Sarah Palin’s Arctic: hot or cold?

A report from the front lines of the alleged global warming war. The Anchorage Daily News reported on Monday, Oct. 13, 2008, that summer snow loss in the state in 2008 was less than winter snowfall, reversing a trend of two centuries.
The newspaper said that “unusually large amounts of winter snow were followed by unusually chill temperatures in June, July, and August.” Translated: the ballyhooed Alaska glacier melt may be reversing.
The paper quoted U.S. Geological Survey glaciologist Bruce Molina that “the weather this summer was the worst I have seen in at least 20 years.” Most Alaska glaciers, said Molina, had positive mass balances for the year, meaning they have gained ice over the course of the year.
What effect does climate change – whatever that means – have on Alaska’s glaciers? Hard to say, Molina told the Anchorage newspaper, as small temperature changes can have big impacts on the glaciers. What’s the difference between the Little Ice Age, when the Alaskan glaciers advanced in the 16th-19th Centuries, and the recent warming? According to Molina, about 3 degrees.
When I took geology courses at Penn State in the mid-1960s, one of my professors noted that a 2 degree drop in North American temperatures would result in the halt of the retreat of glaciers, and a resumption of their historic march across the upper Midwest. No thanks. I’ve been warm and I’ve been cool. Warm is better. Although I must confess I love Alaska and would move there tomorrow if it made economic sense.
The Anchorage newspaper got it right. Does the ebb and flow of Alaska’s glaciers mean anything for public policy? “Nobody knows,” wrote the paper. “Climate is constantly shifting. And even if the past year was a signal of a changing future, Molina said, it would still take decades to make itself noticeable in Alaska’s glaciers. Rivers of ice flow slowly. Hundreds of feet of snow would have to accumulate at higher elevations to create enough pressure to stall the current glacial retreat and start a new advance.”
In a related matter, meteorologist Anthony Watts in his blog notes that “the predictions for record low [Arctic] sea ice minimums in 2008 were not met, and 2008 ended up about 9% higher than in 2007 at the end of the season.” Watts adds, with honest intellectual conservatism, “I’m not one to read much into this, as to do so would be to make the same mistake as was done earlier this year when the [National Snow and Ice Data Center] melt trend led one researcher there to conclude that we’d see an ‘ice free north pole.’”
Bottom line: don’t believe any of the catastrophic claims of the climate decons when it comes to Alaska. The picture is far more complex than the common understanding. Polar bears aren’t endangered. The Arctic Ocean is not becoming the Gulf of Mexico. Science has no real grip on what’s going on up there, other than accumulating empirical data.