Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On Antarctic ice: The ongoing ignorance of deniers at WUWT

Sou | 4:55 PM Go to the first of 36 comments. Add a comment

Some people will put down the disinformation spread by Anthony Watts to him being plain dumb and ignorant. Others will say that he's not really as dumb as he looks and sounds, he's just deceitful and has made a business out of conning the ignorant.

I don't know where on the idiot-liar scale Anthony Watts lies.

These past couple of days Anthony Watts has:

Now he's claiming (archived here) that John Cook at SkepticalScience.com said that Antarctic sea ice is the result of the Southern Ocean getting warmer. He even linked to the web page where John Cook gave the following reasons for the increase in Antarctic sea ice:
  1. the drop in ozone levels over Antarctica, resulting in stronger winds, which creates polynas, which freeze up and add to sea ice.
  2. a change in ocean circulation with top layer of the ocean being colder and fresher, which freezes more easily than more saline water at the same temperature. It's colder at the top because of more snow and rain as a result of warmer air temperatures.

In other words, the article attributes the increase in sea ice not to a warmer sea surface. It's attributed to two things - the ozone hole, which could cause an increase in sea ice even without global warming; and the change in ocean circulation as a result of global warming, with a cooling of the sea surface.

Nowhere did John Cook say that there was more sea ice because the sea surface is warmer. Nor did he claim that the sea surface is warmer. The ocean is undoubtedly warmer at depth where it's melting WAIS, but not necessarily on the surface. (The warmer subsurface is what is melting a lot of ice in West Antarctica.)

Yet Anthony puts up another of Bob Tisdales many charts of sea surface temperature. In fact, that chart supports, not refutes, the skepticalscience.com article. It shows the sea surface getting colder. That's exactly how John Cook described it when he wrote about the top layer getting colder and fresher.

The other thing is that you may recall that there was a recent paper suggesting that heat content of the top layers of the oceans in the southern hemisphere has been underestimated. That in the upper 700 metres, the oceans have been getting warmer than was previously estimated. That doesn't mean that the surface has been. It doesn't refute that notion of warmer waters beneath the surface, while around the Antarctic continent the surface is colder and fresher. Not everywhere in the southern hemisphere,, but just around the continent itself.

As you probably know, the global average sea surface temperatures have been hitting record highs.

Exploring sea ice in around is still an area of active research, which has been touched on here before. More than twenty years ago, some scientists proposed that sea ice around Antarctica would not decrease in the short term and may increase. Manabe et al 1991 states:
...in response to the increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the excess of precipitation over evaporation increases, and surface salinity is reduced in high latitudes as noted in section 8. Thus, the static stability of the near-surface water increases and the convective mixing of cold surface water with the relatively warm subsurface water is reduced, thereby contributing to the reduction of sea surface temperature in the Circumpolar Ocean. This is why sea surface temperature hardly changes and sea ice slightly increases near the Antarctic Continent in response to the increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide. In the C02 reduction experiment, the opposite processes involving the increase in surface salinity and enhanced convective overturning of surface water prevents the cooling of sea surface temperature.
That's pretty much the point that John Cook made in his article at skepticalscience.com. And guess how the scientists arrived at their conclusion. Yep, from modeling studies.

Anthony Watts tells a lie (another one)

Here is what Anthony Watts wrote:
According to John Cook, Antarctic sea ice has been expanding because the Southern Ocean is getting warmer. 

Except, as you can see, John Cook didn't say any such thing.

Warmer beneath the surface

Parts of the Southern Ocean may be getting warmer, but lots of the surface is getting colder and fresher, which is causing ice to form. You may remember this article about Golledge et al (2014) (my emphasis):
The research published in Nature Communications found that in the past, when ocean temperatures around Antarctica became more layered - with a warm layer of water below a cold surface layer -  ice sheets and glaciers melted much faster than when the cool and warm layers mixed more easily.
This defined layering of temperatures is exactly what is happening now around the Antarctic.
The modelling shows the last time this occurred, 14,000 years ago, the Antarctic alone contributed 3-4 metres to global sea levels in just a few centuries.

