Question 7

Is worldwide glacier retreat, and sea ice melting in Polar Regions unusual, and related to increases in human GHG emissions?

1st expert response by Dr Lee Gerhard

Dr. Lee C. Gerhard is Senior Scientist Emeritus of the University of Kansas and past Director of the Kansas Geological Survey.

Arctic Hyperbole

Nowhere is today’s hyperbolic journalism more apparent than in media treatment of weather in the Arctic. I say “weather” instead of “climate” because the greatest media and advocacy focus is on the last 30 years rather than the 80 or more years necessary to ascertain climate change.

Advocates of human-caused climate impact deny that natural climate change can cause the temperature changes and consequent ice and snow changes now occurring in the Arctic.  They deny history. They deny measurements. They advocate that computers tell a more accurate story than actual information. They forecast catastrophic ice melting and indigenous animal distress from computer projections that are not only unverified, but that have already been falsified by nature. When the data demonstrate that there is no negative impact, the media and advocates spin the data in attempts to obfuscate the actual changes.

Here’s the simple story: Nothing unusual or unprecedented is occurring or has occurred in the Arctic.  Polar bears are not actually threatened, and sea ice melt follows normal and predictable temperature changes.  The rates and intensity of temperature change are well within normal historic limits.

The spurious claims include:  Sea ice is melting at an “unprecedented” rate and “for the first time the Northwest Passage will be open.” Reality?  In 1906 the Northwest Passage was traversed, and without modern icebreakers.  In addition, the RCMPV St. Roch navigated the passage from west to east in 1940 – 1942, and east to west in 1944. It was a wooden boat originally rigged as a schooner.

Another: Sea ice is less than ever observed (in 2007). Actually, true. But it has only been observed since 1979.  Temperature records show that sea ice extent was probably much less in the recent past before 1979.  The headlines also say “2009 Third lowest sea ice extent.” But the ice has been increasing for the past three years as the Earth cools.

History, both geologic and human, provides understanding of Arctic climate behavior.  Ice core data, journals of early explorers, and modern temperature records reveal that temperature changes in the Arctic have been minimal, the rates of both warming and cooling in the recent decades being at the same rates as early 20th Century. The highest and lowest temperatures have been within historic ranges. During the Medieval climate Optimum over a thousand years ago, the world was much warmer than it has been in recent decades.

While warming took place in the last third of the 20th century, naturally, sea ice extent decreased, just as it did in the warming during the last part of the 19th century and early 20th century.  That the Earth is now cooling suggests that sea ice should increase, as it has.  Arguments about diminished sea ice extent being “unprecedented” are predicated on lack of knowledge of sea ice extent prior to the advent of satellite observations.

Ignorance is not bliss. In the Geophysical Years 1881 – 1883 a U.S. Greenland expedition nearly completely perished because its re-supply ships never arrived. The Navy thought that the sea around Greenland would freeze their ships in. Unfortunately for the Greely expedition, which had cached supplies on an island a few hundred yards off the coast, the water never did freeze and so they were unable to reach their supplies. Almost all of the expedition perished from starvation within sight of their salvation, unable to cross the open water!

In longer time intervals, the advent of glaciation likely occurred when the Arctic Ocean became ice free, not directly from warmth, but from high sea levels caused by melting continental ice sheets. Sea levels were at least 100ft higher than now. When sea levels are very high, then the warm Atlantic waters can flow into the Arctic Ocean, thawing remaining sea ice and providing the moisture that can evaporate and turn into snow, then accumulating until flowing as a glacier. The cycle terminates when enough water is evaporated and turned into glacial ice so that sea level falls below the Iceland-Greenland sill (think doorsill), so that warmer waters are restricted from entering the Arctic Ocean. Then the ocean freezes over and the glaciers begin to shrink until sea level rises enough to renew the snowfall.  Oceanic circulation is the likely determining driver of ice cover, not temperature.

There have been at least four of these major cycles, and several smaller advances and retreats. They are ultimately driven by orbital motions of the Earth which drive temperature and complement the oceanic processes. Ice core data suggest that the temperature changes between glacial and interglacial stages are around 10 degrees C.

Polar bears have been around for all of this dramatic climatic shifting.  They have experienced rapid temperature rises of 10oC at least four times without extinction. Polar bears have withstood several degrees of both warming and cooling through the millennial temperature cycles, and have not been diminished. Therefore, concern that the bears will be injured by a degree or so of warming is not supported by history. The current rate of cooling and the preceding decades of warming have all occurred within the normal and historic rates of change.  Despite this data, biologists who inform us that polar bears are threatened do so without reference to history, but with reference only to falsified computer models, Andrew Revkin saying in the New York Times *, “ On the computer modeling, the authors say that simulations — particularly on the time scale of the next century or so — are highly credible.” *

Since the models predict rapid warming and the world is cooling, we may dismiss such simulations as being designed by those who obviously do not understand climate change, even though they may understand biology.

It may be of interest to those who do not necessarily believe in human-caused global warming that the recent high points of temperature in the Arctic occurred, as they have in most of North America, in the mid-1930’s and again in the late 1990’s, fully congruent with Gleissberg solar cycles and not greenhouse gas levels.

Whether temperature changes are directly related to solar activity or whether driven by oceanographic circulation changes, such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation  (PDO) or North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) (which in themselves are likely driven by solar cycles), ice cover is directly related to temperature. And the only indication of large temperature increases in the future are computer models that have already been falsified by nature through current global cooling.

Temperature records show that over the last 3000 years, indeed even the last 8000 years, the trend is down. Each warming event has been followed by a more serious cooling event. The Minoan warm event was warmer than the following Roman event, which was warmer than the Medieval warm event, which was warmer than the current Modern warm event.

