Big Bird at the North Pole

July 26th, 2013 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

Last week, I was looking at the North Pole webcam imagery available as a time lapse video here. You can see the formation of meltponds on the ice in the last couple weeks, and then in the last few days the area around the main buoy have turned into a rather continuous, shallow pond.

But if you back up several days, you will see an unusual sight…the bottom of a bird perched on top of the camera structure:

Wildlife at the North Pole is very sparse (probably even more unusual at the South Pole, unless they are having a party at the station there). The ocean there is largely devoid of life, and it is rare that a fox or polar bear wanders there, since there is virtually no food. Check out North Pole on Wikipedia.

Anyway, I just thought it was interesting that it had gotten warm enough there for something living to actually be caught on camera.

Of course, we wouldn’t want too much life to show up there. Might get too crowded. We need to spend billions or trillions of $$ to try to freeze it all back to lifelessness. </sarc>

24 Responses to “Big Bird at the North Pole”

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  1. Hops says:

    I summed up the degree-months of heating for the North Pole from the data to which you kindly referred me. For the Arctic, over the last 13 years, it adds up to about 95 degree months. The ocean part is ~110 degree months, or about 330 degree days.

    The North Pole has had far more cumulative warming than anywhere else.

  2. Martin C says:

    Nice video. But the question I have, do the melt ponds ‘look’ like open water from satellites, or whatever devices are used to come with the %concentration of ice in the arctic?

    A couple of satellite images ( . .that I access from A. Watts ‘Sea Ice’ reference page’ show less than 50% concentration a bit ‘northwest’ of the north pole. Is this some of the reason? Just curious ( . . as I understand the arctic has been running below normal this year . .).

    • Hops says:

      Indeed, the buot seems to be at about 85N rather than 90N, and the melt pond is not especially unusual in and of itself.

      That said, Artic sea ice is about 2 standard deviations below the old normal, as it was last year. What are the odds of that? (Rhetorical question.)

      I put the UAH numbers for the pole since 2000 into Excel and plotted the trend line — about 0.5C over the 13+ years. If global warming “paused” North Pole warming sure hasn’t.

      Put a glass of ice water out in the sun. It stays cool until the ice cubes melt. Our ice cubes are melting…


      • Gordon Robertson says:

        “If global warming paused North Pole warming sure hasnt”.

        According to Roy’s partner at UAH, John Christy, it’s the localized Arctic warming that is driving the global claim. At least, that’s my understanding of what John said. After all, a global temperature is just a number based on statistical averages.

        With temperatures in the Arctic as much as 4 C above average, things have to be pretty cool elsewhere in order for the average to sit at about 0.2 C above the 30 year average from 1980 – 2010.

  3. Hops says:

    Speaking of ice at the poles, my understanding is that Antarctica is losing ice mass. The fresh-water runoff into the sea results in an area of cold fresh surface water that freezes easily.

    The resulting ice is highly reflective, so it forms a negative feedback, and hence part of the reason the southern hemisphere is warming less quickly than the northern.

    If a few meters of ice melt in the Arctic, it exposes dark sea water. If a few meters melt in the Antarctic, it just exposes more ice and the melt water drains off to cool the ocean and create sea ice.

    • Fred says:

      Go to school, educate yourself.

      You will enjoy the results.

      We will miss your hilarious posts, but the pursuit of truth is more important.

      • Hops says:


        Thank you for the gracious reply. In a blog on which so many people resort to sarcasm, your reply is like a breath of fresh air.

        While I don’t have time to go back to school, as you so sagely suggest, I do try to educate myself. I’ve been through the lectures of LS70B at UC Berkeley, and GG140 at Yale.

        But from your response, I assume you have a much deeper background in climate science, although I cannot find evidence of it in any of your posts. Perhaps you could summarize it for me.

        I’m glad you find my posts “hilarious” — I hope everyone does.

        This may really crack you up:

        “A wide range of climate quantities continue to show changes. For instance, we have observed a continued decline in Arctic sea ice and a rise in global sea level. These changes are consistent with our understanding of how the climate system responds to increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases.”


    • Ted says:

      Hops: a paper on antarctic ice balance. PDF here.

      There is also a study using satellite data resulting in 49 gigatonnes/annum gain. If I can find the link again I’ll post it here.

      • Hops says:

        Thanks Ted, but that paper seems to address the trend over a long period of time in regards to climate models.

        Here’s what I have:

        We combined an ensemble of satellite altimetry, interferometry, and gravimetry data sets using common geographical regions, time intervals, and models of surface mass balance and glacial isostatic adjustment to estimate the mass balance of Earths polar ice sheets. We find that there is good agreement between different satellite methodsespecially in Greenland and West Antarcticaand that combining satellite data sets leads to greater certainty. Between 1992 and 2011, the ice sheets of Greenland, East Antarctica, West Antarctica, and the Antarctic Peninsula changed in mass by 142 49, +14 43, 65 26, and 20 14 gigatonnes year−1, respectively. Since 1992, the polar ice sheets have contributed, on average, 0.59 0.20 millimeter year−1 to the rate of global sea-level rise.

        • AndyPandy says:

          Well Hops, Why haven’t the rate of sea level rise changed much then? If global warming added 0.59 millimeter sea rise a year since 1992, what other effect stopped adding to it since that year? What made sea levels rise at the same rate during the cooling up to the 70’s? What makes the sea rise the same during the warming until 1998 and also during the standstill since? What makes sea rise non existent at the pacific islands that is supposed to be under water soon? Oh they will be drowned after “adjustments”, though no one living there will notice in real life. BTW If you don’t believe metoffice findings is hilarious, what other term can you give the blatant discrepancies between everything they predict and how reality turns out? Oh, I forgot. Feynman is forgotten. Science is now an elegant theory and the absolute truth – regardless of what reality says.

