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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. 1
    Andy Gates says:

    Already the denial community is giving credit for Arctic melting to the sea-bed volcanic activity (eg: It would be great to have an analysis of that idea with actual numbers and science.

    [Response: That’s hilarious (if unsurprising). I’ll see what I can do… – gavin]

  2. 2

    Ah ! Finally RC moves from atmospheric sciences to human psychology. Much deeper, impossible to know, and still interesting.

  3. 3
    Bill Durbin says:

    Gavin, I’ve been hoping you would do a post on Jim Hansens’ testimony before the Congressional Committee on the 20th anniversary of his appearance in 1988. Would you consider doing so? I have found it to be somewhat bizarre that there has been so little follow up in the press.

  4. 4
    Andy Revkin says:

    There’s a very simple answer to why this got traction: TV producers sift it continuously, then rush coverage.

    You can find out more (and see links to my earlier coverage of Arctic sea-ice trends, and what’s going on with sea ice at the other end of the planet) in my latest post on Dot Earth.

    More on how the media could do much better covering climate can be found in one of my two book chapters on the media and climate, which the radio show On the Media posted online.

  5. 5
    pat neuman says:

    My bet is that this year’s Arctic Sea ice extent ice will not fall below
    last year’s minimum (4.28 or 2.77), because last year’s minimum was very
    low in comparison to all other years of record (1979-current).

    Arctic sea ice monitoring at NSIDC

  6. 6
    Mark C. Serreze says:


    I hope that I will not be pilloried by the community for being a part of this story. From what I can gather, it started with a piece in “National Geographic Online”, moved to a piece in “The Independent”, another piece on CNN, and then quickly grew out of all reasonable proportion. A positive feedback process. I’ll be the first to agree that losing the ice at the north pole this summer would be purely symbolic, but symbolism can be pretty darned powerful.

    [Response: As we are seeing! We should perhaps tap into it more often. :) – gavin]

  7. 7
    Khebab says:

    I have a naive question: does the AGW theory predicts that the Artic sea ice should disappear first?

    Another puzzling observation, If we look at the global sea ice extent, there is no long term trend:


    [Response: Yes. Arctic regions are expected to warm faster than the global mean. Global values are not particularly useful since they conflate the two disparate and out of phase seasonal cycles. Antarctic sea ice has both a larger seasonality and bigger year to year variability and so dominates the much more significant Arctic changes. – gavin]

  8. 8
    Milan says:

    Partly, all the attention is the result of some conflation. People have been hearing recently about the disappearance of summer sea ice at some point between 2010 and the end of the century. When they hear ‘North Pole might melt this year’ they might think the former predictions are being dramatically revised.

    The symbolism is also important. Hopefully, this will help to discredit some of those who argue that anthropogenic climate change doesn’t exist, or that its impacts will be minimal.

  9. 9
    John Ramming says:


    Many people betting on the arctic sea ice are using statistical analysis of the recent history. If, and this is THE big IF, we have finally passed one of the climate tipping points, then all past statistics are of no value in predicting the new dynamics of ice extent in the arctic.

  10. 10
    PeterB says:

    The headline on the piece is probably why it gained so much traction. The very thought of Santa, his elves, Mrs. Claus, and rudolph’s home being submerged must be too much for Matt Drudge to take.

  11. 11

    Andy Gates writes:

    Already the denial community is giving credit for Arctic melting to the sea-bed volcanic activity (eg: It would be great to have an analysis of that idea with actual numbers and science.

    The mean global sunlight absorbed by the climate system is about 237 watts per square meter.
    The mean global geothermal flux is about 0.087 watts per square meter.
    Divide A by B. Discuss.

  12. 12
    sidd says:

    Khebab wrote 27 June 2008, 1547:

    re sea ice: Mr. Revkin posted a link

    to a study on antarctic sea ice on the dotearth blog.


  13. 13
    PeterW says:

    Hi Gavin,
    I’m just trying to figure out how to spin the jolly bearded fellow if my children hear there is no ice at the North Pole this summer. Maybe he summer vacations in Antarctica? ;-)

    By the way, with so much open water attracting heat in the summer, won’t this have a detrimental affect on Greenland and the northern permafrost?

  14. 14
    Paul Melanson says:

    RE: #1 Undersea Arctic Volcanism

    Yep, I heard it today on Rush Limbaugh’s show (I don’t know where Rush got his degree in Climatology, but he must have one since when he talks about it he holds himself up as an expert). Something about a volcano as big as Vesuvius – and if it could bury Pompei it certainly could melt all that ice. He went on to imply that scientists were ignoring this because of their hidden agenda. Who needs numbers when you have detailed analysis like this?

