Half of the polar ice cap is missing: Arctic sea ice hits a new record low

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 8:53 PM GMT on September 06, 2012

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Extraordinary melting of sea ice in the Arctic this summer has shattered the all-time low sea ice extent record set in September 2007, and sea ice continues to decline far below what has ever been observed. The new sea ice record was set on August 26, a full three weeks before the usual end of the melting season, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Every major scientific institution that tracks Arctic sea ice agrees that new records for low ice area, extent, and volume have been set. These organizations include the University of Washington Polar Science Center (a new record for low ice volume), the Nansen Environmental & Remote Sensing Center in Norway, and the University of Illinois Cryosphere Today. A comprehensive collection of sea ice graphs shows the full story. Satellite records of sea ice extent date back to 1979, though a 2011 study by Kinnard et al. shows that the Arctic hasn't seen a melt like this for at least 1,450 years (see a more detailed article on this over at skepticalscience.com.) The latest September 5, 2012 extent of 3.5 million square kilometers is approximately a 50% reduction in the area of Arctic covered by sea ice, compared to the average from 1979 - 2000. The ice continues to melt, and has not reached the low for this year yet.


Figure 1. A sunny, slushy day at the North Pole on September 1, 2012. Webcam image courtesy of the North Pole Environmental Observatory.


Figure 2. Sea ice extent on September 5, 2012, showed that half of the polar ice cap was missing, compared to the average from 1979 - 2000. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Why the Arctic sea ice is important
Arctic sea ice is an important component of the global climate system. The polar ice caps help to regulate global temperature by reflecting sunlight back into space. White snow and ice at the poles reflects sunlight, but dark ocean absorbs it. Replacing bright sea ice with dark ocean is a recipe for more and faster global warming. The Autumn air temperature over the Arctic has increased by 4 - 6°F in the past decade, and we could already be seeing the impacts of this warming in the mid-latitudes, by an increase in extreme weather events. Another non-trivial impact of the absence of sea ice is increased melting in Greenland. We already saw an unprecedented melting event in Greenland this year, and as warming continues, the likelihood of these events increase.


Figure 3. August set a new record for lowest Arctic sea ice extent. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.



Figure 4. Arctic sea ice death spiral as plotted by Jim Pettit using data from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Huge storm pummels Alaska
A massive low pressure system with a central pressure of 970 mb swept through Alaska on Tuesday, generating hurricane-force wind gusts near Anchorage, Alaska that knocked out power to 55,000 homes. Mighty Alaskan storms like this are common in winter, but rare in summer and early fall. The National Weather Service in Anchorage said in their Wednesday forecast discussion that the forecast wind speeds from this storm were incredibly strong for this time of year--four to six standard anomalies above normal. A four-standard anomaly event occurs once every 43 years, and a five-standard anomaly event is a 1-in-4800 year event. However, a meteorologist I heard from who lives in the Anchorage area characterized the wind damage that actually occurred as a 1-in-10 year event. A few maximum wind gusts recorded on Tuesday during the storm:

McHugh Creek (Turnagain Arm)... ... ..88 mph
Paradise Valley (Potter Marsh)... ... 75 mph
Upper Hillside (1400 ft)... ... ... ... 70 mph
Anchorage port... ... ... ... ... ... ... .63 mph

The storm has weakened to a central pressure of 988 mb today, and is located just north of Alaska. The storm is predicted to bring strong winds of 25 - 35 mph and large waves to the edge of the record-thin and record-small Arctic ice cap, and may add to the unprecedented decline in Arctic sea ice being observed this summer.


Figure 5. An unusually strong storm formed off the coast of Alaska on August 5 and tracked into the center of the Arctic Ocean, where it slowly dissipated over the next several days. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Aqua satellite captured this natural-color mosaic image on Aug. 6, 2012. The center of the storm at that date was located in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. Image credit: NASA.

