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Gambo to the North, again

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Sailing vessel Gambo is now underway, bound for Nares St. The competent crew is to assist our helicoptering to Petermann glacier by positioning fuel to northern Kane Basin, thus saving the flight 12 hours it would otherwise spend flying fuel drums around. Gambo has been in the area (west Greenland’s Uummnaq District) with the dual purpose of assisting scientific exploration of glaciated fjords and delivering mountain/rock climbers to numerous first ascents.  We re-supplied Gambo yesterday with food, fuel, and water. We have no guarantee the ice conditions and weather will allow her into northern Nares St. But, that is not stopping us from trying.

SV Gambo in Rink Fjord 2009 on it’s Adventure Science 2009 campaign. Rink glacier is visible in the distance. Gambo is seen just dropping us off in our successful climb of west Greenland’s highest mountain, seems for the first time.

Gambo is owned by Alun Hubbard and skippered by Nolwynn Chauché. The crew presently includes: first mate Max; geophysisist Richard Bates; PhD student Christine; PhD student Tom. The climbers just dropped off at Agpat Island to bag more peaks are: Sam Doyle, George, Matt, and Miles.

This vlog captures beautifully our work here.

North to Petermann!

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

I’m now traveling toward Petermann Glacier, site of the enormous ice shelf detachment.
NASA MODIS imagery illustrating the largest detachment observed in Greenland. The data are processed in-house at Byrd Polar Research Center.

I predicted the event would occur last year. This was on the heels of the record-warm summer 2008. I lead a leg of a Greenpeace cruise to the area to install an array of sensors at Petermann. Among the sensors are two time lapse cameras, like that shown below. Provided the equipment survived the winter, we will recover a historic set of photos to share with the world!

With the help of Alun Hubbard,  we also have 7 GPS along flow to visit; one is on the ice island! See the equipment distribution below…

This is a very remote site, requiring 30 flight hours to get the aircraft from Greenland’s main airport hub in Kangerlussuaq.

I’m now sitting in the WiFi-equipped airport departure-lounge here in Kangerlussuaq, waiting to board to arrive Ilulissat; one night, then to Qarsut and Uummannaq 24 August, were I will rendezvous with sailing vessel Gambo and it’s owner Alun Hubbard. We are sending the boat north with: fuel, food, and a very able crew…

Gambo in southern seas

Sailing Vessel Gambo

24-28 August, Alun and I will then refine details of the plan (air charter). We expect the air charter “Lucky Bird” to pick us up on 28 August. We expect to be on site at Petermann ~30 August. I will return via Copenhagen. I should be in Copenhagen either 2 or 8 September and back to Ohio 12 September or sooner. Note that delays are not only always possible, but should never come as a surprise. The weather is more of a factor here than in the mid-latitudes.

Thanks all for support! I will update this post as often as I can.

Petermann glacier ice island detatchment: some recent historical context

Friday, August 13th, 2010

To put the August 2010 Petermann glacier loss into context, below is a review of the major ice area losses in recent times.

The Arctic

  1. The Serson Ice Shelf northern Ellesmere Is. lost 120 sq km (46 sq mi) in 2008 (Mueller, Copland, Hamilton, and Stern, 2008), 4/10 the Petermann glacier area loss.
  2. The Markham Ice Shelf disintegration on 6 August, 2008 was 50 sq km in area (Mueller, Copland, Hamilton, and Stern, 2008), or 2/10 the Petermann glacier area loss. Air temperatures at the closest meteorological stations were the warmest or nearly the warmest on record.
  3. Fletcher’s Ice Island (1952-1954) had an area of ~54 sq. km (~21 sq. mi), 1/5 the area of the Petermann glacier loss.
  4. In a survey of daily satellite images spanning 2000-2010, the next largest area loss in Greenland was 87 sq. km (34 sq. mi), also at Petermann Glacier between 10 June and 23 August, 2001 (Box and Decker, submitted).
  5. The next largest area loss in Greenland, outside of Petermann, has been at Zachariae Isstrøm where between years 2002 and 2003, there was a 43 sq. km area loss (Box and Decker, submitted).
  6. We are working to obtain 2010 area changes from other Greenland glaciers, stay tuned.

Not many ice shelves remain in the Arctic. The largest I am aware of are on Petermann, Zachariae Isstrøm, what (little) remains on the northern coast of Ellesmere Is. Canada and other relatively small areas across north Greenland where compacted sea ice prevents some of the glacier calf ice to move out.


  1. The Antarctic Peninsula lost 431 sq km (166 sq mi) in 2008 from the Wilkins Sound during an ongoing loss of the Wilkins Ice Shelf; a factor of 1.6 the Petermann glacier loss.  In a previous epoch between 1995 and 2003, this ice shelf has lost more than 2320 sq km (896 sq mi); a factor of 8.4 the Petermann glacier loss.. Source: Scambos, Fricker, Liu, Bohlander, Fastook, Sargent, Massom (2009).

Antarctica has much larger ice shelves than found in the Arctic. See this summary

Works Cited

  • Box, J.E. and D.T. Decker, Greenland marine-terminating glacier area changes: 2000-2009, Annals of Glaciology, International Symposium on Earth’s Disappearing Ice: Drivers, Responses and Impacts – A celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Byrd Polar Research Center, 16–20 August 2010. The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA
  • England, J., Lakeman, T.R., Lemmen, D.S., Bednarski, J.M., Stewart, T.G., and Evans, D.J.A. 2008. A millennial-scale record of Arctic Ocean sea ice variability and the demise of the Ellesmere Island ice shelves. Geophysical Research Letters, 35, L19502, doi:10.1029/2008GL034470.
  • Mueller, D.R., Copland, L., Hamilton, A., and Stern, D. 2008 Examining Arctic Ice Shelves Prior to the 2008 Breakup. EOS, Transactions of the American Geophysical Union, 89, 502-503.
  • Scambos, T.A., H.A. Fricker, C.-C. Liu, J. Bohlander, J. Fastook, A. Sargent, R. Massom, A.-M. Wu. 2009. Ice shelf disintegration by plate bending and hydro-fracture: Satellite observations and model results of the 2008 Wilkins ice shelf break-ups. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 280: 51-60.

a note from a 30-year Italian resident of Greenland

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

[2/4/10 1:45:18 PM] Silverio Scivoli ( Silver ): Hello from the warmes land on hearth.

[2/4/10 1:45:39 PM] Silverio Scivoli ( Silver ): we don´t have snow, we don´t have the cold, but we have lot of power to survive

[2/4/10 1:47:43 PM] Silverio Scivoli ( Silver ): This weather this year is really different, in 30 years that I live year in Ilulissat that is the first year in this conditions. We have lot of dog sledding tourists, but we cannot do the otur to much ice on the hills and dangerous to drive by sled.

[2/4/10 1:48:00 PM] Jason Box: Hi!

[2/4/10 1:48:20 PM] Silverio Scivoli ( Silver ): Last week we got temperatures up to + 9 degrees celcius and today we are to 0 degrees.

[2/4/10 1:48:32 PM] Silverio Scivoli ( Silver ): ciao jason

[2/4/10 1:49:40 PM] Jason Box: no snow?!

[2/4/10 1:50:40 PM] Silverio Scivoli ( Silver ): say hello to everybody and if you need to have a warm delicius hollidays on the Greenland lanfds, you are welcome, no, no snow at all, only ice

[2/4/10 1:51:51 PM] Jason Box: OK! Ciao!

Arctic Circle Traverse 2010

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

With colleagues from Utah, I’m planning a 700 km traverse across the Greenland ice sheet along the Arctic Circle 23 April – 12 May, 2010. We’re towing a radar to measure snow accumulation rates; drilling ice cores to calibrate the radar data; and having an airborne radar overflight of our ground traverse line to calibrate that towed-radar. Calibration of the airborne radar should facilitate to map snow accumulation rates elsewhere across the ice sheet.

C-5 Galaxy landing   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

I’m flying north with 2 new snow mobiles on the enormous C5 aircraft.

2009: Second Warmest Year on Record; End of Warmest Decade

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

below is verbatim from a 21 Jan 2010 press release from NASA GISS…

2009 was tied for the second warmest year in the modern record, a new NASA analysis of global surface temperature shows. The analysis, conducted by the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City, also shows that in the Southern Hemisphere, 2009 was the warmest year since modern records began in 1880.