          • Hops says:

            NOAA says sea level rise seems to have increased. I’m sure measuring a rate of change of a small number in a system as turbulent as the global ocean is a challenge.


            As with every aspect of this debate, the reality is more complex than the numbers the two sides of the debate throw at one another. On the one hand, people have been draining underground aquifers, and on the other, China has built a lot of big dams. And water vapor content of the overall atmosphere is said to have increased, which presumably came mostly from the oceans.

            My understanding is that sea level has risen more in some places than others due to ocean currents. Regarding those Pacific Islands, being under water will not be a binary sort of thing. For a period of time, they will be under water only during storm surges, so they will become uninhabitable long before being permanently under water.

            Feynman is not forgotten. And climate models are based on physics. But real world measurements entail finding a small signal in a lot of noise. In the early stages of climate change, the signal is weak. Unfortunately, by the time the signal is strong, it will be too late to take action.

            Finally, we cannot assume that all processes are linear. Ice first warms but does not melt, then it melts rapidly.


  4. Roy Spencer says:

    Martin, melt ponds have been a continuing problem for the microwave sea ice algorithms. The sea ice isn’t gone, but it looks gone because its covered by water. So sea ice estimates during melt season have more uncertainty, as I recall.

  5. Lars Jonsson says:

    Just a comment about the bird, it is a Kittiwake, a pelagic bird that often uses cracks and open water in the Arctic ice to catch Arctic cod, but this is far north. However I guess that icebrakers nowadays get to the north pole and a bird like this may utilize the open water behind a boat.

  6. An Inquirer says:

    From Hops: “That said, Artic sea ice is about 2 standard deviations below the old normal, as it was last year. What are the odds of that?”

    Actually the odds are quite high if you take samples from two statistically different populations. If you took 1980 ice extent and compared it to a population of 1950-1975 ice extents, you may very well get over two standard deviations. To a large degree, we will not know for sure because we do not have satellite data before 1979.

    Arctic ice extent is almost two standard deviation under, and Antarctic ice extent is more than two standard deviations over. The media is fixated on the Arctic, but they miss valuable insights by not recognizing what is happening in the Antarctic.

    Why might the current Arctic population be different than the 1981-2010 population? Several possible reasons. First, the experience of Antarctica suggests that it could be natural variability. Or the problem could be soot, particularly from China. Or the issue could be increased pollution from rivers feeding the Arctic. Some suggest underwater volcanoes, but I doubt that. Also, the very presence of ice breakers and human exploration could be an issue. Most likely, the decline is caused by a combination of all the factors mentioned. But one thing which probably has the least role — the increased CO2 in the atmosphere; even GCM models (which more and more appear to be oversensitive to CO2 increases) do not link the CO2 increase to what we have observed in the Arctic.

    • Hops says:

      This where we have to look at mass rather than extent. There is a reasonable hypothesis that the extent of the Antarctic ice increased because of freshwater runoff from melted ice. Changes in wind patterns can also affect extent in the Antarctic. While extent is easy to measure, mass is harder, but the best estimates through several methods indicate the Antarctic is generally losing mass.

      There is also the issue of the “quality” of the ice. Is old, cold, dense ice being replaced with relatively warmer snow as ice sheets melt from below or glaciers calve into the ocean?

      Of course snow will fall at any temperature below 0C so a higher moisture content in the atmosphere due to the warming could reasonably drive increased snow fall. Even if mass grows in the Antarctic, that does not mean it isn’t warming.

      In the Artic, my understanding is that some of the current extent consists of “rotten” ice that could be broken up by a storm.

      Soot from China is probably part of the issue. Just more bad news about burning coal.

      The videos from climate models show the warming anomoly spreading down from the Artic.

      • Lewis Guignard says:

        Dear Hops,

        Reading your posts about warming, I can’t tell if you’re pleased it’s happening or not. Personally, I’m pleased. I see warming as a general boon to the planet, so far as life forms are concerned. (the planet itself could care less), it that it brings much land out from under ice and makes it available for organic growth; Canada, Russia and China will all benefit agriculturally. Beyond that, we could completely alter our lifestyles to try to maintain stasis, as Dr. Spencer alludes to (sarc) at the beginning, but what is the purpose of that? Before man arrived, the earth went through climate cycles, the most recent being the ice ages, of which cycle we remain in. I, for one, prefer warm to frozen, and don’t look forward to the change which would occur if, for instance, Ohio were to remain covered with snow one summer. Beyond that, whether or not man is complicit in this warming is only material to the political questions, and then only for those who believe, wrongly in my mind, that man can, by some action or inaction, control the climate. BAH.

  7. Russell says:

    Meanwhile , over towards Svalbard, the recent publication of maps of the Jan mayen ridge has Tony Watts agog with his latest circumpolar warming toy , and Roy weighing in.

    Hard to see why anyone cares , for while takes roughly a cubic meter of 1200 C lava to melt ten cubic meters of ice the midinght sun deposits the same amount of heat per square meter in about a month.

    Since the volume of the Arctic ocean is some five orders of magntiude larger than the average annual eruptive volume of the ridge, it really doesn’t signify.

  8. Peter Norman says:

    Given the annual eruptive standard deviation of avian behaviour, why don’t penguins reproduce at the North Pole?

  9. Alexandre says:

    Dr. Spencer,

    Is the polar ice cap important to the climate of the northern hemisphere or is it just a hindrance to birds trying to catch fish?

  10. Anthony Bremner says:

    It looks as if it has been snowing at the now famous 2nd camera because the fourth black square marker in the foreground is almost covered now. I bet the Huffington post will not show that, it does not fit the agenda.

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