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Arctic warming

A few months back, cryosphere expert Mark Brandon and I had an exchange on Twitter in which he noted the long - presumably temperature related - decline in Arctic sea ice and how this trend had been exacerbated by sharper falls in 2007 (due to changes in currents) and last year (due to a major storm).

I was reminded of this when I read Robin McKie's article in the Guardian today, which seeks to explain away recent cold weather as being due to global warming.

The Arctic is warming faster than any other place on Earth," said meteorologist Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, New Jersey. "Arctic temperatures have increased at more than twice the global rate. You can see this in the sea ice in summer there. In just the three decades, it has declined by 40%. About 1.3m square miles of sea ice have disappeared. That is an astonishing amount of ice to lose and it shows just how much heating is going on up there. More to the point, that warming is now changing weather patterns across the northern hemisphere."

As I understand it there are few, if any temperature stations in the Arctic the purported trends being extrapolations from sub-Arctic stations. Given what we know about the factors that contribute to sea ice trends, going from there to the wild statements made about Arctic temperatures by Dr Francis seems more worthy of a used car salesman than a scientist.

The whole global-warming-will-make-us-colder argument would make many fewer people giggle if its advocates had said so when we were were getting warm winters. And who can forget the BBC's annual ritual of reporting the early arrival of spring? A google search of the BBC along these lines returns quite a lot of related articles.

Rupert Darwall's tweet says it best:

Climate scientists as adept as medieval astronomers in drawing epicycles as post hoc explanations for their predictions going awry

(In related news the global sea ice level is above its long-term average)

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Reader Comments (38)

"Arctic temperatures have increased at more than twice the global rate."

Ooh, scary. Since the global rate has been static since Blair came to power, that'll be the alarming figure of more than 2 x zero. Maybe, even more terrifyingly, 3 x zero!

Run for the hills, etc.

Apr 7, 2013 at 3:15 PM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

McKie's article is little more than a sign of desperation, gone are the days of weather is not climate now any extreme weather event , ironically included cold events , are jumped on has 'proof ' of climate doom . By those pushing 'the cause 'for all its worth to them.

In reality extreme events or not odd events at all , you will find them somewhere in world many times a year The very reason its called 'forecasting ' is becasue even in the short term we have real problems predicted weather and mid to long term there is much guess work , and that includes extreme weather were the best that can be done is to say 'at the time of year '

Last years weather was god send for the AGW alarmist but one bet you can take to the bookies is that if this year is boringly nominal that will mean 'nothing '
Has political will and public interest slips away , we will see more of this ,

Apr 7, 2013 at 3:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

I believe that the increase in temperature comes from the GISS 1200km gridded temperature record, which means the temperature recorded for the North Pole could be taken at 78 degrees. The DMI record shows on such warming, in fact if you go to this site and look at the temperature for 1958 and 2012 you''ll see that the latter is slighty less than the former. Whatever's causing the sea ice to disappear, it isn't warming.

Moreover you'd have to have been living on Planet Alarmist Wilful Ignorance to not know that the Arctic has frequently been without sea ice in the recent past.

Apr 7, 2013 at 3:46 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Desperate times for alarmists mean more and more desperate alarmist articles. The truth doesn't matter as long as the headline goes out to the paymasters, and the Grauniad sheeple are kept on board.

Apr 7, 2013 at 3:54 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Dr. Susan Crockford, writing on her polar bear science blog, recently related writings from 1972:

"Changes in ocean currents and climate affect sea ice. Vibe (1967)…distinguishes three different climatic periods, each about 50 years long, between 1810 and 1960, reflecting three stages of penetration of East Greenland ice into Davis Strait. He believes that conditions of 1810-1860 are now repeating themselves. He designates this as a drift ice stagnation stage where…Greenland ice does not penetrate far north into Davis Strait. The climate is cold, dry, and stable.

Several authors have presented data indicating that sections of the Arctic have experienced warming trends prior to about 1950 and have experienced cooling trends since that time. Zubov’s (1943) data show a warming of the Arctic for approximately 100 years prior to publication in 1943. He shows that Arctic glaciers have receded and the southern boundary of Siberian permafrost has moved northward. Zubov also present[sic] comparative data obtained during the drift of the “FRAM’ [1894] and the drift of the ‘SEDOV’[1937], 43 years later, over similar tracks in the Eurasian sector of the Arctic Ocean. The mean ice thickness was one-third less and the mean air temperature 40C higher in 1937-40 than in 1893-96. Dorf (1960) quotes Willett (1950) who states that in Spitsbergen mean winter temperatures have risen ~8[sic] between 1910 and 1950. …Mitchell (1965) states that world climate during the past century has been characterized by a warming trend from the 1880’s to the 1940’s. Thereafter, the warming trend appears to have given way to a cooling trend that has continued to at least 1960 with some evidence that it was continuing to 1965.

