Monday, December 14, 2009

Dubai debt relief news spurs Asian markets

HONG KONG (MarketWatch) -- Asian markets got a positive jolt from news that Dubai received $10 billion in financing from Abu Dhabi, with investors buying stocks and higher-yielding currencies on relief that there would be no default on Dubai bonds maturing Monday.

"[The $10 billion assistance provided to Dubai World] will provide relief for the immediate payments," said John Tofarides, an analyst at Moody's Middle East in Dubai. "Short-term investment sentiment will rise but it will take more to instill confidence to previous levels."

The strong close followed a weak opening for many markets. Japan's Nikkei 225 Average, which fell as much as 1% during the session, finished the day flat at 10,105.68. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index, which fell more than 1.6% earlier, recovered to end 0.8% up, while China's Shanghai Composite bounced back to finish 1.7% higher. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.4%, New Zealand's NZX 50 fell 0.9%, South Korea's Kospi rose 0.5% and Taipei's Taiex advanced 0.3%.

In afternoon trading, India's Sensex had advanced 0.7%, while Singapore's Straits Times Index had risen 0.2%.

"Abu Dhabi has basically indicated that Dubai will be good for its debts," said Macquarie Private Wealth Senior Private Client Adviser Marcus Droga. "It just reinforces previous overtures that Abu Dhabi would assist Dubai and it suggests that the region is going to be OK."

The turnaround in markets came after Dubai said it authorized a $4.1 billion payment on a Dubai World bond obligation maturing Monday from the Abu Dhabi funds. Dubai said the remaining funds would go toward interest expenses and working capital through April. Read full story.

Gold futures regain some lost ground

TOKYO (MarketWatch) -- Gold futures edged higher Monday afternoon in Asia, bouncing back in electronic trading after a more than 4% drop last week.

Traders gauged investment demand for the metal ahead of this week's U.S. Federal Reserve's monetary policy meeting and a string of U.S. economic data, including figures on industrial production Tuesday and the consumer price index Wednesday.

Gold for February delivery, the most active futures contract for the metal, was $7.20 higher at $1,127.10 on Globex as of Monday afternoon in Tokyo.

The December front-month contract traded at $1,127.20, up $7.80, after ending last week at its lowest closing price since Nov. 13, down 4.2% for the week.

"It's more of a technical buying," said Chintan Karnani, an analyst at Insignia Consultants in New Delhi.

Gold has also strengthened amid "position building" ahead of the meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve, he said. The monetary policy meeting starts Tuesday in Washington.

Gold traders were also digesting the latest news on the Dubai debt issue. On Monday, Dubai said it received $10 billion in financing from Abu Dhabi, which will pay part of the debt held by conglomerate Dubai World and its property unit Nakheel. See full story on Dubai financing.

Dubai's debt woes had helped to boost the dollar, putting pressure on gold and other commodities.

"We certainly want to see a situation where commodities are being bought on underlying optimism in the strength of the global recovery and not just because they are cheap in [U.S. dollar] terms," said Cameron Peacock, a market analyst at IG Markets, in a note to clients.

"If the [dollar] continues to rise, it will not be long before we see how this plays out," Peacock said.

Myra P. Saefong is MarketWatch's assistant global markets editor, based in Tokyo.

Abu Dhabi gives $10 billion to help Dubai World pay debts

Nakheel, a Dubai World unit, confirms it will honor its sukuk obligations

FRANKFURT (MarketWatch) -- Abu Dhabi has given fellow emirate Dubai $10 billion in financing that will be used to pay part of the debt held by state-owned conglomerate Dubai World and its property unit Nakheel.

The news sparked a rally in Dubai stocks, which surged over 10% Monday. European stock markets also posted gains, led by banking shares. Equity markets in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Sydney all reversed direction to finish higher following the Dubai news. See full story on Asian stock rebound. See European markets report.

Dubai announced Monday that Abu Dhabi's government has provided $10 billion to the Dubai Financial Support Fund. Of the total, $4.1 billion will be used to repay Nakheel's Islamic bond maturing Monday, while the rest will be used to finance Dubai World's obligations through the end of April 2010.

"We are here today to reassure investors, financial and trade creditors, employees, and our citizens that our government will act at all times in accordance with market principles and internationally accepted business practices," Dubai Supreme Fiscal Committee Chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saaed al-Maktoum said in a statement.

Financial markets around the globe have been jittery about Dubai debt exposure since late last month, when Dubai World sought to restructure $26 billion of debt. The conglomerate's total obligations are estimated at roughly $60 billion.

Monday's announcement is helping clear up some of the uncertainty around the restructuring of Dubai World's debt and will likely boost investor confidence, since it demonstrates Abu Dhabi's willingness to support its fellow emirate.

Implications for investors

"This lifeline should dispel the near-term crisis of confidence of the past two weeks and [it] greatly reduces immediate credit risks associated with Dubai World," said Ahmet Akarli, strategist at Goldman Sachs, in a note to clients.

"It is important to note that this is only the beginning of a comprehensive financial realignment process which may involve asset sales, debt restructuring and liquidation of insolvent entities," Akarli said. "It is clear additional aid from the UAE will be needed to smooth the restructuring process out."

Tim Brunne, strategist at UniCredit Group in Munich, warned that the "the whole story leaves a bitter taste."

"The reputational damage for Dubai World is enormous, as its failed timely communication of its fiscal problems will alienate investors," Brunne said in a note.

The central bank of the United Arab Emirates, which governs monetary policy in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and other U.A.E. constituents, "is also prepared to provide support to local UAE banks," according to Dubai's statement.

The government of Dubai also plans to announce a "comprehensive reorganization law," based on internationally accepted standards for transparency and creditor protection.

"This law will be available should Dubai World and its subsidiaries be unable to achieve an acceptable restructuring of its remaining obligations," the statement said.

Also, Dubai's government expressed commitment to its obligations as well as confidence in its economic model and the long-term health of its economy.

Separately, Nakheel confirmed Monday it will honor all obligations related to its sukuk using funds that will be provided by the Dubai Financial Support Fund.

"In accordance with the terms of the sukuk, the repayment will occur within the next 14 days," Nakheel said in a statement posted on Nasdaq Dubai.

Dubai stocks rally

The benchmark DFM index rallied 10.4% to end at 1,871 points on the Dubai Financial Market.

Shares of real-estate developer Emaar Properties soared 15%, while those of contracting firm Drake & Scull International gained 14.5%. Aramex, a company that offers freight, express and logistics services, rose 14.7%.

Shares of discount airline AirArabia ended up 14.6%. Dubai Financial Market rose 14.8% and Dubai Islamic Bank gained 14.6%.

Shares of DP World /quotes/comstock/11i!dpwrf (DPWRF 0.40, -0.04, -9.09%) , a marine terminal operator that's a unit of Dubai World, rose 14.2% on Nasdaq Dubai.

In Abu Dhabi, the benchmark stock index gained 7.9% to 2,820 points. Real estate and energy shares posted the biggest gains.

