World Turning its Eyes to the Ice

August 28, 2012

Is the plunge still accelerating?


The amount of sea ice in the Arctic has fallen to the lowest level on record, a confirmation of the drastic warming in the region and a likely harbinger of larger changes to come.

Satellites tracking the extent of the sea ice found over the weekend that it covered about 1.58 million square miles, or less than 30 percent of the Arctic Ocean’s surface, scientists said. That is only slightly below the previous record low, set in 2007, but with weeks still to go in the summer melting season, it is clear that the record will be beaten by a wide margin.

Australian Broadcasting Company:

According to research by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), based at the University of Colorado at Boulder, the decline in summer Arctic sea ice “is considered a strong signal of long-term climate warming”.

The most recent analysis was partially supported by NASA.

Arctic sea ice fell to 4.10 million square kilometres, some 70,000 square kilometres less than the earlier record charted on September 18, 2007, says the NSIDC.

Scientists say the record was all the more striking as 2007 had near perfect climate patterns for melting ice, but that the weather this year was unremarkable other than a storm in early August.

“I think, unfortunately, this is an example that points more to the worst-case scenario side of things,” says Professor Michael E. Mann, of Penn State University, who was a lead author of a major UN report in 2001 on climate change.

“There are a number of areas where in fact climate change seems to be proceeding faster and with a greater magnitude than what the models predicted.”


The Arctic region is now losing about 155,000 square kilometres (60,000 square miles) of ice annually, the equivalent of a US state every two years, said Walt Meier, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

“It used to be the Arctic ice cover was a kind of big block of ice. It would melt a little bit from the edges but it was pretty solid,” Meier told reporters on a conference call.

“Now it’s like crushed ice,” he said. “At least parts of the Arctic have become like a giant slushie, and that’s a lot easier to melt and melt more quickly.”

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)


Joey Comiso, senior research scientist at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said this year’s ice retreat was caused by previous warm years reducing the amount of perennial ice – which is more resistant to melting. It’s created a self-reinforcing trend.

“Unlike 2007, temperatures were not unusually warm in the Arctic this summer. [But] we are losing the thick component of the ice cover,” he said. “And if you lose [that], the ice in the summer becomes very vulnerable.”

Walt Meier, from the National Snow and Ice Data Center that collaborates in the measurements, said: “In the context of what’s happened in the last several years and throughout the satellite record, it’s an indication that the Arctic sea ice cover is fundamentally changing.”

Professor Peter Wadhams, from Cambridge University, told BBC News: “A number of scientists who have actually been working with sea ice measurement had predicted some years ago that the retreat would accelerate and that the summer Arctic would become ice-free by 2015 or 2016.

“I was one of those scientists – and of course bore my share of ridicule for daring to make such an alarmist prediction.”

But Prof Wadhams said the prediction was now coming true, and the ice had become so thin that it would inevitably disappear.

“Measurements from submarines have shown that it has lost at least 40% of its thickness since the 1980s, and if you consider the shrinkage as well it means that the summer ice volume is now only 30% of what it was in the 1980s,” he added.

At this point all we can do is watch, the ice is going to do what its going to do.  I’ll try to keep some of the most important graphs posted here and keep up with the most important milestones.  For today, what’s stunning to most observers is that we appear to have smashed thru the 4 million square kilometer barrier – The latest value : 3,947,500 km2  according to the Japan Aerospace (JAXA) group.  The US NSIDC is somewhere close to that estimate.

For those just beginning to pay attention to the story of ice, NSIDC has a FAQ , and some good primers,  here and here.

I won’t say “get popcorn”, because frankly, I’ve lost my appetite.


36 Responses to “World Turning its Eyes to the Ice”

  1. danolner Says:

    Omnologos’ posting has made me wonder again about a chunk of this: “Training all of our guns [metaphorically of course] on right-wing deniers is a waste of time. Don’t do it personally; don’t do it professionally (unless the science is your profession). Educating (unconfusing) the public matters; it’s an important and critical element (see below). But if we don’t as a group move past the deniers and deal with the carbon lords and their enablers, directly and forcefully, we’re toast. Denialism is not what’s keeping us from educating the public — it’s the carbon lords and those who do their bidding. Keeping us engaged with deniers is what they want. If I were a carbon CEO, that’s what I would want. It keeps the denier-discussion alive. We need to act like we’ve won that discussion and move on. Because we have and we have to (won, and move one).”

    I’m sure Omnologos wouldn’t like the denier label, and that’s fine. I do think he seems like a general timewaster who won’t say what he means, but manages to push the buttons of people like me so I do exactly what that link says – spend time here arguing with him. Is there any value to it? It must be worth responding…

    Omnologos, you still didn’t clarify why you were asking the question. So I have to assume: is it because you think people are noisy about numbers that suit them and quiet otherwise? If so, did you follow the recent Hansen stuff showing quite clearly why a shifting probability distribution makes previous extremes tend towards normal? And can you see how that applies here and to your question?

