Whispers of Ecological Change in the Arctic Are Trying to Tell Us Something. Are We Listening?

By Tom Yulsman | February 6, 2015 3:19 pm

Brilliant shades of blue and green explode across the Barents Sea north of Norway and Russia in an image acquired on August 14, 2011, by NASA’s Aqua satellite. The color was created by a massive bloom of phytoplankton, which is common here in August. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Avery McGahaone of two master’s students who joined me in Tromsø, Norway to attend the Arctic Frontiers conference in January, 2014. It is supplemented with some additional reporting by me. McGaha’s trip was made possible by a grant from the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism

Following the recent announcement by NASA and NOAA that 2014 was likely the hottest year on record a loud controversy erupted over global warming. As DotEarth blogger Andrew Revkin pointed out, the fight was a distraction from the clear-cut, long-term trend of rising temperatures.

The noise about global warming overall has also tended to drown out relative whispers of subtle — but significant — change taking place at a variety of scales in the Arctic. These range from tiny organisms living underneath sea ice, all the way up to charismatic creatures like reindeer and walruses, as well as the food webs of which these living things are a part.

One example of the ecological whispers coming from the Arctic: Recent research has shown that warming in the Barents Sea north of Norway and Russia has caused an increase in the productivity of phytoplankton, tiny photosynthesizing organisms that sustain aquatic food webs. You can see a big, beautiful — and natural — bloom of phytoplankton in the satellite image above.

Satellite imagery and other forms of remote sensing comprise a powerful tool for monitoring the Arctic. But scientists also have been digging beneath these broad views and turning up other evidence of change.

Warmer and Wetter Winters

One example is the work of Brage Bremset Hansen, a population biologist at Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who spoke at the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, Norway in January.

Hansen has been exploring the ecological impacts of changing weather patterns in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, Norway. And in January and February 2012, he got a particularly good opportunity.

At that time, wet and warm conditions created a textbook example of what’s called a rain-on-snow event. These ROS events occur when temperatures jump above freezing, allowing precipitation to fall as rain instead of snow. When temperatures cool below freezing, a thick layer of ice forms over the surface, creating a cascade of environmental effects, including mass mortality among reindeer.


After heavy rain fell on Svalbard, Norway during the winter of 2011-2012, icing led to high, starvation-induced mortality among reindeer on the archipelago. (Source: Brage B. Hansen/Norwegian University of Science and Technology)

The event in Svalbard occurred during the polar night in January 2011 and stretching into February 2012. It was extraordinarily extreme — the researchers estimate that something like it occurs only once every 500 years.

As Hansen and his colleagues wrote in their paper published last November in the journal Environmental Research Letters:

In this normally cold semi-desert environment, we recorded above-zero temperatures (up to 7 °C) across the entire archipelago and record-breaking precipitation, with up to 98 mm rainfall in one day (return period of >500 years prior to this event) and 272 mm over the two-week long warm spell.

Seven degrees C is nearly 45 degrees F. Normal in winter on Svalbard is more like 5 degrees F.  And 272 millimeters of rain is nearly 11 inches — a huge amount for a polar, semi-desert environment.

On February 8, 2012, the maximum temperature at Akseløya in the archipelago reached 7.8 °C — the highest temperature ever recorded in Svalbard in that month.


Top: Long-term December–February mean air temperature in Longyearbyen, Svalbard and Ny-Ålesund. 2011–12 highlighted in red. Grey curves: decadal variations. Bottom: total winter rainfall 1957-2012 in Longyearbyen and 1969–2012 in Ny-Ålesund. (Source: Brage B Hansen et al/Environmental Research Letters)

The warm temperatures appear to be part of a long-term pattern. Both in Longyearbyen, the main town in Svalbard, and Ny-Ålesund, site of a major research station, average winter temperature has increased by ~4–5 °C since the mid 1990’s, according to the researchers. This has brought an increased probability of above-zero temperatures and winter precipitation falling as rain.

In February, 2012, the extreme warm spell was immediately followed by a cold period, with maximum temperatures of −10 degrees C or lower (14 F). This caused significant icing.

Hansen has catalogued some of the impacts that this series of events caused. One of the most dramatic was startlingly high reindeer mortality. It occurred because much of the plant material the animals depend on for food became locked away in a layer of ice rather than softer snow.

In his talk at the Arctic Frontiers conference, Hansen showed pictures of starving reindeer chomping unpalatable kelp from the shore, and attempting to reach dangerous mountain-goat heights to find vegetation still free of ice. Other impacts included washed out infrastructure on the islands, and potential threats to migratory species.

These events have already become much more common in recent years and may signal a new normal, Hansen says.

Ice Dependency

As many experts pointed out during the conference, the Arctic is not really one place. It’s a vast region with conditions that vary widely. And it turns out that just as too much ice can be a problem in some places and for some species, too little ice can be just as troublesome in other cases.

George L. Hunt, Jr., an ecologist at the University of Washington, is concerned about the loss of ice in the Arctic ocean — and the decline of creatures that depend on that ice to survive. While polar bears tend to come to mind, other species may be even more threatened, he said in his talk at the conference.

The walrus is among them. Polar bears actually spend a good deal of time on land. But walruses are even more dependent on extensive areas of sea ice while hunting and providing for their young.

