New study shows Antarctic sea ice is the same as it was 100 years ago

The following is from an article in the London Telegraph by Science Editor Sarah Knapton.

The study was based on the ice observations recorded in the logbooks from 11 voyages between 1897 and 1917, including three expeditions led by Captain Scott, two by Shackleton, as well as sea-ice records from Belgian, German and French missions.

Antarctic sea ice had barely changed from where it was 100 years ago, scientists have discovered, after poring over the logbooks of great polar explorers such as Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton.

Experts were concerned that ice at the South Pole had declined significantly since the 1950s, which they feared was driven by man-made climate change.

But new analysis suggests that conditions are now virtually identical to when the Terra Nova and Endurance sailed to the continent in the early 1900s, indicating that declines are part of a natural cycle and not the result of global warming.

“We know that sea ice in the Antarctic has increased slightly over the past 30 years, since satellite observations began. Scientists have been grappling to understand this trend in the context of global warming, but these new findings suggest it may not be anything new.

Read full article

Read press release from the European Geosciences Union

Antarctic ice melt numbers in perspective

According to a recent paper in Geophysical Research Letters, Antarctica is losing 159 billion metric tonnes ( 159 gigatonnes) of ice each year. On average West Antarctica lost 134 gigatonnes of ice, East Antarctica three gigatonnes, and the Antarctic Peninsula 23 gigatonnes in each year between 2010 and 2013 – a total loss of 159 gigatonnes each year. That number is based on measurements collected by the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite mission, which carries an altimeter specially designed for this task. At first, that sounds like a great amount of water added to the ocean.

So how big is 159 gigatonnes with respect to sea level rise? According to the paper, this melting of Antarctic ice can raise global sea level 0.45 millimeters per year. That’s less than half the thickness of a penny per year or 1.7 inches per century. Are you prepared?

The paper is discussed in more detail on WUWT. The discussion also links to conversion factors for units of water mass and volume, see here.

Just for reference from that second source:

How much does one gigatonne of melted ice (1 km³ of water) raise the oceans?
The oceans occupy 361 million square kilometers ( 361 x 106 km²) of the Earth’s surface.

If one cubic kilometer of water (i.e., one gigatonne of water) is spread evenly over the entire 361 million square kilomters, the thickness of the new layer of water will be given by:

1 km³ / 361 x 106 km² = 2.78 x 10-6 meters = 2.78 microns

Or, in terms of gigatonnes:

1 Gt x (1 km³/Gt) / 361 x 106 km² = 2.78 x 10-6 meters = 2.78 microns / Gt

That is, one cubic kilometer of water (i.e., one gigatonne of water) will add less than 3 millionths of a meter to the oceans!.

According to Wikipedia, Antarctica holds 26.5 million cubic kilometers of ice. Using the figures above, we can calculate that if the entire ice sheet on Antarctica melted, it could raise sea level by 73.7 meters or 241 feet. At the current rate of melting, that would take 161,000 years. The Earth would probably have gone through another glacial epoch and be in another interglacial by that time.

See also:
The “Unstoppable Collapse” of the West Antarctic ice sheet – the rest of the story

UPDATE: After I wrote the story above, I became aware of other studies. These other studies show that East Antarctica, which represents more than 90 percent of the area actually had a net gain of 49 Gt/yr of snow from 2003 to 2008. Another paper shows that from 2009 to 2011 heavy precipitation dumped 350 Gt of snow on East Antarctica. The ocean evaporation necessary to supply than moisture is equivalent to a decrease in global mean sea level at a rate of 0.32 mm/yr over this three-year period. See more details here:

The “Unstoppable Collapse” of the West Antarctic ice sheet – the rest of the story

The mainstream media and the Arizona Daily Star are in their usual “gloom and doom” mode because a few glaciers in the Amundsen Sea of West Antarctica are flowing faster than they have been and hence calving ice into the sea. This glacial behavior has been known for some time. The current turmoil was precipitated by recent publication of two papers based on data collected between 1992 and 2011.  But even back in 1968, a paper by Ohio State University glaciologist John Mercer called the West Antarctic Ice Sheet a “uniquely vulnerable and unstable body of ice.” Mercer based his statement on geologic evidence that West Antarctica’s ice had changed considerably many, many millennia ago at times when the ice sheets of East Antarctica and Greenland had not.

