Scientists Debunk Arctic ‘Death Spiral’ Claims
Written by Myles, PSI Researcher
Current conditions in the Arctic are completely within normal climatic variability, according to peer-reviewed studies. Any ‘meltdown’ linked to climate change is not shown in the scientific evidence.
Western mainstream media has been giving prominence to the claims of a team of global warming alarmist researchers who have alleged the Arctic is showing the first signs of dangerous anthropogenic climate change. Articles have been written outlining “tipping points” in the region that together form a chain reaction leading to apocalyptic consequences.
These alarmists have stated that “Global heating and climate disruption has already forced Arctic sea ice into a new state of ‘death spiral’ meltdown and it is anticipated to disappear in Summer months within a decade, or even a few short years, many decades ahead of previous estimates.”
They then go on to push an end of the world scenario of “The ALREADY accelerated escape of massive amounts of the powerful, heat trapping greenhouse gas, methane, buried in the frozen permafrost of northern Canada, Siberia and underwater ocean shelves, is of EMERGENCY, ‘LIFE OR EXTINCTION’-SCALE CONCERN. (Yes, really!)” http://ecosanity.org/blogsanity/compilation-arctic-meltdown-methane-time-bomb-emergency
This is the state of the hysteria that is based on global warming starting a chain reaction of positive feedback loops. Peer-reviewed scientific research highlighted below shows that the main drivers of these predictions all fail.
Arctic Sea Ice Variability
Research shows that the Arctic has a long history of temperature swings and of sea ice cover (SIC): “Grumet et al. (2001) used sea salt Na+ fluctuations in a 700-year ice core record from the Penny Ice Cap (southeastern Baffin Island) as a proxy for Spring sea ice concentration and found that there was an apparent near-doubling in [SIC] over the past century,”
Also the East Arctic was ice free and experienced greater warming than at present a few thousand years ago. In a respected research paper titled “Decadal-scale sea ice changes in the Canadian Arctic and their impacts on humans during the past 4,000 years: the authors quote that:
“Our data show that from ~6500 to 2600 BP, there were large oscillations in summer SST from 2–4°C cooler than present to 6°C warmer and SIC ranged from 2 months more sea ice to 4 months more open water. The warmer interval corresponds to the period of pre-Dorset cultures that hunted muskox and caribou. Subsequent marine-based Dorset and Neo-eskimo cultures correspond to progressively cooler intervals with expanded sea ice cover. The warming took ~50–100 years and lasted ~300 years before replacement by colder intervals lasting ~200–500 years.” http://www.paleoforge.com/papers/EnvironArchaeo.pdf
Another example of an ice free arctic is provided by the historically documents event of the Danes and Scandinavians sailing through the arctic during the Medieval Warm Period in 1122 AD. This is corroborated in an article title “Variations in Climate” by Alexander Beck, ME linked below.
“…it is precisely at this time that we find the Danes and several Scandinavian nations going through the Arctic open seas. Colonies are established by them in the highest northern latitude of Greenland, and the upper part of North America…”
This history of variability in temperature regime and sea ice concentration in the Arctic puts the current warming of areas of the arctic into perspective. It cannot be said that current conditions are unprecedented.
But it is alleged that the planet will now be pushed over a tipping point because of the addition of anthropogenic CO2. The drivers of this scenario are now examined.
Positive Feedback of Melting Permafrost Mitigated
Melting permafrost actually results in peat lands becoming increased sinks for CO2. Active peat lands have been shown to be a net sink for CO2 and therefore any methane released by the melting of the permafrost and their re-invigoration is mitigated. As the permafrost degrades there is an increase in the amount of CO2 taken up by the peat lands which at the same time release some Methane. The overall effect is not one of a huge increase in greenhouse gases as one buffers out or mitigates the others effect on the atmosphere.