Walruses typically dive to the bottom of the ocean to search for clams, snails, worms and other tasty snacks during the summer and autumn. It can be exhausting work, even for animals as robust as walruses. So they typically rest between dives on floating sea ice.

But as sea ice has shrunk in the Chukchi Sea north of Canada and Alaska, walruses have found their resting places disappearing. So they’ve periodically hauled out on land instead.


Thousands of Pacific walruses haul out onto a remote barrier island in the Chukchi Sea, near Pt. Lay in Alaska in September of 2013. (Photo: NOAA Fisheries. )

This phenomenon made headlines last September when an estimated 35,000 walruses hauled out near Point Lay Alaska. And it wasn’t the first time, as the image above shows. It’s an aerial photograph of walruses hauled out in the same area in 2013.


Onisimus glacialis, a common amphipod found only in association with Arctic sea ice. (Source: Bodil Bluhm, University of Alaska, Fairbanks)

There can be trouble with so many animals crowded together in such tight confines.  Walruses are highly sensitive to any kind of disturbance. So when an airplane zooms by, for example, or when there is another other kind of disturbance, it can cause a walrus stampede toward the water – crushing newborn calves in the process.

During his talk at Arctic Frontiers, Hunt said he’s also concerned for the fate of less charismatic creatures, including a variety of amphipods — tiny shrimp-like crustaceans. Some spend their entire life cycle attached to the underside of sea ice. As sea ice dwindles over decades of future warming, these species may disappear entirely, he said.

That might be a problem for other creatures in the ecosystem, including fish and birds, which may depend on eating certain species of amphipods. It could also affect smaller organisms that depend on the ability of amphipods to chew up and process small animals or algae into smaller, edible morsels.

“Where the summer ice disappears, they’re stuck,” Hunt said.

Hunt said he’s also concerned that as sea temperatures warm, other creatures may invade Arctic ecosystems to find more comfortable habitats. That could shake the foundations of already shaky Arctic ecosystems.

“If subarctic species come into the Arctic, there’s a fair chance that they will either compete with or eat some of the species that live up there,” he said.

The Other Gas Problem

As warming Arctic temperatures have caused floating sea ice to thin and shrink in extent, oil companies have focused their attention on large reserves of oil and gas believed to reside there. This has sparked concerns about the environmental impacts of exploiting fossil fuel reserves in what continues to be a very harsh environment.

But the Arctic also faces a more subtle gas problem: As oceans warm, methane gas trapped in the Arctic seabed has become more likely to bubble up to the surface. That’s a problem because as a greenhouse gas, methane is 20 to 30 times as potent as carbon dioxide. So it has the potential to exacerbate global warming — which would stimulate yet more methane release.

But that’s not the end of the methane story, according to JoLynn Carroll, a geochemist at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø.


Methane gas bubbles rise from the seafloor amidst a community of mussels north of Cape Hatteras along the U.S. coast. (Source: NOAA-OER/BOEM/USGS)

Seafloor exploration has revealed entire ecosystems that are adapted to harvesting methane leaks as an energy source. These ecosystems are different from the sunlight-based ones we’re used to here on the surface. They use a process called chemosynthesis instead of photosynthesis. Click the thumbnail at left to see an example off the U.S. coast.

Researchers have discovered such seeps on the seabed up in the Arctic too. But the organisms that harvest energy from methane at these seeps — including bacteria, tube worms, and bivalves — are poorly understood. And that means it’s still unclear what will happen to these creatures as warming continues. Will they expand their reach, soaking up more methane and reducing greenhouse gas leaks? Scientists just don’t know.

Carroll is trying to catalogue and describe these creatures in hopes of providing a better understanding of the impact they may have in a rapidly changing Arctic. So far, her team has identified three species brand new to science. Beyond that, Carroll said it’s hard to know what they’ll find.

A Bird’s-Eye View?

Overall, these and future lessons from ecology will help enrich not only our understanding of the changing north, but our imagination of what a future of climate change could really mean for life on this planet — including us. That’s why it’s important to dig beneath the satellite imagery.

Taking a bird’s-eye view is important too, but let’s not forget to take a worm’s-eye view as well.

  • OWilson

    How do you possibly sleep at night contemplating all that doom and gloom?

    Seriously though, I’m always amazed how warmers embrace “alternate energy sources”, and yet don’t seem to have the same enthusiasm for a really, really useful energy saving technology, like teleconferencing.

    Does your own carbon footprint not count if someone else is paying the airfare and the limo and hotel charges?

    • zlop

      Warming Zombies are tasked to repeat — thinking prohibited.

    • Tom Terrific

      So, you’re a ‘believer’ in AGW ? Thanks for you input and concern about the problem.

      • OWilson

        No, but it’s really annoying having chain smoking alcoholics preaching the dangers of smoking and drinking to me.


      • Bill

        What is “AGW”?

    • zlop

      “When Al Gore was caught running up huge energy bills at home at the same time as lecturing on the need to save electricity, it turns out that he was only reverting to “green” type.”

      “in an honour system in which participants were asked to take money from an envelope to pay themselves their spoils, the greens were six times more likely to steal than the conventionals.”

      Greens are dishonest stealers?

  • zlop

    “methane is 20 to 30 times as potent as carbon dioxide.
    So it has the potential to exacerbate global warming” ?

