Another Climate Change Scare is On Thin Ice

by Dr. Tim Ball on February 24, 2011

in Arctic,Data,History,Oceans

All the scares generated by the false climate science promoted by political agendas disappear from the mainstream media and are rarely heard of again. There’s no followup in the mainstream media, no apologies for providing false or inadequate information. Nasty old Mother Nature causes the demise by going about her normal business. As the old advertisement said, it’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature. The Northern Hemisphere winter is already proving once again that global warming is another undelivered government promise.

The sequence begins with identification of an issue. This occurs in several ways, including reporters scanning science journals for articles to sensationalize, or a scientist or environmental group publicizing an issue. If the story catches, they’ll push it from various angles. If it loses traction, they bring in a different scientific angle or raise the level of potential damage.

Arctic Ice: A Classic False Scare

Melting Arctic ice grabbed attention and became a major part of Al Gore’s propaganda movie An Inconvenient Truth. Dying polar bears grabbed emotions and rising sea levels flooded fertile land inhabited by much of the world’s poor people. Context quickly appeared as historic reconstructions of Arctic temperatures and the natural annual variation of ice amounts showed everything within normal variability. Polar bear experts like Mitch Taylor debunked the endangered polar bear claims. What to do? Everyone is familiar with the dangers of thin ice so spread the claim the ice is thinning rapidly and as usual intimate it is unnatural.

We’ve only had satellite measures of ice cover since 1980. Launched in 1978, it took two years to establish reliable procedures and determine accuracy. Since then various computer models have used different methods to measure and display what is going on. There is still disagreement between them. One of the differences is how they determine old, young, and new ice. Another was the problem of ice with water lying on top. However, the satellite never measured ice thickness.

Fritz Koerner, a Canadian glaciologist who also drilled ice cores on Baffin and Ellesmere Island, produced an excellent early (1973) assessment of the situation. Fritz was the first person I heard report to an Ottawa conference that his cores were showing CO2 levels changing after temperature change. In his paper, Koerner notes, “The mean end-of-winter thickness of the ice is calculated to be 4.6 m in the Pacific Gyral and 3.9 m in the Transpolar Drift Stream.” This difference is important because it reflects the influence of ocean circulation on ice thickness.

The threat of unnatural thinning introduced in the late 1990s was based on the original ice thickness measurements taken by USS Sargo, a submarine that traversed under the ice in 1960. It followed the surfacing at the North Pole in 1958 by the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear submarine.

These early interest and experiments were driven by military concerns. These concerns were triggered by the discovery that Soviet submarines were getting into the north Atlantic by transiting under the Arctic ice, passing through the deepest channel out of the Arctic Basin (the East Greenland Channel), thus bypassing the submarine and air barrier set up between Iceland and Scotland. Ironically, we now have access to the extensive Russian material; nobody pays much attention, but that’s been the course of the climate debate all along. I reviewed a paper recently, and there was no mention of Koerner or most of the Canadian Arctic ice studies.

In 1999, a second transit using US submarines measured ice thickness. As usual, the New York Times was stoking the warming fires:

The research involved measurements of sea ice thickness made by upward-looking sonar aboard naval submarines operating under the ice sheet. The first period of data began in 1958 with the first nuclear submarine, the United States” Nautilus, and concluded with a cruise by H.M.S. Sovereign in 1976. The second data set was collected by American vessels from 1993 to 1997. Dr. Rothrock and two colleagues, Y. Yu and G.A. Maykut of the University of Washington, compared data from the two periods at 29 points where the courses of submarines in the 1990″s intersected with the courses of those in the earlier period.

This became the main source of the thinning scare. There were many problems with the research not included or subsequently reported by the Times. These include:

  • The submarines did not follow the same route so a few points is unrepresentative.
  • They used different measuring equipment; one was a sideways scanning system that determined the bottom of the ice from which they estimated thickness. The other was a vertical system with a different method of estimation.
  • The transits were made in different months and Arctic ice changes are naturally dramatic from month to month. For example, some 65,000 km of ice melts or forms daily.
  • Ice thickness is not just due to atmospheric temperatures but determined by water temperatures among other factors. One of these is the weight of the ice, which varies with snowfall that pushes the ice down into the ocean so it melts to limit ice thickness. The only way you get substantially thicker ice is when the slabs of ice collide and cause massive ridges. Koerner estimated 17% of the total ice was ridged or hummocky.
  • Winters in 1960 were naturally much colder and snowier than in 1990s. The cold period from 1940 to 1980 posed serious problem for the warming theorists.
Positive and negative phases of arctic multi-decadal variability

Following the US transits, the British Navy did some measures in 2004. By then, the impact of ocean currents and .

Figure 1 shows the pattern of circulation reversals that relates to the differences referenced in Koerner’s 1973 paper (which is titled The Mass Balance of the Sea Ice of the Arctic Ocean).

Generalized energy balance of the arctic

Figure 2: Generalized energy balance of the arctic.
Source: Hidore, O., Climatology p. 276

Figure 2 shows the implications of these differences in sub ice water temperatures. Heat moves from warm to cold. Seawater is warmer than the ice, which for most of the year is warmer than the air. As a result heat passes through the ice to warm the atmosphere. There’s little chance of measuring the changes because we have virtually no measures of air temperatures over the ice in the Arctic Basin.

None of what’s going on today is outside long term variations in ice cover and thickness. On November 20, 1817 the President of the Royal Society proposed a letter to the British Admiralty:

It will without doubt have come to your Lordship’s knowledge that a considerable change of climate inexplicable at present to us must have taken place in the Circumpolar Regions, by which the severity of the cold that has for centuries past inclosed (sic) the seas in the high northern latitudes in an impenetrable barrier of ice has been during the last two years greatly abated.

Mr. Scoresby, a very intelligent young man who commands a whaling vessel from Whitby observed last year that 2000 square leagues of ice with which the Greenland Seas between the latitudes of 74° and 80°N have been hitherto covered, has in the last two years entirely disappeared. The change in circulation was triggered by the eruption of Tambora in 1815.

In the heat of Cancun, Mexico, everyone is learning that the fallacies of climate science – and especially attempts to exploit fear and lack of knowledge or understanding – are on very thin ice because they are totally politically motivated.