10-year average global temperature index
The map shows temperature changes for the last decade — January 2000 to December 2009 — relative to the 1951-1980 mean. Warmer areas are in red, cooler areas in blue. The largest temperature increases occurred in the Arctic and a portion of Antarctica. (Image credit: NASA)
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graph of the land/ocean temperature index
Except for a leveling off between the 1940s and 1970s, Earth’s surface temperatures have increased since 1880. The last decade has brought the temperatures to the highest levels ever recorded. The graph shows global annual surface temperatures relative to 1951-1980 mean temperatures. As shown by the red line, long-term trends are more apparent when temperatures are averaged over a five year period. (Image credit: NASA)
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graph comparing hemispheric temperatures
As seen by the blue point farthest to the right on this graph, 2009 was the warmest year on record in the Southern Hemisphere. (Image credit: NASA)
+ Larger view

Although 2008 was the coolest year of the decade, due to strong cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean, 2009 saw a return to near-record global temperatures. The past year was only a fraction of a degree cooler than 2005, the warmest year on record, and tied with a cluster of other years — 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2007 1998 and 2007 — as the second warmest year since recordkeeping began.

“There’s always an interest in the annual temperature numbers and on a given year’s ranking, but usually that misses the point,” said James Hansen, the director of GISS. “There’s substantial year-to-year variability of global temperature caused by the tropical El Niño-La Niña cycle. But when we average temperature over five or ten years to minimize that variability, we find that global warming is continuing unabated.”

January 2000 to December 2009 was the warmest decade on record. Throughout the last three decades, the GISS surface temperature record shows an upward trend of about 0.2°C (0.36°F) per decade. Since 1880, the year that modern scientific instrumentation became available to monitor temperatures precisely, a clear warming trend is present, though there was a leveling off between the 1940s and 1970s.

The near-record temperatures of 2009 occurred despite an unseasonably cool December in much of North America. High air pressures in the Arctic decreased the east-west flow of the jet stream, while also increasing its tendency to blow from north to south and draw cold air southward from the Arctic. This resulted in an unusual effect that caused frigid air from the Arctic to rush into North America and warmer mid-latitude air to shift toward the north.

“Of course, the contiguous 48 states cover only 1.5 percent of the world area, so the U.S. temperature does not affect the global temperature much,’ said Hansen.

In total, average global temperatures have increased by about 0.8°C (1.5°F) since 1880.

“That’s the important number to keep in mind,” said Gavin Schmidt, another GISS climatologist. “In contrast, the difference between, say, the second and sixth warmest years is trivial since the known uncertainty — or noise — in the temperature measurement is larger than some of the differences between the warmest years.”

Decoding the Temperature Record

Climate scientists agree that rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases trap incoming heat near the surface of the Earth and are the key factors causing the rise in temperatures since 1880, but these gases are not the only factors that can impact global temperatures.

Three others key factors — including changes in the Sun’s irradiance, oscillations of sea surface temperature in the tropics, and changes in aerosol levels — can also cause slight increases or decreases in the planet’s temperature. Overall, the evidence suggests that these effects are not enough to account for the global warming observed since 1880.

El Niño and La Niña are prime examples of how the oceans can affect global temperatures. They describe abnormally warm or cool sea surface temperatures in the South Pacific that are caused by changing ocean currents.

Global temperatures tend to decrease in the wake of La Niña, which occurs when upwelling cold water off the coast of Peru spreads westward in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. La Niña moderates the impact of greenhouse-gas driven warming, lingered during the early months of 2009 and gave way to the beginning of an El Niño phase in October that’s expected to continue in 2010.

An especially powerful El Niño cycle in 1998 is thought to have contributed to the unusually high temperatures that year, and Hansen’s group estimates that there’s a good chance 2010 will be the warmest year on record if the current El Niño persists. At most, scientists estimate that El Niño and La Niña can cause global temperatures to deviate by about 0.2°C (0.36°F).

Warmer surface temperatures also tend to occur during particularly active parts of the solar cycle, known as solar maximums, while slightly cooler temperatures occur during lulls in activity, called minimums.

