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BBC Accused Of Misleading Reporting About Melting Antarctic Glacier

January 29, 2020
tags: ,

By Paul Homewood



The International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration is performing some magnificent science conducting the most ambitious fieldwork ever undertaken at the tip of what is one of the most significant glaciers on Earth. Its melting already contributes 4% of global sea level rise and there are fears that it could become unstable and contribute many metres to global sea level.

The reason for its vulnerability lies in its geology. While most of the glacier is on ground and making its way into the West Antarctic seas, Thwaites lip floats on water allowing warm water to weaken and melt it from beneath. Being one of the most difficult places in the world to reach the scientific collaboration planned for years to transport many tonnes of equipment to the glaciers front. Two weeks ago they announced they had carried out the first warm water borehole through the ice at the point where it lifts off the land and starts to be suspended by the ocean. Image courtesy British Antarctic Survey.

Reports by the mainstream media from the region have in general been very good in explaining the problem, the science and the difficulties of getting there and working in such a harsh environment (see e.g. here, here and here). It is extremely difficult to do this. There have been many recent reports concerning the increasing focus on Thwaites glacier and the uncertainties and projections have been deftly handled.

Sometimes however what is not mentioned in a report is important.

The significance of the melting of the Thwaites and the adjacent Pine Island glaciers is acknowledged as is the potential influence of warm water at the coast. However, the BBC’s latest report (and here) does not mention an important fact that is widely known and that it and others have reported previously – the influence of active volcanoes beneath the glacier.

Despite claims about climate change and admonition to lower our greenhouse gas emission as a way to ameliorate the melting of Thwaites, it should have been pointed out that what is happening underneath the glacier could be in large parts an act of geology and one of those natural and globally-important dynamics that have been occurring throughout the ages.

What is more, the scientists will remain on Thwaites for a while yet. They have not analysed their data yet, so claims that they have confirmed “the Thwaites glacier is melting even faster than scientists thought…” are premature.

Not every thing that changes dramatically, or has the potential to do so, is solely or mainly down to mankind’s effect on the environment. Despite our influences we have always lived in a natural world that is changing constantly and by itself. Researchers have suggested Thwaites may change dramatically in the next few decades and centuries to come or even longer. It could result in a significant rise in global sea levels. But calling it a “Doomsday” glacier is unjustified and simply doom-mongering.

  1. January 29, 2020 2:26 pm

    A survey of the geological features of Antarctica that are overlooked in the use of Antarctica to sell AGW.

  2. jack broughton permalink
    January 29, 2020 2:55 pm

    As I am led to believe, the BBC decided that the science of AGW was proven in a secret meeting with lobbyists. Are they open to claim that they have behaved against their charter by accepting such a decision given that the science is controversial?

    So far as I am aware all claims of global warming damage in the US have been thrown out of court: it is time the snake-oil salesmen were tried in a UK court.

    The effect of the BBC’s erroneous decision has been to allow brainwashing of the population with unproven, (in fact, usually quickly dis-proven by Paul) bad science. This has cost the country a massive amount of money through policy interference, encouraged radical green groups in their actions and terrified a generation apparently.

    It is time for the tumbrils to roll, surely.

    • Philip Foster permalink
      January 29, 2020 4:45 pm

      Remember, as far as I can tell, not one of the BBC’s ‘science’ reporters has a degree in any science. Roger Harrabin has a degree in English.
      To quote Lindzen quoting C P Snow:

      “So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their Neolithic ancestors would have had.”

  3. January 29, 2020 3:39 pm

    “It is time for the tumbrils to roll, surely.”

    • jack broughton permalink
      January 31, 2020 7:28 pm

      Thanks, Shirl, a great reply!

  4. Eddie P permalink
    January 29, 2020 3:40 pm

    I wonder what would be the outcome if we refused to pay our license fee. Would the BBC take us to court? If they do, it would make an excellent forum to highlight their totally biased reporting on climate change in support of a defense that they have failed in their duty as stipulated by their charter and as such have broken the terms under which they can levy a fee.

