UN Climate Report Confuses Arctic and Antarctic

An image of Antarctica used by the United Nations Environment Program.

A misidentified image of "Arctic Icebergs" used by the United Nations Environment Program. (Source: Shutterstock)

Things get stranger and stranger with the United Nations’ climate change science compendium published two weeks back.

First, it was learned that the graph indicating temperature for the past 1,000 years had been taken from Wikipedia, where it had been deposited by a non-climatologist. Now, it comes to light that the report features a photograph purporting to show Arctic icebergs melting, when the actual image is of Antarctica.

As I looked through the updated report yesterday, in which the Wikipedia graph has been removed, I noticed that an image looked to have been misidentified. Fortunately for me, the UN had purchased the image on Shutterstock.com, where about an hour’s worth of sleuthing revealed that indeed this was not a picture from the top of the world, but rather from the bottom.

Some will say that it doesn’t matter. I think it does. The United Nations claims to be the steward of the best science on the planet. Wouldn’t one hope that it would have staff capable of differentiating between Antarctica and the Arctic? Of course, global warming alarmists, including those employed at the United Nations, have been using both polar ice caps’ supposed melt as evidence of runaway global warming for years now. Meanwhile, though, Antarctic sea ice has continued to increase in extent throughout the satellite era, and temperatures at the South Pole have slowly fallen.

Nonetheless, the fear-mongers in the media and at the United Nations strive to frighten the credulous into believing that Earth’s southernmost continent is on the verge of catastrophic melt. As for the Arctic misrepresented by the UN’s photograph, how many of the report’s editors even know that sea ice increased in 2009 in the Arctic for the second year in a row? At the United Nations Environment Program, the answer is evidently: none. A map with a list of “climate anomalies” from the last year indicates that 2009 was the second most significant melt in the Arctic. In fact, it was the third lowest melt and may very well represent a turnaround. Only time will tell. Even The New York Times has an article today addressing the seeming good news.

As for that list of “Significant Climate Anomalies from 2008/2009,” the great majority of items listed are weather, rather than climate. An example: the four passages of Tropical Storm Fay across Florida’s coastline. While interesting, Fay’s behavior does not have an apparent, or hidden, relationship to rising co2 levels according to any reputable scientist, nor does it cloak 2008’s quiet Atlantic tropical cyclone season. (For those keeping track at home, 2009’s has been quieter still.)

The recovery from 2007's record sea extent minimum in the Arctic has continued for a second straight year. Only time will tell whether it marks the beginning of a meaningful, long-term recovery.

The recovery from 2007's record sea extent minimum in the Arctic has continued for a second straight year. Only time will tell whether it marks the beginning of a meaningful, long-term recovery.

The last mistake in the UN report that I will delve into for now features a photo of the Hawaiian Islands with a menacing caption about sea levels – trouble in paradise! Here is the text from the caption: “In Hawaii, as the ocean continues to rise, flooding occurs in low-lying regions during rains because storm sewers back up with saltwater and coastal erosion accelerates on beaches. Source: L. Carey.”

There are a few problems here. One: “L. Carey” does not exist, at least not according to the author of the caption. That would be Chip Fletcher, director of the Coastal Geography Group at the University of Hawaii. Reached for comment, Fletcher said that he was flattered that the United Nations report had found his statement in an internal department newsletter to be useful. Two: Fletcher also acknowledged that all of the flooding described by his statement takes place in areas of landfill that are subsiding.

Did Fletcher think that it might be a good thing for the United Nations to note the landfill subsidence when using a single image, and a single statement, to convey the reality of “climate change” in the islands? “Listen, the world is a big place,” Fletcher said. “I have other things to worry about than that.” Were there other locations in the islands that saw such flooding? “Parts of Waikiki have,” Fletcher said. Aren’t those parts of Waikiki also landfill, though? “Actually, they are.”

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About Harold Ambler

Harold Ambler has been writing about weather and climate for more than 20 years. He started his journalism career at The New Yorker and his work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, The AtlanticWire, and wattsupwiththat.com, among other places. He lives in Rhode Island.
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29 Responses to UN Climate Report Confuses Arctic and Antarctic

  1. Robert Wood says:

    If I were a taspayer feeding money into the UN cesspit, I* would demand my gov ernment stop!

    Oh, wait a minute, I am. Stop funding the fraudulent UN, Canada!

