Polar Bears, Antarctic Ice and The Silence of the Lambs

Tamsin Edwards is part of a team that has come out with a new paper on Antarctic ice and its probable destiny. If I understand it correctly, it attempts to forecast contributions to sea level rise from the Antarctic if our changing climate causes significant ‘instability’ in the ice sheet.

Its conclusions include a range of possible sea level rise (from this source only): “Here we project that the Antarctic ice sheet will contribute up to 30 cm sea-level equivalent by 2100 and 72 cm by 2200 (95% quantiles) where the ASE dominates. Our process-based, statistical approach gives skewed and complex probability distributions (single mode, 10 cm, at 2100; two modes, 49 cm and 6 cm, at 2200).” Tamsin writes in the Guardian that this instability will most likely contribute about 10 cm to sea level rise by the end of this century.

Because that’s not enough to alarm anyone, the paper has so far been greeted with a resounding silence in the alarmist corner of the climate blogosphere. Only William Connolley, the Miserabilist Mustelid, has blogged on it. As major media have featured stories on it (see the BBC piece here), the alarmist blogs have ignored it.

Both extremes in the climate debate have selective vision. But the alarmist side is a bit more comical about it–it’s as if they have to have a therapy session (maybe led by Stephan Lewandowsky) before they can agree on a response. In this they are like sheep, easily led to a single point of view which they then defend with all the resources they can muster.

However, perhaps their attention is on another story–the resurgence of the population of polar bears on the other end of the planet. Bishop Hill calls our attention to the story as given by scientist Susan Crockford. The population range is now given as between 20,129 and 32,558, with a mid-point of 26,344. Last time they checked it was 25,000.

Certainly the Guardian is interested enough to write a story.  Of course, their story isn’t about the recovery of the polar bear population. In fact, they don’t mention it (although they do give the new figure). The headline of their story is ‘Climate change is single biggest threat to polar bear survival.’

Which is not true. The single biggest threat to their survival is hunting.

If it is true that 2015 will see the hottest average temperature since 1850–if it is true that 14 of the warmest 15 years have happened this century–if it is true that the environment populated by polar bears is undergoing dramatic change due to temperature rises–then what are we to make of a significant rise in their population?

Perhaps we should consider the possibility that polar bears, smart as well as savage, have within their ursine minds the ability to adapt successfully to a changing climate, as they have done repeatedly in the past.

Perhaps we should wonder if the Guardian’s reporters are as adaptable as polar bears. They continue to write the same story regardless of changing facts on the ground.



16 responses to “Polar Bears, Antarctic Ice and The Silence of the Lambs

  1. I have always doubted the meme about Greenland and Antarctica “losing ice” under various global warming scenarios. A warmer world is by nature a more humid world and polar regions are the driest of deserts. There are bone dry places in Antarctica that have not seen snow in tens of thousands of years. Most of the volume lost in the Antarctic is due to sublimation (the transformation of a solid to a gas without passing through the liquid state).

    So what happens to a very cold dry place when you start pumping humidity into it? See for yourself by leaving the door to your freezer open by a quarter of an inch.

    Now we hear from NASA that Antarctica is gaining ice. We have to wonder whether this new knowledge made it into Tasmin Edwards study.

    So where is sea level rise coming from? Thermal expansion, yes. But the IPCC still sweeps the major contributing factor under the rug – aquifer depletion and the draining of lakes and wetlands.

    • Interesting point about aquifer depletion. The only other time I saw that discussed (Collide a Scape?) somebody from the alarmist camp maintained that it was equal to the amount of water stored behind dams. I have no idea if that’s even close to true, but… have you seen studies on this?

      • Here is a primer… Source found for missing water in sea-level rise

        “During the latter half of the twentieth century, global sea level rose by about 1.8 millimetres per year, according to data from tide gauges. The combined contribution from heating of the oceans, which makes the water expand, along with melting of ice caps and glaciers, is estimated to be 1.1 millimetres per year, which leaves some 0.7 millimetres per year unaccounted for. This gap has been considered an important missing piece of the puzzle in estimates for past and current sea-level changes and for projections of future rises.

        It now seems that the effects of human water use on land could fill that gap. A team of researchers reports in Nature Geoscience that land-based water storage could account for 0.77 millimetres per year, or 42%, of the observed sea-level rise between 1961 and 2003. Of that amount, the extraction of groundwater for irrigation and home and industrial use, with subsequent run-off to rivers and eventually to the oceans, represents the bulk of the contribution.”

