There are record extremes in sea ice at both poles

Weather Gems

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Despite the fact that Alaska and many other northern regions bordering the Arctic Ocean suffered through one of the harshest winter seasons in decades in 2011-12, the Arctic sea ice melted this summer to an all-time low, obliterating all previous records.

As of Sunday, Sept. 23, the ice cap at the North Pole measured just 1.32 million square miles, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo. That's a whopping 18 percent less ice than the previous record of 1.61 million square miles in 2007. Records date back to 1979 and are based on satellite tracking. By the way, the 2007 record low ice cap was 22 percent below the previous mark set in 2005.

But, according to Mr. S. Claus, who resides much of the year at the North Pole, "I can't see much difference. All that I see is ice in every direction. And, I should also mention that the past few winters have been the worst I've seen since the 1600s!" (Thank you, Santa for your views.)

While we're on the subject of sea ice, we should report that, unlike the record retreat of the summer ice pack in the Arctic regions, the extent of ice in the seas around Antarctica is "growing by leaps and bounds."

At the end of the winter season last Saturday, Sept. 22, the Antarctic ice pack was at a near-record high level and still advancing like an ocean glacier towards Argentina and Chile. This Southern Hemispheric ice expansion has been going on for several years despite being generally ignored by the world's media.

Also, I was one of the only weather scientists to report that both Australia and South Africa had extremely cold winter seasons this year with 'rare' snows and record low temperatures. Alice Springs, in central Australia, saw temperatures dip into the frigid teens leading to thousands of busted water pipes. Hillary Clinton, on her recent trip to South Africa, saw "snowball fights in the streets of Capetown."

Taking all the world's sea ice levels together, as opposed to just focusing almost exclusively on the Arctic regions and the North Pole, the total global sea ice packs combined at both the North Pole and Antarctica currently averages, depending of course on the seasons, somewhere between 15 and 23 million square miles. It's currently a bit below normal at 18 million square miles. But, just a few months ago, the total world sea ice was actually up approximately 1 million square miles from average levels.

Remember, my fellow residents of planet Earth, sea ice always grows in the winter months and shrinks from melting each summer season. It's a fact of life.

I'm not at all worried about the summer melting processes. A tremendous winter ice expansion, however, is a different story. Another 'LITTLE ICE AGE' would cause untold hardships, both locally and globally.

Although the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted that sea levels will rise 100 cm by the year 2100, actual measurements do not bear out that conclusion.

According to a recent article published on, A.A. Boretti, an Australian scientist, who has studied satellite radar altimeter data covering the past 20 years, discovered that the average rate of sea level rise is just under 3.2 mm a year. That rate would cause a sea levels rise of just under 32 cm (12.5 inches) by the year 2100, not the 100 cm that is currently being advocated.

Boretti also notes that there has been a huge deceleration of sea-level rise (SLR) over the past 10 years and even more so in the last 5 years.

Boretti comments, "in order for the prediction of a 100-cm increase in sea level by 2100 to be correct, the SLR must be almost 11 mm/year every year for the next 89 years."

"And, since the SLR is dropping, the predictions become increasingly unlikely," especially in view of the facts that (1) "not once in the past 20 years has the SLR of 11 mm/year ever been achieved," and that (2) "the average SLR of 3.1640 mm/year is only 20 percent of the SLR needed for the prediction of a one meter rise to be correct."


It's been drier across the northwestern U.S. in the past 10 weeks since July 20 than most areas in the Sahara Desert of North Africa. Seattle has been drier than Cairo, Egypt.

Locally in Coeur d'Alene, as of this Thursday, Sept. 27 writing, we've only measured a scant .23 inches, all of which fell from scattered thunderstorms on Aug. 21, since the evening of July 20. We are bone-dry. Fire-danger levels in the nearby forests are still "extremely high," so hunters and campers beware.

As I said last week, this October will dictate what happens weatherwise locally during the late fall and winter periods of 2012-13.

If it turns wetter across the Inland Northwest by no later than the 'new moon' phase of October 15-22, and the current El Nino falls apart as some scientists now expect, we could see another in a recent series of cold, damp and often snowy winter seasons in our part of the country.

But, if the stubborn high pressure ridge holds on to life after 13 weeks, and the El Nino doesn't die, we may see the current drought last another 3-6 months or longer. Only time will tell.

Cliff Harris is a climatologist who writes a weekly column for The Press. His opinions are his own. Email

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