October 2001

Sea Ice Thickens

On August 19, 2000 the New York Times published a front-page story claiming that open sea sighted by Dr. James J. McCarthy director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, at the North Pole was clear evidence of global warming.

The story implied that this hasnt occurred since the Eocene epoch 55 million years ago. McCarthy described the reaction to the sighting, “There was a sense of alarm. Global warming was real, and we were seeing its effects for the first time that far north.”

Ten days later the Times ran a retraction in a Science Times article that quoted Dr. Mark Serreze, a climatologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., as saying, “Theres nothing to be necessarily alarmed about. Theres been open water at the pole before. We have no clear evidence at this point that this is related to global climate change.”

Perhaps due to this embarrassing gaffe, the New York Times is shying away from publishing further sea ice stories. That might explain its failure to mention sea ice thickening in the Antarctica. According to the Agence France-Presse (October 31, 2001), “Global warming might be a popular worry but scientists on Antarcticas coast this southern summer are recording some of the thickest sea ice ever seen.”

“To my knowledge this is the greatest summer sea ice extent thats ever been recorded in McMurdo Sound,” said Michael Cameron a seal expert working from New Zealands Scott Base. “Everybodys guess is that its due to this giant iceberg off of Cape Bird blocking the swells that would normally break up any sea ice in the area.” The sea ice near McMurdo Sound was 40 percent thicker than normal last year, and this year its even thicker.

Of course, if the New York Times had reported this, they would have explained that thicker Antarctic sea ice is just the sort of thing one would expect with global warming.

Junk Science in Science

The October 26 issue of Science carried a study that attempts to use data from the Nenana Ice Classic, a betting lottery where participants guess the date and time when the frozen Tanana River, near the town of Nenana southwest of Fairbanks, Alaska, breaks up, to detect global warming.

A tripod connected to a clock mechanism on shore is secured to the ice on the river. When the ice melts the tripod is swept downriver tripping the clock and recording the time. This lottery has occurred every year since 1917, thereby providing a continuous record of ice breakup.

The Science study suggests two mechanisms to explain the ice breakup: thermal effects where the ice melts and dynamic effects where the ice is broken up by mechanical forces upstream. The first would be attributed to temperature, the latter to precipitation.

The study claims that there has been a trend towards earlier breakup that is correlated with a warming trend. But this conclusion is dubious, according to John Daly who maintains the “Still Waiting for Greenhouse” website. A look at the whole Nenana record shows significant cyclical variation ice breakup, but overall there is no trend.

The authors of the study, however, begin their statistical analysis at the year 1949, a very cold year. They also excluded the breakup of 2001, which was very late, later in fact than the breakup in 1917. The trend found in the analysis is entirely dependent on the starting and ending dates chosen.

Moreover, as Daly points out, the authors dismiss the possibility of dynamic effects as the major cause of earlier ice break up and claim that there are no significant precipitation and snowfall trends.

“Thats not how the Alaska Climate Research Center sees it,” writes Daly. “As we can see [from their chart] there has been a significant increase in tital snowfall during the 20th century, the inevitable effect of which would be greater mechanical forces acting upon the river ice from upstream, causing it to break up earlier than would be the case with thermal melt alone.”

For a more comprehensive critique of the study, go to www.john-daly.com/nenana.htm.


  • The city of Marrakesh, Morocco, the site of COP-7 was likely chosen for its considerable charms and pleasant climate. Its interesting to note, however, that since 1924 there has been no warming and perhaps an overall cooling in that city (www.john-daly.com).

  • IPCC Chairman Robert Watson told Kyodo News Service (October 18, 2001) that, “I could envision that the U.S. will sooner or later be part of the international debate on climate because industries in the U.S. will demand it.” Fortunately, Dr. Watsons expertise as a scientific bureaucrat makes his political prophecies as credible as his climatic predictions.

Coal Makes a Comeback in UK

British coal consumption for electricity generation is going up sharply, which threatens the Blair government’s voluntary pledge to reduce CO2 emissions by 23% below 1990 levels by the end of the decade. According to an October 25 Reuters story, British coal use shot up 17.4 percent in the first quarter of 2001, compared to a 3.6 percent rise for natural gas. In 2000, coal increased 15 percent over 1999, while gas consumption was up only 0.7 percent.

“Emissions have increased for the second year running, above levels when the government first came into office (1997), and this is largely due to increased coal-burn,” Colin Godfrey, managing director of CLG Energy consultants, told Reuters. The “dash to gas” in the 1990s has been reversed by the steep increases in gas prices. Coal is now cheaper than gas.