Note: "A warm layer of water below a cold surface layer."

Let me add that the warmer subsurface layers may indeed be one of the factors that is causing more sea ice. As the land ice melts, the cold fresh water flows into the sea, it stays on the sea surface and more easily forms ice.

So there could be three factors contributing to the expansion of sea ice around Antarctica:
  1. Warmer ocean subsurface is melting land ice, which means more cold water on the sea surface, which freezes more easily.
  2. The ozone hole causing stronger winds, blowing the sea ice and creating polynas, which freeze up and spreads the ice further.
  3. The warmer air temperatures means more precipitation which cools the sea surface and makes it freeze more easily.

Ignorance or deception from WUWT?

Anthony then says:
He also claims that anyone thinking more ice is due to colder conditions is “ignorant”.
And that would be correct. In fact the SkS headline is as apt today as it was when the article was written in 2010:
Watts Up With That's ignorance regarding Antarctic sea ice

Then Anthony wrongly writes:
He forgets that some of us know how to check the data.

Except Anthony doesn't know how to check the data against the facts. Or if he does, he hides it well. The fact is that when the surface cools and gets fresher, more ice will form. Exactly as Manabe et al suggested and exactly as John Cook himself wrote.

Again, one speculates whether Anthony Watts is just dumb ignorant or is he knowingly deceiving his readers. He would know by now that most of his readers are wilfuly ignorant. They want to be ignorant. They would never check to find out that Anthony Watts is just making up stuff.

From the WUWT comments

Robert Clark is wrong. There are indeed warmer ocean currents under the surface. That's what's melting the ice sheets in Antarctica.
October 21, 2014 at 10:05 am
This is a *majorly* important fact. Climate scientists have been scratching their heads trying to figure out why sea ice is increasing around Antarctica while the southern ocean temperatures are “warming”. Well, the answer is they have not been warming.
Somehow AGW supporters have been so focused on supporting their theory they forgot to follow what the data was actually saying.
Bob Clark

October 21, 2014 at 3:13 pm
More likely most “climate scientists” don’t say anything or chalk it up as a mystery. Ocean warming sounds more like a climate activist “explanation”.

John should look in the mirror:
October 21, 2014 at 10:09 am
Don’t these “warmists” get embarassed when they’re proven wrong nearly all the time?

There is too much stupid in the comments. I didn't read them all. What I did read bore out what you and I know to be so. WUWT readers are fake sceptics. They didn't read the SkS article or if anyone did, they didn't tell anyone that Anthony Watts got it woefully wrong.

Manabe, Syukaro, R. J. Stouffer, M. J. Spelman, and Ke Bryan. "Transient responses of a coupled ocean-atmosphere model to gradual changes of atmospheric CO2. Part I. Annual mean response." Journal of Climate 4, no. 8 (1991): 785-818. (link to paper)

N. R. Golledge, L. Menviel, L. Carter, C. J. Fogwill, M. H. England, G. Cortese  & R. H. Levy "Antarctic contribution to meltwater pulse 1A from reduced Southern Ocean overturning." Nature Communications 5, Article number: 5107 (2014)  doi:10.1038/ncomms6107


  1. How would the warmer ocean subsurface melt land ice?

    1. For an introduction / explanation - read this article and watch the video.

    2. Dogsledder here is another video where a bunch of scientists talk about the phenomenon.

  2. Pretty clear that in a battle of wits between Cook and Watts, one side is unarmed ...

  3. There is also an explanation here

  4. Thanks for dealing with this.
    I was looking at the story last night, and was wondering if the recent increase in ice melt and resultant increased freshwater layer was a factor, possibly with some effect on heat transfer from lower layers to the surface.
    I noticed that John Cook's data (for ocean surface air temperature, from a peer reviewed paper) only go up to 2004- ten years ago- whereas the data Bob Tisdale reproduces (for sea surface temperature) only really show an obvious change after about 2007- about eight years ago.
    John Cook does say "...the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica has shown strong warming...". Any idea which data he is referring to, and how they have changed since 2004, and indeed how ocean surface air temperatures have changed? A comparison of all the data might give a better picture of what is really happening.

