Antarctic Ice is Growing

This is just one of dozens of responses to common climate change denial arguments, which can all be found at How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic.


Objection:

The Antarctic Ice sheets are actually growing, which would not be happening if Global Warming were real.

Answer:

There are two distinct problems with this argument. First, any argument that tries to use a regional phenomenon to disprove a global trend is simply dead in the water. Anthropogenic global warming theory does not predict uniform warming throughout the globe. We need to assess the balance of the evidence. In the case of this particular region, there is actually very little data about the changes in the ice sheets, and the conclusions we have seen of some growth in the East Antarctic ice sheet is such a small amount, that with the uncertainty, it might be shrinking. But even this weak piece of evidence may no longer be right. Some very recent results from NASA’s GRACE experiment, measuring the gravitational pull of the massive Antarctic ice sheets, have indicated that in fact ice mass is on the whole being lost.

Secondly, the phenomenon of thickening of an ice sheet is not by itself inconsistent with warming! Such an increase in ice mass in the face of actual warming would be the result of increasing precipitation and this is fully consistent with the Antarctic in a warming world. The Antarctic is actually one of the most extreme deserts on the planet, and warmer climates tend towards more precipitation. So even if you warmed a whopping 20oC from -50oC, you would still be well below freezing and accumulating snow, not melting in the rain.

While on the subject of ice sheets, Greenland is also growing ice in the centre for the same reasons described above, but it is melting on the exterior regions, on the whole losing approximately 200 km^3 of ice annually, doubled now from just a decade ago. This is a huge amount compared to what the changes may be in the Antarctic, around three orders of magnitude larger. So in terms of sea level rise, any potential mitigation due to the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is wiped out many many times over by Greenland’s ice sheet.


This is just one of dozens of responses to common climate change denial arguments, which can all be found at How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic.


“Antarctic Ice is Growing” was first published here, where you can still find the original comment thread. This updated version is also posted on the Grist website, where additional comments can be found, though the author, Coby Beck, does not monitor or respond there.

61 thoughts on “Antarctic Ice is Growing

  1. Those skeptics who said that “an earth only a few dozen million years old could not possibly have provided enough time for the diversity of life to evolve” were right.

    Those whose evolution theory said a few dozen million years was enough time to develop the diversity of life we have on earth were clearly wrong. It took more than 3 billion years.

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  2. I should clarify a few things
    1. I’m not a climate modeler, I’m just a guy with a PhD in Physics who spends too much time reading climate blogs. I only read primary literature if it’s directly linked.
    2. Any error in recollection or representation of what I’ve read about the models is my own, and not reflective on the climate modeling community.
    3. I got a term wrong. Testing a model using known past forcings against known past temperatures is “hindcasting”. “Backcasting” appears to be what the deniers call it when they want to denigrate it. My mistake.

    Ok, moving on. RC has an excellent compendium of the raw data, processed data, model source code, etc. at the following link http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/data-sources/

    The links therein are strong on vast tables of data, and weak on easy-to-digest pictures. Such is life.

    The most accessible discussion of hindcasting I’ve seen is at http://www.skepticalscience.com/climate-models.htm – the easy-to-digest picture there is what I’d call a good fit.

    The same site has a good discussion of Antarctic land ice vs Antarctic sea ice and the current understanding of physical reasons for the sea ice increase. No direct reference to including those physical processes in models, but I’m certain I’ve read that some models include the ozone hole and consequent increase in circumpolar wind velocity.

    My claim that arctic ice loss is faster than predicted … also there http://www.skepticalscience.com/Arctic-sea-ice-melt-natural-or-man-made.htm

    Note that those posts themselves generally reference primary literature, such as http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2007/2007GL029703.shtml

    I’m not going to walk through each and every thing I said and retrace my footsteps to the blog I got it from, and then to the primary literature they reference. I just did that one to show it can be done. If there’s one I’m shaky on, it’s how long the Antarctic sea ice can continue to grow before the ocean warming trend overwhelms other effects. But it only makes physical sense – under business-as-usual, or modest emission reduction, sea and air temperatures will continue going up. At some point that will dominate other effects, much like an El-Nino year in the 1980s is colder than a La-Nina year in the 2000s (global avg temps, not the local equatorial pacific surface water temps – for those, the ENSO swing is still larger).

