Skip to content

Muir Russell told the Sci Tech Committee that the Muir Russell panel “fully investigated” the allegations about the Chinese network of Jones et al 1990. This was totally untrue. Not only did Muir Russell panel fail to “fully” investigate, as was the case on too many other issues, Muir Russell didn’t investigate at all.

In today’s post, I’m going to start a long backstory to this dispute – much longer than I anticipated when I started summarizing Muir Russell’s testimony at the committee. It will take about 4-5 posts in all (based on what I’ve written so far.) I found the narrative quite intriguing to reconstruct, though, at times, the affair seemed as though the characters from Burn After Reading (the Coen Brothers’ movie) had been transplanted into academia.

Here’s a quick synopsis. The overarching issue in the Chinese network controversy is whether the development of urban heat islands in the 20th century had a significant impact on land temperature indices such as CTUTEM and GISS. Jones et al 1990’s importance in this argument was its conclusion that the contribution of urbanization to 20th century trends was negligible (no more than ~0.05 deg from 1900-1990.) It was cited as authority for this claim in both IPCC TAR (2001) and AR4(2007), along with a couple of other articles by closely allied authors (Peterson, Parker). The Chinese network of Jones et al 1990 was one of the main props: Jones purported to demonstrate the unimportance of the urbanization contribution by showing that there was a negligible difference in temperature trends between urban and rural sites in China between 1954-1983.

Jones et al 1990 had bothered Warwick Hughes a long time ago. After its continued citation in AR4, I re-considered it at CA in February 2007, reporting apparent inconsistencies between quality control said to have been done by the authors of Jones et al 1990 and the non-existence of the station histories required for the quality control reported in contemporary technical documents. This led to my first climate FOI – successful by the way. By April 2007, I had satisfied myself that, whatever the actual contribution of urbanization to temperature trend, Jones’ analysis of the Chinese data was worthless and didn’t pursue the matter. However, as CA readers know, Doug Keenan did pursue the matter, arguing that that the incident rose to research “fraud”. (Such allegations were not made here, since as CA readers know, I don’t find “fraud” a useful way to frame issues in climate science and have blog policies against such allegations. ) The issue as framed by Keenan took on a life of its own.

Urban Heat Island Effect and IPCC
Anyone who lives in a large city understands the “urban heat island” effect. The difference in temperature between cities and rural areas can be readily measured by high school students. The concept was entered into academic literature at least as early as Oke (1976), who proposed a rule of thumb that the magnitude of the effect was proportional to the log of the population. (A corollary of this, not commented on in the climate science literature, is that urbanization can contribute to the trend in towns as well as cities.)

Although it seems logical that the development of cities would have an impact on temperatures and contribute in some measure to the overall 20th century land temperature trend, an important item in the IPCC consensus is that it doesn’t. (This counters a standard “skeptic” issue.) IPCC TAR (2001) Box 2.1 asserted:

Extensive tests have shown that the urban heat island effects are no more than about 0.05°C up to 1990 in the global temperature records used in this chapter to depict climate change.

In the running text, Jones et al 1990, together with one other study, was offered as authority for this claim:

These results confirm the conclusions of Jones et al. (1990) and Easterling et al. (1997) that urban effects on 20th century globally and hemispherically averaged land air temperature time-series do not exceed about 0.05°C over the period 1900 to 1990 (assumed here to represent one standard error in the assessed non-urban trends).

IPCC AR4 (2007) in the relevant chapter (edited by CLAs Jones and Trenberth) continued to rely on Jones et al 1990 as authority against the existence of a UHI effect:

Studies that have looked at hemispheric and global scales conclude that any urban-related trend is an order of magnitude smaller than decadal and longer time-scale trends evident in the series (e.g., Jones et al., 1990; Peterson et al., 1999).

Thus, while Jones et al 1990 may be a relatively old study, it continues in use as a cornerstone study contesting a hot-button issue (UHI).

NDP039
Back to the beginning.

In 1988, the US and China entered into an agreement for the exchange of climate data. (See Koomanoff et al, BAMS, 1988). The exchange led to Technical Report NDP039 published in 1991 by Tao Shiyan, Fu Congbin, Zeng Zhaomei and Zhang Qingyun of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, China. This report described two networks – a 60-station network for which station histories were available and a 205-station network for which station histories were unavailable.

Unfortunately, station histories are not currently available for any of the stations in the 205-station network; therefore, details regarding instrumentation, collection methods, changes in station location or observing times, and official data sources are not known.

NDP039 expressed caveats about the homogeneity of the network:

Few station records included in the PRC data sets can be considered truly homogeneous. Even the best stations were subject to minor relocations or changes in observing times, and many have undoubtedly experienced large increases in urbanization. Fortunately, for 59 of the stations in the 65-station network, station histories (see Table 1) are available to assist in proper interpretation of trends or jumps in the data; however, station histories for the 205-station network are not available. In addition, examination of the data from the 65-station data set has uncovered evidence of several undocumented station moves (Sects. 6 and 10).

