Pollack in NYTimes: Canary in the Ice

April 3, 2012

ClimateCrocks advisor Henry Pollack’s Letter in the NYTimes today:

Re “Weather Runs Hot and Cold, So Scientists Look to the Ice” (front page, March 29):

Nature’s best thermometer and most unambiguous indicator of climate change is ice. Ice asks no questions, presents no arguments, reads no newspapers, listens to no debates. It is not burdened by ideology and carries no political baggage as it crosses the threshold from solid to liquid. It just melts.

The continuing loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is indeed affecting the weather beyond the Arctic. The canary of climate change is crying out, and ever louder.

HENRY POLLACK
Ann Arbor, Mich., March 29, 2012

The writer, professor emeritus of geophysics at the University of Michigan, is the author of “A World Without Ice.” 

The metaphor of the canary in the coal mine is apt for threat of global climate change.

The question is, how many dead canaries do we need to find before someone gets the message?

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25 Responses to “Pollack in NYTimes: Canary in the Ice”


  1. OR RATHER…how many dead canaries before people stop believing the dead canaries are dying for anything anybody should be worried about?

    The ‘ice just melts’ sentences are pure rhetoric. Nobody checks how much ice has actually melted, it’s all a matter of running satellite data into this or that processing sequence.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      “Nobody checks how much ice has actually melted,”
      holy crap, that’s an unbelievably ignorant statement.

    • ahaveland Says:

      You know, I didn’t believe if possible for a human being to survive without a brain, until I read this. :(

    • MorinMoss Says:

      What does the NSIDC do?

    • Alteredstory Says:

      I’m sorry – I try to stay polite, but really? Are you REALLY that stupid?

      Hell, there’ve been several pieces on this very blog about measurement of ice melt, including people who spend months at a time on ice caps to monitor it, and people measuring flow rate in moulins, and movement rate of glaciers, and the navy’s ice thickness measurements for submarine surfacing purposes, and so on, and so on, and so on.

      You’re like the people who say that nobody actually knows if species are going extinct, simply because you don’t bother to look and see if it’s true. Myself and countless others have spent rather a lot of time monitoring populations around the world, only to have some puffed-up yahoo like you tell us that nobody does the work that we’re doing.

      It’s like you think that because YOU don’t do or know something, NOBODY does.

      Get over yourself.

      • MorinMoss Says:

        The Omnological One is merely trolling, as he’s wont to do.
        Don’t let him get under your skin; it seems to be how he gets off.


  2. Nobody checks the ice on a cube-by-cube basis…the graphs ARE processed data. The satellites actually measure “something”, then that “something” is translated into “sea ice concentration’ by computers on the ground.

    The “translation” means some stuff is unduly lost, and some stuff is unduly gained. You all will appreciate this journalistic piece on the topic:

    http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1956932,00.html

    This is basic stuff anybody that has done any science at a professional level should know very very, very well.

    ps I see the exhortation to a civil debate haven’t reached everybody (or anybody). Oh the bother.


    • “hasn’t” not “haven’t”

    • MorinMoss Says:

      Have you tried exhorting the good people at WUWT to keep the debate civil?
      Some of us have tried, with very poor results.

      Since the audience over there is much larger and arguably more influential, I hope you’re expending considerably more “bother” yonder.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      or, you could watch this video featuring Dr. Barber and his work

      or this one

      so what exactly here supports your point? You said “no one checks how much ice has actually melted.”
      Then you show us an article featuring David Barber, who actually has checked. In person. On the ice.
      Barber is showing us that the ice is worse off than we can reliably know. He learned that by actually going up and touching and observing it.


  3. Given the reactions, I surmise we all agree that the “canary in the coalmine” analogy has been long dead, perhaps before most of the canaries.

    • otter17 Says:

      No, I think that analogy still applies in a variety situations. I’m not sure where you get the idea that it is long dead.

      There is ample evidence to suggest that ice in various places throughout the world will continue to decline as temperatures rise due to increased CO2 concentrations. The evidence of declining ice now is a canary warning that the “coalmine” may experience changes that destabilize ecosystem services we have come to depend on.

      The IPCC concludes with high confidence that hydrological systems are already affected due to changes in glaciers and snow pack. Further changes are likely.

      http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/syr/en/spms1.html

      Arctic sea ice loss can cause changes in northern hemisphere seasonal weather/climate patterns. We have organized our farming around the existing patterns.

      http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2009/2009GL037274.shtml

      Rapid sea ice loss events may lead to a pretty substantial increase in the rate of permafrost outgassing of CH4, a greenhouse gas with a lifetime warming potential in excess of CO2. This can further exacerbate some of the potential problems already presented.

      http://www.colorado.edu/geography/class_homepages/geog_4271_f10/readings/week_10_lawrence_et_al_2008.pdf

      And finally, Figure 1 in this paper shows a graphic that puts the larger picture in perspective. Seeing the trend and the risks associated with such a large increase in global average temperatures over such a short geological time frame, we ought to be paying attention to these canaries such that the next generation has a climate similar to the one we have. Thus they are not forced to scramble to re-engineer food production, water services and other critical items.

      http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/TBA–LTonly.pdf

    • pendantry Says:

      Talking about the demise of dead canary analogies brings to mind the beautiful plumage of the legendary Norwegian Blue.

