Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Jim Steele, another WUWT science denier, gets it wrong about Kivalina

Sou | 10:20 PM Go to the first of 14 comments. Add a comment

See update below

Jim Steele is a so-called environmentalist who rejects climate science and fails geography.  Some environmentalist!  He's another born again denier whose articles have started to appear more often on Anthony Watts' anti-science blog.

Today on WUWT he has a go at the people of Kivalina.  Many readers may be familiar with this settlement because they took on Exxon a few years ago.  They didn't succeed in the courts.  The people of Kivalina will need to relocate in the near future as their settlement will soon be uninhabitable.

Kivalina is a tiny settlement situated on a barrier reef on the Chukchi Sea.  It's at the mouth of the Kivalina River.  Because the ice is melting sooner in spring and forming later in autumn, the settlement is more vulnerable to sea surges and storms than in the past, when ice lasted longer and protected it.  It is reported that the barrier reef is rapidly eroding from these storm surges plus, presumably, rising sea levels.

Jim Steele fails geography plus...

Jim Steele cites greater winter sea ice in the Bering Sea as evidence that the lack of ice is causing erosion at Kivalina. He writes (my bold italics):
Finally it is hard to understand Sackur’s claim, “No longer does thick ice protect their shoreline.” In 2012 the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported “ice extent in the Bering Sea was much greater than average, reaching the second-highest levels for January in the satellite record.” NASA’s Earth Observatory wrote, “For most of the winter of 2011–2012, the Bering Sea has been choking with sea ice… NSIDC data indicate that ice extent in the Bering Sea for most of this winter has been between 20 to 30 percent above the 1979 to 2000 average. February 2012 had the highest ice extent for the area since satellite records started.” And in 2013 Bering Sea ice was again above normal as seen in National Snow and Ice Data Center picture.

Two points. Firstly, it's not the winter ice that's the problem, it's the fact the ice is melting sooner and forming later than it used to.  Secondly, Kivalina is on the Chukchi Sea, not the Bering.  This chart from Cryosphere Today shows how the sea ice has been declining over the years.  Note particularly the anomalies in recent years - from the late nineties in particular.

Source: Cryosphere Today

Here are two extracts from a report by the US Army Corps of Engineers . The file properties indicate it is from March 2009.  The pdf file includes outlines of the past coastline and short term projections.  (My bold italics in the following):
Kivalina has not historically seen significant erosion. The Kivalina spit has seen cyclic accretion, with modest accretion on the Chukchi Sea side more prevalent during the 30-year period of 1970 to 2000. The higher energy storms that could result in significant erosion occur during the winter months when the Chukchi Sea is frozen. This has resulted in natural erosion protection in the past. However, with global climate change the period of open water is increasing and the Chukchi Sea is less likely to be frozen when damaging winter storms occur. Winter storms occurring in October and November of 2004 and 2005 have resulted in significant erosion that is now threatening both the school and the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative (AVEC) tank farm. This erosion has resulted in the loss of some teacher housing and the school and community washateria drain fields....
What is the expected time line for a complete failure of the usable land? 
The winter storms of 2004 and 2005 eroded 70 to 80 feet of uplands behind the school. The bank line is now within 25 feet of the main school structure. Erosion in the vicinity of the AVEC tank farm is similar, with only 5 feet of uplands remaining between the nearest tanks and the bank line. Without the construction of emergency erosion control structures, the school and tank farm will begin to fail within the next year if erosion continues at the same rate as it has during recent months,. Even if erosion slows, these critical structures are in imminent danger and are unlikely to survive for any extended period of time. Due to the physical lack of open land in the Kivalina community, these structures can not be relocated, and their failure would render the community uninhabitable. 

You sometimes read fake outrage on WUWT, from deniers who try to argue that the world's poor need to burn fossil fuels or they'll get poorer.  But when it comes to vulnerable people who's lives are being turned upside down by climate change, the deniers show their true colours.

Most of the WUWT comments are lashing out at the BBC, because there was an article on the BBC about Kivalina.  There was one comment by a person outraged that anyone would consider looking out for the interests of indigenous peoples. Heck, what decent plundering victor would give a toss for displaced persons.

