Weather, not climate, caused the brief surface melt in Greenland last summer

Readers may recall the breathless wailing over a brief period of surface melt detected by satellites last year. The way the media and alarmists who drive the media behaved, you’d think that global warming had set the planet on fire. Maybe their beef was over the red color in the satellite image that accompanied the press release.

Extent of surface melt over Greenland’s ice sheet on July 8 (left) and July 12 (right) 2012. Measurements from three satellites showed that on July 8, about 40 percent of the ice sheet had undergone thawing at or near the surface. In just a few days, the melting had dramatically accelerated and an estimated 97 percent of the ice sheet surface had thawed by July 12.

Turns out this wasn’t “unprecedented” as it happened before in 1889. Researchers suggested at the time that this event happens about once every 150 years.

From the University of Wisconsin-Madison today, we have the reason for the event – weather in the form of thin clouds and air masses.

No wonder the public is ignoring the alarmists more and more, when they make claims like they did, and it turns out to be simply Mother Nature conducting business as usual, it tends to turn people off. Seth Borenstein, Joe Romm, and weepy Bill McKibben take note.

Thin clouds drove Greenland’s record-breaking 2012 ice melt

MADISON — If the sheet of ice covering Greenland were to melt in its entirety tomorrow, global sea levels would rise by 24 feet. (but it won’t so why mention it? – A)

Three million cubic kilometers of ice won’t wash into the ocean overnight, but researchers have been tracking increasing melt rates since at least 1979. Last summer, however, the melt was so large that similar events show up in ice core records only once every 150 years or so over the last four millennia.

“In July 2012, a historically rare period of extended surface melting raised questions about the frequency and extent of such events,” says Ralf Bennartz, professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences and scientist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Space Science and Engineering Center. “Of course, there is more than one cause for such widespread change. We focused our study on certain kinds of low-level clouds.”

In a study to be published in the April 4 issue of the journal Nature, Bennartz and collaborators describe the moving parts that led to the melt, which was observed from the ICECAPS experiment funded by the National Science Foundation and run by UW–Madison and several partners atop the Greenland ice sheet.

“The July 2012 event was triggered by an influx of unusually warm air, but that was only one factor,” says Dave Turner, physical scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Severe Storms Laboratory. “In our paper we show that low-level clouds were instrumental in pushing temperatures up above freezing.”

Low-level clouds typically reflect solar energy back into space, and snow cover also tends to bounce energy from the sun back from the Earth’s surface.

Under particular temperature conditions, however, clouds can be both thin enough to allow solar energy to pass through to the surface and thick enough to “trap” some of that heat even if it is turned back by snow and ice on the ground.

While low, thin cloud cover is just one element within a complex interaction of wind speed, turbulence and humidity, the extra heat energy trapped close to the surface can push temperatures above freezing.

That is exactly what happened in July 2012 over large parts of the Greenland ice sheet, and similar conditions may help answer climate conundrums elsewhere.

“We know that these thin, low-level clouds occur frequently,” Bennartz says. “Our results may help to explain some of the difficulties that current global climate models have in simulating the Arctic surface energy budget.”

Current climate models tend to underestimate the occurrence of the clouds ICECAPS researchers found, limiting those models’ ability to predict cloud response to Arctic climate change and possible feedback like spiking rates of ice melt.

By using a combination of surface-based observations, remote sensing data, and surface energy-balance models, the study not only delineates the effect of clouds on ice melting, but also shows that this type of cloud is common over both Greenland and across the Arctic, according to Bennartz.

“Above all, this study highlights the importance of continuous and detailed ground-based observations over the Greenland ice sheet and elsewhere,” he says. “Only such detailed observations will lead to a better understanding of the processes that drive Arctic climate. “

###

NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory and the Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement program contributed to the work at NSF’s Summit Station, supporting collaborating scientists Matt Shupe of the University of Colorado Boulder, ICECAPS principal investigator Von Walden of the University of Idaho, Konrad Steffen of the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, UW–Madison’s Nate Miller and Mark Kulie, and graduate students Claire Pettersen (UW-Madison) and Chris Cox (Idaho).

