Nature Climate Change | Climate Feedback

Met Office calls for improved global temperature record

The UK Met Office has asked the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to create a new state-of-the art dataset of global land surface air temperatures for improved climate diagnostics.

Three independent temperature datasets are currently being maintained by the Met Office, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and by the US National Climatic Data Center. Each record is constructed on the basis of monthly average raw data from selected meteorological stations around the world, and all show similar magnitudes and rates of warming over the last century.

But the datasets are not flawless (biases can occur, for example, when stations are being relocated, or when instrumentation is exchanged) and their monthly resolution is too coarse for studies of fine-scale climate features such as changes in daily temperature extremes.

At a meeting in Antalya, Turkey, the WMO’s commission for climatology has endorsed the Met Office’s proposal of reanalyzing existing records and creating a refined global temperature dataset.

“This initiative will not replace the current temperature datasets, but will augment existing records, and involve work across the international meteorological community. The proposed dataset will provide information as well as informing decisions on adapting to climate change, something existing datasets don’t provide,” the Met Office says in a statement.

Any new dataset needs to be “open to scrutiny providing independent assessments of surface temperature”, it says.

Critics have previously complained about lack of transparency in climate studies based on global temperature records maintained by the Met Office in collaboration with the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit.

The full text of the Met Office proposal is available here (pdf file).

Most meteorological stations do report hourly temperature measurements. But updating existing records accordingly will require an enormous amount of data to be reprocessed.

The proposed exercise would require at least three years of work and may cost several million Euros, says a WMO spokesman. Funding is not yet secured, he says.

A common databank of verifiable temperature record could add weight to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which has lately come under fire for a series of inaccuracies in its 2007 report.

The Washington Post yesterday quoted the group’s chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, as saying that IPCC will “leave no stone unturned” to come up with a set of measures to ensure its authors adhere to rigorous scientific standards.

Quirin Schiermeier


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