First Gulf Bank and Sorouh Real Estate both surged 10%.

Polya Lesova is reporter for MarketWatch, based in Frankfurt. Lisa Twaronite is a MarketWatch reporter based in Tokyo.






一天前,渥斯的另一大贊助商剃鬚用品品牌吉列率先表示,由於伍茲因緋聞和家庭原因宣佈“無限期”退出職業賽事,他們決定將暫停使用由渥斯代言的廣告。而瑞士名錶廠商TAG Heuer也在早前撤掉他的宣傳海報。






























US jobless rate 'could rise further'

WASHINGTON (AFP) - President Barack Obama's top economic aide Christina Romer said Sunday the US jobless rate could rise further and that the improving US economy is not yet out of recession.

Asked if the 10 percent unemployment rate could go higher, Romer, who heads up the White House Council of Economic Advisers, told NBC: "It could well."

"These things certainly do bounce around. I would anticipate some bumps in the road as we go ahead," she told the network's "Meet the Press" program, noting that jobs were a key element of the economic recovery.

"The president has always said, and what I firmly believe, is you're not recovered until all of those people that want to work are back to work," said Romer.

"For the people on Main Street and throughout this country, they are still suffering, the unemployment rate is still 10 percent.

"I'm not going to say the recession is over until the unemployment rate is down to normal levels... where we were before the recession -- certainly in the five percent" range, Romer said.

Her comments came with the US Congress poised later this week to take up a new jobs bill to confront the soaring US unemployment rate.

Obama and his Democratic allies, facing deep US public worry over unemployment running at a quarter-century high, have redoubled their efforts to tackle the problem ahead of the November 2010 mid-term elections.

Earlier this month, official figures showed the unemployment rate fell in November to 10.0 percent from 10.2 percent, suggesting that problems in the job market had peaked.

Speaking to CNN television Sunday, Lawrence Summers, director of the White House Economic Council, said jobs creation and the recovery were inextricably linked.

"Look at the economic debate today. People are talking about how much job creation there will be, and talking about the pace of the recovery from recession," said Summers, adding that measures undertaken by the administration so far have helped, although much more remains to be done.

"We have a long way to go," Summer said.

"We are starting to see the basic mechanism of recovery -- people spend and that creates income for other people, and they spend, and that creates more income, and that creates more income and they spend.

"That process of recovery is starting to engage," he told CNN.

The Media Response to the Growing Influence of the 9 /11 Truth Movement

The cover story of the September 24, 2009, issue of The New Statesman, the venerable left-leaning British magazine, was entitled “The 50 People who Matter Today.”(1) Any such list, necessarily reflecting the bias and limited awareness of the editors, would surely contain choices that readers would find surprising.

That is true of this list – which includes families as well as individuals. A good number of names are, to be sure, ones that would be contained in most such lists created by British, Canadian, or American political commentators, such as the Obamas, the Murdochs, Vladimir Putin, Osama bin Laden, Angela Merkel, Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett, Pope Benedict XVI, and Gordon Brown. But about half of the names reflected choices that I, and probably most other readers, found surprising. One of these choices, however, is beyond surprising - it is astounding.

I refer to the person in the 41st position: David Ray Griffin, a retired professor of philosophy of religion and theology who, in 2003, started writing and lecturing about 9/11, pointing out problems in the official account of the events of that day. By the time the New Statesman article appeared, he had published 8 books, 50 articles, and several DVDs. Because of both the quantity and quality of his work, he became widely regarded as the chief spokesperson of what came to be called “the 9/11 Truth Movement.” It was because of this role that the New Statesman included him in its list, calling him the “top truther” (the “conspiracy theorist” title went to Dan Brown, who was placed in the 50th slot).

In saying Griffin “matters”, however, the New Statesman was not praising him. Here is how the magazine explained its choice:

“Conspiracy theories are everywhere, and they always have been. In recent years, one of the most pernicious global myths has been that the US government carried out, or at least colluded in, the 11 September 2001 attacks as a pretext for going to war. David Ray Griffin, a retired professor of religion, is the high priest of the ‘truther’ movement. His books on the subject have lent a sheen of respectability that appeals to people at the highest levels of government - from Michael Meacher MP to Anthony ‘Van’ Jones, who was recently forced to resign as Barack Obama's ‘green jobs’ adviser after it emerged that he had signed a 9/11 truth petition in 2004.”

I wish to raise two questions about the New Statesman’s treatment of Griffin. First, is its evaluation of him as one of the most important people in the world today simply absurd, as it certainly seems at first glance, or is there a perspective from which it makes sense? Second on what basis could the editors justify their claim that the 9/11 truth movement is promoting a “myth” – and a “pernicious” one at that?

The Inclusion of Griffin in the List: Does It Make Sense?

Why would Griffin’s role as “top truther” – as the intellectual leader of the 9/11 truth movement - lead the magazine’s editors to consider him one of the “50 people who matter today”? Unlike a president, a prime minister, or a pope, he has no political clout; unlike a billionaire, he has no financial clout; and his book sales do not begin to rival those of Dan Brown. Indeed, his books do not even get reviewed in the press. The idea that he is one of the 50 people who matter most in the world today is, as he himself has said, absurd – at least from most angles.

There is, however, one angle from which it does make sense: Given the enormity of the 9/11 attacks and of the policies, both foreign and domestic, that have been justified as responses to those attacks, a movement challenging the official story of the attacks certainly could, in principle, become so influential that its intellectual leader would be a person of consequence.

And the movement has, in fact, grown enormously in both size and credibility since 2004 and 2005, when Griffin published his first two books on the subject – “The New Pearl Harbor” and “The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions” – and began working, with colleague Peter Dale Scott, on an edited volume that was published in 2006 as “9/11 and the American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out.”

Due in large part to these volumes - plus the national exposure Griffin received when his 2005 lecture at the University of Wisconsin in Madison was carried by C-SPAN - a small group of academics formed Scholars for 9/11 Truth, which led in turn to the formation of Scholars for 9/11 Truth and Justice, the leaders of which launched the Journal of 9/11 Studies in 2006.

The existence of these scholarly organizations stimulated the creation of three professional organizations: Veterans for 9/11 Truth, Pilots for 9/11 Truth, and the destined giant of the movement, Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, which was formed after architect Richard Gage, a conservative Republican, heard an interview with Professor Griffin on his car radio that would change his life. In it, Griffin was describing the newly released oral testimonies from the dozens of New York firefighters a who had heard booming explosions in the Twin Towers.(2) After looking into the evidence for himself and concluding that the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings could not have resulted from anything other than explosives, Gage formed his organization of architects and engineers, which now has almost 1000 licensed members.

While these developments were occurring, translations were made of some of Griffin’s books, beginning with “The New Pearl Harbor,” which was published in Italian, Chinese, Danish, Czech, French, Dutch, Japanese, and Arabic. Thanks in part to these translations, a worldwide movement is now calling for 9/11 truth.

