Met Office and the International Date Line

Since the release of the Met Office Subset recently, I have been looking further at the data trying to evaluate what exactly is contained therein.  One of the checks that one would like to do – determining how the global gridded data is calculated – is not really possible.  The data set is self-admittedly incomplete and, anyway, a list of which stations are used and which aren’t is not provided.  However, I decided to look at the grid cells information of the provided stations anyway to see what was going on.

Using another fairly extensive file of station information which I already possessed, ghcnd-stations.txt (which I believe to be downloaded from the previous incarnation of, I did some checking of Met station information against the ghcn file.  Using only those that I could easily match up in the two data sets, I found differences in coordinates and elevations of a number of stations.  Although the heights (altitudes) need to be looked into further, because some of the differences can be quite large, the grid squares of most of the numerically different coordinates seemed   to be unaffected by those differences.  Except …

I have mentioned before that for some unknown reason, Met and Cru prefer to do the opposite of what one might normally expect for coding longitude values.  East of Greenwich, their longitudes are negative and those west are positive – not what one would expect for drawing maps and not what one might generally find in other global reference venues.  Unfortunately, this seems to have also caused some confusion for the Met Office.

From the Met data subset, the meta-information describing the following stations in the South Pacific was:

id name country lat long height
1596 916500 ROTUMA FIJI -12.5 -177.1 62
1599 916830 NAUSORI A FIJI -18.1 -178.6 6
1604 917880 NUKU’ALOFA TONGA -21.1 -175.1 2
1595 916430 FUNAFUTI TUVALU -8.5 179.1 1
1597 916520 UDU POINT FIJI -16.1 180 62
1598 916800 NADI A FIJI -17.8 177.5 16
1600 916990 ONO-I-LAU FIJI -20.7 178.7 27
1601 917530 HIHIFO WALLIS ISL. -13.2 176.2 12

I plotted the locations in R (re-centering at the dateline – longitudes are measured from that coordinate).   Grid cell boundaries are given in green.  The graph on the left is the result:

The graph on the right is based on the coordinates gleaned from Wikipedia (yeah, I know…, but I trusted them anyway).  The most obvious problem is that Nadi Airport from Fiji seems to have been relocated into the open ocean hundreds of kilometers from where a plane could safely land.  But that is not the only error.  Each of the four sites printed in blue on the right had the wrong sign for the longitude in the data.  The net effect is that all four are NOT in the correct grid cell.

Is this important?  I don’t know since we are not informed as to what is used in the calculation of the gridded data.

Could it have an effect on the global land series?   Who knows?  The southern portion of the tropical latitudes with wide ocean expanses and the absence of stations in a major part of central Africa  is represented by relatively fewer grid cells and a sparser number of stations.  As well, these latitude bands have a higher weight due to a larger area than the bands nearer the poles.

Either way, a little quality control would be a good first step toward producing some confidence in the whole process.

[Update  December 28, 2009:  The source that I used for Ono-I-Lau was . I did not notice that text on that page stated

<blockquote>Ono-i-Lau is a volcanic and coral island in Fiji’s Lau archipelago.

One of the southernmost of the Lau Islands, it is located at 20.80° South and 178.75° East, and occupies an area of 7.9 square kilometers. It has a maximum elevation of 113 meters. It is 90 kilometers southsouthwest of Vatoa, the nearest island.</blockquote>

while the upper right corner on the same page gave the coordinates as 20°39′S, 178°44′W.  I went with the text (confirmation bias? 😉 ).

Checking later, gives the information (and a Google map) as

airport name: Ono I Lau Airport
geographical location: 20° 38′ 59″ South, 178° 41′ 59″ West

so that Met appears to be correct on that one.]


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10 responses to “Met Office and the International Date Line

  1. I noticed the same problem while trying to plot station locations. (

    John Graham-Cumming also had ran into it:

    Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, does it?

    • RomanM

      No, confidence does not seem to go hand inn hand with what we have been looking at. I mentioned that the many altitudes seemed drastically out of whack with the comparison set, but since I had no reason to determine which of them might be wrong, I did not pursue it further at this time..