    Seriously, you have a great site and I would like to also encourage a “Real Climate” analysis of this red herring. If only the “denial community” would study it instead of looking for slick sound-bite retorts.

  15. 15
    HarryA says:

    Has anyone considered, or studied the possible outcome of moving all of that mass (ice) and distributing it around the world? I know that there are predictions of sea levels increasing, but how will it affect the tilt and rotation of earth?

  16. 16
    Mark says:

    [Response: As we are seeing! We should perhaps tap into it more often. :) – gavin]

    I dunno. I’d feel, if this were tapped into, to be “not doing it right”. Using the same tricks as the denialists feels rather like a descent into their madness.

    Then again, I’m weird.

    [Response: The point I was making is that using themes and ideas that resonate might get us further than not. – gavin]

  17. 17
    Mark says:

    “Something about a volcano as big as Vesuvius – and if it could bury Pompei it certainly could melt all that ice. He went on to imply that scientists were ignoring this because of their hidden agenda. Who needs numbers when you have detailed analysis like this?”

    Well, why is this volcano only having an effect now? Why is it erupting. And, to hoist them with their own claptrap, if this huge new volcano erupts, what chance for us, what with a volcano producing more pollution than humans have ever done over their history (which is wrong because that’s conflating ancient [100million year] volcano eruptions with eruptions today, just for those new here).

  18. 18

    The story is featured in the Daily Telegraph, too:

    And brings out a few denialists in comments.

  19. 19
    cce says:

    Regarding global trends in sea ice, I wrote this for “another site,” but no one found it interesting.


    The longest analysis of satellite sea ice data is the Goddard Space Flight Center sea ice extent series, starting in 1972 for the Arctic and 1973 for the Antarctic. For a period in 1977 and 1978, there is a gap in the satellite data, and the National Ice Center (NIC) data fills in, which is also used to match up the different satellite sensors.

    This is documented here:

    The data is here:

    Their most recent analysis ends in 2006, and must be combined with their previous analysis which includes the pre-1978 data (the differences between the two series during the period of overlap are miniscule). To extend it to the present, I used the NSIDC sea ice extent. I matched it to the GSFC data by comparing the period of overlap between 1988 and 2006 (which is the most recent/best “SSMI” data). To adjust the NSIDC data to match GSFC, multiply by these values for each month:

    Month NH SH
    Jan 97% 96%
    Feb 98% 100%
    Mar 98% 90%
    April 98% 92%
    May 99% 93%
    June 98% 95%
    July 97% 96%
    Aug 99% 97%
    Sept 99% 98%
    Oct 93% 98%
    Nov 97% 96%
    Dec 97% 91%

    If you calculate the anomaly based on the 1979-2000 averages, you get this (with moving 12 month average).

    There is a trend in global sea ice and it is down.

  20. 20
    bobn says:

    “Where does father Christmas live?”
    “At the North Pole with his Elves”
    Child of 1950: satisfied
    Child of 2050: “Where do they live in Summer?”
    Child of 2150: “He lives on a boat?”

  21. 21
    DBrown says:

    Idea: volcano heated ocean to increase melt of artic ice:
    Volume of water in artic (about 1% of world’s ocean vol.): that is, 0.0013 billion km3. If molten stone is at about 2000 C, and the heat capacity is about 0.2, than you would need 32,500 km3 to provide the required heating. However, to melt ice, you need far more heat so this number is very low.
    In any case, just using this very low value, a cube of molten stone that is about 32 km x 32 km x 32 km would need to be released.
    So, if each underwater artic volcano emitted 1 km3 a week (a rather large average flow) and did it for a year (about 52 weeks) you would need about 620 very active and extremely powerful volcanoes in order to warm the artic ocean by just 1 C (and that ignores surface cooling, in/out water flows and time rates that would require even more volcanoes.)
    (Did math fast, so check)

  22. 22
    A.Syme says:

    Somewhere I saw a picture of three submarines parked at the north pole amongst loose pack ice. I assume this was at mid-summer.

  23. 23
    Steve Reynolds says:

    That is a very interesting graphic on Dot Earth. It looks like almost all the old ice escapes through a narrow (about 200km) passage between Greenland and Svalbard.

