New Video: Antarctic versus Arctic Ice – Apples and Oranges

November 8, 2012

This is the latest video I’ve produced for the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media.

The template for climate-skeptic responses to bad weather and climate news, like, well, what we’ve seen recently in the northeast, is to quickly trot out some plausible sounding “experts” on Fox News and talk radio, to give plausible sounding boilerplate explanations for whatever is latest in what’s become, for the last 3 or 4 years, a steady parade of extreme weather, unseasonal oddities, and geophysical black swans.

As scientists further investigate the unlikely confluence of forces that came together to produce Superstorm Sandy, a prime area of interest will be the effects of vast expanses of relatively warm Arctic Ocean water that have in recent years been uncovered by disappearing polar sea ice.  Last spring, I reported here on my conversations with scientists like Dr Jennifer Francis, whose recent work has focused on the effects of arctic warmth on the jet stream.  In a September interview, Dr. Francis, noting this year’s spectacular collapse in arctic sea ice, looked forward to an “interesting” fall and winter.  And so it has been.

But for climate skeptics, the go-to talking point in discussions of arctic sea ice has for several years been, “but sea ice around Antarctica, in the south, is growing”, implying that the whole thing is a wash, the planet’s net energy balance is stable, and “alarmists” are cherry picking the arctic numbers to distort the picture.

The most reliable graph of global sea ice, used by just about everyone, is easily available at the University of Illinois Cryosphere Today site, and makes it clear that for the last several decades, the general trend of global sea ice is down.  To further confirm that, I talked to Dr. Claire Parkinson, of the Goddard Space Flight Center, and Dr. Marilyn Raphael, an Antarctic sea ice expert at UCLA.

The video is a quick, informative 7 minutes, and I hope, worth your time – but, spoiler alert, here’s the cliff notes synopsis:

Q. Bottom line. Is there more or less sea ice globally, now, than there was 30 years ago?

Dr. Parkinson: There is less sea ice globally now than there was 30 years ago.


15 Responses to “New Video: Antarctic versus Arctic Ice – Apples and Oranges”

  1. Reblogged this on Mass Climate Action Network (MCAN) and commented:
    Here’s a quick and dirty video from the great folks at, one of the best denier debunking site on the web.

    Next time someone starts talking about expanding Antarctic ice coverage here’s your response.

  2. NevenA Says:

    Excellent explanation, Peter! Invaluable!

  3. rayduray Says:


    One of the concerns about the Antarctic sea ice pack is its impact on krill. Studies have had dire things to say about the decline in krill biomass in the Southern Ocean since the 1960s.

    A question for you or anyone:

    Will the large extent of sea ice this year have a palliative effect on this matter?

  4. jpgreenword Says:

    All these scientists and their facts, figures and data!
    Seriously, that was a great (and easily understood) explanation of the Arctic/Antarctic situation. Thank you.

  5. sailrick Says:

    It would be nice to have numbers for sea ice volume for Antarctica, like there is for the Arctic -(PIOMAS).

  6. I think there is a problem at 5:30, which I understood as:
    …the winds have increased because of an increased temperature gradient between the equator and the pole due to global warming…

    But: Greenhouse warming should cause poles to warm faster than tropics – it’s one of the fingerprints of greenhouse warming, which distinguishes it from solar or albedo warming.

    I think the Ozone explanation is correct however.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      see this post and video in regard to the arctic/jet stream situation –

      there are a number of studies showing that, as more areas of
      open, relatively warm water appear in the north, the temp differential
      between the northern temperate latitudes and the northern polar regions
      is declining, leading to a weaker, more meandering jet stream.

      In the south, you have a different situation in that, instead of a thin crust of
      ice over a warming ocean – you still have a gigantic pile of very, very cold ice, that
      is going to take a long time to go away.
      In contrast to that ice pile, the southern mid-latitudes are warming, and the temp
      contrast is increasing – the temp differential drives the winds around the pole, and
      in the south, they are increasing.
      The increasing winds are tending to pull the southern sea ice edges north in some
      areas, causing a marginal increase in southern sea ice – much smaller than the loss in the north, but still measurable.
      This is the message as I understand it.
      see more here

  7. Cornelius Breadbasket Says:

    Brilliant video – THANK YOU!

  8. Cornelius Breadbasket Says:

    One thing I’d like to ask – if the sea ice extent is growing in Antarctica because of winds – is the volume growing, shrinking or staying the same?

    • greenman3610 Says:

      we don’t have as good an understanding of antarctic volume as we do of the arctic. everything is sketchier in the antarctic, since it is so remote.
      that is an area of research.

  9. donaldbroatch Says:

    The film makes it sound as if information about the Arctic goes from the satellite record to the proxy record, but isn’t there actually a century of observational records before the satellite record? Might be worth mentioning.

  10. […] Hier nog wat linkjes over de onzinnige discussie waarin het record van de ijsomvang op Antarctica afgezet wordt tegen de het record minumum van de noordpool. En een alleraardigst filmpje over wat er […]

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