Polariced Mysteries

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

I got into a discussion about polar sea ice in the comments to my post Where Is The Climate Emergency?. In the process I noticed some mysteries.

To start with, here’s the Arctic sea ice area record.

Figure 1. Sea ice area anomaly, Arctic

The mystery for me in this record is the decade from about 1998 to 2008. There’s very little month-to-month variation in the record over that period, and the ice area is dropping steadily … followed by ~ thirteen years of very large month-to-month variations with little overall change in ice area. Is this real? Is it an artifact? Unknown.

Then we have the Antarctic ice area record …

Figure 2. Antarctic ice area anomaly

Here, the obvious mystery is, just what the heck happened around 2015-2017 to cause the Antarctic ice area to drop so precipitously?

And finally, putting both poles together, we get the following:

Figure 3. Global, Arctic, and Antarctic sea ice areas.

Figure 3 reveals a number of mysteries.

• There is no overall increase or decrease in total global sea ice for the entire ~ forty-year period from November 1978 until 2015 or so. This is despite increasing CO2 and general gradual global warming. Why?

• Up until 2015 or so, when the Arctic had more ice area, the Antarctic had less ice area, and vice versa. Why?

• Around 2015, after forty years of global ice stability, both Arctic and Antarctic ice areas dropped, leading to a very visible drop in global ice area. Why the drop, and why then and not earlier or later?

• After the drop, the global ice area seems to be starting to recover … again, why?

• At the North Pole, there is an ocean covered with sea ice. At the South Pole, there’s a high rocky plateau covered with land ice and surrounded by sea ice. Yet despite these totally different situations, the area of sea ice is almost exactly the same at both poles … say what?

Other than saying that equal ice areas at the poles MAY be a result of my hypothesis that the climate is a giant thermoregulated heat engine with a host of emergent phenomena that tend to stabilize the temperatures and equalize the hemispheres, I fear I have no answers to these curious polar questions … all comments welcome.

I will say that I am overjoyed that the world of climate contains far more mysteries than answers …

When nothing is for sure, we remain alert, perennially on our toes. It is more exciting not to know which bush the rabbit is hiding behind than to behave as though we knew everything.
—Carlos Castaneda, in The Teachings of Don Juan

My best to all adventurers in this most marvelous universe,


You Might Have Heard This Before: I can defend my own words. I can’t defend your interpretation of my words, particularly when I don’t know what you’re referring to. So please, when you comment, quote the exact words you are discussing. Thanks.

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Larry Menkes CSBA
May 5, 2021 9:33 am

As a 30 yr plus student, observer and teacher of environmental issues, including a stint at Columbia’s LDEO I work with key data that makes clear observable changes in the cryosphere. What makes sense to me and my colleagues is the general operating principles behind the noise and the kernals of truth.

Since you do not seem to define what you observe; i.e.sea ice cover, sea ice thickness, sea ice volume, etc. I can only conclude that you have wandered into the weeds. WUWT?

What is certain is that we’ve lost or are loosing every glacier except for two.(James Blalock); polar amplification occurred in the Arctic almost a decade ago, occurred in the Antarctic more recently; loss of permafrost (with release of methane) has been increasing exponentially for decades (International Permafrost Assoc, National Geographic); the Keeling Curve is consistently moving upward (currently at 419.4 with 350 ppm acknowledged as the safe upper limit (Scripps, DOE, etc.); sea levels are rising (NASA, European Space Agency, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, US Navy.)

It is well known that, as of now, there is no way to reverse this tipped point, along with nearly a dozen more. Recent research indicates humanity has less than a decade before significant die back (McPherson, etc.).

We would do best to immediately reduce carbon emissions starting with eliminating the 65% of energy waste, if only to buy time for the children. Listen to the chidren’s voices, including Greta Thunberg’s because they are the ONLY authorities in this matter. We adults who have screwed up everything have nothing much to contribute to the “solution” except for supporting the children. When your homes and businesses achieve net-zero CO2 status you may be worth listening to. Roll up your sleeves, shut up, and get to work as if our livs depend on it. THEY DO!

Reply to  Larry Menkes CSBA
May 5, 2021 10:38 am

There is no way to reverse the tipping point but we have to reduce carbon emissions? Makes no sense.

Richard G.
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
May 5, 2021 6:50 pm

Willis, I love how you go all Big Billy Goat Gruff on the troll living under the bridge.

P.S. I learned from William Happer that Gretta Thunberg is the great grand daughter of Svante Arrhenius. I know you don’t like videos but others may enjoy.

Reply to  Larry Menkes CSBA
May 8, 2021 11:49 am

Hahaha, you had me for a while. Good parody — it can’t be serious, unless it’s a child’s post….

May 4, 2021 10:06 am

(You have been caught once again for sneaking in, you have been banned yet again) SUNMOD

You were as good as your word Willis. Published on the dot of 6 PM BST!

However you don’t seem to have addressed the main point I raised on the previous thread, so restating it slightly.

What do you suppose the effect of ice-albedo feedback will prove to be over the next 10 years or so? Or if you prefer over the last 10 years or so?

And why “remove the seasonality”. As you correctly pointed out over there, “When the ice is mostly there the sun mostly isn’t”.

Last edited 1 year ago by Sunsettommy
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
May 4, 2021 11:10 am

“b) Clouds in the Arctic tend to warm the surface. This in turn tends to melt the ice.”

Does this, by itself, disprove the hypothesis that solar+CO2 heating causes polar and glacial ice melt?