PS So far, not a single fake sceptic at WUWT has commented on the fact that Jim Steele was wrong and that Kivalina isn't on the Bering Sea!  Nor that it's the fact the ice season is shorter that's causing problems, not mid-winter ice.

UPDATE: 4 August 2013 

Jim Steele has visited us and claimed that (my bold italics):
However the Bering Sea extent is a good climate indicator and correlates well with sea ice in the Chukchi.
Let's check that out, shall we?  Here is an animated gif showing the anomalies for the Bering Sea and the Chukchi Sea over the last few decades.  Note particularly the recent years I've circled:

Source: The Cryosphere Today - Chukchi and Bering

Looks like Jim's not just wrong but he's spectacularly wrong.  (Does anyone think it's necessary to do a correlation analysis to see just how wrong Jim is?)

Remember, Jim Steele is a man who thinks heat waves disprove global warming!  So is it any surprise that he maintains such wildly different patterns are a good correlation?


  1. A major factor of Kivalina's rapid erosion is due to a bum construction job. We've known that the city was slowly washing into the water for years, and there have been plans in the works to move the city for ages now (that is one of the reasons the school is the oldest in the district; there will be no new construction because the move is inevitable). Although climate change is undoubtedly a factor, the sensationalism played up as "global warming" is primarily from man removing gravel from the sea-side coast.

    1. Looks to me as if the mistake was made way back at the turn of last century when, based on what I've read, the community was pretty well forced to relocate to where it is now.

      I would not be surprised to learn that there are multiple factors at play, there usually are - and that it's not simply global warming that's causing the problems.

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  3. Nice attempt at character assassination . Try as you might I never said Kivalina was in the Bering Sea. However the Bering Sea extent is a good climate indicator and correlates well with sea ice in the Chukchi. Look at the Cyrosphere graph for the Chukchi that you posted. Winter ice has been around or above average. Since 2007 when summer lows have lessened as the Chukchi sea ice has been recovering at the same time the Bering Sea ice has been expanding. You would think despite all the hype around blaming global warming, the fact that local temperatures are declining and sea level is dropping might be of more interest. Who is denying what?

    1. Jim, welcome to HotWhopper.

      Chukchi and Barents Seas behave very differently from each other. If you meant the Chukchi Sea then why didn't you write about the Chukchi Sea? Why did you spend so much time on the Barents Sea when there is plenty of data around for the Chukchi Sea - like the chart I posted above, which clearly shows the shortening of the winter season.

      Why did you focus on winter ice cover, when that's not the problem? It's the longer time without the protection of ice that's causing the problem. Winter ice is forming later and melting earlier, exposing the reef to more storms and surges.

      Sea level isn't dropping, it's rising. It takes some gall to deny that fact.

      It's pretty obvious "who is denying what"!

  4. Jim might like this post, too. Or try to deny it - who knows?

  5. Wow! By you wild distortions I must assume you got yourself into a blinding rage.

    As you posted, Barents Sea does indeed behave every differently than the Chukchi. Barents is affected by variations in intruding Atlantic water and the North Atlantic Oscillation while the Chukchi is affected by intruding warm Pacific water and the PAcific Decadal Oscillation. That said I never talked about the Barents Sea ice, so exactly what is so obvious to you?

    I talked about the Bering Sea ice and shared a NSIDC picture of how winter ice is growing in that region. Kivalina is on the southern end of the Chukchi that borders the Bering Sea, that's why it is relevant.

    NOr does it "take gall" to say sea level in that region is dropping, it just takes facts which I also shared from the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level. You seem to be clueless about the differences between regional climate change and some statistical chimeric average. The global average does not affect anything. It is the local changes that are important. Please go check the regional sea levels yourself as I posted

    At least you seem to agree with my post about Kivalina's real tragedy was the forced relocation to a bad location.

    If you are truly seeking the greater truth then I suggest you reflect your glaring mistakes in this thread. It is such unfounded and unsupported personal attacks that further polarizes people and defiles the process of respectful scientific debate. For now, I will seek more honest discussions elsewhere.

    1. The laws of physics will still apply elsewhere. The difference will be that here they are not denied.

      Global sea level continues to rise, as it must, since the global ocean is warming and warm water expands.

      Steric component of SLR.

