Arctic warming 1918/19. Did naval warfare contributed – Part II

By Arnd Bernaerts
Full text in PDF: HERE (1 MB)

Reference Part II: The previous Arctic warming started in winter 1918/19, in the sea area between Spitsbergen and Fram Strait. This important fact was established in a recent paper titled: “The start of the previous Arctic warming 90 years ago”, while the discussion of the causation of this event was announced to be done in a subsequent paper. By reference to the previous paper it is regarded as an established fact that the Arctic winter warming from
13[1]1919 to 1940 (EAW) was caused and sustained by the sea (see: Causation I & II), which does not answer the question of causation: Was it natural variability, or did human activities contributed? As neither the reason, nor the mechanism is known, it was suggested to discuss it separately (Causation III). The following discussion is taking up the thread and trying to bring more light to the most interesting aspect, whether an anthropogenic element had been a part of causing the early Arctic warming (EAW). Fig.13

Figure 1 to 12 refer to the previous paper.
Figure 13 to 25 are related to this paper.
Details in the figures in the annex

Introduction: Analysing the causation and mechanism for the EAW faces two fundamental problems, which the interested reader should be aware of. On the one hand the acknowledgement of the influence of the ocean on all atmospheric processes is still in an infancy stage. How many people and scientists consider weather and climate matter in the relevant dimension between a sea water and an air column, which is in cubic-meter 3 to 10’000. This means, that one degree temperature taken from the 3 cbm water volume, the atmosphere above, over 10 kilometres, can be warmed by one degree. If the air surface layer over 100 metres has a humidity of 100%, the one degree from the 3 cbm water-column could inject into the layer the amount of 100 degree. On the other hand for the Arctic in the early 20th Century there are virtually no direct observation available, very few air temperature data series, and not any on ocean temperatures, neither from the sea surface, nor from any lower sea levels.

However, few, but very important circumstances are established and build the foundation for the further analysis:

1. The First World War (WWI) lasted from August 1914 to November 1918. Since summer 1916 naval war activities and effectiveness increased significantly due to new weapon systems and mass production.
2. The Arctic temperatures (north of 70°N) between 1915 and 1917/18 were particularly low ( Fig. 3, 4, and 13). North Europe experienced a very cold winter 1916/17, which was the third coldest in Great Britain during the last century1.
3. A highly unusual sea icing in the North Atlantic occurred in summer 1917, when for the only time in 110 years (1901-2010) the ice covered all sea area off Spitsbergen in April, thereon extended far south in May and June, and only retreated in July 1917 (Fig.9-12, and 24).
4. Record high increase in winter temperature on Spitsbergen in the winter 1918/19, which sustained for two decades. (Fig. 7 and 21)

While the close timing of the four events within a very short time period is self-evident, it is not immediate obvious that their interdependence is also very close. From a geographical point of view it looks as if the mentioned events, which cover a sea area from the English Channel, along the Norwegian coast up to the Fram Strait with a bit more than 2000 kilometres (Fig.14), but with the regard to the sea this distance does not exist. In practical terms of oceanology the distance between Scotland and Spitsbergen is zero, as by far the most of all sea water which was once around Great Britain, reaches the front garden in the west of Spitsbergen, within a small time lag of a couple of weeks or several months.

14[1] 15[1]

Fig. 14; Major naval battle areas

Fig. 15; U-Boat activity area


16[1]The initial making of the EAW is not a global issue, and it is neither a North Atlantic issue, but related to a small corridor in the east of the northern North Atlantic (Fig.16), which function more like a single spot, rather than a long geographical stretch due to the permanent flow of a current in only one direction, from south to north, from the UK to the Arctic Ocean (Fig.8 and 16). Fig.16

The possible nature of causation. Although we have some strongly correlated events it does not tell very much about the causation, or as presumably required in our case, about the chain of causation. On the other hand there is no causation without correlation, and what should not be ignored, that the more strings and circumstances are pointing into one direction, the more it is rectified to take any correlation serious. That is what good science should be all about. Unfortunately earth science is far away from acknowledging fundamental aspects, which would have made it much easier to present the case. Although it would make little sense to include them in the later reasoning, they shall at least be mentioned briefly:

  • Long term average weather (climate) is the blue print of the ocean. The influence is a matter of the conditions of the water column (e.g. heat and salinity), and a time factor.  For a full investigation of the mentioned events, one would presumably need may millions data along the stretch from the English Channel to the Atlantic section of the Arctic Ocean. There are extreme few sea surface data available, and none from lower sea levels.

