Is more CO2 beneficial for Earth's ecosystems?

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:47 PM GMT on November 20, 2009

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We should emit as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as possible and oppose efforts to regulate CO2 emissions, because more CO2 is good for the Earth. That's the take-home message of an audacious TV ad that was run this fall by the advocacy group, CO2isgreen.com. "Higher CO2 levels than we have today would help the Earth's ecosystems, and support more plant and animal life", the ad proclaims.

It's the brainchild of H. Leighton Steward, a retired oil industry executive, and Corbin J. Robertson, Jr., chief executive and leading shareholder in Natural Resource Partners, a Houston-based owner of coal resources that lets other companies mine, in return for royalties. According to an article in the Washington Post, the ad ran this fall in New Mexico and Montana, which have key Congressmen that CO2isgreen.com hopes to sway. The ads form part of a major PR campaign being waged by the fossil fuel industry and its allies in advance of the crucial U.N. Climate Change Conference, which will be held December 7 - 18 in Copenhagen, Denmark. At that meeting, the leaders of the world will gather to negotiate an agreement to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The new agreement will be the world's road map for dealing with climate change, and the stakes are huge.


Figure 1. Screen shot of the new ad by the advocacy group CO2isgreen.com.

Let's consider the scientific accuracy of the ad's three main points:

1) "Congress is considering a law that would classify CO2 as pollution. This will cost us jobs".
Well, this is a reasonable concern. Fossil fuels represent the foundation upon which modern civilization is built. The marvelous inventions of civilized life that have brought increased health, lifespan, and prosperity to billions of people are largely due to the use of fossil fuels. Regulating CO2 and moving to non-fossil fuel based energy sources won't be cheap or easy, and there is a potential for significant economic harm if our politicians bungle the job. The fossil fuel industry employs millions of people, and some of these jobs will no doubt be lost as new "green" energy sources are developed. However, the longer-term economic benefits of moving to a less fossil fuel-intensive economy, plus the jobs created as a result, must be weighed against the shorter term economic disruption that may occur.

2) "There is no scientific evidence that CO2 is a pollutant".
Webster's dictionary defines a pollutant as "man-made waste that contaminates an environment". Webster's defines "contaminate" as "to make inferior or impure". CO2 is man-made waste, and there is scientific evidence that added CO2 can make our atmosphere "inferior" to its present state, or else the EPA would not be considering regulations. As just one example, when CO2 is dissolved in the oceans, the water grows more acidic. Corals and other creatures that build shells out of calcium carbonate cannot form their shells if the acidity passes a critical level--their shells will dissolve. Thus, for these organisms, CO2 is definitely a pollutant. Several shell-building planktonic organisms, such as coccolithophorids, pteropods, and foraminifera, form an important basis of the food chain in cold ocean waters, and the continued increase in CO2 emissions have many scientists very concerned about a collapse of the oceanic food chain in these regions in coming decades. Presumably, CO2isgreen.com is taking the very narrow view that a pollutant is something that harms human health when breathed. The more important question is, how does CO2 emitted by fossil fuel generation, plus all the effects that come with it, impact human health and the health of Earth's ecosystems?

3) "Higher CO2 levels than we have today would help the Earth's ecosystems, and support more plant and animal life".
It is true that many plants grow faster under enhanced CO2--the so-called "CO2 fertilization effect". Just ask your neighborhood commercial indoor marijuana grower, who probably grows his or her plants in an enhanced CO2 environment. The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report found that crop yields under unstressed conditions increased by 0 - 25% for a doubling of CO2, and that growth of young tree stands also increased. However, the IPCC noted that ground level ozone pollution will limit the CO2 fertilization effect. Ozone pollution is caused by emissions from fossil fuel burning, and will increase in a warmer world since the chemical reactions that create ozone act more efficiently at higher temperatures. Furthermore, the higher temperatures, increased drought, and increased insect pests that added CO2 is likely to bring to the atmosphere via greenhouse effect warming will induce major stresses to plants that will counteract the CO2 fertilization effect. A 2009 paper by Battisti and Naylor in Science titled, "Historical Warnings of Future Food Insecurity with Unprecedented Seasonal Heat", reported that the 2003 heat wave in Europe--featuring temperatures predicted to be the norm by the end of the century--reduced harvests of fruits and grains by 21 - 36%. The 2007 IPCC report noted, "even slight warming decreases yields in seasonally and low latitude regions". Most of the world's population at risk of starvation live in such regions (e.g., sub-Saharan Africa).

