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Arctic misrepresentations

Filed under: — gavin @ 8 July 2013

At the weekend, Christopher Booker at the Daily Telegraph made another attempt (see previous) to downplay the obvious decreases in Arctic sea ice by (mis-)quoting a statement from Arctic oceanographer Ken Drinkwater and colleagues:

Panic over Arctic ice – what else can the warmists get wrong?

As evidence to support their belief system continues to crumble in all directions, acolytes of the warming cult fall back ever more desperately on the summer melting of Arctic ice to justify their wishful thinking that the world is still warming, and to explain why we are enjoying such cold winters and wet summers. Real scientists (as opposed to climate modellers) have long maintained that the decline in Arctic ice is caused not by warmer air – in the past year or two Arctic air temperatures have actually been falling – but by shifts in major ocean currents, pushing warmer water up into the Arctic Circle. Ken Drinkwater, one of a team of scientists at the Institute of Marine Research in Bergen who have been observing the Arctic for decades, dismisses the idea that the ice is melting because of any rise in global temperatures. “The warming,” he says, “is primarily due to currents. A greater amount of warm Atlantic water is flowing into the North Atlantic and up to the Barents Sea.” He points out that this is just what happened in the 1920s and 1930s, when the ice melted even more dramatically than it has done in recent years, before it recovered again during the decades of what is called “the Little Cooling”.

This was added to by Andrew Neil as well, despite the best estimates of sea ice history showing nothing of the sort:

History of seasonal sea ice 1900-2010 (via NOAA, Cryosphere Today)

In the comments yesterday, Ken responded directly to this to make the context far more plain (slighty edited):

The article by Christopher Booker … is a misrepresentation of my views. He does not state where he obtained his information but it might have been from [this press release] in which I was discussing the increase in the abundance of Atlantic cod in the Barents Sea and its relationship to sea temperatures from studies we had conducted, or in Drinkwater et al., (2011, Progress in Oceanography 90, 47-61). In both articles, my comments focussed upon the Barents Sea and not the Arctic Basin. Our studies did indicate that much of the heat entering the Barents Sea in recent years was advected in by the inflow of warm Atlantic Waters and although direct warming through air-sea heat exchanges no doubt occurred, it appeared not be the dominate process at the time of our studies. This increase in heat led to the melting of the sea ice. I did NOT dismiss “the idea that the ice is melting because of any rise in global temperatures” as Mr. Booker claims. One of the reasons that more heat is being transported into the Barents Sea is because of the general rise in temperatures within the Atlantic waters. Increased melting of sea ice did occur in the 1920s and 1930s in the Barents Sea (Ifft, Monthly Weather Review, November, 1922, p. 589) and over the Arctic Basin (Ahlmann, 1949, Rapports et Proces-Verbaux des Revions du Conseil International pour l’Exploration de la Mer 125, 9-16 ) but it was much less so than in recent years. I did NOT state that ice melted more in the 1920s and 1930s than in recent years as Mr. Booker claims. Mr. Booker has a duty as a journalist to ensure [that] his facts [are] correct.

We will await the corrections with bated breath…

75 Responses to “Arctic misrepresentations”

  1. 1
    James Annan says:

    FWIW, when David Rose of the Daily Mail recently made up and attributed idiotic views to me, I found it very straightforward to get the Press Complaints Commission involved and a correction issued.

    Not that anyone will read it I suppose, but in principle I think it’s worth having an official record and correction of the error.

  2. 2
    adelady says:

    “We will await the corrections with bated breath…”

    But get on with work in the meanwhile anyway. It’s about time someone sent out all those badges, bandannas and membership cards to the “acolytes of the warming cult” that I feel I’m missing out on.

    Booker and the Daily Tell really can keep this up – forever? You’d think they might occasionally wonder whether they should really be quite so committed to their opinion that they’re still willing to distort quite so blatantly. Saying that they’re just re-re-repeating what their readers already think isn’t much of an argument. If they want to keep readers longer-term, you’d think they’d be softening their stance ready for the inevitable move to a (however slightly) more realistic position.