  5. Gamecock permalink
    January 29, 2020 3:43 pm

    ‘Its melting already contributes 4% of global sea level rise’

    The rate of sea level rise is unchanged in 100 years. So this contribution has been going on for a hundred years, or IT DOESN’T MATTER.

    ‘there are fears that it could become unstable and contribute many metres to global sea level.’

    Everybody needs something to be scared of. In the unlikely event that it happens, wait . . . this post is being interrupted . . . .


    ‘On 15 March 2002, the National Ice Center reported that an iceberg named B-22 broke off from the ice tongue. This iceberg was about 85 km long by 65 km wide, with a total area of some 5,490 km².’


    Never mind.

    The rate of sea level rise is unchanged in 100 years. A 5,490 km² iceberg made no difference. It really doesn’t matter.

    • Robert Jones permalink
      January 29, 2020 7:40 pm

      As an engineer I explained to my wife the comment by the late Christopher Booker that when the ice in a Gin & Tonic melts the drink doesn’t fall out of the glass. She didn’t believe me so I had to carry out an experiment with a tumbler, ice-cube and water complete with meniscus. And the ice melted and no water overflowed. The Antarctic Glacier can all melt and the sea level won’t rise by a millimetre.

      • jack permalink
        January 29, 2020 9:23 pm

        Most of the glacier is on dry land.

      • Derek Reynolds permalink
        January 30, 2020 10:44 am

        In reply to ‘Jack’:
        The melting glacier is being added to by snow and ice from the natural evaporation, condensation, precipitation cycle. That it is on dry land is but a phase of that cycle.

      • Gamecock permalink
        January 31, 2020 6:24 pm

        Broke off on dry land?

  6. Up2snuff permalink
    January 29, 2020 4:03 pm

    ‘Warm’ water undermining the ocean edge of the Thwaites Glacier is a little misleading. It is probably cold water that is not frozen and may well be close to zero degrees.

    • CheshireRed permalink
      February 1, 2020 7:01 pm

      It’s so hot, hot, hot! down there that if you fall in the southern ocean you can swim about to your hearts content for up to one whole minute before you need to be fished out. Anything longer and your bodies core temperature will drop past a real ‘tipping point’ and you’ll be dead inside 2 minutes.

      Balmy stuff eh? Now where’s me swimming trunks?

  7. Teaef permalink
    January 29, 2020 4:10 pm

    We could do with knowing the temperature of this ‘warm’ water.

    • Cliff Gobbitt permalink
      January 31, 2020 1:18 pm

      You can see the Antartic sea temperature 0 to 1900 meters at climate4u. Data is from Argo bouys and is shown in 100m steps. The temperature trend appears to be zero over the Argo measurement time period.

  8. January 29, 2020 4:13 pm

    Is that true, or did you hear it on the BBC ?

  9. January 29, 2020 4:34 pm

    East Antarctica is far more massive than West Antarctica, but doesn’t seem to have these supposed issues. NASA informed us in 2015:

    NASA Study: Mass Gains of Antarctic Ice Sheet Greater than Losses

    BBC cherry pickers ignore such things in their endless desire to ring their crummy climate alarm bells and blame humans for natural forces.

  10. January 29, 2020 4:39 pm

    This story (as in lie) is on the BBC news every day this week. It features the BBC;s chief Environment correspondent, Justin Rowlatt, who understands nothing about the environment and even less about “climate change”.

  11. Pancho Plail permalink
    January 29, 2020 4:52 pm

    Correct me if I am wrong, but aren’t glaciers “fuelled” by snowfall occurring over their entire surface, and I am guessing that climate change hasn’t raised the surface temperature above zero or reduced the snowfall, so it is still replenishing the losses at the foot end. It is, after all, the weight of the snow accumulations which causes the glacier to flow (at a glacial pace!) downhill, scouring the bedrock in the process.
    A glance at the size of the Thwaites glacier shows it to be approx 400km long, and the thickness is up to 3km and the BBC map shows that it has reduced in height near the volcanic area by up to 20m in 25 years but appears to be virtually unchanged at the head area. So 3km divided by 20m times 25 years gives 3,750 years to melt the current glacier if there wasn’t any further snowfall.
    It moves at around 2km per year so the snow currently melting is up to 200 years old. 1820 was when Charles Babbage first proposed his difference engine, the mechanical equivalent of the computer.
    It does all rather make the climate emergency seem not quite so urgent.

