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NOAA/NASA/NSIDC: Arctic ice is alarmingly scarce and thin

By Joe Romm  

"NOAA/NASA/NSIDC: Arctic ice is alarmingly scarce and thin"

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Yes, I know you’ve all heard we’ve had “record” refreezing of Arctic ice. Big shock, there. We had record melting followed by a temporary cooling La Ni±a event. What those denier/delayer-1000 talking points don’t tell you is that the refrozen ice is very thin and still at record low levels following the staggering ice loss this summer.

To set the record straight, on Wednesday, the National Snow and Ice Data Center and NASA had a teleconference to show the surprising and alarming new data from NASA’s ICESat satellite, which revealed over the past year “the steepest yearly decline in perennial [i.e. old, thick] ice on record” (click to enlarge):

ice-3-08.gif

The key point is that ice volume is ice area times ice thickness. The seasonal ice (1 year or less old) is thinner and will quickly melt away and disburse in the wind. This is global warming, folks:

On March 18 the scientists said they believe that the increased area of sea ice this winter is due to recent weather conditions, while the decline in perennial ice reflects the longer-term warming climate trend and is a result of increased melting during summer and greater movement of the older ice out of the Arctic.

The Washington Post has a must-read story on this today:

“Because we had a cold winter, the public might think things have gotten better,” said Walter Meier of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “In fact, the loss of the perennial ice makes clear that they’re not getting better at all.

The surprising drop in perennial ice makes the fast-changing region more unstable, because the thinner seasonal ice melts readily in summer….

Flying over the Arctic, one might perceive the sea ice cover as broad, Meier said, but that apparent breadth hides the fact that the ice is so thin. “It’s a facade, like a Hollywood set,” he said. “There’s no building behind it.”

What a perfect metaphor for the delayers. Their arguments seem solid and impressive, but “It’s a facade, like a Hollywood set. There’s no building behind it.”

All of this thinning data comes comes on the heel of the February data reported from NOAA’s National Climactic Data Center, which pointed out that the area of Arctic ice is still historically small:

… the February 2008 Northern Hemisphere sea ice extent, which is measured from passive microwave instruments onboard NOAA satellites, was below the 1979-2000 mean, but greater than the previous four years. This was the fifth least February sea ice extent on record. Including 2008, the past five years had the least February sea ice extent since records began in 1979. Sea ice extent for February has decreased at a rate of 2.8%/decade (since satellite records began in 1979) as temperatures in the high latitude Northern Hemisphere have risen at a rate of approximately 0.37°C/decade over the same period.

The planet is warming, and the surface is being transformed.

All of you Delayers out there who are so sure we are in a cooling and ice-refreezing trend, I await your acceptance of my bet: The Arctic will be at least 90% ice free by 2020. Absent any takers this year, I can only assume you all don’t actually believe the nonsense you are spouting.

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39 Responses to NOAA/NASA/NSIDC: Arctic ice is alarmingly scarce and thin

  1. john says:

    It is astounding the lengths to which the delayers will go to obfusicate things. I still find it hard to see what’s in it for them, at this point. Yeah, they hate gubmint regs; Yeah many of them are funded by fossil fool money. But geez, this is serious stuff — in any rational mind it would trump ideology and even greed. After all, no one’s going to make money when we’re spending 10-15% of GDP on defensive expeditures to deal with global warming.

    I say we call them ostrich1000′s — they obviously have their head in the sand.

  2. PGosselin says:

    And I await you accepting my bet on sea level rise. What are you afraid of? Gore said sea levels will rise 20 ft. real soon, and drown the WTC memorial and create 160 million refugees!
    Let’s not forget Arctic passage was also open in the 1920s and 1940s. And it all but disappeared during the Holocene Optimum when temps were 3°C warmer than today. A fluctuating Actic is nothing new. LOL! What’s new is the hysteria and fear mongering going on by the folks who want to dictate our lives.

  3. exusian says:

    PGosselin Said: “Gore said sea levels will rise 20 ft. real soon”

    Flat out liar.

  4. Lou Grinzo says:

    PGosselin: Oh, stop it! I’m laughing so hard I can barely breathe! That has to be one of the best parodies of the denier knee-jerk response to a crushing amount of scientific evidence I’ve seen yet. You have such a gift that you should apply for a job writing for Stewart or Colbert.

