Aug 132012

I have an article up on Spiked today about the melting Greenland ice cover story from a few weeks back.

‘Satellites see Unprecedented Greenland Ice Sheet Melt’, announced a press release on 24 July from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institution of Technology. Satellites that constantly scan environmental conditions on the planet’s surface had revealed that from 8 July to 12 July, 97 per cent of the surface of the ice sheet contained water rather than ice, whereas typically just 45 per cent of the surface area melts at this time of year. The extent of this melt is not in itself significant – just millimetres on top of an ice sheet that is 3.5 kilometres thick at its deepest point, most of which soon refreezes.

In spite of the headline, the press release itself went on to explain how the ‘unprecedented’ extent of surface ice melt wasn’t, in fact, unprecedented. ‘Ice cores from Summit [a central Greenland station] show that melting events of this type occur about once every 150 years on average. With the last one happening in 1889, this event is right on time’, said Lora Koenig, a NASA researcher involved in the analysis of the satellite data.

I had long and interesting chat with sea ice researcher at the Open University, Mark Brandon before writing the article. Mark and I probably disagree about a number of things, but on the expectations of science, we did seem to find some common ground. What emerged most strongly for me was that, in the current atmosphere of the climate debate, the possibilities of doing ‘value free’ research are greatly reduced: any scientific development which paints a picture of things being better or ‘worse than we thought’ has immediate implications for the debate.

Coincidentally, just before the article was published, the Today Programme on BBC R4 had a feature on some ongoing scientific research:

Preliminary results from a European Space Agency satellite measuring the thickness of Arctic ice suggests it is melting faster than previously thought.

Seymour Laxon of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling said the thickness of the ice could now be measured to an accuracy of 10cm (3.5in).

He said there has been a “very strong decline” in the thickness of the ice, and if the current trend continues, the Arctic could be ice-free on a summer’s day by the end of the decade.

Any suggestion that Arctic ice — summer sea ice, to be precise — is ‘melting faster than previously thought’ should raise the question ‘how fast did you think it was melting?’ As I discussed in the article, according to ‘scientists’, the Arctic would be ice-free next year.

Although it is good to see scientists engaging critically with climate alarmism, such corrections seem to have limited potential. Although climate activists and politicians have emphasised the scientific consensus on climate change, their alarmism has found its expression in the public sphere after press releases announcing scientific claims. These press-released stories often turn out not be based on research but on opinion or guesswork. For instance, in 2007, when Arctic sea ice reached its lowest extent since 1979, a rash of speculation followed about when the ice might disappear altogether. In 2008, the Observer happily reported that 2013 would be the date of the ice cap’s demise, according to just one researcher’s claim.

But this turned out to be mere guesswork, as did other estimates of the future of Arctic sea ice, which put the date of disappearance much further into the future. The fact of this speculation was lost by journalists emphasising the scientific credentials of those doing the guessing; it was guesswork, but it was scientists’ guesswork.

And so it was, once again, that the narrative of doom preceded the science. ‘Preliminary results’ should not be interesting to any news desk. ‘Preliminary results’ are not results. And the interview proceeded, to abandon any attempt to reflect on the story critically, or to ask what the significance of the story really is. Ditto, the following headline from the Observer

Rate of Arctic summer sea ice loss is 50% higher than predicted
New satellite images show polar ice coverage dwindling in extent and thickness

The BBC’s Roger Harrabin tweeted,

Potentially alarming analysis of Arctic ice from UCL. Seymour Laxon interview on Today Prog. The experiment continues. http://bbc.in/SdI6D7

Only ‘potentially alarming’… But being used to alarm, nonetheless.

What seems to be beyond the capacities of BBC and Guardian/Observer journalists is to ask questions about how and when the measurements of Arctic ice took place.

As the website for the Cryosat-2 programme — the satellite that produced the ‘potentially alarming results’ — says,

CryoSat was launched in 2010 to measure sea-ice thickness in the Arctic, but data from the Earth-observing satellite have also been exploited for other studies. High-resolution mapping of the topography of the ocean floor is now being added to the ice mission’s repertoire.

So the data from which the ‘potentially alarming’ result was produced consists of a series that began in April 2010, and has thus only had the chance to record Arctic conditions over two summers and two winters.

Some results from Cryosat-2 were announced in April this year.

After nearly a year and a half of operations, CryoSat has yielded its first seasonal variation map of Arctic sea-ice thickness. Results from ESA’s ice mission were presented today at the Royal Society in London.

