MET Office in new controversy: Undocumented Stratosphere Dataset 2C Warmer than NOAA

Posted: January 17, 2013 by tallbloke in Analysis, atmosphere, climate, Clouds, Dataset, Incompetence, Measurement, methodology, Natural Variation, solar system dynamics, Uncertainty

metbard_joshOver at The Resilient Earth, Doug Hoffman has a post up exposing a severe problem for climate science. The computer models of the climate system, the GCM’s, are designed, parameterized and tuned to match the data we have for the historical temperatures observed both at the surface, and at various altitudes as measured by thermometers, radiosonde balloons, and satellite data.

For many years the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming, AGW, has been predicated on the premise that the cooling in the stratosphere is an indication that extra co2 is ‘trapping’ extra heat in the troposphere, leading to a warming of the surface. But there’s a problem.

The MET office dataset derived from the SSU (Stratospheric Sounding Unit) instrumental raw data is undocumented. The NOAA started analysing the same raw data in 2009, and have produced their own fully documented dataset which shows radically different results, especially in the mid stratosphere from 15 to 35km above the surface of Earth. In this region, the divergence between the datasets is up to 2C or 2K, the MET Office data being warmer. The divergence between the datasets starts before the eruption of Mt Pinatubo in 1991. Whereas the MET Office dataset shows a fairly level temperature, the NOAA analysis shows a downtrend. Post Pinatubo, the MET Office shows a much higher temperature than the NOAA and a slight uptrend from then to the present. The NOAA data shows a much lower temperature and a downtrend.


Fig. 1 A comparison of Stratospheric temperature datasets and model output
From: The mystery of recent stratospheric temperature trends
David W. J. Thompson et al – Nature 491, 692–697 (29 November 2012) doi:10.1038/nature11579

The differences are striking, to say the least.

In his article, Doug Hoffman doesn’t go very far into what this means for the AGW theory, saying that:

One of the predictions made by climate models is that as surface temperatures rise[,] temperatures in the stratosphere should drop. Precisely why this should be so is complex and not important to the point being made here. Suffice it to say, the Met Office version of the SSU data suggests that the models overestimate the observed stratospheric cooling, whereas the NOAA SSU data suggest that the models underestimate it.

At first flush, it might seem that this might provide an opportunity for the proponents of the AGW theory to jump up and shout from the rooftops:

It’s worse than we thought!

But here at the Talkshop, we know better than to jump to conclusions. The magnitude of the temperature drop in the stratosphere shown by the NOAA dataset might suggest that the changes have actually been driven from the ‘top down’ by the Sun rather than the ‘bottom up’ by the increase in CO2. This notion is supported by NASA’s discovery that since the Sun went quiet in 2004, the thermosphere, higher up than the Stratosphere, has shrunk by nearly a third. More recently, NASA discovered that the average height of the cloud deck below the stratosphere in the troposphere has fallen by 40m or so since 2001. Meanwhile, CO2 levels have continued to increase in a fairly linear way.

Given the other recent controversy the MET Office has recently been involved in and the information from Richard Betts of the MET O that the new forecast uses a new model, HADgem3, the question I’ve asked Richard Betts on twitter is this:

8:03 AM – 17 Jan 13 · Details

No reply yet.

I’ll leave the last word to Doug Hoffman and Thompson et al:

According to the Nature article: “The differences between the NOAA and Met Office global-mean time series shown in Fig. 1 are so large they call into question our fundamental understanding of observed temperature trends in the middle and upper stratosphere.”

How did the Met Office get their data so wrong? Well there’s the rub. You see, the methodology used to develop the Met Office SSU product was never published in the peer-reviewed literature, and certain aspects of the original processing “remain unknown.” Evidently the boffins at the Met didn’t bother to write down exactly how they were massaging the raw data to get the results they reported. Indeed, those who did the data manipulation seem to have mostly retired.


The mystery of recent stratospheric temperature trends
David W. J. Thompson et al
Nature 491, 692–697 (29 November 2012) doi:10.1038/nature11579

A puzzling collapse of Earth’s upper atmosphere

NASA Satellite Finds Earth’s Clouds are Getting Lower

  1. steverichards1984 says:

    A stunning finding, lets see the MET office wriggle out of this one!

  2. “Indeed, those who did the data manipulation seem to have mostly retired.” – So that means that nobody knows what it all means, and never will! Priceless. This is a reminder that in much of science, particularly in studies of complex systems, what we obtain is very raw data about proxies for the things that interest us. It could be that too many scientists in all fields assume that the world out there is not all that different from the lab, where straightforward measurements yield real numbers about real things. That’s why there can be a fetishism of key indicators, ranging from Global Mean Temperature to Ecological Footprint.

  3. oldbrew says:

    Maybe the ATTREX (Tropical TRopopause EXperiment) probe will produce some relevant data.

    ‘A key focus of the mission is water vapor and its effect on Earth’s energy budget, ozone layer and climate. Studies have shown that even small changes in stratospheric humidity may have significant climate impacts. Climate researchers believe that greenhouse gases cool the stratosphere, which allows a greater number of clouds to form. Water destroys ozone. Since clouds are controlled by moisture, their accumulation in certain parts of the lower stratosphere can greatly impact the presence of ozone.’

    ‘To better understand these phenomena, data are needed about how the air circulates through the tropopause, where chemical compounds enter the stratosphere. Without this understanding of how water vapor circulates in this layer, researchers won’t be able to build the climate models for accurate predictions.’

