What Would Happen if Science Went Stupid?

Summary: Climate activists publish ever-more outrageous stories to make the public panic. Today’s example: “Here’s What Would Happen if All The Ice on Earth Melted Overnight.” We cannot afford their misuse of science.

“A country’s thinking lies in ruins before the land is ruined.”
— By Franklin Nathaniel Daniel Buchman in his “War of Ideas” speech on 15 August 1945. H/t to Twitter by Joachim Dengler (PhD physics).

It's never too soon to scream.

What Would Happen if Science Went Stupid?
Melting Ice Edition.

By David Middleton at Watts Up With That, 14 October 2019.
Reposted with his generous permission.

What would happen if science went stupid? “Science” articles like this would become the norm (H/T ozspeaksup): “Watch what would happen if all the ice on Earth melted overnight” by Andrea Schmitz and Bob Hunt at Business Insider – about this video. The transcript was reposted at ScienceAlert as “Here’s What Would Happen if All The Ice on Earth Melted Overnight.”

  • “If all the ice on Earth melted overnight, the planet would be sent into chaos.
  • “There would be mass flooding from sea level rise, severe weather changes, deadly chemical release, and mass greenhouse gasses that will leak into the atmosphere.
  • “Scientists say we need to stop this planet from rising in temperature, by just 1° Celsius.”

“99% of all freshwater ice on Earth is sitting on top of Greenland and Antarctica, and each year, a little more of it melts into the ocean. Normally, it would take hundreds to thousands of years for it all to melt away. But what if something happened that caused a massive global melt overnight? …As we slept, sea levels would rise by a whopping 66 meters. …

“And you’re right, this is probably never going to happen. After all, there’s enough ice right now to cover the entire continent of North America in a sheet a mile thick. So the next time you hear about record-breaking heat or ultra-powerful hurricanes, at least you know that it could be worse. But scientists estimate that if we don’t take action and global temperatures increase by just 1° Celsius, the effects of climate change we already see today will be irreversible. So yes, it could be worse, and it will be if we’re not careful.”

There is so much stupid in this article, that I had to limit my quotation to the least stupid bits to avoid quoting the entire piece of horst schist. For starters, the potential sea level rise is more like 80 meters (see Table 3 from USGS Professional Paper 1386-A-2: 65 out of 80 potential meters of ice-related potential sea-level rise resides in the East Antarctic Ice Sheet).

Basically, their contention is 66 meters of sea level rise would cause seawater to infiltrate all of our groundwater reservoirs. This, coupled with the melting of the ice, which holds 99% of Earth’s freshwater, would deprive us of drinking water. While, at the same time, the influx of freshwater into the North Atlantic would shut down the Gulf Stream, triggering a Day After Tomorrow-style mini ice age, while simultaneously melting all of the permafrost on Earth, causing mercury poisoning, doubling Earth’s greenhouse gases, leading to 3.5°C of warming relative to current conditions.

“That might not sound like much, but say goodbye to that mini European ice age, and even rivers and lakes around the world. They’d evaporate from the higher temperatures and cause mass droughts and desert-like climates. And all that extra water vapour in the atmosphere would fuel more frequent and stronger storms, floods, and hurricanes. So all of that newly established coastline on the eastern US would be one of the last places you’d want to live. Instead, there would be mass migrations to Canada, Alaska, the Arctic, and even what’s left of the Antarctic. And you’re right, this is probably never going to happen.”

Try not even close to physically possible. The Earth’s average surface temperature would have to rise by about 10°C, in order to melt most of the perennial ice on Earth. It would have to rise by at least 4-5°C just to melt most of the Greenland Ice Sheet. The bulk of Antarctic ice, the East Antarctic Ice sheet has been stable since at least the Mid-Miocene Climatic Optimum (MMCO), possibly since the Early Oligocene (34 Ma). {See this graph, a modified version of figure 2 from “Trends, Rhythms, and Aberrations in Global Climate 65 Ma to Present” by James Zachos et al., in Science, 27 April 2001. Click to enlarge}

High Latitude SST from Benthic Foram δ18O. Temperature scale is for ice-free conditions.

Graph of long-term temperatures

If we compare the Zachos reconstruction, using a temperature conversion suitable for the icier Quaternary Period, to the modern instrumental record, we can see that all of the warming of the past 150 years is barely noticeable.

Figure 3. High Latitude SST (°C) From Benthic Foram δ18O (Zachos, et al., 2001) and HadSST3 (Hadley Centre / UEA CRU via Woodfortrees) plotted at same scale, tied at 1950 AD Older is toward the left. Click to enlarge.

