Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A study in miscommunication - increasing Antarctic ice extent (is no) mystery!

While culling through YouTube videos for a project, I came across a NASA Goddard video that presented a text book example of a well meaning, but overly cautious scientist whose's awkward wording and omissions leads to more confusion than clarity.  It also highlighted one of my pet peeves - the lack of a coherent and memorable narrative to serve as a skeleton upon which to drape the many varied bits and pieces of information being presented.  
(Well look at what I just discovered!  Seems that fraudster and PR spinmeister Lord 1000Folly, Monckton's YouTube clone (who's been flooding YouTube with maliciously fabricated misrepresentations of climate science), also discovered this example of NASA's communication failings and does he have a field-day mocking scientists based on manipulating this very video's gross omissions: "NASA - The Mystery of Antarctic Cooling" (1/26/16) no I'm not linking to it.   2/17/16,1:45 PM)

A unifying concept, such as "Plate Tectonics" which created a real mental visualizing tool onto which the disparate bits and pieces of geologic knowledge fit seamlessly and became a comprehendible whole.  Perhaps a concept along the lines of our "Global Heat and Moisture Distribution Engine" subtitled "It's The Atmospheric Insulation Silly."  

In any event, this quote at 0:55 set me off. - Speaker: "The increase that we're seeing in the Antarctic ice extent is a little bit of a mystery…" 

Poor phrasing indeed.  Particularly since he never brought it back to explaining how scientists have been uncovering the various geophysical phenomena that have driven the increasing sea ice and solved the one time mystery.

Not confronting that meme and explaining why sea ice has been increasing, they reinforce what an unschooled person might assume and what the contrarian PR machine keeps feeding people.  Why, I wonder?  After all, it is a pretty clear and straightforward story.

I follow the short video in question by highlighting the pieces of information I'm familiar with; information that offers a coherent physical explanation for why all that extra sea ice has been forming, and why it's part and parcel of global warming's cascading consequences.  Items that were unjustifiably omitted from the video but that could have been included.  For supporting evidence I link to various splendid short videos and some articles that provide further details to this aspect of our climate engine.   

NASA | The Arctic and the Antarctic Respond in Opposite Ways 

Published on Oct 7, 2014

The Arctic and the Antarctic are regions that have a lot of ice and acts as air conditioners for the Earth system. This year, Antarctic sea ice reached a record maximum extent while the Arctic reached a minimum extent in the top ten lowest since satellite records began. One reason we are seeing differences between the Arctic and the Antarctic is due to their different geographies. As for what's causing the sea increase in the Antarctic, scientists are also studying ocean temperatures, possible changes in wind direction and, overall, how the region is responding to changes in the climate.  (FWIW 2015 Antarctic ice extent was slightly smaller, falling back to its 2008 extent)
A)  Overall southern hemisphere temperatures are warming, more moisture in the air, more snow fall along Antarctica's coast and inland.

Snow Mounts in Antarctica but Ice Loss Continues

Annual snowfall has mounted 30 percent in West Antarctica over the past century, but the extra powder has not spelled good news for the melting ice sheet, researchers said Wednesday.

Instead, the snow is likely a result of heightened storm activity over warmer ocean waters, which are in turn leading to the ice loss, said the study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

"In this region, the same that have driven increased snowfall inland, have brought warmer ocean currents into contact with West Antarctic's ice shelves, resulting in rapid thinning," said a statement by lead author Elizabeth Thomas, a paleoclimatologist with the British Antarctic Survey.
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NASA | The Coldest Place in the World 
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Study: Past warming increased snowfall on Antarctica, affecting global sea level
B)  The ozone hole has removed some of the atmospheric insulation over central Antarctica creating even more extreme cold temperatures.

Antarctic Ozone Hole in 2015 
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Antarctic Ozone Hole 
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The Antarctic Ozone Hole
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Cold chemistry: Extent of the Antarctic ozone hole influenced by cold temperatures
Rebecca Lindsey  |  Tuesday, October 28, 2014
C)  These super chilled air masses then slide off the continental dome (elevation 8,000ft+) becoming the fabled Katabatic Winds which are also reaching record breaking speeds and low temperatures.

I couldn't find good YT description of Antarctic's Katabatic Winds, the principle remains the same.  Keep in mind Antarctica is the highest continent on Earth averaging 8,200ft with it's highest mountain 16,050ft and a very long winter night.  Compare that to Greenland's average of 2,135ft and highest peak of 12,120ft.

The Katabatic Winds of Greenland 
Published on Apr 17, 2014 
Teacher: Russell Hood Expedition: Airborne Survey of Polar Ice 2014 
John Sonntag, the NASA Operation IceBridge navigator and unofficial team meteorologist, gives a fabulous presentation about the katabatic winds that affect Greenland on a regular basis.
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This is a video of the baby Katabatic winds of New Zealand hitting Queen Charlotte Sound.  I include it because it underscores the power and potential impact on thin ice:

Katabatic Wind Phenomenon Captured on Video
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GluAM2tNRKo  |  1:45

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Katabatic winds in the Miller Range, Antarctica.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDPr77Jbok8  |  0:45

D)  These super chilled winds blow out over the ocean rapidly freezing surface waters.

