You’ll often hear about the “Ice albedo effect” as a supposed tipping point that the IPCC is ignoring. The idea is that as the Arctic ice melts, it absorbs more heat from the sun, and so warms the planet. What they ignore is that as the planet warms there are also more clouds, especially in tropical regions. This did seem a possibility in the 1980s, and Margaret Thatcher mentions it in her speech to the UN. However, you need to look at the planet as a whole, and we now know that because a warmer world has more clouds in the tropics, the overall global albedo effect is actually a cooling rather than a warming effect, helping to offset some of the global warming.

The social scientist Jem Bendell and Rupert Read, frequently the spokesperson for the Extinction Rebellion make this as one of their two main points when they argue that the climate will change much more rapidly than the IPCC’s study found in its review of the climate change literature. Here is how Jem Bendell puts it in the Extinction Rebellion handbook, currently on sale by Penguin Books as "this is not a drill"

I am a social scientist, not a climatologist. So who am I to spread panic and fear …


[mentions that in the 2007 the IPCC under estimated how quickly all the ice in the Arctic could melt]

Once I realized that the IPCC couldn’t be taken as climate gospel, I looked more closely at some key issues. The Arctic looms large. It acts as the planet’s refrigerator, by reflecting sunlight back into space and by absorbing energy when the ice melts from solid to liquid. Once the Arctic ice has gone and the dark ocean starts absorbing sunlight, the additional global warming blows the global two-degree warming target out of the window.

He is so convinced by his own ideas that he continues:

"We should be seeding and brightening the clouds above the Arctic immediately as a global emergency reseponse."

Chapter 11 Doom and Bloom, Adapting to Collapse, by Jem Bendell in Extinction Rebellion. This Is Not A Drill (An Extinction Rebellion Handbook) (p. 76). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

The sunlight is very low in the Arctic and of course it's constant darkness in winter. It is absolutely the worst place to try to cool the planet down with reflective clouds, you would do it in the tropics, but we don't need to resort to such things.

Part of this is from:

This is another article I'm writing to support people we help in the Facebook Doomsday Debunked group, that find us because they get scared, sometimes to the point of feeling suicidal about it, by such stories.

Do share this with your friends if you find it useful, as they may be panicking too

Yes it is true that the ice there is melting. But what he is missing is what is happening in the rest of the world.

This map shows the change in total solar energy input from 2000 to 2012 where red and orange means it got more solar energy input, and blue and green means it got less:

“Change in total solar energy input from 2000 to 2012 as measured by the CERES dataset” Units: watts per square meter per decade

Arctic albedo changes are small compared with changes in cloud cover in the tropics

There you can see that the Arctic did have a big increase in solar flux. But at the same time some areas, especially in the Pacific had major decreases in solar flux shown in blue. The tropics become more cloudy in the warming world.

Averaged over the whole world the changing albedo since then has lead to a reduction in the global flux by 0.14 watts per square meter. Most of that reduction is in the southern hemisphere (reduction of 0.26 watts per square meter average). However even the northern hemisphere has had a net reduction in the solar flux (reduction of 0.03 watts per square meter). The increasing cloudiness elsewhere has more than compensated for the Arctic albedo effect.

So, it is not a valid way to argue, to say that an increase in solar flux over a small region in the Arctic should be averaged out as a global increase. This is an example of a scientist who ignores this global averaging process.

I’ve just done this as a tweet here:

The article Zeke Hausfather commented on in his tweet is an example of the hysteria and alarmism and junk science that is confusing the public and obscuring the level headed careful analysis by the IPCC which is quite bad enough as it is. This article has many serious mistakes in it. I have annotated some of the worst mistakes here

The climate models do not find any tipping point. It's neither irreversible nor does it take us into a new state of the climate, instead if temperatures overshoot and then come back down the ice will return to its previous extent

The IPCC say in chapter 3 (in the 2018 report on the difference between a 2 C and 1.5 C rise):

"Sea ice is often cited as a tipping point in the climate system. Detailed modelling of sea ice, however, suggests that summer sea ice can return within a few years after its artificial removal for climates in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Further studies modelled the removal of sea ice by raising CO2 concentrations and studied subsequent regrowth by lowering CO2. These studies suggest that changes in Arctic sea ice are neither irreversible nor exhibit bifurcation behaviour. It is therefore plausible that the extent of Arctic sea ice may quickly re-equilibrate to the end-of-century climate under an overshoot scenario. " Sea Ice

Some will tell you that the reason the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the world is because the ice is melting and the melting ice means it is less reflective, and so absorbs more heat (the ice albedo effect).

