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NOAA: Current Rates of Arctic Warming and Sea Ice Decline Not Seen in 1,500 years


NOAA: Current Rates of Arctic Warming and Sea Ice Decline Not Seen in 1,500 years

Jon Queally, staff writer

The Arctic region, warns lead researcher, is currently "going through the most unprecedented transition in human history"

An iceberg floats in the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Ocean. (Credit: NOAA)


So what was causing the higher rates 1,500 years ago? All that Chinese and Roman heavy industrial pollution?

Sometimes headlines are just begging for sarcasm, no matter how much information the underlying article actually holds…


I’m not sure what part of the headline you are complaining about. It doesn’t say that sea ice levels were lower 1500 years ago - just that this is the lowest over that period. Of course that’s because the measurement technique referred to is primarily based on arctic ice cores that only hold data going back about 1500 years, so we don’t have very direct measurements for earlier periods. You see the same thing for global surface temperatures where you sometimes see statements about being the hottest since 1900 because that is about when the best data starts.

Overall there are dozens of time series data sets on global warming that all reinforce each other - and when you see specific “worst we’ve seen since xxx” it is usually based on a data series that started in xxx.


Hey, it’s ok; you don’t have to believe in Global Warming; but remember- it believes in you.


Pretty sure WWS was just being sarcastic.

Then again, there is that shadow of doubt…


I know - but I thought I’d use the opportunity to bring out the issue about “worst we’ve seen since …” Lots of people misinterpret statements like that.


I think it is similar to claim for the original hockey stick graph that we had reached the highest temperature in 1,000 years. Actual temperature recording goes back probably about 150 years. Any measurements before that are based on proxy data such a tree rings. The proxy data was good back to 1,000 years ago. The temperature rose about 5C after the last ice age so the rate of melting and rate of temperature increase may have been greater as some point following the ice age.


Actually, there are all kinds of so-called “proxy” data. When you are taking about ice cores - many of the glacial ones go back over a 100,000 years (the Antarctica ones go back over a million years) and analyzing the chemistry of those tell a tremendous amount about the climate in very small increments of time (I believe the high resolution sea ice ones underlying the data in the article only go back one or two thousand years). When I used to work at Ohio State University, my colleagues Lonnie and Ellen-Mosely Thompson were pioneers in that stuff - especially for mountain top glaciers. I toured their ice core lab a couple of times and was in awe of the preciseness of their work.


I am a huge fan of Lonnie Thompson and his entire team of high altitude mountain glacier and ice cap corers and glaciologists.

I read “Thin Ice” (2005, by physicist Mark Bowen) - about Lonnie et al and their adventures and thoughts on climatology - many years ago. In fact, I just recently received my own hardcover edition of “Thin Ice” - a prize possession !

James Hansen, Richard Alley, Lonnie Thompson - spectacular scientists. Of course there are many many others, but for now I’ll leave it at that…

What I want to do here is present one of the best concrete, hardheaded articles on climate change and what needs to be done about it - and it is not from anyone you will see at the Geophysical Conference now underway, or from scientific academia.

It is from the conservative hard core business as usual “Economist” magazine, specifically the November 18, 2017 print edition, which I link to below.

Summary: Reducing and then stopping fossil fuel use is not enough - we have to extract CO2 directly from the atmosphere, either with plants, chemicals, or some combination of these.

It’s a full three page article - the science is accurate, and although Wallace Broecker is not cited directly, it is Wally’s ideas that are there at the bottom of all this, and of course many other scientists from around the world, but I’ll give Wally first place for a number of reasons, not to be gone into just now unless requested.

Here is the article. I would appreciate your thoughts.


Thanks for the link. I definitely agree that creating carbon sinks is an important part of the equation - since both reductions of emissions and an increase in carbon sinks have to occur to get to a point where the future can look brighter. But I also think working on the carbon sink side of the equation makes saving the ones we’ve got now even more important. I haven’t had a close enough look at the technologies suggested in the article to have an opinion - but my gut feeling is that it’s important to be vigorously exploring many such ideas. That way the odds that at least one works out to be important goes way up.


From the article:

‘Among the other major findings of the report:
Warmer air temperature. Average annual air temperature over land was the second highest after 2016 in the observational record, with a temperature 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit (1.6 Celsius) above the average for 1981 to 2010.
Declining sea ice. This year’s maximum winter sea ice area, measured each March, was the lowest ever observed, while this year’s minimum area, measured each September, was eighth-lowest on record…’

It’s not clear what is meant by “sea ice area”. Is it surface area or projected area? Neither of which is a measure of mass. And the phrase “historical data” presumably means so-called “proxy data”, which is at odds with science. Science is based on observation, not conjecture.


Sea ice area is the area covered by ice. It isn’t mass. It doesn’t say if the ice is thin or thick. Ice thickness is another measure that is used.