Also, this movement, which at one time was discounted as crazy conspiracy theorists playing around on the Internet, has now become widely professionalized, with Griffin again a critical influence in his consultant role to the emerging organizations of journalists, lawyers, medical professionals, religious leaders, and political leaders.

One of those organizations, Political Leaders for 9/11 Truth, includes in its membership British MP Michael Meacher, who has, according to the New Statesman, succumbed to the “sheen of respectability” given to “the ‘truther’ movement” by Griffin’s books. The New Statesman would presumably look equally askance at other members of this organization, including Senator Yukihisa Fujita, one of the leading members of the new ruling party of Japan, who made a nationally televised presentation questioning the official account or 9/11, and Ferdinando Imposimato, a former Italian senator and judge who presided over the trial of the assassination of President Aldo Moro and the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II.

If political leaders are so easily taken in by a “pernicious global myth” about 9/11 because of the “sheen of respectability” lent to it by Griffin’s books, one could hopefully look to firefighters, who are generally practical, sensible people, for reassurance about the truth of the official account of 9/11. This hope is dashed, however, by the testimonies about explosions in the Twin Towers by dozens of firefighters, some of whom Richard Gage heard Griffin discussing on that interview in 2006. New York firefighters lost 343 of their own on September 11. The members of Firefighters for 9/11 Truth are demanding the investigation and prosecution of those involved in arranging explosions, destroying evidence, and orchestrating a cover-up.

One thing bringing Griffin to the attention of the editors of the New Statesman may have been the selection of his seventh book about 9/11, “The New Pearl Harbor Revisited,” by America’s foremost book trade reviewer, Publishers Weekly, as its “Pick of the Week” on November 24, 2008. This honor, which is bestowed on only 51 books a year, perhaps increased the sheen of respectability these editors attribute to Griffin’s books.

And, if the New Statesman did its homework in researching its #41 position, it would have found that Griffin was nominated in both 2008 and 2009 for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Whatever the case, there can be no doubt that the 9/11 truth movement, which Griffin has done more than any other single person to bring to its present level of professionalism and credibility, now poses a significant threat to the public narrative about 9/11, which has been accepted as a basis for policy by virtually all governments and news organizations around the world.

The decision of the New Statesman to include Griffin on the list of people who matter today does make sense, therefore, insofar as it was saying that the movement he represents is important. This way of understanding it was, in fact, Griffin’s own, as soon as he learned about the article. In a letter to fellow members of the 9/11 truth community, he said: “We should take this [New Statesman] article as a reluctant tribute to the effectiveness of our movement.”(3)

Does the 9/11 Truth Movement Promote a Pernicious Myth?

My second questions is: On what basis could the New Statesman editors justify their claim that this 9/11 truth movement promotes a “myth” - a “pernicious” one at that?

To call it a “myth” implies that it is not true. But why is it “pernicious”?

If the New Statesman were a right-wing magazine, we could assume that it would regard the 9/11 truth movement’s central claim – “that the US government carried out, or at least colluded in, the 11 September 2001 attacks as a pretext for going to war” – as pernicious because it seeks to undermine the imperialist wars justified by 9/11. But surely the left-leaning New Statesman does not share that view.

The word “pernicious” might simply mean that the myth “that the US government carried out, or at least colluded in, the 11 September 2001 attacks as a pretext for going to war,” is too morally repugnant to accept. But that gut reaction does not bear on the truth or falsity of the possibility, especially in light of all the morally repugnant things carried out by the Bush-Cheney administration that have already been publicly documented.

More likely, the New Statesman shares the view of left-leaning intellectuals, such as Alexander Cockburn and George Monbiot, that the 9/11 movement is distracting many left-leaning people from dealing with truly important issues.

However, would many people who regard 9/11 as a false-flag operation – in which forces within the US government orchestrated the attacks to have a pretext for, among other things, going to war against oil-rich Muslim countries - consider the attempt to reveal this truth a distraction from important issues? Surely not.

For the Statesman to call the central claim of the 9/11 truth movement “pernicious,” therefore, seems to be simply another way of calling it a “myth” – of saying that it is false.

If so, the question becomes: On what basis would the editors of the New Statesman argue that the position of the 9/11 truth movement, as articulated in Griffin’s writings, is false?

I will suggest a possible way they could do this: They could use the pages of their magazine to explain why the cumulative case Griffin has constructed against the official story is unconvincing. To assist them in this task, I have provided below a summary of some of the main points in Griffin’s case, with page references to his most comprehensive work, “The New Pearl Harbor Revisited” (2008), and his most recent book, “The Mysterious Collapse of World Trade Center 7.”

Elements in Griffin’s Cumulative Case Against the Official Account of 9/11

Evidence that the attacks were carried out by Arab Muslims belonging to al-Qaeda

The FBI, which does not list 9/11 as one of the terrorist acts for which Osama bin Laden is wanted, has explicitly admitted that it “has no hard evidence connecting Bin Laden to 9/11” (NPHR 206-11).

Mohamed Atta and the other alleged hijackers, far from being devout Muslims ready to die as martyrs, regularly drank heavily, went to strip clubs, and paid for sex (NPHR 153-55).

The main evidence for hijackers on the planes was provided by phone calls, purportedly from passengers or crew members on the airlines, reporting that the planes had been taken over by Middle-Eastern men. About 15 of these calls were specifically identified as cell phone calls, with Deena Burnett, for example, reporting that she had recognized her husband’s cell phone number on her Caller ID. But after the 9/11 truth movement pointed out that cell phone calls from high-altitude airliners would have been impossible, given the cell phone technology available in 2001, the FBI changed its story, saying that all the calls, except two made from a very low altitude, had been made using onboard phones.

Although US Solicitor General Ted Olson claimed that his wife, Barbara Olson, phoned him twice from AA 77, describing hijackers with knives and box-cutters, his widely reported story was contradicted by FBI evidence presented to the Moussaoui Trial in 2006, which said that the only call attempted by her was “unconnected” and (therefore) lasted “0 seconds” (NPRH 60-62).

Although the decisive evidence proving that Al-Qaeda was responsible for the attacks was originally said to have been found in a rented Mitsubishi that Mohamed Atta had left in the airport parking lot in Boston, the present story says that it was found in luggage that did not get loaded onto American Flight 11 from the commuter flight that Atta took that morning from Portland, Maine. This story changed after it emerged that Adnan and Ameer Bukhari, originally said to have been the hijackers who boarded American 11 after taking that commuter flight from Portland, had not died on 9/11.

The other types of reputed evidence for Muslim hijackers, such as security videos at airports, passports discovered at the crash sites, and a headband discovered at the crash site of United 93, show clear signs of having been fabricated (NPHR 170-73).

In addition to the absence of evidence for hijackers on the planes, there is also evidence of their absence: Although the pilots could have easily “squawked” the universal hijack code in two or three few seconds, not one of the eight pilots on the four airliners did this (NPHR 175-79).