    • Martin Lack Says:

      On a more serious note, one should not forget that this canary in the coal mine analogy has been around since at least 2007, when it was used by NASA’s Jay Zwally, as quoted by Seth Borenstein in the New York Sun newspaper:
      “The Arctic is often cited as the canary in the coal mine for climate warming. Now, as a sign of climate warming, the canary has died. It is time to start getting out of the coal mines.” (12 December, 2007).

      Nothing that has happened since has invalidated Zwally’s analysis: On the contrary, melting rates have been shown to be accelerating (in some cases having doubled in since the turn of the millennium). Zwally’s final remark – which I take to indicate we should also stop mining coal (as opposed to just being part of the metaphor) – would also seem to be wise advice we are failing to act upon…

      Finally, there is of course the rhetorical question posed by the Skeptical Science website recently:
      “Why is that when satellites find over 500 billion tons of land ice melting worldwide every year, newspaper headlines focus on the supposedly-static situation in the Himalayas?”

      • omnologos Says:

        First reference to Arctic ice as canary in the coalmine appears in June 2005, according to Google.

        • MorinMoss Says:

          That reference predates Google by many years; as useful and ubiquitous as the Internet and the search engines may be, we did have knowledge and research before their advent.

          Attaching the label of “canary in a coal mine” to events was very popular after the hit song by The Police and for years afterwards.

        • Martin Lack Says:

          Thanks for the correction – humanity is clearly even more stubborn in its refusal to acknowledge reality than I thought. The Pentagon. however,would appear to have conceded defeat by 2010 at the latest.

          http://lackofenvironment.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/worlds-biggest-watermelon-found-in-washington-dc/

          • omnologos Says:

            And the CIA was waiting for the Boreal Climate in 1974. So what? There’s been a lot of cock-ups done by the militaries and intelligence agencies the world over, why abandon all judgement and consign our future to them now?

          • Martin Lack Says:

            Anyone waiting for the next Ice Age is going to be very disappointed.

            Anyone waiting for evidence of anthropogenic climate disruption must be have serious sensory disability because the evidence has been getting ever more harder to ignore for at least 30 years now.

            The supposed climate “alarmists” were never “crying wolf” but, even if they had been, the cynics appear to have overlooked the fact that the moral of the story is that unwarranted optimism and/or laissez-faire is deadly…

  4. otter17 Says:

    I guess since nobody has checked the increase in CO2 concentration on a molecule-by-molecule basis, we can put those silly measurements to rest as well? I guess error bars have no place in science or decisions based on science.


  5. Nobody checks how much ice has actually melted, it’s all a matter of running satellite data into this or that processing sequence.

    Stupid. Very Stupid.
    Step away from the keyboard. You have spread enough ignorance over the Internet today.
    Google is not your friend.

  6. omnologos Says:

    Peter: Barber is showing us that the ice is worse off than we can reliably know

    “reliably”…exactly! You’re confirming my point. Pollack’s attempt to single out ice (actually, summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean) as the one indicator that is out there for all to see, is just a rhetorical attempt.

    Like everything else we measure on a regional/continental/global basis, summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is ambiguous to say the least. For all we know, there could be a lot less than we think, and we’ll only recognize that much later if ever.

    otter17: I think that analogy still applies in a variety situations

    I am not saying it doesn’t. I am saying it is dead because nobody is listening. And nobody is listening because the analogy has been abused over and over.

    If one is in a coal mine and a canary dies, and nothing happens, and then another canary goes, and still nothing happens, and then another canary dies, and so on and so forth, one should be forgiven to think there’s something wrong with the canaries rather than with the coal mine. There is some truth in the “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” fable.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      don’t spin an in-artfully formed sentence into a fig leaf for your nonsense.
      Barber shows us that the closer you look the worse it gets.


  7. What is happening to walruses is very sad.
    I wish I knew the rate of there demise as well as other species.

    The Arctic Ice Melt Off is a great topic.
    It is both recent (last 5 years) and massive in size , I appreciate any and all info relating to it.

    I like declaring to people that global warming is NOT a THEORY it’s an observation, and that predictions are Under-Estimating the real changes.
    Things in the arctic are much worse then the IPCC predicted. The Artic ice floats in the water so we do not see sea level rises, but when Greenland and the Ant-Arctic melt off things will be worse.


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