An RC Question about Briffa et al 2013

A commenter at Real Climate asked the following interesting question about the Urals/Yamal area reported in Briffa et al 2013:

So, for this region, what data do you wish you had, that could be plausibly gotten (i.e, not like 1000-year-old measured temperature records), that you don’t have? And why?

Jim Bouldin of RC described the question as an “excellent” one and on this point, RC and I are in agreement. It’s one that I have some ideas on.

On the surface, the Polar Urals are an almost ideal location for temperature-sensitive dendro. They are high latitude and high altitude. Within a distance of a kilometer or so, one can go from closed forest to alpine tundra. Subfossil trees are plentiful. Despite this plenty, Briffa et al 2013 use a very small dataset of subfossil trees, the limited coverage being exacerbated by their exclusion of 21 of 73 trees as being “root collars”. Due to their very small sample, CRU ends up with only two trees in part of the 11th century – a critical period in the modern-medieval comparison. There is an obvious need for more data.

In addition, there is an urgent need for accurate metadata, especially on the altitude of indovidual samples. Altitude is an important factor in local tree growth (as one can see by the sharp altitudinal gradient to the treeline), but the CRU metadata does not include the altitude of individual trees. Briffa et al 2013 does not even provide accurate information on the location of the sites used in its Polar Urals chronology. Altitude changes of samples are an important potential inhomogeneity that can only be addressed through accurate metadata, an issue apparently neglected in Briffa et al 2013 which splices living tree data from sites whose altitude appears to be materially lower than the reported altitude of the subfossil samples.

One relatively easy way of improving the situation would be to do extremely detailed map and measurements along the lines of what a geologist would do at a geological outcrop. The program described below may seem very detailed by dendro standards, but I’m convinced that it could be done at a reasonable cost and would result in an exemplary dendro data set.

The first step would be to mark out an altitudinal transect going from the alpine tundra to the closed forest. From Google Earth, it looks to me like this would be less than a km (say 800 m) A transect of width of 20 meters would be a workable width, giving a transect area of about 1.6 hectares, a practical area for detailed mapping. Geologists would mark the boundaries of the transect, perhaps with small cairns of stones at key points.

The next step would be to do a high-resolution map (say 1 cm map to 1 meter) on which the location of EVERY dead and living tree in the transect would be recorded. Information on each tree (height, etc…) should be recorded. Even if there are 5000 living trees and 1200 dead trees, this is a practical number. Geologists do this wort of detailed mapping all the time.

Next, the mappers could cut a cross-section from every dead tree and (say) 15% of the living trees, measure ring widths of the cores back at their lab and crossdate the cores using standard dendro techniques. Some proportion of the cores would not be crossdatable (especially those with relatively few rings), but suppose that 80% were crossdatable.

One would then end up with a data base of more than 800 crossdated subfossil cores and more than 500 crossdated living trees, each with exact coordinates and altitude. From our experience at Almagre, we know that a single dendro can collect tens of cores per working day and that the measurement of ring widths is automated and can be done relatively inexpensively. If “root collars” are the form in which subfossil data is available for older stunmps (e.g. medieval), then it would be prudent to sample living trees and standing dead trees at root collar as well as chest level, to facilitate analysis, rather than simply rejecting root collar data. While bending over may be a slight imposition on field dendros, geologists regularly bend over to examine rocks and I’m sure that dendros could be found to take cores at root collar as well as chest level. If not, I’d suggest that some field geologists be trained to do root collar cores.

I realize that this is an optimistic proposal. CRU dendros prefer to stay in East Anglia. Indeed, to my knowledge, no CRU dendro has ever even been to Yamal or Polar Urals. But there are capable Russian dendros who might be encouraged to take on this sort of program. From this sort of database, one could do real analysis, without having to listen to tiresome CRU whinging about poor replication. If one were lucky, one might even be able to accurately measure changes in treeline through the medieval period and Little Ice Age and modern warming, thereby obtaining a proxy that would be convincing to all parties to the debate. If the transect were properly marked, dendros could return to it in the future and definitively measure changes.

Optimistic or not, the collection of a dataset of over 1000-1500 crossdated cores from one (or two) well-located altitudinal transects at Polar Urals is one answer to the RC question.


  1. Yancey Ward
    Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 10:46 AM | Permalink

    High quality data makes it harder to hide peas.

  2. ThinkingScientist
    Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 12:09 PM | Permalink

    It seems remarkable that the professional dendro community aren’t actively proposing and executing comprehensive data collection programmes in order to try resolve important issues related to climate change over the last thousand years.

    Maybe they want to “hide the decline” of proper, observational science, based on proper field work. No student wanting to qualify as a geologist or gain a PhD in geology would get away with lab based analysis – extensive field work and mapping are mandatory in the training of geologists. For a Phd, sometimes over several summers.

    Why do such high profiles dendro’s as we have at CRU simply seem to sit on their hands and re-analyse (cherry pick?) through old data? Don’t they have PhD students keen to go on proper expeditions, don’t they want to develop collaborations with high profile universities in other countries? What about proper survey sampling design? Given the high profile and funding available for all kinds of climate research, even on flimsy pretexts, it would seem straightforward and natural for a high profile institution such as CRU to be highly active in modern data collection programmes.

    Where is their natural curiosity?

    • Skiphil
      Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 5:56 PM | Permalink

      Steve’s proposal seems like a reasonable way for CRU and other climate scientists who have published papers on any Siberian paleo data to get their field on track and test various hypotheses more rigorously. Given the claims large claims made from such small and (potentially) unrepresentative data sets, it is long past time for the CRU & co. to step up their game. In the immortal words of Joelle Gergis, “This is commonly referred to as ‘research’.”

