An icebreaker gets stuck in the ice, photos are used to mislead

January 6, 2014 by Stephan Lewandowsky, The Conversation
Clearing snow for a helicopter rescue makes for a dramatic photo, but let’s not forget the science. Credit: EPA/Andrew Peacock/Footloosefotography/

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and by now you might have seen dramatic images of passengers on stranded icebreaker Akademik Shokalskiy being rescued by helicopter last Friday after becoming lodged in Antarctica sea ice on Christmas Eve.

Another type of picture – the – plays a major role in science. No one could look at the graph below, which shows the extent of arctic ice during the past 1,450 years, without realising that the has been melting at a rapid and wholly unprecedented rate over the past few decades.

Similarly, my own research has shown that if people are shown a graph with during the past few decades, they invariably understand and predict that further warming is in stock – this is true even for the few people (less than 10% in my sample) who denied that climate change is taking place.

Graphs and pictures are powerful scientific analysis and communication tools.

The power of graphs and pictures, and the anecdotes they can evoke, are also powerful means by which people can be misled, inadvertently or otherwise.

It is well known that the national newspaper, The Australian, has a track record of distortion and misrepresentation when it comes to climate reporting, so it is informative to examine what role pictures, or the anecdotes they evoke, often play in their reporting.

Credit: Skeptical Science

The recent adventures of the Australian expedition to Antarctica are a case in point. Under the headline Stuck on a ship of (cold) fools, the newspaper opined:

You have to feel a touch of sympathy for the global warming scientists, journalists and other hangers-on aboard the Russian ship stuck in impenetrable ice in Antarctica, the mission they so confidently embarked on to establish solid evidence of melting ice caps resulting from climate change embarrassingly abandoned because the ice is, in fact, so impossibly thick.

The aim of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, led by Chris Turney of the University of NSW, was to prove the East Antarctic ice sheet is melting. Its website spoke alarmingly of "an increasing body of evidence" showing "melting and collapse from ocean warming".

Instead, rescue ships and a helicopter, all belching substantial carbon emissions, have had to be mobilised to pluck those aboard the icebreaker MV Akademik Schokalskiy from their plight, stuck in what appears to be, ironically, record amounts of ice for this time of year.

An ice breaker gets stuck in ice – we've all seen the pictures – and somehow this is an embarrassment to " scientists."

Actually, no.

A helicopter rescue was the last option left for the passengers after French, Chinese and then Australian icebreakers failed to smash through more than 20 kilometres of pack ice to free the Shokalskiy. Credit: EPA/Andrew Peacock/Footloosefotography/

If one goes to the expedition's website, their first three scientific goals (there are nine altogether) are as follows:

  1. gain new insights into the circulation of the Southern Ocean and its impact on the global carbon cycle
  2. explore changes in ocean circulation caused by the growth of extensive fast ice and its impact on life in Commonwealth Bay
  3. use the subantarctic islands as thermometers of climatic change by using trees, peats and lakes to explore the past

I have highlighted the important bit: the growth of extensive fast ice. So what is "extensive fast ice"? It is a form of , and it is obviously sea ice in which the expedition is now stuck.

In other words, the expedition is experiencing the very conditions it set out to study—namely the various kinds of sea ice that scientists know are increasing around Antarctica, while the icecaps on Antarctica are known to melt.

How much is Antarctica melting? The graph below shows us.

Shepherd A et al (2012). 'A Reconciled Estimate of Ice-Sheet Mass Balance.' Science, 338 6111:1183-9

There is a solid body of evidence that Antarctica is melting (a consequence of global warming) whereas sea around Antarctica is increasing. The reasons underlying those seemingly opposing trends make for some fascinating science.

A fascination with science, alas, is not always apparent in the pages of The Australian.

Their idolatry of pictures, on the other hand, cannot be overlooked.

If it is not icebreakers, then it is a picture of a bronzed Aussie swimmer in his budgie smugglers under the headline Wong wipeout doesn't wash with locals. This heroic 53-year-old had been swimming at Bondi beach for 30 years and "was adamant he had seen 'no change' to the coastline", thereby presumably putting yet another final nail (approximately the 156th) into the coffin of global warming and sea level rise.

A great picture, perhaps, and Bondi's swimmers are entitled to their opinions. The actual data, meanwhile, paint another picture about global sea level rise: a steady increase in mean over the past two decades.

Nerem R S et al (2010). 'Estimating Mean Sea Level Change from the TOPEX and Jason Altimeter Missions.' Marine Geodesy 33, no. 1 supp 1: 435.

Pictures are powerful.

Pictures are worth more than a thousand words.

Pictures and graphs can inform when they present scientific data. But equally, pictures can mislead when they evoke irrelevant anecdotes instead of the reality that is described by scientific data.