50 thoughts on “Weather, not climate, caused the brief surface melt in Greenland last summer

  1. One for the skeptics.
    They’ve been saying for years that the IPCC type models don’t handle the behaviour of clouds.

    Now it remains to see if someone “suddenly discovers” that CO2 might not have the extreme effect that has been claimed.

  2. It is hard to keep up.

    AGW causes hotter temps. Then AGW causes colder temps. Then AGW causes the Arctic meltdown, Then AGW causes new record cold records in Alaska. Then AGW causes……You get it.

  3. you just know that someone somewhere is going to say that global warming caused the low level clouds

  4. John Parsons AKA atarsinc

    This study is heavily dependent upon surface energy-balance models and should therefore be viewed with suspicion. /sarc JP

  5. What were the winds during this period and what influence might that play in the brief melting?

  6. Eliza says April 3rd 2013 at 5.30 pm
    The leader of the opposition’s comment was along the lines of
    Will Professor Flannery retain his position as head of the Climate Unit?
    Answer We are not looking to retain the position.We think we will be able to have the benefit of Professor Flannery’s opinions without having to pay him.
    The original reference is behind a paywall so this is from memory only.

  7. Anthony, surely, as a professional meteorologist, you are aware by now that if it cools it is WEATHER, and if it warms it is CATOSTROPHIC ANTHROPOGENIC GLOBAL WARMING. Come on, the science is settled!!!! /sarc (if needed!)

  8. If the sheet of ice covering Greenland were to melt in its entirety tomorrow, global sea levels would rise by 24 feet.
    ==================
    and if temperatures were to rise at the highest rate projected by the IPCC, it would take only 10 thousand years for this to happen. however, this doesn’t stop Gore and Hansen from worrying about the certain death of their grandchildren in 10 thousand years unless we stop the melting. for certain, stop using coal and fossil fuels, otherwise your grandchildren will also be dead in 10 thousand years, from the non-stop relentless sea level rise of 24 feet.

    climate science guarantees, if you stop using fossil fuels your grandchildren will not die of sea level rise in 10 thousand years. guaranteed.

  9. “Anthony, surely, as a professional meteorologist, you are aware by now that if it cools it is WEATHER, and if it warms it is CATOSTROPHIC ANTHROPOGENIC GLOBAL WARMING. Come on, the science is settled!!!! /sarc (if needed!)”

    Well in one of the IPCC report they define climate change as being AGW. By doing that they got rid of “natural global warming”(NGW). But of course natural global cooling still is possible according IPCC definition?

  10. “Above all, this study highlights the importance of continuous and detailed ground-based observations over the Greenland ice sheet and elsewhere,” he says. “Only such detailed observations will lead to a better understanding of the processes that drive Arctic climate. “

    Translation: if you need us to blame this on AGW we’ll need a lot more grant money.

  11. Speaking of weather, there’s a huge storm in the Atlantic now, stretching from Newfoundland to Portugal.

  12. A “once every 150 years” melting event could happen anytime. Hopefully another one won’t happen for at least another few decades – otherwise the alarmist rhetoric will increase in volume.

    The interesting question is: How often did such melting events occur during the Holocene Climate Optimum – when the Arctic was usually warmer than today and recent millennia, but not warmer than it might get later this century? If such melting events occurred once a decade or so during the Holocene Climate Optimum, many readers might live long enough read about another one.

  13. Eliza says:
    April 3, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    Ot but related Australian media still peddling they obviously are not aware of marcott et al and all studies who actually show a long term cooling LOL

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/climate/climate-chiefs-face-abbott-axe/story-e6frg6xf-1226612076744

    I suspect Tony Abbot is a skeptic at heart.
    He is just playing it close until after the September election .
    (For those not up to date with Australian politics, he is the Opposition Leader, and a conservative )
    And on a completely off topic note, he is also a volunteer firefighter. So he does have some first hand knowledge of dealing with disasters.