The Secret Service, after being informed that a second World Trade Center building had been attacked---which would have meant that unknown terrorists were going after high-value targets---and that still other planes had apparently been hijacked, allowed President Bush to remain at the unprotected school in Sarasota, Florida, for another 30 minutes. The Secret Service thereby betrayed its knowledge that the airliners were not under the control of hostile hijackers.

Evidence of a “stand-down” order preventing interception of the four planes

Given standard operating procedures between the FAA and the military, according to which planes showing signs of an in-flight emergency are normally intercepted within about 10 minutes, the military’s failure to intercept any of the flights implies that something, such as a stand-down order, prevented standard procedures from being carried out (NPHR 1-10, 81-84).

Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta reported an episode in which Vice President Cheney, while in the bunker under the White House, apparently confirmed a stand-down order at about 9:25 AM, which was prior to the strike on the Pentagon. (NPHR 94-96).

The 9/11 Commission did not include this testimony from Mineta in its report and claimed that Cheney did not enter the bunker until almost 10:00, which was at least 40 minutes later than Mineta and several other witnesses reported his being there (NPHR 91-94).

The 9/11 Commission’s timeline for Cheney that morning even contradicted what Cheney himself had told Tim Russert on “Meet the Press” five days after 9/11 (NPHR 93).

Evidence that the official story about the Pentagon cannot be true

Hani Hanjour, who according to his flight instructors could not safely fly a single-engine airplane, could not have possibly executed the extraordinary trajectory reportedly taken by American Flight 77 in order to hit Wedge 1 of the Pentagon (NPHR 78-80).

Wedge 1 would have been the least likely part of the Pentagon to be targeted by foreign terrorists: It was remote from the offices of the top brass; it was the only part of the Pentagon that had been reinforced; and it was still being renovated and hence was only sparsely occupied (NPHR 76-78).

Evidence that the official story about the destruction of the World Trade Center cannot be true

Because the Twin Towers were supported by 287 steel columns, including 47 massive core columns, they could not have come straight down, largely into their own footprints, unless these columns had been severed by explosives. Therefore, the official theory - according to which the buildings were brought down solely by fire plus, in the case of the Twin Towers, the impact of the planes – is scientifically impossible (NPHR 12-25).

Many other things that occurred during the destruction of the Twin Towers, such as the horizontal ejections of steel beams from the top floors and the liquefying of steel and other metals with melting points far above any temperature that could have produced by fire, can only be explained by powerful explosives (NPHR 30-36).

The almost perfectly symmetrical collapse of WTC 7, which was supported by 82 steel columns, could only have occurred if all 82 of those columns had been sliced simultaneously (MC Ch. 10).

In its final report on WTC 7, issued in November 2008, NIST admitted that this building had come down in absolute free fall for over two seconds. NIST, however, was still affirming a theory of progressive collapse caused by fire, which, as NIST had explained the previous August, could not possibly result in absolute free fall, because the lower floors would offer resistance. NIST was able to avoid admitting that explosives had brought the building down, in other words, only by continuing to affirm its fire theory after admitting that it could not explain one of the empirical facts it had come to acknowledge (MC Ch. 10).

Journalists, city officials, WTC employees, and over 100 members of the Fire Department of New York testified to having witnessed massive explosions in the World Trade Center buildings (NPHR 27-30, 45-48, 51).

A scientist who had formerly worked for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which produced the official reports on the world Trade Center, reported in 2007 that it had been “fully hijacked from the scientific to the political realm,” so that its scientists had become little more than “hired guns” (NPHR 11, 238-51).

The fact that NIST in writing its reports functioned as a political rather than a scientific agency is illustrated with special clarity by its report on WTC 7, in which it not only omitted all the evidence pointing to the occurrence of explosives (MC Chs. 3-5), but also falsified and even fabricated evidence to support its claim that the building was brought down by fire (Chs. 7-10).

Until the editors of the New Statesman are able to refute Griffin’s cumulative argument, we can agree with their view that Griffin, by virtue of his role in the 9/11 truth movement, has become a person of global importance, while rejecting as groundless their charge that the growing importance of this movement is pernicious.

Is the North Pole Turning to Water?

"It will without doubt have come to your Lordship's knowledge that a considerable change of climate, inexplicable at present to us, must have taken place in the Circumpolar Regions, by which the severity of the cold that has for centuries past enclosed the seas in the high northern latitudes in an impenetrable barrier of ice has been during the last two years, greatly abated.

(This) affords ample proof that new sources of warmth have been opened and give us leave to hope that the Arctic Seas may at this time be more accessible than they have been for centuries past, and that discoveries may now be made in them not only interesting to the advancement of science but also to the future intercourse of mankind and the commerce of distant nations."
President of the Royal Society, London, to the Admiralty, 20th November, 1817 [13]


The `Arctic' is a general term applied to all the lands, ocean, and ice north of the Arctic Circle at 67°N. It includes the northern Canadian Archipelago, most of Greenland, the Norwegian Sea, the Arctic Ocean, and the northern coastlines of Russia, Scandinavia, Canada and Alaska.

As the above extract from 1817 shows, the ebb and flow of Arctic ice extent and mass is nothing new, as can be expected from such a dynamic and changing ocean/ice environment.

This is also the region which climate models indicate will receive a much larger warming from an enhanced greenhouse effect than would occur in lower latitudes
. `Global Warming' is therefore not expected by greenhouse models to be evenly distributed around the globe as the term would suggest. Rather it is heavily biased toward the high latitude and polar regions as clearly indicated by predictions of up to 8°C polar warming in this map of 21st century global temperature change during the northern winter from the Hadley (U.K.) climate model.

Fig.1 Hadley model of winter temperature change to the mid 21st century

There are two good reasons for this high latitude bias in a theorised enhanced greenhouse world.

Firstly, the infra-red
(I.R.) absorption bands of carbon dioxide lie in the 12-16 micron wavelength band. The wavelength of strongest I.R. emission from polar ice lies in or near this band. This means that CO2 has its greatest absorption of I.R. radiation at sub-zero temperatures. At warmer temperatures, the typical wavelength of strongest I.R. transmission is less than 12 microns, and therefore much less affected by CO2. At temperatures around 15°C (the average surface temperature of the Earth), the strongest emission wavelength is around 10 microns, a wavelength which is largely unaffected by greenhouse gases, the so-called `radiation window' of the atmosphere where IR radiation from the surface can escape freely to space.

Secondly, the most powerful greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is water vapour, representing over 90 percent of the natural greenhouse effect. Water vapour shares many overlapping absorption bands with CO2 and therefore an increase or decrease in CO2 has little effect on the overall rate of I.R. absorption in those overlapping regions. However, in the Arctic and Antarctic, the air is very dry due to the extreme cold, allowing CO2 to exert a much greater leverage in the dry atmosphere than would be possible in warmer moister climates at lower latitudes.

