Joe Romm bombs again – fails to check history on Arctic icebreaker claims

First, let’s get one thing clear, Joe Romm of the Center for American progress is paid to write stuff with headlines like this:

Arctic death spiral: Icebreakers reach North Pole as sea ice disintegrates

Oh noes! The headline gives the impression that this is a newsworthy event, it isn’t, all he had to do was to check the history of icebreakers in the Arctic:

Wikipedia says:

NS Arktika (Russian: «Арктика») is a retired nuclear-powered icebreaker of the Soviet (now Russian) Arktika class. In service from 1975 to 2008, she was the first surface ship to reach the North Pole, on August 17, 1977.[1]

And then there’s this:

First Ship to “End the the Earth”

The first surface vessel to reach the North Pole was the Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker Arktika (the name is from a Nenets word meaning “End of the Earth”).

Sailing from Murmansk, it plowed its way through the ice, and reached the North Pole on August 17, 1977.

The Arktika was the second nuclear-powered icebreaker built by the Soviet Union (now Russia). Built in Leningrad, it was launched in 1975 and was designed to operate in the sea routes of the Northeast Passage. The North Pole expedition was described as a “scientific-practical experimental voyage” to test the new icebreaker in conditions that were more extremethan it would ordinarily encounter.

The trip to the Pole was not repeated for another decade, but since the 1980s, the voyage has become popular with tourists who can now travel in great comfort to the “top of the world”.


Gosh, popular with tourists.

I suppose that explains the cheeky photo Romm provided of the event:

Canadian icebreaker “greeted at the North Pole by Santa Claus and his mailbox.” Credit:

Canadian icebreaker “greeted at the North Pole by Santa Claus and his mailbox.” Credit:

The biggest howler in Joe Romm’s article was this:

Icebreakers have been visiting the pole for years, but as Mark Serreze, director of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, told Mashable, this year even a sailboat “could actually sail nearly all the way to the North Pole, since sea ice cover is largely absent to about 86 degrees north.”

So, show me a picture of a sailboat at the north pole that sailed there, and you might actually have something to say. As the story stands, an icebreaker? They’ve been there, done that, back in 1977. And I’ll bet they didn’t make a cheeky photo op with “Santa Claus”.

While Romm and others wail about “death spirals” since 2008 when the term was first coined by Mark Serreze, here we are 9 years later, and Arctic Sea Ice extent has been just slightly below two standard deviations for most of the melt season, and isn’t close to the 2012 event caused by a large storm which broke up and dispersed ice. This year, two storms also had an effect, but failed to create a new record low in sea ice extent.Romm doesn’t seem interested in revisiting his article where he said there would likely be a new record low this year.


And it looks like the melt season may be about to turn the corner, perhaps a bit earlier than usual. So much for the doomster predictions of an ice-free summer.

It seems, the more they all wail about it, the less nature actually pays attention.

98 thoughts on “Joe Romm bombs again – fails to check history on Arctic icebreaker claims

    • And Phil Plait just ignored altogether that the Crystal Serenity was accompanied by an ice breaker to make way for it.
      It’s this kind of intelectual dishonesty that drove me away from Bad Astronomy, which was a good blog until the author decided to engage in politics instead of writing about astronomy.

      • I agree. I really enjoyed his posts dissecting Hollywood science errors. But when he stepped way outside of actual science and parlayed his popularity into another gig, I lost all respect. Now it makes me question how much of his older stuff was even accurate.

      • Yeah, Articles like this of Romm definitely belong in the Doompster

        And it looks like the melt season may be about to turn the corner, perhaps a bit earlier than usual. So much for the doomster predictions of an ice-free summer.

      • Serenity was accompanied by the new British Arctic research vessel RSS Ernest Shackleton. It has ice breaking capability but is not a true icebreaker.