    • Duster
      Posted Jun 25, 2013 at 5:36 PM | Permalink

      Professional “dendros” have better things to do with their time than chasing climate data for climatologists.

  3. John Norris
    Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 2:07 PM | Permalink

    I’d much rather see money spent on collecting better data then climate scientists cooking up a new method of filtering weak data into something worse. I hope they go ahead and get some grant money and quit torturing the current data.

  4. Anthony Watts
    Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 2:36 PM | Permalink

    I like your proposal, but doubt it can be done within the constraints of the Starbuck’s Hypothesis, unless of course you had an Army of volunteers and there was a Starbucks somewhere in the Polar Urals.

  5. Steven Mosher
    Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 2:48 PM | Permalink

    Steve. what are you smoking? There is no way such work could ever be done. Not in one lifetime.
    Moreoever I’d like to see the site revisited over a span of years, you know to update the proxies.

    Enough with the pipe dreams. This kind of work will never be done. If it were ever done you’d see dendro’s clamoring to work with the data.

    Let’s face it. As with the historical temperature data the proxy record is what it is. As much as it sucks it is all we have to work with.

    • Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 3:01 PM | Permalink

      3 grad students in 100 days if they have a good work ethic. 20 trees measrued/mapped per student per day = 6,000 trees.

    • Neill
      Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 7:27 PM | Permalink

      I can’t tell whether you’re kidding or not — honestly.

      Of course it’s feasible for anyone whose top priority is scientific conclusions based on solid data vs. crap. You’re just saying that the ‘consensus’ prefers the crap, for whatever reason.

      Your stance is vague, to say the least.

      • Steven Mosher
        Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 11:30 PM | Permalink

        who me kid?

    • MrPete
      Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 7:39 PM | Permalink

      Re: Steven Mosher (Jun 23 14:48),
      Lest others imagine that Mosher is joking, just look at the long history on which we can draw. This kind of thing was discussed here at CA seven years ago.

      • Steve McIntyre
        Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 9:06 PM | Permalink

        As a note to readers, there’s a punch line to the present post. Speculations are invited. Hint 1: I was thinking of entitling this post as “Mole 2”. Hint 2: Mosher knows the punchline.

        • Szilard
          Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 11:33 PM | Permalink

          OMG! The secret suppressed dendro-cache exists!

        • Steven Mosher
          Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 11:37 PM | Permalink

          Looks like Mashey might get his question answered.

    • mt
      Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 8:16 AM | Permalink

      You’re right Mosh, it’s absurd to expect scientists to do that amount of work.

      • Szilard
        Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 8:35 AM | Permalink

        Excellent! Presumably that paper is SM’s “punch line”.

        Steve: 🙂 Also Shiyatov and Mazepa 2011 (Contemporary Problems in Ecology) which reports 888 crossdated subfossil cores from two transects at Polar Urals (with living trees over and above that). A 1995 SHiyatov paper covered in a 2005 CA post paper available online at CA, already reported that more than 400 subfossil and 350 living trees had been crossdated. I have a longish post in preparation describing the Shiyatov work. Interested readers may wish to re-examine Briffa et al 2013 to try to find any reference to the extent of Shiyatov’s work.

        • Skiphil
          Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 11:04 AM | Permalink

          This makes the “Potemkin Village” reference below even more appropriate for how CRU has portrayed the Polar Urals data…??

        • MrPete
          Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 12:08 PM | Permalink

          Re: Szilard (Jun 24 08:35),
          WOW. Finally some real field biology! Confirms many things we’ve long suspected. And the contrast with the ring-width hockey stick is wonderful evidence that ground reality can’t just be ignored 🙂

        • Steven Mosher
          Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 12:25 PM | Permalink

          now wait just a minute. how do you expect Briffa to know about Shiyatov’s work when John Mashey didnt and Hank Roberts didnt? Its not like Shiyatov was a co author with Briffa. duh. err oops.

      • seanbrady
        Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 10:42 AM | Permalink


      • Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 12:16 PM | Permalink

        Great find mt, wasn’t aware of that one.

      • RobertInAz
        Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 7:27 PM | Permalink

        Wow! Just wow!
        I am completely gobsmacked!
        Steve Mc. Puhlease tell us how long you have known about this work.

      • ThinkingScientist
        Posted Jun 25, 2013 at 2:04 AM | Permalink


  6. Mooloo
    Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 3:01 PM | Permalink

    Of course it could be funded. Greenpeace could afford it, if it were important to them. You can’t tell me that to keep a team in the field for a summer would cost more than a million dollars. They could probably round up a cheap but properly trainable set of field agents too.

    But it isn’t a priority of theirs. A much more expensive boat is, because accurate data is something they most certainly don’t want to see and floating propaganda is.

    • Steven Mosher
      Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 5:16 PM | Permalink

      would you contribute funds?

      • Tom Gray
        Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 6:46 PM | Permalink

        That is what Kickstarter and other sites are for.

        • Steven Mosher
          Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 7:04 PM | Permalink

          hehe.. that is all

  7. ThinkingScientist
    Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 3:02 PM | Permalink

    Steve Mosher says “There is no way such work could ever be done. Not in one lifetime.”

    Why on earth not? Its not like we are asking people to cleaning out the Augean stables or anything. If archeological digs can be run on a shoestring, supported by volunteers and PhD students, why not this? Cost wise, it probably wouldn’t make a dent in the tea & biscuit fund for a suitable corporate sponsor. I bet Shell (already financial supporters of CRU), could be persuaded.

    From the numbers SteveM gives, it could probably be done in one summer with 10 – 15 volunteers/PhD students etc.

    What is it with climate science – the fate of the world may depend on climate change but we cannot spend one summer and find a dozen or two people to actually collect some proper data? What on earth is so hard about coring some trees and doing some basic field survey work? Or, from the perspective of places like CRU, is it more important not to do it? After all, who wants data to get in the way of a good model? Divergence anybody?

