Annals of global warming: Glaciological map of Antarctica’s Palmer Land Area, 1947-2009

March 3, 2010

Are the ice fields of Antarctica increasing or decreasing?  How do we know?

U.S. Geological Survey released a study of the change in glaciation in Antarctica between 1947 and 2009.  Serious student of climate change will heed what the maps show — better bookmark the site.  The study and publication were done in a joint effort of USGS, the British Antarctic Survey, the Scott Polar Research Institute, and the Bundesamt für Kartographie und Geodäsie (same page, in English, here).

Coastal-Change and Glaciological Map of the Palmer Land Area, Antarctica: 1947—2009

By Jane G. Ferrigno,1 Alison J. Cook,2 Amy M. Mathie,3 Richard S. Williams, Jr.,4 Charles Swithinbank,5 Kevin M. Foley,1 Adrian J. Fox,2 Janet W. Thomson,6  and Jörn Sievers


Cover of USGS publication, Coastal-Change and Glaciological Map of the Palmer Land Area, Antarctica: 1947—2009

Cover of USGS publication, Coastal-Change and Glaciological Map of the Palmer Land Area, Antarctica: 1947—2009

Reduction in the area and volume of the two polar ice sheets is intricately linked to changes in global climate, and the resulting rise in sea level could severely impact the densely populated coastal regions on Earth. Antarctica is Earth’s largest reservoir of glacial ice. Melting of the West Antarctic part alone of the Antarctic ice sheet would cause a sea-level rise of approximately 6 meters (m), and the potential sea-level rise after melting of the entire Antarctic ice sheet is estimated to be 65 m (Lythe and others, 2001) to 73 m (Williams and Hall, 1993). The mass balance (the net volumetric gain or loss) of the Antarctic ice sheet is highly complex, responding differently to different climatic and other conditions in each region (Vaughan, 2005). In a review paper, Rignot and Thomas (2002) concluded that the West Antarctic ice sheet is probably becoming thinner overall; although it is known to be thickening in the west, it is thinning in the north. The mass balance of the East Antarctic ice sheet is thought by Davis and others (2005) to be positive on the basis of the change in satellite-altimetry measurements made between 1992 and 2003.

Measurement of changes in area and mass balance of the Antarctic ice sheet was given a very high priority in recommendations by the Polar Research Board of the National Research Council (1986), in subsequent recommendations by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) (1989, 1993), and by the National Science Foundation’s (1990) Division of Polar Programs. On the basis of these recommendations, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) decided that the archive of early 1970s Landsat 1, 2, and 3 Multispectral Scanner (MSS) images of Antarctica and the subsequent repeat coverage made possible with Landsat and other satellite images provided an excellent means of documenting changes in the cryospheric coastline of Antarctica (Ferrigno and Gould, 1987). The availability of this information provided the impetus for carrying out a comprehensive analysis of the glaciological features of the coastal regions and changes in ice fronts of Antarctica (Swithinbank, 1988; Williams and Ferrigno, 1988). The project was later modified to include Landsat 4 and 5 MSS and Thematic Mapper (TM) images (and in some areas Landsat 7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) images), RADARSAT images, aerial photography, and other data where available, to compare changes that occurred during a 20- to 25- or 30-year time interval (or longer where data were available, as in the Antarctic Peninsula). The results of the analysis are being used to produce a digital database and a series of USGS Geologic Investigations Series Maps (I-2600) (Williams and others, 1995; Swithinbank and others, 2003a,b, 2004; Ferrigno and others, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and in press; and Williams and Ferrigno, 2005) (available online at

The paper version of this map is available for purchase from the USGS Store.

What’s the condition of glaciers in Antarctica?  Now you can look it up.

The pamphlet accompanying the maps says under “Discussion”:

The most noticeable and dramatic changes that can be seen on the Palmer Land area map are the retreat of George VI, Wilkins, Bach, and northern Stange Ice Shelves. The northern ice front of George VI Ice Shelf was at its farthest extent during our period of observation between 1966 and 1974. It retreated, losing 906 km2 between 1974 and 1992 and 87 km2 between 1992 and 1995. After 1995, it retreated an additional 1 km to more than 6 km by 2001. The southern George VI ice front retreated considerably from 1947 to the late 1960s. From the late 1960s to 1973, there was additional substantial retreat, the greatest during the period of measurements.  From 1973 to 2001, there was overall noticeable retreat.

