Tag Archives: Arctic

Beaufort Sea Polar Bears

Three days ago I read an article dramatizing the rapid reduction in Polar Bear populations in a sub-region of the Arctic.  The Beaufort Sea population had been reduced by 40% between 2004 and 2010.  I was a bit surprised by this statistic because I had seen many recent articles that had said Polar Bear populations had not been in recent decline.

I wondered if it was a regional issue or was it really the beginning of the end for the Polar Bear.  And then I read a bit more.   The 2010 Polar Bear population estimate was 900 bears down from 1250-2000 in 2004.  How can we have a precise number for 2010 and such a wide range only 6 years earlier?  Have we become expert Polar Bear counters in just 6 years?  Perhaps the 900 bears is a range value too.  If so what is the range?

The article used indirect counting methods so there must have been a range of values.  Bears were tagged and then survival rates of bears found years later were compared to past data.  Incomplete data in Canada in 2004 explained the range in the 2004 to 2006 data.   OK, but 900 sounds like an estimate to me.  The study might be an excellent proxy; it is beyond my expertise.  I still want more precise data.

And that is only the beginning of this data accumulation problem.  We really don’t have much data…and that is a big problem.

I wonder how many bears were wandering around in 1940 at the end of the last mini warming cycle?  Perhaps 2000 bears is too many for the local ecosystem?   How did Polar Bears fare some 130,000 years ago when sea level was 6 meters higher than it is today?  And how have the bears fared since 2010.  Why is there no recent update?

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions.   I’d go a step further and say that nobody really knows.  But too many of the scientists studying the recent decline KNOW the cause, reduced sea ice. And these same scientists seem to know why the sea ice has reduced, man caused climate change!

Maybe, maybe not.

Sea ice data is only 34 years old. And the best data is only 4 years old.  Just 4 years ago we began accumulating accurate data on sea ice thickness?  Anyone interested can visit the Snow and Ice Data Center website.

What has happened to Polar Bear populations since 2010? How have other regions in the Arctic fared?  What were the Polar Bear populations 40 years ago when hunting was allowed?  Or 400 years ago, during the little ice age?  Or 40,000 years ago when there was lots more ice, ice all the way down to NYC?

So many questions!  Oh yes, two more questions.  Did they need a global warming angle to get funding for their study?  And who paid for the study?

Don’t get me wrong.  I think man probably has caused some of the impacts being witnessed.  How much is an extraordinarily difficult science problem.  I wish society were be a bit more circumspect.  Sometimes problems are not that simple   All too often we humans looks for easy simple answers to difficult complicated questions.






Sea Level to Rise 3 Feet, Maybe

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is about a year away from publishing their next Climate Synthesis Report. IPCC report drafts are about halfway through their 2 year review process.  Tasty tidbits have become cannon fodder for the press.  Gloom and doom is everywhere.  I have read articles in my local paper, the Huffington Post and the New York Times.

The IPCC is now more certain than ever that man made carbon dioxide is seriously impacting the climate.  Temperatures will rise and so will the sea level.   They are now, according to the leaked data, expecting sea level to be 3 feet higher than it is today in 21oo.     The recent cooler weather is being blamed on short term factors.

Hmmm…short term factors.   That’s a new concept for the IPCC.  It should be interesting reading.  The world has not been doing as the IPCC predicted and they appear to feel the need to explain themselves.  I suspect guessing.

Of course I like to guess too.  My favorite guess is visible air pollution.  And by that I don’t mean carbon dioxide, I mean smog.  Smog blocks the Suns radiation and cools the climate and it also makes the ice in the Arctic less white, making it melt faster.   And since smog is more prevalent in the Northern Hemisphere than in the Southern, it would help explain why the Antarctic has not been melting.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center states  the following:

Arctic sea ice extent maintained a steady, near-average pace of retreat through the first half of August, making it highly unlikely that a new record low minimum will be reached this year. Nevertheless, there are extensive areas of low concentration ice, even in regions close to the North Pole, atmospheric pressure and temperature patterns this summer have differed markedly from those experienced in 2012; cooler than average conditions have prevailed over much of the Arctic Ocean. By contrast, Antarctic sea ice is near a record maximum extent for mid-August.

ANTARCTIC SEA ICE IS NEAR A RECORD MAXIMUM.   A lot of that ice is going to have to melt.  Melting in the Antarctic and Greenland are necessary for sea level to rise.

A rising sea level is a problem and a 3 foot rise is a big problem.   Recent IPCC studies blame air pollution more and carbon dioxide less than does the 2007 IPCC Synopses Report.  The leaked information is preliminary because it must be reviewed.  That review includes a political scrubbing.   And since the IPCC is a very political place I suspect air pollution will once again be ignored.

Air pollution, and soot in particular, is more of a problem in the developing world and less of a problem in the USA, so we know where the UN will come down on that issue.  Don’t we?

