Manmade Antarctic Melting, Indeed

by Julie Walsh on January 18, 2008

A new study, much hyped by the media, blames humans for escalating ice loss in Antarctica. The media, however, seems to have no idea as to how truly manmade the supposed ice loss may be.
“Escalating Ice Loss Found in Antarctica; Sheets Melting in an Area Once Thought to Be Unaffected by Global Warming” was the Washington Post’s front-page, above-the-fold headline last Monday (Jan. 14). The headline for the continuation of the article was “Antarctic Ice Loss Could Speed Rise in Ocean Levels.”

If true, it would be quite a worrisome situation given that Antarctica contains enough ice to raise ocean levels by about 60 meters, a deluge that would put every major coastal city in the world deep under water and uproot hundreds of millions, if not billions of people.

NASA scientist Eric Rignot reported in Nature Geoscience (Jan. 13) that increased melting had been detected in the ice sheets of western Antarctica, an area where surface temperatures have remained unchanged.

As warming surface temperatures could not be blamed for the ice loss, Rignot hypothesized that the cause may be the flow of warmer waters from the Antarctic Circumpolar Current that circles much of the continent. “Something must be changing the ocean to trigger such changes,” Rignot told the Post. “We believe it is related to [manmade global warming]”, he added.

Rignot may indeed “believe” that humans are the cause – he is, after all, part of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an organization founded on the belief that humans are causing catastrophic global warming. But the facts belie such beliefs.

First, standard climate alarmism claims that manmade emissions of greenhouse gases are warming surface temperatures. But not only is such warming not being observed in Antarctica, it’s actually getting cooler in western Antarctica, according to surface temperature analysis from each of eight NASA stations located there.

Rignot, of course, admits that standard climate alarmism can’t possibly explain the western Antarctic melting; that’s why he shifted to blaming man for the warmer Antarctic Circumpolar Current. But is this true?

In an effort to support Rignot’s hypothesis, Columbia University’s Douglas Martinson told The Washington Post that “the [Antarctic Circumpolar Current”, which flows about 200 yards below the frigid surface water, began to warm significantly in the 1980s, and that warming in turn caused wind patterns to change in ways that ultimately brought more warm water to shore.”

But Martinson also admitted to the Post that there is not enough data to say for certain that the process was set in motion by global warming. Truth be told, there is good reason to question Martinson's assertion about the temperature trend, let alone its hypothetical cause.

According to World Climate Report, a 2007 study by University of Washington researchers reported that, although there is much interest among scientists in ocean temperature, “below-surface ocean temperature data are sparse, and the existing data sets involve substantial ‘interpolation, extrapolation, and averaging’ that may compromise the integrity of results from such data sets.”

Adding to the mix is the most recent IPCC report, which says that the upper ocean adjacent to west Antarctica warmed by 1 degree Celsius from 1951 to 1994. But global surface temperatures actually declined from 1940 to 1976, even as manmade emissions of carbon dioxide dramatically increased.
The bottom line is there is no established linkage between manmade emissions of greenhouse gases and any melting in the western Antarctic.
But then, is there even any net ice loss in the western Antarctic to begin with?
While Rignot did use satellite observations of Antarctica’s coastline to estimate melting, he compared this real-life data to computer model estimates of Antarctic interior snow accumulation. So the western Antarctic appears to losing mass only when compared to computer models that, when it comes to global climate, are of questionable relevance to the real world.
At, we label these sorts of computer modeling exercises as “PlayStation® climatology.”
Even if you put faith in climate models, Rignot’s don’t seem to agree with those of the IPCC, which stated in its most recent assessment, “Current global model studies project that the Antarctic Ice Sheet will remain too cold for widespread surface melting and is expected to gain in mass due to increased snowfall.”
Finally, according to NOAA data presented on the web site of Bill Chapman of the Polar Research Group at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), the global level of sea ice has reached about the same level as it was at in 2003. The current change in global sea ice coverage is a positive 1 million square kilometers — that is, a gain of 1.8 million square kilometers in the Southern Hemisphere netted against a loss of 800,000 square kilometers in the Northern Hemisphere.
It’s quite possible that the reported Antarctic melting is manmade — but the “man” may be Eric Rignot, as opposed to the term’s broader connotation.

Steven Milloy publishes and He is a junk science expert, and advocate of free enterprise and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

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