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Scandal: BoM ignores major site changes at iconic, historic, Sydney Observatory. Sloppy or deliberate?

Posted By Jo Nova On February 7, 2018 @ 8:00 am In Global Warming | Comments Disabled

Australia’s oldest and most iconic site has changed dramatically, but major site changes are not even being recorded.

The way the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) treat this site says a lot about the unscientific, shoddy, biased standards it uses at sites everywhere. This was their headquarters. Experts walked past new walls, construction and highways, yet they didn’t record them? Beggars belief.

Just as Peter Ridd warns us that we can’t trust some marine and reef institutes,  Bill Johnston is the whistle-blower warning us about the Bureau of Met. There is no law  of science that says human institutes are infallible. When they run off the rails, how do we find out? Ridd issued a warning from the inside and ended up in the Federal Court. When people, like Bill write from the outside, the BoM waves the peer-review gatekeeper, and anonymous reviewers can easily shut that gate, and without any penalty.

Sydney Observatory 1864, the louvered thermometer house is out the front.

The louvered thermometer house in front of the Observatory in 1864. (Courtesy of the State Library of NSW.)

Sydney Observatory is one of the longest running stations in the Southern Hemisphere, starting in 1859. It was Australia’s premier meteorology site and in the 1800′s it was known as a cool breezy place that recorded temperatures that were lower than the rest of Sydney. One hundred and fifty eight years later and it sits on the verge of the main route to the Sydney Harbour Bridge which carries 160,000 cars a day and right beside the CBD of our largest city. What is really gobsmacking is that most of those significant site changes are not even recorded in the BoM metadata file. Oddly, the BoM makes corrections for site changes that don’t appear to affect the thermometer readings (see Bill Johnston’s full report) but they don’t compensate for site changes that do. Why are some changes overcorrected, yet others disappear from the record? The BoM are ignoring shrinking screens, walls that come and go, and new highways. Perhaps they tell themselves they have found other ways to correct, or check, these major changes, but if it isn’t published, it isn’t science. When a big screen became a small screen, where is the comparison data? When a wall is built nearby, what correction factor do they use? Is it “zero”; ignore the artificial heating, and pretend it’s CO2? Do they cheer when taxpayers have to pay billions to mollify atmospheric hob-goblins?

The details below come from exhaustive research by Bill Johnston. Around the same time as photos and documents show these unrecorded “forgotten” changes, the temperature record changes in a step. It’s quite possible that most of the warming in Sydney — since 1859 — is due to man-made site changes.

The biggest question for me, is why were most of these site changes not even recorded, or if, as Bill suggests, if they were — what happened to those records?

As he says:

After 1938 when work on the Cahill Expressway up-ramp started, staff passed within 15 m of the Stevenson screen to access their former office and observers were constantly in attendance. It’s impossible that rebuilding of the school, the move in 1947/48, opening of the expressway, construction of the wall and traffic-changes were not noticed or that works were not documented in local files. As they are not in the National Archives or other repositories, it’s plausible that site and instrument files (and possibly the data register) have been deliberately destroyed.

Don’t let anyone tell you this site is not important just because it is not an official ACORN station. This site “buys” history and prestige for the BoM, even as they forget, ignore or wash out the history of it. It features in the news constantly, and is used to “homogenise” many official ACORN stations. So artificial step-ups here can be spread to other sites. In a different kind of PR blur, short data sets (like Penrith’s which started in 1995) get converted into 150 year records by the mere mention that Sydney Observatory started in 1859 in the same story.

The BoM is behaving as a PR machine, a marketing arm of the renewables industry, and a political support team for Big Parasitic Government.  They are not even competent at keeping a written record of major site changes, yet they expect us to believe their tricky statistical games with homogenization? Where’s the accountability? The ABC never asks a hard question, and the SMH amplifies the fake news. The minister should be all over this.

Sydney Observatory used to be the coolest spot in Sydney, even in “unprecedented heat”

In 1896, the site was called the coolest, loveliest site, 10 degrees F cooler than the rest of Sydney. :

It has been a matter of surprise that when the thermometric-readings in various parts of the country were so high that of Sydney should be so low. The following clipping from Tuesday’s Herald fairly explains the matter. In future, in order to understand what the proper shade temperature of Sydney is, as against country towns, it will be well to add about 10 or 12 degrees (on the authority of the Herald) to the official reading of the thermometer at Sydney Observatory.

