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Global warming – an obvious fact?


YOU might argue that to say the world is warming is an obvious fact. ‘But,’ as Sherlock Holmes remarked to Dr Watson*, ‘there is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.’

The meteorological fraternity tell us that as emissions keep growing the temperature of our earth will keep rising. Some of the effects, they say, can be seen in extreme weather such as floods, droughts and storms. However, research has shown the apparent escalation of this kind of event is far more likely to be due to a greater facility for reporting every incident over the last fifty years. Even more doubt lies in the fact that we have been widely recording weather details for about 150 of the 11,000 years since the last ice age. Any claims of records being broken can refer only to that brief period.

Assessing the rate of global warming, then, and any decision as to whether there is a climate ‘emergency’, rests almost entirely on measurement of the global temperature. This is always given as a difference relative to a previous period, and not only to tenths of a degree (which is how it is measured at every recording station), but to hundredths of a degree.

The UK Met Office’s global temperature for 2021 was 0.76 ± 0.04 deg C above the 1961-1990 average. The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said the year was about 1.11 ± 0.13 deg C warmer than the 1850-1900 average. First worrying thought: why was such a precise measurement prefaced by that word ‘about’?

The Met Office’s figure for 2022 was 0.80 ± 0.04 °C above the 1961-1990 average and 1.16 ± 0.08 °C above the pre-industrial 1850-1900 average. The World Meteorological Organisation  uses six international data sets to provide an authoritative assessment of global temperature change. They report that ‘2022 was about 1.15 (1.02 to 1.27) °C above the pre-industrial (1850-1900) levels’. There’s that curious word again.

The climatologists claim to be measuring the temperature of the earth, over land and sea, night and day, for a whole year, and giving us the result to a second place of decimals, with a tolerance of only a few hundredths of a degree Celsius. That is unbelievable.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website does admit that ‘the concept of an average temperature for the entire globe . . . may seem like nonsense’. It certainly does. It would be difficult to measure the average temperature of a small garden for a whole year to that level of accuracy, unless there were thermometers recording maximum and minimum every day in each square metre.

Why is it always a difference measurement? The NOAA website explains: ‘Because [the scientists’] goal is to track changes in temperature, measurements are converted from absolute temperature readings to temperature anomalies – the difference between the observed temperature and the long-term average temperature for each location and date.’

Subsequent paragraphs shed more light on the data, and are worth quoting at length (my italics). ‘Across inaccessible areas that have few measurements, scientists use surrounding temperatures and other information to estimate the missing values . . . climatologists average data from individual stations with data from other stations in the area. When combining observations, the values for each station are mathematically weighted to account for the fraction of the averaging area they represent.’

Those four words ‘estimate’, ‘average’, ‘combining’ and ‘weighted’ all cast serious doubts on the final two places of decimals. Then there is the obvious question: how well are the recording stations covering the land and sea areas of the earth?

For measurements taken on the earth’s surface, the WMO says there are ‘well over 10,000 manned and automatic surface weather stations . . . 7,000 ships, 100 moored and 1,000 drifting buoys’.

The Climatic Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia confirms that its global temperature series (CRUTEM5.0) uses data from only 8,000 of the land-based weather stations because the others ‘did not have sufficient data to estimate a 1961-1990 mean’.

The land area of the earth is 148,300,000 km2. The 8,000 recording stations would therefore each represent a huge 18,500 km2 chunk of the earth’s land surface. But they are not uniformly spread. According to the CRU, ‘coverage is denser over the more populated parts of the world, particularly the United States, southern Canada, Europe and Japan. Coverage is sparsest over the interior of the South American and African continents and over Antarctica’.

The sea area of the earth is 361,700,000 km2. The number of ships and buoys (8,100) means that each represents around 44,600 km2 of the sea surface, and even then the accuracy of the data largely depends on where the ships (moving steadily) and buoys (drifting slowly) happen to be. Additionally, the buoys and ships are measuring sea water temperatures, not that of the air over the sea: how exactly are pre-industrial temperatures of the sea calculated for comparison?

Every year several very well-known climatological and scientific institutions tell us the earth’s annual average global temperature. The world waits anxiously for their pronouncements. But even the first decimal place is doubtful, let alone the second. The accuracy has been generated solely by way of mathematics: first the average of each station’s daily maximum and minimum is calculated, then the weekly and monthly average which is converted to an anomaly for the station, mathematical weighting is carried out if necessary, estimations added for missing values, and only then is the final annual figure achieved for that particular station over the last twelve months.

(The process is actually even more complex: see, for instance, NASA’s ‘Raw Truth on Global Temperature Records’.)

Presumably all the station annual average figures, around 16,000 for both land and sea for the whole world, are then added and a grand average figure is produced. It is that final averaging that can produce as many decimal points as you want. But by then it is meaningless.

For such a vast area of land and sea, and over such a long period of time, it is surely impossible to determine a sensible average temperature, let alone one given with such apparent accuracy. They must be right, we are supposed to think, because they are given to the nearest hundredth of a degree Celsius.

The Met Office has already forecast this year’s (2023’s)global average temperature to be between 1.08 °C and 1.32°C (with a central estimate of 1.20 °C) above the average for the pre-industrial period (1850-1900). Here are the two decimal places again, with a tolerance of a fifth of a degree Celsius, for a year that has hardly started.

All these supposedly carefully measured temperatures are surely open to some considerable doubt, but unfortunately they are treated as the ultimate and unequivocal proof of rapid climate change.

If these figures are indeed of dubious authenticity, and if bouts of extreme weather may or may not indicate any change in our climate, then how much do we really know for certain?

The Boscombe Valley Mystery

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Ivor Williams
Ivor Williams
Ivor Williams is a freelance writer and has been a fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society since 1984.

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