Arctic storms may be increasing due to climate change
This week's Alaskan storm is the second unusually strong low pressure system to affect the Arctic in the past month. On August 4 - 8, a mighty storm with a central pressure of 963 mb raged through the Arctic, bringing strong winds that helped scatter and break up Arctic sea ice. According to a detailed post at NASA Earth Observatory, that storm was in the top 3 percent for strongest storms ever recorded north of 70 degrees latitude. A study of long-term Arctic cyclone trends authored by a team led by John Walsh and Xiangdong Zhang of the University of Alaska Fairbanks found that number and intensity of Arctic cyclones has increased during the second half of the twentieth century, particularly during the summer. Dr. Zhang explained that climate change has caused sea ice to retreat markedly in recent decades and has also warmed Arctic Ocean temperatures. Such changes may be providing more energy and moisture to support cyclone development and persistence. The strong storms of this week and a month ago would have had far less impact on the ice just a decade ago, when the sea ice was much thicker and more extensive.

A sea ice decline double-whammy
The monster Arctic storms like we've seen this year have sped up the rate of sea ice loss, but increased water temperatures and air temperatures due to human-caused global warming are the dominant reasons for the record melting of the Arctic sea ice. A July 2012 study by Day et al. found that the most influential of the possible natural influences on sea ice loss was the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation (AMO). The AMO has two phases, negative (cold) and positive (warm), which impact Arctic sea ice. The negative phase tends to create sea surface temperatures in the far north Atlantic that are colder than average. In this study, the AMO only accounted for 5% - 31% of the observed September sea ice decline since 1979. The scientists concluded that given the lack of evidence that natural forces were controlling sea ice fluctuations, the majority of sea ice decline we've seen during the 1953 - 2010 period was due to human causes.

Joe Romm has a more in-depth look at the new Arctic sea ice record and what it means for the future over at climateprogess.org.

Angela Fritz and Jeff Masters

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Beautiful orographic formations over the mountains on a windy evening.
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734. MTWX
Quoting Neapolitan:
And how long would the resources in that 32' x 32' area support the person to whom it belonged? How many trees could grow there? How much food could be raised? How many fish could be raised and caught? How much livestock could thrive? How much clean water? And how long would it take to pollute that little 32' x 32' plot of Texas land?

Does anyone truly believe that they have a 'footprint' of just over 1,000 square feet?


I don't know Nea, but my 3 acres serves my family quite well!! ;)

Also on a side note these things here are pretty sweet... Definitely wouldn't mind one!



Earthships
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Quoting reedzone:


Talking about both parties and elections are not hand on hand with Global Warming.
but they always seem to be brought up together dont they? you got the conservatives on one side and the liberals on the other and they just start fighting like always. but it is entertaining while doing algebra homework, i must confess.
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Quoting reedzone:
Global Warming discussions is fine and on topic but keep politics OUT!!




GW and politics be leve it or not do play a roll here. On tv I here them at the whit house talking about GW. Some times
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Quoting RTSplayer:


What he said was true.

Most larger land mammals do very poorly in high temperatures, while reptilians do very well and have their growth and reproductive rates accelerated.


Acidification of the Ocean should begin killing many types organisms with exoskeletons (from the microscopic to macroscopic,) within 20 to 30 years. The primary causes of this acidification are man-made Carbon Dioxide and man-made Sulfur compounds.


Please point me to the science claiming that man-made acidification will kill many types of sea life in 20 to 30 years. I have to see that one myself. 3/4 of the earth is deep ocean, enriched with basic salts and minerals that you say will lose the ability to buffer the pH of ocean water solely due to man's emission's of sulfur dioxide and CO2. That seems like BS.
Member Since: May 31, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1204
Quoting TomballTXPride:

The ice age prediction was a perfect example.
Why is there always some oil company shill posting here spreading falsehoods?
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Quoting TomballTXPride:


Not fallacy whatsoever. Have you read the above blog entry? If so you would be able to explain that satellites have only been measuring data since 1979.



Yeah, but we've had world-wide reliable weather stations for over 120 years, and reliable local weather in some locations for nearly 200 years.

Then you have proxy data like historical anecdotes, ship reports, and captains logs from the age of exploration and colonial era.
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The question is not 'who' may be the cause of our climate changing, but how are we going to adapt to the climate changing?