    • Steven Mosher
      Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 5:13 PM | Permalink

      Look, these scientists care about the planet. we are talking saving our grand children. If such a project were feasible it would already have been taken on. The data would be there and folks would be looking at it. the freakin planet is at stake. Don’t believe me? go ask the question on RC, ask them if such a project were feasible. I will abide by their answer.

      • Brian
        Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 5:30 PM | Permalink

        Of course its feasible. It takes a visionary, ambitious scientist to design, sell and implement such a field study. Government money is available, see University of the Arctic and similar organizations.
        What is lacking is the will and support from current dendros. But as you say Steve, this is unlikely, it seems to me they would rather waste time and effort on the opposite side of the world.

        If dendros were really concerned, they would find a way to get it done. My experience tells me 7-8 grad students, 2 supervisors and 3 technician in a two year program would produce three or four Mscs. and three or four Phds thesis. Its been done for other things it can be done for this.

        • Steve McIntyre
          Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 5:50 PM | Permalink

          CRU got STG231,441.00 in the grant which funded Briffa et al 2013. Despite being handsomely funded, it appears that no one from CRU ever even visited Polar Urals or Yamal. Nor does it appear that a single new measurement was made as a result of the grant. It sure doesn’t seem like there’s much to show from this grant.

        • Steven Mosher
          Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 6:23 PM | Permalink

          look, if this kind of thing were feasible it would have been done. First off, there is no starbucks in Russia.

        • Skiphil
          Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 6:27 PM | Permalink

          oh but they do have Starbucks in Russia! (though perhaps only in Moscow):

          There can be a tent version of Starbucks for the dendro expedition….

        • DGH
          Posted Jun 25, 2013 at 5:01 AM | Permalink

          Not much to show for this grant? 😉

          I’d like to read the references of each of the publications.

        • AntonyIndia
          Posted Jun 25, 2013 at 5:51 AM | Permalink

          @DGH Briffa and Osborn tied up with Uk, Swedish, Austrian,Canadian, Swiss and German organizations. As their project ´will seek to systematically reassess and quantify the evidence for divergence in many tree-ring data sets around the Northern Hemisphere´ the biggest Northern nation is a glaring omission here; Russia. NERC´s £231,441 is going to be strangely spend.

    • Steve McIntyre
      Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 5:58 PM | Permalink

      Aren’t you underestimating the manpower requirements for a CRU program? One CRU employee to hold the drill and 15 to rotate the tree.

      • Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 7:34 PM | Permalink

        Re: Steve McIntyre (Jun 23 17:58), And considering that one would have to rotate it through the ground plane — literally — by pulling up the roots — even they may be reluctant to take it on.

  8. JCM
    Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 3:26 PM | Permalink

    Ask Al Gore and his friends to sponsor the work.
    Al Jazeera can report the progress live via the internet.

  9. jim2
    Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 3:38 PM | Permalink

    When it comes to sub-fossil wood, how does one know where it once grew? My impression is that these trees have been washed down hills into gullies and streams. Doesn’t it make use of them problematic?

    Steve: you’re mixing up Yamal and Polar Urals. You’re right about Yamal (which is lowlying) but not about POlar Urals, where subfossil stumps are in situ in alpine tundra.

    • dfhunter
      Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 4:30 PM | Permalink


      have a read/view this thread

      Steve: not relevant to Polar urals/

      • Steve McIntyre
        Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 5:28 PM | Permalink

        Here is a Google Earth image showing the reported location of the Briffa et al 2013 Polar Urals sites (according to the table in their SupMat3). Readers can see that this is alpine, not lowlying Yamal.


        The Schweingruber site is not accurately reported by B13, as the reported location is in tundra. Schweingruber also located his Pike’s Peak sample off by many miles, something noticed at the time of Almagre. The purlasi_sc is located some distance away from purlasi.

        Given that it is recognized that even slight moves of thermometers require adjustment of the records to align them, one would presume the same of treemometers. That purlasi_sc has nearly twice the average width of purlasi seems like something that ought to have interested CRU.

  10. KNR
    Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 4:18 PM | Permalink

    You could do that , or admit that has a way of find put past temperatures trees are a bit rubbish. The ‘need ‘ for this data has meant that all the know problems with it have been ‘kicked into the long grass ‘ good politics but poor science.

  11. Manniac
    Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 4:33 PM | Permalink

    The Starbucks Hypothesis 2.0 : Build it and they will come.

    • DocMartyn
      Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 6:07 PM | Permalink

      I like the cut of your Jib young man, but as this is Russia, what about a Potemkin village Starbuck’s; cheaper.

  12. Nicholas
    Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 5:04 PM | Permalink

    At the very least, any dendrological data collected in the last 12 years or so should have GPS coordinates recorded for each tree/fossil cored plus digital photographs from multiple angles. Collecting that data is about 1 minute of work. If you have a digital camera with built-in GPS (many these days), more like 30 seconds…

    That should be enough to find the tree again later if necessary, especially since ~2007 when GPS has been accurate to within about 3m.

    From what I’ve read, there hasn’t been a great deal of work done in this area in the last 12 years though.

    • DCA
      Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 11:08 AM | Permalink

      As a land surveyor I’ve got a Leica gps system with an accuracy of 10mm at least in the central US. It’s not cheap at $50k.

      • Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 7:11 PM | Permalink

        I had no idea that a 10mm level of portable GPS accuracy was possible, even at $50K. Cool.

        As an aside, II wonder what the marginal cost curve for accuracy is. I presume it goes near-vertical as you get to the absolute state of the art. Wonder if anyone’s walking around with a $1 million piece of equipment that can do 1mm.