  2. Stuhugfj says:

    Robert Wood:

    It isn’t only that we are funding an organisation that puts out such rubbish, it is that they are so incompetent as to make major mistakes – even with our funding – one could maybe forgive – at least understand – these errors from an impoverished and unfunded blogger but the UN???

    Thank you Harold for your work on exposing this stuff…

  3. Robert Wood says:

    If I were a taspayer feeding money into the UN cesspit, I* would demand my gov ernment stop!

    Oh, wait a minute, I am. Stop funding the fraudulent UN, Canada!
    P.S. – Sorry, forgot to tell you great post!

  4. ron in Texas says:

    So the UN report or compendium includes to pics from Wiki. A graph and photo. Neither one representing reality. That is to say that the UN report has less veracity and source vetting than a 6th grader’s science report. Yet our pres and congress want to roll forward on this. For money, because it’s certainly not for science or accuracy. It most certainly has to be money and power. Well, we’re the voting public. Bill Maher hasn’t taken away our voting rights, as of yet. So, we can still make a difference. Bill Maker thinks America is stupid. When ask how they could be stupid if the country elected Obama, he said it was possible to elect the right person and still be stupid.

  5. ralf says:

    Isn’t it true that if floating Ice that melts lowers the water level.
    If you put ice in water in a container and mark the water level and let the ice melt the new level will be lower then before.

    I never hear anyone talk about this so the Artic ice melting will decrease the water level.

    • JKrob says:


      No, melting ice which is floating on water will leave the water level the same…the two are in balance. The weight of the ice is pushing up on the water level due to displacement but since the ice is less dense than the liquid water, there is ice above the water level as well. As the ice melts, it weighs less so it is pressing down and displacing less water but it is adding to the volume of the water so the balance is maintained as the ice melts and the water level does not change. A very simple experiment to try at home – place some water & an ice cube in a glass & mark the water level with a piece of tape. As the ice melts the water level will not move (ignoring effects of evaporation, of course).

      As this applies to oceanic sea ice & water levels, reguardless of how much or how little sea ice there is, the ocean levels stay the same – they are only affected by the ice melt runoff from land-based ice.


  6. Sophistry says:

    Here is a news flash…….

    There is no such thing as “the greenhouse effect”.

    The atmosphere has a cooling effect as well as a warming effect. The deceptive term “greenhouse effect” implies only a warming effect, yet gasses behave as a liquid to temperature and while they may warm, they also cool. If they did not then every thing living at equator would be cooked alive at noon on a daily basis. The surface of the moon (which of course has no atmosphere) reaches 123º C in the Sun.

    CO2 absorbs heat but it cannot trap heat. When it has absorbed heat it expands as do the all the other gasses it is mixed with such as nitrogen, oxygen and water vapour. Do not be fooled by the false claims that CO2 is special or unique in the way it is effected by heat. All gasses absorb and re-emit heat. It does not matter that they do this at various frequencies, all that maters is that they all do it. If they did not they would not be gasses, they would be solid ice. Therefore all gasses absorb and re-emit heat and so must all be greenhouse gasses, if not then none at all.

    These mixed gasses when warmed, then rise up through the atmosphere and exchange the heat with colder gasses higher up. The higher they rise the colder it gets. As space is 0º K or – 278º C there is only one possible outcome. All the heat energy received from the sun is re-emitted back into space. You do not need to be a scientist to understand this concept. It is more than attested to by 4, 500,000,000 years of relative temperature stability. If CO2 could trap heat and cause global warming it would have done so already. Perhaps when CO2 was @ 1000 ppm or 2000 ppm or even when it was @ 3000 ppm. Maybe runaway global warming should have occurred when CO2 was 4000, 5000, 6000, or 7000 ppm as it has been in the past. But it has never occurred at these levels so why should we be concerned about 100 ppm increase?

    The answer of course, is that we shouldn’t.

    Gasses in a greenhouse cannot convect but gasses in the atmosphere can convect. So in a greenhouse there is a “greenhouse effect” but in the atmosphere there is not.

    A “greenhouse gas” is a gas inside a greenhouse.

    The key is convection which is why you will never hear the topic of convection being properly discussed by proponents of AGW.

    Like I said earlier, you do not need to be a scientist to work this out. The truth is hanging there like an over ripe apple waiting to be plucked. All you need to do is reason it through with logic and common sense and the AGW scam as it is will evaporate.

    Remember, there is no substance known to man that can trap heat! Think about that for a moment.

