Deconstructing UN press release

After dissecting Canada’s “warmest year ever” I thought I would perform a similar deconstruction of this UN press release anouncing 2010 the globe’s warmest year on record.  After this examination, it should be obvious that the sins of omission in this press release are not mistakes but rather show intent to deceive.

above: what the release looked like on the CBC website.

The Devil and the Details

Problem 1

What is said:

“The warmest year on record is a three-way tie: 2010, 2005 and 1998. So says the United Nations weather agency, providing further evidence Thursday that the planet is slowly but surely heating up.”

What is left out:

The “on record” here refers to the satellite record (the surface record shows 1934 was warmer than 2010,2005,1998) which only began in 1979.  It is accurate and without the uncertainty of surface records, but it is not a long record.  The same satellite  shows that we are currently below average. The graph above is the data from the AQUA satellite.  The orange line is the average and the red line is 2011.  Here is a quick breakdown of the 2010 AMSR-E satellite data by month and region.  The numbers represent degrees above or below the average of satellite data since 1979.  Once again, dissecting the average yields surprising information. (NH=northern hemisphere SH=southern hemisphere)

YR    MON   GLOBE   NH        SH        TROPICS
2010 Jan     0.542      0.675      0.410     0.635
2010 Feb    0.510       0.553      0.466    0.759
2010 Mar   0.554       0.665      0.443    0.721
2010 Apr    0.400      0.606     0.193    0.633
2010 May   0.454      0.642      0.265    0.706
2010 Jun    0.385      0.482      0.287    0.485
2010 Jul     0.419       0.558       0.280   0.370
2010 Aug   0.441       0.579       0.304   0.321
2010 Sep   0.477        0.410       0.545    0.237
2010 Oct    0.306      0.257       0.356    0.106
2010 Nov   0.273      0.372       0.173    -0.117
2010 Dec   0.180      0.213       0.147    -0.221

If you average all the months together, it is a mathematical fact that it is statistically the same as 2005 and 1998 (the warmest of 1979-2011 satellite record) so the press release isn’t lying.  But the data also shows the world cooling for the entirety of 2010.  It also shows the entire warming signal from the industrial revoultion to the present, evaporating in a single season. It was warm but now it isn’t.

Conclusion One. The UN press release replaces “was warm” with “is warming.” A past observation is turned into a current process. Their own data disproves this statement.


Problem 2

What is said:

Arctic sea ice cover in December was the smallest since records began in 1979, with an average monthly extent of 12 million square kilometres. The ice cover is considered a marker of climate change

What is left out:

The claim is made that December had the lowest ice extent recorded (since 1979)  What they mean to say is that the ice area in Dec was the lowest compared to other Decembers.  In fact for other months in 2010, the ice extent was above average. Once again, here is the actual satellite data.

You can see the headline statement represents only a couple of days in 2010.  For only a couple of days did the tan line dip beneath the purple line of 2007.  It fails to mention that maximum ice extent was above average.  It is true that the minimum area for 2010 is lower than average but to ignore above average maximum extent seems dishonest.  You can also see that ice extent has been increasing from a low in 2007.

Also left out of the headline is the fact that the total volume of ice has been increasing.  Here is the data collected by the US Navy.  The image on the left shows the difference in ice thickness over 2010.  You may have to click it to see it larger but you can see that in 2010, the ice grew in thickness everywhere.

Conclusion 2.  The press release used a couple of days of data to make a claim about the Arctic. It ignored data showing ice was above average for several monthsThe release also ignored an increase in ice volume over the entire year. The 2010 data shows above average maximum area and increasing  volume but the UN press release spun that into “Arctic sea ice cover in December was the smallest since records began.”


Problem 3

What is said:

Average temperatures globally last year were 0.53 C higher than the 1961-90 mean that is used for comparison purposes, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

“The 2010 data confirm the Earth’s significant long-term warming trend,” said Michel Jarraud, WMO’s top official.  The 10 warmest years after records began in 1854 have all occurred since 1998…rising global temperatures over the last century are causing climate experts to worry.

What is left out:

Since satellite measurements only began in 1979, and they now refer to measurements going back to the 60’s, they are clearly changing data sets and referring to a surface temperature record. What they do not tell you  is the margin of error in the measurements.  A recently published paper (Patrick Frank, Palo Alto, CA 94301-2436, USA, Energy and Environment, Volume 21, Number 8 / December 2010 DOI: 10.1260/0958-305X.21.8.969) calculates the lower limit of error at  +/- .46 degrees.  Again, the press release numbers are not incorrect, just devoid of context making their conclusions unsupportable.

Next, they mention the “earth’s significant long term trends.” Above is the long term trend since the last glaciation and the beginning of civilization.  You can see for most of the last 10,000 years, the world has been much warmer.  The report ignores these trends by implying that a warmer world is unusual.

Conclusion 3. The UN release switches data sets without alerting the reader and without providing a margin of error for the measurement.  The “warmest year on record” is only a few HUNDEREDTHS of a degree above the measurement uncertainty. That doesn’t “confirm a long term trend.”  Regardless,  long term trends show that a warmer world has been the norm.

Final Conclusion

What I have presented here are not mistakes. Their facts are accurate. What I have shown is a great effort to mislead.  Through omission of relevant data, and omission of context,  this press release is indistinguishable from a swindle.  The authors seem intent on leaving the reader with conclusions not supported by facts or contrary to facts.

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2 Responses to Deconstructing UN press release

  1. Captainorange says:

    Nicely presented, Dr. Thanks.

    Really, all I care about at this moment is that it will be much warmer tomorrow. In this case I don’t consider it a crisis, but rather an opportunity to make a great snow fort.

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