Arctic Ice Thickness Measured From Buoys

Guest Post by Steven Goddard

The Catlin Arctic Survey has generated quite a bit of discussion, more because of the difficulties they have faced than because of the scientific merit of their expedition.  Their home page is covered with testimonials about the importance of measuring “ice decline” and raising “climate change awareness.”

Normally a scientific experiment will start out with a neutral approach, where the conclusions are derived from the data, rather than arriving at conclusions prior to attempting to collect data.  The appearance of presumption presented on their web site that they are measuring “ice decline,” could easily be interpreted to be putting the cart before the horse.

It is also difficult to understand how they could be measuring “ice decline” from a single set of data points taken at minus 40C, measured over an eight week period.

Are they going to come back next year and measure again?  Not likely, and even if they did the ice would not be in the same place next year – as it is blown around by the wind.  There is little question that the ice will continue to thicken over the next few weeks, as it normally does not start to melt near the pole until late June or early July. Fortunately we do have an objective and consistently reliable data source to work with, from that same region.

The US Army keeps a set of buoys on the ice which continuously monitor ice thickness, temperature and location year round.  These buoys maintain themselves with a minimum of trauma, twittering, publicity, rescue expeditions and frostbite – and are normally able to provide more than one year of data.

The Google Earth map below shows the attempted Catlin route in green markers, and the Army buoys in yellow.  The buoys are marked with approximate thickness of the ice, which I estimated based on the water depth where the temperature rapidly drops below the freezing point of seawater (minus 2C.)

As an example, I estimated the thickness at buoy 2007J as 3.5 metres, based on the graph below.  Above -350 cm, the water temperature drops off quickly below -2C, which means that it is frozen.

http://imb.crrel.usace.army.mil/buoy_plots/2007J.gif

All five buoys show water temperatures indicating ice thickness in the range of 3-4 metres.  Catlin is attempting to take another 10,000 or so measurements on the shifting, moving ice they are trying to travel across.  While that data may be useful in understanding the local behaviour of the ice, it likely will provide little information about long-term ice trends, unless the same measurements are taken on a consistent basis over many years. You can also see in the 2007J graph above that the ice has thickened at least half a metre since March, 2008.

In most fields of science, that is considered an increase rather than a “decline.”

From the Army web site:

Data policy: We encourage the use of all data on this web site. Please reference any data use as:

Perovich, D.K., J.A. Richter-Menge, B. Elder, K. Claffey, and C. Polashenski, Observing and understanding climate change: Monitoring the mass balance, motion, and thickness of Arctic sea ice, http://www.crrel.usace.army.mil/sid/IMB/

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Pamela Gray

So do these folks skating on the ice not know about these buoys? Shouldn’t a kind soul leave a post on their web site telling them that they can come home now?

jorge c.

dear mr. Goddard
O/T, but have you read this post http://www.cejournal.net/?p=1428?????

Keith Minto

Of course reporting the Catlin ‘survey’,responsible journalists and their editors would balance their article with “however, US Army Ice buoys using longer term data have reported………”.
Wouldn’t they?

Policyguy

Let’s wish the people well and hope they don’t get hurt from this stunt. Imagine new martyrs in search of their grail while they had but to ask what the buoys had to say. Obviously they are in it more for the misadventure. Pity.

Sledgehammer

Too bad Al Gore isn’t with them.

Steven Goddard

jorge,
Thanks for the WAIS link. The “collapse” of the WAIS is an AGW favorite.
From Wikipedia –
The West Antarctic ice sheet has warmed by more than 0.1 C/decade in the last 50 years, and is strongest in winter and spring.
So if winter temperatures increase from -30 to -29 degrees, how exactly is that going to cause collapse?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Antarctic_Ice_Sheet
Also, the weight of the ice causes the ground underneath to depress into a bowl shape, which stabilizes the ice.
James Hansen, a senior NASA scientist who is a leading climate adviser to the US government, said the results were deeply worrying. “Once a sheet starts to disintegrate, it can reach a tipping point beyond which break-up is explosively rapid,” he said. [7]
And monkeys may fly …..

Tim L

I just hope they don’t kill them fool selves !

hengav

Go the the Catlin survey site and you will find this post:http://www.catlinarcticsurvey.com/Difficult_decisions_
They describe things like “open water” and year old ice, thickness 1m. What utter rubbish. Look at the Land Surface Temperature images from the Aqua satellite and you will see that the the “cracks” are well below -17 degrees Celsius. That is not open water. Look at this image and the temperature legend:
http://rapidfire.sci.gsfc.nasa.gov/realtime/single.php?2009077/lst2.A2009077215500-2009077220000.2km.jpg
HOw could it be 1m thick when the average buoy measurement is greater than 3.5m? They haven’t transmitted an iota of data yet, but they must have done some surveying of the landing strip and come up with the 1m thickness. Does that mean ALL their readings will be X/3.5? THey have just got a plane finally landed for resupply. They would be wise to ask for a lift home.

