Help, help, the Arctic is melting!

In a previous post I talked about the desirability, nay the necessity, of ascertaining the facts, as opposed to regurgitating the current politically correct viewpoint. So let’s do this with regard to the melting of Arctic ice.

It is easily verifiable that the extent of ice cover in the Arctic is less than it was twenty years ago. No argument on that point. The immediate knee-jerk response of the climate change lobby is that this is entirely due to human activity, and in particular the combustion of fossil fuels.

Perhaps. But the intelligent response would be to ask “has this ever happened before? Is the present melting a unique phenomenon, or is it something that happens as a result of a natural climatic cycle? Will the Arctic freeze up again, regardless of what the human race does?”

To begin with, we know that the same concerns about Arctic warming were raised over ninety years ago. In November 1922 the U.S Monthly Weather Review, a prestigious journal published by the American Meteorological Society, contained a report from the US Consul in Bergen, Norway, saying “The Arctic seems to be warming up. Reports from fisherman, seal hunters and explorers who sail the seas about Spitzbergen and the eastern Arctic, all point to a radical change in climatic conditions, and hitherto unheard-of high temperatures in that part of the earth’s surface.

The article goes on to say “Ice conditions were exceptional. In fact so little ice has never before been noted. … Many old landmarks are so changed as to be unrecognizable. … At many points where glaciers formerly extended far into the sea they have entirely disappeared.

It would appear that Arctic melting is not a new or unprecedented phenomenon, since it was remarked upon nearly a century ago. Furthermore, in order for us to be remarking on Arctic melting today, there must have been a freeze-up between then and now. (Since melting occurred in the 1920’s, we would hardly be remarking on it today as a new phenomenon if there had not been a freeze-up since then.) This seems to indicate that Arctic melting comes and goes.

One result of Arctic melting is that the maritime route across the Arctic Ocean linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, known as the Northwest Passage, may become navigable. Will this happen?

The answer to this question is, yes it probably will, because it’s happened before. Some seventy years ago the Royal Canadian Mounted Police schooner St Roch sailed the Northwest Passage both ways. In 1940-1942 she sailed across the Arctic ocean west to east, and in 1944 made the east to west return trip. During the period 1944-1948 she again patrolled Arctic waters.

The St Roch was not a 30,000 ton nuclear-powered ice breaker, but was instead a 300 ton wooden schooner. Granted, she was a tough little boat designed for Arctic conditions, but she had no ice-breaking capability, so there must have been open water for her all the way. However, nobody took much notice at the time because this happened during World War II when people had other things on their minds.

Were these open water conditions exceptional? Going forward about fifteen years, the US submarine Skate navigated underwater in the Arctic Ocean in August 1958. It made numerous surfacings including one at the North Pole in clear water. While plenty of ice was visible, submarine had surfaced in open water, which seems to indicate that the ice cover was somewhat patchy at that time.

Later on, in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, the Arctic froze up again. The current generation of senior Arctic scientists all began their careers in this time frame, so their personal experience has always been that the Arctic is an unbroken expanse of ice. Then, starting sometime in the 1990’s, the Arctic began unfreezing. Ice cover, particularly with satellite imagery to record it, visibly decreased over a period of ten to twenty years. Yikes, they said, this is unprecedented (at least it’s never happened in our experience) – it must be due to global warming.

Even the most dedicated global warming proponents generally concede that there would have been very little man-made global warming in the 1920’s, so it’s difficult to ascribe the documented Arctic warm-up at that time to human causes. Furthermore, the period when the Arctic froze up again, beginning about 1960, was just when man-made release of carbon dioxide really got into its stride. Having the Arctic melting when there isn’t much CO2 being produced, then freezing again when there is doesn’t fit too well with global warming theory.

Another problem with the global warming theory is that while Arctic ice cover at the North Pole has been decreasing, Antarctic ice cover at the South Pole has been increasing. In fact, it has never been so high since satellite measurements began in 1979.

So here is an alternative theory. Both Arctic and Antarctic ice come and go for their own good reasons in a multi-decadal freeze/thaw cycle, regardless of human activity. I’m not going to speculate as to what causes this freeze/thaw cycle, merely to say that the observed facts seem to support its existence.

Does this fit with what we know of other historical events? We know that Arctic melting was noticeable in 1922 and occurred again in the early 1990’s, so let’s assume the freeze/thaw cycle is 70 years in extent, from warm peak to warm peak. Since 1944 seemed to be about the middle of the period when the Arctic Ocean was navigable, let’s assume this was a warm peak in the cycle, so the previous cold peak would have occurred half a cycle (35 years) earlier, which would have placed it around 1909. There would then have been another cold peak 70 years earlier than this, in 1839. We also know that the Franklin expedition, which set out in 1845 to discover the Northwest Passage, came to grief because its ships became locked in the ice. If our assumptions are correct, the expedition would have taken place shortly after the 1839 cold peak when the ice was at its maximum extent, so it is not surprising that the ships became icebound.

I must admit that the math is rather shaky, because of the uncertainties in the actual length of the freeze/thaw cycle and the dates of the warm and cold peaks, so I do not offer this as proof of any kind. I merely say that it seems to fit the hypothesis of a freeze/thaw cycle approximately 70 years in extent.

On this basis, incidentally, the most recent warm peak would have been in 2014, in which case we can expect freezing, and hence increased ice cover, to become noticeable 10 to 15 years from now, say in the latter half of the 2020’s. Anyone intending to invest large amounts of capital in Northwest Passage shipping should take note.

So these are the facts. If your climate change dogma requires you to believe that the current Arctic warming is an unprecedented event caused by fossil fuel consumption, then do so, but be aware that the facts do not altogether support you.

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