Long-term high-altitude SST

Another 0.5 to 1.0 ºC between now and the end of the century doesn’t even put us into Eemian climate territory, much less the Miocene or even the Pliocene. We will still be in the Quaternary Period noise level. Bear in mind that the instrumental temperature data are of much higher resolution than the δ18O derived temperatures. As such, the δ18O data reflect the bare minimum of dynamic amplitude range. Actual paleo temperatures would have reflected a far greater range of variability (higher highs and lower lows).

Defusing the permafrost methane time bomb.

Regarding the massive release of methane from permafrost, you literally “can’t get there from here.“ From “Warming may not release Arctic carbon” by Erin Wayman at Science News – “Element could stay locked in soil, 20-year study suggests.” Gated. About “Long-term warming restructures Arctic tundra without changing net soil carbon storage” by Seeta A. Sistla et al. in Nature, 30 May 2013.

“Researchers used greenhouses to artificially warm tundra (shown, in autumn) for 20 years. They found no net change in the amount of carbon stored in the soil. The Arctic’s stockpile of carbon may be more secure than scientists thought. In a 20-year experiment that warmed patches of chilly ground, tundra soil kept its stored carbon, researchers report. …”

Vaks et al. found no evidence of widespread permafrost thawing above 60°N since MIS-11, not even during MIS-5 in “Speleothems Reveal 500,000-Year History of Siberian Permafrost” by Anton Vaks in Science, 12 April 2013.

“The absence of any observed speleothem growth since MIS 11 in the northerly Lenskaya Ledyanaya cave (despite dating outer edges of 7 speleothems), suggests the permanent presence of permafrost at this latitude since the end of MIS-11. Speleothem growth in this cave occurred in early MIS-11, ruling out the possibility that the unusual length of MIS-11 caused the permafrost thawing. …The degradation of permafrost at 60°N during MIS-11 allows an assessment of the warming required globally to cause such extensive change in the permafrost boundary.”

There is no evidence of widespread thawing of Arctic permafrost since Marine Isotope Stage 11 (MIS-11), approximately 450,000 years ago. None of the subsequent interglacial stages indicate widespread permafrost thawing, above 60°N, not even MIS-5 (Eemian – Sangamonian), which was about 2 °C warmer than present day, possibly as much as 5 °C warmer in the Arctic.

The last interglacial stage (MIS-5, Sangamonian/Eemian) was considerably warmer than the current interglacial and sea level was 3-6 meters higher than modern times. It was particularly warmer in the Arctic. Oxygen isotope ratios from the NGRIP ice core indicate that the Arctic was approximately 5 °C warmer at the peak of MIS-5 (~135,000 years ago).

It also appears that it was significantly warmer in the Arctic during the Holocene Climatic Optimum (~7,000 years ago) than modern times. The Arctic was routinely ice-free during summer for most of the Holocene up until about 1,000 years ago.

The best geological evidence for the Arctic methane time bomb being a dud can be found in the stratigraphy beneath Lake El’gygytgyn in northeastern Russia. The lake and its mini-basin occupy a 3.58 million year old meteor crater. Its sediments are ideally suited for a continuous high-resolution climate reconstruction from the Holocene all the way back to the mid-Pliocene. Unlike most other Arctic lakes, Lake El’gygytgyn, has never been buried by glacial stage continental ice sheets. Melles et al., 2012 utilized sediment cores from Lake El’gygytgyn to build a 2.8 million year climate reconstruction of northeastern Russia.

The data from Melles et al., 2012 are available from NOAA’s paleoclimatology library. And it is clearly obvious that Arctic summers were much warmer during MIS-11c (430-400 ka) than either the Eemian/Sangamonian (MIS-5e) or the Holocene (MIS-1).

Fig. 4. Comparison of warmest temperatures and sea level for MIS-11c, MIS-5e and MIS-1.

Graph of long-term temperatures and sea level

Figure 5. Figure 4 with vertical exaggeration to highlight differences.

Graph of long-term temperatures-sea-level-2

Figure 6. Atmospheric carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide from Dome C in Antarctica (From CDIAC).

Gas records from Dome C - from CDIAC.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that MIS-11c did experience a sub-resolution spike in greenhouse gases. Dome C can’t “see” short-duration spikes in atmospheric gases. We’re left with three possibilities:

  1. Much warmer temperatures and partial melting of permafrost during MIS-11c didn’t cause a spike in greenhouse gases.
  2. Much warmer temperatures and partial melting of permafrost during MIS-11c did cause a spike in greenhouse gases; but the Antarctic ice cores can’t resolve it.
  3. The unresolved spike in MIS-11c spike in atmospheric greenhouse gases caused the MIS-11c warming, but didn’t prevent the subsequent glacial stage cooling.

