Saturday, June 20, 2009

Weather isn't Climate, but ....

1. Did the Caitlin expedition find too little ice in the Arctic, or too much?

The Caitlin expedition launched from Britain (sponsored by Prince Charles) to measure Arctic ice. They were fully confident of providing evidence that the ice up there is diminishing--drowning polar bears, and all that. Their plan was to get all the way to the North Pole, but the three of them nearly froze to death, with ice as far as the eye could see, and they gave up early.
The problems for the Catlin team began shortly after they were airlifted to a point on the ice north of Canada about 942 kilometers from the North Pole. A fierce storm arrived with high winds and cold temperatures of -40 deg C which took a toll on equipment and the team. The high tech ice measuring equipment broke down along with the data communications equipment. The three person team also suffered from the brutal conditions and one of the team members had frostbite. As a result the team only covered a total of 434 km, which is less than half way to the pole.
Instead of measuring ice electronically, team leader Hadow had to drill holes in the ice and measure thickness with a measuring tape the old fashioned way. And instead of a large number of ice thickness measurements, the team could only drill so many holes each day.

… after April 18 up to the end of the expedition, open water was not a daily occurrence and the team had to swim no more, perhaps because there was too much ice.
The team did not see any polar bears but did find bear tracks at one point. The team apparently brought a firearm along just in case, since their website refers to firearms training. Such a practice is common with Arctic explorations since polar bears are known to attack people. It was fortunate that the team did not have to shoot any polar bears they were presumably embarking on this expedition to save the bears.
The CAS made their trip at a time when the Arctic sea ice extent is recovering this year and is close to the historic averages for May. This recovery apparently reflects less melting due to cooler than average temperatures. Over the past several years, the amount of multi-year ice has been decreasing so it will be interesting to see if the summer melt will be lessened and more multi-year ice develops.

2. Is there reliable evidence of an increase in extreme weather events? Er, no.

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