Move from the coasts, as those areas have the greatest risks.

So what, we ignore it? Saying humans are the cause is valid as currently it is the only thing that explains the increase in temperature. When something else gives us a stronger statistical correlation, we can modify our hypothesis. This is how science works.

So since we have no proof, just blame humans, eh? Doing that is like investigating a crime, say a robbery, and not knowing what exactly happened. However, since there was a teen at the site when the the police arrived, they blame it on him.
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Quoting VINNY04:
they go hand in hand. you cant do that.


Talking about both parties and elections are not hand on hand with Global Warming.
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GW talk sould olny be in the. Off season When we have no storms to talk about I be lurking
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Quoting StormHype:


Not really. It didn't happen that way. There were some good discussions that were mostly all on topic.


I was on last night and I saw bashing of President Obama..

Im out guys..I got a paycheck to earn..
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Quoting reedzone:
Global Warming discussions is fine and on topic but keep politics OUT!!
they go hand in hand. you cant do that.
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Quoting TomballTXPride:


Not fallacy whatsoever. Have you read the above blog entry? If so you would be able to explain that satellites have only been measuring data since 1979.


Yes, fallacy. Let me retype it for you. Global warming is not based on only 33 years of satellite data. We use a cumulative data set that includes records that go far back beyond 33 years of satellite data. Sea ice is not the only measurement we use.
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Global Warming discussions is fine and on topic but keep politics OUT!!
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Quoting TomballTXPride:

Try taking off the biased sunglasses. Look at the data as a whole.


I did/do. I'm very data-driven. Show me the data that says that the global climate isn't being driven to higher average temperatures due to the increase in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, largely due to anthropogenic causes.

Here's what we already know from the data that's already been collected:
It's not due to rates of volcanism.
It's not due to changes in the Earth's orbit.
It's not due to variations in solar output.
It's not due to bad placement of thermometers.
It's not due to a handful of scientists pushing some agenda to get research funding.

So what's the alternative?
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Quoting Autistic2:


Just reading back from the beggining but remember,It really isin't the Docs web site anymore.

I do what my boss tells me to because I am getting paid to.

The Weather Chanel has its own agenda, most of us do, its the way we seem to be....
With all the television appearances, he might just be too busy to put the usually time into his posts.


Dr. Masters was right about Isaac tar-balls. Just don't know for certain if the source is the BP spill or the extent.

This excerpt was something, he didn't predict, and likely neither did anyone else: "...Hurricane Isaac washed ashore tens of thousands of dead "swamp rats" in the Gulf."

Tar Balls, Oily Pelicans Found in Isaac's Wake

UPDATE: Some sources are confirming that at least some of the tar-balls are from the BP spill. BP themselves are researching the issue currently.

Sorry to be a little off topic but the Climate Change/Global Warming debate is often more political/economical than scientific, and is professed with almost religious fervor by both sides.
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Quoting ncstorm:


Free to bash both parties huh??..yeah thanks but no thanks..

Angela giving the ok to talk politics here is like leaving an unattended box of krispy kreme donuts at Gold's Gym..you guys can have it..it will be nothing but bickering and vicious attacks on both sides



Not really. It didn't happen that way. There were some good discussions that were mostly all on topic.
Member Since: May 31, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1204
Quoting ncstorm:


Free to bash both parties huh??..yeah thanks but no thanks..

Angela giving the ok to talk politics here is like leaving an unattended box of krispy kreme donuts at Gold's Gym..you guys can have it..it will be nothing but bickering and vicious attacks on both sides

yah because its happend before. i remember once that everyone was fighting over this. getting really nasty. i think blog entrys on global warming are just gonna inflame people so if they are trying to keep peace on here then they shouldnt post on GW.
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Quoting TomballTXPride:

Whoa there. Should I go out and purchase a mass quantity of tinfoil hats?


What he said was true.

Most larger land mammals do very poorly in high temperatures, while reptilians do very well and have their growth and reproductive rates accelerated.


