Hot and cold

(Sept. 25, 2009) If a new Little Ice Age soon sets in, as many scientists believe, Arctic shipping will not happen in our lifetimes.

The Arctic ice “is melting far faster than had been previously supposed,” we heard this week from the UN’s Environment Program, in releasing its 2009 Climate Change Science Compendium.

This same week, National Geographic reported that the Arctic ice is probably melting far slower than previously supposed. After ramping up the rhetoric — two years ago National Geographic told us that “the Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice-free at the end of summer by 2012, much faster than previous predictions,” and last year that “Arctic warming has become so dramatic that the North Pole may melt this summer” — National Geographic now advises that “the Arctic probably won’t experience ice-free summers until 2030 or 2040.”

If you’re confused by stats on Arctic melting, you have lots of company. Arctic stats are easy to misunderstand because the Arctic environment is unlike our own — the Arctic magnifies the changes we experience in the temperate regions. In summer, our days get longer and theirs get really, really long, just as in winter, when our days gets shorter, theirs all but disappear. By analogy, the Arctic also magnifies temperature variations, and resulting changes to its physical environment.

In the Arctic, the ice has indeed been contracting, as the global warming doomsayers have been telling us. But it has also been expanding. The riddle of how the Arctic ice can both be contracting and expanding is easily explained. After you read the next two paragraphs, you’ll be able to describe it easily to your friends to set them straight.

Each winter, the Arctic ice pack rapidly expands and each summer it rapidly contracts, as you can see thanks to photos from a Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency satellite that tracks the changes in the ice pack. On its website, you can also get data showing the area of sea ice for every month going back to 2002.

Compare March of this year to previous Marches, for example, and you’ll see that the Arctic ice has been expanding of late — a story rarely told. But compare August of this year to previous Augusts and you’ll see that the August ice over the years has tended to contract — this is the basis of the scary stories that we hear about the Arctic ice disappearing. A snapshot of the Arctic ice, without knowledge of the bigger picture, can lead to scary conclusions.

To give your friends an even bigger picture, inform them that during the Little Ice Age, in the 1600s, much of the continent was frozen over. New Yorkers in winter could walk from Manhattan to Staten Island. Ever since, the ice has been contracting, spurring attempts by fabled explorers such as Henry Hudson and Sir John Franklin to seek a Northwest Passage through Canada’s Arctic. By the early 1900s, as we continued to come out of the Little Ice Age, the ice had receded enough to allow Roald Amundsen to traverse the Northwest Passage in fits and starts, his ship needing three years to navigate through the ice. Not until 1944 did the ice recede enough to allow a schooner to cross the Northwest Passage in a single season. The Northwest Passage remains too risky to allow commercial shipping to thrive, and although some have confidently predicted the advent of commercial shipping, the insurance premium required to navigate through the perilous ice floes effectively rules it out for the foreseeable future. If a new Little Ice Age soon sets in, as many scientists consider likely, commercial shipping will not happen in our lifetimes.

By taking a snapshot in time, and by ignoring the history and the ecology of the Arctic, global warming alarmists can make a grim case for a disappearing Arctic, and even fool themselves. In May of this year, a six-country effort involving 20 scientists an aircraft outfitted with precision equipment to Canada’s Arctic in an expedition designed to prove that the Arctic ice was thinning. The expedition found the opposite — newly formed ice was up to four-metres thick, twice what was as expected. Around the same time, three other explorers, on behalf of the Catlin Arctic Survey in London, set off on skis on a trek to the North Pole to measure the thickness of the melting spring ice. Unprepared for blizzard winds of 40 knots and Arctic temperatures of 40 degrees below zero, the expedition made little headway, ran out of food, suffered from frost-bite, and finally had to be airlifted to safety — at their slow-going rate of progress, they couldn’t have survived the 82 days required to travel the remaining 542 kilometers.

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute and author of The Deniers: The world-renowned scientists who stood up against global warming hysteria, political persecution, and fraud.

Lawrence Solomon, Financial Post, Sept. 25, 2009

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