The Obama administration has proposed, and the House of Representative has recently passed, sweeping legislation to deal with the problem of climate change or, more specifically, global warming. The problem is supposedly that human activity is releasing CO2 and this in turn is causing catastrophic increases in global temperatures. This hypothesis is supported in part by data from ground-based temperature recording stations situated around the world. The United States has 1,221 stations scattered across the continent and it is believed that the data obtained from these stations is among the most reliable and accurate available.
A recent report by the Surface Stations Project casts serious doubt on this assumption. Volunteers for the project have to date examined, photographed 819 of the stations and rated 807. Ratings are based on the Climate Reference Network Rating Guide – adopted from NCDC Climate Reference Network Handbook, 2002, specifications for siting (section 2.2.1) of NOAA’s new Climate Reference Network:
Class 1 (CRN1)- Flat and horizontal ground surrounded by a clear surface with a slope below 1/3 (<19deg). Grass/low vegetation ground cover <10 centimeters high. Sensors located at least 100 meters from artificial heating or reflecting surfaces, such as buildings, concrete surfaces, and parking lots. Far from large bodies of water, except if it is representative of the area, and then located at least 100 meters away. No shading when the sun elevation >3 degrees.
Class 2 (CRN2) – Same as Class 1 with the following differences. Surrounding Vegetation <25 centimeters. No artificial heating sources within 30m. No shading for a sun elevation >5deg.
Class 3 (CRN3) (error >=1C) – Same as Class 2, except no artificial heating sources within 10 meters.
Class 4 (CRN4) (error >= 2C) – Artificial heating sources <10 meters. Class 5 (CRN5) (error >= 5C) – Temperature sensor located next to/above an artificial heating source, such a building, roof top, parking lot, or concrete surface.”
The bottom line is that 89% of the sites examined to date are in categories 3, 4, or 5. In other words, they fail to meet established NOAA requirements.
A logical question would be, does it matter? Evidence indicates that it does. For example, here’s a photograph of a site that meets the standard:
The chart shows that the temperatures recorded by this station have actually declined over time. Compare this to the results from this poorly sited recording station:
The chart clearly shows warming. However, the cause of the warming is most likely the changes in the quality of the site over time, not due to human-induced increases in CO2.
In the business world we use quality and Lean Six Sigma to help us make good decisions based on facts and data. The process used is called DMAIC, or Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control. In the Measure phase we assure that we have valid, reliable data before moving on to analysis and improvement. This is a lesson that policy makers in Washington and elsewhere should learn before embarking on policies that will cost trillions of dollars.