    For a more detailed look at the AGW deception download this free .pdf.


  7. Mark H. says:

    This compendium seems pretty easy to pick apart (especially for someone as smart as Harold) owing to rather egregious errors, and a disturbing mix of advocacy and analysis. What I’m trying to figure out is what this publication means to the people and leaders of the world? How influential is it?

    I can’ help but remind myself that the UN is one weird group. Remember Colon Powell’s presentation about the existence of WMDs? I mean I don’t know. That was a ludicrous set of evidence. I guess that flies in the halls of this body?

    But, perhaps UNEP and their funny publications do some good?

    Check out the interactive Kick The Habit, A UN guide to climate neutrality thing. Pretty goofy. Frankly, though, if you look at the 4 reasons to achieve climate neutrality, and discard the climate one, I still think there is a strong case for reducing fossil fuel use.

    • Harold Ambler says:

      Kind words duly noted, I must say that the linked report is disqualified as having any relevance through its own factual (and intellectual) errors in the first several pages. Here’s a representative quote:

      “The environmental, economic and political implications of global warming
      are profound. Ecosystems – from mountain to ocean, from the Poles to the
      tropics – are undergoing rapid change. Low-lying cities face inundation,
      fertile lands are turning to desert, and weather patterns are becoming ever
      more unpredictable.

      “The cost will be borne by all. The poor will be hardest hit by weather-related
      disasters and by soaring price inflation for staple foods, but even the richest
      nations face the prospect of economic recession and a world in conflict over
      diminishing resources. Mitigating climate change, eradicating poverty and
      promoting economic and political stability all demand the same solution:
      we must kick the carbon habit.”

      It is no accident that the author of this “analysis” is a veteran BBC journalist Alex Kirkby, not only because the BBC increases its viewership, or strives to, with patently alarmist climate claims but rather because television itself is one of the reasons for the widespread misunderstanding of what weather and climate are.

      There is no year in Earth’s history that, if given the benefit of time travel, I could not edit down to make a terrifying weather video. What would I use? Glacial calving, wildfires, floods, droughts, tropical cyclones, blizzards, etc. The same images used by The Weather Channel, owned by General Electric (profiteering at present from inflated wind-farm machinery prices and carbon trading), to scare people today, in other words.

      Do not be confused about this: Our current moment in time is not the least advantageous, meteorologically speaking, in history, but rather among the very best. Tropical cyclone power is at historic lows, flooding is not unusual, glaciers exposed to the oceans’ warmth continue to calve and cyclically melt (and refreeze), the Sahara has been substantially greened in the past generation, and wildfires wherever they are measured (which isn’t many places) are DOWN. (Fires burned 25 to 30 million square miles a years in the 1920s in the U.S.; more recently, they have averaged fewer than 10 million square miles.)

      So, again, the premise is wrong. Neither weather nor climate is more destructive today than in the Edenic pre-industrial past. If you had been born in Europe during the Little Ice Age (from 1300 to 1850, roughly), the likelihood of dying due to weather-related famine was quite high.

      Meanwhile, as you and I have discussed, just about 2 billion people currently live without electricity and enjoy average lifespans in the vicinity of 35 years. Telling these unfortunate people that “carbon is evil,” an addictive drug, while positioning ourselves to continue using it for the foreseeable future (as we will) is dirty pool. Making billions of dollars in profit in the process is worse than that.

      Carbon dioxide has never raised Earth’s atmospheric temperature, not a single time in the geologic record. The idea that it is doing so now, for the first time, is belied by the flat or slightly negative global mean temperature since 1998, ocean cycle evidence, solar cycle evidence, etc.

      Finally, as a gardener, you know better than most how much all green things LOVE co2. Forests and agriculture both benefit massively from the additional co2 in the atmosphere. If you could wave a magic wand and lower co2 levels by 100 ppm, you would likely kill millions by diminishing the world’s food supply overnight.

      • Mark H. says:

        I think you may have missed the spirit in which I linked the “kick the habit” publication. Perhaps that is due to the medium of our correspondence, for you did not see my cynical laugh about the publication. It is downright sophomoric in places. However, disqualification of the entire content based on introductory text appears illogical. Ideas can indeed stand-alone outside of their context, can they not? Not always, I’ll grant, but in this case, I think so.

