A powerful story about global warming in Alaska that has set Twitter aflame

Summary: Let’s review the story that today set Twitter afire with panic about global warming. It’s a story of science, skillful writing, and a very gullible America. The 21st century might prove unpleasant for America unless we tighten our game.

See and freak out! Click to enlarge.
See and freak out! Click to enlarge.



  1. NASA’s photo of the Day
  2. Plaiting the facts
  3. One step more, into agitprop
  4. The rest of the story about warming Alaska
  5. For More Information


(1) NASA’s photo of the Day

Let’s review the story that today set Twitter afire with panic about global warming. But first let’s rewind the tape to see the source of the story.

NASA Image of the Day Gallery: “Rare Clear View of Alaska“, 19 June 2013 — Photo above.

On most days, relentless rivers of clouds wash over Alaska, obscuring most of the state’s 6,640 miles (10,690 kilometers) of coastline and 586,000 square miles (1,518,000 square kilometers) of land. The south coast of Alaska even has the dubious distinction of being the cloudiest region of the United States, with some locations averaging more than 340 cloudy days per year.

That was certainly not the case on June 17, 2013, the date that the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite acquired this rare, nearly cloud-free view of the state. The absence of clouds exposed a striking tapestry of water, ice, land, forests, and even wildfires.

… The same ridge of high pressure that cleared Alaska’s skies also brought stifling temperatures to many areas accustomed to chilly June days. Talkeetna, a town about 100 miles north of Anchorage, saw temperatures reach 96°F (36°C) on June 17. Other towns in southern Alaska set all-time record highs, including Cordova, Valez, and Seward. The high temperatures also helped fuel wildfires and hastened the breakup of sea ice in the Chukchi Sea.

(2) Plaiting the facts

Nothing remarkable in this story. But in the hands of skilled alarmists it becomes: “A Clear View of Alaska — and Maybe Our Future“, Phil Plait, Slate, 20 June 2013. Plait is an astronomer who worked for 10 years on Hubble Space Telescope data, and now writes about science — with a side line in climate alarmism (e.g., calling people “deniers” who cite science research he doesn’t like). Plait connects the NASA story with some current research, ignores contrary research, and produces a standard example of climate propaganda.

Alarmists amnesia about the IPCC?


The reason the state is cloudless is because of a huge high-pressure system squatting over the state. This has also brought record high temperatures to much of the state. This reminds me of the same sort of system that’s been plaguing Greenland and which caused record ice melting last year.

A new study just came out possibly linking that Greenland system to global warming. It’s not a direct link; that is, it’s not that things are warmer now so we got more melting. What may be happening is that the changing climate is affecting the pattern of the jet stream, causing warmer high-pressure systems to sit and stay in one place in what’s called a blocking pattern.

In other words, weather patterns are changing because the climate is changing. The Arctic climate system in particular may be undergoing a rapid evolution due to changing conditions there; loss of sea ice (which exposes darker water, increasing the amount of heat absorbed from sunlight), the wobbling of the jet stream, and more subtle variations are playing havoc with the normal weather.

The melt in Greenland and the high temperatures in Alaska may be more signs — like we needed more — of the reality of climate change. Even scarier is the fact that the climate models used before didn’t predict this sort of thing. The climate is very complex, and it’s hard to model it accurately. This is well-known and is why it’s so hard to make long-term predictions.

A few points:

  • When other people question the infalibility of climate models, they become “deniers”.
  • Also note the daft “the reality of climate change”. The climate has always been changing. Who denies that? Scientists study how and why our climate is changing.
  • The very article he cites disagrees with Phait: “The analysis shows that ocean temperatures and Arctic sea-ice cover were relatively unimportant factors in causing the extra Greenland melt.”
  • Note how he describes the new study. We’ll come back to that.

(3) One step more, into agitprop

Next a reporter picks up the story and exaggerates it into agitprop: “Why NASA’s latest photo of Alaska is freaking people out“, Jake Ellison (staff), blog at SeattlePi (website of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer), 21 June 2013. It went vital; Mr. Ellison and his Editor are probably exchanging high-fives!

