Planning to ice skate on a local lake or river this winter? You may need to think twice, say scientists J. Magnuson, O. Jensen and B. Benson of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Their research is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Data came from newspaper archives, transportation ledgers and religious observances. From NSF News:

The records show that later freezing and earlier ice breakup occurred on lakes and rivers across the Northern Hemisphere from 1846 to 1995. Over those 150 years, said Magnuson, changes in freeze dates averaged 5.8 days per 100 years later, and changes in ice breakup dates averaged 6.5 days per 100 years earlier. The findings translate to increasing air temperatures of about 1.2 degrees Celsius each century.

In contrast to the observation that climate changes are occurring more rapidly at higher latitudes, said Benson, the greatest rate of change in ice breakup dates in the Great Lakes region is happening at lower latitudes, near the southern boundary of the area in which lakes are routinely ice-covered during winter.

Depending on how your browser is set, a picture might show up here:

Ice cover on lakes around Madison, Wisc., and throughout the northern U.S. has formed later each winter.  Credit: Peter W. Schmitz, Madison, Wisconsin Ice cover on northern lakes across the U.S. has formed later each winter.
Credit and Larger Version (this link is not working all the time for me)

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  1. You’d better tell everyone I saw yesterday with their trucks out on the lake that there’s no ice. We’ve got thousands of lakes here and the ice is coming in earlier and staying later. We’ve also had one of the coldest and snowiest winters we’ve had in a long time.

  2. Steve: Thanks for reading and for the comment.

    Presumably the ice-fishermen are all on line these days, so you did the right thing and warned them just by sending in your remarks.

    Are you questioning religion (the church records, etc.) or science (the observations)?

    There have been very heavy winter storms over much of the country, but there is a big difference between weather and climate. I’ll bet that scientists at the University of Wisconsin can recognize ice when they see it.

    So, my conclusion is that you are absolutely right, but so are they.

    Weather can be very local (this year, the big storms have “missed us by that much” (holding thumb and index finger about an inch appart and speaking in my best Maxwell Smart voice). Last year we weren’t so lucky (in summer or winter- well, I really mean last winter and two summers ago).

    Thanks again for the feedback. I’m sure you can email your observations to the Wisconsin scientists by searching for their names at

  3. I’d also point out that what they know about weather only allows them to project weather with some degree of accuracy only about 1 to 2 hours ahead. On a nice Wisconsin summer day, have you ever turned on the radio and they said it was raining and their wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Happens all the time here.

    Don’t believe me? Let’s do a test. Write down the five day forecast. Come back in five days and check the accuracy. If they got more than about 20% of it right, I’d be surprised. In fact, you have to give them such a wide margin of error that statistically it’s almost meaningless.

    So, how well do you think anyone can really do on predicting climate 10, 50 and a 100 years from now? It’s probably every bit as good as an economic forecast.

    Science just isn’t very good at making predictions and forecasts that have multiple influence factors. From what I understand, forecasting climate involves thousands of factors. So if I were a betting man, I’d give you odds that the predictions are wrong.

  4. Just read that it snowed in Bagdahd for the first time in anyone’s memory.

  5. Steve, short-term weather prediction is a mess. Nobody disputes that. It is not relevant to climate. Where I grew up (Tucson), it would rain on one half of a street and not on the other. That didn’t mean that the people who got rained on decided they weren’t living in a desert, after all, and that the scientists had gotten it all wrong.

    Going back through records is not the same as predicting the immediate weather. However, climate scientists use various models that incorporate the past and suggest the future climate (not weather).

    Climate predictions can be wrong, but presumably you believe that the sun will come up tomorrow. That is a prediction based on past behavior and scientific models.

    You can, of course, think what you like, but as long as you keep comparing weather and climate, you are comparing apples and oranges. That isn’t my humble opinion, that is a real scientific distinction. Your examples about weather just don’t apply. Again, that doesn’t mean that the climate predictions are correct, but it does mean that reasons you are using to dismiss them are not relevant.

    What is certainly correct is the set of observations reported. Those observations are open to interpretation. This report in the blog provides the interpretation of the data by certain, specific experts in the field. No more, no less.