    1. Good questions. As well as the articles referred to in the above, and the supporting references John Cook provided in his SkS article, there is lots more on the subject.

      Here is an article from the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems (ACE) CRC (Australia). Click here for a position analysis from the same group, with lots of illustrations showing what is happening. It also has references to scientific papers on the subject. From the article

      The latest research shows:

      - The Southern Ocean is warming faster than the average for the global ocean.

      - The warming extends to greater depth in the Southern Ocean than it does in low latitudesbecause of the unique ocean currents there that carry heat deep in the ocean. The large amount of heat stored in the ocean makes it expand, raising sea levels.

      - These currents also carry large amounts of carbon dioxide into the deep ocean, slowing the rate of climate change. More than 40% of the carbon dioxide released by human activities that ends up stored in the ocean enters through the Southern Ocean.

      - The Southern Ocean is getting fresher (lower in salinity). The changes in salinity provide evidence that the global water cycle is becoming more intense, with wet areas becoming wetter and dry areas becoming drier, as expected in a warming climate.

      - Freshening is observed in the abyssal waters off Antarctica south of Tasmania, and in the intermediate depth waters that originate in the Southern Ocean.

      - New measurements show that even the deepest waters, below 4 km depth, are warming and freshening. This means that even the deepest layers of the ocean can respond to changes in surface climate very quickly.

      - The ocean is becoming more acidic, making it more difficult for a wide variety of organisms to build shells, skeletons and reefs.

      - Because the effects of ocean acidification are sensitive to temperature, the threshold will be crossed first in the cold waters of the polar regions.

      All the above (including the SkS links and the HW links and the references cited in those papers, plus these articles and references there) should keep you busy for a while.

    2. Thanks for the reading!
      Meanwhile, I remembered this graphic, which may partly answer my own question: cooler surface temperatures but rising temperatures at lower levels.

  5. John Cook does say "...the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica has shown strong warming..."

    Given that Antarctica is thermally isolated from the Southern Ocean by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, there isn't necessarily any contradiction here.

    Surface SO waters can be warm; coastal Antarctic surface waters can be cold and increasing zonal wind speeds can drive coastal upwelling from depth of warmer waters that causes basal melt of the WAIS margins.

    1. Reference: Pritchard et al. (2012) Antarctic ice-sheet loss driven by basal melting of ice shelves:

      Ice-shelf thinning by basal melt implies an increased oceanic heat supply into the sub-ice-shelf cavities. This has been explained by fluctuating incursions of Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW) across the continental shelf of the Amundsen and Bellingshausen seas that sometimes come into contact with the ice-shelf bases, increasing the melt rate. Originating in the wind-driven Antarctic Circumpolar Current, CDW is relatively warm (over 1C), saline and dense. In places, CDW approaches the Antarctic coast (Fig. 2) and is channelled at depth (typically deeper than ~300m) along bathymetric troughs in the sea floor beneath the ice shelves. At these depths, CDW is up to 4C above freezing and so can drive vigorous basal melt. Many major Antarctic glaciers lie in retreated positions within glacially eroded troughs that span the continental shelf and deepen towards the ice sheet (Fig.2), and so are well positioned to respond to CDW incursions.

