A climate scientist accused of committing “fraud” to shore up the consensus on global warming during the Climategate controversy has been vindicated by a new study funded by a sceptic oil billionaire and supported by his most vociferous critics.
Professor Phil Jones, director of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA), was accused by climate sceptics of committing “scientific fraud” in order to claim that the recorded rise in global average temperatures is due to climate change and not the result of temperature stations being engulfed by, or moved closer to, cities.
The allegation was the most important made during Climategate and struck at the heart of the scientific consensus because Jones’s landmark 1990 study is cited by the International Panel on Climate Change as crucial evidence that the Urban Heat Island effect is not responsible for the extent of recorded global temperature rises.
Thousands of emails were hacked from the servers of the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit after the a series of Freedom of Information Act requests for global temperature data were refused because of confidentiality clauses signed with agencies outside the UK.
However, a new independent investigation by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project in California has shown that “very rural” temperature stations miles from any new towns or cities have also recorded global warming at 0.9 degrees Celsius over the last century, confirming once and for all that the Urban Heat Island effect is not significant. The IPCC suggests warming for the past century is at 0.75 degrees.
The BEST paper, published on its website, confirms their work “supports the key conclusion of prior groups that urban warming does not unduly bias estimates of recent global temperature change.” Confirming the results as statistically significant, the report notes that the trend found “is in the opposite direction expected from urban heating.”
BEST will publish four papers on its website at 8pm on Thursday all confirming that global warming is happening. The study looked at the major concerns raised by sceptics about the recording of temperatures worldwide, including station quality, selection bias and data correction. Its results suggest these fears were unfounded.
The results are particularly telling because the study was part-funded by the oil billionaire Charles Koch through his charitable foundation while the scientists involved have been vocally sympathetic to the claims made by sceptics. The findings cannot, therefore, be the result of a “conspiracy” by scientists to support “climate alarmism”. Professor Saul Perlmutter, who has just won the Nobel Prize, is part of the BEST team.
Professor Richard Muller, who led the research, said: “We really went into this unbiased. We think many of the sceptics raised valid issues that needed addressing. We tried our best to address those, we got an answer that was a little bit surprising to us but we have addressed those issues.
“My real goal now is to bring peace to this realm – there will always be some people who say the earth is flat and that you can’t analyse temperature data to find out whether its gotten warm. Many of these people are people who start with their conclusion – they believe there’s a great conspiracy – and these are the ‘un-convincibles’.
“I believe we have now addressed most of those issues and that’s why I am optimistic that people who previously were sceptical about this aspect of climate change will be less sceptical or will agree that what we’ve done settles that issue.”
Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, said: “If and when such a study is peer-reviewed and published, hopefully we can then focus on the implications for the future of this warming rather than wrangling over whether the warming is really there.”
Professor Jones said: “I look forward to reading the finalised paper once it has been reviewed and published. These initial findings are very encouraging and echo our own results and our conclusion that the impact of Urban Heat Islands on the overall global temperature is minimal.”
Climate sceptics, including Lord Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation, have for years claimed that Jones has deliberately ignored evidence that stations measuring temperature could have been moved or been surrounded by new urban developments, resulting in higher temperatures being recorded.
They have argued that the Urban Heat Island effect has been responsible for a significant amount of the recorded rise in temperatures identified by Jones and his colleagues at the Hadley Centre, who compile the HadCRU global temperature record. Sceptics, some funded by oil companies, have gone on to claim that the impact of burning fossil fuels on global temperatures has therefore been exaggerated.
Among the emails hacked at UEA were a few sent by Professor Jones in response to a paper by amateur climate-data analyst Douglas Keenan alleging his landmark 1990 study into the Urban Heat Island effect was based on another paper on Urban Heat Island which included “fabricated” claims.
Keenan argued in a paper published in the sceptic journal Energy and Environment by Dr Benny Peiser, now director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the impact of city growth on thermometer readings in China could have been underestimated. The implication is the IPCC would then be overstating the amount of global warming.
However, the BEST results show that global warming was being recorded even in the most rural of areas. The scientists analysed temperatures recorded by the 16,132 stations around the world that were at least one tenth of a degree in longitude and latitude from any urban development. A total of 22,896 stations close to cities and towns were excluded form the result – and still global warming was found.
The BEST paper, submitted to the Journal of Geophysical Research for peer review, supports the previous consensus on the Urban Heat Islands including the 1990 paper by Jones and work by Dr James Hansen of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
The new study even raises the possibility that Jones and his colleagues may have overestimated the Urban Heat Island effect and therefore underplayed global warming, although this result was not statistically significant.
The BEST scientists conclude that: “We observe the opposite of an urban heating effect over the period 1950 to 2010…This is not statistically consistent with prior estimates, but it does verify that the effect is very small, and almost insignificant on the scale of the observed warming…”
The latest findings directly contradict a series of papers by researcher Ross McKitrick, who was one of the first people to try to undermine the research behind Jones’s 1990 paper. As recently as 2010 McKitrick reported: “[W]e find that the evidence for contamination of climatic data [by Urban Heat Islands] is robust…”
The results are therefore likely to be hotly contested by climate sceptics, who have championed McKitrick’s work, despite the fact they supported the BEST project at the beginning and praised its methodology.
Among the BEST authors is Professor Judith Curry, chair of the school of earth and atmospheric sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who has previously accused climate scientists of “groupthink”. She said of the CRU: “In their misguided war against the sceptics, the CRU emails reveal that core research values became compromised.”
She said: “I support the data set and the [BEST] methodology seems sound. I am sure that other people will have some criticisms or have some nuanced suggestions on things to do better so in that sense, I don’t view this as the last word on the subject.”
Significant access to the research was granted to Anthony Watts, among the most influential climate sceptic bloggers globally, and his acquaintance Steve Mosher, who first alerted the US media to the Climategate emails.
This is despite the fact Watts has posted claims of fraud against Jones and was adamant heat islands had distorted the global temperature record. In November last year he wrote: “UHI is easily observable. I’ve been telling readers about UHI since this blog started…”
Professor S. Fred Singer, whose foundations have received significant funding from Exxon Mobil, and who is considered one of the founders of climate skepticism, wrote in February this year: “The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) Project aims to do what needs to be done…I applaud and support what is being done by the Project — a very difficult but important undertaking.”
BEST was beset with controversy when emerged its study received $150,000 from the Charles G Koch Foundation out of total funding of $623,087, making the oil funded charity the single biggest private contributor. Charles and his brother David Koch handed $24.9 million to think tanks and other organisations fighting climate change laws in the US from 2005 to 2008, according to Greenpeace.
As an example, Charles Koch founded the Cato Institute and has donated $1.02 million to the organization. Cato recently paid for advertising attacking president Barack Obama, claiming “the case for alarm regarding climate change is grossly overstated” and “surface temperature changes over the past century have been episodic and modest and there has been no net global warming for over a decade now.”