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Arctic Ice Melt: Telepress Conference

On September 15, 2011, Earthjustice hosted a telepress conference with three of the leading research scientists on climate change, who spoke about the massive ice melt record, weather patterns and rising sea levels.

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Earthjustice National Press Secretary Kari Birdseye hosted a telepress conference with three leading research scientists on climate change, who spoke about the massive ice melt record, climate change, weather patterns and rising sea levels.

Part 1: Introduction and Dr. Walt Meier's remarks:

[ Download MP3 ]

Part 2: Dr. James Overland's remarks:

[ Download MP3 ]

Part 3: Dr. Robert Dunbar's remarks:

[ Download MP3 ]

Q&A: Questions from media:

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Date Recorded: September 15, 2011

[Part 1]

Kari Birdseye: On September 15, 2011, Arctic sea ice shrank to its second-smallest extent in decades of monitoring, second only to the record-setting melt that alarmed scientists around the world in 2007.

The melting of Arctic sea ice is a powerful indicator of the rapid warming occurring throughout the Arctic. This warming has also increased melting of continental glaciers and the Greenland Ice Sheet, which led scientists earlier this year to project a sea level rise of 0.9 to 1.6 meters (or as much as 5 feet) by the end of this century.

Warming in the Arctic also affects weather in the United States and other countries at mid-latitudes and is thought to be responsible for more severe storms.

This recording presents three leading scientists, introduced by NGO [non-governmental organization] policy experts.

Rafe Pomerance, from Clean Air-Cool Planet, introduces Dr. Walter Meier, a research scientist from the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Ellen Baum from the Clean Air Task Force introduces Dr. James Overland, a research oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

And, Erika Rosenthal from Earthjustice introduces Dr. Robert Dunbar, Professor of Earth Sciences at Stanford University's Center for Ocean Solutions. Dr. Dunbar spoke with us via satellite phone from Palmyra, a remote low-lying Pacific atoll where he's researching sea level rise.

Rafe Pomerance: Good afternoon, here in the east coast. Good morning, I guess, still, in the west coast. It's great to be with everyone today. I just wanted to say a couple of words about Walt Meier, who is with us. Walt is an excellent scientist and particularly great educator who has, from my experiences, managed to take very complex issues and successfully explain them to the public. I just think it's great that we can hear from him at this dramatic moment on the planet and that just to say that the Arctic sea ice has been and continues to be a leading indicator of climate change. Thirty years ago, it used to be just something that was in the model prediction, but now we see that the reality's upon us. My own view is that the loss of ice is an urgent message and requires a comprehensive policy in response. So, let me just turn it over to Dr. Meier.

Dr. Walter Meier: Thank you, Rafe. As Rafe says, I work a lot with the satellite data measuring the sea ice. We have data that goes back over 30 years, back to 1979. We just, this morning, it looks like we reached the minimum of this year, which typically happens around the middle of September, and we have reached the second lowest in our data, 4.33 million square kilometers or 1.67 million square miles. It's just a little bit above 2007, which was the record low, but way below our '79 to 2000 average. The last 5 years, 2007 through the present year to 2011, have been the 5 lowest minimums that we've seen in the satellite record in likely for many years before that. From other data and other information that we have, this is quite unprecedented in quite a while and this is really the continuing trend of the long-term decline. The ice cover is, in the summer, retreating at over 10% per decade now, and that has been accelerating in recent years. The last decade in particular has seen a particularly fast decline and very low ice extents. We've also seen that the thickness of the ice cover is dramatically decreasing. We've probably lost 40 to 50% of the thickness. A lot of the oldest and thickest ice types have disappeared and were dominated more by thinner, seasonal ice that is much more susceptible to melt and that's what we saw this year. Even though the weather conditions weren't as extreme, over most of the Arctic, as in 2007, we nearly matched the 2007 levels. And I think I will stop there and pass it along and be available to answer questions afterward. Thank you.

