Arctic Sea Ice—A Climate Change April Fools?—Not According to Snopes


This excerpt from an Associated Press report published in the Washington Post is rocketing around the web again (apparently it was uncovered three years ago) this week:

The Washington Post

The Arctic ocean is warming up, icebergs are growing scarcer and in some places the seals are finding the water too hot, according to a report to the Commerce Department yesterday from Consulafft, at Bergen, Norway. Reports from fishermen, seal hunters and explorers all point to a radical change in climate conditions and hitherto unheard-of temperatures in the Arctic zone. Exploration expeditions report that scarcely any ice has been met as far north as 81 degrees 29 minutes. Soundings to a depth of 3,100 meters showed the gulf stream still very warm. Great masses of ice have been replaced by moraines of earth and stones, the report continued, while at many points well known glaciers have entirely disappeared. Very few seals and no white fish are found in the eastern Arctic , while vast shoals of herring and smelts which have never before ventured so far north, are being encountered in the old seal fishing grounds. Within a few years it is predicted that due to the ice melt the sea will rise and make most coastal cities uninhabitable.*

The punchline:

Oops. Never mind. This report was from November 2, 1922, as reported by the AP and published in The Washington Post…

Interesting, since people who are concerned about climate change often cite the fact that Arctic sea ice cover has been declining at a rate of 3 percent per decade as evidence for man-made global warming. The satellite data set issued by the University of Alabama in Huntsville finds that the arctic temperature trend since 1979 is 0.47 degree Celsius per decade which is three times higher than the overall global trend of 0.14 degree Celsius per decade. The National Snow and Ice Data Center issued a this preliminary report on Arctic sea ice cover last week:

On March 7, 2011, Arctic sea ice likely reached its maximum extent for the year, at 14.64 million square kilometers (5.65 million square miles). The maximum extent was 1.2 million square kilometers (463,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average of 15.86 million square kilometers (6.12 million square miles), and equal (within 0.1%) to 2006 for the lowest maximum extent in the satellite record.

A 2006 paper from Geophysical Research Letters perhaps sheds some light on the warming that occurred in the 1920s:

We provide an analysis of Greenland temperature records to compare the current (1995 – 2005) warming period with the previous (1920 – 1930) Greenland warming. We find that the current Greenland warming is not unprecedented in recent Greenland history. Temperature increases in the two warming periods are of a similar magnitude, however, the rate of warming in 1920 – 1930 was about 50% higher than that in 1995–2005.

But science is complicated and climate science is especially so. A 2009 Science study (as reported by LiveScience) found:

Arctic air temperatures in the 1990s were the warmest in the last 2,000 years and were a result of rising greenhouse gas levels, a new study concludes.

The findings, detailed in the Sept. 4 issue of the journal Science, also suggest that if it weren't for these manmade pollutants, temperatures around the North Pole would actually be cooling as a result of natural climate patterns.

"This result is particularly important because the Arctic, perhaps more than any other region on Earth, is facing dramatic impacts from climate change," said study team member David Schneider of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). "This study provides us with a long-term record that reveals how greenhouse gases from human activities are overwhelming the Arctic's natural climate system." …

The study found that the 10 years from 1999 to 2008 was the warmest in the Arctic in two millennia. Arctic temperatures are now 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.2 C) warmer than in 1900.

Go here for the LiveScience version. With regard to the 1922 report my colleague Shirley Ybarra drily observed:

What is more fun to think about is the government response then vs. now.

Yes indeed. Go here for Snopes' ratification of the November, 1922 report's authenticity.

*Update: This last sentence in the version circulating on the web seems to have been added by some prankster.