Did I Hear that Arctic Ice is GROWING?

Before church yesterday, one of my dear friends shared some great news with me.

“I heard that Arctic sea ice is up 98 percent! Is that right? It’s actually growing!” he told me in a moment of sincere friendly encouragement. Who knows, maybe the efforts of people like me were beginning to pay off!

I was doubtful. I knew this year’s summer melt wasn’t as bad as last year’s catastrophe. The summer ice retreat of 2012 demolished every prior record for Arctic ice melting by miles – more than a quarter million square miles, actually. Compared to the prior record melt in 2007, it was as though we had destroyed a chunk of sea ice big enough to cover the states of Texas and West Virginia combined. 2012 was absolutely awful, capping a 30-year death spiral for Arctic sea ice.

Worse yet, it showed how climate models often err on the conservative side. The U.N. climate panel’s most recent report had projected that we’d reach last year’s level of Arctic melt sometime between 2044 and 2064. We were frighteningly ahead of schedule.

So you can imagine my doubts. In one year, the problem is solved? No more Arctic melting worries? I thought I’d better check.

Well it turns out that the climate merchants of doubt have once again seized onto any shred of data to keep honest people from developing the resolve to take serious climate action. Fox News even suggested that it might be a sign of “global cooling,” citing a “60 percent increase” in ice cover from last year’s record lows.

In fact, Arctic ice melt this summer is much less severe than last year’s record (not 98 percent less, by any stretch). But what the climate skeptics aren’t telling you is this: It’s still way worse than the 30-year average for summer sea ice loss. In fact, compared to that average, only about 5 percent of years should see this much melt (almost two standard deviations greater than the average), unless fundamental changes were happening in the Arctic.

Which they are, of course.

This chart from Skeptical Science takes you through the last thirty years of data from the National Snow & Ice Data Center, (NSIDC) and shows the downs and occasional ups for Arctic sea ice. By the time 2013 is complete, we’ll no doubt have another upward blip on our overall rush toward an ice-free Arctic summer. But this makes a new trend? Now we don’t have to worry? You be the judge:

And if you want to see where 2013 stacks up relative to the average for the last 30 Arctic summers, here’s the chart from the NSIDC.

2013 sea ice

The Arctic is warming at an alarming pace. This little time-series global map from NASA will give you an amazingly graphic picture of just how alarming.

So, when are we going to hold the climate-denial news outlets accountable for misleading our people? This isn’t a game. It’s not politics. It’s not even difficult to understand. It’s physics, and it can’t be reversed – once we’ve overheated our only planet – for thousands of years. The children of conservatives will suffer the same as the children of progressives.

We now know a lot about the atmosphere. And we know that the risks from what we’re pumping into it are enormous. So, when are we going to get serious about protecting our kids from heat-trapping gases?

2 thoughts on “Did I Hear that Arctic Ice is GROWING?

  1. Darren B

    I agree with everything you said.

    I would also add that this news and the conversation that it has created, should be a cautionary reminder to those of us who support action on climate change, in how we talk about what’s happening “weatherwise” in our world today.

    Too often, when some environmental catastrophe happens, a typhoon in South Asia, a fire in the Western United States, a hurricane on the Eastern seaboard, you will read some environmentalist say, “This is proof (or the result) of climate change.”

    Of course, the scientific reality is that we cannot say that any single weather event (hurricane, fire or typhoon) is the result of climate change.

    So, when members of the environmental movement cherry pick events and say, “THIS is from climate change,” it shouldn’t surprise us at all to hear climate deniers cite other singular events, such as the increase of ice in the arctic and say, this is proof that climate change doesn’t exist. The climate deniers are merely following our bad example.

    Bottom line, as anxious as we are to share about climate change, we need to do a better job of making our arguments and framing the discussion.

    1. John Elwood Post author

      Darren: You have a point. It’s tempting to link climate and weather. Especially when we have confidence that the long term climate effects look so much like the near term weather events. Like Pakistan or Bangladesh floods: when they happen now, we’re pretty certain that the future will be just like this, except worse. (And, for Pakistan, subsequent desertification.) Or like the American Southwest drought: what happened in Texas last two years could conceivably be random, but this is almost certainly the future.

      But I’m also afraid that the statement that “no single weather event can be linked to climate change” can become a mantra in the hands of us laymen, and create an opposite error. Climate is nothing but the sum of all weather. It’s sunny and hot today in Chad because of climate; frozen in Antarctica for the same reason.

      So I was glad to see new peer-reviewed research that actually examines this issue for 12 extreme weather events in 2012. They concluded that half of them actually were contributed to by climate change. A readable version is here: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/sep/05/climate-change-partially-caused-extreme-weather-2012

      NOAA’s site link is here: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/news/explaining-extreme-events-2012-climate-perspective


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