The Global CO2 lockdown problem

Guest post by Geoff Sherrington

The global problem.

In response to the threat of a global viral epidemic, countries announced lockdowns at various times near 25th March 2020.

This caused a reduction of industrial activity and hence a lower rate of emission of anthropogenic carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. An example of reduction from aircraft is given at

Numerous sources asked if the reduction in CO2 emission could be detected in analysis of air for CO2 content, which had been done for decades. Early questions and speculative answers came from many sources including –

By late May 2020, the emerging consensus was that the reduction would be too small to show at the main measuring stations such as Mauna Loa, Hawaii.

This CO2 event  has some consequences for global warming alarmism. There has long been argument that the contribution of anthropogenic CO2 to air is tiny compared to natural sources and sinks. Another argument says that the decades-long increase in CO2, the Keeling Curve, is mainly due to mankind, because the estimated emissions from industry account for about double the increase measured each year. Here is part of that curve to mid-May 2020:

It follows that an absence of a fall in the curve in the 2020 lockdown could indicate that the emissions of mankind are dwarfed by natural emissions. Whereas, a fall can be interpreted as proof that atmospheric CO2 levels are directly and measurably influenced by man-made emissions.

In terms of global political action, there are numerous calls to lower CO2 emissions by reduction or removal of fossil fuel generators such as electric power plants, cement manufacturing, gas autos replaced by electric and so on.

If the lockdown causes a 10% reduction in man-made emissions and this does not show in measurements, what does this mean for models of global climate and their forecasts? How are we going to monitor progress from drastic cuts to fossil fuel use if we cannot see the result in the numbers?


You are an interested scientist seeking to do your own investigation of CO2 levels in 2020. You prefer daily reports of CO2 to preserve the fine texture of the measurements and their comparisons from one weather station to another. You seek data from other weather stations.

There are 4 stations typically listed as keys to the system. These are –

Barrow, Alaska

Mauna Loa, Hawaii

Cape Grim, Tasmania

The South Pole, Antarctica

There are many secondary stations such as these in the AGAGE (Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment

About 23rd March 2020 I started to download files of CO2 in air from some of these stations. There were problems. Almost none of them had daily data for year 2020, some had no 2020 data at all. NOAA, for example, had daily South Pole data to only 31st December 2019. Mauna Loa was the exception. It had data from two sets of instruments, one under the NOAA banner, the other from Scripps. I managed to download some NOAA daily data ending in March 2020, but when I tried again I could not find the original source. If I try the following URL, the data stop at 31st December 2019.

Ralph Keeling from Scripps was most helpful with data. By email of 27 April 2020, he sent a few years of past daily Mauna Loa data to 12th April 2020. I told him I would not use it unauthorised, but then later found it to be identical to data downloaded here.

This is the most up-to-date, comprehensive source of daily CO2 data that I have found for year 2020.

The other Mauna Loa people, NOAA, write in their read-me notes that –

These data are made freely available to the public and the

scientific community in the belief that their wide dissemination

will lead to greater understanding and new scientific insights.

The availability of these data does not constitute publication

of the data.  NOAA relies on the ethics and integrity of the user to

ensure that ESRL receives fair credit for their work.

Sadly, I have not succeeded in finding daily CO2 data for Mauna Loa for much of 2020 despite perhaps 20 searches, except for the Scripps source and Ralph Keeling.

What did I do with the daily CO2 data from Mauna Loa, NOAA versus Scripps?


First, I did a straight comparison. It was something of a shock, because it demonstrated there was strong circumstantial evidence that NOAA was making up numbers that went into their official historic record. I would not have detected this feature if I had not got daily data from Ralph Keeling, with gaps labelled NaN for missing data. Here is but one example of it.

YEAR         MONTH      DAY     SCRIPPS CO2    NOAA CO2

2020            1                   374              413.39        413.1

2020            1                   375              413.46        413.15

2020            1                   376              413.25        413.2

2020            1                   377              413.23        413.25

2020            1                   378                  NaN        413.3

2020            1                   379                  NaN        413.35

2020            1                   380                  NaN        413.4

2020            1                   381                  NaN        413.45

2020            1                   382                  NaN        413.49

2020            1                   383                  NaN        413.54

2020            1                   384                  NaN        413.58

2020            1                   385                  NaN        413.62

2020            1                   386                  NaN        413.67

2020            1                   387                  NaN        413.71

2020            1                   388              413.16        413.74

2020            1                   389              412.58        413.78

2020            1                   390              412.54        413.82

2020            1                   391              413              413.85

2020            1                   392              414.76        413.89

For reasons unknown to me, Scripps had 10 consecutive days when no data were reported. It seems like NOAA had a similar gap, because the NOAA numbers are a simple linear infill with synthetic numbers, each either 0.4 or 0.5 ppm apart.