[Part 2]

Ellen Baum: Thank you Dr. Meier. I'm Ellen Baum. I'm a senior scientist at the Clean Air Task Force. And the alarming rapid changes in the Arctic sea ice loss has really captured the thinking of a number of fora who are looking at whether there are ways to slow the melting in the next two decades. Three examples of for a who have taken this on are the Arctic Council, the Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution and the International Maritime Organization, which regulates shipping. They've looked at the role of short-lived climate forcers, such as black carbon, methane, tropospheric ozone, the roles that they might play in warming and melting, and how reduction in the sources of these pollutants could reduce ice loss. I'm happy to turn the attention now to Dr. Overland, research oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder. We know that nothing gets people more interested in the climate than their own weather, especially unusual weather, and Dr. Overland has looked at the potential relationships between loss of sea ice extent and volume and weather the mid-latitude has experienced over the past few decades. Thank you, Dr. Overland.

Dr. James Overland: Thank you very much. I'd like to highlight two main points. As Walt mentioned, when we had the major loss in 2007, which was a real major one year reduction, we weren't sure whether that was just one time extreme event or not. And every year since 2007 the ice has been less than before 2007, but the near tide this year between 2011 and 2007 suggests that this isn't just a random event but it's a long-term change in Arctic climate. And it shows up by the fact that by 2007 there were some really unusual winds that helped the ice loss along, where this year we didn't really have that. It was more that we had low ice at the beginning of the summer, and so that rather than a one year rare event, this looks like it has to do with it changing the memory of the polar climate system especially through the thickness in the ice. I'd also like to bring up some of the impacts of loss of sea ice. The one that's fairly straightforward is its impact on marine mammals that use ice at the end of the summer for their habitat. Polar bears north of Alaska now have much further to go between Alaska and where the ice edge is, and walrus that usually spend all of their time drifting around on ice flows, this year is several, previous years they've had to haul out on shores, which brings a lot of extra stress on their populations. The other thing we've looked at is it's not just the loss of ice, it's the fact that the open sea ice free areas have greatly increase, so we're capturing more of the solar radiation that hits the earth in these ocean areas rather than reflecting them from the white ice when we used to have ice there. So we're actually increasing the amount of heat coming into the planet, and heat doesn't just stay in the ocean but in the fall comes back out into the atmosphere and affects the winds, both locally in the arctic and we're seeing more suggestions that it changes some of the whole planetary wind patterns further south. Well, that's it for me.

[Part 3]

Erika Rosenthal: Thank you so much, Dr. Overland. I'm Erika Rosenthal with Earthjustice. As we've heard, the loss of sea ice is a powerful indicator of the rapid warming occurring throughout the Arctic. This warming is also causing extraordinary increases in the melting of mountain glaciers and the Greenland ice sheet. This led scientists earlier this year to project a sea level rise of .9 to 1.6 meters. That's as much as 5 feet by the end of the century. The low-lying states such as the Pacific Islands, Bangladesh, many others, and for many communities here in the U.S., this will be calamitous. But we still have time to slow Arctic warming and melting in the near term by reducing emissions and short-lived climate forcers like black carbon and methane, as Ellen noted. Reducing these emissions is being discussed here at home. EPA is soon to present a report to Congress, and International Arctic Council and at regional air quality conventions, including one to which the U.S. is a party. So the fate of the Arctic will in great part determine the fate of low-lying coastal communities and islands around the world. Dr. Dunbar, professor of Earth Sciences at Stanford University, is currently conducting climate research on Palmyra. He speaks with us via satellite phone from the Pacific, where many places sea level rises have already taken a serious toll. Thank you, Dr. Dunbar.