  • Until now science has very little knowledge of what kind of human activities at sea (e.g. shipping, fishing, offshore platform) might have an impact on atmospheric conditions. Even naval war activities, which is a very sudden, and forceful penetration in the marine environment, has not reached science.

  • Neither can any benefit be drawn from the fact, that the First World War and the Second World War (WWII) came up with a number of similar weather pattern in Europe, as science has done irresponsible little research in this respect. That becomes evident if one takes note of an observation by A.J. Drummond at the Kew Observatory (London) published in 1943:  “Since comparable records began in 1871, the only other three successive winters as snowy as the recent ones (1939/40, 1940/41, and 1941/42) were those during the last war, namely 1915/16, 1916/17 and 1917/18, when snow fell on 23%, 48% and 23%, of the days, respectively”2.

If meteorology and oceanology would have done sufficient observation and research on each of the three mentioned subjects, the question what actually caused the EAW would presumably have been answered since long: the ocean and naval war contributed, by a small, medium, or by a big margin.Â

A brief chronology of four years naval war. Â
Four years naval war can not be pressed in one brief paragraph. However it should be recognised that a naval war of the magnitude of WWI has a much more serve dimension as other ocean uses over comparable or even much longer time periods. A particularly decisive factors is the suddenness, and the intensity over considerable depths with regard to the temperature, and salinity structure. This are the two main factors of concern, while any other kind of interference, e.g. by pollution, is not subject of this analysis, as it is, for me, completely out of reach to quantify and verify its relevance.
August 1914 to Autumn 1916: The first two war years are presumably irrelevant for initiation of the EAW toward the end of the war. The sea areas affected were the Baltic Sea, the route to Murmansk, and all waters around Great Britain (Fig. 14 & 15). What interested meteorologist could have realised that it was not difficult to observe that bigger naval encounter immediately influenced the local weather conditions, from good visibility to mist, dust, fog, or rain due to moving from ‘hither and thither’ and shelling. For example it happened off the coast of Scarborough on the 16th of December 1914, and during the biggest sea battle ever, the Jutland Battle close to the Skagerrak, on 30 May and 01 June 1916, about Winston Churchill brilliantly narrates in his book “The World Crisis 1911-1918″ (p. 251-272, and 599-651).

17[1] 18[1]

Fig. 17, Sea Mines general
situation in 1918

Fig. 18, Sea Mines, “Northern
Barrage”, since April 1918


Autumn 1916 to November 1918: The naval war machinery went in full gear since summer 1916, due to new weaponry and mass production.  From now to the end of 1917 the Allies lost, a ship tonnage of about 7’000’000 tons, which means every month between 70 and 350 ships (April 1917) that correlates perfectly with the exceptional summer sea icing in the North Atlantic during the months April to July 1917.

During the remaining 10 full war months in 1918 the Allies lost another 2’500’000 tons. The total loss of the Allies ship tonnage during WWI is of about 12,000,000 tons, or about 5,200 vessels. Somewhat five million tons of cargo and store must have been on board of the sinking ships. The total loss of all naval vessels (battle ships, cruisers, destroyers, sub-marines, and other naval ships) amounted to 650, respectively 1,200,000 tons. How many ammunition, shells, torpedoes, and bombs were used in countless encounters is impossible to verify.

Not less than 200’000 sea mines were placed (Fig.17), of which about 75’000 had been used to build the Northern Barrage between Orkney Island and Norway during summer 1918 (Fig.18). Only few months later the temperatures at Spitsbergen went into a steep rise that became the EAW.