      • The ships abilities to take advantage of a NW passage this year is basically a weather event.
        Without the advantages of winds blowing the ice North away from the lands, their passages would not have been possible.
        Serenity took advantages of expensive satellite imagery and weather monitoring to slip through open channels.
        Northabout enjoyed especially good weather when they needed it most.
        Reading the blogs of both ships reveals the narrow open channels they took by the ice packs.
        A period of southerly winds would have blocked the NW passage completely. Even with helpful ice breakers.

    • Peter Morris>
      I have the same reaction every time he appears on one of the astronomy shows on the science or history channels. If he can be that casual or deliberately misleading about _any_ field of study, he is no longer a trustworthy source in his area of specialization. Even if everything he may say about astronomy is verifiable fact (with instruments), how would we laymen know? He has tainted the well, and destroyed his credibility.

  1. I’m trying and failing to understand the astonishment when an icebreaker, a ship designed to break through floating ice, breaks through floating ice.
    Perhaps I started drinking too early today.

    • Some years ago I wrote an article on the melting of the Arctic ice in the 1820’s.
      This extract is taken from Contemporary reports and include the following 1817 book;
      “We learn that a vessel is to be fitted out by Government for the purpose of attempting again the north-west passage, the season being considered as peculiarly favourable to such an expedition. Our readers need not be informed that larger masses of ice than ever were before known have this year been seen floating in the Atlantic, and that from their magnitude and solidity, they reached even the fortieth latitude before they were melted into a fluid state. From an examination of the Greenland captains, it has been found that owing to some convulsions of nature , the sea was more open and more free from compact ice than in any former voyage they ever made: that several ships actually reached the eighty-fourth degree of latitude, in which no ice whatever was found; that for the first time for 400 years, vessels penetrated to the west coast of Greenland, and that they apprehended no obstacle to their even reaching the pole, if it had consisted with their duty to their employers to make the attempt.
      This curious and important information has, we learn, induced the Royal Society to apply to ministers to renew the attempt of exploring a north-west passage as well as to give encouragement to fishing vessels to try how far northward they can reach , by dividing the bounty to be given, on the actual discovery, into portions, as a reward for every degree beyond eighty-four that they shall penetrate For the same reason we think it would be advisable for the merchants engaged in the Greenland whale fishery not to postpone the sailing of their ships to the usual season but expedite them at once so as to take advantage of the temporary fresh.”
      They saw no obstacles to reaching the pole but were not equipped to attempt that. These were wooden sailing ships, not modern ice breakers. This relatively ice free state lasted on and off for several decades and the expeditions by various ships is well documented.
      The ice did return sporadically but was much more variable than had been realised. The ice free periods seem to have mostly ended by the time of the 1845 Franklin expedition.

      • Didn’t some big lump of iron run into an even bigger lump of ice back in 1912, because there were more icegergs than usual?

      • Griff
        Yes of course i have research the weather conditions of the time.
        As the Greenland whalers attested, these conditions had existed prior to 1817. They became constant enough to excite the interest of the Royal society. The conditions lasted several decades. Are you saying a volcano caused these conditions prior to its eruption and several decades after?

  2. The AGW Chicken-Littles were claiming — how many decades ago?? — that the N.Pole wd be imminently ice-free at this time of year.

  3. Canada first sent an icebreaker to the North Pole circa 1994. The CCGS Louis St. Laurent was also there in 2014 with another Canadian icebreaker the CCGS Terry Fox which was prior to being in the Coast Guard, a support ship in the private sector when drilling was occurring on the north slope of the Yukon for hydrocarbons. It was berthed near Herschel Island when we rafted down the Firth River in the mid-80’s.
    The St. Laurent is there now on a scientific mission to map the sea floor and to renew Santa’s Canadian Passport. 😉

  4. Even at his own web site Joe Romm gets no respect. I don’t know how often they purge the comments, but the current count is 18 – 4 against and 3 of the pro-Romm comments are from the same poster.

    • Tom: Thanx. Maybe that’s what vestigially tickles my memory synapses! “Ice -free Arctic by …??” Do you have any further attribution, please!

