It's not going to be cold enough in Siberia to...

Yesterday I was discussing some of the political problems that are likely to make gas and oil supplies an ongoing news story for a few years yet. There is, however, also a potentially growing physical problem that might also impact the logistics of supply somewhat faster than we might think.

This other problem is actually related to reading some of the conditions of the Iditarod which started this week. Because of the changes in snow patterns there are parts of the course that have almost no snow

Where an avalanche last year killed Richard Strick, Jr. -- a well-liked, longtime volunteer trailbreaker for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race -- there is little snow this year. Efforts have been under way for days to cut a trail through thickets of alder and willow that would normally be buried in white, said pilot Barry Stanley of Denali Flying Service in Willow.
UPDATE: I have added a small addition at the end of the post, following comments.
This is not because it is warmer out there -
Winds have been howling in the Alaska Range, and temperatures have dipped as low as 40 degrees below zero. Runners in the Iditarod Invitational have been holed up for days at Rainy Pass Lodge at Puntilla Lake, waiting for the weather to break.

Stanley, who flew to Rainy Pass Lodge on Thursday, said it was impossible to check conditions in the pass because a raging ground blizzard smothered everything in white for about 200 feet above the ground.

The National Weather Service is forecasting that the winds will die down as the Iditarod rolls north, but there is no substantial snow in the forecast.

Lack of snow, or in many cases a shorter frozen season can have a significant impact on the logistics of operations up in the Far North. And here the problems of global warming are likely to have an effect. There is a story in February’s Popular Mechanics about the problems of supplying the North-West Territories of Canada, where the main supply road, some 370 miles runs up the lakes from Yellowknife to the Tahera Diamond Mine. It can only be built after the ice gets to be about a foot thick, since it is planed and graded using heavy equipment, and then, after the ice gets to be 40 inches thick it can carry 70-ton trucks. Last year that did not happen until March, and because the mechanics of the ice road limit speed, it reduces the volume of supplies that can be sent.
The basic mechanics of ice roads have been known for decades. As a laden truck moves over ice, it creates a shallow depression all around it — a sort of bowl in the ice, several inches deep and many yards across. The greater the speed, the deeper the depression. Above a critical velocity that varies with local conditions, a truck can damage the roadbed so severely that the next vehicle to come along will break through the ice. For this reason, the top speed on the Tibbitt to Contwoyto route is usually about 22 mph. In some stretches, as on Waite Lake, the maximum is just a few miles per hour.
When the road cannot carry them then, as the Washington Post noted
Last winter, one of the warmest on record, the road opened late and melted early, stranding tons of needed supplies. Mining companies spent $100 million trying to airlift the cargo. Diavik cut a 500-ton excavating shovel into pieces and rented the world's largest helicopter from Russia to lift the pieces to its mine site.
This year, however, the road opened earlier – on January 28th, and so supplies are more assured.

Yet this potential shortening of the season, and the difficulties in establishing the supply roads to rigs as well as mines, are likely to add to costs, particularly in localities, such as Eastern Siberia, where the major arteries are not well established, and must be driven over permafrost. As permafrost warms it loses this bearing capacity with a lowering of the ground strength by up to 70%.

(Note - I added the black trend line on the right just as a guide to illustrate the point)

Now if we recognize that the world is getting warmer, and look at the curve about the English Mean Temperature for the past 200 years (Parker, D.E., T.P. Legg, and C.K. Folland. 1992. A new daily Central England Temperature Series, 1772-1991. Int. J. Clim., Vol 12, p317-342) one sees that the temperature has been following a steady rise since about 1880, except for that drop-off that started in 1940, and which we also see in the temperatures of the Central US. So it seems reasonable to assume that the Arctic will get warmer in the short term, and so we should go back to the beginning of the Medieval Warming Period. At present, in Greenland it is, for example, not possible for wheat to grow.