None of this is secret – the data are there for viewing and the models clearly do not agree with the data.  Basing the current multi-trillion dollar climate scare on such a flimsy foundation is foolhardy in the extreme.


2nd Expert response by Professor Cliff Ollier

Cliff Ollier is a geologist, geomorphologist, soil scientist, emeritus professor and honorary research fellow, School of Earth and Geographical Sciences University of Western Australia. He was formerly at Australian National University, University of New England, Australia, Canberra University, University of Papua New Guinea, and University of Melbourne. Throughout his career he was a prolific author (as C.D Ollier) and he has contributed to reference works such as The Oxford Companion to the Earth. His books include: Volcanoes; (1st ed 1969); (2nd ed 1988),The Origin of Mountains, Ancient landforms.

Floating sea ice and the Archimedes principle

As the world has been getting cooler since 1998 the global warming alarmists have to scare us with other things. A favourite is rising sea level, allegedly caused by rapid melting of the ice caps of Antarctica and Greenland.

For example, a prepared statement by Barrie Pittock and Andrew Glikson claims that “New studies … indicate the Greenland and west Antarctica ice caps would, if atmospheric CO2-equivalent concentrations reached 450 ppm, very likely melt rapidly, raising sea-level on the scale of metres per century”.

Similarly, in a letter of 27 March 2009 to Kevin Rudd, James Hansen wrote “Global climate is near critical tipping points that could lead to loss of all summer sea ice in the Arctic … initiation of ice sheet disintegration in West Antarctica and Greenland with progressive, unstoppable global sea level rise …”

A recent Australian scare-story relates to the Wilkins Ice shelf. The Australian of April 29 reported “a 13-month old photograph was published this month to support the view that a catastrophic melting of Antarctic ice was imminent.” Together with the suspect use of an old photo, “Mr Garrett [Minister for the Environment] claimed the break-up of the Wilkins ice shelf in West Antarctica indicated sea level rises of 6m were possible by the end of the century, and that ice was melting across the continent.”

My letter was published by the paper the next day:
“Your front-page article states that Peter Garrett claimed the break-up of the Wilkins ice shelf in West Antarctica indicated sea level rises of 6 metres were possible. His claim includes two basic errors. Firstly, shelf ice is floating, because it is less dense than seawater. When floating ice melts, there is no change in sea level. This is a bit of elementary physics known as Archimedes’ Principle.
Secondly, the breakup of ice shelves is normal and inevitable. Ice caps grow by precipitation in the uplands, flow at depth, and at the ice front the ice either melts or breaks off as icebergs. The ice never simply keeps flowing to the equator. Icebergs are produced in both times of climate warming and times of cooling, so they tell us nothing of climate change.’

Incidentally, Peter Garrett was on evening TV on 30 April. When questioned about his 6 metre sea level rise prediction, he gave his sources as IPCC and CSIRO. Yet by 2007 even the IPCC had reduced its estimate to between 18cm and 59 cm.

Doubts on the extreme claims arise from studies of the real state of affair in the ice regions, and real studies of sea level.  The head of the Australian Antarctic Division’s glaciology program reported recently that: “sea ice losses in West Antarctica over the past 30 years
have been more than offset by increases in the Ross Sea region, just one sector of East Antarctica.”

The Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois provides data on sea ice anomalies. On 22 May 2009 global sea ice was 2.6% ABOVE the 1979-2000 average. Satellite data from 1982 to 2003 (published in the Journal of the Royal Society) showed that the Antarctic icesheet is growing higher from precipitation at about 5 mm/yr which would LOWER sea level.

Direct studies of sea level are showing only small rises. You can get sea level data for the United States and a few other countries, from satellite imagery here:

Most show a rise of sea level of about 2 mm per year, but there is considerable variation. An unusually high reading is from Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, at 6.05 ±1.14 mm/yr. Even this is only 1.98 feet in 100 years, and no cause for alarm.
Similar figures are reported elsewhere, such as Reykjavik, Iceland 2.34 mm/yr; Bermuda 2.04 mm/yr; Murmansk, Russia 3.92 mm/yr.
In Scandinavia, which is rising in response to loss of the old ice sheet the sea level is falling: Goteborg, Sweden -1.3 mm/yr; Oslo, Norway -4.53 mm/yr.

Two favourites of sea level alarmists are Tuvalu and the Maldives. Sea level measurements for Tuvalu (and 10 other stations) between 1992 and 2006 arE available on Fig. 13 on the Australian Bureau of Meteorology website.  For about the past eight years the sea level seems to be virtually constant.

Click to access IDO60101.200809.pdf

Sea level in the Maldives was studied in enormous detail by the doyen of sea level scientists, Niklas Axel-Mörner. His team determined the sea level curve over the past 5,000 years based on evidence of morphology, stratigraphy, biology and archaeology supported by extensive C14 dating, and found that “All over the Maldives there is evidence of a sub-recent sea level some 20 cm higher than the present one. In the 1970s, sea level fell to its present position.”

Holland is very low and would be particularly vulnerable to any large rise of sea level. It is also a world leader in coastal study and engineering, and they are not alarmed. In a piece in the December 11, 2008, issue of NRC/Handelsblad (Rotterdam’s counterpart to the New York Times) Wilco Hazeleger, a senior scientist in the global climate research group at KNMI
(the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute) wrote:
In the past century the sea level has risen twenty centimetres. There is no evidence for accelerated sea-level rise. It is my opinion that there is no need for drastic measures. Fortunately, the time rate of climate change is slow compared to the life span of the defense structures along our coast.There is enough time for adaptation.

Of course even if we believed sea level is rising, it takes another leap of faith to accept that it results from minuscule increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide caused by human activity.

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