To get more CO2 in the air, we have to mine, transport, and burn fossil fuels, and potentially fight wars to protect them. This creates a host of effects highly detrimental to people and ecosystems:

1) Particle pollution, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides emitted as a result of burning coal and operating motor vehicles cause over $118 billion in health and other damages per year in the U.S., according to a Congressionally-ordered National Academy of Sciences study released last month. The study said this was a "substantial underestimate", as it did not consider climate change-related costs, or pollution emissions from a wide variety of other sources.

2) Oil and natural gas drilling and oil spills have had catastrophic effects on many ecosystems over the past century, and will continue to do so. Coal mining via mountaintop removal has laid waste to vast regions of the Appalachians, obliterating over 700 miles of rivers and streams. Failures of slurry ponds dams such as the one that failed in December 2008 in Tennessee have contaminated numerous ecosystems, and killed hundreds (the Buffalo Creek, WV dam failure of 1972 killed 125, and a 1966 slurry pond dam failure in Aberfan, Wales killed 144, including 126 schoolchildren). The Physicians for Social Responsibility put out a report this week called Coal's Assault on Human Health that details many more examples of how coal is bad for ecosystems and human health.

3) Coal mining accidents killed 65 miners in the U.S. in 2006, and kill tens of thousands of miners worldwide each year (China has averaged 6,000 deaths per year this decade). Tens of thousands of miners contract black lung disease each year, as well.

The Greening of Planet Earth
Fossil fuel industry-funded Public Relations campaigns focusing on the benefits of CO2 for life on Earth are nothing new. In 2006, I blogged about a TV ad run by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) that proclaimed, "as for carbon dioxide, it isn't smog or smoke, it's what we breathe out and plants breathe in. Carbon dioxide: they call it pollution, we call it life.". In 1991, coal giant Western Fuels founded an organization called "The Greening Earth Society" which spent $250,000 to produce the video, "The Greening of Planet Earth" (available on Youtube). The 30-minute movie features scientists who describe in glowing terms the tremendous increases in plant growth that will occur due to increased CO2. Set to appropriately stirring music, the movie concludes: "The future also holds great promise. And contributing to this promise is the positive effect that carbon dioxide has upon our world. Crop plants will continue to grow more productively, contributing to ever-greater supplies of food. Forests will extend their ranges. Grasses will grow where none grow now. And great tracts of barren land we be reclaimed. In fact, it is not inconceivable that the vitality of our biosphere could rise by a full order of magnitude over the next few centuries, to a new, greening Planet Earth". According to Boston Globe investigative reporter Ross Gelbspan in his book The Heat is On, the movie was shown extensively in Washington D.C. and in the capitals of OPEC nations, and was the favorite movie of President George H.W. Bush's chief of staff, John Sununu. It's interesting to note that The Greening Earth Society shares the same mailing address and fax number as the Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC), a fossil fuel industry front group that was given $35 million to fight climate change regulation in 2008. According to the creators of desmogblog.com, a website dedicated to "Clearing the PR Pollution that Clouds Climate Science", that money, plus an extra $5 million, was shuffled to a new industry front group called the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), and used to help fund the "Clean Coal" TV ads that dominated the airwaves during the November 2008 election. The details are in the excellent new book, Climate Cover-up, written by desmogblog.com co-founder James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore.

Commentary
The CO2isgreen.com ad is beautifully produced, with multiple windows depicting flowing pictures of flowers blooming, animals grazing, crops growing, and the sun shining over these grand scenes of nature's bounty, all set to the soothing sound track of some slick New Age music. Who wouldn't want to live in such a world? Unfortunately, this is a fantasy world created by fossil fuel industry Public Relations people, and we live in the real world where physics and science rule. Oil is not clean, coal is worse, and the extraction, transportation, and burning of fossil fuels that accompany the enhanced-CO2 world we live in are already causing massive environmental destruction. Add in the immense environmental damage likely to occur as a result of the coming climate change storm, and the fantasy that more CO2 will be good for the world dissolves into a nightmare for a huge proportion of Earth's ecosystems--and the people who depend upon them for life.

Hacked emails purport to show climate scientists' cover-up
A hacker broke into an email server at the Climate Research Unit of the UK's University of East Anglia this week and posted ten years worth of private email exchanges between leading scientists who've published research linking humans to climate change. Realclimate.org has an interesting response to the debacle, saying the emails are a "presumably careful selection of (possibly edited?) correspondence dating back to 1996 and as recently as Nov 12)". They show one example of a "cherry-picked" distortion of one of the emails that global warming contrarians are using to try to discredit the science of climate change, and successfully refute the distortion, in my mind. The realclimate groups adds:

"More interesting is what is not contained in the emails. There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to "get rid of the Medieval Warm Period", no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no "marching orders" from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords. But if cherry-picked out-of-context phrases from stolen personal emails is the only response to the weight of the scientific evidence for the human influence on climate change, then there probably isn't much to it".

