Blinded by Antarctica Reports

Special snow goggles for protection in polar landscapes.

Someone triggered Antarctica for this week’s media alarm blitz.

Antarctic ice loss increases to 200 billion tonnes a year – Climate Action

Antarctica is now melting three times faster than ever before – Euronews

Antarctica is shedding ice at an accelerating rate – Digital Journal

Al Gore Sounds the Alarm on 0.3 inches of Sea Level Rise from Ice Sheets– Daily Caller

Antarctica is losing an insane amount of ice. Nothing about this is good. – Fox News
Looks like it’s time yet again to play Climate Whack-A-Mole.  That means stepping back to get some perspective on the reports and the interpretations applied by those invested in alarmism.

Antarctic Basics

The Antarctic Ice Sheet extends almost 14 million square kilometers (5.4 million square miles), roughly the area of the contiguous United States and Mexico combined. The Antarctic Ice Sheet contains 30 million cubic kilometers (7.2 million cubic miles) of ice. (Source: NSIDC: Quick Facts Ice Sheets)

The Antarctic Ice Sheet covers an area larger than the U.S. and Mexico combined. This photo shows Mt. Erebus rising above the ice-covered continent. Credit: Ted Scambos & Rob Bauer, NSIDC

The study of ice sheet mass balance underwent two major advances, one during the early 1990s, and again early in the 2000s. At the beginning of the 1990s, scientists were unsure of the sign (positive or negative) of the mass balance of Greenland or Antarctica, and knew only that it could not be changing rapidly relative to the size of the ice sheet.

Advances in glacier ice flow mapping using repeat satellite images, and later using interferometric synthetic aperture radar SAR methods, facilitated the mass budget approach, although this still requires an estimate of snow input and a cross-section of the glacier as it flows out from the continent and becomes floating ice. Satellite radar altimetry mapping and change detection, developed in the early to mid-1990s allowed the research community to finally extract reliable quantitative information regarding the overall growth or reduction of the volume of the ice sheets.

By 2002, publications were able to report that both large ice sheets were losing mass (Rignot and Thomas 2002). Then in 2003 the launch of two new satellites, ICESat and GRACE, led to vast improvements in one of the methods for mass balance determination, volume change, and introduced the ability to conduct gravimetric measurements of ice sheet mass over time. The gravimetric method helped to resolve remaining questions about how and where the ice sheets were losing mass. With this third method, and with continued evolution of mass budget and geodetic methods it was shown that the ice sheets were in fact losing mass at an accelerating rate by the end of the 2000s (Veliconga 2009, Rignot et al. 2011b).

Contradictory Findings

NASA Study: Mass Gains of Antarctic Ice Sheet Greater than Losses

A new 2015 NASA study says that an increase in Antarctic snow accumulation that began 10,000 years ago is currently adding enough ice to the continent to outweigh the increased losses from its thinning glaciers.

The research challenges the conclusions of other studies, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2013 report, which says that Antarctica is overall losing land ice.

According to the new analysis of satellite data, the Antarctic ice sheet showed a net gain of 112 billion tons of ice a year from 1992 to 2001. That net gain slowed to 82 billion tons of ice per year between 2003 and 2008.

“We’re essentially in agreement with other studies that show an increase in ice discharge in the Antarctic Peninsula and the Thwaites and Pine Island region of West Antarctica,” said Jay Zwally, a glaciologist with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study, which was published on Oct. 30 in the Journal of Glaciology. “Our main disagreement is for East Antarctica and the interior of West Antarctica – there, we see an ice gain that exceeds the losses in the other areas.” Zwally added that his team “measured small height changes over large areas, as well as the large changes observed over smaller areas.”

Scientists calculate how much the ice sheet is growing or shrinking from the changes in surface height that are measured by the satellite altimeters. In locations where the amount of new snowfall accumulating on an ice sheet is not equal to the ice flow downward and outward to the ocean, the surface height changes and the ice-sheet mass grows or shrinks.

Snow covering Antarctic peninsula.