      • IIRC, Professor Wadhams, and Arctic expert, predicted an ice-free Arctic in 2015. That prediction was in about 2000. In about 2013, he changed it to 2017. More recently he has changed it, again, to 2020. We’ll see.

      • Some “expert”. Still, it’s always a sign of good scientist that he is prepared to change his opinion when the facts prove him totally and utterly wrong !
        Shame he then repeats the same error my making another stupid claim that he will have abandon in a few years time. One sign of intelligence it not repeatedly making the same mistake.

    • It was at his Nobel Prize speech in 2007 quoting a U.S. Navy study that it could be ice free within 7 years. While he was only quoting another study, the forum (Nobel Prize presentation) gave it a hell of a lot of weight.

      • Well, not in our lifetimes. But the climate changes… it is believed that one of the conditions for glacial climate (and remember, we’re in an inter-glacial right now) is for plate tectonics to either block the poles with land masses or surround them with land so there’s no gyre transporting heat from the equatorial waters to the polar regions. Currently, South Pole: occupied by land for millions of years. North Pole: not totally landlocked, but close enough, the Gulf Stream bends east below Greenland, never making it to polar waters. Eventually, plate tectonics will move land around and open up one or both of the poles, and ice caps will be history. Again. Hothouse is Earth’s “normal” climate, or at least, most usual.

      • Sure it will, you just need to keep redefining what “ice free” means until it becomes true. Currently “ice-free” means less than one million km^2.
        ie in climatology zero = 10^6

  5. ‘It seems, the more they all wail about it, the less nature actually pays attention.’
    The failure of climate to co-operate with the dire outlook of the greens and other left has really tarnished their brand. The left will rue the day it attached itself to AGW because it has shown it up for its tendency to attach itself to mad economic schemes, use pseudo-science to support its objectives, manufacture issues for the purpose of of social control, and to threaten and cajole those who oppose it. The left absolutely relies upon a certain level of trust in order to run its agenda, and that trust is under great pressure at the moment.

  6. Do ice breakers change the formation of ice setting / freezing & moving around ? Can they in of themselves have an impact on the ice coverage up that neck of the woods, or is it a low order of magnitude problem .

    • I wonder about all those Russian nuclear ice breakers. They’re microscopic compared to the size of the
      Arctic Ocean but they add heat relentlessly. Still, their impact is marginal.

  7. Just where has Al Gore been recently? I would have thought we would have seen or heard from
    him after the China thang…

  8. So when is someone going to seriously study the impact that the growing fleet of ice breakers has on Arctic sea ice extent? The ice breakers create much more surface area that the ice melts from — just like biting a piece of hard candy — and dump soot directly on the ice which melts it faster from the top.
    The NSIDC’ excuse for dismissing the idea is that the open water directly created from ice breakers is a small proportion of the total seasonal ice melt, but that is sophistry at its finest. It doesn’t address the fact that ice breakers do increase the RATE at which the ice can melt and that the segmenting of ice inherently destabilizes it and makes it more susceptible to being broken up further from wind and waves. They either didn’t put any thought into it or are trying to distract from the very real possibility it has a measurable impact.

    • Yes I’d like to see a proper study. Certainly in the Antarctic you can see wave-induced shelf cracks propagate kilometers.

    • just the remember the net effects of making the ice easier to melt in small areas mean more cold freshwater available for early freezing than there would otherwise be.

      • Thanks for the link Griff. But seriously, is this really a frequently asked question: “If we put white “styrofoam” in the ocean to replace sea ice, would it stop climate change?”. God help us all.

    • So when is someone going to seriously study the impact that the growing fleet of ice breakers has on Arctic sea ice extent?
      What is the evidence for a ‘growing fleet of ice breakers’?