It is claimed by the IPCC
(Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) that global temperature has risen +0.6°C ±0.2°C during the 20th century [6]. For this to be directly attributable to the enhanced greenhouse effect (i.e. be human induced) that warming would have to follow the greenhouse `fingerprint', namely strong warming at the polar and sub-polar regions, much less warming in the tropics and sub-tropics, and the least warming in equatorial ocean regions where water vapour saturates the absorption wavebands to the point where changes in any of the other greenhouse gases has little additional effect.

That claimed 20th century warming is based on thousands of weather stations worldwide, most of them located in cities where local heating from buildings, roads, and other structures
(the Urban Heat Island Effect) creates an artificial warming creep in the long-term data. The deficiencies in this `surface record' has been highlighted in numerous articles and papers, including one by this author [2].

Those deficiencies in the surface record notwithstanding, the global pattern of warming during the 20th century does not fit the classic greenhouse fingerprint. The Antarctic continent shows no overall warming since reliable records began there in 1957 as suggested by this temperature record from the South Pole itself. Indeed, the South Pole appears to have cooled, not warmed.

Fig.2 - Annual Mean Temperature at the Amundsen-Scott Base (U.S.) at the South Pole [9]

There has been localised warming in the 2% of the continent represented by the Antarctic Peninsula, and cooling over most of the remaining 98%. In the Arctic, there are regions which show warming (e.g. northern Alaska and north-western Canada), and other regions which show either no warming or even cooling (north-eastern Canada, Russian Arctic, Greenland and the Arctic Rim, comparative graphs below).

Fig.3 - Annual Mean Temperature at 4 Arctic Rim stations [9]

Note: The raw data from Svalbard (Spitzbergen) was from two separate stations during two distinct periods. They cannot be merged together without adjustment as they had different long-term mean temperatures. The red dotted line shows the original early data from Svalbard. To merge them, both were compared with Danmarkshavn, and the early Svalbard record then adjusted with a uniform correction to make the average difference between Svalbard and Danmarkshavn equal for both periods.

Taken as a whole, there is no significant Arctic-wide warming evident in recent decades. According to many station records there, the warmest period was around 1940, not the `warm' 1990s.

But now, a new spectre has emerged in the popular imagination - melting sea ice.

Water at the North Pole !

In August 2000, a Russian icebreaker, the Yamal, took a group of environmental scientists on an excursion into the Arctic Ocean. When they got to the North Pole they were greeted by an expanse of open water, photographs of which became the subject of sensationalist reporting in the media.

Among the scientists on the cruise was Dr. James McCarthy, an oceanographer, director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University and a lead author for the IPCC. "It was totally unexpected," he said in a report to the media. Another scientist aboard, Dr. Malcolm C. McKenna, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History, remarked "I don't know if anybody in history ever got to 90 degrees north to be greeted by water, not ice."

"The last time scientists can be certain the pole was awash in water was more than 50 million years ago." proclaimed the New York Times in an article entitled `The North Pole is melting' (August 19, 2000).

During an Arctic summer, the sun is in the sky 24 hours per day, giving the Arctic ocean more total sunlight than anywhere else on the planet, excepting the Antarctic during its summer season. The result is that large areas of the Arctic Ocean are ice free in summer at any one time, with large leads of open water and even larger `polynyas', stretches of open water tens of miles long and miles wide. This photo of three submarines visiting the North Pole in May 1987 shows the whole area criss-crossed with open water leads before the summer had even arrived.

Fig.4 - HMS Superb, USS Billfish, and USS Sea Devil in a North Pole rendezvous in 1987
(U.S. Navy Photo)

By contrast, a similar photo taken 12 years later of USS Hawkbill (with the ominous number SSN-666) at the North Pole during the spring of 1999 shows a vast expanse of unbroken new ice. (Hawkbill was nicknamed `the Devil Boat' due to its number, and was decommissioned in 2000 shortly after its last Arctic cruise, much to the relief of those familiar with the `Book of Revelation').

Fig.5 - USS Hawkbill at the North Pole, Spring 1999. (US Navy Photo) [19]

As early as 1959, the first US submarine to surface at the North Pole, the USS Skate, did so in late March, and surfaced at 10 other locations during the same cruise, each time finding leads of open water or very thin ice from which to do so. It did a similar cruise a year earlier in August 1958, again finding numerous open leads within which to surface. Here is a photo of the Skate during one of its surfacings in 1959. As can be seen in all three photos, the flat new ice is scarcely different between 1959 and 1999, while the 1987 photo shows the extent to which open water can occur.

Fig.6 - USS Skate during an Arctic surfacing in 1959. (US Navy Photo) [18]

An aerial view of typical sea ice shows it to be a patchwork of ice slabs separated by areas of open water. In winter the ice will be more continuous as the ice free areas freeze over.

Fig.7 - Aerial view of typical polar sea ice.

In the rush to sensationalise the story, the New York Times and other media outlets failed to check whether the claims they were making were actually true.

For example, one crew member aboard the USS Skate which surfaced at the North Pole in 1959 and numerous other locations during Arctic cruises in 1958 and 1959 said: [5]

"the Skate found open water both in the summer and following winter. We surfaced near the North Pole in the winter through thin ice less than 2 feet thick. The ice moves from Alaska to Iceland and the wind and tides causes open water as the ice breaks up. The Ice at the polar ice cap is an average of 6-8 feet thick, but with the wind and tides the ice will crack and open into large polynyas (areas of open water), these areas will refreeze over with thin ice. We had sonar equipment that would find these open or thin areas to come up through, thus limiting any damage to the submarine. The ice would also close in and cover these areas crushing together making large ice ridges both above and below the water. We came up through a very large opening in 1958 that was 1/2 mile long and 200 yards wide. The wind came up and closed the opening within 2 hours. On both trips we were able to find open water. We were not able to surface through ice thicker than 3 feet."

Other scientists and experts on the Arctic environment quickly dismissed the McCarthy claims, pointing out that stretches of open water in summertime are very common in the Arctic [12]. Previous Arctic explorers even expressed frustration at being unable to proceed over the ice due precisely to unpredictable areas of open water obstructing their progress. The reason for the areas of open water is that the floating ice is subject to stresses from wind, currents and tides, causing cracking, ridging between slabs, and the creation of open leads of water between separating ice slabs. In winter, open leads quickly freeze over from the sub-zero air temperature, but in summer with the air temperature often above sea water freezing point (-2°C), such leads can remain open for extended periods.

In the end, the New York Times retracted the story. But we should not be too quick to blame them - it was IPCC scientists aboard the Yamal, particularly James McCarthy, who first started the scare story. The media simply took his word at face value assuming his scientific credentials would be sufficient authority to support the story.

Recent Data on Arctic Sea Ice

Although the `water at the North Pole' story was ultimately discredited, there is nevertheless evidence that Arctic sea ice has recently been thinning.

A study by Rothrock & Maykut [14] in 1999 compared upward-looking sonar data [20] from submarine cruises in the 1950s and 1960s with similar sonar data from cruises in the 1990s. The first phase data originated with these submarine cruises.

