NOAA Climate Survey – A Biased Approach To Assess NOAA Employees’s View Of Climate Science

UPDATE Feb ruary 6 2012: I was informed by Hilary Ostrov of The View From Here that my answers in the tables using yes and no could be misleading. Thus I have changed to an X.

I was alerted by Marc Morano to a survey that NOAA is sending out to its employees. The first e-mail is to Marc apparently from a NOAA employee

Mr. Morano:

NOAA employees today were asked to participate in a Climate Knowledge Survey.  I have included the inviting email

below.  In order to take the survey, however, you must have a valid NOAA email account, so I have cut and pasted

the Survey itself and the key to the ‘correct’ answers below for your reading pleasure.  As you can see, there are certain

assumptions larded throughout this survey, such as what many climate scientists believe is ‘true.’   Thought you might

be interested.


The e-mail referred to from NOAA appears below


Climate has connections to many scientific and societal issues. To characterize NOAA’s level of climate literacy and assess interest in climate training materials and other resources, a NOAA climate capacity-building team has been established.  The team’s overall goal is to enhance the ability of NOAA staff to effectively communicate about climate science.

As part of this process, I encourage you to consider completing the team’s Climate Knowledge and Needs Assessment Surveys by February 15. The first survey characterizes the current level of climate literacy among respondents, and the second assesses the need for climate-related professional development resources or opportunities. Each survey should take approximately 10 minutes to complete, and your responses will be completely anonymous.  You can access the surveys by clicking here:

Climate Knowledge Survey

Needs Assessment Survey

The capacity-building team will use the survey results to identify and provide opportunities for NOAA staff to become more conversant about NOAA’s climate products, information, and services.

Your participation in these surveys will greatly assist with this NOAA-wide effort. Participation in these surveys and taking advantage of future opportunities is voluntary. If you have any questions or comments about the surveys or the goals of this climate team, please contact Diane Stanitski at 301-427-2465 or

Thank you.

I have reproduced it below with my comments inserted.

[NOAA’s] Climate Knowledge Survey

This voluntary survey should take about 10 minutes to complete. It is designed to gauge the current level of climate knowledge among NOAA personnel and partners who respond to the survey. Your answers will be completely anonymous.

For questions that you don’t know the answer, please choose the “Don’t Know” option rather than guessing. If you choose “Other” to answer any question, you can enter text directly in the small box, or paste a response of up to 300 characters into the field.

With which NOAA office are you associated?

National Weather Service (NWS)

National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)

National Ocean Service (NOS)

National Environmental Satellite Information Service (NESDIS)

Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR)

Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO)

Headquarters (HQ) (i.e., Communications, Leg. Affairs, Policy, Education, International, etc.)


To improve our ability to draw valid conclusions from the survey without identifying individuals, please enter a unique five digit number that you will remember and use again on related surveys (for instance, you might choose the last five numbers of your personal phone number).

No attempt will be made to identify you. Your number will be used only to match results to related surveys or pair before and after scores if you take this survey again.

My Comment: I doubt most responders really conclude they are anonymous.

1. Which of the following statements about global climate change is true?

Note: the phrase “global climate change” refers to observations such as increased global temperature, decreased presence of ice, and changes in precipitation patterns.

Most climate scientists agree that global climate change is happening

Most climate scientists are undecided if global climate change is happening

Most climate scientists agree that global climate change is not happening

Don’t know


My Comment:  This is a very poorly worded question (perhaps deliberately so).  The question implicitly equates global warming (i.e. “increased global temperature, decreased presence of ice” with the term “climate change”.  Most all climate scientists accept that humans are altering the climate system, but it is much more than the narrow focus on changes in the global average heat content of the climate system. By checking “Most climate scientists agree that global climate change is happening”, the users of this survey will claim an agreement with the IPCC viewpoint.

A robust question would be with respect to which of the hypotheses below have not been refuted?

