In Upstate New York, 42,225 Daily Temperature Readings, and Counting

May 07, 2010
Paul Huth checks the thermometer at the Mohonk Preserve, located at the same spot for 114 years, and read every day without a break. Credit: Linda Keyes/Courtesy Mohonk Preserve

Every day since Jan. 1, 1896, an observer has hiked to a spot at The Mohonk Preserve, a resort and nature area some 90 miles north of New York City, to record daily temperature and other conditions there. It is the rarest of the rare: a weather station that has never missed a day of temperature recording; never been moved; never seen its surroundings change; and never been tended by anyone but a short, continuous line of family and friends, using the same methods, for 114 years.

On top of that, observers have for decades recorded related phenomena such as first appearances of spring peepers, and blooming plants. At a time when scientists are wrestling to ensure that temperature readings from thousands of divergent weather stations can be accurately compared with one another to form a large-scale picture, Mohonk offers a powerful confirmation of warming climate, as well as a compelling multigenerational yarn. The story is told in an article by researchers from Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Mohonk in the current issue of the Journal of Applied and .

Mohonk was founded in 1869 by the Smileys, a close-knit Quaker family that still runs the 7,200-acre property on a high ridge in the Shawangunk Mountains. When the fledgling United States Weather Bureau (later the National Weather Service) founded an official station there, it supplied thermometers, log sheets and other materials; Albert K. Smiley, one of the twin brothers who founded the place, volunteered to man it. The thermometer (occasionally replaced by a new duplicate over the decades) has always been kept in a box out of direct sun, in the same place, a short walk from the Mohonk hotel; a brass rain gauge at the end of a boat dock is the 1896 original. In 1906, Albert's half-brother, Daniel, took over the readings. In 1930, Daniel's sons Bert and Doc followed. In 1937, Bert's son Daniel Smiley Jr., picked up the job. In addition, Daniel Jr., an old-school amateur naturalist, started recording many other observations, including first spring sightings of various creatures, on some 15,000 index cards. In 1988, the year before Daniel Jr. passed away, he handed his duties to Paul Huth, a longtime friend and employee. Today Huth or one of his staff still walks up to the box at 4 pm every day. The weather log, for many decades kept on hand-written sheets, lacks only 37 days of precipitation data from 1901, 1908 and 1909, due to a missing data sheet, and a few days when observers apparently didn't look at the rain gauge. The temperature record is complete.

Enter another father-son team. In 1971, Edward R. Cook, then serving as a military policeman at nearby West Point, became friends with Daniel Smiley Jr. Later, Cook became a tree-ring scientist and climatologist at Lamont, and began studying conifer trees at Mohonk--some of which turned out to be over 400 years old. From these, he extracted a rough record of weather in the Hudson Valley before Europeans settled. Then Edward Cook's son, Benjamin I. Cook, became a climate modeler at Lamont. It was under Benjamin's leadership that the Cooks and their colleagues at Mohonk began studying the instrumental readings and other data.

Starting in 1990s, Mohonk staffers spent hundreds of hours digitizing the records so they could be analyzed. "It is incredibly rare to have the level of continuity that we have at Mohonk," said Benjamin Cook. "Any one record cannot tell you anything definitively about climate globally or even regionally. But looking closely at sites like this can boost our confidence in the general trends that we see elsewhere, and in other records."

Indeed, the new study finds remarkable correlations with many other widely spread, but less continuous records. At Mohonk, average annual temperatures from 1896-2006 went up 2.63 degrees Fahrenheit. Global measurements in the same time over both land and oceans put the rise at about 1.2 to 1.4 degrees; but land temperatures are rising faster than those over the oceans, and those at Mohonk track the expected land trend closely. As expected also, temperatures are up in all seasons, but increases have been especially evident in summer heat waves, and this has been accelerating in recent years. Prior to 1980, it was rare for the thermometer to surpass about 89 degrees more than 10 days a year; since then, such events have come to Mohonk on at least 10 days a year—and often, on more than 20 days. At the same time, the number of freezing days has been decreasing--about a day less every five years over the long term, but since the 1970s, at the accelerated rate of a day every two years. This also matches wide-scale observations in North America and elsewhere.

