ClimateGate Scientists Buried Study that Failed to Show Desired Result
Leading climate scientists were tasked to produce a diagram that showed an "obvious" picture of "unprecedented warming," but the result did not show this.


By James D. Agresti
February 6, 2012

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the leading international body for the assessment of climate change, and its work provides the basis of numerous climate policies in the U.S. and throughout the world. Once every 5 to 7 years, the organization publishes a major report about global warming, the latest of which was in 2007. An examination of the ClimateGate documents by Just Facts has revealed that a key study conducted for this report never saw the light of day.

In a previously overlooked email exchange buried among the thousands of ClimateGate files, Keith Briffa, an IPCC lead author, distributed the results of a study assigned to him during a meeting with an IPCC co-chair. Briffa wrote that he and another IPCC scientist (Tim Osborn) were "asked to try to produce a 'cloud' diagram … to see if it provided an 'obvious' picture of the unprecedented warming over the last millennium or so."

This request to conduct a study with the aim of finding such a result accords with another ClimateGate email dated years earlier in which Briffa complained that there was "pressure to present a nice tidy story" of "apparent unprecedented warming" over the past thousand years.

However, when Briffa sent the results of this new study to other IPCC scientists for review, he wrote, "What we worry very much about, however, is that we should not produce a Figure that then conflicts with … the main Chapter Figure" in the IPCC report. In reply, Jonathan Overpeck, an IPCC coordinating lead author, wrote, "ABSOLUTELY RIGHT - CAN'T HAVE CONFLICT."

Briffa also expressed concern that the diagram might "dilute the message about the strength of 20th century mean warming," but he noted that there "seems to be a consensus" that this type of diagram should be included in the IPCC report. However, no such diagram appeared in the ensuing report.

The email exchange regarding the diagram ended with Overpeck writing, "LETS SAY THE JURY IS STILL OUT ON THIS FIGURE UNTIL WE ALL ARE COMFORTABLE WITH WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE IN THE END."

One of the emails states that the figure under discussion was attached, but efforts to locate it among the ClimateGate files have thus far proved unsuccessful.
 

 The Details

 

The context and technical elements of these emails concern proxy studies, which are used to reconstruct temperatures in the era before instrumental measurements were made on a global scale, which is roughly 150 years ago. In these studies, scientists use proxies that respond to changes in climate (such as the widths of tree rings) to estimate temperature variations in the past.

The IPCC has emphasized that proxy studies are "essential" to "determine whether 20th century warming is unusual" by placing it "in the context of longer-term climate variability," but such studies have been mired in controversy since the hockey stick graph, which appeared four times in the 2001 IPCC report. Among many criticisms of this graph, one of the most indicting is that its creators used a statistical operation to generate the graph that did not yield a simple average of the proxy data but emphasized any data with a hockey stick shape, placing up to 390 times more weight on some data than others.

The benefit of a "cloud diagram" is that it displays each individual piece of data instead of averaging the data into a curve. Briffa wrote that this type of diagram would be the "best" way to show the "scatter" of the data. An example of a cloud diagram is shown here.
 


Contrastingly, these same data can be represented by any number of trend lines such as a linear, third-order polynomial, moving average, etc. The issue is that such trend lines can sometimes look significantly different from one another, even when they are based upon the same data. They can also fail to show how scattered or sparse the data may be:

 


 

Briffa and Osborn's figure appears to have been pure cloud diagram without trend lines and without "temperature scaled add ons," as Briffa called them. These add-ons refer to modern instrument-measured temperatures, which are often integrated with proxy studies. Such integration was a lightning rod for criticism of the hockey stick graph and was also the subject of the infamous "hide the decline" ClimateGate email. Thus, it appears that the cloud diagram study was conceived to address criticisms of earlier proxy studies.

When Briffa sent this cloud diagram to IPCC reviewer Tom Crowley, who had produced a "similar" figure that had trend lines and temperature scaled add-ons, Crowley peppered Briffa with questions. Briffa responded to these questions, and, at Crowley's request, forwarded the email to two other IPCC scientists while making additional comments and seeking their opinions on the matter.

Among these comments, Briffa explained that he and Osborn were "in no way trying to produce a different Figure for the sake of producing a different Figure," and "I am very happy to go with Tom's [Crowley's] Figure. We did ours because we were asked to." However, Briffa insisted that the temperature scaled add-ons and a curve that fused the results of all the proxy studies be removed from Crowley's figure. In the end, the figure that appeared in the IPCC report matches the emails' description of Crowley's figure with Briffa's suggested changes (page 468).

