A tale of two icy Poles

By October 8, 2012Other

Some time ago I wrote an essay on ‘Measuring Ice’ (28 August), which was devoted to the several ways in which the ice extent in the Arctic could be measured, and was a call for some common sense about the apparent panic about the melting of the Arctic sea ice. The prediction that the Arctic could be ice-free by 22 September was not borne out at all, though a new low ice-extent record was indeed set.

Since then NASA has reported that one reason for the apparent melting of the Arctic ice was a giant storm that occurred in the Arctic in early August. The storm had a major impact, detaching a large chunk of ice from the main pack, and pushing it towards warmer areas and breaking up it and a lot of other ice. Storms like this one are apparently rare in summer, and don’t have the same effect in winter because everything is much colder and the ice remains firm.

And about the same time as the worriers were declaiming about global warming and the melting of the Arctic, the Antarctic seems to have set a new record — for maximum sea-ice coverage. Sea-ice there seems to have been growing slowly and steadily at a rate of about 1 per cent per decade, and now covers the largest area recorded since satellites began to be used to map the globe in 1979.

Is this important? Well, yes, it is. The climate models, on which so much of the AGW scare depends, are global in their reach. Indeed, ‘global warming’ is based, as I have explained in earlier essays, on the assumption that one can measure the temperature of the atmosphere and the sea accurately, and determine an average outcome for the whole planet, measuring each new datum against a baseline to arrive at the ‘global temperature anomaly’. While it is reasonable that parts of the earth are cooler and parts hotter (some are of course experiencing winter and some are in summer), the climate models assume that what is happening at one Pole should be happening at the other, with some provisos — for example, one is mostly sea and the other is mostly land, and that affects what happens there. A fundamental assumption is that warming should be noticeable first in the polar regions.

These models predict that both Poles will lose ice, and for the Antarctic, that about 30 per cent of its sea-ice will be gone by the end of the century. Plainly, the trend for the South Pole is the other way, and while that could be countered over time by more rapid loss later in the century, what is happening now has not been forecast by the models. The faster Arctic warming was also not predicted.

What does all this tell us? The obvious answer is that the models are not very good at their job, and that something is wrong somewhere. When you hear of warming in the Antarctic, the area concerned is usually the Antarctic Peninsula, a narrow band of land that reaches towards Chile, which is indeed rather less freezing than it once was. It is the only part of the Antarctic to cross the Antarctic Circle, and it is a tiny part of the great frozen continent (Antarctica is rather less than twice the size of Australia).

It would be nice to hear someone in the climate science domain say, forthrightly, that we have a lot more to learn, and that there is much about climates everywhere that we don’t know. Alas, the orthodox response is to dodge the problem and provide excuses. The trouble is that so much has been invested in the scare, on the part of governments, climate institutes and orthodox science, that the failure of the Antarctic to warm as it ‘should’ has to be waved away.

If nothing else, however, it does provide a reason for seeking more funds to build better computers, construct better climate models, and build more and larger climate institutes. Oh well. There’s new paper on sea-surface temperatures, too, which suggests that there is nothing untoward about their change over time, but I’ll leave that for another day.


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