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At a glance - Human activity is driving retreat of arctic sea ice

Posted on 5 March 2024 by John Mason, BaerbelW

On February 14, 2023 we announced our Rebuttal Update Project. This included an ask for feedback about the added "At a glance" section in the updated basic rebuttal versions. This weekly blog post series highlights this new section of one of the updated basic rebuttal versions and serves as a "bump" for our ask. This week features "Human activity is driving retreat of Arctic sea ice". More will follow in the upcoming weeks. Please follow the Further Reading link at the bottom to read the full rebuttal and to join the discussion in the comment thread there.

Fact Myth Box

At a glance

The Northwest Passage is the sea route around the waters off northern Canada and Alaska. Its discovery and eventual navigation involves a fascinating tale of endeavour, adventure and tragedy, too, for some expeditions ended in disaster.

Of the many mishaps, by far the worst was that which befell Sir John Franklin and the 128-strong crews of his two ships: they were last heard of in 1845. It took many expeditions and almost ten years before their fate was finally pieced together. One thing became clear by then: the Northwest Passage does not take prisoners. Yet at the same time, those searches for Franklin and his crew generated lots of new chart cover of the waters between the islands making up the Canadian Archipelago.

Complete navigation of the Northwest Passage was finally accomplished by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen between 1903 and 1906. Amundsen's boat was relatively small at 47 tons and 70 feet long but usefully it had a very shallow draft. That meant it was able to pass through areas where a bigger boat would have fouled the bottom, thus offering a wider choice of courses to take. Amundsen's route was criticised in some circles because of that factor - what was the point of making the crossing if bigger freight ships could not? But Amundsen was motivated not by money but by science.

With his experienced crew of six, they spent two winters off the eastern side of King William Island, about halfway through the archipelago, collecting data on Earth's magnetic pole and local meteorology, traded with the Inuit and developed hunting and fishing skills. Leaving there in August 1905, they reached Nome, Alaska twelve months later. The ice had pinned them in for a third winter. There was not to be a single-season crossing for another 38 years, when Sergeant Henry Larsen of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police managed it in a schooner.

So yes, while the Northwest Passage was successfully navigated before 2007, the current state of the sea ice means that the picture is now quite different. Part of the reason for that is down to the age of much of the Arctic sea ice today. Sea ice that has yet to experience a summer melting season is known as first-year ice. It's relatively thin, fragile and more vulnerable to melting compared to the ice that has withstood one or more melting-seasons, known as multiyear ice. Multiyear ice can even give a good ice-breaker a run for its money. But now there's a lot less of it.

During many recent summers the Northwest Passage has become open: freight ships and even cruise liners have steamed through. That doesn't mean it's risk-free of course - there are still icebergs to watch out for. Nevertheless, it's getting to the point where there are various concerns being voiced about the number of ships passing through the area, on both ecological and political grounds. For the Northwest Passage, global warming really is a mixed blessing.

Please use this form to provide feedback about this new "At a glance" section. Read a more technical version below or dig deeper via the tabs above!

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In case you'd like to explore more of our recently updated rebuttals, here are the links to all of them:

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Ice age predicted in the 1970s
It hasn't warmed since 1998
Antarctica is gaining ice
CRU emails suggest conspiracy
What evidence is there for the hockey stick
CO2 lags temperature
Climate's changed before
It's the sun
Temperature records are unreliable
The greenhouse effect and the 2nd law of thermodynamics
We're heading into an ice age
Positives and negatives of global warming
The 97% consensus on global warming
Global cooling - Is global warming still happening?
How reliable are climate models?
Can animals and plants adapt to global warming?
What's the link between cosmic rays and climate change?
Is Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth accurate?
Are glaciers growing or retreating?
Ocean acidification: global warming's evil twin
The human fingerprint in global warming
Empirical evidence that humans are causing global warming
How do we know more CO2 is causing warming?
Explaining how the water vapor greenhouse effect works
The tricks employed by the flawed OISM Petition Project to cast doubt on the scientific consensus on climate change
Is extreme weather caused by global warming?
How substances in trace amounts can cause large effects
How much is sea level rising?
Is CO2 a pollutant?
Does cold weather disprove global warming?
Do volcanoes emit more CO2 than humans?
How do human CO2 emissions compare to natural CO2 emissions?
Climate scientists could make more money in other careers
How reliable are CO2 measurements?
Do high levels of CO2 in the past contradict the warming effect of CO2?
What is the net feedback of clouds?
Global warming vs climate change
Is Mars warming?
How the IPCC is more likely to underestimate the climate response
How sensitive is our climate?
Evidence for global warming
Has the greenhouse effect been falsified?
Does breathing contribute to CO2 buildup in the atmosphere?
What is causing the increase in atmospheric CO2?
What is methane's contribution to global warming?
Plants cannot live on CO2 alone
Is the CO2 effect saturated?
Greenhouse warming 100 times greater than waste heat
How will global warming affect polar bears?
The runaway greenhouse effect on Venus
What climate change is happening to other planets in the solar system?
Has Arctic sea ice returned to normal?
Was Greenland really green in the past?
Is Greenland gaining or losing ice?
Human activity is driving retreat of Arctic sea ice


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Comments 1 to 1:

  1. And some unusual evidence on the NW Passage hot off the press from "The Guardian" newspaper.

    Gray whale sighted off New England 200 years after species’ Atlantic extinction
    Scientists confirm cetacean’s presence but cite impact of climate change which has made North-west Passage ice-free in summer

    Scientists have confirmed the presence of a whale off New England that went extinct in the Atlantic Ocean two centuries ago – an exciting discovery, but one they said that illustrates the impact of climate change on sea life.

    Researchers with the New England Aquarium in Boston found the gray whale while flying 30 miles south of Nantucket, Massachusetts, on 1 March. The whale, which can weigh 60,000 pounds (27,215kg), typically lives in the northern Pacific Ocean.

    The gray whale vanished from the Atlantic Ocean by the 18th century, but there have been five observations of the animal in Atlantic and Mediterranean waters in the last 15 years, the aquarium said in a statement. The whale found this month was probably the same animal spotted in Florida late last year, the aquarium said.

    The researchers who found the animal off Massachusetts said they were skeptical at first, but after circling the area for 45 minutes, they were able to take photographs that confirmed it was indeed a gray whale.

    “I didn’t want to say out loud what it was, because it seemed crazy,” said Orla O’Brien, an associate research scientist with the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium.

    Scientists said they were thrilled to see the animal, but its presence probably has to do with the warming of the planet. The North-west Passage, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Arctic Ocean in Canada, has lacked ice in the summertime in recent years, they said."

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