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
May 4, 2021 9:55 pm

“g) At low sun angles, the ocean has high albedo. Think about looking out over the ocean towards the sun at sunrise or sunset …”

This effect is visible as early in the day as 3 p.m., even when viewed from cliffs well above sea level. A lot depends on the amount of chop, too.

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
May 5, 2021 1:46 am

“…ice tends to insulate the underlying water.”

Yes, this has been observed in ponds. So-called F1 largemouth bass, a mix of warm-loving Florida & cold tolerant Northern strains, survive cold winters better in ponds that freeze over. Not what was expected, but makes sense thermodynamically.

Barnes Moore
Reply to  Jim Hunt
May 8, 2021 7:12 am

Question – I am curious as to why Jim Hunt has been banned. It was the interaction between Willis and Jim in the prior post Willis referenced that motivated Willis to create yet one more excellent post. While I may disagree with Jim, I find it odd that he has been banned.

(He was banned a long time ago, he had several chances to clean up his act but failed to heed the warnings) SUNMOD

Barnes Moore
Reply to  Barnes Moore
May 11, 2021 6:16 am

Thanks SUNMOD.

Brian Jackson
May 4, 2021 10:12 am

Also, Willis, did sea level jump at the same time as both polar ice masses dropped sharply. If not, where did the water go??
I have to say that I read every contribution you make with the greatest interest as you seem to have a mountain of common sense in your approaches to these issues. Please keep up the good work.
BJ in UK

Reply to  Brian Jackson
May 4, 2021 10:25 am

The combined amount of meltwater, including the floating ice, is merely a drop in the ocean

(Pun intended)

Rud Istvan
Reply to  Brian Jackson
May 4, 2021 11:18 am

By Archimedes principle, change in floating sea ice has NO impact on sea level. The two main SLR contributors are loss of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheet, and thermosteric rise. See the discussion in guest post here Sea Level Rise, Acceleration, and Closure.

Bill Toland
Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 5, 2021 5:59 am

Rud, there are three main contributors to sea level rise, not two. Aquifer extraction is already adding 0.6 mm to annual sea level rise and this is forecast to rise to 0.8mm. Given sea level rise of 2 mm per year, this means that aquifer extraction already makes up 30% of the rise in sea level.


Reply to  Bill Toland
May 6, 2021 1:46 am

Surely aquifer extractionis leading to land subsidence not sea level rise ?

Bill Toland
Reply to  GregK
May 6, 2021 3:35 am

The water extracted from aquifers eventually finds its way to the oceans. This is not a controversial statement.

Bill Toland
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
May 6, 2021 2:56 pm

Willis, the scenario I am talking about is water being pumped from aquifers to irrigate crops, then the water is lost by evaporation to the atmosphere and then rain takes it into the ocean.

May 4, 2021 10:20 am
May 4, 2021 10:22 am

Consider Blackjack players at a casino. Analysis of the anomaly of the player’s chips will show large variations. Analysis of the Casino’s income will show that it is quite steady. Prediction of the Casino’s income from the chip records of 2 players is impossible unless they play for a long long time with identical betting strategies. We only have 2 players, Arctic and Antarctica.

Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  DMacKenzie
May 4, 2021 10:50 am

“…the climate is a giant thermoregulated heat engine with a host of emergent phenomena that tend to stabilize the temperatures and equalize the hemispheres…”

Considering the almost miraculous fact that the planet is a big rock moving through freezing space (2.7K ??)- with a flaming ball called the sun beaming down on us- and despite that not so promising scenario- the planet’s climate has been incredibly stable for billions of years. Stable enough for life to start and evolve- despite setbacks. So when I hear people cry that we’re in a climate emergency- I know I’m dealing with mass hysteria and mass panic. Then to top it off- they say we must spend countless trillions to fix the problem! The real emergency is this hysteria and panic. I think all these terrified people should relax, smoke a bowl, put on some nice mellow music and enjoy life. If they want to spend a lot of money- they can volunteer their own funds.

oops- I mean this as a reply to Willis- not DMacKenzie- but I don’t know how to cancel or move a comment

Last edited 1 year ago by Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
May 4, 2021 1:11 pm

“…smoke a bowl…” and even if all the governments of all the world paid for the “bowl” of each of their citizens, it would total about 1/1000th the cost of their “Green New Deals” and “Infrastructure” bills and “renewables” and on and on and on!!! There’s an entitlement plan I could get behind… free grass for everybody as long as you forget all these $trillions in “transforming” and “build back better” and…

Clay Marley
May 4, 2021 10:24 am

Perhaps some answers might be found using data prior to 1979. I find it hard to believe that 1979 is the start of the satellite record. The US has landed men on the moon 10 years prior, and had launched Pioneer 10, 11, Voyagers, and Viking to Mars before then. Surely someone had the bright idea to create Earth orbiting satellites well before 1979, and, you know, take some pictures.

Wim Röst
Reply to  Krishna Gans
May 4, 2021 12:09 pm

Willis will like this extension in years. I hope he will produce a graphic.

Wim Röst
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
May 4, 2021 3:54 pm

Thanks Willis, I never realized the difference. Interesting. But what I wanted to say was that the Bremen data went further back: to 1972, adding some years that can have interesting information. Often is said that at the start of the satellite data (1979) the quantity of Arctic sea ice was at its top. I wonder what the Bremen data can add to the years from 1979.

