Arctic Death Spiral: CryoSat Reveals Decline In Arctic Sea Ice Volume Continues

Arctic sea ice volume collapsed from 1979 to 2012, several decades ahead of what the climate models had predicted.

Now new data from the European Space Agency’s CryoSat satellite has revealed that this ice volume trend continued through the spring of 2013:

University of Leeds Prof. Andrew Shepherd explains:

“CryoSat continues to provide clear evidence of diminishing Arctic sea ice…. there has been a decrease in the volume of winter and summer ice over the past three years.

“The volume of the sea ice at the end of last winter was less than 15 000 cubic km, which is lower than any other year going into summer and indicates less winter growth than usual.”

The deniers and the confusionists generally focus on very short term trends in Arctic sea ice area. Two British tabloids known for climate disinformation have seized upon the supposed “recovery” in Arctic sea ice this summer to argue we are entering a period of global cooling. They have been widely debunked.


And everyone’s favorite short-term, two-dimensional thinker, Judith Curry, tells the Wall Street Journal that the main significance of this year’s rebound in sea ice area is that “the narrative of the ‘spiral of death’ for the sea ice has been broken.” Seriously!

Our friends at Skeptical Science have a terrific figure illustrating all this:

NSIDC September Arctic sea ice extent (blue diamonds) with “recovery” years highlighted in red, vs. the long-term sea ice decline fit with a second order polynomial, also in red.

In a lame effort to make it seem like the Arctic is disintegrating slower than scientists thought, the UK tabloids cite a 2007 BBC article quoting Professor Wieslaw Maslowski saying that the Arctic could be ice free in the summer of 2013. [Note: As Maslowski explained to me, what he actually predicted back then was ice-free Arctic seas by 2016 “plus or minus three years”]. In fact, until very recently, virtually all climate models did not project the Arctic would be free of summer sea ice until 2080 or later. Maslowski was one of the earliest experts to focus on volume, and the volume collapse in the last decade vindicates his approach.

The CryoSat satellite now allows very accurate measures of ice thickness, which can be combined with ice area to give volume. Here is a new video “based on measurements taken between October 2010 and April 2013,” which revealed that “the volume of seasonal winter and summer sea ice has declined year on year during this period.”

Watch their video:

Arctic ice thickness 2010-13 – 419860 – ESA embed videoEdit descriptionspaceinvideos.esa.intSince we aren’t in a literal aviation death spiral (aka a graveyard spiral) or a pairs figure skating death spiral, we are left with the “idiomatic” definition:

The situation or course of action of one who is on a path toward some sort of inevitable catastrophic failure.


Top figure credit: Andy Lee Robinson