1960’s satellite imagery of polar ice discovers “enormous holes” in the sea ice


NIMBUS satellite image from 9 September, 1969 with ice edge tracings show “giant holes” in the Arctic sea ice in the Chickchi Sea north of Alaska. Image source: NSIDC. Click to enlarge.

NSIDC has announced the discovery and recovery of space footage of Earth’s polar icecaps, dating back to 1964.

The recovered photographs have yielded some startling surprises, according to David Gallaher, technical services manager at NSIDC, bold mine:

In the Arctic, sea ice extent was larger in the 1960s than it is these days, on average. “It was colder, so we expected that,” Gallaher said. What the researchers didn’t expect were “enormous holes” in the sea ice, currently under investigation. “We can’t explain them yet,” Gallaher said.

“And the Antarctic blew us away,” he said. In 1964, sea ice extent in the Antarctic was the largest ever recorded, according to Nimbus image analysis. Two years later, there was a record low for sea ice in the Antarctic, and in 1969 Nimbus imagery, sea ice appears to have reached its maximum extent earliest on record.

When NASA launched Nimbus-1 50 years ago, the agency’s key goals were to test instruments that could capture images of clouds and other meteorological features, Gallaher said.

The Nimbus satellites dished up such excellent observations, NASA eventually handed over key technologies to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), for use in weather forecasting, including hurricane forecasts.

But even with such success, data tapes and film that recorded Nimbus observations slipped through the cracks.

“At the time, the satellites’ real-time observations, including clouds, for example, were what people wanted most of all, for weather forecasting,” Gallaher said.

He and colleagues with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, tracked down old Nimbus film to a NOAA facility in Suitland Maryland, where they were stored for about 25 years, and then Asheville, North Carolina. There, hundreds of 35-millimeter film reels lay in an old storage facility.

With funding from NASA, the researchers located and made operational an old film reader that could digitize the images. The team figured out how to determine geographic location for each image, given the orbit of the satellite. And they’ve now made more than 250,000 images public.

Source: NSIDC press release. h/t to Eric Worrall


Check out and download Nimbus data.
Learn more about the data rescue project.


Note: I attempted to look at the files myself, and discoverd that the vidicon imagery is stored in Hierarchical Data Format (.hdf). If anyone wants to make use of it, they’ll need a viewer, which can be obtained here: http://www.hdfgroup.org/products/java/hdfview/index.html



90 thoughts on “1960’s satellite imagery of polar ice discovers “enormous holes” in the sea ice

  1. Wow. An actual possibility of getting reliable satellite data (after a fashion) from the already remote past! One wonders how many current assumptions made about the state of the planet at that time this data will contradict. I’m guessing dozens. Demonstrating once again that we don’t really know much about the planetary state before roughly the 1970s, although there may be surprises such as this treasure trove waiting in somebody’s old bin, or in warehouse 42.


  2. Anthony, this is some of the work that we assisted the NSIDC with for the High Resolution Infrared Radiometer data that NASA recovered from data tapes at the NSIDC.

    Glad to see this finally going public…

  3. What do we do with the drunken sailor, sorry so called experts, who doesn’t know that what’s seen on image is the effect of the worst sea ice calving we know of year 1956. More than 10 000 ice berg was “born” in Arctic as well as Antarctic that year. Not to mention the effect in Northern Hemisphere of the warm summer 1959 due to this + Arctic’s angle re. sun under pre-summer before.

    Been written numerous of papers as well as books and articles over the years about 1956.

    • 1958/59 was of course the International Geophysical Year, timed to coincide with a sunspot cycle maximum (spot numbers) and by sheer HS luck, it turned out to be the highest recorded sunspot numbers in all of sunspot record history. Subsequently, for several 11 year cycles, the sunspot numbers stood at higher than average, numbers. More recently, we have of course seen a quieter sun.

      • Is that real sunspots, or Sears sunspots? Are they Lief Approved? It’s very dangerous to assert that 1958/1959 was anything more than a run of the mill not-so-grand maximum these days, and that the subsequent cycles were anything more than high the way that they were many times before in the existing sunspot record.

        And I gotta say, that isn’t unreasonable, given all of the data. He’s convinced me he’s probably right. At the very least, anybody who wants to assert that he is wrong has some explaining (of various magnetic measurements) to do.


      • rgb,

        Did you notice that in his recent paper Leif (and coauthors) said that while there was not a modern grand maximum that there were 5 of 6 solar cycles in a row that had high numbers and that this was unprecedented in the last XXX years? So a modern record cumulative run of maximums ….. That still seems potentially relevant.

      • No it isn’t. It was 15 years ago. But that’s completely proven now what happens. No speculation. And it was due to Archaological methods it was proven!