Maria Strack explains the net flow of CO2 in detail in the renowned book “Peat lands and climate change”. This free publication states:
“Several studies have documented increased rates of C storage as peat following surface permafrost degradation”. Also on page 13: “Currently peat-lands globally represent a major store of soil carbon, sink for carbon dioxide… “
The authoritative book adds: “Thus in response to permafrost degradation peatlands are likely to become larger sinks for CO2.” (see Page 59).
Positive Feedback of Methane from Hydrates Mitigated
Contrary to mass media impression, nature is rather adept at processing hydrocarbon emissions into the environment. The process of microbes eating the majority of methane released from the sea bed was observed and scientifically documented in the Deep water Horizon oil disaster. It proves that only a tiny fraction of the methane actually reached the atmosphere. The same scenario has been established by scientists as the outcome if methane frozen in the Arctic Ocean sea bed for thousands of years ever becomes released if the climate alarmists are correct in their predicted warming.
The UK’s The Guardian newspaper puts it simply as… “The huge quantities of methane gas that bubbled out of BP’s broken well in the Gulf of Mexico were eaten up almost entirely by undersea microbes by the end of August, a new study reports today.”
The original findings were a real surprise and The Guardian (often an alarmist newspaper) concluded that “large-scale releases of methane from hydrate in the deep ocean are likely to be met by a similarly rapid methanotrophic response.”
So should the Arctic Ocean ever get above freezing and the methane release occurs the results are now predicted to be a fraction of the methane will even reach the surface. No substantial positive feedback occurring. Key research in this field are the findings by Dr J.Kessler, D.Valentine and associates which we address below.
(Readers may examine the evidence at source at Science. 2011 Jan 21;331(6015):312-5. doi: 10.1126/science.1199697. Epub 2011 Jan 6).
The authors found that:
“Methane was the most abundant hydrocarbon released during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Beyond relevancy to this anthropogenic event, this methane release simulates a rapid and relatively short-term natural release from hydrates into deep water. Based on methane and oxygen distributions measured at 207 stations throughout the affected region, we find that within ~120 days from the onset of release ~3.0 × 10(10) to 3.9 × 10(10) moles of oxygen were respired, primarily by methanotrophs, and left behind a residual microbial community containing methanotrophic bacteria. We suggest that a vigorous deepwater bacterial bloom respired nearly all the released methane within this time, and that by analogy, large-scale releases of methane from hydrate in the deep ocean are likely to be met by a similarly rapid methanotrophic response.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21212320
Positive Feedback of Rapid Arctic Tree Line Advance Fails
The story painted by alarmist climate scientists is that the slight global warming experienced in the late 20th century will rapidly push the Arctic treeline Northwards. This is predicted to cause further warming by the darker colour of the trees altering the albedo to absorb more warmth. This increased warming then pushes the treeline North at a faster rate. A positive feedback loop which contributes to the so called “death spiral” for arctic sea ice. In their own words they state:
“In turn, increased temperatures will produce a northward extension of boreal forest into areas now occupied by tundra (Arctic Climate Impact Assessment 2004). Such a northward extension of the boreal forest would serve to decrease high-latitude albedo and provide a positive feedback, further enhancing global warming (Bonan et al. 1995; Woodward et al. 1998; Levis et al. 1999, 2000; Foley et al. 2003).”
So is this actually happening and what is the true state of the Arctic tree line?
In the research document “Historical Aspects of the Northern Canadian Tree line” Harvey Nichols points out that for the tree line to move northwards would require 4 C of warming. With most scientists agreeing that the total rise in temperatures in the last century is less than one degree the clearly this has not occurred. Nichols states…
“The increase in mean summer temperature necessary for a consistently successful seedling growth up to 250 miles (400 km) north in the tundra can be extrapolated from modern ecotonal temperatures. It is one of 4 C or more in the present forest-tundra ecotonal areas…”
“The modern climatic warming may have been too small to move the “seedling treeline” northwards beyond the present woodland-tundra ecotone which was previously established under substantially warmer conditions.” http://pubs.aina.ucalgary.ca/arctic/Arctic29-1-38.pdf
The author is pointing out what research also shows is the case in the Russian Arctic treeline as well. That a significantly higher and longer period of warming than the 0.6c experienced in what is known as the 20th century warming is needed to cause a significant tree level shift northwards.