At first glance, it’s just a great photo of nearly the entire state of Alaska on an exceptionally clear day. What could be the problem? Well, turns out that photo shows an anomaly that some are fretting signifies yet another big shift in global climate – a shift toward the hot. NASA writes (without saying “global warming”):

He then quotes from the NASA story, which didn’t mention global warming. Probably because the writer — knowing more than Ellison and Plait — did not see a connection to global warming. NASA has not been shy about writing about global warming when they believe it is relevant.

Ellison then quotes various stray bits of data. After all, there is always unusual weather somewhere. He cites no evidence that these patterns are unusual. He then shifts to discuss a new paper in the International Journal of Climatology discussing weather in Greenland. Neither Ellison or the authors make any connection to Alaska’s weather. Being a professional journalist, Ellison does report the key conclusion — but buries the lede (i.e., puts the sensational part at the opening, the key part at the end). Professor Hanna, one of the co-authors, concludes:

“Taken together, our present results strongly suggest that the main forcing of the extreme GrIS surface melt in July 2012 was atmospheric, linked with changes in the summer North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), Greenland Blocking Index (GBI, a high pressure system centred over Greenland) and polar jet stream which favoured southerly warm air advection along the western coast.

“The next 5-10 years will reveal whether or not 2012 was a rare event resulting from the natural variability of the NAO or part of an emerging pattern of new extreme high melt years. Because such atmospheric, and resulting GrIS surface climate, changes are not well projected by the current generation of global climate models, it is currently very hard to predict future changes in Greenland climate. Yet it is crucial to understand such changes much better if we are to have any hope of reliably predicting future changes in GrIS mass balance, which is likely to be a dominant contributor to global sea-level change over the next 100-1000 years.”

Other than Plait — who has no background in climate science — Ellison mentions nobody “freaked out” by the photo. Professor Edward Hanna is not “freaking out”. I suggest that you and I not allow Ellison’s agitprop to freak us out.

Also note that neither Plait nor Ellison mention the IPCC’s conclusions, even as a reference point. In what might be desperation at their failure to gain sufficient public support to implement their policy agenda, climate alarmists have moved beyond the IPCC into manufacturing their own climate stories — as we see today.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

(4) The rest of the story about warming Alaska

Plait and Ellison’s articles are especially irresponsible considering the rest of the story.

There is no need for journalists to rely on propagandists like Plait for information about climate change. In addition to the IPCC there are a host of research facilities studying every aspect of our changing world. Such as the Alaska Climate Research Center, whose work I posted in May 2009 and again this January.

Here is their Temperature Changes in Alaska page (red emphasis added).

The topic of climate change has attracted widespread attention in recent years and is an issue that numerous scientists study on various time and space scales. One thing for sure is that the earth’s climate has and will continue to change as a result of various natural and anthropogenic forcing mechanisms.

This page features the trends in mean annual and seasonal temperatures for Alaska’s first-order observing stations since 1949, the time period for which the most reliable meteorological data are available. The temperature change varies from one climatic zone to another as well as for different seasons. If a linear trend is taken through mean annual temperatures, the average change over the last 6 decades is 3.0°F.

… The figure shows the temperature departure from the long-term mean (1949-2009) for all stations. It can be seen that there are large variations from year to year and the 5-year moving average demonstrates large increase in 1976. The period 1949 to 1975 was substantially colder than the period from 1977 to 2009, however since 1977 little additional warming has occurred in Alaska with the exception of Barrow and a few other locations. The stepwise shift appearing in the temperature data in 1976 corresponds to a phase shift of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation from a negative phase to a positive phase.

Being scientists, they published their research in a peer-reviewed journal: “The First Decade of the New Century: A Cooling Trend for Most of Alaska“, G. Wendler, L. Chen and B. Moore, Open Atmospheric Science Journal, 2012 — Abstract (red emphasis added):

During the first decade of the 21st century most of Alaska experienced a cooling shift, modifying the long-term warming trend, which has been about twice the global change up to this time. All of Alaska cooled with the exception of Northern Regions. This trend was caused by a change in sign of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), which became dominantly negative, weakening the Aleutian Low. This weakening results in less relatively warm air being advected from the Northern Pacific.