  3. 3
    owl905 says:

    OT @James Annan. It’s owl from alt.globalwarming. Where does your temperature bet stand?

  4. 4
    owl905 says:

    In 2007, the record low extent was set. The vitriolic response from the pro-pollutionist community was deceipt: it was a completely freakish anomaly caused by winds blowing ice-debris out into the Atlantic. And TonyTWatt served up a ‘recovery-as-expected’ in 2008.

    In 2012, a new record low was established, and a contributor to this was an unusually warm current that merged with the Beaufort Sea Gyre. Differnt science, same bucket response. In 2013, there’s a ‘recovery’ that’s partly illusion and partly just another tooth on the saw:

    15% or greater

    30% or greater

    The real show starts in August and ends at the start of October. So if there’s surprise, it should be wondering what took Booker so long, and where is Discount Moncton when it’s already July.

    And frankly, hope for some recovery … even if it’s only an anomaly. There’s a chance that the jet stream could stop acting like a wounded rattlesnake. And the planet really needs a break.

    The pro-pollutionist delusion is built on the consequences coming later and landing on someone else – they’ll be gone before the bill comes due.

    Observation says they’re wrong, but some of them could still slither through. So hope for the variations to give us a bit more recognizable weather and climate for a bit longer – cheer for volcanoes, El Nino’s, and aerosols.

  5. 5
    Steve Milesworthy says:

    Ditto #1 the PCC required the removal of another inaccurate article from the Telegraph about the Met Office, and the publication of a correction.

    I don’t suppose it makes much difference to someone as committed to his point of view as Booker is, but it may affect the behaviour of other journos.

  6. 6
    James Cross says:

    One thing I note in the 1900-present graph is that the summer ice levels start dropping in the 1950’s during the cool period of recent global warming. Any explanation for that?

  7. 7
    Dan H. says:


    Other data shows different levels, and changes occurring at different times. It is difficult to compare pre-satellite sea ice data with recent levels.

  8. 8

    #6–Most likely, the Arctic was warmer than the global mean. A hint of that can be seen in the GISTEMP August anomaly maps fot 1950-59:

    Sorry for the long link; I’m posting from my tablet.

    Though the tone of the question himted at snark, the question is a scientifically interesting one, which means it has probably been investigated.

    A quick search turns up this partially relevant paper, which notes the influence of warming of currents in the North Atlantic, beginning in the early part of the 20th century, and which reminds us that the 60s were the most marked ‘cool’ decade of the post-war period:;2

  9. 9
    gavin says:

    There is an interesting archive of sea ice edge positions from the Nordic seas going back a couple of centuries at NSIDC. Interestingly, the chart for Aug 1922

    shows a summer ice edge that is slightly farther north than in years previous, but again, nothing like what we are seeing today.

  10. 10
    Hank Roberts says:

    > summer ice levels start dropping in the 1950′s

    The big new coal-fired power plants coming onstream in the 1950s were producing CO2 and sulfur compounds (and nitrogen oxides that become photochemical smog); the first low-smokestack setups were eventually followed by tall-smokestack designs as they struggled to make the sulfur problem “go away” — “Sulfur dioxide may remain airborne for 3-4 days” — the different emissions went different places. CO2 is well mixed globally so would quickly affect the Arctic both day and night; most of the sulfur compounds would not get there, they’d fall out in rain in a distinct plume downwind — look at the acid rain maps from that time.

    So I’d guess the 1950s pattern showed “local” changes before the “global” warming would emerge from the noise.

  11. 11
    John Mashey says:

    #1 See A Rose by any other name… …would probably still write rubbish in the Daily Wail.”

    But, more enjoyably, other posts have some fine photos of Yellowstone.

