In the last week, a study was released by NASA that suggested that the Antarctic Ice Sheet, as a whole, is in stasis or actually gaining mass. The study, led by Jay Zwally, a glaciologist with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, agreed with other studies that the Antarctic Peninsula and the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet are losing ice mass.
However, the study found that the Eastern Antarctic Ice Sheet is actually gaining ice mass. Furthermore, this gain in ice mass is more than the ice loss being seen in the Western and Peninsula Ice Masses.
Something interesting happened as a result. This finding became the source of instant controversy and a public relations blitz. The Huffington Post UK has described the findings as “causing chaos” in the climate community. One need ask why such a finding would cause chaos.
If pure science was at work, then it would not cause chaos. In fact, scientists should be comfortable with chaos. Science operates on the edge of our understanding. Scientists are always going back to the drawing board. Settled science is never controversial, nor does it make headlines (the sun fusing hydrogen is not newsworthy anymore). One expects that the cutting edge of science will reveal data that is not only conflicting, but also subject to differing interpretations.
What I find interesting about this study is that it does not appear to either conflict with: (1) established data; or (2) AGW theory. First, the study is one of the first to focus on the Eastern Antarctic ice sheet. It provides data analysis that had not been done before, so it does not conflict with science that has already been done. The only conflict seen is that others (be they reporters, bloggers or other scientists) have taken a rhetorical position that Antarctic ice is losing mass because of the findings on the Peninsula and in the Western Antarctic. This is a stretch.
The second point that is interesting to me is that ice mass gain on the Antarctic sheet is predicted. Antarctica is a desert. The reason that it is a desert is because it is so cold. At -40 degrees (C or F) water vapor is precipitated out, which means that snow doesn’t fall and ice mass does not build. The dominant process on the East Antarctic sheet would be ablation through sublimation where more ice is lost (not through melting) than gained through precipitation.
An increase in temperature where the average temperature is -40 would result in additional precipitation making it there. While lower elevations would see more ablation through melting, it would be largely balanced by increased ice formation at higher elevations. Thus largely maintaining stasis.
This is not a difficult concept. But what is being seen is that rhetorical positions that have predominated – both of which take liberties with the predictions of AGW theory – are now finding themselves with the roles reversed. The alarmists are horrified by a finding that actually supports the theory because their rhetoric of sea level rise was trumpeted for the last two decades. The denier side is crowing over something that should be viewed as evidence that they are wrong!
The seeds for this have been long sowed. Neither side of the issue has approached the issue with much credibility. As a result, we find the science taking a back seat to positional puffery, And thus we are seeing a PR blitz on all sides.
Why? Because science works. Science is true regardless of what anybody wants to believe.
As an aside, there has been much allegation from the denier community that NASA GISS, particularly Gavin Schmidt, has some sort of policy to force only alarmist research out. If anything, the release of this study indicates that this is not the case. I hope this puts conspiracy suggestions to rest. I also hope Santa is real.