Retreating Glaciers

One of the panicky claims of global warming catastrophists is that some sort of "unprecedented" melting and retreat of glaciers is occurring tied to anthropogenic global warming.  I have seen anecdotal evidence for a while that this melting of glaciers began long before the 1950-present "anthropogenic" era, but I had not seen anything systematic on the topic until I discovered this study by  L. Oerlemans et al as published in Science in 2005.  Download Oerlemans 2005 as pdf.  His results look like this (click to enlarge):


His data for the last decade is a little squirrelly because the data sets he uses are slow to update, but the overall picture is pretty clear — a pretty steady 150+ year history of steady retreat, with the only change is slope being a flattening rather than an acceleration of the curve.  Here are a few individual glaciers he highlights:


One is again left in a quandary – if recent glacial retreats are due to anthropogenic warming, then what cased the retreats before 1950 or so?  And, whatever caused the earlier retreats, what made this natural effect "switch off" at the exact same instant that anthropogenic effects took over?   

Update:  Here is a piece of annecdotal evidence to match, a map from Alaska Geogrpahic on the retreat of the glaciers at Glacier Bay


25 thoughts on “Retreating Glaciers”

  1. If instead of warming, loss of Northern Hemeshere glaciers is tied more closely to soot production, then you could imagin human caused effects on the time frame required (1800). This might also explain the shape nicely (maybe?).

    At least that would be an easy problem to fix (relative to reducing CO2).

  2. “what made this natural effect “switch off” at the exact same instant that anthropogenic effects took over?”

    Uh, hello, increased variability. Whatever defies explanation by AGW can be explained by its cousin, increased variability. Only when all things are exactly the same from year to year will we be satisfied that AGW has been contained.

  3. if recent glacial retreats are due to anthropogenic warming, then what cased the retreats before 1950 or so? – please refer to figure 3B in the paper. What would make you think that nothing should have happened until 1950?

    And, whatever caused the earlier retreats, what made this natural effect “switch off” at the exact same instant that anthropogenic effects took over? – you seem to have badly misunderstood what is known about the attribution of climate change. Do you realise that many factors affect the climate simultaneously? There is no requirement for one to ‘switch off’ when another one comes into play.

  4. It seems 80% of AGW supporters arguments boil down to:

    “This is very complex stuff and you/we/us are not smart enough to understand it.” (Appeal to complexity fallacy.)

    “Everyone agrees that AGW is true so it must be true.” (Argumentum ad populum fallacy.)

    “It’s in the IPCC report, so it must be true.” (Appeal to authority logical fallacy.)

    It’s valuable to post counter-arguments in the comments sections but what is the point of merely expressing an opinion if you provide no factual information to back-up the opinion or appropriate links, or if the argument presented is composed of few empty logical fallacies strung together?

  5. Are you referring to my post, Will Nitschke? I hardly think please refer to figure 3B in the paper is an opinion without factual information to back it up. And do you really consider ‘many factors affect the climate simultaneously‘ to be a logical fallacy? I see no value at all in your post in terms of rebutting my point or furthering the debate.

  6. About a decade ago, Doctor R.J. Braithwaite wrote an article that appeared in Progress in Physical Geography. In that article, which was peer-reviewed, Doctor Braithwaite tells us how he analyzed 246 glaciers, sampled from both hemispheres and latitudes, between the years 1946 and 1995. This “mass balance analysis” that he conducted found that “some glaciers were melting, while a nearly equal number were growing in size, and still others remained stable.” Doctor Braithwaite’s unequivocal conclusion: “There is no obvious common or global trend of increasing glacier melt in recent years.”

    “By some estimates, 160,000 glaciers exist on Earth. Only 63,000 have been inventoried, and only a few hundred have been studied in the detail described by Braithwaite” (Jay Lehr, “It Would Be Nice to Know More about Ice”).

    But I’m afraid that’s really only the tip of the iceberg.

    Keith Echelmeyer, a glaciologist at the University of Alaska’s Geophysical Institute, says this:

    “To make a case that glaciers are retreating, and that the problem is global warming, is very hard to do… The physics are very complex. There is much more involved than just the climate response.”

    Mr. Echelmeyer goes on to tell us that in Alaska there are large glaciers advancing in the very same areas where others are retreating. To conclude certain or even probable (anent AGW) on the basis of what we now know would be to commit a grave fallacy: the fallacy of insufficient evidence.