    Oh, wait… you weren’t kidding?

    Really???

  5. Ronald says:

    What’s in it for them? That’s a good question. Answer that and then answer the counter argument of how to make arguments that get people to think differently, and you’ve got something.

    Why don’t more people think rationally, logically, or better on some subjects than others? Look at world Religions. People will think that their religion is true and correct, but would be able to pick out the faulty logic and reason in thinking that someone else’s religion might have. For the person who believes in what they believe, it’s the most natural thing in the world.

    Any real discussion on this would be more than I’d like to write in a post. Basically humans weren’t built to solve logic problems, but to survive. So there is a whole range of emotions and ideas that influence peoples thinking and it would be a long list. Even the clearest thinker on most subjects has their irrational thinking. (not specifically written with politicians in mind, but yah) We’ve all got our things.

    Neils Bohr I think it was who said, it’s not that we’ve changed minds thru reason that new ideas come into physics, but that the old people die off as the new ones take over. He probably was over stating it, but was ticked off that some of his ideas weren’t being accepted as quickly as he would like.

    Actually some of the topics that could be discussed could be other science subjects that have a hard time getting into the publics favor such as evolution and a whole list of subjects. I for a time read quite a lot of stuff put out by Skeptical Inquirer and Skeptic Magazine. They have some good stuff on why people fall for some things.

  6. David says:

    And for anyone who’s interested in the complete picture and not Joe’s cherry picking:

    http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/global.daily.ice.area.withtrend.jpg

  7. Sorghum Crow says:

    The BBC covers this today as well and has a nice graph of how perennial ice has declined.

    And to those deniers delayers who can’t understand how a greater extent of ice can be a smaller volume, I will be glad to sell you gasoline by the square foot.

  8. Jay Alt says:

    David -
    You link to the wrong data set and need the N. hemisphere, not global numbers.
    Here is the correct graph from the same source –

    http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/current.anom.jpg

    And their commentary on the Arctic’s drastic summer sea ice losses

    You’ve heard Al Gore comment that the “Earth has a fever”? It may also have major tooth decay. The 40Mb animation . . . shows the dramatic loss of multiyear sea ice

    http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/multiyear.ice.quikscat.mov

    over the past year. Multiyear sea ice is older and generally thicker ice – sea ice that has survived at least one melt season (shown in brighter white).

  9. Joe says:

    Yeah, I’ve cherry picked the data by presenting what NASA/NOAA/NSIDC presented. You delayers are getting silly.

  10. IANVS says:

    Joe,

    Unfortunately, they’re dead serious. They get their talking points from intellectual wonders like Rush Limbaugh & Sean Hannity & believe it with all their political hearts.

  11. Paul K says:

    Don’t see the controversy here. It stands to reason that after last summer’s large melt there is less old ice. It would be nice if we had accurate records pre 1979 if only to determine if the current situation of diminishing arctic and a rising antarctic is unusual or normal. Recent old news clips about arctic ice in the 1920s published on Anthony Watts’ blog are interesting, but not definitive.

  12. PGosselin says:

    Excusian
    Okay, he didn’t say it.
    HE ONLY SHOWED IT.

  13. PGosselin says:

    And I thought they knew everything there is to know.
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=88520025
    The science is settled? Oh really?

    Not so fast. Look at the vocabulary and language used in this report:
    “…a puzzling message…”
    “That could mean…”
    “…scientists aren’t quite understanding…”
    “This is puzzling because…”
    “…has been a very slight cooling…”
    “…may be… (used more than once)
    “…something more mysterious is going on.”
    “…there’s a little bit of a mystery.”
    “One possibility is…”
    “We can’t account for all of the sea level increase…”
    “…scientists are somehow misinterpreting the data…”
    “…that raises a new question:…”
    “…probably going back out into space…”
    “That can’t be directly measured…”
    “…we don’t have adequate tracking of…”
    “It’s also possible that…”
    “Or it’s possible that…”
    “…they don’t know about. ”
    “…all this new data about…”
    “…send people back to the drawing board.”
    “…still things to learn…”

    And I love the part about the earth having natural thermostats. Now wasn’t Richard Lindzen recently ridiculed for having floated out that idea? Hmmmm
    Believe me. This is a very long way from being understood. I’m seriously considering taking up that Arctic ice bet myself.