    2. Jim, at least you are consistent in your misdirection. It seems odd for someone who takes such pains to misdirect readers and avoid facts that you would accuse me (or NASA or U Colorado or whatever) of "wild distortions" and making "glaring mistakes" and making "unfounded and unsupported personal attacks". (That reminds me, readers might be interested in Jim's heat wave theories!)

      Posting such deceptive or any articles on WUWT makes what you write fair game for HotWhopper. If you take the pointing out of your gross misdirections as "personal attacks" that's up to you. I guess you could argue it goes to character.

      You try to get around the fact you talk about winter sea ice in the Bering Sea (yeah, I meant Bering when I wrote Barents by mistake) because it's "close" to the Chukchi Sea. It's not a case of "near enough is good enough". The Chukchi is not the Bering full stop.

      Not only that, but you haven't explained why you wrote irrelevantly not just about the Bering Sea but at length about the Bering Sea in winter time, when that's not the issue either. It's spring and autumn that are when the risk is higher now. So you didn't just get the sea wrong, you got the seasons wrong too. Double misdirection in true science denying fashion. No science points for you.

      Now you draw attention to your monthly tide gauge chart at Nome Alaska - again on the Bering Sea. I didn't comment on that in my article, but now you bring it up. You are really fixated on pointing your readers to data on a completely different body of water, aren't you.

      One wonders what mathematics you did on that data that made you decide that the sea level is falling. And why you chose a monthly chart instead of the annual chart. (Leaving aside why you think the Bering Sea at Nome is a substitute for the Chukchi Sea at Kivalina.) Not only does a monthly chart hide the signal among the noise, but I can't figure how you decided that the sea level is dropping from such noisy data over such a short period of time. And that's leaving aside the issue of it *not* being the tide at Kivalina or the sea on which it is located. More misdirection in true science denying fashion. Here is the annual data for Nome. I can't see a clear signal eyeballing the annual data. The period is too short. Which raises the question, why you are so certain from the noisier monthly data?


      I notice in your main article you point to tide gauge data at Prudhoe Bay on the Beaufort Sea too. Are trying to argue that the sea level is dropping there as well? Is there a reason why you didn't mention your sea levels at Prudhoe Bay here on HotWhopper?


      Jim, you complain about "respectful scientific debate" and "honesty". I haven't noticed either of those from you so far, only cheap misdirection and false posturing (feigning offense when I draw readers attentions to the facts and your misdirections):

      Barents not Chukchi;
      Winter not spring and autumn;
      Noisy monthly tides at Nome on the Barents and Prudhoe Bay on the Beaufort, not longer term sea level changes at Kivalina on the Chukchi.

      Thing is, the biggest issue from what I read is the storms occurring when the reef used to be protected by ice and now it isn't. You try through a series of misdirections to avoid that fact. I wonder what other subject matters you'll be trying your hand at in the future.

  6. It also appears you struggle with the correlation between the Bering Sea ice and the Chukchi As the Bering Sea ice grew, the negative anomalies in the Chukchi decreased, but may be the presentation of data as anomalies fooled you. Another valid way to express those same trends is that both Bering Sea ice and Chukchi sea ice have been increasing since 2007. Once you label someone a denier, it filters your sense of objective reality. Speaking of sea ice, Ice Cube has a line you may well heed "Check yourself before you wreck yourself"

    1. Yo, Jimbo! You are a denier, so if the shoe fits...

    2. Jim - time to give up the struggle. There is no correlation between Chukchi and Bering. Only in your dreams. Take another look. The behaviour is totally different. It's not just that Bering has had a positive anomaly recently (though that's part of it). The sea ice in the Bering fluctuates much more winter to winter as well as summer to summer. They aren't comparable at all.

      What you seem to be noticing is the Chukchi the anomaly hasn't (yet) got as low again as it did in 2006 and 2007. That's not at all the same as saying there is a "correlation" between the Bering and the Chukchi. (I assume you are still trying to argue for a high correlation.)

      Once you label someone a denier, it filters your sense of objective reality

      Always willing to reconsider, but you've not written anything to persuade me otherwise. On the contrary, you keep digging in deeper.

  7. Sou, nice you found James Steele. Over at the Guardian they have been looking for him, so far without success ;-/

    1. Wrong Jim Steele. This one was a nature trail guide and bird watcher in the Sierra Nevada Mtns, and one heck of a manipulative liar.


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