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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Time to look at the Arctic sea ice 2016

Sou | 12:15 AM Go to the first of 15 comments. Add a comment

There has been some unusual weather in the Arctic again and it's even captured the attention of deniers. Arctic ice watcher, Neven, has been keeping a close eye on arctic cyclones and their impact, aided by other people who have built up some knowledge in the subject. They are wondering if these sort of events will happen more often than they used to. Earlier this year, in early spring, Arctic sea ice was at record low levels for that time of the year. It's not kept this place however it is still very low, being currently the third lowest on record for the time of year, just above 2007.

Anthony Watts is a blogging climate conspiracy theorist who tries to downplay climate change. He has built up a reputation in the dim corners of the internet for promoting "climate hoax" conspiracy theories and "ice age cometh" articles. Yes, even this year, during the hottest decade on record, and what will probably be the third in a row hottest year on record, and after ten "hottest months" on record, and the hottest ever month on record. As the world heats up relentlessly, deniers are looking crazier and crazier.

Today Anthony is trying to paint normal people concerned about climate change as wanting it to happen. As if! Why the heck does he think that climate hawks are urging mitigation if they want more global warming? If that's what we wanted, we'd be keeping quiet about what's happening - or promoting "climate hoax" conspiracy theories like Anthony does. His headline was "The ‘Great Arctic Cyclone of 2016’ turned out to be not so great for sea ice doomsters" (archived here), though he might have jumped the gun (as he's done before). Today Anthony wrote:

People that want to see Arctic sea ice reach new lows, so that they can shout things like “See, told you! Climate change!” were banking on it to bring sea ice extent to new record scarcity, accompanied by much wailing and gnashing of teeth, while secretly grinning to themselves “take that, deniers”. It’s a strange bunch of people, in my view, that rally around wanting to see such things happen.
He just made that up. He and his mob are the ones who, by their actions, want to "see such things happen", not climate hawks.

That wasn't the worst of his article though. People who've followed Anthony's blog "wattsupwiththat" have noticed that he's not very good at statistics, chart reading or even simple arithmetic. He put up a chart from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and wrote:
So far, NSIDC hasn’t shown much of an impact from the GAC16, and in the last couple of days, ice has upticked slightly as it regrouped (magnified inset mine):
Here's a live link to the NSIDC chart (which will update):
Figure 1 | Arctic sea ice extent 2015. The grey area is +/- 2 standard deviations from the 1981-2010 average. Source: NSIDC

I think, though Anthony doesn't say so, his GAC16 stands for Great Arctic Cyclone 2016. That happened in the past few days, then it died down, and now it's geared up again (though Anthony doesn't seem to know that). His chart, probably unbeknownst to Anthony, shows that currently the Arctic sea ice extent is more than two standard deviations below the average that of 1981-2010. That's a very recent 30 year period, stopping only six years ago. So much has happened even in six years.

Below is a snippet from the NSIDC's interactive version, blown up, so you can see the ice extent compared to recent years, including the three years that had the lowest ice extent on record.

Figure 2 | Arctic sea ice extent for recent years. Source: NSIDC

The grey area is the bottom of the 2σ curve. 2012 was the year of the lowest sea ice extent. This year is currently between the second and third lowest - 2007 and 2015 respectively.

There are other organisations that report the status of Arctic sea ice, with charts and maps:

The Arctic is warming faster than any other latitude on the planet. Below is a chart from NASA showing the 2015 temperature by latitude as the difference from the 1951 to 1980 mean. The Arctic is to the right.

Figure 3 | Land and sea surface temperature change by latitude, 2015. The baseline is 1951-1980. Source: GISS NASA

Since I haven't posted on the Arctic for a while, it won't hurt to again put up the chart showing just how much the sea ice has shrunk over the medium term - since the 1950s. Place the cursor over the chart to see the values each September.

Figure 4 | Arctic sea ice extent for the month of September: 1953-2015. Data source: Data updated from Meier et al., 2012

There are all sorts of ramifications with Arctic warming and sea ice disappearing. It affects ocean currents, marine life and, of course, with less ice there's less reflection of the summer sun so the seas get warmer. That's a positive feedback effect.

Anthony couldn't resist referring to Peter Wadhams, who has made rather extravagant predictions of the speed of the melt. Pity he got his name wrong, but that's Anthony.

What is obvious is that Anthony is oblivious to what is happening and the changes this will bring, sooner as well as later, because he wrote at the end of his article:
Sad when nature just won’t kowtow to the doomsters, isn’t it? But, human history is fraught with visionaries who said impeding doom is right around the corner. It’s a lifestyle choice I suppose.
Dumb as a dim denier!