It is reasonable to presume that some of the NOAA numbers are not real, but are guesses.

Here is another NOAA problem, problem number two, from a that graph follows with small annotations, from the public source

Around 22nd March 2020, there is a gap of some 4-5 days of missing data. I have added pictorial yellow trend lines that indicate (roughly) that the observations had a step change of about 1 ppm CO2 over these 5 days. This type of change would alert any experienced analytical chemist, with a strong message like “What is going on here? The dots do not join.” This is rather significant jump when, as references above show, we are seeking a change of 0.2 ppm over some months as an indicator of an effect of the global lockdown.

Here we have a change of about 1 ppm in 5 days.

NOAA have a detailed explanation of how they manage their accuracy and errors at Mauna Loa.

They note that

  1. The Observatory near the summit of Mauna Loa, at an altitude of 3400 m, is well situated to measure air masses that are representative of very large areas.
  2. All of the measurements are rigorously and very frequently calibrated.
  3. Ongoing comparisons of independent measurements at the same site allow an estimate of the accuracy, which is generally better than 0.2 ppm.

They have the following graph about rejection of observations that are unsuitable – or perhaps “inconvenient” as in truth?

The colour code for grey-blue, letter U, is said to represent

There is often a diurnal wind flow pattern on Mauna Loa driven by warming of the surface during the day and cooling during the night. During the day warm air flows up the slope, typically reaching the observatory at 9 am local time (19 UTC) or later. The upslope air may have CO2 that has been lowered by plants removing CO2 through photosynthesis at lower elevations on the island, although the CO2 decrease arrives later than the change in wind direction, because the observatory is surrounded by miles of bare lava. Upslope winds can persist through ~7 pm local time (5 UTC, next day, or local hour 19 in Figure 2). Hours that are likely affected by local photosynthesis (11am to 7pm local time, 21 to 5 UTC) are indicated by a “U” flag in the hourly data file, and by the blue color in Figure 2.

It is important to note that these words are conjecture. They are guesses at a mechanism. NOAA do not reference controlled experiments that confirm these conjectures. Another conjecture might be that the grey-blue dots are correct; and that higher values are from positive contamination of CO2 from elsewhere.

An important deduction is that NOAA have introduced subjective results into the official record. In hard analytical chemistry, this is not done. Some regard it as cheating. We have already seen an example of NOAA using invented numbers, another no-no. A double strike is hardly a compliment.

Three strikes and you are out? Yes, here is the third strike. It is about accuracy. NOAA claim that

Ongoing comparisons of independent measurements at the same site allow an estimate of the accuracy, which is generally better than 0.2 ppm.

The accuracy of measurements from a laboratory has long been calculated as if an unknown client walks off the street with a sample and asks the lab to analyse it. The lab does not have access to the history of the sample. In reference to the graph just above, selected hourly averages. you need to consider all of the colours of all of the points to calculate accuracy. If accuracy is expressed in customary terms of a normal distribution with 95% of measurements falling within the 2 sigmas of standard deviation either side of the mean, even a rough eyeball estimate puts the 2 sigmas at about +/- 2 ppm accuracy. This is really elementary, classical science. With extreme special pleading by NOAA, using only their black “accepted” points, we are looking at +/- 0.7 or so ppm 2 sigma. It is hard to fathom the source of their accuracy claim of 0.2 ppm, but then they might have created their own definitions for measurement and expression of accuracy.

Here is another graph, this one a comparison of Scripps and NOAA from the same location but using different instruments, calibration procedures and algorithms to treat data.

It is not hard to find reason to question both the NOAA claim of 0.2 ppm accuracy and the accuracy at Scripps. This graph shows results something similar to the “man off the street “ exercise noted above.

Three counts.  

