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North Pole notes

I always find it interesting as to why some stories get traction in the mainstream media and why some don’t. In online science discussions, the fate of this years summer sea ice has been the focus of a significant betting pool, a test of expert prediction skills, and a week-by-week (almost) running commentary. However, none of these efforts made it on to the Today program. Instead, a rather casual article in the Independent showed the latest thickness data and that quoted Mark Serreze as saying that the area around the North Pole had 50/50 odds of being completely ice free this summer, has taken off across the media.

The headline on the piece “Exclusive: no ice at the North Pole” got the implied tense wrong, and I’m not sure that you can talk about a forecast as evidence (second heading), but still, the basis of the story is sound (Update: the headline was subsequently changed to the more accurate “Scientists warn that there may be no ice at North Pole this summer”). The key issue is that since last year’s dramatic summer ice anomaly, the winter ice that formed in that newly opened water is relatively thin (around 1 meter), compared to multi-year ice (3 meters or so). This new ice formed quite close to the Pole, and with the prevailing winds and currents (which push ice from Siberia towards Greenland) is now over the Pole itself. Given that only 30% of first year ice survives the summer, the chances that there will be significant open water at the pole itself is high.

The actuality will depend on the winds and the vagaries of Arctic weather – but it certainly bears watching. Ironically, you will be able to see what happens only if it doesn’t happen (from these web cams near the North Pole station).

This is very different from the notoriously over-excited story in the New York Times back in August 2000. In that case, the report was of the presence of some open water at the pole – which as the correction stated, is not that uncommon as ice floes and leads interact. What is being discussed here is large expanses of almost completely ice-free water. That would indeed be unprecedented since we’ve been tracking it.

So why do stories about an geographically special, but climatically unimportant, single point traditionally associated with a christianized pagan gift-giving festival garner more attention than long term statistics concerning ill-defined regions of the planet where very few people live?

I don’t really need to answer that, do I?

827 Responses to “North Pole notes”

  1. 51
    arja says:

    Why do you keep on telling your kids funny stories about father Christmas living at North Pole? Everyone should know that he lives in Finnish Lapland. What on earth would his reindeer eat at North Pole. Ice?

  2. 52
    MrPete says:


    While RC readers are of course aware of the reality, wouldn’t it make sense, in the interests of science education and integrity, to highlight a simple disclaimer in sea/polar ice postings that:

    * There are only ~100 years of anecdotal sea ice observations.
    * There are only ~30 years of comprehensive sea ice observations.
    * Therefore, readers should be cautious about making, or listening to, statements about “recorded history” with respect to polar ice.

    Even if the ice isn’t always solid, let’s stick to cold hard reality in our statements. No need to feed the tabloids.

    [Response: “recorded history” is obviously only the history that has been recorded (as you say, that goes back about 100 years – but in some places much longer). If I meant to say “in all of history” or “thousands of years” I would have. – gavin]

  3. 53
    Thomas says:

    I think it is pretty clear that most members of the public only know two things about the Arctic ocean, polar bears, and the north pole. They also think of the NP as the coldest point on earth. So if they hear NP is icefree, that will be conflated with “all the arctic ice has melted”, which I suspect is conflated with GIS has melted. And you can bet the main stream media, will all have a special, showing the open water. PR wise, if it happens it could be a psychological tipping point.

    (7) Gavin neglected to also point out, that the arctic is more sensitive than the antarctic because the land based ice in the antarctic is very stable, so the land ice albedo positive feedback is not operating very strongly there. In the NH a lot of land surrounding the arctic ocean is subject to the combination of decrease in seasonal snow cover (with climate warming), and decreasing albedo due to vegetation feedbacks. Both these factors (as well as sea ice albedo feedbacks, give the arctic region very strong positive feedback which regionally amplify the GW signal.

  4. 54
    Martin Vermeer says:

    about an geographically special, but climatically unimportant, single point traditionally associated with a christianized pagan gift-giving festival

    …associated only in America. In Denmark, said child-loving gentleman is a native to Greenland; in Finland, his domicile is an Eastern-border hilltop called Korvatunturi; in the Netherlands, the Christian-pagan conflation did not take place and the gift-bringer, long-dead but historical bishop Nikolaus of Myra, Asia Minor, arrives from Spain on his gift-packed steam ship on December 5 — nothing to do with Christmas! :-)

  5. 55
    Bruce says:

    Regarding the undersea volcansim:
    Has anyone calculated the heat that the undersea volcano would need to emit to melt all that ice? And whether that result is consistent with temperature changes in the Arctic Ocean?

    Seems like a useful mathematical exercise for some geologist/oceanographer (not me).

    Once could note that despite all the volcanoes, Iceland is still covered with ice.

