Reports of Record Arctic Ice Melt Disgracefully Ignore History

September 9th, 2007 12:31 AM

In the past couple of days, the media have reported "grim" melting of ice in the Arctic while disgracefully ignoring the history of the region prior to 1979 and explorations of the area as far back as 1903.

As the Washington Post reported Friday (emphasis added):

The Arctic ice cap is melting faster than scientists had expected and will shrink 40 percent by 2050 in most regions, with grim consequences for polar bears, walruses and other marine animals, according to government researchers.

Unfortunately, like the Post, most press outlets conveniently ignored a crucial element of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration study being cited. As reported by the Seattle Times Friday (emphasis added):

In an average August between 1979 and 2000, the Arctic Ocean was covered with about 3 million square miles of sea ice, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. By Labor Day this year, the total had shrunk to a little more than half that, shattering the previous record low set in 2005.

Why is 1979 important? An August 28 National Post article on the subject explained (emphasis added):

The record melting of the passage comes two weeks after the NSIDC and two other ice-monitoring agencies in the U.S. and Japan declared that the Arctic Ocean ice cover has shrunk to its smallest size since regular satellite imaging of the polar cap began in 1979.


"[A]nalysts at the Canadian Ice Service and the U.S. National Ice Center confirm that the passage is almost completely clear and that the region is more open than it has ever been since the advent of routine monitoring in 1972."

Getting the picture? Claims of "grim consequences" and "record low" ice levels are based on a satellite record which began in 1979, while routine monitoring of the region started in 1972.

How can anyone make a claim with a straight face that ice conditions in the Arctic are either historically low or grim when we've only been monitoring these levels for the last 35 years? Is everything that happened in this region - in thousands of millennia since the Big Bang occurred - totally irrelevant?

Such is especially the case given the history of successful sea-based explorations of the Arctic dating back as far as 1903.

For instance, a name media would love for global warming alarmists not to know is Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer who successfully navigated the Northwest Passage on August 26, 1905 (h/t Walt Bennett, Jr.):

The North West Passage was done. My boyhood dream - at that moment it was accomplished. A strange feeling welled up in my throat; I was somewhat over-strained and worn - it was weakness in me - but I felt tears in my eyes. 'Vessel in sight' ... Vessel in sight.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this Passage was clear enough of ice for a wooden sailboat, with a crew of seven, to successfully navigate it more than 100 years ago. How many times in the history of the planet do you think a similar - or even more ice-free - condition existed in this area?

Not that the media cares, but this Passage was also conquered several times in the 1940s (emphasis added):

Built for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Force to serve as a supply ship for isolated, far-flung Arctic RCMP detachments, St. Roch was also designed to serve when frozen in for the winter, as a floating detachment, with its constables mounting dog sled patrols from the ship. Between 1929 and 1939 St. Roch made three voyages to the Arctic. Between 1940 and 1942 St. Roch navigated the Northwest Passage, arriving in Halifax harbor on October 11, 1942. St. Roch was the second ship to make the passage, and the first to travel the passage from west to east. In 1944, St. Roch returned to Vancouver via the more northerly route of the Northwest Passage, making her run in 86 days. The epic voyages of St. Roch demonstrated Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic during the difficult wartime years, and extended Canadian control over its vast northern territories.

Putting it all together, when you consider that serious monitoring of Arctic ice levels only started in 1972, and that explorers successfully navigated these seas in relatively archaic ships 60 and 100 years ago, how can anybody honestly claim that today's conditions in this region are in any way unprecedented, historic, or grim?

Beyond this, as the planet entered a warming phase in 1975, isn't it not at all surprising that ice levels in this area are lower now than then? Wouldn't an honest media always point out the existence of this trend rather than presenting data exclusively from this period that conveniently ignores everything prior?

Sadly, this is the disingenuousness we see from today's press which continually make hysterical historical claims that intentionally ignore historical facts.

How disgraceful.

*****Update: Iain Murray of the Competitive Enterprise Institute sent me the following comment by e-mail --

One of the commenters on your Arctic blog post the other day asked what the skippers on The Deadliest Catch think of global warming. Here's the testimony of one of them:
Al_Batross: With all the current stories about global warming's environmental impact etc. have you found, in your long career, any significant changes in the amount of crab or where you find them?
Johnathan Hillstrand: I want to see global warming, I have not seen it yet. We have a glacier that has grown 5 miles in the last two years. In the Southeast opi fishing has not seen global warming but we've been waiting for it. Bring it on!
No wonder we haven't heard a peep about the subject on the current flagship program of the otherwise global-warming-mad Discovery Channel.