NOAA Cover Up Of US Historical Climate Network Surface Station Photographs

Since 2002 (see the AASC 2002 Annual Meeting minutes), we have been seeking to have photographs of the US Historical Climate Network (HCN) sites made available. The HCN sites are used as part of the diagnosis of the surface temperature anomalies on monthly and yearly time scales, as well as the United States contribution to the construction of the global average surface temperature trend used in climate assessments such as the 2007 WG IPCC Report (see Figure SPM.3a, for example).

NOAA, however, has consistently failed to provide these photographs. As result, several scientists have independently obtained photographs for specific locations (e.g.,

Davey, C.A., and R.A. Pielke Sr., 2005: Microclimate exposures of surface-based weather stations – implications for the assessment of long-term temperature trends. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., Vol. 86, No. 4, 497–504


Mahmood, R. S. Foster and D. Logan, 2006: The GeoProfile metadata, exposure of instruments, and measurement bias in climatic record revisited. Int. J. Climatol., 26, 1091-1124),

and have identified significant siting problems with a number of locations. Since this HCN data is so central to the discussion of climate change, it is imperative that the actual locations where the data is being collected be adequately documented.

Recently, Anthony Watts has established a website [] to record these photographs. He has worked to assure that the photographs are obtained appropriately.

As a result of this effort, NOAA has removed location information from their website as to where they are located. This information has been available there for years. NOAA wrote in an e-mail defining their new policy which reads

“Your inquiry was forwarded to me by our webmaster. I’m glad you’ve found MMS to be a useful tool in your research. MMS is our primary source of station metadata for National Weather Service Cooperative Observer and several other networks, and we are actively working to provide increased detail for a larger number of stations.

It sounds as though you’ve used the system enough that once you’ve located a station using the search, you’re clicking on the station name hyperlink and opening a separate station details window. The managing party for a station has always been visible by clicking on the “Other Parties” tab. In the case of NWS Coop stations (the USHCN research network relies upon a subset of stations in the NWS Coop program), this is usually the NWS office that administers the site. This information was previously included at the bottom of the Identity tab’s “form view,” but was removed from that view early this week because in some cases it also revealed the name of the Cooperative observer.

Cooperative observers are volunteers who donate their time in the interests of the public good with a reasonable expectation that their personal information will remain private. It is the NCDC’s policy to protect observer details, based upon Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Update, Vol. X, No. 2, 1989, which exempts the application of FOIA in certain cases and establishes privacy protection decisions in accordance with the Privacy Act of 1974 (2004 edition). This exemption applies when the personal privacy interest is greater than any qualifying public interest for disclosure.

If you have other questions regarding MMS, please feel free to contact me. I am often away from my desk, so my response may not be immediate.”

This is clearly a procedure to avoid making these photographs available. Indeed, in the papers that have been published with photographs of these HCN sites, care was taken to not publish the address or name of the observer.

This failure to permit interested parties to obtain the photographs is even more distrubing as the photographs for most of the sites apparently already exist! I have found out that

“over 4 years ago there was a big push in the Cooperative Observer program to make sure that all 7000+ sites across the country were photodocumented. All 120 Data Acquisition Programs were equipped with high quality digital cameras. Most took photos. However, at the higher levels where they were developing the upload and archive system for the photos the issue of observer privacy was raised and as best we can tell the result was that those photos were not archived and certainly are not available.”

This is a very disturbing development, as individuals in NOAA’s leadership have used their authority to prevent the scientific community and the public access to critical information that is being used as part of establishing climate and energy policy in the United States.

The solution to this issue is, of course, straightforward. Either make the photographs where datasets are being used in research (i.e. the HCN sites), available, or permit others to take them. Privacy rules, such as not publishing the names and addresses of the observers, should be made, however, the photographs themselves, viewing the site, and views in the four orthogonal directions must be public. Volunteers who are HCN Cooperative Observers need to either grant this permission or not volunteer.

The new NOAA policy is a deliberate attempt to avoid presenting this information for scrutiny.

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