringing some ocean water on deck, and putting a thermometer in it, to reading the thermometer in the engine coolant water intake.”

There’s also the issue of estimating Arctic sea temperatures based on neighboring land areas. Much of the Arctic Ocean can remain ice-covered throughout the summer, and imposing the warmer land surface data on areas of sea ice would skew temperature readings.

NOAA’s approach raises real questions. And those who support the view of catastrophic man-made warming would better serve the overall debate by agreeing to a review of the research methods involved.

If the case for man-made warming is indeed so strong, and so obvious, then there should be no need to resort to ship engine thermometers, for example. And the Argo floats alone have been collecting ocean data for more than ten years. Since their findings corroborate ongoing UAH and RSS satellite readings, as well as weather balloons, it’s hard to believe that the new NOAA study represents such a quantum leap in methodology.

If NOAA is confident in their study, however, they should proudly and readily cooperate with Rep. Smith’s inquiry.


Steven Capozzola has spent the past 15 years working on issues related to manufacturing, global trade, and energy policy.

  1. June 9, 2016 11:48 am

    Once again, we see NOAA and other such entities rendering themselves useless. Their desire to curry favor or funding from those who benefit from taking over individual lives based on false premises is stunning. It leads to the question: are there people of character and integrity in either the scientific or government communities? At what point do they realize they have sold their souls for a mess of pottage and no one believes anything they have to say. Thank goodness for men such as Congressman Lamar Smith.

  2. Don B permalink
    June 9, 2016 11:53 am

    Has NOAA ‘busted’ the pause in global warming?

    John Christy of the University of Alabama Huntsville, one of the minority of scientists who dispute the magnitude of global warming, said the Karl paper “doesn’t make sense” because satellite data show little recent warming. “You must conclude the data were adjusted to get this result” of no warming pause, Christy wrote in an email. “Were the adjustments proper? I don’t know at this point.”

  3. Broadlands permalink
    June 9, 2016 12:26 pm

    What’s really stunning is that Dr. Karl et al. have “proven” what several other peer-reviewed papers were able to explain away in various ways. The authors of these papers must feel foolish having explained away something that doesn’t exist?

    And, unmentioned is the fact that the “pause” is clearly alive and well in Dr. Karl’s own country where the trend since the El-Nino “inspired” year of 1998 is still down, especially the winter trend, currently at minus 0.78°F per decade, 3.5 times the national cooling of minus 0.22*F

  4. Charlie Moncur permalink
    June 9, 2016 12:26 pm

    As an ex Marine Chief Enegineer I would have to affirm that the seawater intake temperature may not be an accurate reflection of actual sea temperature due possibly to the position of the the thermometer in the engineroom and whether the ship is in ballast or fully loaded. The sea water intake depth can vary by up to sixty feet depending on ship size and type. I assume NOAA have factored all these variable into their data set?

    • Broadlands permalink
      June 9, 2016 1:45 pm

      And, they might want to compare their technology (and results?) with that of Charles Darwin who made barometric pressure, air and sea surface temperatures all over the world for five years from the deck of the HMS Beagle. Over 2000 of them, most at Noon local time.

  5. Charlie Moncur permalink
    June 9, 2016 3:45 pm

    Further to my previous comment, the sea water temperature can be read with a mercury thermometer in a thermo-well usually to no better than 1 def Fahrenheit. Or alternatively by an electronic temperature sensor which could be out of calibration. I will go with
    e satellite and the balloon data.

  6. DMA permalink
    June 9, 2016 4:04 pm

    To me the adjustment of the ARGO temps to match the seawater intake temps is at best inept and at worst deceitful. The ARGO sensors were designed to measure seawater temps. The ship sensors were designed to control engine coolant flow. The adjustment of ARGO then insures the continuous adjustment at a growing rate as more ARGO buoys are placed and each of their measurements is adjusted by this factor. Every new buoy skews the sea surface temp record rather than giving better averaging results. If this data is important for real decisions it will promote erroneous policies. How is that serving the citizens?
    I am very interested to hear the explanation NOAA gives to Rep. Smith for this process.

  7. June 9, 2016 4:20 pm

    An under reported part of this story (Karl paper investigation) is that Smith’s inquiry was, according to the Committee itself, motivated by more than 1 whistleblower complaint from within NOAA about haste in publication, lack of normal internal QC process, and such. Those allegations raise the specter of political influence, which is what he is investigating.
    That NOAA committed contempt of congress by not complying with the Committee’s lawfully issued subpoena (Committee has oversight of NOAA) strongly suggests the whistleblowers are reporting truthfully and NOAA has inappropriate things to hide.

  8. June 10, 2016 2:28 am

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.

  9. June 10, 2016 9:52 pm

    Reblogged this on Tallbloke's Talkshop and commented:
    It’s not hard to imagine Lamar Smith is getting some serious inside info from somebody somewhere, to convince him to pursue an ‘unpopular’ (with climate fanatics) line of enquiry.

  10. Coeur de Lion permalink
    June 11, 2016 8:20 am

    Whoowoower (sound powered telephone call up. ) “Engine room” “Bridge here. Sea temp please”. “Same as last time, sir”. “Thanks “

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