Claim that recent Arctic ice growth debunks climate change

The right wing press is filled with bogus articles which claim to debunk the science of climate change. The articles use cherry picking of data and rely on the ignorance of their readers to make arguments that were debunked years ago in the scientific community. Climate change is complex and not always easy to understand even for the scientists, so it is very easy to convince someone who has little knowledge of the subject with specious arguments and selected data which only shows part of the picture.

The recent article ‘Arctic Ice Too Thick for “Global Warming” Expedition‘ by Russ Helper is a classic example of cherry picking data and not looking at the picture as a whole over a long period of time. Yes, there was an increase in Arctic sea ice area in 2013 and 2014, but 2015 has seen a rapid melting of the ice recently gained because it is not thick, multi-year ice that was added. Part of what is happening is that a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, so the atmosphere now holds 5% more water vapor than it did in the 1970s. This has caused snowfall to increase in the Arctic region, so a lot of thin ice gets formed in the winter, but it is melted more quickly in the summer. The Arctic sea ice area has decreased 40% since 1978, and the recent ice growth in 2013 and 2014 appears to be an anomaly which does not alter the long-term trend.

If we look at Arctic sea ice volume, the situation has gotten worse, since the average thickness of the Arctic sea ice in November has fallen from 2 meters to 1 meter thick. There has been a 70% reduction in arctic sea ice volume since 1978. The GRACE gravimetric satellites show a rapid decline in ice volume in recent years in the Arctic sea, Greenland and Antarctica.

Another bit of misinformation in the article is Monckton’s claim that global warming has stopped since December 1996. He is probably using the satellite data from the University of Alabama at Huntsville to make this claim, but satellite data is the least reliable temperature record with calibration problems and orbital decay problems. If we look at more reliable data from NOAA, NASA GISS and the Hadley Center, they show that the average global surface temperature (AGST) was still rising at the end of the 1990s. Since the year 2000, the AGST has risen only slightly, however, the atmosphere only absorbs 2.3% of excess heat. 93.4% of excess heat is absorbed by the ocean and the cryosphere absorbs 2.1%. The Argo float studies show that global average ocean temperatures have continued to rise since 2000 and the GRACE gravimetric satellites show that global ice melt has risen sharply. In other words, the planet is continuing to heat up.

The reason why we haven’t seen much increase in AGST since 2000 is the fact that trade winds have increased, which buries more heat in the ocean and we have mostly had la Niña, which is the phase where the Pacific ocean absorbs heat, rather than el Niño where it emits heat into the atmosphere. Another factor has been the increased burning of coal in places like China and India since 2000, which emits sulfur dioxide and blocks more sunlight. If we suddenly removed all the black carbon from the atmosphere which comes from burning fossil fuels, James Hansen et al. calculate that AGST would increase 0.5C. Another factor is that we have been at a solar minimum for most of the last 15 years and that we have had more low-level, constant volcanic emissions since 2000 which also block sunlight.

The problem is that the planet is continuing to store up heat and eventually that heat will be emitted to the atmosphere, so we are just delaying more global warming. Basically we have experienced 0.85C of global warming since 1880, but most scientists think that we have already emitted enough greenhouse gases to cause another 0.6 – 0.8C of warming in the long run. The last time the world was at 400ppm of CO2 like today was in the late Pliocene 3 million years ago when the world was 2-3C warmer than today and the sea level was 22 meters higher than today. Nobody is sure how long it will take for the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets to melt, but eventually they will loose enough ice to flood most coastal cities on the planet, such as Miami, New York, Boston, London, Shanghai and San Francisco, and displace millions of people worldwide. Our only hope is to figure out how to reabsorb CO2 from the atmosphere using techniques such as biochar and reforestation to get back to 350ppm of CO2 where the ice sheets can be stabilized.

Unfortunately we have groups like the Koch brothers and Exxon that are willing to spend millions of dollars on misinformation campaigns so most Americans don’t realize that there is a scientific consensus on this subject. 140 foundations funneled $558 million to almost 100 climate denial organizations from 2003 to 2010.

97.1% of peer-reviewed scientific papers published between 1991 and 2012 on the topic of “global warming” and “global climate change” which are listed in the Web of Science concluded that climate change is occurring and it is anthropogenic. If you look at all the other alternative theories for why global warming has been occurring (increased solar irradiation, sun spots, cosmic rays, volcanoes, etc.), none of them hold up empirically. The only explanation which matches the data is increased anthropogenic greenhouse gases.


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