  14. PGosselin says:

    So Joe, tell us what you think of the NPR report? More right wing sound bytes? Denier drivel? Limbaugh lunacy?
    I think it says: “There’s a lot we don’t know!”
    You see, you have to take a look at aaaalllllll the data, and not only at what supports your political agenda.

    You see Joe, us deniers believe it is slowly getting warmer, which doesn’t surprise as it’s always getting warmer or cooler. That’s climate as usual. What we have a hard time swallowing is drastic state intervention in people’s lives and radical change that’s based on huge sets of conflicting data. I have no agenda…except to stay free and un-nannied. I do what I do for self-defence.

    Implementing radical change “just to be on the safe side” is going to cause a lot of environmental damage, hunger, poverty and starvation…as is now becoming apparent with this bio-fuel madness.
    If you panic huge masses of people, do you seriously believe you can predict what they’ll do? Very often what they do is highly irrational and destructive. Cool heads think better than hot heads.

  15. PGosselin says:

    @Paul K
    The arctic passage was also open in the 1920s and 40s. This NASA report only says that it’s been warm, and that’s it. It says nothing about the cause of the warming.

  16. paulm says:

    why dont you just take the bet PGosselin?

  17. PGosselin says:

    Because the chances of warming/cooling are only 50/50.
    Would you bet $1000 on flipping a coin?
    Arctic melting happened in the past, and will happen in the future.
    Also it says nothing about the cause.

    Comments about the NPR report?

  18. Joe says:

    PG: I’m giving you 2 to 1 on what you say is even money. So again, I realize that you deniers don’t believe the nonsense you are spouting.

    What I feel sad about for you is that you spend your time spreading disinformation that you don’t even have the guts to put money behind — but the disinformation you spread will do very real harm to billions of people if you convince enough people to delay action.

    People who don’t believe in science CAN’T pick up a tiny part of science and and ignore the rest of it — and expect anybody to ever believe them.

    The NPR report is about science in action. When you understand that, grasshopper, you will have achieved real wisdom.

    Anyway, since you are obviously a denier/delayer who wants CO2 concentrations to hit 1000 ppm, which will be the end of life on this planet as we know it, you won’t be surprised if I don’t continue responding.

  19. David B. Benson says:

    PGosselin — You haven’t done your homework..Read “The Discovery of Global Warming”, linked here:

    http://www.aip.org/history/climate/index.html

  20. PGosselin says:

    A little off the subject…
    http://driving.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/driving/used_car_reviews/article3552994.ece

    One has to remember that the lifetime of a diesel powered BMW 520 is three times that of a Prius. For each BMW 520d, you have to (using lots of energy!) produce 3 Prius vehicles. And let’s not forget all that toxic nickel in them Prius cars.

    Joe:
    “People who don’t believe in science CAN’T pick up a tiny part of science and and ignore the rest of it — and expect anybody to ever believe them.”

    Thank you master. That’s good advice for everyone!
    Gute Nacht!

  21. exusian says:

    PGosselin said: “Okay, he didn’t say it. HE ONLY SHOWED IT.”

    Talk about excuses.

    In the movie Gore clearly states that IF the Greenland ice cap, or IF the West Antarctic ice shelf, or IF half of each should melt it would raise sealevel by 20 feet. No time span is mentioned, period. The films shows what the effect would be IF sealevel should rise by 20 feet.

    P-boy is still a flat out liar.

    PGosselin said: “The arctic passage was also open in the 1920s and 40s.”

    And your source for this whopper is?

    The RCMP support ship St. Roch, the second ship to ever navigate the Northwest Passage, Amundsen’s passage of 1903–1906 being the first, took over two years to do it, from the summer of 1940 to fall of 1942. Doesn’t sound like it was all that open, does it?

    It’s not very smart to lie about things that are this easy to look up.

  22. exusian says:

    PGosselin said: “What we have a hard time swallowing is drastic state intervention in people’s lives and radical change that’s based on huge sets of conflicting data. I have no agenda…except to stay free and un-nannied.”

    Exactly, for deniers it is not about science, or logic, or even about reality.
    It’s about ideology and paranoia, plain and simple.

