As world celebrates Earth Hour, scientist finds global warming data has overestimated warming
by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.
The supposed gold standard in surface temperature data is that produced by Univ. of East Anglia, the so-called CRUTem3 dataset. There has always been a lingering suspicion among skeptics that some portion of this IPCC official temperature record contains some level of residual spurious warming due to the urban heat island effect. Several published papers over the years have supported that suspicion.
The Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect is familiar to most people: towns and cities are typically warmer than surrounding rural areas due to the replacement of natural vegetation with manmade structures. If that effect increases over time at thermometer sites, there will be a spurious warming component to regional or global temperature trends computed from the data.
Here I will show based upon unadjusted International Surface Hourly (ISH) data archived at NCDC that the warming trend over the Northern Hemisphere, where virtually all of the thermometer data exist, is a function of population density at the thermometer site.
Depending upon how low in population density one extends the results, the level of spurious warming in the CRUTem3 dataset ranges from 14% to 30% when 3 population density classes are considered, and even 60% with 5 population classes.
DATA & METHOD
Analysis of the raw station data is not for the faint of heart. For the period 1973 through 2011, there are hundreds of thousands of data files in the NCDC ISH archive, each file representing one station of data from one year. The data volume is many gigabytes.
From these files I computed daily average temperatures at each station which had records extending back at least to 1973, the year of a large increase in the number of global stations included in the ISH database. The daily average temperature was computed from the 4 standard synoptic times (00, 06, 12, 18 UTC) which are the most commonly reported times from stations around the world.
At least 20 days of complete data were required for a monthly average temperature to be computed, and the 1973-2011 period of record had to be at least 80% complete for a station to be included in the analysis.
I then stratified the stations based upon the 2000 census population density at each station; the population dataset I used has a spatial resolution of 1 km.
I then accepted all 5×5 deg lat/lon grid boxes (the same ones that Phil Jones uses in constructing the CRUTem3 dataset) which had all of the following present: a CRUTem3 temperature, and at least 1 station from each of 3 population classes, with class boundaries at 0, 15, 500, and 30,000 persons per sq. km.
By requiring all three population classes to be present for grids to be used in the analysis, we get the best ‘apples-to-apples’ comparison between stations of different population densities. The downside is that there is less geographic coverage than that provided in the Jones dataset, since relatively few grids meet such a requirement.
But the intent here is not to get a best estimate of temperature trends for the 1973-2011 period; it is instead to get an estimate of the level of spurious warming in the CRUTem3 dataset. The resulting number of 5×5 deg grids with stations from all three population classes averaged around 100 per month during 1973 through 2011.
The results are shown in the following figure, which indicates that the lower the population density surrounding a temperature station, the lower the average linear warming trend for the 1973-2011 period. Note that the CRUTem3 trend is a little higher than simply averaging all of the accepted ISH stations together, but not as high as when only the highest population stations were used.
Access the full results here at Watts Up With That