Obama Administration Energy Policy Missteps

Sometimes you can’t win for losing.   Or maybe it’s a case of no good deed goes unpunished.   Na….I think the guys advising Mr. Obama all have the same view of the energy world.   And it’s a dream world that looks past renewable energy shortcomings and exaggerates the shortcomings of fossil fuels.   Their rose colored glasses have made it difficult for them to see clearly.

The Obama administration has made a total mess of their energy policy….but they have been trying.

The administration is full of global climate change true believers. They have used the EPA to wage war on coal.   This has driven the cost of coal down….which has made it the fuel of choice in the developing world.   China has vaulted to the top of the world pollution statistics in large part because they use cheap coal energy.

To combat the problem (if cheap energy can be considered a problem), the administration, as a part of a 2009 stimulus package, threw money at a variety of alternate energy initiatives.    In September of 2011, the whole thing began to unravel when Solyndra filed for bankruptcy, taking over 500 million in federal loan guarantees with it.

April 20th, 2010 — A few months after the administration began supporting deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, BP made a total mess of things when the Deepwater Horizon blew up.

Mr. Obama then overreacted to the disaster, and played a bit of politics. The subsequent mess set back deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico for years.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge probably has lots of oil under it.   And it’s pristine wilderness (as is most of Alaska).  Environmental groups have made drilling there politically impossible.  After years of study, the Administration has decided to allow drilling offshore near there in the Beaufort Sea.

There likely is lots of oil in the Beaufort Sea.   Shell has spent almost 5 billion dollars trying to figure out a good way to produce there.  2012 was not a good year for Shell.  Late summer ice in the Bering Sea, and a support ship arriving late virtually assured the fall drilling season would be a bust, but Shell tried.

When the abbreviated drilling season was over, things went from bad to worse when a tow line between a tug and the drill rig broke.  The rig drifted dangerously and was damaged when it became grounded.

The 2013 drill season was cancelled and the drill rig was sent to Asia for repairs.

ANWR is a safer and less expensive place to drill when compared to drilling in the Beaufort Sea.  Modern directional drilling virtually assures a very small footprint for the drilling operations at ANWR.  Oil field infrastructure is nearby at Deadhorse.  The Alaska Pipeline is running less than half full, and all the necessary transportation infrastructure alreadly exists at Valdez.

ANWR is the smart choice when choosing Alaska Arctic exploration.  The Administration tried to be a participant in the region while staying as far away from ANWR as possible.  So far, things haven’t worked well.

And then there was Keystone.   A few posts ago I detailed why the current policy relating to Keystone is flawed.   And then a runaway train accentuated my point.

If I were in the Obama administration, I’d be more than a bit demoralized.   Every attempt seems wrought with difficulties… and missteps seem to be standard operating procedure.

Oh, one more thought….Mr. Obama has been on the wrong side of the Natural Gas debate since he got elected.  Jobs, clean air, cheap energy, and good for the environment; natural gas is all of the above.   The administration is so preoccupied with “clean” energy that they missed the big clean fuel right in front of their noses.  Natural Gas.

400 years is young for a Glacier

Three posts ago I discussed some plants emerging from 400 year old glaciers in the Canadian Arctic.  I expressed surprise, how could the Canadian Arctic glaciers be so young?

As I thought about the subject it occurred to me that most people do not have the local perspective I have when discussing glaciers.  If you haven’t seen glaciers up close, perhaps it’s difficult to grasp how time and temperature impact these spectacular pieces of moving ice.

Alaskans live with stories of Glaciers.  When one suddenly advances or retreats…it makes the news.   My history of living with and exploring glaciers is relatively small for a 40 year Alaska resident.

I have walked on 3 glaciers (Worthington, Matanuska and Columbia).  I have made repeated visits to two well known glaciers near my home, Exit Glacier and Portage Glacier.  Both Exit Glacier and Portage Glacier have, I believe, aided me in my understanding of time….climatically.

Exit Glacier is in Kenai Fjords National Park near Seward.

The 12 mile drive from Seward includes an 8 mile section up a wide valley.  The last mile and  a half cuts across the valley, following a stream to the visitor center.  A sign at the visitor center (1961) lets you know where the glacier was some 52 years ago.

Inside the visitor center, you learn that some 10,000 years ago the Glacier filled the valley you just entered.  A valley over a mile wide and almost 7 miles long.  That’s a lot of melting.

Portage Glacier offers a similar lesson.

When I first visited Alaska, Portage Glacier was a fresh water marine glacier.  The lake that fronted the glacier ended at a parking lot near where the Portage Glacier Visitor Center sits today.   Large icebergs piled up  in the lake near the parking lot…and in the winter you could walk on the lake and get a good look at these mountains of ice that had broken off the glacier.   That was in 1972.

