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Antarctic confusion

With the sea ice in Antarctica breaking extent records again this week, New Scientist seems to have taken it upon itself to engage in a bit of damage limitation on behalf of the global warming movement. Its article today declares that the growth in sea ice is in fact caused by global warming (who would have thought it?!). 

There doesn’t actually seem to be any research to back this up – there is no link to a new paper or anything like that. We just have a couple of talking heads with a rather impenetrable explanation of their case:

More sea ice may seem odd in a warmer world, but new records are expected every few years, says Jan Lieser of the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre in Hobart. That's because the southern hemisphere warms more slowly than the north, as it has less landmass, boosting the winds that circle Antarctica and pulling cold air onto the sea ice.

And if that explanation were not confusing enough, the link at the end of the paragraph is to a 2009 New Scientist article about a paper by Turner et al that has a completely different explanation for the rise in sea ice:

The autumn increase in [sea ice] is primarily a result of stronger cyclonic atmospheric flow over the Amundsen Sea. Model experiments suggest that the trend towards stronger cyclonic circulation is mainly a result of stratospheric ozone depletion, which has strengthened autumn wind speeds around the continent…

The confusion is further increased when we learn from Turner et al that the rise in Antarctic sea ice is statistically significant (I doubt it, given how short the time series is) and then just a few sentences later we learn that “statistics derived from a climate model control run suggest that the observed sea ice increase might still be within the range of natural climate variability.” This suggests to me that either the climate model or the statistical model used are nonsense. Or perhaps both.

So is the sea ice extent significant or not? Is it something to do with warming or with ozone? It’s anyone’s guess.

[Interestingly, a similar story appears in the Guardian, with  Lieser appearing once again. So any impression you might have got that this is a public relations exercise, rather than news, was entirely correct]

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Reader Comments (55)

one way or the other, they do not yet fully know which way, but it is all irrefutable and settled and worse than we thought

If warmish air causes ice build up, the air must be heated in the process, which is subsequently measured somewhere??
these are massive heat exchanges who must have left a warming air trace in the atmosphere

Sep 18, 2014 at 10:33 AM | Unregistered Commenterptw

Another mechanism was published last year (R. Bintanja Nature Geoscience 6, 376–379 2013). Increased ice shelf melt is producing a cool and fresh surface layer, shielding the surface ocean from the warmer deeper waters and facilitating sea ice expansion as this cool, fresh layer is easier to freeze than the warmer, saltier later it displaces.

Sep 18, 2014 at 10:38 AM | Unregistered Commenterclv101

They're just trying to get their excuses in first, before the msm finally picks up on the inconvenient fact of Antarctic sea ice growth.

Sep 18, 2014 at 10:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterBloke down the pub

Or could it be that its just getting colder down there?

According to NOAA Reynolds SST anomaly data set the southern oceans surrounding Antarctica - south of -60 deg have been running cool since 2006

Step change anyone?

Sep 18, 2014 at 10:45 AM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

Another epic fail for the IPCC projections. AR4 2007 said (Chapter 10 summary)
"There is a projected reduction of sea ice in the 21st century in both the Arctic and Antarctic".

Sep 18, 2014 at 11:02 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Most scientists divert themselves finding smoother pebbles on the shore. Most climate scientists build sandcastles.

Sep 18, 2014 at 11:11 AM | Registered Commenteromnologos

Why don't they just use the catch all religious phrase and say global warming works in mysterious ways.

Sep 18, 2014 at 11:12 AM | Unregistered Commenterdlb

If you look at all the data in the satellite record (e.g. here:, you'll see that the rise in Antarctic sea ice is actually quite small, certainly nothing to write home about.

Its amusing to watch some people (those for whom propaganda-motivated choices of graph axis limits have turned around and bitten them) tie themselves in knots to "explain" such a non-event.

Sep 18, 2014 at 11:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterMikky

"There's no evidence for it, but it IS scientific fact."

Sep 18, 2014 at 11:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterKatabasis

It's called the “The Last Resort Rule” often used by lawyers, now co-opted by the climate alarmists.

"If you have the facts on your side, hammer the facts. If you have the law on your side, hammer the law. If you have neither the facts nor the law, hammer the table.”

Sep 18, 2014 at 11:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

IPCC AR5 2013 also, chapter 11
"In early 21st century simulations, Antarctic sea ice cover is projected to decrease in the CMIP5 models"
Though they do go on to say that his is 'low confidence'.