    Quoting Doctor Martin Beniston of the Institute of Geography at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland: “Numerous climatological details of mountains are overlooked by the climate models, which thus makes it difficult to estimate the exact response of glaciers to global warming, because glacier dynamics are influenced by numerous factors other than climate, even though temperature and cloudiness may be the dominant controlling factors. According to the size, exposure and altitude of glaciers, different response times can be expected for the same climatic forcing.”

    The sheer size of glaciers is a factor far too often overlooked in discussions of this subject.

    In corroboration with Doctor Martin Beniston’s comments above, Rice University’s excellent glacier program estimates the following response times for the melting of these massive ice sheets and glaciers:

    small valley glacier: 1,000 to 100 years
    large valley glacier: 10,000 to 1,000 years
    ice sheet: 100,000 to 10,000 years

    No less than the IPCC AR4 reports: “Most mountain glaciers and ice caps have been shrinking, with the retreat probably having started about 1850 [NB: the end of the ‘little ice age’].”

    Quoting John Carlisle, of the National Center for Public Policy: “Glaciers are influenced by a variety of local and regional natural phenomena that scientists do not fully comprehend. Besides temperature changes, glaciers also respond to changes in the amount and type of precipitation, changes in sea level and changes in ocean circulation patterns. As a result, glaciers do not necessarily advance during colder weather and retreat during warmer weather”

    Finally, here’s a brief excerpt from an Associated Press article concerning Rocky Mountain National Park, which is very near my home:

    Geologists exploring Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Park say that they
    discovered more than 100 additional glaciers here in a single summer,
    said Mark Verrengia.

    Officials previously believed the park, which is 60 miles northwest of
    Denver, included 20 permanent ice and snow features, including six named
    glaciers. The new survey, conducted by geologist Jonathan Achuff, shows
    there are as many as 120 features.

    “Comparisons with historical photos suggest that at least some of the
    glaciers are expanding,” say park officials. “Subtle climate changes may
    be helping the formation of glaciers or at least reducing their retreat.”

    “The survey results here contradict global warming trends,” researchers say.
    “While precipitation hasn’t changed much, temperatures have been slightly cooler
    in the past several years.”

    “We’re not running quite in sync with global warming here,” park spokeswoman Judy Visty said.

    Not, of course, that any of this really matters one way or the other when it comes to so-called anthropocentric global warming: politically, as we’ve seen and said before, anthropocentric global warming has nothing at all to do with climate science, and the entire AGW position can be easily defused without any reference to science at all, because the error is fundamentally epistemological.

  7. “a pretty steady 150+ year history of steady retreat, with the only change is slope being a flattening rather than an acceleration of the curve.”

    Maybe my eyes are fooling me, but I see acceleration from 1800 to 1950 changing to deceleration after that.

  8. Thin king man doesn’t know what he is talking about….but is quite good at cherry-picking stuff. I guess he hasn’t published anything on glaciers. Since I know several of the researchers he mentions, and since I work on glaciers and climate I can assure him that glaciers are receding globally because of AGW.

  9. San Quintin – “Thin king man doesn’t know what he is talking about….but is quite good at cherry-picking stuff. I guess he hasn’t published anything on glaciers. Since I know several of the researchers he mentions, and since I work on glaciers and climate I can assure him that glaciers are receding globally because of AGW.”

    Might I ask for your references for this viewpoint? Thin King Man provided his. That way, one cancompare the two viewpoints and provide a quantitative analysis of validity. If you cannot provide references other than “knowing” researchers, than your statement only qualifies as hearsay and would therefore be insufficient to be considered evidence in a debate.

  10. Hi Keith
    It’s not that I know researchers….I am one. Therefore my statement doesn’t only qualify as hearsay. What annoys me with sceptics is that the vast majority of them have no scientific training (let alone any relevant experience); no publications in peer-reviewed science journals and no field experience. I can also assure you that Roger Braithwaite (and all glacier researchers) is quite clear that glaciers are receding because of climate change.
    For a reference check out:

    I am quite aware that AGW goes against a lot of people’s ideological viewpoint. But tough. It’s happening. Get over it.

  11. I am quite aware that AGW goes against a lot of people’s ideological viewpoint. But tough. It’s happening. Get over it.

  12. san quintin:

    I’ll have to call BS on you! If you are a researcher as you claim, let’s here why the information presented here is not true. Did the retreat not start around 1850 (the end of the little ice age)? Present your proof that the graph showing a de-acceloration of retreat around 1950 is wrong. Show us how we have gone astray.