The Mohonk records do not match wider trends in one area. The start of the growing season—the date on which freezing temperatures end—has been advancing steadily in many places, but not here. Instead, the total number of yearly above-freezing days is increasing because more unusually warm days are puncturing the winter. As described in an earlier study in the International Journal of Climatology, also by the Cooks and Mohonk staff, the effect has been a sort of an intermittent false spring that may expose some early-flowering plants to frost damage. The earliest flowering native plants like hepatica, bloodroot and red-berried elder are likely to be most affected, said Benjamin Cook. He said it is still too early to tell the ecological effects of such disruptions, but added: "The data from Mohonk will be invaluable for expanding our knowledge of how ecosystems respond to climate change." Temperature data after 2006 has not yet been analyzed, but Mohonk maintains an up-to-date online archive of the weather data accessible to the public.

The new study comes at a time when some skeptics have questioned the accuracy of long-term weather records, on the basis that many stations have been moved or that surroundings have changed, occasionally putting instruments nearer to buildings, parking lots or other possible heat sources that could skew readings upward. However, recent studies including one by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have found that such year-to-year inconsistencies cut both ways, and that instruments near developed spots actually more often read too cool rather than too hot. Researchers say every effort has been made to adjust for errors, and that errors one way or the other at individual stations basically cancel each other out, leaving the averages correct.

"Pictures, anecdotes, and cursory glances of poorly sited or maintained sites and weather stations may suggest problems, but until the data is analyzed it is impossible to conclude that the record is compromised by cold or warm biases," said Cook. "The advantage to Mohonk is that we can revisit the record in detail, with minimal corrections. This helps confirm the large-scale trends, and it helps us identify stations with errors that need to be corrected."

As for the long history behind the studies, he said: "We and the Smileys all just happened to be in the right place, at the right time."

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User comments : 19

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lengould100
1.8 / 5 (5) May 07, 2010
Precisely. Another confirmation of the "hockey stick", as expected.
Bob_Kob
3 / 5 (2) May 07, 2010
Is it any suprise that temperature of the planet does not stay still? We did come from an ice age..
Doug_Huffman
not rated yet May 07, 2010
never seen its surroundings change;
Yeah, I noticed the old box.
TegiriNenashi
2.3 / 5 (3) May 07, 2010
How many times this urban legends of "rising temp" and "early spring arrival" must be debunked? Go to
http://www.nerc-b...cd/gjma/
and check the temperature records for yourself
(This is British Antarctic Survey site, not some politically skewed GW advocacy or skeptics site). Now, please explain the two facts:
- The closer the station is to the pole, the smaller temperature variations are (less noise). Why?
- The graphs at Amundsen Scott and Vostok are unremarkably flat:
http://www.nerc-b...cd/gjma/amundsen-scott.ann.trend.pdf
http://www.nerc-b...rend.pdf
The flat temperatures are consistent with ice pack cover satellite measurements. What is the implication for global warming theory?

BTW, speaking of data quality I'm not aware of any UHI effect in Antartica.
Scalziand
5 / 5 (2) May 07, 2010
Looking at the surfacestation.org documentation of this site, it can be seen that the thermometer is
a) next to a building
b) next to a tree stump which, when cut down would have reduced the shade over the thermometer.

http://gallery.su...Id=52099
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (2) May 07, 2010
@TegiriNenashi,
- The closer the station is to the pole, the smaller temperature variations are (less noise). Why?
- The graphs at Amundsen Scott and Vostok are unremarkably flat
...
What is the implication for global warming theory?
Study up on:

1) Antarctic ozone hole (largely anthropogenic)
2) Low humidity (dearth of water vapor) over Antarctica
3) Year-round high surface albedo in Antarctica
4) Antarctic polar vortex