    • dave permalink
      January 29, 2020 5:18 pm

      “..could …contribute many metres to sea-level rise…”

      That is a straight-forward HOWLER for “…many millimetres…”

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        January 29, 2020 6:08 pm

        Well quite. At 4% of 3mm a year, it is contributing 120,000 nanometers, or about 240 wavelengths of green light. It would take about 3,600 trillion cubic meters of ice to raise the level by 10 meters (chosen as “many” and to make your preferred arithmetic easier). The entire Thwaites basin is about 192,000 sq km, so it would take the melting of a volume 1,880 metres deep with that area to produce a 1 metre SLR.

  12. BLACK PEARL permalink
    January 29, 2020 5:33 pm

    The BBC is knocking its own nails in its coffin
    The sooner its buried the better

  13. January 29, 2020 5:45 pm

    Thought I had lost the list of those who decided BBC policy but just found it again

  14. StephenP permalink
    January 29, 2020 5:48 pm

    The BBC report last night did say as an after-comment that the melting could take up to 300 years, but moved on quickly to the 4 metre potential rise in sea level.

  15. January 29, 2020 5:53 pm

    If you look at a map of Antarctica you will that it asymmetrical about the pole. The eastern area extending out far more the west. One should ask why. In the west there is an active rift running along its edge which indicates that perhaps it is the upwelling energy from this volcanic activity that is providing a major influence in the behaviour and extent of ice in this western area. Groupthink pronouncements about global warming are NOT helpful in this context and the BBC et al should be made very much aware of this where bias is concerned.

  16. January 29, 2020 6:45 pm

    A few of my quibbles:

    1) They call it the doomsday glacier? Anyone who does that is fired. This is science, not dungeons and dragons.

    2) It’s worse than we thought: we didn’t know what it was before, because as you said in your report (Today, R4), this is the first time this thingy, this whatever it is, has been measured. (?temperature of water below the glacier?). How can it be worse? This is the first data point.

    3) It’s worse than we thought = we were wrong before.

    4) It’s worse than we thought (conspiracy ideation): does anybody seriously think there was the slightest chance that after all this to-ing and fro-ing at great expense and effort across the White Continent with these machines etc, and measuring this thingy for the first time, that the bearded wonders might have come back and announced: “It’s better than we thought.”?

    5) Today, R4, the reporter described Thwaites as the most remote place in Antarctica. Since it is on the coast, that must be a mistake.

    6) The temperature of the inflowing water is presumably about 2C. The language and the graphic on the BBC website make it sound like it’s just come out of a kettle.

  17. johnbillscott permalink
    January 29, 2020 7:44 pm

    The Beeb “expert” (qualifications not reported) was sent to report, at great expense, to cover this great investigation and it was justified only if there was something dramatic to report. His great animation was truly orgasmic with flailing hand gestures and serious facial distortions. I would imagine if his arms were duct taped to his body he would be mute. So we now have one data point and only a charlatan can make a trend from it.

    • Pancho Plail permalink
      January 29, 2020 9:40 pm

      Justin Rowlatt’s Wiki entry says he went to an Oxford College but nowhere does it mention a degree. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions.
      He has only ever worked in journalism.

  18. Adrian, East Anglia permalink
    January 29, 2020 9:15 pm

    Of course we now have the joyous prospect of 9 months of tantalisingly escalating hype in the run up to Glasgow in November.
    We can only hope that by that stage the entire gang of BBC misreporters will have attained ‘peak hysteria’ and vanish up their own backsides! If only…..!!

  19. jack jones permalink
    January 29, 2020 9:26 pm

    Can’t find a link just now but I know I read about this borehole about three weeks ago.
    It was done three weeks maybe a month ago watch this pace.