Brief overview of some sea and weather observation.
As the assumption of a comparability between a number of weather conditions during WWI and WWII is not yet a settled issue, and it is not possible to be discussed here, a few aspects shall nevertheless be mentioned in chronological order. This is merely done to indicated that a thorough analysis of the entire period could be of considerable help to understand the reasons of the EAW better.Â

__(A)  The Arctic temperature record north of 70°North indicate a period of slightly lower temperature between 1915 and 1918.(Fig. 2, 3, and 13). See also: Fig 22 (SST,  NW of Scotland; and Fig. 23 (SAT, Thorshaven/Faroe Is.).

__(B) The famous icy winter battle in Masuria (north-eastern Poland) in February 1915 between the German Army and the Russian Tenth Army, caused the German Field Marshall Hindenburg to question: “Have earthy beings really done this things or is all but a fable or a phantom”, (citation from: NYT, 07 January 1942)

__(C) The winter 1916/17 was one of the very cold winters in Northern Europe.

  • The German attack on Verdun started on February 21st 1916 with one million troops; the battle became the longest of WWI and ended on December 18th 1916. French and German Army lost several hundred thousand men each. From a climatic perspective it is to note that close battle field regions had been wetter than usual, e.g. Baden had been 30% more precipitation, in the Black Forest rain was even 50-80% higher than normal.

Along all coastal areas of Great Britain the winter season 1916/17 (DJF) was the coldest for about two decades (e.g. Fig. 19) including Thorshaven/Faroe Island (Fig. 23), also along the eastern side of the North Sea up to Norway (Torungen Fry), while for example the record at Aberdeen/Scotland had a similar cold season only a few years earlier.

19[1] 20[1]

Fig.19; Air Temp.(DJF)

Fig.20; Sea Surface
Temperature in the
English Channel, 1904-1927

  • For Great Britain it had been the third coldest winter during the last century (together with war winter 1939/40). All three winter months were beneath 2.0C.3

  • The sea surface temperatures in the English Channel had been the coldest between 1903 and 1927 (Fig.20).

  • On Spitsbergen the months February, March, April, and May 1917 had been the coldest ever recorded.4

21[1]__(D) The Baltic Sea sea-ice conditions extended during the war each year until naval war activities ended with the Russian Revolution in October 1917. The sea-ice cover during the winter 1917/18 was immediately much less. (Fig.21)
Fig. 21

__(E) At least one report exist claiming that the sea water at the west coast of Spitsbergen had shown unusual high temperatures in summer 1918. (Weikmann, 1942)5

__(F) During the Spitsbergen winter of 1918/19 the temperatures varied considerably. There were long periods in November and December 1918 with temperatures close to zero degrees, 4 days with temperatures above zero in November and 7 days in December. In January 1919, the temperatures did not reach –5°C for 14 days, and five days were frost-free.6 __(F) The Fisheries Research Service/Aberdeen took sea surface temperatures in the Scotland – Faroe Channel that show a dramatic drop from about 1914 to 1920 (Fig. 22), whereby the timing is, based on the SAT from Thorshaven (Fig. 23), actually from 1914 to 1919 as the air temperatures level from 1914 is already reached again in 1920 (Fig.23).

22[1] 23[1]

Fig. 22; SST Scotland-
Faroe Channel

Fig.23; Air Temp.
Thorshaven /Faroe Is.

__(G) The Russian scientist Jules Schokalsky informed the Royal Scottish Geographical Society in  1935: “The branch of the North Atlantic Current which enters it by way of the edge of the continental shelf round Spitsbergen has evidently been increasing in volume, and has introduced a body of warm water so great, that the surface layer of cold water which was 200 metres thick in Nansen’s time (1895/96), has now been reduced to less than 100 metres in thickness.”7

This few mentioned situations should just give an idea that there might be many hundred other suspicious weather or sea observations, which meteorology should identify and analyse for a fully understanding of the WWI interconnection between naval war and weather conditions .

Causation III: Which evidence is possible, or sufficient to draw a link to naval warfare?