  6. Reading is good for the brain, and scientific studies predict that people who read will learn things. I suggest that you read up on the difference between weather and climate, but that is just a suggestion.

    I’m afraid that saying science isn’t good at making predictions in complex systems is simply meaningless.

    Do you think that the solar system, with all the planets and the sun and the moons, is a simple system? Can you predict in 15 seconds where all the planets and their moons will be a 2:24 am tomorrow? My PC can do it in less than a second using scientific models.

    Do you think that the nucleus of an atom is simple? Can you predict what happens when two nuclei collide, or when a hydrogen atom is placed in a magnetic field? To those who understand these cases, they may be “simple”, but only because an enormous amount of science went into studying them and all their component parts, allowing predictions to be made.

    I’m not claiming that climate is easy to predict, just that your statement, which was completely generalized to all science, is meaningless.

    That doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate your contribution to the discussion. As I say from time to time, it is far more important for people who disagree to communicate than it is for people who agree to communicate, so thanks again for your continued contributions to this subject, and best wishes, Jim

  7. I think the examples of the sun rising and the planets is a lot easier to predict than climate. It really doesn’t change that radically. There might be a lot of variables that make it what it is.

    Try something like this. Water vapor is the number 1 greenhouse case. It’s around 95%. Try predicting the preciptation patterns for the world next year. How about predicting the cloud cover for the next five years.

    Here’s some more, try predicting when the supervolcano under yellowstone will go off.

    How about the next major meterior that’s large enough to affect the climate will hit the earth.

    Try predicting the next flurry of sun spot activity.

    Even your statement about what happens with two nuclei collide. Go back and look at the predictions before the first time it happened.

    Doing predictions of things that have already happened simply isn’t the same thing as having to predict something that hasn’t happened yet.

    Take something like sea level rise. Statistically the difference between 8″ and 23 feet is so large that it really doesn’t mean anything. It’s simply a guess. Melting ice in the arctic is only one factor to get that prediction. In fact, there’s a lot of disagreement on how you actually measure sea level.

    By the way, the sun really doesn’t really rise. It’s the earth rotation that makes it seem that way.

  8. Now you go and get all technical on me, after I decided to give you simple or simplistic examples based on your earlier comments. Well, all is fair. But, how do you know the sun doesn’t rise? You sure can’t tell without using science and its predictions.

    And, as for scientific predictions and how understanding improves after additional observation, that is generally true, which is why it is important for climate scientists to publish their observations, so they (and everyone else) can use them to make the best possible predictions that they can, now and in the future. The predictions may be different in 10 years. Now, they are what they are.

    There are examples where theory predicted things correctly before they could be observed. Specifically, with Einstein’s photoelectric effect, vacuum pumps were not good enough to make the experiment possible until years after his publication. Even with the atomic bomb, nobody new it would really work until it was tried- theory preceded observation, but was based on previous theories and other observations.

    However, many predictions are based on “attempting to develop models that explain the past and encompass the future.” Of course we know more after the fact than before the fact, whatever that fact may be. That doesn’t mean that predictions aren’t important. Even with the weather. You can always refuse to evacuate when the hurricane warning comes, or refuse to cancel your sailing trip when gale force winds are predicted. Just don’t expect the insurance company to answer your call.

    I don’t think we are having a debate here. I definitely hear what you are saying. I don’t think it is relevant. Perhaps you think my examples are irrelevant. So we have our own opinions.

    I’m not blogging this story because I plan on flying to England and placing a bet on which lakes in the US will freeze next year and which won’t. I blogged it because it is scientific news coming from the distinguished National Science Foundation and scientists it supports, and it is relevant to what I am interested in discussing on this blog. I’m delighted that you have taken so much time to discuss it with me.

  9. Hi Mr. Rosenbaum,

    The purpose of GW debate is to ask people use less fossil fuel. People like you maybe unable to understand the science behind GW debate. It is fine. For example, I still believe that the Earth is flat. Just open your eyes; you would see a flat Earth. Ha, Ha. I am smart.