Richard G.
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
May 5, 2021 7:14 pm

One other factor rarely addressed: Sea ice area is a function of variable wind circulation patterns, not just temperature. The wind moves pack ice down wind. That ice accumulates as pressure ridges and thick ice that becomes multi year ice. It causes pack ice to move offshore, creating open water during freezing temperatures, leading to more net ice creation. Thus thick ice tends to accumulate in the gyre north of Greenland.

Reply to  Clay Marley
May 4, 2021 11:37 am

Yes, Parkinson also reported on satellite data of arctic ice back to 1973. Would you be surprised that this year’s maximum extent was higher than that of 1974? I didn’t think so.

Steve Case
Reply to  Clay Marley
May 4, 2021 12:27 pm

What Grishna Gans said, and then there’s this:comment image
The IPCC increased the downward slope of the Northern sea ice over a ten year period as shown above. Later editions the IPCC’s assessment repots dropped the earlier data and started at 1979.

To quote an old ’50s TV show, “Will the real Sea Ice please stand up.

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  Steve Case
May 4, 2021 2:39 pm

I can’t see it clearly, but the two graphs use different units on the Y axis.

Reply to  Paul of Alexandria
May 6, 2021 1:06 pm

I don’t understand why the two graphs are so different, unless the data have been “adjusted” to conform to the warming narrative.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Clay Marley
May 4, 2021 1:12 pm

The classified Corona satellite program was in operation in the 1960s, but I don’t know if anyone has looked at the de-classified imagery to see if Arctic ice was captured.

The first Landsat satellite was launched in 1972. Again, I don’t know if anyone has attempted to use the early imagery to map ice cover. There was typically an area of missing imagery over the poles.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
May 4, 2021 3:55 pm

I used to have big coffee table-type picture books of Landsat photograhs of the Earth.

Smart Rock
May 4, 2021 10:27 am


This is a question about your methodology. In these plots you have used CEEMD smoothing, but in previous posts you have used LOWESS smoothing.

What aspect of a dataset determines the smoothing protocol?

Cheers from northwest Ontario.

John Tillman
May 4, 2021 10:30 am

Antarctic sea ice maximum, unconstrained by land, is higher than Arctic, and its minimum lower.

Since Antarctic sea ice extends to so much lower latitudes, its effect on albedo is far greater.

Arctic sea ice extent yesterday was higher than on that date in every year since 2014, with which it was about tied.

Last edited 1 year ago by John Tillman
Wim Röst
Reply to  John Tillman
May 4, 2021 12:51 pm

John Tillman: “Since Antarctic sea ice extends to so much lower latitudes, its effect on albedo is far greater”

WR. Correct.
Maximum sea-ice since 1979 was for the Arctic about 15.5 million km2 and for the Antarctic about 18.5 million km2. https://ads.nipr.ac.jp/vishop/#/extent
The Antarctic however has in the center of its 18.5 million km2 of sea ice another 14 million km2 of land-based ice sheet. So the total ice and snow area is about 32.5 million km2 maximum. Even when adding Greenland’s 1.7 million km2 to the total ice and snow area the Arctic’s total of 17.2 million km2 (maximum) is just a little bit more than half the Antarctic surface area. Indeed the Antarctic sea ice must reach much lower latitudes and affect more the albedo. But because of the much lower sun angle much less energy will be reflected than in the tropics. The same sunbeam spreads over a much larger surface area.

It seems that the insulating factor by sea ice plays a larger role than the reflecting one. At least for the Arctic, given the numbers above. Jim Steele had an interesting post about the heat loss of polar areas. From this post: https://wattsupwiththat.com/2020/01/02/when-warming-is-cooling/ the following:

“Heat a large covered pot of water. Measure the air temperature above the pot’s lid. If you don’t have a thermometer, simply hold your hand above the lid. Then remove the lid and feel the escaping heat. In a similar fashion, Arctic sea ice (and a surface layer of fresher water) act like the pot’s lid. Remove the ice and the air dramatically warms. Conversely, extensive ice-cover will cool the air but warm the underlying ocean.”

WR: The Southern Hemisphere is much colder than the Northern Hemisphere. Therefore the SH has far more ice coverage: to keep the ocean energy better conserved.

Reply to  Wim Röst
May 4, 2021 1:20 pm

The Southern Hemisphere is much colder than the Northern Hemisphere. Therefore the SH has far more ice coverage: to keep the ocean energy better conserved.” but which came first? Jim Steele said, “…Conversely, extensive ice-cover will cool the air but warm the underlying ocean….” so is the colder atmosphere a result of the greater ice cap area, or is there a greater ice cap area because of the colder temperatures? Is this one of those positive feedbacks the Warmunists are always looking for, but can’t exist or else this old Earth would not have been supporting Life for as long as it has? In other words, if this world’s climate has a “tipping point” it would have tipped a long time ago.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Red94ViperRT10
May 4, 2021 3:37 pm

Well of course it has tipped, many times. Oscillating between stadials and interstadials. What I suppose you mean is that if it could tip toward out of control warming, it would have done so long ago?

Wim Röst
Reply to  Rich Davis
May 4, 2021 4:12 pm

Red94ViperRT10: “which came first?”