In recounting the meeting in which Briffa and Osborn were tasked to produce the figure that they did, Briffa wrote that it occurred during a "group chat" in Beijing with Susan Solomon, an IPCC co-chair. In other Climategate emails, Briffa wrote that he was "railroaded" by Solomon and warned another scientist not to let Solomon "push you (us) beyond where we know is right."
 

 The Emails


For reference, the full text of the email exchange is shown below with the correspondents' addresses and phone numbers blacked out. Key acronyms/abbreviations used in the emails include:


CA - Contributing author for the IPCC report
CLA - Coordinating lead author for the IPCC report
Quelc. - The Quelccaya glacier in Peru
SH – Southern Hemisphere
J and E – Jonathan Overpeck and Eystein Jansen (coordinating lead authors of the chapter about proxies in the 2007 IPCC report)
MWP – Medieval Warm Period
C.E. – Common Era (also known as A.D.)


From: Keith Briffa <xxxxx@xxxxxx>
To: Tim Osborn <xxxxx@xxxxxx>
Subject: Fwd: Re: thoughts and Figure for MWP box
Date: Wed Jul 20 10:18:03 2005

Date: Tue, 19 Jul 2005 15:38:31 +0100
To: Tom Crowley <xxxxx@xxxxxx>, Jonathan Overpeck <xxxxx@xxxxxx>
From: Keith Briffa <xxxxx@xxxxxx>
Subject: Re: thoughts and Figure for MWP box
Cc: Eystein Jansen <xxxxx@xxxxxx>
Tom et al
thanks for remarks - in response to Tom's questions
At 18:23 18/07/2005, Tom Crowley wrote:

a few comments -
1) are you trying to choose between my way of presenting things and your way - ie, w
w/out composite?

Yes

2) with your data, do they all go through from beginning to end?

pretty much - and have been standardised over the maximum period for each (not
necessarily the best way?)

3) why include chesapeake, which is likely a salinity record?

Because Moberg used it in their latest reconstruction - I agree that I would not use it
because of the dubious temperature signal (salinity effect and no local replication) and
poor dating control (and I do not like the way the Moberg method effectively over
weights the low-frequency predictor series in their analysis).

4) some of your data are from virtually the same site - Mangazeja and yamal are both w.
siberia - I composited data available from multiple sites to produce one time series,
which is equally counted against the other regions, which might (greenland, w.U.S., e.
Asia) or might not have multiple records in them

Just to reiterate - I understood after the group chat with Susan S. in Beijing , that we
were being asked to try to produce a "cloud" diagram including as many of "original"
predictor series ,from all the reconstructions, to see if it provided an "obvious"
picture of the unprecedented warming over the last millennium or so. Tim and I are in no
way trying t produce a different Figure for the sake of producing a different Figure .
In practice this is hard to do (because some records are sensible "local" composites
already, and how far do you go in showing all input data? The problem of what and how to
composite is tricky - and no obviously "correct" way is apparent.
Having said this , Tom's way is fine with me (provided the composites are robust) and we
get general agreement. Am happy to go with Tom's Figure , or version that incorporates
as many records as possible - but as we have said - without the composite or temperature
scaled add ons.

5) I am not sure whether it is wise to add me to the CA list, just because the reviewer
is supposed to be impartial and a CA loses that appearance of impartiality if he has now
been included as a CA - may want to check with Susan S. on this one to be sure - still
happy to provide advice

My own position on this is that you are an "unofficial" referee, who has (and still is)
making a significant contribution - I see no conflict

6) I am happy to go in either direction - include or not include my figure - all I need
are specific directions as to what to do, as CLAs you people need to decide, and then
just tell me what or what not to do

Agree - CLAs please rule on the individual record/composite question - I am very happy
to go with Tom's Figure. We did ours because we were asked to.

7) I am a little unhappy with the emphasis on hemispheric warmth - lets face it, almost
all of the long records are from 30-90N - the question is: how representative is 30-90N
to the rest of the world? for the 20th c. one can do correlations with the instrumental
record, but co2 has almost certainly increased the correlation scale beyond what it was
preanthropogenic.

Absolutely agree , and hope this comes over in text (and bullets) - if not needs
strengthening (note David R's comments).

you could correlate with quelcaya - not sure how many other records there are that are
annual resolution - in the tropics I have produced a tropical composite (corals +
Quelc.) but it only goes back to ~1780 - corals just don't live v long - in that
interval at least the agreement is satisfactory with the mid latitude reconstruction but
there is only 100 years extra of independent information beyond the instrumental
record..