As the data required to present a 100% proof are missing to 99,999%, namely ocean data over considerable time periods, space, and depths in many millions, and because only few air temperature data are available, a full proof in out of question. Ideally we seek “empirical evidence”, that is the basic practice of science, which relies on direct experience or observation in order to describe or explain phenomena.  In a strict sense it requires that observations are being potentially replicable, a non option for the EAW case. On the other hand it was possible to list a number of observations and phenomena, which are closely linked by time, space, and exceptionality, to a strong force, namely naval warfare, and to one or more effects, e.g., unusual sea and air temperatures in 1917 & 1918, the North Atlantic sea ice in summer 1917 (Fig. 9-12, and 24), and the temperature jump at Spitsbergen during winter 1918/19 (Fig.25). That is not a proof of a causality, but the closer, stronger, and comprehensive the observation correlate with each other, it can reach a stage of a “prima facie evidence”. Prima facie denotes evidence which – unless rebutted – would be sufficient to prove a particular proposition or fact8.Fig. 24


Our case is strong in at least two aspects, which can not be rebutted with reference to “natural variability”, namely:

  • The extensive sea icing in the North Atlantic in summer 1917, that happened only this time during the last 110 years, and

  • The sudden Arctic winter warming 1918/19 (in the Atlantic section), which was presumably the highest temperatures rise in the Arctic ever recorded.

If these events shall be regarded as ‘natural’, the claimants of such assertion need to prove that this happens frequently, and that they are able to compare it with other observation of a same or similar nature. If they remain silent, they have to accept that the naval war thesis is a serious option and a necessity to investigate.

With regard to the summer sea ice 1917, it is very difficult to name a possible cause. One can exclude that the icing had been generated from atmospheric conditions, and if, than only marginally, as the sea off Spitsbergen was still ice free in March, which only ended in April at a time the sun has already influence9. Also any assumption that favourable conditions for icing could have come from the ocean interior seem a to remote possibility. Considering a link to naval warfare would require to come up with pollution, in a way that indicates to conditions that favour icing conditions, a matter completely out of reach for this paper. That is a task of universities and institutions, and is in the responsibility of governmental departments in charge of climate change matters.

Concerning the sudden temperature shift in winter 1918/19, my consideration starts with the observation by Jules Schokalsky, that between about 1895 and 1935 the body of warm water (West Spitsbergen Current) was so great, that the surface layer of cold water of 200 metres was reduced to less than 100 metres in thickness (see above). This observation leaves two options for the process that happened over the time span of 40 years:

  • the decrease of thickness over 100 meter occurred gradually, e.g. about 2,5 meters per year, or

  • it happened within a very short time span, with an initial push during a couple of months prior, and during winter 1918/19, causing a significant shift that lasted for two decades.

All circumstance leave little room for not taking the push option, but to assume a kick off situation.
25[1]Although the push-option could have started as early as in winter 1916/17, it seems only remotely possible that any major influence could have been coming from the low winter air temperatures between Europe and Spitsbergen. The starting point is more likely the summer sea ice in 1917 (Fig.24), by setting ocean internal process in motion, which is unfortunately completely out of reach for any consideration here. But there is at least the information that the SST at Spitsbergen in summer 1918 had been unusual high, and the extraordinary low SST in the Scotland – Faroe Channel (Fig. 22) in the second half of the 1910s, making it virtually impossible to assume ‘natural variability’ by a complete ignorance of the naval war. Fig. 25

In support of ‘prima facie’ it shall be once more repeated what has already been outlined in the previous paper, that there was nothing in “the air”, for example a volcanic eruption, or a major earth quake, or a tsunami, or a meteorite plunging on land or into the sea, which could have caused the sudden temperature shift in the high North. Instead there was a devastation war in Europe, and huge naval activities which penetrated deeply huge sea areas, of which the water masses all ended up after a short period of time where the shift commenced.