  14. Last I heard, CAGW caused ice. If was the wrong sort of ice, of course.

    As with all the alarmists flap, they get the headlines, but the corrections to their faulty science don’t get the headlines. I know reporters prefer panic to sanity, but shouldn’t the MSM be waking up to the fact they are being used, about now? Unless and until the MSM slap them for it, reporters (and the newspapers they report in) are left with as much egg on their faces as the shonky “scientists” are.

    If I was a reporter, I’d be looking to edge away from this continuing meltdown (pardon the pun) of environmental alarmism.

  15. Jon says:
    April 3, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    …Well in one of the IPCC report they define climate change as being AGW. By doing that they got rid of “natural global warming”(NGW). But of course natural global cooling still is possible according IPCC definition?

    *

    What happens if we get NGW on top of AGW? Wouldn’t that mean we’ll get even more warming?!Oh no! It’s worse than we thought!

    Heeheehee :) I know, I know, I shouldn’t give them ideas. Sorry. :)

  16. “What happens if we get NGW on top of AGW? Wouldn’t that mean we’ll get even more warming?!Oh no! It’s worse than we thought!”

    I think the reason this was done was because it’s not scientifically possible to tell what is NGW and what is AGW?
    So by defining that all GW is anthropogenic only they got rid of NGW? But it’s rather silly that they kept NGC natural global cooling?
    It’s not logical at all? Kindergarten level science?

  17. Re: Mosher snip. Speaking as someone who has been snipped several times by Anthony and friends, including Charles, I can say he almost certainly deserved it. My snips have come when I make insulting remarks [name calling] about climate scientists [?] and their MSM enablers. I get frustrated when Anthony will not call these charletons what they are in plain and graphic language. But Anthony is RIGHT! I can’t believe he doesn’t get frustrated himself [he can comment for himself]. He is right because to give in to that frustration drops us to the level of name callers like Joe Romm, ect. Anthony Watts, who should have a Nobel prize, is one of the people I most respect in the world because of the high plane he keeps WUWT on.

  18. Another Livescience/Nature climate change gem:

    http://news.yahoo.com/arctic-going-green-warming-study-finds-235023263.html

    “The Arctic climate affects the world: Changes in sea ice affect ocean circulation, which, in turn, affects atmospheric circulation that then impacts the globe, said Bruce Forbes, a geographer at the Arctic Center at the University of Lapland in Finland, who was not involved in the study.”

    Yes Bruce Forbes, 1070 hPa air must be really warm… meanwhile poor Bruce got it really backward in its cause/effect chain.

    “Past research suggested that warming has already brought later winters and earlier springs to the Arctic. And fossil forests reveal the Arctic was once green as well.”

    So what?

    “To find out exactly how much greening Arctic warming would bring, the team used a model that projected how temperature changes would affect snow cover, vegetation, and the increased evaporation and transpiration from plants in the Arctic.”

    And where is the evidence of tree line moving north in Siberia, in Canada? Who cares, the model says it will be green.

  19. “The July 2012 event was triggered by an influx of unusually warm air, but that was only one factor,” says Dave Turner”

    Warm air at 1032 hPa???

    A few days above freezing point affecting the entire surface of Greenland in the middle of summer that coincided with a period of low winds and high pressure up to 1032hPa http://www.wunderground.com/history/station/04416/2012/7/24/MonthlyHistory.html

    Now 1032 hPa is warm air… Ask Brits during Easter if that kind of air pressure means warm air!

  20. TomRude says:
    April 3, 2013 at 9:22 pm
    …..Ask Brits during Easter if that kind of air pressure means warm air!
    It’s Greenland’s fault, er… Iceland’s I think, not entirely sure.
    At this time of the year, the UK’s (& the N.W. Europe’s) temperatures appear to follow the negative Icelandic atmospheric pressure (with a very few exceptions).

    http://www.vukcevic.talktalk.net/CET-IAP.htm

    is a weather person about?