  20. January 29, 2020 9:33 pm

    The good old British Bulls Corporation none stop lying.
    If there was any real science there would be no lead to mislead so much …..

    David Attenborough Accused Of Misleading Public About Polar Bears, Again

    BBC Accused Of Serious Errors And Misleading Statements In David Attenborough’s Climate Show

    Netflix, Attenborough And Cliff-Falling Walruses: The Making Of A False Climate Icon

  21. January 29, 2020 10:58 pm

    A custard pie in the face for the ‘worse than we thought’ brigade…

    BBC — Climate change: Worst emissions scenario ‘misleading’
    By Matt McGrath
    Environment correspondent
    4 hours ago

  22. Saighdear permalink
    January 30, 2020 12:19 am

    Yes indeed, I heard about this and have been thinking for a suitable response: Did these Morons once work for a well-known English Urban Supermarket chain? …. where every little helps? I’ve heard of trying o sell snowballs to the Eskimos – so where does that relate to Hot water for melting the Ice?

  23. tom0mason permalink
    January 30, 2020 8:33 am


    ‘Three New Studies Confirm Volcanism Is Melting West Antarctic Glaciers, Not Global Warming’ , as James Kamis on June 29, 2018 outlines the feature of each of the three peer reviewed studies, and finishes with …

    By combining the data and conclusions of three brand new research studies with very telling older research studies and previous CCD articles, it becomes very clear that melting of West Antarctica’s Ice Sheet is the result of bedrock geothermal heat flow, not atmospheric global warming.

    Climate scientists strongly advocating the theory of the global warming to explain the WAIS melting should broaden their research and analyzation process to include the impact of geological forces, like subglacial volcanoes.

    It’s time for all of us to help these well-intentioned scientists achieve this goal.

  24. Ian Wilson permalink
    January 30, 2020 8:43 am

    I have also lodged a complaint and suggested (tongue-in-cheek as it won’t happen!) they redress the balance by reporting the story in No Tricks Zone that 13 out of 13 Antarctic Peninsular weather stations record COOLING over the past 21 years.

    • Gamecock permalink
      January 31, 2020 3:20 am

      Closest weather station to Thwaites is McMurdo Station, 1300 miles away. High tomorrow 22F. Looking like there is no weather data for Thwaites at all. None.

      Additionally, Antarctica is 5,500,000 sq miles. Bigger than Europe. 13 weather stations. Each station represents 423,076 square miles.

      We know nothing. It’s all pretend science.

  25. January 30, 2020 11:08 am

    ITBB discussion
    Times journo says something ALOUD
    which is not normally ALLOWED in metroliberal media Grouthink-land

    Given that the BBC’s chief environment correspondent Justin Rowlett was just on Radio 4’s PM ten minutes earlier reporting from Thwaites Gracier,
    I’m guessing Sean had the BBC guy in mind. Maybe the BBC needs an Ethical Man to rule on such matters.

  26. Athelstan. permalink
    January 30, 2020 5:36 pm

    Not for nothing are they known as the British Bullshite Corpulence.

  27. Athelstan. permalink
    January 30, 2020 5:39 pm

    and oh another thing, which needs addressing they also claimed that the western shelf is the “coldest area on the continent” – another total whopper.

  28. January 31, 2020 4:36 am

    Reblogged this on ajmarciniak.

  29. tom0mason permalink
    January 31, 2020 5:28 am

    Back in 2008 it was reported A recent volcanic eruption beneath the West Antarctic Ice sheet

    Indirect evidence suggests that volcanic activity occurring beneath the West Antarctic ice sheet influences ice flow and sheet stability. However, only volcanoes that protrude through the ice sheet and those inferred from geophysical techniques have been mapped so far. Here we analyse radar data from the Hudson Mountains, West Antarctica, that contain reflections from within the ice that had previously been interpreted erroneously as the ice-sheet bed. We show that the reflections are present within an elliptical area of about 23,000km2 that contains tephra from an explosive volcanic eruption. The tephra layer is thickest at a subglacial topographic high, which we term the Hudson Mountains Subglacial Volcano.