Reading the Last Viking one can find out about the times of Eric the Red and the arrival of the Vikings and he takes us to the records of Ivar Bardson, who wrote

"On the mountains and lower down grow the best of fruits, as big as apples and good to eat. There also grows the best wheat that exists."
. I recognize that this differs from the history given of Greenland by Jared Diamond in Collapse but bear in mind that when he was quoting contemporary writers he was more focused the time that the Greenland society collapsed. For example in History of America before Columbus they write of orchards, and quote Bardson. Although Bardson was writing towards the end of the 350 years of the Greenland Settlement and and some 150 years after the temperatures had started to fall.

It is interesting, for those of us just naturally curious, to read the second part of the Last Viking since it includes a description of sea water freezing and creating what was known as “sea-lung.” It is also interesting to see, from his maps and aerial photo, where the Vikings went in their boats, relative to the current ice between the islands of North-East Canada.

The other curiously interesting thing I found was this passage from Professor Mandia’s writing.

Lamb (1995) describes a passage from Landnámabók, a book written in Iceland in the year 1125, that catalogs the settlement of Iceland. It was recorded that Thorkel Farserk, a cousin of Erik the Red who founded the colony, having no boat at hand, swam out across a fiord to fetch a sheep from the island of Hvalsey. The distance was over two miles. Lamb (1995) cites a medical endurance expert who established 10oC (50oF) as the coolest possible water temperature for a very strong man to survive swimming that distance. Given that the normal water temperature at present for that fiord in August is 6oF, the story suggests a much warmer climate than present. Lamb (1995) and Tkachuck (1983) both refer to old Norse burial depths being much greater in the past than today which suggests the permafrost was deeper (warmer climate) than at present.

Well this is all interesting stuff (it’s what happens when you follow a Google trail), but has taken me a fair way from where I wanted to go, which was essentially to inject a little concern that the warming of the permafrost is likely to have significant impact on the difficulties in developing the resources of the Eastern Siberian region, and may cause further delay, and increasing costs for those operations, at a time when their more rapid development may well, in light of European and American needs, be more helpful.

Changes in the permafrost, the behavior of the ice-pack and ice floes, and the possible re-opening of the Northwest Passage, which Viking ruins suggest occurred back in those days, will all both allow greater access to possible resources and potentially significantly increase the difficulty and cost in extracting those resources. When one puts these physical problems in with the political problems that I discussed yesterday, somehow I am not as confident of timely future supplies as others might be. UPDATE: I am grateful to Nick Rouse who drew my attention to the National Research Council Report Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years which discusses the Medieval Warming period and the Little Ice Age, and with diffidence let me quote from page 78

For central Greenland (Cuffey et al. 1995, Cuffey and Clow 1997, Dahl-Jensen et al. 1998), results show a warming over the last 150 years of approximately 1°C ± 0.2°C preceded by a few centuries of cool conditions. Preceding this was a warm period centered around A.D. 1000, which was warmer than the late 20th century by approximately 1°C. An analysis for south-central Greenland (Dahl-Jensen et al. 1998) shows the same pattern of warming and cooling, but with larger magnitude changes.
While there is not that much evidence to show that this was a global event (which requires matching temperatures, I suppose, in the Southern Hemisphere), there is the odd bit of evidence that the Roman Warming Period might have been global (ibid)
A borehole from Law Dome (Dahl-Jensen et al. 1999), in coastal East Antarctica, reveals a warming of approximately 0.7 °C from the middle 19th century to present (uncertainty of approximately 0.2 °C). This was preceded by a period of comparable warmth centered on 1500– 1600, a 1°C cooler period centered on 1300, and consistently warmer conditions prior to this (with temperature at A.D. 1 being approximately 1°C warmer than late 20th century). There is no apparent warming during medieval times at this site.
The relevant references are:
Cuffey, K.M., G.D. Clow, R.B. Alley, M. Stuiver, E.D. Waddington, and R.W. Saltus. 1995. Large Arctic temperature change at the Wisconsin-Holocene glacial transition. Science 270:455-458.
Cuffey, K.M., and G.D. Clow. 1997. Temperature, accumulation and ice sheet elevation in central Greenland through the last deglacial transition. Journal of Geophysical Research 102(C12):26383- 26396.
Dahl-Jensen, D., K. Mosegaard, N. Gundestrup, G.D. Clow, S.J. Johnsen, A.W. Hansen, and N. Balling. 1998. Past Temperatures Directly from the Greenland Ice Sheet. Science 282:268-271.
Dahl-Jensen, D., V. Morgan, and A. Elcheikh. 1999. Monte Carlo inverse modelling of the Law Dome (Antarctica) temperature profile. Annals of Glaciology 29:145-150.