This transport is especially important in winter when the solar radiation is weak. It is during this period that the strongest cooling was observed. In addition, the cooling was especially pronounced in Western Alaska, closest to the area of the center of the Aleutian Low. The changes seen in the reanalyzed data were confirmed from surface observations, both in the decrease of the North-South atmospheric pressure gradient, as well as the decrease in the mean wind speeds for stations located in the Bering Sea area.


No post about the work of climate scientists goes by without some anti-scientist zealot denouncing it.  See the Comments for today’s example.

America has a long tradition of anti-rationalism. Perhaps we can no longer tolerate this as a peccadillo.

Fear makes us easy to rule
Fear makes us easy to rule

For More Information

See this FM Reference Page for all posts about:

Some posts about climate propaganda:

  1. Hot: The hidden history of the global warming crusade,
  2. A real-time example of the birth and spread of climate propaganda, 9 March 2010
  3. Shaping your view of the world with well-constructed propaganda, 21 June 2012 — About rising sea levels.
  4. Run from the rising waves! (The latest climate catastrophe scare), 27 June 2012
  5. Ignorance and propaganda about extreme climate change, 10 July 2012
  6. Mother Jones sounds the alarm about global warming! This time about the north pole., 10 December 2012
  7. Lessons the Left can learn from the Right when writing about climate change, 12 December 2012 — Propagandist Phil Plait
  8. Fierce words about those “wacky professional climate change deniers”, 20 January 2013 — More by propagandist Phil Plait
  9. We can see our true selves in the propaganda used against us, 14 May 2013 — Skillful actually inaccurate article in The Guardian





10 thoughts on “A powerful story about global warming in Alaska that has set Twitter aflame”

    1. Why can you post baseless criticism — without any evidence or logic — while I post the careful research of scientists?

      Because, unlike most well-run websites, the FM website does not moderate comments. Anti-science comments like your serve a valuable function, reminding people how thin the line between reason and ignorance, a line that must be defended to maintain our civilization.

      1. Crania: “Why can you post this trash”

        What does Crania consider trash? Reports from the Alaska Climate Research Center. Does Crania know anything about the ACRC? Will Crania apologize for that slur on them and their work?

        1. It was established and is funded by the State of Alaska.
        2. It is part of the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, founded in 1948.
        3. It is designated as a Recognized State Climate Office (ARSCO) by the American Association of State Climatologists (AASC), and is the sole ARSCO office in Alaska.

        About the Center

        The primary mission of this center is to respond to inquiries concerning the meteorology and climatology of Alaska from public, private, and government agencies, and from researchers around the world.

        The center provides services within the three tiered system (state, regional, and federal). Most of the climatological data available for Alaska have been accumulated in Fairbanks and by the state climatologist in Anchorage at the Alaska State Climate Center. Our center archives digital climate records, develops climate statistics, and writes monthly weather summaries, which are published in several newspapers around the state and Weatherwise magazine.

        … We also conduct research on a number of high latitude meteorological & climatological topics and provide useful links for related data.

  1. The melting ice caps moderate global warming temporarily by cooling the oceans. Once the ice caps no longer form this effect will no longer occur. When there is no ice formation in the polar regions the production of deep ocean brine currents will cease and this will disrupt the flow of nutrients from the ocean floor to the surface which feed plankton blooms. This will lead to less oxygen being produced and will crash the oceanic food chain. In other words, life as we know it will cease. Stock up on canned goods and oxygen tanks. Your ignorance will not save you.

    1. Thank you for raising this interesting point! I have not read about this (but, of course, it’s not my field). Here are some questions.

      (1) Please provide a citation or pointer of some kind. Ideally to research, or someone citing research, or an article quoting a climate scientist.