USS Nautilus (widebeam) August 1958
USS Seadragon August 1960
USS Seadragon, USS Skate July 1962
USS Queenfish August 1970
HMS Sovereign (widebeam) October 1976

The second phase, was conducted between 1993 and 1997 with US submarines USS Pargo (1993) (Fig.8), USS Pogy (1996), and USS Archerfish (1997), all of them making sweeps of the Arctic ice during the month of September.

Fig.8 - USS Pargo at the North Pole in 1993. (US Navy Photo) [17]

Since ice thickness varies according to the month of the year, the authors used a model to adjust data from the earlier submarine cruises to normalise all the data to September, the month used by the later submarines. This mismatch of dates between the various cruises introduces structural errors into the comparison in spite of the model adjustments. The data itself did not represent ice `thickness' as such, but `ice draft', or that portion of the ice below sea level. Since the proportion of ice which lies above and below the water line is well known, ice draft is a reasonable guide to ice thickness. However, it makes no allowance for snow depth lying on the ice.

Furthermore, not all the Arctic was analysed in this way. For security reasons relating to the Cold War, only the `Gore Box' was involved, a roughly rectangular region of the central Arctic which the then Vice-President Gore moved to have de-classified for purposes of sea ice data analysis. The criteria for determining the boundaries of the `Gore Box' is not known but it does introduce another layer of human selectivity into the picture.

After correcting and averaging the ice draft data for the Gore Box between the two periods, the authors concluded that -

"In summary, ice draft in the 1990s is over a meter thinner than two to four decades earlier. The mean draft has decreased from over 3 meters to under 2 meters".

A study by Wadhams and Davis [21] presented results from a British submarine cruise carried out in the Eurasian Basin in September 1996 in which it followed a track that was close to that of the HMS Sovereign cruise in September-October 1976. Comparing the sea-ice data from the two cruises, they found that mean ice draft from the Fram Strait (the wide waterway between Greenland and Spitzbergen) to the North Pole (81-90° N and 5° E-5° W) had declined by 43% between the two cruises. The Fram Strait is the primary inlet for warm Atlantic water.

One problem which these various researchers did not address was the effect of inter-annual variability on statistical trends. This means that if the ice draft data undergoes big swings from one year to the next, it may not be possible to establish clear trends for many decades due to the skewing effect of the more extreme years. The Wadhams study in particular was susceptible to this effect, since they compared two submarine cruises in only two widely separated years. Their conclusion that there had been a decline in sea ice draft between the two reference years could be as much due to inter-annual variability as it was to any genuine long-term thinning.

This problem of inter-annual variability was however addressed by McLaren et al [7], who analysed submarine data for the North Pole area over a 14 year period from 1977 to 1990. They found that ice draft varied up to 1 metre year to year, while the extent of open water was subject to a variation of 2.5%. This variability in thickness is close to the figure for overall ice thinning given by Rothrock & Maykut. McLaren et al also determined that the data errors associated with the averaging of the ice statistics was ±0.15 metres. To reduce errors even further, the McLaren team chose not to use the 1950s and 1960s submarine data, but instead chose only 6 submarine cruises `on the basis of data quality and because they were coincident in time and location'.

Sea ice researchers distinguish between `first-year ice' and `multi-year ice', first-year ice being newly formed, typically less than 1 metre thick, and covering the sea in extensive flat slabs. Multi-year ice is somewhat different in that it has been subject to a long process of grinding and breaking of slabs against each other over a period of time to form pressure ridges many metres tall, and matching `keels' many metres deep. Multi-year ice is distinguished by its deformed state whereas new ice is relatively flat. According to McLaren et al,

"The fractional coverage of multi-year ice also varies strongly on an inter-annual basis, for example from 27.1% in 1986 to 73.8% in 1987. These inter annual variations are sufficient to preclude definitive conclusions about recent changes in the Arctic maritime environment."

Before accepting claims of ice thinning at face value, it must also be understood that the sonar equipment used in the 1990s cruises were all `narrow beam' sonars. But the USS Nautilus and HMS Sovereign from the earlier period used `wide beam' sonars. To compensate for this problem corrections were made to the data from these two submarines by multiplying all their readings by a uniform adjustment of 0.84

With narrow beam sonar, the beam is readily able to pick out keels and troughs in the underside of the ice, so that if the ice has an undulating subsurface varying between, say, 2 metres and 4 metres, the sonar will `see' these undulations and the computer can make a reasonable average.

This is not true of `wide beam' sonar. With a wide beam, the sonar cannot discriminate between the peaks and troughs in the ice, and instead returns an echo which only records the thickness at the peaks, so that any statistical averaging will come up with 4 metres (i.e. the ice thickness at the peaks) but not recording the troughs or crevices in the way a narrow beam would do. In the example just given, a correction of 0.75 would be needed, not 0.84. If the stated beamwidth correction is inadequate, as seems likely, the Nautilus and Sovereign data will give the impression of observing thicker ice than in fact existed at the time. This would then compare unfavourably with the ice more accurately measured by narrow beam sonar in the 1990s.

Apart from these reservations about the boundaries of the Gore Box, inter-annual variability and the types of sonar used, it is nevertheless clear that some thinning of ice draft has taken place between the 1950s/60s and the 1990s. So, why has the Arctic ice thinned?

Fig.9 - Annual Mean Temperature at Jan Mayen [9]

Here we can see one of the longest temperature records from the Arctic region, Jan Mayen Island 350 miles northeast of Iceland on the fringes of the Arctic Ocean. It reveals better than any other record that the warmest time in the Arctic was in the 1930s, not the 1990s, while the 1960s and early 70s were characterised by anomalously cold conditions, the very period when many of the earlier submarine cruises were made.

In other words, these latest studies claiming significant thinning of ice between the 1960s and 1990s are comparing conditions during an anomalously cold period with the more historically normal conditions which exist today. Had the first phase data been collected a few decades earlier in the 1930s, it is likely there would be little significant difference in ice thickness between then and now.

As to why the 1960s and early 1970s should be so cold in the Arctic, it should be noted that it was on the Russian island of Novaya Zemlya deep in the Arctic that most of the powerful Soviet H-bomb tests were conducted in the atmosphere during the huge Soviet test series of 1961-1962, these tests being particularly large and dirty, the largest blast there being a mammoth 60 megatons on 30th October 1961 [11]. The cold plunge in Arctic temperatures occurred in the immediate wake of these tests, and it took about 12 years or so for temperatures to recover to their earlier levels. It is a strong possibility that the two events are connected.

Ice thickness is only part of the story. There is also the question of the areal extent of sea ice. This graph shows Arctic sea ice extent, based on satellite observation since 1973.

Fig.10 - Arctic sea ice extent 1973-1999 [10]

The total area of the Arctic Ocean is about 14 million sq. km. The above graph shows a significant shrinkage of ice extent during 1979 at the end of the Arctic cold period, amounting to almost 1 million sq. km., or 7% of the total. Since 1979, the ice area has largely stabilised, reaching a brief minimum around 1995, and increasing again since then. Put simply, the ice area today is scarcely different to what it was in 1979. This is consistent with observations that the Arctic atmosphere has not warmed since 1979. Had it warmed through the 1980s and 1990s, the ice area would have continued to shrink as increasing air temperature would have failed to re-freeze the ocean surface.

