STOP PRESS: Wellington “altitude fix” was a lie – NIWA

On Friday, 27 November 2009, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) published a short press release at Scoop.

Under the heading “Combining Temperature Data from Multiple Sites in Wellington”, NIWA described in some detail the process of adjusting temperature readings when the weather station has been moved. By way of example, they cited Wellington, where, they said, the Thorndon weather recording station was moved in 1928 to Kelburn.

The Kelburn site is colder because it is about 120m higher than the Thorndon site. The process of combining data from various Wellington sites is illustrated below.

The day before, David Wratt was quoted in another NIWA press release:

Such site differences are significant and must be accounted for when analysing long-term changes in temperature. The Climate Science Coalition has not done this.

NIWA climate scientists have previously explained to members of the Coalition why such corrections must be made. NIWA’s Chief Climate Scientist, Dr David Wratt, says he’s very disappointed that the Coalition continue to ignore such advice and therefore to present misleading analyses.

But now, in a dramatic turnaround, they confess, in a written answer to a Parliamentary question, that this “example” of adjustments for the reason of altitude change was fiction.

They have not changed any temperatures for that reason at any station in the national “seven-station” series.

They were lying to us. They openly mocked Rodney Hide for not knowing about that sort of thing and scolded the inquiring scientists at the NZ Climate Science Coalition and falsely incited their supporters, such as the rabid warmers at Hot Topic, into making vicious attacks on the credibility of the NZ CSC and the Climate Conversation Group.

That’s all I have time for, but here’s the official Parliamentary answer (my emphasis):

Station adjustments are not made on the basis of elevation differences, either for Wellington or for any of the other six locations. Adjustments are calculated from comparisons of different stations’ records, as described in the NIWA document Creating a Composite Temperature Record for Hokitika.

Wellington is a special case where two sites, Thorndon and Kelburn, are very close to one another horizontally but with a large (approximately 120m) altitude separation. This does not occur for any of the other six locations in the “seven-station” series.

Temperature differences between Wellington sites correlate well with measurements, in many parts of the world, of temperature decrease with altitude. This “lapse-rate” effect has been used to confirm that the adjustment between Thorndon and Kelburn, calculated by inter-station comparison, would be expected from the altitude difference between the sites.

The slippery scientists at NIWA now admit that they didn’t use the altitude “lapse rate” method to calculate adjustments. They say it only “confirmed” adjustments made by another method.

So why did they ridicule us?

If NIWA have any credibility left it would be surprising.

How will Gareth Renowden respond to this? Is he getting the picture yet?

More later.

4 Thoughts on “STOP PRESS: Wellington “altitude fix” was a lie – NIWA

  1. Rodney Hide on March 12, 2010 at 6:36 pm said:

    Unbelievable. NIWA’s head honchos mocked me in Minister Smith’s office explaining to me like I was an imbecile that of course adjustments had to be made because the Kelburn site was higher than the Thorndon site.

    Minister Mapp now tells Parliament that no adjustment has been made for that reason.

    And this is science??

    There needs to be an independent inquiry into NIWA’s methods and practices.

  2. Barry Brill on March 13, 2010 at 1:41 pm said:

    Back in 2007, NIWA Chief Scientist David Wratt entered into a discussion regarding Wellington temp adjustments on the Climate Audit blog run by Steve McIntyre – the famed Canadian breaker of hockey-sticks. Steve had pointed out in detail that international datasets by NASA, GHCN, showed Wellington temp records which were very different from NIWA.

    Dr Wratt sprang to NIWA’s defence explaining “The [Kelburn] data set does not start until January 1928. Before this, the Wellington measurements were taken much closer to sea level”.

    There followed many pages of erudite to-and-fro about dry adiabatic lapse-rates and the like, before Dr Wratt posted:

    ” Steve – Regarding your comment #92 on lapse rates: When one of my colleagues looked a few months ago at an overlap period between Wellington Airport and Kelburn, he found an average temperature difference of 0.79C. This works out at a lapse rate of 0.65C per hundred metres (averaged over the period he looked at) – about what I would expect given Wellington’s windy climate.

    Regarding comment number 85 on waiting for some US top gun climatologists to analyse Australia and New Zealand data: We do actually have some top-gun climatologists of our own in this part of the world who have worked on this and published papers in the peer-reviewed literature. Over the coming year we (NIWA) are planning to do a careful update analysis on NZ climate variability and trends from the historical database, which we will submit for publication once we have put it through our own review processes”.

    So, promises to “review” NZ historical climate trends have been around for a few years. But the days of NIWA’s top-gun climatologist publishing papers were over – within two years, he had been fired.

  3. in january 2009 my outdoor weather station in khandallah read one saturday afternoon 29.3c yet on onenews that night he figure was 17c?? what??? and today same goes, 25.6 in khandallah yet the metservice reads 16c?? when and where are wellingtons temperatures taken??

    • I don’t remember whether Khandallah is much exposed, but the weather station is up by the Cable Car, by the Carter Observatory, and it’s very exposed. So perhaps it’s just a matter of your place being pretty sheltered?

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