The “ice albedo” effect does have an effect but it is relatively minor - after all most of the time the sun is either below the horizon (in winter) or low above the horizon and the melting happens mainly in mid summer. Even if all the Arctic melts in mid summer in the second half of this century, that doesn’t warm it up that much. It helps melt more ice in the Arctic sea in summer and warms the sea up slightly, but as soon as it goes to winter, it freezes, indeed freezes faster than it would if it already had an insulating layer of ice.

After all, northern Europe is warming up twice as fast as the tropics and that’s clearly not an ice albedo effect.

The main reason the Arctic is warming up is because of “polar amplification”. You get these in climate models of worlds with no ice or snow. Even a pure “aquaplanet” which is covered only in sea will have increased warming at the poles.

It’s because of a natural movement of heat from the tropics to the poles in a warming planet. As it gets warmer, the convection effects increase and even out the temperature more between the tropics and the poles.

It’s because of a natural movement of heat from the tropics to the poles in a warming planet. As it gets warmer, the convection effects increase and even out the temperature more between the tropics and the poles.

This shows the latitude dependent effect of a doubling of CO2 on an aquaplanet with no land or ice with a general circulation model


However, Antarctica has resisted this effect, and it has cooled up only slightly, with some parts even cooling slightly in the last half century:

From: NASA GISS Surface Temperature Analysis

The negative greenhouse effect over Antarctica is a factor here.

Techy details: Temperature inversion aren’t that unusual, the temperature increasing with height in the atmosphere. However, normally the increase only happens for a short way into the atmosphere. For instance in Arctic the surface is often much colder than the air above it. However it’s also often covered in deep layers of water vapour and clouds and the temperature of the radiating layer at the top of that is still less than the surface temperature.

There is a temperature inversion in the stratosphere (from 20 to 50 km), where some of the water vapour and all the CO2 greenhouse effect happens - but even if it got warmer than the surface, the water vapour would overwhelm the carbon dioxide effect.

During the colder conditions of the ice ages, the Arctic also had potential for a negative greenhouse effect over the coldest places such as Greenland But this can’t happen there now. If the world warmed up a lot, then Antarctica could start to have a postive greenhouse effect.

To find out more about this, the paper is here:

However another factor in the southern ocean is that the westerly winds around Antarctica - these have strengthened and circle the continent more tightly which block the convection of warmth from the tropics to Antactica. This also traps cold air over Antarctica and the hole in the ozone layer is also a factor because the ozone layer traps heat and so the upper atmosphere will be colder due to the ozone hole.

This doesn’t happen in the Arctic beecause of the mountainous regions around the Arctic which block the westerlies.


Actually the same greenhouse gases that warm up Earth nearly everywhere actually act to cool down Antarctica for nine months of the year. That’s because Antarctica is the only place where the surface temperatures on average are LOWER than they are in the radiating layer in the stratosphere where the greenhouse gases absorb and re-emit the infrared radiation.

In Antarctica you have clear dry air, no clouds or moisture, and a very cold surface for nine months of the year, and the air gradually getting warmer with height for some distance. Those are ideal conditions for a negative greenhouse effect.

The radiating layer then is warmer than the ground, so that the effect of the heat radiating from the radiating layer instead of the ground is to make the planet cooler than it would be if the ground was exposed directly to the vacuum of space.


There were rapid changes in the ice ages locally in the Arctic, increase in temperature by 10 C in decades then slow cooling over centuries. Only possible because large areas of the ocean were covered by sea ice. This is NOT POSSIBLE in our present day world. It is only a local warming in the Arctic - by a well known see-saw effect during the ice ages there is a compensating cooling in the southern hemisphere and Antarctica, and vice versa as the Arctic cools Antarctica warms.

