BEST Study Confirms: Elvis, Skeptic UHI Claim Dead

For years, certain climate contrarians and self-styled skeptics have suggested that the temperature records have been contaminated by illegitimate adjustments, poor siting of instruments and the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect, such that the increase in temperature observed during the past century is due, not to greenhouse gas associated warming, but to non-GHG factors, fudging and poor data. These so-called “skeptics” have made careers out of spreading this misinformation around the blogosphere, giving it credit it does not deserve.

For example, Anthony Watts has made quite a name amongst the skeptical crowd because of his claims that the temperature record is contaminated by bad siting of weather stations (Watts Bunk #1) and the Urban Heat Island effect or UHI (Watts Bunk #2).

Here’s the description of the Watts D’Aleo paper Surface Temperature Records: Policy Driven Deceptions?

The startling conclusion that we cannot tell whether there was any significant “global warming” at all in the 20th century is based onnumerous astonishing examples of manipulation and exaggeration of the true level and rate of “global warming”.

That is to say, leading meteorological institutions in the USA and around the world have so systematically tampered with instrumental temperature data that it cannot be safely said that there has been any significant net “global warming” in the 20th century. (my emphasis)

In a recent post responding to Menne 2010, he claims that unlike Elvis, UHI is not dead.

Here’s Watts:

One of the most ridiculous claims recently related to Menne et al 2010 and my surfacestations project was a claim made by DeSmogBlog (and Huffington Post who carried the story also) is that the “Urban Heat Island Myth is Dead“.

To clarify for these folks: Elvis is dead, UHI is not.

For disbelievers, let’s look at a few cases showing UHI to be alive and well.

Yo, Anthony!

Elvis? UHI?

Dead. Dead.

It must be difficult for Mr. Watts and other so-called climate skeptics, what with the debunking of their bunk. All he can do in response to the recent debunking is to complain that the work has not been peer reviewed.

*picks self up off the floor*

Pot? Meet Kettle.

With respect to Watts Bunk # 2 The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature group has released its pre-publication reports including this paper: Influence of Urban Heating on the Global Temperature Land Average Using Rural Sites Identified from MODIS Classifications”. The other reports are available here.


It’s conclusions?

The effect of urban heating on estimates of global average land surface temperature is studied by applying an urban-rural classification based on MODIS satellite data to the Berkeley Earth temperature dataset compilation of 39,028 sites from 10 different publicly available sources. We compare the distribution of linear temperature trends for these sites to the distribution for a rural subset of 16,132 sites chosen to be distant from all MODIS-identified urban areas. While the trend distributions are broad, with one-third of the stations in the US and worldwide having a negative trend, both distributions show significant warming. Time series of the Earth’s average land temperature are estimated using the Berkeley Earth methodology applied to the full dataset and the rural subset; the difference of these shows a slight negative slope over the period 1950 to 2010, with a slope of -0.19°C ± 0.19 /100yr (95% confidence), opposite in sign to that expected if the urban heat island effect was adding anomalous warming to the record. The small size, and its negative sign, supports the key conclusion of prior groups that urban 2warming does not unduly bias estimates of recent global temperature change. (my emphasis)

In terms of Watts Bunk #1 —  bad siting — a number of researchers, including Menne et al 2010, debunked the issue of poor siting biasing the temperature record.

Here’s Menne et. al. 2010:

Results indicate that there is a mean bias associated with poor exposure sites relative to good exposure sites; however, this bias is consistent with previously documented changes associated with the widespread conversion to electronic sensors in the USHCN during the last 25 years. Moreover, the sign of the bias is counterintuitive to photographic documentation of poor exposure because associated instrument changes have led to an artificial negative (“cool”) bias in maximum temperatures and only a slight positive (“warm”) bias in minimum temperatures. These results underscore the need to consider all changes in observation practice when determining the impacts of siting irregularities. Further, the influence of nonstandard siting on temperature trends can only be quantified through an analysis of the data. Adjustments applied to USHCN Version 2 data largely account for the impact of instrument and siting changes, although a small overall residual negative (“cool”) bias appears to remain in the adjusted maximum temperature series. Nevertheless,the adjusted USHCN temperatures are extremely well aligned with recent measurements from instruments whose exposure characteristics meet the highest standards for climate monitoring. In summary, we find no evidence that the CONUS average temperature trends are inflated due to poor station siting. (my emphasis)

Elvis, UHI and Poor Siting.

Dead. Dead. Dead.

The science on these issues has already been done sufficiently that only those with a bias against action on climate change question the findings. More research is always welcome to provide clarity on the issue and I am glad that BEST has supported what the best science already concluded — UHI is not a significant contrubution to observed warming in the temperature record.

Sadly, while this confirmation is welcome, and will help us debunk the bunk, a lot of precious time has been wasted and much unfounded doubt raised – about science and about scientists — around the temperature record.

Being skeptical of research findings and wanting to dig deeper and replicate research is the foundation of science. A skeptical stance towards data and theory is the hallmark of a good scientist. However, non-scientists with political biases promoting unfounded speculation and passing it off as legitimate research is just plain corrupt and morally vacuous.

Luckily, we can write off Watts Bunk and associated dreck, so thank you to BEST for further supporting what the best science already found. UHI is of no significance in the temperature record.

From around the climate blogosphere:

Peter Gleick in Forbes: Breaking News: The Earth Still Goes Around the Sun, and It’s Still Warming Up

Shawn Lawrence Otto in The Huffington Post: Another Climate Denial Argument Bites the Dust

Greg Laden in Science Blogs: Urban Heat Islands as Explanation for Hockey Stick Global Warming Curve

Joe Romm at Climate Progress: Hot Dog Bites Skeptical Man: Koch-Funded Berkeley Temperature Study Does “Confirm the Reality of Global Warming.

