Santa is safe


Santa/Wikimedia Commons

Don’t panic children. Santa won’t be forced to swim for his life because of a brief, pre-Christmas thaw at the North Pole. Reports to the contrary can simply be blamed on journalists who don’t understand physics.

There will be no water skiing as the Washington Post reported:

Santa may need water skis instead of a sleigh this year.

Nor is he in danger of falling through the ice as The Sydney Morning Herald worried:

If Santa really lived at the North Pole his sleigh would run the risk of falling through the ice this week, empty or fully laden.”

What do those Aussies mean with the suggestion “really,” anyway?

Whatever the case, all of this overheated speculation about the danger global warming poses for Santa, Mrs. Claus, the elves and all those reindeer was sparked by reports from a weather buoy recording air temperatures near the melting point of water (0 degrees Celius/32 degrees Fahrenheit) near the pole in recent days.

But this doesn’t mean the ice at the pole is actually melting. The only ice in danger of melting is in the heads of reporters far removed from the reality of the cold, dark north.

Climate hyperbole

Any climate-change related story seems to get some of these reporters hot under the collar, so to speak, and any number of them grabbed the temperature reports from North Pole Environmental Observatory bouy 300234064010010 as an excuse to run wild.

The Post and the Herald weren’t the only publications doing this, but Post reporter Jason Samenow was definitely one of the leaders of the pack in a panic about the risks to Santa. A lot of Samenow’s reporting was borrowed from a website sans the key qualifiers used by the scientists writing there:

“There is a clear upward trend since 1990, with November–December 2016 almost 5 ºC (9 ºF) above this trend. However, the trend is not simply up: some cooling occurred in the 1980s. We therefore need longer time series to pin down which part is due to climate change and which to natural variability.”

“As is well known, this series (of temperatures from thermometer around the Arctic) shows a warm period in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by cooling up through the 1970s and 1980s. The record value of 1944 was not surpassed until 2001 in this series.”

The scientists at, who freely admit to being advocates for actions to slow possible human contributions to global warming, go on to suggest that  climate models indicate  “a warm event like the one of this year would have been extremely unlikely in the climate of a century ago.”

But they don’t suggest Santa has any need to order a personal flotation device anytime soon.

The simplest reason that they don’t do that – never mind the thermodynamic properties that cover the rate at which ice melts at 32 degrees – is that the same North Pole thermometer showing air temperatures at the melting point for ice is showing water temperatures below the freezing point for water.

In simple terms, the ice at the pole is floating on water as cold or colder than ice. Since water has a rate of thermal conductivity twice that of air, the cold water below the ice is going to have more of an influence on the ice than the warm air above.

Historic boo-boo

Of course, a lead in the ice could open up. There is no land anywhere near the North Pole, so the Arctic ice is always moving around on Arctic Ocean currents. Open water has been known to appear in strange places at strange times.

The New York Times caused quit a stir in August 2000 when John Noble Wilford reported “the North Pole is melting. The thick ice that has for ages covered the Arctic Ocean at the pole has turned to water, recent visitors there reported yesterday. At least for the time being, 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 and is more evidence that global warming may be real and already affecting climate.”

Ten days later, however, the same newspaper ran a follow-up story basically accusing scientists of giving Wilford bad information. This is what it said:

“Recent eyewitness reports of open water from melting ice at the North Pole have prompted climatologists and other scientists to make a closer study of satellite imagery and other observations of northern sea ice, past and present. Although striking and unusual, those reports are not as surprising as suggested in a news article on Aug. 19 in The New York Times, which was based on the descriptions and interpretations of two scientists who had just visited there.

“The data scientists are now studying reveal substantial evidence that on average Arctic temperatures in the winter have risen 11 degrees over the past 30 years, and in the late 20th century were the warmest in four centuries. Data also show that the ice pack over the entire Arctic Ocean has in recent decades been shrinking in area and thickness. But climatologists said they were still not sure if diminishing polar ice reflected some short­-term natural cycle or was a wake­up call of possibly drastic climatic consequences of an industrial civilization’s release of heat-­trapping gases.”

Wilford just couldn’t bring himself to state the simple reality that open water above the North Pole is not surprising because of the constantly shifting nature of the pack ice, and that because of this there has likely been open water at the pole off and on for centuries.

Santa is obviously aware.

Wilford and Samenow probably should have interviewed him. He could have enlightened them as to why he built his workshop on a magical ice island that floats above the pole powered by the same energy source that makes it possible for his sleigh to fly.

Or they might have just asked themselves: Why would a guy who crosses both oceans with a flying sleigh need water skis for a new, ice-free Arctic Ocean or worry about falling through anything?

As former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin might say, all any lamestream journalists needs is a little “common sense” to figure out Santa had this problem of open water covered long ago.

Worry not children.







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