In the olden days, if my laboratory operators had these counts against them, they would have handed in their badges of professionalism and gone home before sunset. I see two factors at work here. First is a lack of accountability. My operators knew that they would be fired on the spot for transgressions like these, so they behaved in an accountable way. The performance of people in the work place improves when there are open measures of accountability. Second, there might be aspects of post-modern or post-normal science at work here. As Wiki explains it in summary  –

Post-normal science (PNS) represents a novel approach for the use of science on issues where “facts [are] uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent”.[1] PNS was developed in the 1990s by Silvio Funtowicz and Jerome R. Ravetz.[2][3][1] It can be considered as a reaction to the styles of analysis based on risk and cost-benefit analysis prevailing at that time, and as an embodiment of concepts of a new “critical science” developed in previous works by the same authors.[4][5] In a more recent work PNS is described as “the stage where we are today, where all the comfortable assumptions about science, its production and its use, are in question”.[6]


By email of 3rd April 2020, I attempted to obtain CO2 results from the New Zealand Authority NIWA, for Baring Head near Wellington.

Hello from Melbourne,

Do you have a web site link from which I can download your daily measurements of the carbon dioxide concentration in the air as measured at Baring Head? I am seeking daily concentrations from about Jan 2015 to the present day or so, preferably in .csv of similar format  Alternatively, can you advise me of the correct procedure to request this information, including that for recent weeks?

Thank you   Geoffrey H Sherrington


Their reply was –

Dear Geoff,

The Baring Head carbon dioxide data that are available publicly, on the World Data Centre for Greenhouse Gases (, in our plots at and on our ftp site, currently go through to the end of 2018.

Before we make our Baring Head CO2 data publicly available, we go through a very thorough validation process which is explained below. We do this annually and are very close to releasing the 2019 data. The above links will be updated with the 2019 data once it is available. The 2020 data will not be available until about this time next year as it needs to go through the same validation process before it is released.  

Our data validation process involves scrutinising the calibration gas measurements for the previous year. Below is a quick description of the calibration process:

At Baring Head we have eight calibration gases that are used as long-term transfer standards providing a link for our measurements to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) mole fraction scale. The CO2 mole fractions for the eight long-term transfer standard calibration gases are determined by the WMO Central Calibration Laboratory (CCL), with an estimated uncertainty of ±0.07 ppm (1-sigma) with respect to the WMO scale. We use these eight calibration gases to determine the calibration response for our instrument. These eight calibration gases are usually run on a fortnightly basis. We also run another four calibration gases as short-term working standards, which are run several times each day. More details can be found in Brailsford et al., Atmos. Meas. Tech., 5, 3109–3117, 2012; doi:10.5194/amt-5-3109-2012.

 Kind regards, Caroline

By email of 30th March 2020, I requested daily data from CSIRO Australia, for Cape Grim.

Message: Can I please obtain data as .csv or similar, showing daily measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide from start 2014 to today, or to the last day of measurement from Cape Grim? I have viewed some data for the years 2014-2019 incl., but the period of most interest is daily and it starts March 1 2020

There were several emails, the most recent from CSIRO being –

Hi Geoffrey,

Thanks for contacting CSIRO.

The Cape Grim monthly averaged baseline data is made available to the public on a monthly basis. It is provisioned at this frequency, rather than hourly or daily, because the high resolution data needs to be run through a process by our team that is not instant.

The monthly data is currently sufficient for all other publications, enquirers and users, and our robust and peer-reviewed data publishing process will not be changed based upon your request.

We trust that the recently published March 2020 monthly averaged data point will be of use to you.

These bodies seem keen to gatekeep their data for reasons unexplained. The Australian data are paid for by the Australian public, who have a reasonable expectation of being able to access the data. I know of no law or regulation that allows CSIRO to act as censor or gatekeeper against the public. Perhaps there are some acts & regs, but I have never found them or seen them quoted.

The whole sorry procedure takes me back to my friend Warwick Hughes, who received that shattering email from Prof Phil Jones back in 2004-5.

“Why should I make the data available to you,
when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it.”

Must one conclude, with a heavy heart, that there remain vested interests among the science community who simply do not know of the damage that can be done through failing to learn from the history of Science? And who are more willing to obscure than to learn?

And no, this essay is not a candidate for a formal, peer reviewed publication because it does not present any useful advance of Science. It uses methods little more complicated than addition and subtraction of simple numbers. It is not meant to advance understanding of Science, so much as to minimise the decline.


Geoff Sherrington


Melbourne, Australia.

21st May 2010.

via Watts Up With That?

May 22, 2020 at 08:33AM

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