Forget ye not the reddit and the digg buttons!

I never understood why people thought running pipelines and roads over soggy ground would be preferable to permafrost. Or cheaper.

This may be the sole reason (not the negative ROI) that the US national reserve does not completely pillage ANWR.

It may be difficult for our American friends to understand just how few roads there are in Canada.

Until just a few years ago, Canada's capital in Ottawa, Ontario, was not connected to Toronto, Ontario by a four lane highway.

As recently as 1960, anyone contemplating a trip from Toronto, Ontario to Vancouver, BC drove through the US. I drove with my parents by the Canadian route in 1962 and it was a truly primitive and terrifying experience.

As late as 1975 I would carry extra gasoline in jerry cans when traveling the Trans Canada Highway through northern Ontario. Even today, the vast majority of the Trans Canada Highway is two lanes, complete with traffic lights as it passes through hundreds of town.

Up north, by which I mean generally 200 miles from the US border, there are very few roads. We rely on bush planes and ice bridges for transportation. Most commercial pilots in Canada earn their stripes flying bush float planes, but only after a long stint loading oil drums.

As the ice bridge season in the Canadian and Alaskan arctic shortens the ability to perform exploration or any sort of resupply service is greatly diminished.

Were I to set out today on a road trip from Ottawa to Vancouver, I would get a paltry 30 miles before the four lane highway turned into the monotony of 50 mph two lane. And this week, I might just have trouble finding gas.

My wife and I took a road trip from approximately Toronto to BC, and then down through the states for the return trip (and to meet up with US friends). Just south of Thunder Bay appeared to be the worst section. Partially because of when we hit it; just as night was setting in, with rain and heavy fog. Twisting two lane roads along hill sides, sometimes with steep drop offs on the edge, and no lights. My wife's nght vision is horrible compared to mine, and as such, she was constantly scared over this part, as she couldn't see the road. If memory serve, around this area, there were even still road signs with distances in miles, as opposed to km.

While the two lane roads, and stop lights might not have been the ultimate sign of 1st world progress, once past Thunder Bay, they didn't feel unsafe, and there really weren't that many stop lights.

My greatest delight was in BC, about 5km before the trans canadian highway ended, we actually had to stop, as the road was covered in goats. Live goats, milling around, and not caring about us. We didn't try honking at them, as we weren't in a rush, and enjoyed watching them and grabbing some pics. 2km later, we had to slow, as suddenly a deer or elk ran by, followed about 5 seconds later by what we guess was a Coyote. Just one more km later, there was a black bear bumbling about in the ditch. It seemed more like some animal theme park, than the last few km of the TCH.

But of note, despite needing to stop for the goats, and stopping voluntarily for pics of the black bear, and this being the middle of the day, no one caught up to us from behind. There isn't enough traffic to require 4 lane roads in most of the TCH, and I'm actually rather glad that it wasn't overbuilt.

"highway turned into the monotony of 50 mph two lane."

Ah, the treasured blue highways. I often have wondered if we had kept these roads, instead of the interstate system, if our oil consumption wouldn't have been acre feet less. Forced us to keep the efficiency of rail, and more local production.