    This article has a few reference to under-ice volcanoes:

  6. 56
    Martin Vermeer says:

    #15 HarryA:

    First off, the effect of melting sea ice would be close to nil, as it floats and displaces an equal amount (mass) of sea water. If it melts, also the displacement effect goes away.

    As for melting continental ice sheets, yes, that would increase the Earth’s moment of inertia about its axis of rotation, leading to a slight increase in length of day. Also the position of the pole (relative to the Earth’s solid body or crust) would change (but not by much). The position of the Earth axis relative to the ecliptic (the well known 23 degs responsible for the seasons) would not change due to this. (But it does vary over time as modelled by celestial mechanics.)

    The change in Earth’s moment of inertia, a quantity called J2-dot, due to the ongoing isostatic rebound in Canada after the last ice age, has been well observed by satellite orbit monitoring, e.g., of the Lageos laser reflecting satellites.

  7. 57
    MattN says:

    So. How do things look down in Antarctica?

  8. 58

    Re: #4 Andy Revkin

    Thanks for the note the other day. But that post never made it in to your blog with the ipcc links. I read your piece

    and enjoyed your perspectives.

    FYI I’m developing a movie script dedicated to the science of understanding this global warming event.


    The script is in development and some fine scientists are helping. Getting it right is one thing, getting it illustrated so non-scientists understand it is the hard part.

    Re: #13 PeterW

    I’m recommending the Bahamas at least for now.

    Re: #16 Mark/Gavin

    I agree with Gavin, “themes and ideas that resonate” reach people. In my own (previously denialist family) I told them a couple years ago, how are you going to explain to your kids where Santa lives when the arctic ice is gone? That made them pause.

    Illustrative themes help, as long as they are not using the denialist tactics of fabrication out of context. I believe Gavin has this in the right context.

  9. 59
    Cecilia Bitz says:

    The media interest about an ice-free north pole prompted me to look at climate model output from CCSM3. CCSM3 is one of only two IPCC models that can keep up with the sea ice decline in the satellite record. It has excursions as big as September 2007 about 1% of the time in the early 21st century.

    The model estimates odds of an ice-free north pole in September are about 1 in 70 for the decade starting in 2008. The north pole is ice-free more frequently in the upcoming decades and it is virtually always ice-free by 2040.

    The model almost certainly does not have perfect natural variability or sensitivity to anthropogenic forcing. I think it is probably better than our guesses though!

  10. 60
    Brian Dodge says:

    re 33 (Sorry for the formatting – cutting & pasting from spreadsheet to text editor to RC)

    Lister, C. R. B., Heat Flow and Hydrothermal Circulation, Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Vol. 8, p.95

    “lava heat content of 1350cal/cc”

    “The worlds largest oceanic hotspot, the Hawaiian/Emperor seamount chain, may put out as much as 10e9 cal/s,…”

    lava heat content 1350 cal/cc
    ice melting 80 cal/g

    volume erupted 4 km3
    = 4e+9 m3
    = 4e+16 cm3
    heat released = 5.4e+19 cal (about 17 years worth of Hawaii hotspot heat output, if my math is correct)

    ice melt mass 6.75e+17 gram

    arctic ice area ~14e+6 km2
    = 1.4e+13 m2
    = 1.4e+17 cm2

    thickness melted 4.82 cm (if uniform over total arctic ice area)

    area melted 7.36e+11 m2
    @ 1m thickness =7.36e+5 km2 (“first year ice… thickness from 0.3 to 2 meters” NSIDC glossary)

    2007 melt area 7.72e+6 km2 (rough estimate from NSIDC charts)

    % due to eruption 9.5 % (assuming the average thickness of melted ice was 1 meter, and not allowing for any of the heat being lost to warming the 4 km thick sea water column, or air, or evaporation)

  11. 61
    Ike Solem says:

    It currently seems that the willingness of the media to cover global warming is directly proportional to the financial costs of the aspect of global warming that they are covering.

    Thus, articles that link the loss of Arctic sea ice to global warming are acceptable, and any news article on Arctic sea ice will generally touch on the role of global warming – usually with a mention for polar bears, which are indeed cute (not too cuddly, tho).

    What isn’t acceptable is to directly link extreme weather events to global warming, as that opens up some financial liability issues that end up on the doorstep of the fossil fuel industry. More flooding, droughts and heat waves are expected in a warming regime. The explanation is pretty clear: a warmer atmosphere means more evaporation over land and oceans, leading to a drier continental interior and a moister atmosphere. Large masses of warm moist air can produce more precipitation, leading to unprecedented flooding. In other regions, persistent high temperatures lead to more frequent droughts and heat waves.

    Actually, a few news outlets are covering this: – but most are not making the connection. Almost no U.S. news outlets have drawn the connection between flooding in the Midwest, drought in the Southwest, and global warming – but that’s not the case with the European media (and European governments), which regularly points out that everyone needs to start thinking of these “extreme conditions” as the new normals.