The oceans cooled first. See: https://wattsupwiththat.com/2018/06/15/how-the-earth-became-a-hothouse-by-h2o/ After the production of warm deep water stopped about 35 million years ago and the production of cold water became dominant, the oceans cooled and an ice cap could form over the Antarctic islands at the South Pole. The high ice cap resulted in a strong high-pressure area above the ice sheet, resulting in constantly descending air that found its way over the surface equatorward. The ice-cold descending air forms lots of sea ice on its trip to the north, aided by upwelling ice-cold Arctic water. That already ice-cold water surfaces because of the wind direction along the edge of the South Pole ice sheet in combination with Ekman forces that cause the deep water to come to the surface and flow to the North: perfect circumstances for the formation of a lot of sea-ice.

So it all started with cooling oceans, enabling an ice cap to form over the South Pole. And the resulting sea ice prevents the further cooling of polar oceans: sea ice is a stabilizing mechanism on the low range of [ocean] temperatures.

Last edited 1 year ago by Wim Rost
Reply to  John Tillman
May 4, 2021 1:09 pm

John who do u use for ur sea ice info / graphs …. I don’t think DMI is showing the same thing but I could be wrong … just curious who u use.

David L. Hagen
May 4, 2021 10:37 am

Compare with cooling clouds in the Pacific?
Simultaneous Arctic and Antarctic volcanoes? Unlikely.
Hot air out of DC? Miniscule.

David Kamakaris
Reply to  ResourceGuy
May 4, 2021 12:48 pm

You can also ask this tree stump.

Richard Page
Reply to  David Kamakaris
May 4, 2021 3:19 pm

I’m getting quite fond of that treestump. We do seem to be seeing an awful lot of him these days, don’t we?

Pat from kerbob
Reply to  Richard Page
May 4, 2021 7:31 pm

Has a lot to add to the current discussion, I particularly like it’s opinion of the hockey stick.

May 4, 2021 10:39 am

Thanks Willis. Good stuff as usual, great even. The canary in the coal mine is still chirping, while the dead parrot is still being nailed to its perch frantically.

How’s the paper going?

Reply to  philincalifornia
May 4, 2021 4:41 pm

“The Norwegian Blue prefers kippin’ on its back.”

Last edited 1 year ago by stinkerp
Rud Istvan
May 4, 2021 10:39 am

Figure 3 plainly shows the global loss 2015-2017 was mainly Antarctica sea ice. I went to NSIDC and read their analysis, expecting a global warming claim of some sort. Nope, because not supported by any change in Antarctica winter surface air temperatures for the period.
They (NASA) said it was probably just ‘pushing the envelope’ of natural variability. Storms, winds, waves, overturning, …
In other words, even NASA admits sometimes stuff just happens. No macro explanation needed.

John Tillman
Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 4, 2021 11:09 am

Super El Niño not followed by a strong La Niña, combined with weakened winds off the continent double-punched Antarctic sea ice in 2016:


May 4, 2021 10:43 am

How is sea ice measured and have there been recent changes starting about 10 years ago? It would be entirely consistent for NOAA or NASA to do that just to show declining ice.

Reply to  DHR
May 4, 2021 11:07 am

All sea ice is calculated using satellite sensors, computers and algorithms. It’s hard to tell between ice and clouds at times and just how do they come up with 15% coverage? Like everything else in “climate” it’s computer modeled, not fact.

Reply to  rbabcock
May 6, 2021 2:54 pm

Also hard to tell between open water and melt water on top of ice?

Rud Istvan
Reply to  DHR
May 4, 2021 11:23 am

To your question about change in methods, not to my knowledge, NSIDC is different than MASIE different from DMI (Arctic). DMI did change their land mask resolution a few years ago, but they warn about that prominently in their data products.

Tom in Toronto
May 4, 2021 10:50 am

Maybe there was strong deep ocean warming in 2015 caused by an undersea magma flow/eruption. The SS may not have been affected much if the heat went into melting ice? Just layman speculation here.

May 4, 2021 10:52 am

Perhaps the random errors [or variations from year to year] are just overwhelming the trend.
In Figures 1 and 2 you plot anomalies, but in Figure 3 you seem to plot the actual extents, although the y-axis [wrongly] says ‘anomalies’. Figure 3 shows that trends are not significant.

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
May 4, 2021 11:20 am

Look again at Figure 3. All values are positive. Anomalies would be a mix of negative and positive values. The global values the around 18 million km^2. This is clearly not an anomaly.

Pat from kerbob
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
May 4, 2021 7:45 pm

May I add an observation, as an internet schlub in violent agreement with much I read here.

A proponent offered up data and some thoughts
A reviewer pointed out issues with the data
The proponent graciously accepted their mistake and corrected it.

“Science”, as I have come to understand it.

What would our world look like if a Michael Mann had learned this basic lesson a quarter century ago?

Reply to  Pat from kerbob
May 4, 2021 9:47 pm

When your “science” has a cause, and you exclude people from analysing your “study” because you feel they don’t support your “cause”, then its not science that you are doing. It’s promoting an agenda.

Science has no agenda other than to falsify hypotheses. Period.

May 4, 2021 10:56 am

from about 1998 to 2008
That was the super el nino, the start of The Pause.

Unfortunately the record is so short only one such event has been captured so you cannot rule out sensor failure.

Alternatively, the decade of decreased variability suggests that Arctic wind patterns were significantly more regular for the decade following the super el nino, perhaps as a emergent mechanism to dump heat to the arctic and thus to space.

May 4, 2021 11:08 am

from about 1998 to 2008
The 1998 super el nino released significant heat into the Pacific. This increased the convection towards the equator which was carried poleward at altitude.