  21. Jon says:
    April 3, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    “What happens if we get NGW on top of AGW? Wouldn’t that mean we’ll get even more warming?!Oh no! It’s worse than we thought!”

    I think the reason this was done was because it’s not scientifically possible to tell what is NGW and what is AGW?
    So by defining that all GW is anthropogenic only they got rid of NGW? But it’s rather silly that they kept NGC natural global cooling?
    It’s not logical at all? Kindergarten level science?

    *

    I agree with you. If it’s cooling, it’s weather, if it’s warming, it’s climate. If it’s cooling it’s natural, if it’s warming, it anthropogenic. The rules and goal posts get switched around to suit the alarmists, hence CAGW, climate change, climate weirding and extreme weather, and whatever is coming out next week.

    Environmentalist policy also kicks out anything that WORKS. Have you noticed? Hydro-electric is “bad” because it kills the little fishies. Wind is “good” (for now – it’ll get ditched later after we rely on it, as per green dictates), despite killing the birdies. More birds die than fish would, too, you don’t need hundreds of dams all clustered together like you do windmills.

    Hydro cars are also out because “water is a greenhouse gas, too, and we ought to begin worrying about that as well” (There’s a scary thought. Will they ban or tax water?) Meanwhile, slow little elecrtric cars are acceptable because they impoverish the driver (to my mind, anyone who is forced to drive around in a plastic lunchbox and run out of juice after 30 miles is impoverished). Hydro cars looked good and go as fast as the cars we have now, fill up quickly and have equal range as now, and are clean. Yes, I know there are problems, but that’s not the point. Greens don’t like them because they WORK and give people the same freedom they have now. No sacrifice required.

    Nuclear is another energy source they don’t like or want (because cheap energy frees and empowers the people?)

    We are well and truly being led up the garden path. The pros of their policies are exaggerated, while the cons are buried. Their “solutions” have carbon footprints that outdo what they are replacing, they do tremendous damage to the enironment and they DON’T WORK.

    Kindergarten science? I think it’s worse than that. It’s puppet science, and we all know who the Masters are (or want to be).

  22. Why don’t people just sleep easy over Greenland, well at least for the rest of this century. Greenland survived the (warmer than Holocene maximum) Eemian interglacial and apparently showed “only a modest ice-sheet response to the strong warming in the early Eemian.” When forests grew in parts of northern Norway (now Tundra) above the Arctic circle. When Hippopotamus paddled in the River Thames and Rhine.

    References:

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v493/n7433/full/nature11789.html

    http://tinyurl.com/ccnroyk

    http://www.njgonline.nl/publish/articles/000099/article.pdf

  23. The BBC are ramping up the global warming scare stories, they have been pushing Polar Bears on “Thin Ice – an uncertain future” for several days plus “Melt causes Antarctic sea ice rise”, to name but 2 of their “Science/Environment” articles.
    So we must still be doomed . . . we just don’t recognise it yet!

  24. The Vikings colonised Greenland and grew crops but then it got colder and they left. Nothing to see here – move on. Historical weather/climate, eye witness records show a series of cycles and surely that is what these idiot Climate Changers should use a guide, not pseudo scientific computer predictions that have failed utterly to prove anything significant.

  25. Anthony
    In light of Mosher’s serious contributions and his recent statements about which team he is on, won’t you please reconsider and post Mosher’s comment?
    I’m guessing it was about general human tendencies and being aware of how we accept and use news.
    Mosher says stuff that I find ridiculous sometimes, but I am interested in what he says and even more interested if it gets removed. .

    Thanks for everything, Anthony!

  26. There are many varied studies that all confirm the same thing. Greenland was several degrees warmer during much of the Holocene.

