Another trail of twaddle

Sea ice again.

I was reading Gareth who had been reading Monbiot. And so I did too. After I’d waded through the goo and the dribble about Bush, the first item of substance was A new summary of the science published since last year’s Intergovernmental Panel report suggests that – almost a century ahead of schedule – the critical climate processes might have begun. Just a year ago the Intergovernmental Panel warned that the Arctic’s “late-summer sea ice is projected to disappear almost completely towards the end of the 21st century … in some models.” But, as the new report by the Public Interest Research Centre (Pirc) shows, climate scientists are now predicting the end of late-summer sea ice within three to seven years. The trajectory of current melting plummets through the graphs like a meteorite falling to earth.

This being journalism, Monbiot is obliged not to cite his source (I’ve said that before, haven’t I? Ah well), but the answer appears to be here. But its not a report; its not a summary of the science since IPCC, its a blog posting. And it is not true that The trajectory of current melting plummets through the graphs like a meteorite falling to earth – as we all know, there was marginally more ice this year than last – and if Monbiot, PIRC, or anyone from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, or indeed anyone else is stupid enough to believe that all the late-summer ice will be gone by 2013 (or within “within three to seven years”), I’ve got money that says otherwise: wanna bet?

Forgive me for being outraged by the Monbiot writing or the Grauniad printing junk; we don’t actually get it as a daily paper any more (I read very little of it, and only ever did the kakuro) but my wife gets it on saturday largely for the review section. Oh, and Daniel likes the comic.

So, Monbiot has misrepresented PIRC. Following the chain of twaddle, we find that PIRC has misrepresented its sources, too. The assertion that Scientists are now predicting an ice-free Arctic by the summer of 2013, a full 80 years ahead of IPCC predictions is sourced to that well-known scientific journal, IHT: Retreating Ice: A blue Arctic Ocean in summers by 2013?. To be fair, the IHT piece isn’t particularly bad, just badly abused by the PIRC. It contains some stuff shown to be wrong by subsequent events – Experts say that next summer is quite likely to see an even bigger ice retreat because this winter’s freeze is starting from such a huge ice deficit. – well it didn’t. The IHT didn’t know that at the time, of course, but Monbiot should know it by now. And whoever was the unnamed source of At least one researcher, of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, projects a blue Arctic Ocean in summers by 2013 is presumably now keeping their head down. The article even quotes some of the folks at the time who were quite well aware of what might happen: Natural variations could turn around and counteract the greenhouse-gas-forced change, perhaps stabilizing the ice for a bit.

[Update: Thanks to Baz, who points out that my jibes against Monbiot are unjust. If you read his original column, rather than the grauniad reprint, you do get something closer to a source: "Public Interest Research Centre, 25th November 2008. Climate Safety. www.pirc.info". Its still a bit vague, but a lot better. Following that, I get to http://www.pirc.info/content/view/60/54/, then to http://climatesafety.org/, then to http://climatesafety.org/wp-content/uploads/climatesafety.pdf, which I presume is the URL Monbiot meant to cite.

The language is slightly saner (Given the unprecedented changes seen in recent years, many Arctic scientists are now predicting an ice-free summer Arctic by somewhere between 2011 and 2015.15,16,17) but then veers off into stupidity again (Wieslaw Maslowski of the Naval Postgraduate College in California predicts an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice by the
summer of 2013, but notes that on the basis of data from 2007 and 2005, this prediction could already be seen as too conservative. Louis Fortier, scientific director of the Canadian research network ArcticNet, believes that the ocean could be ice-free in summertime as soon as 2010,19
while NASA climate scientist Jay Zwally suggests 2012.20
) Why is a report published in Nov 2008 not taking into account the 2008 ice extent. Could it be... inconvenient? Having had a quick browse, none of 15-20 look like reliable sources, so I suspect most of those "could"'s have had their caveats stripped away.