Keeping Things in Perspective

Such reports often include scary graphs like this one and the reader is usually provided no frame of reference or context to interpret the image. First, the chart is showing cumulative loss of mass arising from an average rate of 100 Gt lost per year since 2002. Many years had gains, including 2002, and the cumulative loss went below zero only in 2006.  Also, various methods of measuring and analyzing give different results, as indicated by the earlier section.

Most important is understanding the fluxes in proportion to the Antarctic Ice Sheet.  Let’s do the math.  Above it was stated Antarctica contains ~30 million cubic kilometers of ice volume.  One km3 of water is 1 billion cubic meters and weighs 1 billion tonnes, or 1 gigatonne.  So Antarctica has about 30,000,000 gigatonnes of ice.  Since ice is slightly less dense than water, the total should be adjusted by 0.92 for an estimate of 27.6 M Gts of ice comprising the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

So in the recent decade, an average year went from 27,600,100 Gt to 27,600,000, according to one analysis.  Other studies range from losing 200 Gt/yr to gaining 100 Gt/yr.

Even if Antarctica lost 200 Gt/yr. for the next 1000 years, it would only approach 1% of the ice sheet.

If like Al Gore you are concerned about sea level rise, that calculation starts with the ocean area estimated to be 3.618 x 10^8 km2 (361,800,000 km2). To raise that area 1 mm requires 3.618×10^2 km3 or 361.8 km3 water (1 km3 water=1 Gt.) So 200 Gt./yr is about 0.55mm/yr or 6 mm a decade, or 6 cm/century.

By all means let’s pay attention to things changing in our world, but let’s also notice the scale of the reality and not make mountains out of molehills.

Let’s also respect the scientists who study glaciers and their subtle movements over time (“glacial pace”).  Below is an amazing video showing the challenges and the beauty of working on Greenland Glacier.

From Ice Alive: Uncovering the secrets of Earth’s Ice

For more on the Joys of Playing Climate Whack-A-Mole 

Zombie Melting Glacier Hype (again)

2035807-robert-frost-quote-some-say-the-world-will-end-in-fire-some-say-inAs we’ve seen many times before, this week Climate Crisis Central put out a scary story about glaciers melting, and captive news outlets dutifully amplified the narrative.  For example, from my news aggregator:

Global satellite data shows how much every glacier on Earth is melting Metro.co.uk

Researchers claim glacier melting has accelerated all around the world Slashgear

Our disappearing glaciers / World will lose 10% of glacier ice even if it hits climate targets The Guardian

A Massive Study of Nearly Every Glacier on Earth Just Revealed a Devastating Trend ScienceAlert

Glacier melt is speeding up, raising seas – study RTE

Global glacier melt is speeding up Swiss Info

Study of nearly every glacier on Earth shows ice loss is speeding up Live Science

Climate change: Accelerated global glacier mass loss in the twenty-first century(Nature) Nature Asia

Glacier melt is speeding up, raising seas: global study France 24

Expert reaction to study looking at global glacier mass loss in the 21st century Science Media Centre

Global glacier retreat has accelerated ETH Zurich

Glacier retreat leading to ‘humanitarian crisis’, says top scientist The Independent

World’s Glaciers Melting Faster Than Ever, With Alaska’s Rate Among ‘Highest on the Planet’ NBC Connecticut

Etc., Etc., Etc.

Yes glaciers individually and seasonally advance and retreat over time, and many people depend on the meltwater to survive. The hype is deceptive in several aspects. Typically, present glacier extents are put into hysterical rather than historical context. Also, the amounts of ice lost are never referenced to the total existing ice mass observed over time. Finally, the attribution of local temperature trends to fossil fuels emissions is presumed without evidence of causation. Some examples of sound scientific analyses provide an antidote to the glaciermania.

Alpine Glaciers Wax and Wane, Don’t Panic

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Prof. em. Christian Schlüchter is a geologist and has studied the glaciers of the Alps in great detail. He reports the findings of very old timber in and below glaciers and what those trees taught him about the glacial epochs of the Alps.  One of the most intuitive finds of Schlüchter’s is this huge tree trunk, found at a glacier tongue (see the most beautiful glacier snout behind!).

schluechterbaum

This place nowadays is clearly above the limit of vegetation and still there is this tree which attracted Schlüchter’s curiosity and fuelled his research: How old is it? Where and under what conditions has it grown and why is it here.

