Published February 23, 2010
After the firestorm of criticism called Climate-gate, the British government's official Meteorological Office has decided to give its modern climate data a do-over.
At a meeting on Monday of about 150 climate scientists in the quiet Turkish seaside resort of Antalya, representatives of the weather office (known in Britain as the Met Office) quietly proposed that the world's climate scientists start all over again on a "grand challenge" to produce a new, common trove of global temperature data that is open to public scrutiny and "rigorous" peer review.
In other words, conduct investigations into modern global warming in a way that may help to end the mammoth controversy over world temperature data that has been stirred up in the past few years.
The executive summary of the Met Office proposal to the World Meteorological Organization's Committee for Climatology was obtained by Fox News. In it, the Met Office defends its historical record of temperature readings, along with similar data collected in the U.S., as a "robust indicator of global change." But it admits that "further development" of the record is required "in particular to better assess the risks posed by changes in extremes of climate."
Among other things, its older data is maintained on a monthly basis, and the Met Office proposal says that is "grossly inadequate" to providing information on a daily and "sub-daily" basis.
A Met Office spokesman, Dave Britton, declared that the decision to re-do the data collection had been gestating for "a long time," then added: "But it would be naïve to say that [the Climate-gate controversy] didn't have an impact." He added: "It's not something that we can do alone."
As a result, the proposal says, "we feel that it is timely to propose an international effort to reanalyze surface temperature data in collaboration with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which has the responsibility for global observing and monitoring systems for weather and climate."
The new effort, the proposal says, would provide:
• "verifiable datasets starting from a common databank of unrestricted data"
• "methods that are fully documented in the peer reviewed literature and open to scrutiny;"
• "a set of independent assessments of surface temperature produced by independent groups using independent methods,"
• "comprehensive audit trails to deliver confidence in the results;"
• "robust assessment of uncertainties associated with observational error, temporal and geographical in homogeneities."
The Met Office proposes that the new international effort to recalibrate temperature data start at a "workshop"' hosted by its Hadley Climate Research Centre, which maintains data in collaboration with the controversial Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at Britain's East Anglia University. The Met Office would invite "key players" to start the "agreed community challenge" of creating the new datasets. A Met Office spokesman said the new effort would take about three years to complete, but would not estimate the cost.
The Met Office proposal asserts that "we do not anticipate any substantial changes in the resulting global and continental-scale ... trends" as a result of the new round of data collection. But, the proposal adds, "this effort will ensure that the datasets are completely robust and that all methods are transparent."
Those strongly underlined assurances put the Met Office in strong contrast to the accusations that have been hurled at its collaborator, CRU, epicenter of the Climate-gate controversy. Among other things, the CRU had stonewalled climate skeptics who demanded to know more about its scientific methods in establishing a dramatic record of global warming, especially in the 20th century. (An inquiry established that the institution had flouted British freedom of information laws in refusing to come up with the data.)
The stonewall began to crumble after a gusher of leaked emails revealed climate scientists, including the CRU's chief, Phil Jones, discussing how to keep controversial climate data out of the hands of the skeptics, keep opposing scientific viewpoints out of peer-reviewed scientific journals, and bemoaned that their climate models failed to account for more than a decade of stagnation in global temperatures.Jones later revealed that key temperature datasets used in Hadley's predictions had been lost, and could not be retrieved for verification.
Jones stepped down temporarily after the British government announced an ostensibly independent inquiry into the still-growing scandal, but that only fanned the flames, as skeptics pointed out ties between several panel members and the East Anglia center. In an interview two weeks ago, Jones also admitted that there has been no "statistically significant" global warming in the past 15 years.
The Met Office's desire for more robust and transparent data could also prove to be a blow for Rajendra Pachauri, head of the United Nations-backed International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose most recent report, published in 2007, has been exposed by skeptics as rife with scientific errors, larded with un-reviewed and non-scientific source materials, and other failings.
As details of the report's sloppiness emerged, the ranks of skeptics of the work have swelled to include larger numbers of the scientific community, including weather specialists who worked on the sprawling IPCC report. Calls for Pachauri's resignation have come from organizations as normally opposed as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the British chapter of Greenpeace. So far, he has refused to step down.
The Met proposal argues says that its old datasets "are adequate for answering the pressing 20th Century questions of whether climate is changing and if so how. Bet they are fundamentally ill-conditioned to answer 21st Century questions such as how extremes are changing and therefore what adaptation and mitigation decisions should be taken."
Those "21st Century questions" are not small and they are very far from cheap. At Copenhagen, wealthy nations were being asked to spend trillions of dollars on answering them, a deal that only fell through when China, India, and other near-developed nations refused to join the mammoth climate-control deal.
The question after the Met Office's proposal may be whether environmentalists eager to move those mountains of cash are also ready to stand down until the 21st century questions get 21st century answers.
An earlier version of this story confused the Met Office's Hadley Centre with the East Anglia University's CRU. Fox News regrets the error.
George Russell is executive editor of Fox News.