Eventually this increased volume of warmer than normal air descended at the poles, when it reduced the variabilily in the low altitude polar winds and thus reduced polar ice over time. This reduction would be due to warming and outgoing winds carrying sea ice out of the arctic to lower latitudes.

This emergent phenomenon, apparent in the reduced variability in the arctic sea ice, continued for a period of about 10 years until the extra heat from the super el nino had been fully radiated to space.

May 4, 2021 11:20 am

from about 1998 to 2008
At a guess. The arctic and antarctic ice are out of phase because of geography. When el nino causes increased convection towards the equator the resulting increased outgoing low altitude winds in the north pole carry ice out of the arctic ocean reducing sea ice.

In the antarctic the increased outgoing low altitude winds cannot carry away the land ice. Instead the winds carry the extremely cold antarctic temperatures further out to sea than normal, increasing the area of antarctic sea ice.

May 4, 2021 11:32 am

Is a clue to the answer hidden in the terminology?

First, you present records of sea ice: “…here’s the Arctic sea ice area record.”

Aren’t these records estimates that are subject to adjustments, or instrument changes? The record is not the reality.

After presenting the records, you switch to calling the records “total global sea ice”.

Are the records actual measurements, stable and accurate over decades, of total global sea ice?

It would seem that a more fruitful avenue of exploration would be consider why the records show the fluctuations you describe.

Isn’t it possible that the records do not reflect the reality of sea ice?

Robert of Texas
May 4, 2021 11:34 am

These records are too short to be able to draw meaningful conclusions.

What was the ice doing since 1900? No one really knows although there is historical news articles suggesting a loss of ice at times. What was the ice doing from 1950 to 1978? That would be very interesting to know as I suspect the ice was building up until at least the mid-1970’s.

Without any of this historic data, you cannot match it up against CO2 emissions – which in themselves are suspect until 1957. All you can do is use proxies which people interpret however is most convenient to their bias.

I suspect the sea ice may be growing for a few years… It’s just a hunch, not scientific, but if it does it will be fun to watch the clowns trying to cover it up or explain it away.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  Robert of Texas
May 4, 2021 11:47 am

Cannot speak to Antarctic sea ice, but can for the Arctic sea ice extent back to about 1900–qualitatively, not quantitatively. Extensive analysis in illustrated essay Northwest Passage in ebook Blowing Smoke. There is something like an about 50 year full cycle qualitatively, presently in an upswing.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 4, 2021 12:06 pm

because the global energy load shed to space, is the same for both regions at the point in time.
The polar regions!



Reply to  whiten
May 4, 2021 12:38 pm

Just a clarification.

Apologies Rud.

My comment reply to you was meant, intended, as only a stand alone comment… not a reply to your comment.


For as long as that still ok with you, will be fine for me too.



Last edited 1 year ago by whiten
Dave Andrews
Reply to  Robert of Texas
May 5, 2021 7:46 am

The ice in the Arctic was certainly doing something in the early 20thC. Hubert Lamb notes that

“In Spitsbergen the open season for shipping at the coal port lengthened from three months in the years before 1920 to over seven months of the year by the late 1930s. The average total area of the Arctic sea ice seems to have declined by between 10 and 20 per cent over that time.”

Climate, History and the Modern World p260

AC Osborn
May 4, 2021 11:52 am

Why does anyone believe anything that comes out of NASA these days.
What about the integrity of the instruments being used, we know there have been problems before.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  AC Osborn
May 4, 2021 12:49 pm

NASA uses reflected microwave signatures to distinguish ice from water. This works fine in winter. It doesn’t in summer, when melt water can pool on top of ice ‘fooling’ the sensors. I explained with many illustrations in the aforementioned essay Northwest Passage.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 4, 2021 4:57 pm

That is current and started at a particular place in time.

Before that, they used whatever pieces of information they could locate.

Jay Hendon
May 4, 2021 12:09 pm

There’s very little month-to-month variation in the record over that period”
Figure 1 does not have enough resolution for you to see any “month to month” variation.

Reply to  Jay Hendon
May 5, 2021 12:12 am


Here You can see the narrow band month to month year from year.
I am also surprised of the grey area. It cant be the same method used.

May 4, 2021 12:12 pm

The Ice Albedo Theory….

The Arctic and Antarctic are very different, because all the land masses and industry are in the northern hemisphere. That is why EVERY interglacial warming era is associated with a northern Great Summer (a northern Milankovitch Maximum) rather than a southern one. The poles are polar-opposites.

So what if Arctic sea-ice extent is actually governed more by industrial soot and the resulting lower ice-sheet albedo, rather then CO2? If this were true, then Arctic ice would have decreased after about 1995, when China started pumping out industrial smog. But Antarctica would not be effected by this.

And this is exactly what we see in the data-record.

And if you want to see what China’s industry has done to the Arctic, do a search for ‘Dark Ice Project’ website.


Hmm, 404, site not found. Why is that?  

Oh, yes, it is because the Dark Ice Project never did get a government ir educational grant, and was privately crowd-funded – because they had the audacity to never mention CO2. That is the state of modern ‘science’ – you are de-funded if you do not follow the consensus. 

Unfortunately, most of rhe Dark Ice images have gone from the web too. So take a look at this article instead.



Steve Richards
May 4, 2021 12:14 pm

Willis, could the problem be either or a combination of the following?