    I’m sorry I’m having to second guess what you think, but prove that quote above wrong and make this a substantive and worthwhile exchange, not just you throwing in mystical questions.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      this is of course, correct. fortunately, a large part of the corporate and industrial sector is beginning act on the science, and plan for a carbon constrained future.
      Nevertheless, just like we have to keep shooting down creationists, racists, and anti semites, we’ll have to deal with climate denial, even after the sea ice disappears.

      • omnologos Says:

        Interestingly the only answers so far (apart from one) have been about taking it to a personal level or finding refuge in conspiracy theorism about ‘big carbon lords’.

        As I said my own ideas should be irrelevant here. I know if I start posting them the usual cretin will pop up denouncing my attempt at propaganda or my obsession with myself. Anyway: I have said time and again that before declaring unprecedented dangerous climate change, I want to see unprecedented dangerous climate change. For example southern-atlantic hurricanes would qualify…if we switch to a world where many of those happen and regularly (not just the one as a few years back), I will be in. Likewise, summer ice melt doesn’t appear such a big story…it’d be wintertime melt that would. Or a Sahara that is wet again. Springtime snow cover of the whole of Sicily. Etc etc.

        I’m perfectly aware that the mark of reason is the ability to spell out what would change one’s mind, and I just did. Could anybody here do the same please starting with Peter? For example not much about tornadoes this year. Does that mean that tornado count doesn’t count wrt AGW and CAGW? How about those huge hurricanes we have been promised?

        So the question again…is a dwindling Summer ice cover in the Arctic ‘evidence’ and of what? If it is ‘evidence’, eg of CAGW, and then it rebounded, would that mean the end of belief in CAGW?

        That’s something that should be declared now, otherwise it’s just a game of cherry-picking and afterthoughts.

        • uknowispeaksense Says:

          You forgot to include “when pigs fly”. Thankyou for demonstrating the depth to which your denial extends. The kind of world that you describe is not going to happen in your lifetime and you know it, enabling you to continue with your head in the sand. But to be fair, you have asked a question of everyone who comes here so I’ll give it a go.

          I will reevaluate my position on AGW when the evidence from the tens of thousands of actual experts has demonstrated with 95% confidence that the polar ice has a long term recovery in extent and thickness and that the following processes are heading back to pre-1950’s averages.
          – Glaciers and snow cover.
          – The permafrost boundary returning to its normal southern extent
          – Sealevel declining to normal.
          – Ocean heat content, ocean surface temperatures, land surface temperature, global humidity returning to normal.
          – The normal distribution curve for extreme weather shifting back to the left.
          – The multitude of animal, plant, fungal and bacterial species as well as phytoplasmas and viruses that have undergone climate induced range shifts returning to their normal ranges.
          – Bleaching events in the Great Barrier Reef are thing of the past.
          – Global soil nitrification rates and ocean pH returning to normal.

          If all of that happened spontaneously without any change in human activity, then I would reevaluate my position.

          • omnologos Says:

            ALL of that? Please be more specific. I wouldn’t be sure about the situation in the 1930’s, plus there is a very-long-term increase in sea-level so it’s unlikely we will see a decline.

            But thanks for doing the rare thing, anchoring your thoughts on some solid evidence.

          • uknowispeaksense Says:

            Of course, all of that because all of that has happened due to AGW. As for being specific, that’s not going to happen. Just as my acceptance of the evidence for AGW didn’t just click into place from some specific event or events, the opposite will likely also be true. Our climate is far too complicated and the various components interconnected for that to happen. I’ve now made my position sufficiently clear and that’s all I’m going to say on the subject.

        • jasonpettitt Says:

          Short(ish) answer – climate change is systems science. There’s lots of facets that go to make up climate including a whole bunch of internal variabilities. So if the Hurricane guy says ‘I’m actually seeing less hurricanes’ but everyone else is saying ‘well, we’re seeing stronger evidences of climate change’ then it’d be foolish, I reckon, to infer that fewer hurricanes means that our understanding of climate is fundamentally off.

          Climate Change is based on an assessment of many lines of evidence. I’m very aware that I’m not qualified to do that, so if you’ll forgive the irony – I trust whatever The Royal Society says.

          Schneider puts it better than I can.

          • jasonpettitt Says:

            I should add, that I don’t consider myself qualified not just because I don’t have a certificate, but even more because it’s a judgement that requires looking at from more angles than one pair of eyes can manage. So meta assessments like those by the IPCC and statements made by collective expertise like the Royal Society count in my book.

          • omnologos Says:

            Jason – how many “lines of evidence” have to fall before you’d change your mind?