Steven Goddard

hengav,
It is very likely that they are seeing some open water and thin ice, as the winds move ice around and cause stresses that crack the ice. That happens every winter.
I don’t think there is any reason to believe that the data they are reporting is incorrect. I’m just questioning the value of the data wrt understanding long term trends in thickness.

Antonio San

This is all about perception and headlines: in its weekly agit prop science section the Globe and Mail the Canadian AGW mainstream mouthpiece -the only Canadian newspaper linked from desmogblog, and that is quite an endorsement- is now quoting a Reuters report -Thomson-Reuters owns CTV Globemedia parent company of the Globe- about another 2 studies published in -you guessed it- Nature, claiming a small increase in GHGs will finish off the West antarctica ice…

hengav

Steven
Actually I disagree. I have been watching the LST measurements (and commenting on them) around Alert and the high arctic for over 2 weeks. Ir was my first introduction to studying the flow patterns and the relative temperatures of different fissures. When I looked at the passage between Alert and Greenland I noticed a discrete temperature change associated with ice “flow”. There is none of that going on in the high arctic at the moment. The fissures that surround the team’s position have been there for well over 2 weeks now. There is no apparent displacement of ice from the arctic basin, rather it is collecting. The evidence comes directly from the movement of the Catlin team itself, it is heading SOUTH. The only way you would get open water is if the ice shifted and moved north, displacing ice faster into the ocean east of Greenland than the movement of the main ice mass is traveling. The images don’t lie, fly around the globe a bit with Aqua and you will see for yourself. My interpretation may be off as the days get warmer, but they picked a mighty dangerous spot to start the journey, and it is not going to get any easier for them any time soon.

Gerard

Don’t wish Gore on them. They will end up in a blizzard and under 6m of snow

“Normally a scientific experiment will start out with a neutral approach, where the conclusions are derived from the data, rather than arriving at conclusions prior to attempting to collect data.”
In my opinion the real scientific approach should be: “We have a theory that the artic ice thickness is declining in the last decennia. This expedition is set up to falsifying this theory. Only then the expedition members (and we!) will know at forehand what they will measure and how.

AndyW

It does seem that the adventure is the goal and the “science” is thing being used to be paid for the adventure.
No doubt if the science involved sitting in a portacabin in Slough taking temperature measurements for a year they wouldn’t be bothered doing it.
So, the science is just an excuse for a jolly.
Regards
Andy

EJ

Sounds kinda like a sociologist try to do real science.
I hope he makes it back.

John F. Hultquist

Well, “jolly” I don’t think it is. It doesn’t seem to be going well in any aspect. They are hardly going fast enough to stay in place. It is well they got re-supplied. They will have a few more days to consider the really hard decision of closing this folly down and going home. There was never anything scientific they were going to accomplish — as the buoys may — so they can go finish off the publicity in London, get 15 minutes of fame, have a pint, and call it good.

John F. Hultquist

Meant to mention this in the first post I made; sorry.
Another set of Arctic Buoys with possibilities of yielding real science:
http://iabp.apl.washington.edu/maps_daily_map.html

tallbloke

The longer they stay out there, the greater the chance they will be hit by a big storm. I hope they stay safe and warm, even though I think they are performing a stupid stunt for the wrong reasons.

C Colenaty

hengav (22:12:32) :
You say that the tem is heading SOUTH??? Do you have any notion as to why they are heading south when heir objective is to each the north pole?

pkatt

http://ice-glaces.ec.gc.ca/app/WsvPrdCanQry.cfm?CanID=11081&Lang=eng
🙂 Took me all of six seconds to find the above link.. this site also does thickness and flow of ice… seems like a few cases of frostbite could have been avoided if they would have done a little research:)

crosspatch

See, according to the AGW hypothesis, the increasing thickness if arctic ice is a direct indication of global warming, same with thickening ice in Greenland and Antarctica. And the warmer it gets, the thicker the ice will get until it is all gone and the polar bears disappear.

Dorlomin

“You can also see in the 2007J graph above that the ice has thickened at least half a metre since March, 2008.
In most fields of science, that is considered an increase rather than a “decline.”

The multiyear ice is thickening. Wow, the things you learn! I thought that it was the decline of the age and percentage of the multiyear ice that was causing the declining thickness of the Arctic ice cap, now I find it is actualy the multiyear ice that is meant to be thinning.
I stand corrected said the man in the orthopedic shoes.