Locally the albedo is involved but not as a global thing. Globally, the Antarctic warms when the Arctic cools and vice versa, a well known see-saw effect during the ice ages. So you got these sudden abrupt warmings of the Arctic by 10 C, but Antarctica and the southern hemisphere would cool to compensate/

Also locally, even with vast amounts of sea ice in the ice age, the sea ice by itself is not enough, it has to be ice, atmosphere and ocean together - the transport of heat in the ocean and in the atmosphere has to be disrupted too.

The problem is that if the sea ice melts, the sea then freezes much faster than it would if there was ice covering it, because it is exposed to the atmosphere directly. Early models that didn't take account of that were able to duplicate rapid changes using just melting of the ice as it got slightly warmer, but once they took account of that it became impossible to model without also changing the way the ocean and the atmosphere transfer heat to the poles when the ice melts - it stops the gulf stream and that's an important factor and that is what leads to the see-saw effect.

These are the Dansgaard–Oeschger Events . At some point the vast ice sheets would melt, the trigger is not well understood, possibly small variations in solar output but the way the sun varies slightly doesn't fit the timescale of these events which happen at semi-regular intervals. We can't yet model them properly in our climate models. It might just be a quasi-regular oscillation in the climate system when you have these large ice sheets similar to the multi-decadal oscillations in temperature in the Atlantic and the Pacific. Or on a shorter timescale similar to the El Nino / La Nina oscillation.

They can't happen in the present day world because we don't have enough sea ice to trigger them.

When the ice melts, then the gulf stream stops completely. That then leads to the Arctic cooling, and to huge ice sheets forming again, then that leads to the gulf stream starting up again, then the ice all melts and this went on over and over at the end of the ice age. Its very dramatic, abrupt warming by ten degrees in a couple of decades.

It's a rapid warming and slow cooling of the Arctic, but a cooling and slow warming in Antarctica because of the blocking of heat transport northwards from the equator. I don't think the global average temperature was much affected. The Arctic cooled when the ice sheets melted, because of the effect on the gulf stream.

Heinrich and Dansgaard-Oeschger Events

Dansgaard–Oeschger event - Wikipedia

This is a recent 2019 paper about them. It puts forward the hypothesis that they are these quasi-regular oscillations over a longer timescale of centuries.

Consider a simplified setup where meridional transports of heat are invariable, and the Arctic Ocean becomes a thermal reservoir in radiative equilibrium. Since the radiation balance strongly depends on albedo and thus on the presence of ice, early studies found that such a system rapidly transitions from an ice-covered state (high albedo, light surface, more radiation reflected away leading to more cooling) to an ice-free state (low albedo, dark surface, more radiation absorbed leading to more warming) under gradual warming, with intermediate states being unstable (North, 1984; Thorndike, 1992).

However, the ice-albedo feedback becomes much less potent once real-world considerations are introduced. One such consideration is that thin ice grows more quickly than thick ice, an effect that counteracts the ice-albedo feedback and stabilizes the ice cover against runaway change (Bitz and Roe, 2004; Eisenman and Wettlaufer, 2009; Notz, 2009). The reason for this is that to create new ice, heat must be lost from the ocean to the atmosphere (see “Heat Fluxes” in Fig. 3). This heat loss happens more readily through thin ice than through thick ice; hence, freezing – which occurs at the base of the ice – accelerates when ice thins, and slows down when ice thickens. (Melt rates do not depend on ice thickness, because melting primarily happens from the top, at the ice-atmosphere interface.) Another consideration is the response of the atmosphere itself to ice perturbations, which also stabilizes the ice cover. For example, the excess heat absorbed by an ice-free surface ocean during summer is returned to the atmosphere in early winter, and removed from the Arctic via enhanced outgoing longwave radiation and reduced atmospheric heat transport from midlatitudes (Winton, 2013; Tietsche et al., 2011).

