More on the “Antarctic Ice is Growing” Nonsense

September 20, 2012


Distracting from the news that Arctic sea-ice extent reached a record low on Sept.16 is a widely circulating blog article claiming that at the opposite end of the Earth, Antarctic sea ice is more than making up for the losses.

In the post, climate change skeptic and blogger Steven Goddard states that Antarctic sea ice reached its highest level ever recorded for the 256th day of the calendar year on Sept. 12. He reasons that the Southern Hemisphere must be balancing the warming of the Northern Hemisphere by becoming colder (and thus, net global warming is zero).

The National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC), which tracks sea ice using satellite data, explains on its website why Antarctic ice has weathered global warming more robustly than Arctic ice. Goddard dismisses the explanation, concluding instead, “Antarctic and Arctic ice move opposite each other. NSIDC’s dissonance about this is astonishing.”

Despite its lack of scientific support, Goddard’s post has garnered attention around the Web. In a column about the record high Antarctic sea ice, skeptic James Taylor writes, “Please, nobody tell the mainstream media or they might have to retract some stories and admit they are misrepresenting scientific data.”

But if anyone had asked an actual scientist, they would have learned that a good year for sea ice in the Antarctic in no way nullifies the precipitous drop in Arctic sea-ice levels year after year — or the mounds of other evidence indicating global warming is really happening.

“Antarctic sea ice hasn’t seen these big reductions we’ve seen in the Arctic. This is not a surprise to us,” said climate scientist Mark Serreze, director of the NSIDC. “Some of the skeptics say ‘Well, everything is OK because the big changes in the Arctic are essentially balanced by what’s happening in the Antarctic.’ This is simply not true.” [Former Global Warming Skeptic Makes a ‘Total Turnaround’]

Projections made from climate models all predict that global warming should impact Arctic sea ice first and most intensely, Serreze said. “We have known for many years that as the Earth started to warm up, the effects would be seen first in the Arctic and not the Antarctic. The physical geography of the two hemispheres is very different. Largely as a result of that, they behave very differently.”

The Arctic, an ocean surrounded by land, responds much more directly to changes in air and sea-surface temperatures than Antarctica, Serreze explained. The climate of Antarctica, land surrounded by ocean, is governed much more by wind and ocean currents. Some studies indicate climate change has strengthened westerly winds in the Southern Hemisphere, and because wind has a cooling effect, scientists say this partly accounts for the marginal increase in sea ice levels that have been observed in the Antarctic in recent decades.

“Another reason why the sea-ice extent in the Antarctic is remaining fairly high is, interestingly, the ozone hole,” Serreze told Life’s Little Mysteries. This hole was carved out over time by chlorofluorocarbons, toxic chemicals formerly that were used in air conditioners and solvents before being banned. “The ozone hole affects the circulation of the atmosphere down there. Because of the ozone hole, the stratosphere above Antarctica is quite cold. Ozone in the stratosphere absorbs UV light, and less absorption [by] ozone makes the stratosphere really cold. This cold air propagates down to the surface by influencing the atmospheric circulation in the Antarctic, and that keeps the sea ice extensive.”

Mark Serreze – NSIDC

But these effects are very small, and Antarctic sea-ice levels have increased only marginally. In the coming decades, climate models suggest rising global temperatures will overwhelm the other influences and cause Antarctic sea ice to scale back, too.

The extent of Arctic sea ice at its summertime low point has dropped 40 percent in the past three decades. The idea that a tiny Antarctic ice expansion makes up for this — that heat is merely shifting from the the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern and therefore global warming must not be happening — is “just nonsense,” Serreze said.

16 Responses to “More on the “Antarctic Ice is Growing” Nonsense”

  1. mrsircharles Says:

    I don’t know where the hoax that Antarctic ice would grow is coming from. The ice mass there is shrinking almost exponentially.

