Climate change data to face independent scrutiny

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World weather agencies agreed this week to enhance data-gathering significantly and allow independent scrutiny of raw figures used in assessing climate change amid charges by critics that global warming scientific data were skewed.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) made the concession after an outcry over e-mails revealing that researchers in Britain had suppressed certain data to bolster claims of global warming. Critics also said some of the manipulated data were included in a 2007 U.N. report on the subject.

Britain’s Met Office formally submitted a proposal that scientists around the world undertake the “grand challenge” of measuring land surface temperatures as often as several times a day, and it was approved in principle by about 150 officials at a WMO meeting in Antalya, Turkey.

“This effort will ensure that the datasets are completely robust and that all methods are transparent,” the Met Office said, though it added that “any such analysis does not undermine the existing independent datasets that all reflect a warming trend.”

It also said that current measurements were “fundamentally ill-conditioned to answer 21st-century questions, such as how extremes are changing, and therefore what adaptation and mitigation decisions should be taken.”

Last fall, it was revealed that thousands of e-mail messages discussing the destruction and hiding of data that did not support global warming claims had been obtained through hacking of a server used by the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Britain. The controversy was dubbed “climategate.”

The WMO move is the latest in the growing debate over climate change. Global warming theorists insist that man-made activities have the potential to produce devastating consequences, while skeptics say temperature increases are less alarming and not human-induced.

Scientists and other climate specialists said the WMO has wanted to enhance data collection for years, but it took a persistent campaign by opponents of the global warming science to take the issue more seriously.

“It’s interesting how they are couching it and linking it to the skeptics’ community,” said Sarah Ladislaw, senior fellow in the energy and national security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “There has been a big push in recent years to improve data collection to make sure we understand things better.”

Melanie Fitzpatrick, a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the new measures will require additional funds, although the cost will depend on whether data will be gathered from existing temperature sensors or whether new installations are needed.

Those new resources would have to be the responsibility mainly of governments, Ms. Fitzpatrick said. Developing countries where governments cannot afford it most likely will rely on grants and other funding from the West, she added.

“There is no mechanism to enforce this,” she said in reference to measuring land surface temperatures, so “what will be driving it is the scientific community.” She also noted that those measurements will be “compared to satellite temperatures.”

Ms. Fitzpatrick and Ms. Ladislaw said it is unlikely that any new data will fundamentally dispute the conclusion of a “clear warming trend,” but it will make analyzing that trend much more precise.

The main mistake of many scientists has been that they are “reluctant to talk about uncertainty for political reasons, and the reality is that there is a great deal of uncertainty in this,” Ms. Ladislaw said.

Revelations that the 2007 report by the U.N.-affiliated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change contained “mistakes” drew widespread criticism and calls for the panel’s chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, to resign. Claims that Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035 turned out to be incorrect. Some scientists say the report was meant to say 2350.

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About the Author
Nicholas  Kralev

Nicholas Kralev

Nicholas Kralev is The Washington Times’ diplomatic correspondent. His travels around the world with four secretaries of state — Hillary Rodham Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright — as well as his other reporting overseas trips inspired his new weekly column, “On the Fly.” He is a former writer for the weekend edition of the Financial Times and ...

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