The truth is that on Sunday night at 9 o’clock, when the temperature at the Observatory, was 88.6 F, it was 98 F in one of the coolest buildings in Sydney with all windows open.  And it is easily accounted for when one takes into account the heat of last week and its effect upon the buildings—how they absorbed it all the week and retained it, never cooling.

This estimate [that the Observatory was 10 F cooler than the rest of Sydney] was certainly verified by a corrected thermometer (one low rather than high) at Ultimo. There, covered by a strong passionfruit vine, the reading on the shadeside of the building was 120 F.

The Herald might have added that the Observatory with its “loveliest little summer house, almost buried in foliage,” is situated on the highest hill in Sydney where breezes off the water blow on nearly all sides of it.  — Trove, Sat Jan 18, 1896, The Armidale Chronicle

Ten degrees Fahrenheit is 5.5 degrees C. You might think past records from there should be raised by at least 5 C (or more) in order to compare with temperatures today. Instead the Bureau of Meteorology ignores most of the changes to this site since 1896.

A wall built behind the Stevenson Screen at Sydney Observatory. Photo.

The brick wall was built behind the Stevenson screen around 1972, but the BoM does not record it.

The official history of this site only mentions three changes — the last of which occurred in 1917.  A brick wall was built around 1972 (see the photo). The Western Distributor (a giant spaghetti hwy) was done around the same time. These would have changed those “cooling breezes” but are not even listed in the metadata. Johnston estimates temperatures warmed there at the same time by a third of a degree. That’s a third of the whole warming trend of the last century.

As usual Johnston analyses records by looking at rainfall and temperature together. Wet years are cooler years, and dry years are warmer. If a thermometer moves to a warmer spot, the relationship changes — the rain stays the same, but the temperatures rise. This marks an artificial change.

Instead, the site is surrounded by walls, traffic masses, buildings, and the BoM puts out fake news press releases about records. Did the opening of the Cahill Expressway make the area warmer? The BoM apparently don’t think so.

Another major change (which has occurred in many other places too) was the switch from the old large Stevenson screen to a small one in the late 1990s. These are very different boxes — the older, large ones are 230 litres the new smaller ones, 60 litres. How could such a small screen not make any difference to the responsiveness of the thermometers within? Small boxes heat faster, they respond to the surrounding changes quicker. Even if the averages were somehow similar, the extremes, the distribution, or the seasonal spread may change. Data could be skewed in so many ways. Surely, the BoM didn’t just ignore this. Could it be that the BoM experts feel they could compensate for this big change with statistical tricks? Where is that published? There is another step up in temperatures in 2013, a big one of 0.77C — one that doesn’t fit with rainfall patterns. Johnson finds that the spread of datapoints changes after 2013. He wonders if the BoM changed the filter algorithms and allowed more spikes (noise) through, which would make the temperature appear to rise when it hadn’t.

Sydney Observatory, Stevenson Screen, location, Sydney Harbor Bridge, Opera House, satellite image.

The Stevenson screen is located next to the Expressway that feeds Sydney Harbour Bridge, and beside the CBD.


The BOM needs an independent audit. No one would accept this from a public company.

– Jo



Sydney Observatory’s temperature trends, extremes and trends in extremes

By Dr. Bill Johnston

Former NSW Department of Natural Resources Senior Research Scientist (and weather observer).

The Sydney Observatory weather station seems to tick all the boxes:

  • Starting in 1859 it is Australia’s longest continuously operating weather station and the main reference weather station for Australia’s largest city.
  • Observations were initially made under the watchful eye of NSW Government Astronomers, and since 1908 by the Bureau. As the Bureau’s (1922) NSW office, situated behind the historic 1862 Messenger’s cottage, was 35 m west of the site, datasets and the site should be rigorously documented and non-climate effects understood.
  • Now an annex of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, the Observatory itself is well maintained and preserved; a site of exceptional national significance; it is interesting, easily accessible and free to visit.
Sydney Observatory

Figure 1 The two Stevenson screens at Sydney Observatory are beside an open wire fence in 1966 (A); the school gymnasium opened in 1952 (B); west is the 1922 Sydney Weather Bureau office (C); north, the Fort Street School (D); the original (pre-1917) site was in the Observatory grounds (E). The area enclosed by the Cahill Expressway up-ramp is about 1 ha; school grounds are concrete and the buildings and heritage-listed fig tree in front shade the site in the late afternoon, especially in winter. (A 1974 aerial photograph shows the open wire fence (A) replaced by an 8-foot high  (2.4 m) solid brick wall.)  (Portion of “View from IBM; Max Dupain and Associates 1966”. State Library of NSW, Mitchell Library, courtesy of Hely, Bell & Horne.)