  23. exusian says:

    The paper that this story is based on was published in the American Geophysical Review’s Geophysical Research Letters: Nghiem et al 2007 “Rapid reduction of Arctic perennial sea ice” GRL, VOL. 34, L19504, doi:10.1029/2007GL031138, 2007
    The paper is available as a pdf here:
    http://uwnews.org/relatedcontent/2007/September/rc_parentID36894_thisID36984.pdf

    Note that it only looks at Arctic ice reduction through March 2007–before the record melt of last summer.

  24. exusian says:

    Pardon me, that should have read “A paper on the subject that this story is based on…”

  25. Paul K says:

    PGosselin,
    You should know that is useless to argue the science of AGW on this blog. Joe is a climate alarmist, a term used with all due respect because Joe is in fact sounding the alarm about what he believes is the very real possibility of the destruction of creation itself. You may think as I do that this belief is “way out there” in terms of real world probability, but Joe is sincere and passionate about his beliefs. What makes ClimateProgress unique is that Joe has a policy vision than is extremely mainstream and far different than what you are used to encountering. I highly recommend as a fellow member of the skeptic community that you answer the key question and seek common ground.

  26. Pangolin says:

    I don’t think that any of the trolls are willing to take that bet because any consistant reading of global warming news reveals that things are generally heating up “faster than expected.”

    In some cases the “faster than expected” of todays news is based upon the revised warming “faster than expected” estimates of warming just a year ago. Based upon my unscientific wild-assed-guess of accelerating climate change I would say that you will be able to win that bet by 2015 at the latest.

    Y’all might consider refusing to feed the trolls also. It doesn’t make them go away but they do end up looking silly if nobody responds to their posts.

  27. JCH says:

    “Don’t see the controversy here. It stands to reason that after last summer’s large melt there is less old ice. …” Paul K

    I think perennial ice continued to be lost throughout the winter, so it’s beyond just what was lost during the melt season.

    It melts, but it also gets expelled. It’s a double whammy, and perennial ice stands little chance of getting off the mat as long as it continues happening.

  28. john says:

    Ronald — the quote you paraphrased was from Max Planck.

    I see a trend here. Deniers throw up straw men (such as Gore said this or that) … most of which aren’t true, a few of which are. They use adhominum attacks; they employ “the big lie” a concoction so outlandish that it “must” be true (this most often when citing “science”). And when none of that works, they resort to faux funnies … anything to avoid data, facts and real science.

    Why is that, I wonder?

    Oh, yeah, PGosselin, your attempted “gotcha” with the NPR story? Not so good. Extracting some weasel words from people with a BS in Journalism probably doesn’t stack up too well with the entire community of climate scientists (and yes, I am ignoring Michaels and the two or three others — who get all their money form fossil fuel industry).

    Again, I am perplexed about why deniers and delayers deny and delay in the face of so much evidence. What is the upside?

  29. Dano says:

    What is the upside?

    Their ideologies – and by extension their identities – aren’t held up to examinaton and found to be wanting, incorrect, inapt, etc.

    Best,

    D

  30. Peter Foley says:

    The very fact only a small precentage of ice is “old” tells us that at some time it nearly all melts.

  31. Joe says:

    You miss the point. It used to be older. Now it is mostly new.

  32. Nylo says:

    So perennial ice has become less? Hmmm… that’s not really recent news, is it? I mean it became less in August. It is nice to bring the topic back now in order to counter the evident increase in ice in the arctic right now. “Bad quality ice” you seem to say.

    Ok, let’s update the record of perennial ice a bit. South Pole’s minimum this year happened by mid february:
    http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/current.365.south.jpg

    Since then it has been rising and will continue to do so until september. But what was the minimum last year?
    http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/current.area.south.jpg

    Hmmm, it looks like the minimum this year has been about +0,5M km2 more than last year’s. This means we have…

    +0,5 MILLION SQUARE KILOMETRES of PERENNIAL ICE in the South.

    Let’s wait until September and see what happens with the perennial ice in the North Pole. I bet right now that it will be at least another +0,5M compared to 2007′s, which was abnormaly low, meaning a total increase of +1M km2 of perennial ice in only one year.

    By the way, the total planetary anomaly right now is almost +1 million. Call it bad ice if you would like. It is more than the average of 79-00, it is not water and it is no sea-level increase.

  33. Nylo says:

    “All of you Delayers out there who are so sure we are in a cooling and ice-refreezing trend, I await your acceptance of my bet: The Arctic will be at least 90% ice free by 2020. Absent any takers this year, I can only assume you all don’t actually believe the nonsense you are spouting”.

    What do you understand by “90% free”? Do you mean ice free 90% of the year? Do you mean that the minimum will be 10% of the maximum? Of which maximum?

    Anyway, planetary sea ice cover varies seasonally between around 14 and 23 million square kilometres (that’s a 9M variation!), without any clear variation in the sea level as a response to that. Why would a hypothetical average loss of up to 3 M km2 in the arctic be supposed to cause a big change in the sea level? If it won’t, which other terrible effects do you expect it to cause?

  34. Joe says:

    The straightforward terms are spelled out in the links — which I guess you folks never use.

    “At no time between now and the end of the year 2020 will the minimum total Arctic Sea ice extent be less than 10% of the 1979-2000 average minimum annual Arctic Sea ice extent, as measured by NSIDC data or any other measurement mutually agreed-upon; provided, however, that if two or more volcanic eruptions with the energy level equal to or greater than the 1991 Mount Pinatubo shall occur between now and the end of 2020, then all bets are voided.”

    Melting sea-ice of course has virtually no impact on sea level. It may well be the first in a cascading series of events that 1) leads to much more drought in the SW and 2) faster melting in Greenland.

    But most importantly, it tells us that the climate is changing even faster than the IPCC fears, and that the amplifying feedbacks they acknowledged inadequately modeling are in fact important.

    For all of the delayers out there who CLAIM to be so certain recent data proves we are in a cooling trend and that therefore AGW has been disproved or falsified — the fact that not a single one of you is willing to take isn’t that — NOT A SINGLE ONE — I think reveals to all you don’t actually believe the nonsense you are spouting.

  35. Nylo says:

    Oh OK, it is easier than I thought. Where do I have to sign up?

    To make the odds better for you, I here declare that in case I win the bet in its stated terms, I will refuse to claim my money if the average sea ice extension in the Southern Hemisfere between 2000 and 2020 is smaller than the average between 1979 and 2000, in any ammount.

  36. Nylo says:

    By the way, looking at the graphs, 1991′s Pinatubo didn’t affect much the rate of ice melting in the NH, nor did 1998′s El Niño in the opposite direction. It seems to depend more on other factors than surface temperatures, or maybe it suffers important delays in its response. But anyway the terms are OK to me as I don’t think we will have 2 volcanic eruptions of that magnitude in only 12 years.

  37. kreg says:

    Nylo Said:

    … planetary sea ice cover varies seasonally between around 14 and 23 million square kilometres (that’s a 9M variation!), without any clear variation in the sea level as a response to that. Why would a hypothetical average loss of up to 3 M km2 in the arctic be supposed to cause a big change in the sea level? …

    Sea ice melt has no affect whatever on sea level, as it is already floating. The concern is over ice sheet breakup in greenland and ant arctica. Here, ice that has been frozen for millenia sits thousands of feet deep on top of land. If it melts, sea levels will rise.

  38. Jordon Beaven says:

    You can call me a delayer if you like (I will not be offended), but at the same time, I was once on the Al Gore bandwagon, but after last winter, and so far this winter, and after much OBJECTIVE and OPEN MINDED research, (and much expense upgrading all of my appliances etc. to make my home super efficient) I am now not so sure about climate change. I live in Canada, home of the ‘Arctic’ and this is the second winter in a row with temperatures well below average (December was nearly 6 degrees celsius/11 degrees farenheit colder than average in my region). I believe that I will take your bet regarding the arctic being 90% ice free by 2020, and I am quite certain that it is a bet that I will win. I hope that many other people out there will take the time to do there own research, and not just read the websites of like-minded people, but really try to dig into both sides with an open mind and see where it takes you. Some of you will still disagree with me, but some of you just may reach the same conclusions as I have. Many of you may already have done so, as I see less and less articles being written about climate change (particularly in the last 3 months). Just my humble opinion.