  2. skeptictmac57 Says:

    Heartland mentality response:

    “Clearly the hippie’s who crammed CFC regulations down our throats in an ill-advised campaign to not destroy the ozone layer,are responsible for the record melting in the Arctic!!!”

    Watch for it…

  3. Why is Live Science even stooping to the level of responding to Goddard and Taylor? They’re idiots who only the most rabid of climate deniers pay any attention to.

  4. […] LiveScience: Distracting from the news that Arctic sea-ice extent reached a record low on Sept.16 is a widely circulating blog article claiming that at the opposite end of the Earth, Antarctic sea …  […]

  5. Martin Lack Says:

    What scientifically-illiterate fools like Jo Nova will never do, it seems, is think laterally. There are two main reasons the Antarctic is not melting as fast as the Arctic:
    1. It is surrounded by the Great Southern Ocean – which keeps the whole of the southern hemisphere cooler than equivalent locations in the north.
    2. It is being kept colder than it would otherwise be as a result of the hole in the ozone layer (which is only disappearing very slowly after the phase-out of CFC’s over 20 years ago).

    Despite all this, large parts of the Antarctic are warming up (the Peninsula and the WAIS in particular), so there is absolutley no excuse (other than scientific illiteracy, lunacy and/or confirmation bias) for either complacency or sarcasm.

  6. The “Antarctic ice cap is growing” meme comes from a study a few years ago that showed that average precipitation had risen from 1.8mm per year to 2.1mm per year. I’m trying to find the paper just now.
    Regarding the phased removal of CFCs – this is still ongoing. CFCs are still a problem and will remain so for several decades – hence the ozone holes in both hemispheres continue to be a problem. CFCs is a good subject to bring up when deniers complain that such CO2 in concentrations of parts per billion can’t possibly affect the climate, because CFCs are measured in parts per trillion and their effects are well known and accepted by all.

  7. omnologos Says:

    Gosh! Is that a picture of Serreze, or of Goddard?

  8. kanspaugh Says:

    Columnist in today’s Wall Street Journal begins by pooh-poohing those climate “alarmists” having hissy-fits about the loss of arctic ice (after all, the arctic has been ice-free before) and ends questioning why, if warming is really global, ice is in Antarctic is growing.

  9. daveburton Says:

    Regarding Freon:

    It is not true that “chlorofluorocarbons [are] toxic chemicals formerly that were used in air conditioners and solvents before being banned.” The banned Freons (CFCs) are non-toxic. In fact, Freon is so non-toxic that it was very widely used as propellants in aerosol cans. In fact, the biggest problem with CFCs is that they’re so inert (i.e., non-toxic!) that they last a very long time, and thus catalyze the conversion of ozone to O2 for a very long time.

    Regarding sea-ice:

    Sea ice surrounding Antarctica is up, but not by as much as sea-ice in the Arctic is down, since 1979. The net sum is a slight decline in global sea-ice extent, but certainly not enough to lose sleep over. Here’s a graph.

    It is even less worrisome when you consider that:

    1. This year’s unusually low Arctic sea-ice minimum was caused, in part, by an unusual August storm. Because Arctic sea ice isn’t anchored to a continent, it blows around, and is much more affected by factors unrelated to climate than is sea ice around Antarctica; and,

    2. Sea ice surrounding Antarctica is not only a better climate indicator, it’s also more important, as an albedo-based feedback mechanism, because it’s at a less extreme latitude.

    3. The slight decrease in global sea-ice extent since 1979 would seem even less worrisome if the increasing sea-ice trend of the early and mid-1970s, recorded by Nimbus-5, weren’t excluded from the graphs.

    Regarding mrsircharles:

    We were talking about about sea ice, Charles, which is the floating stuff, not the stuff in the ice sheets. (And estimates of Antarctic ice gain/loss vary considerably.)

  10. […] kind of arguments.  You can read the actual baloney elsewhere, but here are two antidotes from Climate Crocks and Climate Central.  Seth Borenstein’s Associated Press piece also explains the […]

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