        • Posted Jun 25, 2013 at 9:49 AM | Permalink

          Well this post is obviously pure sarcasm so I don’t know why I’m wasting any time on this, but you don’t need that kind of accuracy, and moreover you don’t need to GPS each individual in the first place if your goal is a retrospective of demography as a function of climate, which it is. That’s not how you map trees in the field efficiently.

        • MrPete
          Posted Jun 25, 2013 at 11:59 AM | Permalink

          Re: stevepostrel (Jun 24 19:11),
          Look back a bit and you’ll discover that the available metadata is often off by 10-1000km.

          10mm is only one letter different, but it’s a pretty important letter.

          That was one reason why it took us several trips to find the location of the originally-sampled Almagre trees. The available metadata was essentially useless.

        • Nicholas
          Posted Jun 25, 2013 at 4:40 PM | Permalink

          Maybe you don’t need GPS locations for each individual tree but it’s easy to do and guarantees replicability so why not do it? The resulting ring data can easily be tagged with the GPS lat/long so that there’s never any confusion in future about which core came from where, I was just suggesting this as a bare minimum standard on the basis that it’s so easy these days – as I said, well under a minute’s work to record the data compared with (I assume) much longer to do the actual sampling. While Mr. McIntyre’s suggested survey methodology in the post is probably better, it’s also likely more labour-intensive and expensive than simply standing in front of each tree and pressing a button on a $200 digital camera (w/GPS tagging capability).

        • Posted Jun 26, 2013 at 11:53 PM | Permalink

          Re: stevepostrel (Jun 24 19:11), We use Trimble and can get sub-meter accuracy for about $6K — we can add antennas and range finders to improve accuracy and ease of mapping — perhaps now $15K. Why do that? In some remote areas the coverage is shaky and accuracy degrades. Not all maps are created equal — we have found errors of 6 to 10KM on rarely updated maps. I buy and implement this equipment and the various mapping technologies for our company. Many assume that a $200 camera or a $400 GPS will get you back to the same spot. On some days yes — some days no. It depends on topology and the satellite distribution and location. Our fancy GPS equipment gives us graphs and indicators of when we can achieve repeatable accuracy.

          Using a search engine and looking at the high end GPS info will confirm this information. We do not need sub cm accuracy — but we definitely need in the range of a few centimeters considering that most claim jumping is technical these days — not by force of arms. So we use GPS, GLONASS etc as required.

          Would I rather use a high accuracy GPS for asset/tree survey work — yes — the camera is built in — and we can load local maps wherever we have cell phone service — or pre-load high accuracy local maps and satellite overlays and even direct feeds… Not cheap — but not terribly expensive if the need is there.

          And that’s enough on that. Look up the rest if you have interest. Some of this may seem cryptic — if you dig around and read up it will make a lot more sense.

    • MrPete
      Posted Jun 25, 2013 at 5:36 PM | Permalink

      Re: Nicholas (Jun 23 17:04),
      While it’s non-trivial (from personal experience), it certainly does not have to take a long time to record good metadata.

      Sadly, these kinds of records have NOT been kept that long. We certainly weren’t the first, but it was unusual when we did it. (search for Almagre and you’ll find links here to our efforts.)

      • Duke C.
        Posted Jun 26, 2013 at 3:05 PM | Permalink

        MrPete, I hear what you’re saying.

        We encountered the same problems last year at Sheep Mountain/Patriarch grove. I cataloged tag numbers for ~18-20 BCPs in the area. Thus far, none of the ID series numbers match up with anything in ITRDB. I’ve search by author (Graybill, Salzer, Hughes, Ababneh).Nothing.

        And there’s evidence that BCPs in that area have been intentionally de-tagged:

        It’s hard to see in the image, but the two tags have been snipped off, the mounting nails left intact. Vandalism or natural causes don’t seem likely.

        There may be a simple explanation for “un”identifying a tree, but I’m at a loss for now.

        • MrPete
          Posted Jun 26, 2013 at 10:12 PM | Permalink

          Re: Duke C. (Jun 26 15:05),
          You might want to browse through the lookup tables in our Almagre metadata spreadsheet. Perhaps some of the ID tags you collected would match a pattern.

          It’s true: tree tags may have no correlation to ITRDB… but somewhere (probably lost in the caverns of LTRR 🙂 ) there’s a conversion table.

          That photo you provided looks like it came from a VERY large tree. They may be wanting to avoid making it too easy for vandals/souvenir hunters to discover a famous old tree and destroy it 😦

  13. Dr K.A. Rodgers
    Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 5:23 PM | Permalink


    You take me back to my days of teaching second year field geology as well as the time I stunned an overseas colleague by constructing a 1:10 map of a geothermal spring and assocaited despoist in just a couple of hours with some bits of string, a few twigs, and a builders tape I just happened to carry in my pack. They were even more gobsmacked when the map appeared in press to provide a key for metadata in the paper following approving noises from referees.

    It is just so easy. Shucks, an area such as you suggest could be plane tabled without too much hassle; couple of day max. And may I suggest a spray can or two. Great for boundaries, even better for sighting on sample sites.