  12. 12
    Hank Roberts says:

    I also recall reading somewhere — before the Internet — observations by early astronauts and cosmonauts described how clear the atmosphere was, and those who flew a second time much later on observed that Earth’s air was visibly hazier overall than it had been when they first went into orbit. I have looked for that again and not found it, not sure if it’s been documented beyond the anecdote.

  13. 13
    Hank Roberts says:
    Those Hazy Days of Summer: Haze over the Central and Eastern United States
    Stephen F. Corfidi
    NOAA/NWS Storm Prediction Center, Norman, OK 73072
    June 1993; Updated June 2013

  14. 14
    Hank Roberts says:

    Chuckle. When you look up the cites a commenter posts with an assertion about what the papers said, do also check for previous discussion here; some claims about what authors actually said get rebunked no matter how often refuted.
    Example, ‘oogle for: Semenov Latif

  15. 15

    #10–Yes, that too, I think.

  16. 16
    pough says:

    As evidence to support their belief system continues to crumble in all directions, acolytes of the Not CO2 cult fall back ever more desperately on quote mining.

  17. 17
    Halldór Björnsson says:

    Attribution for regional climate change is a difficult issue. Around the turn of the century the ocean north of Iceland got warmer, and saltier. The obvious explanation is a change in the inflow of Atlantic waters into the basin, although changes in air-sea interactions may also play a role.
    A narrow view of the associated regional climate changes would see them as resulting from this change in the ocean (possibly implying that given a decade things would revert back to previous conditions).

    Alternatively, one could ask why the Atlantic waters where warmer and saltier, why is the warming now extending throughout much of the basin. Seen from that perspective the regional change becomes part of changes on a much larger scale, even though proximate causes are by definition always local.

  18. 18
    ligne says:

    #1, adelady: “Booker and the Daily Tell really can keep this up – forever?”

    probably. the former can, at least: Booker is an almost perfect example of crank magnetism in action. i don’t think there is a single anti-science idea, however mental, that he hasn’t openly subscribed to at some point. beyond his staggeringly ill-informed views on physics and the climate, he also denies that there are any harmful effects from passive smoking, is a creationist, and has been claiming for over a decade that asbestos is absolutely harmless because it’s chemically identical to talcum powder.

    anyway, it’s time for my bedtime glass of delicious hydrogen peroxide. don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe to drink: it’s chemically identical to water, right?

  19. 19
    MikeH says:

    Re #8

    I noticed this in the bio of Norwegian-American pioneer polar aviator and war hero Bernt Balchen (1899-1973). (Also a friend of Thor Heyerdahl)

    “According to a 1972 article in the Christian Science Monitor, Belchen asserted that “a general warming trend over the North Pole is melting the polar ice cap and may produce an ice-free Arctic Ocean by the year 2000″”

    To put this claim in perspective

    “As one of the world’s foremost Arctic experts, Balchen was sought out by numerous companies and government agencies including Canada and Norway. Balchen was hired as a consultant by Hercules Oil, then Phillips Petroleum and Moran Towing on plans to extract oil from Alaska using pipelines.”

  20. 20

    #18–“…he also denies that there are any harmful effects from passive smoking, is a creationist, and has been claiming for over a decade that asbestos is absolutely harmless because it’s chemically identical to talcum powder.”

    A pretty good additional denialist trifecta. How is he on quantum theory and HIV?

  21. 21
    Adam H says:

    I love all these creative datasets emerging from the dusty basements of libraries (e.g. NSIDC link at #6) inspired/motivated almost entirely by this early twentieth century warming problem.

    Cool recent example-processing of aerial photographs from the final Thule expedition to Greenland under the command of Knud Rasmussen (who unfortunately did not make it home) in 1932-33 (Bjørk et al June 2012 Nature Geosci).

    Highly cited Holland et al 2008 (Acceleration of Jakobshavn Isbræ triggered by warm subsurface ocean waters) uses 20 year grided dataset of subsurf ocean T from commercial fishing industry. But this paper is a 2fer: supplementary materials explore older datasets (1930+), such as Drinkwater northern Cod extent dataset and old DMI subsfc T datasets.

