There is currently a raging controversy in the media about Dr. Richard Muller’s BEST (Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature) program. One point the press seems to miss is the distinction between whether and how much warming there may have been, versus the cause of temperature change.
The Berkeley group, having noted all the charges of data manipulation in temperature databases owned by governments, both British and American, decided to redo all the temperature records. Everyone was anxious about how they would handle the data.
The current controversy may have been precipitated by Muller, himself, with a Wall Street Journal article titled “The Case Against Global-Warming Skepticism.”
In the WSJ article Muller writes:
The temperature-station quality is largely awful. The most important stations in the U.S. are included in the Department of Energy’s Historical Climatology Network. A careful survey of these stations by a team led by meteorologist Anthony Watts showed that 70% of these stations have such poor siting that, by the U.S. government’s own measure, they result in temperature uncertainties of between two and five degrees Celsius or more. We do not know how much worse are the stations in the developing world.
Using data from all these poor stations, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates an average global 0.64ºC temperature rise in the past 50 years, “most” of which the IPCC says is due to humans. Yet the margin of error for the stations is at least three times larger than the estimated warming.
We know that cities show anomalous warming, caused by energy use and building materials; asphalt, for instance, absorbs more sunlight than do trees. Tokyo’s temperature rose about 2ºC in the last 50 years. Could that rise, and increases in other urban areas, have been unreasonably included in the global estimates? That warming may be real, but it has nothing to do with the greenhouse effect and can’t be addressed by carbon dioxide reduction.
But then he writes:
Without good answers to all these complaints, global-warming skepticism seems sensible. But now let me explain why you should not be a skeptic, at least not any longer.
And the press frenzy began.
Much of the controversy revolves around four papers Muller released prior to formal peer-review and publication (They are still unpublished formally). Many scientists take exception to the methodology of the BEST study, particularly how Muller averaged station temperatures, dealt with the urban heat island effect, and stated the uncertainty. Also part of the controversy is how the data are depicted on graphs in the press. Below are two graphs showing identical data, but the difference in the vertical temperature scale makes one look more alarming than the other:
Add to that, the land surface temperature record does not agree with the satellite record, nor is there good agreement with sea surface temperature record.. BEST uses only land-based temperature data and ignores sea surface temperature data.
Steve McIntyre, proprietor of Climate Audit noticed “BEST’s estimate of the size of the temperature increase since the start of the 19th century is much larger than previous estimates….The decade of the 1810s is shown in their estimates as being nearly 2 degrees colder than the present….It’s also interesting to interpret these results from the context of ‘dangerous climate change’, defined by the UN as 2 deg C. Under BEST’s calculations, we’ve already experienced nearly 2 deg C of climate change since the early 19th century.” McIntyre could not replicate some of Muller’s results using raw station data.
The press, portraying Muller as a former skeptic who got religion, ran with the WSJ headline. See, for example, an editorial by Eugene Robinson. Robinson’s characterization of the BEST study is that it provides evidence against climate skeptics and confirms the IPCC scary scenario projections. But ultra warming alarmist site RealClimate.org says the BEST study is not a big deal:
Anybody expecting earthshaking news from Berkeley, now that the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature group being led by Richard Muller has released its results, had to be content with a barely perceptible quiver. As far as the basic science goes, the results could not have been less surprising if the press release had said “Man Finds Sun Rises At Dawn.”
The whole thing boils down to what Muller said, “The temperature-station quality is largely awful.” That means the surface temperature data is inadequate to come to any valid conclusions. BEST measured a larger subset of the surface temperature record than some other researchers. BEST merged and “filtered” the data. Various methods of massaging data lead to different conclusions, none of which may be close to reality. The science is still not settled and the BEST study, despite its good intentions, provides nothing new.
See another analysis of BEST data here.