Is it just coincidence that this story is being hyped now, closely following release of the latest National Climate Assessment Report by the Obama administration? Is this just an attempt at “climate diversion” away from other issues? (See: National Climate Assessment Report = Science Fiction and Politics). Anthony Watts has some comments and links to the science on his WUWT blog.

I have yet to see any of the mainstream media mention the fact that Antarctic sea ice is currently at or near an all-time high extent (see article here).

The “gloom and doom” part of the “collapse” story is speculation that glacial calving will cause an undue rise in sea level. Studies show, however, that this “unstoppable collapse” will take hundreds to thousands of years and might possibly cause a sea level rise of 1.5 feet per century. Does that worry you?

To put things in perspective, let’s look at some geography and geology.

First is a NASA illustration of the offending glaciers (colored red):

Glaciers of Amundsen Sea Antarctica

For me, that illustration does not give a good sense of how much area we are taking about, so here is a more general map. Compare the tiny area of the Amundsen Sea sector with the total of Antarctica, or even with the total of West Antarctica:



In the scheme of things, this is a very small area of West Antarctica that is “collapsing.”

I have some questions about the net effect of all this on sea level rise.

Glaciers move usually because more weight, i.e., snow, is piled onto the upper parts of the glacier and gravity causes it to flow. Were does the snow come from? Evaporation from the ocean which reduces sea level.

In West Antarctica, the glaciers are “grounded” below sea level and are therefore displacing ocean water. Since water as ice has more volume per weight than liquid water, melting of “grounded” ice should also decrease sea level.

Another NASA illustration shows that the bedrock in the entire area covered by these glaciers (brown in the illustration below) is below sea level.

West Antarctica bedrock  topography


Floating ice already displaces its weight with an equal weight of water so the net effective on sea level of melting floating ice is near zero (Archimedes’ principle).

Only ice/snow that was always above sea level could raise sea level once it melted into the sea. How much is that compared to the evaporated water which produced the ice/snow on the upper parts of the glacier in the first place? What is the mass balance?

The website discusses the mass balance of Antarctic ice in great detail.

Here is their illustration of what is going on; note that they show a below-sea-level basin that is being melted:

 Antarctica Pine island glacier

As to my question on mass balance, Antarcticglaciers predicts:

“Climate models predict that, for a generally warmer climate, snowfall will increase over Antarctica. Surface melt will increase around the more northerly Antarctic Peninsula, and dynamic changes such as increased ice discharge, ice-shelf collapse and grounding line recession, and marine ice-sheet instability are likely to offset any increases in precipitation. However, if no dynamical ice response is assumed, then increases in snowfall over the entire continent of 6-16% to 2100 AD and 8-25% to 2200 AD are likely to result in a drop in sea level of 20-43 mm in 2100 and 73-163 in 2200, compared with today. However, it is more likely that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will lose mass over the next century, with rapid coastal changes, increases in ice flow and ice-shelf collapse all likely. As a result of these complex expected changes, there are a number of uncertainties in past, present and future ice sheet mass balance.” (Emphasis added)

There is a great deal of uncertainty and the story will take several hundred to a thousand years to play out.

Ironically, the UN IPCC AR5 report says ““Projections of Antarctic SMB changes over the 21st century thus indicate a negative contribution to sea level because of the projected widespread increase in snowfall associated with warming air temperatures.” (Krinner et al., 2007; Uotila et al., 2007; Bracegirdle et al., 2008).” ( So much for media hype.


A version of this post first appeared in the Arizona Daily Independent.