    For more examples, check out Beata Csatho’s work

  22. 22
    Martin Vermeer says:

    it’s time for my bedtime glass of delicious hydrogen peroxide. don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe to drink: it’s chemically identical to water, right?

    Wrong. The word you’re looking for is dihydrogen monoxide.

    Hydrogen peroxide should only be drunk from a Klein bottle. Don’t try at home

  23. 23
    Helge Drange says:

    Temperature observations from Norway is freely available from the Norw Met Inst. The locations of the longest time series are shown here. These observations [e.g., Svalbard, Jan Mayen, Vardø, Tromsø, Northern Norway] show that the period around the 1930s was warm in the northernmost part of Norway, but that the recent decades are warmer.

    Add to this proxy observations of the near past from the Arctic/northern Norway (e.g. Kaufman et al. 2009, Hald et al. 2011, and Cunningham et al. 2013), and the recent warming stands out.

  24. 24
    Armando says:


    What about this chart:

    [Response: Very nice find! The differences between that and recent summers is obvious. – gavin]

  25. 25
    GlenFergus says:

    Hey Helge, I notice on GISTEMP that some Svalbard temps from GHCN2 and GHCN3 are very different. Any idea why?

    Eg (not sure how long cgi links persist):
    Isfjord Radio (99790): GHCN2 vs GHCN3

    Svalbard Luft (99840 + others?): GHCN2 vs GHCN3

    Svalbard is certainly warming fast, but not it seems as fast as some stations in GHCN2 used to suggest. Real data is messy.

  26. 26
    GlenFergus says:

    The complete archive of Danish Meteorological Institute sea ice maps is also here (in PDF):

    Hint: The standard meme that “melt was similar back in ” is utter cr-p. As you would expect, there really are quite good records.

  27. 27
    Helge Drange says:

    Hei Glen,
    I guess the difference is caused by homogenisation issues. This is how the Norwegian Met Institute describes the Svalbard lufthavn time series [lufthavn = airport]. The page is available in Norwegian only, use google translate or similar to get the content.

    Note the following:

    “Prior to 1974, observations come from other stations on Spitzbergen, but these series have been adjusted to represent Svalbard lufthavn”.

    [In Norwegian, Svalbard denotes the full group of islands, whereas Spitzbergen is the main island on Svalbard].

    I hope this helps, at least partly!

  28. 28
    njp says:

    #22 – “Hydrogen peroxide should only be drunk from a Klein bottle. Don’t try at home”

    Reminds me of my favourite chemistry cartoon:

    I’ll have some H20 too”

  29. 29
    SRJ says:

    # 24 Armando (and Gavin)

    These ice charts from the Danish Meteorological Institute can now be found at NSIDC, with an introduction. The charts cover the years 1893-1956.
    Here is the data page, complete with citation information:

  30. 30
    Tokodave says:

    @18 “asbestos is absolutely harmless because it’s chemically identical to talcum powder.” Just a bit of a clarification…Talc and chrysotile asbestos have similar, but not identical compositions. The issue is not the composition, but the mineral habit or form. Asbestiform minerals (there are several others…) are long, thin fibrous minerals. Talc is generally foliated or platy….think “mica”. Liquid water and ice have identical compositions but the health effects of being hit with 10 gallons of water are not the same as being hit with a chunk of ice.

  31. 31
    Edward Greisch says:

    I have used up my 10 free articles/month on NYT, a newly imposed limit. Deniers on dotearth have at times claimed the ice melted in the 1920s and 1930s. Your data is useful.

  32. 32
    cyclonebuster says:

    “What else can the warmists get wrong?” What ever is wrong this will right it:

  33. 33
    BillS says:

    Re: Gavin #9 & Armando #24:

    There is an August 1937 map in Meddelelser om Gronland, Bd 130, 1945 from the Danish Meteorological Inst. showing the ice edge much closer to the northern end of Novaya Zemlya and ice completely surrounding Severnaya Zemlya. A bit less ice in the Chukchi Sea but, otherwise, very similar to 1938.