    Where the U.S. media really fails entirely is on solutions to global warming – and U.S. academic and scientific institutions aren’t doing their jobs here either. For example, NASA – JPL has a good basic overview of global warming at – until you read their “solutions” section, that is. There are in fact only two solutions, both of which need to be implemented: halt the use of fossil fuels, and halt deforestation.

    That leads to the large and important question: without fossil fuels, what do we do for our energy supply? Sunlight and wind are the two basic energy resources that won’t run out. The technology is already well-developed and ready to be implemented – everything from solar themal to solar PV to giant wind turbines to micro wind turbines.

    However, I’ve never seen a single media article in any U.S. press outlet that covered these issues – the large-scale evidence for global warming (melting glaciers, warming poles, shrinking sea ice, ocean temperatures) to the local scale (more intense hurricanes, more intense precipitation, more frequent droughts and heat waves) while also discussing the real causes (fossil fuels and deforestation) and the real solutions (replacement of fossil fuels with renewables, limiting deforestation, and halting the use of fossil fuels, especially coal and oil.)

    The only real reason seems to be financial – fossil fuel interests and global fossil-fueled transportation & electricity interests don’t want to face lawsuits over the costs of these extreme weather events, and they also don’t want to see their markets for fossil fuels shrink. There is probably a decent legal argument that the fossil fuel industry could be held legally responsible for a certain fraction of recent crop losses due to Midwest flooding, for example – especially since they’ve waged a very well-documented multi-decade PR campaign that attempted to hide and distort the evidence for global warming.

    The current U.S. media coverage on the fossil fuel industry and global warming can be seen in this article – a long interview with Chevron’s CEO that doesn’t even mention global warming – apparently, it’s not a question the reporter thinks is relevant:

    However, the NYT, to their credit, did cover the current efforts by the BLM to sabotage the expansion of solar thermal electricity generation in the U.S.: – that would be the same BLM that has been working overtime to transfer public lands to fossil fuel interests for the past 8 years or so.

  12. 62
    pat neuman says:

    Re #9, #30

    Historical and recent climate data are valuable in assessment of climate trends and in prediction,

    even IF, we have passed one or more of the climate tipping points.

  13. 63

    Re #44


    Again I agree with you and this goes to the discussion points raised in the Ics Shelf Instability thread. That scientists are reticent when speaking outside of the purview of their field.

    I think that Dr. Hansen has been doing this very well combining his professional understanding and knowledge with his perspectives as an individual speaking as a citizen.

    I hope that more scientists follow this example and offer their perspectives as individuals/citizens based on their knowledge and understanding.


  14. 64
    T Siefferman says:

    I find the following web site a nice place to compare Artic Ice levels, to date I am more worried about June of 1979 and 1999 then current ice levels, but I plan to keep looking!

  15. 65
    Eric Swanson says:

    In post #40, CobblyWorlds points to a recent analysis by Perovich et al. (2008), which uses calculations of solar energy input to the Arctic Ocean to assess the melting last summer. However, Perovich et al. make the usual error in assuming the values for albedo of the ocean and sea-ice.

    They assert:
    “Open water reflects only 7% of the incident solar radiation, compared to 85% for snow-covered sea ice and 65% for bare sea ice….”

    Actually, the fact that the direct component of the incident sunlight arrives at a shallow angle to the surface and thus experiences a much larger albedo, as one would expect for any transparent material. This fact has been known since early tower experiments in the 1970’s, which indicated albedo values approaching 30% or more, depending on wind speed. On the other side of the equation, the albedo for sea-ice is likely to be too large, since the sea-ice begins to melt and form ponds, which have properties much closer to that of open water. Measured albedo during the peak of the melt season can be as low as 40%. Thus, there isn’t a great deal of difference between the albedo values during the seasonal peak in insolation during the melt season.

    During the SHEBA experiment, measurements of incident and reflected energy were collected, but there was no coincident measurement of the direct beam. Also, the Eppley pyranometers used have a cosine angle roll off for energy with high incident angle. As a result, I don’t think their results to be of great value, even thought these data are often cited. See: Perovich, D. K., T. C. Grenfell, B. Light, and P. V. Hobbs (2002), Seasonal evolution of the albedo of multiyear Arctic sea ice, J. Geophys. Res., 107(C10), 8044, doi:10.1029/2000JC000438.

    Part of this repeated confusion is due to the fact that we often see composite photographs derived from satellites. From this point of view, there is a stark contrast between the bright sea-ice and the dark ocean. These photographs usually view the scene below by looking straight down at nadir, or nearly so. The light which is captured by the camera is reflected from incident light which tends to arrive at the surface from nearly overhead and is likely to be diffuse in origin. It’s true that this portion of the incident light experiences the large albedo differences as noted in Perovich et al. (2008), but this light represents only a fraction of the total incident sunlight at the surface.

