GHCN – GIStemp Interactions – The Bolivia Effect

GISS Anomaly map for November 2009

GIS Anomaly Map for November 2009

This “Anomaly Map” was produced for the most recent month at the NASA / GISS web site here:

You can create many maps, and many of them will not show The Bolivia Effect as well as this one (while some may be better). This map was not “cherry picked”, it is just the most recent month with data available. It does, however, have a very nice example of The Bolivia Effect in it. (At least 2, in fact).

Alright Already, what is this Bolivia Effect?

Notice that nice rosy red over the top of Bolivia? Bolivia is that country near, but not on, the coast just about half way up the Pacific Ocean side. It has a patch of high cold Andes Mountains where most of the population live. It’s the patch of yellow / whitish mountains near the top in this picture:

White, Green, or Brown?  Decisions Decisions

White, Green, or Brown? Decisions Decisions

South American Andes

We originally saw this picture, and this problem, in this posting:

One Small Problem with the anomally map. There has not been any thermometer data for Bolivia in GHCN since 1990.

None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Nothing. Empty Set.

So just how can it be so Hot Hot Hot! in Bolivia if there is NO data from the last 20 years?

Easy. GIStemp “makes it up” from “nearby” thermometers up to 1200 km away. So what is within 1200 km of Bolivia? The beaches of Chili, Peru and the Amazon Jungle.

Not exactly the same as snow capped peaks and high cold desert, but hey, you gotta make do with what you have, you know? (The official excuse given is that the data acceptance window closes on one day of the month and Bolivia does not report until after that date. Oh, and they never ever would want to go back and add date into the past after a close date. Yet they are happy to fiddle with, adjust, modify, and wholesale change and delete old data as they change their adjustment methods…)

The eastern side of Bolivia grades down into semi-tropical and eventually into the Amazon. More details on the climate of Bolivia can be found on this link that has a nice graphic as well.


The description of the mountain portion includes:

The Altiplano Region typically has a chilly climate and is considered to have a semi-arid climate. Since it is at a high altitude the thin air retains little heat and the air is typically dry, with cool temperatures and strong cold winds that can sweep over the region.

From the wiki page we have:

The geography of Bolivia is unique among the nations of South America. Bolivia is one of two landlocked countries on the continent, and also has the highest average altitude. The main features of Bolivia’s geography include the Altiplano, a highland plateau of the Andes, and Lake Titicaca (Lago Titicaca), the largest lake in South America and the highest commercially navigable lake on Earth (which it shares with Peru).


Temperatures and rainfall amounts in mountain areas vary considerably. The Yungas, where the moist northeast trade winds are pushed up by the mountains, is the cloudiest, most humid, and rainiest area, receiving up to 152 cm (60 in) annually. Sheltered valleys and basins throughout the Cordillera Oriental have mild temperatures and moderate rainfall amounts, averaging from 64 cm (25 in) to 76 cm (30 in) annually. Temperatures drop with increasing elevation, however. Snowfall is possible at elevations above 2,000 m (6,562 ft), and the permanent snow line is at 4,600 m (15,092 ft). Areas over 5,500 m (18,045 ft) have a polar climate, with glaciated zones. The Cordillera Occidental is a high desert with cold, windswept peaks.

If you do not have thermometers in those high cold parts, you are not measuring correctly. Though I am surpised that they did not keep a thermometer or two on the eastern side of the country with tropical exposure:

The eastern lowlands include all of Bolivia north and east of the Andes. [...]the region is sparsely populated and, until recently, has played a minor role in the economy.

Differences in topography and climate separate the lowlands into three areas. The flat northern area, made up of Beni and Pando departments and the northern part of Cochabamba Department, consists of rainforest. Because much of the topsoil is underlain by claypan, drainage is poor, and heavy rainfall periodically converts vast parts of the region to swamp.