In June 2011, the first map of Arctic sea-ice thickness was unveiled, using CryoSat data acquired between January and February of that year.
Now, the complete 2010–11 winter season data have been processed to produce a seasonal variation map of sea-ice thickness.

This is the first map of its kind generated using data from a radar altimeter and at such a high resolution compared to previous satellite measurements.

If these really are the first data relating to the volume of ice available to science, then it really is far too early for researchers to be claiming to be able to put a date on the demise of summer Arctic sea ice. Moreover, and never mind the failure of journalists to subject scientists’ claims to scrutiny, what was Seymour Laxon of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling doing, going on a mainstream news programme — perhaps the most listened-to news programme of the entire country — to explain that science was able to put a date on the terminal point of Arctic sea ice? The only thing he should have been able to say is that ‘it’s too early to say’.

Anything else is, frankly, a lie. The variation in sea ice volume detected by Cryosat-2 may well have been no more than weather. In order to make the predictions that Laxon made, he would have to assume that any variation can only be accounted for by anthropogenic climate change, and that the trend it detected would continue.

This is as clear a case of environmental politics preceding the science as any other alarmist story. I have no idea whether or not Laxon consciously allowed himself to speak prematurely on the decline of sea ice, and I do not care. The alarmist story is allowed to proceed in spite of facts, and without scrutiny or criticism.


UPDATE

Paul Matthews let me know by twitter that I was wrong to say the measurements were based just on Cryosat2. In the interview, he explains that the data were produced by using Cryosat2 and NASA’s Icestat satellite. Either way, however, the data he refers are measurements still only taken since 2010, which I still believe is far too short a time series to say anything about trends, let alone safely projecting them.


UPDATE 2

Andrew Orlowski has an interesting article about Laxon’s claims over at the Register.

Laxon has generated a torrent of headlines in the media. It’s the silly season, of course, so this is to be expected. But what most surprises me is that I can’t track down any evidence of the ‘research’ this is supposed to be from, nor even a press release. All this headline-making seems to have happened just on the basis of one man’s opinion. This opinion, from one man, gets turned into science, produced by ‘scientists’.

  19 Responses to “Arctic Ice Alarmism Shows No Sign of Cooling”

  1. Good articles. Here’s a transcript of the interview with Seymour Laxon this morning:
    https://sites.google.com/site/mytranscriptbox/home/20120813_r4

    Seymour Laxon: In terms of the prediction, one has to be careful, of course, in using the past as a guide to the future, as you know. But we can say that the trend we’re seeing now – if that continues, only if that continues – that holds the prospect that we might see an ice-free Arctic… only during the summer, only in the peak of the Arctic summer, for perhaps even only one day…

    Evan Davis: … but the ice will have disappeared. Yeah.

    Seymour Laxon: And what we really need to do, actually – to answer this question – and the next step really, is to get this data into the models that can do a really proper forecast, just like the weather forecast models we have and we use for everyday weather.

    Prof. Laxon does comes across as suitably cautious about the projections; maybe he’s recalling a similar sort of interview, again on the BBC, featuring Dr Wieslaw Maslowski, who in 2007 was saying that projections of an ice-free Arctic in summer 2013 (which is now just around the corner, of course) were looking reasonable:
    https://sites.google.com/site/mytranscriptbox/home/20071212_ar

    Jonathan Amos: Is there anything that can – that can stop the decline now, or has the system been so weakened that it’s inevitable?

    Wieslaw Maslowski: Well, the main detail to eventually look at and pay attention, I believe, is that the changes in the ice thickness. Our model results, which are validated against submarine and the satellite observations, are indicating that actually we have lost, so far, maybe 35 to 30% of the total ice thickness, on the average for the Arctic Basin. And the thinner the ice, the easier it is actually to move it by winds, and the easier it is to be melted by the underneath warmer ocean and above surface air temperature. So, in my opinion, actually, we are on the accelerating path and we probably will see, in the near future – next two, three years – another record minima ice extent observed by satellites, beating the last year, 2007 summer ice extent minimum.

    Jonathan Amos: Does your latest projection take account of the dramatic events of this past summer and 2005, which was the previous minimum?

    Wieslaw Maslowski: Our projections for 2013, the removal of ice in summer, actually are not accounting for the last two minima, in 2005 and 2007. So, given that fact, actually, you already can argue that the acceleration of the Arctic melting is already being [sic] taking place, and possibly our projections of 2014 – ’13, I’m sorry – are already too conservative.