1) Satellite change
2) Sensor change over
3) Algorithm change
4) Model change
5) Team membership change

You work spotting the sea level satellite change was excellent.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  Steve Richards
May 4, 2021 12:57 pm

Not Willis, but know some answers to your questions. Satellites have changed, but the MSU sensors have not. NSIDC pixel level MSU processing algorithms have not changed. NSIDC does not use a model—that is MASIE, aimed at near icefield ship navigation at 30% ice (if I recall correctly). The NSIDC team naturally has had some turnover over now 4 decades, but it is surprisingly slow because government job sinecures. First three points are illustrated in essay Northwest Passage, with footnote references.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 4, 2021 5:28 pm

Same sensors over four decades?
From a systems level, I find that claim difficult to accept.

Even bottom level junk cameras greatly improved sensors during that span and prices were less than for the older equipment.
Considering satellite launches where every gram is counts, it would be absurd to believe designers refused to upgrade their sensors.

Failure to update program processing, I do believe. Many in government facilities are loathe to move to newer code and compilers.

Satellites have changed…
That is, the equipment itself changed. New sensors, new optics, new satellite in likely a new orbit, new transmission equipment and likely faster transmission speeds, possibly newer transmission algorithms.
Once again, another climate related fiasco that pretends data sources are linear where equipment processing is joined.

Are you going to tell us that all received data is still stored on sequential magnetic tape reels? The storage media of choice circa 1978?
No, likely the data storage and retrieval systems were updated as well as the computing systems themselves.

Every active component in a data stream is a source for error.
NASA, NOAA, NSIDC all have bad habits where errors are not identified or aggregated. Let alone errors caused by new equipment, new computational systems, new transmissions, new storage systems, new visual systems, etc.

Climate believer
May 4, 2021 1:21 pm

There is no overall increase or decrease in total global sea ice for the entire ~ forty-year period from November 1978 until 2015 or so.”

Willis, JAXA mark that period down as a net loss of about 2 million km², if I’ve read it right.
comment image

Climate believer
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
May 4, 2021 10:35 pm

Doh! apologises, that completely passed me by, so used to looking at extent.

Lawrence Edward Todd
May 4, 2021 1:25 pm

One thing I would do is link the to polar areas with a 6 month offset and see what the yearly change really is. I am not sure this would show anything, just that I would compare winter with winter and summer with summer.

May 4, 2021 1:26 pm

Ja. Ja. It is the 3 M’s at it again. It is either the man, the method or the machine….

Oscar K
May 4, 2021 2:05 pm

”thirteen years of very large month-to-month variations with little overall change in ice area. Is this real? Is it an artifact? Unknown. ”

This is in my opinion just a result of seasonal adjustment. Arctic ice formation (and melting) are very rapid in the autumn/and spring. This means that the area compared year on year vary much just because of freezing/melting delay of a week or so. Imagine two years ice area as to sinus curves. Identical in amplitude but shifted a week. The differnce from one year to the next (vertical distance) is very large. (this year was exceptional with area difference of a million sq km just because of the late ice formation).
When the seasonal effect is calculated it will some year subtract the ”normal” Ice area to get the seasonally adjusted area. A year with the ice formation delayed and subtracting the average seasonal
effect will produce wildly swinging results.
Probably there has been a number of years with one seasonal pattern and then a period of another pattern. This will produce exactly the effect that is shown in the graphs with quite years and wildly swinging years.

Oscar K

Jon R
May 4, 2021 3:06 pm

Or the “data” is garbage?!

navy bob
May 4, 2021 3:16 pm

Castaneda? You must be a refugee from the 60s. I bet you read Dune, V, Cat’s Cradle and At Play in the Fields of the Lord too.

Wim Röst
Reply to  navy bob
May 4, 2021 4:47 pm

Castaneda? I read several of his books with great pleasure. At least: very interesting to look at the same world in another way.

Ulric Lyons
May 4, 2021 3:35 pm

The polar see-saw effect, as the solar wind weakened from 1995, the Arctic warmed, and the Antarctic cooled.

May 4, 2021 3:54 pm

Here, the obvious mystery is, just what the heck happened around 2015-2017 to cause the Antarctic ice area to drop so precipitously?

I followed the progression of cyclone Debbie down the east coast of Australia in March 2017. It dumped a lot of water on the east coats. A patch of warm water went all the way down the east coast of Australia.  

I noticed that the sea ice extent in September 2017 was lower than it had been for some years. 

When you look at SST anomalies around Antarctica in September 2017 you see all three oceans had warm water at the ice interface – up to 5C warmer than usual. 
Literally like a ring of fire.

I figure the loss of ice is the alignment of the three ocean circulations and the global impact of the 2015-16 El Nino.

Izaak Walton
May 4, 2021 4:06 pm

How did you remove the seasonal effects? Just out of curiosity I downloaded the file
Sea_Ice_index_Daily_Extent_G02135_v3.0.xlsx from the website you list and if I take
for example a simple average of the Southern Hemisphere daily sea ice extent for 2010 I get 12.1 million square kilometres. However in Fig. 3. your value is below 10. Similarly all of your values appear to be several million square kilometres below what a simple average would give.

As for your question about why the Northern and Southern extents are so similar the answer would be just luck. The Arctic sea ice extent clearly can’t grow significantly since the arctic is surrounded by land and 100% of the sea is already frozen. In contrast the south pole is on land and the Antarctic is quite large so the amount of sea ice is limited as well. A more sensible metric would be the total amount of ice cover in each hemisphere and that would again be roughly equal because the earth is a sphere.

May 4, 2021 4:10 pm

Thank you for another wonderful logical article! Solid questions!

