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Surface Stations, Urban Heat Islands and collateral damage

July 5, 2010
If you follow the arguments of the climate fundamentalists, you will know that a great deal of fuss has been made about the reliability of surface station temperature measurements. The main reason for this focus is that some stations were known to be close to sources of heat – or the heat ‘came to them’ as urbanisation encroached on stations that were build in green space, but now found themselves in a car park. 
 
The arguments about the reliability of surface stations has raged for quite a while, and perhaps it was relatively pertinent while two things were true: we didn’t have a better way of measuring temperatures, and there was no physical evidence to suggest much in the way of heating. Neither of these criteria can be said to apply any longer, and there is some irony in the way denialist cheerleader Anthony Watts, who created a network of keen surface station detectives under the banner sufacestations.org, has in fact provided evidence that the UHI (Urban Heat Island) effect is in fact negligable, and the results from all the surface stations are not only consistent with the other measuring methods we now employ, like satellite measurements, but early sites were in fact reporting temperatures lower than they really were – in other words, the temperature record is low-balling the increase in surface heat, not exaggerating it. 
 
There’s plenty of good information about this issue at SkepticalScience, much of it rather old now, so I don’t intend to go over this ground again. Rather, I’d like to point out how desperate denialists can get when cornered, because it is all very well contesting surface station measurements and claiming that they do not show the heating that global warming models predict, but what do you do if, entrenched in such a position, the ‘other’ evidence of temperature changes is so profound, and entirely contradicts your position as an arch-sceptic?
 
The answer of course is that you have to deny that evidence exists, which is why it is always ommitted from denialist articles, posts and arguments. I’m talking about the melting ice now, and despite a very short-lived recovery of sea ice in the Arctic this year, all parts of the cryrosphere – the Earth’s ice – are melting, and that melting is accelerating in the two most important places – the Greenland ice cap and the Antarctic. Why are these important? Because these are the two greatest concentrations of fresh water in the world and so vast are these reservoirs, that even a small amount of melting will produce considerable increases in sea levels.
 
Spot the contradiction then: on the one hand, you build an argument that depends on temperatures not rising and the measurements showing such a rise being wrong. On the other hand, all the world’s ice keeps melting and this melting is accelerating. For deniers – and this more or less defines denialism as opposed to scepticism – deniers are obliged by their intransigence to just ignore that which doesn’t suit them. “The ice isn’t melting” they insist. “The ice is recovering” say some, without any evidence to support them. “There is more sea ice now than there was” (we’ll address the confusion between sea ice extent, area and mass later in the series) – so it goes on, with the physical evidence being constantly called into question despite the photos, the satellite data, the expeditions and so on. The physical evidence is being denied, an assault on the credibility of much good science, where that science becomes collateral damage to the argument about measuring methods and results. To deniers everywhere I say this: if the earth isn’t heating up, if the surface stations, the satellite measurements and the other temperature data is wrong, then how the hell do you explain the fact that the ice keeps melting? Or do you just carry on denying that it is…?
 
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