The handwavy excuse given there for a possible increase is
"there is the possibility that melting of the Antarctic ice sheet could be changing the vertical ocean temperature stratification around Antarctica and encourage sea ice growth (Bintanja et al., 2013)."
(different from either of the excuses highlighted in the post).

Sep 18, 2014 at 11:26 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

They're making it up as they go along. The only theory that never seems to get an outing is the obvious one - climate sensitivity to CO2 has been vastly exaggerated and the threat to humans and 'the planet' is all-but non-existent. Which if they came out and said it would funnily enough exactly mirror their revised government funding. Hence.....**tumbleweed**

Sep 18, 2014 at 11:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterCheshirered

Those models built on the settled science predicted this then?

Sep 18, 2014 at 11:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

For the first time in years I picked up a New Scientist (in the Doctor's waiting room) but was fortunately interrupted before any brain damage occurred. I can't remember the subject ( not Antarctic or even climate change ) but my thoughts were "how do they get away with publishing such rubbish"? The level of argument was infantile.

I was an avid reader when the late Nigel Calder was editor. I can only suppose that the answer to my question is that prolonged reading of the modern day New? Scientist causes insidious brain damage.

Sep 18, 2014 at 11:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterGraeme No.3

Is there any science in the New Scientist these days? Mind you, there seem to be few scientists to write for. Most of them are just Grant Farmers on the Cox-Jones model.

Sep 18, 2014 at 11:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Antarctic sea ice records are within natural variation, if you include all ice ages.

Sep 18, 2014 at 12:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

The explanations ar starting to sound like Victorian Christians explaining away fossils as being planted there by God to test the faithful.

All those climate scientists who secretly hope their names will go down in history as heroes of science should think what it'll be like to find yourself remembered:

Lysenko (See also, Climate Science; Michael Mann, UEA, etc.)

Sep 18, 2014 at 12:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-Record

Slower warming causes more ice, I'm glad that's clear.

For a minute there I thought there was a problem with the cAGW theory.

Sep 18, 2014 at 12:47 PM | Unregistered Commenterjaffa

".......boosting the winds that circle Antarctica and pulling cold air onto the sea ice."

The cold air that 'circle(s) Antarctica' just happens to be able to avoid the west Antarctic ice sheet, which is in fact diminishing.

Could that be considered evidence of 'Global Cooling'?

Sep 18, 2014 at 12:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

As Paul Vaughan posted at WUWT a few days ago:

Figure 7b (Antarctic Sea Ice Model Fail) is a money shot:

Goosse, H.; Roche, D.M.; Mairesse, A.; & Berger, M. (2013). Modelling past sea ice changes. Quaternary Science Reviews 79, 191-206.

Fig 7b shows the models predicting the antarctic sea ice extent anomaly falling off a cliff from the late C20th. But never let data get in the way of a good model, eh? Total fail by the models. Science is settled etc etc.

Sep 18, 2014 at 12:58 PM | Registered Commenterthinkingscientist

There once was a fellow named Lieser
Who studied the Antarctic freezer.
More wind has led
to more ice, he said,
CO2 rules o'er all -- it's our Caesar.

Sep 18, 2014 at 1:00 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

Well - if this hadn't been written by scientists, and published in the New Scientist as well, I would never have believed it...

Sep 18, 2014 at 1:06 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

They're making it up as they go along. (...)
Sep 18, 2014 at 11:34 AM Cheshirered


One of the hallmarks of 'climate science'.

Sep 18, 2014 at 1:24 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

The number of explanations for the hiatus is now up to 52. Is anybody keeping tally of the number of explanations for Antarctic sea ice increasing?

Sep 18, 2014 at 1:29 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

We knew they would eventually be rumbled.
They knew they would eventually be rumbled.
The best bit is, they knew that we knew they would eventually be rumbled.

However, I think the rumbling has started inconveniently earlier than most of the climate charlatans expected.

Sep 18, 2014 at 1:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

Lieser's divine wind up?

Lieser, the alarmist Kamikaze [one of a green cadre], he's clocked up some but how many more missions will he make, before nature, mama Gaia swallows him up?

