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Physicist Muller’s ‘BEST’ Report Satisfies Few In Reaffirming Validity of Temperature Station Records

‘BEST’ researchers release not-yet-peer-reviewed findings supporting validity of temperature station records and rejecting urban heat island arguments. Climate ‘skeptics,’ having anticipated good news, cry foul … and climatologists long supportive of the evidence wonder, ‘So? What’s New?’

Editor’s Note:Findings of a closely watched independent research effort headed by Berkeley Professor Richard Muller reinforce evidence produced by NASA, NOAA, and the Hadley Center, undercutting positions taken by many climate “skeptics” concerning land temperature stations and effects of urbanization.

Having in some ways jumped on the “BEST” bandwagon in hopes it would strengthen their case, skeptics were quick to reject the findings, which Muller wrote support long-held findings based on evidence. Some scientists long convinced of the soundness of their concerns in effect said the Muller team’s findings provide more impetus for what they’ve been saying all along: the temperature station data are legitimate, and urban heat island effects don’t change that equation.

A posting by Peter Gleick, of the Pacific Institute, was mockingly headlined: “Breaking News: The Earth Goes Around the Sun, and It’s Still Warming Up.”

“Oh, we already knew that,” Gleick opened his post.

The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project (with the humble acronym BEST) has been working on some novel ways of addressing shortcomings of the world’s land temperature stations.

The research team, led by Berkeley physics professor Richard Muller, now has released four new papers (submitted, but not yet peer-reviewed or published) covering a number of topics:

  • new methods of dealing with problematic station data;
  • evaluating effects of urbanization on global temperatures;
  • looking at how big an impact station siting makes; and
  • examining short-term variability in the temperature record.

The BEST analyses closely match existing land temperature records produced by NASA, NOAA, and the United Kingdom’s Hadley Centre, despite using differing techniques for station data analysis. They present additional evidence indicating that neither urbanization nor poor station siting has much of an influence on temperature records.

Berkeley physics professor Richard Muller

With the release of the new BEST reports came an impressive media blitz. Articles quickly appeared in The Economist, the Guardian, The New York Times, the BBC, and The Wall Street Journal and also throughout much of the more specialized blogosphere.

That media frenzy is somewhat unusual for papers that have neither been peer-reviewed nor actually published yet, and perhaps illustrates just how political this issue has become …. and how much attention the BEST effort had attracted from climate watchers both welcoming and doubting the merits of the effort.

That said, experts evaluating the BEST work largely agree with the researcher’s general thrust, and it is thought unlikely that the main conclusions will change after peer review and publication. The BEST researchers have also made their code and data available for the larger community to use to replicate their work and pursue additional studies.

The BEST reports contain a number of interesting enhancements in methods and results. They develop some novel methods for combining fragmentary station records and dealing with station re-locations and other problems, called “inhomogeneities,” that could lead to biases in the temperature record. They also develop a new spatial interpolation technique to considering individual stations and calculating temperature over large distances between them.

The video above (also available here) shows the BEST temperature reconstruction from 1800 to 2010 using 39,000 different weather stations. The results are quite similar to those produced by other groups, despite the inclusion of considerably more data, new techniques for dealing with inhomogeneities, and different spatial analysis techniques.

The new BEST paper on the Urban Heat Island effect addresses a common complaint raised by those skeptical of the surface temperature record. Muller and his coauthors used high-resolution satellite data to classify station locations as either urban or rural. They find, oddly enough, that urban stations are warming slightly less rapidly than rural stations. While more nuanced analyses can still be undertaken looking at different definitions of development and different ways of dealing with spatial coverage issues, these results suggest it is increasingly unlikely that much of the observed modern warming is the result of urbanization.

Similarly, the new paper on station siting reaffirms conclusions of previous papers by Menne et al and Fall et al that poorly sited stations have an average temperature trend nearly identical to that of well sited-stations. Muller and his coauthors concluded that “The absence of a statistically significant difference between the two [poorly and well-sited] sets suggests that networks of stations can reliably discern temperature trends even when individual stations have large absolute uncertainties.”

Muller has had a bit of a reputation as a climate “skeptic” in the past, and his conclusions from these studies, which he described in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed), are worth repeating:

When we began our study, we felt that skeptics had raised legitimate issues, and we didn’t know what we’d find. Our results turned out to be close to those published by prior groups. We think that means that those groups had truly been very careful in their work, despite their inability to convince some skeptics of that. They managed to avoid bias in their data selection, homogenization and other corrections. Global warming is real. Perhaps our results will help cool this portion of the climate debate. How much of the warming is due to humans and what will be the likely effects? We made no independent assessment of that.

Not surprisingly, some steadfast “skeptics” took heart from the last two sentences in Muller’s op-ed. But all in all, the BEST reports so far provide far less comfort than those skeptics had been hoping for, even if those supporting the so-called “consensus” science fault the effort for in some ways merely re-inventing the wheel.

*This feature was edited shortly after initial posting.