Acidification of the Ocean should begin killing many types organisms with exoskeletons (from the microscopic to macroscopic,) within 20 to 30 years. The primary causes of this acidification are man-made Carbon Dioxide and man-made Sulfur compounds.
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Quoting yoboi:



evrything happens in cycles....


Yes it does. However what is happening now is outside of "the cycle". The Earth is accumulating excess energy, and the only appreciable global scale change that has occurred to influence this are the global impacts from human activity.

Basic thermodynamics, physics, and chemistry.
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Quoting TomballTXPride:

It is measured in extend and volume. We have not been using the same set of measures over this period of time to measure this data. Moreover, there were cycles imbedded within the thousand year time frame which were largely undocumented. And that's not to even account for the fluctuations before that--millions and millions of years of continental drift.

Long story short, we just are not there yet to fully understand it. And blaming it completely or mostly on man at this point is baseless.
We do not fully understand AGW like we do not fully understand Evolution, but we have a damn good idea of how both work by now.
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Quoting TomballTXPride:

It is measured in extend and volume. We have not been using the same set of measures over this period of time to measure this data. Moreover, there were cycles imbedded within the thousand year time frame which were largely undocumented. And that's not to even account for the fluctuations before that--millions and millions of years of continental drift.

Long story short, we just are not there yet to fully understand it. And blaming it completely or mostly on man at this point is baseless.


So what, we ignore it? Saying humans are the cause is valid as currently it is the only thing that explains the increase in temperature. When something else gives us a stronger statistical correlation, we can modify our hypothesis. This is how science works.
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This link shows that today's sea ice extent is over 19% below the 2007 record low.

The big Arctic storm could push the sea ice extent down around or perhaps below 2 million square kilometers, a truly remarkable feat.

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Quoting GTcooliebai:
I've been keeping an eye on the wave that has emerged into the Atlantic while sifting through the AGW and Climate Change posts, it has been a pretty healthy discussion this morning.

Here is that wave, should have 91L soon:



Looks like all the global models develop it..another one to add to the total
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And with a 30% wind threat.

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Quoting 7544:
gfs shows all recurves


I'm referring to steering if there is a lower latitude wave that what models are calling for. Of course if they spin up to TS strength way east, they are going to recurve on Coriolis effect regardless. Models had Isaac recurving out to sea early on if you recall. I'm just looking for *persistent* troughiness over the US east coast and am not seeing it, but instead see high pressure setting up.
Member Since: May 31, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1204
Quoting StormHype:


At least it's on topic. Angela even endorsed that mixing in politics on the GW discussion was relevant last night.


Free to bash both parties huh??..yeah thanks but no thanks..

Angela giving the ok to talk politics here is like leaving an unattended box of krispy kreme donuts at Gold's Gym..you guys can have it..it will be nothing but bickering and vicious attacks on both sides

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Quoting Arisilde:


Historically speaking, the ice cores have been proven to show that CO2 concentration in our atmosphere has always followed Temperature, not led it.

Link
False.

http://www.skepticalscience.com/co2-lags-temperat ure.htm

(If you want real and unbiased science, go to real and unbiased scientists, not websites with an admitted bias, such as ones with the tagline "Our stringy universe from a conservative viewpoint")
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Quoting Arisilde:


Historically speaking, the ice cores have been proven to show that CO2 concentration in our atmosphere has always followed Temperature, not led it.

Link
That is bad news, since past temperature changes caused by orbital fluctuations started a positive feedback loop, releasing CO2 that in turn raised the temperature that in turn released more CO2...

Now. we have started this feedback loop all by ourselves, so we are sending our climate into a different stable state, like throwing a switch.
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Quoting ncstorm:
Good luck on talking tropical weather today..
yah true. they seem bent on talking about ice caps.
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I think ill come back when the GW talk dies down. Regardless good morning everyone and play nice.
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Quoting TheOnlyBravesFan:
We have technology and satellites to do that for us now, and that technology only brings that particular data back to 1979.