Purdue scientists propose to curtail anthropogenic global warming by manufacturing snow in Antarctica

I’m not making this up. Here is the paper and its abstract:

Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology 2012 ; e-Viewdoi:

CO2 Snow Deposition in Antarctica to Curtail Anthropogenic Global Warming

Ernest Agee,1 Andrea Orton and John Rogers

Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana


A scientific plan is presented that proposes the construction of CO2 deposition plants in the Antarctic for removing CO2 gas from the Earth’s atmosphere. The Antarctic continent offers the best environment on Earth for CO2 deposition at 1 bar of pressure, and temperatures closest to that required for terrestrial air CO2 snow deposition, 133°K. This plan consists of several components, including: (a) air chemistry and CO2 snow deposition, (b) the deposition plant and a closed-loop liquid nitrogen refrigeration cycle, (c) the mass storage landfill, (d) power plant requirements, (e) prevention of dry ice sublimation and (f) disposal (or use) of thermal waste. Calculations demonstrate that this project is worthy of consideration, whereby 446 deposition plants supported by 16 1200-MW wind farms can remove 1 B tons (1012 kg) of CO2 annually (a reduction of 0.5 ppmv), which can be stored in an equivalent “landfill” volume of 2 km x 2 km x 160 m (insulated to prevent dry ice sublimation).

The individual deposition plant, with a 100m x 100m x 100m refrigeration chamber, would produce approximately 0.4m of CO2 snow per day. The solid CO2 would be excavated into a 380m x 380m x 10m insulated landfill, that would allow one year of storage amounting to 0.00224B tons of carbon. Demonstrated success of a prototype system in the Antarctic would be followed by a complete installation of all 446 plants for CO2 snow deposition and storage (amounting to 1B tons annually), with wind farms positioned in favorable coastal regions with katabatic wind currents.

Like all wind, Katabatic winds are intermittent, but they can blow at hurricane force. Now what could go wrong with that?

Sounds like a few new green jobs.

This scheme, like all geoengineering schemes, is one of academia’s answers to a phantom problem. Because carbon dioxide is plant food and necessary for all life, we should not waste time and resources trying to get the atmospheric concentration down to some imagined correct magic number, see “A Modest Proposal: Triple Your Carbon Footprint.”  The geologic history of Earth shows that the normal concentration of carbon dioxide is at least three times what it is now.  Most plants and animals evolved under this higher concentration.

Although the authors of this paper are just trying to fill a perceived need (and maybe acquire politically correct grant money), all geoengineering schemes are foolish and unnecessary. Too bad they don’t direct their expertise toward something useful.

For another view, read an article from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists: “20 reasons why geoengineering may be a bad idea.”

See also:

Geoengineering Wacky Schemes to Control Climate

British Balloon to spew sulfur, another wacky geoengineering scheme

Girthic Warming

Siberian meteor crater records nearly 3 million years of climate history

About 3.6 million years ago a large meteor crashed into Siberia about 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle.  The impact created an eleven-mile wide crater that became a lake.  Lake El’gygytgyn collected sediments which record the climate and environmental conditions.  Since this area was not eroded by continental glaciers, researchers were able to collect sediment cores that provide “a continuous high-resolution record from the Arctic spanning the past 2.8 million years.”

The cores record eight warm periods, four of which were investigated in detail: normal interglacials from 12,000 years ago to present, and one at about 125,000 years ago, and two “super” interglacials at 400,000 years ago and 1.1 million years ago during which the Arctic temperatures were as much as 5 C (9 F) warmer and 12 inches of annual rain wetter than normal interglacials.

The researchers suggest that Greenland’s ice sheet could not exist during the “super” interglacial periods.  Also, the researchers note that disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet occurred at the same time as the “super” interglacials suggesting that the warming events were global.

The paper abstract says: “Climate simulations show these extreme warm conditions are difficult to explain with greenhouse gas and astronomical forcing alone, implying the importance of amplifying feedbacks and far field influences. The timing of Arctic warming relative to West Antarctic Ice Sheet retreats implies strong inter-hemispheric climate connectivity.”