The first 3 combine to drastically curtail atmospheric greenhouse effect over Antarctica. At the same time, #4 deflects warmer air from lower latitudes away from and/or around the Antarctic landmass. Result: Antarctica is effectively a geological/climatological freezer (the closer you get to the South Pole, the more so.) Global warming will catch up to it eventually, but it may take a long time.
dulcechristo
1 / 5 (2) May 10, 2010
doug h, we not only came out of the last glacial maximum about 12,000 years ago, but we are constantly finding human artifacts as glaciers continue to recede, artifacts left behind from periods of glacial advance and retreat SINCE the last glacial maximum. in other words, climate changes without any human interference and there will be general warming, with natural variance, until the onset of the next ice age. it's also wierd how they were able to analyze 1896-2006 for the purposes of this article, but for some reason the last 4 years are particularly difficult to transcribe... in the past, co2 levels and climate temps have often followed inverse planes. eliminate ALL human related co2 and the effect on climate will be... NOTHING, even according to global warming hack formulae.
TegiriNenashi
1 / 5 (2) May 10, 2010
We were through this discussion before. A highly cited 1978 paper "West AntarctIc Ice sheet and CO2 greenhouse effect: a threat of" by Mercer:
tintin.colorado.edu/CVEN5718/Readings/Mercer_Nature_1978.pdf
predicted 5K temperature raise in the next 50 years below antarctic circle. Certainly, among the bullets #1-#4 that you listed they were aware of the last three (ozone hole has been discovered in 85). Unlike your prediction that GW is going to catch up in Antarctic "some time in the future" they are very specific about timeframe. 18 years to wait until we can confidently call GW a BS?
PinkElephant
4.3 / 5 (3) May 10, 2010
@TegiriNenashi,
Unlike your prediction that GW is going to catch up in Antarctic "some time in the future" they are very specific about timeframe. 18 years to wait until we can confidently call GW a BS?
Of course, back in 1978 they had much more refined atmospheric models than they do 30 years later. Why, the first page and a half of that Mercer paper certainly demonstrates the degree of modeling sophistication and certitude at the time. So, let's pretend that there's been no progress in climate science in the intervening 30+ years. Furthermore, let's pretend that Antarctic ozone depletion is incosequential.

And really, why wait 18 years: I call BS on you right here and now.

http://earthobser...?id=8239

It may not show 5 degrees K, but about 1 degree since 1980 seems to be the average. And what do you know: mostly affecting West Antarctica, and the warming is encroaching from the oceans, while the pole cools. What a shocking surprise...
TegiriNenashi
1 / 5 (2) May 10, 2010
For coherent idea about Antarctic ozone depletion you'd better exhibit some references that quantify its alleged effect onto the temperature.

I also challenge this NASA graph. A much more reliable temperature proxy is the ice pack. There is simply no way for allegedly increased temperatures not to have any effect on the ice cover.

As for improved computer models, I call them BS too. Seriously, open any book on atmospheric physics. How many processes does it list? Drumroll
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
~500! Do you genuinely believe computer models faithfully account for all of these? How about cloud modeling, is the grid granularity fine enough to model a typical cloud yet?
JayK
3 / 5 (2) May 10, 2010
There is simply no way for allegedly increased temperatures not to have any effect on the ice cover.

Ignoring the blatant double negative for a moment, I'd like to point out the absolute stupidity of this comment. The difference between -41 deg C and -40 deg C and the subsequent increase in humidity is one quick way to look at it. TegiriNasty has shown a complete lack of education on the matter on this site, multiple times, so why should anyone think that he has something to ever add? Instead of actual empirical evidence, or even remote understanding, he adds incredulity where it would be easy to calmly ask why something like cloud cover isn't well modeled, yet. To myself, TegiriNumnum is the typical PhysOrg denier, full of assertions and empty of actual integrity.
Megadeth312
3.7 / 5 (3) May 10, 2010
For coherent idea about Antarctic ozone depletion you'd better exhibit some references that quantify its alleged effect onto the temperature.

I also challenge this NASA graph. A much more reliable temperature proxy is the ice pack. There is simply no way for allegedly increased temperatures not to have any effect on the ice cover.

As for improved computer models, I call them BS too. Seriously, open any book on atmospheric physics. How many processes does it list? Drumroll
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
~500! Do you genuinely believe computer models faithfully account for all of these? How about cloud modeling, is the grid granularity fine enough to model a typical cloud yet?


LOL yeah 500 processes is an impossible task for a computer.. lol.
PinkElephant
4.7 / 5 (3) May 10, 2010
@TegiriNenashi,
For coherent idea about Antarctic ozone depletion you'd better exhibit some references that quantify its alleged effect onto the temperature.
Read in order, from top:

http://www.sjaa.n...7/f.html
http://cdiac.ornl...ghg.html
http://www.enviro...ole.html
Do you genuinely believe computer models faithfully account for all of these? How about cloud modeling, is the grid granularity fine enough to model a typical cloud yet?
Every fine-grained set of processes, can be approximated by a coarse-grained model. Current models don't resolve or model individual clouds, but include approximations for effects of weather fronts and storm systems. Ask yourself whether it helps to model every individual atom in a wind tunnel simulation, or whether it's enough to approximate bulk behavior via Navier-Stokes equations on a grid hugging NURBS surfaces. The ideas are analogous in global climate models.
TegiriNenashi
1 / 5 (2) May 10, 2010
@Megasomething,

Those 500 processes have parameters. I'm suggesting with some rudimentary skill a modeler can "tune" those dials so that the outcome can range from oceans boiling to frozen earthball.