Zeke Hausfather

Zeke Hausfather, a data scientist with extensive experience with clean technology interests in Silicon Valley, is currently a Senior Researcher with Berkeley Earth. He is a regular contributor to The Yale Forum (E-mail:, Twitter: @hausfath).
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4 Responses to Physicist Muller’s ‘BEST’ Report Satisfies Few In Reaffirming Validity of Temperature Station Records

  1. Loren Cobb says:

    I think your article understates the statistical contributions made by the Berkeley team. Their new methods give absolute temperatures, not “anomalies” measured in differences from local baselines, they permit the use of vast quantities of data that were unusable before, and they do not require averaging to arbitrary grid cells. The deeper I have looked into the details of their methods, the more impressed I have become. I believe that their methods and results constitute a substantial achievement in the development of spatio-temporal statistical methods for climate science, with great long-run impact on both statistics and climate science.

  2. Michael Ioffe says:

    Land Temperature Anomalies could be the best for supporting that GHG do not playing so huge role in nature, if we will combine them with El Niño/La Niña.
    Please do not pay attention on this statement in first place.

    I am asking everyone to look carefully in my article and help me as best as you can.
    In my opinion it is very important for everyone in the world.

    How is climate change explain today science:

    Mankind activities increased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is GHG and trapped IR radiation. In result temperature increased, which help to increase evaporation of water, which also GHG and therefore temperature increased more. It is positive effect of water vapor.

    How I am trying to explain climate change:

    Main mistakes are mixing all greenhouse gases together and make all of them equally responsible for climate change.
    It is especially wrong for water vapor, which together with others properties of water actually cooling earth atmosphere.
    Water evaporated from all surfaces of oceans, seas, lakes, rivers,
    Water evaporated from leaves of any plants.
    Water evaporated from any wet surfaces.
    In atmosphere we always see dynamic processes of evaporation and condensation of water, as in drops of rain, as in tail after jet, as in clouds, fog, etc.
    Evaporations of water need energy. To evaporate 1 kg of water we need 539 kcal of energy.
    Every condensation of water released energy in the same amount.
    Evaporation of water is cooling surfaces, from which evaporation occur and air close to those surfaces.
    It is reasons, why in summer time is always cooler close to oceans, seas, lakes and rivers.

    We must pay attention, that only methane (CH4) is lighter than water vapor.
    Nitrous oxide (N2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen (N2), oxygen (O2), are heavier than water vapor.
    It property of water vapor helps convection forces to mix air with height.
    Here it will be helpful to repeat, what offer to us Wikipedia:
    “The temperature falls with height precisely because most of the atmosphere is convecting, which leads to a fall of temperature with height because of pdV work.”
    Fall of temperature with height helps condense some water vapor and create water droplets.
    This process released heat, which increase temperature of surrounded gases.
    Hotter air recreate convection forces, which bring some of air higher, where again some of water vapor will condensed and released additional heat.
    It dynamic process of partially condensation with height will repeat many times till upper troposphere (around ten kilometers high), where so cold that 99% of water vapor will condensed to water droplets.
    It process helps all gases in air bring energy 10 km close to space, where energy will go to space easy, than from oceans level.

    Mankind activity not only reduces evaporation of water from continents by deforestation, tilling land, growing the same crop on huge area.
    Mankind activity decreased reflection of direct sun radiation, by soot, roads, homes, cities, etc.
    Mankind activity correlate with energy, which we use. Most of energy, used by mankind increased carbon dioxide, which is ease use as coefficient in climate models.
    In reality carbon dioxide is playing not so significant role in climate change, as reduction of evaporation on continents and decreasing reflection of direct sun radiation.

    I AM ASKING EVERYONE who will read this post, please do not try to persuade me, that climate change scientists are right.
    I am asking to help me to found book, article or any other information where scientists prove that exactly properties of water (not only water vapor) are reason for climate change.

    Thank you, Michael Ioffe.

  3. Davey says:

    This part of Muller’s conclusion:

    “those groups had truly been very careful in their work, despite their inability to convince some skeptics of that.”

    shows an astonishing, yet almost understandable, level of naïveté on Muller’s part. The scientific enterprise works because it assumes our colleagues and peers are working with honest intent. However honesty is not a place where many climate “skeptics” and all climate change deniers are coming from. What is important to them is not the science, but the policy implications that the science leads to. To them if the science says that the world faces big problems from global warming, and that the only way to prevent or lesson those problems involves a combination of regulation and taxation, then it will never matter how convincing the science is or how carefully the science is conducted. If the science implies policy responses with which they disagree (for either financial or political reasons) their only logical response is to throw doubt on the science. Look at how the deniers are tying themselves up in knots trying to respond to the BEST study. And make no mistake, they may be thrown off their game right now but soon enough there will be another round of specious arguments about why the world is not actually warming, that whatever warming is (not) taking place won’t be that bad anyway, and besides even if it were warming (which it is not), that warming won’t be all that bad so we shouldn’t do anything about it.

  4. Jon Flatley says:

    Thank God we had Richard Muller to verify if thousands of scientists all over the world were doing their science correctly. He must be special to be one of the few on the entire planet to really be capable of rigorous treatment of the scientific method. Now that we have his comfirmation that the world is actually warming, now maybe we can move forward. That is…if Mr. Muller says it is okay to!