Rhys Jaggar

The figure with the data doesn’t seem to have the 14th March 2009 circles on it – the big round red ones, that is.
Any chance of putting those on?

Aron
JimB

“Sledgehammer (21:03:27) :
Too bad Al Gore isn’t with them.”
What bear could pass up THAT tasty treat?
JimB

JimB

“C Colenaty (23:58:27) :
hengav (22:12:32) :
You say that the tem is heading SOUTH??? Do you have any notion as to why they are heading south when heir objective is to each the north pole?”
Actually, they are not “heading South”. They are making negative progress heading North. They keep walking North, but the ice flow they are on is moving South. They’re just not walking fast enough.
JimB

lgl

The first 100 cm shows a very constant temp. Doesn’t that mean that the first meter is above the ice giving a thickness of 350-100 cm (roughly avg)?

tallbloke

Dorlomin
decline of the age and percentage of the multiyear ice…
??How does multiyear ice decline in age??
I’m looking forward to this autumn’s ice extent minimum figures to help shut up some of the nonsense talked about arctic ice.

Looks like they’ve resupplied
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/devon/7952165.stm
The two from Devon are nearish neighbours of mine.
Pen Hadows departure was greted by this headline in the local paper
‘Local Dad heads for Arctic’
Quite what the scientific point is though I don’t know. Pens motives are no doubt honourable but one of them will be that he loves going to the Arctic.
TonyB

Roger H

Per this article : http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102066621&ft=1&f=1003 there is a ‘growing consensus’ that the ice is melting in Antarctica. How does a consensus grow? I thought when you had a consensus you had everyone’s agreement already? Damn semantics!

JMD

From Bloomberg. com March 18:
“Polar Explorers Run Short of Food; Weather Stops Supply Flights
By Alex Morales
Three U.K. explorers bound for the North Pole on a scientific expedition to study global warming said they are close to running out of food after “brutal” weather conditions halted three attempts to fly in supplies.
The support team hopes to decide within hours on when it can send an airplane to land on nearby ice with provisions, Tori Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Catlin Arctic Survey in London, said in an interview today.
“We’re hungry, the cold is relentless, our sleeping bags are full of ice,” expedition leader Pen Hadow said in a statement e-mailed yesterday by his team.”
Gee, it’s March, it’s the high Arctic and it is bloody cold. Who knew?

Bruce Cobb

Dorlomin (00:45:41)
The multiyear ice is thickening. Wow, the things you learn! I thought that it was the decline of the age and percentage of the multiyear ice that was causing the declining thickness of the Arctic ice cap, now I find it is actualy the multiyear ice that is meant to be thinning.
Wow, an overall decline in ice extent for a number of years, along with a large decline in 2007 mainly due to ocean currents and winds, and the age and percentage of multiyear ice is STILL recovering less than two years later? That is truly alarming, Dorlomin. Thank you for bringing that stunning bit of science to our attention.
We were blind, but now can see. Praise be to Gore.

philincalifornia

What’s happening at Cryosphere Today ?? Anyone know ?? No Arctic sea ice extent update since March 14th. Just when it looked like Greenland was going to be joined to Iceland. When did that last happen ??

jae

From a science standpoint, they are wasting millions of dollars for nothing, as Anthony explains in the post. It’s too bad the money could not have been used on something better. Another sad part of “climate science.”

BrianMcL

Does anyone know how they’re planning to analyse their data once they’ve collected it?
Perhaps if they published their algorithm whilst they’re still collecting their data it could be debugged by the time they need to use it.
Such an approach might even give them some credibility back.

Harry

These Catlin guys remind me of the time members of the “Christian Peace-keeper Teams” entered Iraq on their own on about 2003-2004 when the post invasion violence was at its near peak. They were there to find and collect evidence of war atrocities and human rights violations they were sure were being conducted by the United States military. It just had to be happening.
Sure enough, the team found powerful and undeniable evidence that both war atrocities and human rights violations were indeed taking place.
At least one of them had been beheaded, and another had to be rescued in an armed raid.
If you are out there wondering who did the beheading, it’s probably a fair bet you are also convinced AGW is real.

I know nothing about the intracies of measuring ice thickness. However, as a scientist, I do know that, on occasions, it is highly desirable to measure the same phemenon with different techniques at the same time. Yes, there are all sorts of high tech ways of measuring ice thickness. But what the Catlin scientists are doing, (which is, I believe, unique,) is to measure the ice thickness by radar, and then measure the same ice thickness by taking a wacking great auger, drilling an actual hole in the ice, and then directly measuring how thick it is. Does this combination of techniques add significantly to our scientific knowledge? I have absolutely no idea whatsoever. But the three people who are out there on the ice clearly think it does. And I believe they are absolutely correct.

philincalifornia (04:39:32) :

What’s happening at Cryosphere Today ?? Anyone know ?? No Arctic sea ice extent update since March 14th. Just when it looked like Greenland was going to be joined to Iceland. When did that last happen ??

