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  1. The historical reconstruction of sea ice extent before 1950 cannot be accurate for the sea ice minimum.

    Sea ice minimum around 11 million km2?

    That is what the ice is like now at the end of May. No open water on the north side of Alaska, the Beaufort Sea or in the NorthWest Passage.

    Why did the Inuit invent whaling boats and kayaks if there was no open water even at the sea ice minimum. How did the last wave of Inuit migrate over from north-western Siberia in whaling boats 1,000 years ago when there was no open water.

    It does not match history. Drop the numbers down 2 or 3 million km2 at the minimum.

    [Response: This is sea ice ‘extent’, not area. Extent includes areas of potential open water within the ~15% concentration contour which is what can be gleaned from pre-satellite observations. Annals of early explorers (see Breton’s Arctic Grail) demonstrate that there was seasonal open-water in the Archipelago (though much less than today), even with extents much greater. In any case, these data are based on ice charts, and so if you want to question the numbers look at those. Just declaring they’re wrong ‘because Inuits’ isn’t going to cut it. – gavin]

    Comment by Paul Williams — 30 Apr 2014 @ 8:04 AM

  2. Thanks for digging into this. While the way certain sources operate is not news, the back story of the item is fascinating.

    Comment by Pete Dunkelberg — 30 Apr 2014 @ 8:09 AM

  3. Paul Williams: look at the 1921-1922 charts. See the words

    “St of ice unkn” in several areas, on both charts?

    “State of ice unknown” seems a reasonable meaning for that caption.
    Unknown to the chart makers — likely known to the Inuit.

    See the edge of the ice marked with little red circles and straight red lines in several places. I’d guess that marks areas in the extent of the ice where the state of the ice had been identified — probably partly open water — by the navigators.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 30 Apr 2014 @ 10:16 AM

  4. Red marks are identified on the full size charts linked in the original post.
    Red lines are “land floe” — landfast
    Open red circles are “open ice”
    Solid red circles are “tight pack ice”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 30 Apr 2014 @ 10:22 AM

  5. Paul,

    I was reading about shipwrecks near Barrow and in 1876 on September 12 a number of ships were sunk when the fast ice broke loose and the ships were carried to the pack ice several miles offshore. There was essentially no open water north of Barrow at the very end of the melt season. This was the typical summer, just enough space to get to Barrow. Perhaps you should read up on historical sea ice before you make your next comment.

    Comment by michael sweet — 30 Apr 2014 @ 11:13 AM

  6. “Nothing new ?”

    New species of obscurantism are being discovered all the time

    Comment by Russell — 30 Apr 2014 @ 1:43 PM

  7. Thanks, the back story is indeed interesting. I’ve had some online discussions with folks who fell for this one hook line and sinker–so to speak! Referred them to Chapman et al for a reconstruction, and also the Danish charts. But I didn’t know about that ‘codicil.’

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 30 Apr 2014 @ 5:21 PM

  8. Svalbard is far out of the ice right now, and the melt season has barely begun.

    Comment by Pete Dunkelberg — 30 Apr 2014 @ 5:50 PM

  9. There was still a large amount of open water north of Spitzbergen in mid March this year at sea ice maximum. Although winds turned around late in March and this area has been ice bound again since.

    Comment by Michael Hauber — 30 Apr 2014 @ 6:48 PM

  10. Yeah, it was pretty open even late into the winter, but if the winds are blowing the ice down to Svalbaard, then that would imply a pretty low minimum this year.

    Comment by Eli Rabett — 30 Apr 2014 @ 9:20 PM

  11. I shouldn’t even mention his name, but Steve Goddard loves to repost these old newspaper stories over and over again to ‘prove’ today’s sea ice retreat is nothing new.

    As discussed here nearly every story is interesting when viewed in context — and similar to the article discussed here, when they mention a latitude it’s always a region where open water is commonplace today, but was *news* back then.

    Similarly they’ll point to historical expeditions from the 19th or early 20th century that traversed the Northwest Passage or Northeast Passage as ‘proof’ again that sea ice was just as low. Forgetting of course that it took these early expeditions 2, 3, or 4 years to make the trip. Many times their ships were frozen in the ice and they simply drifted along with the ice pack.

    Comment by Kevin O'Neill — 30 Apr 2014 @ 10:19 PM


    #11–Yes, or–OT alert!–even the romantic but almost certainly false story of the Octavius, sometimes presented as if factual (see link above.) It echoes the true story of the Resolute, timbers from which are found in the White House today (also linked above–my tablet gets fussy about pasting links.)

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 1 May 2014 @ 8:42 AM

  13. Error bars?

    Comment by Tom Scharf — 1 May 2014 @ 11:10 AM

  14. Thanks for this debunking. I’ve dug up a few interesting articles from Australian newspapers. (Even annoying “Steve Goddard” in a series of “my cuttings are better than yours” tweets:D)

    I’ve listed my favourites if anyone likes newspaper trivia, including a cutting from 1884, which was the earliest mention of CO2 warming that I’ve found so far in Australian newspapers. From the Border Watch (Mount Gambier, South Australia) that talks of “A few hundredths of carbonic acid gas in the atmosphere…the surface…would become like a vast orchid house”

    Comment by Sou — 1 May 2014 @ 12:13 PM

  15. Comment #6 is a plain monkey wrench, even though it’s dressed up with an insipid trope and enormous self-regard.

    Comment by patrick — 1 May 2014 @ 9:50 PM

  16. Russell’s #6 about the price of blue pigment in art history? Worth knowing, when using painted skies as a proxy for aerosols.

    “… one hypothetical alternative to cosmic rays: paint more clouds …” is, I think, an ironic aside on contemporary geoengineering proposals to put more clouds into our real sky.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 2 May 2014 @ 9:47 AM

  17. re currently 6: OK, my fools rush in take:

    im-very-ho, Russell gets on a roll from time to time, and this is one of those times. His hyperliteracy, extravagance, and snarky tones are a feature, not a bug.

    The current front page is piceless: a mashup of Singer, Inhofe, Morano and Pielke and gets them all right.

    RS, please forgive the presumption.

    Comment by Susan Anderson — 2 May 2014 @ 10:31 PM

  18. Susan Anderson:

    im-very-ho, Russell gets on a roll from time to time, and this is one of those times. His hyperliteracy, extravagance, and snarky tones are a feature, not a bug.

    Everybunny knows I don’t always agree with Russell, but his latest is pretty damn clever. Is it possible that Patrick is missing the joke in the name of Russell’s site?

    Comment by Mal Adapted — 4 May 2014 @ 11:01 AM

  19. #18–I am not confused. But thanks for checking. Really.

    Comment by patrick — 6 May 2014 @ 8:52 PM

  20. Paul Williams, historically Inuit people and ancestors imprinted their existence largely where there was seasonal or summer time open water. Note :

    Therefore their ancestors literally have shown the rest of us that the far North never had as much open water as now a summers.. This goes back 5000 years.

    Comment by wayne davidson — 8 May 2014 @ 12:06 PM

  21. thanks for the link to VVatsup, I needed a good laugh

    Gigantopithecus reminds me of Homo Oklapithicus, an ape that grew to be nine feet tall and certainly was the 2000 lb monkey on everybody else’s back but it went extinct anyway (it was probably a vegetarian). Hope springs eternal.

    Comment by Charles — 9 May 2014 @ 9:03 PM

  22. I love history as much as science, so it’s always interesting to see the ties between the two. It’s even more fascinating to explore how they determined things like climate change before all the modern technologies like instruments and models.

    Comment by Alexis Crawford — 11 May 2014 @ 9:46 PM

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