During the course of this exchange, Zhaomei Zeng visited the US as a visiting scholar at SUNY, where her host was Wei-Chyung Wang. While NDP039 explicitly asserted the non-existence of station histories for the 205-station network, Wang’s evidence in 2007-8 was that the station histories did exist at the time in paper form:

Digitization of the hard copies of “station histories” was prepared in 1989-90 by Ms. Zhao-Mei Zeng (IAP/CAS) only for the 60-station network, while the “station histories” of other stations, including those we used in 1990 urban warming study, were available in paper form,

Despite much publicity and three inquiries into this and related matters, no one has shown that the station histories did exist. Indeed, the UK inquiries didn’t even ask.

Jones et al 1990
In 1988, Tom Karl had published a study purporting to show that UHI didn’t “matter” in the US. In 1990, Jones decided to extend the results to the rest of the world and sought out data for networks in Russia, Australia and China in order to compare “urban” and “rural” sites as a supposed way of estimating the urbanization impact on global temperature. They concluded that there was “no indication of significant urban influence” in any of the three networks and that an upper limit of ~0.05 deg could be set on the contribution of urbanization to 20th century land temperatures, an order of magnitude less than observed warming.

Jones had obtained the Chinese data for this network from W-C Wang in the US in 1989 or early 1990. The data had been collated by Zeng, a visiting scholar at SUNY in 1990, who had collated an 84-station subset from NDP039 data, consisting of 42 pairs of “urban” and “rural” sites. Wang and Thomas Karl of NOAA were recognized as coauthors of Jones et al 1990, while Zeng was neither listed as a coauthor nor even acknowledged. The collation of the Chinese network was described as follows:

We assembled a network of 42 station pairs of rural and urban sites in the eastern half of China. The data cover the period 1954-83. The 84 stations were selected from a 260-station temperature set recently compiled under the US Department of Energy and People’s Republic of China Academy of Sciences Joint Project on the Greenhouse Effect. The stations were selected on the basis of station history: we chose those with few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location or observation times. All 84 records were complete for the 30-year period. The urban stations were in regions with populations of over 0.5 million whereas for the rural stations populations mostly less than 0.1 million (according to 1984 population figures).

While most subsequent attention had focused on station histories, the claim that the coauthors of Jones et al 1990 had assembled the network was untrue: in fact, they had appropriated Zeng’s data (Zeng neither a coauthor nor acknowledged).

Wang et al 1990
A few months later (December 1990), Zeng did appear as a coauthor in a less prestigious journal (GRL), publishing “Urban Heat Islands in China” together with Wang and Tom Karl (both coauthors of Jones et al.) The network was described in virtually identical terms (and was identical):

The temperature data used in this study are based on 42 pairs of urban-rural stations from from a 260-station temperature set recently compiled under the United States’ Department of Energy and People’s Republic of China Academy of Sciences joint research project on the Greenhouse Effect. (Koomanoff et al 1988). The temperatures cover the period up to 1983. ..These stations primarily cover the eastern part of China. They were chosen based on station histories: selected stations have relatively few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location or observation times over this period … most stations with populations of over one million for urban sites (average 1.71 million) and less than 0.2 million for the rural sites (average 0.147 million)…

The ruralness of the “rural” sites is somewhat gilded in Jones et al 1990, which stated the stations were “mostly” under 100,000 while Wang et al 1990 said that they were actually mostly under 200,000 (average 147,000). Wang et al 1990 cited Jones et al 1990 (but not vice versa), making the following odd observation (given the commonality of two coauthors):

Our work differs from the recent study by Jones et al 1990. They have shown that any urban bias in their data has been mitigated over Eastern China. The reasons for this are not clear.

IPCC
Warwick Hughes was a determined advocate that the land temperature indices had under-estimated UHI contribution and was a particular critic of Jones et al 1990. but was highly dubious, to say the least, that Jones’ “rural” network in China was actually rural.

We are trying to identify these 84 stations in order to verify the Jones et al. claims, but it is obvious that a station with a population of anywhere near 100,000 can hardly provide a “rural” benchmark.

See also here here.

Hughes, of course, was the recipient of Jones’ notorious email: “Why should I make my data available to you when your only objective is to find something wrong with it?” Hughes’ frustration at Jones’ stonewalling is evident in his posts on Jones et al 1990.

Oddly, Jones et al 1990 was one of my original questions when I became interested in climate science. In 2002, I emailed Jones inquiring about the data; Jones said that the data was on a diskette somewhere and it would take too much time to track down. I was then new to ways of the Team and didn’t pursue the matter.