To: The Select Committee on
Energy Independence and
Global Warming

The following is a note I submitted to the committee after hearing that Lewis Gordon Pugh would be speaking to them after he ended a project that had an original goal of kayaking to the North Pole.

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I understand that you will soon hear from a British explorer, Lewis Gordon Pugh, in a self-appointed role as ambassador for the Arctic. Apparently he has been invited due to his recent attempt at paddling a kayak from Spitzbergen to the North Pole. He was forced to abandon the attempt 1000 Km from the North Pole

The impetus for the attempt was a forecast from Canadian and US researchers of a 50-50 chance that ice would melt at the Pole, a forecast that failed miserably - Pugh completed only 10% of the trip he originally planned.

Our accurate record of Arctic ice cover only dates back to the development of satellites that record images of the planet, approximately 1979. That was also about the time a circulation pattern called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation flipped from a cool phase to a warm phase, it has only recently flipped back to a cool phase. In other warm periods people have reported that the Arctic Ice Cap was melting. In 1969 the New York Times quoted Col. Bernt Bachen claiming "the Arctic pack ice is thinning and that the ocean at the North Pole may become an open sea within a decade or two." Only a few years later the frigid winters of the late 1970s brought concerns about a coming Ice Age.

The cool PDO will bring us a golden opportunity to determine just what effect CO2 has on climate. Solar activity has also declined and we are in a broad solar minimum that some people thought would end in 2006. This will be a wonderful time for real science, and we will learn more in the next decade than we have in the last five.

In Pugh's writings, I've found him to be so convinced that the Arctic is melting and will soon be open that I don't think he realizes there is a good possibility that it won't happen. The ice cover this summer tracked well ahead of last year's for most of the summer and may well not exceed it. Some scientists expected that the thin, new ice that formed last year would melt quickly and that melting would be much greater this year.

This is miswritten and wrong. I was thinking of ice melt, when I had written ice cover (and should have written extent). I meant to write something like "The sea ice extent this summer tracked well above of last year's for most of the summer and may well remain above last year's into this winter and beyond."

Is this a sign that we are entering a cool period or is it just an example of weather's wide variability that makes teasing out climate signals so difficult? I suspect the former and I hope that the committee listen to Pugh with interest, but remember that the science is nowhere near settled and if anything is becoming less settled.

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Last updated 2008 September 7.