Maze of mystery maths — NIWA facing fallout


— by Barry Brill, Chairman of the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition

In tracking the provenance of the official New Zealand temperature record, all roads lead to an “Appendix C”, which was annexed to a doctoral thesis written long before the heyday of “global warming”. This Appendix has never been published or digitised and the sole copy resides in the ‘reserved’ section of the library at Victoria University of Wellington.

The lengthy Appendix discusses some 25 weather stations throughout New Zealand which were shown by MetService records to have undergone site changes at various times. It raises diverse ways of adjusting data, ranging from measuring the rate of glacial melt to alignment with comparable stations. It makes no reference to scientific authority, because there was nothing available in the literature in those early days.

The Appendix then suggests a series of possible adjustments which do not follow any discernible set of rules, but rely heavily on the author’s instincts and preferences. The details are relegated to annexed Worksheets.

There is nothing complicated about the idea of calculating missing data by reference to nearby substitutes. The whole trick is in the execution. Is reliable data available for the period in question? Is it sufficiently comparable? How long a series is required? What objective rules should guide the analyst’s choices? Is any independent confirmation available? What are the error margins?

All of these key issues, as well as the metadata and the actual calculations of possible temperature changes, are assigned to the Worksheets.

So where are these critical supplementary documents? Alas, they are lost.

In response to an Official Information Act request, NIWA confided on 29 January 2010:

The original worksheets and/or computer records used for the calculations in Dr Salinger’s thesis work are the property of Dr Salinger, who no longer works for NIWA. NIWA does not hold copies.

But copyright is not the only problem.

In answer to Parliamentary Question 1200 (2010) the Minister of Research, the Hon Dr Wayne Mapp, advised the House:

NIWA holds the ‘raw’ climate data in its National Climate Database, site history information and the adjusted time series. The original worksheets and/or computer records used by Dr Jim Salinger to construct the ‘seven-station’ temperature series are no longer available, having been held on a superseded computer system.

It turns out that the sole copy of the Worksheets was held on the mainframe at VUW when it was replaced in 1983. The key details of the ‘Salinger adjustments’ are gone forever.

Without the Worksheets, it is not possible to replicate the results shown in the Appendix.

consequences, breaking wave

A well-documented attempt to replicate the 30-year-old calculations is set out in “Creating a Composite Temperature Record for Hokitika”, prepared by NIWA’s Dr Brett Mullan and published on NIWA’s website on 9 February 2010. As with so many attempts, Dr Mullan failed to reproduce Dr Salinger’s adjustments in respect of the alleged 1912 discontinuity at Hokitika.

Dr Mullan comments that his broad methodology for adjusting the pre-1912 data is taken from the suggestion made by Dr Salinger that Hokitika be aligned with comparable stations. The difficulty is that there are no pre-1912 records from any neighbouring weather stations in Hokitika or, indeed, from any other station anywhere along the West Coast of the South Island.

Undaunted, Dr Salinger chose four distant stations as his Hokitika comparators: Musselburgh in Dunedin, Appleby in Nelson, Christchurch Gardens and Lincoln. He used 1881–1945 as the alignment period. No reasons are offered for any of these selections and, if they existed, they must have been confined to the Worksheets.

Musselburgh, Dunedin: From Mullan’s “The NIWA Seven-station Temperature Series” (Schedule of Adjustments) we learn that the Dunedin station moved from Leith Valley to the Botanical Gardens to the Reservoir during the alignment period, and needed four temperature adjustments. The whole period is then further affected by an adjustment for consistency with Musselburgh.

Appleby, Nelson: The Schedule of Adjustments discloses that Nelson moved from the City to Nile Street to Cawthron Institute to Appleby during the alignment period, and required multiple adjustments. Perhaps worse, all data from 1881 to 1907 is missing.

Christchurch Gardens: All data for the key period 1881–1904 is missing. In his peer-reviewed paper “Apparent Trends of Real Temperature in New Zealand Since 1930”, (1980), JWD Hessell notes that this station’s records are biased by urbanisation and extensive tree growth.

Lincoln: During the alignment period, the Lincoln station moved (within the University grounds) on no less than five occasions. It required four downward adjustments prior to 1943, and two upward adjustments subsequently.

Did Dr Salinger use the original data in these cases — even when he believed it to be wrong? If not, did he adjust Dunedin by comparison with Hokitika or vice-versa? Were Lincoln and Christchurch Gardens corrected before being used as comparators for Nelson? It is difficult to resist the image of a dog chasing its own tail.

