July 1, 2008

Of Antarctica and Penguins

Tell us the truth – do the two pictures below really hit home with you? Do they make you want to walk to work, put up solar panels this weekend, and eat lower on the food chain the rest of your life? The images, and literally dozens like them available on the internet, drive home the obvious point that Antarctica is melting, global warming is the cause, and we in the United States are responsible for the demise of the penguins thanks to our appetite for fossil fuels. This type of presentation is very typical of the global warming alarmists – feel free to visit nearly 500,000 web sites dealing with global warming and Antarctica. If you have visited our site before, you would know that the professional scientific literature is full of articles questioning the simplistic statements regarding global warming, Antarctica, and the poor penguins.

And in today’s news, there is another tear-jerker about penguins. A new soon-to-be-published study by University of Washington’s P. Dee Boersma reports that the world’s penguin species are generally in decline (remember, bad things happen to good species and good things happen to bad ones) and the press eats it up. AP science writer Seth Borenstein describes their plight like this:

The decline overall isn’t caused by one factor, but several.

For the ice-loving Adelie penguins, global warming in the western Antarctica peninsula is a problem, making it harder for them to find food, said Phil Trathan, head of conservation biology at the British Antarctic Survey, a top penguin scientist who had no role in the new report.

For penguins that live on the Galapagos island, El Nino weather patterns are a problem because the warmer water makes penguins travel farther for food, at times abandoning their chicks, Boersma said. At the end of the 1998 record El Nino, female penguins were only 80 percent of their normal body weight. Scientists have tied climate change to stronger El Ninos.

Oil spills regularly taint the water where penguins live off Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil and have contributed to the Punta Tumbo declines, Boersma said.

Hmmm, the “several” factors the Borenstein comes up with are “global warming,” “climate change,” and our thirst for oil. If he is trying to be subtle, he doesn’t succeed.

And, of course, what is bad for some species is surely going to bad for others, so let’s all climb aboard the band wagon:

And this isn’t just about the fate of penguins.

“What happens to penguins, a few years down the road can happen to a lot of other species and possibly humans,” said longtime penguin expert Susie Ellis, now executive director of the International Rhino Foundation.

There you have it, just as Al Gore told you…we are all going to die because of global warming.

But, just in case your own survival doesn’t interest you, please consider the plight of the poor penguins…

Penguins are certainly cute, they seem so helpless, and they make great poster subjects for the global warming crusade. Of course, if you investigated no further than the Policymakers Summary of the 2007 report (pdf available here) of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), one would find statements like “Antarctic sea ice extent continues to show inter-annual variability and localized changes but no statistically significant average trends, consistent with the lack of warming reflected in atmospheric temperatures averaged across the region” or “Current global model studies project that the Antarctic ice sheet will remain too cold for widespread surface melting and is expected to gain in mass due to increased snowfall.” People screaming that the ice caps are melting apparently need to scream louder, for the IPCC doesn’t seem have received the message.

The latest news from Antarctica comes in a recent article in Remote Sensing of Environment by Vesa Laine of the Finnish Meteorological Institute in Helsinki; the work was funded by the Academy of Finland and the Finnish Funding Agency for
Technology and Innovation. We have no evidence that either of these agencies or the people involved with the research have any links to fossil fuel companies.

Laine appears to be an expert in satellite measurements from polar regions and notes for this study that “The Advanced Very High Resolution (AVHRR) Polar Pathfinder (APP) data provide long-time series (1981–2000) of calibrated surface albedo and surface temperature data for the polar regions.” Terrific – satellites fly over the polar areas and provide us real-world data on what is really happening in regions like Antarctica in terms of surface albedo (reflectivity), sea ice extent, ice sheet extent, and surface temperatures. We at World Climate Report always enjoy bringing you real-world data which are so often not consistent with the claims of the global warming advocates.

The graphic below (Figure 1) shows the seasonal temperatures for three Antarctic stations and the estimates of temperature for those stations based on the satellite measurements, and as seen in the plots, the correlations are very good. OK – is there anything else interesting about the thermometer-based and satellite-based seasonal temperatures? How about NO WARMING! Despite the known build up of greenhouse gases and all the whoop-la about warming and melting in Antarctica, and satellites and thermometers see absolutely no warming whatsoever. If you look closely, there even appears to be a slight cooling at the three stations – very curious?

Figure 1. Comparison of surface temperature monthly means observed in November, December and January at three Antarctic stations (Marble Point, Vostok and South Pole) with those derived from the satellite-based data. The trends are calculated from spring–summer means (from Laine, 2008).

Figure 2 shows time series of snow and ice albedo (reflectivity) and surface temperature for total ice, ice sheet , and sea ice areas of all of Antarctica. Laine reports that “The Antarctic region as a whole and all the sectors separately show slightly positive spring–summer albedo trends. However, most of these trends are not statistically significant” and “All the regions show negative spring–summer surface temperature trends for the study period.” Laine finds no evidence of darkening of the ice (that could lead to warming) and absolutely no evidence of warming for all of Antarctica! Laine is not making friends with the so-called environmentalists who are so quick to insist that the penguins are in trouble because of anthropogenic climate change.

Figure 2. Plot of albedo (reflectivity) and surface temperatures across the whole of Antarctica (from Laine, 2008)

And finally, have a look at Figure 3 that shows temperature trends in Antarctica and the statistical significance of those trends (or lack thereof). The maps show that over almost the entire continent, temperature trends are not statistically significant. In most places where the trends are statistically significant, they are often areas of cooling. Laine simply states “Over the entire Antarctic ice region, as well as in every longitudinal sector, the albedo, the surface temperature, the sea ice concentration and the sea ice extent all show substantial annual variability. Increasing spring–summer albedo trends and decreasing temperature trends are generally to be seen.” Furthermore, “The sea ice concentration shows slight increasing trends in most sectors, whereas the sea ice extent trends seem to be near zero.”

Figure 3. (a) 20-year change in the spring–summer ice surface temperature. (b) Statistical confidence levels of the spring–summer temperature trends. The green and red areas indicate 95% and 98% confidence levels respectively (from Laine, 2008)

There is no reason to cry over the “The Last Penguin” or the “Homeless” penguins illustrated above. The truth is that Antarctica is just fine and will likely remain that way for many decades to come. Claims to the contrary and that anthropogenic “global warming” is leading to the penguins demise are simply not consistent with climate observations.


Laine, V. 2008. Antarctic ice sheet and sea ice regional albedo and temperature change, 1981–2000, from AVHRR Polar Pathfinder data. Remote Sensing of Environment, 112 646–667.

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