        Also, because I’ve linked it does not mean I’ve read it fully, nor defend it fully. I was simply taking one of the sections and analyzing the arguments in it, namely, that fossil fuels have disadvantages, and moving away from them is recommended (for everyone, not just the rich countries.) Who can abide with the current level of fossil-fuel based pollution? I guess I’m not as interested in green, as I am clean. This is an overlapping concern, not at the core of the climate debate, which I think is too broad. I also think that way too many people both on the AGW, and anti-AGW side are claiming truths about a lot of untestable hypotheses.

        I think everyone should be concerned about fossil fuel based pollution, and perhaps mildly concerned about peak oil. I guess I’ll leave it at that.

      • Harold Ambler says:

        I did miss the humor, it’s true.

        Fossil fuels, IMHO, are our cleanest and best solution, as of October 7, 2009. First World capital cities have far cleaner water and air than a century and a quarter ago. Indeed, the modern environmental movement, some say, had its origins in the fight against London’s terrible pollution-laced fogs of the mid-20th century (and before). Although far more people own automobiles in Britain and use more electric power, too, than 50 years ago, air quality has steadily improved there. Likewise, in the United States, for the most part.

        If we don’t sabotage our economies in the west by transporting polluting industry to India and China whole-hog, we will more rapidly make the next evolutionary leap, energy-wise. Wealth begets a cleaner environment; poverty begets environmental degradation — at all levels.

      • DennisA says:

        Superb analysis Harold and good luck with your book.

        From your UK cousin!

  8. Andrew F says:

    Considering the amount of funding, staffing etc available to the UN to create these reports it demonstrates how desperate they are to use anything, ANYTHING that they can ‘spin’ to their advantage.

    It’s really quite sad how these supposedly respectable, neutral, representative bodies are just not. Trust is rapidly declining in government/international bodies at an alarming rate it feels like we’re lied to about everything. This can’t be good for society.

  9. Jeremy says:

    Nice work! Contacting Fletcher was a real gem. I bet the UN authors did not want anyone to know that the he was referring to landfill subsidence rather than sea levels…hence the bogus attribution to L. Carey.

  10. Mark Haller says:

    to me that is a scandalous sounding view point on pollution. the poverty theory, though lofty, can be swallowed, but i have a tough time with your opinion that fossil fuels are the cleanest energy source. here in central texas, i think there is a damning case against the proliferation of the gas powered car – note our recent near-miss on the getting dinged by the tceq for number of ozone action days. something we’re doing isn’t right. however, you may be correct, in that in producing massive amounts of energy will always have an environmental cost, it is just that the environmental cost shifts with different sources. no free lunch.

    speaking of air quality – you’ll probably recognize a couple names in here – http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iA3otf0ZKYIudkD5oacpxhLzSgMgD9B6E8D00

    take care!

    • Harold Ambler says:

      I get that you don’t like cars, or fossil fuels. I think you may be underestimating, however, the ways in which internal combustion engines and coal-burning electric plants make your current quality of life possible. The computer you’re reading this blog on was constructed of materials that had been shipped across the oceans (on vessels likely powered by diesel); the power at the factory where it was assembled likely came from fossil fuels; if the computer was made overseas, then a fossil-fuel-powered ship probably got it to this continent; from the port it was carried by a series of trucks to the store where you bought it; the electric power you use to power your computer is fossil-fuel-derived as well. And this is just a single, representative, product in your home.

      The roofing materials for your house, the plumbing, the lumber, the electric parts, the furniture, the art, the CDs, etc., ALL got there via the incredibly elaborate fossil-fuel-based economic system. This is the same system, by the way, that allows people like you and me to communicate with such relative ease from veritably any location on the planet.

      Plenty of people like to criticize fossil fuels for being “dirty” and “evil,” but far fewer wish to separate themselves in any substantive way from the economy that fossil fuels facilitate. The people who would tamper with the American electric grid are basically updated versions of ENRON, in many cases. Those who lived through California’s rolling blackouts a few years back will tell you, with some passion, how they feel about that experience.

      If wind or solar power were anything like practicable on a large scale, they would already have been made use of in the west. Wind has been a failure in every European country that has attempted to make SERIOUS use of it. Solar is not going to be happening any time soon, either. It would be nice either wind or solar could contribute meaningfully, but the scale just isn’t there. (Both have numerous environmental issues of their own, btw.)

      So, again, I am grateful for the power that made my home and that makes my lifestyle possible today. I am a very fortunate person.

      One thing on which we can probably agree: It would be a better use of the world’s resources to take the money with which people are trying to scare the credulous into believing that weather has recently become more threatening than “ever before” and spend it on environmental cleanups.

