The UAH World Temperature Dataset at 30 Years: A Look Again on the Early Days


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Reposted from Dr. Roy Spencer’s Weblog

March 30th, 2020 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

As we speak (Monday, March 30) is the 30th anniversary of our publication in Science describing the primary satellite-based dataset for local weather monitoring.

Whereas a lot has occurred within the final 30 years, I believed it may be fascinating for folks to know what led as much as the dataset’s growth, and a number of the politics and behind-the-scenes happenings within the early days. What follows is in approximate chronological order, and is admittedly from my very own perspective. John Christy may need considerably completely different recollections of those occasions.

A few of what follows would possibly shock you, a few of it’s humorous, and I additionally wished to provide credit score to a number of the different gamers. With out their assist, affect, and foresight, the satellite tv for pc temperature dataset would possibly by no means have been developed.

Spencer & Christy Backgrounds

Within the late 1980s John Christy and I have been contractors at NASA/MSFC in Huntsville, AL, working within the Atmospheric Sciences Division the place NASA managers and researchers have been making an attempt to develop past their authentic mission, which was climate help for Area Shuttle launches. NASA/MSFC supervisor Gregory S. Wilson was a central determine in our hiring and encouragement of our work.

I got here from the College of Wisconsin-Madison with a Ph.D. in Meteorology, specializing within the energetics of African easterly waves (the precursors of most Atlantic hurricanes). I then did post-doc work there within the satellite tv for pc distant sensing of precipitation utilizing microwave radiometers. John Christy acquired his Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science from the College of Illinois the place he did his analysis on the worldwide floor atmospheric stress area. John had expertise in analyzing world datasets for local weather analysis, and was employed to help Pete Robertson (NASA) to help in knowledge evaluation. I used to be employed to develop new microwave satellite tv for pc distant sensing tasks for the Area Shuttle and the Area Station.

James Hansen’s Congressional Testimony, and Our First Knowledge Processing

In 1988, NASA’s James Hansen testified for then-Senator Al Gore, Jr., testimony which greater than any single occasion thrust world warming into the collective consciousness of society. We have been at a NASA assembly in New Hampshire. As I recall, UAH’s Dick McNider on the aircraft experience up had simply learn a draft of a paper by Kevin Trenberth given to him by John Christy (who had been a Trenberth scholar) that mentioned many points with the sparse floor temperature knowledge for detecting local weather change.

Throughout lunch Dick requested, given all the problems with the shortage of world protection and siting points with floor knowledge units mentioned by Trenberth, if there wasn’t satellite tv for pc knowledge that might be used to research Hansen’s world claims? NASA HQ supervisor James Dodge was there and expressed speedy curiosity in funding such a analysis venture.

I mentioned, sure, such knowledge existed from the NOAA/NASA/JPL Microwave Sounding Unit (MSU) devices, however it will be troublesome to entry roughly 10 years of world knowledge. Notice that this was earlier than there was routine web entry to giant digital datasets, and ordering knowledge from the federal government had a really giant price ticket. Nobody bought a few years of world knowledge; it got here on laptop 6250 bpi laptop tapes every containing roughly 100 MB of information, and computer systems then have been fairly gradual. The info we wished was from NOAA satellites, and NOAA would reuse these giant (10.5 inch) IBM tapes moderately than to maintain the previous knowledge tapes round utilizing up space for storing.

It seems that Roy Jenne who labored knowledge programs on the NSF’s Nationwide Heart for Atmospheric Analysis (NCAR) in Boulder had years earlier than taken it upon himself to archive the previous NOAA satellite tv for pc knowledge earlier than it was misplaced altogether. He saved the information on a “mass storage system” (very giant and inefficient by in the present day’s requirements) and I consider it was Greg Wilson who made the connection to achieve us entry to these knowledge.

We obtained considerably lower than 10 years of information from NCAR, and I made a decision the way to greatest calibrate it and common it right into a extra manageable area/time decision. I had frequent contact with JPL engineers who constructed the MSU devices, Fred Soltis specifically, who together with Norman Grody at NOAA offered me with calibration knowledge for the MSU devices flying on completely different satellites.

We enlisted John Christy to research these knowledge since he introduced appreciable expertise with diagnosing world datasets for local weather functions. One of many first issues John found was from evaluating world averages from completely different satellites in numerous orbits: They gave surprisingly comparable solutions by way of year-to-year temperature variability. This was fairly sudden and demonstrated that the MSU devices had excessive calibration stability, not less than over just a few years. It additionally demonstrated that NOAA’s apply of adjusting satellite tv for pc knowledge with radiosondes (climate balloons) was backwards: the variations others had seen between the 2 programs have been because of poor spatial sampling by the radiosondes, not because of modifications within the satellite tv for pc calibration stability.

Along with the crucial historic knowledge archived by Roy Jenne at NCAR, we might a number of the newer satellite tv for pc knowledge that was saved at NOAA. We didn’t have fairly ten years of information, and an editor at Science journal wished ten full years of information earlier than they’d publish our first findings. We have been in a position to order extra knowledge from NOAA to get the primary 10 years’ value (1979 via 1988), and Science accepted our paper.

The NASA Press Convention

On March 29, 1990 we held a “media availability” on the communications middle at NASA/MSFC. For some motive, NASA wouldn’t enable it to be known as a full-fledged “press convention”. As I recall, attendance was heavy (by Huntsville requirements) and there was no place for me to park however within the grass, for which I used to be awarded a parking ticket by NASA safety. JPL flew a remaining copy of the MSU instrument in as a prop; it had its personal seat on a industrial flight from Pasadena.

Jay Leno would later point out our information convention in his monologue, and Joan Lunden lined it on Good Morning America. Whereas we watched Ms. Lunden on a monitor the subsequent morning, a NASA scientist remarked that he was too distracted by her lengthy, slender legs to hearken to what she was saying.