From the WUWT comments

One of these days I'll be tempted to waste a few hours looking at how many of Anthony's fans are obsessed with money. Kenw seems to view climate change through a distorted $$ lens, like many of his fellow "climate hoax" conspiracy theorists:
August 23, 2016 at 10:39 am
… “It’s a lifestyle choice I suppose.”
One that can pay extremely well….

It looks as if Robert Austin is awake to the recent changes in Arctic sea ice (see Figure 4 above):
August 23, 2016 at 2:20 pm
1981 to 2010 average = normal? The only thing normal about that average is that it is comprised of a large subset of the short set of satellite era data.

NavarreAggie wants the "entire" set of data. Does he or she know that would make the difference much greater?
August 24, 2016 at 4:53 am
This always bothered me. Why not used the ENTIRE data set to determine the “baseline” average, then update that baseline as each new year of data is added? Instead, we’ve artificially chosen a subset of the data to represent some “normal” condition. How do we know that particular subset doesn’t represent “abnormal” conditions? Truly shoddy work. 

The word I think of when I read this comment from RWturner is deluded. Other words might occur to you.
August 23, 2016 at 10:40 am
Looks like that major increase in ice volume over the past few years does make a difference. In line with Archibald’s post yesterday, the trend in now cooling and the ice volume will continue its saw-tooth ascent back towards “normal.” 

Salvatore Del Prete is an ice age comether from way back. This is probably going to be the third in a row "hottest year on record" and his contorted brain thinks "the cooling has began (sic)".
August 23, 2016 at 10:53 am (excerpt)
The AGW enthusiast are grasping at straws it is over for them. I am being rather bold in making this statement but the cooling has began and it started when the recent El NINO ended and now we have to see how it evolves. 

Chimp wonders why less ice is bad. It's the speed of the change that's the main problem. People living in the Arctic can't get around and can't harvest trees (the ice roads are too slushy), fires have taken hold in Siberia and Alaska, coastal towns are falling into the sea because there's no ice to hold back the storms eroding the shoreline, the changes affect weather in places distant from the Arctic too - etc. etc.
August 23, 2016 at 11:50 am
Why less ice is bad and more ice good is a bit of mystery, anyway.
Neither polar bears nor their ringed seal prey are the least bit endangered. A NW Passage clear in summer would be a good thing, would it not? 

There are lots more where those came from - like this comment from SAMURAI, who is a hard core science denier and fantasist. But that's enough for now.

References and further reading

Neven's Arctic Sea Ice Blog - an excellent resource from an amateur, recommended by experts

Meier, W. N., Stroeve, J., Barrett, A., and Fetterer, F.: "A simple approach to providing a more consistent Arctic sea ice extent time series from the 1950s to present," The Cryosphere, 6, 1359-1368, doi:10.5194/tc-6-1359-2012, 2012. doi:10.5194/tc-6-1359-2012(open access)

From the HotWhopper Archives


  1. Anthony also is probably unaware that NSIDC use a 5-day trailing mean. They average the extent of a given day with those from the previous four days to produce a 5-day average. "So the value plotted for a day is the average of that day and the four previous days."

    As of this moment the storm appears to be continuing in the Arctic. The full impact on Arctic sea ice extent won't be apparent in the NSIDC data until several days after the storm subsides.

    Anthony still has the advantage though, in that if extent does reach record low minimum levels, or even second lowest on record, he simply won't mention it again.

  2. Off topic, but topical.

    At current levels of resolution, the ability to detect the anthropogenic signature on fossil carbon-forced climate change has been pinned as starting around the 1830s:

    The paper itself:

    It’s worth noting that the human influence on climate starts earlier than this, of course, through other agencies including forest destruction and ruminant domestication. For a background on this Bill Ruddiman’s Plows, Plagues and Petroleum, oft recommended by John Mashey, is definitely worth a look.

    1. Bernard, I saw that too. Significant stuff.

    2. "Topical", "significant"... We're both being very terse with our observations of the import of this paper, DC!

    3. Bernard, in my case it's from my natural Nordic tendencies to understatement. I could also note that the paper is not entirely without virtue. Or that, upon consideration, it does have some measure of merit.

  3. Deniers seem to think that if we aren't at the record lowest / hottest, then that means there's nothing to worry about. Somehow, the second lowest Arctic sea ice extent ever is less scary; "2015 wasn't as hot as 1998 in the UAH record" somehow means 2015 wasn't particularly hot.

    Part if it may be their inability to understand the concept of "trends", which is part of a larger difficulty with "context". When we're talking about a history of hundreds of thousands of years, having the top few dozen records happen within the last handful of decades is pretty significant. There's been a change.

    1. Part if it may be their inability to understand the concept of "trends"...

      Yep. And they also don't understand anomalies. The reason the deniers are so fond of the satellite data sets is that, since the baseline period is more recent than that of the thermometer-based data sets, the anomalies are naturally smaller. The *trends* are essentially the same once you normalise the datasets, but they just don't get that. The smaller anomalies are all they see.