    Greenhouse gases Cool — quit repeating the IPCC deception.

    • Dan Andrews

      Complete nonsense, zlop. You may as well claim water bond angles aren’t 104.5 degrees and that water doesn’t freeze at 0 C and become densest at around 4 C. That is just a property of water, and is based on well understood physics and chemistry, the same physics and chemistry that say CO2 gas traps heat. In fact, the properties of CO2 dictate it must do that, which is why they could build a working CO2 laser.

      But if you want to overthrow a couple of centuries of radiative physics that has worked quite well in advancing our knowledge you’ll have to show 1) why physics is wrong, and 2) why a few hundred-thousand different kinds of molecules behave exactly as predicted despite the underlying physics being wrong. Do that and your name will be spoken in the same breath as Newton, Darwin, and Einstein.

      hmm, with all the money available from fossil fuels you’d think that somewhere at least one scientist would have already demonstrated that—-they’d become famous, write books, do the talk show circuit, get research units and whole universities named after them.

      • Jerome

        Well said. One difference between Internet trolls and scientists is that scientists submit their ideas and methodology to their peers (ie, competitors). Trolls like zlop can spout off whatever bullshit they want and dismiss counterarguments with insults.

        • zlop

          “scientists is that scientists submit their ideas and methodology to their peers”

          Papers are approved, by the IPCC, to make CO2 scaring policy.

        • Bill


          No scientist has disproven NASA’s reports on the cooling effect of CO@ on earth temperatures.


          The GHG block out more heat from the sun than they keep in, cooling the earth.

      • Bill


        NO scientific paper nor text book, has EVER said CO2 or any GHG “TRAPS” heat.

        All a molecule of a GHG can do is absorb an infrared photon. It isn’t trapping it, it is just absorbing it and then giving it off again.

        Don’t over think the facts.


        23% of the Sun’s heat entering the earth’s atmosphere is absorbed by the GHG in the air and sent back out into space. Only 5% of the heat given off by the earth is absorbed and sent back down to the earth.

        The NET effect of GHGs in the air is that they cool the earth by 18% over what the earth’s temperature would be if there were no GHGs to interfere with the suns heat from reaching the earth’s surface.

    • Chase

      Catch a clue, you dope. Even the Pentagon knew long ago, in its research on heat trapping greenhouse gases that was highly relevant to the effectiveness of heat-seeking missiles.

      • zlop

        “heat trapping greenhouse gases”
        “George Orwell: “Omission is the most powerful form of lie””

        Why are you lying, by omitting, that greenhouse gases radiate to space?

        Below the clouds, effect is saturated. Above the clouds, extra radiation to space,
        lowers clouds. Lower clouds result in lower surface temperature.
        Insight here; “Greenhouse gases cool planets: Volcanos warm them | Tallbloke'”

        • Chase

          Lol. Proof positive that a little (and I mean little) knowledge is a dangerous thing. What nonsense. You’re omitting the scientific truth, there, Mr. Orwell.

          • zlop

            Announcing that I have failed, when I have not,
            Why are you prevented from understanding a simple gedanken?

      • Bill

        Could you tell me where I can read this report?

  • Dan Andrews

    OWilson, it is fairly difficult to do field research via teleconferencing. When appropriate though teleconferencing is a huge time and energy saver. Most conferences among scientists/researchers are now done by teleconference, with teleconferencing increasing due to many factors (e.g. shrinking budgets) as well as awareness of the impact of travelling. Many who still have to travel try to offset their carbon footprint throughout the rest of the year.

    So to say they don’t have the same enthusiasm is a bit of a strawman argument. btw, no-one told me about the limos.

    • OWilson

      Unfortunately for your inflated ego nobody was advocating “research” by “teleconferencing”. That’s the strawman!

      We’re talking of conferences here like the one mentioned above, and this last one in Lima.

      Lima Climate Talks Set for Record Carbon Footprint -US News & World Report.

      (How much does it take to get 11,000 people from 190 countries, many at the Ministerial and Ambassador level, air lifted to the bottom of the Southern Hemisphere, and entertained at the finest hotels for two weeks?

      There goes $100 million or so right there.

      “We cannot have a climate agreement that condemns Mother Earth and humanity to death,” in favor of enriching the few, Bolivia’s left-wing President Evo Morales said, denouncing capitalism and consumption.

      Wonder what was on HIS dinner menu last night?)

      “Eleven football fields of temporary structures arose for the 13-day negotiations from what three months ago was an empty field behind Peru’s army’s headquarters. Concrete was laid, plumbing installed, components flown in from as far as France and Brazil.

      Standing in the midday sun here can get downright uncomfortable, but the Lima sun is not reliable. That’s one reason solar panels were not used.

      For electricity, the talks are relying exclusively on diesel generators.

      Organizers had planned to draw power from Peru’s grid, which is about 52 percent fed by non-polluting hydroelectric power. “We worked to upgrade transformers and generators but for some reason it didn’t work,” said Alvarez…..

      ….No hybrids or electric vehicles have been seen at the event. Japan donated 121 electric and hybrid vehicles, chiefly for dignitaries.”

      “Unfortunately, most didn’t arrive,” said Alvarez, blaming shipping bureaucracy.

