Reality of sea ice is starting to bite

One problem with ‘global warming’ that scientists and journalists seem to gloss over is that it doesn’t seem to be, well, global. Some areas have exhibited more warming than others.

The Arctic is one area that gets a lot of focus.  Each summer the media makes a big deal of the extent of Arctic sea ice melt during the warmest months of the year, focusing on navigation passages and often proclaiming that before long the summer will see all the Arctic ice melt away. The BBC never misses an opportunity to relay the story, even if it is barely mentioned elsewhere, and rolled out the latest iteration of it last week.

However there seems to be a lack of coverage about the increasing extent of sea ice in the winter.  With the non stop global warming narrative burned onto the subsconscious of decision makers, it the therefore of little surprise that there has been barely any investment in new maritime icebreaking capability.

Always ahead of the game, EU Referendum pointed to this problem in March this year. Richard North reported the former Prime Minister of Estonia Tiit Vähi arguing that the country should urgently order a new icebreaker, “Instead of spending money on buying icebreaking services.”  The reason? The country’s two existing icebreakers cannot cope with the “difficult ice conditions” in the Gulf of Finland.  Elsewhere, North was an almost solitary voice in the western blogosphere as he reported on shipping trapped in the Sea of Okhotsk by a huge volume of thick sea ice and the subsequent challenging rescue effort.

So it is that a reader used AM’s Tips/Stories link to draw our attention to a little reported story about the way increasing sea ice in the Northern Hemisphere has resulted in Sweden withholding an icebreaker from US use in Antarctica.   After increasingly bitter winters that have resulted in more iced over navigation passages, the Swedish government wrote to US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, to announce that the icebreaker Oden (pictured) will be kept at home and not be made available to support the work of the US National Science Foundation (NSF) in Antarctica, for the first time since 2006.

Update: This morning, AM contacted the press office of Sweden’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Carl Bildt, and requested a copy of the letter sent to Hilary Clinton.  In less than one working day the press office has located it and forwarded it to me (below). Compare that level of service to the often grudging response we in this country are subjected to when submitting Freedom of Information requests…

It validates the story published in the journal Science two weeks ago which explained:

Last month, the Swedish government abruptly ended an ongoing agreement with the U.S. National Science Foundation that allowed NSF to lease Oden, the pride of the Swedish icebreaking fleet and also the world’s most capable polar-class research vessel. NSF has used the ship each winter since 2006–07 to clear a path through the sea ice to resupply McMurdo Station, the largest scientific outpost in Antarctica and the hub for U.S. activities on the continent. The Swedish government decided that the Oden needed to stay at home this coming winter after two harsh winters disrupted shipping lanes in the region.

However, the decision was not abrupt. The move had been mooted for months and such was the concern among the Americans, Earth and Space Research (ESR) wrote to the Swedes in early May in a bid to influence them not to withdraw Oden:

And the Subcommittee on Polar Issues (see page 12 of the Minutes) of the National Science Foundation’s Committee on Programs and Plans (CPP) was also aware in May that Oden had not been secured for use.   The ESR letter above highlights the importance of Oden and underscored the lack of icebreaking capability that could be drawn upon to cut a passage for supply vessels to the US Antarctic Program’s McMurdo Station on Ross Island.

In July the Swedes confirmed Oden would be needed at home and therefore not be available for use in the Antarctic.  The increasingly difficult ice conditions have affected commercial shipping around Sweden and the Baltic nations and the Swedes plan to keep their sea lanes more open this year using their premier icebreaker.  Following the confirmation the NSF laid bare the serious implications of the icebreaker not being available to its programme in an internal letter to colleagues engaged in Polar research:

But it seems the National Science Foundation only has itself to blame for the position it found itself in, for the NSF is responsible for managing the U.S. icebreaking fleet.  Under NSF management the US icebreaking fleet has been ‘emasculated’.  The American fleet of icebreakers numbers three – for now. It boasted two of the most powerful non-nuclear icebreakers on the seas, Polar Sea and Polar Star, but that changed some years ago.  Polar Sea  is to be decommissioned next month and Polar Star has been undergoing a re-fit since 2006, but there is speculation it might never to return to service. The third, Healy is not designed for heavy icebreaking of the nature required in Antarctica.

This begs the question, why did the NSF not properly maintain the US icebreaking fleet?  Could it be the faith in its own belief that global warming is reducing ice cover and therefore spending money on icebreakers would be a waste?  No matter, the NSF was forced into an embarrassing and desperate search for a suitable icebreaking replacement.