  • Hypothesis 1: Human influence on climate variability and change is of minimal importance, and natural causes dominate climate variations and changes on all time scales. In coming decades, the human influence will continue to be minimal.
  • Hypothesis 2a: Although the natural causes of climate variations and changes are undoubtedly important, the human influences are significant and involve a diverse range of first-order climate forcings, including, but not limited to, the human input of carbon dioxide (CO2). Most, if not all, of these human influences on regional and global climate will continue to be of concern during the coming decades.
  • Hypothesis 2b: Although the natural causes of climate variations and changes are undoubtedly important, the human influences are significant and are dominated by the emissions into the atmosphere of greenhouse gases, the most important of which is CO2. The adverse impact of these gases on regional and global climate constitutes the primary climate issue for the coming decades.

as was discussed on my weblog most recently in the post

The Reason We Need To Agree Which Of Three Fundamentally Different Hypotheses Regarding The Role Of Human In The Climate System Is Correct

The survey continues

2. Most scientific studies that have looked into the cause behind the increase in global temperature over the last 50 years indicate that it is…

Caused mostly by human activities

Caused equally by human activities and natural changes

Caused mostly by natural changes

Random, so it cannot be attributed to a specific cause

Don’t know


My Comment:  The focus again is on the global average heating.  The survey ignores the finding from the NRC report

National Research Council, 2005: Radiative forcing of climate change: Expanding the concept and addressing uncertainties. Committee on Radiative Forcing Effects on Climate Change, Climate Research Committee, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Division on Earth and Life Studies, The National Academies Press, Washington,D.C., 208 pp


“…..the traditional global mean TOA radiative forcing concept……diagnoses only one measure of climate change—global mean surface temperature response—while offering little information on regional climate change or precipitation.”

The survey continues

3. Which of the following best describes the relationship between climate and weather?

Climate and weather are different words for the same thing

Normal high and low temperatures of climate control a region’s daily weather

Weather occurs on a local to regional scale; climate occurs at the global scale

Weather describes short-term conditions; climate describes long-term conditions

Weather that occurs across a region is not necessarily related to the region’s climate

Don’t know


My Comment:  Whoever prepared this survey is not knowledgeable in climate science. Climate is a system of physical, biological and chemical processes involving land, the ocean, the atmosphere and continental ice sheets.  The figure below accurately illustrates this system (which is not one of the possible answers above unless you click “other”.

with the figure caption –

“The climate system, consisting of the atmosphere, oceans, land, and cryosphere. Important state variables for each sphere of the climate system are listed in the boxes. For the purposes of this report, the Sun, volcanic emissions, and human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases and changes to the land surface are considered external to the climate system.”

The survey continues

4. Studies of natural records such as tree rings and layers of ice in glaciers:

give a precise and consistent record of how global temperature has changed over time

provide a relatively consistent picture of how global temperature has changed over time

show relatively inconsistent results, so they are unreliable for estimating past temperatures

provide estimates for precipitation over time, but they don’t reveal anything about past temperatures

Don’t know


My Comment:  Trees respond to their immediate environment.  Glaciers respond to their local region’s weather. In aggregate they can be used to infer climate conditions over regions, but their use to quantify a global average temperature to tenths of a degree is not robust. Indeed, if it were, we could use that in 2012 to inform us quantitatively what is the global average temperature and this would, if it was robust, agree with the in-situ surface observations of temperature.  However, the proxy temperature data computed in this manner are actually diverging from the thermometer based measurement approach! (e.g. see)

The survey continues

5. Over the last 10,000 years, during the time humans developed the ability to raise crops, global climate has been:

colder than any other time in Earth’s history

warmer than any other time in Earth’s history

more stable than previous periods

more variable than previous periods

Don’t know


My Comment:   This is a ridiculous question! The Earth’s history spans billions of years.

This survey continues with

6. Which of the following processes has been identified as the most significant cause of increasing global temperatures over the last century?

Volcanic eruptions

The hole in the ozone layer

Clearing forested / vegetated land

Livestock and ranching operations

Exhaust from gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles

An increase in the amount of energy emitted by the Sun

Burning of coal, oil, and natural gas to produce electricity and heat buildings

Regular changes in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of energy it receives from the Sun

Don’t know


My Comment:  The questions again focus on a global average temperatures.

The survey continues with a table

7. Indicate if the following statements are True, False, or you Don’t Know.



Don’t know

A. If the amount of energy put   out by the Sun decreased, Earth would get cooler.


B. Global climate change will   eventually eliminate the differences between summer and winter.


C. Climate scientists have a good   understanding of the basic physical processes that control Earth’s climate   system.


D. Today’s computer-based climate   models have successfully projected the trend and magnitude of observed global   temperature for the last century.