Explore further: Rescue of icebound Antarctic ship faces setback

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December 27, 2013

A ship that has been trapped in thick Antarctic ice since Christmas Eve was nearing rescue on Friday, after a Chinese icebreaker named the Snow Dragon drew close to the icebound vessel.

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January 1, 2014

Strong winds and rain Wednesday prevented the helicopter rescue of passengers on a Russian ship stuck in ice off Antarctica, Australian authorities said, as those onboard rang in the New Year with a sing-song from the deck.

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(AP)—An Australian icebreaker carrying 52 passengers who were retrieved from an icebound ship in the Antarctic was told to halt its journey home on Friday after concerns that a Chinese vessel involved in the dramatic rescue ...

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Jan 06, 2014
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2.3 / 5 (15) Jan 06, 2014
@verkle - probably as embarrassing as Climategate I that exposed the lies and deceptions in the emails of the climatologists leading the propaganda juggernaut.

No mention of climatologist Turney bringing his 2 young children and girlfriend on this global warming propaganda junket.

Note what has been left out of the global sea rise graph, i.e. the same rate of sea rise continues back to the end of the little ice age in the late 1800's. Convenient omission!

Also note that while the Arctic has been loosing ice the Antarctic has been gaining ice at an equal or greater rate and satellite temperature measurements there show a continuing DROP in temperature. Shephard et al (Shepherd A et al (2012). 'A Reconciled Estimate of Ice-Sheet Mass Balance.' Science, 338 6111:1183-9) included Greenland w/ Antarctica because Antarctica alone shows a gain in ice.
2.8 / 5 (11) Jan 06, 2014
...but if you use a photo portraying a polar bear stranded on a floating piece of ice it should be viewed as clear scientific evidence that the earth is warming and man is to blame.
4.7 / 5 (6) Jan 06, 2014
deatopmg... do you read articles or are you just here to ruffle feathers?
1.9 / 5 (9) Jan 06, 2014
AGWite propaganda is powerful.
3 / 5 (10) Jan 06, 2014
The propagandists complaining that they have been out propagandized (by actual events).
1.9 / 5 (9) Jan 06, 2014
Like communism and other tenets of the leftist's religion, AGW never fulfills the promise. Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, and reality still rule.
2 / 5 (8) Jan 06, 2014
Obviously their mistake was venturing out into the real world. If they'd only stayed at home like Stephan, running models and cooking up misleading survey results, they would be warm and comfortable, instead of being global laughing stocks. But what about the crew, Stephan? Is it fair for them to remain stuck there in the ice just because they hired their boat out to a bunch of irresponsible alarmists?
4 / 5 (4) Jan 07, 2014
We are in a strange age where we think our opinion matters. The outcome of the world will not be determined by our political stance. Lets hope that warming is a lie. Look up the world consumption of oil, gas and coal. Now burn it up into CO2. I think that the extent of the atmosphere is 4.2 billion cubic km. Every year the money made from the sale of our sources of energy is owned by people who will not let it go. 89 million 50 gal barrels oil/day, 116 billion cuft gas/yr, 8.4 billion short tons coal/yr. The volume of co2 gas from burning all of that carbon has to have an effect. The result of too much co2 is the death of our race. We will be lucky if something turns it into stable plant material.;aid=1 is one of many sources. So the natural balanced world systems has to control all that or fail. Whats next?
1.6 / 5 (7) Jan 07, 2014
while the icecaps on Antarctica are known to melt.
Pure B.S.. Antarctic ice sheets are gaining mass.


And the Arctic sea ice isn't falling off a cliff, either.


And sea levels have been rising steadily since long before this supposed AGW.


Are lies all the AGW cult has now?

2.1 / 5 (7) Jan 07, 2014
"(Image) Credit: Skeptical Science"


2 / 5 (8) Jan 07, 2014
AGWite propaganda is powerful.

Yes it is.

AGW is a profit-driven industry with deep pockets.

We can/should expect a relentless onslaught of clever marketing designed to further the industry's goal of tapping the river of wealth.
1.7 / 5 (6) Jan 09, 2014
Save us from our sins, Al Gore

1.8 / 5 (5) Jan 12, 2014
I hate sea ice. Good riddance frozen white wasteland.
4.2 / 5 (5) Jan 12, 2014
The majority of this thread is filled with the ignorant and the crazy. And it once again proves why the conservative ideology is failing and doomed to die. What a bunch of freaking whackjobs you folks are. Denying reality is the common thread that binds morons.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2014
The majority of this thread is filled with the ignorant and the crazy. And it once again proves why the conservative ideology is failing and doomed to die. What a bunch of freaking whackjobs you folks are. Denying reality is the common thread that binds morons.
Then AGWites (like you) are surely morons, as this is the reality:


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