      Our observations support this explanation: the most rapid thinning occurs on thick ice shelves with relatively high sea-floor temperatures and deep bathymetric troughs spanning the continental shelf (Fig. 2). This is most apparent on the Amundsen Sea coast, where the only ice shelves not thinning (Abbott, Nickerson and Sulzberger) are those not exposed to deep-lying warm water because they have shallow drafts, lack deep bathymetric troughs or are remote from CDW (Figs 2 and 3). On the Antarctic Peninsula, thinning of the George VI Ice Shelf is also concentrated on the thickest area that is most likely to be exposed to shoaling CDW (Figs 2 and 4).


      To summarize, we find thinning attributed to ocean-driven basal melt on 20 of 54 ice shelves, with the most widespread and rapid losses (up to ~7m yr-1) on the coast of West Antarctica, where warm waters at depth have access to thick ice shelves via deep bathymetric troughs. There is evidence that changes in wind forcing explain both the increased oceanic supply of warm water to thinning West Antarctic ice shelves, and the atmospheric warming on the Antarctic Peninsula that caused the loss of Larsen A and B and now dominates the thinning of Larsen C. That is to say, both processes are ultimately linked to the atmosphere. Both mechanisms imply that Antarctic ice shelves can respond rapidly to Southern Hemisphere wind patterns that vary on timescales of years to decades.

  6. Watched the video and read the article. ... neither did anything to explain how warm sea water can melt land ice. Does anyone have a grasp of that mechanism?

    1. the warm sea water melts the ice shelves, which hold back the glaciers. as the ice shelves melt, glaciers speed up their discharge into the ocean because there's less ice holding them back.

    2. Dogsledder I've since posted ( at the top of the thread) an easy to understand video made by the ABC Science Dept. that explains how warm Antarctic sea water is eroding the grounding lines of land ice.

  7. John Cook could do worse than hiring you to edit his future blog posts for clarity. Without explanation, sentences like these:

    "The reality is the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica has shown strong warming over the same period that sea ice has been increasing." - John Cook

    "Not only is the Southern Ocean warming, it's warming faster than the global trend." - John Cook


    Sure, Cook provides an explanation later in the post, but even that seems convoluted:

    warm water on bottom, cool water on top, warm water rises to melt sea ice (and one assumes to warm the cool water layer), warm water is cooled and becomes new layer of cool water (or perhaps joins old layer of cool water) ...etc ...etc ... etc ... Therefore warm water creates ice. Huh?

    You def explained it mo' better.

    1. Forgot the zinger ...

      "Less heat is transported upwards from the deeper, warmer layer." - John Cook

      On its surface, this statement implies the absence of upwardly mobile warm water increases ice. Isn't cool water a synonym for the absence of upwardly mobile warm water? So we're back to cool water increases ice.

      So damb confusing.

    2. Just to be clear, it seems Cook's explanation is designed to make sure the global warming heat is trapped in the ocean theory stays afloat:

      Some of the heat makes it to the surface, but only some. Not enough to melt the ice, but enough to help create the ice. The rest of the warm water remains trapped below.

      Most of you won't understand how confusing Cook's post is to idiots like me. Oh that you would walk a mile or two in these trainers. (Preferably on the Stairmaster or treadmill cuz lord knows I could lose five pounds.)

    3. Dear Anon.

      Please remember that the upwelling warm water melts basal ice - that is to say the bottom layer of the ice sheet or ice shelf. It can do this without ever reaching the surface, which remains cold. So it is possible to have increasing sea ice extent at the same time as increasing mass loss from the land ice sheet. And the latter may even help to drive the former.

      Just to be clear, it seems Cook's explanation is designed to make sure the global warming heat is trapped in the ocean theory stays afloat

      That's really not the case at all, as I hope you can see now.

    4. anon, are you denying that the oceans are warming?


    5. Umm, I'd have said that its Watts who needs to hire Sou to edit his posts: because he gets it plain wrong.

  8. So it seems like there really are 3 different types of ice. Land ice, sea ice and ice shelves which I don't believe are floating despite what
    Articglaciers.org says. Seems like it melts the ice shelves which in turn affect the land ice.

