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Monday, July 16, 2007

A contradition

Obligatory disclaimer...
This story has been in the news lately...

North Pole swim fights global warming

Canadian Press

TORONTO — A British swimmer who says he wants to wake politicians around the world up to the threat of climate change has successfully completed a kilometre-long swim in the freezing water of the North Pole.

Lewis Gordon Pugh swam Sunday for 18 minutes and 50 seconds in temperatures of –1.8 degrees in just a Speedo, cap and goggles.

“I am obviously ecstatic to have succeeded, but this swim is a triumph and a tragedy,” the 37-year-old British lawyer said after coming out of the water.

“A triumph that I could swim in such ferocious conditions but a tragedy that it's possible to swim at the North Pole.”

Since I've seen a strong trend to blame anything and everything on AGW, I decided to do a bit of research on the North Pole. The first article I found I quickly dismissed, as it claimed that melting Arctic ice would lead to increased sea levels, then continued on to predict all sorts of disasters. Melting Arctic ice cannot lead to increased sea levels because it's already *in* the water, just as a melting ice cube will not increase the level of water in a glass. The ice already displaces the water.

Then I found this.

... a powerful new satellite is giving scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory their first close-up view of the tortured surface of the Arctic Ocean. And the initial images released this week are already causing a stir: They confirm scientists' notions that while warming appears to be affecting the entire Arctic region, cracks exposing water at the North Pole are not a clear-cut result of global warming.
The satellite sees through clouds and the long polar night, takes images with a resolution of less than an inch, and allows scientists to view sequential images of the ice like time-lapse films.
"It gives you a picture of how the ice cover is moving about," said Drew Rothrock, a sea ice researcher at the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory. "It's amazing what you can figure out looking down from space."
What do they see? Cracks. Lots and lots of cracks. Some more than 1,200 miles long and most several miles wide. "They go from one part of the Arctic to another," said Ron Kwok, who heads the polar remote sensing group at JPL. "There are thousands of them all over the place."
Though dramatic and longer than previously believed, the cracks are not clear evidence that global warming is occurring, he said. Scientists have long known that such cracks fracture the Arctic ice, a skin that ranges from a few inches to 10 feet in thickness.


Passengers on a tour ship returning from the North Pole last week reported a mile-wide patch of open ocean at the very top of the Earth. The open water prevented the tourists from having their pictures snapped at the geographic North Pole, and astonished the veteran Russian captain piloting the icebreaker carrying the tourists.
But scientists who have been studying North Pole ice and its vagaries for decades found nothing astonishing in the report.
"There are mile-wide cracks all over the Arctic in the summer," said Rothrock.
JPL's Kwok said there is "nothing special" about cracks at the North Pole, because they can occur anywhere within the Arctic ice. Members of his group had not seen current satellite images of an opening at the pole this summer because they had not yet processed recent images. They hope to check the new images in coming weeks.
Kwok's team will continue monitoring changes in the sea ice, particularly patterns of cracks, to look for evidence of global warming. He hopes the time-lapse images of ice forming will allow his team, for the first time, to estimate ice thickness from space. Although the polar oceans may seem static, they are actually violent places with ice shifting, groaning, breaking and piling up on a daily basis.


The main question, still unresolved, is whether warming seen in the Arctic and elsewhere is prompted by human or natural causes. The answers from these remote and inhospitable regions will still be difficult to find.
Even the current satellite technology, for example, has trouble distinguishing melting spring sea ice from water--a problem that can make readings of spring and summer ice less reliable than those of winter ice. The shifting pictures are also complicated by winds and storms that affect the ice pack. Another mystery: While ice cover has decreased at the North Pole, it has increased around Antarctica.
"Today, with all our capability and technology, we really don't know that much about Arctic sea ice," said Serreze.
In the meantime, he said, observations such as the one made by tourists at the North Pole are interesting, but not much more than that.
"An observation has to be taken in context," said Serreze. "The point is, we don't have the context."

So it turns out open water on the North Pole isn't unusual after all. (Hmm... I wonder what happened to the barber's pole that marked the North Pole? If a crack is there now, I guess it sank?) Automatically blaming it on AGW turns out to be more irresponsible sensationalism, and we don't actually know how or why changes are happening in the Arctic. Especially in light of the fact that the Antarctic ice is increasing.


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