  2. “Any suggestion that Arctic ice — summer sea ice, to be precise — is ‘melting faster than previously thought’ should raise the question ‘how fast did you think it was melting?’ As I discussed in the article, according to ‘scientists’, the Arctic would be ice-free next year.”

    I haven’t read ONE scientist who thinks it is going to melt “next year.” Of course, since the earth has been cooling according to Joe Bastardi, Sein Hannity, and Senator Inhoffe…..it is pretty amazing that it is melting as fast as it is:)

  3. Nobody can help your failure to read and/or retain what you have read, JCSmith, except you. Alex Cull, in the comment you must have had to move your mouse past to type your own comment, points you to one such scientist.

    Meanwhile, the unfortunate (for you) implication of forcing people to take sides in a polarised debate by raising the opinions of Bastardi, Hannity, and Inhoffe in a discussion about alarmism, is that you force people to make a choice between self-evidently mad alarmism and a position which is closer to reality.

  4. [...] Climate Resistance Share this:PrintEmailMoreStumbleUponTwitterFacebookDiggRedditLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in Climate Change and tagged climate hysteria, climate research, dioxycarbophobia, PlayStation® climatology, weather superstition. Bookmark the permalink. ← Willis Eschenbach: BEST, Volcanoes and Climate Sensitivity [...]

  5. If the Arctic actually did become ice-free in the summer what would the effects be? The Nort-South temperature gradient would be reduced leading, perhaps, to less severe weather but other than that?

  6. In the late 30′s the Russians were exploring options of traveling the NE passage as it was ice free during summer.
    There appears to be evidence that the arctic was ice free (in summer) in Viking times, which would make sense considering they were farming on Greenland in those days.
    Come to think of it, the world could do with being able to farm there again to feed the population.
    Nothing new in what is happening and people after us will be discussing this again in about 60 years.

  7. Dear Ben

    “Paul Matthews let me know by twitter that I was wrong to say the measurements were based just on Cryosat2. In the interview, he explains that the data were produced by using Cryosat2 and NASA’s Icestat satellite. Either way, however, the data he refers are measurements still only taken since 2010, which I still believe is far too short a time series to say anything about trends, let alone safely projecting them. ”

    As I stated on Today the results come from combining data from CryoSat-2 with earlier measurements by NASA’s ICEsat satellite (2003-2008). The statement in Andrew Orlowski’s article that my results are based only two years of data is therefore untrue (I have e-mailed him to point this out).

  8. Thanks for your comment, Seymour.

    Could you explain where the research is published, so that we can see how you have produced these results from the data?

    Many thanks,

    Ben.

  9. Dr Laxon
    Thanks for joining the discussion. I hope you can help with some of the questions that arise.
    I have looked for the IceSat data at NSIDC and it seems to have only a few short snippets of data between 2005 and 2007, and these are all spring or autumn, not summer, is that right?

    I am also interested in Ben’s question. There has been criticism recently of science by press release (Muller, Watts) but in this case there does not even seem to be a press release – no mention of the story on the CPOM web page. So where did this story come from? It seems to have appeared first in the Guardian. Did they contact you, or did you contact them?

  10. Paul, my discussion with Seymour carried on in email, and is published in the next post. http://www.climate-resistance.org/2012/08/seymour-headlines.html

  11. [...] the previous post here about alarmist stories of Arctic ice melt, Seymour Laxon, the scientist behind the recent spate of ‘Arctic melting quicker than we [...]

  12. Nobody can help your failure to read and/or retain what you have read, JCSmith, except you. Alex Cull, in the comment you must have had to move your mouse past to type your own comment, points you to one such scientist.

    Your failure to follow-up is quite obvious as well. Or else, you might have known that Maslowski revised his forecast for an ice-free Arctic (below 1 million square km ice cover) to 2016, plus or minus 3 years, after having received constructive criticism on his first forecast and improving his team’s model. And he is the only aggressive forecaster out there.

    But you know, 2030 would still be incredibly early. It would mean that people can witness a shift that normally takes much longer during their lifetimes. And of course, the IPCC has been saying it would be towards the end of the century.

    Based on all the known evidence, it could even happen this decade. That would be like a science fiction movie becoming reality, except perhaps for people who lack the imagination and deductive capacity to fathom what an ice-free Arctic could mean for human societies all around the Northern Hemisphere.

