Rumors of the Death of Arctic Sea Ice Greatly Exaggerated
Even if polar bears really are drowning, the melt is likely a natural, not man-made, phenomenon.
December 20, 2008 - 12:00 am
Mark Twain, ever the wry observer of human nature, once famously quipped that “everybody complains about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it.” (Actually, Twain was quoting the essayist and novelist Charles Dudley Warner, but the colorful humorist gets credit for the line.) Whoever deserves the credit, the point was that there is a folly to human arrogance and some things cannot be “fixed,” are outside of the powers of man. The weather, for example, is governed by forces beyond human control.
But the arrogance of the race is boundless, and there are those who actually believe that man is in the process of destroying the Earth’s weather, or at least climate. Al Gore, the leader of the Gang Green, tramps about the planet in his fuel-guzzling, greenhouse gas-spewing jets to tell people that the world is burning — his speeches are usually given on days of bitter cold — because they are living too extravagantly by, well, heating their homes when cold and driving their cars to work. James Hansen of NASA gives hysterical lectures to Congress and the news media, claiming we face fire and brimstone. Repeatedly we have been told we have ten years left, starting in the 1980s; much like those old end-of-the-world preachers, the date for the end time keeps extending.
In short, there are people who believe that, yes indeedy, we can do something about the weather, or at least the climate. If we just live more frugally, share our wealth, eat lots of natural foods like tofu and pine nuts, and hold hands while visualizing world peace, we can bring carbon dioxide and methane levels down and the world will become a pastoral paradise.
The Gang Green — those who believe that man is destroying the planet via our release of industrial emissions — have struggled to convince the populace that their viewpoint, based almost entirely on computer simulations and not on actual recorded data, is correct. (I often refer to global warming as the Goldilocks theory; if it is too hot, too cold, or just right it must be global warming!) Every time Al Gore gives a speech the temperature drops into single digits. We haven’t had any real planetary warming since 1998, and this year has been unseasonably cool, a likely result of an anemic sunspot cycle and reversals in wind and wave oscillations in the Pacific. So the alarmists are forced to making desperate pronouncements designed to panic the average Joe.
One issue that they’ve employed to good advantage is the loss of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. Just run a quick Google search on “Arctic sea ice vanishing” and you will find a series of breathless warnings of coming doom and pictures of drowning polar bears. The alarmist will triumphantly point to the opening of the Northwest Passage and the unusually low ice levels of 2007 and 2008, claiming this is absolute proof that anthropogenic (man-made) global warming (AGW) is wrecking the planet. NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), for example, recently released a dire warning that “between 1.5 and 2 trillion tons of ice have melted in Greenland, Antarctica, and Alaska” and that this proves that we are in the throes of a man-made crisis, one that will trigger massive sea level rise as polar ice melts away. Clearly human greenhouse gas emissions are becoming a planetary emergency.
But are they?
Climate Science, the weblog of climatologist Roger Pielke Sr., discusses the issue of Arctic sea ice melt and explains why the freeze and thaw dates are important to establishing whether ice loss/gain is related to greenhouse gases.
The upshot of his argument is that the start of the freeze-up should come later in the fall, as the melt should likewise begin earlier. It’s not simply a matter of how much ice is lost, but when it is lost.
Dr. Pielke Sr. quotes from a recent paper on the matter:
Indeed, this is what is claimed in a recent talk by Mark C. Serreze of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences/National Snow and Ice Data Center (CIRES/NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder (November 10, 2008, titled “The Emergence of Arctic Amplification”) …
The abstract includes the statement “As the climate warms, the summer melt season lengthens.”
So, we should be able to discern if the season is actually lengthening by examining the melt/thaw dates.
Which is precisely what William Chapman, author of the Chryosphere Today blog, has done.
Here is a table showing the melt and thaw periods with the minimum and maximum ice level dates starting in 1979; you will note that this year’s maximum was equal to 1981 (at .1943), and the minimum at .6876 is likewise equal to 1981. So, does that mean we are in a greenhouse warming cycle reminiscent of 27 years prior?
Actually, the chart shows no discernible pattern whatsoever, with 1985 representing the high for the maximum and 2005 representing the nadir of the minimum, a close second to 1985. In short, there is no evidence for an increase in warming — at least not in regards to when sea ice freezes and melts.
This is interesting because it logically ties in with sea level rise. Sea levels have been rising for the last 10,000 years — since the end of the last ice age — and an increase in ice melt should coincide with an increase in the rate that the sea level is rising.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report from 2001:
No significant acceleration in the rate of sea level rise during the 20th century has been detected.