The Arctic warming from 1920-1940 is one of the most puzzling climatic anomalies of the 20th century, says Bengtsson, et al., 200410. Meanwhile, the time available for science was more than 90 years, but they are not even able to reckon that the early Arctic warming (EAW) commenced within a very short period during which a number of strange meteorological observation could be made, e.g. in Europe (winter temperature), in the North Atlantic the summer sea ice in 1917, and the temperature shift at Spitsbergen in winter 1918/19, which is topped by a simultaneously operation of a disastrous naval warfare in a huge sea area around Great Britain. Due to the prevailing ocean current system, the assumed cause (naval warfare), and the observation in the northern North Atlantic and the adjacent Arctic Ocean sector, the human activities and the significant meteorological changes occurred, practical at one and the same location, in the northern North Atlantic and adjacent Arctic Ocean sector.
The circumstances are so numerous and closely interrelated, and the two major events in the North Atlantic are so exceptional, that it is time that atmospheric science solves the puzzle, or rebut the prima facie evidence that the naval war contributed. Regardless whether the role of naval war during WWI had been only marginal, medium, or considerable, for a science that talks about the danger of climate change it is irresponsible not to know precisely, the circumstances of the EAW, why it happen and why it stayed from winter 1918/19 to winter 1939/40, and whether man did contribute by a naval war in Europe.

Full text in PDF: HERE (1 MB)

  1. Web page: t.a.harley;
  2. A.J. Drummond (1943), “Cold winters at Kew Observatory, 1783-1942″; Quarterly Journal of Royal Met. Soc., No. 69, 1943, pp 17-32).
  3. Web page: t.a.harley;
  4. See: Spitsbergen data 1912 – 1926 at: Annex A ; and  Isfjord Radio data 1912-1976 at:GISS-NASA
  5. Weickmann, L.; ‘Die Erwaermung der Arktis’, Berlin, 1942.
  6. See: “Arctic Heats Up”, page 60, (Further Reading).
  7. Schokalsky, J. (1936); ‘Recent Russian researches in the Arctic Sea and the in mountains of Central Asia’, in: The Scottish Geographical Magazine, Vol. 52, No.2, March 1936, p. 73-84.
  8. See:
  9. To rely in this situation on the very cold Spitsbergen temperature from February to May 1917 (the lowest ever recorded), could prove to be tricky, as much lower air temperatures can be assumed inevitable from the moment the usually sea ice free tongue of Spitsbergen was gone in April, which lasted until July 1917.
  10. Bengtsson, Lennart (2004), Vladimir A. Semenov, Ola M. Johannessen, The Early Twentieth-Century Warming in the Arctic-A Possible Mechanism, Journal of Climate, October 2004, page 4045-4057.

Further Reading:
___Book (2009)__ “Arctic Heats Up. Spitsbergen 1919 to 1939″;
___Paper (2010)__“Indian Drought and North Atlantic 1917 & 1918″(PDF, 1MB)
___Paper (2009)__“The Circumstances of the Arctic Warming in the early 20th Century”(PDF, 0,9MB)
___Home Page___

__Fig. 13; Redrawing of data from Nasa-Giss & junkscience image.
__Fig.14-17, Various sources, and from the material indicated in Further Reading.
__Fig. 18; The layout is based on information from: Daniels, Josephus; (1920); ‘The Northern Barrage’, No.2 (The Northern Barrage and other mining activities), No.4, The Northern Barrage – Taking up the mines), Publication, Navy Department,
Washington Government Printing Office, 1920.
__Fig. 19; Air temperatures Scarborough/UK data from Nasa-Giss.
__Fig. 20; Based on data fromLumby, J.K..; (1941); ‘Seasonal changes of water temperatures with depth’; Quarterly Journal Royal Meteorological Society, Vol. 67, July 1941, p. 234-238.
__Fig.21; Drawing based on data from Finnish Marine Research 1988, at page 91 of the book “Arctic Heats Up”.
__Fig. 22; Data source: Fisheries Research Service/AberdeenAnd a redrawing of material at:, Harald Yndestad,Aalesund university college,
__Fig.23: Based on Nasa-Giss data
__Fig.24; Source as indicated, and at page 91 of the book “Arctic Heats Up”.
__Fig. 25; based on material by: Hesselberg, Th., Johannessen, T. Werner; (1958); in: R.C. Sutcliffe, ed.; ‘Polar Atmosphere Symposium – Part I, Meteorology Section; Symposium at Oslo 2-8 July 1956, London, pp. 18ff; Figure 2.