          • jasonpettitt Says:

            “Jason – how many “lines of evidence” have to fall before you’d change your mind?”

            For a big change, the preponderance.

            If it was something really fundamental, if you demonstrated comprehensively that CO2 wasn’t IR active, then that’d be different.

  2. danolner Says:

    “Before declaring unprecedented dangerous climate change, I want to see unprecedented dangerous climate change.”

    “Before declaring this cliff dangerous, I want to see us flying over the cliff and towards the spiky rocks below.” Hmm. Risk management?

    “So the question again…is a dwindling Summer ice cover in the Arctic ‘evidence’ and of what? If it is ‘evidence’, eg of CAGW, and then it rebounded, would that mean the end of belief in CAGW?”

    I posted the Hansen piece because it’s of a similar ilk. It’s about probabilities, where the emergence of regular 3-sigma events – exactly like recent sea ice extent minima – are precisely the evidence you’re asking for. i.e…. *sigh*… the ice is melting because when it gets warmer, ice melts. You understand the point about 3-sigma events becoming 2-sigma? Any rebound would have to be placed in the context of some numbers on how probable it was. Getting that right is important not only for climate prediction, but for planning in the most geopolitically sensitive spot on the planet.

    I’m going to stick my neck out, given that minimum sea ice extent has “regularly fallen outside of two standard deviations” for the 79-2000 average (only on the negative side, I think it’s safe to say). If you’re implying it could recover, that would mean it would have to be just as regularly setting records the other way. In fact, if in twenty year’s time, summer arctic sea ice extent has recovered enough that we see it fall above the 1-sigma 79-2000 average, I’ll think it means we don’t understand how ice melts or heat works. (A graph here has the 2-sigma bound for the 79-00 av.)

    Now that I’ve said that, so what? Were have we got to? What if Peter or anyone else also tells you we’d eat our climate change books if minimum ice extent goes past 1-sigma positive in twenty years’ time?

    So, are you also willing to make a prediction about where you think sea ice extent will be in x year’s time?

    Also: “the only answers so far (apart from one) have been about taking it to a personal level // if I start posting them the usual cretin will pop up.” Not quite in the same sentence but beautiful nonetheless.

  3. danolner Says:

    Hell, our Carbon Overlords are really getting me today. I’ve been reading through omnologos’ WUWT comments looking for that balance he always seems to want of us. Hmm. To be fair, I have found one critical comment, but it’s among a lot of, um, less critical stuff. My favourite: “It’s more fake even than a SkS graph.” Really, which ones would they be?

    This waste of time bought to you by the British taxpayer. Suckers! Oh no, hang on, I’m in overtime. Phew.

  4. Hi Guys – Yes monologs is a waste of time. His comments have no point. He has no idea what a probability distribution function is and how it works, yet he wishes to discuss probabilities as if he does understand the subject. For those that do understand, it is easy to understand how raising the mean temperature increases the probability of a high temperature event. If a 100 degree day that was a 1 in 20 probability could be a 1 in 5 probability, for example. As the mean temperature goes up the probability of extremes goes up quickly because of the unique properties of the bell shaped probability distribution function. Its not linear. Keep your eye on the ball, ignore the distractions. Pay attention to the scientific predictions. Amazingly, it has already been predicted that the Northwest Passage will be open in the summer. The closer we get to the end of the decade, the more likely it looks. This year, there is only a small amount of ice left to block an ice free Northwest Passage. There are vast open expanses of summer ice free Arctic Ocean that never existed before. All this and it is only 2012. Evidence is mounting that the IPCC is too conservative. There are too many unusual weather events, too many glaciers receding, oceans acidifying, and on and on. This last 5 years are a good indicator of what is to come. More extreme weather, more disappearing glaciers, more acidic oceans. Now we also know some of the impacts of this. More insurance claims for extreme weather, crop failure, financial strain on economies, less oil consumption, a frenzied search to replace dwindling fossil fuel energy sources, and increasing energy costs, to name a few.

  5. danolner Says:

    “He has no idea what a probability distribution function is and how it works, yet he wishes to discuss probabilities as if he does understand the subject.”

    I’m not sure I can believe that. It’s not complex. You can get an intuitive sense of everything you need directly from the 10 second film of local anomaly data points at the top of the SKS Hansen story I keep linking to. It’s a lovely little animation. Omnologos is asking us of the equivalent of “if that distribution had shifted back to the left again in 20 year’s time, would you reassess your views of AGW?” To which the answer is a resounding yes, of course. But so what? It’s like asking if the second law of thermodynamics was proved wrong, would we be surprised. Yes, in much the same way the pope is quite religious and bears tend to poo in wooded areas. And?

    Omnologos, you’ve seen that little animation? I know you seem not to like SKS-posted graphs but still, any thoughts?

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