    I wonder if a surface barrier would be effective in keeping ice in the artic? That might be some low cost geo-engineering.

  24. 24
    Danny Bloom says:

    When I first started talking about polar cities as an adaptaion strategy for future global warming problems in the far distant future, say 2500, nobody would listen to me here or anywhere else. Now a few people are listening. But most people are still not listening. Can you hear the Arctic sea ice melting yet? Listen…

  25. 25
    Eli Rabett says:

    The basic reason I bet with stoat is that sea ice levels have a large amount of hysteresis, and 2007 guaranteed that any ice which formed would be relatively thin. Note that this works both ways.

  26. 26
    Lawrence Brown says:

    I’m more worried about native populations of the Arctic like the Inuit, and how they can continue their customary lifestyles, than about jolly Santa. After all if he knows when you’re sleeping and he knows when you’re awake, he ought to know whether or not the toy shop is gonna sink into Davy Jones locker. For all its glorification the pole itself is less important than the entire NH region, close to and above the arctic circle.

  27. 27
    John Mashey says:

    re: #1
    Although it’s not exactly the same, the “undersea vents near greenland” thing cam up a while ago. This nice, short discussion talks about temperature measurement techniques, and how hard it is to actually measure temperature rises from vents anyway, i.e., the ocean is BIG.

    “Boiling the ocean” is hard work, whether as aa marketing strategy or in real life.

  28. 28
    Eric Swanson says:

    Whether the area around the North Pole is free of sea-ice at the end of this year’s melt season is not the important problem. The trend over the past couple of decades points toward a continuing decline in extent in the near future. Some analysts have suggested that all the sea-ice will melt within a decade, perhaps by 2013. The larger issues are: how much longer will it be before the Arctic Ocean is essentially free of sea-ice, and, once the sea-ice is gone, what will be the climate impact?

    To put those questions into perspective, the U.S. CCSP claims “According to paleoclimatic records, there is no evidence of an ice-free summer Arctic during the last 800 millennia…”

    Once the sea-ice is gone, there will no longer be a “plug” of multi-year sea-ice, which now limits the exiting flow of both sea-ice and water from the Arctic. When the plug is gone, there is little prospect of it re-forming, due to the positive feedback due to the albedo difference between the ocean and sea-ice. The resulting increase in low salinity water moving into areas which now exhibit THC sinking may be expected to weaken or halt this major component of ocean circulation.

    My question for the model builders is, do your models produce a rapid decline in sea-ice such as we are seeing and what happens to the climate as a result?

    E. S.

  29. 29
    Jeff says:

    The comments regarding volcanoes in the Arctic probably relate to the Gakkel Ridge, where volcanic activity was discovered in 2001. It is worth keeping in mind that this is a slow-moving mid-oceanic ridge, and that it is under 3-5 km of water. The following short articles should provide some background on this issue.

    From the second article:

    “Much to their surprise, scientists aboard the 2001 cruise dredged up rocks from the Gakkel Ridge that appear to have been chemically transformed by hydrothermal venting. Sensors on their dredging lines also detected whispers of warmer water, chemicals, and particles that are present in plumes of vent fluids that billow out from small vents (the emphasis is mine).”

    If the Arctic ice sheet is to feel the effects of effusive volcanism from a depth of 3-5 km, it is not just a fairy tale . . . it is straight out of The Princess and the Pea.

  30. 30

    Pat, you may be off by 1 million square kilometers or 2.
    There is no sign of a summer cooling switchover, although there has been a Low pressure where there usually is a High pressure system, at the same area where the ice melted last year mainly North of the Yukon and Alaska. The Independent story headline is a small gamble, there can be massive cloud coverage (occurring as I write) continuing from the usual great snow and ice Arctic summer melt, but I am quite sure the ice extent may be equal or less than last year come September 20. The biggest non story of the melt of summer 2007, is that there was a wide new area of ocean, seen from space, but never reported by any film crew in person, it was the most disgraceful, or biggest environmental press blunder in my memory. However, the North Pole
    has world wide magnetic attraction, is a much more powerful media savvy area, than that huge area
    of forgotten Arctic Ocean open water, I don’t need to hope about someone out there who will explore what its like when nothing but water is seen at the Pole. Reality is often forgotten at the altar of fame, albeit geographical…….

  31. 31
    Bishop Hill says:

    You say that what would be different would be the presence of large expanses of ice-free water. What’s a large expanse? 100 square metres? 100 square km?

