Did the Media Just Prove North Pole Is NOT Melting?
UPDATE 8/9: I just confirmed with Brian O. from the Associated Press that they retracted the photo after realizing it was incorrectly described. WOW. Not bad for the day before vacation for me! Here's a screen capture:
CAPTION: "EDITORS, PHOTO EDITORS, AND PHOTO LIBRARIANS - PLEASE ELIMINATE AP PHOTO NY109 THAT WAS SENT ON SATURDAY, JULY 27, 2013. THE CAPTION INACCURATELY STATED THAT “THE SHALLOW MELTWATER LAKE IS OCCURRING DUE TO AN UNUSUALLY WARM PERIOD.” IN FACT, THE WATER ACCUMULATES IN THIS WAY EVERY SUMMER. IN ADDITION, THE IMAGES DO NOT NECESSARILY SHOW CONDITIONS AT THE NORTH POLE, BECAUSE THE WEATHER BUOY CARRYING THE CAMERA USED BY THE NORTH POLE ENVIRONMENTAL OBSERVATORY HAS DRIFTED HUNDREDS OF MILES FROM ITS ORIGINAL POSITION, WHICH WAS A FEW DOZEN MILES FROM THE POLE- This frame grab provided by NOAA shows images from the wide-angle camera trained on a weather buoy maintained by the North Pole Environmental Observatory at the North Pole. The top image is a June 7, 2013 frame grab. The bottom image is a July 25, 2013 frame grab. (AP Photo/NOAA)"
UPDATE 7/27: This information has been added to the University of Washington website, confirming what I have said in this blog: "Melt ponds form every year, and considering Web Camera 1, the melt pond coverage at this location (the cameras and buoys have drifted to about 85°N, 5°W) looks pretty typical for this time of year and this location. Is the appearance of the pond due to global warming? No, not specifically."
UPDATE 7/26: I received a reply via email from Roger Anderson, who is one of the webcam scientists at the Universtiy of Washington. I had asked him if the media was using the webcams that were NOT at the North Pole, but rather drifting southward. He replied: "Yes, they are. The approximate position of the webcams today (obtained from PAWS Buoy 819920) is 07/25/1500Z 84.773°N 5.415°W." This is even further south than I had placed the buoy, because the data I had was one week old. This puts the webcam at approximately 350 miles south of the North Pole, closer to Greenland than Santa Claus! So no worries, folks, the North Pole is not melting.
UPDATE: I just found another Atlantic article that quotes one of the webcam scientists, who doesn't address the location issue but says this is "not the first time scientists have observed a melt pond at the North Pole, nor is it the largest."
The Huffington Post launched a Facebook photo today headlined "North Pole Before & After Melting. Now THIS is a wakeup call!" It showed a before and after photo of what was supposedly a webcam at the North Pole, linking to a story that they got from The Atlantic.
I think what the media believed was the North Pole melting was actually ice melting as a different webcam on a drifting buoy moved south during the summer to be off the coast of Greenland. The North Pole Environmental Observatory web page describes their weather stations and webcams as "an automated scientific observatory in the central Arctic ocean" and describes the "Barneo 2013 buoy farm -- including webcams."
In fact, the page and "drifting buoy map" shows that this buoy farm, while it started out near the North Pole earlier this year, it has drifted south throughout the year and is now at 86.038°N 21.820°E, about 271 miles south of the geographic North Pole.
The ice melting would be a natural consequence of the drifting webcam moving south during the summer; all we can say is that ice is melting during the summer between Greenland and the North Pole. We, as the media, have to be super careful in using scientific data that may not be what it seems -- even webcams.
I have emailed both The Atlantic and Huffington Post, as well as the North Pole Environmental Observatory, for comment, and I'll post a summary of replies here. If it turns out that I'm wrong (always possible!) and I've misinterpreted the data, I'll post that here too. But the scientist in me says that this global warming example is not actually real.
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