I thought it might be time for an update on this.
Earlier this year we had the big news that even though everything else says otherwise, the statistical wizards of Steig et al (with a cameo appearance by stat-stickster Michael Mann) managed to make Antarctica show a warming trend.
At left here’s the headline from the Sydney Morning Herald January 20th 2009, introducing Steig’s results.
Gosh. This new warm picture proves it. Right? Colors don’t lie. They quote Dr. Steig who says:
“The thing you hear all the time is that Antarctica is cooling. But it’s more complex than that,” Professor Steig said. “Antarctica isn’t warming at the same rate everywhere and, while some areas have been cooling for a long time, the evidence shows the continent as a whole is getting warmer.”
Yes it is more complex than that. A part of that complex story is emerging this month. Right about the time when things should start warming up in Antarctica due to their onset of spring, it seems to be stalled according to one scientist on the ground there who writes ICE STORIES: dispatches from polar scientists (emphasis mine):
MCMURDO STATION, ANTARCTICA– Wednesday, September 16, 2009. It has been a slow, and sometimes frustrating, effort to get our first successful science flight of the project, but we did succeed last night. Before discussing that flight I’d like to write about some of the hurdles we have had to overcome to get to this point.
The first obstacle, and the one least in our control, was the weather. The Aerosonde unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been flown in temperatures as cold as -30 degrees C (-22 deg F), and this was the intended minimum operating temperature for this project.
Prior to coming to Antarctica one of the members of my research group, Shelley Knuth, analyzed 14 years of automatic weather station data from a weather station located at the Pegasus runway that we are using for our UAV flights.
Based on her analysis the temperature at Pegasus is above -30 degrees C for approximately 50% of the time in September, and is below -40 degrees C (which is also -40 degrees F) only 9% of the time in September on average. Of course the weather for any given month rarely follows the average, and this September has been a colder than average September, with most days up until the past few days having temperatures below -30 degrees C at Pegasus, and many days having temperatures below -40 degrees C. This made our attempts to fly the Aerosondes very difficult.
Yes, yes, I know It’s weather, not climate. Hold the caterwauling. But please, also have a look at the NSIDC graph of sea ice for Antarctica. Sea ice forms around the warmer periphery of the continent, not in the cold continental center where Amundsen-Scott base is located. There’s quite the uptick in Antarctic sea ice when the slope should begin heading downward:
While the uptick now is interesting, the real news is the change in extent. Quite a difference from 2008, about 1 million square kilometers more than this time last year, and well above average. The gain in Antarctica extent this year is 2 times that of the gain in the Arctic at 500,000 square kilometers.
Since the wisdom in the press headline is that “Antarctica is melting – sell the beach house”, but we see Antarctic ice increasing, one can only conclude that like Steigs upside down thermometers, we must also have upside down ice sensors, and the ice is actually less than last year. I’m sure somebody can prove that statistically.
Or, the headlines could just be bullpuckey from the press. Which is it? Inquiring minds want to know. If you need a look a how the media spins the melt season in Antarctica, look no further than this CBS News report from Scott Pelley.
Just for fun; a couple of weather forecasts from Weather Underground. Looks like they may finally get the plane launched at McMurdo.
Amundsen-Scott Base at the South Pole: