Monday, February 20, 2006

60 Minutes on melting ice caps on Earth...let's see if they cover Mars' melting ice caps as well

This post was originally posted on Sunday, 2/19/2006. The update section of this post looks into 60 Minutes' lack of curiosity on global warming facts and provides evidence from the scientist (Paul Mayewski), who was quoted in the piece, that points to other possible non-human sources for global warming. This evidence from 60 Minutes' own expert was not utilized at all in the report.
If you've watched any college basketball on CBS this weekend, you may have seen the promotional for tonight's episode of 60 Minutes show this image of a small iceberg melting before your very eyes:

The segment, according to their web site, is entitled 'Dire Predictions On Global Warming' and previews the segment with:
Whether the change in temperature is a natural or manmade phenomenon has been a matter of debate, but Paul Mayewski of the University of Maine says the proof that man is responsible is in the ancient ice at the top of the world.
Evidence is mounting that glaciers and polar ice caps on Earth are melting. Questions have also been raised about climate scientists and their willingness to share data; see 'Global Warming: That Pesky Data'.

But here's another data point that has to be considered before coming to the conclusion that human activity on Earth is the sole contributor to this phenomena.

The polar ice caps on Mars (primarily made up of carbon dioxide) are also seeing changes:

...And for three Mars summers in a row, deposits of frozen carbon dioxide near Mars' south pole have shrunk from the previous year's size, suggesting a climate change in progress.
Also see NASA's Mars is Melting.

Update 2/28/2007: National Geographic News: Mars Melt Hints at Solar, Not Human, Cause for Warming, Scientist Says:
Simultaneous warming on Earth and Mars suggests that our planet's recent climate changes have a natural—and not a human- induced—cause, according to one scientist's controversial theory.

Earth is currently experiencing rapid warming, which the vast majority of climate scientists says is due to humans pumping huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. (Get an overview:
"Global Warming Fast Facts".)

Mars, too, appears to be enjoying more mild and balmy temperatures. In 2005 data from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor and Odyssey missions revealed that the carbon dioxide "ice caps" near Mars's south pole had been diminishing for three summers in a row.

Habibullo Abdussamatov, head of the St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in Russia, says the Mars data is evidence that the current global warming on Earth is being caused by changes in the sun.

"The long-term increase in solar irradiance is heating both Earth and Mars," he said.

Solar Cycles

Abdussamatov believes that changes in the sun's heat output can account for almost all the climate changes we see on both planets.

Mars and Earth, for instance, have experienced periodic ice ages throughout their histories.

"Man-made greenhouse warming has made a small contribution to the warming seen on Earth in recent years, but it cannot compete with the increase in solar irradiance," Abdussamatov said. By studying fluctuations in the warmth of the sun, Abdussamatov believes he can see a pattern that fits with the ups and downs in climate we see on Earth and Mars.

Abdussamatov's work, however, has not been well received by other climate scientists...

Update April 29, 2007: Climate change hits Mars:
Mars is being hit by rapid climate change and it is happening so fast that the red planet could lose its southern ice cap, writes Jonathan Leake.

Scientists from Nasa say that Mars has warmed by about 0.5C since the 1970s. This is similar to the warming experienced on Earth over approximately the same period...

Then there's this from "Is the Sun Heating Up?" :
"The Sun right now is probably averaging over several decades the most active it's been in 400 years."- Sallie Baliunas, Ph.D., Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

The Martian South polar ice cap shrinking has been accelerating since 1999 at a "prodigious rate," according to Michael Malin, Principal Investigator for the Mars Orbiter Camera. Dr. Malin said, "The images documenting changes from 1999 to 2005 suggest the Martian climate is presently warmer ­ and perhaps getting warmer still ­ than it was several decades or even centuries ago."
Let's see if 60 Minutes' coverage tonight includes these points in the "debate".

Update 2/20/2006:As one can see from the transcript of the story, Scott Pelley limited his curiosity on the global warming phenomena to arguments that point towards human activity (emphasis added on points that should have sparked some curiosity in Scott Pelley):
There's long been a debate about how much of this is earth's naturally changing climate and how much is man's doing. Paul Mayewski, at the University of Maine, says the answer to that question is frozen inside an ice core from Greenland.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, Mayewski has led 35 expeditions collecting deep ice cores from glaciers. The ice captures everything in the air, laying down a record covering half a million years.

"We can go to any section of the ice core, to tell, basically, what the greenhouse gas levels were; we can tell whether or not it was stormy, what the temperatures were like," Mayewski explains.

60 Minutes brought Mayewski back to Greenland, where he says his research has proven that the ice and the atmosphere have man's fingerprints all over them.

Mayewski says we haven't seen a temperature rise to this level going back at least 2,000 years, and arguably several thousand years.

As for carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, Mayewski says, "we haven't seen CO2 levels like this in hundreds of thousands of years, if not millions of years."

What does that tell him?

"It all points to something that has changed and something that has impacted the system which wasn't doing it more than 100 years ago. And we know exactly what it is. It's human activity," he says.

It's activity like burning fossil fuels, releasing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The U.S. is by far the largest polluter.
According to Mayewski, the last time temperatures were as high as they are now was about 2,000 years ago? Hmmm...doesn't this beg the question what caused the temperature increases back then. Were those temperature increases due to "human activity" or some other phenomena?

Readers of Porkopolis know that curiosity comes in bucketfulls on this blog. A little digging on the Global web site found this interesting piece,'Evidence for sun-climate link reported by UMaine scientists' (Update: The article link at is down...this EurekAlert! link has the same article.):

A team led by University of Maine scientists has reported finding a potential link between changes in solar activity and the Earth's climate. In a paper due to be published in an upcoming volume of the Annals of Glaciology, Paul Mayewski, director of UMaine's Climate Change Institute, and 11 colleagues from China, Australia and UMaine describe evidence from ice cores pointing to an association between the waxing and waning of zonal wind strength around Antarctica and a chemical signal of changes in the sun's output...

...Researchers in the UMaine Climate Change Institute
( have focused on the relationship between solar variability and climate, particularly the use of isotopes in tree rings and ice cores to provide an indication of the sun's strength. The ice core data reported in the paper demonstrates a direct atmospheric consequence associated with changing solar radiation.
Hmmm...that wasn't mentioned at all in the 60 Minutes story...and Paul Mayewski is the same scientist that was quoted on the 60 Minutes piece. The only thing in the story that even comes close to covering Paul Mayewski's research pointing at other contributions to global warming is this following statement (see transcript, page 4):
There are skeptics who question climate change projections like that, saying they’re no more reliable than your local weatherman. But Mayewski says arctic projections done decades ago are proving accurate.

"That said, the skeptics have brought up some very, very interesting issues over the last few years. And they've forced us to think more and more about the data that we collect. We can owe the skeptics a vote of thanks for making our science as precise as it is today," says Mayewski.
That's it?!? No mention that the very same scientist that 60 Minutes is using to make its case that human activity is the cause of global warming is ALSO conducting research that is producing evidence that solar activity may also be a contributing factor?
More food for thought:

'Global Warming: A Chiling Perspective' is a well sourced analysis with a different point of view. The 'Causes of Global Climate Change' section makes the following case for naturally occuring water vapor as the major contributor the greenhouse effect:

As illustrated in this chart of the data in Table 3, the combined greenhouse contributions of CO2, methane, N2O, and misc. gases are small compared to water vapor!

Total atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) -- both man-made and natural-- is only about 3.62% of the overall greenhouse effect-- a big difference from the 72.37% figure in Table 2, which ignored water!

Water vapor, the most significant greenhouse gas, comes from natural sources and is responsible for roughly 95% of the greenhouse effect (4). Among climatologists, this is common knowledge, but among special interests, certain governmental groups, and news reporters this fact is under-emphasized or just ignored altogether.

Conceding that it might be "a little misleading" to leave water vapor out, they nonetheless defend the practice by stating that it is "customary" to do so!


Blogger drscn said...

If you dig down really deep, you will find that
is funded by group that was formed in 1997, "to dispel the myths of global warming by exposing flawed economic, scientific and risk analysis." The groups supporting the site are hardly unbiased but industry friendly groups that oppose regulations on industry and advocate "free market" consumer solutions.

Water vapor is a very important greenhouse gas. However, the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere is dependent upon global temperatures. Therefore water vapor is NOT a "forcing" factor like carbon dioxide. The importance of water vapor in regulating the Earth's climate and many other issues are discussed in detail
by real climate scientists at the website:

February 21, 2006 at 6:03 PM  
Blogger Porkopolis said...


Is is possible that we're getting more water vapor because of all the solar activity Paul Mayewski is finding...i.e., hotter Sun evaporates more ocean water causing more global warming?

February 21, 2006 at 11:10 PM  
Blogger ecj said...

Posted at MAXINE:

NON-PROFIT, Non-Math on "Global Warming"

Information found at Slocomhouse. Information based on data from several government and UN sources. The web page sponsor is an environmental non-profit.

Any change is important since a smaller ice sheet could result in higher sea levels.

“A conservative estimate, based on our data, indicates a net loss of approximately 51 cubic kilometers of ice per year from the entire ice sheet, sufficient to raise global sea level by 0.005 inches per year, or approximately seven percent of the observed rise,” Bill Krabill, project scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, VA., said.

“This amount of sea level rise does not threaten coastal regions, but these results provide evidence that the margins of the ice sheet are in a process of change,” Krabill said.

“The thinning cannot be accounted for by increased melting alone. It appears that ice must be flowing more quickly into the sea through glaciers.”

