Record Arctic Sea-ice minimum 2012 declared – it’s the Silly Season!

In early August I posted my predictions for the “sceptical” response to the record sea ice minimum. Time to call myself to account. I had planned to do my own analysis, but John Mason at Skeptical Science has done such an excellent job of ploughing through the mountains of bullshit that I asked his permission to repost his comprehensive scorecard here…

The truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it, ignorance may deride it, malice may distort it, but there it is. Winston Churchill, 1916.

Late summer has long been known in media circles as the Silly Season, when any old story, embellished a bit here and a bit there, is trundled out to fill column space normally occupied by the graver matters of politics and business.

In the world of climate science, late summer is of course rather more important, marking the peak of the annual sea-ice melting season of the Northern Hemisphere, and this year has been extraordinary, with the canary in the coal mine tweeting louder than ever that something is seriously amiss with the climate.

With Arctic sea-ice having reached a record low extent, area and volume, several weeks ahead of the usual end-of-melt date, the Blogosphere has been ablaze with lengthy discussions of this event and its potential and worrisome ramifications. There have also been mass-outbreaks of denial accompanied by varying degrees of silliness, as one might expect when faced with an event like a record Arctic melt-out. Many commentators could see the meltdown approaching, both in the Arctic and around parts of the Blogosphere, with Gareth Renowden over at Hot Topic speculating in early August as follows:

“When Arctic sea ice area sets a new record low in the next couple of weeks, the usual suspects will say: “You can’t trust area, sea ice extent is the only valid metric“.

When Arctic sea ice extent sets a new record low in September, the following arguments will be run in parallel:

1) There will be a frantic search for a definition of extent in which a new record was not set

2) There will be a complaint that the satellite record has been blighted by the failure of a sensor and the calibrations needed to get a new sensor in operation have corrupted the record

3) It will be claimed that it was all caused by the major Arctic storm that hit in August, and thus can’t be attributed to global warming

4) It’s cyclical — it’s all happened before, in the 1930s, and is therefore nothing unusual

5) That it’s irrelevant, because it’s not global and not happening where anyone lives so can’t possibly matter.

When the sea ice extent and area anomalies blow out to record levels in early October because of the delayed freeze-up, there will be silence.

When the re-freeze starts, and the Arctic basin is covered in ice once more (early December), Anthony Watts will report on the record rate of ice formation, calling it a “stunning recovery“.”

They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent. Winston Churchill, 1936.

How closely did Gareth’s predictions above conform to the reality on the media airwaves? In this post-minimum-declared Blogosphere round-up, we take a light-hearted look.

Continue reading “Record Arctic Sea-ice minimum 2012 declared – it’s the Silly Season!”

Back in Judy’s jungle

Judith Curry is a climate scientist who in recent times has achieved prominence in accusing her colleagues of groupthink, criticising the IPCC process, and suggesting that scientists can gain from more tolerant engagement with the sceptics. She is not a sceptic of the science herself, but unsurprisingly she has been welcomed by many of the deniers and is frequently quoted as evidence of the soundness of their complaints. Michael Lemonick of Climate Central has written a lengthy article about her published today in the Scientific American. He is even-handed to a fault, but I found nothing to alter my perception of what has struck me as her opacity and naivety in the few pieces of her writing I have seen.


Lemonick’s article raises the question of uncertainty in the scientific predictions, something which Curry apparently feels is not sufficiently acknowledged.

“Curry asserts that scientists haven’t adequately dealt with the uncertainty in their calculations and don’t even know with precision what’s arguably the most basic number in the field: the climate forcing from CO2—that is, the amount of warming a doubling of CO2 alone would cause without any amplifying or mitigating effects from melting ice, increased water vapor or any of a dozen other factors.”

I’m not a scientist. I’ve enjoyed reading science books for the general reader over the years and tried to have a broad understanding of major scientific theories. All relatively gentle and interesting. When it came to climate science however there was a dimension of urgency which was not present when reading about evolution or trying to understand relativity. If the climate scientists were even partially right the human future was under an almost unimaginably severe threat, though one which could yet be avoided. It rapidly became apparent that this was a science where one couldn’t just be an interested observer, even though a non-scientist.

In this context I can’t say it bothers me that scientists don’t know with precision the warming resulting from a doubling of CO2. I’ve seen the range that is generally considered possible and that’s quite sufficient to alarm me given that its effect is likely to be amplified by accompanying feedbacks. Apparently Curry feels that the uncertainty of the feedbacks is also not sufficiently acknowledged, but nothing I’ve read from the scientists offers certainty in estimating feedbacks, and what we are actually observing in the melting of Arctic sea ice or the acceleration of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheet loss is quite enough evidence for me that the feedback amplification effect is a serious factor.

Similarly it doesn’t bother me if the IPCC reports are judged to have not always communicated the level of uncertainty as carefully as they might have done. “Sometimes they do it well, sometimes not so well,” said Harold Shapiro, the head of the InterAcademy Council which recently reported on the IPCC procedures. That’s fine by me. I can cope with uneven performance. It doesn’t lead me to think that the overall scientific picture is unreliable. And even Curry acknowledges that uncertainty works both ways and can be overstated as well as understated. Again, observations that some effects of warming are occurring well ahead of expectations illustrates that.

It’s the broad sweep of climate science that rivets my attention as a concerned human being. Curry seems to me to be magnifying comparative trifles. Which is precisely what many of the deniers and delayers depend on. I doubt that she’s right in the matters she alights on, but even if she were it doesn’t alter the overwhelming reality of human-caused climate change. There’s a coherence to the scientific picture which we would be utterly foolish to allow ourselves to be blinded to even by a practising scientist.

Curry may have a gripe with her colleagues, but it is neither here nor there in terms of what the science means for the actions we should be taking. I notice she seems to be keen on cost-benefit analysis. I don’t know how you sit down and do that sort of analysis in the face of the threat of climate change. When disaster looms you do everything in your power to avert it.

[Brian Eno]