Archive for the ‘polar bears’ Category

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TIME for Kids misinforms your children

September 26, 2009

An Arctic Passage 2The modern version of the weekly reader, TIME for Kids, published by the same folks who bring you TIME magazine, heralded the news of the very first ships to sail the legendary “Northeast Passage” in an article titled “An Arctic Passage.”   This route links Europe to the Pacific Ocean, while avoiding the much longer route through the Suez canal and Indian Ocean.  But the reality is that this route was travelled on a regular basis by the Russians from the 1930s to the 1990s.  Read on to see how bogus this propaganda, that was spoon fed to your children, really was.

 

Northeast passage

Northeast passage

Our kids were told very plainly that “It is the first time commercial ships have traveled this route…Shippers have dreamed of a northern shortcut.  right now, ships going from Asia to Europe take a southern route through the Suez Canal, in Egypt.  A northern route would shorten the trip saving time, fuel and money”

This is new, the kids are told, because normally it is “impassable, even in summer, because of packed ice.  But melting ice caps are making it easier for ships to navigate the Arctic.” 

But the real purpose of this article is to keep the drumbeat of global warming fear pounding in the heads of our children.  “Scientists say global warming is responsible for the arctic thaw, which is causing many frozen channels to thaw” they are told.

The Truth about the Northeast Passage from Russia’s  Gubernskaya Academy

As exciting as the above story sounds, it is essentially untrue.  You can read much about the history and exploration of the Northeast Passage as compiled by the Russian Gubernskaya Academy and presented for the International Polar Year.  Here are some of the highlights…

In 1934 the ice-cutter “Litke” made the voyage from Vladivostok to Murmansk without failure by the Northern Sea Route. “Litke” captain was N.M. Nikolaev, research manager V.Yu. Vize. In 1935 four cargo motor ships passed through the Route during a single navigation season.

During the 1930s the Soviets started regular navigated the waters of  the Northeast Passage.  Gubernskaya Academy documents remind us that…

Before the Great Patriotic War [WWII] the Soviet Union gained big experience of carriers navigation in the Arctic. The ports of Dickson, Dudinka, Tiksi, Pevek and Provideniya were under construction. During the war apart from supply of the Arctic construction sites and research stations it was necessary to ensure supply of garrisons and warships and to receive goods delivered from the USA and Canada.

 Ports

Soviet ships would ply the Northeast passage regularly for the next six decades.  Shipping via the Northeast Passage peaked in 1993, but declined after that - not because of ice, but rather cold economic and political winds for the dissolved Soviet Union.

Dissolution of the Soviet Union followed by social and economic crisis of the post-Soviet space in the early 1990’s had a negative influence upon the condition of the Northern Sea Route. The supply system was destroyed due to dissolution of centralized maintenance supply of the Russian North. Due to price liberalization and credit system reconstruction most enterprises in the framework of the Northern Sea Route operation were in a difficult financial state….By 2003 the volume of freight decreased 5 times (1,7 million tons) in comparison with the golden age of the Soviet era.

The two German ships that TIME for Kids referred to are really just the beginning of what the Russians hope will be a revival of trade between Europe, Siberia and Pacific region of Asia:

At present, practical steps are made in Russia to overcome the crisis and to continue development of the Northern Sea Route. This proves high strategic significance of this unique Arctic itinerary. In the first place this high importance is connected with forthcoming development of immense Arctic offshore oil and gas fields. Transit functions of the Northern Sea Route are also of high importance, mainly for development of regions located in the Extreme North and the Far East. Nowadays, many countries of the world are interested in cargo transportation by the Northern Sea Route. This is mainly due to the growing commodity turnover between Europe and the countries of Asian and Pacific regions. Possibly the XXIst century may become an era of intensive development of the Northern Sea Route as of an important arctic transportation passage of national and international importance.

