Arctic Death Spiral 2010: Navy’s oceanographer tells Congress, “the volume of ice as of last September has never been lower…in the last several thousand years”

Disinformers get it very wrong and Inaccuweather’s Bastardi absurdly asserts sea ice trend is “leveling off and will turn the other way”

The death spiral of Arctic sea ice continued this year, according to both observations and modeling. The figure above comes from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. In September, NSIDC’s director Mark Serreze said, “The volume of ice left in the Arctic likely reached the lowest ever level this month” and “I stand by my previous statements that the Arctic summer sea ice cover is in a death spiral. It’s not going to recover.”Also in September, a first-of-its-kind analysis by an international team of 18 top scientists found “less ice covers the Arctic today than at any time in recent geologic history” and this ice loss isunexplainable by any of the known natural variabilities.”

In November, Rear Admiral David Titley, the Oceanographer of the Navy and the Director of Navy’s Task Force Climate Change, testified that “the volume of ice as of last September has never been lower” — and that it is headed to zero in the summer. You can read his testimony here.


Peter Sinclair has an excerpt of his testimony in an excellent video that shows just how wrong the discredited disinformers from WattsUpWithThat were in their sea ice projections this year:

I noted in September that the anti-science crowd at WUWT have been insisting that the ice is getting thicker and, as recently as mid-August, asserted that we would see a ‘recovery’ in Arctic ice to 2006 levels (see “WattsUpWithThat breaks own record for fastest overturning of a prediction by reality”). Subsequently, Anthony Watts and Steve Goddard tried to rewrite history and game the sea-ice prediction contest run by SEARCH, the Study of Environmental Arctic Change. I discussed their revisionism in September and Tamino eviscerates their laughable November revisionism here.

The whole episode demonstrate that the deniers are in an alternate reality devoid of science and actual observations — and they will never admit they were wrong, even for the most blatant mis-predictions that can be checked by anyone with access to the Internet.

Unfortunately, while the disinformers appear to have the upper hand rhetorically and politically — since it is easier to sell inaction with clever lies than it is to sell action with the unvarnished truth — the ice has no political agenda, as geophysicist Henry Pollack says in the video.


Ice volume is what matters most, of course, since it determines long-term viability of the summer ice. The University of Washington’s Polar Science Center reported that based on its data-driven modeling, “Monthly average Arctic Ice Volume for Sept 2010 was 4,000 km3, the lowest over the 1979–2010 period … 9,400 km^3 or 70% below its mean for the 1979–2009 period.”

Rear Admiral Titley says he has told the Chief of Naval Operations that “we expect to see four weeks of basically ice free conditions in the mid to late 2030s.”

On Sunday, Joe Bastardi, Inaccuweather’s chief long-range forecaster, asserts (at 3:30 in the new video) of the Arctic sea ice trend: “My idea, though, is it’s leveling off “” and will turn the other way!”

Obviously, the near-term trend matters both for the future of humanity and more mundane matters like the national security planning by the Navy. I think it’s safe to say that Rear Admiral Titley knows what he’s talking about and Bastardi doesn’t (see Long wrong Joe Bastardi cooks the books to smear NSIDC: National Snow & Ice Data Center explains Bastardi can’t read graphs and “is unclear as to how standardized anomalies are derived”).

For the record, Tamino — who called the September sea ice minimum more closely than just about anyone else — has a great graph of the key trend in sea ice area:


The chances of Bastardi being right are, unfortunately, zero. Even more unfortunately, many people listen to him. I suppose I should challenge Bastardi to a bet on this — perhaps the subject of a later post.

Wieslaw Maslowski of the Naval Postgraduate School has the most aggressive prediction (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”):

*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. 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.

The death spiral is real — and quite consequential for humanity. The international study by 18 scientists cited above concluded:

Reviewed geological data indicate that the history of Arctic sea ice is closely linked with climate changes driven primarily by greenhouse and orbital forcings and associated feedbacks. This link is reflected in the persistence of the Arctic amplification, where fast feedbacks are largely controlled by sea-ice conditions.

A 2008 study led by David Lawrence of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) concluded (see “Tundra 4: Permafrost loss linked to Arctic sea ice loss”):

We find that simulated western Arctic land warming trends during rapid sea ice loss are 3.5 times greater than secular 21st century climate-change trends. The accelerated warming signal penetrates up to 1500 km inland”¦.

In other words, if it continues, the recent trend in sea ice loss may triple overall Arctic warming, causing large emissions in carbon dioxide and methane from the tundra this century (for a review of recent literature on the tundra, see “Science stunner: Vast East Siberian Arctic Shelf methane stores destabilizing and venting; NSF issues world a wake-up call: “Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming”). Indeed, Lawrence himself said, “Our study suggests that, if sea-ice continues to contract rapidly over the next several years, Arctic land warming and permafrost thaw are likely to accelerate.”

The time to act is a while ago, but now is better than later.