Guest Post: It’s Ice Melt Season, Deniers let the Conspiracy Theories Flow

July 14, 2013

nsidc0712

Arctic ice melt season is in full swing, so it’s the time of year for climate deniers to jingle shiny distractions and distortions to keep their adherents from thinking too hard about the implications. Vlogger Collin Maessen, has analyzed the latest dodge, and reports in this guest post.

I’m heading up to the “Oil and Water Don’t Mix” rally in St. Ignace, MI, today. 

One of the things I do is to keep an ear out to what the so-called sceptics are saying in their corner on the internet. I do this on for example Twitter where I follow several well-known figures and organisations among the climate science deniers, one of them being Marc Morano. His account @climatedepot on twitter tweets mostly articles from his website climatedepot.com and one of these tweets stated something that sounded really odd to me:

climate-depot-arctic-data

I followed the link to his website and ended up on the Steven Goddard WordPress blog that said the following:

NSIDC likes to pretend that there is no satellite data for Arctic ice prior to 1979.

goddard-nsidc

N_05_plot.png (420◊240)

This makes for scary graphs showing disappearing Arctic ice, which are highly misleading.

The 1990 IPCC report had satellite data going back much earlier than 1979, which showed that Arctic peaked in that year, and was much lower in 1974.

goddard-ipcc

www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/far/wg_I/ipcc_far_wg_I_full_report.pdf

If NSIDC used all of the available data, their scary story wouldnít look so scary. Starting their graphs during the peak ice year is pretty dodgy.

Looks damning doesn’t it?

But lets follow his links and check what the report has to say so we can verify if Goddard has a point.†And I found the graph he used on page 272 of the WG1 report where it states the following about it:

Sea-ice conditions are now reported regularly in marine synoptic observations, as well as by special reconnaissance flights, and coastal radar. Especially importantly, satellite observations have been used to map sea-ice extent routinely since the early 1970s. The American Navy Joint Ice Center has produced weekly charts which have been digitised by NOAA. These data are summarized in Figure 7.20 which is based on analyses carried out on a 1∞ latitude x 2.5∞ longitude grid.

What you need to know about this graph is that the first useful satellite data was gathered in December 1972 with Electrically Scanning Microwave Radiometer (ESMR) instruments. Why this is important is that this data is not directly comparable with satellites carrying Scanning Multichannel Microwave Radiometer (SMMR) instrumentation. The data from the first satellites using this system became available in late 1978 (we also have some other systems that in use that you can’t directly compare with ESMR data).

This is probably the reason why ESMR data isn’t used by the NSIDC in their graphs, it has nothing to do with hiding inconvenient data. For them 1979 is just the point where their data starts.

Another very important detail is that the current NSIDC graph shown by Goddard can’t be directly compared with the graph from the IPCC report. How the two graphs display their data is just too different to do a simple visual comparison and see if he has a point. But that doesn’t mean the NSIDC doesn’t have a graph that is comparable with the one from the IPCC report.

The NSIDC page “Sea Ice” contains a slew of information and graphs on what’s happening in the arctic, and it has the following one for Arctic sea ice extent:

mean_anomaly_1953-2012

Sea ice extent departures from monthly means for the Northern Hemisphere. For January 1953 through December 1979, data have been obtained from the UK Hadley Centre and are based on operational ice charts and other sources. For January 1979 through December 2012, data are derived from passive microwave (SMMR / SSM/I). Image by Walt Meier and Julienne Stroeve, National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado, Boulder.

This graph you can directly compare with the one used in the IPCC report as it uses SSMR data and displays it in a similar way. When you compare them you’ll notice that what happened in the 70s is nothing to the amount of ice that was lost during the past few decades.

What happened here wasn’t scepticism. This was going through old data and graphs to try to get an answer you wanted to find. Which was then presented in a way, intentionally or not, that most people wouldn’t even be able to put it into context and figure out what it actually means. It even ignores the little detail that ESMR data is available on the NSIDC website.

It’s easy to find little pieces that out of context look damning; the whole kerfuffle surrounding Climategate proved that. But this isn’t how science is done or how a true sceptic looks at the scientific findings. What is happening to our climate is just too complex, and the science too robust, to undermine scientific findings†with a few graphs and a couple of sentences.
Collin Maessen is a long time advocate for sound evidence based environmental policies and mostly writes about the subjects of climate change, a range of environmental issues, and the politics surrounding them. He releases his materials via his YouTube channel with supplementary materials, and further original works, on his website RealSceptic.com

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21 Responses to “Guest Post: It’s Ice Melt Season, Deniers let the Conspiracy Theories Flow”


  1. You are not being completely forthcoming here.

    For the chart where you say:
    “This graph you can directly compare with the one used in the IPCC report as it uses SSMR data and displays it in a similar way. When you compare them you’ll notice that what happened in the 70s is nothing to the amount of ice that was lost during the past few decades.”