Do The Arithmetic (an analysis)

Either no one proofread the material or they didn't know arithmetic. I suspect the latter is true of most believers in global warming.

The web page doesn't give data on the portion of the global ice sheet that is in Greenland, but for the combined Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets they claim 30 million cubic kilometers of ice.

Greenland is roughly 2 million square kilometers and Antarctica is about 13 million. Greenland is 15% the size of Antarctica. Greenland is probably less than 4 million cubic kilometers of ice, by using those two numbers.

The image above shows the additions and subtractions from the Greenland ice sheet annually. The web page claims that there is a net decrease of 53 cubic kilometers of ice per year in Greenland.

They are talking about 53 cubic kilometers out of 4 million cubic kilometers. The idea that anyone could measure 53 cubic kilometers of net ice melt per year (.00001, one hundred thousandths of the total) is absurd.

The further idea that this incredibly insignificant amount of ice from the net melt of Greenland could create a trend of .005 inch per year rise in the oceans is even more absurd.

That would be .5 inch in a century. Half an inch increase in a century in oceans that already vary with tidal action by 45 inches twice a day every day is quite hard to picture as a global danger.

Posted by Michael Phillips on Feb 18, 2006 at 11:17 AM

Memo to "60 Minutes" and Scott Pelley ... Do The Math, Michael Phillips has!

February 24, 2006 at 1:47 PM  
Blogger mac_davis said...

I really like how porkopolis is thinking for himself, and developing conjectures based on evidence from many sides.

ECJ: You assume in one part of your comment that

"Greenland is probably less than 4 million cubic kilometers of ice, by using those two numbers."

Data compiled by recent interferometric synthetic-aperture radar altimeter data collected by the European Space Agency's Earth Remote Sensing Satellites 1 and 2 in 1996; the Canadian Space Agency's Radarsat-1 in 2000 and 2005; and the European Space Agency's Envisat Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar in 2005 altimeter surveys show that Greenland's ice sheet's average thickness is ~2.3 km. [1][2] The Greenland ice sheet also covers 80% of the island's surface, which is 1.71 million square km. With those two numbers we can estimate that Greenland's ice sheet is approximately 3.9 million cubic kilometers. You're right.

"The idea that anyone could measure 53 cubic kilometers of net ice melt per year (.00001, one hundred thousandths of the total) is absurd. "

The latest issue of Science contains a paper by Eric Rignot and Pannir Kanagaratnam concluding that glaciers along the periphery of Greenland are melting at a rapidly increasing rate. Another paper on this subject was published by Science just last year. Ola Johannessen did not consider direct ice lost by glaciers into the ocean but instead only focused on elevations changes. Johannssen showed that increasing snowfall in Greenland was leading to greater ice accumulations than had previously been measured and this was acting to slow Greenland's contribution to sea level rise. It was conspicuously ignored in this new report.

Greenland's glaciers were calving about 56 cubic kilometers of ice (km^3) ±30 km^3 per year in 1996, and that during the past 10 years, the volume of ice loss had risen to 167 km^3 per year ±40 km^3). And this was just from glaciers dumping ice directly into the ocean (as opposed to melting ice).

Citing other work by Hanna et al. (2004), Rignot and Kanagaratnam figure another 35 km^3 in 1996 and 57 km^3 in 2005 of ice loss occurred from surface melting bringing the total annual loss volume to 91 km^3 in 1996 and 224 km^3 in 2005.

This water and ice input leads to a sea level rise of 0.23 ± 0.08 mm/year in 1996 growing to 0.57±0.1mm/year by 2005.

Johannnessen's increase of 5.4 cm/year averaged over Greenland [3] converts to about 75 km^3/year. The total volume of Rignot and Kanagaratnam et al's figures subtracted from Johannessen's increase would yield 17 km^3 in 2000 and 92 km^3 in 2005. This translates to a sea level rise contribution of 0.04 mm in 2000 and 0.23 mm in 2005.

Nice math.

February 27, 2006 at 5:20 AM  
Blogger mac_davis said...

I like your thinking with Mars's polar ice caps melting. The sun is a common factor in both the Earth's and Mars's climates, but there are a *lot* of things going on, at both worlds that we don't know about, and don't understand.

February 27, 2006 at 5:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The latest 60 Minutes seems to indicate that any science that fails to pay political dividends is suppressed by the Bush administration.

This is from NASA's chief climatogical scientist, who also says that he is not allowed to report his findings without editing by Whitehouse lawyers.

If we're going to make a mistake, wouldn't it be better to err on the side of self-restraint when it's possible that our greed could bring about catastrophe?

(Just joking... as long as we can all retire comfortably and die well in advance of any problems, who really gives a shit?)

March 19, 2006 at 11:24 PM  
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November 25, 2010 at 5:17 PM  

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