In today's Mail on Sunday there is a very interesting feature on what it calls "Warmergate". It reveals of climate change scientists have manipulated data to provide the answers they wanted. Here's an extract which refers to the infamous 'hockey stick'.
Take the now-notorious email that the CRU’s currently suspended director, Dr Phil Jones, sent to his IPCC colleagues on November 16, 1999, when he wrote he had ‘just completed Mike’s Nature trick’ and had so managed to ‘hide the decline.
The CRU’s supporters have protested bitterly about the attention paid to this message. In the course of an extraordinary BBC interview in which he called an American critic an ‘****hole’ live on air, Jones’s colleague Professor Andrew Watson insisted that the fuss was completely unjustified, because all Jones had been talking about was ‘tweaking a diagram’.
Davies told me that the email had been ‘taken out of context’ adding: ‘One definition of the word “trick” is “the best way of doing something”. What Phil did was standard practice and the facts are out there in the peer-reviewed literature.’
However, the full context of that ‘trick’ email, as shown by a new and until now unreported analysis by the Canadian climate statistician Steve McIntyre, is extremely troubling.Derived from close examination of some of the thousands of other leaked emails, he says it suggests the ‘trick’ undermines not only the CRU but the IPCC.
There is a widespread misconception that the ‘decline’ Jones was referring to is the fall in global temperatures from their peak in 1998, which probably was the hottest year for a long time. In fact, its subject was more technical - and much more significant. It is true that, in Watson’s phrase, in the autumn of 1999 Jones and his colleagues were trying to ‘tweak’ a diagram. But it wasn’t just any old diagram.
It was the chart displayed on the first page of the ‘Summary for Policymakers’ of the 2001 IPCC report - the famous ‘hockey stick’ graph that has been endlessly reproduced in everything from newspapers to primary-school textbooks ever since, showing centuries of level or declining temperatures until a dizzying, almost vertical rise in the late 20th Century. There could be no simpler or more dramatic representation of global warming, and if the origin of worldwide concern over climate change could be traced to a single image, it would be the hockey stick. Drawing a diagram such as this is far from straightforward.
Gabriel Fahrenheit did not invent the mercury thermometer until 1724, so scientists who want to reconstruct earlier climate history have to use ‘proxy data’ - measurements derived from records such as ice cores, tree-rings and growing season dates. However, different proxies give very different results. For example, some suggest that the ‘medieval warm period’, the 350-year era that started around 1000, when red wine grapes flourished in southern England and the Vikings tilled now-frozen farms in Greenland, was considerably warmer than even 1998. Of course, this is inconvenient to climate change believers because there were no cars or factories pumping out greenhouse gases in 1000AD - yet the Earth still warmed.
Some tree-ring data eliminates the medieval warmth altogether, while others reflect it. In September 1999, Jones’s IPCC colleague Michael Mann of Penn State University in America - who is now also the subject of an official investigation --was working with Jones on the hockey stick. As they debated which data to use, they discussed a long tree-ring analysis carried out by Keith Briffa. Briffa knew exactly why they wanted it, writing in an email on September 22: ‘I know there is pressure to present a nice tidy story as regards “apparent unprecedented warming in a thousand years or more”.’ But his conscience was troubled. ‘In reality the situation is not quite so simple - I believe that the recent warmth was probably matched about 1,000 years ago.’
Another British scientist - Chris Folland of the Met Office’s Hadley Centre - wrote the same day that using Briffa’s data might be awkward, because it suggested the past was too warm. This, he lamented, ‘dilutes the message rather significantly’.
Over the next few days, Briffa, Jones, Folland and Mann emailed each other furiously. Mann was fearful that if Briffa’s trees made the IPCC diagram, ‘the sceptics [would] have a field day casting doubt on our ability to understand the factors that influence these estimates and, thus, can undermine faith [in them] - I don’t think that doubt is scientifically justified, and I’d hate to be the one to have to give it fodder!’
Finally, Briffa changed the way he computed his data and submitted a revised version. This brought his work into line for earlier centuries, and ‘cooled’ them significantly. But alas, it created another, potentially even more serious, problem. According to his tree rings, the period since 1960 had not seen a steep rise in temperature, as actual temperature readings showed - but a large and steady decline, so calling into question the accuracy of the earlier data derived from tree rings.