    Below the chart it makes no mention of IPCC 1990 data, and states specifically data after 1979 was obtained through SMMR / SSM/I satellite data. Prior to 1979 it states:

    “For January 1953 through December 1979, data have been obtained from the UK Hadley Centre and are based on operational ice charts and other sources. ”

    Where can one obtain these operational ice charts and mysterious unnamed other sources? The chart in no way resembles the IPCC 1990 data. Basically, pre-1979 satellite data was ignored and “other sources” were grafted on to the NSIDC chart.

    You left out part of the IPCC 1990 statement you quoted:
    “Since about 1976 the areal extent of sea-ice in the Northern
    Hemisphere has varied about a constant climatological
    level but in 1972-1975 sea-ice extent was significantly less.”

    You then go on to say:
    “Why this is important is that this data is not directly comparable with satellites carrying Scanning Multichannel Microwave Radiometer (SMMR) instrumentation.”

    If that’s true, how then can pre-1979 data grafted on to the NSIDC chart be directly comparable?

    Also, since the claim is the last 30 years are outside natural variation, you need to explain the extensive melting and temperature increases in the 1920’s-1940’s, and the fact the vast amount of glacier melt occurred prior to 1960.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      mysterious unnamed other sources might possibly include these Danish Ice maps from the first half of the
      20th century, as well as other military and commercial vessel observations.

      http://climatecrocks.com/2013/04/11/pesky-reality-intrudes-in-denierville-again-danish-ice-maps-from-the-30s/

      http://brunnur.vedur.is/pub/trausti/Iskort/Pdf/

      as sea ice continues to crash, the feverish brains of denialists will seek ever more arcane
      and sinister conspiracy theories to assuage their cognitive dissonance. We’ll continue to monitor
      their clinical progress.


    • Sorry for being so slow in responding, it’s been quite hectic for me and my health didn’t always cooperate.

      Now to address what you said the IPCC report also uses SMMR data, they reference it on page 273 when they talk about the graph they use. SMMR data is used by a lot of scientists and organisations.

      You can also obtain those “mysterious other sources” that was used for the current graph from the UK Hadley Centre as they provided the data. It took me less than 10 seconds to find the public page where they make the data available:

      http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/hadobs/hadisst/

      And on that page you will find the paper explaining where they got the data from and how it was handled:

      http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/hadobs/hadisst/HadISST_paper.pdf

      Also it looks like you’re quote mining:
      . Since about 1976 the areal extent of sea-ice in the Northern Hemisphere has varied about a constant climatological level but in 1972-1975 sea-ice extent was significantly less. In the Southern Hemisphere since about 1981, sea-ice extent has also varied about a constant level. Between 1973 and 1980 there were periods of several years when Southern Hemisphere sea-ice extent was either appreciably more than or less than that typical in the 1980s.

      What I was doing with the segment I quoted was talk about how the data was gathered. What you quote was about observations, something I talk about later.

      Now what you need to realize about this is that the graphs is that there is an age difference of over two decades between them. Which means that this will have consequences for how they are displayed and the data used (science progresses and methodologies change/improve). This is especially relevant for the earlier records.

      So when I said this:

      Another very important detail is that the current NSIDC graph shown by Goddard can’t be directly compared with the graph from the IPCC report. How the two graphs display their data is just too different to do a simple visual comparison and see if he has a point. But that doesn’t mean the NSIDC doesn’t have a graph that is comparable with the one from the IPCC report.

      I’m talking about doing a simple eyeball comparison to see if he has a point. Specifically to see what happened after 1990 when the IPCC graph stops. Because what happened after 1990 shows that ice age extent has responded dramatically. Which Goddard was trying to cast doubt on.

      Another detail is that you seem to claim that this all could be explained by natural variability. For one that ignores a lot of the evidence we have about forcers and how our climate responds. It also ignores that this is an active subject of research:

      http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2013-267

      But that’s besides the point actually, as I was talking about how graphs were misused and not attribution of changes.


  2. […] 2013. One was ‘Steven Goddard Ignoring Inconvenient Arctic Data‘ (published as ‘It’s Ice Melt Season, Deniers let the Conspiracy Theories Flow‘) for Climate Crocks and another for WottsUpWithThat called ‘Language […]


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