I traveled the Alcan to White Horse-Dawson and finally north about 15 years ago. The "bridge" over the Peace River in BC was truly fightening. The leg north to Inuvik, NWT, at the mouth of the MacKenzie, required 6 new tires. Shards of limestone and shale. That section had only one "station", no settlements, on its entire length. Luckily, it had our tire size. Return trip was a day and a half longer, as someone had inadvertently put diesel in a gas engine for a MacKenzie ferry. Nothing to do but wait on the roadside till parts could be summoned to fix.

doug fir,

Good question. While I love the speed one can make on the interstate, it is still fun to take the two lane. I recently skipped I-65 to make a trip from the Ohio River at the Brandenburg KY bridge to Indianapolis Indiana on the old state road 135. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I would not have realized what a rich and beautiful landscape and culture existed in Southern Indiana otherwise. Fascinating! The houses, the local town architecture (Salem and Bloomington alone are worth the whole drive) the landscape...enough, or I will want to drive it again! And miles of big empty!

It is so easy to forget how much empty space there is in America, how lucky we still are. 70% plus of the Americans live within an hour of the coast. I have only one question: WHY? :-)

That's o.k., though, becuase each day I read TOD and watch the news and hear of the endless problems of crowding, of water shortage, of terror of hurricane and sea level rise, of fantastically high real estate and housing prices....and almost all on the coasts. It has warped our national perception to the point that it is seen as a problem for the coastal U.S., it's seen as a problem for the world.

One marvels at what a beautiful trip the "outback" would have been by train....and how much fuel saved by hauling freight that way!
Times change, but not always for the better.

Remember we are only one cubic mile from freedom

Some of the information on this post serves to call into question the hypothesis of man-made global warming. It clearly establishes that the midieval climatic optimum was substantially warmer than present conditions in the arctic. It shows the recent warming trend beginning before CO2 began to rise, and then being interrupted by the sunspot cycle. This is consistent with the hypothesis that the world is still emerging from the little ice age, and that variations in solar radiation play a much larger role in climate change than is indicated in the IPCC report.

Be careful of strawman arguments.

I.e., if the Global Warming hypothesis (and we are talking here about the scientists, not necessarily the MSM) was: The reason the Earth warms is due to mankind's behavior --- then you would be correct to point out that the Middle century warming era would disprove that.

However, the real hypothesis is: Man's activities are perturbations ontop of the existing natural phenomenon, and that will lead to the Earth being warmer (or the climate somehow being different) than it otherwise would have been. Thus all the work on complex models, and fitting those models to measurements of Earth's past, and then playing out those models with different scenarios for future CO2 additions.

As I understand it, the IPCC attributes 80% of the current warming to increases in greenhouse gases, and 20% to variations in solar radiation.

You are correct that the theory is based upon the combined effects of anthropogenic and non-antrhopogenic factors. This was illustrated in the IPCC TAR (2001) and has been reinforcend in the AR4, WG1 document to be published online in May 2007.

Depending upon exactly how you do the math, with all the growth in Asia and India, half of ALL anthropogenic emissions of CO2 have occurred since about 1989-1990. Half of all GHG emissions (as CO2 equivalent) have occurred since 1985.

It is also important to remember that we are talking about global warming. There are at present, and doubtless were in he past, regional variations in warming. Just as Michael Crichton in State of Fear deceitfully uses the lack of recent warming in Punta Arenas to imply that global warming is not real whereas the the global average is most certainly climbing, contrarians are using Greenland to exaggerate the Medieval warming as a global event to imply that natural variation is the major cause of present warming and we do not have to worry about carbon dioxide. Here are some graphs from
Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The warm period in Greenland a thousand years ago is clear but not in West Africa.

I would also caution against using single references to extraordinary human feats in sagas that are full of them to reconstruct medieval temperatures.

Heading Out, I beg of you to consider the moral implications of continuing to throw doubt on the huge volume of scientific work that has gone into climate science. You are not a climate scientist and you have now put forward several items that imply doubt of these scientific findings that on examination reveal your faulty grasp of the facts. Upon our collective will to act on climate change depend the lives of millions of people. There are only too many people ready to grasp comforting untruths as a excuse for inaction. Please check your facts and the relevance of these facts to the overall picture with those that qualified to judge them.