Apr 7, 2013 at 3:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon B

Robin McKie and Jennifer Francis should visit the AirVent and read Lucy, Jeff and Tony's posts:

They might also be interested in John Daly's comments:

And Paul Homewood's work, corroborated by the Icelandic Met Office:

(Apologies to regulars who may know all the above links, but in the unlikely event Robin or Jennifer drops by, it might present them with new material)

Apr 7, 2013 at 3:57 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

But... that's to be expected. After all, as Dr Mike Hulme informed us thirteen years ago,

"We're now living in a semi-artificial climate system, not an entirely natural one. There is very likely a human influence behind this trend."


Apr 7, 2013 at 4:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavidR

Presumably Jennifer Francis would have completely wet her knickers if she had been around when the vikings settled Greenland for 2 centuries back when we were all very much younger but somehow wiser.

Apr 7, 2013 at 4:34 PM | Unregistered CommenternTropywins

A familiar alarm:

Apr 7, 2013 at 4:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Maloney

Perhaps meteorologist Jennifer Francis does not know that global sea ice is above the 1979-2008 year mean.
Whereas Arctic sea ice area is -0.507 m.km2, the Anarctic is +0.920 m.km2, but then according to the promoters of global warming the Arctic is Climate and the Antarctic is just weather. I would suggest that if the Antarctic sea ice was in minus that would be called Climate (because of lesser outside influence and therefore real "bellweather") and the positive Arctic area would be weather because of wind and currents from outside providing outside interference.

Apr 7, 2013 at 4:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Peter

geronimo: yes, it's most interesting (and rarely mentioned) that the DMI (Danish Meteorological Institute) record shows no Arctic warming since 1958. Although there have always been temperature excursions (up and down) over most of the year, those crucial summer months have remained remarkably stable. The site can be found here. (Note how it's possible to easily refer back to any year since 1958.)

Apr 7, 2013 at 5:03 PM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

Indeed, I have read somewhere that according to PIK, "the warm air coming from the arctic is supposed to slow down the polar vortex and facilitate the escape of cold air towards temperate latitudes".

From what I deduced, in other words, that glaciations are a consequence of great whiffs of warming. sarc/off

Apr 7, 2013 at 5:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterTomRude

Meanwhwile, there is record ice in the Baltic Sea:

‘It is an unusually persistent cold. Normally the melting would have begun by now’ says Torbjörn Grafström at SMHIs Ice Service.
The ice has never grown as long as this year. Presently half of the Sea of Bothnia is ice covered.
About half of the lake Vänern is still ice covered, which is unusual this time of the year.
All 5 ice breakers are out to assist in the Sea of Bothnia and Bay of Bothnia.

Apr 7, 2013 at 5:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterOle Reslow

This study of events stating in 1989 have an interest. A prolonged negative Arctic Oscillation is said to have reduced the size of the Beaufort Gyre allowing an increased flow of the Transpolar Drift. This resulted in 80% of the multiyear ice being washed out through the Fram Strait over the next few years. Somewhat of a kickstart for a new period of low ice thickness and higher melts.

Link to the study summary and PDF link.

4. Conclusions
[ 15 ] The AO affects sea-ice on many different times
scales. On seasonal time scales, the high index phase of
the winter AO index favors the dynamic thinning of sea-ice
in the Eurasian Arctic Ocean, and to some extent in the
Beaufort and Chukchi seas, and low index phase of the
summer AO favors a decrease in ice concentrations through
an increase in the advection warm air onto the ice and the
advection of ice away from the coast. On interannual time
scales low index AO conditions favor the advection of
summer ice anomalies away from the Beaufort and Chukchi
seas in the larger Beaufort Gyre, and during moderate to
high AO conditions, the reduced Beaufort Gyre traps
summer sea-ice anomalies in the gyre and recirculates these
anomalies back to the coast 3–4 years later, greatly reduc-
ing the time that sea-ice has to ridge and thicken before
returning for another melt season along the Alaskan coast.
[ 16 ] The transition to an Arctic Ocean dominated by
‘‘young’’ ice occurred abruptly in 1989–1990 when the
AO-index was over 2 standard deviations above normal.
The reverse transition from present day conditions to a state
like that which prevailed prior to 1989, with large areal
coverage of old, thick ice, would obviously take much
longer. When the model is forced with winds observed
starting in 1950, the transition requires about 10 years; if
winds starting in 1960 are used it requires 15 years or
[ 17 ] The winter AO-index explains as much as 64% of
the variance in summer sea-ice extent in the Eurasian sector,
but the winter and summer AO-indices combined explain
less than 20% of the variance along the Alaskan coast,
where the age of sea-ice explains over 50% of the year-to-
year variability. If this interpretation is correct, low summer
sea-ice extents are likely to persist for at least a few years.
However, it is conceivable that, given an extended interval
of low-index AO conditions, ice thickness and summertime
sea-ice extent could gradually return to the levels charac-
teristic of the 1980’s.