So I'm obliged to retract my complains about his journalism: he has represented the PIRC report quite fairly. The PIRC report still looks like nonsense, though, and I would have hoped Monbiot would have been aware enough to know that.

Oh, and (see comments) the unnamed is Maslowski, who isn't keeping his head down, but has retreated to vagueness Our findings imply that sea ice might be melting faster than predicted by both climate models and estimated from satellite observations. This implies that the Arctic not only might, but is likely to be ice-free during the summer in the near future.

-W]

Comments

  1. #1 Eric
    2008/11/29

    I believe that the unnamed researcher from the Naval Postgraduate school is Wieslaw Maslowski. Here’s a BBC story on his presentation at AGU last year, which is where the 2013 projection was first reported (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7139797.stm). I have no idea to what extent he is keeping his head low, but he claims his prediction was not simply an extrapolation of last year’s record low ice cover, but based entirely on a physical model.

  2. #2 Steve Bloom
    2008/11/29

    That researcher is indeed Maslowski, and bold mustelid assertions to the contrary he doesn’t seem to be keeping his head down, noting these four AGU fall meeting abstracts:

    [Indeed. I'll note that the closest he now gets seems to be Our findings imply that sea ice might be melting faster than predicted by both climate models and estimated from satellite observations. This implies that the Arctic not only might, but is likely to be ice-free during the summer in the near future. in which he is wise enough to give no dates at all against which his words might be verified, preferring the charmingly vague "near future" -W]

    Oceanic Forcing of Arctic Sea Ice

    Arctic Ocean so far have been primarily associated with the atmospheric forcing and ice-albedo feedback. We analyze numerical model output validated with available observations to determine the relative importance of the internal oceanic forcing of sea ice melt. In particular, the thermodynamic coupling at the ice-ocean interface in the western Arctic Ocean is investigated. Under-ice ablation by anomalously warm water advected from the Chukchi shelves and distributed at the subsurface layer in the western Arctic Ocean by mesoscale eddies is found to explain at least 60% of the total variance of sea ice thickness. We hypothesize that the excess oceanic heat, that in recent years has been accumulating below the surface during summer, is a critical initial factor in reducing ice concentration and thickness in the western Arctic Ocean at the early melting season and onwards the following year. Observational data and more realistic model representation of feedback processes between the upper ocean and the atmosphere under diminishing ice cover are critical to test this hypothesis and to advance Arctic climate prediction.

    Intrusion of Warm Bering/Chukchi Waters Onto the Shelf in the Western Beaufort Sea

    Alaska Coastal Current (ACC) through Barrow Canyon during late summer are described from high-resolution hydrography, acoustic Doppler current profiler measured currents, and satellite-measured sea surface temperature imagery acquired mid-August to mid-September 2005-2007 near Barrow, Alaska. Numerical simulations are used to provide a multi-decadal context for these observational data. Four generalized wind regimes and associated circulation states are identified. When winds are from the east or east-southeast, the ACC jet tends to be relatively strong and flows adjacent to the shelf break along the southern flank of Barrow Canyon. These easterly winds drive inner shelf currents northwestward along the Alaskan Beaufort coast where they oppose significant eastward intrusions of warm water from Barrow Canyon onto the shelf. Because these easterly winds promote sea level set down over the Beaufort shelf and upwelling along the Beaufort slope, the ACC jet necessarily becomes weaker, broader, and displaced seaward from the Beaufort shelf break upon exiting Barrow Canyon. Winds from the northeast promote separation of the ACC from the southern flank of Barrow Canyon and establish an up-canyon current along the southern flank that is fed in part by waters from the western Beaufort shelf. When winds are weak or from the southwest, warm Bering/Chukchi waters from Barrow Canyon intrude onto the western Beaufort shelf.

    Why global climate model predictions of Arctic warming are too conservative?

