January 23, 2009

Glacier Slowdown in Greenland: How Inconvenient

In this week’s Science magazine, science writer Richard Kerr reports on some of the goings-on at this past December’s annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

While he didn’t cover our presentation at the meeting in which we described our efforts at creating a reconstruction of ice melt across Greenland dating back into the late 1700s (we found that the greatest period of ice melt occurred in the decades around the 1930s), Kerr did cover some other recent findings concerning the workings of Greenland’s cryosphere in his article titled “Galloping Glaciers of Greenland Have Reined Themselves In.”


November 14, 2008

Slowdown in Greenland

Filed under: Arctic, Polar, Sea Level Rise

No self-respecting global warming presenter would ever miss the chance to warn the audience that higher temperatures could melt ice in places like Greenland, the melting water could lubricate the interface between ice and rock, and watch-out … the ice could increase its velocity, fall or move quickly into the sea, and cause a rapid rise in sea level. If you happen to be Al Gore, you might show us melting ice, water pouring into some moulin (Figure 1), and then cap it off with an image of water drowning out the World Trade Center Memorial. This story in its near infinite varieties appears on literally thousands of websites dealing with the global warming issue. (more…)

May 16, 2008

Where Are All The Drowning Polar Bears?

Filed under: Adaptation, Animals, Arctic, Polar

The Interior Department just announced its decision to list the polar bear as “threatened” under the U.S Endangered Species Act (ESA). The justification behind the decision is that polar bears are highly dependent on sea ice in the Arctic for their livelihood—hunting, mating, birthing, family rearing, etc.—and thus if sea ice declines, so will the overall health of the species. While this may, in fact, be true in some sense, it also gives short-shrift to the bears adaptive abilities, which must be large, given that they survived the previous interglacial warm period as well as an extended period of warmer-than-present conditions in the Arctic (which undoubtedly were associated with reduced sea ice levels) about 5,000 to 7,000 years ago (give or take a thousand years) (see here fore example). If the bears fare worse this time around, it will mostly likely be because their natural adaptive response may run up against a human roadblock in the form of habitat disruption or other types of difficulties that an increased human presence may pose to the adapting bears. It seems that this is what the intent of the ESA is aimed at tempering, not trying to alter the climate—precisely how the Act should have be applied, despite all the criticism surrounding the decision.

All this renewed attention to polar bears has piqued our interest in just how the bears have been faring recently. Al Gore made movie stars out of drowning bears in his 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth with an animation sequence depicting a small patch of floating ice disintegrating under a struggling polar bear until it was left swimming alone in a vast expanse of open ocean. One couldn’t help to get a little teary-eyed at the notion.

And as the public just can’t get enough of cute, cuddly, slightly aggressive movie stars who are a little down on their luck, the paparazzi are never too far behind to document their each and every move. Pictures of Paris Hilton partaking in every activity imaginable abound and Britney can’t even pull out of a parking lot without running over a photographer’s foot. So where are all the pictures of drowned and drowning polar bears?


March 31, 2008

“Warming Island”—Another Global Warming Myth Exposed

Filed under: Arctic, Polar

In our continuing theme of exposing ill-founded global warming alarmist stories (see here and here for our most recent debunkings), we’ll examine the much touted discovery of “Warming Island”—a small piece of land that has been “long thought to be part of Greenland’s mainland”—but that turns out to have been known to be an island back in the early 1950s.

Another good story out the window.

As was the case of the previous two scare stories we examined that turned out to be untrue (global warming leading to amphibian decline in Central and South America, and the Inuit language lacking a word for ‘robin’), the story of “Warming Island” was also prominently featured in the New York Times. On January 17, 2007, The Times dedicated an article to “The Warming of Greenland” and described the recent “discovery” of islands that were exposed as such when the ice connecting them to the mainland melted away.


March 28, 2008

The red, red Koyapigaktoruk comes bob, bob, bobbin’ along

Filed under: Adaptation, Animals, Arctic, Polar

One of the most well-known and beloved harbingers of spring is the appearance of our feathered friend, the red-breasted robin. And as is the case with virtually every other cute species, it is the subject of climate change speculation from time to time. But in the robin’s case, it doesn’t surround global warming pushing the robin to extinction. Quite the contrary, global warming is expanding the robin’s range into never-before-seen-territory.

How is this bad news, you may wonder? Well the creative minds behind the global-warming-makes-all-things-worse mantra must have been working overtime, but finally, they did manage to come with a good one—the appearance of robins in high northerly latitudes is a sign the global warming is impinging upon the Earth’s sacred Arctic regions, and robbing them of their uniqueness. Case and point, there is no Eskimo word for ‘robin.’


January 3, 2008

Arctic Fingerprint Doesn’t Match?

