Are you like me and a little puzzled as to exactly how the GHCN-GISS problem happened? GISS blamed their supplier (NOAA GHCN). Unfortunately NOAA’s been stone silent on the matter. I checked the Russian data at meteo.ru and there was nothing wrong with it. Nor is there anything wrong at GHCN-Daily for stations reporting there. So it’s something at GHCN-Monthly, a data set that I’ve been severely critical of in the past, primarily for the indolence of its updating, an indolence that has really reached a level of negligence.
In passing, while I was looking at Resolute data in connection with a question about a mis-step in temporarily losing some northern Canadian data while the Russian patch was being applied, I also noticed what appears to be a prior incident like the one that we just saw – only in reverse (and not a small error either, it was about 14 deg C). I’d also like to remind people that an identical incident with Finnish stations was reported here on Sep 23.
Some of critics have asserted that I’ve been unfair in criticizing GISS, rather than GHCN. I submit that I’ve been drawing attention to problems at GHCN for a long time now. And last year, we actually had an incident when NASA GISS apologists made exactly the same fingerpointing excuses that they are now – that problems were GHCN’s fault and NASA GISS was blameless. Here are some prior posts on the matter.
In May 2007, I invited readers to help the climate community locate certain cities that the climate science community seemed unable to locate. The data set to which we had been directed by the CRU FOI officer as CRU’s course referred remarkably to “stations with no location”. I thought that CA readers would be intrigued by the idea of “stations with no location” and asked:
Were these pirate weather stations that changed locations to avoid detection by NASA? Were they voices from beyond – perhaps evidence of unknown civilizations? And there were over 420 such stations out of just over 5000 in total. So there were not just a few strangers among us. A number of the mystery stations came from the mysterious civilization known as “Chile”, whose existence has long been suspected.
A few months later, I invited readers to help NASA find the lost city of Wellington NZ, where NASA and GHCN had been unable to obtain records since 1988. I wondered whether the city had been destroyed by Scythians or perhaps Assyrians. Fortunately, one of the survivors made contact with us – indeed, the survivor was employed by a national meteorological service and assured us that records had in fact been kept since contact had been lost.
On another occasion, we pondered why GHCN had been unable to locate Canadian data (for Dawson and many other stations) since 1989 – and why NASA GISS had stood idly by, while nothing was done for 20 years. I asked:
How hard can it be to locate Canadian data? Maybe it’s time to ask the people who do the Consumer Price Index to compile temperature statistics. It’s all just data – maybe professional data people would do a better job than the present people who seem to have trouble getting off their La-Z-Boys.
We visited the same problem in connection with GHCN’s failure to update results from Peru and Bolivia since 1989, while NASA GISS merrily went about adjusting the data trends without bothering to collect up-to-date information readily available on the internet (and even at GHCN- Daily data). In this case, there was a small existing controversy as NASA GISS apologist (and Hansen’s other pit bull, Tamino) asserted stridently (see comments passim) that two sites, Cobija and Rurrenabaque, did not have post-1988 data and then, amusingly continued to assert this, in the face of simple proof that data almost up to the minute could be located on the internet.
There’s no post-1988 data for Cobija or Rurrenabaque
After I showed the existence of post-1988 data, a poster at Tamino’s site asked:
OK now i’m confused. Is there or is there not temp data for Cobija and Rurrenabaque after 1988? (as posted over at CA) Not trying to take any side here just losing faith on what to believe.
Even after I’d produced post-1988 data (and given active links to modern data), Tamino persisted:
[Response: I downloaded both the raw and adjusted datasets from GISS, and there's no data beyond April 1989. ]
One of his posters persisted:
I know you insist that “[t]here’s no data from Cobija or Rurrenabaque”, But McIntyre has posted the post 1988 temperature data for Cobija and Rurrenabaque at Climate Audit today.
Why the discrepancy?
To which Tamino answered:
[Response: He didn't get it from GHCN or from NASA. Does it include adjustments for station moves, time-of-observation, instrument changes? Does Anthony Watts have photographs?]
