Feeds

An inconvenient update

Cool heads notice flaw in US warming data

Build a business case: developing custom apps

Comment Last week, statistician and amateur meteorologist Steve McIntyre notified NASA of an error in its climate data. The results of the hasty correction mean that as far as the US is concerned, 1998 is no longer the hottest year on record. 1934 is.

Headline-grabbing statements that nine out of ten of the hottest years on record were in the last decade are no longer correct, for the US, at least (bad news for Mr Gore, certainly). And those who remain sceptical about the nature of the link between human activity and global warming were delighted, as the Goddard Institute for Space Studies had to quietly admit the mistake and publish corrected data.

But what does this mean for the rest of us? What was the glitch? Where was the miscalculation? And do we need to check our data? Can we all hop into our Humvees and barrel around town, untroubled by our carbon emissions?

Goddard itself says the change is not significant enough to change the overall trends associated with global warming. Is it right?

Richard Allen, environmental systems scientist at the Centre for Atmospheric Science, thinks the revision is not worth getting too agitated about.

"The US only provides two per cent of the data, so it is not important as far as global temperature change goes," he told us.

But this is only true if we assume the rest of the world is not suffering from a similar (or entirely different) glitch. So what was the problem?

"What happens is that station data [the raw temperature readings from US weather stations] are corrected for slight changes, such as urbanisation. NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] in the US normally does this, it supplies it in near real time to GISS and NASA. But for some reason, they stopped doing this, and some stations didn't have their corrections. Now they do." Allen explains.

Allen argues that discontinuities like this do tend to get picked up pretty quickly, and says this whole episode is a good example of how this happens. "Nothing is perfect," he says. "But there are a lot of scientists out there who are working very carefully. So it is unlikely that it is a big problem."

Because the error in the US data is so specific to the way the US manages its figures, it seems unlikely that the data from the rest of the world will be afflicted by the same problem.

Meanwhile, McIntyre is unhappy with the way Goddard handled the situation. He says that the failure to put out an official announcement of the update left GISS open to accusations that it being less than frank.

The rather taciturn handling of the change has provoked some to wonder whether a revision in the opposite direction might have been given more prominence. And who can honestly say that it wouldn't?

That alone should be a sobering thought for those working in the field.

But botched PR doesn't prove that global warming isn't happening. That changes had to be made needs to be taken seriously. The scientific community should take note and make sure the rest of the data is in order.

For those who are interested, the old data is here, and the recalculated data is here. The old and new temperatures differ by a hundredth of a degree. ®

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Flamewars in SPAAACE: cooler fires hint at energy efficiency
Experiment aboard ISS shows we should all chill out for cleaner engines
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
NASA Mars rover FINALLY equals 1973 Soviet benchmark
Yet to surpass ancient Greek one, however
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.