And the Earth has been around (according to science) for approximately 5 billion years. 33 years out of 5 billion is an extremely small sample size.


Quit pushing the fallacy that global warming is only based on 33 years of satellite data.
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No, but we have documented ocean temperatures starting around 1872. The HMS Challenger took ocean readings and we have used that data to see an increase in temperature. Link So right there is a much larger data set to work with.

Even 130 years of almost 5 billion years is a small sample size... any data that spans about 1000 years? 10,000? 100,000? Go back far enough, we'll cross into some ice ages, which will bring our global temperature to become "normal".
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Quoting GlobalWarmingFallacy:
Oh how quick we forget all the falsifed data from the experts were using to support their own agenda. What got my eye is the statement. "Scientists can't figure out any current natural reasons for the ice loss, so it must be human.". So they ruled out everything else and everything that may be undiscovered and just decided all that is human caused. Talk about crap Science. So with that reasoning, we don't really know what gives matter physical mass, so it must me human caused.

And that dataset... 1979 to 2012... 33 years of data out of billions of years directly measured and you all know exactly whats going on, yet above they admitted not knowing everything... see the issue... by doing that it ends up being a positive feedback for human caused global warming... if you can't explain it, blame it, is the current way warming science works...but the loop is there.. 33 years of data and icecores do not give a clear picture... If you think I'm wrong, tell me how an ice core can tell you how much ice was covering the Arctic... I thought you could get possible precip amounts, atmospheric gases and some other data, which I don't know so its human caused... but you can't get coverage history from cores... after all we do know from sea fossils in KANSAS that ocean, shallow ocean they say covered the central U.S. So if it got that warm in the past to raise levels, doesn't it make sense that it would happen again, after all, they have proven that the process has repeated it self and there are numerous seabed layers in Kansas.

But come on... that statement about them not being able to think of any other thing that would help warming so it must be human was the most ignorant thing I have heard...



The Cretaceous Interior Seaway was less about "global warming" and more about the elevated rates of seafloor spreading during the opening of the Atlantic Ocean. Fast-spreading ridges abounded; young, warm lithosphere is more buoyant, and so the mid-ocean ridges were broader and raised higher over a larger proportion of the ocean floor than at any time since. That's what pushed the shallow seas up onto the continental interiors.

As an aside, trying to mix precursors that reflect tectonic causes with the current setting that is atmospherically-forced isn't going to provide a valid comparison.
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Quoting StormHype:


Because blaming it on humans is the only way to gain votes in an election year.

While in grade school in the late 1970s, all of us in school were being told by scientists and our teachers that we were heading toward the next ice age. (I'm not making this up.) 30 years later (a blip on the climate timeline) they say GW will drown us before then end of the century. And they wonder why there are skeptics.

We have plenty of time to collect data, and should focus on that before jumping to imminent doom and gloom conclusions. IMO, this hype is all about the November elections and not credible science.
So since all the talk of GW is all about the upcoming elections, all that talk will vanish on November 7, correct? If you care to put some money on that, I'll wager that it won't go away. (Or would you then say talk after that is all in preparation for the 2016 election cycle?)

While we're on the subject: can you please explain just how one party convinced the Arctic sea ice to melt just in time? Or, if it's just natural, can you then please explain why you think it is that Mother Nature is only doing things to support that particular party?
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The question is not 'who' may be the cause of our climate changing, but how are we going to adapt to the climate changing?

Last time I checked, the Earth is the ONLY place we are able to live.
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We have technology and satellites to do that for us now, and that technology only brings that particular data back to 1979.

And the Earth has been around (according to science) for approximately 5 billion years. 33 years out of 5 billion is an extremely small sample size.
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Quoting ncstorm:
Good luck on talking tropical weather today..
I've been keeping an eye on the wave that has emerged into the Atlantic while sifting through the AGW and Climate Change posts, it has been a pretty healthy discussion this morning.

Here is that wave, should have 91L soon:

Member Since: August 31, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 5628
Quoting ncstorm:
Good luck on talking tropical weather today..