Sep 18, 2014 at 2:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Whilst enjoying the spectacle of climate scientologists squirming around trying to explain their failure to predict the rise in Antarctic sea ice, and coming up with ever more implausible reasons I think the issue may be more serious than that.
Surely i f the sea ice is spreading that will be affecting the albedo in the southern hemisphere. There is very little soot darkening Antarctic ice and the spread of ice towards 66 S where both winter and summer sun are reflected back into space must result in additional cooling. The Arctic is irrelevant as the ice extent is enclosed by land above 66 N. So the land albedo would be more significant. With extensive winter snow across N America, fresh and not sooty, reflecting sunlight back out as well could we not reach a...dare I say it....tipping point where the reflected heat/light/energy from the sun increases and allows more Southern ice to form even further from the pole. Perhaps starting a "trend towards more ice, more reflection, colder climate and consequent ice age. Just a thought. Not buying a Yak wool coat just yet.

Sep 18, 2014 at 2:33 PM | Unregistered Commenterivor ward

Re: "Increased ice shelf melt is producing a cool and fresh surface layer, shielding the surface ocean from the warmer deeper waters and facilitating sea ice expansion as this cool, fresh layer is easier to freeze than the warmer, saltier later it displaces."

This is really scary. As we know by reversing the "Arctic death spiral" argument, increased Antarctic sea ice will reflect more sunlight back to space, cooling the region further and starting a feedback loop that will inevitably result in a snowball Earth. And all caused by global warming.

Sep 18, 2014 at 2:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterChris Long

You beat me to it, Ivor.

OT, but I also noticed that "Kate Has Things to Say" has a new post up, educating us on the properties of "carbon dioxide atoms" [sic].

Sep 18, 2014 at 2:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterChris Long

Don't forget that it is winter down there. Small increases in winter ice cover are not the same as large falls in Arctic summer ice cover.

Sep 18, 2014 at 3:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

Yes .. the globe is warming and its causing more ice !!! OMG ... how do these muppets even look themselves in the mirror anymore. No models, no integrated theory, no correct predictions, no observations that support anything they say or might say or once said. Just total utter bollocks.

Sep 18, 2014 at 3:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterImranCan

Mikky, "the rise in Antarctic sea ice is actually quite small"

Actually, it is quite large.

Antarctic Sea Ice Extent is 2 million sq km higher than it was in 2008.

As of today it is 1.5 million sq km above the 1981-2010 mean.

The 2014 maximum is now 500,000 sq km above the 2013 maximum.

Something extraordinary is happening in Antarctica.

Sep 18, 2014 at 3:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

Raff: 'Don't forget that it is winter down there."

3 days from the 1st day of spring.

And sea ice is still climbing. By large amounts.

Sep 18, 2014 at 4:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

At this rate, when will the Drake Passage be closed by the ice:?

Sep 18, 2014 at 4:29 PM | Registered Commenteromnologos

Strange. I really wonder what 'warming' they're talking about.

Sea surface, 60-75S (Reynolds OI.v2):

Lower troposphere, 60-75S (UAH 5.5):

Sep 18, 2014 at 4:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterKristian

For those who want to minimize Antarctic Increases while claiming Arctic losses are much, much larger.

Sep 18, 2014 at 4:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

Raff: "Don't forget that it is winter down there. Small increases in winter ice cover are not the same as large falls in Arctic summer ice cover."
You would have a point if we were talking about July. But as Bruce has already mentioned, it's just about the equinox now, so insolation is approximately equal at both polar regions. More to the point, the Arctic area where sea ice has been lost is mainly between latitudes 70 and 80 N; the gain in the Antarctic is at perhaps 65 S latitude, where the relative insolation is about 50% higher at this time of year.

Sep 18, 2014 at 5:41 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

"If you look at all the data in the satellite record (e.g. here:, you'll see that the rise in Antarctic sea ice is actually quite small, certainly nothing to write home about."

Certainly it is small. It isn't even much larger than the decline in Arctic sea ice.

Sep 18, 2014 at 7:23 PM | Unregistered Commentertty

"Fig 7b shows the models predicting the antarctic sea ice extent anomaly falling off a cliff from the late C20th. But never let data get in the way of a good model, eh? Total fail by the models. Science is settled etc etc".

Did you notice this in the figure caption: "The reference period is 1850-1980 AD". So the reference period for setting the zero level for the models ends exactly at the point where actual data becomes available (1979 AD). Now, that is what I call scientific rigour!