    Untill you start giving arguments other than “This is very complex stuff and you are not smart enough to understand it; only I am” stop posting!

  13. AGW as a theory was respectable in the non quantitative 1950s, In the quantitative 2000s science, it’s a disproved hypothesis held together by non-scientific polemics, and an excuse to tax and re-distribute wealth. Work of ther leading sicneitsts in their fields discredit AGW.

    Dr. Zbiegiew Jaworoswski has shown the Sipel curve is pure tissue of disinformation, as well well a bad science. It does not recognize formation of variable amounts of clathrates in the Ice, when under pressure. It neglects the selective removal of CO2 in embedded ice bubbles.

    Dr. Georg Beck has shown that 19th century researchers measured CO2 levels over extended decades, and they varied up to 425 PPM. The average appears to be about 335ppm. That was the also 1973 level at Moana Loa in mid-Pacific, at the mouth of a volcano. What is the unprecedented rise in CO2 levels?

    Dr. Nil-Axel Morner has shown that sea-level change has been exaggerated by the IPCC and may even be beginning to fall. In any-case the effect is tiny, either way.

    Analysis of historical records including farming and crop information, indicates that it was warmer in the medieval warm period then today. Greenland could be farmed for example.

    There is more to solar TSI than just Irradiance. Dr. Svensmark has proved in the laboratory, Solar wind modulates the strong CR Flux, and variable amounts of cloud formation, dwarfs GHGs contributions.

    Dr. Miskolczi has shown with his work the failure of previous theoretical discussions of GHGs in an planetary environment in contact with an infinite supply of GHGs. Earth is saturated with GHGs, and regulates itself to control any more for energy conservation reasons.

    Satellite data shows no warming in the atmosphere at the poles, the southern Hemisphere or really anywhere. Ice is growing at the South pole, more than currents are freeing ice at the north pole.

    The sun appears to be entering a cooling phase as it periodically does. The cooling oceans will absorb more of the atmospheric CO2 now available. It is not even clear that elevated CO2 levels are not Ocean out-gassing, more than anthropogenic in origin. Human estimated CO2 fluxes are only a few percent at most, of the normal CO2 flux, and less thae the error ranges of some other normal flux sources.

    Analysis of atmospheric CO2 shows that the two American continents, the center of world industry, already remove more CO2 than they put into the atmosphere.

    Advances in Transport technology is already reducing use of fossil as a fuel. The reduction will swell enormously in the next two decades. The reduction could be as much as 80% from today’s levels.

    The developed world is turning to nuclear and researching thermonuclear energy sources, as well as obtaining contributions from so-called renewables. CO2 deposition into the atmosphere by Man will slow. Even Modern coal plants produce 20% less CO2 per Watt of electricity produced.

    More CO2 adds to the plant life on the planet by significant amounts, as much as 50% more by weight. This in turn allows much more animal life to exist.

    Tremendous quantities of biota have been discovered living below the ocean abyssal plains. Carbon falling to the ocean floors will remain there and be absorbed by that biota, and not return to our biosphere in a few hundred years, as was feared at one time.

    Only historical data from weather stations, which are NOT climate stations, over a tiny portion of the Earth, the USA, even shows any warming. The data disagrees with 3 other historical record keeping systems, and is suspected as being distorted by a “true believer” who has made a fortune of over two million dollars as a protege` of Al Gore. It also is easily shown that the data is distorted by creeping urbanization altering the micro-climate of the reporting weather stations.

    To make AGW possible, it is necessary to assume a CO2 residency in the atmosphere of anywhere from 20 to 60 times longer than estabished Henry’s Law science indicates. The IPCC has committed to return to Henry’s Law calculations of 5.7 years, instead of ridiculous and unproven 100-300 year estimates. That immediately reduces the hypothesized “problem by 20 to 60 times.

    In short AGW, is discredited on so many levels. Few scientists with an open mind who have investigated the issue, are accepting the hypothesis any longer. Some of the Scientific societies are beginning to rebel. The Oregon Petition II has enlisted some 33,000 American scientifically trained professionals to go on record, questioning the AGW hypothesis.