The Stevenson screens have always been close to where the action is: they moved to the front yard of the cottage in 1917 just before work started on construction of the Harbour Bridge (1920-1932). The Weather Bureau office behind the cottage was built in 1922; the Fort Street school was demolished and rebuilt from 1938 to 1941; they moved away from the school (and fig tree) to the southeastern corner of the yard probably in 1948/49, and the school gymnasium opened in 1952.

The Cahill expressway opened in 1958; a brick wall replaced the open fence south of the screens probably in 1972/73; an electronic automatic weather station (AWS) was installed in 1990 and thermometers were removed on 31 May 1995. A small screen replaced the large one (and the AWS was probably replaced) in 1997. Also, immediately in front (east) of the cottage the Bradfield Highway was widened three or four times and various changes implemented to smooth the movement of traffic out of the city centre.

Sydney Observatory, Step Changes, rainfall and temperature, Bureau of Meteorology, Graph, 2018.

Figure 3. Residual step-changes in Sydney Observatory temperature data aligned with changes verified independently (the effect of rainfall is removed statistically). Red squares indicate statistical outliers. As step-changes are aligned with site changes post hoc, analysis is independent and unbiased by prior knowledge. The Tmax decline in 1879 is not climate-related and can only be due to cooling in the vicinity (watering) or changed exposure (shading) or a change of instrument (changing to a thermometer having a different calibration).

The question is: why haven’t all these changes and their effects been documented by the Bureau or the many climate scientists who use the data as a climate-change reference?

Sydney Observatory, Temperature, Stevenson Screen, serial number, photo.

Figure 2. The small Stevenson screen seems neglected; there are cobwebs between the louvers and in the roof cavity and it is covered in a thin coating of black soot, which would make it warmer (left). The serial number (right; 97/C0526) indicates it was made in 1997; data stepped-up in 1998 but Bureau documentation says the screen was replaced in 2000. (Its also possible that nobody really knows!)

In their haste to make the weather warmer Bureau-metadata (data about the data) only mention the 1917 site move, the AWS being installed in 1990 and the small screen (in 2000). They forgot that the site moved away from the school building and fig tree in 1948/49; the Cahill Expressway opened in 1958 and that the wall was built in 1972/73.

But here’s the big problem: homogenisation changes the data to achieve the warming trend they want. Adjustments are made arbitrarily for changes that made no difference (like the maximum temperature in 1917 and the minima in 1964), while changes that did impact on data (for example, the 1948/49 move; the expressway and the wall and small screen) are blamed on the climate.

When journalists describe normal summer days as ‘scorchers’, ‘weekends from hell’, ‘sweltering’, ‘record-breakers’ the BoM doesn’t correct them and mention our hot history.  Every time there’s a day warmer than the last time it was cooler its announced as significant event. They even create inflated stories about events that haven’t happened yet, with creatively adapted file-photos to make it seem they have.

For the last 158 years Sydney’s climate has not changed or warmed. There are no records being cracked; not at Sydney; nor at Newcastle’s Nobbys Head where the AWS and small screen moved to the edge of the cliff above the beach in 2001; not Brewarrina Hospital where new accommodation warmed the site; or Wanaaring where they put the small screen beside a dusty track; nor Moomba between the airport runway and materials dump; neither at Melbourne’s Laverton RAAF (also a small screen) nor Sydney airport where the small screen is 35 m from traffic emerging from the General Holmes Drive tunnel; nor Alice Springs, Hobart, Charleville, Adelaide, Mandora, Launceston, Ceduna, Cape Leeuwin nor  … (insert so many here). Site changes have happened everywhere, and nowhere does warming unequivocally reflect the climate.

The bottom line

Evidenced by careful analysis (and tracking-down historic aerodrome maps and information at the National Archives of Australia; the National Library of Australia (NLA); state libraries; museums; searching NLA’s collection of historic aerial photographs and the online collection available from Business Queensland; local historians and groups such as the Civil Aviation Historical Society at Essendon) it’s clear that the Bureau of Meteorology either doesn’t know what’s going-on or they “know” the answer they are looking for before they start. Either way, they are crafting an enormous myth about Australia’s climate.


Johnston, Bill (2018) Sydney Observatory’s temperature trends, extremes and trends in extremes. PDF (580Kb)

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