    [Response: The latter and larger. Leads of 10’s of meters open up relatively frequently. – gavin]

  32. 32
    Bishop Hill says:

    #11 Barton Paul Levenson

    I don’t think the mean global geothermal flux can be a relevant measure when discusssing a volcano can it?

  33. 33
    Rick Cain says:

    Why not listen to the pundits? I mean after all, conservative authorities like Limbaugh, Coulter, Hannity, Beck, Malkin and others know far more about climate science than….say climate scientists.

  34. 34
    Timothy Chase says:

    While we are on the subject of the cryosphere (or at least the North Pole sea ice), I thought people might like to know that there is a new rag out:

    The Cryosphere (TC)
    An Interactive Open Access Journal of the European Geosciences Union
    Co-Editors-in-Chief: Jonathan L. Bamber, Jon Ove Hagen, Peter Lemke, John Pomeroy & Michiel Van den Broeke

    First published in 2007. Currently two volumes.

  35. 35
    Timothy Chase says:

    PeterB (#10) wrote:

    The headline on the piece is probably why it gained so much traction. The very thought of Santa, his elves, Mrs. Claus, and rudolph’s home being submerged must be too much for Matt Drudge to take.

    Be careful what you say about Drudge — this year at least.


  36. 36
    fred says:

    “The mean global sunlight absorbed by the climate system is about 237 watts per square meter.
    “The mean global geothermal flux is about 0.087 watts per square meter.
    Divide A by B. Discuss.”

    Well, thanks for the invitation.

    Volcanoes are very localized. Sunlight is not. Average volcanic heat over the globe could be a very small number, much smaller than the average value for global sunlight, as it is, but this would not mean the inhabitants of Pompeii would be wise to conclude that a local volcano would be less dangerous than the sun.

    Yes, volcanic activity will not by way of direct heat warm the planet much by comparison with the sun. However, as the Pompeians found out, large enough explosions can have huge local effects. Including, they could melt ice at the Pole, if they were big enough. I have no idea whether these particular explosions are big enough, and suspect BPL doesn’t either. But the comparison to sunlight across the planet is irrelevant.

    There are other phenomena which are similar. Mortar fire, for instance, is on average, across a position, over an hour, fairly low in power. But within a couple of feet, it has rather unfortunate effects on bystanders.

  37. 37
    pete best says:

    The Telegraph also covered the issue under its earth section.

    They may have reported it first. Prof Peter Wadhams is even quoted, the bloke from Fred Pearces “with speed and violence” book fame.

  38. 38
    Nylo says:

    The three regions with a most notorious sea ice area reduction in the summer last year were the East Siberian Sea Ice Area, the Chukchi Sea Ice Area and the Arctic Basin Sea Ice Area. It’s now June the 28th and the three above mentioned areas show the following INCREASES OF SEA ICE AREA compared to last year:

    East Siberian: +0.18M km2 (+20% increase in its sea ice area)
    Chukchi: +0.1M km2 (+30% increase in its sea ice area)
    Arctic Basin: +0.2M km2 (+5% increase in its sea ice area).

    The article in The Independent makes its predictions based on the increased speed of reduction of the Sea Ice Area compared to last year. But this increase is due to the fact that THERE IS MORE SEA ICE than last year. And all the extra ice has to be in lower latitudes, where it is hotter. Therefore, it has to melt faster. No surprise, really.


  39. 39
    aflo says:

    #8 The symbolism is also important. Hopefully, this will help to discredit some of those who argue that anthropogenic climate change doesn’t exist, or that its impacts will be minimal.

    I think the effect is the opposite. Media says that there is no «ice this summer» and after the summer come the debunkers saying that there is more ice than last year (something we can expect this year). So who wins with this type of news? Only deniers!

    Apologize for my bad English.

  40. 40
    CobblyWorlds says:

    #17 Mark

    Keeping true to what the scientific evidence shows is essential, breaching that rule would mean descending into the denialist’s mire. However for anyone involved in persuading the public, using examples the public can connect to emotionally is a technique that is more likely to work than any number of pages of dry scientific text.

    Those volcanoes are not going to matter much in terms of the Arctic ice melt.