    However, you should be able to understand that fossil fuel is limited. If you use up all the fossil fuel, what would your children do? Of course, you don’t need to worry about GW if you don’t have and will never have any children.

  10. StevenChen..
    I know the science on both sides of the argument. I even know the political and social movements behind each side.

    I think you should look up how much fossil fuel there really is. You might be surprised that there’s a supply for at least 200 years. Time to develop lots of alternatives. The technology is close to getting at all the oil shale in Colorado. That’s an extra 850 billion barrels. There’s also a lot more in the ocean which becomes attractive as prices go up.

    The big problem with the change is that it’s not just fuel supply it’s also distribution and the changes needed to actually use it. There’s no magic wand to make this happen quickly even if everyone wanted to. It’s a multi-decade challenge to change. While the earth might not be flat, we now know that the universe actually is. So all you curved universe people need to change your thinking.

  11. Mr. Rosenbaum,

    If you have children or plan to have children, you need to read my article, “What is a Sustainable Society?” at the following link:

    Otherwise, do whatever you want to do and leave us alone.

    Thank you.

  12. Thank you for the informative post. We’ve all heard this before, but we need to let it sink in.

    It does no good to argue over increments of “right and wrong.” The bottom line, in spite of weather variations, is climate change that effects all species. And a rapidly diminishing fossil-fuel supply. What does it matter whether it will last for 100 or 400 years? Earth and our progeny are in peril.

  13. For the people who could only count up to three, even five is very big number. One of them said that we do not need to worry about fossil fuel because it will last for forty years.

    They do not understand why we are so worried about the climate change because they have no ability to think anything beyond three (years).

  14. Keep in mind that your ability to predict anything more than a year out is almost zero. If in 1960 you tried to predict the world in 2000 or 40 years out, you would have been wrong.

    You can think ahead, but it won’t make youi right.

  15. Gentlemen, I appreciate the devotion and passion that you have brought to this discussion, but I must agree with Linda that arguing doesn’t serve a good purpose here. Debating is another matter, but I don’t see debate or “give and take” going on. Still, you are free to continue as you wish- this is a place where dissent and disagreement are welcome. In the spirit of debate:

    Steve, you continue to say a number of things that are true, but most of them just don’t seem relevant to me. I think that climate scientists would all agree that data and climate models have improved a lot since 1960, even if the individual scientists support conflicting models.

    As to knowing the future, you are correct that thinking ahead doesn’t guarantee anything. However, I have a hard time seeing that as a rationale for not thinking ahead. Furthermore, scientific prediction is far more than just thinking ahead. That still doesn’t guarantee anything, but it does make the predictions worth knowing about, and, in many cases worth acting on.

    As for your comments about predicting when a volcano will erupt, this seems particularly off the mark. The climate models I have read about and commented on explicitly incorporate volcano activity and other natural disasters on a statistical basis. That means that the models don’t need to predict the date of an eruption in order to encompass the results of that eruption (approximately, of course).

    If you mean that, in 1960, we couldn’t have predicted that China, Vietnam and the former USSR would be major trading partners, well, lots of people did predict that. Who knew they were right? Well, we do now, and it certainly wasn’t conservative pundits who made these predictions, as far as I can recall.

    Global warming is not a trivial subject or an obvious one, and these statements are true in many ways. What is obvious is the negative effects of pollution and of high energy consumption and high energy costs all over the world.

    Steve, you seem to be advocating that we simply ignore the environment. Does that mean you have a healthy appetite for pesticides and endocrine-disrupting chemicals? Perhaps you are a Guns ‘N’ Roses fan (Appetite for Destruction)?

    Steve, can you draw a line for us that indicates what, from health and environmental perspectives, you would preserve and what you would allow to be destroyed? Is it just “Let’s press on, business as usual?” or does your philosophy extend to “Let’s make sure we round up the environmentalists and send them to Guantanamo with the other enemy combatants?” I’m just trying to get your complete message here, I’m not trying to argue with you and claim you are wrong.

  16. The first point I was making was about the accuracy of predictions. In your example from 1960, you won’t find anyone predicting that China, Vietnam and Russia would be trading partners. In fact only China is today. In 1960, noone even heard of Vietnam. But if you look at the scientific predictions, noone really saw the future. In fact, even by the early 1980s noone really saw why anyone would want a computer in their home. That’s why HP turned down there rights to the early Apple.