Powergen, an electric utility, announced that it was re-opening a 1970s-era 485-megawatt coal-fired plant that it shut down in 1996 and would mothball a 450-megawatt gas-fired plant that opened in 1992. Another utility, Innogy, re-started a 340-megawatt coal-fired plant in August that it had mothballed three years ago. Other utilities are reportedly considering closing newer gas plants in favor of older coal plants.

Coal produces roughly twice as much carbon dioxide as gas for each unit of electricity. As Kate Hampton of Friends of the Earth UK remarked, “If there is a shift from gas towards coal we wont meet emission targets. The government has been betting on gas.”

Fuel Cells not Ready for Primetime

A new study by industrial proponents of fuel cell technology examines the challenges that must be met to make fuel-cell-powered vehicles economically viable and concludes that significant government subsidies will be necessary over many years or even decades. “Bringing Fuel Cells to Market: Scenarios and Challenges with Fuel Alternatives” was prepared by a team of experts led by Bevilacqua Knight, Inc., a consulting firm based in Hayward, California, for the California Fuel Cell Partnership.

According to an article on the study by Matt Nauman in the San Jose Mercury News (October 16, 2001), if fuel-cell vehicles are to become commercially viable, the government must spend millions of dollars to minimize the financial risks for car and oil companies…. Thats because it will take years perhaps decades before anyone makes any money of of fuel-cell vehicles or the infrastructure needed to fuel and service them, the study says.

The California Fuel Cell partnerships study specifically examines what it will take from both a technical and an economic standpoint to reach annual sales of 40,000100,000 fuel-cell vehicles in California, or 2 to 5 percent of the market. They study explains that there is tremendous uncertainty regarding whether or not the fuel cell idea is viable.

While discussing prospects for assembling the energy infrastructure necessary to expand usage of fuel cells to a larger scale, they state, “While this study used assumptions judged by its authors to be plausible, these are not forecasts or expectations but illustrative values that combine to create a result that meets the success criterion.”

Thus, they admit that their predictions suffer from the same problems that plague other forms of economic forecasting: it is simply impossible to predict everything that will go wrong with a given technology or innovation particularly if the government plays a major role in pushing it ahead. The Partnership includes major auto companies, oil companies, state and federal government agencies, and fuel cell technology companies. Their report may be found at www.cafcp.org.

New episodes of the long-running soap opera known as the Kyoto Protocol are being shot this week and next on location in Marrakesh, Morocco, as the world’s major media reported with varying mixtures of anger and sadness that the series big star the United States was still refusing to appear in any new episodes. The new chairman of the seventh Conference of the Parties (COP-7), Moroccan environment minister Mohamed El Yazghi, warned that the Bush administrations decision to stay on the sidelines and merely observe the negotiations could lead to international isolation of the U.S.

Although outgoing COP chairman Jan Pronk and others claimed last July at COP-6.5 in Bonn that they had finally reached agreement on all unresolved issues, it turns out that agreement still must be reached on the “technical details,” that is, on the actual legal text of the agreement in several key areas. The most important of these are reporting, monitoring, and enforcement.

Negotiators in Bonn agreed in principle to enforce the Protocol by penalizing nations that failed to meet their emissions targets. The penalties would include being banned from international emissions trading and other flexibility mechanisms and reducing the emissions limit in the second compliance period (beginning in 2013) by 1.3 tons for every ton of emissions above a nations target in the first compliance period (2008-2012).

This latter penalty is problematic because no targets have been agreed to for the second compliance period. It seems likely that nations failing to meet their initial targets will simply demand easier targets in the second period. What is meant by “legally-binding commitments” therefore remains a major question.

“Im quite worried that the deeper we get into [the legal text], the more bureaucrats trying to re-engineer it will come to fore,” said Paul Vickers, director of TransAlta Corp.s Carbon Market Initiative. “I must admit, I think it’s going to be slower than everyone thinks on rules” (Greenwire, October 26, 2001).

For example, Russia has demanded greater flexibility. As noted in Greenwire (October 30, 2001), under the Bonn agreement “Russia would be allowed to sell the equivalent of 17 million metric tons of CO2 in greenhouse gas emission reduction credits to other countries each year. Russias credit is based on certain forestry sinks aimed at soaking up CO2, as well as the fact Russias emissions fell in the early 1990s when the economic shrank.” Russia is now requesting that its sink credit by doubled to 34 million metric tons of CO2.

COP-7 continues through Friday, November 9, 2001. For daily updates by Bonner Cohen, of the Lexington Institute, of the COP-7 negotiations see www.earthtimes.org.

Is Greenlands Ice Sheet Thinning?

