Maurizio – Omnologos

Where no subject is left unturned

Misleading Pictures, Wrong Caption…

with 10 comments

And so once more Global Warming has meant the publication of misleading pictures, with a wrong caption…why oh why does the mere mention of AGW force so many otherwise thoughtful and wise people to switch their brains off?

Here a “Letter to the Editors” just sent to the New York Review Of Books:

Dear Editors

Clarifications and at least one correction are required about the pictures of the Upsala Glacier in Patagonia, Argentina, “from Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (2006)”, on the first page of Bill McKibben’s “Warning on Warming” (NYRB, March 15, 2007).

At the top, the 1928 photograph of a vast flat glacier; at the bottom, the 2004 ice-free landscape as captured from a similar vantage point as the one 76 years earlier (at least two peaks are clearly distinguishable).

I was surprised indeed to see the New York Review of Books reproduce without much commentary and with a wrong caption a couple of photographs that may turn out to be exceedingly misleading.

(A) CORRECTION

First of all: the caption is wrong. Contrarily to the published text, it is _not true_ that by 2004, “most of the glacier had melted“.

Upsala Glacier still occupies well in excess of 850 sq km (330+ sq mi), an area vastly larger than the one covered by the photographs.

You can see pictures of Upsala taken from the Space Shuttle in January 2004 at the NASA website.

A discussion of the situation 2001-2004 is available on the same site.

================

(B) CLARIFICATIONS

If one could rely on photographs alone, those of Upsala could be the definitive, final, closing, incontrovertible evidence that something has warmed up during the XX century, at least at the location of the Upsala Glacier.

Pictures, however, are not everything, as any modern consumer must have learnt one way or another by now.

Do some little research about Upsala, in fact, and more than one doubt arises about the glacier’s changes having not been mostly caused by warming, global or local or otherwise.

They may be the result instead of the behavior of a large glacier when subjected to particular mechanical stresses.

See for example “Historic Fluctuations of Outlet Glaciers from the Patagonian Ice Fields” at the USGS web site.

That web site reports a picture from “Thinning and retreating of Glaciar Upsala, and an estimate of annual ablation changes in southern Patagonia“, by R. Naruse, P. Skvarca and Y. Takeuchi (Annals of Glaciology, Vol. 24, 1997).

In that paper, it is suggested that “considerable retreat due to calving may have resulted in reduction of longitudinal compressive stress exerted from bedrock rises and islands near the glacier front, causing a considerable decrease in the emergence flow.”

R. Naruse repeated similar considerations at the 2nd International Symposium on Arctic and Antarctic Issues, at Punta Arenas, Chile, in November 1998 (“Dynamic features of glaciers in Patagonia“).

More recently, in “Recent behavior of Glaciar Upsala, a fast-flowing calving glacier in Lago Argentino, southern Patagonia” (Annals of Glaciology, 36, 2003), P. Skvarca, B. Raup and H. De Angelis proposed again that “drastic glacier retreat in the last two decades” may be explained “partly due to the release of back stress when the glacier retreated beyond the islands in Brazo Upsala […] which acted as pinning points.”

You can also read an earlier paper by Mr Skvarca: “Significant Ice Retreat in the Region Patagonia – Antarctic Peninsula Observed by ERS SAR” (ESA ERS 1997 Workshop, 1997) by H. Rott, W. Rack, M. Stuefer and P. Skvarca:

It cannot yet be assessed if the ice retreat in Patagonia […] indicates just regional changes of the atmospheric circulation patterns or can be assigned to global climatic change.”

Last but not least, Upsala is not the only glacier in Patagonia.

Surely if the dramatic retreat of Upsala were related to global warming, all the other glaciers would be retreating too? And yet that is clearly not the case.

Read “Recent Fluctuations and Damming of Glacier Perito Moreno, Patagonia” by H. Rott, M. Stuefer, T. Nagler and C. Riedl (ESA Envisat and ERS 2004 Symposium):

The satellite data, in synergy with field measurements, confirm the stability of the [Perito Moreno] glacier, showing only minor front fluctuations and indicating an approximately balanced mass budget since many years.”