At least it's on topic. Angela even endorsed that mixing in politics on the GW discussion was relevant last night.
Member Since: May 31, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1204
Quoting Neapolitan:
And how long would the resources in that 32' x 32' area support the person to whom it belonged? How many trees could grow there? How much food could be raised? How many fish could be raised and caught? How much livestock could thrive? How much clean water? And how long would it take to pollute that little 32' x 32' plot of Texas land?

Does anyone truly believe that they have a 'footprint' of just over 1,000 square feet?
Have you every been to New York? ... LOL. I, however, agree, most of us would not like a standing-room-only lifestyle.
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Quoting Velocity23:
There is indisputable evidence that the globe is warming, but what is disputed is whether or not humans are solely responsible. Look at the strong correlation between CO2 and surface temperatures. There has never been such a dramatic increase in CO2 over such a short period of time (industrialization/cars/etc), and this massive increase is almost certainly having an effect on global climate.


Historically speaking, the ice cores have been proven to show that CO2 concentration in our atmosphere has always followed Temperature, not led it.

Link
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With proper management our planet is not even close to being 'overpopulated' at 7 Billion.... we have a distribution issue, not a population one ?

Both are problems... the more people we have on the planet, the more space that is needed on the planet to support them.
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Quoting floridafisherman:
how come there is nothing in this new blog about the multitude of storms out there, even if they are not going to threaten land?

iusually love your posts dr mr, but i think you didnt give it your all on this one.


Just reading back from the beggining but remember,It really isin't the Docs web site anymore.

I do what my boss tells me to because I am getting paid to.

The Weather Chanel has its own agenda, most of us do, its the way we seem to be....
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Good luck on talking tropical weather today..
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Quoting TomballTXPride:

BUT....that's just it. We are not sailing the ocean in Greek explorer vessels to observe and measure ice anymore, are we.

We have technology and satellites to do that for us now, and that technology only brings that particular data back to 1979.


No, but we have documented ocean temperatures starting around 1872. The HMS Challenger took ocean readings and we have used that data to see an increase in temperature. Link So right there is a much larger data set to work with.

Like I said before, global warming is not based off of observed sea ice extent alone. It's a cumulative data set from many different sources that allow us to gain a clearer picture.
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Quoting TheOnlyBravesFan:
Humans are mostly to blame for the Arctic ice melt.

Why? How come every issue on the planet has to be blamed on humans? Climates and droughts can be naturally caused. Not everything is caused by humans. These things were going on before we got here. Some of these "issues" just might be natural, or earth-caused.


Because blaming it on humans is the only way to gain votes in an election year.

While in grade school in the late 1970s, all of us in school were being told by scientists and our teachers that we were heading toward the next ice age. (I'm not making this up.) 30 years later (a blip on the climate timeline) they say GW will drown us before then end of the century. And they wonder why there are skeptics.

We have plenty of time to collect data, and should focus on that before jumping to imminent doom and gloom conclusions. IMO, this hype is all about the November elections and not credible science.
Member Since: May 31, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1204
Quoting TomballTXPride:

BUT....that's just it. We are not sailing the ocean in Greek explorer vessels to observe and measure ice anymore, are we.

We have technology and satellites to do that for us now, and that technology only brings that particular data back to 1979.
Why cut out the part of my quote that already directly addressed your objection? Because you cannot deal with the truth.
Quoting guygee:
Cute question. Disingenuous questions do not deserve answers. If you are well versed in the subject you already know that total ice extents have only been measured since the polar-orbiting earth-observing satellites were operational in 1979. Before that time we do not know precisely the total extents, but there is plenty of historical evidence, along with geological and paleoclimatological data that can give us good ideas of minimum and maximum extents at particular locations, so we can extrapolate from those and make good estimates.[...]
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Quoting GlobalWarmingFallacy:
Oh how quick we forget all the falsifed data from the experts were using to support their own agenda.
Your entire comment began with this false statement, so I'll reject the rest as equally false. Unless you can back up such an assertion, that is; would you please be so kind as to show us credible evidence that shows where "experts" falsified any data?
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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