Sep 18, 2014 at 7:36 PM | Unregistered Commentertty

The bipolar seesaw theory of climate is a far more plausible explanation for Antarctic/Arctic sea ice changes than the "global warming causes record-high sea ice" propaganda

Sep 18, 2014 at 7:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterHockey Schtick

I wouldn't get too excited.

This figure is based on Nimbus 1 data from 1964.

With those images, Campbell produced the first satellite maps of the sea ice edge in 1964 and an estimate of September sea ice extent for both the Arctic and the Antarctic. According to the data, September Antarctic sea ice extent measured about 19.7 million square kilometers.

What is this new record? 19.7 million square kilometres.

Excited nah, 'fraid not.

But this isn't about what we think - is it? Or, haven't you read Andrew's blog post? Forsooth, for was it not the alarmists, who fervently believed that, sea ice records only began in 1979?

Sep 18, 2014 at 10:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

As said elsewhere, in the same way as we now have 52 excuses for the pause in global temperatures, a compilation of excuses for increased Antarctic sea ice would be equally revealing regarding where present knowledge actually stands

Sep 18, 2014 at 10:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterKeith

Sep 18, 2014 at 8:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

So after 50 years of Global Warming we are back to exactly where we were in 1964 in the Antarctic. That is enough to put the fear of catastrophic global warming at the bottom of the agenda. Even big Al would struggle to make a headline out of that. Perhaps we can now get on with worrying about ebola?

Sep 18, 2014 at 11:23 PM | Unregistered Commenterivor ward

The new extent record is 20.05 million sq km as of today.

It might even hit 21 million.

Sep 18, 2014 at 11:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

Ivor Ward and HaroldW,

Antarctic ice is way beyond the Antarctic Circle. In one or two places there are 600+ nautical miles of ice beyond the Antarctic Circle - 10° of latitude, nearly 700 statute miles. This is a huge area of ice - the NH equivalent would be Arctic ice as far south as Carlisle.

Sep 19, 2014 at 1:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

Billy Liar -
Thanks for that link! The charts which I consulted to compare the current extent and the baseline, didn't have latitude lines, so I was guessing on that. The Bremen charts, unfortunately, don't show the baseline. ;-)

But it's easy enough to put both images up side-by-side and get a decent read on it. For the Arctic, the lost ice is generally at 75-80 N, while most of the Antarctic gain is near 60 S. So the comparison is in the direction I indicated (an Antarctic anomaly has a higher insolation than an equal Arctic anomaly, at least at this time of year), although the numbers were all wrong.

Sep 19, 2014 at 3:29 AM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

Sep 19, 2014 at 1:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

Thanks Billy. That confirms what HaroldW and I were saying. The increase in Antarctic ice beyond the antarctic circle has a much bigger effect on albedo than arctic ice as no sun shines on the arctic for much of the year. Add the effect of less aerosols in the South and less soot on the ice and it seems to me rather more significant and scary than a bit of arctic melt.

Not a scientist, just using logic. Maybe some climate scientists could try a logic course to go along with "Excel for people called Jones" and "creative writing" at their next evening classes.

Sep 19, 2014 at 9:05 AM | Unregistered Commenterivor ward

It is so much fun to read how the true believers dismiss and deny the Antarctic sea ice story, even as they dismiss and deny that history shows the Arctic sea ice is highly dynamic.
And the efforts the true believers undertake to quietly leave their assumption that the recent lows in Arctic sea ice are somehow bad for the world is nearly as entertaining.
Let's not let the climate obsessed get away with that one, since their claims that declining sea ice was irreversible have been proven wrong.
That they wrongly predicted Arctic sea ice would be completely gone in summers by now in a death spiral.
That they wrongly predicted that the frozen tundra would thaw and turn to methane emitting goo.
That they wrongly predicted polar bears would go extinct due to low sea ice.
That they wrongly predicted low sea ice would have a dangerous impact on climate.
Not *one* prediction of climate doom has come true.
Climate apocalypse is to Climate science what the belief in alien technology at Area 51 is to Aeronautical engineering.

Sep 19, 2014 at 12:50 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

Ivor Ward, Billy Liar, Harold Won

Just one problem. High albedo, low soot and all, Southern Hemisphere August temperatures averaged the 4th highest on record .

Any analysis of increasing Antarctic sea-ice area must reconcile increasing ice extent and increasing temperatures.

Sep 19, 2014 at 8:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

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