A climate scandal, or is it just hot air?

By Eloise Gibson

Leaked emails were this week used to allege that scientists  hyped evidence of man-made global warming. Photo / Supplied
Leaked emails were this week used to allege that scientists hyped evidence of man-made global warming. Photo / Supplied

Before this week, few New Zealanders knew who Phil Jones was.

Now the British scientist is at the centre of an email scandal after about 1000 emails spanning a decade were stolen from the Climate Research Unit he leads at the University of East Anglia.

Emails seen by the Herald, from New Zealand scientists, reveal little apart from some grumbling about a research paper they had already publicly panned, by Auckland University's Chris de Freitas.

But some of the conduct hinted at in the emails is more difficult to explain.

In one of the stolen emails, Dr Jones appears to suggest he and his colleagues should delete emails lest they fall into the hands of climate-change deniers.

In another, he discusses blocking a research paper questioning global warming from being published in a scientific journal.

Climate experts in several countries went into damage control - stressing that while the emails were personally embarrassing for three or four scientists, they did not undermine the evidence of man-made global warming gathered by hundreds of top scientists over many years.

But while the scientific questions were answered, the "delete the emails" message left questions which prompted Guardian columnist George Monbiot - a strong supporter of action to fight man-made global warming - to call for Dr Jones' resignation.

"No one has been as badly let down by the revelations in these emails as those of us who have championed the science," he wrote on Guardian.co.uk.

"There are some messages that require no spin to make them look bad."

One of the hacking victims, Kevin Trenberth of the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, pointed out that the timing of the attacks seemed calculated to create doubt ahead of the Copenhagen climate talks, which start in just over a week.

Bob Ward, director of policy and communications at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, told the Guardian newspaper that, while he was sorry for the scientists who had suffered years of attacks by "so-called sceptics", there should be an independent investigation of their conduct. As for Dr Jones, he issued a statement on his unit's website saying some of the emails were "clearly" written in the heat of the moment and he regretted any confusion. "My colleagues and I accept that some of the published emails do not read well."

Who's who

* Phil Jones
Head of the CRU at the University of East Anglia in Britain.

* Kevin Trenberth
New Zealand-born head of climate analysis section at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

* Michael Mann
Professor at Pennsylvania University and director of its Earth System Science Centre.

THE EMAILS, THE CRITICISM AND THE DEFENCE

OCTOBER 2008

From: Kevin Trenberth
To: Michael Mann (and others)
Subject: Re: BBC u-turn on climate
Date: Mon, 12 Oct 2009 08:57:37 -0600

"The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't.

"The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate."

Critics say:

This proves that the world is not warming and leading IPCC scientists cannot explain why.

The defence:

(Background: Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES) is a network of Nasa scientific satellite instruments designed to help understand the role clouds and the sun's energy cycle play in global climate change.)

Trenberth is talking about the inability of climate observations to account for all of the sun's energy. Because these observations are not perfect, scientists cannot fully explain, for example, why 2008 was as cool as it was.

Dr Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeller at the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, said the comment makes perfect sense if you read Trenberth's paper on quantifying changes in the Earth's energy budget.

"He is concerned about our inability currently to track small year-to-year variations in the radiative fluxes," he said on climate comment website Realclimate.

AUGUST 2008

From: Phil Jones
To: Gavin Schmidt
Subject: Re: Revised version the Wengen paper
Date: Wed Aug 20 09:32:52 2008
Cc: Michael Mann

"... Keith/Tim still getting FOI requests as well as MOHC and Reading. All our FOI officers have been in discussions and are now using the same exceptions not to respond - advice they got from the Information Commissioner ...

The FOI line we're all using is this. IPCC is exempt from any countries FOI - the sceptics have been told this. Even though we (MOHC, CRU/UEA) possibly hold relevant info the IPCC is not part our remit (mission statement, aims etc) therefore we don't have an obligation to pass it on.

Cheers Phil"

MAY 2008

From: Michael Mann
To: Phil Jones
Subject: Re: IPCC & FOI
Date: Thu, 29 May 2008 08:12:02 -0400

"Hi Phil,

laughable that CA would claim to have discovered the problem. They would have run off to the Wall Street Journal for an exclusive were that to have been true. I'll contact Gene about this ASAP. His new email is: xxx

talk to you later,

mike

... Phil Jones wrote:

Mike,

Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4? Keith will do likewise. He's not in at the moment - minor family crisis. Can you also email Gene and get him to do the same? I don't have his new email address. We will be getting Caspar to do likewise."

FEBRUARY 2005

From: Phil Jones
To: Michael E. Mann
Subject: Re: For your eyes only
Date: Thu Feb 3 13:11:46 2005

"...

At 09:41 AM 2/2/2005, Phil Jones wrote:

"Mike,

... Just sent loads of station data to Scott. Make sure he documents everything better this time! And don't leave stuff lying around on ftp sites - you never know who is trawling them.

The two MMs have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I'll delete the file rather than send to anyone. Does your similar act in the US force you to respond to inquiries within 20 days? - ours does !"

Critics say:

Scientists have been caught conspiring to delete emails and documents to prevent them being released. Even some supporters of the scientists involved called the suggestion to delete emails ill-advised, and one former supporter, climate blogger George Monbiot, called for Jones to resign.

The defence:

CRU Pro-Vice Chancellor of Research, Trevor Davies, said despite the suggestion, no records were deleted, altered or "otherwise dealt with in any fashion with the intent of preventing the disclosure".

Phil Jones said CRU had been bombarded with freedom of information requests to release temperature data from meteorological services around the world which it did not own. "This information is not ours to give ... we hope to gain permission from each of these services to publish their data in the future," he said.

JULY 2004

From: Phil Jones
To: Michael Mann
Subject: HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL
Date: Thu Jul 8 16:30:16 2004

"... The other paper by MM is just garbage - as you knew. De Freitas again. Pielke is also losing all credibility as well by replying to the mad Finn as well - frequently as I see it. I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow - even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!

Cheers

Phil"

Critics say:

The trio were trying to keep dissenting views on global warming out of an IPCC report by suppressing scientific research.

The defence:

There was no attempt to keep material out of IPCC assessments. Both papers discussed in the email - by McKitrick and Michaels (2004) and Kalnay and Cai (2003) - were cited and discussed in Chapter 2 of the IPCC AR4 report.

NOVEMBER 1999

From: Phil Jones
To: ray bradley, mann, mhughes
Subject: Diagram for WMO Statement
Date: Tue, 16 Nov 1999 13:31:15 +0000

Dear Ray, Mike and Malcolm,

"... I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline. Mike's series got the annual land and marine values while the other two got April-Sept for NH land N of 20N."

Critics say:

A top scientist fudged the data to hide an inconvenient patch of temperature decline.

The defence:

(Background: Scientists sometimes use historical records stored in nature to track temperature changes before thermometers. One of three well-known historical series tracks temperature using tree-rings.)

The "trick" Jones used is quite common - in order to give a picture of how temperatures have varied over the past 1000 years, he stopped using tree-ring data from 1960 onwards and switched to directly measured temperatures. That is done because tree-ring records match real temperatures (measured by thermometers) very well until about 1960, when tree-rings show temperature declining while real historical measurements from thermometers do not.

This may be because trees were affected by environmental upheaval but, whatever the reason, the authors of the tree-ring data do not recommend using it after 1960. "Hiding" may have been a poor choice of words, but Jones was correct to switch to real temperatures.

- NZ Herald

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