A new study in Nature (November 1, 2001) claims to have found significant thinning in the north Greenland ice sheet. The study compared current ice sheet thickness, measured by radar altimetry during 1994 and 1995, with ice sheet measurements from 1954, using “trigonometric leveling.” This entailed positioning a tripod at the midpoint of a 1,200-mile traverse from the east to the west coast of the ice sheet. The elevation of the tripod was then measured from 300 stations along the traverse.

The problem is that the east coast and west coast measurements differed by 11.8 meters, a rather large measurement error. The authors of the Nature study attempted to correct the errors through statistical processes based upon assumptions that may or may not be valid. So the 1954 data point is highly suspect.

The ice sheet was divided into six longitudinal bands, A through F. The authors found that the band A ice stream had thickened, bands B-D experienced no significant change, and that bands E and F had thinned.

Since, as the authors note, the “Greenland ice sheet is still responding to climatic changes that occurred thousands of years ago,” it is important to distinguish between long-term changes in ice dynamics with short-term changes in snow accumulation. They argue that their “41-year interval is long enough to ensure that we are measuring the dynamic response of the ice sheet rather than fluctuations in snow accumulation.”

But given that they are comparing two data points rather than a continuous record, their argument is unconvincing. They also note that, “The only other direct measurement of elevation changes in this area come from a study covering the whole ice sheet for the period 1994-99. It shows slight thickening in bands E and F where we measured significant thinning.” They attribute the thickening to “variations in snow accumulation.”

Sea Ice Expanding in Antarctica

We noted in the last issue that Antarctic sea ice has been thickening substantially for the past two years. Now we notice a scientific study published last spring that indicates that this is a longer-term phenomenon. A study published in the April 15 issue of Geophysical Research Letters finds that sea ice in Antarctica has been increasing rather than decreasing for decades. Satellite microwave imaging data from October 1987 to September 1999 “show an ongoing slight but significant hemispheric increase of 3.7 (0.3) percent in extent and 6.6 (1.5) percent in area.”

The authors also note, “These results suggest that the rather smaller increase of 1.0 (0.5) percent per decade in the Antarctic sea-ice extent and 1.3 (0.6) percent in area detected for the period November 1978-December 1996 is ongoing.”

Scientists Lack Necessary Tools to Predict Climate Change

A report in Science (September 7, 2001), looks at the issue of climate prediction by looking at one area of the planet that has experienced significant warming, the Antarctic Peninsula. According to Vaughan, et al., the average temperature increase for all Antarctic stations from 1959 to 1996 was about 1.2 degrees Celsius. Some regions, however, experienced cooling trends, while others experienced warming trends.

The Antarctic Peninsula has experienced a warming trend “considerably larger” than the Antarctic average. The authors argue that, “There is a 99 percent likelihood that the recent warming is exceptional compared with any part of the 500-year period recorded in the longest of these records.”

By analyzing sediment cores the authors found that seven ice shelves, including the Prince Gustav Channel ice shelf that collapsed in 1995, have been lost in the last fifty years in the Antarctic Peninsula. They also found, however, that between 6000 and 1900 years ago the Prince Gustav “ice shelf was absent and climate was as warm as it has been recently.”

“The recent rapid regional warming in the Antarctic Peninsula is thus exceptional over several centuries and probably unmatched for 1900 years,” according to the authors. “It may be tempting to cite anthropogenic greenhouse gases as the culprit, but to do so without offering a mechanism is superficial.” Of course, recent climatic conditions in the area are not exceptional for the last 6000 years.

The authors offer three possible explanations for the warming in the Antarctic Peninsula, but warn that, “Because we cannot distinguish between these widely differing mechanisms, we have no basis for predicting future changes, even if we accept that the recent warming is exceptional.” They conclude, “This suggests that we do not yet have tools to predict potentially socially significant regional climate changes in the next 100 years.”

Greening Earth not Necessarily Due to Warmer Climate

We reported in the September 5 issue about a study that was to be published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres (September 16, 2001). The study argued, “that warmer temperatures and elevated levels of carbon dioxide have led to a greening of the northern hemisphere.”

It seems, however, that there are some problems with the study. According to John Daly (Still Waiting for Greenhouse, www.john-daly.com), the studys claim that warmer temperatures are causing a greener greenhouse is wrong. Thus the increases in vegetation must be due solely to higher levels of CO2, as hundreds of agricultural studies have shown.

A press release from the American Geophysical Union explains that, “Researchers using satellite data have confirmed that plant life above 40 degrees north latitude (New York, Madrid, Ankara, Beijing) has been growing more vigorously since 1981 due to rising temperatures and buildup of greenhouse gases, and Eurasia seems to be greening more than North America, as existing vegetation is more lush for longer periods of time” (www.enn.com).