Similar observations and conclusions here.

And from a predecessor of a certain Nurse when a melting Arctic was seen as advantageous.

The Royal Society on Global Warming and the Arctic Melt – 1817

Letter from the President of the Royal Society, London, to the Admiralty, 20th November 1817 (when CO2 was around 285 ppm and human emissions minimal):-

“It will without doubt have come to your Lordships’
knowledge that a considerable change of climate, inexplicable at present to us, must have taken place in the Circumpolar Regions, by which the severity of the cold that has, for centuries past, enclosed the seas in the high northern latitudes in an impenetrable barrier of ice, has been during the last two years, greatly abated.

[This] affords ample proof that new sources of warmth have been opened and give us leave to hope that the Arctic Seas may at this time be more accessible than they have been for centuries past.”

Apr 7, 2013 at 5:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterMick J

Recently on another blog, I think it was one of the Telegraphs this graph was triumphantly presented as evidence of extreme polar warming. Hansen extrapolations aside, what I noted was that much of the warming took place early in the 20C, about 2C. Adds to the accounts of free movement in the Arctic regions during this period, one of which is described below. Some of the ships in later years did became trapped by the ice which apparently did not amuse Lenin.

"1936 “saw a spectacular increase in activity along the
Northern Sea Route; a total of 160 ships travelled parts of the route (the bulk
of them from the west to the mouth of the Yenisey and back), while 16 vessels
made the through-passage, 14 from west to east, and 2 from east to west, the
latter being Vuntsetti and Iskru homeward bound to Leningrad (Belov, 1969).
The ships heading east included the first Soviet warships to utilize the
Northern Sea Route, the destroyers Voykov and Stulin, escorted once again by
Fedor Litke (Burkhanov, 1959; Zinger, 1948; Belov, 1969).”"

Apr 7, 2013 at 5:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterMick J

What a load of old cobblers by McKie- typical uninformed Guardian rubbish.
You can't have it both ways- as the Alarmists try to.

In the 1970's cooling "scare" cold winters were down to more Arctic sea ice.
Now cold winters are due to less Arctic sea ice.

Post-normal" climate psience at work.

Apr 7, 2013 at 6:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller


"the global rate has been static since Blair came to power"

Who knew he had that much influence..?


I think I also trust the Danes to know more about Arctic temperatures than the Americans.

Apr 7, 2013 at 6:20 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Given that Arctic warming is a crucial part of the CO2 Faith, and how much interpolation is required there for computations of 'global mean temperature', it would seem to follow that a substantial increase in weather stations there would be appropriate to help give us decent levels of ground-truth to back up satellite and aerial observations. But has there been such an increase? Or would the faithful regard calling for that as all but apostasy, a sign of little faith in the models?

Just as rising global temps have had to be discarded, along with disappearing glaciers, increasing storminess, and the disappearance of snow in such as the UK, the faithful may yet have to erase Arctic sea ice from their banners to rally believers with and harass the undecided.

The sea-ice is of course very variable, and our detailed records of it are slight, so it is a risky choice for such a prominent role. I do not know whether it will increase or decrease over say the next decade, a decade which may well be a make-or-break one for 'the cause', and of course neither does anyone else, but how irrational is it that our economic well-being and much else besides might turn on it?

If the summer sea ice increases in volume, it will be dropped from the banners and something else found to take its place - the climate system is complex and variable enough to provide some cause for concern, something to hang one's alarm on, just about anywhere, anytime, so something will surely be found. But more of the public and more of the politicians and more and more of the scientists, and of the writers and broadcasters, will have noticed the relentless refutation of alarmist claims and so the body of the 'climate resistance' will grow and might well be strong enough to relegate the green-alarm tendency to the political margins where it belongs. Those, on the left in particular, who have squeezed that tendency for all it is worth, will also find something else - societies are complex and variable enough to provide some cause for concern, something to hang one's outrage on, just about anywhere, anytime, so something will surely be found there as well.