Ice formation, antartica - icebridge-sea ice - operation down under 
E)  Ocean water currents around Antarctica have gotten significantly warmer recently melting glaciers from the bottom and freshening salt water.

Circulation of the Southern Ocean
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Warm Water Invasion Is Fueling Striking Antarctic Ice Melt
By Andrea Thompson  |  December 4th, 2014
F)  Likewise, increasing glacial discharge of millennia's old solid ice, is also freshening up ocean salt water and introducing disruption to previous circulation patterns.

Breaking NASA Arctic Ocean Currents Changed Increasing Climate Change 
ClimateState  |  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZvf1pyerEk  |  0:30 min
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Global Warming Slows Down Antarctica's Coldest Currents
By Becky Oskin, Senior Writer   |   March 03, 2014
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Temperature over Antarctica had profound impacts on ocean circulation and carbon uptake
How ocean circulation changed atmospheric CO2  |  September 28, 2015
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Or if you want to seriously sink your intellectual teeth into it:

S. Rahmstorf: Thermohaline Ocean Circulation. 
In: Encyclopedia of Quaternary Sciences, Edited by S. A. Elias. Elsevier, Amsterdam 2006. | http://www.pik-potsdam.de/~stefan/Publications/Book_chapters/rahmstorf_eqs_2006.pdf
G)  The combined effect is that thin seasonal ice sheets break up gets blown north and the frigid winds rapidly refreezes the surface, freshened seawater.

Two months breaking ice (in under five minutes)  
Cassandra Brooks  |   4:45 min
H)  Remember we are talking about seasonal ice, a sheet, most of which melts away every year, only to reform the next.  (Big difference between that and thousands of years old compacted glacial ice!)

Antarctic Sea Ice Growth Time Lapse from AMSRE 2002-2007 
ClimateCentral  |  1:16 min
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Antarctic Sea Ice May 2009- July 2010
Universe Odyssey  |  0:57 min
I)  The real physical proxy for any global temperature change would be the solidity of the ice cubes that have been fairly stable for millennia, heck for tens and hundreds of millennia in some cases.

Trouble at Totten Glacier
YaleClimateConnections   |  April 14, 2015
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TimeLapse: Watch 27 Years of 'Old' Arctic Ice Melt Away in Seconds
Our World - News  |  Feb 21, 2014 
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NASA | Measuring Elevation Changes on the Greenland Ice Sheet
NASA Goddard  |  March 25, 2014
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How Life Lives in the Coldest Oceans : Documentary Life in the Antarctic Ocean Bottom

While I'm on the topic, I also noticed there was an awful lot of nonsense being posted about a recent study regarding Antarctica's ice mass balance.  If you're curious, the following will help you understand the complete story.  

Update Nov. 7 2015

A study published by Jay Zwally and his team on Oct. 30 (Zwally et al. 2015) has suggested that until 2008 there might have been a bigger increase in ice on East Antarctica than there is a decrease in the west, meaning that total Antarctic land ice is increasing. While their results for the Antarctic Peninsula and much of West Antarctica agree with other research, the study disagrees with many other techniques. We will update this discussion once more studies address this issue. Until then here are links to some recently published takes on the study:

More on Antarctic Ice Melt - ClimateCrocks (Nov. 3)

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Then, of course, there is also this detail:

Despite Antarctic Gains, Global Sea Ice Is Shrinking

February 11, 2015
… Examining 35 years of sea ice data, Parkinson has shown that increases around Antarctica do not make up for the accelerated Arctic sea ice loss of the last decades. Earth has been shedding sea ice at an average annual rate of 35,000 square kilometers (13,500 square miles) since 1979—the equivalent of losing an area of sea ice larger than the state of Maryland every year. ...

Dear Scientists, I truly love you people, your curiosity, your restraint, your ingenuity, your depth of knowledge and your extraordinary discipline, your appreciation for the complexities within everything and so on.  But for gosh sake, easily three decades have drained through our fingers and nothing has changed - we have a fatal miscommunication situation between you folks and the apathetic public.  Let me offer another example:

“There hasn’t been one explanation yet that I’d say has become a consensus, where people say, ‘We’ve nailed it, this is why it’s happening,’” Parkinson said. “Our models are improving, but they’re far from perfect. One by one, scientists are figuring out that particular variables are more important than we thought years ago, and one by one those variables are getting incorporated into the models.”

What do you people mean no consensus?  No consensus on what?  
The exact details?  The exact details of what?

What about focusing on all you do know with certainty?  
No question about the ozone hole and colder temps and more powerful winds!  
No question about circumpolar currents getting disrupted by increasing warm water! 
No question of warm global air temperatures leading to more moisture in atmosphere and more precipitation! 
No question of Sea water freshening!
No question that we are witnessing increasingly monstrous amounts of tens and hundreds of thousands of year old glacial ice flowing out into the ocean.

What's this obsession with thinking every detail needs to be nailed down, out to three decimal points, before you feel comfortable making rational and logical connections and assertions to our leaders and public?  It doesn't mean getting sloppy, it means refocusing your perspective to encompass and better explain the bigger story going on.

What's wrong with tying together the strands of information that we do understand with human near certainty?  What about framing it in a way that paints a picture, rather than facts that flow in one ear and out the other?

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