Anytime I see the “canary in the coal mine” phrase being applied to some phenomenon related to climate, I know right away that the person using it hasn’t really put much thought into using the phrase, and that it is purely an emotional response. Photographer James Balog is the emotional user this time.
This misleading headline, photos, and story in the Daily Mail highlights the photo work of James Balog and the “Extreme Ice Survey” (EIS). They write:
This shocking time lapse video shows how a glacier has receded thousands of feet in just four years.
The footage of Alaska’s Columbia glacier was taken by expert and photographer James Balog and his team between May 2007 and September 2011.
Balog used to a climate change skeptic himself but eventually went on to start the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), the most comprehensive photographic study of glaciers ever conducted.
His new documentary Chasing Ice will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, on January 21, the Huffington Post reports.
Balog told the Idaho Press: ‘Shrinking glaciers are the canary in the global coal mine.
‘They are the most visible, tangible manifestations of climate change on the planet today.’
Unfortunately, I can’t show you the video, because this is what happens when you try embed it in a blog or newspaper article:
So, you have to follow the link: AK-01 Columbia Kadin Narrated
It seems Balog is all about his film, paying speaking engagements, and photo shows, and less about “saving the planet”, since everything he does is heavily copyright plastered. Given that he only wants people to visit his website and see his talks/photo/presentations, I’ll not try to post any of his video or photos here given that he’ll likely squawk about it even though it would be considered fair use. He won’t like what I’m about to say.
Here’s the interesting thing though. In the video, Balog shows what glaciers do normally: calve to the sea, no surprise there. And yes, there was some reduction in the terminus between May 2007 and September 2011.
But is it really honest to show the glacier time-lapse with different endpoints (May versus September) when you know those endpoints have seasonal differences?
And, more importantly, is a four-year period statistically valid for comparison of anything climate related?
If any of us used four years worth of data to make a point about climate, our warmer friends would have a veritable cow. Tamino would call out the cherry picking brigade and scream about hiding/not using the whole data set. Dana1981 of “Skeptical Science” would dash off another get even missive calling us names in violation of his own site policy. Peter Gleick would create some new “worst climate deniers” list to denigrate us with for being so dumb as to use 4 years worth of data to try to make a point.
But, not one of those guys has uttered a peep about four years of glacier footage being used to make a point. Of course what they’ll say now in response is that “Watts is ignoring the ENTIRE glacier record with his four year criticism”.
So to head that off, and to keep in the spirit of photographic evidence, I am in fact going to show more than four years worth of Alaskan glacier data. Let’s have a look at what the USGS says about this glacier. They also have a page on glacier photography.
While they don’t have Alaska’s Columbia glacier in that page, they do have others. Here’s the photos of the Muir glacier in sequence. I’ve added captions for the dates the USGS says they were taken at:
It seems a good portion of the reteat happened well before 1950. They write about this photo sequence, bold mine:
Three northeast-looking photographs taken from a Glacier Bay Photo station that was established in 1941 by William O. Field on White Thunder Ridge, Muir Inlet, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska. The three photographs document the significant changes that have occurred during the 63 years between August 13, 1941 and August 31, 2004. The 1941 photograph shows the lower reaches of Muir Glacier, then a large, tidewater calving valley glacier and its tributary Riggs Glacier. Muir and Riggs Glaciers filled Muir Inlet.
The séracs in the lower right-hand corner of the photograph mark the location of Muir Glacier’s terminus. The ice thickness in the center of the photographs is more than 0.7 kilometers (0.43 miles). For nearly two centuries prior to 1941, Muir Glacier had been retreating. Maximum retreat exceeded 50 kilometers (31 miles). In places, more than a 1.0 kilometer (0.62 mile) thickness of ice had been lost. Note the absence of any identifiable vegetation and the numerous bare bedrock faces present on both sides of the glacier (W. O. Field, # 41-64, courtesy of the National Snow and Ice Data Center and Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve Archive).
The August 4, 1950 photograph, the first of two repeat photographs documents the significant changes that have occurred during the 9 years between it and the 1941 photograph. Muir Glacier has retreated more than 3 kilometers (1.9 miles), exposing Muir Inlet, and thinned 100 meters (328 feet) or more. However, it still is connected with tributary Riggs Glacier. White Thunder Ridge continues to be devoid of vegetation. In places, erosion has removed some of the till from its surface. (W. O. Field, # F50-R29, courtesy of the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve Archive).
The August 31, 2004 photograph, the second repeat photograph, documents the significant changes that have occurred during the 63 years between the first and third photographs and during the 54 years between second and third photographs. Muir Glacier has retreated out of the field of view and is now located more than 7 kilometers (4.4 miles) to the northwest. Riggs Glacier has retreated as much as 0.6 kilometers (0.37 miles) and thinned by more than 0.25 kilometers (0.16 miles). Note the dense vegetation, dominated by Alnus, that has developed on the till cover of White Thunder Ridge. Also note the correlation between Muir Glacier’s 1941 thickness and the trimline on the left side of the 2004 photograph. (USGS Photograph by Bruce F. Molnia).
And here’s a map from USGS that James Balog will never, ever, show in his videos or photo essays, because it blows his argument (and meal ticket) right out of the water:
The source of that map is the USGS Monthly Newsletter for July 2001, seen here.
Note that the majority of the glacier retreat occurred well before CO2 was said to be a problem, when CO2 was at the “safe” level below 350 parts per million as espoused by weepy Bill McKibben and Dr. James Hansen of NASA GISS.
Balog may be an “expert photographer” but he’s a pretty shoddy historian. Maybe instead of “chasing ice” he should chase historical facts, it might help him be a skeptic again.
But none of these guys will ever show you this, it’s just too damned inconvenient.
h/t to Steve Goddard