This research provides more physical evidence that extreme warming and climate fluctuations occur as part of natural variation.  This research implies: 1) The globe has been much warmer without human influence during multiple periods over the past 2.8 million years, 2) IPCC climate models are incapable of reproducing past temps and therefore unable to project future temps, and 3) global warming far exceeding alarmist IPCC projections has occurred several times in the past without triggering any “tipping points.”

More details and a video are available from here.  Additional comments are posted herehere (graphs), and here.

See also:

Ice Ages and Glacial Epochs

When Antarctica Freezes Over

A 2485-year record shows current warming is a natural cycle

How Mother Nature Fools Climate Scientists

Rare mineral records Antarctica temperature history

Norwegian research shows that current warming is not unusual

More evidence that current warming is not unusual

Ice Follies and Hiding the Decline

Ice loss minimal in Antarctica, Greenland, and Himalayas

Ice caps and glaciers wax and wane in response to many cycles. In this post I examine recent research on the state of the Antarctic and Greenland ice caps, and glaciers in the Himalayas.


Satellite measurement of glaciers in the Himalayas revealed that these mountains lost only one-tenth the ice between 2003 and 2010 compared to the loss reported in previous estimates. (Source). The Guardian (U.K.) reports that Bristol University glaciologist Prof Jonathan Bamber said: “The very unexpected result was the negligible mass loss from high mountain Asia, which is not significantly different from zero.”

This study period is very short and the results could be an artifact of the variable monsoons. The results could also reflect the difference between extrapolation from a few ground stations and more complete measurement by satellites. Satellite measurement is based on gravity, a method that is capable of giving a detailed picture. Gravity measurements are also used in mineral exploration.


A new surface mass balance (SMB) map of Antarctic shows no significant trend for the period 1979-2010. Note that this is a modeling study, but the authors claim it is in good agreement with 750 surface measuring stations. See full paper and graphics here.



During the mid-2000s, Greenland received much publicity because of the rapid melting of outlet glaciers in the western and southern part of the island. A new study shows that this melting is part of a cycle that produced rapid melting in the 1930s as well. The study authors attribute the melting “with a relatively strong influence of Atlantic water and a lower influence of polar water on the shelf off Greenland, as well as with warm summers and the negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation. (Source). The study was based on analysis of sedimentary deposits. Here is their graph of relative melting.

Rutgers University keeps track of snow cover around the world. Their data show as slight, but steadily increasing snow cover in Greenland since 1966. See graphs for the northern hemisphere as a whole here. There is a slightly increasing trend.

Two of the studies cited above give short-term glimpses of what is happening. They do not necessarily reflect long-term trends. But CAGW proponents and the press are quick to cite such studies when the trends go their way. And, even the short-term studies suggest that natural forces easily overwhelm any alleged influence of carbon dioxide emissions.

For the story on Sea ice see Arctic sea ice reaches seasonal low.

See also:

Ice Ages and Glacial Epochs

When Antarctica Freezes Over

Arctic tipping point, will there be an ice-free Arctic

When Antarctica Freezes Over

Just in time for the Durban climate conference we have a bit of science fiction from Yale and Purdue universities.  The paper is Pagani et al., 2011, The Role of Carbon Dioxide During the Onset of Antarctic Glaciation, Science, Vol. 334 no. 6060 pp. 1261-1264. (Link to abstract)

The research team claims “A drop in carbon dioxide appears to be the driving force that led to the Antarctic ice sheet’s formation.”  According to the press release:

The onset of Antarctic ice is the mother of all climate tipping points.  The team found the tipping point in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels for cooling that initiates ice sheet formation is about 600 parts per million. Prior to the levels dropping this low, it was too warm for the ice sheet to form. At the Earth’s current level of around 390 parts per million, the environment is such that an ice sheet remains, but carbon dioxide levels and temperatures are increasing.