The last ice-cold hard facts

So, these two German ships simply were not the first to make this trip.  In 2000 the Minister of Transportation of the Russian Federation, Sergey Frank, planning for a revival of the trade route, pointed out…

“In 1993 – 1997 the volume of sea cargo along the Northern Sea Route was already 150 – 200 thousand tons a year. Cargo traffic peaked in 1993, during the Arctic’s summer shipping season. During that period, 15 Russian ships with 210 thousand tons of transit goods passed along the Route. Also, 8 ships carrying metals, fertilizers and timber traveled from ports in Russia, Latvia, Sweden and Finland to China, Japan, and Thailand. 7 ships from China carried oilcake, bauxite, magnetite and other operating supplies to Holland, England, Ireland, Germany, and Spain.”

Oh, by the way, TIME for Kids somehow forgot to mention that the two German cargo ships that made the Northwest Passage trip this year were accompanied by a NUCLEAR POWERED ICE_BREAKER!!!  The UK’s Independent,  like TIME for Kids, somehow overlooked the previous 70 years of shipping along the route.  But in the midst of their panic-stricken, end of the world report on this global warming disaster story, they let slip…

The voyage of the two [German] vessels was certainly no picnic. Although not thoroughbred ice-breakers themselves, both ships were designed to cope with ice-strewn waters and were accompanied by at least one Russian nuclear ice-breaker during the whole of the trip. The two ships encountered snow, fog, ice floes, and treacherous icebergs which showed only about one meter of their huge underwater volume on the sea’s surface.

The most challenging stretch of the voyage came at its northernmost point, the Vilkizi Strait on the tip of Siberia. Half of the sea’s surface was covered with pack ice and the captains of both vessels had to call Russian ice pilots on board to shepherd them through. Vlarey Durov, captain of the Beluga Foresight spoke of the stress he experienced from having to keep a constant lookout for ice and the time spent waiting for the seas to clear. (emphasis added)

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Arctic sea ice gone by 2015? A challenge to David Barber.

December 10, 2008
Here we go again. Last March I wrote about the media predictions that the Arctic sea ice would be gone by the summer of 2012. As I showed back then, those wild predictions were based on a simple extrapolation of the minimum summer sea ice extents of 2006 and 2007.

 

I’ll repeat the basic facts:

The sea ice area in the Arctic has been monitored by satellite for almost 30 years, since 1979. The area of the ice rises and falls, as you would expect, as the year cycles through its seasons. It reaches its yearly minimum by late September or early October. On the average, this minimum has been declining for the last 30 years. After October the northern sea ice area increases until it reaches a maximum in late March or early April each year. The yearly cycle is huge. Typically, about 60% of the total sea ice area melts away as is goes from yearly maximum to the yearly minimum.

The 2007 melt season was very severe and the Arctic sea ice area anomaly reached its lowest level since satellite tracking began.  But that low level was immediately followed by an unprecedented rise in sea ice area in the Arctic in the months following the 2007 summer melt season. The 2008 melt season was quite severe, but not as severe as the 2007 melt season. In order to go from the minimum ice extent of 2007 to zero ice in 2012, the Arctic sea ice extent minimum needs to drop an average of about 600,000 square kilometers per year. But the Arctic ended up with slightly more ice area (about 100,000 square kilometers more) after the 2008 melt season than after the 2007 melt season.  Figure 1, below sums it up.

Figure 1

Figure 1

New predictions of meltdown

Now along comes David Barber  from the University of Manitoba, who estimates that the Arctic Basin will be ice free by the summer of 2015. The Star Phoenix reports:

The ice that has covered the Arctic basin for a million years will be gone in little more than six years because of global warming, a University of Manitoba geoscientist said. And David Barber said that once the sea ice is gone, more humans will be attracted to the Arctic, bringing with them even more ill effects…He said he estimates the Arctic sea should see its first ice-free summer around 2015…Barber has said before the Arctic basin would be free of summer sea ice some time between 2013 and 2030. But their research about recent changes in the Arctic has allowed them to pinpoint the date even closer.

Barber sounds like a smart guy, and was the scientist in charge of a $40-million Arctic research project, the Circumpolar Flaw Lead System Study. He will present his preliminary findings at the International Arctic Change 2008 conference  in Quebec. However, his track record for predictions is rather spotty. Earlier this year National Geographic reported:

“We’re actually projecting this year that the North Pole may be free of ice for the first time [in history],” David Barber, of the University of Manitoba, told National Geographic News aboard the C.C.G.S. Amundsen, a Canadian research icebreaker.”