    This volume (which I believe is still under copyright otherwise I’d have scanned the map) was written entirely by Lauge Koch and is titled, “The East Greenland Ice”. An enormous historical undertaking by Koch.

    In addition to Koch’s study of sea ice from Kap Farvel to the Fram Strait, the last chapter is “Eskimo Archaeology and Climate”. Even in 1945 Koch knew.

  34. 34
    GlenF says:

    For amusement, I made a little animation of the DMI sea ice maps for August, 1920-1939, here:

    BTW, the historical sea ice data compilation plotted at Cryosphere Today appears to be from Walsh and Chapman at NCAR.

  35. 35
    Susan Anderson says:

    GlenF, that’s useful. Thanks.

  36. 36
    MikeDonald says:

    Booker’s tripe is no more different to what he’s been saying for years. You can debunk him after 5mins of DuckDuckgoing or accessing Monbiot.

    But an altogether nastier article is in the Spectator. Nastier because it’s clever bundling of smears as facts. Over to Tamino and co.

  37. 37
    bernberb says:

    at the heart of all denialist argument is that increased atmospheric co2 concentrations will not change the climate. they can not argue that co2 concentrations have not increased, they clearly have. Simple science experiments using test atmospheres and changing the co2 concentration will demonstrate global warming. What I dont understand is why denialists take this position. It is far better to understand the process and plan logically than hide in some obscure set of stat’s.

  38. 38
    owl905 says:

    @e7 Bernberb. Denialists get everything else that isn’t straight AGW stuff. It’s nothing, it’s something but minor, it’s not minor but it’s good, it’s not good but it’s not ours (every ripple flavor of ‘ours’), and it’s big bad and ours but it’s TOO late/expensive/impossible to fix. If you want to see most if not all of the denialist arguments, Al Jazeera hosted a debate with the guest of honor being Richard Lintzen. It titled – Climate Change, Fact or Fiction.

  39. 39
    Radge Havers says:

    Bernberb @ 37

    In a nutshell, deniers are emotionally invested in maintaining some so-called “truth” or another of their ideology.

    Scientific discipline is a powerful but small tool in the face of overwhelming human fears, power lust, flakiness, and general passion for fantasy and b.s.

  40. 40
    mmghosh says:

    @Edward Greisch 31
    Cut and paste the url into a goole search

  41. 41
    Russell says:

    Heartland legal eagle James Taylor has been up to the same trick- baldly misrepresenting the peer reviewed literature in a Forbes op-ed.

    This is the sixth or seventh time he and his sidekicks Peter Ferarra and ‘Space Architect’ Larry Bell have been caught out by angry authors in the last year .

    Randall Donohue of CSIRO is Taylor’s latest victim- his work is traduced underthe rubric:

    “Global Warming? No, Satellites Show Carbon Dioxide Is Causing ‘Global Greening”

    Comment by Russell — 14 Jul 2013 @ 10:23 PM

  42. 42
    Editors says:

    It’s a shame that when comes down to do or die, some people opt for the wrong choice. There should be no question of belief or no belief. If there is even 1 out of 100 chance it’s happening, people should try stopping it. This is our home. If it’s destroyed by any foolish ideas, arguments, we will have no place to go to.
    We recently published one article on climate change, pointing out a different problem, relating to wildfires and climate change. We get the same arguments over and over… Check it out here:

  43. 43
    TFP says:

    Is it possible to put error bars on the graph?
    Would it be possible to indicate the methodology
    used during the different years? (We use satellites
    now, but what was used in 1900?)

