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Bryan Leyland

Bryan Leyland

NIWA and the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition


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The New Zealand Climate Science Coalition has asked the High Court to rule on the validity of NIWA’s “Seven Station” New Zealand Temperature Record (NZTR) that features prominently on its website and is used in information it passes on to schools and is also used to support the emission trading scheme, resource consent applications for wind farms and many other key aspects of policies designed to “fight climate change”. If this action succeeds, NIWA will be obliged to withdraw the Seven Station series and all the advice that they had given based on it. They will also be required to produce a new NZTR, which is both transparent and independently peer reviewed.

From information available on NIWA’s website, Coalition members have been able to plot temperatures from 1900 to the present based on the actual readings of the thermometers and based on the readings from the same thermometers after adjustment by NIWA. The unadjusted readings showed a insignificant warming of 0.3°C per century while the adjusted readings show a warming of 1°C per century. The chart comparing the two temperature records is on the Coalition’s website http://climatescience.org.nz/images/PDFs/app3.graph.pdf.

Because 1° per century is higher than the generally accepted figure for global temperatures of 0.7° per century and because Dr David Wratt of NIWA has also stated that New Zealand would be expected to have a smaller temperature rise than the rest of the world (because it is surrounded by ocean), the Coalition asked for the “schedule of adjustments” that should show exactly how each temperature record was adjusted over time. (Some adjustments are often desirable because of changes to site and, in particular because of the urban heat island effect that produces an artificial warming effect as rural areas become urbanized.) After many requests, including requests under the Freedom of Information Act, appeals to the chairman of NIWA and questions in Parliament, NIWA have not produced this information. Instead, they have referred us to the 1981 Ph.D. thesis of Dr Jim Salinger that discusses methods of adjusting temperature data. They have insisted that this is all we need .

Here is an analogy of the situation we are in.  “You go to someone’s place for afternoon tea and they bring out a lovely cake. You admire it greatly and ask for the recipe. The host promises to post it to you. When you get it, you find it is a simple list of ingredients without quantities and without instructions. So you ask again for the recipe and are told that a list of ingredients is all you need and that it should be quite easy to reverse engineer the cake from the list of ingredients. Yeah, right!”  

Our key point is that an essential aspect of science is that findings are be independently verified and that assumptions and techniques are fully documented. Other scientists must be able to replicate what was done and report on any problems that they have with the data or methods.Science advances step by step and the soundness of each should be tested. The “hockey stick” graph was a good example of why this should be done. Because its creators refused to release their data and methods it was years before it could be properly investigated. It is now confirmed that they had used “unusual” statistical methods and ignored data that did not suit their objective.  In the end, Steve McIntyre (climateaudit.org) was able to show that by using their methods, a “hockey stick” could be generated from random numbers.

Honesty, openness and full disclosure of methods and data are the hallmarks of good science. “Trust us” is often said by people with something to hide.

Richard Treadgold explains the whole saga very well at: http://www.climateconversation.wordshine.co.nz/2010/05/niwa-climate-denialists/

The plain fact is that NIWA’s   New Zealand temperature record (Seven-station Series) cannot be substantiated. Apparently, the record was originally produced by Jim Salinger in the 1990s after his return from the University of East Anglia where he had been working with Phil Jones of “climategate” fame. Jim relied upon data from his old thesis, despite the fact that all record of the associated calculations had since been lost by VUW when they changed computers. It seems that the NIWA accepted Jim’s temperature record [NZTR] without question, without having it peer-reviewed and without insisting that it be properly documented and archived. Yet they have a legal duty under the Public Records Act to keep “full and accurate records”.

NIWA have published the monthly averaged actual temperature readings for an 11-station series and, strangely, claim that because these unadjusted  temperature data shows warming, this adds credibility to the adjusted 7 station series.The logic is difficult to follow.  This record has been critiqued in Barry Brill’s article at http://www.quadrant.org.au/blogs/doomed-planet/2010/06/nz-climate-crisis-gets-worse

John Maunder is a highly respected meteorologist who is now retired. He led the NZ meteorological office for many years and was President of the World Meteorological Organisation and now lives in Tauranga. He has produced a temperature record for Tauranga (one of the 11 station series) that he has adjusted for changes in location. It shows a slight cooling since 1913 and no warming since 1932. NIWA’s unadjusted Tauranga data starts at 1932 and shows considerable warming in a period when man-made emissions of carbon dioxide were quite low and less warming in recent years when the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide had risen significantly.  

New Zealand ‘s temperature record has a disproportionate effect on global estimates, because there are very few long-term temperature stations in the Pacific Ocean . It influences government policies, at central, regional and local level, in their policies to “fight climate change”. These include the economically damaging emissions trading scheme, devaluing seaside properties because of fears of extreme sea level rise, incentives for expensive and ineffective windfarms and disincentives for what could be really useful – new fossil-fuel power generation.

This NZTR is continuing to wreak damage, despite NIWA knowing it is flawed. The only responsible option is for NIWA to remove it from their website and produce a new NZTR that accords with international standards and is peer-reviewed by independent climate scientists. The whole process should be carefully documented and made publicly available for any scientist to replicate or suggest improvements.