      • Phil., how many icebreaker trips have there been to the pole since that first one in 1977?
        Is it a coincidence that Arctic Ice started shrinking as the number of icebreakers ‘researching’ all the way to the pole increased?
        Time for a moratorium on icebreakers at the pole for a decade to see whether the ice recovers?

  9. Last sentence in the article:
    “It seems, the more they all wail about it, the less nature actually pays attention.”
    Frankly? I do not think “Nature” pays any attention, .. period.

      • >chuckle< And I thought my head was filled with useless clutter. Oh well, I guess it's good to know that brain cells I haven't used in years still work. 8)

  10. I’m a stealth reader of Swansong’s blog.
    He posts here occassionally. And I read his blog. His 9/11/19 blog was nice.
    Clearly Swansong debunks the crap of how a warming Arctic pole means a death spiral. His contempt (much more lucid than my “the warmists are simply lying” reaction) for such a belief in ice cap “death spiral” essentially captures what any sane, rational polarice scientist should understand about how the poles are the climate radiators.

    • Yes.
      and it is misleading nonsense in the context of what’s happened this year.
      Using sonar to find a rare hole in the (then) very thick arctic sea ice is nothing like this summer, with thousands of Km sq of broken up ice and open water near the pole.

      • Having large patches of broken ice in the arctic is not unusual. Such patches occur in varying spots every year. And occasionally they include the pole. As always, the troll tries to paint something normal as proof for his myth.

      • Griff, why do so called sea ice experts make bald predictions for an ice free summer, year after,but people like you attack those who expose their chronic record of being wildly wrong?
        How come you post the way you do,the dishonest bilge you make,dismissing others without evidence over and over?

      • ‘Griff….How come you post the way you do,the dishonest bilge you make,dismissing others without evidence over and over?’
        Easy. $$$$$$$

    • Here is a graph of the dates of min ice extent from NSDIC, there was a clear change in direction around 2004-2005 also corresponding to AMI peak. Obviously this is rather noisy because it’s taking one data point from 365 days , a low pass filter of 20 or 30 days would probably give a more consistent result.
      Comparing this to the changes in decadal trend in ice area I think next decadal trend will be upwards.
      I think we’re soon going to be told this particular canary in a coal mine is not , in fact, a canary at all. It was misclassified.
      I already see that Cryosphere Today, who provided the ice area processing have not dealt with the satellite failure early this year and have been producing garbage for the last six months.
      It seems that now the data is not producing the “right” message they have lost all interest in maintaining it.

  11. I wonder how much impact the ice breakers have on the ice extent, weakening the ice. I wonder if there is a correlation between the ice extent and the number of ice breakers churning up the ice… It would be easier for storms to disperse the ice if it’s broken up.

  12. This is of course significant because of the horribly broken up state of the ice near the pole, with much open water.
    (Never mind those nuclear subs using sonar to find a rare hole in the 50 foot thick ice in the 60s – they’d have been spoiled for choice this year)
    The original seems to be a reasonable summary of the actual situation..
    with a picture of the actual state of the near polar ice.
    The second lowest extent in a poor year for melting and the current break up of the thickest and oldest arctic sea ice shows the continued serious state of arctic sea ice and its continued decline.
    The rather desperate excuses I see above don’t take any note of the physical, scientific evidence.

    • That must explain why the highest ‘Northabout’ got was 78 degrees and the ice charts have been taken down from their site. I’ve suggested that they give heartfelt thanks to Rudolf Diesel.

      • Caleb, Joe Fletcher was a meteorologist taught to fly. My father was a WW2 pilot who was sent to UCLA after the war for a double masters in radar electronics and meteorology, in order to become a research pilot. He started out as a BS civil engineer designing bridges before the war intervened. I am named Rudyard (short Rud) in honor of his WW2 flight instructor, a Rudyard from the Battle of Britain sent to the US to train our pilots starting early 1943. That instructor did a good job or I would not be here. And the instructor was named directly after Rudyard Kipling. So I am ‘Kipling kin’ in a profound sense. But do not write as beautifully as he or as you.

