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Australia’s ABC says Heard Island is a ‘canary in a cage’ for climate change – but investigation shows the claim is patently absurd

Australia’s ABC News and Marty McCarthy not only jumps the shark, but makes a mockery of science reporting.

Ross Hyland writes to Climate Depot (which was forwarded to me for analysis) about a claim about climate change on a tiny volcanic island called Heard Island, not far from Antarctica.

This article in Australia’s ABC has this to say about the McDonald Islands, which are actively volcanic, with Heard island having a very active volcano:

The “Big Ben” active volcano on Heard Island. At 2,745 meters, it is 517m taller than Mount Kosciuszko, giving it the little-known title of the tallest mountain in Australian-owned territory excluding Antarctica.

From the ABC article:

Even if you could get to Australia’s most remote island, chances are you still wouldn’t quite see it.

The little-known landmass, Heard Island, hides in dense cloud for around 360 days a year.

The rare few who do reach this distant wonder are more likely to hear the gurgle of molten rock bubbling up through the island’s violent core.

The active volcano on Heard Island, known as Big Ben, is adorned with vast glaciers stretching to the crashing waves of the ocean far below.

With cloud cover 360 days a year, that’s a far greater climate forcing than the “greenhouse effect” could ever be on the island. But, then there’s the volcano to consider.

PHOTO: A map showing the location of Heard Island and the McDonald Islands. (ABC: Kate Doyle)

Here’s the claim in the ABC article, bold mine:

Tiny Heard Island is technically part of Australia and has our tallest mountain ( little known fact).  It sits on a complex array of deep rooted volcanic activity (about halfway to the Earth’s core).  It’s a violent, dangerous place to visit. In 1996-97 the island doubled in size due to a huge eruption.

A land of ‘fire and ice” it has flowing lava and flowing glaciers.

Amazingly, climate change scientists are claiming this hellish place as a sort of sentinel or “canary in a cage” for their cause. They claim to know that  the average temperature on Heard Island has increased 1 degree C in summer and 0.8 degree C in winter. They study the movement of glaciers (presumably as they flow over lava fields) to see what man’s CO2 contribution has done to them.

Umm, right. Glaciers flowing over newly created lava fields, what could possibly happen there? But, let’s blame CO2 and the greenhouse effect and forget about that 360 days of cloud cover!

PHOTO: The McDonald Islands group has doubled in size over the past 30 years due to volcanic activity. (ABC: Kate Doyle)

Also amazingly, in their rush to pin it on the universal bogeyman known as climate change, they don’t seem to connect the dots between active volcanism and local temperature increases, or glacier retreat. Without even considering glaciers flowing over new hot lava fields as a contribution to retreat, with the island doubling in size and character due to eruptions, something as simple as a terrain change can affect local wind patterns and thus precipitation deposition on glaciers, and they then begin to sublimate. Al Gore made the same dumb mistake by claiming Mount Kilimanjaro’s glacier loss was due to climate change, when in fact it was a change in local terrain which affected precipitation patterns on the mountain, and the glaciers sublimated away.

Also oblivious is the Australian Government in their discussion of the issue on the web page they established for the island.

“Meteorological records at Heard Island are incomplete, but there is considerable evidence that the local climate is changing. Observations at Atlas Cove indicate an increase in average annual air temperature of almost 1°C between the periods 1948–1954 and 1997–2001. This mirrors similar changes interpreted from observations at nearby Îles Kerguelen and elsewhere in the southern Indian Ocean.”

Gosh. So let me get this straight. The island doubles in size in 1997 due to a major volcanic eruption, which necessarily put out lots and lots of hot lava that can take years, even decades to cool:

Thick stacks of lava flows (30 m or 100 ft thick) can take years to cool completely.   An extreme example is a lava flow that was erupted in 1959 and partly filled a pit crater (Kilauea Iki). The “ponded” flow was about 85 meters thick (about 280 ft thick). It was drilled in 1988, and there was still some mushy, not-quite-solid stuff down near the bottom, 29 years after it erupted!


…and using a small fragment of climate weather data, these folks don’t think twice about it affecting local air temperature? What an abject failure of science and science reporting.

I’m guessing the volcanologists who study Heard Island put a meteorological station on the island to monitor what’s going on…and from that we get the 1997-2001 dataset (which is not public AFAIK). The volcanologists aren’t tracking climate change, but are more interested in winds and temperature for plume predictions and other terrestrial purposes. But like weather stations at airports, designed only to monitoring runway conditions, the data gets co-opted for climate pronouncements by the media that can’t tell the difference between good weather data and weather data not fit for climate purpose.

What is even more ridiculous in naming this island a “canary for climate change” is using two short data periods of 6 years ending in 1954 and 4 years ending in 2001 to deduce climate change on an active volcanic island. That is patently absurd.

This nearby island they mention in the ABC article, about 300 miles away from Heard Island, Kereguelen, has a GHCN climate station at Port Aux-France:

It also has incomplete climate records, but far more complete that Heard Island. The data according to NASA GISS:


Data here:

I don’t see any big climate change there. There’s some trend from about 1965 to 1987 then a break, followed by another in what appears to be a relative flat period of normal temperature fluctuations. I’m guessing a station move occurred, so who knows if that data even is valid? For all we know,it might be right next to the diesel generator that powers the village. Note the bank of fuel tanks in the left hand side of this image from the Wikipedia article:

Port-aux-Français, Island of Kerguelen. Image: Wikipedia

What’s certain is that pocket of humanity needs heat to stay alive in the winter, and waste heat UHI in polar climate outposts/towns is a real thing, which is documented in Barrow Alaska, not that dissimilar from Port Aux-France. For all we know, that up-slope of temperature from about 1965 to 1987 may have been due to expansion of the community using more fuel and generating more waste heat. You just can’t be sure because you can’t disentangle it from the data.

Plus there are studies that show shifts in ocean currents around Antarctica have been responsible for what some rush to blame on “climate change”. But, telling us an active volcanic islands brief fragments of temperature records represent “climate change”, especially after a massive eruption doubled the size of the island with hot lava that can take years to cool is an epic distortion of science.

ABC should retract this story, and admonish the writer Marty McCarthy for failure to check basic facts. At the very least, put a note about the claim about this island being a canary for climate change as being unsupportable and absurd in the story.