Having already said it would need to find and engage a suitable replacement by mid-August, or else implement contingency plans that would curtail activities in Antarctica, it seems the NSF experienced a near-run thing.  Indeed, it was only last week they announced they had agreed a contract for a smaller and less capable icebreaker, the Vladimir Ignatyuk (pictured):

The press release from the NSF, when explaining this replacement Russian vessel had been drafted in because Oden would not be available, avoided mentioning the reason for the Swedish decision.  You can see how the two icebreakers measure up on Wikipedia – Oden / Vladimir Ignatyuk.

The story may seem trivial in isolation.  But the fact that no newspaper appears to have picked it up so far tells its own story.  Maybe it is because there is a media agenda to avoid covering stories that could lead to people questioning commonly made assertions about global warming.  Which is why the news and the more important issues underpinning it exist behind paywalls, in house journals and little read snippets from entities such as the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office

In Estonia and Sweden at least reality is starting to bite. How long before it takes hold elsewhere?

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26 Responses to “Reality of sea ice is starting to bite”


  1. 2 Buffy Minton 31/08/2011 at 2:18 pm

    I find it amusing to contrast the pleading email from ESR full of the usual AGW nonsense about rising sea levels, with the NSF letter – which is solely concerned that McMurdo will not be properly resupplied with fuel and the knock-on consequences for the field programs. I suppose they concluded that the only argument that might trump Swedish domestic commercial interests was “saving the planet”. I imagine that the “concerns in the research community” mentioned by Dagens Nyheter were the concerns of Swedish glaciologists about to wave bye bye to a nice jolly down to McMurdo.
    By the way, I live in Gothenburg, about 200 metres from the sea, and I am not worried.

  2. 3 Keith Battye 31/08/2011 at 2:44 pm

    Thanks for that article.

    In the real world things go on as they always have whereas in “Avatar” land denial of reality is going to get people killed.

  3. 4 Climate Change Con...... 31/08/2011 at 7:35 pm

  4. 5 Climate Change Con...... 31/08/2011 at 7:46 pm

    “Each summer the media makes a big deal of the extent of Arctic sea ice melt during the warmest months of the year, focusing on navigation passages and often proclaiming that before long the summer will see all the Arctic ice melt away.”

    The BBC’s propaganda is a total disgrace.

    Arguably the world’s leading Arctic scientist (and ignored by the BBC), Dr Syun Ichi Akasofu founding Director and Professor of Physics, Emeritus, of the International Arctic Research Center of the University of Alaska Fairbanks from its establishment in 1998 until January of 2007 and author of more than 550 professional journal articles :

    http://people.iarc.uaf.edu/~sakasofu/

    has evidenced,in his peer reviewed work, that recent Arctic warming is entirely consistent with what would be expected of the earth’s recovery from the Little Ice Age :

    http://people.iarc.uaf.edu/~sakasofu/pdf/two_natural_components_recent_climate_change.pdf

    “it is shown that the Earth has been warming from about 1800–1850 to 2000 at approximately the same rate, so that there is no definitive proof that “most” of the warming after 1975 is due to a manmade greenhouse effect (Figure 2b). This is simply their hypothesis. It is well known that CO2 molecules can cause the greenhouse effect and that its amount in the atmosphere is increasing, so it is natural to hypothesize that CO2 is one of the causes of the warming trend. However, it is not appropriate to conclude a priori that the 0.6°C rise is mostly due to human causes without carefully subtracting the contributions of natural changes. Natural causes are almost ignored in the IPCC study except for some obvious causes (e.g., solar changes and volcano effects). The results presented in this paper show that natural changes are substantial and, further, that there is nothing unusual about the present temperature rise.”

  5. 6 Doug Proctor 01/09/2011 at 4:21 am

    All of these developments are at odds with the Gorefest coming up in two weeks. What Gore says will be most interesting AND provide fodder for skeptic blogs for months.

    Science News recently (July 30, 2011; pg 17) published an “explanation” for the global temperature stall “from 1998 to 2008″, citing Chinese coal sulphur, some “natural” cooling and the “missing” heat deep in the oceans that Trenberth speculated about but the MSM now think is an established fact. The last two years of non-warming appears to have passed them by. But they now admit that temperatures haven’t risen since ’98. This is an inconvenient admission, for certain, and the “explanation” will create worse problems in the next two years as Chinese coal sulphur increases, volcanic emissions necessarily will decrease (without major new ones), and the deep-ocean missing heat still can’t be found with ARGO. The sea-ice problems of the non-Arctic passage will plague them like the non-heating.