  4. Joe's World {Progressive Evolution} says:


    You should read the Federal Advisory Committee Climate Assessment Report from the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP)

    It is total doom and gloom of massive warming that they are predicting.

  5. Stephen Richards says:

    steverichards1984 says:

    January 17, 2013 at 10:36 am

    A stunning finding, lets see the MET office wriggle out of this one!

    wriggling is what they are most expert at.

  6. oldbrew says:

    Prof. Roger Pielke Jr. has already taken the USGCRP report apart, calling it ‘extreme misrepresentation.’

  7. Paul Vaughan says:

    Jerome Ravetz (January 17, 2013 at 11:02 am)
    “[…] raw data about proxies for the things that interest us. It could be that too many scientists in all fields assume […]”

    Yes. Interpret the data for what they are instead of what some want them to represent.

    “[…] contributions of solar vs. terrestrial sources.”

    “”The density anomalies […] may signify that an as-yet-unidentified climatological tipping point […].””

    “[…] the thermospheric collapse of 2008-2009 was not only bigger than any previous collapse, but also bigger than the sun alone could explain.
    According to Emmert and colleagues, low solar EUV accounts for about 30% of the collapse. Extra CO2 accounts for at least another 10%. That leaves as much as 60% unaccounted for.
    There’s more to it than just solar EUV and terrestrial CO2. For instance, trends in global climate could alter the composition of the thermosphere, changing its thermal properties and the way it responds to external stimuli.”

    Earth rotation data well-constrained by the laws of large numbers & conservation of angular momentum tell us in the clearest terms that the solar cycle modulates temperature gradients, flows, and terrestrial mass distribution & circulatory morphology more generally.

    Hard constraints of universal laws DEMAND recognition.

    Qian, L.; & Solomon, S.C. (2012). Thermospheric density: an overview of temporal and spatial variations. Space Science Reviews 168, 147-173. doi:10.1007/s11214-011-9810-z.

    Click to access OSGC-000-000-010-554.pdf

    Note the focus on latitude, longitude, altitude, & harmonics arising in an infinite network of spatiotemporally coupled oscillators. There’s room for improvement on the authors’ commentary on longitude (land-ocean contrast & heat capacity) in particular. (phase reversal commences ~1998)

    We’re dealing not merely with time series, but rather spatiotemporally turbulently mixed series. Thus, sensible exploration via time series methods demands ability to detect bounded aggregate qualitative spatial changes. Most conventional mainstream approaches to time series analysis categorically ignore this necessity.

    More details another day. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Roger Andrews says:

    I had some difficulty figuring out exactly what the problem was from Thompson et al’s convoluted figures, so I cleaned two of them up by getting rid of the model traces so I could see what was going on, and here they are:

    In summary, UAH, RSS and NOAA match using MSU channel 4 between 15 and 20km, but there are no UK met office data. At 25-35km (and higher elevations) using SSU channel 1 UKMO and NOAA don’t match, but there are no UAH or RSS data. And without an independent series to compare the UKMO and NOAA series against we have no way of knowing which of them, if either, is correct.

    We also have to consider the data sources. I have some confidence in UAH and RSS, but the UKMO people are masters of the failed forecast and NOAA, data fudgers extraordinaire, are the people who recently gave us the “corrected” GHCN v3.2 data set. I don’t trust either of them.

  9. tchannon says:

    I assume this is the paper on a NOAA server.

    Click to access ThompsonEtal.Nature2012.pdf

  10. Doug Proctor says:

    All the analyses show a stability from about 1996 to the present. Which ties to the end of the rise of surface temperatures.

    What would the expectations wrt the mid-tropospheric hotspot be in the models?

  11. Roger Andrews says:

    “The long-term, global-mean cooling of the lower stratosphere stems from two downward steps in temperature, both of which are coincident with the cessation of transient warming after the volcanic eruptions of El Chichón and Mount Pinatubo.”

    Without these two downward steps all the analyses in fact show stability since 1979. Except for NOAA.

  12. michael hart says:

    One sentence in it strikes me as unusually bald:
    “The lower stratosphere has not noticeably cooled
    since 1995, which indicates that the trends in this region
    are not dominantly controlled by the known increases
    in carbon dioxide over this period (Ramaswamy et al.

    Unusually bold too, perhaps. I hope the authors already have tenure. 🙂

  13. michael hart says:

    I was referring to the link given by Roger Andrews. I accidentally omittted the first part of my reply:

    “That’s an interesting paper, Roger Andrews. It’ll take me while to digest. (The .pdf version also has figures in it.)”

  14. Roger Andrews says:

    Michael Hart:

    After you’ve digested the paper, see if you agree with my summation. Thompson & Solomon are trying to explain the stair-step shape of the stratosphere record by combining transient volcanic impacts with the long-term cooling trend that AGW says should be there, but not having a great deal of success doing it.

    Which prompts the question; what would the stratosphere record look like if the Chichón and Pinatubo eruptions had never occurred? My guess is that it would be pretty much dead flat.

  15. Roger Andrews says:

    And the fact that T&S included the Ramaswamy quote suggests that they’re no longer sure that there even is a long-term AGW cooling impact in the stratosphere. Certainly eighteen years of flat temperatures takes some explaining.

  16. Brian H says:

    If the ‘adjusters’ retired without leaving full documentation behind, the data set should go with them, not to be referred to again.