      In the end, it's all just D-K writ large.

    2. Actually D.C., I just wasted a whole lot of verbiage there restating essentially what you just said: they don't understand trends :-)

    3. ah, thank you Metzo for suddenly clarifying something for me re the importance of anomalies over a baseline period

      yes its obvious once it is pointed out - and another reason why the deniers like the satellite datasets

    4. In the end, it's all just D-K writ large.


      I think the magnitude of numbers create problems for deniers as well, a specific kind of innumeracy.

      During their currently-dead "pause" meme, they went on about how there'd been "no global warming" in one specific data set for someteen years!!! as if that was a big number. Pretend, for a moment, that the "pause" existed. Compared to the many thousands of years previous, in which CO2 levels and global temperatures didn't approach the level of the last someteen years, the only salient point is that the world is lots hotter now. The length of the faux pause was a fraction of an eyeblink.

      For deniers who aren't yet out of their own teens, perhaps one can understand why the fauxpause seemed to be a long time. For anyone else, it is either intentional blindness or innumerate blunder.

      This number problem exists in other areas, as when deniers can't understand why the contiguous United States (or even the city where I live) shouldn't be taken as a proxy for the planet ("It is colder in Podunkville this year than last year! What do you mean, the Earth is warming??"). The difference in scale from a locale to a planet seems beyond their comprehension.

    5. I have noticed, and I am no maths geek - in fact we aware of my own DK in that area

      That deniers struggle with the twin concepts of "global" and "average"

  4. I follow and (sparsely) comment on Neven's Arctic sea ice site. It's interesting with many knowledgeable participants, but there may be a little too much of the "racing to a new record?" and focus on the day to day minutia on the part of some of the more enthusiastic commenters.

    This year is very hard to call. Warm peripheral water, record low winter ice extent, extensive breakup of even high latitude ice, failed satellites and data centers, and now long-lived storms that are making it difficult to obtain visual confirmation of what strong winds are doing to mix the thermocline under the broken-up ice make this season's forecast a challenge. For the benefit of any readers who don't already know, the Arctic differs from most other oceans in that because of annual ice freezing/melting cycles it has an extensive area of colder, less saline water stably perched on warmer, more saline water. If these are mixed by strong winds acting on a partly ice-free surface then the effect on late summer ice could be significant.

    There is a small possibility that this will push 2016 below 2012 for the lowest extent and area on record, and even a very small chance that one of Peter Wadham's predictions (open water at the North Pole this year) will be correct, even if largely fortuitously.

    1. Magma - I've been casually following arctic sea ice for a couple of decades and intently following it for 5 or 6 years. I was one of many downloading PIOMAS historical volume data and historical sea ice extent data and trying to tease out something new - patterns, trends, predictions, whatever.

      But about 3 years ago I realized the sea ice is going to disappear. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but gone it will be. The year it actually happens will catch many by surprise - but I see it now just as a matter of weather. Meanwhile the overall trend makes each year more likely to be *the* year.

      Given the overall state of the ice this year - with little or no cohesive pack ice essentially left - I will be very surprised if volume minimum doesn't come in lower than 2012. If it does, then Maslowski's prediction of 'virtually ice free' by 2016 +/- 3 years will also likely be true, since 2012 barely failed his decade old criteria (an 80% reduction in summer volume from pre-2000 baseline).

      These last few weeks before the sun finally sets in the arctic still look to be interesting and possibly full of surprises. Like you, I still think 2012 is within reach - which would really be rather amazing considering that 95% of those following sea ice on a regular basis would have laughed hysterically at the idea just a couple of weeks ago. It's still a longshot, but with the right compacting winds I think we could still see extent plummet.

    2. "But about 3 years ago I realized the sea ice is going to disappear. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but gone it will be."

      Yes, and it will have significant, wide-ranging and as-yet poorly understood consequences for the climate, weather, and polar/circumpolar ecosystem.

      It's also one of the areas that our skeptical friends repeatedly misrepresent, playing up early forecasts by Maslowski and Wadham without including any of the caveats or details (OK, Wadhams doesn't put in many of those) as if this magically 'disproves' AGW.

      What they haven't bothered to realize is that whether Arctic summer sea ice first melts away in 2016 or 2036, it will be the first time in several millennia that that has happened, and this over a period of slightly declining Northern Hemisphere summer insolation.

  5. NSIDC daily extent data to 28th Aug. suggest there has been a further -0.564 million sq. km reduction in Arctic sea ice extent since Anthony posted his 'uptick' chart dated 22nd Aug. That's inside the top 10 biggest 5-day falls of the entire melt season so far.

    No official update yet at WUWT...


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