      • Ristvan,
        I still think someone should write a book.
        I wonder if our “modern and improved” colleges could take a especially bright pilot and crank out an individual sufficiently knowledgeable about radar electronics and meteorology to become a young genius with the somewhat drab job title of “research pilot”.
        Somehow I doubt it. There may be some good schools left, but most seem determined to turn science into social science, and give youth glamorous job titles such as “Climate Scientist” (with ten times the pay of a “research pilot”), and no ability to differentiate their posterior from their elbow.
        I still have faith we are given bright young men like Joe Fletcher was. We need to find a way to give such raw recruits the chances he got.

    • “Never mind those nuclear subs using sonar to find a rare hole in the 50 foot thick ice in the 60s ”
      Oh puh-lease. Do you make this stuff up as you go along?
      The reason the USA and USSR sought “ice islands” (such as “Fletcher’s Ice Island”) was because the ordinary ice broke up, even though they were in a colder cycle back then.
      Just as we now can land jets in the Russian Barneo base in April, in 1975 they could land Hercules aircraft north of Alaska.
      But later that same year the ice was not so trustworthy:
      Don’t create a fictitious ice pack that never existed. Sea-ice is called sea-ice for a reason.
      Study up a bit on where Parry was sailing in 1819, during the end of the “Little Ice Age”.

      • Caleb, you will enjoy knowing that Fletcher’s Ice Island was named after my ‘uncle Joe Fletcher’, a close friend of my fathers and one of the few research pilot/meteorologists in the USAF at the time. The plane on the left is a C-45 ‘Gooney Bird’ that he piloted onto the flow first. so they could be sure the bigger cargo plane on the right could safely land. My father flew retrofitted B-29s off Guam in the Pacific doing typhoon research. How he and Joe became close friends. I have had ‘uncle Joe’ recount Arctic tales around my family dinner table growing up. Min 6000 calories/day. They used to eat Crisco like it was ice cream. Eskimos do the same with blubber. He would claim Crisco tasted better– and then laugh.

        • Wonderful stories. Thanks.
          I like how they had to fly their own planes to do research. I wonder if the flying came first, or the meteorology. It seems obvious how the two would grow together hand in hand. And the individuals carried on by the onrush of technology and science would tend to know one another. They were a rare breed: “research pilot/meteorologists”. I doubt such a thing exists any more.
          Someone (maybe you) should write a book about them.

  13. Can Griff (or someone) please explain what is actually ‘bad’ about less sea ice? What does it actually mean? It’s worthless in any normal geographical or meteorological context apart from to give alarmists self-defined propaganda to fire at the other side. So some years there’s more, some there’s less. Seriously, so what? The Antarctic has high sea ice levels and has recently been at record levels, but guess what – alarmists say that’s a sure-fire sign of Antarctic melt caused by climate change and is thus also a ‘bad’ thing, too.
    Climate alarmism is like a Victorian Bunco Booth – heads I win, tails you lose.

  14. 2016 represented a potentially perfect opportunity for Warmists to bang the Arctic Ice drum and claim it as’irrefutable’ evidence of the long forecast but frustratingly elusive ‘death spiral’.
    An exceptionally strong El Nino lead to an exceptionally mild northern hemisphere winter and consequently one of the lowest winter freezes on record. In the Spring Warmists were gleefully predicting that summer 2016 would lead to a record summer thaw by some distance. Some, like the perennially wrong Peter Wadhams, were even more extreme in their predictions.
    Once again they have been wrong by a good distance and their disappointment is palpable – not least because they know that conditions are unlikely to match their narrative for some time.
    Therefore no-one should be too bothered by the attempts of shills like Joe Romm to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear – or the attempts of Griff, Cam et al toangrily shout down the truth.