Dr. Robert Dunbar: Yeah, thanks Erika, and good morning everyone. As Erika said, I'm on satellite phone, so if I start breaking up, please, somebody let me know. It's 8 o'clock in the morning here, Palmyra Atoll. It's a tiny coral reef island south of Hawaii and about 300 miles north of the equator. I'm here with a team of 12 scientists. We're studying the impacts of climate change on the island and the amazing community of organisms that make up this place. Palmyra teems with life that humans have very little impact here over the millennia. There's abundant fish, especially sharks, there's huge colonies of sea birds. But here's the thing, this atoll is really flat. The land here barely rises above the sea. In fact, most of the island is less than 3 feet above sea level just like the nearby islands of the nation of Kiribati. And on islands like this, even small changes in sea level make a big difference. And this is the link I want to make to what's happening in the polar regions. The news that we've just heard about, you know, it's another truly important sign of rapid warming at the poles. And even though melting of the sea ice by itself doesn't change sea levels, as Dr. Overland said, the warmer ocean waters that are associated with loss of sea ice can and do have an impact on the melting of continental ice. It's loss of continental ice from the polar regions that's now causing sea levels to rise worldwide somewhere at about, well, somewhere between 3 and 4 millimeters per year. And just like the loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic, this rate of sea level rise around the world is increasing and the rate of increase appears to be rising as well. So what's going on in the Arctic is really important for the places like Palmyra. The less summer sea ice there is, the more the sun can warm the ocean. Ocean heat then contributes to more rapid melting of continental ice. Now of course, sea level rise, it's only one element of climate change challenge for coral reef systems. We're also seeing direct effects from rising ocean temperatures, and we're starting to track the impacts from rising levels of carbon dioxide dissolved in the sea. You take all these together, these are big problems for coral reefs and many of the world's low-lying coastal nations. So I'll stop there. Thank you.

[Part 4]

Kari: Thank you, Dr. Dunbar. As we've heard from the scientists reporting from their various areas today on their findings and making news, we have reached a dramatic moment. The Arctic sea ice is a leading indicator of climate change and the potentially historic Arctic ice melt pictures and maps are the visual message of urgency. Disastrous weather events and rising sea levels here in the U.S. affect us all on a personal level. We'd like to note that all of these scientists are independent and not affiliated with any of our organizations. We've heard about the need for action to slow arctic warming and melting from the NGO representatives today. Action is needed now and requires a comprehensive policy approach to combating climate change. And as we've heard, we have the time to slow warming and the melting in the Arctic in the near term by reducing emissions. We open it up now to your questions. I just want to briefly mention that a recording of this telepresser can be found on the Earthjustice website at earthjustice.org as well as the Clean Air Task Force website, at catf.us. The recording should be available to you within the hour. An operator will explain the question and answer process now. Thank you for joining us.

Operator: If anyone has any questions, please press 1 on your phone. Again, if anyone does have any questions now, please press 1 on your phone.

Kari: We'll just give the reporters just a minute. We do have quite a few reporters on the line, and we have this unique opportunity to talk directly to the scientists, so we welcome your questions to any, Dr. Overland, Dr. Meier or Dr. Dunbar. We're also making available our experts from the NGO community, Erika Rosenthal from Earthjustice, Ellen Baum from the Clean Air Task Force, and Rafe Pomerance from Clean Air Cool Planet.

Operator: And our first question is from Seth Borenstein, the Associated Press, your line is live.

Seth: Yes, can you hear me?

Kari: Yes, please go ahead.

Seth Borenstein: Great, there seemed to be problems earlier. It's Seth Borenstein from AP. For Walt and Dr. Overland, just in general, can you go through where the predictions have been for summer sea ice to eventually being, the Arctic to be free of sea ice in the summer? I know we've heard it as early as 2015. When do you think it will be, and what are the later dates that you've heard?

Dr. Overland: Even 5 years ago, we thought it might be end of the century, but most of the models were saying around mid-century or a little later. But 2007 really moved up the agenda so if you just for the fact that the real world is faster than the models, some of the work that I've done and some of the work that Walt co-authored are looking at 2030 or 2040 something like that. There is one major scientist that's talking 2015, 2020, and that's based upon the ice volume decrease. But I think we're looking more at 2030 or so, simply because it'll be really hard to get rid of that last ice near the North Pole to go away. Normally there's not enough solar heating right at the North Pole, so you'd have to blow some warm air in there to get that last ice. So that's why I'm more in the 2030-40 school than 2015.

Dr. Meier: Yeah, and, this is Walt, I would agree with Jim. I think 2015 seems a little extreme. And there's still, even though the ice is thinning, there's still a lot of reasonably thick ice up near the north pole that's going to take a lot to melt that or move that out of the region. So I think we're certainly a lot sooner than what we had previously thought. A lot sooner than what was published in the IPCC report. But I think 2030 to 2040 is a good range. But it's going to depend a lot on variability in the climate, not just kind of the long-term trend. It depends how often we get kind of kicks downward like 2007. That's a relatively rare event that you get everything kind of coming together well, but they will happen again in the future. It's just the matter of when, and how big they'll be. So 2030 to 2040 on average is probably a good thing, but I wouldn't bet my life on it. But that would be my best estimate and it seems where the models are starting to converge as well.

Seth: Thank you.

Dr. Overland: I just add on this variability. It's part of why this Arctic climate change is so special because we have this gradual global warming and then when you get warm air from just natural swings, the two of those add together to give you one of these real fast downward swings sea ice. And then we tend to stay there rather than bouncing back, so we probably need a couple more of these combined events to really kick us down to the loss of summer sea ice. So that's where the uncertainty and this randomness of date plus or minus over 10 years comes from.

Seth: Thank you.

Operator: Thank you, and our next question is from Bryan Walsh with Time Magazine. Your line is live.

Bryan Walsh: Hi, I'm not sure who had said early on in this presentation, but sort of comparing this year to 2007, they mentioned that part of the extremeness of 2007 was winds or some other factors at play. Could you go into a little more detail about that about how this year does differ from 2007, and if you'd seen some of those factors in 2007 that contributed to that record loss of ice beyond temperature had happened this year might we have reached a new low.

Dr. Meier: I think that was me, this is Walt. In 2007, it was kind of a perfect storm of conditions on top of the longer term decline. Those conditions, they had to happen in 1985 wouldn't have driven it nearly as low as what happened in 2007, so it was preconditioned to be susceptible. But we had sunny skies right at the solar, at the solstice right in June, mid-June through early July, so there was a lot of solar energy, 24 hours of sunlight coming in. The winds pushed the ice northward, and that helped kind of contract the ice cover, made the extent smaller. The ocean was really warm. And this year, we don't see that same pattern. Certainly some winds that were pushing at times, but not nearly as consistently as in 2007. It was warm this year. It was warmer than average, but it wasn't as warm as 2007 in much of the Arctic, and we haven't noticed any atypical lack of cloudiness like we saw in 2007 in the oceans. Our little warmer than normal but not like 2007. So this year is saying, even though 2007 was kind of still somewhat strong but it took a big punch. And now this year, the punch wasn't as hard, but the ice was a lot weaker. I think if we had gotten conditions like 2007 this year, if we had the same conditions, I'd almost would say definitely we would've gone below 2007, maybe quite a ways below 2007.

Dr. Overland: Yeah so, again, that's why this year timing the record was such a big deal because in 2007, we had some extreme conditions that contribute to the minimum where this year we're getting a tie for the record minimum but it has more to do with changing the long-term climate of the Arctic rather than just a single one year extreme event.

Bryan: Thank you.

Operator: And our next question is from Ann Thompson with NBC. And Thompson with NBC, your line is live.

Ann Thompson: Thank you very much. I think this question is for Walt. Walt, I know you said that the ice is down now down to 1.67 million square miles. How big was it when it started and how much ice has been lost?

Dr. Meier: Well, if you look back in the '80s, it was around two and a half million, a little more than two and a half million square miles. If you kind of roughly put that, you know it was a little higher at the beginning of that time period then little lower towards the end of it, there was a trend there. But to kind of give it some perspective, that was roughly about the size of the area of the lower 48 United States. A little bit less than that, but kind of picture that as a good ballpark estimate of the size of the area. And now kind of we've essentially taken away east of the Mississippi and then gone beyond that at other kind of states. All the states east of the Mississippi and all the states west of the Mississippi that are bordering the Mississippi, that's about how much we've lost since then. So it's about a million square kilometers, or actually a little more than a square kilometers, right around a million square kilometers compared to what the long-term average has been, or was back in the 1980's.

Ann: So just to make sure I got this right. So when you measured the minimum sea ice back in the '80s it was about 2.5 million square miles.

Dr. Meier: Yes.

Ann: And now, essentially we've lost everything east of the Mississippi and all the states bordering the Mississippi.

Dr. Meier: Yes.

Dr. Overland: So that's about a 35–40% loss, isn't it Walt?