A deep solar minimum has made sunspots a rarity in the last few years. Such lulls in solar activity, which can cause the total amount of energy given off by the Sun to decrease by about a tenth of a percent, typically spur surface temperature to dip slightly. Overall, solar minimums and maximums are thought to produce no more than 0.1°C (0.18°F) of cooling or warming.

“In 2009, it was clear that even the deepest solar minimum in the period of satellite data hasn’t stopped global warming from continuing,” said Hansen.

Small particles in the atmosphere called aerosols can also affect the climate. Volcanoes are powerful sources of sulfate aerosols that counteract global warming by reflecting incoming solar radiation back into space. In the past, large eruptions at Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines and El Chichón in Mexico have caused global dips in surface temperature of as much as 0.3°C (0.54°F). But volcanic eruptions in 2009 have not had a significant impact.

Meanwhile, other types of aerosols, often produced by burning fossil fuels, can change surface temperatures by either reflecting or absorbing incoming sunlight. Hansen’s group estimates that aerosols probably counteract about half of the warming produced by man-made greenhouse gases, but he cautions that better measurements of these elusive particles are needed.

Data Details

To conduct its analysis, GISS uses publicly available data from three sources: weather data from more than a thousand meteorological stations around the world; satellite observations of sea surface temperature; and Antarctic research station measurements. These three data sets are loaded into a computer program, which is available for public download from the GISS website. The program calculates trends in temperature anomalies — not absolute temperatures — but changes relative to the average temperature for the same month during the period of 1951-1980.

Other research groups also track global temperature trends but use different analysis techniques. The Met Office Hadley Centre, based in the United Kingdom, uses similar input measurements as GISS, for example, but it omits large areas of the Arctic and Antarctic, where monitoring stations are sparse.

In contrast, the GISS analysis extrapolates data in those regions using information from the nearest available monitoring stations, and thus has more complete coverage of the polar areas. If GISS didn’t extrapolate in this manner, the software that performs the analysis would assume that areas without monitoring stations warm at the same rate as the global mean, an assumption that doesn’t line up with changes that satellites have observed in Arctic sea ice, Schmidt explained. Although the two methods produce slightly different results in the annual rankings, the decade-long trends in the two records are essentially identical.

“There’s a contradiction between the results shown here and popular perceptions about climate trends,” Hansen said. “In the last decade, global warming has not stopped.”

Related Links

Climatologist Gavin Schmidt Discusses the Surface Temperature Record

GISS Surface Temperature Analysis

GISS Annual Temperature Summation for 2008 and NASA News Release

Media Contact

Steve Cole, 202-358-0918, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

Leslie McCarthy, 212-678-5507, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, N.Y.,

Adam Voiland, 301-352-4631, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

This article is derived from a NASA Looking at Earth news feature.

colder here warmer there

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Since December, a persistent extreme in regional atmospheric circulation is causing record-cold  in the US, northern Europe, and northern Asia. A friend at 70 deg. N in west Greenland yesterday complained 6 January of no possibility to dog sled because of above-freezing air temperature and insufficient sea ice formation. He was surprised to know that here Ohio, 3300 km to the south, air temperatures were 8 °C (14.4 °F) cooler! See the December 2009 departure from normal…

figure 4: air temp map for December 2009

Map of air temperature anomalies for December 2009. —Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center courtesy NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Division. high resolution version.

“The regional contrasts in temperature anomalies resulted from a strongly negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation (AO). … The AO consists of opposing patterns of atmospheric pressure between the polar regions and mid-latitudes. In December 2009 the AO index value was -3.41, the most negative value since at least 1950, according to data from the NOAA Climate Prediction Center. ” – National Snow and Ice Data Center

Here’s a different projection of a more basic data set…besides the extreme cold especially in northern Eurasia, note the red areas where warmth has been prevailing.

LST anomalies WRT 1961-90
Land surface temperature departure from normal. – UK Met office

Is this cold period part of a pattern of climate change?

…one cannot judge with any certainty without understanding causes in extremes of the Arctic Oscillation. Further, weather and climate are not the same, occurring at different time and spatial scales. The current weather pattern that is bringing cold to the US and Eurasia, being persistent, seems to be straddling the spatial and temporal scales between weather and climate. That’s about all I can say without more study.

Stay warm out there (in the US and Europe) and keep cool there in Greenland! This pattern is expected to persist for weeks? longer!!