  14. Andrew
    Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 5:38 PM | Permalink

    Anyone notice this exchange at Real Climate:

    82. Martin Vermeer says:
    22 Jun 2013 at 1:48 PM

    Jim, no, I’m not talking curve fitting. I must say that I sympathise with your PNAS reviewers… I don’t get what you mean either 🙂

    [Response:Readers will notice that someone here at RealClimate has seen fit to delete my extended comment to Martin (without justification and without any notice), so hold on while I re-compose it.–Jim]

    [Response:Original comment: Then I’m not sure what application of least squares you are referring to. As for understanding the issue, the reviewers, who were (supposedly) tree ring experts, had available to them a huge amount of detailed information. I have discussed the issue in great detail beginning here and going to here. The problem is as follows. The RCS method is designed to estimate the age/size effect by taking an ~ mean ring response for each age/size in the data set. But this is only fully accurate if each sampled age/size fully samples the environmental space covered over the full time period. If instead you have, for example, a situation in which early rings preferentially sample one end of that continuum, while later rings tend to sample the opposite end, this will cause the entire RCS “regional curve” to be biased by a constantly increasing amount over time. Not just at the series ends, and not with offsetting errors in the middle as claimed by Briffa and Melvin, but the entire curve, from one end to the other. This is the main point in my series on that whole topic at my blog, is easily demonstrable with a flexible growth model that can produce any type of age/size effect, and was the point of a PNAS paper I submitted last year (but which was rejected because the reviewers completely failed to understand this issue and the evidence I presented for it). This problem is one reason–and only one–for why trying to estimate climate states over long periods, from tree ring widths, is completely unreliable. Completely.–Jim

  15. ColinD
    Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 5:48 PM | Permalink

    What Steve Mac suggests is as unremarkable to field biologists as it is to geologists. An 800 m transect is chicken feed, try 50 km that I was involved with recently or 2000 km in Southern Africa documenting biological soil crusts (Budel et al 2009). I montitor 2 – 5 km transects annually.

  16. Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 6:01 PM | Permalink

    You can buy GPS enabled quad-copters for about 800$. Add a GoPro-type camera with GPS and a bunch of extra batteries and you could map the and photograph the area without leaving your tent.

    I bet you can even have the copter fly a grid using gps.

    I bet you could core the trees too using next year’s version.

  17. ThinkingScientist
    Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 6:04 PM | Permalink

    Its as though the last great superhero was Schweingruber and there is now no-one who could ever surpass such a feat.

    Its just pathetic nonsense. One summer expedition arranged as a high profile expedition, requiring inter-university cooperation with 10 – 15 post-grads to collect the data to test the climate proxy hypothesis. I cannot see what the fuss is about. Its pathetic: expeditions far more adventurous than this get organised by individuals everyday to raise money for charity, never mind being properly funded as something like this could very easily be. Field work is done in multiple disciplines across the globe every day, in far more difficult circumstances than this. If my son, aged 16, can raise GBP4,000 by himself to go and do voluntary work in Ecuador aftr his school exams this year, I am sure a famous univeristy department with excellent connections to large corporate sponsors (such as CRU has) can field a project for such a worthy and scientifically important cause. If they cannot, what use are they? Little more than librarians it would seem, writing erudite papers without getting their hands dirty.

    • Steven Mosher
      Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 6:27 PM | Permalink

      Its as though the last great superhero was Schweingruber and there is now no-one who could ever surpass such a feat.

      hehe. you’d think that… but who knows.. next some looney skeptic will suggest this expedition has already taken place and the data sits somewhere collecting dust… dreamers and conspiracy nuts..

      Steve Mc: A secret dendro collection unknown to CRU?? Even Lewandowsky hasnt suggested this… Area 51…. hmmmm

      • AndyL
        Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 12:59 AM | Permalink

        Like the story of the two economists walking down the street when one says “look, there’s a $100 bill lying on the ground”, and the other says “there can’t be because if there was, someone would already have picked it up”.

      • Jeff Alberts
        Posted Jun 26, 2013 at 11:30 AM | Permalink

        Area 061

        • jeez
          Posted Jun 26, 2013 at 1:44 PM | Permalink


    • Tom Yoke
      Posted Jun 25, 2013 at 3:13 PM | Permalink

      Your phrase, “little more than librarians, writing erudite papers without getting their hands dirty”, irresistibly brought to mind a famous passage from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. Early in the 1st volume an effete ‘scientist’ visiting from the dying Empire explains his method to the hero Hardin:

      Hardin remained silent for a short while. Then he said, “When did Lameth write his book?”
      “Oh–I should say about eight hundwed yeahs ago. Of cohse, he has based it lahgely on the pwevious wuhk of Gleen.”
      “Then why rely on him? Why not go to Arcturus and study the remains for yourself?”
      Lord Dorwin raised his eyebrows and took a pinch of snuff hurriedly. “Why, whatevah foah, my deah fellow?”
      “To get the information firsthand, of course.”
      “But wheah’s the necessity? It seems an uncommonly woundabout and hopelessly wigmawolish method of getting anywheahs. Look heah, now, I’ve got the wuhks of all the old mastahs–the gweat ahchaeologists of the past. I wigh them against each othah–balance the disagwee- ments–analyze the conflicting statements–decide which is pwobably cowwect–and come to a conclusion. That is the sciectific method. At least”–patronizingly–“as I see it. How insuffewably cwude it would be to go to Ahctuwus, oah to Sol, foah instance, and blundah about, when the old mastahs have covahed the gwound so much moah effec- tually than we could possible hope to do.”
      Hardin murmured politely, “I see.”

      • Jeff Alberts
        Posted Jun 26, 2013 at 11:32 AM | Permalink

        I think you mean Hari Seldon.

        • Tom Yoke
          Posted Jun 26, 2013 at 2:36 PM | Permalink

          Nope, I mean Salvor Hardin.

  18. Fred Hubler
    Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 6:45 PM | Permalink

    Previously Siberian Larch tree ring data from the Yamal peninsula were provided to Briffa by Russian dendrochronologists Stephan Shiyatov and Rashit Hantemirov. In a climategate email from October 1998 Hantemirov writes that there is no evidence of movement of polar timberline in the last century.

    However, in 2005 the Canadian Journal of Forest Research published an article based on Shiyatov’s work which stated that a large number of well preserved tree remains can be found 60 – 80 meters above the current tree line, and that the earliest distinct maximum in stand density occurred in the 11th to 13th centuries coincident with the MWP.