Actually this wasn’t even true. I’d been able to get data from GHCN-Daily. Another reader persisted, asking the quesitons already raised here, as to why NASA GISS:
1) stopp[ed] using data series in 1988 when a full series exists till today (documented on CA for Cobija, Rurrenabaque).
2) Classiff[ied] stations as rural that are in fact urban (documented on CA for Yurimaguas, Moyobamba, Chachapoyas, Lambayeque, Tarapoto, Cajamarca, Tingo Maria) and adjusting them accordingly…
To which Tamino responded with the same fingerpointing argument recently used by Hansen’s other bulldog (Gavin):
[Response: ... I asked you "in what way did GISS violate legitimate scientific method?" It appears that it's not GISS but GHCN which left the post-1989 data out of the combined data supplied to GISS. Maybe there's even a good reason. Clearly it was not GISS but GHCN which classified urban stations as rural. GISS was sufficiently dissatisfied with the classifications provided by GHCN to devise a whole new method and apply it to the U.S. Adjusting stations by comparing to other stations which have faulty population metadata is most certainly NOT a violation of legitimate scientific METHOD -- it's faulty metadata.
People who are not climate scientists typically have to scratch their heads a little when they see this sort of reasoning, which, as I just noted, is pretty much NASA's present defence. The Other Dude Did It.
BTW NASA's use of absurdly faulty population data from GHCN is an important issue in itself that we've discussed in the past. Because many of their "rural" locations outside the US are not "rural", but medium-sized and rapidly-growing towns and even cities, their "adjustment" for UHI outside the U.S. is feckless and, in many cases, leads them to opposite adjustments in cities. This is a large topic in itself.
At their webpage, NOAA GHCN assures us that their quality control is "rigorous".
Both historical and near-real-time GHCN data undergo rigorous quality assurance reviews.
This representation was endorsed in Hansen et al 1999 (with corresponding language in Hansen et al 2001) as follows
The GHCN data have undergone extensive quality control, as described by Peterson et al. [1998c].
I guess if you don’t actually update the majority of your data, it reduces the work involved in quality control.
I refer to these past posts as evidence that problems at GHCN have been on our radar screen long before the present incident. Indeed, I hope that access to GHCN procedures will be a positive outcome of the present contretemps.
CA reader, Andy, commented here on Sept 23, 2008:
BTW, GISS temperature data for the finnish towns like Oulu, Kajaani, Kuusamo etc shows exactly the same temperatures for July and August 2008. First time ever seen!
which was confirmed by Jean S here.
Now as promised above, here’s evidence of a prior incident. Because there’s been an amusing mishap with northern Canadian values being absent from the NASA map on Monday, present on Wednesday and absent again on Friday, I took a look at the Canadian source data for Resolute NWT, averaging the monthly values of -32.2 in March 2008 and -18.5 deg C in April.
# 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
#-31.9 -35.3 -32.2 -18.5 -7.1 2.2 5.3 2.3 -5.0 -10.8 -20.0 NaN
I downloaded the most recent GHCN v2.mean data, unzipped it and looked at the 2008 values in the GHCN-Monthly data base. I bolded the March 2008 and April 2008 values, which are identical.
v2=readLines(loc); id< -substr(v2,1,11);
# “4037192400052008 -317 -351 -322 -322 -73 21 53 23 -50 -108-9999-9999″
The April 2008 value is invalid, being nearly 14 deg C colder than the actual value. I guess an error of 14 deg C is insufficient to engage their “rigorous” quality control.
Also, Jean S had already mentioned an identical incident with Finnish stations about a month before the most recent Hansen incident.
I don’t plan to spend time doing an inventory of incidents – surely NASA and NOAA have sufficient resources to do that. However, this one incident is sufficient to prove that the present incident is not isolated and that the same problem exists elsewhere in the system. I’m perplexed as to how the problem occurs in the first place, given that the error doesn’t occur in original data. I’m sure that we’ll find out in due course.
The bigger issue is, of course, why NOAA and NASA have been unable to update the majority of their network for 20 years.