They’re updating images in the archive, the 3/17 image looks decent, but other recent images are awful. The 3/18 image shows Hudson’s Bay completely open.
The images are formed from combining swaths of image data that are tangent to some high latitude. This means the data furthest from the poles has the least redundancy and that’s where the bogus open water shows up.
Perhaps the images are so bad they aren’t putting them up on the home page.
Images for dates mentioned above:
http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/ARCHIVE/20090314.jpg
http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/ARCHIVE/20090317.jpg
http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/ARCHIVE/20090318.jpg
All the images show Greenland is connected to Iceland by ice, exactly what are you looking for?

timbrom

OT, but please have a look at this: <a href=”http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/climatechange/5015003/Sacked-executive-discriminated-against-due-to-belief-in-climate-change.html”. Many earlier threads/posts have discussed AGW in terms of religious belief. Looks like the great and good are showing their slips at last!

timbrom

Whoops, bad HTML.
OT, but please have a look at this: <a href=”http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/climatechange/5015003/Sacked-executive-discriminated-against-due-to-belief-in-climate-change.html”. Many earlier threads/posts have discussed AGW in terms of religious belief. Looks like the great and good are showing their slips at last!

timbrom

Whoops, bad HTML.
OT, but please have a look at this: Many earlier threads/posts have discussed AGW in terms of religious belief. Looks like the great and good are showing their slips at last!

mercurior

perhaps the images doesnt show what they want them to show ;-).

Steven Goddard

Dorlomin,
The large decline in multiyear ice which occurred during the winter of 2007-2008, was due to winds which pushed much of the ice out into the North Atlantic, where it melted. At the end of the 2007 summer, there was ice covering the North Pole – yet after another winter in March, 2008 the North Pole had only first year ice.
This winter, the winds are different, as indicated by the buoy drift maps and the fact that the Catlin explorers are being blown the other direction (which is obviously not what they were expecting.)
BTW – NASA has excellent technology for measuring ice thickness from satellites across the entire Arctic.
http://nsidc.org/images/arcticseaicenews/200804_Figure6.png
Anothe rway to measure ice thickness is

timbrom
anna v

Aron,
You were asking in the modeling thread
Aron (13:41:10) :
Steven,
Where can I get data for concentrations of CO2 in cities/urban areas as opposed to global figures?
Thanks.

Try the Beck website
http://www.biokurs.de/treibhaus/180CO2_supp.htm
There is also a thread in Lucy’s blog:
http://www.greenworldtrust.org.uk/Forum/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=90

Eric

There seems to be a campaign of mindless negativism on this web site, to say the least, and this blogpost by Steven Goddard is a good example of it.
Goddard says that measurement of ice thickness along the path of the expedition cannot provide data that would track the time dependence of the ice thickness and buoys are better for that. This is a kind of straw man argument, because the expedition obviously was not intended to get the time dependence of the ice thickness from the measurements that will be made. This type of argument is used to make it seem as if the scientists who are working on this problem are fools and blockheads.
It is known that the satellite data from which we get ice extent data has interpretation problems, and that the algorithms to calculate the ice statistics have needed revision over the years.
Skeptics on this web site often talk of the need for real world data. From my reading of the news article, the purpose of this expedition is to provide real world data with which to calibrate satellite measurements.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7917266.stm
“…It is intended to give scientists the very latest “ground truth”, to better constrain their models and their interpretation of the observations coming from satellites. ..”
The data from buoys comes only from multi year ice blocks which drift around in the ocean and cannot provide the kind of cross sectional data that the expedition can supply, to calibrate the satellite measurements.

I’m sorry, EJ (23:34:31) :, but you understand neither sociology nor science. I’m not changing your grade.

jorge c.

mr.goddard:
i’m 64 years old, spanish speaking and for me the internet is a wild country! the link i added was about the diference betwen the report of andy rivkin about the melting of antarctic ice (1000+ years!!) and reuters (the we are near the tipping point!!).
the new study posted says the “melting” will take hundreds of years or thousands.

Mike Bryant

“Does this combination of techniques add significantly to our scientific knowledge? I have absolutely no idea whatsoever. But the three people who are out there on the ice clearly think it does. And I believe they are absolutely correct.”
HUH?

Ray

I would have great confidence in those numbers since the army needs to know the exact thickness of the ice before they puncture a hole with the tower of a submarine.