Coupled atmosphere-ice-ocean dynamics in Dansgaard-Oeschger events

See also

Abrupt Climate Change During the Last Ice Age (Nature knowledge project, 2011)


There has been a large increase in biomass in the Arctic regions. It is a mix of large areas of greening and smaller areas of browning. It suggests there are processes delaying green up. See this chart:

Epstein et al (2012) found an average circumpolar increase in aboveground tundra biomass of 19.8% between 1982 and 2010.This increase was accentuated in the mid- to southern tundra subzones (20–26% increase), yet it was substantially less in the more northern tundra (2–7%).

Decline in greenness has recently been detected especially during the last 3–4 years

Changes in timing of spring snow melt, permafrost degradation, killing frosts due to mid-winter or early-spring snow melt, or vegetation shift from graminoids to deciduous shrubs are all possible reasons for arctic tundra browning.

For the boreal forest, remote sensing studies continue to support the “browning” of forest vegetation (1982–2008) with increasing drought stress as the most probable driver. However, this reduction in photosynthesizing vegetation appears to be related to the fractions of evergreen trees and deciduous trees on the landscape – with greater declines in evergreen-dominated areas (Miles and Esau, 2016). Changes towards greening or browning appear here as well highly variable, both in time and space.

The changing colors of the Arctic: from greening to browning


2018 Arctic Report Card: Reindeer and caribou populations continue to decline The numbers of caribou fluctuate widely from year to year. However this year's decline is likely due in part to climate change. Only one of the herds is near their historic high. For reindeer, the population in Norway has been stable since 2002.

Only the two populations outlined in gold have no decline. The total poulation has declined by 56% and some of the herds have no recovery in sight at present.

About 54% of the variability is due to climate indicators. The main ones are the indicators of plant growth in October (warming growing degree days) and June (plant growing degree days).

These are often beneficial to caribou, but when you have multiple warm summers then you get increased drought, flies, parasites and perhaps increased susceptibility to pathogens from heat stress.

In Canada barren ground caribou became nationally recognized as "threatened" and two herds of Eastern migratory Caribou are "Endangered" and in Russia, which have many wild reindeer sub-species, then the declines are espcially for island, forest and mountain reindeer.

Migratory Tundra Caribou and Wild Reindeer

On polar bears, then they are vulnerable but they are okay for now as a general population though sub populations are in trouble. The ones in colder aeras of the Arctic actually can benefit from the warming because there are more seals. They run into problems when the ice free summer lasts for too long over five months as a transition point. IUCN red list best on that.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

They are not expected to go below 50% of current numbers in 35 years (three generations).

On the plus side, scientists think the risk of polar bear numbers dropping by more than half in the next 35 years is low (7%), while the risk of an 80% collapse is negligible. This keeps polar bears shy of the IUCN’s more serious “endangered” category.

Carbon brief have a good article on them.

Polar bears and climate change: What does the science say? | Carbon Brief.

IUCN on polar bears from 2014, the threshold is 5 months ice free in summer.

Polar bears in colder parts can actually benefit from a warming Arctic but most do not and the areas with more than 5 months ice free are expected to increase.

The PBSG concluded that one subpopulation (M’Clintock Channel) has increased, six were stable (Davis Strait, Foxe Basin, Gulf of Boothia, Northern Beaufort Sea, Southern Hudson Bay, and Western Hudson Bay), three were considered to have declined (Baffin Bay, Kane Basin, and Southern Beaufort Sea) and, for the remaining nine (Arctic Basin, Barents Sea, Chukchi Sea, East Greenland, Kara Sea, Lancaster Sound, Laptev Sea, Norwegian Bay, and Viscount Melville Sound) there were insufficient data to provide an assessment of current trend.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

There is a very controversial polar bear scientist who claims they will manage just fine. She says they will benefit from thinner winter ice and can survive the few months of summer without food by fasting through them.

Susan J. Crockford - Wikipedia

Experts’ vision of an ice-free summer is already wrong & benefitting polar bears

It is very expensive to try to estimate polar bear numbers because as is typical of predators, the population is so small spread over vast areas in inhospitable areas of the world.

More details here

For other mistakes you often see about the Arctic, such as the idea of mercury poisoning, or viruses that can harm us melting out of the Arctic see my:

See also

Here are a couple of videos with me reviewing the Extinction Rebellion book.

(click to watch on YouTube)

(click to watch on YouTube)

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