Filed under: Arctic, Polar

Remember the good old days when “fingerprinting” was in vogue as the way to demonstrate a human impact on global climate? The idea was to show that observed temperature changes throughout the atmosphere match well the temperature changes predicted by climate models to occur there. One of the most prominent, and ultimately disproven, attempts was made by Ben Santer and colleagues, back in 1996. Santer et al. published an article in Nature magazine titled “A search for the human influences on the thermal structure of the atmosphere” in which they concluded that “Our results suggest that the similarities between observed and model-predicted changes in the zonal-mean vertical patterns of temperature change over 1963-1987 are unlikely to have resulted from natural internally generated variability of the climate system.” In other words, there must be a human influence on the observed changes. However, we (Michaels and Knappenberger, 1996) published a subsequent Comment in Nature, titled “Human effect on global climate?” describing how the correspondence between the observed patterns of vertical temperature change in the atmosphere and those projected by climate models broke down if a longer time period were considered. In other words, if the comparison was extended from 1958 to 1995 (instead of Santer et al.’s 1963 to 1987) the correspondence between model and observations became much less obvious. We concluded “Such a result… cannot be considered to be a ‘fingerprint’ of greenhouse-gas-induced climate change.” (See here for more details)

Now, 12 years later, another study appears in Nature magazine that suggests that there is a poor correspondence between the observed patterns of vertical temperature change and those predicted to occur by climate models over the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. This time, Rune Graversen and colleagues from the Department of Meteorology at Sweden’s Stockholm University, conclude in their article “Vertical structure of recent Arctic warming” that variations in atmospheric heat transport from the lower latitudes into the northern high latitudes (via atmospheric circulation patterns) are largely responsible for the enhanced warming of the Arctic atmosphere. This leaves less temperature change there ascribable to our current understanding of anthropogenic global warming.


January 2, 2008

Nunavut News

Here’s a trivial question for geography buffs: What is the capital of Nunavut (pronounced ‘Noo-na-voot’)? If you know that the answer is Iqaluit (formerly Frobisher Bay), you win five stars. Of course, you are probably the only one in the room who has a clue about this place called Nunavut.

As seen in the map below (Figure 1), Nunavut is the largest and newest territory of Canada; it was separated officially from the Northwest Territories on April 1, 1999 via the Nunavut Act and the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act, though the actual boundaries were established in 1993. The creation of Nunavut resulted in the first major change to Canada’s map since the incorporation of the new province of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1949. Nunavut includes Ellesmere Island to the north, as well as the eastern and southern portions of Victoria Island in the west. Nunavut is both the least populated and the largest of the provinces and territories of Canada. It has a population of only 29,474 spread over an area the size of Western Europe. If Nunavut were a sovereign nation, it would be the least densely populated in the world: nearby Greenland, for example, has almost the same area and twice the population.


December 12, 2007

More on Polar Bears

We’ve been talking ‘til we’re blue in the face about how the very existence of polar bears today is the strongest evidence possible that they should manage, as a species (although some individual populations may struggle), to hold their own in a warming climate. Why is this? Because their existence today is proof that they survived long periods of time (many thousands of years on end), when the climate of their Arctic habitat was warmer (and thus likely more ice-free) than conditions are now, and will be into the future.

But, in case you were withholding final judgment until you heard it from someone else, well, here you go:

Ancient polar bear jawbone found

By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News, San Francisco
Monday, December 10, 2007

What may be the oldest known remains of a polar bear have been uncovered on the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic.

The jawbone was pulled from sediments that suggest the specimen is perhaps 110,000 or 130,000 years old.

Professor Olafur Ingolfsson from the University of Iceland says tests show it was an adult, possibly a female.

The find is a surprise because polar bears are a relatively new species, with one study claiming they evolved less than 100,000 years ago.

If the Svalbard jawbone’s status is confirmed, and further discoveries can show the iconic Arctic beasts have a deeper evolutionary heritage, then the outlook for the animals may be more positive than some believe.

“We have this specimen that confirms the polar bear was a morphologically distinct species at least 100,000 years ago, and this basically means that the polar bear has already survived one interglacial period,” explained Professor Ingolfsson.

And what’s interesting about that is that the Eeemian - the last interglacial - was much warmer than the Holocene (the present).

“This is telling us that despite the ongoing warming in the Arctic today, maybe we don’t have to be quite so worried about the polar bear. That would be very encouraging.”

So there. We’re not the only ones who think that polar bears are quite adaptable, and stand more than a good chance of surviving a warming climate—a feat that they have demonstrated on previous occasions. Will this new finding by Professor Ingolfsson put folks’ minds at ease and quiet the talk of the bears’ imminent extinction? Hardly. After all, the ultimate goal of such talk is not the survival of the polar bear, but the restriction of mankind’s activites on earth. And such fervent desire is not easily doused.

November 5, 2007

Greenland Climate: Now vs. Then, Part II. Record Greenland Melt Area?

Filed under: Arctic, Climate History, Polar

Recently the press was more ablaze than California with NASA proclamations that the surface area of Greenland had melted in 2007 at a record-high rate. This is true, if the record only extends back only 20 years or so—which is the case of the NASA dataset. If you could peer back a bit further into the past, say back into the 1950s, it is quite likely that the melt area in Greenland then was about the same as it is now, effectively rendering the 2007 melt area hardly newsworthy. Just another NASA climate-change exaggeration?


October 30, 2007

Arctic Sea-Ice: Another Hockey Stick?

Filed under: Arctic, Polar

This figure, labeled as “Sea-ice Extent: Northern Hemisphere” was presented by Al Gore in the book version of his science (fiction) movie An Inconvenient Truth. But is this depiction of the Arctic sea ice extent over the course of the 20th century even close to reality?

Probably not.

Figure 1. Arctic sea-ice extent as depicted by Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth. (source: An Inconvenient Truth, p. 143)


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