      (Maybe that’s the reason you missed the limos?)

      • Chase

        Hilarious. You’re a typical mush-headed anti-intellectual right wing troll, a poster boy for the Dunning-Kruger effect. Morons like you will literally be the death of humanity.

      • rrocklin

        What is your point? Sure there is waste here just like any government or large organization. Should I stop using electricity and my car because I am convinced of man caused global warming and its catastrophic consequences? Are you going to stop using modern medical care because you believe there is a global conspiracy of scientists?

        • OWilson

          The first question is for you to answer. not me.

          The second is another AGWer strawman:
          There is NO conspiracy of scientists!

          • rrocklin

            Well I suppose you must have pointless comments. Sorry I read them. It sounds like you are one of the few deniers who don’t attribute climate change conclusions to conspiracy theories.

          • Bill

            Not really a conspiracy. Scientists need to raise money. If people are buying CO2 global warming, they will sell it. They don’t really care why you back their research with your tax dollars. If they have to lie a little, no biggy!

            That’s the way it is. People with money and power hear more lies than truths. And you’ll be told what you want to hear, so long as the money keeps coming.

            The Nuclear Power Industry has spent a lot of money to convince people that CO2 is warming the earth in order to boost Nuclear Power. It is working, but only because people don’t have the smarts and education to know it bull.


          • rrocklin

            The real money is in the fossil fuel industry and they have the ability to lobby and fund organizations that sow doubt of global warming. If you doubt the scientific process of peer review and publication then you should doubt all scientific conclusions from medicine, physics, biology, mathematics, and everything our modern life is based on.

          • Bill

            Hi rrocklin,

            I don’t doubt peer review, I just hold that peoples opinions are not important unless scientific testing verifies that opinion.
            NO Scientific test yet has confirmed that GHGs are warming the earth.
            NASA’s satellites, on the other hand, tell us that GHG in the atmosphere block out 23% of all the solar energy that reaches the earth.

            So lets look at the FACTS:

            GHGs are opaque to infrared radiation right?

            The sun sends a lot of infrared radiation at the earth right?

            If the GHGs absorb infrared radiation, then they MUST absorb incoming sun heat right?


            NASA reports, at the above web page, that the NIMBUS satellite orbiting above the earth’s atmosphere, is currently reporting that:

            “Today researchers know that roughly 1,368 watts per square meter (W/m2) of solar energy on average illuminates the outermost atmosphere of the Earth.”

            NASA also reports that 23% of this energy is absorbed and sent back into space by the atmosphere. Of the 77% that makes it down to the surface, 17% is converted into infrared radiation and sent back out into space. Of this 12% gets out and 5% is reflected back at the earth.

            That 5% is the “Greenhouse Pushing effect”, or the Warming Effect. The 23% is the “Greenhouse Pulling Effect” or the COOLING effect.

            So the Greenhouse Effects constitute a pulling effect (cooling effect) of 23% of total soar energy, and a pushing effect (warming effect) of 5% of total solar energy that makes it to the earth’s surface.

            23% vs 5%, which is bigger?

            Is the heating greater than the cooling, or is the cooling greater than the heating?

            Here is an experiment to prove GHG warming of the earth violates the Law of Conservation of energy, and therefore impossible!!!

            The earth has three distinct layers of atmosphere. So get three regular fish tanks and lay them out end-to-end to simulate these layers.

            Get a globe of the earth and put it at one end of the fish tanks.

            At the other end, put a radiant heater aiming it at the globe of the earth at the other end of the fish tanks.

            Get 5 scientific thermometers.
            Put one between the fish tanks and the earth globe, and one between the radiant heater and the first fish tank. Then put one in each of the three fish tanks.

            Get a Bottle of CO2 gas, and a pair of thick leather gloves to protect your hands.

            Also get a length of hose long enough to run form the tank nozzle to the three fish tanks.

            Finally get airtight covers for each fish tank and set them atop the fish tanks.

            Now fill each fish tank with CO2 gas, and set the air tight lid down on top of them to keep the gas in the tanks.

            Lastly, get a video monitor and an Infrared camera. Hook the camera to the monitor and plug it in, turn it on and aim it at the experimental fish tanks.

            Now let’s run the experiment.

            The heater is our simulated sun, the tanks filled with CO2 our simulated insulating GHG in the earth’s atmosphere, and the globe is the simulated earth.

            If the Law of Conservation of Energy is correct, when you turn on the radiant heater, it will send out infrared heat into the first fish tank warming the gas there. As the gas warms it will begin to emit infrared light which you will be able to see on the video monitor as a white glow in the first fish tank.

            This is heat energy you see in the monitor is some of the heat that entered into the first fish tank. The GHGs in the first fish tank deflected this heat away from the second fish tank, and so lessened the amount of heat which entered into the second fish tank.

            As the heat passed into the second fish tank, it too was partially absorbed by the GHG in the second fish tank. This warmed the gas there and it too started to glow on the monitor. This is more heat that was deflected away from the third fish tank.

            The heat that passed into the third fish tank was partly abosorbed by the GHG in that fish tank too. When it was absorbed, it warmed the GHG in the third fish tank as it did in the first and second tanks as well. Causing the GHG in the third fish tank to start to glow as the first and second fish tanks glowed.

            Now look at the thermometers in the fish tanks.

