A federal government investigator has rejected a powerful U.S. senator’s claim that National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration scientists may have fabricated data to support the agency’s case that climate change is ongoing.
Inhofe’s allegation arose from his interpretation of email sent to and from scientists at East Anglia University‘s Climatic Research Unit. Many skeptics of the scientific consensus that human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases are causing Earth’s atmosphere to warm have raised a similar charge.
“In our review of the CRU emails, we did not find any evidence that NOAA inappropriately manipulated data comprising the GHCN-M dataset or failed to adhere to appropriate peer review procedures,” U.S. Department of Commerce inspector general Todd J. Zinser wrote in a Feb. 18 letter to Inhofe that was released to the public Thursday.
Zinser was referring to the Global Historical Climatology Network-Monthly dataset, which is maintained by NOAA’s National Climactic Data Center.
He also concluded that NOAA adhered to appropriate peer review procedures before releasing the historical climate change data about which Inhofe expressed concern.
The e-mails Zinser investigated were among 1,073 stolen and leaked to the public in Nov. 2009. Zinser and his team of investigators examined all of those emails but focused their attention on 289 that involved NOAA in some manner.
The inspector general’s staff conducted a more detailed investigation of eight particular e-mails that were the principal source of Inhofe’s expression of concern.
One of those eight e-mails, which was sent by CRU’s deputy director, asked colleagues not to “let [the Co-Chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report Working Group 1] (or [a researcher at Pennsylvania State University]) push you (us) beyond where we know is right.” The sender was referring to “conclusions beyond what we can securely justify.”
The sender told Zinser’s investigators that the purpose of this email was to encourage scientists working on the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report were assuring a clear statement about the factual support for the conclusions they provided in that report they wrote.
Another involving a 2007 exchange between a group of scientists not employed by NOAA that mentioned values on a climate data curve being “shifted” was found by Zinser to reflect the scientists’ adherence to a long-established procedure used to compensate for missing data.
The third, which related to a controversy relating to the extent of urban heat islands in China, had involved the NCDC director. Zinser concluded that he had not contributed the Chinese climate data at the center of the dispute, had not analyzed that data despite being a contributor to a 1990 academic article that critics thought had reached an erroneous conclusion about the impacts of climate change on Chinese metropolitan areas, and had, in a manner consistent with general practice in scientific fields of inquiry, worked only on his section of that paper.
The fourth email to which Inhofe pointed as possible evidence of fraud by NOAA scientists was sent by the CRU deputy director to a researcher at Pennsylvania State University. That email, which was sent Apr. 29, 2007, said that the writer was “particularly unhappy” that he could not get a “statement” relating to reinforcement of results obtained during the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report into the Summary for Policymakers section of the Fourth Assessment Report.
The CRU deputy director said he had done his “best” to get the information included in the Fourth Assessment Report, but had been “basically railroaded” by the co-chair of Working Group 1.
Zinser concluded that the information that the CRU deputy director wanted to have included in the Fourth Assessment Report was not included because the co-chair of Working Group 1 decided that the report would have greater clarity about the “similarities and differences” between the Third Assessment Report and the Fourth Assessment Report. Since the Third Assessment Report’s publication some research had indicated that there was a greater than anticipated historical variability in Northern Hemisphere temperatures.
Inhofe had also pointed to a fifth email, written by a university researcher to an NOAA scientist, asking that earlier emails showing that researcher’s participation in the development of the Fourth Assessment Report be deleted.
Zinser found that the emails referenced in the researcher’s message were deleted by the NOAA scientist, but that the NOAA scientist had received the request before he commenced government service and, therefore, no agency records retention policies had been violated.
A sixth email at issue related to a Freedom of Information Act request for NOAA data used to compile a temperature trend report contained in a 2008 academic article. NOAA had informed the requester that it did not have the information sought, but in fact CRU researchers may have had such data.
Zinser concluded that the particular data the requester had sought was never in the hands of any NOAA scientists and that the data that the CRU researchers in fact had was not the data that had been requested.
A seventh email referred to “quality control procedures” applied by NOAA on temperature data after it is collected by GHCN, instead of at the time the data is reported to the agency.
Zinser found that this method is justified as a means for the NOAA to take account of new information contained in late reports and that, in any event, it will be less essential after the agency deploys improvements to GHCN-M.
Finally, Zinser’s investigators found that an Oct. 6, 2009 email referring to “data gaps” in NCDC’s database, as compared to those maintained by CRU and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, referred to the separate collection of land and sea temperature data by NCDC or the omission of non-public data pursuant to NOAA policy. GISS researchers interpolate ocean data into a land temperature database, and vice versa, and both that agency and CRU may not have policies requiring the exclusion of proprietary data from their databases.
The report by the Commerce Department’s inspector general is at least the sixth to conclude that the scientists who sent or received the 1,073 leaked emails did not engage in any improper behavior. There have been three inquiries in Britain and two in the United States, by the National Research Council and Pennsylvania State University.
Zinser’s review and further investigation of two other emails did prompt some mild criticism of NOAA on grounds having nothing to do with adherence to proper research techniques or scientific methodology.
His report to Inhofe indicated that NOAA had improperly handled four requests for information under FOIA by failing to assure that individual scientists working for the agency were made aware of them. One other scientist who had been aware of the FOIA requests incorrectly concluded that the information they sought was the property of the IPCC.
Zinser suggested that NOAA review the CRU’s compliance with the terms of two contracts awarded in 2002 and 2003 to conduct training on the impacts of the periodic La Nina and El Nino events. The total value of those contracts was $66,240.
The inspector general also criticized one e-mail message, sent by a senior NCDC scientist to a CRU colleague, that contained an “inappropriate image.”
The image was a caricature of Inhofe, created by another NCDC scientist, in which the Oklahoma Republican was shown, along with several other famous climate change skeptics, atop an ice floe in the Arctic ocean. The second scientist created the cartoon on his government-issued computer during work hours.
Zinser reported that NOAA has disciplined the two scientists.