    I could tell you a thousand things that everyone missed. No one thought an actor would be president. Even up to last year scientist thought the universe was curved and now they know is perfectly flat.

    So let’s assume that everything they say about the current state of climate change is right. The earth has warmed by 1 degree in the last 100 years and that man has made a contribution to that. What that means going forward is highly speculative. In fact, when you read the projections there is a huge range of possibilities. For example, the difference between a 8″ rise in sea level versus 23 feet is so large that it is statistically meaningless.

    The key decision is how and were to spend resources. The concept of opportunity cost is key. If you believe that climate change overwhelms everything else, then you make the choice to take it away from other issues and problems. There are a number of other things that have potential to end life as we now it but we’ve decided to focus on something else. For example, the last time a volcano the size of the one under Yellowstone went off, 3 feet of ash covered the sea bed on the other side of the world. That volcano was due to go off 250,000 years ago.

    With that in mind the point is, what can you realistically do while still addressing other priorities. If getting off fossil fuels is the answer, it isn’t a switch that you can turn off tomorrow. It’s a long and complicated problem that requires not only political will but technology and massive investment. As HL Menken wrote, “for every problem there is any easy solutions, simple, elegant and wrong.”

    Finally, here’s what I know about implementing and managing change. Those trying to lead the change have gone through the the thinking and analysis process and then are usually frustrated because others don’t see it their way. What they forget is that other people are way behind them in this process. If you don’t help them catch up, they will just ignore things and hope they go away. Therefore the most harmful thing to the climate change movement is the statement that the discussion is already over.

    The reality is that the discussion with the rest of the world hasn’t really gotten stated yet. Until that happens, you won’t see any significant changes.

  17. Mr. Rosenbaum,

    Have you noticed that more people are thinking about Climate Change now?

    I see a great movement toward Sustainability. The issue of Climate Change is just a wake up call for the people who are still sleeping.

    This generation has a choice to make. We can put the society in the Sustainable footing once for all. Or, we can keep what we are doing and let the future generations suffer the unthinkable.

  18. Your point that more people are thinking about it is correct. At the present rate, it may only take 10 or 15 more years before their is enough acceptance to do anything.

    Study of how people change tell us that around 15% of the population will be onboard and advocating change about the same number of actively resist it. The remaining 70% will do nothing and hope everything just goes away. It takes a lot to persuade the 70% to do something. This goes for any change.

    The chicken little or doomsday scenario is a hard one to sell.

    The idea of sustainable is a fairly abstract idea that lacks a concrete action plan for moving 6 billion people to action. In fact, we may be only one technological advancement away from changing the entire equation. According to Malthusian predictions we should have run out of food 100 years ago. He simply missed how modern agriculture changed things.

    Good luck on the sales job. I think you’re likely to get a lot of nodding heads that hope it all goes away.

  19. Now, you are talking, Mr. Rosenbaum.

    People will wake up. The question is that will they wake up in time to avoid the catastrophic setback.

    It is true that the original concept of Sustainability was fairly abstract. That is why I took the time to re-define the term. You should read my article. It is just one page long.

    I would hope that one or two technological advancement would save us all. However, I won’t bet on it until I see it.

    The modern agriculture didn’t solve the problem. All it did was to feed current population with the resources belong to our children. It is digging a bigger hole to cover a smaller hole.

  20. The one thing that struck me in your article is the concept of a stable earth or how things were perfect before man.

    If you look at the history of the earth going back millions or even hundreds of million year, you’ll find that the plant has been constantly changing and often hostile to life. These been a continous extinction of species and at times almost all life was snuffed out.

    There are also a lot of catastrophes on the horizon that we can’t control that could end life as we know it. These are all things that happened in the past and will happen in the future.

    For example, go back to 1816. It was know as the year with out summer. It was cold and snowed throughout the summer months in the Northern hemisphere. The cause? A year earlier Mount Tambora expoded and put volcanic ash around most of the world darkening the skies and blocking out sunlight. We had a smaller version of this when Mount St. Helens went off. These will be dwarfed when the Yellowstone Caldera goes, which is now 250,000 years past due.