  4. Makes you wonder how many Arctic overflight photos are lurking around waiting to be ‘discovered’!

  5. I’m afraid they might use the ‘new data’ to ‘cool’ up the past even more.
    Ministry of truth must have something to do…

  6. ““And the Antarctic blew us away,” he said. In 1964, sea ice extent in the Antarctic was the largest ever recorded, according to Nimbus image analysis. Two years later, there was a record low for sea ice in the Antarctic, and in 1969 Nimbus imagery, sea ice appears to have reached its maximum extent earliest on record.”

    So, does this mean it was worse than we though, even before we thought about it?

  7. Those “big holes” in the ice are interesting, because Russian sources from the 1940’s through 1960’s talk about polynyas at high latitudes that remained open even in winter (se e. g: Uspenskiy, S. M.: Žizn v vysokich širotach).
    We haven’t seen any of those recently.

  8. The rapid rise in Arctic temperatures during the first half of the century could only be explained by increased heat ventilating from the ice and as such predicted these holes.

  9. Interesting, vidicon tubes were used in some of the early CCTV cameras. You just don’t see that word tossed about very often. Kinda like Klystron :-)

      • We still use Klystrons every day. Varian Medical Systems incorporated that technology into the design of their high-energy linear accelerator (for Radiation Onocology)… and have been using it for over 30 years. It works great in our industry. :-)

    • I would add that if this device used a vidicon tube for imagery, they are subject to burn-in and what you see may not actually be what was viewed at the time of the image capture.

      • burn in only happens if the vidicon is left on the same exact scene constantly. These were polar orbiting satellites, so the scene always changed.

    • First Klystron I worked with was on a missile site overlooking Anchorage from the top of a mountain in the nearby Chugiak range.
      We drove it up to the site in the back of a 5 ton truck, used a crane to insert it into the system, and then had to wait for 24hrs for the filaments to warm up before we could start testing it.
      Klystrons were VERY cool…

      • Still have any connections to AK? There is a group here restoring parts of that site. They’d love to hear from you!
        Dan L

    • Are there any ex-nuke crew who are able to discuss the extent to which our submarine fleet logged water temperature data from the various operational depths? If such data exist is it “warehoused” in unclassified files that the public might access? Both USSR and US subs regularly visited these waters so it seems worth a little digging.

  10. If NASA/NOAA had known what these images contained they probably would have been classified “Top Secret” and never would have seen the light of day.

    • I know… people back then were so unenlightened.

      Just be glad that we have the Yamal Tree to remind us that up until the Industrial Revolution, nothing ever changed. Ever.

  11. It’s funny (strange) that no one tried to retrieve those images ten years ago. Or twenty. You’d think that retrieval would have been at the top of a scientist’s To-Do list, if he wanted to find out what’s (been) happening.

    • why? when you could ask for a truckload of money to build a climate computer model, and the model would tell you not only what it looked like then, but also in the future? DOE labs had these supercomputers not doing much as the nuclear weapons design programs were slowing down and dissappearing.

      Its only in the last dozen years or so that we know those models dont work and the arbitrary fine tuning a parameters can be used to give any output desired.

  12. Oh, dear! Someone will have to adjust downward the ice coverage of the arctic for dates prior to the late 1960’s. Got to increase the standard deviation, too. Uncertainty… such a pesky beast.

    Not to fear. There are people at NOAA well versed in changing the historical record.

  13. NSIDC also made a big deal about that 1964 Antarctic maximum in the published paper written by Meier and colleagues last year, based on this same data:

    Meier, W. N., Gallaher, D., and G. C. Campbell. 2013. New estimates of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice extent during September 1964 from recovered Nimbus I satellite imagery. The Cryosphere 7:699–705. doi:10.5194/tc-7-699-2013. http://www.the-cryosphere.net/7/699/2013/tc-7-699-2013.html

    I commented about how they downplayed the Arctic ice extent revelation they made in that paper, announced in an NSIDC “monthly highlights” article, vs the Antarctic data, in June of last year:

    Here is what I said then:

    ” Meier et al. estimate that the Arctic sea ice minimum in 1964 was 6.90 ± 0.3 million km2. This is not far off the average extent for 1979-2000, which is 6.04 ± 0.55 million km2.

    They state:

    “Overall the, the 1964 estimate is reasonably consistent with the 1979-2000 conditions, with the 1964 estimate falling within the range of extents during the passive microwave era (Fig. 7). This suggests that September extent in the Arctic may have been generally stable through the 1960s and early 1970s, though more years of data are need to confirm this.”

    Odd that Meier et al. would conclude “stability” through the 60s and 70s on the basis of one data point, given how remarkably variable sea ice has been since 1979. Because it wasn’t higher than 1979? They don’t say.