There's not a person alive who would not look bad if their private emails made public, taken out of context, and subjected to attack. The reputations of all the scientists involved will suffer, as will understanding of the science of climate change. Global warming contrarians have not been able to effectively dispute the reality of human-caused climate change by publishing peer-reviewed scientific articles, so they've done what any effective (and unethical) politician would do--resort to personal attacks of dubious merit on their opponents, in an attempt to muddy the waters and distract people from the facts. That's politics, and it's not too surprising to see this sort of ugly episode in a game where the stakes are so high.

None of the so-called "smoking gun" emails the contrarians are excited about change what I pointed out in in my previous post: Arctic sea ice was at a new record low this month, human-emitted greenhouse gases are largely to blame, and the polar ice cap is expected to melt by 2030, throwing the climate into a dangerous new unstable mode.

I'll have a new post on Monday.

Jeff Masters

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Humans are the scourge of the earth.
Seriously.
I'm starting to become a misanthrope.
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Quoting atmoaggie:

No, sorry, was thinking, but not typing, peninsula.

You are in West Florida...as am I. (Really, familiar with the West Florida Republic?)


LOL That one rang a bell, but I admit I had to look it up. Another one of those "oh yea, that" moment for me.
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270. my bad...i was not specific enough. thanks!
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269. love the avatar! :)
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269. mobal
So, if we could reduce the ocean blip by, say, 0.15 degC, then this would be significant for the global mean
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Quoting vcastle61:
Seems to be a common misconception, that plants breathe in CO2, breathe out O2. I thought the same thing until I talked with a biologist a few years ago. He explained that plants breathe O2 just like we do, and emit CO2...the oxygen that is generated is from photosyntheis


i thought that plants took in carbon dioxide and expelled oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis during the day, but at night respiration took over (since no sunlight equals no photosynthesis) and they metabolized sugars and expelled carbon dioxide...maybe i've forgotten my high school biology! LOL
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Quoting PcolaDan:


Not in my neck of the woods.


No, sorry, was thinking, but not typing, peninsula.

You are in West Florida...as am I. (Really, familiar with the West Florida Republic?)

Nevermind...you were in the British West Florida territory, not the Republic.

That was exclusive of present-day Florida:
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
265. yeah, i was surprised, too...i just was confused because i was expecting a weather-related post! LOL
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Seems to be a common misconception, that plants breathe in CO2, breathe out O2. I thought the same thing until I talked with a biologist a few years ago. He explained that plants breathe O2 just like we do, and emit CO2...the oxygen that is generated is from photosyntheis.

Anyway, as much as I don't agree with man-made global warming (and neither do a lot of you based on Dr. Master's poll of several months ago) this type of tripe just makes the non-believers look stupid.

Here we had just gotten ahold of the Hadley emails, showing that they had fudged the numbers to promote the idea of global warming, since their own data shows cooling, and these idiots have commercials like this, that set back common sense...
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260. are you sure you referenced the right comment number? that comment, albeit very crude and racist, isn't really all that much to write home about. or did i not read it correctly?
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Quoting atmoaggie:

60-day departure form normal:


BUT, they do have a more distinct annual rainy/dry periodicity that we do. Floridians: Normal to receive next-to-zero rainfall for Sept/Oct?


Not in my neck of the woods.

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Quoting atmoaggie:

BUT, they do have a more distinct annual rainy/dry periodicity that we do. Floridians: Normal to receive next-to-zero rainfall for Sept/Oct?


even so, the 60-day departure under normally dry conditions should be near zero, not >8", right? it appears things are just drier than normal during the dry season, if i'm interpreting that correctly.
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Quoting pearlandaggie:
256. that's weird...why does the Florida drought monitor seemingly indicate that the drought conditions are not that serious? weird...



nevermind...i guess it's all in the color scheme and drought classification.


Lakes are up, water table is OK, aquifer is decent from the past rains, temp has been moderate. That will change in a few weeks without a slow moving cold front to dump on us:)
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Quoting pearlandaggie:
256. that's weird...why does the Florida drought monitor seemingly indicate that the drought conditions are not that serious? weird...



nevermind...i guess it's all in the color scheme and drought classification.