Hacked climate email: a PR crisis, nothing more

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

The hacked climate emails do not change the science of Anthropogenic Global Warming. The hacked climate emails definitely confuse the public. I expect that elected leaders understand this. I suspect even Senator Inhoffe understands the political effect of the hacked emails. P. Jones, CRU, and U East Anglia have a PR crisis, nothing more. What will help, and you can count on it happening, is there being more transparency in the peer-review process.

on EPA’s ruling that CO2 is a pollutant that threaten’s human well being

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Anti-government anthropogenic climate change deniers (AGACCD) must be upset that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will begin regulating carbon emissions. But, AGACCD, don’t worry too much, a free-market-driven means to regulate carbon pollution will be the ultimate mechanism; and the rest of the world will be doing so too. The EU is already well ahead of the US. The EPA decision just sets an important toneto stoke COP15 climate change mitigation and adaptation negotiations.

Note also that there are befits, besides the obvious ones, to curbing pollution! Forcing businesses to limit pollution will help help keep the US technologically competitive with the rest of the world who are taking climate change mitigation and adaptation issue on board.  Businesses have been forced to regulate pollutants in the past. Remember that 1980s acid rain concern or the Montreal Protocol, both successful in curbing dangerous pollutants.

Remember that there IS a role for government, that is, to do things individuals can or do not.BTW, EPA announcing yesterday they will be regulating carbon pollution is really just symbolic to stoke Cop15. A free-market-driven mechanism will ultimately be the main tool to force polluters to reduce pollution. This situation is totally analogous to the acid rain and ozone layer destruction mitigation policies. Without government, there are certain important public interests that would not happen fast enough without a government; regulation pollution is one of them. Having an army to protect the people, building schools to educate kids, building roads for commerce are other reasons government is a good thing.

If you still don’t consider CO2 a pollutant, I’d say you don’t understand the physics of radiation in the atmosphere… Note that without an atmosphere containing CO2, nighttime temperatures would be much less. Water vapor (or water gas) feeds back with temperature and is an important and the most greenhouse gas, but it’s present in response to surface heating by the sun. Adding CO2 increases the warming effect to the tune of 1.6 little 1 W lightbulbs over each square m of the earth. That’s anthropogenic global warming. Hacked emails don’t change the physics of climate nor the multiple other lines of hard evidence that humans strongly influence climate.

from a scientist at CIRES: “Here’s a good summary of the first principles going back to John Tyndall 150 years ago and Svante Arrhenius over a century ago:

It does seem that their research has often been neglected or ignored by those who don’t understand (or want to understand) the basics of the Earth’s energy balance.”

2008/2009 Arctic Report Card now live: Arctic Climate System Responds to Warming

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

We just released the 2008/2009 Arctic Report Card today. We had a press conference telecon. It gives me pause to consider it’s findings, that, there is a consistent pattern of dramatic change driven by warming.

One thing that really stands out is the fact that Arctic sea ice volume continues to diminish. You can read more about that at NSDIC. See below…

The other thing that stands out for me is how Greenland’s glaciers are losing ice at marine-terminating outlets, essentially loosing corks from ice bottling up the inland ice sheet.

Marine-terminating glacier area changes

Daily surveys of Greenland ice sheet marine terminating outlet glaciers from cloud-free MODIS imagery ( indicate that the 34 widest glaciers collectively lost 106.4 km2 of marine-terminating ice between the end of summer 2008 and the end of summer 2009 (Figure G4). This is equivalent to an area 20% larger than Manhattan Island (87.5 km2), New York. The largest individual glacier losses are observed at: Humboldt (-37 km2); Zachariae Isstrom (-31 km2); and Midgard (-16 km2). The 2000-2009 rate (106 km2) has been linear (R = −0.98) despite the fact that a few individual glaciers exhibit erratic annual net ice area changes. The cumulative area change from end-of-summer 2000 to 2009 is −990 km2, an area 11.3 times that of Manhattan Island.

Cumulative annual area changes for 34 of the widest Greenland ice sheet marine-terminating outlets
Figure G4. Cumulative annual area changes for 34 of the widest Greenland ice sheet marine-terminating outlets.

Here’s the full Greenland section I led.