    Nevertheless, they continue with this remarkable caveat:

    “On the other hand, the estimate is considerably lower than form the UK Hadley Centre (Rayner et al. 2003); even after adjustments to be consistent with the passive microwave record (Meier et al. 2012), the extent of 8.28 million km2 is much higher than the estimate from Nimbus I. This may reflect bias in the Hadley estimates or limitations in the ability to detect the ice edge in Nimbus I imagery.”

    Interestingly enough, this disparity between the Hadley Centre estimate – a number now ensconced in the peer-reviewed literature – was not deemed worthy of mention in their formal conclusions. Instead, they focus on the finding that “1964 Antarctic ice extent is likely higher than any year observed from 1972 to 2012.”

    Susan Crockford, PolarBearScience

  14. Propaganda Alert: CAGW advocates will now trumpet that Arctic and Antarctic Sea Ice are even more diminished than previously thought.
    Headline “Newly Discovered Polar Images Confirm Ravages of Global Warming”

  15. “We can’t explain them yet”

    It appears the list of “we can’t explain” items grows larger every year.

  16. I had suspected as much, a pity they didn’t see fit to give you any credit in the PR

    I really did not do much with the AVCS stuff, that was all the NSIDC. Our principal contribution was with the High Resolution Infrared Radiometer Data. I think that Walt Meir and his crew are in a very difficult position, trying to do the right thing for science while under pressure to be politically correct. I have nothing but praise for the work that they have done with the Nimbus data….

    • we used to thumb our noses at the (former) soviet union for the same thing. unreliable reports because they were first filtered by Political Commissars. Pravda became important not for waht it said, but for what it didn’t say.

      eventually the system collapse due to the gap between “official” truth and “actual” truth. everyone was throwing money at “official” problems, while actual problems were ignored.

      sort of like the gap between climate models and actual temperatures. governments are rushing headlong to solve global warming, because the official models tell us warming is happening, even though actual warming stopped a long time ago.

  17. The realization that the Warmists views on climate are as fictional as “Happy Days” was to the 1950s will stun them some day…

  18. … Confirming the lack of interest in much of the “climate science community” in looking at *actual data* (vs. scary “computer simulations”). I doubt the existence of these tapes was much of a secret. At lest they have (finally) been found.

  19. “We can’t explain them yet,” Gallaher said.
    oh please…the extent was larger “of course”….but we can’t explain the holes

    If these morons could explain it…..they would have know it was there all along

  20. “And the Antarctic blew us away,” he said. In 1964, sea ice extent in the Antarctic was the largest ever recorded, according to Nimbus image analysis. Two years later, there was a record low for sea ice in the Antarctic, and in 1969 Nimbus imagery, sea ice appears to have reached its maximum extent earliest on record.”

    OK, so the recent satellite records are now being replaced by the early satellite records.

    I wonder how radical the sea levels changed between 1964 and all that melting in 1966 before we got back to the 1969 record.

    Bet the fluctuation was really substantial.

    Or not.

  21. From the 1974 Time Mag “ice age approaching” article:

    “When Climatologist George J. Kukla of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory and his wife Helena analyzed satellite weather data for the Northern Hemisphere, they found that the area of the ice and snow cover had suddenly increased by 12% in 1971 and the increase has persisted ever since. Areas of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic, for example, were once totally free of any snow in summer; now they are covered year round.”

    The graphic accompanying the article contrasted the expansion of the Arctic sea ice extent from May 26, 1969 to May 26 of 1974.

    With the new data here, and what Anthony alerted all to (well, all eccept the national media) to in 2012 . .

    “I came across a number of maps showing Arctic ice extend from 1893 to 1961 collected by DMI in “Nautisk Meteorologisk Aarbog”. Each year DMI have collected information on sea ice extend so that normally each of the months April, May, June, July and August ice extend was published.” Here: https://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/05/02/cache-of-historical-arctic-sea-ice-maps-discovered/

    . . . one should be able to construct a rather accurate account of the natural variability in cycles of sea ice extent of the Arctic region.

  22. I’m sure the Russian navy has disposed of its stockpile of “thermite” bombs used to melt ice by now

  23. “enormous holes” in the sea ice!?! – Congratulations on discovering something that has long been known. With over 40 deployments north of the Arctic Circle aboard U.S. & Brit nuclear subs (’75 – ’09), I can categorically testify that this has always been so.

  24. The September 1964 Arctic sea ice extent at 6.90M km2 also indicates that all the historic sea ice reconstructions estimating the Arctic minimums use to be at 10M, or 9M or 8M in the past were just way-out faulty alarmist propaganda.

    Some of the reconstructions are being fixed now but you will often still see the out-of-date wrongly estimated ones. Point out this fact whenever you see someone try to post one.