        One of the things that is almost never accounted for is what I call the “dimpling effect”. Everywhere around the globe, cities are pumping water out of shallow aquifers that are normally recharged by rains – but the pumping accelerates the discharge of the aquifers – in effect, dimpling them so that each aquifer on average holds less water. That water then has to go somewhere – into the air and eventually into the sea.

        A couple of years ago, Minnesota Public Radio went into (well-funded) hysterics over the fact that climate-change was raising the regional humidity thus causing all kinds of nasty problems… it never occurred to them (or perhaps to their sustainability coverage funders) that it might be the Oglalla Aquifer sailing over our heads from all the irrigated corn out west.

      • Tom, I should have included this paragraph from the article because it speaks directly to your question.

        “Depletion of groundwater reserves has more than doubled in recent decades as a result of population growth and the increased demand on groundwater reservoirs for drinking water and the irrigation of croplands. Most of the water pumped up from deep pools is not replenished; it evaporates into the air or flows into river channels, feeding into the seas. Artificial reservoirs, such as the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River and the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China, have the opposite effect, locking up water that would otherwise flow into the seas. Scientists once speculated that the effects cancelled each other out, but this study and other recent ones have shown that groundwater depletion has a larger net effect.

      • Wow. I was actually going to start looking for this information. Thanks! But it’s still millimeters on a global scale, right?

      • Yes, it certainly is millimeters per year – approx. 0.7 millimeters per year but the important thing about it is how it impacts future projections as well as the role it plays in trope of “the acceleration of sea level rise” as well as sea-level rise during the pause.

        In other words, we might expect a flattening of the sea level rise curve.

  2. You know, i wonder if the sediment flow rate into the ocean may not be also impacting sea level rise? I understand our tendency to remove vegetation and disturb soils leads to significant volumes of soil runoff. It could be a few percent of the total sea level rise? This is pure speculation on my part.

  3. Keep in mind that impounding water behind a dam is a one-off event. The net amount of water blocked by Hoover Dam in the last 75 years is zero. Once the reservoir is filled, water coming in from a river equals water going out, evaporation, etc.

  4. Tom,
    Perhaps the alarm sits are trying to point out that 15 of the last 15 years of this century have been the warmest on record?

  5. LukesAreWrongToo

    The calculations by Lukes and Warmists are WRONG because they do NOT explain the required energy flows. The direct solar radiation cannot and does not account for the observed surface temperatures on Earth, let alone Venus. Back radiation has nothing to do with such temperatures. It could only slow the rate of cooling by radiation, but the solar radiation is not what gets the surfaces of such planets up to the observed temperatures. How does the surface actually warm each morning? How does the required new thermal energy get into the surface? YOU GUYS HAVE NO UNDERSTANDING AT ALL IN REGARD TO THE THERMODYNAMICS OF PLANETARY TROPOSPHERES. You need to think in a wholly different paradigm – one which has been explained correctly by only one writer in all of world literature. When you understand the maximization of entropy it will blow your mind as to just HOW WRONG all Lukes and Warmists are. The biggest single problem is that they don’t understand thermodynamics and radiation, and they are not prepared to try to learn and understand such. They just scoff at the author of that breakthrough science (already endorsed by other physicists) and think they know better. But water vapor does not raise surface temperatures and they cannot prove it does with any valid study of temperature/precipitation records. THAT SINGLE FACT DEMOLISHES THE GREENHOUSE.

    • LukesAreWrongToo: “The calculations by Lukes and Warmists are WRONG because they do NOT explain the required energy flows.”

      The most telling thing about all the so-called climate “scientists” is that in all their equations they never ever incorporate a term for entropy.

      Now, over the decade or two or three that as an engineer I had to deal with energy flows, gas pressure and temperature relationships and any and every other calculation to do with practically everything related to thermodynamics and chemical reaction kinetics (bloody complex stuff, that), entropy calculations were the bane of my life. There is literally no significant relationship that does not involve entropy/enthalpy calculations.

      I imagine the reason entropy is never mentioned is that it makes the the resulting equations are too hard for them.

      Heaven only knows what they would do if they had to deal with the square root of minus one as well!

      • catweazle,
        You are making good points but don’t be confused that the poster you are responding to is an infamous kook using his latest pseudonym. Read the post you are responding to again carefully and you can see that it is actually pure crap.

  6. How does the Three Gorges dam project play into this?

  7. I had a chat with Tamsin about this… on twitter..

    not possible to attribute this to AGW,

    I asked for a best guess what proportion of the 10cm likely (Antartica’s contribution) to sea level rise, (or even the 30cm) is natural vs AGW.

    as I pointed out people tend to think all of this is due to AGW, it might be useful to tell people, if that is not the case.

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