The team studied geochemical remnants of ancient algae from seabed cores collected by drilling in deep-ocean sediments and crusts as part of the National Science Foundation’s Integrated Ocean Drilling program. The biochemical molecules present in algae vary depending on the temperature, nutrients and amount of dissolved carbon dioxide present in the ocean water. These molecules are well preserved even after many millions of years and can be used to reconstruct the key environmental variables at the time, including carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

The team actually studied 7 cores but their study is based on computer modeling of only the two cores that seemed to support their hypothesis.

Why I think the study is science fiction

First some background.  Antarctica was drifting toward the south pole since about 175 million years ago and arrived approximately 65 million years ago.  It was still attached to South America and Australia.  In spite of being at the south pole, Antarctica was ice-free until about 34 million years ago.

Paleomap 50

Atmospheric carbon dioxide had been dropping since the mild ice age at the Jurassic-Cretaceous boundary about 150 million years ago.  Carbon dioxide continued to drop after the ice age, but global temperatures rebounded and the planet was hot and steamy until the end of the  Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum about 55 million years ago.  The graphic below shows that there is apparently no correlation between temperature and carbon dioxide.

CCIP fig 2

The drop in carbon dioxide was precipitated by the ice age which allowed cooling ocean water to absorb more carbon dioxide.  The continued drop in carbon dioxide was due, at least in part, to sequestering of carbon by the extensive formation of Cretaceous coal and limestone deposits.

An alternative hypothesis of why Antarctica developed a continental ice sheet about 34 million years ago is that when Antarctica became detached from Australia and South America, a strong circumpolar ocean current developed that isolated Antarctica from the warming tropical ocean currents.  This current developed in fits and starts because the connection to South America opened and closed several times.  This hypothesis is supported by a recent paper:

Katz et al., 2011, Impact of Antarctic Circumpolar Current Development on Late Paleogene Ocean Structure, Science, Vol. 332 no. 6033 pp. 1076-1079. (Link to abstract)

The following graphic shows a more detailed history of Antarctic temperature history.


This shows that the initial glaciation began about 34 million years ago with the establishment of the circumpolar current.  At about 26 million years ago the Drake passage connecting Antarctica to South America became restricted again and Antarctica warmed up.  The carbon dioxide driver hypothesis cannot account for this.  Antarctica reglaciated about 14 million years ago when the Drake passage reopened allowing the circumpolar current to block warm water again.  Also near this time, a source of warm water, the Tethys sea became blocked by tectonic shifts.

Geology provides “hard” evidence; the carbon dioxide hypothesis of the Yale-Purdue team provides only computer speculation.

Tsunami produces giant Antarctic icebergs, video

icebergsSeveral icebergs the size of Manhattan broke off the Sulzberger Ice Shelf in West Antarctica last March as a result of the March 11, 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami.  It had long been theorized that tsunamis could cause glacial calving.  Now NASA has proof that the Japanese tsunami caused formation of icebergs. See NASA photos and video here.

The Sulzberger Ice Shelf was especially susceptible to waves because there was no nearby sea ice, landfast ice or pack ice in the area.

NASA expects another large chunk, 340 square miles, to break off the Pine Island Glacier later this year or in early 2012.  Already there is a split 200 ft deep, 800 feet wide, running 20 miles so far along the glacier.  Pine Island Glacier last calved a significant iceberg in 2001, and some scientists have speculated recently that it was primed to calve again.  See NASA slide show and video here.

“While Pine Island has scientists’ attention because it is both big and unstable – scientists call it the largest source of uncertainty in global sea level rise projections – the calving underway now is part of a natural process for a glacier that terminates in open water. Gravity pulls the ice in the glacier westward along Antarctica’s Hudson Mountains toward the Amundsen Sea. A floating tongue of ice reaches out 30 miles into the Amundsen sea beyond the grounding line, the below-sea-level point where the ice shelf locks onto the continental bedrock. As ice pushes toward the sea from the interior, inevitably the ice shelf will crack and send a large iceberg free.” – NASA

NASA is keeping close watch. This may be the first time such a large calving is seen as it  happens.