With all of the Nelson and Christchurch data missing for most of the relevant time, it is a mystery how their pre-1912 temperatures could have been compared with anything.

Dr Salinger calculates that the Hokitika records for 1866–80 should be reduced by 0.2°C. As the MetService Note indicates that nothing changed for the 1881–1912 period, it is reasonable to expect the same adjustment for that period. But Dr Salinger inexplicably increases the adjustment to 1.1°C. (In the Schedule of Adjustments, Dr Mullan calls it 1.3°C). Why these disparities?

The Salinger thesis explicitly recognises that different parts of the country respond differently to oscillations such as ENSO, and considers eight indices defined by Trenberth (1975). It is surprising, therefore, that he sought to require Hokitika variances to clone those of (say) Dunedin.

Sadly, Dr Mulllan is unable to shed any light on how Dr Salinger might have coped with all these challenges and mysteries. The recorded reasoning, if any, was lost with the Worksheets in 1983 and NIWA has never been able to second-guess or reverse-engineer them.

Faced with all these imponderables, and unable to replicate the Worksheet, Dr Mullan abandoned the Salinger process entirely. Instead, he set about a wholly new project of comparing the pre-1912 Hokitika data with a weather station in Auckland (Albert Park), and using 1900-25 as his truncated alignment period.

consequences, owl on rat

It is troubling that different analysts are apparently free to choose whatever comparator or time period might suit their purposes. Such subjectivity is more usually associated with art, rather than science.

Even the decision whether to simply use the Hokitika original data or to attempt some form of adjustment is apparently a subjective one. In the Schedule of Adjustments, we find a footnote:

Rather than delete this [Hokitika] data permanently from the records, the period 1894-1912 is flagged, and it is up to the analyst to decide whether to use the data or not. This has long been the philosophy of the climate section at NIWA.

So NIWA’s “philosophy” is that the official temperature record is a discretionary matter, left to the whim of the analyst of the day? Little wonder no independent scientist has ever been able to replicate NIWA’s series.

There are four additional comments which should be made:

  1. NIWA has been inclined to defend its failure to review the Salinger adjustments on the grounds that they would have been checked by the supervisors and examiners of the thesis. It is now clear that such problems as decades of missing comparative data were not picked up. But that is not too surprising, as these calculations were in the nature of an aside to the mainstream proposition – a Worksheet supporting a minor Appendix. Further, neither supervisor was either a climate scientist or a statistician, and this excursion was very far from their respective areas of expertise.
  2. The constant refrain that “all the data is available on the NIWA online database” has never been true of the Hokitika station. Quite simply, the 1943 site change was never disclosed — see footnote 3 to the Mullan paper:
  3. This database oversight will be corrected shortly. All Site 1 data for the overlap period will need to be digitised … then a new agent number created, and the Site 2 data for Aug-1943 to Dec-1964 transferred from agent number 3907 to the new agent number.

  4. The claim that the Salinger thesis method was published in the Rhoades & Salinger paper of 1993 is nonsense. The abstract of that paper makes it abundantly clear it is focused on methodology that is usable only when close neighbours are available for comparison — and it uses an entirely different base of calculations:
  5. Parallel cumulative sums of seasonally adjusted series from neighbouring stations are a useful exploratory tool for recognizing site-change effects at a station that has a number of near neighbours.

  6. Finally, it is a real concern that NIWA has made no attempt to assess the error margins of the Hokitika adjustment. Hessell (above) demonstrates a ‘median runs test’ to determine the trend bias at Albert Park in Auckland. Rhoades & Salinger (above) discusses single-site statistical analysis to identify inhomogeneities within a series. No adjustment should ever be accepted unless it is provably superior on an objective statistical test.

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22 Thoughts on “Maze of mystery maths — NIWA facing fallout

  1. Kilted Mushroom on 27/08/2010 at 9:44 pm said:

    I am sure you must feel dispirited at times, given the lack of comments on this site, please do not be. I imagine you have the same problem in NZ as we have here in OZ, lack of MSM coverage and or the bias shown.
    You are being heard even if we do not reply. It is difficult to get involved in the argument (not discussion) when one comes from an experience-only base and not a scientific one. By that I mean that I have lived through three changes of cyclic climate, on the current scale, and cannot prove or disprove the current esoteric argument due to my lack of education in “post modern” science. Although I may be able to explain the term, I cannot understand the concept.
    Your current court case I fully support and believe that, ultimately, once again, the NZ spirit will lead the way. Not that you will be recognised for your courage and fortitude, so what is new about that?