    E. S.

  16. 66
    tony says:

    Ok ok I hear you all but if the polar ice cap is melting where is the vast sea level rise every man and his dog is going on about?
    I know this posting won’t be allowed to be posted up but you never know, Realclimate may actually answer some relevant questions sometime soon.

    [Response: Ask some and see. (Note that the Arctic sea ice is floating and only has a very minor effect on sea levels – the worry is in relation to the land based ice-sheets (Greenland and West Antarctica)). – gavin]

  17. 67

    A question:

    What do we know about the age distribution of ice in the arctic? If some suitably huge area of the arctic is totally free of ice this summer, could it then be claimed with confidence that this was the first time such a large region was free of ice in “x” years, where x is some largeish number like 50,000 or 100,000 ? What would be the basis for such a claim? Ice cores? I know such statements are/ will be made but I don’t know their scientific basis. I don’t know what the long term average rate for replacement of sea ice in the arctic is. If it is 50,000 years or something, then I presume claims about how often the arctic has been totally free of ice could easily be based on ice cores. If it is 1,000 years, say, then probably all of the ice has been replaced within the last few thousand years it seems you couldn’t use ice cores to support statements about it being the first time in 50,000 years, say, that the north pole was this free of ice. ???

  18. 68
    Steve Bloom says:

    Martin Verneer notes that concerns related to the “christianized pagan gift-giving festival” are somewhat misplaced since Santa’a workshop isn’t generally thought to be at the North Pole specifically. That’s a comforting thought, but will we ever be able to adjust to the concept of the “Barge of Solitude”?

    In a serious vein, the map plot from the Independent article is at least a few weeks old. In addition to an overall retreat, IIRC one change since then has been that the first-year ice has broken through the Fram Strait, which seems significant since that hasn’t been observed to happen before.

  19. 69

    Re: #19

    Dear cce,

    I have just been to your site and began reading and could hardly “put it down”! Please publish this as a book! It is wonderful, and it takes a lot these days to keep my attention. (I am unfortunately getting to be pretty jaded.)

    I loved it!

  20. 70
    TedH says:

    I enjoy reading your blog. Regarding the “volcano”, in 1999, a team from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, led by geophysicist Rob Reves-Sohn, funded by the NSF, discovered Arctic Ocean thermovents along the Gakkel Ridge. The 1800 km Gakkel Ridge runs across the arctic from Greenland to Siberia and is submerged up to 4 km deep. Geologists now know that the Gakkel Ridge is an active zone of slow spreading tectonic plates with massive amounts of activity including explosive emissions of super carbonated magma that have blown the tops off dozens of undersea mountains, produced mineral/metal riches from extensive hydrothermal vents throughout the range and holds sea life around smoker chimneys with abundant hydrogen-sulfide based ecosystems.
    It is the focus of scientists from around the world because of:
    Governments seeking to stake their sea bottom dominion claims, grant money, greed/wealth, reputations/degrees, adventure, and advancement of human knowledge . The arctic seems to be teeming with researchers (American, Russian, and Canadian), their ice breakers, ships, submarines, and tourist flotillas! See ScienceDaily for info.

  21. 71
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ike Solem wrote:

    However, the NYT, to their credit, did cover the current efforts by the BLM to sabotage the expansion of solar thermal electricity generation in the U.S.: – that would be the same BLM that has been working overtime to transfer public lands to fossil fuel interests for the past 8 years or so.

    I urge everyone to read that article. It is appalling that while the federal government is pushing offshore oil drilling and mountaintop-removal coal mining, proposing to strip-mine shale oil and tar sands and to dramatically expand the production of high-level nuclear waste, they have declared a two-year moratorium on new solar electric power plants on public lands — which have some of the best solar energy resources in the world — for “environmental reasons”.

    Meanwhile, the meager federal investment and production tax credits for solar and wind energy have not been renewed and are due to expire this year.

    If the federal government were actively seeking to crush the solar and wind energy industries in order to protect fossil fuel and nuclear interests from the competition, they couldn’t find a more effective way to do it.

  22. 72
    M Seaman says:

    What are considered to be the dominant physical processes responsible for the recent (15 to 20 years) variability of the ice at the Arctic circle? Specifically, are the processes related to thermal matters such as increases in the air and water temperatures, increased radiative energy deposition onto the surfaces of the ice field, or others, or are they more related to structural issues?

    Have any of the GCMs correctly estimated the observed trends?

    Have any special-purpose models correctly estimated the observed trends?

    Thank you for any assistance for finding information about these. Google Scholar gives so many hits that it’s difficult to know where to start.