Maybe it’s that lack of people and swamp thing…


What about that other red spot in the middle of Canada? Yup, you guessed it. No thermometers survive north of 65 degrees in recent GHCN data in Yukon and The Northwest Territories, and only one survives in Nunavut (at the northern edge of Canada, but in a location called The Garden Spot of the Arctic due to the unusual warmth of the area allowing a variety of plants and animals to survive there that do not survive elsewhere.

In both these cases, there is real data in the baseline period, but the current temperatures must be created from somewhere else.

We took an in depth look at those thermometer deletions in this posting:

Which included this description (from the wiki page) of the only surviving thermometer in Northern Canada, at the weather station in Eureka:

“Eureka has been described as “The Garden Spot of the Arctic” due to the flora and fauna abundant around the Eureka area, more so than anywhere else in the High Arctic.” …

Further down, under “Climate” it says:

“Winters are frigid, but summers are slightly warmer than at other places in the Canadian Arctic.”

The station is on the coast near water. Water, as we know, serves to moderate extremes of temperature. There is a nice picture of it, showing the ocean in the background, on the above link, if you wish to see it.

Arctic Red is What Again?

How about all that Red in the Arctic? Well, no surprise, there are no thermometers up there. Yes, all that red across the top is fiction. It is called “estimation” based on ice estimates and “interpolation” and even “the reference station method” but in the end it all comes down to “just made up”.

So when you look at one of these Anomaly Maps, the “highest and best use” that I have found for those rosy red patches is to find those places where there have been abuses of the thermometers (such as in Morocco where they move from the coast, near cool ocean currents, to the Atlas Mountains, on the edge of the Sahara Desert) or where they have been deleted from High Cold Places (such as Bolivia), or where there are simply none at all (such as the Arctic).

Bolivian Data

This is a listing of the “By Altitude” report for Bolivia, so you can see for yourself that there are data in the “baseline” period used by GIStemp, but there is no data since 1990.

Why does a “by altitude” report matter? Again, from the wiki page about Bolivia:

Climate: varies with altitude; humid and tropical to cold and semiarid

Terrain: rugged Andes Mountains with a highland plateau (Altiplano), hills, lowland plains of the Amazon Basin.

Change the altitude of the thermometers and you change the climate you are measuring. Yes, that is “man made climate change” I can believe in. ;-)

This report shows the percentage of thermometers in any given altitude band (in meters). So we see that Bolivia began with 25% of it’s thermometers above 2000 meters (in the snow zone) and with 75% between 500 and 1000 meters in the decade ending in 1919. It ended with 100% of them at that 2000 meter+ altitude in the last reported year of 1990.

The GHCN "By Altitude" report for Bolivia, Country Code 302:

    Year -MSL    20   50  100  200  300  400  500 1000 2000  Space
DAltPct: 1919   0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0 75.0  0.0 25.0  0.0
DAltPct: 1929   0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0 50.0  0.0 50.0  0.0
DAltPct: 1939   0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  9.1  0.0 90.9  0.0
DAltPct: 1949   0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0 27.6  0.0  0.0 72.4  0.0
DAltPct: 1959   0.0  0.0  0.0 18.5 23.9  0.0 20.8 10.0  0.0 26.6  0.0
DAltPct: 1969   0.0  0.0  0.0 20.5 21.8  0.0 16.2 13.0  2.6 26.0  0.0
DAltPct: 1979   0.0  0.0  0.0 23.1 15.7  0.0 14.0 12.5  6.2 28.4  0.0
DAltPct: 1989   0.0  0.0  0.0 23.3 17.3  0.0 16.4 12.4  3.6 27.0  0.0
DAltPct: 1990   0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0100.0  0.0


Notice that while one thermometer level manages to straggle into 1990, it gets shot that year (or the “decade ending” would have had a later year – by default I end the decade counts in years ending in “9″ so 0-9 end up in one decade average together; unless you run out of records… )

It is very hard to have “warming” with no data, but somehow GIStemp, with GHCN, manages to do just that. I guess Bolivia is somehow magical, so I just call it “The Bolivia Effect”… and it is warming the planet.