Is homogenisation of Australian temperature data any good?
Dr Bill Johnston
Homogenisation of Australian temperature data commenced in the late 1980s and by 1996 under the watchful eye of Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) scientist Neville Nicholls, who at that time was heavily involved with the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the fledgling Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the first Australian high-quality homogenised temperature dataset (HQ1) was produced by Simon Torok. This was followed in succession by an updated version in 2004 (HQ2) that finished in 2011, then the Australian Climate Observations Reference Network – Surface Air Temperature (ACORN-SAT) dataset, with version 1 (AcV1) released in 2012 being updated until 2017. AcV2 replaced ACV1 from 2018, with the most recent iteration AcV2.3 updated to December 2021.
Why is homogenisation important?
Data homogenisation represents the pinnacle of policy-driven science, meaning that following release of the First Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1990, for which Neville Nicholls was a substantial contributor, the Australian government set in-place a ‘climate’ agenda. Although initially rejected by Cabinet, in 1989 Labor Senator Graham Richardson proposed a 20% reduction in 1988 Australian greenhouse gas emission levels by 2005. The target was adopted in October 1990 as a bipartisan policy (i.e., by both major Australian political parties) and endorsed by a special premiers conference in Brisbane as the InterGovernmental Agreement on the Environment in February 1992 (https://faolex.fao.org/docs/pdf/aus13006.pdf). Following that meeting in February, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) was set-up by Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating in December 1992.
As outlined by the Parliamentary Library Service: https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/ Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp1516/Climate2015 this was the mechanism whereby the most important and far-reaching policy agenda since Federation in 1901, was ushered into place without a vote being cast by the unsuspecting electorate. However, in order to support the policy:
- Land-surface temperatures had to be shown to be warming year-on-year, particularly since 1950.
- Models were needed that predicted climate calamities into the future.
- Natural resources -related science, which was previously the prerogative of the States, required reorganisation under a funding model that guided outcomes in the direction of the policy agenda.
- Particular attention was also paid to messaging climate alarm regularly and insistently by all levels of government.
As it provides the most tangible evidence of climate warming, trend in maximum temperature (Tmax) is of overarching importance. It is also the weakest link in the chain that binds Australians of every creed and occupation to the tyranny of climate action. If homogenisation of Tmax data is unequivocally shown to be a sham, other elements of the policy, including evidence relied on by the IPCC are on shaky ground. This is the subject of the most recent series of reports published by www.bomwatch.com.au.
The question in this paper is whether trend and changes in the combined Tmax dataset for Halls Creek, reflect site and instrument changes or changes in weather and climate.
Halls Creek maximum temperature data
Detailed analyses of Halls Creek Tmax using objective, replicable physically-based BomWatch protocols found data were affected by a change at the old post office in 1917, another in 1952 after the site moved to the Aeradio office at the airport in 1950, and another in 2013 due to houses being built within 30m of the Stevenson screen two years before it relocated about 500m southeast to its present position in September 2015. Three step-changes resulted in four data segments; however, mean Tmax for the first and third segments were not different.
While the quality of data observed at the old post office was inferior to that of sites at the airport, taking site changes and rainfall into account simultaneously left no trend or change in Tmax data that could be attributed to climate change, CO2, coal mining, electricity generation or anything else. Furthermore, step-changes in the ratio of counts of data less than the 5th and greater than the 95th day-of-year dataset percentiles (low and high extremes respectively) were attributable to site changes and not the climate. Nothing in the data therefore suggests the climate of the region typified by Halls Creek Tmax has warmed or changed.
Homogenisation of Halls Creek data
As it was originally conceived, homogenisation aimed to remove the effects non-climate impacts on data, chief amongst those being weather station relocations and instrument changes, so homogenised data reflected trends and changes in the climate alone. In addition, ACORN-SAT sought to align extremes of data distributions so, in the words of Blair Trewin, data “would be more homogeneous for extremes as well as for means”. To achieve this, Trewin used first-differenced correlated reference series and complex methods to skew data distributions at identified changepoints based on transfer functions. This was found to result in an unrealistic exponential increase in upper-range extremes since 1985.
Reanalysis using BomWatch protocols and post hoc tests and scatterplots showed that in order to achieve statistically significant trends, homogenisation cooled past temperatures unrealistically and too aggressively. For instance, cool-bias increased as observed Tmax increased. It was also found that the First Law of Thermodynamics on which BomWatch protocols are based, did not apply to homogenised Tmax data. This shows that the Bureau’s homogenisation methods produce trends in homogenised Tmax data that are unrelated to the weather, and therefore cannot reflect the climate.
As it was consensus-driven and designed to serve the political ends of WWF and Australia’s climate industrial elites, and it has no statistical, scientific or climatological merit, the ACORN-SAT project is a disgrace and should be abandoned in its entirety.
 Former NSW Department of Natural Resources research scientist and weather observer.
Two important links – find out more
First Link: The page you have just read is the basic cover story for the full paper. If you are stimulated to find out more, please link through to the full paper – a scientific Report in downloadable pdf format. This Report contains far more detail including photographs, diagrams, graphs and data and will make compelling reading for those truly interested in the issue.
Second Link: This link will take you to a downloadable Excel spreadsheet containing a vast number of supporting data points for the Potshot (Learmonth) paper.