    You can’t say a disaster is incrementally and progressively approaching if it doesn’t. You can’t have a clear, >90% CO2 problem that you have to admit is weak enough that Chinese sulphur or 15-year-old volcanoes (Pinatubo) have stopped its warming powers. The UK has just had the coldest winter since 1993 – so its Met Office announced. You can’t admit all these things without admitting that your science is not settled and your certainty is not certain. It’s embarrassing. The MSM doesn’t like being embarrassed unless they are becoming rich. Gore is getting rich. But are the newspaper copy writers?

    The CERN CLOUD experiment showed that in the presence of ammonia and sulphur dioxide small scale particles were created in the presence of cosmic rays. This was a shock, but not a fatal one, as larger (10X) nuclei are necessary to seed clouds. The next trick is to show how small nuclei become large ones, or at least that in nature large ones are also created. The ratios are high enough for cosmic ray generated nuclei (small, anyway) that even a 2% increase in cosmic rays densities can rival or exceed the power of CO2. The accuracy of cosmic ray density measurements, cloud cover percentages and surface temperature changes outside the Arctic may be brought in to defend the IPCC science, but by doing so the settledness and certainty of CAGW is ruined. Just another in a list of troubles hanging around the periphery of the Gore-meme.

    Gore/the IPCC have gone way, way out on a limb with their CAGW hysteria. Hysteria is hard to maintain unless you quickly go from a strange dust cloud on the horizon to the sound of calvary coming up the road. Any amount of backing down from the unidirectional and escalating threat is a loss for the CAGW story as the “certainty” that it is happening is the only reason for activity right now.

    Bit by bit, the mortar crumbles. The wall will come down, and within the next three years by my estimate. The first admissions that something is off are happening.

  6. 7 intrepid_wanders 01/09/2011 at 6:13 am

    Cool article AM (Take the pun whichever way).

    I think the Healy is by far more capable than the Vladimir Ignatyuk. The “Vladimir” (and sister-ship Terry Fox) is only 2/3 the size of a Polar Sea/Star and the Healy is another 20 feet longer. The Oden dwarfs them all. The other problem is that the NSF is busy on a goat roping mission of studying the north pole. I forget the name of the other European environmental mission, but it appears that the USCG Healy is chugging there (Current Lat. ~87.15N).

    What I found interesting is the hourly photo-shoot of the position and the traffic lane of previously broken ice.

    With the Polar Star and Polar Sea in dock in Seattle and Healy busy screwing around in summer arctic ice, I find it utterly funny they only got that “Heavy Gulf Icebreaker” (No way designed to go to the ANTarctic). The “Vladimir” is like an Opal compact. The “Vladimir” is a Russian shipping company’s purchase, not the Russia government (The have VERY COOL nuclear icebreakers). I bet the “Vladimir” gets stuck and/or can not deliver enough supplies for a 2012 winter after 8-10 tendership pitstops. Priceless (or maybe around 40 million $US).

    Thank you and R. North.

  7. 8 kotev1000 01/09/2011 at 6:50 am

    Very good blog with interesting ideas and content!

  8. 9 jameshigham 01/09/2011 at 6:52 am

    Yes, saw this and was going to run something but Richard and you have done it. It puts the IPCC in a quandary.

  9. 10 Barry 01/09/2011 at 11:19 am

    “This begs the question, why did the NSF not properly maintain the US icebreaking fleet? Could it be the faith in its own belief that global warming is reducing ice cover and therefore spending money on icebreakers would be a waste? No matter, the NSF was forced into an embarrassing and desperate search for a suitable icebreaking replacement.”

    I doubt it. AGW is a catchall excuse for ‘change’. Change is what bureaucrats measure these days not outcomes. Doing a good job takes second preference to leaving your fingerprints on the system so change = better, right?

    Had the NSF plainly said ‘We’re moving to a greater reliance on private icebreakers’ it would be met with cries of ‘They took our jobs’ but it would still have promoted private industry to increase the numbers and capabilities of icebreakers to compensate. By combining this management move with AGW it is a double whammy – at the same time as reducing the NSF’s capabilities they are misdirecting the private market into thinking the need for icebreakers would reduce.

    What the AGW faith does is turn relatively benign changes in structures and processes* into malign ones.

    * In this case relying more on private icebreakers means you can obtain current kit so long as you are prepared to pay for the privilege and only have to pay for it when you need it. The investment risk is being borne by private companies and investors not taxpayers. You’re not going to be lumbered with one design that you need to maintain for 30 years.