This is the context in which, seven weeks later, Jones presented his ‘trick’ - as simple as it was deceptive. All he had to do was cut off Briffa’s inconvenient data at the point where the decline started, in 1961, and replace it with actual temperature readings, which showed an increase. On the hockey stick graph, his line is abruptly terminated - but the end of the line is obscured by the other lines.
‘Any scientist ought to know that you just can’t mix and match proxy and actual data,’ said Philip Stott, emeritus professor of biogeography at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. They’re apples and oranges. Yet that’s exactly what he did.’ Since Warmergate-broke, some of the CRU’s supporters have claimed that Jones and his colleagues made a ‘full disclosure’ of what they did to Briffa’s data in order to produce the hockey stick.But as McIntyre points out, ‘contrary to claims by various climate scientists, the IPCC Third Assessment Report did not disclose the deletion of the post-1960 values’.
On the final diagram, the cut off was simply concealed by the other lines. By 2007, when the IPCC produced its fourth report, McIntyre had become aware of the manipulation of the Briffa data and Briffa himself, as shown at the start of this article, continued to have serious qualms.
McIntyre by now was an IPCC ‘reviewer’ and he urged the IPCC not to delete the post-1961 data in its 2007 graph. ‘They refused,’ he said, ‘stating this would be “inappropriate”.’ Yet even this, Pielke told me, may not ultimately be the biggest consequence of Warmergate.Some of the most controversial leaked emails concern attempts by Jones and his colleagues to avoid disclosure of the CRU’s temperature database - its vast library of readings from more than 1,000 weather stations around the world, the ultimate resource that records how temperatures have changed.
In one email from 2005, Jones warned Mann not to leave such data lying around on searchable websites, because ‘you never know who is trawling them’. Critics such as McIntyre had been ‘after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone’. Yesterday Davies said that, contrary to some reports, none of this data has in fact been deleted. But in the wake of the scandal, its reliability too is up for grabs.
The problem is that, just like tree rings or ice cores, readings from thermometers or electronic ‘thermistors’ are open to interpretation. The sites of weather stations that were once open countryside become built up areas, so trapping heat, and the type of equipment used changes over time. The result is what climate scientists call ‘inhomogeneities’ - anomalies between readings that need to be ‘adjusted’. But can we trust the way such ‘adjustments’ are made? Last week, an article posted on a popular climate sceptic website analysed the data from the past 130 years in Darwin, Australia.
This suggested that average temperatures had risen there by about two degrees Celsius. However, the raw data had been ‘adjusted’ in a series of abrupt upward steps by exactly the same amount: without the adjustment, the Darwin temperature record would have stayed level.
In 2007, McIntyre examined records across America. He found that between 1999 and 2007, the US equivalent of the Met Office had changed the way it adjusted old data. The result was to make the Thirties seem cooler, and the years since 1990 much warmer. Previously, the warmest year since records began in America had been 1934. Now, in line with CRU and IPCC orthodoxy, it was 1998. At the CRU, said Davies, some stations’ readings were adjusted by unit and in such cases, raw and adjusted data could be compared.But in about 90 per cent of cases, the adjustment was carried out in the countries that collected the data, and the CRU would not know exactly how this had been done.
Davies said: ‘All I can say is that the process is careful and considered. To get the details, the best way would be to go the various national meteorological services.’ The consequences of that, Stott said, may be explosive. ‘If you take Darwin, the gap between the two just looks too big. ‘If that applies elsewhere, it’s going to get really interesting. It’s no longer going to be good enough for the Met Office and CRU to put the data out there.
‘To know we can trust it, we’ve got to know what adjustments have been made, and why.’ Last week, at the Copenhagen climate summit, the Met Office said that the Noughties have been the warmest decade in history. Depending on how the data has been adjusted, Stott said, that statement may not be true. Pielke agreed. ‘After Climategate, the surface temperature record is being called into question.’ To experts such as McIntyre and Pielke, perhaps the most baffling thing has been the near-unanimity over global warming in the world’s mainstream media - a unanimity much greater than that found among scientists.