            According to the Law of Conservation of Energy. The energy in the experiment must always equal the starting heat energy that came out of the radiant heater. So the temperature of the first fish tank will be higher than the other two fish tanks. The second fish tank will be cooler than the first but warmer than the third, while the third will be cooler than the other two but warmer than the globe.


            The heat absorbed by each fish tank, the heat you saw on the monitor, was taken out of the heat stream going into the next fish tank. Therefore, the temperature of the heat stream was less than the starting temperature by and amount equal to all the heat the gas in the first fish tank radiated into the room.

            The second fish tank radiated MORE heat into the room lessening the heat streams total heat too.

            While the third did the same as the first two, it removed more heat from the heat stream and sent it into the room.

            Now look at the temperature of the thermometer between the tanks and the globe. Is it showing the same temperature as the thermometer between the radiant heater and the fist fish tank?

            No its not is it? It’s less than the starting temperature. The atmosphere in the three fish tanks absorbed some of the heat and sent it out into the room, LESS heat made its way to the surface of the globe equal to all the heat that was sent into the room by the CO2 gas.

            The earths atmosphere does the same thing to the incoming heat of the sun. The gas in the air absorbs some of the heat and sends it away from the earth cooling the surface of the earth before it even reaches the surface.

            If the temperature did not decline in exact accordance with the heat radiated away form the earth, THAT would violate the Law of Conservation Of Energy.

            The moon has no atmosphere and has a day time temperature of 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Its a night time temp is -264 degrees Fahrenheit.

            With no atmosphere to absorb the suns heat and deflect it away from the moon’s surface it gets the full brunt of the sun’s heat. Plus, with no atmosphere to help keep in the daytime heat, the dark side of the moon quickly looses its daytime heat.

            With no atmosphere the earth would see the same wild swings in temperature as the moon does.

            The earth’s atmosphere acts like an insulating blanket. Slowing down how quickly we warm up during the daytime, and slowing down how quickly we cool off during the night.

            It helps the earth keep a middle of the road temperature. Not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

          • rrocklin

            You have provided a thorough response and I should review the numbers but I will take the easy way out. GW is not opinion but has a scientific basis. If the earth had a moderate temp with co2 at 250ppm what happens when it is at 500ppm or 750ppm or 1000ppm. You cannot make huge changes in co2 concentration and expect things to stay the same.

          • Bill

            Hi rrocklin,

            Don’t confuse a scientific hypothesis based upon scientific understanding of nature for a scientific law that has been PROVEN to be true via scientific testing.

            All serious scientific ideas are based upon current scientific understanding of nature,and so have a scientific base, but that doesn’t make them true until testing can prove they are true.

            Here is the experiment that proves GHG warming of the earth is impossible, and in violation of the Law of Conservation of Energy.

            Put three average size fish tanks in line end-to-end.

            Put scientific thermometers in each tank.

            Fill them with CO2 gas and put an air-tight lid on top of them to keep the gas from getting out of the fish tank

            Place an earth globe at one end of the fish tanks.

            At the other end of the fish tanks, place a DIRECTIONAL RADIANT HEATER (DHR) and aim it at the globe at the other end of the fish tanks.

            Lastly place two more scientific thermometers. One between the DRH and the tanks, and one between the globe and the tanks.

            Finally get an INFRARED camera and set it up aimed at the fish tanks.

            Now we are set to run the experiment.

            This experiment simulates the sun and earth atmosphere’s GHG effect on heat entering the earths atmosphere.

            Now turn on the heater and watch the camera monitor.

            As soon as the heater is activated, you will see in the camera that the gas in the first tank starts to glow! Then the second tank starts to glow, then the third tank starts to glow in the infrared wavelength.

            The CO2 gas is absorbing the incoming radiant heat given off by the heater, and then emits it into the room. If you move the camera around the experiment you’ll see that the gas is emitting heat into all the areas of the room.

            This means that some of the heat in the DHR’s heat stream is being taken OUT of the heat stream and re-directed, by the CO2 gas, into the room and so away from our simulated earth cooling the heat stream, and so cooling the earth.

            This cooling can now be verified by looking at the scientific thermometer readings.

            Moving from the thermometer at the globe to the one at the heater, we can see that each thermometer show more heat energy is present. The greatest amount of heat is at the thermometer next to the heater, and the least amount of heat is found at the globe.

            The Law of Conservation of Energy tells us that the total amount of energy in any system MUST ALWAYS REMAIN THE SAME!!!

            Energy cannot be destroyed nor created (First Law of Thermo-Dynamics)

            The temperature of the heat stream of the DRH fell by the exact amount of heat that was re-directed out into the room by the GHG CO2 gas. NO heat energy was created nor destroyed, it was all conserved. It just didn’t all get to the globe.

            The earth’s atmosphere does the same thing.

            Heat enters the atmosphere warming the gases, particulate matter, and vapors in the atmosphere, these then glow and give off radiant heat energy into the environment. Most of it gets shot out into space away from the earth, while some of it makes its way down to the earth.

            Now here’s a question.

            We know that GHGs are insulation gases, but they are not PERFECT THERMAL INSULATORS.

            What if they were?

            What would happen to the earth if we put a PERFECT THERMAL INSULATOR into the air? An insulator that didn’t allow any of the sun’s radiant energy to pass through to the earths surface?