I don’t think historical data necessarily means proxy data. It could be data from direct measurements. Proxy data is valid scientific data. However, I think when you see it reported the range of uncertainty will be greater than with direct measurements. If you look at a hockey stick graph you will see a wide range of uncertainly for the older proxy data and a much narrower range of uncertainty for the newer data obtained by direct measurements of temperature.


The Paris climate agreement goal of staying under 2C is based on removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during the second half of the century. Therefore the temperature is expected to exceed 2C at some point but be reduced below 2C by the end of this century. There are various ways of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere but whether the massive amounts that need to be removed can be achieved seems unclear at this point.


Yes - a perfectly reasonable approach, and these ideas are being pursued.

As for the details and the technologies themselves - a BIG subject.

I will say that Wallace Broecker, his book “Fixing Climate”, and his association with engineering physicist Klaus Lackner and the late Gary Comer, billionaire founder of “Land’s End” - all three saw the problem, and decided chemical direct air capture would be needed in the future.

This was much more than a scientific opinion. They saw reality clearly - that there would be massive resistance and inertia in the real world, and they were bang on in this regard.

But that is a topic for another time, I think.

Let me just dive into the political world for a sentence or two, since the secretary of state Rex Tillerson is involved, who was of course the head of Exxon, the very epitome of resistance and inertia.

I see Tillerson has completely de-coupled from Trump vis a vis North Korea, and my sense is that the Donald will soon be removed from office.

Of course this is wild speculation - but heh - why not.

Take a gander at this development reported in both The Guardian and BBC World News.

Perhaps we’ll meet on another thread ~


Ok, thanks for the info. I’m no climate scientist, but I am an animal advocate. What do we, the little people, do now to try and save all the animals which are already suffering because of man’s abuse of the planet?

Yes, I boycott; divested; drive my hybrid as little as possible; recycle; write and call my useless senators; share information with family and friends; try to be careful with energy consumption in my home; donate when I have some money to orgs fighting to save the environment… what else??


The United Nations is the umbrella organization for climate change, the UNFCC - United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The UN is also in the developmental stage for the biodiversity crisis, and as you are an animal advocate, this sounds right up your alley.

The Don of US biology, perhaps even worldwide, is thought to be Edward O. Wilson, and he has a book out, which I own, “Half-Earth”. In a nutshell, he argues that from a scientific point of view, we need to set aside half the Earth for wildlife, both plant and animal to my way of thinking.

Here in Canada, the Yellowstone to Yukon initiative of many years back seems to have developed into a similar idea, with Charlie Locke promoting the idea that “Earth Needs Half”.

I myself am an advocate for rights for the environment.

But I think there is more that we can do.

Much more, and it is mostly in the head - re-thinking just what kind of life we all want to live.

This is a huge subject, involving religion’s place around the world, the idea of nation states, and their purpose, the idea, or not, of democracy itself.

Is individual freedom paramount, or, where is it on the hierarchy?

You said ‘we are little people’, and I know what you mean. Civilizations, of all kinds, throughout recorded history, have moved us into this mindset.

But I am not sure that is a healthy way either to live or to think.

In a nutshell - these ideas together might be construed as philosophy, in the good sense, and that is where we can make progress of a true kind.

The institutional mechanisms of civilization will oppose this, as they always have.

But before, the extinction of our species was not on the balance sheet - now it is.

If this is to be a fight for survival - then strong individuals will be needed, who respect themselves, which makes possible the respect for all else.


It seems to me entirely possible - it is a scaleable technology.

But that is not our real problem - see my reply to ToniWintroub


Lrx wrote:

‘Sea ice area is the area covered by ice. It isn’t mass. It doesn’t say if the ice is thin or thick. Ice thickness is another measure that is used…’

The photo accompanying the article is of an iceberg. At the freezing point, more than 92% of the iceberg’s volume is below the surface. So there is no “sheet” of ice, nor is there any “thickness”.

From the article:

‘…Citing historical data, the research found that "the current observed rate of sea ice decline and warming temperatures are higher than at any other time in the last 1,500 years, and likely longer than that…’

So “historical” data means “proxy” data, which are not observed data. Science is based on observation, not conjecture.


Where did you get that crazy idea? The vast majority of scientific observations are made with proxy data. We know how hot the sun is - not because we go there and set up a thermometer - but because of the chemistry of the wavelengths observed (a proxy variable) and their relationship to temperature. The chemistry of the ice cores is similarly related to temperature through known science.


dpearl wrote:

‘Where did you get that crazy idea? The vast majority of scientific observations are made with proxy data. We know how hot the sun is - not because we go there and set up a thermometer - but because of the chemistry of the wavelengths observed (a proxy variable) and their relationship to temperature…’

A thermometer is indeed used to measure the Sun’s surface temperature. But not a mercury thermometer. A pyrometer measures temperature from afar by measuring the peak wavelength of the EM radiation.

‘…The chemistry of the ice cores is similarly related to temperature through known science.’

The assumption is made that the pertinent factors were the same many millennia ago as they are now. Such an assumption is untenable.