60-day departure form normal:


BUT, they do have a more distinct annual rainy/dry periodicity that we do. Floridians: Normal to receive next-to-zero rainfall for Sept/Oct?
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
256. that's weird...why does the Florida drought monitor seemingly indicate that the drought conditions are not that serious? weird...



nevermind...i guess it's all in the color scheme and drought classification.
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Nope, the 60-day departure from normal shows...we really don't need it in LA.

(And the Kentucky-hole is missing data)

Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
165. GeauxNola...here's some info on RC
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253. oh, my! LOL...the guy just got out of surgery and you're baggin' on him! LOL

the ribbing will probably help him recover more quickly! ;)
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My lady puts together a terrific London Broil...so tender that the teeth would be optional for a geezer like Flood.

Yay, not getting much out of this on the home-front. (Don't need much)

Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
where the heck are all these freaks coming from????
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zomgz more global warming.

Manbearpig is dead.
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Interesting reads, not all on topic :)

Bristol U - release

NASA Researchers Explore Lightning's NOx-ious Impact on Pollution, Climate
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Quoting PcolaDan:


Being facetious. ;)

(back to tilting windmills for me)


I would never be facetious, ever since I learned how to spell it.

Your friend, Pancho Sanza!
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Quoting Grothar:


Nuuk (Godthåb) lies on the Southwest coast of Greenland (Kalaallit Nunaat). The temperature there is not indicative of what is happening to the rest of the island. Nuuk lies outside of the glacial area, and well south of the area which is normally discussed.

Gro, I have posted a bunch of obs from all over the area, that just happens to be the longest running. And I am sure no one wants to suppose that station is immune to CO2-induced warming...

If I don't go eat dinner right now, my wife will soon threaten to never cook again.
L8R.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
Not sure that data from Barrow is useful...is from an airport. That would depend on which way the wind is blowing...

From here:
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
Quoting Grothar:


I can only speak for some of us. If anyone finds anything you say offensive, there is something wrong. I do not believe the good Dr. was referring to you.


Being facetious. ;)

(back to tilting windmills for me)
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Nah. Click 'blog index' bottom this page.
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Quoting pottery:
Grothar, I posted a comment on my nights cooking, on LongStrangeTrip's blog. Tonight was Great.


Arby's?
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Grothar, I posted a comment on my nights cooking, on LongStrangeTrip's blog. Tonight was Great.
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Quoting JeffMasters:


It is true that temperatures in Greenland were of comparable warmth in the 1940, compared to the 2000s. This is not the case for the entire Arctic though, see the latest temperature anomaly curve from the 2009 Arctic report card:



Furthermore, sea ice expert Dr. Wieslaw Maslowski of the Navy Postgraduate School blames 60% of the melting during the past decade on heat brought in by ocean currents from the Atlantic and Pacific. These warm waters eat away the ice from underneath.

And yes, I find the blog comments entertaining, though often in a junior high school/middle school kind of way.

Jeff Masters

Is that SAT anomaly "Surface Atmospheric Temp"? Could you share the source of that plot?, found it! I am not finding any surface stations that track anywhere close to that trend on GISTEMP. In fact, most of them show comparable temps in the 40s and 2000s, with many higher in the 40s. Some of them with temps slightly higher in the 2000s do exist, but on the scale of 1/3 degree.

For example, from NW Siberia:


And for some measure of geographic completeness, Barrow:


(I could do this all day and will not come up with a collection of surface stations that agree with that plot, though Barrow is closer).

Which is from here: http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/reportcard/atmosphere.html

But looking at the Arctic report card/Atmosphere site, I do not see a detail of how the historical temps, pre-satellite, were constructed. I presume/hope they did not use something like the NCAR reanalysis for sea surface temps...(just because it is there, doesn't mean it was measured)

Still a conundrum, to me...until I can figure out what data is behind that plot...

Additionally, at what point does having water vs. ice nearby, more of it, and for a longer period every year (relative to any time in recorded history) begin to show up on the surface station temp obs? What change, if any, would you expect to see for a surface station near the coast in a regularly ice-bound locale?

Thanks for the answer, BTW. And yes, the middle-school comments are entertaining...sometimes.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
Quoting pottery:
LOL Grothar. The post from last Tuesday LOL


Yes, that was a memorable one! My wife framed it and told me how smart I was. Hey, if I can fool her........! How is the single life going? Hope you are still not cooking for yourself; that could prove dangerous to your health.
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Quoting PcolaDan:


That was hilario... hey wait, did you just call me...

oh never mind


I can only speak for some of us. If anyone finds anything you say offensive, there is something wrong. I do not believe the good Dr. was referring to you.
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LOL Grothar. The post from last Tuesday LOL
Doing good here. But could use some rain. There were some clouds looming east of here for a couple of days, but they caught the SheerTrain again...
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Quoting pottery:
Thank you for the response to the Atmo's question, Dr. M.
Good post, Grothar.