            Tell me what you think would happen?

            Would we get warmer, or colder?

            Remember, Clouds are the MOST insulating things in the sky, so when the sky is overcast in clouds, does it get warmer or colder?

            Have a Great Day.

          • rrocklin

            Sounds interesting but unfortunately the earth is much more complex. The gradual, if erratic, warming of the earth and oceans, and rising sea levels over the past 100 years provides some level of confidence in gw theories. It is not a law but a level of confidence based on evolving models and data collection.

          • Bill

            Hey rrocklin,

            “Sounds interesting but unfortunately the earth is much more complex”

            You are absolutely correct. There are numerous factors acting on earth temperature, however, I am only discussing GHGs and their total NET effect on the ocean in this thread.

            However we can discus the other stuff too if you want to. Just steer the talk into the area you’d like to discuss.

            “The gradual, if erratic, warming of the earth and oceans, and rising sea levels over the past 100 years provides some level of confidence in gw theories.”

            Incorrect, it is how warmers Lie about what is happening. 100 or 150 years can’t tell you anything except what happened in that period of time.

            Ice ages last for millions of years. Inter-glacial ages last for tens of thousands of year. Solar minimums and maximums last for hundreds of years. All of these factors last for longer than 150 years.

            You must look at hundreds of millions of yrs of climate data to learn what is happening. If you look at only a small period they you are prejudicing your findings, or worse, your cherry-picking in order to lie to people.

            Warmers always do this. They only talk abut the period after the Little Ice Age.
            They don’t talk about the cooling effect of GHGs in blocking out sun heat, they only talk about the 5% heat that is kept in.

            There is NO SCIENCE in GHG warming, none!

            Scientific experiments have repeatedly proven that it doesn’t happen, and their projections of warming have always been way more than what actually happened on the earth. They have never guessed right, and that is what they are doing guessing. It is not science.

            Science lives by its LAWs rrocklin.

            You cant say your are being scientific if you are dismissing them. You cannot claim to have a scientific explanation for earth climate if you are not using them to prove you are correct. If the LAWs of Nature that govern the universe say you are wrong, you are wrong. If the satellite measurements NASA takes every day say you’re idea is wrong. then it is wrong.

            You have to have scientific proof not opinion.

            Science is about accepting that there is no prof for your belief and moving on.
            Doing otherwise is Religion!

            Are you a priest or a scientist?

            Have a great day.

          • rrocklin

            Being an engineer I am all about laws and collecting good data. We do have limited historic data but will never have perfect data. Decisions are made all the time with imperfect data. Consider going to the doctor. Do you disregard a diagnosis because the data is imperfect. It is based on risk analysis. If risk is very high you must be very conservative in decision making.

          • Bill

            Imperfect data? What data are we speaking about that is imperfect?
            We’re are discussing the scientifically proven fact that GHG are insulating gases, and that they keep out 23% of the sun’s energy.
            If a day ever comes when they are so numerous that the 23% becomes 100%, then all surface live will be dead.
            The difference between 23% and 100% is just more GHGs in the atmosphere.
            Double the GHG in the atmosphere and it will block out 46% of incoming solar energy.
            Double it again and you’ll block out 92%. That’s not 100% but it will kill everything on the surface of the earth.
            The Nuclear Power Industry has been lying to you. The politicians and scientists who are paid off by the Nuclear Power Industry are also lying to you. The tree hugging anti-industrialization people are lying to you.

            It has be proven scientifically that it is impossible to warm the earth by increasing the GHGs in the atmosphere.

            We don’t know everything, but we do know that.

            Here is something to watch. It is the side the media won’t tell you.


          • rrocklin

            You have the physics wrong. You nor I are experts and there have been thousands of peer reviewed publications by people who actually understand the physics. It is not coincidental that the warming of the planet corresponds to the large increases of co2. There are some deniers in this profession but they are a very small minority. If you think the scientific process flawed then you can doubt evolution, medicine, physics, and all other scientific endevors. If you do not think there is conspiracy in the scientific community then stick to the consensus until disproved.

          • Bill

            Hi rrocklin,

            “You have the physics wrong.”

            Okay so tell me what I got wrong?


            “You nor I are experts and there have been thousands of peer reviewed publications by people who actually understand the physics.”

            Don’t speak for other people’s qualifications.

            You accused me of not understanding what NASA said and then had to take it back.

            I can tell from what you’ve written that YOU don’t know about Physics and climatology, that is not true of me. I have two peer review articles in Physics to my credit.

            I am far more qualified than Al Gore is, yet you listen to him.

            I’ve given you the mathematics and experimentation that proves Greenhouse gas warming is impossible.

            What have you given me in rebuttal?

            Nothing. You haven’t quoted any source against anything I’ve written. You can’t name what it is you think I’ve gotten wrong nor send me to a reliable scientific source that says I did, because there is none.

            You are the one religiously saying natural Laws aren’t believable. Cite theses scientists who say I’m wrong? Show me there papers where they say that NASA’s figures are wrong? Who says the Law of Conservation of Energy is wring?

            Name these scientists?

            I’ve quoted you my sources and sent you to web sites, as well as done the math for you so you can do it yourself.