    From —

    Active Volcano Discovered Under Antarctic Ice Sheet reports Becky Oskin November 17, 2013.

    Earthquakes deep below West Antarctica reveal an active volcano hidden beneath the massive ice sheet, researchers said today (Nov. 17) in a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
    The discovery finally confirms long-held suspicions of volcanic activity concealed by the vast West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Several volcanoes poke up along the Antarctic coast and its offshore islands, such as Mount Erebus, but this is the first time anyone has caught magma in action far from the coast.
    “This is really the golden age of discovery of the Antarctic continent,” said Richard Aster, a co-author of the study and a seismologist at Colorado State University. “I think there’s no question that there are more volcanic surprises beneath the ice.”

    From Sep 13, 2017 —
    The first physical evidence of subglacial volcanism under the West Antarctic Ice Sheet by Nels A. Iverson, Ross Lieb-Lappen, Nelia W. Dunbar, Rachel Obbard, Ellen Kim & Ellyn Golden.
    Scientific Reports volume 7, Article number: 11457 (2017)

    The West Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS) is highly vulnerable to collapsing because of increased ocean and surface temperatures. New evidence from ice core tephra shows that subglacial volcanism can breach the surface of the ice sheet and may pose a great threat to WAIS stability.

    Also from 2017 — A new volcanic province: an inventory of subglacial volcanoes in West Antarctica
    School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, Drummond Street, Edinburgh EH8 9XP, UK

    Abstract: The West Antarctic Ice Sheet overlies the West Antarctic Rift System about which, due to the comprehensive ice cover, we have only limited and sporadic knowledge of volcanic activity and its extent. Improving our understanding of subglacial volcanic activity across the province is important both for helping to constrain how volcanism and rifting may have influenced ice-sheet growth and decay over previous glacial cycles, and in light of concerns over whether enhanced geothermal heat fluxes and subglacial melting may contribute to instability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Here, we use ice-sheet bed-elevation data to locate individual conical edifices protruding upwards into the ice across West Antarctica, and we propose that these edifices represent subglacial volcanoes. We used aeromagnetic, aerogravity, satellite imagery and databases of confirmed volcanoes to support this interpretation. The overall result presented here constitutes a first inventory of West Antarctica’s subglacial volcanism. We identified 138 volcanoes, 91 of which have not previously been identified, and which are widely distributed throughout the deep basins of West Antarctica, but are especially concentrated and orientated along the >3000 km central axis of the West Antarctic Rift System.

    ‘Three New Studies Confirm Volcanism Is Melting West Antarctic Glaciers, Not Global Warming’ reports James Kamis on June 29, 2018 outlines the features of each of the three peer reviewed studies, and finishes with …

    By combining the data and conclusions of three brand new research studies with very telling older research studies and previous CCD articles, it becomes very clear that melting of West Antarctica’s Ice Sheet is the result of bedrock geothermal heat flow, not atmospheric global warming.

    Climate scientists strongly advocating the theory of the global warming to explain the WAIS melting should broaden their research and analyzation process to include the impact of geological forces, like subglacial volcanoes.

    It’s time for all of us to help these well-intentioned scientists achieve this goal.

    NASA Data: 13 Of 13 Antarctic Peninsula, Island Stations Show Cooling Trend Over Past 21 Years!
    So BBC why all the misreporting? Or is it that the BBC can only report what GREENPEACE approves?

  30. avro607 permalink
    January 31, 2020 7:23 pm

    Thanks Chaamjamal for the link.

  31. avro607 permalink
    January 31, 2020 7:31 pm

    Early explorers such as:Byrd,Amundsen etc. remarked on the warmth of the waters in those areas of West Antactica,but does anyone know the actual temperatures,if recorded that is.

  32. JCalvertN permalink
    February 2, 2020 5:24 pm

    Has anyone lodged a complaint to the BBC or their watchdog?

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