  23. 73
    Andy Gates says:

    @66, tony, floating ice doesn’t raise the level of the water in which it floats – the simplest example of this is to pour a full glass of water with ice, and let it melt. The glass doesn’t overflow as the ice turns liquid. This is where science meets single malt :)

    (strictly, it does, but only a *very* small amount; for our purposes, the difference is negligible)

    When ice is *added* to water, the level goes up, of course. Once the barrier of the sea-ice is gone, there is a concern that the land-ice in places like Greenland will melt into the sea. That *would* be disruptive, causing a sea-level rise and introducing a lot of dense fresh water into the circulation currents.

  24. 74
    Timothy Chase says:

    SecularAnimist (#71) wrote:

    I urge everyone to read that article. It is appalling that while the federal government is pushing offshore oil drilling and mountaintop-removal coal mining, proposing to strip-mine shale oil and tar sands and to dramatically expand the production of high-level nuclear waste, they have declared a two-year moratorium on new solar electric power plants on public lands — which have some of the best solar energy resources in the world — for “environmental reasons”.

    Synthetic oil made from coal may do quite well — from an economic perspective. Here is an article touting its feasibility back in 2006 when oil was $40 per barrel rather than $140 per barrel:

    Thanks for the Cheap Gas, Mr. Hitler!
    How Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa perfected one of the world’s most exciting new fuel sources.
    By Daniel Gross
    Posted Monday, Oct. 23, 2006, at 3:30 PM ET

    The emissions per unit of energy is roughly twice that of conventional oil.

    Please see:

    Search for New Oil Sources Leads to Processed Coal
    By MATTHEW L. WALD, July 5, 2006

    But tar sands beats this — with emissions roughly three times that of conventional oil. National governments might not give such matters much thought — though the last seems to have caught the attention of mayors.

    Please see:

    U.S. mayors pass resolution urging cities not use oilsands derived fuel (US-Mayors-Oilsands)
    Jun 23, 2008 5:00:00 PM MST
    The Canadian Press

    Not that the mayors have much of any real power in the matter, I’m afraid.

    Non-traditional fossil fuel promises to be much dirtier than conventional oil. I wonder whether this been factored into business as usual scenarios?

    Unfortunately, non-traditional fossil fuel has the advantage that we can leave a great deal of the infrastructure the same — such as the internal combustion engine. And unfortunately, whether the subject is water, gasoline, electricity or humans, one principle seems rather invariant: that things tend to follow the path of least resistance.

  25. 75
    Bryson Brown says:

    Gee, tony– there’s your post, up for all to see. Too bad it’s so silly. The arctic ice is already floating– melting it has no net effect on sea level, since it’s already displacing its mass in water. Archimedes could have told you that.

  26. 76
    catman306 says:

    Here’s Dr. James E. Hansen on Youtube. I was hoping to find his senate testimony there, but no luck. This video is 4 days old.

  27. 77
    l david cooke says:

    RE: 30

    Hey All,

    I apologize for the digression to the earlier discussion; however, I seem to recall several several instances in which there has been ice free areas in the polar region over the last 50 years.

    Two simple examples:

    A textual recording regarding polar adventures:

    A pictorial recording regarding polar adventures: Though the truth is that images such as below, (Note the 5th photo down from the top: ), are not naturally occurring openings. However, the depth of the ice even then was not significant, based on many journal notes I have read.

    Point being, regardless of the temperature and winds even in the middle of NH winter, the polar ice dimensions, away from pressure ridges, are not very thick as a rule. This is quite different from the example of the ice that used to form in Lake Erie as the ice dragged the bottom and scarred the rock as recently as the 1970’s.

    This does not mean that the current ice melt pattern is an example of anything less then excessive heat content in the region. In addition to warming, the observations regarding ice melt could also be related to increased ocean salinity. It is possible the Arctic ice melt could also be related to ocean currents carrying highly saline water caused by the recent increased SSTs in the temperate oceans between 1985 and 2005 to the region.

    Meaning that the recent ice melt is likely due to global warming with an additional participant that has not been explored yet. Hence, this may offer the opportunity for additional research and model fodder to address how regional deviations can participate in global changes. It may be possible that this could be similar to the earlier thread regarding the West African Iodine and Bromine effects on methane or sulfides. If the research holds up it appears to not decrease the accuracy of the models, only to offer the opportunity to better model the physical processes.

    Dave Cooke

  28. 78

    #38 Nylo, The vagueries of Polar ice are well known, on one side of the Pole you may have more ice, on the other less. There was a long standing Anticyclone SW of North American side of pole exacerbating arctic ocean gyre movement, causing more open water there, as it is big open area right now. Polar ice does not behave in a continuous expected as usual way, Polar sea Ice changes with the wind and with so many other factors as well. This is why, stating no ice at the Pole may be wrong, or premature, winds and ice momentum may make it not so. A better number or graph to watch is
    total ice extent,
    2008 extent is a little behind 2007, it should be surprising to some as winter was cold in some qaudrants around the Pole. However there is more first year ice now, the melt may be greater this year for that reason.