The key message from his slides is that all of these records were left in times when the alpine glacier extent was smaller than in 2005.

Warm periods: more life

The timberline was at least 300 meters higher which indicates a minimum of 1.8° C higher temperatures. An example of this gives Hannibal, who managed to cross the Alps with elephants because the higher regions were much less covered by ice than in recent centuries.

Warm periods: more civilization

As his summary, Schlüchter gave the following facts:

  • More than 50% of the last 11000 years alpine glaciers were smaller than 2005
  • This fact he baptized, “dominance of the Hannibalistic world”
  • Alpine glaciers have shown huge dynamics
  • Events of glacier growth were fast and short
  • The little ice age (from the end of the medieval warm period to about 1850) was the longest glacier extension since the last ice age 12000 years ago
  • Every warming followed an accelerated glacier growth

And more recent news Alpine glaciers are not going away:  Alps Winter Warming “Not Significant”…”Astonishing Contrast Between Official Measurements And Public Opinion”

Austrian researcher skeptic Günther Aigner examined 12 mountains stations across the Alps, spanning Switzerland, Germany and Austria, in order to find out how winter temperatures have developed over the past 50 years.  The temperature data from 12 mountain stations in the European Alps show no winter warming in over 30 years, contradicting alarmist claims.

For more on presentations at the 2019 Munich Climate Realism conference that was interrupted by Antifa thugs see post Munich Climate Conference 2019

Alaska Great for Picking Cherries

Alaska 2019 and 2020

Background from 2017 post Glaciermania

The Weather Network (who do a decent job on local weather forecasting) are currently raving about Glaciers:

You know climate change is getting serious when rivers are resorting to piracy.

Canadian geomorphologist Dr. Daniel Shugar and his team headed to the Yukon last year to study changes in the flow of the Slims River, only to find out the river was gone.

The Slims, which was fed by the Kaskawulsh glacier, has become the victim of the first case of what’s known as river piracy in modern recorded history.

The team’s investigation soon turned up the culprit – the retreat of the Kaskawulsh Glacier, which has been retreating thanks to more than a century of climate warming.

What Actually Happened

web_0416-nw-na-climatemap

For context and scientific perspective we can turn to papers like this one:  Contemporary Glacier Processes and Global Change: Recent Observations from Kaskawulsh Glacier and the Donjek Range, St. Elias Mountains 

One of the most iconic and best studied outlet glaciers of the St. Elias Mountains, Kaskawulsh Glacier was the focus of much glaciological research during the Icefield Ranges Research Project between the 1960s and early 1970s  and contemporary studies suggest that the glacier is temperate throughout. The current area of Kaskawulsh Glacier is ~1095 km2. Ice thicknesses range from 539 m near the topographic divide with the upper Hubbard Glacier and ~500 m at the confluence of the north and central arms at ~1750 m asl to 778 m at ~1600 m asl. The equilibrium line altitude is estimated from 2007 late summer satellite imagery as 1958 m asl, and it appears to have changed little since the 1970s.

The size of Kaskawulsh Glacier has varied considerably through time, with radiocarbon dating suggesting that it expanded by tens of kilometres into the Shakwak Valley (currently occupied by Kluane Lake) ~30 kya during the Wisconsinan Glaciation. In the historical past, Borns and Goldthwait (1966) mapped three sets of Little Ice Age moraines in the glacier forefield on the basis of distinctive variations in vegetation cover, morphology, and the ages of trees and shrubs.

Kaskawulsh Glacier was advancing by the early 1500s and reached its maximum recent position by approximately AD 1680. A recent study based on tree-ring dates suggests that the Slims River lobe reached its greatest Little Ice Age extent in the mid-1750s, whereas the Kaskawulsh River lobe reached its maximum extent around 1717. However, it appears that the glacier did not start retreating from this position until the early to middle 1800s. The recent discovery of a Geological Survey of Canada map of the glacier terminus from 1900 to 1904 indicates that the glacier was still in a forward position at that time, suggesting that most of the terminus retreat occurred in the 20th century.