Prediction for summer of 2008 didn’t work out

The Arctic sea ice concentration reached its minimum around September 15th this year. Figure 2, below, from the Polar Research Group at the University of Illinois, shows the distribution of ice in the Arctic on that day. As you can see, the North Pole was not even close to being ice free. Figure 3 shows the Arctic Basin sea ice area for the last 365 days. Note that in mid-September the the sea ice area anomaly for the Arctic Basin was about negative 0.75 million square kilometers, but there were still 2.5 million square kilometers of ice yet to melt. Again, not even close to zero.

Figure 2

 Figure 2. Arctic Sea Ice Concentration on September 15th, 2008, when the Arctic sea ice reached its minimum for the year. Image from the University of Illinois Polar Research Group.

Figure 3. Figure 3. Arctic Basin sea ice area for the last 365 days.  In mid-September the sea ice anomaly was negative 0.75 million square kilometers, but there were 2.5 million square kilometers more than zero.  Image from the University of Illinois Polar Research Group.  Click on image to see clearer version. 

 
Those who like to parse words will note that National Geographic piece did not quote Barber as saying the “Arctic Basin” or the “Arctic Ocean” would be ice free during the summer of 2008.  They will correctly point out that he said “the North Pole.”  My answer to that is “So what.”  The North Pole has certainly seen open water in modern times, as attested to by the following images:
Figure 4.

 Figure 4. Skate (SSN-578), surfaced at the North Pole, 17 March 1959. US Navy photo courtesy of tripod.com. This image is from NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive

Figure 5.

 Figure 5. Seadragon (SSN-584), foreground, and her sister Skate (SSN-578) during a rendezvous at the North Pole in August 1962. Note the men on the ice beyond the submarines. USN photo from The American Submarine, by Norman Polmar. This image is from NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive

 

What about Barber’s prediction for 2015?

The December 5th StarPhoenix article mentioned above says that according to Barber, “The ice that has covered the Arctic basin for a million years will be gone in little more than six years because of global warming.”  I wonder if Barber can seriously believe that the Arctic Basin has been continuously ice covered for “a million years.”  There is considerable evidence  that the entire Arctic region was warmer just several thousand years ago than it is now. 

Open water from the northern coast of Greenland to the North Pole likely occurred in the not too distant past.  According to Science Daily, Astrid Lysa and colleagues have studied shore features, driftwood samples, microfossils and shore sediments from Northern Greenland. Science Daily reports:

 “The architecture of a sandy shore depends partly on whether wave activity or pack ice has influenced its formation. Beach ridges, which are generally distinct, very long, broad features running parallel to the shoreline, form when there is wave activity and occasional storms. This requires periodically open water,” Astrid Lyså explains.

Pack-ice ridges which form when drift ice is pressed onto the seashore piling up shore sediments that lie in its path, have a completely different character. They are generally shorter, narrower and more irregular in shape.

“The beach ridges which we have had dated to about 6000-7000 years ago were shaped by wave activity,” says Astrid Lyså. They are located at the mouth of Independence Fjord in North Greenland, on an open, flat plain facing directly onto the Arctic Ocean. Today, drift ice forms a continuous cover from the land here.

Astrid Lyså says that such old beach formations require that the sea all the way to the North Pole was periodically ice free for a long time.

“This stands in sharp contrast to the present-day situation where only ridges piled up by pack ice are being formed,” she says.

Funder and Kjaer reported similar results at the 2007 fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union. They point out that “Presently the North Greenland coastline is permanently beleaguered by pack ice…” but “that for a period in the Early Holocene, probably for a millennium or more, the Arctic Ocean was free of sea ice at least for short periods in the summer.” They date this time period to sometime between 8500 and 6000 years ago.  (Update 7/8/10 – Funder now believes “that multiyear sea ice was reduced to between half and a third of the present during the Holocene Thermal Optimum.”  Thanks to Kevin O’Neill and his persistence  in making this correction.)

