The media portrays
a dramatic image of how the ice is melting in the polar regions
as a consequence of global warming. We are warned that the North
Pole might become icefree during the summer months at the end of
this century and that the polar bears might become extinct due to
But is this
really a realistic image? Sure, there is research that indicates
that the ice sheets are being reduced, but there are also studies
that show the complete opposite. An example of this is a study in
the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letter where
the Swedish researcher Peter Winsor compares data collected by submarines
below the Arctic ice. His conclusions are that the thickness of
the ice has been almost constant between 1986 and 1997.
If you look
at the South Pole there are studies that show an increase in the
mass of the ice. In a study published in the journal Nature
a number of polar researchers showed that they had observed a net
cooling of 0.7 degrees in the region between 1986 and 2000. Another
study published in Science showed that the East-Antarctic
ice sheet had grown with 45 million metric tones between 1992 and
Are the ices
growing or melting? The simple answer is that there exist studies
that point to both directions, perhaps indicating that scientists
know relatively little about global climate. But what counts to
most ordinary people is what media is reporting, and media is often
highlighting the most alarming studies and seldom report of studies
that go against the notion that human activity leads to global warming.
To put it simply, the news is filtered through an environmentalist
view of the world.
example of how media sometimes gets it wrong is how journalists
reported that there had never been so little ice in the Arctic than
in 2005. This claim was based on satellite images by NASA which
showed that the geographic extent of the ice sheet had never been
so small since measurement began in 1979. One must however keep
in fact that about half of the ice in the Arctic melts each summer
and that two months before this measurment the extent of the ice
sheet was the same as the previous year. The problem is that satellite
images show the surface of the ice but not the thickness.
at the summer expedition with the polar-ship Oden could tell that
he had never seen so much ice in the Arctic than in 2005. It was
with great difficulty that he had passed through the region. What
had happened in 2005 seems to be that the ice had packed densely
against the Canadian part of the Arctic. The geographical extent
had been reduced but the ice was thicker.
As for polar
bears, much points to that their numbers are increasing rather than
diminishing. Mitch Taylor, a Canadian expert on animal populations,
estimates that the number of polar bears in Canada has increased
from 12 000 to 15 000 the past decade. Steven C Amstrup and his
college have studied a population of polar bears in Alaska and reported
that the number of females had increased from 600 to 900 between
1976 and 1992. Even a report from the WWF which is entitled "Polar
bears at risk" and warns that the populations of the polar
bears might become extinct due to global warming, supports that
the number of polar bears is increasing. In the report the polar
bears in the world are divided into 20 populations. It shows out
that only 2 of these populations are decreasing, while 10 are stable,
5 are growing and 3 are not possible to comment about.
climate is an important issue to debate, but it is sad that what
is communicated often has a clear shifting towards the worst-case
the doomsday theories. There is no reason to scare people by giving
them only one side of the argument.
Sanandaji [send him mail]
is president of the Swedish think tank Captus and the editor of
Captus Journal. He is
a graduate student in biochemistry at the University of Cambridge.
Fred Goldberg is associate professor at the Royal School of Technology
in Stockholm and was on a Polar trip whilst writing this article.