  14. There is no reason to doubt that San Quintin is an imposter as a glaciologist, (there are several clues that betray him) and I suspect that I know as much about glaciers as he does. I am familiar not only with the United Nations website that he references, but also with the failure of that site to address the issues that skeptics have with glaciers being used as proof of global warming. That website is as useful in settling glacier issues as the IPCC report is to resolve issues on the hockey stick and data intergrity of surface stations.

  15. Dear An Inquirer. Clearly, as I write under a pseudonym I don’t wish my name to be known. But I am a high-profile climate scientist…whether you believe me or not doesn’t matter. What does matter is that if you think that the glacial record is wrong….publish it. As with all sceptics I say “put up or shut up”. None of the sceptics arguments over the past 30 years or so has stood up to scientific scrutiny and none of you has produced a theory that has been able to compete with AGW. After 30 years you are still all making the same pointless comments and have consistently failed to develop an alternative with the same explanatory power. Unfortunately you have allowed your political views to cloud your scientific ones.

  16. We could get into a name-calling, finger-pointing exchange which would consume time and energy, yet accomplish nothing. Nevertheless, lest a third party be deluded by your post, I will respond. You are clearly wrong that I have allowed my political views to shape my skepticism on CO2-driven GW. To the contrary, not only did I accept the concept and concern over 20 years ago because it did fit my political views (!), but also I used my government position to push the AGW agenda. As blogs emerged, I relied on the Real Climate blog for much information and explanation. However, I became increasingly uncomfortable with how Real Climate would apply double standards to scientific research, and with the hypocrisy there, and with the avoidance of relevant issues, and with the ad hominen attacks, and so forth. So I expanded my “inquiries” and was shocked at what I learned about the AGW movement. From an integrity point of view, I could no longer be part of the AGW movement even if fit my political views.
    When you sneer that skeptics do not “put up,” I really do not know what you mean. There are a dozen explanations besides the CO2-positive feedback theory on why temperatures (and our measurement of temperatures) have moved the way that they have. There is nothing unusual occurring that cannot be explained by emergence from LIA, oscillations, volcanoes, solar variances, land use changes, tilts, orbits and so forth. For example, the scientific explanation for the Kilimanjaro glacier retreat is less about CO2-induced GW but more about human deforestation of the area. (By the way, I do acknowledge the laboratory / theoretical / isolated impact of CO2 as a “greenhouse” gas; but the concept of a positive feedback loop is far from proven and the evidence seems to suggest otherwise.) The IPCC acknowledges that there are various items in which they are unclear, and in other items I believe they express far more certainty than is warranted. It reminds me of those who were so certain the there were no problems in how the mortgage and financial industries were being handled in the last 10 years.

  17. There is nothing unusual occurring that cannot be explained by emergence from LIA, oscillations, volcanoes, solar variances, land use changes, tilts, orbits and so forth

    This is so wrong it’s staggering. One by one:

    1. ’emergence from LIA’ cannot explain rising temperatures because it is defined by rising temperatures. Your statement is like saying spring can be explained by the emergence from winter.
    2. Oscillations, by definition, cannot explain rising trends.
    3. Volcanoes induce cooling. Global temperatures are not dropping.
    4. All indices of solar activity have been steady or declining since 1985. Temperatures continued to rise.
    5. Land use changes cannot account for the warming of the oceans and the cooling of the stratosphere.
    6. ’tilts, orbits and so forth’ change on timescales of thousands of years, and are completely irrelevant when considering climate variations over 100 years.

  18. Just to add to Patrick’s post. An Inquirer seems to think that the “emergence from LIA” seems to explain current warming… does this ’emergence’ manifest itself in terms of forcings? What is the attribution of this? As I have pointed out before…these sorts of arguments DO NOT explain the current climate trends. Therefore my point stands….the sceptics have failed to produce a competing theory with the same explanatory power.

    Until sceptics can come up with a testable alternative hypothesis, that hasn’t been shown to be wrong before, perhaps we should start ignoring them. Just as we ignore people who think the earth is flat, or 6000 years old.

  19. Stas Peterson, your 5.7 years should be 5-7 years for the residency of CO2 in the atmosphere.

    1. Emergence from LIA means that the warming was and continues to be natural. How could it not have been natural? If it is not natural anymore, then you would have to identify which forcing stopped. Until the alarmists can come up with a testable hypothesis, perhaps we should start ignoring them. They are kowtowing to a political consensus just like those who could not be convinced that the world was round.