    #52 Historic evidence may be found in the DNA of Bowhead whales. the Atlantic and Pacific Bowheads are genetically different suggesting a long long time of ice barriers, in other words,
    this seasonal melting of vast Arctic Ocean ice, never happenned, all the way back to when there was no Bowhead DNA distinction.

  29. 79
    pat neuman says:

    Wayne, the NOAA website says:

    “September Arctic sea ice has decreased between 1973 and 2007 at a rate of about -10% +/- 0.3% per decade. Sea ice extent for September for 2007 was by far the lowest on record at 4.28 million square kilometers, eclipsing the previous record low sea ice extent by 23%.” […] “Snow extent and sea-ice are also projected to decrease further in the northern hemisphere, and glaciers and ice-caps are expected to continue to retreat.”

    I’d like to see what the 5 year trend looks like.

  30. 80
    Hank Roberts says:

    John Pearson, do a little reading. You’re asking if we know anything from drilling “ice cores” in the Arctic sea ice, but I hope you realize that’s silly. It’s thin floating ice there — if you read just a bit (try some of these):
    you’ll find plenty of information on the age of that ice is documented. Not by drilling cores, but by how much accumulates and melts.

    Yes, core drilling does reveal a lot about the age of ice — but it’s cores drilled in the sediment below the water. You can look that up too. It’s revealed a great deal about the age of the ice shelves in the Antarctic.

  31. 81
    sidd says:

    I have a Quibble:

    “- the worry is in relation to the land based ice-sheets (Greenland and West Antarctica). – gavin”

    WAIS is mostly not land based.

    I would like to repeat my query from a previous thread:

    Does anyone have a link to the presentation referred to in the article


  32. 82
    Chuck Booth says:

    RE # 49 Harold Pierce Jr.

    Why do you assume marine phytoplankton in the arctic are CO2-limited? Can you cite any published papers on this?

    Regardless, even if they are, the zooplankton that eat the phytoplankton, and the fish that eat the zooplankton, will exhale CO2 into the water. And the seals and polar bears will exhale their CO2 directly into the atmosphere. So, unless you can come up with a mechanism by which the phytoplankton are sequestered in the deep sea and not undergo decomposition, it is difficult to see how there could be a net reduction in atmospheric or oceanic CO2 levels.

  33. 83

    Re #76 catman306

    Here is a collection of Hansens videos from the house hearing on political interference:

  34. 84

    80: One of the purposes of this site is to educate the layman. I don’t always have time to wade through a bunch of journal articles in areas that have nothing to do with my field. Next time you want to answer someone’s question I suggest you either attempt to answer it without lecturing them about how silly it is or simply keep quiet. I have no idea how people figure out how ice free the poles have been over long periods of time. How is it done? Can it be done?

  35. 85
    A.Syme says:

    Here is the URL for the pictures of the three subs at the north pole


    [Response: No disinformation sites please – similar photos can be seen here or here instead. As I stressed above, the issue is not a few leads in the pack ice, but genuine large expanses of open water. – gavin]

  36. 86
    Arch Stanton says:

    @81 Sidd:

    “I have a Quibble:

    WAIS is mostly not land based.”

    A minor quibble indeed! (why even make it?)

    Some (are you talking volume or surface are?) of the WAIS may be over terrain currently under the local “sea level” but it is indeed grounded and as such much (most?) of it is supported above the water and it’s melting will indeed contribute to sea level rise.


  37. 87
    Thomas says:

    Re (61) : The BLM moratorium on new Environmental Impact Statements is indeed a nasty development that should be remedied. Especially in these times of economic decline, we ought to be able to hire enough staff to handle the demand. Unless or until there is evidence that it is deliberate sabotage ( this is certainly possible for Bush appointees ), I wouldn’t attribute it to deliberate sabotage. Bureaucracies do tend to operate in this this manner.

    (82/49) Regardless of the potential effect on CO2 uptake by the seasonally icefree polar ocean, there are two major effects from the icefree ocean that should be of general concern. The first is that even if (and I think it is a big if) the polar biological productivity were to increase, it is still a major change to the ecology of the region. The second, is that the boundary conditions on both the atmosphere and oceans will be substantially different from what they used to be. This would have an effect on both atmospheric and ocean circulation and heat balance that would have to be modeled by detailed ocean/atmospheric climate modeling.

