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The Arctic gets it again

13 Mar 2024 | News Roundup

If you want to make yourself popular, then ridiculous, one proven method is to predict an ice-free Arctic in the near future. Watch our Prophets of Doom video for a recap of the long line of failed Arctic melting predictions. Nonetheless, where angels fear to tread, a new study in Nature says yup, this time for sure, by the 2030s or 2050, or earlier, perhaps 2035-2067. And 2100. Thanks for that.

In case you think we are being unfair, well, academic prose acquired an evil reputation the hard way: it earned it. Hence, and this passage is from the “Abstract” meant to present a clear simplified look at the main findings:

“In the September monthly mean, the earliest ice-free conditions (the first single occurrence of an ice-free Arctic) could occur in 2020–2030s under all emission trajectories and are likely to occur by 2050. However, daily September ice-free conditions are expected approximately 4 years earlier on average, with the possibility of preceding monthly metrics by 10 years. Consistently ice-free September conditions (frequent occurrences of an ice-free Arctic) are anticipated by mid-century (by 2035–2067), with emission trajectories determining how often and for how long the Arctic could be ice free.”

Now we know what you’re thinking. Namely “huh?” Or perhaps “emission trajectories” caught your eye? You mean RCP8.5, right?” Actually they’ve moved on… to SSP8.5. Which is worse.

Arguably you would not expect real scientists to use exploded scenarios. Or to start the main paper with the sentence:

“Arctic sea ice cover – including sea ice area (SIA), sea ice extent (SIE) and sea ice thickness – has declined conspicuously since the beginning of satellite observations in 1978.”

Or maybe these days you would. But it’s still not right, because it is well-understood that RCP8.5 is impossible and that the beginning of satellite observations in 1978 coincided with the end of a natural cooling trend, despite rising atmospheric CO2, that saw a peak for Arctic ice dramatically greater than its extent in the 1940s. It’s not quite cherry-picking, because the two coincided by coincidence not design. But failing to point it out is pretty feeble.

As is failing to point out that actual Arctic ice, as opposed to emission-scenario computer-model Arctic ice, is not vanishing. Instead it’s rebounding. At this point in early March it’s higher than it was in 2006, and it has been above the 20-year average almost every day this year. Even though (drum roll please) “Here, the temperature is warming faster than on any other part of the Earth” although you can “Click to learn about how reindeer are helping to fight climate change.” (Not only is everything nice threatened by it, everything nice is on our side in the fight.)

As for the history of failed predictions, um uh mumble jargon obfuscate:

“climate models from the late 1970s already predicted the possibility of reaching summer ice-free conditions under sufficient warming, with current climate models suggesting that September is likely to be ice free before mid-century. However, internal variability, physical differences between the models and evolving definitions of ‘ice free’ complicate accurate predictions, as demonstrated by the timing of ice-free conditions differing by more than 20 years owing to internal variability, by more than 100 years across models, or by decades depending on the definition used.”

No. What complicates accurate predictions is weather being variable and models being unreliable.

P.S. The paper also asserts that “As the earliest possible date of an ice-free Arctic approaches, clear communication is key.” Physician, heal thyself.

4 comments on “The Arctic gets it again”

  1. Some of these "predictions" are actually predicting everything and nothing, unless something changes!

  2. On the basis of the historical record, going back into the 19th century, there would appear to be about a 70-year cycle for Arctic ice. We know, for example, that ice cover was decreasing in the 1920’s to 1940’s (the RCMP schooner St Roch sailed across the Arctic ocean west to east in the 1940 - 1942 period, and made the east to west return trip in 1944). Assuming there was an Arctic ice minimum around 1942, then with a 70-year cycle there would have been another minimum around 2012 with a maximum around 1977, which fits the known facts fairly well. OK, you can argue about specific dates, but the cyclical nature of Arctic ice extent seems to be fairly well established by the historical record.

  3. Follow the money.Who funded this study that was published in Nature mag?Sounds like publish or perish.They like to jump in their time machine and
    make predictions for periods when they might not even still be alive.

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