Our 1990 Senate Testimony for Gore

After we revealed our first analysis outcomes on March 30,1990, we acquired an invite to testify for Al Gore in a Senate committee listening to in October, 1990 with regards to coral bleaching. Phil Jones from the College of East Anglia was additionally there to testify.

As folks filed into the listening to room, I noticed a C-SPAN digital camera being arrange, and having observed that Al Gore appeared to be the one committee member in attendance, I requested the cameraman in regards to the lack of curiosity from different senators. He mentioned one thing like, “Oh, Senator Gore likes it this fashion… he will get all of the media consideration.”

We nonetheless used overhead projectors again then with view graphs, and I believed I’d higher take a look at the tools. The projector turned out to be significantly out-of-focus, and the main focus adjustment on the arm wouldn’t repair it. I bear in mind pondering to myself, “this appears fairly shoddy for Congress”.

Senator Gore launched into some introductory remarks whereas me as I struggled with the projector. From his feedback, he was clearly assuming I used to be Phil Jones (who was imagined to go first, and who Gore mentioned he had beforehand visited in England). I believed to myself, that is getting unusual. Simply in time, I noticed the projector arm was bent barely out of alignment, I bent it again, and took my seat whereas Phil Jones introduced his materials.

Our testimony, which was moderately uneventful, led to the standard letter of thanks from Gore for supporting the listening to. In that letter, Gore expressed curiosity in extra outcomes as they grew to become out there.

So, when it got here time to get the required extra satellite tv for pc knowledge out of NOAA, I dropped Gore’s title to a supervisor at NOAA who instantly grew to become curious about offering every part they needed to us at no cost… moderately than us having to pay tens of 1000’s of our analysis dollars.

A whole bunch of Laptop Tapes and an Previous Honda Civic

It might sound absurd to in the present day’s younger scientists, however it was not a straightforward job to course of giant quantities of digital knowledge within the late 1980s. I acquired field after field of 9-track laptop tapes within the mail from NOAA. Each few days, I might load them up in my previous, high-mileage, barely-running 2-door Honda Civic and cart them over to the pc middle at MSFC.

NASA’s Greg Wilson had gotten permission to make use of the pc facility for the duty. At the moment, a lot of the laptop energy was being taken up by engineers modeling the gas flows inside the Area Shuttle most important engines. As I added extra knowledge and processed it, I might go the averages on to John Christy who would then work his evaluation magic on them.

I don’t recall what number of years we might use this tape-in-the-mail ordering system. Most if not all of these tapes now reside in a Huntsville landfill. After a few years of storage and hauling them from one workplace location to a different throughout our strikes, I made a decision there was no level in retaining them any longer.

A Name from the White Home, and the First Hubble Area Telescope Picture

Additionally in 1990, John Sununu, White Home Chief of Workers to President George H. W. Bush, had taken discover of our work and invited us to return as much as DC for a briefing.

We first needed to carry the NASA Administrator V. Adm. Richard Actually in control. Actually was fairly and was making an attempt to ensure he understood my factors by repeating them again to me. In my nervousness, I used to be apparently interrupting him by ending his sentences, and he lastly advised me to “shut up”. So, I shut up.

The following cease was the workplace of the Affiliate Administrator, Lennard Fisk. Whereas we have been briefing Fisk, an assistant got here in to indicate him the primary picture simply collected by the Hubble Area Telescope (HST). This was earlier than anybody realized the HST was miss-assembled and was out of focus. On reflection, it was fairly a fortuitous coincidence that we have been there to witness such an occasion.

Because the day progressed, and no name was coming in from the White Home, Dr. Fisk appeared more and more nervous. I used to be getting the impression he actually didn’t need us to be briefing the White Home on one thing as necessary as local weather change. In these days, earlier than NASA’s James Hansen made it a behavior, no scientists have been allowed to speak to politicians with out heavy grooming by NASA administration.

Because the years glided by, we might be taught that the shortage of considerable warming within the satellite tv for pc knowledge was most likely hurting NASA’s promoting of ‘Mission to Planet Earth’ to Congress. The larger the perceived drawback, the more cash a authorities company can extract from Congress to analysis the issue. At one level a NASA HQ supervisor would find yourself yelling at us in frustration for hurting the hassle.

Late within the afternoon the decision lastly got here in from the White Home for us to go to, at which level Dr. Fisk advised them, “Sorry, however they only left to return to Huntsville”, as he ushered us out the door. Dr. Wilson swore me to secrecy relating to the matter. (I talked with John Sununu at a Heartland Institute assembly just a few years in the past however forgot to ask him if he remembered this course of occasions). This could most likely be – to me, not less than – essentially the most surreal and memorable day of our 30+ years of experiences associated to the satellite tv for pc temperature dataset.

After 1990

In subsequent years, John Christy would assume the central function in selling the satellite tv for pc dataset, together with intensive comparisons of our knowledge to radiosonde knowledge, whereas I spent most of my time on different NASA tasks I used to be concerned in. However as soon as a month for the subsequent 30 years, we might course of the latest satellite tv for pc knowledge with our separate laptop codes, passing the outcomes backwards and forwards and posting them for public entry.

Solely with our most up-to-date Model 6 dataset procedures would these codes be totally re-written by a single particular person (Danny Braswell) who had skilled software program growth expertise. In 2001, after tiring of being advised by NASA administration what I might and couldn’t say in congressional testimony, I resigned NASA and continued my NASA tasks as a UAH worker within the Earth System Science Heart, for which John Christy serves as director (in addition to the Alabama State Climatologist).

At this level, neither John nor I’ve retirement plans, and can proceed to replace the UAH dataset each month for the foreseeable future.

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