Antartic Ice Growing–But Only Temporarily

Yesterday Fox had a story entitled Report: Antarctic Ice Growing, Not Shrinking. Conservative bloggers jumped onto this story as evidence against the scientific consensus on climate change. While it would be great news if the problem had disappeared, as usual information from Fox only tells part of the story. New Scientist explains:

It’s the southern ozone hole whatdunit. That’s why Antarctic sea ice is growing while at the other pole, Arctic ice is shrinking at record rates. It seems CFCs and other ozone-depleting chemicals have given the South Pole respite from global warming.

But only temporarily. According to John Turner of the British Antarctic Survey, the effect will last roughly another decade before Antarctic sea ice starts to decline as well.

Arctic sea ice is decreasing dramatically and reached a record low in 2007. But satellite images studied by Turner and his colleagues show that Antarctic sea ice is increasing in every month of the year expect January. “By the end of the century we expect one third of Antarctic sea ice to disappear,” says Turner. “So we’re trying to understand why it’s increasing now, at a time of global warming.”

There is considerably more information in the rest of the article. They also note, “Earlier this year, research led by Eric Steig of the University of Washington, Seattle showed that although the Antarctic continent as a whole has warmed by 0.5°C in the last 50 years – on a par with the global average – the figure hides strong regional differences.”

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  1. 1
    Robert L. says:

    It would be more accurate to say that people with global warming models that never predicted the dramatically different behaviors at the two poles now have come up with an explanation that explains how they were right all along and says we should ignore this huge anomaly.

    Maybe this is so but it shows once again that the climate models being used with such certainty a few years ago  were missing a huge influence on climate that was not understood.

    So, once again, the science is not done and the validity of the computer models is proved to be over-stated.  Admittedly the underlying thesis of the climate models is not disproved but it seems nonsensical to me that this predictive failure should not put more of a burden of proof on the modelers.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    No, this means that the scientific consensus still holds. There is no one prediction or computer model as you imply in your response but a range of predictions. Nobody claimed, as you falsely suggest, that any anomalies should be ignored or that there was total certainty as to exactly what would occur. The overall predictions continue to hold.

  3. 3
    Robert L. says:

    I understand that different models have different predictions but I believe it is correct to say that none of them anticipated “hemispheric warming,” i.e. warming in the northern hemisphere being much greater than in the southern hemisphere to the extent that Antarctica was adding ice mass while the arctic was losing it.  This is a difference in kind, not in quantity, that we are seeing over an extended period of time.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:


    You totally misunderstand the predictions and are just raising some straw man arguments here. Nobody every claimed to have a model which says everything which will ever happen in the environment. This says nothing to contradict the actual scientific consensus (as opposed to what you are misstating it to be).

  5. 5
    Eclectic Radical says:

    Robert, most likely, is confusing the claims of environmental activists (which are not always grounded in the most up to date and accurate science) with the claims of environmental scientists. Environmental scientists and environmental activists agree that global warming is happening and that man made factors are a significant contributions, but scientists are careful in their predictions and statements while environmental activists clang the alarm bell at every new report and skitter from bumper to bumper like the little silver ball in the pinball machine.

    The right needs to stop equating environmental science and those who are aware of and concerned by its findings with the environmental lobby.

  6. 6
    Fritz says:

    On the other hand, I have read editorials in both science mags and science journals raising concerns that too many environmental scientists are tying themselves to the environmental lobby in the interests of public visibility.  So the conflation of the two in the eyes of conservatives is understandable.

  7. 7
    Ron Chusid says:


    Perhaps he is accusing the claims of some environmental activists, but more likely he is confusing the distortions spread by the right with the actual arguments. The right wing media and blogosphere operate in an alternative reality where they typically use such straw man attacks as opposed to responding to the actual beliefs of those they oppose. This is a general trend not limited to climate change.

  8. 8
    Eclectic Radical says:

    Oh, I am well aware of the little dream world in which reactionaries live, never fear.