The general history of the arctic tree line or “ecotone” is that it moved north during the Holocene Climatic Optimum (9000-5000 years ago.) a period of higher than present temperatures then shrank back to its modern line.
In the research paper “Pinus Sylvestris tree line development and movement on the Kola Peninsula of Russia” the authors state that:
“From 6000BP the treeline gradually retreated southwards to its present modern position.” http://www.jstor.org/stable/3072264?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
So a general picture can be compiled that it takes centuries of warmer than now temperatures to push the Arctic treeline north. The current warming up of the planet since the Little Ice Age (approx. 1300 to 1850 AD) doesn’t appear to be enough to start the 2km a year arctic treeline advance that has been alleged.
Arctic Treeline Moves South
Then there should be considered the Southwards retreat of large expanses of the tree line, which is often not taken into account. Positive feedback scenarios wrongly ignore this fact. This is confirmed in another respectable research paper titled “Paludification and forest retreat in Northern Oceanic Environments:
“A southward depression of the tree line in favour of wet heaths, bogs and wetland tundra communities is also observed in northern oceanic environments…”
“Climatic warming in oceanic areas may increase the area covered by bogs and, contrary to general expectations, lead to a retreat rather than an advance in the northern limit of the boreal forest.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12509342
Paludification or the process of the formation of peat lands rather than forest is being observed in the Russian north. It is what they say is causing the tree line to move south. And they predict any warming will cause an increase in this process and a decrease in the forest cover. Quite the opposite of what alarmist western climate scientists appear to be pushing.
Here again we can see that the story of a positive feedback loop from a small temperature rise quickly starting a rapid tree line advance is a hyped scientific scare story. Their predictions of a 2km a year northwards march of the arctic tree line due to mans negligible addition to global warming has spectacularly failed to manifest itself.
Variations in sea ice cover in the Arctic larger than presently experienced are nothing new, according to reliable peer-reviewed research. The current climatic conditions are completely within the normal climatic variability of the region.
Herein we have illustrated the mitigation of the positive feedbacks of melting permafrost and methane release from the Arctic oceans sea bed. We have seen the failure of the alarmist rapid northwards march of the Arctic treeline in what is now exposed as an unjust sensationalism of natural changes. The known, measured albedo leaves the “Arctic death spiral” claim without its main drivers and the predicted disaster scenario of an “emergency, life or extinction” time bomb is defused.
(Researched and compiled by Myles.)
1.) Decadal-scale sea ice changes in the Canadian Arctic and their impacts on humans during the past 4,000 years: Peta J. Mudie, Andre Rochon and Elisabeth Levac. http://www.paleoforge.com/papers/EnvironArchaeo.pdf
2.) Peat lands and Climate Change edited by Maria Strack.http://www.peatsociety.org/sites/default/files/files/PeatlandsandClimateChangeBookIPS2008.pdf
3.) http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/jan/06/methane-bp-oil-spill-microbes A persistent oxygen anomaly reveals the fate of spilled methane in the deep Gulf of Mexico.Kessler JD1, Valentine DL Science. 2011 Jan 21 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21212320
4.) Historical aspects of the Northern Canadian Treeline. Harvey Nichols.
5.) Pinus sylvestris Treeline Development and Movement on the Kola Peninsula of Russia: Pollen and Stomate Evidence: Bruce R. Gervais, Glen M. MacDonald, Jeffrey A. Snyder and Constantine V. Kremenetski. Journal of Ecology. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3072264?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
7.) www.ecosanity.org http://ecosanity.org/blogsanity/compilation-arctic-meltdown-methane-time-bomb-emergency
8.) “Variations in Climate”, Alexander Beck. ME. (8 November 1887 – National Library of New Zealand.) http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=CHP18871108.2.35&srpos=133&e=——-100–101—-0glaciers+melting