    Panel for Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report (IPCC-AR4) on average predict some 50% or more reduction of summer sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean by the end of this century. Unfortunately the majority of those models have significant limitations in their representation of past and present variability in the Arctic. The inability of climate models to reproduce the recent warming and ice melt in the Arctic Ocean diminishes their accuracy of future climate predictions. Some of these limitations include: northward oceanic heat fluxes, distribution and variability of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, and its export into the North Atlantic. The general tendency in those models is to transport warm Atlantic Water via the Barents Sea, with Fram Strait experiencing mostly outflow to the south. In reality, the West Spitsbergen Current flowing along the eastern part of Fram Strait delivers the majority of heat into the Arctic Ocean, while most of the heat entering the Barents Sea is released to the atmosphere before entering the central Arctic. More importantly, the heat advected by Summer Pacific Water through Bering Strait is distributed by local currents and eddies over the Chukchi Shelf and into the Beaufort Sea and is readily available for melting sea ice in the western Arctic, where most of the ice retreat has taken place. We argue that high resolution is required to realistically model the flow of Pacific Water and the associated heat advection to address GCM limitations and their ability to realistically simulate sea ice variability in the western Arctic. This means that the magnitude of oceanic heat input to the Arctic Ocean and its impact on the sea ice might be significantly under-represented both in space and time in global GCMs, which may help explain their conservative predictions of warming and ice melt there.

    Deciphering the Causality and Rate of Warming in the Arctic Ocean

    Recent changes in the Arctic sea ice cover provide one of the most evident examples of warming climate. However, there is an ongoing scientific debate about the causes of the ice melt and its rate. Most climate models predict up to 50% reduction of summer sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean by the end of this century, as a result of an amplified response to global warming. Though, satellite observations of ice extent and area imply much faster rate of melting ice which may result in ice-free summers in the Arctic Ocean by sometime between 2030 and 2040. Yet, when ice thickness and volume are taken into account the rate of decline of Arctic sea ice might be even faster. Hence one of the main questions to be addressed concerning the Arctic Ocean is: ‘how fast is the Arctic sea ice melting and when it might be expected to disappear all together in summer’? Another equally important question is: ‘can the recent negative trend in sea ice be stopped or reversed’? While the first question has to do with an improved knowledge of Arctic-wide changes in sea ice thickness and volume which is limited at present, the second question requires understanding of the causes of sea ice melt. In this talk we attempt to address the two questions posed above. First, we analyze trends of sea ice decline based on the output from a regional ice-ocean model of the pan-Arctic region forced with realistic atmospheric data in comparison with trends estimated from observations. Second, we investigate the effect, distribution, and timing of oceanic thermodynamic forcing of sea ice melt. The magnitude of oceanic forcing will be quantified, validated against available estimates from observations and compared with those derived from several global climate models participating in the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report (IPPC-AR4). Our findings imply that sea ice might be melting faster than predicted by both climate models and estimated from satellite observations. This implies that the Arctic not only might, but is likely to be ice-free during the summer in the near future. In addition, we argue that the oceanic forcing is critical especially in the western Arctic Ocean and its more realistic representation in climate models should improve their predictive skill.

  3. #3 Steve Bloom
    2008/11/29

    William, just now the spam filter caught a comment of mine (due to multiple links). Please free it up. Thanks.

  4. #4 Gareth
    2008/11/30

    Criticising Monbiot for a bit of hyperbole is like criticising a politician for being economical with the truth. He chose a poor example, perhaps, but it’s only one par in a longer piece. The McEwan article makes many of the same points but is a much better read.

    And what about the Grauniad crossword? I can download Araucaria’s (the finest setter in the UK) puzzles free of charge these days. Who needs fancy Japanese stuff…?

  5. #5 Sam C
    2008/11/30

    I long ago gave up reading Monbiot: he is a professional grumbler who shovels out sanctimoniousness. He’s the sort of self-righteous arse who complains about carbon emissions without acknowledging that his jetting around is part of the problem or seeing the absurdity of this. Of course, it’s different, he believes the world needs to hear his whinging, and he’s on a mission to anointed St George of the Dungheap. He’s Prince Charles’ more tedious twin.