  19. Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 6:54 PM | Permalink

    A substantive amount of representative data carefully gathered?

    What a concept!


    Your list should have wide distribution to highlight the scarcity of such data.

  20. Old Mike
    Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 7:56 PM | Permalink

    Steve, Steve,
    For heaven’s sake, real meaningful data? That would spoil the game and make hiding peas far too hard.

  21. LearDog
    Posted Jun 23, 2013 at 9:45 PM | Permalink

    you guys crack me up. But Steve’s point is a good one. Time for Dendros to put up….

  22. Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 12:17 AM | Permalink

    I got twenty bucks.

  23. Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 12:19 AM | Permalink

    Actually, at some point I should have a lot more, when Joey Romm has to fork over his failed bet on temperatures. I already said Mr. McIntyre would receive my winnings, if any. (I laid off half the bet with Les Johnson, so I can only commit $500.) If Steve wants, he can put it towards an Expedition…

  24. Hector Pascal
    Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 3:45 AM | Permalink

    The obvious answer is to hold the next Conference of Partygoers at Polar Urals. They’re all dedicated to solving the problem of the greatest existential that Earth has ever faced.

    Each delegate can be issued with a notebook and pencil, GPS monitor and corer. Lets say 5 cores per day from 20,000 Partygoers = 100,000 cores. All at UN and NGO expense.

    What could possibly go wrong?

  25. peter7m
    Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 5:34 AM | Permalink

    My guess:

    Schweingruber or one of his researchers / Uni cohorts has emailed Steve (put up on a list server) the data. While CRU played at working with Excel, these people went out and cored away.

    Free the data!

  26. bernie1815
    Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 6:16 AM | Permalink

    Typo “wort” => “sort”. Last sentence 6th paragraph.
    For a moment I thought you had geologists brewing hooch in the woods!

    Also amongst the humor, sarcasm and cryptic references, I am unsure whether someone has actually executed a program similar to the one you outlined. Can you be more explicit?

  27. EdeF
    Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 10:00 AM | Permalink

    Man, you guys are slooooowwwww.

    It’s obviously ClimateGate Cache # 3. CRU has had the data all along. Zing.

    • Steve McIntyre
      Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 12:17 PM | Permalink

      there’s an interesting collection of Polar Urals data in the CG1 documents. The dataset briffa-treering-external/stepan/rai-iz.rwm is a measurement dataset that is not described but can be shown to come from Polar Urals: the name rai-iz is from Rai-Iz massif and some of the individual cores correspond to cores in the polurula dataset. CRU received this data in 1997 but didn’t use it. It is a subset of the large Shiyatov dataset but has better coverage than pou_la, but wasn’t used or referenced, even though it was sitting within CRU files.

    • Yancey Ward
      Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 4:54 PM | Permalink

      It has been amusing reading this thread.

  28. R
    Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 2:31 PM | Permalink

    There are several locations you could undertake a program like this within 16 hours drive from your house Steve – perhaps you can get some CA people to volunteer 😉

    Steve: I can’t do everything in the world. I have other priorities on my time and energy. But regardless, how on earth does this diminish the relevance of an apparently excellent dataset on the Polar Urals or justify Briffa’s failure to utilize or even report the existence of this dataset?

    • RomanM
      Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 4:24 PM | Permalink

      I take it that this means that you are volunteering for such an endeavor. It could be an excellent educational experience for you to learn what real climate science is all about. 🙂

      • R
        Posted Jun 25, 2013 at 12:47 AM | Permalink

        You’re implying that you can actually reconstruct climate from tree rings 😛

        We will leave to go right after you develop an improved method to RCS 😉

        • RomanM
          Posted Jun 25, 2013 at 6:40 AM | Permalink

          I have said nothing about reconstructing “climate” (whatever that word may specifically mean to you) from tree rings although I am of the opinion that one can get some information about historical local growth conditions using them.

          As far as improving RCS methodology, I have already implemented a relatively uncomplicated empirically based technique which simultaneously estimates an RCS curve and a chronology as opposed to the sequential methods generally used today. However, this is OT for this particular thread…

          … but be sure to pack some warm clothing.

        • Posted Jun 25, 2013 at 9:33 AM | Permalink

          Whether it’s sequential or simultaneous is not critical; Martin Vermeer was apparently arguing for something similar at RealClimate. What matters is whether it accurately removes the age/size effect or not. There is no “uncomplicated” way to do that, depending on one’s definition of that term, and the only way to properly test any such method is with a tree growth model that incorporates a dependence on environmental state variable(s).

          [RomanM: I have replied to your comment here.]

  29. Christian
    Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 3:58 PM | Permalink

    What am I missing here? Why is field work considered ‘not feasible’?

    As Steve has done, I do field work for mineral exploration all the time, and the field requirements set out by Steve are not onerous. Also I have some idea of the costs if these were paid field crews in the Urals, as I supervise work there already. It is straightforward to cost it, depending on knowing the chosen location as some areas in the northern Urals are remote. The sampling specifications need to be drawn up so that a standard protocol can be developed. For a team effort of this kind, field crews (including students) can be trained by specialists before mobilization. The use of GPS and satellite imagery make the surveying aspect much simpler, with adequate detailed 1:100,000 topo maps available for preparation and planning. Apart from 1-2 dendrologists as team leader(s), an experienced base manager with cook/driver to support would be ideal, the crew numbers depending on the job specifications and timing.

    So what is the problem? We know there is no shortage of funds for climate-related research work. Is it an absence of field-trained scientists? Or is no-one asking the questions? Do dendro-folk not do field work any more?

    Steve: Shiyatov has done plenty of field work. But why didn’t CRU use it?

