Arctic sea ice area and volume drop near record lows

WattsUpWithThat breaks its own record for fastest overturning of a prediction by reality

Sea ice area 8-10

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA, click to enlarge) has a widely used plot of sea ice area.

The notion that the Arctic sea ice was somehow on a long-term recovery trend based on a short-term two-dimensional analysis (i.e. sea ice area or extent just over the last 2 years) — had no basis in fact.  That goes double (triple?) when you look at three dimensions (i.e. volume) over a multi-year period, as I’ll discuss below.

But first, Anthony Watts and Steven Goddard have published some two dozen posts this year trying to pull a Groucho Marx with their shrinking readership:  “Who are you going to believe — me or your own lying eyes.”  In a June post, “The undeath spiral,” Watts and Goddard predict “Should we expect a nice recovery this summer due to the thicker ice? You bet ya.”

Amazingly, they repeated that exact dead-wrong prediction in an August 9 (!) post (click here, if you want a good laugh, emphasis most definitely in the original):

Steve Goddard writes that so far, “steady as a rock” and offers some interesting analysis:

At the beginning of June, I observed that the PIPS ice distribution in 2010 was very similar to 2006. The distributions were nearly identical, with 2010 average thickness a little lower than 2006.

Can we find another year with similar ice distribution as 2010? I can see Russian ice in my Windows. Note in the graph below that 2010 is very similar to 2006. 2006 had the highest minimum (and smallest maximum) in the DMI record. Like 2010, the ice was compressed and thick in 2006. Conclusion : Should we expect a nice recovery this summer due to the thicker ice? You bet ya.

Since then we have read seemingly endless hysterics by Joe Romm and government sources about record melt rates, and how clueless and ignorant my analysis has been.

Hysterics.  Seriously.

To be clear, on August 9, Goddard and Watts reassert their prediction that the ice will recover this year.  Yes, they were predicting ” a record high minimum in the DMI charts.”  Not even close.

But as if that wrong prediction was not undone by reality fast enough, on August 22, Goddard and Watts try to break their own record with this restated prediction:

My forecast remains unchanged. 5.5 million, finishing above 2009 and below 2006. Same as it has been since May.

We’re now at about 5.3 million km2.  We blew past 5.5 within days of that post.  And they say even a stopped clock is right twice a day — but how about a clock that is broken in a way so that it always shows the wrong time?

Why does Watts still let Goddard post (see Fastest disinformer retraction: Watts says Goddard’s “Arctic ice increasing by 50000 km2 per year” post is “an example of what not to do when graphing trends”)?

Back to actual science.  More significant than sea ice area or extemt, we are almost certainly at or near record low volume.

Back in July 2009, some of the leading cryoscientists at JPL, the Polar Science Center [PSC] at the University of Washington, and NASA published a major peer-reviewed article, “Thinning and volume loss of the Arctic Ocean sea ice cover: 2003-2008” (subs. req’d).

You can find a basic discussion of their findings here on NASA’s website, which points out, “Arctic sea ice thinned dramatically between the winters of 2004 and 2008, with thin seasonal ice replacing thick older ice as the dominant type for the first time on record.”  That link has some excellent figures, like this one:

Arctic Ice Volume

“ICESat measurements of winter multi-year ice cover in the Arctic Ocean between 2004 and 2008, along with the corresponding downward trend in overall winter sea ice volume, and switch in dominant ice type from multi-year ice to first-year ice.”

Between 2007 “” the record low ice extent “” and 2008, some 2000 cubic kilometers of Arctic sea ice were lost.  Volume simply never recovered, even when extent and area did in 2008.  We also know that the Arctic ice did not “recover” in 2008 (see “Arctic poised to see record low sea ice volume this year“):

NSIDC ice age 3-10

Even when the news stories were about the Arctic ice supposedly “recovering” (in area) in 2008 and 2009, it was still sharply shedding the thickest ice “” ice older than 2 years.