@PinkElephant,

Now we are taking. According to your sources the 03 radiative forcing is 0.35 W/M3, compared to CO2 1.66. It is not negligible, but kind of small to support your explanation [of the observed lack of warming in the antarctic].

PinkElephant
5 / 5 (2) May 10, 2010
@TegiriNenashi,
It is not negligible, but kind of small
As mentioned previously, other factors play their roles as well. On the whole, there's a dearth of greenhouse gases over Antarctica -- whether it be ozone, water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, or what have you. This produces a significantly weaker overall greenhouse effect. Couple it with a dearth of surface heat to trap in the first place (due to high albedo and highly oblique insolation), and you have a rather crippled atmospheric blanket. Then add in the insulating barrier of the southern polar vortex.

You can mistrust NASA satellite measurements all you want (though one has to wonder: do you only trust data that happens to agree with your preconceptions?) But you have to admit that Antarctica is an exception to the global rule: trying to paint the globe by what happens at the south pole, is either a fool's errand or a propagandist's tactic (depending on motivations.)
TegiriNenashi
1 / 5 (2) May 10, 2010
Speaking of preconceptions, didn't you assert "Antarctic ozone hole (largely anthropogenic)"? I can't help but interpret parenthesized disclosure as your political bias.

You are clutching at straws: methane, ozone, and other factors (except water wapor) are small compared to C02 (plus you have to demonstrate methane hole yet). Plus radiation curve is logarithmic, so the effect of CO2 by itself should be noticeable.

So, do you agree with the main idea of Merser's Nature article, that poles do have higher sensitivity to radiation imbalance (I assume it's due to lower temperatures)?

BTW, there are some amusing statements in the article: "Look, the other group did calculations using different method and came to the same conclusion!" This naivete (or cynicism?) is still well and alive in contemporary climate "science" which bluntly asserts that AGW has been proven by many independent results.
PinkElephant
3.7 / 5 (3) May 10, 2010
didn't you assert "Antarctic ozone hole (largely anthropogenic)"
I did. You dispute this?
methane, ozone, and other factors (except water wapor) are small compared to C02 (plus you have to demonstrate methane hole yet)
In that table I linked for you, methane contributes 48 w/m^2, compared to 35 for ozone. As for "methane hole": there isn't much vegetation, nor much animal life over the Antarctic glaciers. The point (once again) is that rising CO2 won't have as big an impact over Antarctica, because (1) the surface heater is switched off, (2) the atmospheric blanket overall is 'leaky', and moreover (3) there's negative compensation from ozone loss, coincidental with CO2 increase.
Plus radiation curve is logarithmic
To which curve are you referring? Is this the tired old "saturation" argument, by any chance? BTW with logarithmic (and all sub-linear) curves, you get a bigger effect by decreasing the input by a given quantity, than from increasing by the same quantity.
PinkElephant
3.7 / 5 (3) May 10, 2010
do you agree with the main idea of Merser's Nature article, that poles do have higher sensitivity to radiation imbalance (I assume it's due to lower temperatures)?
First, not the poles so much as just high latitudes. Secondly, it's not due to lower temperatures: in my understanding, it's due mostly to the drastic change in albedo (i.e. thawing/retreating ice both on sea and on land.) There's also the aspect of the ice boxes of the world acting as energy sponges: pump extra heat into the rest of the atmosphere, and it will tend to first attack the ice boxes before it can continue to build up unabated (same goes for the oceans, incidentally.)
"Look, the other group did calculations using different method and came to the same conclusion!"
That is always a good sign: it lessens the probability that either group missed something big in its methods (the alternative being that both groups independently made mistakes that amounted to effects of equal magnitude, which is unlikely.)
TegiriNenashi
1 / 5 (2) May 10, 2010
Come on, the half life of methane in the atmosphere is 7 years, so I have hard time believing there is significant change in the concentration depending on location. Look up there:
http://en.wikiped...9hpa.png
the difference is whopping 6-7%!