    Whatever happens, any time, any place, anywhere, Monbiot is against it. What’s there to like about him?

  6. #6 Barry
    2008/11/30

    This being journalism, Monbiot is obliged not to cite his source

    Monbiot’s pretty good at citing his sources, if you check here:
    http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2008/11/25/one-shot-left/

    For whatever reason, the versions of his columns that appear in the Grauniad et al lose the references. But his nemeses (is that a word?) like Melanie Phillips don’t bother at all with citing sources. With Monbiot, we can follow the links and say whether it is / is not good evidence.

    After I’d waded through the goo and the dribble about Bush

    Come on man, that stuff’s great.

  7. #7 Barry
    2008/11/30

    I’d just like to add that “Sam C” is talking bollocks.

    Monbiot’s for many of the things that most environmentalists are against (like carbon capture and storage), and he gave up flying years ago.

    I suspect that Sam C takes a template “this is what environmentalists are like” and applies it to anyone with green credentials.

  8. #8 Munin
    2008/11/30

    Following the links from Monbiot’s site, the source for the sea-ice claim appears to be this report (though I’m not sure why he didn’t link to it directly).
    http://www.pirc.info/content/view/60/54/
    http://climatesafety.org/wp-content/uploads/climatesafety.pdf

    See page 7 of the report. The sources (refs 15-18) are all news items.

  9. #9 Steve Bloom
    2008/11/30

    In the end the PIRC report does seem to rely on Maslowski and supporting statements from a few other scientists. William may be right that the quoted abstract is a climb-down from the 2013 projection of a year ago, but then again it may not be. We’ll be hearing all about it in a couple of weeks, as I’m sure there’ll be plenty of media at his presentation. More to the point, we’ll see what the next couple of years of ice behavior turns out to be.

  10. #10 Hank Roberts
    2008/12/01

    I hope for release of more of the classified Navy data from the USA soon. It’s been a long time since the “Gore box” area info was declassified.
    Maslowski has a long record.

    William, have you ever had occasion to ask any of your Navy people if they know more than they’re allowed to say about sea ice trends?

    When I heard Wegman, at those notorious hearings, say it was time to move on and that his big concern was Arctic warming, I thought, jeez, he might as well be saying “Hint! Hint! D’Oh!!” — but nobody followed up with him. I get the same feeling with Maslowski lately.

    And what’s become of Dr. Bitz? Last seen at RC some months before the 2007 sea ice crash, with a model that was in hindsight quite spooky.

    It’s certainly fair to insist nobody say anything that doesn’t have public data on which it can be based.

    But if the Gore box hadn’t been declassified, and the US Navy was still entirely secretive, how’d we be doing right now with only public info?

    [I really doubt that anything still to be declassified will shed much light on this. But I had no direct contact with that side of things -W]

  11. #11 Hank Roberts
    2008/12/01

    > Monbiot … what’s there to like about him?

    May 22, 2005 Monbiot recounts how he telephoned the World Glacier Monitoring Service and read Bellamy’s letter to them. …
    (Which New Scientist should have done before printing it).

    Hold him to his own standard — ask if he can actually dig out better citations than we’ve seen so far.

  12. #12 guthrie
    2008/12/01

    Good idea Hank. From Monbiot you stand a good chance of getting a retraction or clarification. So go on , communicate with him.

  13. #13 Steve Bloom
    2008/12/04

    In their own staid way, ice experts panic. Hansen also makes an appearance, inevitably.

    [Killer tipping points of no return, again. I don't believe the can't-return-to-initial-state stuff. Who sez, based on what? -W]

  14. #14 Steve Bloom
    2008/12/04

    Well, there are two referenced papers, although I haven’t read them. Also, to be fair, I suspect it’s more like given-continued-anthro-forcing-can’t-reverse-trend-for-long-enough-to-return-to-initial-state.

  15. #15 Gareth
    2008/12/06

    Grist to the mill…

    [But does he mean it? We may find out -W]

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