And now we can see it hasn’t recovered in 2010, which is precisely what the PSC’s PIOMAS ice volume model shows:

Volume NS

And so we would still appear to be on track toward the prediction of Wieslaw Maslowski of the Naval Postgraduate School

Maslowski SMALL

*This projection is based on a combined model and data trendline focusing on ice volume.  By “ice-free,” Maslowski tells me he means more than an 80% drop from the 1979-2000 summer volume baseline of ~200,00 km^3 [see Arctic death spiral: Naval Postgrad School’s Maslowski “projects ice-free* fall by 2016 (+/- 3 yrs)”:  But in the land of make-believe, Watts and Goddard say: “Arctic ice extent and thickness nearly identical to what it was 10 years ago.”].

Some sea ice above Greenland and Eastern Canada may survive into the 2020s (as the inset in his figure shows), but the Arctic as it has been for apparently a million years will be gone.

My big $1000 bet with James Annan, William Connolley, and Brian Schmidt still looks pretty good, which is to say I would definitely not switch sides (see “Another big climate bet “” Of Ice and Men“).

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32 Responses to Arctic sea ice area and volume drop near record lows

  1. James says:

    I love your clock analogy Joe!

    By the way, in the paragraph:

    Back to actual science. More significant than sea ice area or volume, we are almost certainly at or near record low volume.

    Do you mean:

    Back to actual science. More significant than sea ice area or extent, we are almost certainly at or near record low volume.

  2. Lore says:

    Also, in a recent announcement over at WUWT, Watts will be going on leave for a few months while Steve Goddard takes off to run his own blog on climate denial. Could be that Anthony got tired of wiping the toxic egg off of Steve’s face. Meanwhile, for Mr. Watts, it looks like the inmates will be running the asylum.

  3. J Bowers says:

    So that’s why Goddard’s taken a leave of absence from WUWT.

  4. catman306 says:

    Too bad more people don’t have the old fashion refrigerators that need defrosting. Not only do they use less than half as much electricity and have a much smaller carbon footprint, they serve as a laboratory non-scientists studying the melting of ice.

    While defrosting, at first not much happens. The ice is hard as metal. But after a certain threshold is crossed, it gets softer and rotten. Then big chunks easily break off and if you remove them, soon the whole freezer is ice free and you’re wiping up water. If you pack the freezer compartment with un-refrigerated canned drinks, the whole process is much quicker. If you don’t remove the ice chunks, the whole process slows down.

    The polar ice cap is just defrosting. I think we’re in the ‘big-chunks-breaking-off-stage’ today. The change in albedo caused by sea water and soot on the ice is the analog of un-refrigerated drinks speeding things up.

    But a refrigerator has an ‘on’ switch that insures that it will get cold again. We’re out of luck on that one with CO2 going to the roof.

  5. mike roddy says:

    First the “temperatute stations” project, now this. If Watts and Goddard were scientists, they would never get past peer review, and would be avoided as if they had bad breath.

  6. Dano says:

    Just the right note. These jokers and the gullible rubes that lap it up should be ridiculed. Long past anything else.



  7. Rob Honeycutt says:

    For anyone who hasn’t seen this, here is a great presentation that points out how WUWT and Monckton cherry pick their way around Arctic sea ice.

  8. Jon says:

    Does anyone know what the deadline for the August Search Sea Ice Outlook submissions was? Presumably after August 22nd, since Goddard’s submission lowered his predicted minimum to 5.1 million. Personally, I suspect he saw the writing on the wall before then but didn’t change his tune in hopes a cold snap would come along to save him from having to admit he was wrong.

  9. t_p_hamilton says:

    Another way of looking at the broken clock: Watts and Goddard will be right when it snows CO2 in hell.

  10. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    I will admit surprise at the current ice extent. I am surprised at how well it has held up.