Thanks pottery! But which one? I think most of my posts are good. lol How you doing?
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Quoting JeffMasters:


It is true that temperatures in Greenland were of comparable warmth in the 1940, compared to the 2000s. This is not the case for the entire Arctic though, see the latest temperature anomaly curve from the 2009 Arctic report card:



Furthermore, sea ice expert Dr. Wieslaw Maslowski of the Navy Postgraduate School blames 60% of the melting during the past decade on heat brought in by ocean currents from the Atlantic and Pacific. These warm waters eat away the ice from underneath.

And yes, I find the blog comments entertaining, though often in a junior high school/middle school kind of way.

Jeff Masters


Thank you Dr. Masters for reporting your research. Most of us appreciate the scientific reasearch being undertaken to answer these difficult questions. We may agree or disagree, but most of us try to be civil. One or two over-step their bounds, as was most evident tonight. We may disagree, but we are mostly friendly with each other.
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Any time DocMasters posts, it's WOW.

Thank you, Dr. Masters.
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Nuuk (Godthåb) lies on the Southwest coast of Greenland (Kalaallit Nunaat). The temperature there is not indicative of what is happening to the rest of the island. Nuuk lies outside of the glacial area, and well south of the area which is normally discussed.
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Oh. My. Gosh.
And to think I was making grilled cheese.
Wow, that shows a collegial respect for AtmoAggie. Very cool.

Thanks for coming in this late, Dr. Masters.

Member Since: August 19, 2008 Posts: 32 Comments: 1918
Quoting JeffMasters:


And yes, I find the blog comments entertaining, though often in a junior high school/middle school kind of way.

Jeff Masters


That was hilario... hey wait, did you just call me...

oh never mind
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And yes, I find the blog comments entertaining, though often in a junior high school/middle school kind of way.

Jeff Masters


guilty as charged!!!

:)
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Thank you for the response to the Atmo's question, Dr. M.
Good post, Grothar.
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In the depths of winter, ice hugs the coastline of Canada’s Baffin Island. Summertime sunlight, however, dramatically melts the ice away from the coastline. Seasonal sea ice retreat was well underway when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite acquired this natural-color (photo-like) image on July 11, 2009.
Clouds often hover over the Arctic during the Northern Hemisphere summer, making cloud-free images such as this one relatively rare. Although a few wispy clouds appear in the upper right and lower left corners of this image, the delicate swirls of white running along the eastern edge of Baffin Island are sea ice. Eddies along Baffin Island’s coast have fashioned the ice into interlocking swirls, especially near Cumberland Sound. Farther north, a long band of ice holds fast to the shore east of Barnes Icecap. Although less inclined to move with the currents, this ice also shows signs of weakening, as its edges splinter, and pieces float away.
The sea ice retreat captured in this image appears typical of seasonal melt. Since the turn of the twenty-first century, however, Arctic sea ice extent has declined sharply, experiencing a series of low summertime extents and poor wintertime recoveries. Arctic sea ice extent set a record low in September 2007. As of July 22, 2009, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that, in the first half of July 2009, sea ice declined faster than it did in 2008, but not as fast as it did in 2007.
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226. JeffMasters (Admin)
Quoting atmoaggie:
Dr M: None of the so-called "smoking gun" emails the contrarians are excited about change what I pointed out in in my previous post: Arctic sea ice was at a new record low this month, human-emitted greenhouse gases are largely to blame, and the polar ice cap is expected to melt by 2030, throwing the climate into a dangerous new unstable mode.

So, Dr. M, any thoughts as to how this Arctic sea ice extent can be so remarkable, yet the obs from sites in Northern Canada, Baffin Island, and Greenland are largely stable with many of them going back to the 1940s and in this one going back to 1880?



The 10 single highest yearly average temps for this site, in Greenland, occurred between 1915 and 1978, and only the last few years have been remarkable in the sea ice front!?!?!?! I would love to know how.


It is true that temperatures in Greenland were of comparable warmth in the 1940, compared to the 2000s. This is not the case for the entire Arctic though, see the latest temperature anomaly curve from the 2009 Arctic report card:



Furthermore, sea ice expert Dr. Wieslaw Maslowski of the Navy Postgraduate School blames 60% of the melting during the past decade on heat brought in by ocean currents from the Atlantic and Pacific. These warm waters eat away the ice from underneath.

And yes, I find the blog comments entertaining, though often in a junior high school/middle school kind of way.

Jeff Masters
what topic would that be about you being a troll
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.