Has global warming turned the North Pole into a lake?

By James D. Agresti
July 29, 2013

Last week, Forecast the Facts, a self-described “grassroots human rights organization dedicated to ensuring that Americans hear the truth about climate change,” published the following picture of the “North Pole” taken on July 22, 2013:

In addition to inserting the text shown above, Forecast the Facts (FtF) publicized this picture by asserting that the “lake” had formed “due to unprecedented melting Arctic sea ice,” and by issuing an appeal on its Facebook page that says, “Let’s make sure this is one for the history books.”

The organization’s Facebook fans and their friends responded by sharing this picture more than 15,000 times—many times more than the New York Times’ 3.3 million Facebook fans share most of its posts. This is even more shares than Barack Obama’s 36 million fans and Lady Gaga’s 58 million give to the majority of their posts.

Despite the enthusiasm for FtF’s post, conditions like those shown in the picture are not “unprecedented.” They have been observed for as long as mankind has had the technology to visit the North Pole in the summer. Furthermore, the picture actually does not show the North Pole but an area that is more than 300 miles from it.

The first individuals to visit the surface of the North Pole region during summer were the crew of the USS Skate, a nuclear submarine that surfaced 40 miles from the North Pole in August of 1958. In the May 4th, 1959 issue of Life magazine, James Calvert, the captain of the Skate, described the ice cover by saying that “we repeatedly found open water where we could surface.”

Likewise, in the June 13, 1963 issue of New Scientist, Dr. Waldo Lyon, a U.S. Navy sonar specialist and onboard scientist for several submarine missions to the Artic and North Pole, described the summertime ice conditions as such: “During the summer, open water spaces appear everywhere between the floes and form holes in the ice canopy through which the submarine can readily reach the surface.”

To wit, below is a picture of the Skate and the USS Seadragon at or very near the North Pole in August of 1962. Several credible sources place this historic meeting of submarines “at the North Pole,” but odds are they were at least a few miles away. Just Facts has requested the exact coordinates from the Naval History & Heritage Command and is awaiting a response.

Beyond the fact that the picture touted by FtF as “one for the history books” is nothing out of the ordinary, the organization offered no documentation for the picture. Just Facts was able to locate it among the webcam archives of the North Pole Environmental Observatory at the University of Washington.

Per correspondence with the observatory, the relevant webcam is installed on “PAWS Buoy 819920.” The tracking data for this buoy shows that the picture was taken while it was located at a latitude of 84.838°N, which is 310 nautical miles or 356 miles from the North Pole. This is about the latitudinal distance between Washington, DC and Brunswick, Maine.

Along with FtF, a number of media outlets have promoted this story or published others in the same vein:

Huffington Post: “North Pole Melting Leaves Small Lake At The Top Of The World”
Huffington Post Facebook page: “Now THIS is a wakeup call!”
Newsmax: “Lake Forms as Ice Melts at the Top of the World”
Common Dreams: “The Scariest Lake in the World Sits at the North Pole”
New York Post: “North Pole is now a lake”
Daily Kos Facebook page: “Global warming pollution has melted the Arctic and created a lake at the top of the North Pole sea ice.”
Forbes: “Melting Polar Ice Cap Created A Lake On Top Of The World”
Relevant magazine: “[A]t some point, temperatures at the North Pole got balmy enough to create a lake where there should be a brick of frozen ice.”
Yahoo News: “In what has now become an annual occurrence, the North Pole’s ice has melted, turning the Earth’s most northern point into a lake.”
Toronto Star: “Startling images show melting North Pole turning into a lake.”

Most of these stories avoid the explicit falsehoods of FtF, but none of them explain that such conditions have prevailed for at least half a century and possibly much longer.

Interestingly, the New York Times and other media outlets made a very similar error 13 years ago. In the summer of 2000, James J. McCarthy, a Harvard oceanographer, co-chair for Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and a lead author for the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, was serving as a guest lecturer on an Arctic tourist cruise. The cruise ship encountered an area of open ocean at the North Pole, and McCarthy informed the New York Times, which ran a front-page story claiming that:

• “an ice-free patch of ocean about a mile wide has opened at the very top of the world, something that has presumably never before been seen by humans….”
• the “last time scientists can be certain the pole was awash in water was more than 50 million years ago.”
• this “is more evidence that global warming may be real and already affecting climate.”

The day after that story was published, other news outlets like the Associated Press and U.K. Guardian followed suit with headlines declaring, “Extraordinary sight greets North Pole visitors: Water,” and “First ice-free North Pole in 50m years.”

The next day, the London Times published an article stating that “a leading British Arctic scientist said that the emergence of ice-free areas was nothing new and that it had been happening for thousands of years.” The scientist, Dr. Peter Wadhams, director of the Scott Polar Institute in Cambridge, stated, “Claims that the North Pole is now ice-free for the first time in 50 million years [are] complete rubbish, absolute nonsense.”

Eight days later, the New York Times issued a correction affirming that:

• the original article “misstated the normal conditions of the sea ice” at the North Pole.
• a “clear spot has probably opened at the pole before….”
• 10% of the “high Arctic region” is “clear of ice in a typical summer.”
• “The lack of ice at the pole is not necessarily related to global warming.”

It remains to be seen whether the latest purveyors of this misinformation will issue a correction like the Times.

Additional reading:
Global warming facts
Will global warming flood the coasts of the United States?