Today the glacier no longer sits in the lake and is no longer receding.  The lake made the glacier unstable which aided in it’s rapid recession as the following graphic demonstrates:

Much of this area was discovered by Captain Cook on his third voyage in 1778.  Anchorage sits along Cook Inlet that was named for the famous explorer.   Portage Glacier sits near the end of Turnagain Arm.  Captain Cook was looking for a northerly passage back to the Atlantic.  When he got to the end of the arm he had too turn again….or so the legend goes.

It is said, he could see Portage Glacier from his boat in Turnagain Arm.   The Portage Glacier Visitor Center is some 7 miles inland.  That glacier must have been much bigger then than it is today…or was in 1911 when it first became a fresh water marine glacier.

Both Exit Glacier and Portage Glacier have been receding for thousands of years.   The thought of a 400 year old glacier in the Canadian Arctic seemed odd to me.

I suppose the lesson learned must have something to do with regional climate variations in the Arctic.  Still I am a bit surprised that a glacier that formed in the Arctic only 400 years ago required 250 years of warming to melt!?

400 year old plants come to life in Canadian Arctic

I just finished an article in The Atlantic.  The article is titled Jurassic Park is Real…for 400 year old Arctic Mosses. Yeah, it’s a stupid title ..but just go with it.  It turns out that mosses that have been under glaciers for 400 years come back to life as the glacier melts.   This discovery surprised the scientists doing the research.  They did not expect the glaciers to melt so rapidly and they did not expect the plants to come back to life.

As I read the article I was fascinated by the way the conventional wisdom of the day was being changed by new information….science at work.

And then I got to thinking about climate change.  These plants were on glaciers way up north in Arctic Canada, very near the Arctic Ocean.

Just 400 years ago they were growing plants, that surprised me.  I would have guessed the glacier ice in that specific location to have been around for a longer span of time.   These plants were knocked off by the end of the little ice age.   Wow.   I wonder what it was like up their during the height of the medieval warming period around a 1000 years ago?

This region appears to be changed by fairly small changes in temperature….and it may actually be  trailing rather than a leading indicator of regional climate.    The plants were destroyed near the end a cooling period and it took 250 years of warming to rediscover them.  I suspect the whole Arctic ecosystem could be a trailing rather than a leading indicator.

World temperatures peaked in 1998.  Since then there has been a very slight cooling as this UAH worldwide temperature chart demonstrates.

Ice melting in the Arctic has continued to melt ever more rapidly as 2012 was a  record year with ice being the lowest in history; if you can call a data base that started in 1979 significant.

Small data base, lots of noted change, what does it all mean?   Beats me.   How can one really know.  One thing is certain, the changes the plants saw 400 years ago were a part of natural climate variation.

Each summer our local paper includes several Arctic warming articles full of global warming gloom and doom.  How can we be sure the change we are now seeing is man caused?   I suspect widespread SWAG. I remain convinced that  too many hawkish climate scientists underestimate the power of natural climate variation!

Temperature S.W.A.G.

I have lived most of my life in Hawaii and Alaska.  Talk about  extremes in temperature variation.  People in Hawaii watch the weather to get the surf report…and to get information on the occasional tropical storm.   Day to day, nobody cares.

When I lived there I once saw local TV newscaster Joe Moore fake the weather.  He searched his desk for the paperwork, admitted to not knowing where he had put it and then made up something like high of 87, low of 74 with light trade winds (an average day in summer).  Good call.

Right now, without even bothering to check for local conditions, I can get the high and the low for Honolulu to within 3 degrees F.  High of 80, low of 67.  And I’m 2600 miles away.  That forecast is good for today…and tomorrow…and the day after that.  The weather in the tropics changes very slowly.

Anchorage is another story.   Yesterday I drove from South Anchorage (at sea level) along Turnagain Arm toward Girdwood.  At about McHugh Creek State Park the temperature changed.  In about a minute it went from 23 degrees to 36 degrees.

In Fairbanks, temperatures within the city area regularly vary by 30 degrees F or more.   The hills around Fairbanks are warmer than the city.   Go up in altitude and warm up.  Fairbanks gets horrible temperature inversions every winter.   A drive from downtown up Farmers Loop Road (about 5 miles) nets the aforementioned 30 degree shift on just about any cold winter night.

Climate experts tell us the climate will change more in Polar regions than in more temperate zones.   The UN gives very specific predictions for climate.  They make predictions for 10 years from now, for 90 years from now and for 200 years from now.   How do they know?

As we venture from the equator toward the poles, two important statistical problems develop for temperature predictors.  1) The temperature variability increases and 2) the number of weather stations decreases.   Hmmm.

fluctuating data + few data points = wild ass guesses

 The University of Alaska recently conducted a climate study of Alaska showing cooling in the 2000 to 2010 period.  They used 20 reliable test sites for the whole state.   They need hundreds if they have any hope of being accurate.

