Start of another swing of the media narrative – to global cooling?

Summary: We have the first newspaper headlines announcing global cooling. Does this herald the news media yo-yo swinging from one extreme to another, after a few months in the middle? Here will look at the latest story, and show the rest of the story not told well by activists on either side. There is a sensible foundation for public policy action in here, somewhere. Let’s see if we can find it.

Global Cooling
Graphic showing Global Cooling



  1. Why we know so little: we read newspapers
  2. For the rest of the story
  3. A few key things to remember about global warming!
  4. For More Information
  5. Links to research about effects of soot and wind
  6. Science gives us adequate tools to plan, if only we’d use them

(1) Why we know so little: we read the news

This is why we know so little: we rely on the newspapers. After a decade of some exaggerating the effects of warming and forecasts about the future, we get an exaggerated backlash. Like this from Daily Mail, David Rose, 7 September 2013:

Daily News: global cooling
Daily Mail by David Rose, 7 September 2013


Other newspapers, similar theme:

All three quote climate scientists, who describe current research. Just like the pro-alarmist news media cites scientists about warming. Just as alarmists did about global cooling during the 1970s (see section 4b below). It’s the headlines, context, and exaggerated conclusions that mislead.

The centerpiece of his article is this data, quite a shock to those expecting a rapid collapse of arctic sea ice extent from the 2012 lows. Those overconfident predictions were based on lightly-tested models and a short baseline of data (full coverage began only with satellites in 1979; see this page for a longer perspective — click its graph to enlarge).

Arctic sea ice extent
Graph from NSIDC website, only last 7 years shown


The AlaskaDispatch quotes Ted Scambos (Lead Scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center) in rebuttal:

“It was very irresponsible reporting on their part. … They know what they’re saying and how they are saying it, and to say what they said they had to cherry pick facts. … You’d have to have a very unusual perspective to describe things the way they did and it’s clear they do have that different perspective.”

So America’s opinion on this vital issue goes up and down like a yo-yo, unable to make the public policy machinery run in a coherent manner. Unable to take even the easy obvious steps, such as better funding and supervision for climate research and massive funding to further develop alternative energy sources. An unnecessarily problem, in my opinion, as there are many scientists who provide clear and accurate guidance — and they run websites.

Why is the news media coverage so unreliable? There are probably many reasons. One is that journalists get simple powerful stories from activists, who craft narratives by ignoring the parts that don’t fit. Activists give the brief, exciting, unqualified (ie, without qualifiers) quotes that make headlines. Too bad they are wrong far more often than the mild, nuanced, complex explanations of sober scientists.

(2) For the rest of the story

What are the key elements of the sea ice story?


  1. The Northwest passage has been sailed many times between 1906 and 1990
  2. The trend in Arctic is still shrinking ice
  3. The trend in Antarctic is increasing sea ice
  4. The trends are now more-or-less offsetting each other
  5. Their divergence suggests factors at work in addition to global warming
  6. The increased Antarctic winter sea ice has less effect on global climate than shrinking Arctic summer sea ice (more light reflected during the summer)

(2.1) The Northwest passage has been sailed many times between 1906 and 1990

Journalists report each transit of the newly opened Northwest passage like it was Columbus reaching the New World. In fact that has been done by regular ships (including sailboats) many times in the 20th century. See “A List of the Full Transits of the Canadian Northwest Passage 1903 to 2006“, John MacFarlane, The Nauticapedia, last revised 2012. The Passage was probably clearer than the previous several centuries during the previous warm spell of the 1930s, but the Great Depression and WW2 discouraged scientists, commerce, and tourists from trying the voyage.

(2.2) The trend in the Arctic is still shrinking ice. Don’t get excited by short-term fluctuations.

Arctic sea ice extent
Graph from NSDIC website


(2.3) The trend in Antarctic is increasing sea ice

Note that the Antarctic sea ice pack is 2.5X the Arctic ice pack.

Antarctic Sea Extent
Graph from NSIDC website


(2.4) The polar trends have recently more-or-less offset one another (for how long none can say)

A graph of global sea ice area. The red line is the anomaly, the variation from the 1979-2008 mean.

Global Sea Ice extent
From the website of the U of IL. Click to enlarge.


(2.5) Their divergence suggests factors at work in addition to global warming

The effects of soot and wind on Arctic ice are well known to climate scientists (although relative contributions remain uncertain), but have been well-hidden from the public.

Deposits of soot ice boost melting (much of this is from China’s burning of coal).  Varying wind patters greatly influence whether is blown out of the Arctic ocean to melt, or stays to become thicker multi-year ice. Section 5 has links to research on these dynamics. Here are non-technical explanations of the effect of soot on polar ice:

(2.6)  The increased Antarctic winter sea ice has less effect on global climate than shrinking Arctic summer sea ice

Explained by National Snow and Ice Data Center (here and here):

Sea ice has a bright surface, so much of the sunlight that strikes it is reflected back into space. As a result, areas covered by sea ice don’t absorb much solar energy, so temperatures in the polar regions remain relatively cool. If gradually warming temperatures melt sea ice over time, fewer bright surfaces are available to reflect sunlight back into space, more solar energy is absorbed at the surface, and temperatures rise further. This chain of events starts a cycle of warming and melting. This cycle is temporarily halted when the dark days of the polar winter return, but it starts again in the following spring. Even a small increase in temperature can lead to greater warming over time, making the polar regions the most sensitive areas to climate change on Earth.

… Sea ice differs between the Arctic and Antarctic, primarily because of their different geography. The Arctic is a semi-enclosed ocean, almost completely surrounded by land. As a result, the sea ice that forms in the Arctic is not as mobile as sea ice in the Antarctic. Although sea ice moves around the Arctic basin, it tends to stay in the cold Arctic waters. … So some Arctic sea ice remains through the summer and continues to grow the following autumn. Of the 15 million square kilometers (5.8 million square miles) of sea ice that exist during winter, on average, 7 million square kilometers (2.7 million square miles) remain at the end of the summer melt season.

… The Antarctic is almost a geographic opposite of the Arctic, because Antarctica is a land mass surrounded by an ocean. The open ocean allows the forming sea ice to move more freely, resulting in higher drift speeds. … During the winter, up to 18 million square kilometers (6.9 million square miles) of ocean is covered by sea ice, but by the end of summer, only about 3 million square kilometers (1.1 million square miles) of sea ice remain.

Even if wintertime Antarctic sea ice were to increase or decrease significantly in the future, it would not have a huge impact on the climate system. This is because during the Antarctic winter energy from the sun is at its weakest point; its ability or inability to reflect the sun’s energy back into space has little affect on regulating the planet’s temperature.  {whereas in the Arctic, the summer ice loss has a substantial effect on Earth’s albedo, the amount of light reflected from the surface}

(3) A few of the key things to remember about global warming!

While cheering for their faction of scientists, laypeople often lose sight of the big picture — the key elements for making public policy about this important issue.

  1. The work of the IPCC and the major science institutes are the best guides for information about these issues.
  2. The major global temperature measurement systems tell — broadly speaking — the same story since the 1970s: two decades of cooling, two of warming, followed by a pause.
  3. This is consistent with the larger firm conclusions of climate scientists: two centuries of warming, coming in pulses (ie, waves), with anthropogenic factors becoming the largest (not the only) driver since roughly 1950.
  4. There is a debate about the attribution (causes) of past warming — which probably varied over time — between natural drivers (eg, rebound from the Little Ice Age, solar influences) and anthropogenic drivers (eg, CO2, aerosols, land use changes). The IPCC’s reports make few claims about attribution of climate activity, as this remains actively debated in the literature.
  5. There is an even larger debate about climate forecasts, both the extent of future CO2 emissions and the net effects of the various natural and anthropogenic drivers.

For the past five years my recommendations have been the same:

  1. More funding for climate sciences. Many key aspects (eg, global temperature data collection and analysis) are grossly underfunded.
  2. Wider involvement of relevant experts in this debate. For example, geologists, statisticians and software engineers have been largely excluded — although their fields of knowledge are deeply involved.

Earth in our hand

(4) For More Information

(a) Articles about changes in Arctic sea ice posted at Climate Etc:

  1. Pondering the Arctic Ocean. Part I: Climate Dynamics, 19 Mar 2011
  2. Likely causes of recent changes in Arctic sea ice, 16 September 2011
  3. Reflections on the Arctic sea ice minimum: Part I, 16 Sept 2012
  4. Reflections on the Arctic sea ice minimum: Part II, 17 Sept 2012
  5. Historic Variations in Arctic sea ice. Part II: 1920-1950,
    by Tony Brown, 10 April 2013 — Rich in links to research
  6. Arctic sea ice minimum?, Judith Curry, 8 August 2013

(b) Posts about global cooling:

  1. An important letter sent to the President about the danger of climate change, 21 October 2009 — About global cooling
  2. About the headlines from the 1970s about global cooling, 2 November 2009 — Not what they seem
  3. A look at global warming written in a cooler and more skeptical time, giving us a better understanding of climate science, 23 November 2009
  4. The facts about the 1970’s Global Cooling scare, 7 December 2009

(c) Other relevant posts

  1. Looking into the past for guidance about warnings of future climate apocalypses, 17 October 2010
  2. Climate lies are the tool of choice by both sides to influence your opinion. Why is that?, 11 July 2013
  3. Hidden news about our weather in July: experts tell us what even well-informed people do not know., 8 August 2013

(5)  Links to research about effects of soot and wind

(a)  Journal articles about effects of soot:

  1. “Atmospheric Aerosols: Increased Concentrations during the Last Decade”, James T. Peterson and Reid A. Bryson, Science, 4 October 1968 — Abstract only.
  2. Strong radiative heating due to the mixing state of black carbon in atmospheric aerosols“, Mark Z. Jacobson, Nature, 8 February 2001
  3. Soot climate forcing via snow and ice albedos“, James Hansen and Larissa Nazarenko, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 13 January 2004
  4. Climate response of direct radiative forcing of anthropogenic black carbon“, Serena H. Chung and John H. Seinfeld, Journal of Geophysical Research, 1 June 2005 — Free copy here.
  5. Aerosol organic carbon to black carbon ratios: Analysis of published data and implications for climate forcing“, T. Novakov, Journal of Geophysical Research, 8 November 2005 — Free copy here.
  6. Present-day climate forcing and response from black carbon in snow“, Mark G. Flanner at al, Journal of Geophysical Research, June 2007 — Free copy here.
  7. Climate change: Aerosols heat up“, Peter Pilewskie1, Nature, 2 August 2007 — Abstract only.
  8. Global and regional climate changes due to black carbon“, V. Ramanathan and G. Carmichae, Nature Geoscience, April 2008 — Free copy here.
  9. Springtime warming and reduced snow cover from carbonaceous particles“, M. G. Flanner et al, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 7 April 2009
  10. Black carbon aerosols and the third polar ice cap“, Menon et al, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 11 December 2009
  11. Black soot and the survival of Tibetan glaciers“, Baiqing Xu et al, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 29 December 2009
  12. Is There a Missing Low Cloud Feedback in Current Climate Models?“, Graeme Stephens, Global Energy and Water Cycle Experiment News, February 2010
  13. Black Carbon’s Grey Areas: Key Messages from a Yale Workshop”, Bidisha Banerjee, Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, 13 July 2010
  14. About the new paper: “Short‐term effects of controlling fossil‐fuel soot, biofuel soot and gases, and methane on climate Arctic ice, and air pollution health“, Mark Z. Jacobson, Journal of Geophysical Research, 29 July 2010
  15. Black carbon larger cause of climate change than previously assessed“, Press Release about new study, International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, 15 January 2013
  16. “Cleaner air: Brightening the pollution perspective?”, Colin O’Dowd, 19th International Conference on Nucleation and Atmospheric Aerosols, June 2013 — Abstract only.
  17. Bounding the role of black carbon in the climate system: A scientific assessment“, T C Bond et al, Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 16 June 2013
  18. Black carbon in the Arctic: the underestimated role of gas flaring and residential combustion emissions“, A. Stohl et al, Atmosphere Chemistry and Physics, 2 September 2013

(b)  Wind (I haven’t updated this since 2010, but it has become a hot topic in the climate literature):

