The University of Arizona

Battling Skepticism with Data

March 4, 2011
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In a perspective published in Science last week, climate scientists Jonathan Overpeck, Gerald Meehl, Sandrine Bony, and David Easterling suggest that climate data—from paleoclimate records to model simulations—should be available in an easy to use, open access format for the public.

The authors of the Science perspective write that the need for open access stems from the needs of resource managers, policy-makers, and individuals to make climate-related decisions. However, as an added bonus, easy to use, open access data could also help clarify some of the climate confusion disseminated by skeptics.

For example, the ability to easily observe 20th century solar activity and global average temperature would clearly show someone why solar activity is not driving the warming trend: temperatures have been rising as solar activity has remained relatively constant.  And a simple plot of average global temperature over the 20th century clearly shows that temperatures have not suddenly started to cool over the last decade.

Some of these key climate measurements are already easy to access. The new home page of NOAA Climate Services has a great “Global Climate Dashboard” that shows global average temperature, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, solar energy, sea level, and Arctic sea ice. Clicking on the graphs will also bring you to the raw data. NASA’s Global Climate Change page also has these same values listed; clicking on the values takes you to plots of the data versus time as well as great maps of changes in CO2, temperature, sea ice, and sea level through time.

So not all climate data are hidden away in the ivory tower—there is a substantial, ongoing effort to make data available to everyone. Another example the NOAA Paleoclimatology website, which has thousands of paleoclimate records from tree-rings corals, speleothems, marine sediments, and lake sediments. And if you want to explore instrumental climate data, Climate Explorer is one of the easier sites where you can download, plot, and analyze data to your heart’s content. But we can still do better, and by making more of the data available to everyone, perhaps we can finally bury some of the incorrect climate skeptic arguments.