    P.S. Am I putting on airs about my degree? Meh, I might be if I told you from what University I earned it. But I left academics for a more secure (and larger) paycheck in business (aside – which by itself should tell you something about the silly argument that AGW is a way for scientists to enrich themselves on great piles of grant money). I will say that as a student, I was generally regarded as having “good physical intuition”, which is physics professor speak for “accurate scientific bullshit detector”.

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  3. Z:

    I have to apologize. I misread your point–and unlike your first response it *was* a clever twist of my meaning. I salute the creativity because I assume it was done in earnest.

    A better response is as follows:

    The “skeptics” of interest were the ones who said the *theory of evolution* is *wrong* based on what they they thought was a prohibitive contradiction–the earth (they thought) was too young. Lord Kelvin and his ilk were not reasoned “skeptics” merely saying, “An earth too young won’t support evolution, but we’re withholding judgment on whether evolution is true.” They very much did not want to believe in evolution, and thought a young geologic earth was their ace. You tried to switch the discussion to different factions. You’re very sly (but so am I.)

    Your “skepticism” of interest here is your insistence that an (in places) expanding Anarctic ice sheet is inconsistent with global warming. You are *not* saying, “A climate with an expanding Anarctic ice sheet is inconsistent with AGW, but I’m withholding judgment on whether AGW is true.”

    No. You’re saying:

    “Melting Ice Caps” along with pictures of polar bears “stranded” on little slabs of ice floating in the ocean is part and parcel of warmie propaganda. That’s what makes the growth of antarctic ice caps such an inconvenient truth.

    You think it proves something, Z. Thus my analogy stands. You are very much like Lord Kelvin, thinking you have an ace to beat AGW as an inconvenient truth, but you’re just flat wrong. Because it doesn’t make sense to *you* (like evolution didn’t make sense to Kelvin) does *not* mean it doesn’t make sense at all.

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  4. z:

    “The most modern models, taking into account dozens of physical phenomena, at the finest spatial and temporal resolution our best supercomputers allow, do a really good job of backcasting.”

    I’d love to see those models too. Where’s the source code for those?

    You’ll find the code for one of the major ones here:
    http://www.giss.nasa.gov/tools/modelE/

    Linked from that page is code, archived runs, documentation and whatever eles you would desire if you were sincerely interested.

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  5. Ok, so *more* ice is global warming because of perspiration? But …but… ice melting is a sign of global warming. So, if the ice melts it’s because of global warming, if the water freezes it’s global warming. No matter what the effect, it’s global warming. No matter what happens, it’s because of global warming.

    And you people wonder why people think this climate change stuff is a bunch of hippie horseshit…

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  6. Mass balance for glaciers and ice sheets is accumulation minus melting and calving. Increased snowfall means increased accumulation. So if a temperature increase leads to an increase in snowfall but not a balancing increase in melting then it would lead to a positive mass balance (ie growth).

    Similarly if a decrease in temperature caused a drop in snowfall accumulation but not a balancing reduction in melting or calving then you could have a negative mass balance (shrinking) as a result of temperatures dropping. That does not seem that hard to understand to me…

    Sometimes life is complicated and intuition just is not enough. Sorry if that looks like “horseshit” to you, it really is just reality.

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  7. “Ice can form much easier on land ”

    Well, when the land is a few km above the sea level, it’s going to be cold at the top there.

    Any rain won’t managed to have melted and will fall as snow.

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  8. “If the Earth is warming, then why is (some) Anarctic ice growing? Heat melts ice, right?”

    Not really.

    If you warm from -40C to -30C, you warmed 10C.

    But it’s still freezing cold.

    Oh, and it will hold a lot more water which will fall as snow.

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  9. wow, i like your comment: its getting warmer but i die from freezing my ass in the ice. bravo, you are a true warmist. even when you die from the cold you think it was warmer.

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