We have gone round in circles over this , but understand consensus to be that Quelc. not
a clean temperature record. Agree corals would be better longer (the new coral-based
reconstruction by Rob Wilson et al
goes back to 1700 and shows unprecedented tropical warming . Along with the text from
Julie we can not go much further, but the importance of extending the tropical (and SH
records needs to be very clear)

.THIS MAY NEED TO BE ADDRESSEDAS A GENERAL ISSUE SOMEWHERE (SHORTLY) IN YOUR DOC

Really hope it is already - but advise if you think not

tom

Thanks for this - lets take lead from J and E now (also can you advise on state of play
with the Hegerl et al manuscript?)
thanks
Keith

Jonathan Overpeck wrote:

Hi Keith, Eystein and Tom: See below (BOLD) for my comments. Thanks for moving this
forward and making sure we do it right (i.e., without any bias, or perception of bias).

Dear Peck, Eystein and Tom
At this point we thought it was important to review where we think we are with the MWP
Figure.
First, we have no objection to a Figure . Our only concerns have been that we should
1/... be clear what we wish this Figure to illustrate (in the specific context of the
MWP box) - note that this is very different from trying to produce a Figure in such a
way as to bias what it says (I am not suggesting that we are, but we have to guard
against any later charge that we did this). We say this because there are intonations in
some of Peck's previous messages that he wishes to "nail" the MWP - i.e. this could be
interpreted as trying to say there was no such thing, and

SORRY TO SCARE YOU. I **ABSOLUTELY** AGREE THAT WE MUST AVOID ANY BIAS OR PERCEPTION OF
BIAS. MY COMMENT ON "NAILING" WAS MADE TO MEAN THAT ININFORMED PEOPLE KEEPING COMING
BACK TO THE MWP, AND DESCRIBING IT FOR WHAT I BELIEVE IT WASN'T. OUR JOB IS TO MAKE IT
CLEAR WHAT IT WAS WITHIN THE LIMITS OF THE DATA. IF THE DATA ARE NOT CLEAR, THEN WE HAVE
TO BE NOT CLEAR. THAT SAID, I THINK TOM'S FIGURE CAPTURED WHAT I HAVE SENSED IS THE MWP
FOR A LONG TIME, AND BASED ON OTHER SOURCES OF INFO - INCLUDING KEITH'S PROSE. THE IDEA
OF A FIGURE, IS THAT FIGURES CAN BE MORE COMPELLING AND CONNECT BETTER THAN TEXT. ALSO,
THERE ARE MANY WAYS TO LOOK AT THE MWP, AND AS LONG AS WE DON'T INTRODUCE BIAS OR
ANYTHING ELSE THAT WILL DILUTE THE MESSAGE IN THE END, THE IDEA IS TO SHOW THE MWP IN
MORE WAYS THAN TWO (THAT IS, THE EXISTING FIGS IN THE TEXT THAT KEITH AND TIM MADE).

2/ ...agree that we have done this in the best way.
The truth is that there IS a period of relative warmth around the end of the 1st and
start of the 2nd millennium C.E. , but that there are much fewer data to base this
conclusion on (and hence the uncertainty around even our multiple calibrated multi-proxy
reconstructions are wide). The geographical spread of data also impart a northern (and
land) bias in our early proxy data.

NEED TO BE CLEAR ABOUT THIS BIAS IN THE CAPTION AND BOX TEXT

My understanding of Tom's rationale with the Figure is that we should show how, because
the timing of maximum pre-20th century warmth is different in different records, the
magnitude of the warmest period (for the Hemisphere , or globe, as a whole) is less than
the recently observed warmth.

YES, BUT IN A WAY THAT SAYS "LOOK, HERE ARE THE ACTUAL REGIONAL CURVES - CHECK IT OUT
FOR YOURSELF" INSTEAD OF JUST SAYING (IN A SCIENTIFICALLY MORE STANDARD MANNER - HERE
ARE THE VARIOUS, MOST ROBUST, LARGE AREA RECONSTRUCTIONS. IN MY MIND, THE LATTER
(KEITH/TIM FIGS IN THE MAIN TEXT) WILL BE THE MOST APPEALING/CONVINCING TO PALEOCLIMATE
SCIENTISTS, BUT TOM'S MIGHT HELP THERE, AND CERTAINLY WITH NON-PALEO SCIENTISTS AND
POLICY FOLKS. MIGHT HELP... IF IT DOESN'T NOTHING LOST, BUT IF IT COULD HURT CONVEYING
UNDERSTANDING, THEN ITS BAD TO USE THE NEW FIGURE.