In other words, move along – there is nothing to see here.


Editor’s note

(1) About that “melting all the ice in the world.”

Greenhouse gases are warming the world, but chilling Antarctica. Here’s why” by Sid Perkins in Science, 19 July 2018. This describes a new study: “Unmasking the negative greenhouse effect over the Antarctic Plateau” by Sergio A. Sejas et al. in Climate and Atmospheric Science, 17 July 2018. Don’t expect the Antarctic ice cap to melt in any visible future.

(2)  Fake news drives out real news – because it is more useful.

These two articles were widely reposted. For example, at MSN News, Democratic Underground, Earth News Report, and Science Daily Press. From MSN it was syndicated to local papers. My wife read it in our local Iowa newspaper. Control of the news media is a powerful lever with which to control a nation. A thousand times more people will see these two stories than will see their debunkings. Propaganda works.

Elizabeth & Dave on the road to Zion National Park

About the author

David Middleton has been a a geophysicist – geologist in the oil and gas industry since 1981.  His primary area of interest has been the Gulf of Mexico, where structural geology, sedimentation, and stratigraphy are largely controlled by salt tectonics and climate change-driven glacioeustacy.  He is a member of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, and the Houston Geological Society.

He has an interest in paleoclimatology. He posts at his website. He also frequents posts at Watts Up With That; see his posts here.

For More Information

Ideas! See my recommended books and films at Amazon.

Hat tip on this to Tony Thomas’ article at Quadrant: “A Climate Modeller Spills the Beans.

Eminent climate scientist Judith Curry has written much about this. I strongly recommend these!

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information about this vital issue see the keys to understanding climate change, all posts about computer models, and these posts about the climate wars …

  1. Important: Let’s prepare for the repeat of past extreme weather instead of bickering about predictions of climate change. – Doing something is better than nothing.
  2. Focusing on worst-case climate futures doesn’t work. It shouldn’t work.
  3. The Extinction Rebellion’s hysteria vs. climate science.
  4. Listening to climate doomsters makes our situation worse.
  5. See how climate science becomes alarmist propaganda.
  6. How journalists helped wreck the climate debate.
  7. The climate crusade marches across America!

Activists don’t want you to read these books

Some unexpected good news about polar bears: The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened by Susan Crockford (2019).

To learn more about the state of climate change see The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters & Climate Change by Roger Pielke Jr., professor for the Center for Science and Policy Research at U of CO – Boulder (2018).

The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change
Available at Amazon.


10 thoughts on “What Would Happen if Science Went Stupid?”

      1. David,

        “Junk science definitely travels fast”

        Rather, the Left has great power in the news media. This shows how they are using it.


        Not so funny if they win. They only need win once to put their agenda into law.

      2. David Middleton

        True that. But, I managed to maintain my sense of humor through 2009-2010… Of course, as bad as Obama was, every passenger in the 2020 Democrat candidate clown car would be worse.

  1. For 6,000 years during the Eemian, temperatures in Greenland were 8 degrees warmer than current, and only 25% of the ice melted. It would likely take temperatures 20 degrees higher than current to melt all of Greenland and Antarctica, and do to it overnight, something like 100 degrees higher, at which point there would be no one left to complain.

    Greenland ice cores reveal warm climate of the past” at Science Daily, 23 January 2013.

    The paper is “Eemian interglacial reconstructed from a Greenland folded ice core” by D. Dahl-Jensen et al. in Nature, 24 January 2013.

    1. David Middleton

      Eemian temperatures at the NGRIP ice core location were at least °5 C warmer and it is possible that as much as 1/3 of the Greenland Ice Sheet melted; however, it’s not possible to know for sure. That said, when I wrote this:

      “The Earth’s average surface temperature would have to rise by about 10°C, in order to melt most of the perennial ice on Earth. It would have to rise by at least 4-5°C just to melt most of the Greenland Ice Sheet.”

      I was referring to the globally averaged temperature over a long period of time (10’s to 100’s of thousands of years). I should have been more specific.

      You are correct, the overnight temperature rise would have to be enormous. Probably on the scale of the Chicxulub impact. As I wrote, “There is so much stupid in this article, that I had to limit my quotation to the least stupid bits to avoid quoting the entire piece of horst schist.”

      1. David,

        There have been over 60 thousand comments here (not counting mine). A microscopic fraction admits errors (of any kind). That you do so puts you in an elite corps.

      2. David Middleton

        I don’t make many errors… But when I do I just say D’Oh! (Homer Simpson)… 😎

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