Solar panel appears then disappears at Sydney temp station

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Remember the nomadic solar panel that appeared a few meters due south of the Sydney Observatory thermometer at the same week as the city ended it’s coldest streak in 140 years? Well Craig Kelly, who took the original photos, went back and now its gone.

Today there is just grass and shrubs to reflect the midday sun towards the back of the thermometer box.

As Craig Kelly said: “The fact that it’s disappeared shows that it was never installed – someone at the BOM just happened to grab a random solar panel and place it at such an unexplained position…”

So much for expert rigorous science accurate to a tenth of a degree.

Kelly explains that this site is nearly invisible:  “The only way you can see it is by holding a camera above your head – it’s not visible to the eye – even if you were 6’6” and standing on your toes you can’t see over the fence – and the Observatory is closed to the public for some unknown reason.”

Perhaps the BOM just thought no one would notice, and “it’s for a good cause, eh?” We can’t have the punters thinking Sydney was cooler today than in 1883.

As I said:

The solar panel was exactly due south of the Stevenson screen on exactly the right day. If, hypothetically, someone wanted to leave a reflective object pointed at the box at midday, that’d be the place to do it.

Look for the handy BOM guidebook:

“How to create temperature records with spare parts lying around the house”

Sydney Observatory, Thermometer, solar panel, Jan 2023.

That’s a strange spot to leave a panel… | Photo by Craig Kelly 20th January 2023

It’s the year without a summer for Sydney. There’s only been one day above 30°C since Feb 21st last year in Sydney, and that was a day when the wandering solar panel was visiting the thermometer, seemingly connected to nothing and leaning on a bush.

Guilty, what? Will the BOM retract the 30.2°C “official temperature” or do secret homogenisation adjustments to figure out what the temperature might have been with thermometers 800 km away?

I wonder how often this is happening at other sites around Australia? Time to start looking?

By onlookers, not easily seen,
At just the right angle to lean,
One odd solar panel,
Some heat for to channel,
Straight on to the Stevenson screen.


Solar panels only absorb 22% of the sun’s energy. They can reflect plenty of light, much more than grass would, and it’s possible that extra light heated up the Stevenson screen artificially.

 …even if somehow this solar panel didn’t change the temperature on the day, it tells us everything we need to know about the lackadaisical BOM standards. There is something profoundly dishonest about claiming they do expert science while not maintaining sites, or explaining how large the uncertainties really are, and how meaningless most “hot records” may be.

The site is a terrible site even on a good day. Ken Stewart notes the BOM’s own instructions say there should be a 30m buffer around the thermometer screen.

This article originally appeared at JoNova

  • Joanne Nova

    A prize-winning science graduate in molecular biology. She has given keynotes about the medical revolution, gene technology and aging at conferences. She hosted a children’s TV series on Channel Nine, and has done over 200 radio interviews, many on the Australian ABC. She was formerly an associate lecturer in Science Communication at the ANU. She’s author of The Skeptics Handbook which has been translated into 15 languages. Each day 5,000 people read

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