Andrew Revkin at Dot.Earth: Skeptic Talking Point Melts Away As An Inconvenient Physicist Confirms Warming

Guardian Post: Global Warming Study Finds No Grounds for Climate Skeptic’s Concerns

Brian Angliss at Scholars and Rogues: Watts Wrong With This Picture?

About Policy Lass

Exploring skeptic tales.

18 Responses to “BEST Study Confirms: Elvis, Skeptic UHI Claim Dead”

  1. Seems like the same old dance to me, published science on side and Watts, Pielke et all on the other side. I’m sure that just skeptics were mainly worried about transparency now they’re only worried about the minute of PR strategy.

  2. First comment in:

    JeffC says:
    October 20, 2011 at 10:51 am

    I warned you that this would happen when they asked you to assist … I hope you really aren’t suprised to have gotten fleas from these dogs …

    First reply in:

    REPLY: I took the BEST team at their word, without ascribing motives. Perhaps they started out with the best of intentions, but got paved along the way. – Anthony

    Please note the title.

    I won’t ascribe motive to Tony. Perhaps he started out with the best of intentions, but it seems I could speculate about anything of my fancy, once I’ve said that I won’t ascribe motive to Tony and prefaced this sentence with the word “perhaps”.

  3. Its driving a wedge between wacky Watts and Curry as well.


    • Curry (I guess) believes skeptics can be brought to a certain position on the science by addressing their stated concerns (excluding “team” scientists, transparency etc). She must, by now, have noticed there’s simply more criticisms are being levelled at BEST by the same people despite there being no “team” involvement and all their data/code being available.

  4. From wacky watts web site, Mullers response to Keenan

    “What he is saying is that statistical methods are unable to be used to show that there is global warming or cooling or anything else. That is a very strong conclusion, and it reflects, in my mind, his exaggerated pedantry for statistical methods. He can and will criticize every paper published in the past and the future on the same grounds. We might as well give up in our attempts to evaluate global warming until we find a “model” that Keenan will approve — but he offers no help in doing that.

    In fact, a quick survey of his website shows that his list of publications consists almost exclusively of analysis that shows other papers are wrong. I strongly suspect that Keenan would have rejected any model we had used.”

    Blimey. I love it. “exaggerated pedantry for statistical methods. ” A phrase that can be used so often.

    • dorlomin, that is golden.

      I don’t actually like Muller much, but sometimes karma comes in a surprising cloak. I cannot wait to see what he would do to the ‘hockey stick’: John Mashey at Deltoid gives us this link. Muller now has the demonstrated ability to change his stand in the face of evidence — or more precisely, to update an evidence-free stand to an evidence based one.

      As for the publishability of this stuff, I suppose I would have to read it to form an opinion on that; but I’ll just be lazy and give my opinion anyway. The result is obviously not novel, geophysically speaking, so I don’t see how he expects to get it into one of AGU’s journals. There may be novelty in some of the methods used, who knows.

      An alternative publishing venue could be a social science journal, the novelty being in demonstrating that folks from outside the field can be successful in replicating a well-publicised result like this. Unfortunately not even this is really novel: Muir Russell et al. (2010) (p. 45) did this already, with a considerably smaller expenditure of resources 😉

      For these reasons I would propose as a final publishing venue some American legislature, like the Californian, or the Federal, or (if you really like a challenge) the Texan one: submit these reports as proposed legislation, in the fine tradition that also saw a value for pi almost being legislated in 1897 in Indiana… now, the novelty in my proposal is that, for the first time ever, legislative language of this kind would be factually correct, for all intents and purposes…

  5. WUWT now appears to be in slow-motion collapse as a result of its own internal contradictions. The latest posting, a sweetly naive attempt to show GISS demonstrates no warming, at least in the US, has commentators nodding in agreement and shouting down talk of global warming as “lies”. Meanwhile Anthony tries to hold the line, above the sound of gnashing teeth, that sceptics always accepted the Earth was getting hotter.

    Across the blogosphere, McIntryre comes over as just a more house-trained version of nitpicker Keenan. Will he continue commentate on those FOI’s with such alacrity? In fact, as anyone who has faced a blustering McIntyre can vouch (his promised analysis of Yamal’s inhomogeneity never did appear, and his flawed submission to the House of Commons dropped flat), he’s very willing to compromise his personal hygiene when cornered.

    I don’t think Muller quite realised what was going to come out from BEST, but it’s certainly much more entertaining than I ever imagined.

  6. Susan,
    You can be like Elvis….dead ……or just get outside and have a look around …..

  7. Susan, I’m presuming you live in Vancouver. It’s a lovely city with heaps more trees than when I first visited back in 1972. Really doing its bit as a “carbon sink”. 😉 🙂

  8. Actually, the Urban Heat Island effect is alive and well. It’s just that UHI is real heat, and it doesn’t skew the readings of weather stations beyond an urban area. So, UHI is a contributor to global warming, and the UHI effect does not show up in temperature readings outside the urban heat island.

    Among the crazier claims, Watts at one point claimed that UHI effects skew every temperature reading from airports, his having mistakenly assumed that airports are mostly concrete and therefore just like a downtown street. Someday I’ll get back to my post on that issue — airports, like BWI and Chicago’s O’Hare, have forests on them, with deer herds. Helluva way to run an urban heat island.

    • Of course you’re right. The UHI is real. I meant that the skeptic claims about UHI accounting for most of the warming in the temperature record is, like Elvis, dead. Or in Vegas. 🙂


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