    2. About oscillations, one of the main cycles we need to be concerned with now, when it comes to short term climate, are the oceans’ cycles. They have a period close to 60 years. To define climate as 30 years is illogical. The noise from the ocean cycles cannot be filtered out of the temperature signal if the time period considered is less than the ocean cycle period. Climate must be defined as at least 60 if not 120 years.

    3. Volcanoes only induce cooling when their eruptions are explosive enough to send the plume into the stratosphere. There have been few huge eruptions in the past 30 years.

    4. Warming since 1985 is not a climate trend. That is just climate noise. We were warming in the 1990s because the oceans were in their warm phase. The increased solar output for the 60 years from around 1940 to around 2000 correlates fairly well with the last oceanic cycle. The Sun has been calculated to have caused 0.15C of warming. Oddly enough, that is about the amount that the background warming increased as compared to the previous oceanic cycle period.

    5. Land use changes account for some of the glacial anecdotal evidence. That is about it.

    6. The Milankovitch cycles are actually tens of thousands of years.

    It appears that CO2 does not drive temperature:

    John M Reynolds

  20. jmrSudbury:

    1. There is no logic in your statement at all. Nothing requires that the end of the little ice age be attributed to natural causes. Essentially you are saying ‘it ended, therefore it was natural’, which doesn’t make sense.

    2. Do you suppose that all the oceanic cycles oscillate in synchrony?

    3. The eruptions of El Chichon and Pinatubo have occurred within the last thirty years. Two such eruptions is rather typical in any given thirty year period.

    4. Please provide links to the data which supports these claims.

    5. We agree on that.

    6. That just emphasises how irrelevant orbital changes are when attributing climate change over the past century.

    If a comment in a blog makes you believe something that decades of science contradicts, then I think we can presume that you are not seeking scientific answers, but only looking for articles which seem to confirm you preconceived views.

  21. 1. We had a little ice age 300 years ago. We cooled then we warmed. We need to know either what caused us to cool or what caused us to warm. Without that, we can never evaluate if the re-warming has ended only to be swapped with AGW. Or are you suggesting that there was no little ice age?

    2. The two largest oceans, Pacific and Atlantic which cover half the globe ( ), are in fairly synchronous. They differ by about 5 to 10 years. The PDO has switched to its cool phase and the AMO is expected to do so soon.

    3. The page shows that the 1980, 1982, and 1991 eruptions were only category 5, so they did not have as much of a cooling effect. Between 1883 and 1912 there were 3 VEI/category 6 with the next one was in 1991. The most recent category 7 was in 1815. The VEI scale is not linear but logarithmic.

    4. If you are looking for a resource for the 0.15, it is quoted on the site. The site says “[t]he level of solar activity during the past 70 years is exceptional — the last period of similar magnitude occurred over 8,000 years ago.” I will not quibble over the 70 year value. That page also quotes Sami Solanki saying 60 years. Others (Leif) have mentioned that this increased solar activity fell back down to ‘normal’ about 10 years ago. Perhaps that is where the 70 comes from. The fact that the oceans affect global temperature was published in Nature this spring.

    You could have also said, “We agree on that” for number 6 as well.

    Did I miss anything? If so, ask away.

    John M Reynolds

  22. go ahead and make fun of me. I am not firmly grounded in most of this, but am attempting to become so. My sense of things that I grasp, even feebly by some of your standards, is that I am skeptical of the cause of “warming”. What amazes me, even if you are in the field studying glacial retreat, is that you know all the factors of what is a complex number of scientific disciplines that are even today – ill understood – but definitevly state that the cause is anthropogenic in origin.

    I will not argue that “warming” has not occurred. As a skeppetic, I’m telling you that you haven’t done enough to convince me of your position. Shame on you if you feel the need to slap a label such as “Denier” on me or anyone like me. It’s up to the people involved in the scientific endeavors to improve their methods of collecting data, better and transparent methodologies, free from even a perceived bias to convince me. I’m not stupid, and am entirely capable of learning new concepts.

    I understand politics very well, am very familiar with UN operations and vision and that the IPCC is extremely political in it’s mandate. From an outsiders perspective – when people who decried the the rise in CO2 emissions, linked it to temperature , who then promptly got lost in the politics that overshadow and call in to question everything about what you are doing. Divorce yourself from activism, get back to science and it will sort itself out.

  23. san quintin: “Until sceptics can come up with a testable alternative hypothesis, that hasn’t been shown to be wrong before, perhaps we should start ignoring them.”
    Just how testable is the AGW hypothesis?

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