      Nice stuff on your blog. I think you are correct in that fact that the South Pacific plays an inordinate role in the estimation of tropical global temperature. As a start, it would be real nice to have an actual list of the stations they use for the gridded data. With that in hand it would be easier to determine the adjustments implemented by CRU and the effect of those adjustments.

      • Thanks. I noticed Steve M’s mention of the CRU Station list last night and await with interest his making it available.

        I’m not finished with the Pacific, although I may revert back to what I was doing with GISS data. The lack of care with adjustments is just appalling.

  2. Bob Koss

    Giss has two inventory files available. The ghcn inventory full list (copied from GHCN’s website and augmented from SCAR)

    Here is the inventory subset used by Giss.

    Here are the coordinates they use.
    50291650000 ROTUMA -12.5 177.05 26
    50291683000 NAUSORI -18.05 178.57 7
    51791792001 NUKUALOFA TONGA ISLAND -21.1 -175.2 2 *
    51891643000 FUNAFUTI -8.52 179.22 2 *
    50291652000 UNDU POINT -16.13 -179.98 63
    50291680000 NANDI -17.75 177.45 18 *
    50291699000 ONO-I-LAU -20.67 -178.72 28
    54091753000 HIHIFO -13.23 -176.17 27
    Stars indicate different hemispheres from your left hand graph.

    Google Earth shows NANDI located correctly using the coordinates above.
    UNDU POINT is incorrect if 180 is considered positive, but correct if considered negative. At least close enough for government work.

    Ahhh. The dangers of relying on Wikipedia. In the text they put ONO-I-LAU in the wrong hemisphere. They have it correct in the upper right corner coordinate reading.

    • RomanM

      I used the upper right corner for Ono-I-Lau when doing the right hand graph. Interestingly, I hadn’t noticed that the text was backwards. After reading your comment, I checked for it again at a different website for their airport:

      It gives the location as 178° 41′ 59″ West.

      Nandi Airport is west of the Nausori Airport when I used Google maps so it was obvious that that was incorrect in Met’s database.

      Thanks for the links, They appear to be more useable than the ghcnd-stations.txt file. In that file, it wasn’t clear what the format of some of the station numbers was so I ignored part of the file when I was matching stations.

  3. Bob Koss

    D’oh. My first link is a duplicate of the second. Here is the the correct first link.

  4. I’ve made up a Google map with all eight locations – the relative positions do not seem to agree closely to either of your plots: Some of the Met Office data indeed seems to have flipped signs, but so do some of your “other sources”. There seem to be problems with the latitudes as well: Rotuma comes out in Google as being much further north than any of the others, and they locate Udu Point at about the same latitude as Nadi and Nausori.

    Sorry I am a Google Maps newbie and have no idea how to show a lat/long grid or point coordinates on their map.,-175.209961&spn=29.012154,39.506836&t=p&z=5

    • RomanM

      Good job in making the google map. I have updated the plot above to take into account corrected information on Ono-I-Lau. The new plot looks pretty much like Google now.

      I wouldn’t worry too much about slight differences since there could be smaller errors present in the data which make relative distances appear larger or smaller.

  5. CarlGullans

    Roman, I do remember seeing discussion of this issue in HARRY_READ_ME.txt. Search for “longitude” to see references… they had some issues addressing this, apparently.

    “However *sigh* this led me to examine the detection of ‘non-standard longitudes’ – a
    small section of code that converts PJ-style reversed longitudes, or 0-360 ones, to
    regular -180 (W) to +180 (E). This code is switched on by the presence of the
    ‘LongType’ flag in the LoadCTS call – the trouble is, THAT FLAG IS NEVER SET BY
    ANOMDTB. There is a declaration ‘integer :: QLongType’ but that is never referred to
    again. Just another thing I cannot understand, and another reason why this should all
    have been rewritten from scratch a year ago!”

    (continued in file)

    Of course, those with the wrong sign or wrong number were not fixed correctly, but the odd longitudes (-180 to +180) don’t appear to have occurred in all stations in the source data that CRU actually used.

    • RomanM

      It appears that CRU and the Met should have known about the issues involved and fixed them properly long ago. Instead, they seem to have ignored the possible problems that could (and would given half a chance) occur due to poor programming and data base setup.

      My sympathy for Harry increases daily. 🙂

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