If the sea-ice decreases, on the other hand, what then? I daresay the alarmed ones will find inspiration to continue with their alarums, trying again to scare enough of us to some new level of political madness to produce something even more horrific and absurd than the Climate Change Act. But maybe not. Maybe calmer minds might yet prevail. It seems likely that Arctic sea ice has been at very low summer levels in the past, far earlier in the Holocene, as well as more recently during the 20th century, the MWP, and the RWP. No catastrophes have been recorded, and we have no good reason to fear any now. If the summer ice shows a big retreat, and good things come from it like increased access to under-sea and other resources, or improved sea-travel opportunities, then we may yet get a terminal setback for 'the cause'.

All in all, it is not wise of 'the causists' to put too much weight on Arctic sea ice. It could let then down whichever way it fluctuates over the next few years.

Apr 7, 2013 at 6:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

What I find frustrating is the apparent lack of understanding of the variability of the natural climate. All instrument based climate records are relatively short and as records get longer, "climate records" will continue to be broken whether they are high and low temperatures or rainfall and droughts. Climate data follows a probability distribution and as we collect longer records we will see observed values at the tails of the distribution. Journalists don't get this and climate scientists seem to choose not to educate them.

Apr 7, 2013 at 6:49 PM | Unregistered Commenterpotentilla

The last five posts on NoTricksZone, starting back from this one:

are all relevant to the Arctic ice question, and very informative.

Apr 7, 2013 at 10:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

@ Mick j

the northwest passage fixation by the Admiralty has been well documented & John Franklin expedition is the famous/infamous one in british polar sea exploits (they all died, not prepared enough for severe cold/ice pack)

Apr 7, 2013 at 11:11 PM | Unregistered Commenterdougieh

Two possible mechanisms for increasing Antarctic sea ice extent.

Apr 8, 2013 at 12:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

A more careful examination of the global sea ice graph you linked would show

a) the maximum for the year occurs at the end of the Northern Hemisphere Winter, so you would expect the daily level to be at its highest at this time of year; it would therefore not be surprising to find it above the long term average for the whole year.

b) the long term trend in global sea ice is downwards. In the 1980s the daily measurement was above the long term average for most of each year; since 2001 it has been below the long term average for most of each year.

Apr 8, 2013 at 12:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

5:29 PM | Mick J
? 1816 - The Year W/O a Summer ? Which volcano disturbed the jet stream?
RS President and Admiralty confirming warm Arctic conditions?
Can it be: Cool, here, and Warm, there?

Apr 8, 2013 at 1:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn R T

Some discussion of the possible link between Arctic Ice and European weather.

Apr 8, 2013 at 2:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Lucy Skywalker has a web page with temperature measurements around the Arctic.

Circling the Arctic

It is part of a set of pages on the polar regions at her website on climate.

Polar Realities made Visible and Simple

The graphs she displays do not appear to show any dramatic increases in temperature but they have not been updated for a while. Are her conclusions still valid?

Apr 8, 2013 at 8:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

Those who are serious about temperature at the poles will talk about what thermometers are showing rather than what sea ice is doing. Floating ice can melt because it has moved into warmer waters (at their normal temperature) or if warmer water has moved, abnormally, to where the ice occupies its usual position.

If there are not enough thermometers in place then place or drop some.

Apr 8, 2013 at 10:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterBob Layson

With regard to the link between loss of sea ice in the Arctic and the recent cold winters suffered by the UK and Northern Europe, there appears to be a number of logical disconnects, not least the fact that whilst there has been an increase in summer ice loss, this ice loss has fully recovered by the time winter onsets.

Are the warmists able to show that the Arctic ice extent between say December through to March (inclussive) is significantly less than it was say 6 to 15 years ago, when the UK and Northern Europe were enjoying milder winters?

As I understand the data, the extent of winter ice is not significantly different. The argument with respect to winter ice pertains to its thickness etc, ie., to the total volume of winter ice, not the area of winter ice.

I do not expect that the public will warm to the argument that global warming is causing colder weather. As regards the UK, since 2000, winter CET figures show a decline in temperature of 1.5degC.