            Did you do the math yourself? Did you get different numbers than I did?

            Science is about proof not consensus.

            Religion is about consensus.

            Show me that math that proves IM’ wrong and that the Warmers are right?

            NASA’s satellite data is undeniable. the atmosphere blocks out 23% o f incoming solar energy, and it only traps in 5%. YOU know 23 is a bigger number than 5, and it is NASA, NOT me saying that this is happening.

            Who conducted an experiment proving that GHG warming was happening?


            “It is not coincidental that the warming of the planet corresponds to the large increases of co2.”
            The earth has been warming for the last 45,000 years rroclklin, how does that prove GHG warming now?
            The truth is, it takes a high I.Q. to understand science, and most people don’t have one.
            You obviously are having real trouble dealing with the simple idea that the atmosphere actually blocks out more heat than it traps in, even though you know the sun is much hotter than the earth and gives off much more heat. And you went to the NASA web page that say so.
            You say lots of scientist say NASA is wrong, so tell me who said it and let me read here comments.
            Global warming is real, it has been warming for 45,000 years. That is in all the textbooks.
            Man Made GHG warming is impossible.
            No one has yet to prove experimentally nor mathematically, that adding GHGs to the air will warm the earth. NASA and all experimentation reproducing the effect atmospherics on incoming radiation prove that it doesn’t.
            Opinion is not science, experimentation and mathematics is, simple as that.

          • rrocklin

            Ok, great maybe you know something other experts in the field don’t. I would write a paper for publication, get it peer reviewed and publish it to add a different perspective. People can then respond to your ideas. That is the scientific process.

        • Bill


          Why are you convinced? Do you have the I.Q. to understand the science, and the science education to evaluate what you read?

          If so read this and tell me what NASA is saying:


  • Chase

    I vote that demonstrable barbarian climate deniers are barred from owning or using air conditioning, starting today. That should provide at least a little schadenfreude for those of us suffering through the disasters that they will be needlessly inflicting on all of us, after the methane bomb goes off and deadly heat waves predominate by mid-century.

    • OWilson

      Those jackboots are really cool, eh?

      Forget it, it was all tried before.

    • Bill

      By that Chase, are you talking about climate change, or Man Made GHG Climate change?

  • zlop

    “NASA and NOAA that 2014 was likely the hottest year on record”?
    Remember climategate, fake Moon Landing and NOAA Ocean Ph lie.

    1930 decade was warmer. “The Arctic ocean is warming up, icebergs are
    growing scarcer and in some places the seals are finding the water too hot,”

  • judy

    They are exposing the scientists for falsifying the data on global warming….science is losing it’s trustworthiness and it’s hard to know who to believe

    • OWilson

      That’s hardly fair to real scientists. The problem is not the science, but the politicization of the same.

      We don’t get our daily news from scientists.

      The admittedly liberal MSM are generally the gatekeepers and interpreters and when they say, “scientist say, studies say….”, you are hearing what they want you to hear.

      You should not believe everything the MSM tell you, or even your partisan government, for obvious reasons.

      In spite of the “97% of scientists” figure they throw at you every day, there is, and never was a 97% consensus that climate change will be catastrophic for humanity.

      (That last part is what the left wing leaning folks throw in, not the scientists themselves. The scientists are a little smarter, they hedge their bets, with “may”, “could”, “suggest”, “likely”, “possibly”, “might”, and so on.)

    • Bill

      You know Judy, people have always been ignorant, and so overly trusting.

      When the NIXON tapes were played for the first time, people were shocked that the President swore!

      They just didn’t believe a President of the United States would swear in the White House!!!

      Is that stupid or what?

      Of course Presidents swear. They are just like everyone else.

      We should always take what people are selling with a grain of salt.

      Wise people do.

      Google everything you hear.

      Go to YOUTUBE.com and search for Climate Change deniers and listen to what the scientist have to say and get it from the other side too.

      The Liberals control the media but not YOUTUBE.com.

      Watch vid on climate changes and the Ice ages, and Hurricane Sandy. Be curious and read a lot.

      Trust but Verify!!!

      A lot of people are making money off CO2 global warming. Where there is money and power there is creed and lies, and little truth.

  • Tom Yulsman

    Mr. OWilson: You criticize scientists for gathering at a conference but say nothing about the research findings that Avery McGaha, the author of this post, documented. The scientists involved in this research have dedicated their lives to improving understanding of aspects of nature. And that work has direct relevance to us. But rather than be intellectually honest about this, your response simply drips with easy venom, sanctimony and hyper-partisanship. It is possible to disagree over issues respectfully and honestly, but that is not what I hear coming from you.

    As for the travel issue: Part of the scientific process is to hold your findings up to the scrutiny of your peers — not only in journals but also in person. Also, creativity and new ideas are much more likely to blossom from personal, face-to-face interactions than with Skype. This has been the purpose of scientific conferences from time immemorial: peer review, comparing ideas, recharging intellectual batteries, making fruitful connections that can help future research, etc. And THAT’s why these scientists attended the Arctic Frontiers meeting. The fact that you so cynically dismiss this shows that you are not serious, and that you see the world through a partisan screen that will filter out any idea that differs from how you perceive the world.