  44. 44
    Ian says:

    Do you have any comment on the paper by Lassen and Thejll of the Danish Meteorological Institute from observations between Arctic sea ice index and solar cycle length? The authors suggest this a possible link between solar activity and Arctic Ocean climate. I am aware, of course, that correlation is not causation but it does seem a new take, at least to me, on Arctic sea ice.

  45. 45
  46. 46
    Derek Ryter says:

    If the Daily Telegraph has an editor who passed this piece on he should be sacked.

  47. 47
    deconvoluter says:

    re #46

    I’m afraid that propasal would require enough money to buy out the Barclay Brothers who own the Spectator and Telegraphs. These papers ‘educate’ the UK Conservative party and have form in misrepresenting or reversing the latest climate research * in their news section as well as employing extremist contrarian opinion pieces. The latter don’t appear to check anything with experts; for example the Spectator included a favourable reference to Gerlich & Tscheuschner’s nonsense.
    * This report was contradicted in the abstract of the paper

  48. 48
    Susan Anderson says:

    XKCD has something to say about all this (forgive me if you’ve already seen it).

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch things are hotting up in the Arctic, much discussed at Neven’s and elsewhere. Big chunk of N79 glacier* came off (though annual in recent years, this year appears to be a mite different), and there is a cyclone coming up. Discussion and links in comments here:


  49. 49
    Hank Roberts says:

    > … Forbes
    >> …. Daily Telegraph

    Misinterpreting every fact they find inconvenient as an ideological attack, because to them -everything- is ideology first, and facts are twisted in service of their ideology. So they assume -any- fact is, first off, someone’s ideological spin.

    Sea level rising? That’s gotta be someone’s ploy against freedom to make money fast. They resist no matter what it costs your grandchildren, because they want their “free market” no matter what it costs, because the costs are paid by the world, but the profits go to a very few.

    As Jon Stewart said to Fox News:

    “a designed ideological agenda … to affect ideological change … is the soup you swim in… Ideological regimes can’t understand that there is a free media somewhere, because they take marching orders.”

  50. 50

    #44, 45–Right, the paper that argues that because there are fewer glaciers in the Greenland sea now than at the height of the “Medieval Warm Period” that therefore the decline must be due to natural variability?

    The ’low frequency oscillation’ that dominated the ice export through the Fram Strait as well as the extension of the sea-ice in the Greenland Sea and Davis Strait in the twentieth century may therefore be regarded as part of a pattern that has existed through at least four centuries. The pattern is a natural feature, related to varying solar activity. The considerations of the impact of natural sources of variability on arctic ice extent are of relevance for concerns that the current withdrawal of ice may entirely be due to human activity. Apparently, a considerable fraction of the current withdrawal could be a natural occurrence.

    Right. That paper.

    If you ask me, that is logically a terribly weak argument:

    1) The data relates only to one marginal sea in the Arctic, and that at one remove (i.e., Iceland data is used as a proxy for the Greenland Sea;)

    2) The paper says that in doing their analysis “We only use the years where the SCL(1,2,1) index is well defined – namely 1558-1625 and 1695-1980.” (“SCL” denotes “solar cycle length.”)

    So, the thesis is that for a specific selected time frame, a correlation exists between solar cycle length and the iceberg sightings off Iceland AND THEREFORE “Apparently, a considerable fraction of the current withdrawal [of sea ice] could be a natural occurrence.”
    Got that? A period for which the SCL index is NOT ‘well defined’, and an area many times larger than the Greenland Sea, behaving in a fashion for which we have no recent precedent according to literature–see, for instance the review article from Polyak et al, 2010–‘could’ be natural since a possible relationship between sea ice and solar cycle length has been demonstrated, sort of.

    “Could” seems a highly favored term. But when you’re manufacturing doubt, you need to use quality ingredients, right? And traditionally, “could” is primo.

    Fair enough. But sauce for the gander–and I’ll opine that the solar cycle length effect that may or may not exist in the Greenland Sea ‘could’ have absolutely nothing to do with the cause(s) of ‘recent sea ice withdrawal.’