Recent studies conducted by researchers at the University of Alaska and the University of Ottawa indicate that ice losses from Kaskawulsh Glacier have continued through the latter half of the 20th century and first decade of the 21st century, although evidence for any recent acceleration in loss rates is equivocal.

Of the 19 glacierized regions of the world outside of the ice sheets, the region including the St. Elias Mountains made the second highest glaciological contribution to global sea level during the period 1961 – 2000. Only Arctic Canada is expected to exceed this region in sea-level contribution over the 21st century.

The St. Elias Mountains exhibit high interannual variability in ice mass change, which is due in part to the abundance of surge-type and tidewater glaciers in different stages of their respective cycles. Ice dynamics can be a confounding influence when attempting to isolate the effects of climate as an external driver of glacier change. 

About the Two Gorilla Glaciers

World Land Ice Mass

A webpage What is the global volume of land ice and how is it changing? at Antarctic Glaciers.org provides some basic statistics for perspective on land ice.  They provide this table:

World ice table AG org

Notice what they’ve done with this graphic.  A different measure of ice volume hides the proportion of ice melt, covering up how myopic and lop-sided is the alarmist case.  Let’s look at the same table revised with comparable metrics.

World ice table in Gt

 

Now the realities are obvious  99% of the world land ice is on top of Antarctica (88%) and Greenland (11%).  All the fuss in the media above concerns fluctuations in less than 1% of glacier mass.  Secondly, the bottom line is should present melt rates continue ( a big if ) the world would lose 3% of land ice in 1000 years.  Note also the wide range of estimates of the smallest category of glaciers, and also the uncertain reported volume change for East Antarctica.  Note that the melt rates are for 2012 to 2016, leaving out lower previous rates and periods when ice mass gained.

Add to this a recent analysis NASA Surface Station Data Show East Antarctica NOT WARMING Past 4 Decades…Cooling Trend.  

See also Blinded by Antarctica Reports

As for Greenland ice sheet, read the recent research at post  Oh No! Greenland Melts in Virtual Reality “Experiments”.  Excerpts below:

The scare du jour is about Greenland Ice Sheet (GIS) and how it will melt out and flood us all.  It’s declared that GIS has passed its tipping point, and we are doomed.  Typical is the Phys.org hysteria: Sea level rise quickens as Greenland ice sheet sheds record amount:  “Greenland’s massive ice sheet saw a record net loss of 532 billion tonnes last year, raising red flags about accelerating sea level rise, according to new findings.”

gis-smb-2017-to-2020

Panic is warranted only if you treat this as proof of an alarmist narrative and ignore the facts and context in which natural variation occurs. For starters, consider the last four years of GIS fluctuations reported by DMI and summarized in the eight graphs above.  Note the noisy blue lines showing how the surface mass balance (SMB) changes its daily weight by 8 or 10 gigatonnes (Gt) around the baseline mean from 1981 to 2010.  Note also the summer decrease between May and August each year before recovering to match or exceed the mean.

The other four graphs show the accumulation of SMB for each of the last four years including 2020.  Tipping Point?  Note that in both 2017 and 2018, SMB ended about 500 Gt higher than the year began, and way higher than 2012, which added nothing.  Then came 2019 dropping below the mean, but still above 2012.  Lastly, this year is matching the 30-year average.  Note also that the charts do not integrate from previous years; i.e. each year starts at zero and shows the accumulation only for that year.  Thus the gains from 2017 and 2018 do not result in 2019 starting the year up 1000 Gt, but from zero.

Summary

So it is a familiar story. A complex naturally fluctuating situation, in this case glaciers, is abused by activists to claim support for their agenda. I have a lot of respect for glaciologists; it is a deep, complex subject, and the field work is incredibly challenging. And since “glacial” describes any process where any movement is imperceptible, I can understand their excitement over something happening all of a sudden.

But I do not applaud those pandering to the global warming/climate change crowd. They seem not to realize they debase their own field of study by making exaggerated claims and by “jumping the shark.”

Meanwhile real scientists are doing the heavy lifting and showing restraint and wisdom about the limitations of their knowledge.

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