      (2) The key question that comes to mind is the magnitude of this effect on global climate. Large or small? The numbers look quite small relative to the world (so far, at least) (again, this isn’t my field — so this could be an incorrect interpretation).

      Partitioning Recent Greenland Mass Loss“, Michiel van den Broeke et al, Science, 13 November 2009:

      Mass budget calculations, validated with satellite gravity observations [from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites], enable us to quantify the individual components of recent Greenland mass loss. The total 2000–2008 mass loss of ~1500 gigatons, equivalent to 0.46 millimeters per year of global sea level rise, is equally split between surface processes (runoff and precipitation) and ice dynamics. Without the moderating effects of increased snowfall and refreezing, post-1996 Greenland ice sheet mass losses would have been 100% higher. …

      Increased future ice discharge from Antarctica owing to higher snowfall“, R Winkelmann et al, Nature, 13 December 2012 — Opening:

      During the past decade, the Antarctic Ice Sheet has lost volume at a rate comparable to that of Greenland. The enhanced moisture-carrying capacity of a warming atmosphere, on the other hand, strongly suggests increasing snowfall over Antarctica, as projected by global and regional climate models. This may lead to a net negative contribution of Antarctica to future sea level, depending on the magnitude of dynamic effects possibly compensating or even overcompensating this ice gain.

      Since satellite data became available, sea ice area is more easily measured than the ice mass of Greenland and Antartica. It’s shrinking, but slowly. Very slowly. From the Polar Research Group at the U-IL. Click to expand.


      (3) Updates on the global melting

      This is a topic of intense research by climate scientists. Here are a few articles showing one side of the debate.

      (a) Greenland’s glaciers have stabilized (for now; eventually they will resume their retreat — or advance), as reported at the Fall 2009 meeting of the American Geophysical Union – “Galloping Glaciers of Greenland Have Reined Themselves In“, Richard A. Kerr, Science, January 2009

      (b) “A reconstruction of annual Greenland ice melt extent, 1784–2009“, Oliver W. Frauenfeld et al, Journal of Geophysical Research, 19 April 2011 — “Recent melt is similar in magnitude but shorter duration than 1920–1960 melt. Record 2007 melt is not statistically different from 20 other melt seasons.”

      (c) “A new, high-resolution surface mass balance map of Antarctica (1979–2010) based on regional atmospheric climate modeling“, J. T. M. Lenaerts et al,, Geophysical Research Letters, 21 February 2012 – ”We found no significant trend in the 1979–2010 ice sheet integrated SMB components, which confirms the results from Monaghan et al (2006).”

      (d) “Twelve years of ice velocity change in Antarctica observed by RADARSAT-1 and -2 satellite radar interferometry“, B. Scheuchl, J. Mouginot, and E. Rignot, The Cryosphere Discussions, 15 May 2012 — “”the ice streams and ice shelves in the broad region under investigation herein have not been changed in a significant way in the past 12 yr, which suggests that the ice dynamics of the entire region does not have a strong impact on the mass budget of the Antarctic continent.”

    2. It beggars the imagination that you think that, when the polar regions are in complete darkness for most of five months, there will be no ice formation. There will always be ice formation up there. During warm periods, it might all melt during summer, but it will always freeze in the winter. We are not that stupid.

    3. {Ed note: I believe this is a reply to the comment by Rupert Chappelle}

      When you write ice caps I assume you mean on Greenland but not sea ice. It will take centuries for the Greenland ice cap to melt if it does.

      If you meant sea ice, it might not be as dire as you think. Lacking sea ice we also get a lot of evaporation which I suggest cools the far North oceans. Some of the recent warming in the North may be the ocean venting heat to the atmosphere.

      Yes albedo is lowered but storing this new heat in the top layers that far North may not work so well. I suggest most of it escapes to the atmosphere. I’d also suggest sea ice has an insulating effect on ocean water. I think we are watching negative feedback characteristics that have operated for 100s of thousand of years. The general cloudiness of Alaska mentioned above perhaps demonstrates a lot of ocean evaporation even though it’s cold up there.

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