See also:

Where the Next Big American Earthquake and Tsunami Might Occur

Ice Ages and Glacial Epochs

Earth’s Magnetic Poles, Reversing or Not

More science fiction from the University of Arizona

The headline in the Arizona Daily Star reads: “UA study: Warming oceans will also speed ice melting.” The press release from the University of Arizona reads: “Warming ocean layers will undermine polar ice sheets.”

What is really interesting is the first two paragraphs of the press release:

Warming of the ocean’s subsurface layers will melt underwater portions of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets faster than previously thought, according to new University of Arizona-led research. Such melting would increase the sea level more than already projected. [emphasis added.]

The research, based on 19 state-of-the-art climate models, proposes a new mechanism by which global warming will accelerate the melting of the great ice sheets during this century and the next.

So what is wrong with this? When water freezes, it expands, that is why ice floats; ice is less dense than an equal weight of liquid water. The researchers claim that melting of underwater ice will increase sea level. But the underwater ice is already displacing a certain volume of water. When the underwater ice melts, the resulting water will occupy a smaller volume than the ice did. How can that cause sea level to increase?

Will scientists clinging to the orthodoxy of the global warming religion say anything to get research grants?

Other research questions the basic premise of the UofA research: is the ocean warming?

See: More Evidence that Global Warming is a False Alarm: A Model Simulation of the last 40 Years of Deep Ocean Warming


Sea also:

Science Fiction from the University of Arizona?

Sea level rising?

Size matters in sea level studies

Sea Level Rise in the South Pacific – None

Sunburned Whales and Ozone

A British study of whales in the Gulf of California reports that light-skinned whales show signs of sunburn. The researchers attribute this to thinning of the ozone layers which protect us from ultraviolet radiation.

A curious thing about this study, which was conducted from 2007 to 2009, is that the number of whales exhibiting signs of sunburn greatly increased over the three-year study: in 2007, 12% of the whales had blisters; in 2008, 28% had blisters; and in 2009, 68% had blisters. This large increase in blistering would suggest that the ozone layer is rapidly decreasing. Yet NASA says “UV exposure has increased over the last 30 years, but stabilized since the mid-1990s.” Obviously, these researchers need more government grants to take more tropical cruises to further study this problem.

Since the 1970s, scientists hypothesized that chlorine compounds could react in the atmosphere to decrease the protective layer of ozone (O3) which blocks some of the ultraviolet rays impinging on the earth. In 1985, scientists noticed that the ozone layer over the Antarctic was very thin. (Later research would find that this thinning is an annual event and also varies on longer cycles.) This discovery caused a political furor and in 1987, the Montreal Protocol banned chloro-fluoro-carbons (CFCs) aka freon, from air conditioners and refrigerators.

The claim that CFCs were responsible for the perceived thinning remains controversial. In 2007 chemists poked holes in the ozone theory in a study published in Nature. These researchers found that the decomposition of chlorine compounds by light was much slower than had been assumed and “at least 60% of ozone destruction at the poles seems to be due to an unknown mechanism.”

What could this unknown mechanism be? In 2009, in a paper published in Physical Review Letters found a correlation between cosmic rays and ozone depletion. The abstract says:

“This Letter reports reliable satellite data in the period of 1980–2007 covering two full 11-yr cosmic ray (CR) cycles, clearly showing the correlation between CRs and ozone depletion, especially the polar ozone loss (hole) over Antarctica. The results provide strong evidence of the physical mechanism that the CR-driven electron-induced reaction of halogenated molecules plays the dominant role in causing the ozone hole. Moreover, this mechanism predicts one of the severest ozone losses in 2008–2009 and probably another large hole around 2019–2020, according to the 11-yr CR cycle.”

If these two research groups are right, then once again, a trumped-up environmental crisis is proven to be false and we went to the expense of banning CFCs for nothing.