Dr. Timothy Ball is a well known climate expert that even the "hockey stick's" infamous Michael Mann pays attention to (grudgingly, we expect). Dr. Ball's background and CV reflect a life of science, achievement, teaching and critical thought about the environment and climate.
The newly released BEST study on land surface temperatures has caused quite a controversy in the blogosphere. We at 'C3' have done two posts on the issue, which reflect our current 'half-empty' and 'half-full' beer glass thoughts on the BEST research. So, we wanted to ask an expert about this complex topic, thus we turned to Dr. Ball to ask his opinions on the subject.
Below, we posed some very basic questions to Dr. Ball. Our questions are in bold and Dr. Ball's responses italicized:
1. What actually did BEST analyze and measure? Global temperatures or a subset of global temperatures?
Answer: It was a subset of global temperatures, however, it was a larger subset than anyone else had used. This appears commendable, however, if the full data set is inadequate, as it is, a bigger subset does not improve the analysis potential. Also those who used smaller subsets did so for a reason. Was it to create a result to support a hypothesis? If so then what is the purpose of the BEST study? To prove that they did just that, or to show that it didn’t matter?
[Ed: The BEST study did not include over 70% of the globe's surface temperatures - namely, no ocean/sea surface temps were included in this study.]
2. Did BEST use different climate station data than that used by NASA/GISS, NOAA/NCDC and HadCRUT?
Answer: Yes is the short answer. The problem with the other 3 is they affected the results by the stations they chose. For example, in one year there was a difference of 0.4°C between their global annual averages, which doesn’t sound like much, but consider this against the claim that a 0.7°C increase in temperature over the last approximately 130 years. What people generally ignore, is that in the IPCC estimate of global temperature increase produced by Phil Jones of 0.6°C the error factor was ±0.2°C. An illustration of how meaningless the record and the results are is given by the fact that in many years the difference in global annual average temperature is at least half the 0.7°C figure. In summation, all 4 groups selected subsets, but even if they had used the entire data set they could not have achieved meaningful or significant results.
3. Did BEST use only the best climate stations' data or did they use all stations' data?
Answer: They didn’t use “all” stations or “all’ data from each station. However, it appears there were some limitations of the data that they didn’t consider, as the following quote indicates. Here is a comment in the preface to the Canadian climate normals 1951 to 1980 published by Environment Canada.
“ No hourly data exists in the digital archive before 1953, the averages appearing in this volume have been derived from all available ‘hourly’ observations, at the selected hours, for the period 1953 to 1980, inclusive. The reader should note that many stations have fewer than the 28 years of record in the complete averaging.”
4. Did BEST use the actual raw temperature data, or an "improved" raw dataset, or adjusted temperatures for their analysis?
Answer: The use of the phrase “raw temperature data” is misleading. What all groups mean by the phrase is the data provided to a central agency by individual nations. Under the auspices of the World Meteorological Organization (WM0) each nation is responsible for establishing and maintaining weather stations of different categories. The data these stations record is the true raw data. However, it is then adjusted by the individual national agencies before it is submitted to the central record. Consider the EC [Environment Canada] comment above.
5. If adjusted, did BEST perform the adjustments or another agency (3rd party)?
Answer: They adjusted the data, but most adjustments are only as valid as the original data - not the data they claim was the raw data. For example, the ‘official’ raw data for New Zealand is produced by NIWA and they ‘adjusted’ the “raw” data. The difference is shown in Figure 1. Which set did BEST use?
Figure 1: Temperature record adjustments for New Zealand. It is my understanding that most nations have done similar adjustments.
6. How were the adjustments done?
They are described by BEST here ...... To quote President Obama’s infamous line, it is like lipstick on a pig. Any adjustments don’t improve the complete inadequacy of the raw or adjusted data.
7. Has BEST made public their calculated monthly anomalies and monthly baseline means used to calculate the anomalies for their new temperature series?
Answer: The entire handling of their work has been a disaster. It is not possible to say it was planned but it has completely distorted the stated purpose and results of their work. Their actions are almost too naive to believe they were accidental, especially considering the people involved in the process. Releasing reports to mainstream media before all studies and reports are complete is unconscionable from a scientific perspective. it replicates the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) practice of releasing the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) before releasing the Scientific Basis Reports. The panel includes only one climatologist, Judith Curry, who has apparently only recently shifted from a very vigorous pro AGW position and should be very aware of the political implications of the entire issue. There should at least be one skeptical climatologist for balance. The lack of balance is troubling.
They failed to explain how much temperature changes naturally or whether their results are within that range. The original purpose of thirty-year ‘normals’ was to put a statistically significant sample in a context. It appears they began with a mindset that created these problems and it has seriously tainted their work. For example, they say, “Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature aims to contribute to a clearer understanding of global warming based on a more extensive and rigorous analysis of available historical data.” This terminology indicates prejudgement. Why global warming? It doesn’t even accommodate the shift to “climate change “ forced on proponents of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) as the facts didn’t fit the theory. Why not just refer to temperature trends? Ironically, the one difference in the results between plots using the BEST data and the other agencies is a distinct downturn of temperature in the Land-only record. (source of below chart: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/10/22/a-preliminary-assessment-of-bests-decline/#more-49792 )
8. From your preliminary review of the BEST research, what do you like best of their methodology? What are the shortcomings of their methodology?
There is nothing I like best. The fact they even attempted the project indicates lack of knowledge or understanding of the inadequacies of the data set in space or time or subsequent adjustments. Lamb spoke to the problem when he established the Climatic Research Unit (CRU). On page 203 of his autobiography he said,
“When the Climatic Research Unit was founded, it was clear that the first and greatest need was to establish the facts of the past record of the natural climate in times before any side effects of human activities could well be important. A worldwide record was needed particularly on the time scale of human history a project which surprisingly no other body had attempted in any coordinated way.” “We are living in a time when the glamour of the much more expensive work of the mathematical modeling laboratories, and the tempting prospect of their theoretical predictions are stealing the limelight. The confidence generally characterizing the pronouncements from those quarters has since given way to more cautious statements in later years. It does not seem to have been widely recognized that the theoreticians work was proceeding without adequate prior study (or any sure understanding) of the sometimes drastic swings of climate that have occurred over periods from a few years or decades to some centuries, often settling in abruptly and some of them still unexplained.”
The BEST study confirms Lamb’s concerns. It adds nothing to advancing the understanding of the degree of climate change. Until that is adequately defined and described there is no hope of determining the underlying causes and mechanisms of change. The failure to understand the complete inadequacy of the existing temperature record is troubling. It makes it appear that there is an incompetence or a political motive, or both.
Thank you, Dr. Ball.
Note: 'C3' is a C-AGW skeptic with views similar to the majority of skeptics. Supposedly, the BEST study is said to challenge the core beliefs of skeptics. Since I, like most skeptics, believe that the world has warmed since the Little Ice Age, the BEST study does not challenge my beliefs one iota. The authors of the BEST study confirm that they have not proven, nor dis-proven, the AGW hypothesis.