Interestingly, during the very same period, Antarctic sea ice increased in area by about 1.3% per decade [1], suggesting both polar regions are responding to regional factors rather than global ones.

The fact that we have observed recent ice thinning but not areal shrinkage of sea ice strongly suggests that the temperature of the atmosphere (and therefore the Arctic greenhouse effect) is not involved in the variations in sea ice thickness. A 1995 NASA study [3] also found a possible association between the El Niño Southern Oscillation and Arctic sea ice extent although this is not immediately obvious from either the sea ice data or the weather station records.

Why is the ice thinner?

This might at first seem an odd question since ice obviously melts if the temperature of the air or sea rises, thus making `Global Warming' routinely blamed for the thinning. But this would be a premature conclusion.

Try this experiment in any kitchen -

1) Take three identical ice cubes from the freezer compartment of the fridge
2) Place one cube in a large settled bucket of cold tap (faucet) water
3) Place a second cube in a kitchen sieve and let a slow trickle of cold water flow over it.
4) Place the third cube in a sieve and let a
fast trickle of cold water flow over it.

In this experiment, the cold water from the mains water supply is at the same temperature throughout. But which ice cube melts away the fastest?

The ice cube in the bucket will take longest to melt. The cube under the slow trickle will melt considerably faster, while the cube under the faster flow will melt quickest of all. And yet, the water used to achieve these three different melting rates is at or near the same temperature.

The lesson this has for considering changes in Arctic sea ice thickness is that there is a deep water ocean several kilometres deep directly beneath the thin layer of surface ice. That ice can be thinned either by the atmosphere above the ice layer, or by the ocean beneath it. In the case of the atmosphere, the mid-summer temperature in the Arctic is barely at freezing point, insufficient to cause such large scale thinning. There has been little change in atmospheric temperatures in the Arctic over the last several decades.

Here is the September temperature record for Franz Josef Land, a Russian island deep in the Arctic only 600 miles from the North Pole, September being the month used by the 1990s submarine cruises and the month to which the earlier data was adjusted. The location of Franz Josef Land is shown in Fig.12.

Fig.11 - September mean temperature at Franz Josef Land (Russia) [9]

As fig.11 shows, there has been little change in September air temperatures since 1958, merely large year-to-year variations which are quite normal in the polar regions. Being the record for only one month of the year, the 1960s cold period is somewhat attenuated in this record. Since the Greenhouse Effect is a strictly atmospheric phenomenon, and since there has been no warming, that rules out greenhouse gases in the Arctic atmosphere as a factor in the ice thinning.

That leaves only the ocean beneath the ice. Being liquid, its temperature is above the freezing point of sea water, resulting in a continuous attack upon the underside of the ice. The faster the ocean flows beneath the ice, the faster is the melt rate, just as in the kitchen experiment.

The observation in the submarine studies of thinning ice cover, but with a largely constant area of ice, is consistent with changed flow rates of ocean water beneath the ice.

Where all the Water Comes From

Here is a map of ocean currents in the Arctic Ocean.

Fig.12 - Sources of Ocean Circulation in the Arctic Ocean [16]

As can be seen from the map, by far the greatest contribution of surface water comes from the North Atlantic, quoted as 8 `sverdrups'. Atlantic water flows in via the Gulf Stream which crosses the North Atlantic from the Americas, washes the coasts of northern Europe, and proceeds up to the Arctic, passing Jan Mayen Island and Franz Josef Land. As the water flows northward, it slowly cools. The faster the flow, the more warmth is retained by the water as it enters the Arctic. There is also a much smaller contribution from the North Pacific and adjacent continental river systems, but it is the Atlantic Water which is dominant.

Recall at this point the kitchen experiment with the ice cubes. If the surface Atlantic water flow increases, there will be greater propensity to melt sea ice from beneath. If the flow rate decreases, the summer ice melt rate is less and ice can become progressively thicker with each winter. `First year' ice tends to be thinner than `multi-year' ice and the thickness of the older ice is largely dependent on the flows of water beneath the ice and on the amount of ridging created through ocean movement and tides.

If the rate of flow is increased, not only will the melt rate increase (as per the kitchen experiment), but the water itself is likely to be slightly warmer as it enters the Arctic Ocean since it will have had less time in which to cool on its journey north. Thus an increased flow rate is also likely to be manifested by higher water temperature as it enters the Arctic. Results from several submarine cruises in the Arctic during the 1990s indicate that the influence of Atlantic water has become more widespread and intense in the Arctic, consistent with an increased flow rate of water through the Fram Strait and Barents Sea.

The North Atlantic Oscillation and Thermohaline Circulation

As to why there should be changes in the rate of flow of Atlantic water into the Arctic, it is necessary to consider what drives that flow.

The warm Atlantic water is basically subject to a `push-pull' action.

On the one hand, water is `pulled' into the Arctic by Thermohaline Circulation', the tendency of surface water to get colder as it migrates northward until it ends up colder than the deep water near the sea bed. When that point is reached, the surface water is more dense than the warmer deep water, resulting in the surface waters sinking. As it does so, the bottom water is displaced, forming a slow southward moving current along the sea floor. In this way, water entering the Arctic Ocean at the surface is balanced by deep water leaving the Arctic in the opposite direction.

Salinity of sea water is also a factor in the circulation. Surface water in the Arctic Ocean is typically about 10% less saline than the deeper water [15], which would tend to make the surface less dense than the deeps. This is caused by injections of fresh water from continental rivers and summer sea ice melt. Since fresh water is less dense than sea water, it tends to cling to the surface as it spreads outwards. It is the combined density effect of temperature and salinity between the surface and the deeps which determines the amount of thermohaline circulation which can occur.

Fig.13 - The start of Thermohaline Circulation

Thermohaline circulation is important for the global oceanic balance as the water leaving the Arctic weaves its way along the sea floor, right down the North Atlantic, into the South Atlantic, along the deeps of the Southern Ocean, finally upwelling in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In fig.14, the warm surface water (red) sinks near the Arctic and returns via a deep cold water current (brown), resurfacing in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Fig.14 - Global Thermohaline Circulation

As surface water sinks in the frigid Arctic through thermohaline action, more water is `pulled in' to fill the void left by the sinking water.

Water is also `pushed' into the Arctic by the pressure of the Gulf Stream, and given added impetus by the prevailing south-westerly winds that sweep across the North Atlantic.

It is here that perhaps the biggest influence on the Arctic sea ice manifests itself - the North Atlantic Oscillation (or NAO for short). This oscillation in the balance of weather systems in the North Atlantic region has only recently been discovered and is analogous to the mighty Southern Oscillation in the Pacific Ocean (El Niño / La Niña). Just as the cause and timing of the Southern Oscillation is not yet known, the cause and timing of the NAO is also not fully understood.