Furthermore, they report the Pio XI glacier as having experienced a “net advance of about 10 km […] from 1945 to 1995“.

=================

Some revealing considerations should be made about Perito Moreno glacier indeed, the advancing glacier whose pictures have been used by Frank Capra in 1958 and by Al Gore in 2006 to demonstrate the retreat of glaciers due to global warming: but those will have to wait for a future article or letter.

For the time being, I am confident the above makes the main points clear:

(1) Most of the Upsala glacier has not melted.

(2) The Upsala glacier 1928-2004 pictures can only be seriously understood with an in-depth commentary of what is being shown, including “what lies beneath”.

And there are all the indications that the local characteristics of the terrain, rather than “Global Warming”, have had a major role in what has been happening.

======================

Given the reputation of the New York Review of Books then, I will be expecting a prompt publication of this letter and of all the necessary explanations.

Keep up the good work

Regards

Maurizio Morabito

UPDATE: The NYRB went only as far as admitting the caption was wrong (read it here)…

Written by omnologos

2007/Mar/15 at 00:47:31

10 Responses

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  1. Someone please stop the lunatics!

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070315/ap_on_hi_te/climate_tech_3
    WASHINGTON – Crazy-sounding ideas for saving the planet are getting a serious look from top scientists, a sign of their fears about global warming and the desire for an insurance policy in case things get worse.
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    How crazy?

    There’s the man-made “volcano” that shoots gigatons of sulfur high into the air. The space “sun shade” made of trillions of little reflectors between Earth and sun, slightly lowering the planet’s temperature. The forest of ugly artificial “trees” that suck carbon dioxide out of the air. And the “Geritol solution” in which iron dust is dumped into the ocean.

    “Of course it’s desperation,” said Stanford University professor Stephen Schneider. “It’s planetary methadone for our planetary heroin addiction. It does come out of the pessimism of any realist that says this planet can’t be trusted to do the right thing.”
    […]

    Enzo

    2007/Mar/16 at 07:05:18

  2. […] Si dice che si siano sciolti. Io mi sono fatto un giro (virtuale, ahime’) su quelli della Patagonia, compreso l’Upsala la cui foto piace tanto a Greenpeace e Al Gore, e (come al solito) ho trovato una situazione molto […]

  3. Scientists don’t rely on pictures, they use evidence. And the evidence is for significant melting. No amount of cheesy rhetoric by will change that –

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3200450.stm

    milo

    2007/Jul/02 at 14:26:51

  4. Thank you milo. In fact, I have cited 4 papers. Please go read them.

    omnologos

    2007/Jul/02 at 16:22:33

  5. […] Patagonian Glaciers 14 01 2008 And so once more Global Warming has meant the publication of misleading pictures, with a wrong caption…why oh why does the mere mention of AGW force so many otherwise thoughtful and wise people to […]

  6. Hi,

    Thanks for your interesting observations.

    Did the New York Review of Books publish your letter? What, if any, was the response?

    regards

    Graham E.

    Graham Eagleton

    2008/Jan/15 at 02:04:49

  7. Graham

    They went only as far as admitting the caption was wrong (read it here).

    I am afraid as long as they’ll stick to the likes of Bill McKibben, truth will always be secondary to “global warming”

    omnologos

    2008/Jan/15 at 08:51:47

  8. […] luck has it, around three years ago I did myself some research about the Upsala glacier in Patagonia, used by The New York Review of […]

  9. “Scientists don’t rely on pictures, they use evidence.” said milo…and then provided a link to a newspaper site….

    Why not do the right thing, milo, and link to the actual paper. Maybe you didn’t read the actual paper, just the news report about it?

    Anders

    2010/Jun/25 at 07:37:42

  10. […] had sent a rather longer letter on March 15 but I appreciate their honesty in recognizing their […]


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