Monthly Archives: February 2020

Climate at Townsville

Dr. Bill Johnston

Dr. Bill Johnston’s scientific interests include agronomy, soil science, hydrology and climatology. With colleagues, he undertook daily weather observations from 1971 to 1979.

Abstract

Main points

  • Aerial photographs and Royal Australian Air Force plans and documents held by the National Library and National Archives of Australia show the Stevenson screen at Townsville airport moved at least three, possibly four times before 1969 while it was on the eastern side of the main runway; and probably twice between when it moved to a mound on the western side in January 1970 and to the current automatic weather station site in December 1994.
  • Of those site changes, a site move in 1953/54 and another in 1970 resulted in step-changes in maximum temperature data that were unrelated to the climate. A step-change in minima in 1968 appeared to be due to nearby disturbances associated with building an extension to the met-office. Importantly, except in the Bureau’s Garbutt instruments file, which is online at the National Archives (Barcode 12879364), none of the relocations or nearby changes are listed or described in site-summary metadata.   
  • By ignoring prior changes and smoothing the 1994 transition to the automatic weather station and small (60-litre) Stevenson screen, homogenisation created trends in maximum and minimum temperature that had nothing to do with the climate. 
  • Accounting simultaneously for site-related changes and covariates (rainfall for Tmax and Tmax for Tmin) leaves no residual trend, change or cycles attributable to the climate. Thus there is no evidence that the climate has warmed or changed.

Background

Like many of Australia’s ACORN-SAT weather stations[1], the site at Townsville airport was set-up in 1939 as an Aeradio office for monitoring air-traffic and to provide advice of inclement weather along the east coast route between Melbourne and Port Moresby.

Changes in facilities, instruments and functions caused the site to move irregularly; however, moves and changes prior to December 1994 were not detailed in ACORN-SAT or site-summary metadata. Despite repeated assurances in peer-reviewed publications written by Bureau climate scientists and others, that the history of ACORN-SAT sites had been exhaustively researched and appropriate adjustments had been made for the effect of site changes on data, it was not the case at Cairns and neither is it true for Townsville.

As there is no measurable change or warming in temperature data for Townsville Airport, claims of catastrophic consequences for the Great Barrier Reef are unfounded in the temperature data and, as a consequence, are grossly overstated.

Click here to download the full paper including photographs and tables of data used.


[1] http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/change/acorn-sat/documents/ACORN-SAT-Station-Catalogue-2012-WEB.pdf