    • mpainter
      Posted Jun 25, 2013 at 1:13 PM | Permalink

      This, of course is the essential question. Could it be that the personnel of CRU are not motivated by such standards to which other scientists ordinarily aspire? I think that their game is different, with different motivations and different objectives, compared to other scientists.

  30. Steven Mosher
    Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 5:34 PM | Permalink

    stay tuned

    • Jeff Norman
      Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 7:11 PM | Permalink

      You tease you.

  31. Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 6:21 PM | Permalink

    Wonderful stuff, Steve, wonderfully told.

  32. jim2
    Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 7:01 PM | Permalink

    This is a great find SM. I appreciate your blog. I’ve learned a lot – mostly when I keep my mouth shut.

  33. RobertInAz
    Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 7:34 PM | Permalink

    Everyone checking inat the pbottom of this post needs to backtrack up to

  34. ColinD
    Posted Jun 24, 2013 at 10:29 PM | Permalink

    Hmmm. It is starting to sound like the work Steve outlined has already been done and unpublished. Perhaps it tells an inconvenient truth?

  35. Geoff Sherrington
    Posted Jun 25, 2013 at 2:30 AM | Permalink

    I just looked at a random 100 photos of Yamal Peninsula. The only tree I saw is this one, which is possibly made of plastic.

    Most of the other images showed bleak snow and oil drilling.
    Seriously, the survey/map/sample/record program that Steve designed is so commonplace in mineral exploration that it’s childs’ play –maybe that was the problem in the past. There are banks of Russian choppers in Yamal to service oil work that might be seconded. (We often had to walk to remote locations of minerals for absence of low cost choppers).
    Also, my reading of Climategate gives an impression of tension between Briffa with the $ and Russian workers with the need for $. Experience would show this could well be a toxic situation that would need cross checking to validate the data. Relations can get so bad that when the boss puts on a boot in the morning, someone with a grudge has lobbed a turd into it.

  36. Posted Jun 25, 2013 at 9:17 AM | Permalink

    While this thread is specifically about tree ring data in a fairly inaccessible part of Russia it shows up an important wider issue – that of quantity and quality of data.

    For most temperature stations their location is given to an accuracy 0.01 degrees, approximately 1 km at the tropics. So there is no way to check whether or not current stations are suitably located.

    Secondly there has been a major drop-off in the number of stations reporting over the last couple of decades. This, bad enough as it is, is only part of the story. In the last 5 years I have worked with met data from about 20 countries worldwide and in almost all of them the quality of the data is worse than in earlier decades.

    Given the large sums of money spent in attempts to combat climate change a relatively small amount would lead to significant improvement in the data. It’s almost as if the government funded climate science community is afraid that better data would weaken their case for more grants.

    • Steven Mosher
      Posted Jun 25, 2013 at 11:57 AM | Permalink

      “Secondly there has been a major drop-off in the number of stations reporting over the last couple of decades. ”

      Actually you need to check your sources. we just went from 36,000 stations to 38,000 stations. And I suspect you see a new NCDC collection with upwards of 40K stations.

      • AJ
        Posted Jun 25, 2013 at 10:10 PM | Permalink

        Good to see an inclusive set of stations. It might prevent someone going off the rails like I did in this never to be finished work:

        Steve Mc: the “great dying” of stations was a myth – the myth discussed at CA on several occasions several years ago, but hard to kill. What happened was that GHCN failed to update its collection for about 20 years. Stations like Wellington NZ were missing from GHCN after 1991 but easily available on the internet.

        • Posted Jun 26, 2013 at 8:57 AM | Permalink

          “GHCN failed to update its collection for about 20 years.”

          Go Climate Science!


  37. Skiphil
    Posted Jun 25, 2013 at 3:48 PM | Permalink

    Since RC seems to be suffering some trigger-happy deletion problems, I am pasting a couple of interesting comments/questions here (in case they should disappear again over there):

    85. Comment 3. fred smith: “Aren’t the conclusions of 1 and 2 post hoc explanations for exclusion of data?”

    Comment 4. Tim Osborne: No. The fact that some Polar Urals cores were taken from root collars was noted at the time the samples were taken … For the second case, the potential problems with the Khadyta River site were also noted at the time the samples were taken …

    When ClimateAudit publicized information about Yamal in 2009, CRU published two responses at their website discussing McIntyre’s recent posts on this subject. Neither CRU post mentions root collars or permafrost (the postulated problem at Khadyta River). Now in 2013 – more than a decade after the field work was done and published and years after your initial reply to McIntyre – information appears concerning root collars and permafrost. Why doesn’t this constitute a post hoc exclusion of data? If this doesn’t, what would?

    Those of us who have knowledge of fields where confirmation bias is a widely recognized problem find such situations problematic. In the ideal case, you design your experiment, you collect as much of the data as you intended as possible, you analyze it by a pre-planned method, and publish the result. This process may lead to the hypothesis that a better answer lies in a subset of the data you initially collected or an alternative statistical treatment; a post hoc analysis that always risks confirmation bias. In critical fields such as human clinical trials, post hoc analyses aren’t acceptable, because everyone knows that one can usually find some sub-population that behaves as originally anticipated and devise a post hoc explanation. In those cases, the FDA demands that drug companies collect a new, independent data set with the patients (or trees) that are now hypothesized to provide the “right” answer. Of course, this isn’t always practical in dendrochronology, climate science or drug development. In that case, you are stuck with two possible answers to the question you were investigating: one answer arising from analysis of all the data you collected and analyzed, and a second answer arising from a subset or re-analysis of that data.

    Are you reviewing all of your earlier work to see if root collars or permafrost might have biased those results?