E. As the ocean warms, its waters   expand, raising the elevation of the sea’s surface.


F. Melting of glaciers and ice   sheets on land has little or no effect on global sea level.


G. Temperature measurements of   Earth made from satellites are generally consistent with temperatures   measured by ground based instruments.


My Comment:  This is a question in the survey which has some substance. It needs, however, further detail. What needs to be added, of course, is references to each answer that supports the answers given by the person

8. Climate scientists’ concern about rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere relates to carbon dioxide’s

potential to damage Earth’s ozone layer

potential to poison humans and wildlife

ability to absorb and release heat energy

ability to produce heat in reactions with other gases

Don’t know

My Comment:   This illustrates that the focus of the survey is on carbon dioxide. It also is a simple question that would be one of many a student might have in high school multiple choice test!

9. Since 1750, when the Industrial Revolution began, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased

slightly – a change of about 1%

moderately – a change of about 10%

significantly – a change of about 40%

drastically – a change of about 100%

Don’t know

My Comment: Another high school science question that can be answered just by looking at a data set such as from Mauna Loa and elsewhere (e.g. see).

The survey continues

10. Which country listed below currently emits the most carbon dioxide per person?

Note: This question is about per person emissions rather than total emissions.

United States





Don’t know

My Comment:  Yet more focus on CO2.

The survey then asks

11. Which of the following are among the expected impacts of global climate change?

Check all that apply

Shorter growing seasons

Cooler nighttime temperatures

Heavier downpours when it rains

Decrease in area affected by drought

Changes in the ranges of wildlife and plants

Increase in coastal flooding due to sea level rise

Don’t know

My Comment:  This question is to lead the NOAA employee from the CO2 levels directly into impacts.  A more biased survey would be hard to write.

The survey continues with

12. Indicate if the following statements are True, False, or you Don’t know



Don’t know

A. As a result of global climate   change, the warmest places on Earth are likely to see the greatest increases   in temperature.

 Here the question inaccurately equates global warming with climate change! They are not the same.

B. Over the last decade, the U.S.   has experienced about twice as many record-breaking hot days as   record-breaking cold days.

 The surface temperature data is biased by siting quality.

C. Most of the heat added to   Earth’s climate system over the last five decades has been absorbed by the   ocean.


D. Federal agencies are currently   working with communities to help them prepare for extreme weather and climate   impacts.

 The federal agenices are not properly preparing communities if they rely on the limited scenarios provided by NOAA for climate in the coming decades.

E. Corals in warm, tropical seas   around the world are thriving as the ocean waters around them get warmer.

 Tropical seas are not warming in all coral regions. This is a nonsensical survey statement.

My Comment:  These are more questions intended to “educate” the person being surveyed rather than seek objective input from those being surveyed.

The next question is

13. Recent research shows that the acidity of ocean waters is increasing. This phenomenon, called ocean acidification, is

due to chemicals such as fertilizers washing off land into the ocean

a result of increased average temperature of the atmosphere

a result of carbon dioxide being absorbed by the ocean

a consequence of changes in sea surface temperature

All of the above

Don’t know

My Comment:  The person(s) who create this survey question apparently do not even know the ocean is alkaline.

The final survey question is

14. By monitoring conditions within and above the Pacific Ocean, climate scientists have identified a pattern called the El-Niño Southern Oscillation. This phenomenon:

can influence global weather patterns for several seasons

is an example of an expected impact of global climate change

is a result of increased average temperature of the atmosphere

is a regular, seasonal change that occurs in the Southern Hemisphere

All of the above

Don’t know

My Comment:  The role of human climate forcings in altering atmospheric/ocean circulations such as ENSO is an important research question.  The survey question, however, continues the narrow focus on “global climate change” which they use as a synonym for “global warming” due to added CO2.

The survey ends with

15. Please share any comments or recommendations you have regarding this survey.

Thank you for your time

My Comment: For the readers of this weblog post who are NOAA employees, I hope you communicate the failure of this survey to add to our knowledge of climate science. The survey is actually a policy advocacy document, as well as an evaluation of the loyalty of NOAA employees to the perspective of individuals such as Tom Karl and Tom Peterson. 

source of image

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