The effects of the NAO however, are all too real. The key measure of the NAO is the `NAO Index', an index number to indicate when the phenomenon is weak or strong. The index is established by comparing atmospheric pressure at Akureyri in Iceland and at the Azores.

Where the pressure gradient is shallow, the index number is negative, and is manifested by weaker winds and storm systems in the North Atlantic. The result is less forward forcing of the Gulf Stream by the south-westerly winds. Where the pressure gradient is steep, the index number is positive, and is manifested by more frequent and more intense storms, stronger south-westerly winds, and thus more forward forcing of the Gulf Stream.

Herein lies the key to why sea ice thickness in the Arctic might be subject to variation unrelated to atmospheric temperature. Recalling the kitchen ice cube experiment, a stronger faster Gulf Stream driven by a positive NAO, enters the Arctic, retaining more of its warmth due to the faster trans-Atlantic passage of the Gulf Stream waters, and increases the rate of summer ice melt from beneath the ice. When the NAO is negative, the Gulf Stream is both weaker and slower, has cooled more by the time it does reach the Arctic - and the ice gets thicker in consequence.

Having suggested the mechanism, it merely remains to see what the NAO state has been during recent years. The NAO is reconstructed historically from atmospheric pressure records from Iceland and the Azores going right back to the early 19th century.

Fig.15 - The North Atlantic Oscillation winter index, 1825-2000 [8]

This chart shows clearly that the winter NAO was strongly positive from 1900 to around 1930, while its most significant negative period, the time when sea ice would be expected to increase in thickness, was during the 1960s, the very time when the first phase of submarine sonar measurements were being taken. Since then, the NAO has seen another strong period of positive index values, indicative of stronger south-westerlies in the North Atlantic, and therefore enhanced flow of warm waters into the Arctic Ocean resulting in a thinning of sea ice.

When the NAO finally reverts to negative values, as with any oscillatory system, the reverse will happen. Atlantic water will weaken, become cooler as it enters the Arctic, and melt less ice than the more aggressive positive mode of the NAO. In this way, ice thickness will vary according to a continuing cycle.

We can see the possible effect of the NAO in the ocean temperatures measured at the North Pole at various depths in fig.16 [15]

Fig.16 - North Pole Ocean Temperatures at depths

As we can see from fig.16, the ocean surface temperature in the Arctic is largely unchanged from the 1950s through to the 1990s. Also unchanged is the deep ocean temperature.

It is only around the 250 dbar depth (a `dbar' is roughly equivalent to a metre) that we find significant variation in ocean temperature.

The `EWG Atlas' figures originate with Soviet surveys of the North Pole area from the 1950s to 1980s and only give average values for whole decades. The `SCICEX' data gives values for individual years in the 1990s and was collected by submarine cruises on scientific expeditions. The warmest SCICEX temperatures measured at this depth was in 1995, the coolest being in 1991.

This variability in temperature originates with variations in the temperature of the warm Atlantic waters entering the Arctic and is unrelated to conditions in the Arctic itself. This variability can be achieved either through the Atlantic waters being warmer or cooler at their source, or through the rate of flow of those waters being changed by the NAO.

If the Atlantic water flow rate is increased, assuming a constant rate of cooling, it will enter the Arctic Ocean at a warmer temperature than if the flow rate is slower.

Waters at this depth cannot be warmed directly by the sun or greenhouse effect as solar radiation penetrates only to 100 metres depth, while infra-red radiation from the greenhouse effect can only warm the immediate surface `skin' of the ocean.

Fig.17 - Radiation Absorption by the Oceans at Various Wavelengths

The Sverdrup radiation chart in fig.17 shows that solar radiation at visible wavelengths can penetrate the ocean readily, heating it directly at depths down to 100 metres. However, it also shows that as the radiation moves into the infra-red, the ability of the deeper ocean to absorb heat rapidly diminishes. Once we move into the far infra red where radiation from the greenhouse effect occurs, only the immediate surface `skin' of the ocean can absorb that radiation. For that energy to be absorbed down to deeper depths requires the assistance of surface turbulence to mix in the heat. If the ocean surface is not turbulent (as frequently happens in the tropics - the so-called `Doldrums'), energy collected from the greenhouse effect can only warm the top millimetre of the ocean, most of the heat being promptly lost again through evaporation.

It is for this reason that the variability in deep water temperature in the Arctic at around 250 metres depth can only result from variation in either the flow rate or the temperature of the Atlantic waters entering the Arctic, the flow rate being strongly influenced by the NAO. Atmospheric temperature changes in the Arctic itself can have no effect on deeper ocean temperature due to this inability of water to absorb infra red radiation beneath the ocean's surface skin or for surface turbulence to transmit the heat down to such depths.


As we can see from recent history, both the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice is certainly subject to variation. But it would be a mistake to assume that a brief period during which the Arctic is in a thinning cycle is anything more than that - a cycle. We know from past history that it has been subject to earlier retreats as suggested by the opening quote from 1817.

Part of the problem lay in the fact that useful data on ice extent and thickness only dates from the 1950s, yet our temperature record from Jan Mayen Island at the edge of the Arctic shows that the Arctic was warmer during the 1930s than it was during the 1990s. Unfortunately there is no comprehensive ice data from the 1930s. Instead such data begins in the late 1950s, at a time when the Arctic was entering into the grip of a known cold spell. As that cold period ended, it is hardly surprising to find thinner ice during the latter warmer period.

There is also the strong correlation between the NAO and the state of Arctic ice, a strongly positive NAO in the last decade increasing the flow rate of warm Atlantic water into the Arctic, while it was predominantly negative during the cold period of the 1960s, resulting in a reduced flow rate of Atlantic water and thus a reduced propensity for ice melt.

The strong positive NAO of the last decade is not unprecedented. While some might wish to associate this with human-induced `climate change', it is clear from the NAO record that it was also strongly positive during the early decades of the 20th century and even earlier. In other words, the NAO is a real natural cycle, not a manifestation of `global warming'.

Variability in sea ice thickness has no implications for sea levels. Since ice sea displaces its own weight in sea water, thickening or thinning of sea ice has a zero effect on sea level.

The freezing Arctic air which descended on North America and Russia during the 2000 winter shows that the Arctic atmosphere has lost none of its frigid bite, thus ensuring further renewal of sea ice.

The limits on the thickness of Arctic ice are determined by how low the air temperature can get, and on how warm and fast-moving the subsurface water is. Air temperatures measured in the Arctic region show no recent warming, thus discounting the possibility that recent thinning of ice could be caused by atmospheric warming above the ice. Rather, the thinning of ice in the 1990s is clearly associated with a warming of the sub-surface ocean, as shown by the SCICEX data, caused in whole or in part by the strong NAO increasing the flow rate of Atlantic water into the Arctic Ocean.

There is nothing in the data to suggest anything but natural cycles at work.