  13. Neven
    Last time that happened, or could have happened, humanity did extremely well, it wasn’t until it all started to cool again, LIA, that things turned pear shape.

  14. Neven – Your failure to follow-up is quite obvious as well. Or else, you might have known that Maslowski revised his forecast for an ice-free Arctic (below 1 million square km ice cover) to 2016, plus or minus 3 years, after having received constructive criticism on his first forecast and improving his team’s model. And he is the only aggressive forecaster out there.

    But where were the headlines, announcing Maslowski’s retraction? Where were the thousands of headlines, to match those announcing the harbinger of doom had not paid us quite the visit we had expected?

    That is what is interesting about the incautious speculation of scientists.

    Maslowski was not the only, nor the most aggressive forecaster. In 2008, David Barber, of the University of Manitoba said, “We’re actually projecting this year that the North Pole may be free of ice for the first time [in history]” – http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/06/080620-north-pole.html

    Based on all the known evidence, it could even happen this decade. That would be like a science fiction movie becoming reality, except perhaps for people who lack the imagination and deductive capacity to fathom what an ice-free Arctic could mean for human societies all around the Northern Hemisphere.

    And that’s just it. It doesn’t mean anything. There are no necessary consequences of an Arctic ice-free summer. None. Zero. Nil.

    And that is the most interesting thing about the entire phenomenon of Arctic alarmism. The progress of sea ice speaks to the narrative — the science fiction movie — in your own head, but the real world isn’t quite so deterministic. That existing narrative is the ground on which speculative and premature claims about Arctic ice germinate. Without that narrative, the significance of Arctic stories would be hard to establish.

  15. And that’s just it. It doesn’t mean anything. There are no necessary consequences of an Arctic ice-free summer. None. Zero. Nil.

    You obviously haven’t put a lot of thought or research into the importance of Arctic sea ice. The consequences are already here, just not large enough to have reached your backyard yet.

    But where were the headlines, announcing Maslowski’s retraction? Where were the thousands of headlines, to match those announcing the harbinger of doom had not paid us quite the visit we had expected?

    What was there to retract? He improved his model, that’s it. You know, knowledge accumulates, theories and predictions change. The IPCC will probably no longer claim that the Arctic could become ice-free somewhere towards the end of this century.

    There never were any ‘thousands of headlines’ to announce the harbinger of doom. There were and are a couple of very experienced scientists who express their worries about what current trends might lead to if sustained. You’d do well to read some of their scientific work and start realizing how much they know what they are talking about, and you know very, very little. I’m realizing that all the time and I’ve been following the Arctic sea ice on a daily basis for three years now and learned quite a lot in that time.

    How much do you actually know about the Arctic? Did you ever bother to look into it and entertain the possibility that all isn’t hunky dory up there? Or did you automatically assume that it was all just hogwash like everything related to AGW is? I’d really love you to tell me.

    Despite the ‘thousands of headlines’ to announce the harbinger of doom, people know very little about what is going on up north and think it’s so far away it doesn’t influence them. Well, they’re wrong. What happens in the Arctic, doesn’t stay in the Arctic.

  16. Neven
    Relax, history will tell you that all we are seeing today has happened before and both the planet and humanity survived.
    Is this really irreversible climate change or just part of the 60 year cycles, 30 up – 30 down approx. and that cycle being part again of a bigger cycle?
    After all it is only just over 30 years ago now that we were all still bludgeoned by the “next ice age is coming” hammer.
    What shall we attribute the temp increase on Venus and Mars to?
    Despite popular belief current levels of CO2 have no effect on anything other then the bank accounts of some.
    Which is not to say that we should not look after the planet and be careful with our resources.

  17. I should rephrase the comment about the bank balance of some.
    It has a positive effect on the balance for some and a negative impact for everyone else thanks to, arguably well meant but misguided, policies and fears leading to increased energy costs amongst others.

  18. 1979 was a relative high in Arctic Sea Ice. The 1990 IPCC report (Chapter 7) shows Ice data starting from 1975. 1975-1979 showed a dramtic increase in Arctic Sea Ice. It is no wonder 1979 is used as a starting point.

  19. BaldHill:

    “After all it is only just over 30 years ago now that we were all still bludgeoned by the “next ice age is coming” hammer.”

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/ice-age-predictions-in-1970s.htm

    “What shall we attribute the temp increase on Venus and Mars to?”

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-on-mars.htm
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-other-planets-solar-system.htm

 Leave a Reply

(required)

(required)

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

   
© 2014 Climate Resistance Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha