Despite cooler weather, Arctic ice retreat just misses last years mark

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"Despite cooler weather, Arctic ice retreat just misses last years mark"

Although “This year was cooler and other weather conditions weren’t as bad” as last year, the Arctic sea ice minimum came within 150,000 square miles of last year’s record decline.

This is clear evidence that last year was no fluke and that human-caused global warming has become a major — if not the dominant — driver of long-term Arctic sea ice decline, which in turn could rapidly accelerate the destruction of a livable climate.

Graph with months on x axis and extent on y axis

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reported yesterday that the 2007 minimum was probably reached Friday, when “sea ice extent dropped to 4.52 million square kilometers (1.74 million square miles),” which is “the second-lowest recorded since 1979, and is 2.24 million square kilometers (0.86 million square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average minimum.”

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The NYT‘s Andy Revkin has a nice figure from the University of Illinois (above) and notes on his blog:

Yesterday, several ice experts, including William Chapman of the University of Illinois, Marika Holland at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and Walt Meier at the Boulder ice center, said that cloudier weather had prevented early-summer heating and that the strong winds that opened big stretches of water last year were not repeated this summer.

Nonetheless, Revkin titles his post “Arctic Ice Retreat Misses Last Year’s Mark” [rather than throwing in a “barely” or a “just” or a “despite cooler weather”] and he still says weakly:

Global warming from the buildup of human-generated greenhouse gases almost certainly contributes to the Arctic ice retreats, according to a host of Arctic specialists.

Andy, you’re killing me (and the planet): The best you can do is “almost certainly contributes“? C’mon already. The word “contributes” could mean, like, a 1% contribution, dude! At the very least, couldn’t you at least drop the “almost certainly”? Even better, just say, “is almost certainly a major contributor” — especially since you are attributing that not to “the overwhelming majority of climate scientists” as I think it is warranted, but merely “a host of Arctic specialists.” I will say “a host of” beats your usual formulation of “many.” For more on this, see “NYT editors confused about Arctic warming.”

The NSIDC adds “A word of caution on calling the minimum“:

Determining with certainty when the minimum has occurred is difficult until the melt season has decisively ended. For example, in 2005, the time series began to level out in early September, prompting speculation that we had reached the minimum. However, the sea ice contracted later in the season, again reducing sea ice extent and causing a further drop in the absolute minimum.

We mention this now because the natural variability of the climate system has frequently been known to trick human efforts at forecasting the future. It is still possible that ice extent could fall again, slightly, because of either further melting or a contraction in the area of the pack due to the motion of the ice. However, we have now seen five days of gains in extent. Because of the variability of sea ice at this time of year, the National Snow and Ice Data Center determines the minimum using a five-day running mean value.

The bottom line as far as the Arctic is concerned, according to the NSIDC’s Walt Meier:

We’re kind of in a new state of the Arctic basically, and it’s not a good one. We’re definitely sliding towards a point where the summer sea ice will be gone.

And that is very bad news for the rest of us, since it is likely to accelerate the melting of the tundra and hence the emission of massive quantities of carbon from the permafrost, which would in turn make catastrophic global warming far more difficult to prevent (see “Breaking News — Tundra 4: Permafrost loss linked to Arctic sea ice loss“).

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4 Responses to Despite cooler weather, Arctic ice retreat just misses last years mark

  1. paulm says:

    This article is interesting.
    http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20080330/focus/focus6.html

    evidenced in Jamaica and elsewhere by physical coastal features stranded inland, such as wave-cut notches and elevated coral reefs. Interestingly, there are similar features at about the two-metre mark above present-daysea level.

    We are definitely going to get around a 2m rise at some point in the near future!

    Basically the coastal cliffs in Jamaica record the various levels at which the sea level stabilized for an extended period.

    The waves were able to cut notches in to the cliffs during that time.

    It gives us a good indication of where levels will stabilize as different ice sheet melt. This is probably due to the climate settling in a particular state with respect to temperature.

    There is lots of evidence out there which suggests that rapid mluti-meter SLR does occur:
    High rates of sea-level rise during the last interglacial period
    http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v1/n1/full/ngeo.2007.28.html

    This is the scary one from down under….
    Coral reef clue to fast sea rise
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/feb/24/australia.environment

    Remember these scientist were saying that the arctic sea ice was suppose to be melting in 80+yrs time. Now it looks like its going to melt in the next 5yrs!

    Thats almost as good (bad) as the weather forecasts we get on TV :)

  2. jorleh says:

    I wonder the blindness of people as to clear facts: like Revkin, almost-many-perhaps-let´s see mentality.

    We are deep there in the soup and wondering where we are.

  3. Unrelated says:

    Global temperatures and sea ice retreat are unrelated. Arctic sea ice depends more on water temperatures and currents as well as cloudiness in that area. If you look at the records, neither in 1998 nor in 1999, with strong El Niño and La Niña each, showed arctic meltdowns substantially different from the years before, although global temperature variations were very big in both directions.

  4. shop says:

    We mention this now because the natural variability of the climate system has frequently been known to trick human efforts at forecasting the future. It is still possible that ice extent could fall again, slightly, because of either further melting or a contraction in the area of the pack due to the motion of the ice. However, we have now seen five days of gains in extent. Because of the variability of sea ice at this time of year, the National Snow and Ice Data Center determines the minimum using a five-day running mean value.