    In addition to what you say:

    The area is well away from the seat of action in the Arctic (Chucki/Beaufort Sea) where the melting last year was due to ice-albedo feedback: Perovitch “Sunlight, water, and ice: Extreme Arctic sea ice melt during the summer of 2007″ abstract:

    There’s an ocean net heat flux of 3.8T Watt through the Fram Strait (between Iceland and Greenland) with 2.3T Watt through the Bering Strait, both into the Arctic.
    See slide 8 of this 3.91Mb pdf 2006 presentation by Maslowki re Arctic Basin heat fluxes.

  41. 41
    CobblyWorlds says:

    With regards denialist insinuation that an ice-free Arctic is not unusual, thereby implying that the current events are not unusual.

    From my reading such claims are not supported by evidence.

    Scientific Evidence.
    From Overpeck 2005 “Arctic System on Trajectory to New, Seasonally Ice-Free State”

    There is no paleoclimatic evidence for a seasonally ice free Arctic during the last 800 millennia.


    Despite 30 years of warming and ice loss, the Arctic cryosphere is still within the envelope of glacial-interglacial cycles that have characterized the past 800,000 years. However, although the Arctic is still not as warm as it was during the Eemian interglacial 125,000 years ago [e.g., Andersen et al., 2004], the present rate of sea ice loss will likely push the system out of this natural envelope within a century.

    It may in fact turn out to be much longer that 800,000 years.

    estimates range from 700,000 years in the opinion of Worsley and Herman,[11] to 4 million years in the opinion of Clark…

    According to Clark:

    …Recently, a few coccoliths have been reported from late Pliocene and Pleistocene central Arctic sediment (Worsley and Herman, 1980). Although this is interpreted to indicate episodic ice-free conditions for the central Arctic, the occurrence of ice-rafted debris with the sparse coccoliths is more easily interpreted to represent transportation of coccoliths from ice-free continental seas marginal to the central Arctic. The sediment record as well as theoretical considerations make strong argument against alternating ice-covered and ice-free….

    Historical Evidence.
    1) Chinese Navy and the ice free pole.
    This claim was based upon the book “1421” by Gavin Menzies:

    This entertaining amateur ‘detective’ novel, masquerading as revisionist history, may well prove to be the Piltdown Man of literature and should only be classified as fiction.

    As Tim Lambert notes with regards this claim: “if you are going to ignore the consensus view of scientists, you might as well ignore the consensus view of historians.”

    2) Amundsen’s 1903-1906 navigation of the Northwest Passage was not done in an ice free NW passage.

    British Library feature on the Search for the NW Passage:
    Princeton University feature on the Search for the NW passage.

  42. 42
    John Finn says:

    Re #19

    The longest analysis of satellite sea ice data is the Goddard Space Flight Center sea ice extent series, starting in 1972 for the Arctic and 1973 for the Antarctic

    So the longest analysis of sea ice starts just at the end of a 30 year period during which Arctic temperarues fell by almost 1 deg C. I take it this doesn’t bother you at all?

    Trying googling William Scoresby. WS noted ” … a remarkable dimunition of polar ice” in … wait for it …1817.

    [Response: Scoresby was referring to the single anomalous years – mainly in the Archipelago, where interannual variability is (or at least used to be) very large. Read the history of the Franklin expeditions and subsequent explorers (The Arctic Grail by Pierre Breton is very good) to find dozens of stories of random straits opening or not in summer. Variability is not the issue. Trends are. – gavin]

  43. 43

    Off-topic but currently topical: I’ve posted a new web page to my climatology site:

    It takes apart Ferenc Miskolczi’s pseudoscientific paper which is getting so much play from the denialists lately. I think I nailed his major errors, but I’d be grateful for any input by folks who really know this stuff. Thanks.

  44. 44


    It is headlines that sell papers, and papers (or the media) that convinces people. Without catchy headlines, the scientific facts will not be read, even if the editor agrees to publish them. Because scientists, unlike the sceptics, have required that the headlines are 100% scientifically provable their message has been lost.

    For instance, take what you refer to as “the notoriously over-excited story in the New York Times back in August 2000.” In it Dr McCarthy reported that there was no ice at the North pole in 2000. That report was true. But Drs. Mark Serreze and Claire Parkinson lined up to debunk it in “the correction” implying that open water at the pole was not unusual. Perhaps someone should have told Robert Peary that!

    In that “correction”, McCarthy explained that the ice was much thinner during the journey to the pole, with open ocean there, not a large lead. However, Dr Mark Serreze stated “But there’s nothing to be necessarily alarmed about.” He doesn’t seem to be saying that now :-(

    The point I am trying to make is that by trying to be scientifically accurate Mark and Claire were actually misleading, if not down right untruthful. There was something to be alarmed about!