    • You are being heard even if we do not reply.

      Thanks, Kilted Mushroom (I wonder if you feel you’re being kept in the dark and fed on ….?). It can feel quite lonely at times, yet the rightness of what we’re doing never dims. Your perceptive comments quite reinvigorate the spirit and I appreciate your candour in confessing a lack of scientific expertise; I’m in a similar boat myself. It’s good to have scientists to discuss things with. Well, it’s vital.

      Just by the way, though I’m pleased you confirm we’re being heard though you’re silent, our site traffic figures are humbling, with around 200,000 hits per month from 7000 different sites making 16,000 visits, about 60% of them from overseas. About 60,000 pages are served in a month. That’s a lot of people paying some kind of attention.

      A politician would be pleased with that, even if some of the attention was negative.


      PS: Your final remark confirms that fighting this battle is, simply, the right thing to do.

  2. Ron on 28/08/2010 at 11:04 am said:

    Congratulations on your persistent detective work and courage Barry, may it receive wider recognition.
    I have a science background and am appalled at the obfuscation and apparent lack of integrity shown by official climate “science” + circling of the wagons by the wider scientific establishment. I hope your evidence and the conclusions get through and a proper debate is possible. It is baffling why the MSM won’t run with this.
    I suspect many people are confused by the arguments and will tend to believe authority. Would it be worth trying to get pieces published in the main newspapers to summarize the background to the court case, also answering eg. some of the academic outbursts?

    • Ron,

      Yes, Barry is an inspiration and his intellectual grasp of the science is formidable.

      Would it be worth trying to get pieces published in the main newspapers to summarize the background to the court case, also answering e.g. some of the academic outbursts?

      That’s a good idea, and we keep trying! They printed our latest press release once it was picked up by the NZPA, but that’s the first for a while. Mostly they print opposing opinions. It’s the main newspapers which are the stumbling blocks. I mean, they ARE the MSM!

      Still, it’s weight of numbers that will move them, and the more comments here the stronger the evidence of those.

      Thanks, Ron.

  3. Roger Dewhurst on 28/08/2010 at 2:13 pm said:

    “The original worksheets and/or computer records used for the calculations in Dr Salinger’s thesis work are the property of Dr Salinger, who no longer works for NIWA. NIWA does not hold copies.”

    Perhaps that is the real reason why Salinger was sacked. NIWA did not want those worksheets to see the light of day!

  4. Rodney Hide on 29/08/2010 at 3:12 pm said:

    Great analysis Barry.

    I am afraid on this NIWA look shonkier and shonkier. They should just come clean.

    You know there are problems when one of our supposed premier government research institutes is hiring PR spin merchants to answer parliamentary questions about their basic science.

    Sooner or later they are going to have to front up. I would suggest it would go better for NIWA if they fronted up sooner.

    • Irresponsible rubbish, Rodney. No wonder your mates are ashamed of you. You sound just like the normal fanatic climate denier. And are just as bereft as far as evidence is concerned.

      Will you have the courage to allow yourself to be cross examined in the high court on statements like these?

      Will you be prepared to go down with the CSC when they are exposed for the slander and lies they have been telling?

    • Clarence on 29/08/2010 at 5:53 pm said:

      Devastating repartee, Ken. Rapier-like wit, and telling arguments. And your point is …..?

    • Quentin F on 30/08/2010 at 2:03 pm said:

      Ken you sound like the rest of the alarmists.Youll be dying breed the planet is against you alarmists (Im referring to mother nature). were getting colder. I suggest alarmists are the fanatics!

    • Ken,

      You say to Rodney:

      You sound just like the normal fanatic climate denier. And are just as bereft as far as evidence is concerned.

      He needed no evidence to assert what is commonly known, which is that NIWA have been employing a PR firm, for they openly gave details in the Parliament. But what of the evidence that you are supposed to present for dangerous man-made global warming? Do you have some yet? If you say it is happening you absolutely must provide evidence of it.

      Will you have the courage to allow yourself to be cross examined in the high court on statements like these?

      He has more courage than you guess, but it’s deeply stupid to suggest “these comments” might reach the High Court. Why would they?

      Will you be prepared to go down with the CSC when they are exposed for the slander and lies they have been telling?

      Do you have a reference for the slander and lies?


  5. Read it Clarence. Read it.

  6. (not so) Silent on 30/08/2010 at 1:19 pm said:

    Ken, the game is almost up.
    McIntyre, McKittrick and Herman 2010 is the final nail.
    You cant prove that CO2 is making the so called hot spots. The link is gone.,

  7. Quentin F on 30/08/2010 at 2:05 pm said:

    It now looks like all surface temperatures are ‘fiddled’ with.

