Last week, the World Meteorological Organization (and arm of the United Nations) announced that 2010 had tied with 2005 and 1998 as the warmest years on record, giving further support to those who believe global warming caused largely by man-made greenhouse gases are huge risk to life as we know it today.
The WMO says that in 2010, global average temperature was 0.53°C (0.95°F) above the 1961-90 mean, putting it in a statistical tie with 2005 and 1998 for the highest average global temperature across an entire year. (See WMO press release.)
Further, the WMO says Over the ten years from 2001 to 2010, global temperatures have averaged 0.46°C (0.83°F) above the 1961-1990 average, and are the highest ever recorded for a 10-year period since the beginning of instrumental climate records in 1850.
It also says that the ten warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998.
These statistics are based on data sets maintained by the UK Meteorological Office Hadley Centre/Climatic Research Unit (HadCRU), the U.S. National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
While not conclusive even if accurate, as the recent rising temperatures could be caused by solar activity or other phenomenon not connected to greenhouse gases, such a spike in temperatures are certainly strong fodder for those calling for radical reductions in CO2 and other emissions.
But is the data accurate?
Not everyone thinks so.
Anthony Watts is a US meteorologist who started the SurfaceStations.org web site that is attempting to identify and catalog the physical climate/temperature recording sites worldwide.
As shown in the graphic below, Watts recently graded 61% of the stations used to measure temperature with a D (poor) or F (worst) for being located, for example, less than 10 meters from an artificial heating source. The SurfaceStations project is literally sending people out to physically examine the recording locations, a process which has often found the sensors sitting next to heated exhaust systems or other high temperature source, for example.
A High Percent of US Climate Station Data
may be Compromised by Nearby Heat Sources
Source: Surface Station.org
Thus far, the SurfaceStation project has surveyed 1003 of 1221, or 82%, of the climate stations in the US, with the remainder to follow.
Scientist Patrick Frank, in a just published article in the respected Energy and Environment journal , also questions the land-based climate sensor measures, writing that the approach has "not properly addressed measurement noise and has never addressed the uncontrolled environmental variables that impact sensor field resolution."
Satellite data, hoever, would seem to represent a more reliable source of temperature data, as it would not be impacted by local variables that might lead to erroneous temperature readings on the ground.
For example, since 1979, US satellites have been carrying instruments which measure the natural microwave thermal emissions from oxygen in the atmosphere. The signals that these microwave radiometers measure at different microwave frequencies are directly proportional to the temperature of different, deep layers of the atmosphere, providing rich insight in global temperatures.
Roy Spencer, a climatologist and former NASA scientist, thinks NASA and others do not use this data properly, and that they "normalize" and adjust the raw satellite data in a way that overstates the warming trend. On his "Latest Global Temperatures" web site, which tracks the raw satellite data, a very different picture emerges, showing that while there has been some warming over the last 10 years, that followed 20 years primarily characterized by cooling temperatures. The raw data also show the rise in temperatures in the past decade is much lower than the WMO says it has been.
Is there Less Ice or Not?
The WMO also said in its release that " Arctic sea-ice cover in December 2010 was the lowest on record, with an average monthly extent of 12 million square kilometers, 1.35 million square kilometers below the 1979-2000 average for December. This follows the third-lowest minimum ice extent recorded in September."
However, Lord Monckton, a British politician and journalist, argues that the overall sea-ice record shows virtually no change throughout the past 30 years, saying that "the quite rapid loss of Arctic sea ice since the satellites were watching has been matched by a near-equally rapid gain of Antarctic sea ice."
Moncton akso says that when the summer Arctic sea ice reached its lowest point in the 30-year record in mid-September 2007, just three weeks later the Antarctic sea extent reached a 30-year record high.
So who's right? There only clear answer is that any data can be manipulated, and that no piece of evidence on either side should just be accepted at face value.
What's your take on the measure of the Earth's temperature? Do you buy the WMO story, or that of the skeptics? Why? Let us know ylour thoughts on the Feedback button below.
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