Instrumental Temperature Record
Skeptics have questioned the accuracy of the instrumental temperature record on the basis of the urban heat island effect, the quality of the surface station network and what they view as unwarranted adjustments to the temperature record.
Weather stations that are used to compute global temperature records are not evenly distributed over the planet. There were a small number of weather stations in the 1850s, and the number didn't reach the current 3000+ until the 1951 to 1990 period
Skeptics contend that stations located in more populated areas could show warming due to increased heat generated by cities, rather than a global temperature rise. The IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR) acknowledges that the urban heat island is an important local effect, but cites analyses of historical data indicating that the effect of the urban heat island on the global temperature trend is no more than 0.05 °C (0.09 °F) degrees through 1990. More recently, Peterson (2003) found no difference between the warming observed in urban and rural areas.
Parker (2006) found that there was no difference in warming between calm and windy nights. Since the urban heat island effect is strongest for calm nights and is weak or absent on windy nights, this was taken as evidence that global temperature trends are not significantly contaminated by urban effects. Pielke and Matsui published a paper disagreeing with Parker's conclusions.
More recently, Roger A. Pielke and Stephen McIntyre have criticized the US instrumental temperature record and adjustments to it, and Pielke and others have criticized the poor quality siting of a number of weather stations in the United States. In response, Anthony Watts began a volunteer effort to photographically document the siting quality of these stations. The Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres subsequently published a study by Menne et al. which examined the record of stations picked out by Watts' Surfacestations.org and found that, if anything, the poorly sited stations showed a slight cool bias rather than the warm bias which Watts had anticipated.
The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature group carried out an independent assessment of land temperature records, which examined issues raised by skeptics, such as the urban heat island effect, poor station quality, and the risk of data selection bias. The preliminary results, made public in October 2011, found that these factors had not biased the results obtained by NOAA, the Hadley Centre together with the Climatic Research Unit (HadCRUT) and NASA's GISS in earlier studies. The group also confirmed that over the past 50 years the land surface warmed by 0.911°C, and their results closely matched those obtained from these earlier studies. The four papers they had produced had been submitted for peer review.
Read more about this topic: Global Warming Controversy, Mainstream Scientific Position, and Challenges To It, On The Reliability of Temperature Records
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