      • Mark H. says:

        Thanks Harold. I think you are right. We do agree on your last point. I found the rest of your post a bit off-putting at first. I feel as though I’m pretty aware of the depth of my own personal investment in and benefit from fossil fuels. (and the other poster is right, it would serve us well to define “fossil fuels”) And I could add more to your list – what about food? yeah, how much gas did you eat today? A question raised by Michael Pollan in his book. So, while I am a big consumer of the FFs, I make an effort to limit my consumption (ever so slightly), of which I suppose I am overly proud.

        I think the First World should not only just back off with the propaganda campaigns, but should back off on the consumption campaign. We just don’t need to do all this driving, eating, buying of junk… I don’t mean to be all preachy, but for some reason I feel as though first world conservation would do the rest of the world a favor. That is, maybe our fortunate lifestyles need to give.

        But, you are right, that will never happen. The last president that asked us to conserve was Jimmy Carter, and well…

      • Harold Ambler says:

        Well, of course, all are welcome to go off the grid.

        I guess I’ve tired of children trying to frighten children with bad science:


  11. Phillip Bratby says:

    Well done Harold. We are grateful to you for your hard work and persistence in uncovering yet more false propaganda (lies) from the UN.

  12. Alan the Brit says:

    Nice one, Harold! Keep it up, you naughty synical person you! Fancy not believing everything you see by the UN.


  13. Ryelands says:

    Anthony Watts “sent” me here – and told me to leave a nice comment . . .

    Which, having seen the site, I’m happy to do. And I’ll be back regularly – some good stuff to be found here.


  14. Janice says:

    Harold, nice site. I will be coming here regularly, now that I know you are here. WUWT posted your article, and told us to come over here and visit.

    About fossil fuels (and we won’t even get into whether they are truly “fossil” fuels or not), there are really two very goods reasons for using them. One is that they are dense, and deliver a lot of energy for the mass. Batteries can’t even begin to compete, and there is no indication that they will ever be able to compete. If you think of a fossil fuel as a compact source of energy, there is no equal. Secondly, they are very portable. You don’t need a lot of chemistry to store a fossil fuel. You just need a leak-proof container.

    There is actually a third good thing about fossil fuels, but we will need to improve our space program a lot to take advantage of it. There is a LOT of fossil fuel throughout the solar system. Many of the moons around the gas giants are composed almost entirely of fossil fuel. Once we can travel to those moons, and start mining them, there will be no problem with peak oil. Yes, that is an idea that is science fiction right now, but so were man-made satellites at one time.

  15. INGSOC says:

    Hey! I thought I was supposed to get some kinda discount for saying Anthony sent me!

    Bookmarked! Cheers!

  16. Mike M says:

    PULL OUT OF THE UN. Why belong to an organization that returns NOTHING but dishonest propaganda and corruption?

    I propose a NATIONAL REFERENDUM on terminating USA’s membership to the UN. Let’s start a public debate concenrings UN’s abysmal track record on performing their charter responsiblity to prevent war and lessen human suffering. Their idiotic notion that we affect the climate in any measurable way with our puny addition of GHG will only lead to MORE human suffering by stymiing energy use which is the number ONE thing to provide a reduction of human suffering from water treatment to agriculture to refrigeration to medical treatment to transportation to housing to education to … yada. You name it and our modern technological civilization grew up on and continues to depend on – CHEAP ENERGY. Leave it to the UN to invent a way to undermine our very way of life, tell us that it’s our fault without a SHRED of evidence, then force us to PAY THEM to perpetuate the scam in order to keep themselves in a position of power over us. Ain’t it obvious to anyone but a fool that the UN is NOT doing anything to reduce human suffering and certainly NOT doing anything to prevent future wars by pursuing something that will increase both of those. Fool me once with “Food for Oil” and now try to fool me twice with AGW and …

    Stick a fork in the UN!

  17. Polprav says:

    Hello from Russia!
    Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?

  18. Jesse says:

    Always enjoy reading this blog. As a scientist myself, it is encouraging to read about ‘actual’ evidence and research as it pertains to climate.

    I think I saw you on Fox News this past summer and you said you had a new book coming out in October…any news on this? Or am I mistaken?

    • Harold Ambler says:

      Thank you very much for the kind words and your interest in the book. As happens, publication has been delayed until March 2010. It has proven to be an opportunity to make it a better work :)

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