  9. 9
    Fritz says:

    “Antarctic sea ice” is not “Antarctic ice”, of course.  And melting of Antarctic sea ice has no direct effect on sea level.

    Yes, loss of the floating ice sheets is likely to increase glacial flow to the ocean.  But (and maybe the analyses have gotten better), the last I read it was an open question whether such flow would match increased snowfall in Antarctica that is likely to happen with warmer temperatures (the low snowfall in the extreme cold makes most of Antarctica a desert in terms of annual precipitation).

  10. 10
    Christoher Skyi says:

    “You totally misunderstand the predictions and are just raising some straw man arguments here. Nobody every claimed to have a model which says everything which will ever happen in the environment.”

    Yes, this is an excellent point. 

    Scientific theories (specifically theories that have been quantified, e.g., physics) are not designed — nor can they be designed — to make specific predictions about some event at some point in time. 

    For example, classical kinematics (the study forces, the laws of motion, gravity — basic Newtonian physics), as complete as that is (the theory is practically “perfect” when dealing with “normal” size object and everyday time scales), no one can use the math to predict when a specific leaf on a specific tree will fall. You can “model” it, describe the processes, the forces, the mechanisms involved, i.e., you can understand what causes a leaf to fall (not an easy event to quantify, by the way), but you can never, with any serious accuracy, predict when a specific leaf is going to fall.

    This is a something a lot of non-science people don’t realize at first.

    However, mathematical models of some aspect of the external world cannot be “better” than our abstract understanding of that aspect of the world. Models can help suggest new relationship and correlations, i.e., raise interesting questions, and suggest possible problems with our current abstract understanding of that aspect of the world, but they’re are not, in and by themselves, “experiments” where the outcome of the model can be used to confirm or not confirm some hypothesis that a theory generates.  Only experiments can do that.  Models  can suggest new relationships, but they are not evidence for those relationships.

    As Pasky Pascual of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put it: “All models are wrong; some are wronger.” But they are our best handle on likely climate change in the coming decades.

    In short, you have to know 1) there are serious limits (which most people understand) and 2) you have to know what those limits are (and that’s very VERY difficult, if not impossible, i.e., the “unknown unknowns.”)

    Here’s a couple of interesting resource that help explain the purposes, strengths, weakness, and mis-understandings of the results of climate models:

    The Limits of Climate Modeling:

    “The statisticians and climatologists who brought us the big picture are now under huge pressure to get local. But they are growing increasingly concerned about whether their existing models and computers are up to the job. They organized a summit in Reading, England, in May to discuss their concerns. As Brian Hoskins of Reading University, one of the British government’s top climate advisers, put it: “We’ve worked out the global scale. But that’s the easy problem. We don’t yet understand the smaller scale. The pressure is on for answers, and we can’t wait around for decades.”

    Already, policymakers are starting to take at face value model predictions of — to take a few examples — warming of 18 degrees Fahrenheit (7.8 degrees Celsius) or more in Alaska, and super-droughts in the southwestern United States, but little warming at all in central states.

    But is the task doable? Some climate modelers say that even with the extraordinary supercomputing power now available, the answer is no. That, by being lured into offering local forecasts for decades ahead, they are setting themselves up for a fall that could undermine the credibility of the climate models.

    Lenny Smith, an American statistician now working on climate modeling at the London School of Economics in the United Kingdom, is fearful. “Our models are being over-interpreted and misinterpreted,” he says. “They are getting better; I don’t want to trash them. But policy-makers think we know much more than we actually know. We need to drop the pretense that they are nearly perfect.”

    Strengths & Weakness in Modeling

    and New Scientist Editorial: Even climate models have their limits:

    “Modellers are meeting in Reading, UK, next week to discuss how to do better. But the mathematicians who know what is happening inside the supercomputers say it will be extremely hard. They warn climatologists against succumbing to the pressure for answers from the public, politicians and, yes, journalists by pretending that their printouts are much more than guesswork.”

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