By Tim Ball and Tom Harris
With all the coverage of Arctic sea ice melt, few people noticed that records were also just set at the South Pole where 90 per cent of Earth’s ice is found.
Those records are opposite to what we are seeing in the North, however. The greatest extent of sea ice ever recorded in the waters around Antarctica, and the lowest temperatures and the strongest winds ever recorded at the South Pole.
NASA reports that the record was broken for the earliest in the year that the temperature has dropped below -73.3 C in Antarctica.
With increased cold and changed circulation patterns, winds blowing away from the South Pole have strengthened pushing sea ice further out into the Southern Ocean.
It was also strong winds, not higher temperature, that caused this year’s Arctic sea ice to break up and melt slightly more than in 2007 when it was warmer in the region.
As Antarctic glaciers grow, we have also seen increased iceberg activity in the region. Contrary to the implications in Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth, were it primarily warming at the South Pole, we would see fewer icebergs, not more. The number and size of icebergs calving from glaciers do not increase with warming despite what Greenpeace says either.
The David Suzuki Foundation and others get it wrong also when they speak of “glacial retreat.” Glaciers never retreat. They are always advancing. They only appear to retreat when the leading edge melts faster than the ice advances.
Snowfall at the top of the glacier, not temperature, is the primary determinant of the size and mass of glaciers and Antarctica has seen an increase in the last several years, especially in the Antarctic Peninsula. This results in increased outflow that pushes the shelf ice further off the coast where it’s more subject to tides and waves causing pieces to break off more easily. This results in icebergs that alarmists cite as evidence of a melting ice cap due to “global warming”.
But warming obviously decreases the number of icebergs since the glacial outflow is reduced and the snout of the glaciers stops advancing.
The focus on temperature in Antarctica is particularly inappropriate since the average continental temperature is -20 C.
The misunderstanding about icebergs, glaciers and melting ice caps is mostly due to the United Nations’ obsession with warming and greenhouse gases.
This fear of possible future catastrophe has been a serious distraction away from rational thinking about climate.
One of the main problems centres on the inadequacy of precipitation records and understanding. For example, the August 2006 paper ‘Waiting for the Monsoon’ in the journal Science commented, concerning the Sahel region of Africa:
“Some models predict a wetter future; others, a drier one. They cannot all be right.”
The Science paper authors pointed out that, while Africa had a network of 1,152 weather watch stations that provide real-time data to the international archives, this is just “one-eighth the minimum density recommended by the World Meteorological Organization. Furthermore, the stations that do exist often fail to report.”
The same issue with precipitation records exists across the world, especially in polar regions. This is a serious problem in understanding many natural phenomena since precipitation is almost always more important to climate than temperature.
With the cold September in San Francisco and Alaska, and the early snows across the Midwest, Gore, Suzuki and Greenpeace must cool down the warming rhetoric or risk looking ridiculous.
Shrinking and expanding glaciers and icecaps are normal. We can’t stop it, so we must focus on preparing for and adapting to whatever nature has in store for us.
Tim Ball is a Victoria-based climatologist. Tom Harris is executive director of the International Climate Science Coalition.