    1. you should watch some of Richard Alley's presentations on youtube. He talks about the ice shelves and their roles as "flying buttresses"


    2. "I don't believe {ice shelves} float." They do: read what an ice shelf is. Almost the entire area of Antarctic ice shelves is in hydrostatic equilibrium. Want some papers to read? Let me know.

    3. Yes I want some papers that explain how... if the ice shelves are in hydrostatic equilibrium.... does a collapse look like the Larson B collapse in 02

    4. Dogsledder, go to Google Scholar are search for

      Scambos Larsen. e.g.,

      Scambos, Ted, Christina Hulbe, and Mark Fahnestock. "Climate‐induced ice shelf disintegration in the Antarctic peninsula." Antarctic Peninsula Climate Variability: Historical and Paleoenvironmental Perspectives (2003): 79-92.


      Glasser, N. F., and Ted A. Scambos. "A structural glaciological analysis of the 2002 Larsen B ice-shelf collapse." Journal of Glaciology 54.184 (2008): 3-16.

      You claimed that you don't believe ice shelves float. Since the *definition* of an ice shelf is the floating extension of an ice sheet, you need to read more. Start with


  9. If the fresh water from the melting ice is causing the coastal ocean water to become brackish (which would really only happen in the summer) it's surprising that the layers stay in place until the winter (when most of the ice gains take place) especially with the winds and upwellings.

    1. @Dogsledder

      Well, a reasonable thought. Have you investigated if any research has been done on that?

      p.s. 15 unreadable captchas. Could not hear the sound one. Please bring back number captchas.

    2. Maybe more rain and snow in the winter, as suggested in the SkS article citing Zhang 2007?

    3. The bottom of ice shelves melt all year. It is warm subsurface water doing the melting; see the earlier text from Pritchard et al. 2012. Some thin ice shelves do melt more in summer because some of the heat comes from the summer warmed upper ocean, but the fast-melting ice shelves in the Amundsen Sea melt all year.

  10. the Curran paper (google scholar)


  11. I skimmed the comments and found this one by "Jim Watson":

    "This year and next are going to be brutal for the Warmists because of all their erroneous prognostications coming due."

    "You, Anthony, get to reap the “I told ya so rewards” for all your hard work over the past few years."

    I guess he didn't read the announcement by NASA that 2014 is on track to being the warmest year on record.

    1. Yeah, but that looks silly to us because we view this on a rational basis. But Jim Watson, no doubt, has the denier's ability to focus on whatever short term noise in any signal suits his delusional viewpoint while ignoring all other signals and all long term trends. So Antarctic sea ice is THE issue even while the Antarctic as a whole is losing ice at an astonishing rate.

      As long as they keep focusing on short term trends in carefully chosen metrics, deniers can keep this up until the world is burnt to a crisp or - more likely - the fossil fuel industry money that keeps them active and stirred up runs out.

    2. "by NASA that 2014 is on track to being the warmest year on record."

      I'm very perplexed by NASA. Are RSS and UAH MSU readings bunk? Even NASA's own gistemp doesn't show 2014 anywhere near a record. What data set is NASA using to make that claim?

    3. 2014 is already on par with the second hottest year in the GISTemp record (2005) and it wouldn't take much to beat 2010, the hottest year in the record. I've added a chart to a more recent post on this very topic. Click here to see it.

      I haven't checked RSS, but UAH has this year running fourth hottest after 1998 and 2010 and 2005. For the same time of year (September), 2014 is equal to 2005 in the UAH record. (See same article.)

    4. The last 12 months rolling are the hottest since records began. The first part of the year was relatively low so it has made up ground in the last few months. There is no El Nino. Australia appears to be having record temperatures with summer not quite here. I don't wish to be alarmist but I am quite alarmed.

  12. Tony isn't prevaricating. He's just < a href = " http://vvattsupwiththat.blogspot.com/2014/10/well-at-least-its-change-from.html " > answering Cthulhu's call.< /a>


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