An Open Challenge to David Barber

I am concerned about climate exaggerations and the effect  they have on public policy makers.  It seems quite clear that David Barber was off the mark when he predicted that “this year that the North Pole may be free of ice for the first time,” because neither the Arctic Ocean, the Arctic Basin nor the North Pole were ice free this past summer.  The North Pole being ice free is not that unusual, and the entire Arctic was probably ice free a relatively short 7,000 years ago.

Now Barber has made the slightly longer term prediction that “The ice that has covered the Arctic basin for a million years will be gone in little more than six years.”  I propose a friendly wager based on this prediction.  I will bet David Barber $1000(US) that the ice covering the Arctic Basin will not be gone anytime before December 31st, 2015.  The bet would involve no transfer of  cash between myself or Barber, but rather, the loser will pay the sum to a charitable organization designated by the winner.

 Definition of terms.  The Arctic Basin is defined by the regional map at Cryosphere Today.  “Gone” means the Arctic Basin sea ice area is less that 100,000 square kilometers, according to National Center for Environmental Prediction/NOAA as presented at Cryosphere Today .  Charitable organizations will be agreed upon at the time the bet is initiated. 

David Barber is a smart guy and evidently an expert in his field.  Taking on a wager with an amateur like me should be like shooting fish in a barrel.  I look forward to reaching an agreement soon.

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I’m curious about Canadian Archipelago sea ice area

October 16, 2008

What is happening with the Canadian Archipelago sea ice area?  Like all Arctic regions, the sea ice area of the Canadian Archipelago expands in the winter and shrinks in the summer.  Many people have come believe that the average yearly behavior of the ice from 1979 to 2000 represents what is “normal.  The only special thing about these years is that they are the first 20 years over which satellite data on sea ice area was accumulated.

For the last several years the Canadian Archipelago sea ice area, and the Arctic sea ice area in general, have dropped below the “normal” at least for part of the year.  The headline grabbing stories have been about “first time” openings in the “Northwest passage” through the Canadian Archipelago.  There seems to be a lot of interest, concern and talk.

I have turned to Cryosphere Today, from the Polar Research Group at the University of Illinois, and The Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer on the Earth Observing System Aqua satellite (AMSR-E) for my information.  The odd thing is that while Cryosphere Today’s 365 day plot of the Canadian Archipelago’s sea ice area (figure 1, below) indictes that the sea ice area is LESS today than it was one year ago, Cryosphere Today’s own graphics of arctic sea Ice area for 10/14/07 and 10/14/08 clearly show that the sea ice area in the Canadian Archipelago is GREATER now than it was a year ago.  The AMSR-E graphics show the same thing, as displayed in figures 2 and 3, below

Figure 1. CryoSphere Today's plot 365 days of Canadian Archipelago Sea Ice Area from 10/14/08.  Note that this plot shows the sea ice area about 25% greater one year ago.

Figure 1. Cryosphere Today's plot of 365 days of Canadian Archipelago Sea Ice Area from 10/14/08. Note that this plot shows the sea ice area about 25% greater one year ago.

 

AMSR-E data for 10/14/08.

figure 2. Sea ice area representations. Upper Left: Cryosphere Today for 10/14/07. Upper Right: Cryosphere Today for 10/14/08. Bottom Left: AMSR-E data for 10/14/07. Bottom Right: AMSR-E data for 10/14/08.

 

Figure 3.  Same as figure 2, except showing close-ups of Canadian Archipelag0.

Figure 3. Same as figure 2, except showing close-ups of Canadian Archipelago. Note that 2007 data is on the left, and the 2008 data is on the right. These graphics clearly show more ice in the Canadian Archipelago now (on the right) than there was one year ago (on the left).

 What gives?  Am I seeing this right? The ice distribution graphics from both Cryosphere Today and from AMSR-E instrument aboard the Aqua satellite both show GREATER sea ice cover now (10/14/08) than one year ago (10/14/07).  I am just trying to understand this discrepancy.  If anyone has an explanation, please comment below.

By the way, trips through the Northwest passage have been made long before now.  The wooden ship, St. Roch, made it twice in the 1940s.  Roald Amundsen did it even earlier aboard the Gjoa in 1905.  Of course, we do not have satellite data to show us the sea ice in the Northwest passage prior to 1979.  Who knows what could have been done with modern equipment thousands of years ago when the Arctic was warmer than today?

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