  38. 88
    Thomas says:

    I should have said that the paleoclimatologists who study sea floor sediments are pretty confident that the high lattitude arctic ocean has not been ice free for many hundreds of thousands of years. An ice-free ocean, and the extra sunlight implied by that, would have a significant impact on the microfossils that are deposited on the seafloor. I don’t know any of the details, but I do know that the detailed study of these is a major source of information on paleo-climate.

  39. 89
    Hank Roberts says:

    John Pearson, you want information on
    > how people figure out how ice free the poles have been over long periods of time. How is it done? Can it be done?

    Yes. The North Pole is an ocean. The ice is only a few meters thick and much of it melts each summer. The South Pole is also an ocean, but it is underneath an ice cap several miles thick.

    Antarctic ice cores do provide a lot of information about conditions over geologic time.

    Around the edge of the Antarctic, broad beds of sediment are present, some of which have been under ice shelves that have lasted a very long time. Drilling into those sedimentary layers provides a history of the kind of organisms that lived there.

    Arctic ice can’t tell much from ice core drilling because it is never very old. Instead cores are drilled from the sedimentary layers below the water. Each layer of sediment is a record of the kind of organisms that lived in the water.

    Open water favors very different kinds of organisms than ice covered water, so the sediment record gives a picture of when and for how long there was ice on top of the water in a particular area.

    Try try clicking this link, most of these after the first few science journal abstracts are brief popular science articles on topics that will help you find answers to some of your questions.

    Other readers here will be able to point you to other sources. Most of us responding here are like you and like me, ordinary readers not experts in the field — most of us try to help point out answers to the basic questions that are often asked.

    Putting “paleo” into the Search box at the top of the page and searching this site will find much more.

    Hope this helps.

  40. 90

    Re 82: Chuck: There is a mechanism by which ocean eco-systems sequester CO2 into the deep sea. It is called “the biological pump” ( and basically involves inorganic carbon (calcium carbonate) sinking. My understanding of this process is that it mostly occurs near coastal upwellings which bring up nutrients from the deep and that it is responsible for a significant fraction of ocean carbon sequestration. That being said, I have no idea what role this might play in a world with an ice free arctic ocean. I believe that will require measurements that can’t be made until the arctic is ice free. (Just for the record: I certainly don’t agree with Pierce’s “why worry” sentiments. )

  41. 91
    Hank Roberts says:

    Specific pointer to article and illustration on sediment cores under ice and what’s learned:

    “The ANDRILL objective for this year is to look at the sediments trapped under the modern day ice shelf (see graphic …) in an effort to model how much—and how rapidly—the Ross Ice Shelf has changed. Layers of sediment that date to times when the site was covered by ice are coarse grained and include large pieces of gravel (the geological term is “diamict”). Sediment from the years when the drill site was covered by open ocean are made of diatoms, tiny marine plankton (“diatomite”). These very different rock types give geologists a clear picture of what conditions were like in the geological past. We are drilling back in time: The deeper we drill, the older the sediments get.”
    “The sediments tell the story. An example of rock types and interpretation from the ANDRILL core.”

  42. 92
    Harold Pierce Jr says:

    RE: #82

    As long as the aeals and polar polar bears are alive, they become CO2 sinks since they need lots of fat for insulation to keep warm. Fish are CO2 sinks also. If any these animlas die and sink to the ocean floor, they are consummed by scavengers such as crabs and lobsters. The shells of these animals are CO2 sinks because these are mostly chitin. As their bodies of the animals decay, nutrients are released and these can be used by filter feeder whose shells are usually calcium carbonate, which is a CO2 sinks.

    Nothing goes to waste in the ocean, and most of the carbon ends up as limestone or in coral reefs.

  43. 93

    I have been wondering a couple of things about the ice that is melting up there.

    For example, 20 years ago (and I am just picking the year out of a hat), I assume that the ice was much thicker. I also assume that warm water both from the Pacific and the Atlantic has gone into the Arctic Sea and done some melting of that ice from below.

    But, in my certainly imperfect understanding, doesn’t the ice first need to absorb lots of kcals before it will actually melt?

    So, for example, has anyone calculated the kcals, over time, that were necessary to make the sea ice reach the melting point?

    Has this value been added to the calculations when searching for the so-called “missing” heat content of the oceans?

    [N.B. Obviously, I don’t know all that much about physics, ok?]

  44. 94

    Hank: I appreciate the links but those are all for Antarctica. Why is there so little on the arctic?

    92: “As long as the aeals and polar polar bears are alive, they become CO2 sinks since they need lots of fat for insulation to keep warm.” This is just nonsense. Most of the rest of your post is nonsensical in detail, but correct in it’s premise that biological processes send some CO2 (in the form of calcium carbonate) to the depths. But the claim that “nothing goes to waste in the ocean” is non sequitur . The ocean is fully capable of disgorging large quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere. It isn’t “waste”. It is just what physics/chemistry/geochemistry/ecology dictates. The efficiency of the biological pump depends on poorly characterized mechanisms. For example; heterotrophic bacteria can compete with carbon fixing autotrophic bacteria for nitrogen which can result in a substantial reduction of carbon export to the deep since the heterotrophic bacteria send CO2 back to the atmosphere via respiration. The nature of this competition is not well understood.