The reconstructions we plot in Chapter 6 already express the mean Hemispheric warmth
(after various selection and scaling of data), and so the additional information that
the MWP box figure should show must relate to the scatter of the proxy data. There seems
to be a consensus that this is best done by showing individual records , and we are
happy to agree.
What we worry very much about, however, is that we should not produce a Figure that then
conflicts with the picture of proxy evidence for Hemispheric mean warmth as a
whole,shown in the main Chapter Figure. By showing a composite (as Tom has done) and
scaling against another (30-90degrees N) temperature record - this is just what is done.

ABSOLUTELY RIGHT - CAN'T HAVE CONFLICT.

As we promised, Tim has produced a similar Figure, using the same series plus a few
extras, but omitting the composite mean and the scaling against instrumental
temperatures. The idea was to include as many of the original input series (to the
various reconstructions) as we could - though avoiding conflicting use of different
versions of the same data. The precise selection of records will have to be agreed and,
presumably, based on some clear, objective criteria that we would need to justify (this
will not be straight forward). This, along with Tom's plot (forwarded by Peck) is in the
attachment.
We would like to get your opinion now, and especially Tom's, on the points regarding the
composite and scaling. We would be in favour of just showing the series - but do they
make the point (and emphasise the message of the text in the box)? Or does the scatter
of the various series as plotted, dilute the message about the strength of 20th century
mean warming (note the apparently greater scatter in the 20th century in our figure than
in Tom's)? Can you all chip in here please.
best wishes

WHAT ABOUT THE IDEA THAT WE ONLY SHOW THE SERIES FOR THE MWP, SINCE THE COMPARISON TO
THE 20TH CENTURY IS DONE WELL (AND BEST?) IN THE TEXT FIGS (WHICH I'M ATTACHING JUST IN
CASE TOM DOESN'T HAVE, ALONG WITH THE TEXT - IF YOU HAVE TIME, TOM, PLEASE READ COMMENT
ON ANYTHING YOU WISH, BUT CERTAINLY THE LAST 2000 YEARS BIT - ASSUME YOU'LL BE DOING
THIS AT THE REVIEW STAGE ANYHOW...)
ANOTHER THING THAT IS A REAL ISSUE IS SHOWING SOME OF THE TREE-RING DATA FOR THE PERIOD
AFTER 1950. BASED ON THE LITERATURE, WE KNOW THESE ARE BIASED - RIGHT? SO SHOULD WE SAY
THAT'S THE REASON THEY ARE NOT SHOWN? OF COURSE, IF WE ONLY PLOT THE FIG FROM CA 800 TO
1400 AD, IT WOULD DO WHAT WE WANT, FOCUS ON THE MWP ONLY - THE TOPIC OF THE BOX - AND
SHOW THAT THERE WERE NOT ANY PERIODS WHEN ALL THE RECORDS ALL SHOWED WARMTH - I.E., OF
THE KIND WE'RE EXPERIENCING NOW.
TWO CENTS WORTH

Keith and Tim
P.S. We agreed in Beijing that we should definitely ask Tom to be a CA .

TRUE - BUT HAS ANYONE CONFIRMED W/ TOM. TOM, YOU OK W/ THIS?
THANKS - A GREAT DISCUSSION, AND LETS SAY THE JURY IS STILL OUT ON THIS FIGURE UNTIL WE
ALL ARE COMFORTABLE WITH WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE IN THE END.
BEST, PECK

--
Professor Keith Briffa,
Climatic Research Unit
University of East Anglia
xxxxxxxxxx
Phone: +xxxxxxxxxx
Fax: +xxxxxxxxxx
Attachment converted: Macintosh HD:mwpbox_figures.pdf (PDF /«IC») (0008A8AE)

--
Professor Keith Briffa,
Climatic Research Unit
University of East Anglia
xxxxxxxxxx.

Phone: + xxxxxxxxxx
Fax: + xxxxxxxxxx
[1]http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/people/briffa/

--
Professor Keith Briffa,
Climatic Research Unit
University of East Anglia
xxxxxxxxxx

Phone: + xxxxxxxxxx
Fax: + xxxxxxxxxx
[2]http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/people/briffa/

References

1. http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/people/briffa/
2. http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/people/briffa/
 

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