    For instance

    https://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2012/04/07/little-ice-age-was-the-coldest-period-for-10000-years/

    As Professor Steffensen says

    I agree totally we have had a global temperature increase in the 20thC – but an increase from what? ..Probably an increase from the lowest point in the last 10,000 years.

    We started to observe meteorology at the coldest point in the last 10,000 years.

  27. OK. Since the so-called rapid melt in the Anarctic is to blame for cooling the ocean around the continent, leading to the large expansion in sea ice there, why has this rapid melt led to so-called lows in the ice-anomoly around Greenland?

  28. A.D. Everard says:
    April 3, 2013 at 7:22 pm :
    “If I was a reporter, I’d be looking to edge away from this continuing meltdown (pardon the pun) of environmental alarmism.”
    ADE, you’d be out of work quickly.
    Infidel!

  29. Question.

    If we have a widespread melt that might melt two or three years of ice, what does that do to the ice chronology?

    When looking back at the Thera eruption in 1620 BC, this is given to +-10 years. But how can they state this level of accuracy, if they loose 3% of all the layers in the ice?

    So what is the TRUE accuracy of the ice record??

    .

  30. “Above all, this study highlights the importance of continuous and detailed ground-based observations over the Greenland ice sheet and elsewhere,…Only such detailed observations will lead to a better understanding of the processes that drive Arctic climate. “

    I hate to be flippant, but I can’t wait to see the recruiting posters at colleges and universities for volunteers to man observation sites on the Greenland ice sheet and elsewhere during summer break.

  31. ralfellis says:

    If we have a widespread melt that might melt two or three years of ice, what does that do to the ice chronology?

    Not ice, at the surface and many meters down there is snow, solid ice forms at a depth of about 300 feet.
    And a day or two of melt won’t remove a whole winters’ accumulation of snow, much less two or three years. Remember “Glacier Girl”, buried 260 feet deep after only 50 years.
    A surface melt like this does however have some influence on the gas enclosed in the glacier since it seals off the snow below the melt layer from the atmosphere.

  32. It’s the same when people say there’s going to be war, some says no it won’t happen. Some don’t care and some will take advantage of it to make money and experts and analysts explains why and how etc..
    then there are the people that experience the war…..! REALITY!!!!
    Same with the world’s climate…..All I can say look around you and listen, be aware of what’s happening and make your own choices and prepare.

  33. Hmmm…..Warm air and thin clouds which occur every 150 yrs. Must remember that arguement for next time there’s an ‘unprecedented’ melt.

  34. ralfellis says: April 4, 2013 at 7:01 am
    Question.
    If we have a widespread melt that might melt two or three years of ice, what does that do to the ice chronology?

    The opposite is true . At the time of the Dalton minimum temperatures were low, no summer melt to delaminate subsequent years, with any snow in the summer months making situation even worse.
    Here I compared visual sunspot record with one derived by McCracken (the world authority in this field) using 10Be

    http://www.vukcevic.talktalk.net/DM.htm

    Thanks to availability of the SSN records, the obvious misalignment of two records can be repaired (as I have done, not available anywhere else) by inserting the missing years.
    However, prior to 1700 there are no reliable SSN records, thus dating records may not be as reliable as it is often suggested.

  35. I’m melting, I’m melting… Oh, what a wicked world. Who would have thought a pretty little warming like you could destroy my beautiful glaciers….. ohh nooo meltingggg…

  36. Happens on any day of any year !

    But the Box’s and Tedesco’s are junkies to the cocaine of Media Coverage for their ‘smoke screen’ astrology.

  37. “Maybe their beef was over the red color in the satellite image that accompanied the press release.”

    The map could have used any color, but red was the least distressing for the alarmists. The green showing around the edges just made them think of thriving Viking settlements, so that was not selected. And grey to black would just make them think of the incredibly rich oil and coal reserves under and around the sheets, waiting for the locals to extract, and that was even worse. So red it was.

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