Tortured Data Confesses!


Recent reports were all a-twitter with the news: The ocean is warming, thewarming is consistent with a bunch of climate models, and this proves what alout George Bush is on global warming. The first is true, but the second ismainly a result of data manipulation. And the scientific paper thatpresented this news actually shows that Bush did the right thing on globalwarming by ditching the Kyoto Protocol.

The paper was written by Sydney Levitus and published in Science magazine. Iread Levitus’ paper and I would hope that everyone else who wrote a newsstory did, too. But it is apparent that either they didn’t, or, if they did,they didn’t look carefully.Levitus has been studying historical records of temperatures in the top10,000 feet of the ocean. He finds a net rise in the temperature of thislayer of approximately 0.11ºC for his study period, 1955-96.

But where the water meets the atmosphere--in the top 1,000 feet--he findsnothing like the temperature changes that should have occurred, at leastaccording to computer models of human influence on the atmosphere. Instead,this portion of the ocean data, as well as other records of global climate,shows an abrupt change in temperature in 1976-77 that climatologists call“the great Pacific climate shift.”

It is so profound that there is no warming between 1955 (the beginning ofLevitus’ history) and 1976, or from 1977 through 1996 (the end of Levitus’history). The same behavior accrues in concurrent weather balloonhistories, this time in the layer from 5,000 to 30,000 feet above the sea.And it can also be found in chemical analyses of the makeup of Pacificcorals.

In his paper, Levitus’ contends there a strong connection between thetemperature history in the deep ocean (10,000 foot) data and predictedwarming from climate models. That is, climate models containing not onlythe warming from human greenhouse emissions, but a highly uncertain coolingfrom concurrent dusty emissions, the inconstancy of the sun, and coolingfrom volcanoes. Given the problem with the 1976-77 shift, how can this be?Yet, the connection is so striking, federal climatologist Tim Barnett toldthe Washington Post that, “We don’t have to do any fancy statistics to beatit out of the data.”

Really? Read the third paragraph of Levitus’ paper: “The ocean heatcontent curve is based on analyses of 5-year running composites of thehistorical ocean data”. In other words, succeeding five-year averages of theraw data were used, rather than the original stuff, which is dominated bythe inexplicable 1976-77 shift. The dramatic shift is left out of theanalysis. Barnett’s right, sort of. You don’t have to “beat” the rightsignal out of the data if you “smooth” it in instead.

For fun, we decided to treat the shallow ocean (1,000 foot) data, whichweren’t manipulated to begin with, to the same averaging. Sure enough, the1976-77 shift disappears and the resultant figures look just like the deepocean (10,000 foot) data, which resembles the climate models. Proof againthat if you torture the data, it will confess to whatever you want.

Every reader should and must ask why it was necessary to alter the data, andwhy the peer-reviewers at Science either didn’t notice this or thought itwas okay, or--worst of all--told the editor, who ignored their review. Thetruth likely is some combination of these three things.

So the real signal in the real data is still the 1976-77 shift.

As noted above, there is no statistically significant warming trend oneither side of it. How can a climate model explain this? The sun didn’tsuddenly get brighter in 1976. And the three big volcanoes that dominatethis study period occurred in 1963 (Mt. Agung), 1982 (El Chichon), and 1991(Mt. Pinatubo) surely don’t presage a step-change in the temperature in oneyear. The match between the ocean history and the climate models resultsfrom human influence on the data rather than human influence on theatmosphere.

Anyway, what’s the crime here? About 0.11º C of ocean warming in 40 years.That’s 0.027ºC per decade, which is several times lower than the initialestimates for ocean warming that got this issue onto the front burner in thefirst place. The bottom line is that warming of the next 100 years is goingto be wimpy. That can be gleaned from another model used in the same paper,which does not have volcanoes and assumes the sun is constant. It gives anocean warming rate that corresponds to about 0.6ºC in the next 100 years,which translates to a total global warming only around 1.4ºC. This is farfrom the 5.8ºC making the newspapers these days.

All of this proves the Bush was correct to bomb the Kyoto Protocol.Everyone knew it wouldn’t do anything about warming, and that it would costa fortune. Now, as shown inadvertently in this new paper, it wasn’t much ofa problem anyway. Global warming is something we will adapt to as ourtechnology evolves in concert with our need for large amounts of energyproduced in an economical fashion.