EU Referendum

Climate change: a supreme arrogance


The coprophagic tendencies of the legacy media were well in evidence yesterday, and more so today, as the papers finally wake up to what has been going on in the Northern Sea Route (NSR) – a story we covered over a week ago, in greater depth.

Leading the charge yesterday was the Telegraph with the headline: "Dozens of ships stuck in Arctic as ice freezes early in reverse of recent warming winters", with a picture captioned as "the research and expedition ship" Mikhail Somov , apparently stuck in the ice in the Vilkitsky Strait – the passage between the Kara and Laptev Seas.

The text tells of "more than two dozen cargo vessels" stuck in Russia's Arctic ice, waiting for ice-breakers to come to their rescue. Their plight is attributed to an "inaccurate forecast" from the country's Met Office, which failed to predict the earlier ice formation than has been recently experienced.

The captain of the Mikhail Somov, Viktor Gil, is actually cited, his quote attributed to the news agency Tass, although it doesn't appear in the agency's report.

The Mikhail Somov is identified in the Telegraph's text as "one of the ships stranded along the Northern Sea Route" and Gil describes the situation as "quite dire". He reports: "The ice is up to one and a half metres thick here", but adds that the crew had supplies enough to last until an ice-breaker reaches them in around a week.

What we're not told is that the Mikhail Somov itself is a capable icebreaker with a high ice class, and an interesting history. It is no stranger to being ice-bound. The very fact that she needs assistance is indicative of the severity of conditions in the region.

The Tass report, dated 22 November – the day before the Telegraph report -, gives much more detail, telling us that the Russian commercial operator, Atomflot, has its three nuclear-powered icebreakers working the Northern Sea Route - the Yamal, the Taimyr and the Vaygach. The Vaygach left the Pevek port (Chukotka) on Monday, leading a five-ship convoy, headed for vessels, drifting near the New Siberian Islands.

The Vaygach convoy, Uhl Fusion, Golden Pearl, Golden Suek, Nordic Qinngua, Nordic Nuluujaak have reached Dezhnev Cape (the NSR's easternmost point) and are now proceeding independently, with no further icebreaker assistance.

Due to the conditions in the easter NSR, though, three icebreakers are no longer sufficient to deal with the number of ships currently trapped. Atomflot’s director, Leonid Irlitsa, is cited, warning that the ice situation prevents icebreakers leading convoys west to the east.

In the Tass report, he is quoted as saying only "tugged escort" is possible there. "Thus", he says, "the navigating companies must pay special attention to what vessels they are using during the final months of the summer-autumn navigation".

This is an interesting observation. In light to moderate icing conditions, an icebreaker will sail ahead of a convoy, opening up a lead for the following ships, which are able to pass through before the ice closes up again.

In heavy conditions, though, the icebreakers use a special technique, which I reported on (and illustrated) back in 2011, called the "close coupled tow". The icebreaker is fitted with a deep niche in the stern, into which the escorted ship fits, whence it is literally dragged through the ice, on a one-to-one basis.

The technique, also adopted by the Finns (video), is not for the faint-hearted. To avail themselves of the tow, ships must be specially ice-hardened and even then, will often incur hull damage as they traverse the ice – hence Irlitsa's comment about paying "special attention" to what vessels are used.

In any event, Atomflot is somewhat sniffy about claims of faulty forecasts. It stresses that the favourable ice conditions of recent years have misled some ship owners. State regulations require that the navigation near the Pevek marine port continues from July to October, and this period may be extended in favourable ice conditions.

"For the first time in recent seven years, the ice formation in certain areas of the Northern Sea Route began two weeks earlier," Atomflot's director general Mustafa Kashka says. "Realistically, from early November, at certain locations it is impossible to sail without icebreakers".

Despite that, the extremely severe ice conditions are unusual so early in the season – a situation somewhat understated by The Times, which also picks up the story, also illustrating the Mikhail Somov, referring to ice a mere 30cm thick, when 2 metre thick multi-year ice is also being encountered.

The Times headline tells us, "Early Arctic sea freeze traps 18 ships in ice near Russia", suggesting that some "could be stranded for months as they wait for icebreakers to reach them". That, actually, is unlikely. If push comes to the shove, the Russians will call in the 50 Let Pobedy and the Arktika, which can cope with up to 3 metres of ice.

Unable to help itself, this paper paints the background in terms of warmer weather in recent years "triggered by climate change", which has allowed ships to cross parts of the NSR in November without the help of icebreakers. Ship owners, the paper says, "had assumed this month would be no different".

This theme is also addressed by the Express, which runs the headline: "Climate change: Ships stuck in Arctic ice as region freezes over in bizarre reversal".

For the benefit of its readers, it translates The Times's 30cm, adding: "Dozens of ships have become grounded in 12-inch thick ice after an earlier-than-predicted deep freeze struck the Russian Arctic". And to add to its litany of inaccuracies, it blithely informs us that the "first vessel to ever cross this route [NSR] only did so in 2017, completing a six-and-a-half day journey".

The Independent, which broke the false story about the 2009 crossing, also covers this event with the headline: "Several ships trapped in ice after Arctic sea freezes early near Russia".

The copy, however, is almost identical to the Times report, revealing that the papers are probably retailing undisclosed agency copy – all the reports having staff reporters' bylines.

Thus are we served by the fabled legacy media. Not a single newspaper bothers to look at the bigger picture, suggested by this event. For, while the climate worshipers have been so keen to exploit reports of shrinking Arctic ice relying on the trend since 1979, National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) ice-extent data from 2012 show that the overall trend is upwards.

Based on that more recent trend – which is not incompatible with a long-term cyclical effect – the current ice conditions perhaps should not have come as such a surprise. One wonders whether Russian forecasters were taking "climate change" for granted, especially as October was milder than normal. Such is the enthusiasm for predicting Armageddon, it is possible that signs of a turnround are being missed.

After all, there is good evidence that, over many millennia, sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has been far from constant. For several thousand years, there was much less sea ice in the Arctic Ocean – probably less than half of current amounts.

Nevertheless, the eastern section of the NSR has a reputation for being highly unpredictable, with ice extent being determined as much by wind direction and strength as temperature. But it is a supreme arrogance to assume that, on the basis of short-term trends, we can predict future ice extents, when the forecasters couldn't even see the current situation coming.

Also published on Turbulent Times.