And in 2007 the IPCC reported:
Global average sea level rose at an average rate of 1.8 [1.3 to 2.3] mm per year over 1961 to 2003. The rate was faster over 1993 to 2003: about 3.1 [2.4 to 3.8] mm per year. Whether the faster rate for 1993 to 2003 reflects decadal variability or an increase in the longer-term trend is unclear.
(Hat tip: World Climate Report)
According to the University of Colorado, the short-term rate of sea level rise has been leveling off.
Yet Jay Zwally from NASA claims that Greenland has lost 150 gigatons of water — enough to raise sea levels by 5 mm per year.
So, either NASA is right and the IPCC wrong, or the IPCC is right and NASA has blown the data. It should be pointed out that GISS has made serious errors before, including proclaiming 1998 the hottest year on record (they quietly corrected it to 1934 without announcing their error) and releasing September temperature records this year in October, proclaiming it the warmest October on record (until they were caught).
I’ll put my money on the IPCC in this instance.
Furthermore, the loss of sea ice that we have witnessed in the Arctic can be explained by natural forces.
During the summer, the doomsayers — particularly the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado — and their minions in the mainstream media were breathlessly proclaiming an ice-free Arctic, with hysterical reports that the ice was melting at an unprecedented rate. Arctic sea ice did drop dramatically in August, which is hardly surprising since this was new, uncompacted ice left over from 2007, which was a record low year. As of October it was up 27% from the previous October.
It must be understood that the Arctic is subject to the effects of the Arctic Oscillation (AO), the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation, the El Niño Southern Oscillation, etc. These oscillations move air masses and water into and out of the Arctic Ocean, and during their warm phases sea ice melts.
There is every reason to believe that these cycles were warming the Arctic and that the recent reversal of these cycles will eventually lead to more ice. It is also reasonable to conclude that much of the warming we have witnessed — especially in the Northern Hemisphere — during the 20th century is at least partly attributable to these same oscillations.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center had this to say about the current slow growth of Arctic sea ice:
Air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean stayed well above average during November, partly because of continued heat release from the ocean to the atmosphere and partly because of a pattern of atmospheric circulation transporting warm air into the region.
So, the Arctic has been experiencing warm air patterns, which help to explain the loss of ice over the last couple of years.
Bear in mind that 2.85 million cubic kilometers of ice will take a long time to melt at an annual mean temperature between -24 and -4 degrees F.
A guest post at Anthony Watts’ website illustrates that this claim of massive ice melt isn’t so well founded when the Arctic basin is looked at as a whole — and depending on how the raw data is processed.
Here is a graph showing that overall ice area has not changed much outside of the summer drop-off. And here is the thirty-year anomaly (variation from the norm) graph; note the year-end high is almost as high as in 2000.
A 2006 survey by the same Jay Zwally showed that Greenland had gained ice mass between 1992 and 2002:
When the scientists added up the gains and losses of ice from the Greenland and Antarctic sheets, there was a net loss of ice to the sea. The Greenland ice sheet annually gained approximately 11 billion tons of water, while Antarctica lost about 31 billion tons per year.
Oh, and glaciers in Norway were making a dandy recovery until someone tampered with the graph and the Varangians lost 500,000 square miles of sea ice!
It should also be pointed out that there were huge undersea volcanic eruptions earlier in the year along the Gakkel ridge, which may be at least partly responsible for the loss of sea ice and glacial ice along land’s end.
So, what does this tell us? It appears that the melting of Arctic ice is a natural phenomenon, likely related to non-anthropogenic causes. Couple this with the other failures of AGW theory — the non-warming of the oceans; the lack of predicted warming at the tropical tropopause; the fact that methane was released simultaneously in both hemispheres in contradiction to AGW theory; that, as of 2004, there has been no net worldwide increase in precipitation, contrary to AGW theory; that we haven’t had any global warming since 1998; etc. — all contribute to what should be the end of this generation-long War of the Worlds scare. But this thing has a life of its own, with a religious force to some and promises of lots and lots of money to others. Climatology was a sleepy backwater before global warming — now it is a well-funded science. Green gang-bangers like Al Gore are making fortunes off carbon offsets for guilt-ridden people across the globe. Children are being taught to believe more in Gaia than in God.
The more we learn, the more it seems that we really can’t do anything about the weather! But the doomsayers continue to ignore the reality around them, clinging to the dogma of their beliefs. “We not only can do something, but we will, whether our actions are of any benefit or not!” It bears keeping in mind that people — many people — die from serious economic downturns, while nobody has ever been documented to have died from global warming, except maybe a crackpot from the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. The disastrous economic policies of cap and trade will kill many in the Third World, and millions will suffer hunger and deprivation to satisfy our Western egos.
To paraphrase another famous quip from the great Mr. Clemens, “Rumors of the death of Arctic sea ice are greatly exaggerated!”