    [Response: Comment restored from trash folder.–Jim]

    86. Comment by Frank — 24 Jun 2013 @ 5:42 PM

    Martin Vermeer wrote:

    “Jim, actually it was having read your blog posts on this that made me bring up the least-squares proposition…”

    Jim’s posts on this topic form a very powerful argument in my opinion. I share his bewilderment on how a least squares approach can resolve the issues he very carefully lays out. Can you show how the least squares adjustment would improve the results from Jim’s flexible age model approach with synthetic data?

    [Response: Comment restored from the trash folder.–Jim]

    Comment by Matt Skaggs — 24 Jun 2013 @ 5:43 PM

    • Brandon Shollenberger
      Posted Jun 25, 2013 at 5:16 PM | Permalink

      The moderation battles are interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the like on RC before.

      • sue
        Posted Jun 25, 2013 at 9:41 PM | Permalink

        This was my comment, which is still in moderation, to Martin’s last response:

        Martin Vermeer says:
        25 Jun 2013 at 4:39 PM

        Jim, sure, we can try… drop me an email.

        sue says:
        Your comment is awaiting moderation.
        25 Jun 2013 at 8:15 PM

        Martin, why not discuss with Jim in the open?

      • Posted Jun 27, 2013 at 5:02 PM | Permalink

        I’ve been trying to level the field there for some time, in fact ever since I joined. I may tell the full story at some point.

        People see me as an RC member and think I must therefore be like everyone else there, part of “The Team” and so forth. Not the case; I’ve made my mistakes there, but generally speaking, I just want to see a good, fair discussion on these important issues, and if I have to force some things out into the open at times, I will.

        • sue
          Posted Jun 28, 2013 at 12:35 AM | Permalink

          +1 Jim. Honesty and openness are the best policy. They gain trust.

  38. dfhunter
    Posted Jun 25, 2013 at 5:52 PM | Permalink

    treeline graphs/data – very infomative to most people.

    seem to remember a comment here or BH from Rob Wilson that he was ready to do the same kind of paper for Scotland, maybe a year back(might be wrong)anybody know if this has happened ?

    • Steve McIntyre
      Posted Jun 27, 2013 at 1:31 PM | Permalink

      Rob Wilson emailed me as follows:

      Wrote a short response but for some reason it would not go through.
      Feel free to post the following

      Latest information for Scottish Pine Project can be found here:
      If all goes well, the first published “update” reconstruction should be submitted next year.

      As a quick response to Steve’s idealised approach. Yup – all well and good and I agree with it all. The reality is that for such replication requires multiple fieldtrips, several years (decades for Scandinavian work for example) and funding (plus bods on the ground). The reality is not so easy and funding is far from easy to acquire if you are considering, fieldwork, analytical costs (RW, MXD, isotopes etc), salaries etc. That is why there are so few millennial long chronologies from the high latitudes. The material is waiting there to be collected.

      • Tom Gray
        Posted Jun 27, 2013 at 4:24 PM | Permalink

        With the perceived importance of global warming, why is it difficult to obtain funding for important scientific work?

      • dfhunter
        Posted Jun 27, 2013 at 4:43 PM | Permalink

        thanks Steve/Rob for the link.
        remember at the time Rob asked for help wrt finding sub-fossil tree locations (lowland scot, so could not help)

        best of luck getting good data & funding Rob.

  39. Posted Jun 25, 2013 at 8:04 PM | Permalink

    Steve McI noted that Polar Urals
    On the surface seem almost ideal
    But work done so far (see these referrals)
    Show effects that reduce this appeal

    As the image below makes quite visible
    The base form of the larch trees has changed
    As they demonstrate there, it is risible
    To treat growth as if not rearranged

    It’s not how “old” the trees are, but “what”
    For the “trees” used to be “bush” or be “creeper”
    So you cannot just sit on your butt
    You must know! Staying home is just cheaper.

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

    • kim
      Posted Jun 26, 2013 at 8:41 PM | Permalink

      Yawning, yon Yamal,
      The dawning greets and rises.
      Erect, six sigma.

  40. Posted Jun 25, 2013 at 8:05 PM | Permalink

    Ah. No pic would appear.
    You can see the thing here:

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

  41. David L. Hagen
    Posted Jun 25, 2013 at 9:45 PM | Permalink

    Guestimated costs


    Steve: as other readers surmised, the data has already been collected.

    • michael hart
      Posted Jun 27, 2013 at 1:13 PM | Permalink

      The most important experiments are worth doing twice. At least.

      Make that thrice if the data for the initial claims are held back for reasons genuine, or nefarious.

  42. MrPete
    Posted Jun 27, 2013 at 12:09 PM | Permalink

    Re: Duke C. (Jun 26 15:05),
    A few links that might help: – our data collection. The *.csv file has the Graybill tag map – photos, including typical Graybill tags – just found this in google! What Graybill submitted way back when…

    • Duke C.
      Posted Jun 28, 2013 at 12:37 PM | Permalink

      Thanks for this…

      My main interest was to gather actual site info wrt to the (Graybill) ca534 chronology and follow it through to Salzer and Ababneh. Efforts were confounded because ideal candidate trees(at least 300 years old, no evidence of fire or lightening damage per Ababneh thesis) have up to 3 tags.

      Also of interest, is that there was clear evidence of an ongoing research project (ground was freshly disturbed and there were ~60 brand new tags affixed) but since we were on site during the July 4th. holiday, we assumed that the research team had taken time off. Chatting with them would have been interesting. Thanks again.

      Steve: did you transcribe the tag information?

      • Duke C.
        Posted Jun 28, 2013 at 7:52 PM | Permalink

        Yes. Along with Latitude, longitude and elevation for each tree. Also photos and rough notes. However,it’s not even close to being a thorough survey of the area. I’ll be going up there again this year before the cold season. Will email you what I have (for now) this weekend.

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