The correlation between temperature and greening above 40 degrees latitude is fairly weak, according to Daly. From the early-to-mid 1980s there was significant greening even though temperatures were hardly changing. Other years also show significant greening in cooler years.

More importantly, however, when discussing the amount of greening the study includes the area above 30 degrees latitude, which includes the southern United States. But, the area between 30 and 40 degrees latitude is not included when the researchers correlate temperature and plant life. Since the southern U.S. has greened significantly while temperatures have trended downward, including that data would have made the correlation between temperature and plant life disappear altogether.

Daly argues that the CO2 fertilizer effect is the only remaining explanation for the greening of the planet.


  • Skeptical Environmentalist Speaks

Professor Bjorn Lomborg will speak at a Cooler Heads Coalition congressional and media briefing from noon to 1:30 PM on Thursday, 4th October, in Room HC-5 of the U. S. Capitol. Lomborg is author of the Skeptical Environmentalist, which was published in the U. S. this month by Cambridge University Press and which has received rave reviews. Those wishing to attend the briefing should Rsvp to Michael Mallinger at CEI: telephone (202) 331-1010, ext. 254, or e-mail: mmallinger@cei.org. Please give your name, affiliation, phone number, and e-mail address.

  • The Cooler Heads Coalition will hold a congressional and media briefing on “Whats Wrong with Regulating Carbon Dioxide?” on Thursday, October 11. The briefing will be held from noon to 1:30 in room SC-5 of the U.S. Capitol building. The speakers will be Dr. Ross McKitrick, associate professor of economics at the University of Guelph, Ontario Canada, and Dr. Brian Fisher, executive director of ABARE, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics. Those wishing to attend the briefing should Rsvp to Michael Mallinger at CEI: telephone (202) 331-1010, ext. 254, or e-mail: mmallinger@cei.org. Please give your name, affiliation, phone number, and e-mail address.

  • The seventh Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is scheduled to take place in Marrakesh, Morocco from October 29 to November 9 under a new chairman, Mohammed Elyazghi, Moroccos environment minister.

Over the last year, industrial gas prices in Great Britain have risen by more than 50 percent, an increase that was kicked off with the governments new climate change levy that increased prices by 7 percent. Rising world prices contributed the remainder of the increase. The climate change levy has also increased the price of coal by 13 percent and electricity by 8 percent (Daily Telegraph, September 28, 2001).

Many businesses are feeling the impacts of the new tax. Carpetmaker Stoddard International has seen its operating profit fall 35 percent in the last half year, which chief executive Alan Lawson attributes in part to the climate change levy. The companys energy costs rose by 250,000 pounds sterling, some as a result of the levy. “The principle is fine but the actual levying of it is penal, especially at a time when we are facing currency costs and threats of cheaper imports from countries which dont have the climate change levy,” said Lawson (The Herald (Glasgow), September 28, 2001).

The Engineering Employers Federation in Great Britain conducted a survey of 550 engineering firms and found that the costs of the climate change levy would exceed 100 million pounds sterling. “Our figures prove that the Government was wrong when saying the levy would not impact on competitiveness because it is imposing an ever greater burden on manufacturing at a time when it is already in recession,” said Martin Temple, EEFs director general (Belfast Telegraph, September 24, 2001).

EU Bows to Industry Pressure

The European Union has been devising an emissions trading scheme to trade greenhouse gas permits, that is scheduled to take effect in 2005. According to Reuters (October 2, 2001), “The EU executive originally aimed to propose the regulations in July but was persuaded to redraft them in a more business-friendly form after intense lobbying from industry.”

Firms within the EU have demanded the changes because they fear that the plan would put them at a competitive disadvantage with U.S. firms. “The latest draft bows to several industry demands by halving the proposed fines, allowing the Commission to exempt certain sectors temporarily and enabling member states to give firms extra emission credits in special market conditions.”

Fines for noncompliance were reduced from 200 euros to 100 euros per excess ton of CO2 emitted. If permit prices go too high, then governments can issue extra permits. Governments can also temporarily exempt certain sectors during the first three years of the program if they can demonstrate that they can reduce the same amount of emission by other means.

The ability of governments to issue additional permits is very problematic and is likely to short circuit the trading that would take place otherwise. Increasing the supply of permits not only defeats the cap, but it also decreases the price of existing permits, thereby harming the firms holding them.

EU to Propose Aviation Fuel Tax

The European Union is pushing for a tax on aviation fuel for international flights at a meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization currently underway in Montreal. Under a long-standing international agreement, aviation fuel for international flights is exempt from taxation. Environmentalists claim that this is a major subsidy to the airline industry.

The EU says that if an agreement cannot be reached it may and unilaterally impose a tax on internal EU flights or impose a tax on airfreight (ABC News, September 15, 2001).