This article reflects the author’s ongoing research into the methods used by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology to collect, collate, adjust and publish temperature and rainfall data. Research into this topic have been published in the IPA Climate Change The Facts Publications, with an updated working paper shortly to be published.
Only using ‘creative’ statistics
Much has been written in the tabloids, and repeated by the fashionable, about it being very hot through June – even in Antarctica. Really, I wondered. Is Antarctica melting?
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has measured air temperatures at the Mawson weather station in Antarctica since early 1954 – this is one of the longest continuous surface temperature records for that part of the world. The Russians did not establish the more famous and isolated Vostok weather station until 1957. The satellite temperature record doesn’t begin until 1979.
The Bureau makes very few adjustments to the temperatures as measured at Mawson that oscillate within a band of some few degrees – mostly below freezing. These same temperatures show no statistically significant long-term warming trend, at least not since 1954. There are longer proxy temperature series, based on ice core records, and they show an overall cooling trend, considering the last 1,900 years. Here, again, I am referring to data from published studies, for example, the temperatures of East and West Antarctica were reconstructed by a team led by Barbara Stenni including scientists from the Australian Antarctic Division, British Antarctic Survey, and Russian Antarctic Research Institute. It is only remodelled proxy series that show warming over this same period.
Last month (June 2023), Antarctica was reported as ‘hot’ in various publications including Vox.com. Yet the average maximum temperature for Mawson was minus 12.6 degrees Celsius, which is not quite as cold as the long-term June average for all years since 1954 which is minus 13.5 C. When the June maximum temperatures for Mawson are ranked highest to lowest, June 2023 comes in as the 29th hottest, and 42nd coldest – suggesting temperatures in Antarctica were not particularly newsworthy and rather cold.
Yet the tabloids, and fashionable, are claiming June 2023 as hot – even in Antarctica. It is all nonsense.
Some of these claims have their origin in the University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer, a tool that uses satellite data and computer simulations. So, they represent a remodelled average. Indeed, there is not a single place where anyone, can measure the average temperature of the Earth – or Antarctica. Rather, when it is announced that it is the hottest it has ever been, reference is made to a statistic.
This average temperature is necessarily a number that has been derived from other numbers. There will perhaps have been some measuring done here and there, and then some adjusting, and then some adding up and some adjusting again. This is how it is with the calculation of regional and global average temperatures – whether from satellites, tree rings, ice cores, or thermometers. To be sure, every year we are told it is getting hotter, and back in the late 1980s, this was achieved for the globally averaged thermometer record by dropping out some of the colder weather stations. This had the effect of increasing the overall average global temperature, at a time when temperatures at many individual sites were dipping somewhat.
Those who have followed the politics of measuring temperatures may also remember the infamous line in the Climategate emails, whereby the globally averaged temperatures based on tree rings, which also show a decline after 1980, are ‘corrected’ by substituting the globally averaged temperature from thermometer records – never mind that the dip in that record had already been ‘corrected’ by removing data from a great many high latitude Canadian and Russian weather stations.
Drawing from this sordid history of calculating global and regional temperatures, I can think of a large number of ways that the University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer could possibly generate a higher-than-average temperature for Antarctica and especially the Earth. Indeed, the larger the geographic area covered, the more opportunity for creative accounting, for which corporates using similar techniques would go to jail, while climate scientists are more usually promoted.
The solution is to perhaps give up on believing the nonsense news headlines, especially when there is no reference to a specific weather station, like Mawson. Or do away with a random selection of weather stations and focus instead on a simple index based on a good sample of well-sited weather stations with long histories, like Mawson.
Such a concept could be based on the Dow Jones Averages or the S&P 500. No one ever tries establishing an impossible-to-define ‘average stock price’ — including many stocks of doubtful provenance — and nobody cares. Rather the solution is to have a pre-selected index of certain representative stocks, that are then followed over a long-time span. So why not have an index of agreed weather stations?
The only problem is, the tabloids and the fashionable, might then have nothing to talk about – should they limit reporting to the same weather stations and with temperatures reliably measured, which will require some modification to current methods and of course, no subsequent adjusting.
There may be no catastrophe to report at least not when it comes to weather as a measure of climate, for which the lack of reliable measures, and the great number of potentially creative solutions, are currently being exploited over and over to justify rather large expenditures on all manner of things.