  10. 11 Paul 02/09/2011 at 9:44 am

    All (or perhaps not) you need to know about US strategy on icebreakers in the polar regions.

    http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11753&page=R1

    You can search for specific words in the book in the search box, for instance the words climate change.

  11. 12 John Roger 02/09/2011 at 9:45 am

    Is the increasing sea ice the reason why all the oil companies are moving into the Arctic to drill for oil? They seem to have formed the — clearly erroneous — opinion that sea ice is reducing.

    Obviously they’re reading the wrong blogs.

  12. 13 Brian H 02/09/2011 at 11:59 am

    GrammarNasty/ it doesn’t “beg the question”. That means pose a question in such a way that the answer is forced.

    It “poses” or “demands” the question, perhaps.

    /GrammarNasty

  13. 14 Brian H 02/09/2011 at 12:01 pm

    John Roger;
    A subtle point, the main point of the article, seems to have whizzed over your pitted pate: WINTER ice is increasing.

    Oil drilling is done in the summer. Exclusively, I assure you.

  14. 15 Sandy Rham 02/09/2011 at 2:51 pm

    Bounced this to Steve Goddard and WUWT, got legs this one.

  15. 16 Autonomous Mind 02/09/2011 at 2:58 pm

    Thanks Sandy. Was it you who tipped Anthony the other day, as I’ve had some incoming traffic from his tips page? It will be interesting to see if Steve picks this up.

  16. 17 Sandy Rham 02/09/2011 at 4:03 pm

    Wish I could say it was :D probably the indefatigable Ron Haan

  17. 18 I am replete 04/09/2011 at 4:05 pm

    The “Vladimir Ignatyuk” will have been chartered in, in the language of the trade.
    Normally when a type of ship is in short supply, the charter price rockets.
    It would appear that the “Vladimir Ignatyuk” is in a supply chain of ONE.
    Therefore the charter price will have really, really skyrocketted.
    It would be illuminating if someone in a brokers office could leak the chatter party.

  18. 19 Autonomous Mind 07/09/2011 at 11:47 am

    Well Sandy, one week on and the story has now been covered on WUWT by Willis Eschenbach.

    Sadly this site didn’t seem warrant a hat tip for our write up or for obtaining and publishing the Carl Bildt letter to Hilary Clinton.

  19. 20 Keith at Hastings UK 07/09/2011 at 8:42 pm

    came here from WUWT so BIG KUDOS to you for getting onto this first, and getting the letter.
    No doubt AGW causes local Baltic freezing, in line with regionalised projections of the incomparable, amazing, no expense spared models (/sarc)

  20. 21 Autonomous Mind 07/09/2011 at 11:26 pm

    Many thanks Keith. Very kind of you.

  21. 22 Jack in Aus 08/09/2011 at 1:38 pm

    Hey Autonomous
    Great article. I too came here from WUWT but enjoyed your in-depth coverage.
    Sounds a lot like space craft and space stations.
    Cheers JJ

  22. 23 Tom 10/09/2011 at 5:50 pm

    There is an aspect to this that isn’t called out here…. it’s a balls up!

    The Swedish politicians and bureaucrats that control Oden are pandering to imagined shortcomings in Swedish icebreaking capacity – Oden isn’t as I i understand it – actually designed for Baltic work….. Shortly after she was launched she was the first non nuclear vessel to get to the geographic North Pole.

    Right then ….. back to the idiot Swedish politicians and clueless managers….

    Oden is being brought back to Sweden to beak ice *if* required in the Baltic of the back of some deeply ill informed political point scoring and media stirring coupled to clueless and spineless management.

    The Swedes haven’t got the spndooliks to pay for it to hang around in the Baltic really – they’ve actually rented it to the Finns……

    The Finns have rented a couple of their icebreakers to oil prospecting companies…. at a handsome profit.

    Oden was getting a very nice charter rate/profit from the Yanks / NSF which was going a long way towards paying for icebreaking operations in the Baltic….

    This is either a follow the money situation or a handsome “foot shot” by the Swedish Maritime Directorate.

    It’s a screw up that should be rectified – using Oden to break Baltic ice is like using a Ferrari to pull a trailer.


  1. 1 Dear Hillary @ Klimathotet Trackback on 01/09/2011 at 5:12 pm
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  3. 3 Where are you, great Oden? « Autonomous Mind Trackback on 23/10/2012 at 11:20 pm
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