  8. Chris on 30/08/2010 at 9:36 pm said:

    Everything is fiddled. All the mainstream climatologists of the world are idiots, making things up left right and centre. They don’t care that they are wasting all their training and lives on making up data because they are all totally corrupt at heart. The governments of the world listen to them because they are corrupt too – not because they are convinced the science is actually right.

    The ocean temperatures around the world are also part of the fiddling. The rising sea levels and diminishing greenland, arctic and antarctic ice are also due to fiddling. The ph levels in the oceans increasing by 20% are due to fiddling. Satellite surface temperatures are also fiddled. CO2 levels are fiddled. Globally, record daily maximums occuring twice as often as record daily minimums is only really due to fiddling. Equatorial glaciation disappearing is a figment of our imaginations………

    So to apply a remark to this ridiculous statement
    “You cant prove that CO2 is making the so called hot spots. The link is gone”

    There are many highly measurable things in the list above that strongly suggest (notice i didn’t stay ‘prove’) made made global warming.

    • Mike Jowsey on 31/08/2010 at 6:47 am said:

      “There are many highly measurable things in the list above that strongly suggest (notice i didn’t stay ‘prove’) made made global warming.”
      Total rot, Chris. Where is the link between your alarmist list and anthropogenic Co2? What is the theoretical effect on global temperature of a doubling of Co2? Why do the Vostok ice cores display Co2 levels rising as a result of temperature rise, not as a cause?

  9. (not so) Silent on 31/08/2010 at 8:24 am said:

    Rising sea levels- wrong
    Diminishing greenland ice- wrong
    Diminishing arctic ice-wrong
    Diminishing antarctic ice- wrong
    UAH sats are fine ( thank you Roy Spencer and John Christy)
    CO2 Mauna Loa is fine
    Ocean Temps are cooling (PDO )
    I could go on. You really need to try to keep up Chris. Try reading other blogs apart from Hot Topic and Real Climate.
    And no conspiracy just too much “group think”.
    Nice report from The Interacademy Council. Looks like head will roll at the IPCC

    “Total rot, Chris. Where is the link between your alarmist list and anthropogenic Co2?”

    Exactly. This is the nub of the issue. Santer el al has been disproved. No more link between CO2 and hot spots. Sure, we are warming (by how much now?) but it isnt CO2 causing it.

  10. Quentin F on 31/08/2010 at 1:00 pm said:

    Unfortunately that report from the Inter-academy council, although said that there are problems, will just give the UN an excuse to “shift out” the top wackos (Pachauri and all his echelons) and replace them with other ‘alarmist wackos’ and carry on the same old crap.

  11. Quentin, Richard and Clarence.

    Come off it you guys. Pull your tongues in and stop quivering.

    Rodney faces worse criticism than mine in his normal caucus meetings.

    Rodney is old enough and ugly enough to look after himself. He doesn’y need lap dogs like you to do his dirty work. He is after alkl a politician and no self-respecting politician hands over that job to underlinhgs.

    Rodney probably enjoys my comments.

    But he is well lknown for being a bully – has he been bullkying you?

    I guess your behaviour is just the normal reaction of cowardly sycophants who wish to curry favour with their political bosses.

    • Ken,

      You’ve moved away from the topic into ad hominem remarks, so I should remove this comment; but I’ll leave it here to show everyone the drivel you’re prepared to send.

      You’re quite a disappointment. It would be nice to hear some answers from you to the questions I posed. Do you have no evidence for CAGW? No references for the “slander and lies” from the Coalition? Your talk is devoid of substance, sir.


      Our opponents respond with mindless, rattlepated foolishness. They have no arguments left. We’ve done well. Stay strong.

  12. Ron on 02/09/2010 at 3:36 pm said:

    Ken, it is just that sort of behaviour (ignoring the issue, introducing red herrings, resorting to puerile insults and ad hominems), which is alienating those of us looking for facts, evidence and reasoned argument.

  13. Ron, if you don’t like “ignoring the issue, introducing red herrings, resorting to puerile insults and ad hominems” – then why come to this site. It’s well known for such things.And why drool over Rodney – hardly a reliable source of anything!

    If you want to get information on climate science go to the climate scientists – not to those who slander them. Don’t forget their report “Are you getting warmer?” yet has been thoroughly discredited.

    Here’s a start IPCC Publications and Data

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