Dr. Meier: Yes, it's about 35% I believe.

Ann: Thank you.

Dr. Overland: I also want to bring up that the same time we've been losing ice thickness as well and that we don't have the real thick old ice we used to have. It used to be the climate fly-wheel for the Arctic, so we think the Arctic is more vulnerable now, not only because we've lost the extent that opens up the ocean area, but the ice that's still there is more vulnerable as well.

Operator: And our next question is from Ryan Tracy with Dow Jones. Your line is live.

Ryan Tracy: Hi, thanks for having the call. I wonder if you could address just the scope of the time period we're talking about. I can imagine a climate denier saying, "Oh but it's only since 1980, your date doesn't go back far enough." Can you address that point?

Dr. Meier: I guess I'll take that first. Others may want to comment as well. This is Walt again. Our data, our consistent, complete, everyday we get data. It goes back to 1979, so we have very high confidence that we can very accurately state what the trends are and how much ice there is in a consistent manner. But going back beyond that, that's before we've had complete data. But we can look at partial data from going back another 40 or 50 years, actually back into the 1930s, but it gets less and less complete. And it's quite clear that where we're at now it's quite a bit lower than it was back then. Before then, we're kind of making some inferences from temperature records and then getting into ice cores and other paleo proxy records, but it certainly appears that we haven't seen ice cover this low probably for the last several thousand years.

Dr. Overland: Yeah, and I can add that there was a warm period in the Arctic in the 1930s, but we know that that was mostly just due to some changing storms in the North Atlantic part of the Arctic. Where there was some loss of ice on the Atlantic side, we know that there was plenty of ice on the Pacific side at the same time. So we're seeing a qualitative difference now than what we were aware of earlier, where before it was just regional effects. Now we're seeing Arctic-wide impact.

Ryan: Thank you.

Operator: And our next question is from Doyle Rice with USA Today. Your line is live.

Doyle Ricy: Good afternoon, thanks for doing this conference. Two-part question—I think the first part has been answered, was that whether or not just 32 years was enough of a period of record to make these inferences about climate. But then the other question is, would there be any benefits to an ice-free Arctic in the summer? Would there be something for shipping or anything like that in any way, shape, or form that could outweigh the negatives?

Dr. Meier: This is Walt. I would say that there certainly would be advantages for some things, shipping being one of them. Drilling for oil and natural gas and things like that, we know there are reserves up there, that becomes more feasible. But you know, there'd also be some advantages perhaps for native populations, but there's also a lot of disadvantages for native populations. They're having to adapt their way of life. They may, you know, in some ways things might get better but a lot of their traditional ways are getting, they're struggling to deal with that. They're losing some of those traditions. And there will be a lot of potential negative impacts both in terms of the overall climate and locally within the Arctic. I think you could kind of just look at the positives and try and think optimistically, but looking at it kind of even-handedly, the negatives outweigh the positives as far as I can see. You know it's just, the changes are going to be really dramatic, both for the ecosystem and potentially the larger climate, that there's going to have to be significant adaptation that will have to be undertaken and there will be a cost to that. So there will be some savings, some advantages, but overall I think that we would have to consider the negatives as well.

Dr. Overland: Yeah, it's a tough question because you have both winners and losers that marine mammals that need sea ice are already in danger, but certain whales and certain fisheries will expand into the ice free area north of Norway maybe. An example, the added heat stored in the ocean and the ice free areas impact the adjacent land, so you wouldn't have quite the heating bill there. But as Walt said, it's balanced by other effects as well.

Doyle: Thanks.

Erika: This is Erika from Earthjustice. Just to add to the two previous speakers, we also need to show that there's a way to clean up oil spills before going ahead with development in the Arctic. It's pretty widely agreed in my industry, but certainly by governments that it's virtually impossible to clean up a spill in the harsh Arctic conditions. Additionally, increased shipping means increased black carbon emissions right there near the Arctic sea ice and continental ice, which has been shown to accelerate melting. So there are definitely risks as well.

Dr. Overland: Might I also bring out that one of the science questions now is global warming isn't just warming everywhere. There's some evidence that warming in the Arctic will bring cooling to some of the weather further south.