Do those who doubt climate catastrophism lack scientific credibility?

8 thoughts on “Has global warming turned the North Pole into a lake?

  1. Still an opinion – yes you have some facts from some flimsy sources (also note how much money your sources make from the publlicity of this – always always very critical when making an analysis of TRUTH)- but not proof of global warming – climate change yes – but our world’s climate has been changing longer than man has been on this earth – funny you say since we have had the “technology” like that is some GREAT amount of time… in the scheme of things it is a spec… think like a TRUE scientist and you will find that there is NOT enough to support the theory. It is still that – a theory… because 20 years ago they (the scientists) were theorizing global Freezing :) (find the cover of TIME magazine from in the 1970s) This sounds like it was written by a very young mind… keep investigating it is good… question everything. and understand FACT from fiction – you are still believing some manipulated facts which make them fiction.

  2. Thanks for pointing out the over reaction of some newspapers and other media. I do not view the over reaction as anything other then poor research by the author before writing or talking about the ‘artic lake’ . . . no proof that global warming is not real or that the ‘liberial’ media is part of a plot or other such stuff.

    The comment about scientists talking about a coming cold climate back in the 1970′s shows lack of understanding of the drivers of the climate. The orbiital mechanics of the earth point to a rather regular (predictable) variation. That variation says earth is on the edge of a cooling cycle. But . . . that cooling cycle is being over come by the so called green house effect.

    Finally thank you for providing interesting background on stories like this. Also thanks to the NYT for correcting their story. Very few of the media ever correct their stories. It says a lot about the integrity of the NYT.

  3. I want to be a conservative who is PRO earth. We have a small ranch in SW Texas and sometimes when I am out there for hours and hours, fixing fence cut by illeagles coming through, I think of what could we do to make being PRO earth work for everyone. I came up with one idea I think is very good! Have large corporations cut their emissions by 1/2 and their taxes are cut in half! Cut emissions by 3/4 & their taxes are cut by three quarters! I think it would be a win win for everyone.

  4. I get it, there is still uncertainty over the issue. but there is a lot of information out there. Some good, some not so good. I don’t see where the sources provided above are flimsy at all. I know a great deal about researching and would call these credible sources, about as credible as you can get this early in.
    I did go to all the websites and I read their articles and I looked at their research, if the writers had bothered to read their “credible sources”, some of which are actually provided above – they backed up exactly what this says above. I emailed almost every single one. (some could not be reached for contact). Maybe it seems like a waste of time to some, but I myself am a writer and I believe in informing the truth to people, it just plain good ethics. And some of these articles were falsely put together. I checked the sources on here, and they are cit-able (credible). Yes it is still being studied, but that is the point, cite with sources that state what you saying, none of these articles had that. They jumped the gun, informing the public and causing commotion over something that simply isn’t true. I cited sources they used in their articles against them, that is irresponsible and misleading on purpose. Some people are just dumb enough or don’t know any better and will believe a magazine over actual credible scientific data and unfortunately that is how our society has become.
    So I did take the time to email and try to set the record straight, and as angry as it made me to see sources that contradicted what the articles so loudly stated I know I did something about it.
    Misinformation is dangerous in any form and what’s is worse they don’t bother to try.

  5. Thank you Katy for your reaction and action to the sources of the incorrect or over stated articles on the north pole lakes.

    I agree that sources of incorrect information need to be taken to the wood shed. False information confuses people and leads to poor decisions and ultimately poor government policy.

    You are an inspiration to me to be more pro-active in countering false information.

    Ed Coleman

    • Thank you Ed
      I try not to get upset, but as a writer, and coming from a college where it was hammered into me about citing your research! I just don’t understand how popular and credible on-line articles can give such bogus information. I understand that not everyone has the time to check the facts of the writers or magazines information, but they shouldn’t have to. One of the magazine’s was quoting from Live Science and their information was wrong too. Anyone seeing information from a source called Live Science would think they were creditable, but they were some magazine that was full of add’s as their source.
      I am glad to hear that the NYT corrected their story, I read their’s earlier, and you are right many of them never do. I received a few emails back from the actual writers telling me to mind my own business. I think I will reply with the NYT link with the corrected information – if they haven’t already corrected theirs :) . Once the NYT corrects information, then the others will usually follow, after all the NYT is a source, haven’t you heard?
      Although I don’t argue with people, I will jump on to see the comment thread. I was bashed as a Right-Wing Nut (well it was a much harsher word) who only cared about oil and war and I was also called a non-believer this morning, though I never posted my political beliefs I did post the very links in the articles they were reading and this one, all I ever ask is for people to read before making an informed decision. After that it is out of my hands and as I said above at least I know I did something. I never comment after that.
      I am glad I am an inspiration, and regardless of political beliefs Conservative (I like that word better) or not misinformation is dangerous and it is unethical to provide and you are absolutely right poor decision making and thank you for saying it, poor government policy. Which bring me to my next point, knowledge can be used as a great weapon, but it is also our weakest link. That is why I get so upset, because it can be such fierce weapon to fight back with if people were only given the right information or they took time to dig a little deeper. Knowledge is key and by feeding out misinformation the public will never make educated decisions. How many people do you think are going to read the corrected version verses what was sent out this morning?
      We can keep getting the word out. Thank you again Ed :)

  6. Pingback: Freedom and Liberty are more than metaphors | Head Space

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