“There is no overall increase or decrease in total global sea ice for the entire ~ forty-year period from November 1978 until 2015 or so. This is despite increasing CO2 and general gradual global warming. Why?

• Up until 2015 or so, when the Arctic had more ice area, the Antarctic had less ice area, and vice versa. Why?

• Around 2015, after forty years of global ice stability, both Arctic and Antarctic ice areas dropped, leading to a very visible drop in global ice area. Why the drop, and why then and not earlier or later?

• After the drop, the global ice area seems to be starting to recover … again, why?”

A) Remember, for decades, “sea ice” reports ware provided by a “service” by interested parties, e.g., Denmark..

B) The look of the sea ice chart looks exactly like a chart would that combines and joins many different sources.

  • Keep in mind that until modern polar satellites were launched, sea ice was strictly visual identification. Either passing ships and coastal towns reported sea ice or handfuls of people counted pixels on grainy pictures from various aerial sources, including some satellites.
  • Every period of time that had reporting delays, often for weeks, sea ice area claims were just so many adjusted estimates.

Ba) For a few years, I accessed to the experimental the “NexSat- NRL/JPSS Next-Generation Weather Satellite Demonstration Project

  • The Arctic is not well sequenced. Instead, it is a patchwork quilt of satellite/aircraft pictures, with many overlaps. A decade ago, the stitched patches were not equal.
  • Updates to the patches are not sequential or coordinated. Major patches went weeks without updates as aerial photography could not take pictures through clouds.
  • A situation that plays havoc to people counting pixels.

C) The deep plummet in Arctic sea ice is right around the time that multiple groups of people got serious about their versions of sea ice.

D) Modern “sea ice area” reports are selectively initiated as starting in 1978. Sea ice has been reported for many years prior to 1978 with Norway, Denmark, Canada and Russia very intent on knowing sea ice estimates.

1) Suggestion: Identify actual sources. i.e., exactly what the various services used for sources to prepare their estimates.
Along with the granularity and methods that drove their estimates.

I know from the NexSat- NRL/JPSS Next-Generation Weather Satellite Demonstration Project” that weeks went by sometimes without a clear image of ice, with many areas of the Arctic never clear of overcast; at least whe the aircraft/satellite passed through..

Frankly, it is quite hard to tell white clouds from white sea ice.

2) Life is far more important than feeding WUWT’s audience abyssal hunger for knowledge.
Enjoy Life!

To bed B
May 4, 2021 4:11 pm

The Arctic data looks almost certainly due to bad calculations, if not deliberate fudging. A large change tends to look less noisy, but that sticks out like the dog’s proverbials. Are there changes in satellites that coincide with the start and finish?

May 4, 2021 4:21 pm

Here are some changes l have noticed in the NH snow extent that maybe linked to the changes in the Arctic sea ice extent since 2008.

1 Since around 2004 there has been a clear sharp decline in the snow extent during April to June.
2 While roughly from 2000 and onward there has been a noticeable increase in snow cover during the Fell.
3 l have kept a first snow record in my local area here in England since 1977, and from around 2010 to the present l have noticed there has been a noticeable increase in the year to year swing away from the average date during that time. But with the average date remaining roughly the same during that time.

May 4, 2021 4:38 pm

The first thing I would be looking at is whether the method of measurement changed. I have no idea how to do this or whether it did, but it certainly looks like you would want to verify the data as first step.

After all, this is Climate Science…

Martin Cropp
May 4, 2021 9:53 pm

Dear Willis
“Other than saying that equal ice areas at the poles MAY be a result of my hypothesis that the climate is a giant thermoregulated heat engine with a host of emergent phenomena that tend to stabilize the temperatures and equalize the hemispheres, I fear I have no answers to these curious polar questions … all comments welcome”.

Well you could say that Willis, but it would be similar to trying to paint the whole side of your house with one brush stroke. You are partially right without understanding why.

Equatorial / low latitude convection, the volume, timing and duration of intrusion into the atmosphere controls more than is understood. It has a global effect. This is especially obvious between the months of May to early October when another separate phenomenon causes a multiplying effect on convection intrusion.

Without this convection zonal winds would diminish considerably, as we find out every now and then. They call it SSW. 2002 was a classic year. Also of importance is the difference in volume of convection between the SH and NH in any given year. The hemispheric balance.

I call it “Atmospheric Entanglement”.

Lets look very simply at a couple of years.
2014 was the peak Antarctic year for sea ice area.
A nice steady rise from the 4th Sept to the peak on 20.9.14, then a decline. Go to Charctic to see the Ice profile.
Below is the Zonal wind speed at 70mb. 70mb acts as the default average for all of the heights measured. Note how the wind speed drops on the same date as the sea ice increases. The peak ice stops increasing and reduces as the wind rises again. The ice gross area is maintained due to falling Zonal winds and calmer sea surface. When the zonal winds reduce – Cold air flows from the Antarctic continent onto the sea / sea ice assisting the sea ice formation.


Compare that to 2016
A rapid rise in zonal wind speed coinciding with a decrease in sea ice.
No cold air flowing outward – sea surface disturbance


It becomes more evident when you move away from averages and get into the daily detail.
There is more to it than the simple explanation provided here.
Thanks for your great posts, it gets us thinking.
With regards

May 4, 2021 10:39 pm

Thanks for your great job Willis! Debunking all this propaganda.

