The Adventure of the Antarctic Anomaly

antarcticaIt all began on an unusually cold and windy July day on my return from a summer holiday in Lapland. “Welcome home, Watson. How good to see you again,” Holme-Truth said, on opening the door to our rooms. After the reindeers and rigors of travel, it was a relief to be reacquainted with 221B Baker Street. For the truth is I had grown fond of Sherlock’s scientific charts, the acid-charred bench of chemicals, the violin-case in the corner, the coal scuttle full of old pipes and other narcotic paraphernalia.

We sat down to lunch in front of the fire. Holme-Truth suddenly asked me about the steps leading up from the hall.

“Watson, you have frequently seen them, have you not?”

“Frequently.”

“How often?”

“Well, hundreds of times.”

“How many are there?”

“How many? I don’t know.”

“You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”

“And yet I believe my eyes are as good as yours.”

“Quite so,” he answered, lighting a pipe and throwing himself into an armchair. “It is not enough just to see, Watson, one must observe!”

“I did observe something – something different – when I came in today.”

“Really? Do go on.”

“The frogs, Holme-Truth, the frogs on your bench. An entrée of cuisses de grenouille?”

“No, no, Watson. You know my method: analysis before appetite.

Professor Stuffemall’s experiment is now the talk of the town. It is on the front-page of every newspaper. The outlook for the human race is grim, scream the editorials.”

“The usual suspects have been frightening the horses too. Dr Ricardo Dilettante has said: ‘NO to all anthropogenic emissions: nocturnal or otherwise’. Sir Markus Bluster made a ‘very solemn commitment to future generations’.”

The Black Kettle Society has joined the alarmist chorus too. The ‘very survival of whole populations’ is, apparently, at risk – allegedly from future climate change. So many assertions, so few facts, real facts.”

“With all their tiresome fear-mongering, it would not be surprising if it is having- as Black Kettle claims – ‘very real and adverse impacts on psychological health and well-being’, especially among its membership.”

“Yet many are specialists in their fields, Holme-Truth.”

“True, but are they specialists in omniscience? Intelligence is no defence against the pseudo-prophetic impulse.”

“Has that villain Moriarty put something in the water?”

“Perhaps. But certainly something in the cesspool of opinion on matters meteorological. Precisely what that it is, Watson, I hope we will discover in due course.”

Let’s begin by asking – in the manner of Lucius Cassius Longinus Ravilla – ‘cui bono’? Who benefits from frightening the horses?”

Science, alas, is not what it used to be. Remember The Case of the Midwife Toad? Now we have The Affair of the Hiatus. Yet model outputs cannot trump actual data.

“And as I keep saying, it is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist the facts to suit theories – and to just make stuff up  – instead of theories to suit facts.”

“Professor Stuffemall claims that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out. But if placed in cold water and slowly heated, it will not sense the danger and be cooked to death.”

He is now on the talk-show circuit claiming the human race is as intellectually challenged as our amphibian friends,” continued Holme-Truth. “Unless we take the threat of climate change more seriously, we will suffer a similar fate. The press love it.”

“Another argument by false analogy?”

“Indeed, Watson. Yet used by luminaries from Al Gore and Paul Krugman to Genghis Khan.

“The reality is quite different. I did the experiment myself this morning. A frog submerged in cold water actually jumps out with gradual heating.”

“Only if the poor creature’s brain is removed will it remain in the pot, at least according to Friedrich Goltz.  I spent yesterday at the Natural History Museum reading his paper: Beiträge zur Lehre von den Funktionen des Nervensystems des Frosches (1869).

“You are in good company, Holme-Truth. Professor Douglas Melton at Harvard agrees with you.”

“Really?”

“His conclusion: ‘If you put a frog in boiling water, it won’t jump out. It will die. If you put it in cold water, it will jump before it gets hot—they don’t sit still for you.’”

“And Dr George Zug, curator of reptiles and amphibians at the National Museum of Natural History: ‘If a frog had a means of getting out, it certainly would get out’.”

“And Dr Victor Hutchison, Professor Emeritus of Zoology at the University of Oklahoma: ‘The legend is entirely incorrect!’”

“The critical thermal maximum, Watson, is heating the water at about 2 °F, or 1.1 °C, per minute. The frog becomes increasingly active as it tries to escape, and eventually jumps out – if the container allows it.

“But there will be no peace on the boiling frog front as long as Stuffemall’s claims are entrenched in the public discourse. One has a duty to expose it.”

“You are rugged up, Watson. Was it also colder than usual over there?”

“Hardly the perfect holiday. Coldest June night in half a century. Snow in mid-summer.  Temperature ten degrees below average.  Fell to zero as far south as Virrat. Saanatunturi had a minus 6.2. Almost beat Laanila’s record of minus seven. Coldest July anyone could remember too.”

“Interesting. It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important. Remember the curious incident of the dog in the night-time? Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

“There was another ‘little thing’, Holme-Truth. A mountain birch phenologist, Antero Jarvinen, has recorded leafing dates – when the birch tree ‘mouse-ears’ open – at 69 North-latitude for the past 43 years.

“And the later the start of summer, the colder the summer.”

“Indeed. The birch trees began blooming this year on 22 June. No trend suggesting an earlier start to summer.”

“Weather is not climate, of course, but here is another curious incident. Canadian Ice Service data show sea-ice coverage in Hudson Bay for the week of 30 July was the highest for over two decades.

“It also has been colder than usual at the other end of the world, unhappily for warmist-worriers.

Another cold front crossed Tasmania this week. Coming straight from Antarctica, bringing  snow below 100 metres again. The succession of intense lows is unusual.

There has been a cold snap in Canberra too. Coldest August day since 2005. Adelaide recorded its coldest July in 20 years. Temperatures in Victoria consistently 1C below normal average maximum.”

“But the big news, Watson, is missing from our papers – expanding sea-ice in Antarctica. Is this why southern Australia has had its chilliest July in almost two decades – and first snow in Hobart since 1986?”

The June 2015 Southern Hemisphere sea ice extent was 14.93 million square km (5.76 million square miles), 1.00 million square km (380,000 square miles), or 7.18 percent, above the 1981-2010 average. This was the third largest Antarctic sea ice extent on record, only smaller than the June sea ice extents of 2010 and 2014. There was slightly above-average sea ice in every region of the Antarctic, with much-above average ice in the eastern Waddell and Ross Seas. June 2015 is the fourth consecutive June with above-average sea ice extent in the Southern Hemisphere.

“Yet the experts claim all this is ‘consistent with’ global warming. For ‘even in a warming world’ temperatures in some regions apparently can be colder than average.

For them, the prolonged and undeniable Antarctic sea-ice growth is actually a symptom of global warming: “The increase in Antarctic sea ice extent might seem paradoxical given changes in the global climate, but it’s not when we consider some of the other factors at play.”

Even when the Antarctic expansion is buried in a global figure, sea ice extent during June has been above average for the past three years.

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