  45. 95

    I have a question for Gavin or Mark Serreze, or rather a comment and a question because I was surprised that youz guys referred to the opening of the Arctic Sea in the summer as largely “symbolic.”

    OK, it was bound to happen under the current conditions, so it was expected, but “symbolic”?

    As PeterW in #13 noted, and as I am sure you are aware, the change in albedo is bound to have all sorts of detrimental effects.

    Also, I think it is quite all right to use this tipping point to catch the attention of the public who are sleeping at the wheel.

    If the denialists can use junk science to grip the public’s mind, what is wrong with using facts?

    The change in albedo for such a long period of time each year is bound to cause all sorts of weird weather that we have never before experienced. Hot air is going to go up there, and what is going to come back down? Not the colder air we used to get.

    And the remaining glaciers and ice caps of the Canadian Archipelago are gonna go. Today, Pituffik (Thule), Greenland, hit a record high of 62 F, breaking the old record of 57 F, set in 2002. OK, I know, we can call that part of the natural variability, but well…

    [Response: The symbolic part is the focus on the North Pole. The substantive part is the Arctic wide decline in ice cover. – gavin]

  46. 96

    Citing a speech by a retired TV weatherman who could no more construct a climate model than a television camera , and the philosophical authority of one “Thomas Eddington ” ( the inventor of the supernova light bulb, perhaps –surely not the Sir Arthur who confirmed the relativistic precession of the orbit of Mercury?) ,James Kerian, scion of the North Dakota potato, fruit and nut-sorting machine dynasty, and recent mechanical engineering graduate of Gonzaga University, has authored a Wall Street Journal online oped entitled “Yellow Science”, equating global warming warnings with the “Yellow Journalism ” William Randolph Hearst devised to spawn the Spanish American War .It baldly ,and bizarrely, asserts that no hard scientific evidence links human activity and climate change. None. Nada. Zip.

  47. 97
    cce says:

    Re: 69

    Thanks Tenney. At this stage, I’d love any input (contact info on site). I’m especially interested in any scientific blunders/misrepresentation or false logic that anyone can spot. This thread has more on what I’m trying to accomplish.

    Thanks again!

  48. 98
    l david cooke says:

    RE: 87/88

    Hey Thomas,

    My apologies as I do not have confirming evidence; however, I suspect that ice cover is not going to cause a major reduction in phytoplankton activity. Based on the recent work done in Antarctica it would seem that ice covered areas are also biologically rich. Then again it is possible that the evidence only occurs at the edge of large regions of ice cover, (it was not clearly described in the article I had read).

    The only question I have would be, is there a possibility that the ice cover may actually be protecting phytoplankton from UVA/B energy? Most images of ice floes taken from beneath the ice suggests there may be rich algae and bacteria colonies growing in the translucent ice.

    I am curious about the source for what you are sharing, in regards to the biologic levels changing as the sea ice cover changes. About the only change in activity, I would expect, would involve a change in air breathing water borne sea life, that may be limited by the ice cover.

    I had not considered CO2 to be much of an issue as I would expect it to be well dissolved in the sea water. There have been a number of recent articles in regards to whether sea life flourishes being related to the nutrient and iron content. I would appear these would seem to be well dissolved in the sea water as well (without an overabundance contributing to a dead zone). It would appear that the remaining contributor would be light, an interesting aspect to research may be how much would the quantity of life change in the region, if the albedo changes?

    Dave Cooke

  49. 99
    Chuck Booth says:

    Re # 92 Harold Pierce, Jr.

    What you have written makes no sense whatsoever. I strongly suggest you learn some basic physiology before claiming that seals, polar bears, and fish are CO2 sinks (Hint: Start your readings with basic aerobic cellular respiration). And for the record,the shells of crabs and lobsters are indeed mostly chitin, but that is a polysaccharide (a polymer of N-acetyl glucoseamine). Their shells do contain some calcium carbonate, but that is added only after a molt – and some of it is recycled from the previous exoskeleton – there is no continuous deposition, so the shells are not a significan CO2 sink.

    # 90 John E. Pierson ” I have no idea what role this might play in a world with an ice free arctic ocean.”
    Then why mention it?

  50. 100
    sidd says:

    In comment # 86 Arch Stanton wrote at 28 June 2008 1853:

    Re: Quibble, WAIS

    “…it’s melting will indeed contribute to sea level rise.”

    oh, i entirely agree. my point was that WAIS is substantially grounded below sea level