    That said, it is reasonable to ask whether there could be a better way to reach an international agreement on climate change than the current system, which unquestionably is wasteful. (It is, by the way, completely separate from Arctic Frontiers. The two have nothing to do with each other.) Moreover, decades of experience would suggest that it is not terribly effective either. But you are so cynical and jaded that you think the purpose of these meetings is for people to ride around in limos. You lump hundreds of people into the same category, disparaging them and impugning their motives simply because you disagree with them. So please excuse me if I don’t take you seriously.

    • OWilson

      I don’t expect to be taken seriously in an AGW Blog. :)

      That’s why I put a smiley at the end most of my posts, none of which are directed at you personally. I don’t know you.

      Since I am labeled a “denier” and worse by your readers, I tend to generalize when it comes to AGWers.

      Surely, on such a controversial subject, there is room for a “denier” so that folks can at least understand, even if they dismiss outright, the opposing view.

      The opportunity for which, I thank, and respect you.

    • Bill

      Tom, you do know that the earth has been going through these Ice Ages, to inter-glacial ages, to Ice Ages, into Inter-glacial age, for a long time right?

      Nothing is happening in the Arctic and Anti-arctic that hasn’t happened before.

      So you shouldn’t be surprised that it is happening again right?

      You might want to do some reading about past earth temperatures, and climate shifts.

      • rrocklin

        Rather than trying to interpret the physics yourself here is a prepared statement by the american physical society which included gw science skeptics on the panel drafting the statement. If you have a phd in physics and have spent a career studying climate science or at least atmospheric science then you should have participated on this panel or could publish papers criticizing the science.

        On climate change: “Earth’s changing climate is a critical issue that poses the risk of significant disruption around the globe. While natural sources of climate variability are significant, multiple lines of evidence indicate that human influences have had an increasingly dominant effect on the climate warming observed since the mid-twentieth century. Although the magnitudes of future effects are uncertain, human influences on the climate are growing. The potential consequences of climate change are great and the policies of the next few decades will determine human influences on the climate for centuries.”

        On climate science: “As summarized in the 2013 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there continues to be significant progress in climate science. In particular, the connection between rising concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases and the increased warming of the global climate system is more certain than ever. Nevertheless, as recognized by Working Group 1 of the IPCC, scientific challenges remain to our abilities to observe, interpret, and project climate changes. To better inform societal choices, the APS urges sustained research in climate science.”

        On climate action: “The APS reiterates its 2007 call to support actions that will reduce the emissions, and ultimately the concentration, of greenhouse gases, as well as increase the resilience of society to a changing climate. Because physics and its techniques are fundamental elements of climate science, the APS further urges physicists to collaborate with colleagues across disciplines in climate research and to contribute to the public dialogue.”

  • Susan Anderson

    Thank you for this article which carefully documents some of the complex detail that goes into making our interrelated world function and the ways they are changing.

    Your response below is a model of polite and patient response to someone who seems to wish to avoid absorbing the material but is bent on finding fault with it.

    So double thanks. I am not going to join the argument as it appears to be a waste of time, and some of the people who actually follow science and are trying to identify the false arguments would do well to couch their complaints without the gratuitous insults.

    The article itself is well worth a careful read regardless of your politics. The earth is not interested in politics, but scientists are interested in the earth and have found out a great deal of things that are of benefit or interest to us all.

  • wangweilin

    This is for all you tree hugging IPCC sycophants to consider.

    How is solar good for the environment? It requires extensive mining for rare earth elements, usually in China damaging the environment, covers 1000’s of acres of land which damages the environment, concentrators kill 1000’s of protected birds(read report on Ivanpah in California), requires traditional sources as backup because of its unreliability and inefficiencies. Extensive construction requirements, extensive land use issues. Expensive subsidies even when no power is generated. Most of the GSE receiving grants for solar were heavy democrat donors and have gone bankrupt laughing all the way to the bank. Solyndra is the most well known of these.

    How is wind good for the environment? It also requires extensive mining for rare earth elements. The turbines kill hundreds of thousands of birds and bats per year. The ultra-low sonics cause health problems. They are so ugly even liberal New Englanders didn’t want them near Cape Cod. Turbines are also inefficient requiring traditional backup. They don’t run in high wind and they don’t run in low wind. Property values are damaged in the vicinity of wind farms. Wind farms also require extensive construction of the farm and infrastructure. In terms of economics most of the suppliers are paid whether they generate electricity or not since they are on the subsidy teat.

    So tree huggers I hope you feel good about the birds and bats being killed and the damage done to the environment just to make ‘green’ power. Also if you really believe carbon energy is bad please turn off traditional power sources. No complaining while you shiver in the cold.

    • rrocklin

      Get a clue. Compare the envirnmental impact of solar and wind vs the continued burning of fossil fuel. And a typical denier argument of “Turn off the power and freeze if you you don’t like it”. You must be an “America love it or leave it” wing nut.

      • wangweilin

        I did compare the environmental impact when I mentioned China. Reading comprehension much. All the statements I made are factual and easy to verify. Thanks for the insults, the soft violence of liberals.

        • rrocklin

          You did not comprehensively compare the environmental cost of fossil fuel use to the solar and wind energy industry cost. They are not even close. Think about the strip mines, the steel use, the poluted streams, ground water and air associated with fossil fuels. Do some research while I unplug my appliances and freeze.



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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