Dr. Meier: Again, I think it's a good point to make on the risks. When we talked about heading toward ice-free conditions, we're really talking about largely ice-free. It doesn't mean that there won't be some chunks of ice floating around and so forth. So in a lot of ways, I think what's happening is actually increasing the risks because back in the 1980s and before, there was no risk for shipping in the Arctic because no one actually went up there. Now there's temptation to go up there, but there are risks. There's ice up there, there are other hazards, parts of the sea floor are still not well-mapped. There's not infrastructure to rescue or clean-up at all at this point. Until those things are established, really I think the risks are increasing. So those positives, those benefits, come with an associated risk as well.

Ellen: So I just wanted to add—this is Ellen Baum—I want to add to what Erika said in that the chance that there would be increased shipping going across in the Arctic in the summer is one of the reasons that the International Maritime Organization did decide this fairly recently, that they wanted to look at the kind of emissions that would be coming out of ships crossing the Arctic with the possibility of trying to control emissions of ships going through the Arctic. We ought to hear something about that in the next couple of years as they continue to work on it.

Rafe: This is Rafe Pomerance. Just to say that as we mentioned earlier, the fate of much of coastal life in United States and elsewhere is dependent on the fate of Greenland. Greenland has several meters of potential sea level rise in the ice sheet. And as the Arctic warms, the odds of that, it's already shrinking, the magnitude will increase, the rate will increase, and we're already seeing sea level rise consequences, particularly in the east coast, and that is only going to accelerate in a big way.

Dr. Dunbar: Yeah, this is Rob Dunbar. Just to jump in on that, I mean, two things. It's only in the last couple of years that we now believe that more than half of the current sea level rise each year is due to the melting of ice in Antarctica and Greenland. We know from satellite missions that there's net loss of continental ice in both of those continents. It's not absolutely clear which one's most important yet, but they're approximately equal. And we do expect that rate to rise with further warming in the polar regions. The other thing, you know, I do also work in the polar belts, and I guess to me one of the really negative impacts of the loss of sea ice, especially in the Arctic, is the impact on shore erosion. You know, we have many coastal communities, say in Alaska, where the coastline has been buffered for hundreds if not thousands of years by sea ice. And now they're seeing open ocean, with significant fetch. The wind can blow over open water long distances and large waves impact those coastlines that are completely unarmored against wave-induced erosion. So that's already been a big impact on the Arctic, especially in Alaska, over the last decade. So that's certainly a very negative element.

Operator: And our next question is from Clayton Sandell with ABC News. Your line is live.

Clayton Sandell: Thanks a lot. This is a question for really anyone. You've talked a little bit about the impacts of sea level and coastal erosion. I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about how disappearing ice is going to affect the majority of people in the United States in terms of weather patterns, shifting jet streams, things like that. Are there new and emerging effects that you're seeing that worry you as the ice goes?

Dr. Overland: Well, the linkages between changes in the Arctic and the mid-latitude is a real major research question. The last two winters we've had really cold air come out of the Arctic in the mid-latitudes all over the planet, both the east coast of the U.S. where the cold Arctic air met the El Niño warm air in spring of 2010, and produced the heavy snow in Washington D.C. and it's been cold in Eastern Asia. Most of my colleagues there think that the Arctic has a big impact and also in northern Europe. Now we don't expect those kinds of impacts every year that we have less ice and there's some complications between how the extra heat in the Arctic interacts with the rest of the storm tracks further south. But particularly some of the climate models show that there's a potential for this warm Arctic cold continent patterns to set up, but it's too early to declare that we really know how that's going to be. Other than the fact that we move from 40% ice loss to 80% ice loss over the next 20 or 30 years, that the potential for the Arctic to have a much larger impact on the mid-latitudes is certainly there. But exactly how big it is something that's setting up as our major research priority over the next couple of years.

Operator: And our next question is from Bob Weber with Canadian Press. Your line is live.

Bob Weber: Dr. Overland, just to keep going on that same seam, you mentioned earlier that there was some evidence that what's happening in the Arctic may affect wind patterns at mid-latitudes. I'm wondering can you expand a little bit more on that? Can you give us a little more specifics on what might be happening?