Don't blame heading out. I was the one who read that into the data. Thanks for the link. I have been wanting to read that paper. The NAS report actually delivers a gentle rebuke to Mann and the hockey stick crowd, since it says that it is only plausible (i.e. possible) that the late 20th century was warmer than the medieval warming, but the data are too weak to reach a firm conclusion.
There are a couple of reasons why Greenland data might show more warming than other regions. One is that climatologists generally assert that warming trends are magnified in extreme latitudes. (I forget the reference, but it was in a discussion of the likelihood of melting ice caps.) The second is that the best data is from Greenland with the ice cores.
As an old forester, the one thing I actually know a little about is dendrochronology. I am very skeptical about tree rings as a temperature proxy because there are too many other variables. When you are trying to construct a record more than 500 years old, the number of specimens is so small that efforts to filter out noise inevitably become very subjective.

You lost me with the last paragraph. Anyone who is even a little bit skeptical will start to become paranoid if you try to shut off the discussion. The politicians deciding what to do about these issues are typically people with a bachelor's degree and an IQ of 120-130. You won't make any points if you belittle their ability to understand the science.

"The politicians deciding what to do about these issues are typically people with a bachelor's degree and an IQ of 120-130. You won't make any points if you belittle their ability to understand the science."

Many of them do have a bachelor's degree IN POLITICAL SCIENCE. Which does not give them a clue about scientific inquiry or statistical analysis(except for polls). Assuming they have a slightly higher than average intelligence because they have a college degree is facitious. Most of those you will find on this site have advanced degrees in the hard sciences(engineering, mathematics, physics, etc.) and actually do have higher than average I.Q.'s. Politicians have demonstrated time and again their unwillingness to recognized scientific conclusions contrary to their political positions. I doubt from lack of understanding but more from the fact that the conclusions are politically inconvienient.

At the risk of appearing more controversial I would insert this comment from the NRC report that you quote

Even less confidence can be placed in the original conclusions by Mann et al. (1999) that “the 1990s are likely the warmest decade, and 1998 the warmest year, in at least a millennium” because the uncertainties inherent in temperature reconstructions for individual years and decades are larger than those for longer time periods, and because not all of the available proxies record temperature information on such short timescales.

Since I was writing about the permafrost in Siberia it seemed germaine to look at the conditions in Greenland, and to quote contemporary reports of what the conditions were back in the period of the Medieval Warming, as opposed to what they are now. The lack of ice and permafrost then, and the transition to likely similar conditions in the future will probably significantly increase the costs of access to the oil and gas of Siberia. And I gave the basis for venturing that opinion (the costs of access to the mines of Northern Canada). I am not sure what particular fact you are saying that I have wrong.

Woo Hoo! The Oil Rush begins!

Maybe they wanted global warming to get that ice cap out of the way.

Well that was an interesting post, thanks.

As pointed out by posters above, the variation in rise (or not) of temperature since about 1850 in different places is not well charted, certainly not understood. (Afaik!) What is due to? a) particular temp. conditions on the ground, similarities between them world wide, or not, b) geological characteristics of the terrain, c) the ‘usual’ weather, including wind, d) human construction / activity upon it, e) all those other pesky differences...

About 6% of Swiss ground is permafrost, above 2,300 meters. It is melting, and in this mountainous territory, the first danger for human settlements is land and rock slides and unpredictable cracks.

abstract of scientific article

swiss info news

Some time ago the Russian Met Office (with help form some british scientist made an assesment of the effects of climate change on the Russian economy.

On the oil,- and gas industry

- half of the infrastructure is build on permafrost (rigs, pipelines, roads, homes of employees) and have to be rebuild.
- pipelines crossing rivers have to be strengthend because of floods

In an other section of the report the mention that (nuclear) powerstations will be switched of on warm summerdays when watertemperatures in rivers rice and can't cool enough.

You can find the report on

Peakoil Netherlands has just launched a research project on the way climate changes effects the oilindustry and viceversa.
Any tips and suggestion welcome.