Siberia and Northern Canada suffer similar problems….and the Arctic and Antarctic….well forget about it.   The Arctic Ocean averages about 10 working sites and those locations are not fixed, they drift with the ice.  Any ground based temperature data for either the Arctic or Antarctic must include more than a little wild ass guessing.

Perhaps a little perspective, here’s a graphic of the Arctic

Ten sites, all that space.  WOW.

That is why I like Satellite data.   That data includes guessing too, but it’s a different kind of guessing, making adjustments for Satellite drift and other indirect conversion problems.   The big problem with Satellite data, it is a very small data set.  Who knows what the data would have looked like 50 or 500 or 5000 years ago.    Let’s take a peek at the most recent Satellite data courtesy of the University of Alabama at Huntsville

Yep, the world’s a bit warmer than it was 34 years ago.  But it’s worth remembering that in 1974 Time Magazine ran a cover article predicting the next ice age based primarily on 30 years of cooling that began around 1940.  Sure it looks like the world has warmed about .3 degree C since 1979, but I wonder what the Satellite data would have shown had it existed in 1940.

Arctic Ice Statistics — Al Gore Style

Memory is a funny thing.  I’m glad I watched Mr. Gore’s film again before I  published a recent post.  I had remembered the film incorrectly and I was about to put up a post that would have been wrong…but I checked…and pulled the post. I was trusting my memory…and it was almost right.

I wish Al Gore was more careful.   His cavalier approach  is ever present is his discussion of the Arctic in An Inconvenient Truth. He shows slides and makes statements that are unsupported and sometimes factually wrong. Arctic engineering blunders are blamed on warming.  The Alaska Pipeline is being damaged by warming (news to me), which would be page one news in Alaska were it true.

He really shines when he talks about the Arctic ice pack.

He begins this section of his film by talking about Nuclear subs that patrol the Arctic.  We find out that Mr. Gore got to ride in the Arctic on one of these subs (its good to be VP).  We find out that these subs can surface in the Arctic but only where the ice is less than three and a half feet thick.  Because of this, they keep meticulous records of the ice. We learn that Mr. Gore went to the Arctic to get these records released, and after some serious arm twisting by Mr. Gore, the records were released.

We get to see data and the strangeness begins.

The data presented starts in 1900 and goes to 2005.  Nuclear subs, meticulous data in 1900?  The first Nuclear sub built in the world, the Nautilus, was completed in 1953 and made it’s first trip under the Arctic ice in 1958.  Any data before 1958 was not submarine data.

Let’s think about this a bit more.  The Arctic is one and a half times the size of the USA…and he is predicting ice by using sonar records from subs.   That record has to be spotty and intermittent.  The subs didn’t map the Arctic, they patrolled it.  This would be like driving I-70 across America and then predicting rain totals in San Diego using the I-70 data.

The shape of the record shown began dropping off in the 1970’s which also happens to be the time when Satellite mapping of the area began.  Call me crazy, but I suspect the data before the 1970’s was crap and I suspect submarines had very little to do with it.

The submarine story was interesting and entertaining…and he had good pictures too…but it had very little to do with the data being presented.  Mr. Gore is all about personalizing the story, setting an emotional hook, getting you to connect on an emotional level, and he likes to talk about himself.

And then things get really strange.

The title of the chart shown by Mr. Gore: Sea-ice extent has dropped by 1.5 million square km since 1970.  The chart shows the ice pack spent much of the 20th century between 13 and 14 million square kilometers.  And then Al Gore says the following….with the chart right behind him on the screen.

Starting in 1970, there was a precipitous drop off in the amount and extent and thickness of the Arctic ice cap. It has diminished by 40% in 40 years.

40% in 40 years.  Come on Al.  1.5/13.5 = 11%, not 40.   And it took 35 years not 40.  Data Al Gore chose to present says 11% in 35 years.  He prepared the slide…and probably titled it too.   My last post was about Arctic Ice, and showed a 2.6% decline per decade, which is consistent with the 11% number. And my data is easy to get, no trip to the Arctic on a sub needed.  What’s going on?

I have a theory.  Mr. Gore is a politician, not a scientist.  As a politician, he is tuned into sound bites and connecting with his audience.  40 percent in 40 years is catchy and sounds good too. And it’s easy to remember.  He used it because he liked the way is sounded.

All throughout the film Mr. Gore personalizes the story.  He did this, visited that, we get to see his slides. He clearly is emotionally attached to the subject and he’s trying to get you attached too.  He is a skilled and experienced politician, but he is not a scientist. Perhaps that is why he does and says things that don’t match his documentation…perhaps he simply isn’t paying attention.  I suspect he is more focused on engaging the audience than presenting factual information.