No, There Weren’t “Unprecedented Heatwaves” at Both of Earth’s Poles Last Week

It’s been another grand week for climate scare hysteria in large parts of the media: massive heatwaves at both poles – what a coincidence – and another mass coral bleaching at the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Where, we might ask, were the equally prominent reports on the recent news that the South Pole had its coldest six-month winter since records began, and coral at the GBR has been growing furiously in recent years, and could be at a near-100 year high?

Largely missing from the latest reports, however, are the important facts that the nearest weather station to the North Pole is 800 kilometres away, the suggested heatwave across eastern Antarctica was the product of a weather forecasting computer model, and the coral ‘mass bleaching’ was spotted from an aircraft.

The polar heatwave story sems to have originated from an Associated Press press report, and was spread by the Microsoft Network, the Washington Post and the Guardian, among many others. The Guardian went all in, stating: “Startling heatwaves at both of Earth’s poles are causing alarm among climate scientists who have warned the ‘unprecedented’ events could signal faster and abrupt climate breakdown.” The Guardian story noted that the weather stations were “near the North Pole”, leading the meteorologist Anthony Watts to comment that the nearest weather station was in northern Canada, 817 kms from the pole. Watts noted that floating ice in the Arctic makes it almost impossible to keep a station in one place.

On the other side of the globe, helping to promote the Antarctica story was the above diagram which purported to show a heatwave over large areas of the continent. Clicking on the original MSN caption, Watts discovered that the following appeared: “Simulation of temperature differences from normal centered over Antarctica from the American (GFS) model.” In other words, the heatwave story was mostly based on a computer model called the Global Forecast System, described by its operator as a weather forecast model that “generates” data from dozens of  atmospheric and land soil variables.

Watts then checked on data from the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station during the same period, and found no evidence of any heatwave from March 17th-22nd, bar a very small rise to -56°F on the morning of March 18th. He also rechecked the model simulation four days later and found the heatwave had gone.

Meanwhile, seemingly on a different planet to Earth, the Guardian writer Fiona Harvey used the story to say that “scientists were warning” that the unfolding events were “historic”, “unprecedented” and “dramatic”. Professor Michael Mann, of IPCC hockey stick fame, said the extreme weather being recorded “was exceeding predictions to a worrying extent”. The sceptical might note that predictions from climate models exceeding predictions from other climate models is a worrying concern only for those possessed of a particularly inventive imagination.

Perhaps wisely, the BBC steered clear of the polar propaganda stunt, but it didn’t hold back on the so-called mass bleaching event at the Great Barrier Reef. Scientists say urgent action on climate change is needed if the world’s largest reef system is to survive, the BBC faithfully reported.

As I have noted in the past, tropical coral grows in water between 24°C and 32°C. Bleaching occurs when corals expel symbiotic algae in reaction to sudden changes in water temperature. Gradual warming or cooling of water over a number of years does not seem to affect the adaptable coral. In October 2020, the BBC published a story about the GBR saying that following mass bleaching events it had lost half of its coral since 1995. It cited a study that claimed this was due to “warmer seas driven by climate change”. Meanwhile, the Australian Institute of Marine Science has reported a huge rise in the growth of coral in 2021 – up 27% in the north, 26% in the central region and 39% in the south.

The latest BBC story was taken from a monthly reef report from the GBR Marine Park Authority. The report seems to have identified some natural bleaching as recent summer waters warmed, adding: “Weather patterns over the next couple of weeks continue to remain critical in determining the overall extent and severity of coral bleaching.” In addition, the survey of the reef was conducted by air, a method of observation that is open to criticism. Left out of the BBC report is the admission by the Authority that “aerial surveys can only reliably observe shallow corals down to about five metres”. In fact, corals near the surface are prone to being affected by temporary seasonal changes in water temperature, and the (usually) temporary bleaching they cause.

A critic of the results of aerial surveys is Jennifer Marohasy, the biologist and long time observer of the Reef. She believes that it is “impossible to know the state of the corals” from an altitude of 120 metres. She recalled that the reef crest at the large mid-shelf Britomark reef looked desolate from the air, when in reality it had live coral cover. “But I could only know this by getting in, and under the water,” she added. Other reefs tell a similar story, she adds.

Models mistaken for data, fly-by observations promoting long-term climate guesses – another day, another dollar in the climate Armageddon business.

Chris Morrison is the Daily Sceptic’s Environment Editor.

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