I found this paper very intresting regarding “Little ice age”: A perspective from Iceland. Where they show some ice index observations from 1650-1990.

May 4, 2021 10:56 pm
May 5, 2021 12:05 am

I have been looking for something that might give a clue about why these patterns appeared.

The data looked at by Willis is for sea ice. That’s basically all there is ice-wise in the Arctic, but the Antarctic has lots of ice on land. Did the Antarctic land ice do the same thing in 2015-17? If so, that might indicate something affecting the whole region. Answer: no. Verified by looking for an increase in sea level rise rate: there wasn’t one. This thing appears to be limited to sea ice only.

So what about the Southern Ocean – did something happen there? Well, there’s quite a jump in the Southern Annular Mode (SAM) around 2014-18.
There were previous spikes, but they didn’t hang around the way the 2014-18 increase did. Maybe that’s a useful clue?

What about clouds? With around 90% cloud cover, the Southern Ocean may well be quite sensitive to variation in cloud cover (that’s because a small change in cloud cover is a much larger change in non-cloud-cover). I could have looked up the cloud data if my computer hadn’t died recently, A quick search hasn’t produced anything I could use, but I did come across this paper
It’s called “The Combined Influence of Observed Southern Ocean Clouds and Sea Ice on Top‐of‐Atmosphere Albedo” but in a sense it isn’t that, because it seems to assume that “cloud cover and opacity” only change in “response to Southern Ocean sea ice variability”. I’ve come across this a lot – papers assuming that cloud only changes in response to the things they are looking at, never that clouds may have a role in driving things. So when I have replaced my computer – hopefully soon – maybe I will be able to take a look at cloud cover and opacity over the Southern Ocean. If anyone wants to get there tirst, please do. I would much rather someone saved me the work!

May 5, 2021 12:38 am

If you are basing your assessment on just that chart, well, I think you need to look at things in more detail…

You need to consider changes in ice thickness and volume, influence of snow cover, feedback, effect of warming peripheral oceans…

Look at the way maximums have lowered as well as minimums… and much more.

You could start here:
Arctic sea ice – Arctic Sea Ice : Forum (arctic-sea-ice.net)

mike macray
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
May 5, 2021 12:19 pm

Interesting informative post as usual Willis, many thanks.
A couple of thoughts: Arctic/Antarctic ice areas are of similar orders of magnitude but vastly disparate in volume. I don’t have hard data but Arctic floating ice is a few meters thick while Antarctic mostly land supported ice can be thousands of meters thick. Even including Greenland the disparity between North and South Polar ice masses must differ by a couple of orders of magnitude. Is there data on their respective ice volume seasonal variations?

Oh! and a tip for our favorite troll Griff: all that extra ice mass at the South pole is perhaps why it’s always at the bottom of the world map.

May 5, 2021 3:28 am

It would have been more informative if the ice anomaly was expressed in percent relative to average.

That also goes for ice in Greenland. I think the reason the alarmist never uses perscent for this is to make the graphs more ambiguous. After all, the volume of ice in Greenland today is just 0.3% lower than 120 years ago. That’s not frightning enough for the audience.

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
May 5, 2021 2:54 pm

Ok.Then the graphs make sense, but the text and scale on the y-axe is a bit confusing if it’s percentage.

Thanks for the answer and thanks for an interesting post.


May 5, 2021 11:28 am

One thing that comes to mind is advice several years ago that satellite sensors could not distinguish melt water on top of ice from ocean water. (There are areas of melt water on top of ice, I think those will vary with drifted snow and tilting of ice from floes pushing into each other due wind.)

Perhaps someday they will be able to.

Reply to  Keith Sketchley
May 5, 2021 11:55 am

Erps, “….distinguish melt water on top of ice from open water.”

I also note that ice in the Arctic ocean varies in thickness, there’s much first year ice but there is multi-year ice – contrary to alarmist claims it does not all

I do not know granularity of measurement – edges of ice floes may be jagged so hard to measure.

Reply to  Keith Sketchley
May 5, 2021 12:14 pm

And idly thinking, I wonder what is on top of the mountains in the High Arctic – how much ice.

This article says it has an ice cap today, it and the main Wikipedia article show glacier flows. (The Arctic is generally dry.)

Flying past Axel Heiberg Island one night in a Hercules air freighter I took some comfort from the sound of four thrusters purring out there on the wings. (AKA C-130 with four turboprop engines.) I was only up there in winter, perhaps the moon was out, perhaps starlight is enough to see those big rocks given reflection from snow cover of the landscape.

(Islands in the southwestern Arctic are quite low, whereas Axel Heiberg is 7250 feet high. It is further north, almost 80N, on the west side of Ellesmere Island which is to the west of Greenland. WUWT readers may recognize weather base Alert, at 82.5N.)

Another article says Dorset people once lived there (Paleo-Eskimos). (They were displaced by Inuit from Alaska (Aleuts) and Siberia moving across the top of North America into Greenland – called Thule people there but many families are related between Canada and Greenland, between three and one millennia ago, no inhabitants today. (There are Inuit in Resolute Bay Nanavut, which is at 74.7N, they were transplanted there from somewhere south by the government of Canada, they do OK there.)

Frederik Michiels
May 7, 2021 3:59 am

Willis, perhaps looking at the aftermath of all big el nino’s may hold a track:

Last big el nino had the warm waters veering mainly south instead of north. (Saw that on a mainstream global warming makes el nino’s worse video)

Not sure if that volume would be enough to make such a big difference?

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