    Worse, there is something even more alarming happening now. Whether the North Pole itself is free of ice again this summer is not important. That may be bad for Santa Clause and for polar bears, but if there is a large increase in the loss of sea ice then the global albedo will be affected, and inevitably the global climate will be affected too. How will the 6.5 billion people on this planet cope with Peak Oil and a climate catastrophe at the same time?

    Cheers, Alastair.

  45. 45
    Mauri Pelto says:

    In a recent article in GRL it was noted. “Arctic sea ice in 2007 was preconditioned to radical changes after years of shrinking and thinning in a warm climate. ” There is that refrain again preconditioned after years of warmth. We just read about this with respect to the loss of ice shelves in Antarctica. This same quote could be applied to the loss of some glaciers as well.

  46. 46
    valdemar says:

    Isn’t one reason why the story has ‘legs’ simply that a lot of people are vaguely aware of the North West Passage? At least one news item has touted this as an economic benefit from global warming. Any volunteers for the first cruise liner?

  47. 47
    bigcitylib says:

    Actually, if your story makes the top of The Drudge Report, than media pickup is assured. Frankly, you guys should be pitching your stuff to Drudge. He’s not bad on the issue, although he tends to balance off the real science with the BS in the name of balance.

  48. 48
    Bruce Tabor says:

    Perhaps loss of the Artic Ice is AGWs “ozone hole”. The history of CFCs and the ozone hole may be instructive.

    In the CFC story there was a significant time lag between scientists sounding the first warnings (Molina & Rowland 1974) about potential damage to the ozone layer from CFCs and the ultimately unstoppable political momentum to get rid of CFCs (Montreal 1987, London 1990, etc.).

    There were early bans on CFC aerosol propellants and actions by environmentalists, together with the predictable opposition of vested interests; but the “tipping point” was the discovery by British Antarctic survey scientists of an “ozone hole” over Antartica in October 1984.

    This dramaticic realisation of scientists’ warnings – in a way scientists had not predicted – made it absolutely clear to the vast majority of thinking people that CFCs were a problem.

    From that time on, sceptics and vested interest were seen for what they were. For example in 1987, the Reagan administration Interior Secretary Donald Hodel suggested that that the US government should encourage encourage the use of sunglasses and sunscreen, rather than violating the administration’s philosophy of minimal government regulation. The simple point that “fish don’t wear sunglasses”, made it clear that the issue went well beyond skin cancer.

    There are many parallels with AGW. Scientisfic warnings – in this case much older – taken up by environmentalists. Vested interests, procrastination by governments, counterclaims by skeptics.

    But now something dramatic is happening at one of the poles, and much sooner than scientists had (until recently) predicted. Once the arctic ice is gone the skeptics (undersea volcanism!) will look like fools to almost everyone.

    True the politics are much more fraught, our economies are much more carbon dependent than they were ever CFC dependent, and much more damage is in the pipeline, but the dangers of not tackling AGW head on will be self-evident.

  49. 49
    Harold Pierce Jr says:

    Here is a comment that I just posted over at

    When the Arctic ice melts, the sunlight goes into the exposed ocean waters and can be used by alga. Since the water is still fairly cold, there is lots of CO2 available for them to use for photosynthesis. As the alga grow the CO2 concentration drops but it is replenished by CO2 from the air. More exposed cold ocean water, the more CO2 sucked out of the air.

    The alga are the base of the food chain and are eaten by zooplankton and other small animals such as baby fish. Thus, if the ice melts away early, more food will eventually become available for the entire ecosystem.

    The seals will be happy because there will be more fish to eat. The polar bears will be quite happy for there will be more seals to eat. The Inuit hunters will be happiest of all because there will be more seals and polar bears.

    For sure the Arctic will freeze over when winter comes, and the heat of fusion will be eventually be lost to outer space. So why is everbody worrying about the ice melting? Melting ice helps in keeping the planet cool.

    [Response: All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds… – gavin]

  50. 50
    Greg says:

    The North Pole is one of the fabled “Ends of the Earth”. It is a place ‘with-out man’, wild and in a natural state. If AGW is changed the North Pole, then it surely is affecting us.

    These symbolic locales cut through the noise of the weather and provide the evidence of human effects. Sort of like a picture of empty beer cans on top on Mt Everest. (Not that I’ve seen such a picture; I’m just saying.)