Renwick goes off the air

Dr James Renwick

Earlier this year I struck up a conversation with Dr James Renwick, NIWA Principal Climate Scientist. But we only exchanged a few messages; these were the last. After eight weeks I guess he no longer intends answering so I want to reveal the awkward questions he wasn’t prepared to answer. Here is his last email to me, followed by my response.

1 March 2010

Dear Richard:

In response to your mail of 23 February –

We have tabulated the adjustments (the “SOA”) and put them on our web site. Members of the CSC (Warwick Hughes, Vincent Gray) have had the necessary information for some time, as we have pointed out. Your document “Are we feeling warmer yet” illustrates the adjustments as step changes in the station graphs on pages 5-8.

Suspending hostilities is a good idea, but why were there hostilities in the first place? If you had questions about the data, why not call and talk to us? I’m pleased you’re happy with the SOA and other information we’ve put on our web site recently and I assume this puts to rest the issues you and the CSC have about the veracity of trends in New Zealand temperature over the past century.

We’ll be posting further information over the next few months. Regarding your specific questions, Albert Park station was used up to 1975 (as indicated in our SOA). Mangere is a separate site 5km north of Auckland airport. The Nelson adjustment from 2001 is indeed large, but is what the data comparison shows.



Dr James Renwick
Principal Scientist, Climate Variability & Change
Private Bag 14901, Wellington
+64-4-386-0343 +64-21-178-5550

7 March 2010

Dear James,

Thank you for the answers in your mail of March 1.

Yes, our study illustrates the adjustments. However we only know their total magnitudes from Jim Salinger’s spreadsheet. The components of each change and their reasons are still unknown to us. So thanks for posting up Hokitika, it was a good piece of work and a good beginning.

We haven’t finished examining the SOA and Dr Mullen’s excellent discussion of Hokitika so although we’re happy to see them we’re not ready to say that we’re happy with them. You say you “assume this puts to rest the issues you and the CSC have about the veracity of trends in New Zealand temperature over the past century.” I’m surprised you suggest that publishing only Hokitika might do that, since we asked to know the adjustments for all seven stations. You must publish the other six stations first, James, and then we need to check them.

Your iconic temperature graph is unjustified until you finish reconstructing the adjustments. What do you intend to do about that? We strongly suggest you withdraw that product until you can validate it.

I’m disappointed to hear you repeat the canard about Warwick and Vincent having the “necessary information”. I said in my last mail “those statements don’t answer our request for the adjustments”. If you disagree with that, please say so clearly.

I repeat that there’s nothing in those emails that enable replication of Salinger’s adjustments. If you want to, send me the emails you have and I’ll be happy to compare them with the emails Warwick and Vincent found in their records and verify whether they’re the same. But if you don’t want to do that, please don’t keep telling me what isn’t true.

I’m glad to observe that hostilities seem to be declining. We noticed that you removed all the critical articles from your web site, those feisty press releases, “What the Coalition knew”, all that stuff’s gone. That’s great news! What’s happening over there? Something’s changed. Or is it unrelated to your relationship with the Coalition?

On the subject of hostility, I should remind you that the Coalition has asked for the adjustments for years and been repeatedly rebuffed. No other explanation is required to understand the hostility. It’s nice to hear you say “just ring us” and I will take up your invitation one day, but it does seem as though you’ve forgotten quite recent history. I’m all for mending fences, but both sides must share the work.

You’ve announced you’ll delay the work on the other six stations until the next financial year. We can’t understand why you promised the Herald you’d have “all the adjustments” on your web site by early February. Why have you changed your mind?

This decision might make sense to you, but to outsiders, let me tell you frankly that it looks derelict. You’ve got this gaping hole shot through your credibility on the national temperature record and you should be rushing to mend it. It should mean everything to you. Because if people think that you don’t get the temperatures right, how will they accept your climate advice?

In emails sent to me I notice a lot of interest in the fact that you gave us misleading citations and claimed the adjustments were in Salinger’s thesis when they were not and even in the fact that for thirty years you’ve relied on a student’s untested system and then ignored a strong rebuttal from the experienced Hessell. You should answer these concerns.

Ordinary Kiwis seem to understand the simple fact that changes to temperature readings are often necessary but you have not disclosed yours. If you were to quickly sort out the adjustments it would tell them you were made of strong stuff, you sort out your problems and above all you value simple, honest science.

What a great result that would be for our foremost environmental organisation.


Richard Treadgold
Climate Conversation Group

Visits: 380

5 Thoughts on “Renwick goes off the air

  1. Gary Kerkin on 01/05/2010 at 3:10 pm said:

    As you point out, Hokitika is only one example of where adjustments have been made and while they have indicated the adjustments, no rational justification has been given. Others have barely been explained, let alone justified. An example is the adjustment of Wellington records because of the altitude of the Kelburn station – stated but not justified (proved, if you like).

    I would like to know, let alone understand, the justification for adopting, as a proxy, the trends (alleged or demonstrable) at a station several hundreds of kilometres away and applying them to a particular station.

    • The interesting thing is that the adjustments to Thorndon because the station moved to Kelburn are a complete red herring. All that talk about altitudes was just a complicated attempt by NIWA to show the Coalition in a bad light. No adjustments based on altitude differences have been applied there. This is shown in both Salinger’s thesis and Mullan’s February paper, where all adjustments have apparently been based on comparison with “neighbouring” stations.

      In fact, altitude calculations have never produced adjustments at any of the seven stations in the official national record.

      Yes, we all want to know how comparing Auckland with Hokitika assists in adjusting the temperature readings at either station.

  2. Mike J on 01/05/2010 at 4:59 pm said:

    Your emails to Dr. Renwick seem entirely reasonable. I am amazed that there is no response. It looks highly suspicious and political, certainly not what one would expect of a man of science. And not what one would require of a public servant. What higher authority can you appeal to? FOI requests, perhaps?

  3. There was no response to the Coalition’s earlier FOI request so I doubt that would be a fruitful exercise. I think we’re engaged on the most promising avenue, which is public pressure. With ACT presenting a barrage of questions in the Parliament and various Coalition figures writing letters to politicians, blogs and in newspapers, along with the occasional interviews, we’re seeing evidence of a change in attitude at NIWA. Certainly Wayne Mapp, the minister, seems to make sure our questions get answered.

    It would be nice if the MSM finally noticed what was happening, and that there really is an important and compelling story behind it all.

  4. Maybe those on the SI should visit Amberley:

    “Jim Renwick is giving a talk on climate change at the Hurunui Library (yes, the one in the heat pump ads) in Amberley on Monday, July 5th at 7-30pm. All welcome.”

    I think there are questions that should be answered.

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