  1. Fram Strait Ice Fluxes and Atmospheric Circulation: 1950–2000”, Torgny Vinje, Journal of Climate, August 2001
  2. Response of Sea Ice to the Arctic Oscillation” by Ignatius G. Rigor, Journal of Climate, 2002
  3. Arctic decadal and interdecadal variability” by Igor V. Polyakov and Mark A. Johnson, American Meteorological Society, 15 September 2002
  4. Variations in the Age of Arctic Sea-ice and Summer Sea-ice Extent”, Ignatius G. Rigor & John M. Wallace, Geophysical Research Letters, 8 May 2004
  5. Arctic climate change: observed and modelled temperature and sea-ice variability“, Ola M. Johannessen et al, Tellus, August 2004
  6. Rapid reduction of Arctic perennial sea ice“, S. V. Nghiem, Geophysical Research Letters, 4 October 2007 — Free copy here.
  7. Global and regional climate changes due to black carbon“, V. Ramanathan, Nature Geoscience, August 2008
  8. Summer retreat of Arctic sea ice: Role of summer winds“, Masayo Ogi, Geophysical Research Letters, 18 December 2008 — Free copy here.
  9. Influence of winter and summer surface wind anomalies on summer Arctic sea ice extent“, Masayo Ogi et al, Geophysical Research Letters, 2 April 2010 — Free copy here.
  10. Recent wind driven high sea ice export in the Fram Strait contributes to Arctic sea ice decline“, L. H. Smedsrud, et al, The Cryosphere Discussions, 5 May 2010

(6) Science gives us adequate tools to plan, if only we’d use them





7 thoughts on “Start of another swing of the media narrative – to global cooling?

  1. Solar cycle 24 has been relatively weak, and cycle 25 is forecast to be even weaker, in the range of solar output associated with the Maunder or Dalton Minima. The forecast of reduced solar output is a consensus forecast, as I understand it, and may mitigate warming productively (as agricultuaral output would be adversely affected by cold summers). See

    1. Benign raises a fascinating question about the influence of solar cycles on Earth’s climate. Here are some sources of information about this.

      Website of the Solar Cycle Progression Committee of the the NOAA/Space Weather Prediction Center — they have the original predictions for solar cycle 24 — and the actual results to date.

      The Solar Cycle Prediction page of David Hathaway of NASA, a forecast using the current data.

      Much of what’s written by laymen about this does not accurately reflect the state of knowledge.

      Leif Svalgaard (solar scientist, Stanford):
      The Sun’s output was probably higher during the Maunder Minimum than today? Sunspots diminish the output of energy [they are darker and cooler]. With no sunspots there would not be a diminution of solar output.

      There are indictions of a historical relationship between the solar cycles and Earth’s climate, but so far no well-understood causual mechanism has been found. Nor is it yet clear if the sun is entering some sort of grand minimum (although this cycle might provide data allowing better forecasts).

      It’s on the edge of the known, and not much can yet be said.

      For more information see the solar sections of my posts about Science & Climate and Studies & Reports about Science & Climate.

    1. I don’t pay attention to activist websites run by non-climate scientists, from either side. I do not understand why you do, either. Let alone citing them as an authority, which strikes me as absurd.

      The IPCC and other major climate agencies have excellent websites (the source of the graphs shown here), with clear explanations of both climate dynamics and current research (they are the source of much of the info cited here) — done by real scientists.

      Also useful are the general science media, also cited here — such as Science Daily, Sci American, New Scientist.

      To over-generalize on the basis of scores of conversations about climate science on the FM website, people citing activist websites tend to have little understanding about climate change, because so much of what they know is not so (ie, is not supported by the peer-reviewed literature).

    2. Ratify,

      Btw, that skeptical science post is delusional. Anyone saying that distinguished climate scientists don’t understand the difference between signal and noise is part of the problem — spewing misinformation. The is exactly the reason I suggest people following these things closely rely on either sites run by experts, or purely reporting websites (which is what we do here, in a small way).

      In fact the existence of the pause in global surface temperatures is now widely acknowledged by climate scientists (despite activists insisting otherwise until recently), and is a subject of much research into its causes and possible duration.

      Links to some of the research about the existence of the pause:

      Links to some of the research about its causes:

    1. Benign,

      Good point to remind us about the long-term cycles!

      ” However, reduced solar radiation over the next several decades seems fairly certain.”

      My knowledge of these things is small, but to the best of my knowledge…

      (A) The ability of soar scientists to make accurate multi-decade forecasts is quite low. Look at the link I gave to the Solar Cycle Prediction Committee. At the start of the cycle they thought it would be more active than usual; in fact it was quite slow. Some got it right (eg, Leif Salvgarrd of Stanford), some were wrong (David Hathaway of NASA).

      (B) The variation in total solar irradiance from cycle to cycle is too small to have much effect on Earth’s climate. Which is why the indications of a strong solar influence remain a minority among climate scientists. There are other theories (eg, solar magnetic field affecting incidence of galactic cosmic “rays” hitting the atmosphere), but as yet they are quite speculative.

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