30 August 2011

New Record Low For Arctic Ice Very Possible

Posted by Dan Satterfield



For a while, it looked unlikely the summer melt would bring a new record low in Arctic sea ice this year, although it looked likely to reach the top 3 or 4. No more though, the data from NSIDC shows the summer melt is running near 2007’s record low extent, and still dropping.  Another independent analysis (using a different satellite and sensor) of arctic ice is done by the Int. Arctic Research Center along with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and it too shows a new record is possible in a few weeks.

Sea ice just off the NW Passage- Dan's pic Aug 2007.

There’s no doubt this year will approach the second lowest on the satellite based record, and there is a decent chance that 2011 becomes the new record holder. The heat from the remains of Irene may also add to the melt, (hurricanes are huge engines of heat transfer from the tropics to the high latitudes). The melt will only continue for a  couple of more weeks now because the sun is getting lower everyday, and there is growing darkness for the first time in 6 months above the Arctic Circle.

Critical Thinking – Fail

Every year at this time, the anti-science political commentators rush to point out that the NW passage was open in the early part of the 20th century, but a good piece of propaganda always gives a true statement followed by false ones, and this the case here. It never ceases to amaze me how someone can fail to see how stunningly ridiculous it is to claim that “there is a worldwide conspiracy” of scientists on climate change. One would hope that politicians of every stripe, would show strong critical thinking skills, but this isn’t the case in the America of 2011.

Paul Krugman put it very succinctly in today’s NY Times: “I could point out that Mr. Perry is buying into a truly crazy conspiracy theory, which asserts that thousands of scientists all around the world are on the take, with not one willing to break the code of silence. I could also point out that multiple investigations into charges of intellectual malpractice on the part of climate scientists have ended up exonerating the accused researchers of all accusations. But never mind: Mr. Perry and those who think like him know what they want to believe, and their response to anyone who contradicts them is to start a witch hunt.”

Climate skeptics could show only the part of this graph from 1984-1997 and claim Arctic ice is increasing. If that pattern repeats (and it probably will), they most certainly will do so.

Yes, the Northwest Passage has indeed opened in the past, but not to the extent seen in recent years, and it’s no surprise at all that weather patterns in the high latitudes occasionally align to melt off a lot of ice. The fact remains (and it is a fact) that rising greenhouse gases cause warming, and this will lead to decreased ice in the future. The long-term trend smooths out the yearly weather patterns, and shows why the “it’s all natural” claim is bogus.

The September sea ice extent is dropping at about 11% per decade (based on data from NSIDC), so if you want to prove the loss over the last 30 years is all natural, then you need to show why CO2 and other greenhouse gases are NOT affecting it,  and good luck on that one! The ability of greenhouse gases to absorb IR radiation was discovered while Lincoln was President, and no one has proved it wrong yet. Not only that, but it’s understood at the atomic and quantum levels. (Yes indeedy, the folks at the Large Hadron Collider are in on the hoax too.)

Some Recent Science
A recent paper indicates we may  see several years (and perhaps even a decade) where the Arctic ice seems to recover, even as it melts away in the latter half of this century. The group that published the paper also reported that about 50% of the year to year fluctuations are natural (not a surprise), and the rest man-made. All of weather now is a combination of natural cycles merged with the effects of rising greenhouse gases, even Hurricane Irene ( The atmosphere is holding 4-7% more water vapor now). Another recent paper has some good news because it seems there probably isn’t a tipping point at which the ice will suddenly disappear, but unless we drastically slow the burning of fossil fuels, disappear it most certainly will. The great thing about science (according to Neil de Grasse Tyson) is that it’s true, whether or not you believe it.

Citations: J. E. Kay, M. M. Holland, and A. Jahn (2011), Inter‐annual to multi‐decadal Arctic sea ice extent trends in a warming world, Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L15708, doi:10.1029/2011GL048008.

Armour, K. C., I. Eisenman, E. Blanchard-Wrigglesworth, K. E. McCusker, and C. M. Bitz (2011), The reversibility of sea ice loss in a state-of-the-art climate model, Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L16705, doi:10.1029/2011GL048739.

NSIDC: http://nsidc.org/icelights/