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Speaking volumes on Arctic ice

08 May 2024 | News Roundup

No sooner had we shown that if you add back in the data from before 1979 there’s no secular trend in the last half-century of Arctic sea ice extent, and that it was rebounding in early 2024, than the arctic doomsters and sealioners said pfffft, who cares about extent, it’s volume that matters. Which is clearly a bait-and-switch since they sure cared about extent when they thought it supported their case. But OK, let’s talk volume. The Polar Science Centre, a network of researchers operating out of the University of Washington, maintains a “PIOMAS” data series (PIOMAS stands for “Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System) that shows volume more or less tracking extent from 1979 to the present. Meaning yes, it’s been going down, but not since 2012, which is odd if the crisis has been accelerating since blah blah blah. And what about before 1979? You have to battle hordes of formats and qualifiers to get to this chart which shows, um, levels consistently lower in the 1960s than the vast majority of years since (up to 2010, where their chart stops):

In many other ways the pattern evident from their research is not what the people parroting half-understood talking points claim it is. It’s not direct measurement, it’s “reanalysis” and yes, they compare data from the same date each year “to remove the annual cycle”. Doing so indicates that there was a low in 2017, as opposed to 2012 for the extent (though only late in the year for the latter; much of 2012 saw fairly robust ice extent). And since then volume has grown, “with a lot of recent years clustered around 22.5 103 km3”. So far so odd.

Here’s something else. The “hottest year ever”TM, was singled out, at least rhetorically:

“2023 finished with an annually averaged sea ice volume that was the 9th lowest on record with 14,122 km3 with recent years all clustered closely together. 2017 still holds the annual volume record with 12.800 km3.”

They mean the record low, of course. But why? How? Why not 2023? And again we caution readers to take statements like “9th lowest on record” with a grain of sea salt since the modern satellite record only covers 45 years, meaning it’s nowhere near the bottom as you’d expect if the hype were correct. Nine years is a fifth of that entire period. So eight other years were lower in the last 45. Unscary.

Also remember that these vaunted satellite measurements are not hard data even if satellites are cool and high-tech. They are multi-step interpretations of signals and thus, as they note, another estimate “shows an anomaly thickness pattern very similar to that from PIOMAS, but the pattern seems amplified with stronger positive and negative anomalies.” And actually we’re messing with you a bit, because that other one is the “Satellite derived sea ice thickness (CryoSat 2, AWI algorithm v2.6)”. It’s the satellite record, not PIOMAS, which by contrast, is a hodgepodge.

We don’t say it critically. On the contrary, they’re trying to scrape together all the data they can, check their reconstructions against what can be measured, and refine the model accordingly, which is commendable. But it’s not easy. As they rightly caution:

“Sea ice volume is an important climate indicator. It depends on both ice thickness and extent and [is] therefore more directly tied to climate forcing than extent alone. However, Arctic sea ice volume cannot currently be observed continuously. Observations from satellites, Navy submarines, moorings, and field measurements are all limited in space and time. The assimilation of observations into numerical models currently provides one way of estimating sea ice volume changes on a continuous basis over several decades. Comparisons of the model estimates of the ice thickness with observations help test our understanding of the processes represented in the model that are important for sea ice formation and melt.”

Scientists should not be reproached when they identify uncertainties or even errors, as for instance when:

“We identified a programming error in a routine that interpolates ice concentration data prior to assimilation. The error only affected data from 2010-2013. These data have been reprocessed and are now available as version 2.1. Ice thickness is generally greater in the Beaufort Chukchi Sea area with the largest differences in thickness during May. Differences in ice volume are up to 11% greater in late spring.”

For admitting and fixing an error they should be commended not heckled. But people who deny, ignore or fail to notice these uncertainties and blare that these numbers are harder than adamant should be criticized for being loudly irritatingly obtuse. Especially because if PIOMAS can have one such error and detect it, there could be others not yet spotted.

PIOMAS is highly speculative, and designed by people convinced global warming is melting the ice and will keep doing so:

“Significant changes in arctic climate have been detected in recent years. One of the most striking changes is the decline of sea ice concurrent with changes in atmospheric circulation and increased surface air temperature. This arctic warming trend, as consistently projected by global climate models (GCMs), is likely to continue into the future. The trend will lead to a diminished arctic sea-ice cover. Diminution of ice cover will greatly impact the regional and global climate. Less ice cover will also affect the socio-economic and ecosystems in the north polar region.”

Still, we’re not afraid of their data, partly because they seem scrupulously careful and honest. And it doesn’t show what they thought it would, or what we were assured it would.

4 comments on “Speaking volumes on Arctic ice”

  1. As I read your articles it strikes me that we could accomplish great things if we weren't wasting all of this scientific effort on a hoax!

  2. I'm a little uncomfortable with the way the PIOMAS chart is fairly static from about 1961 to 1974, then has much greater variability from 1975 to 2010. Speaking as an erstwhile experimental physicist, data like this always raises a suspicion in me that there is some difference between the two periods in the way the data was measured or sourced. Just sayin'. I don't claim any expertise in Arctic ice otherwise.

  3. The late Stephen Schneider, at first an acolyte in The Coming Ice Age cult, who later became a high priest in the Global Warming cult, had this to say about his "scientific method:"

    We need to get some broad based support, to capture the public's imagination.... So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements and make little mention of any doubts.... Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.

    He tried to explain this away, claiming that what he said was selectively edited. His more-complete remark in the Discover
    Magazine interview included a remark about a "double ethical bind." Within one paragraph he said both "we have to include all doubts" and "we have to... make little mention of any doubts.'" That proves he wasn't a real scientist.

    Schneider was no outlier. His views were at the core of the cult.

    "We've got to ride this global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing in
    terms of economic and environmental policy."
    -- Timothy Wirth, president of the UN Foundation. Former U.S. Senator.

    "No matter if the science of global warming is all phony...climate change provides the greatest opportunity to bring
    about justice and equality in the world."
    -- Christine Stewart, former Canadian Minister of the Environment.

    More in my new book "Where Will We Get Our Energy?" Everything quantified. No vague handwaving. More than 350 bibliographic citations.

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