Still far too much emphasise is being placed upon some notional global average, rather than looking at matters on a regional basis. There is just beginning to be some acceptance that global warming has stalled these past 16 to 20 years (depending upon data set). However, the UK government has not taken on board that as far as the UK is concerned since 2000, CET has shown a decline of some 0.5degC, and winter CET figures a staggering decline of 1.5degC.

I do not know whether winters in the UK will stablize at around todays temperatures or whether they will continue to drop further, but the UK government would be well advised to take on board the possibility that UK winter temperatures may decline further, and that there will be a corresponding increase in demand for reliably produced energy at an affordable price. If this happens it will place an even greater strain on an already over strained energy system. Watch this space as winter of 2013/14 onsets.

Apr 8, 2013 at 11:33 AM | Unregistered Commenterrichard verney

If there are not enough thermometers in place then place or drop some.

Apr 8, 2013 at 10:16 AM | Bob Layson

They have.

Apr 8, 2013 at 12:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Richard Verney

These are the winter ice extents for the last 5 years. Note how all five are below the lower 95% confidence bound for the 1979-2000 average for the majority of the Winter. They only conform to the long term average in the final part of the season.

Apr 8, 2013 at 12:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Robert Guernier

The DMI graphs are for the region above 80N latitude , within 600 miles of the North Pole. This is the area least susceptible to warming from further South, and has remained frozen all year so far. You would not expect to see high Summer temperatures.

I ran through the sequence and was intrigued by the Winter changes. By inspection you can see how much the average Winter temperatures in the high Arctic have increased, especially in the 21st century.

Apr 8, 2013 at 12:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

I recall a feature on the BBC (where else..?) not many weeks ago by their science editor, David Shukman, headed 'Arctic sea ice melting at astonishing rate' - referring to a period last September.
Missing, quite surprisingly really, was any follow up feature entitled: 'Arctic sea ice freezing at astonishing rate' - as it did in October. Wonder why..?
I note that currently the Arctic sea ice is taking its time heading for the summer melt...

Apr 8, 2013 at 1:07 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

The DMI Arctic temperature data is *calculated* (i.e. not *measured*) from 5º grid models. Read the notes "Calculation of the Arctic Mean Temperature" which accompany the graphs and follow the link here

As has been stated upthread there are very few surface stations in the arctic.

Apr 8, 2013 at 2:37 PM | Unregistered Commentermarchesarosa

According to the Sunday Telegraph, sea ice on the Baltic has been thicker and more widespread this winter than it has for decades.

How come the Arctic can be melting while the Baltic to the S of it is choked with ice?

Scarcely seems credible doesn't it.

Apr 8, 2013 at 3:36 PM | Unregistered Commenterdave

This private briefing document from the Met Office for the Environment Agency last year shows that, in private, the Met admit that

If low levels of Arctic sea ice were found to be affecting the track of the jet stream, for example, this could be seen as linked to the warming of our climate – but this is currently an unknown,/b>.


It has been suggested that the decline of Arctic Sea Ice may drive low pressure over the UK, although this remains very uncertain at present.

So there is no evidence about what, if any, effect decling ice will have on our climate. Everything else is simply speculation.

The full briefing is here.

Apr 8, 2013 at 6:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Homewood

BTW - I have set the "Homewood Test" for studies such as these.

1) Explain how their theory accounts for cold and snowy winters when Arctic sea ice was expanding, such as the 1960's.

2) Explain how their theory accounts for mild winters, when Arctic Ice was declining rapidly in the 1990's and early 2000's.

3) Explain why previous models were wrong in forecasting mild winters. ( The official Met projections, issued only last year, are still for mild and wet winters).

Jennifer Francis' theory, and others like it, cannot even even cross the starting line until it passes this test.

Apr 8, 2013 at 6:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Homewood

September 2012 was the lowest ice extent in the satellite record, part of a pattern of low Summer extents which is becoming typical.
21st century maximum extents are showing much less variation. They are down, but not as much. As a result the difference between maximum and minimum has increased. To change across this increased range in the same time requires a faster rate of change.

Regarding the onset of 2013 melting, the maximum extent passed in mid-March and the extent for this date is about level with 2009, in equal second lowest position behind 2011.

Apr 8, 2013 at 11:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

I am old enough to recall a BBC TV Prog called Tomorrows World. Early 1970s they featured a segment by a Swedish ( ? ) scientist claiming that we were about to enter another ice age. Bit of jollity from Raymond Baxter and other members of tv prog. Ian

Apr 9, 2013 at 2:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterIan

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