    No matter where you are as you go back in time the landscape, climate and animal life changed frequently. It’s going to continue whether we like it our not.

    If you’re around 250 million years, here’s what you have to look forward to. As the continents continue to drift, the will create a single large continent which will create an ice age on most land surfaces wiping out all life. If you’re around in a billion years, the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxies will collide riping the basic fabric of everything.

  21. Just saw this news flash from the Copenhagen Press…

    Ice returns as Greenland temps plummet

    While the rest of Europe is debating the prospects of global warming during an unseasonably mild winter, a brutal cold snap is raging across the semi-autonomous nation of Greenland.

    On Disko Bay in western Greenland, where a number of prominent world leaders have visited in recent years to get a first-hand impression of climate change, temperatures have dropped so drastically that the water has frozen over for the first time in a decade.

    ‘The ice is up to 50cm thick,’ said Henrik Matthiesen, an employee at Denmark’s Meteorological Institute who has also sailed the Greenlandic coastline for the Royal Arctic Line. ‘We’ve had loads of northerly winds since Christmas which has made the area miserably cold.’

    Matthiesen suggested the cold weather marked a return to the frigid temperatures common a decade ago.

    Temperatures plunged to -25°C earlier this month, clogging the bay with ice and making shipping impossible for small crafts, according to Anthon Frederiksen, the mayor of the town of Ilulissat, where Disko Bay is located

  22. Thank you for reading my article. However, I wish you had read it more carefully. What I said was “The nature was not perfect. But, it was sustainable.”

    It is true that the Earth has been going constant changes. However, with rare exceptions, the changes were so slow that lives could adopt the change to avoid catastrophes.

    It is also true that there may be “a lot of” catastrophes on the horizon that we can’t control. However, those are just “maybes”. If they do occur, it could be millions years away. Without major changes, human caused catastrophes are real, for sure, and close by.

    Of course, for the people who don’t have any children, they don’t need to worry.

  23. There are all sorts of examples of catastrophic events that happened so fast no one could adjust. These include volcanos, earth quakes, hurricanes and tsunamis. In only a few hours land masses and populations dissappear. Often without warning. They often have a big effect on climate for years after.

    As for adapting to longer term change, there are actually more example of populations refusing to adapt and either being wiped out or nearly wiped out. During the dark ages, the spread of the plague, hunger and famine were caused by the little ice age which lasted from the 1300s to 1850. It nearly wiped out European populations that refused to change the crops they grew and wiped out the Vikings in Greenland because they refused to change their ways.

    All it takes is a slight wobble in the earths orbit or a change in the path of the orbit which happens on a regular basis and the climate changes dramatically. They used to grow oranges in Georgia but it’s too cold now. They used to catch a lot of fish on the Montery Pennisula but they’ve left for warmer waters. That’s why cannery row doesn’t exist any more.

    Sun spots, changes in the earth magnetic field and dozens of other factors that aren’t related to anything man does all change the climate and can do so rapidly.

    So the point is, to be sustainable you need to be prepared to live in a rather volatile and often hostile environment that can change on a dime.

  24. How to prepare? Using up all the resouces belong to our children and future generations?

  25. You prepare by investing in technology and other advancements. The resources you need change a long with those advancements. The resources future generations use may be very different than today. For example, with hydrogen fuel cells we have almost an unlimited supply of energy. We’re not running out of hydrogen very soon. There are even sources of energy that noone’s thought of yet. It just takes time. The pass of techological change is happening faster than any time in history. In 20 to 50 years, it will be a different world.

  26. I agree that investing in (clean) technology is the only way out in the long run. We should focus on the renewable energy such as solar, wind, and etc.

    However, do you think we should conserve (use less) fossil fuels before those “wonderful” technologies could provide our children with endless “clean” energy?

    By the way, hydrogen technology does not produce “new” energy. All it does is converting other energy (solar, wind, biomass, fossil fuel) into Hydrogen energy. So, it is not an energy solution.

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