  25. Thermite bombs, and large holes in the ice? Gads, it’s The Thing all over again! That was one really huge fricking spaceship stuck in the ice, eh?

  26. Well, it is official. The Northwest Passage will never again be navigated!!

    The various islands of the archipelago are separated from one another and the Canadian mainland by a series of Arctic waterways collectively known as the Northwest Passages or Northwestern Passages.[3] Parliament at Ottawa renamed it the “Canadian Northwest Passage” in motion M-387 passed unanimously 2 December 2009.[4][5]


  27. There is another large, unused source of sea-ice imagery: the Corona satellite images from 1960 to 1972 which are in the public domain. They are of course quite spotty in coverage, but of much better quality than the Nimbus images and can be used to extend and verify the Nimbus data. The first satellite image ever recovered in August 1960 for example clearly shows sea-ice conditions off Chukotka.

  28. I’ve always said that sea-ice extent is almost completely irrelevant, all it does is reflect the overall state of other processes. Neither side should be crowing about sea ice extent, IMO, since it shows almost exactly nothing useful.

    However, this is exactly the sort of thing that demonstrates the major flaw in “climate science”. There is absolutely no possible way that a trace gas like CO2, in the quantities we’re talking about, can possibly unbalance the planet in such a short time. Those who think it’s possible have no sense of scale, at all. Showing previous fluctuations can only undermine the alarmist cause.

    Also, I love seeing these reminders that even in the 60s, when technology was so absolutely primitive, useful data was being gathered and organized for us to find in the future. Recently I’ve been watching a lot of declassified old nuclear information on YouTube, and it is either fascinating or terrifying depending on your perspective.

    I wish alarmists were as fascinated by Science as I am.

    • Warmists are already explaining the recent polar vortex on low arctic sea ice levels in a new “study” that just came out. Seems like open water affects the jet stream according to the quickly-produced study. How convenient. They can explain anything… warm, cold, wet, dry… with the evil CO2. Nothing can upset their models… nothing.

    • Paul

      We did. We translated all of the Nimbus High Resolution Infrared Radiometer (HRIR) from tapes to modern netcdf-4 standards….

      Thanks for thinking of us.

  29. Anthony – Just wanted to say “Thank you” for this. I was one of the operations engineers and video analysts for the Nimbus 1, 2, 3 and 4 spacecraft. Haven’t seen that video for a lot of years. I’ve suspected that it would be applicable to the “climate conversation” but didn’t know where it went.

      • Anthony – That’s where I learned about “science”. I accept nothing less, especially from the Church of AGW. Problem is, they never learned what “science” is or should be. It makes for difficult conversations. Well, difficult for them, anyway. Keep up the good work.

  30. Check Joe bastardi’s article in the Patriot Post, 24Jun13. Shows a photo of a US sub on the surface within a large gap in the ice at the North Pole back in 1962. I seem to recall other surfaced sub photos at the pole posted on this site in the past. There are photos of Soviet subs also somewhere on the Net. As Tom Jones sang, “It’s Not Unusual”.

  31. RGB at Duke

    The sunspot maximum of the late 50’s was epic in its effect on HF amateur radio communications. It is still remembered fondly by older hams who were active then. By the criteria of effects on Earth’s ionosphere, this one is probably the biggest to be observed in the radio era.

  32. Goes without saying but I’ll say it. Someone needs to capture and save these images in order to document the inevitable “scientific” adjustments and “smoothing” of the images that will be necessary for the public to understand the horrific CAGW “evidence” contained in them.

  33. Google Submarines and Arctic, Polar, or North Pole. The USS Nautilus (SSN-571) went the North Pole in August 1958! There are many photos of the Nautilus and other Subs at the North Pole in open water with dates – some even in winter. The photos about the ice coverage are out there, they can be found and they prove the whole AGW scam. They may not provide details of the extent of the ice coverage, but should provide an idea of the amount. The log books are also available and contain the exact location, time, date, and even water/local temperatures – good project for a budding research scientist looking for the truth. There should be a good correlation to the number of trips, the route and time spent there in a year/season and the ice extant.

  34. I’m appalled at NASA having not properly archived all of the stuff they created. I felt the same way about the attempted recovery of a 60s satellite – the difficulty in finding all the data. Almost very newspaper, major or minor has a record of its papers going back, in some cases, a couple of centuries…. The Spectator in the UK back to 1828 and I’m sure many earlier.

  35. Meier et al. gave an estimate for september 1964 arctic sea ice extent (6.9 million sq. km.) using Nimbus I data.
    Now that they have finished with Nimbus II and Nimbus III, I think that it would be really interesting to get an estimate for september 1966 and 1969 arctic SIE as well.

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