    Looking at the satellite pictures so much of the icepack looks like it has been put through a grinder. Ice breakers that should be able to back and ram eight foot ice, can smash a thirty foot ridge. Swell goes through most of the ice pack. The ice is changing far more than mere statistics suggest and those statistics are still scary.

    Sometime soon we will see a repeat of 2007 and will be a really significant downturn.

  11. Lou Grinzo says:

    I think this volume vs. extent topic is a perfect example of how the deniers cherry pick data or metrics, even when they’re not simply making stuff up.

    Nothing highlights the importance of the volume measurements as much as the detail in the one graph Joe included — from 2007 to 2008 when sea ice extent started its “recovery” there was STILL a drop in ice volume of 2,000 cubic kilometers, about 12% of the 2007 volume(!). For comparison, the latest measurement for loss of ice in Greenland is “only” around 300 cubic km/year.

  12. ozajh says:

    Does anyone know why the JAXA AMSR-E map of Sea Ice Area looks so different from their AMSR-E map of Sea Ice Extent?

    [JR: They are very different things. Check the definitions.]

  13. Paul K2 says:

    Rabid Doomsayer comments on the fractured state of the remaining ice. I think that is the most significant issue this year. Since a great deal of multiyear ice ended up in the Beaufort and East Siberian seas this year, and although (and eventually) ice at these lower latitudes will generally melt off, it isn’t surprising that the ice area in the East Siberian sea is still 120k+ square km higher than last year’s minimum for that sea. This much ice area translates to about 150 sq km of ice extent that could still disappear this year, just in that sea. The ice that has moved in over the central Arctic Basin shows a lot of open leads and fractures in the relatively highly fractured ice pack.

    The key question seems to be how far the open water intrusions get into the Central ice pack, especially at latitudes exceeding the 80N parallel. There are fingers of open water extending into the ice pack above the 80N latitude ranging from the Fram Strait past Svalbard and to Severnaya Zemlya. There are also open water intrusions going above the 80N latitude in the direction of the New Siberian islands and in the direction of the Bering Strait. If we are going to see the North Pole with open sea, than first we should start seeing significant open sea penetrations above the 80N parallel. This year seems to be showing these penetrations into the Arctic basin ice pack, as well as working off a lot of the remaining multiyear ice. The next several years should be interesting.

  14. Prokaryotes says:

    Why not just ignore the troll website WUWT?

  15. JeandeBegles says:

    Arctic sea ice melting gives powerfull pictures to demonstrate the strength of global warming and raise people determination to act and cut our own CO2 emissions, really.
    Joe, thank you for these posts that I copy to store the most powerfull pictures for our taca association job of raising people awareness (grass root). A technical question: When I want to select a part of a post, automatically the whole post and the comments are selected, which is quite uneasy to deal with. Thank you to tell me is this feature is volontary for a purpose I don’t know, or if you can give me a fix about this.

  16. ToddInNorway says:

    @14 It would avoid a lot frustration to ignore the deniers. But they unfortunately do not go away, and continue to confuse the general public. What we need is to convince a small number of the most vocal, highly profiled skeptics who have the most influence with deniars. We can debate the motivation of Bjørn Lomborg for renouncing his previous position, but he has done it, and for most of the uninformed public, that is all they need to know. Someone they trust and believe knows what he is talking about now says we need to prioritize reducing and mitigating AGW. Just imagine what the effect would be if Rush Limbaugh said this to his dittoheads? Or if Fox news came out and supported the National Academy of Sciences on their recent study confirming AGW and the urgent need to act? Or simply get the Cato Institute to do the same? It would be game over for the denialist and obstructionist movement in the very near term. Instead, the Tea Party movement has promoted a new crowd of political candidates of the very worst climate deniar ilk who may just be running the US Congress next year.

  17. David Ferrell says:

    The rapid multi-year decline in Arctic sea-ice volume is the overwhelmingly relevant metric here, compared to which the change in either area or extent of ice cover are almost irrelevant. A thin sheet of first-year ice will naturally tend to form during the six months of the year when the North Pole is in perpetual darkness. The changes in ice area and extent from year to year can be regarded as fluctuations representing “natural variability” of weather in the high Arctic, having numerous teleconnections to global weather as a whole and strongly influenced by the phases of the Pacific Ocean ENSO cycle.