Dr. Overland: Well, and again, we're not sure about this. It's very controversial between atmospheric scientists. But for instance in 2008 when we had the warm air over the Baltic Sea north of Alaska, that warmer air is less dense. And normally you have this counter-clockwise flow that's called the Polar Vortex that keeps the cold air bottled up in the Arctic. But if we get this pulse of warm air over the nearly sea ice-free, that changes the Polar Vortex from a tight circle to more of a wavy pattern and there's some evidence that some of the cold weather in eastern Canada that occurred in winter of 2008 and 2009 was caused by this more wavy pattern than the Polar Vortex just being bottled up in the central Arctic, which is the way we always used to think about it. And then in December 2009 again, we had the cold Arctic air hitting the warm wet El Niño air that gave cold weather to Florida and the east coast. In some way, it looks like the Arctic is interacting more with the storm tracks at mid-latitudes. But again, it's too early to say exactly how all of that works. We're just putting it out now as a long-term caution.

Bob: Thank you.

Operator: Thank you, and our next question is from Craig Miller with KQED. Your line is live.

Craig Miller: Thanks, I think my question's been answered. I, too, was interested in the potential effects on the extreme weather events in the mid-latitudes. Unless anyone else has anything to say about that, I think I'm good.

Dr. Meier: This is Walt. Just to follow up on Jim, like we said, we can't make a real high confident connection. But the climate system is interconnected. The Arctic is not separate from the rest of the globe and so changes there, it would not be all surprising, in fact it's expected that those would have some impacts on the weather. Whether we're seeing those yet, whether those are really showing up yet is hard to say exactly what those impacts will be is hard to say. But as I like to say sometimes, what happens in the Arctic—it's not like Las Vegas—what happens in the Arctic doesn't stay in the Arctic. There will be impacts.

Craig: We're already hearing there's another La Niña forming out here in the pacific. so the occurrence of the ENSO pattern shift have any kind of palpable relationship with what's going on in the Arctic?

Dr. Overland: Well the weather pattern in the Arctic and south of the Arctic plus El Niño are the two major weather patterns in the northern hemisphere. And they used to be fairly independent, but as we saw in winter 2009 and 2010, the Arctic supplied a cold temperature and plus El Niño provided the moisture, so we ended up with real extreme conditions. But I just want to point out here that this is controversial, that I think Walt and I would say that there is an Arctic connection, but some of Walt's colleagues in Boulder think that there's not a very strong connection. So that's why we're sitting on a fence here, that it seems to be that if we're absorbing a whole lot more solar energy in the Arctic that we used to reflect, there ought to be some large-scale climate change and everyone's interested with the big question. Some of us think there's an impact, but in terms of the science community, it's still divided.

Dr. Dunbar: This is Rob Dunbar, I'll jump in on that too. I guess the best take-home message is that everything we've learned about the climate system from studies of modern climate dynamics as well as past climate change going back thousands even millions of year, is that it's all connected. I mean there's no doubt from analyses of ice cores in Antarctica and Greenland that the two poles communicate with each other, and they do so climatologically, they do so through the ocean and through the atmosphere. And so, that's happened many tens of times in the past. As I said, it's well-documented, so I think although we do not know the exact details of how this current Arctic signal will propagate throughout the climate system, based on the past, we should expect that it will indeed have an impact throughout the globe.

Operator: And that concludes the conference. Thank you for your participation. You may all now disconnect.

Other Ice Melt Teleconferences:

At the end of August 2012, scientists from the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center confirmed that Arctic sea ice extent reached a record low, beating the previous mid-September low in 2007. The following month, Earthjustice and Clean Air Task Force held an online press conference to take a closer examination of Arctic sea ice and Greenland ice sheet melting, and examine impacts of sea level rise on low-lying islands and multi-national efforts to curb short-lived climate pollutants.
Watch a recording of the 2012 conference.

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document.getElementById("sh-title").innerHTML = "Wildlife And Places";
document.getElementById("page-title").innerHTML = "2011 Arctic Ice Melt: Telepress Conference";

Advocacy Campaign:  Stop Soot Now Visions of the Arctic
Program Area:  Climate and Energy The Wild
Office:  International
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