  15. Does Joe Romm have any children? I know that Joe Romm knows about my forum, since he joined it about 5 years ago, to see what Richard Courtney was posting there. He then banned Richard from his own blog.
    A Eric Romm joined my climate forum August 17,2016,made several posts being somewhat challenging,then went quiet after my replies, to his warmist style posts. He was always civil the whole time.
    Is he Joe’s son?

  16. Does anyone have a good record of ice-breaker activity at each latitude, and how it may contribute to Arctic Ice conditions? I’ve seen first hand what can happen on the Great Lakes. The larger ice breakers bust up some pretty thick crap, and within days the areas where they have been working are ice free, while at the same time other ice packs, of similar thickness remain for a month or more.

  17. In July,1984,I landed in a small little outpost called Coppermine in Northern Canada,on the shore of the Arctic Ocean. The ocean was “ice-free” for 500 miles to the geographical North Pole and over into then Russian territory. The locals where busy as beavers catching Arctic char to smoke and eat over the looonnngggg Arctic winter.(the fish is actually quite tasty). They had to have the wood flown in for smoking,as they are about 600 miles above the treeline. The only wildlife we saw was a herd of six muskoxen. Even polar bears were not stupid enough to live that far north.
    Was back there three weeks ago. The locals where still doing very well,and there was ice as far as the eye could see over the ocean. The locals just shrugged and said,yeah so,it’s normal. Some summers it’s there,some it isn’t. Maybe some of these “climatologists” should try living in three months of 24 hour sun,and 9 months of -50C temps for a couple of years.

  18. Joe Romm seems to hate nuclear power even more than he loves global warming. He could never admit a nuclear-powered icebreaker ever travelled to the north pole.

  19. Does anyone else feel queasy when they see charts like the Arctic Sea Ice one presented?
    First of all, what does the 2 standard deviation region even mean? I assume (and we know that’s a bad starting point) that it represents the distribution of ice extents recorded (estimated) on a given date of the year, so each distribution is based on 29 data points (1981 – 2010), not a big sample.
    Second, there is a massive autocorrelation problem here: I am guessing that nearly all of the ice extent measurement on day n depends upon the ice extent measurement from day n – 1 (not independent and identically distributed). The time series ought to be differenced, I would think.
    Third, what does the distribution of this data look like? I am sure we are meant to assume a normal distribution, but my guess is that it is not, so 2 standard deviations does not mean a 95% confidence interval. My guess would be a skewed distribution – the energy involved to get an outlier on the high side is far greater than that for an outlier on the low side, so I would expect to see outliers on the low side to be more extreme than those on the high side.
    I just don’t know what to think of this kind of data.

    • There are all sorts of variables involved. The remaining sea-ice this year is spread out over a far bigger area than the sea-ice of 2012. The difference is huge, but if you only count pixels of white, the “extent” is roughly the same.
      It is like saying the coastline of the small state of Maine is roughly the same as the coastline of the huge state of California. (Maine has countless nooks and crannies, harbors and inlets, while California is a straight line (excuse me, San Francisco.) ) To say Maine is like California is like comparing apples with oranges, as is comparing 2012 with 2016.
      One thing I have learned, even as a layman, is that sameness is not an option, in meteorology. Not even the snowflakes match up. You look for “similarity”, and go from there.
      One thing to watch for this year is a big difference from 2012, in how the sea-ice “grows out from the edges.” Because the ice is spread out much more, there are more edges for the ice to “grow out from.”

  20. I am left confused about one of the points you made..”since sea ice cover is largely absent to about 86 degrees north.” Is this not true or is this near normal ? Skimming the Internet left me thinking the former based on satellite photos but nothing definitive.

  21. In 1957:
    The 230-foot icebreaking cutter Storis and the 180-foot buoy tenders Spar and Bramble sailed through the Bering Sea to attempt a crossing of the Northwest 5 Passage. In sixty-four days the ships crossed the Arctic, making them the first American ships to make the passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean, north
    of the North American continent. Spar also became the first ship to circumnavigate the continent in one year
    . This effort was assisted by the U.S. Navy and Canada.

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