Wilkins Ice Shelf had four ice fronts up till 2009; all retreated during the time period of our study, but Wilkins “a” and “b” have had the most dramatic change, including extensive calving in 2009 that eliminated ice front “b” and threatened the future of the ice shelf. During the period of observation, the Bach Ice Shelf front maintained a fairly consistent profile, and advanced or retreated at the same time along the entire ice front. The overall trend of Bach Ice Shelf is retreat. On the northern Stange Ice Shelf during the period of observation, the 1947, 1965–66, 1973, and 1986 ice fronts were more advanced, and the 1997 and 2001 ice fronts were more in retreat. However, the earlier data are less accurate geographically, and it is difficult to quantitatively analyze them. The later satellite images are more accurate, and it is possible to measure overall advance from 1986 to 1989, then retreat from 1989 to 1997 and from1997 to 2001; the net result was retreat.

The three coastal-change and glaciological maps of the Antarctic Peninsula (I–2600–A, –B, and –C) portray one of the most rapidly changing areas on Earth. The changes exhibited in the region are widely regarded as among the most profound and unambiguous examples of the effects of global warming yet seen on the planet.


Great Arctic sea ice hoax exposed

July 26, 2009

Look at the photos and see for yourself.  From 2006 to 2007, did sea ice at Barrow, Alaska, increase or decrease?

A comparison of polar sea ice at Barrow, Alaska -- July 2006 on the left, July 2007 on the right - public domain photo from U.S. military satellites.

A comparison of polar sea ice at Barrow, Alaska -- July 2006 on the left, July 2007 on the right - public domain photo from U.S. military satellites. Click for larger view from The Guardian.

These photos appeared in The Guardian – did they appear in any U.S. papers? — with a story that said the photos had been withheld by the Bush administration, and were recently released by the Obama administration.  (Bet these photos never show up on Anthony Watts’s blog.)*

Graphic images that reveal the devastating impact of global warming in the Arctic have been released by the US military. The photographs, taken by spy satellites over the past decade, confirm that in recent years vast areas in high latitudes have lost their ice cover in summer months.

The pictures, kept secret by Washington during the presidency of George W Bush, were declassified by the White House last week. President Barack Obama is currently trying to galvanise Congress and the American public to take action to halt catastrophic climate change caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

One particularly striking set of images – selected from the 1,000 photographs released – includes views of the Alaskan port of Barrow. One, taken in July 2006, shows sea ice still nestling close to the shore. A second image shows that by the following July the coastal waters were entirely ice-free.

The photographs demonstrate starkly how global warming is changing the Arctic. More than a million square kilometres of sea ice – a record loss – were missing in the summer of 2007 compared with the previous year.

Spin, from the presidency?  Who knew?

Climate change skeptics (read:  deniers) say that ice has come back in record amounts in 2008.  According to the news article, that isn’t exactly the case.

Nor has this loss shown any sign of recovery. Ice cover for 2008 was almost as bad as for 2007, and this year levels look equally sparse.

Science News noted the declassification, but without the hint of skullduggery on the part of the Bush administration.  The poster above comes from the USGS, which also included three more posters, one of the Beaufort Sea and two of glaciers — all of them showing declines in ice.

Stories that Arctic sea ice is expanding seem to be premature.

So all the claims that global warming has ended, that ice is threatening to extend its range and plunge us back into a cooling period — just hoax? Yep, just hoax.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Watching the World from Nicaraugua.

Update, 7-27-2009: A story going around the internet claims the poster at the top of this post is faked.  The poster comes from the U.S. Geological Survey, so I doubt it’s faked — they have no dog in the fight to fake it.  I think this goes to show that climate change “skeptics” have been sucked in by their own denial virus, and they will not even entertain information to the contrary of their beliefs.

*   Happy update, 8-2-2009: I’m happy to report I erred.  Actually, Anthony Watts reported on the release of the photos on July 15.  He didn’t use the Barrow photos, and he certainly did not claim that they are hoax photos.  He noted that the previously classified data have been released, and he seemed to think that there is no monkeying around with them.   It’ll be interesting to see how he deals with the photos from here on in.

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