    By contrast, the steep decline in ice volume is a strong and consistent signal of accelerating climate change, less subject to the effects of this year-to-year variability since an enormous amount of latent heat must be supplied to result in a significant ice-volume change. The warming climate can supply this latent heat; mere weather can’t, although El Niño heats the globe enough to have a significant impact, as in 2007 and now 2010. The brain-dead media, being largely asleep at the wheel, doesn’t understand the difference or at least is taking its merry time to wake up; while the “skeptics” naturally seize on the year-to-year ups and downs in Arctic sea-ice area and extent as indications of a long-term “trend,” just as in the case of temperature data: once fools, always fools.

    Call it “thermodynamic destiny” or what you will, but the fact is that the current rapid warming of the earth has placed the ~3 million-year-old Arctic ice cap out of equilibrium with the climate system as a whole, doomed by the ~390 ppm of CO2 now in the atmosphere. Perennial Arctic sea ice is in consequence set to disappear on a time scale of years, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it: the tipping point in the Arctic has been passed. In the context of this destiny, the operation of “weather factors” represent the highly variable twists and turns of the story line in a drama for which the essential plot has been laid out and the outcome known.

    As NASA’S James E. Hansen has warned, the most dangerous possibilities of climate change concern the hemispheric and global effects of key climatic “tipping points” being crossed—points beyond which the changes take on a life of their own and proceed out of our control, becoming “the changes that change everything.”

    The disappearance of the perennial Arctic Ocean ice cap is just such a change, likely to re-make the planet as we know it. The long-term effects of its loss (on the global energy balance, long-established patterns of oceanic and atmospheric circulation, hydrology, the weather, agricultural production, and economic well-being) are likely to be severe throughout Eurasia and North America. Its irreversible loss will certainly prove to be the worst environmental catastrophe humans have thus far seen, disrupting our societies and potentially condemning much of humanity to poverty and shortened life spans, thereby reversing almost all the gains in living standards since the seventeenth century.

    But further down the line, even worse environmental catastrophes await us if we fail to take timely action to rein in greenhouse emissions. Time is running out to forestall the worst effects of man-made climate change. Will we have to be knocked back to the Stone Age before we wake up to the reality of the human impact upon climate?

  18. Pete Dunkelberg says:

    For lots more Arctic analysis and animations see Neven.

  19. JMurphy says:

    It would appear that Goddard went out in a blaze of…glorious hole-digging, which even Watts was embarrassed about :

    Steven, you really need to stop

    And since you won’t take the hints, I’m closing the thread with this image

    All because of Goddard’s comments from here onwards

    [JR: That’s funny. Never saw that.]

  20. Al says:

    Hi Prokaryotes,
    The 3 main reasons I don’t ignore WUWT are:
    1. I can’t resist looking to see if Goddard/Watts can top their previous inanity with the next post (and they often manage to do it).
    2. I can’t resist looking for signs that they’re starting to change their tune (and sometimes it looks like Watts is trying to soften the readers up for the inevitable – but Goddard, no way).
    3. I like reading the well-reasoned comments by some of the regulars like R. Gates, Anu, Phil, etc. (and admiring their patience). I’ve got good at paging down quickly through the dross.

    By the way, I find it ironic that I add to his page hits and can’t help wondering what percentage view his site for similar reasons. Quite significant, I’d expect, but he’s not likely to do a survey on that.

  21. peter whitehead says:

    once the sea-ice story clearly fails to suit them they will forget it and move on to something else.

    remember, they work on the basis that one tiny area of uncertainty in the climate change case proves it is all a lie, but giant errors in the denier case are simply ignored.

    their method would go like this: Toyota had to recall some cars due to faulty parts THEREFORE the internal combustion engine DOES NOT EXIST

    you cannot reason with them – it is as if you are playing basketball, but they are using tennis rule whenever it suits them

  22. Leif says:

    Joe, It might be informative to open a discussion on the triple point of water in the Arctic on this sight some slow day and compare the ensuing discussion. Re. JMurphy,@19. Thou I hate to draw any attention to wuwt.

  23. David Ferrell says:


    In my comment #17 above, in reference to the media, I should have said “The USUAL brain-dead media….” instead of the unqualified “The brain-dead media….” Typos and omissions happen….

  24. NeilT says:

    I was looking at the Arctic Terra images for Sept 1st today. I was looking at the “leads”. Some are 50sq miles. Some are nearly 400sq miles.

    Looking at the East Siberian Sea and the Chuchki it appears that much of what is being reported as extent is simply “slush”. There is no other word for it.

    Even if it never melts out this year there must be a very significant change to the mass balance this year…..

  25. ken levenson says:

    is it my imagination or does it seem that the melt season is growing? the bottom seems to be moving from early september toward late september. a small shift to be sure – but could it be possible that we still have another 2 or 3 weeks of melting in front of us? polar amplification is headed to “11”….

    [JR: It is starting sooner, according to NSIDC. Has anybody seen anything on it lasting longer?]

  26. Paul K2 says:

    The preliminary Bremen satellite image for today has been posted, and it shows a significant band of green and blue (less than 50% area ice) between the relatively large extent of ice in the East Siberian Sea and the ice pack in the central Arctic Basin.

    It appears that this large area of ice is becoming orphaned from the main ice pack, and should result in significant declines in ice extent until the end of the melt season in about 15-20 days. Normally the ice extent loss should slow to a crawl in September, but with this much weakened ice pack at relatively lower latitudes and exposed to the wave action in the New Siberian sea, we should see higher ice extent losses this month than we saw in September last year.

  27. Chris Winter says:

    Jean de Begles wrote: “A technical question: When I want to select a part of a post, automatically the whole post and the comments are selected, which is quite uneasy to deal with. Thank you to tell me is this feature is voluntary for a purpose I don’t know, or if you can give me a fix about this.”

    I see something like this when using the terminals in one public library. If I try to click and drag to highlight part of a post, the highlight always jumps from the initial cursor position to the top or bottom of the thread. Also, control-A does not work.

    Their technical person says the problem appears to be blog-specific, and it is true I’ve never seen it anywhere else but CP. However, my own laptop has no such problem with CP; I can highlight whatever portion of a post I want.

  28. NeilT says:

    Seems to be restricted to IE8. I tried firefox and it works OK.

  29. NeilT says:

    JR, a few years back I put together a composite of images from one day in October from the cyroshpere today archive.

    I just picked October 24th and had a look now.

    The change from 79 or even 99 is quite marked. OK 2008 shows some variance in the last few years but the trend is clear. It’s melting more, for longer and taking longer and longer to regrow each year. 2007 is, of course, rediculous when you look at October 24th compared to 1979.

    It’s not hard to see. Unless you don’t want to look.

  30. NeilT says:

    “Update: The water temperature is 7.5 degrees. If we weren’t sailing, it would be a great temperature for a swim!”

    Børge Ousland, chuchki sea, September 3rd, 2010

    Not so cold then…. Plenty of scope for Ice melt yet.

    [JR: Blogworthy!]

  31. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Longer melt season
    New NASA-led research shows that the melt season for Arctic sea ice has lengthened by an average of 20 days over the span of 28 years, or 6.4 days per decade. The finding stems from scientists’ work to compile the first comprehensive record of melt onset and freeze-up dates — the “melt season” — for the entire Arctic.

    an earlier one abstract only 2006
    Duration of the Arctic Sea Ice Melt Season: Regional and Interannual Variability, 1979–2001 G. I. Belchansky

    Is that enough to get you started?