British Climatic Research Unit’s emails hacked

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Unknown individuals gained access to a server of University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU). As a result, around thirteen years of email correspondence between researchers is now available worldwide. Substantial previously unpublished climate change observations are included.

According to initial reports by TGIF Newspaper and the Watt’s Up With That blog, hundreds of emails and documents were made available from a FTP site on a Russian server with an accompanying statement:

“We feel that climate science is, in the current situation, too important to be kept under wraps. We hereby release a random selection of correspondence, code, and documents”

Some journalists suppose that this event is a consequence of increased attention on CRU after it played a substantial role in the IPCC fourth assessment report (2007).

The released data is a 62 megabyte zip file, containing around 160 megabytes of emails, pdfs and other documents. Some of the contents have been confirmed as genuine by the head of the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, Dr Phillip Jones. In an interview with TGIF Newspaper, he stated that a breach of security had taken place and that a large quantity of files had been “stolen”. The interviewer discussed one of Dr. Jones’ published e-mails:

Once Tim’s got a diagram here we’ll send that either later today or first thing tomorrow. I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd [sic] from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline. Mike’s series got the annual land and marine values…

The interviewer asked Dr. Jones to explain the phrase “hide and decline”, but he answered that he had no idea what he meant by using them (as they were made in the context of a discussion taking place 10 years ago), and he had not attempt to mislead:

No, that’s completely wrong. In the sense that they’re talking about two different things here. They’re talking about the instrumental data which is unaltered – but they’re talking about proxy data going further back in time, a thousand years, and it’s just about how you add on the last few years, because when you get proxy data you sample things like tree rings and ice cores, and they don’t always have the last few years. So one way is to add on the instrumental data for the last few years.

In a press release by the University of East Anglia, Dr. Jones stated that:

“That the world is warming is based on a range of sources: not only temperature records but other indicators such as sea level rise, glacier retreat and less Arctic sea ice.
“Our global temperature series tallies with those of other, completely independent, groups of scientists working for NASA and the National Climate Data Center in the United States, among others. Even if you were to ignore our findings, theirs show the same results. The facts speak for themselves; there is no need for anyone to manipulate them.
“[…]My colleagues and I accept that some of the published emails do not read well. I regret any upset or confusion caused as a result. Some were clearly written in the heat of the moment, others use colloquialisms frequently used between close colleagues.”

One such colloquialism, “trick,” is frequently used by scientists and engineers to refer to an essential or non-obvious element in the solution of a problem, as opposed to the common political usage connoting deception.

Commentators argue that the published messages show the researchers’ reluctance to publish scientific material, though it contains serious global warming observations. Some of the correspondence portrays the scientists as feeling under siege by skeptics’ and worried that any stray comment or data glitch could be turned against them.

The East Anglia University has shut down the original server, from which the information was stolen. A university spokesman stated that data was published without permission, but did not confirm whether all of the published communication is genuine:

We are aware that information from a server used for research information in one area of the university has been made available on public websites.

Because of the volume of this information we cannot currently confirm that all of this material is genuine.

This information has been obtained and published without our permission and we took immediate action to remove the server in question from operation.

We are undertaking a thorough internal investigation and we have involved the police in this enquiry.

The release of the documents comes just weeks before a major climate-change summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, meant to lay the groundwork for a new global treaty to curb greenhouse-gas emissions and fight climate change.