Saturday, August 4, 2012

In Praise of

Somewhere around two years ago, iirc, I happened on this blog. I had, as I remember, found it indirectly. I had been following Paul Krugman the economist for about 25 years, and saw in his NY Times blog a reference to Joe Romm’s blog on climate change.  Since I had recently been made aware by some public library books like A World Without Ice and Storms of My Grandchildren (Hansen), not to mention a summary of the IPCC 2007 report, of the importance of the subject, I followed Prof. Krugman’s pointer to There I happily followed Mr. Romm’s pointers to in-depth recent research and other ways to sharpen my understanding of the subject.  And then he pointed me to a blog on Arctic Sea Ice –

It has been an extraordinary two years of reading, and a very rewarding journey. I must therefore give full credit up front to its presiding spirit, Neven – of whom I confess I know very little, aside from the facts that he is Dutch and that he apparently at one point considered trying to find a retirement place in Tasmania.

What has made my time following this blog so very rewarding, aside from the importance and urgency of the subject matter – about which I have written many times before, and will, I’m sure, again – is the sheer richness and variety of the accessible information available to the patient lurker. This was not fully apparent at the start. Indeed, my memory of my first impressions was that this was a site trying to piggyback off not very available scientific data on trends in Arctic sea ice, and having to fend off “climate denialists” attempted to clutter up the comments at the same time.

“Denialists” were, of course, yet another variant on the garden-variety “troll” that I had first seen in 1981 with my first experience of the Internet and newsgroups. As had been increasingly happening since the late 1990s, they made up in pack mentality and corporate encouragement for their decreasing skills in swearing and logic. Nevertheless, they posed a danger to all decent blogs:  that the “moderator”/blog poster would become so taken up with warring with denialists that their great value in conveying new information outside the traditional structures of academia and the like would be completely diluted – something that concerns me about Climate Central to this day.

However, over the last two years, I find that I have gotten as much if not more solid scientific background from on certain subjects than even  Consider the following:
  • ·         The early/final stages of sea ice freezing/melt, which can deceive instruments and therefore forecasts, but which we have learned to adjust for – melt ponds and the like.
  • ·         The strange case in which global warming can decrease Antarctic land ice and yet initially increase Antarctic sea ice (by about 1% per decade).
  • ·         The role of wind and current in propelling any individual chunk of Arctic sea ice across the top of the world, to eventually melt in the northern Atlantic.
  • ·         The role of insolation and changed albedo, not just in speeding existing ice melt but also in having follow-on effects on world climate.
  • ·         The effect of Arctic sea ice melt on Greenland land ice melt rates, not to mention the speedup in both from added global warming in the summer in the north.
  • ·         The effects of warmer water currents as opposed to warmer air temperatures in speeding melt.
  • ·         The alarming role of methane, of which Arctic may be as much as a sixth of the sources of this greenhouse gas in the next century.

All this plus the mixed joy of watching a terrible but fascinating race, in which I at the same time guess a certain minimum area, extent, and volume of Arctic sea ice for a year, and “root” for the correctness of my guess, and still dread the possibility that I will continue to be more or less right – which would mean that most even of the concerned and reasonable are underestimating the speed with which disaster is approaching.  After all, we still hear forecasts of 2100 for less than 5% Arctic sea ice cover at minimum, or 2045, or 2030, but the Maslowski projection of 2013-2016 (which I think translates to 2016-2020) is still rarely espoused – and that’s what I predict and fear.

Back in 2010, as I recall, everyone was hung up on extent statistics, because area was less volatile and volume measurements were distrusted (wrongly, I believe). And so, we got our daily fix by betting on extent minima and pretty much closed up during the winter, with cute pictures of polar bears and other hibernating creatures. Today, there is an extraordinary wealth of graphs to look at, about extent, area, volume, thickness, and their trends, as well as the climate equivalent of “radar”: pictures of daily ice concentrations. I don’t know what this winter will bring, but last winter was quite busy, what with methane, discussions of trends in sea ice maxima, and discussions of shifts in weather patterns in North America and North Eurasia due to changes in the North Atlantic dipole anomaly. Somehow, I think the blog will find it hard to hibernate this year as well.

Because it is apparent even now, more than a month from any minima, that this year is a continuation of the trend, and it is going to be bad. There’s perhaps a 5% chance that there won’t be a new area minimum, to accompany yet another new volume minimum and a likely possible extent minimum. The “radar”, for the first time, is showing bits and pieces of ice rather than dense concentrations, closer and closer to the Pole, and the thickness projections for 5 days from now are for very thin ice within 3 degrees of the Pole. So now, the question will be, how long into October will the Arctic waters hold the warmth of the summer sun beating down on open water until sometime in September? As we enter a new normal of longer and longer periods of ice-free Arctic waters, how long will the gloom of night and lower temperatures in Arctic winter stave off the prospect of an ice-free Arctic year-round, not only increasing global temperatures from lower albedo but also possibly unlocking more stores of methane?

And the last month has seen an extraordinary series of blog posts by Neven and comments by perennial commenters to enhance the understanding and richness of Arctic (and Greenland) ice analysis – to the point where Neven is almost becoming a fixture on

And so, I recommend to the two or three people who actually read this blog the guilty pleasure (?) of reading for your daily fix of extent and area figures, and for the extraordinary bursts of mixed opinion and analysis that follow. As with every blog, in the comments there are gems and there is manure; but the proportion of gems lately is quite high, imho. And no, I haven’t said anything for weeks; what need?

I reluctantly followed a link to Anthony Watts’ denialist site today, and was struck by an amazing realization:  it wasn’t just that they were living in another world, it was a much poorer world.  There was no discussion of melt ponds, or possible cyclones that might break up the ice and melt it further; in fact, there was nothing, except general discussion by people obviously not that interested in learning more about just how things worked.  To misquote George Bernard Shaw in Man and Superman, it wasn’t  just that they were wrong, it was that they were extraordinarily uninteresting.

And then there’s Here’s to another two wonderful and terrible years. And thanks. Thanks for so much.


Neven said...

Hi Wayne, thanks a lot for the compliment. But in fact I am piggybacking. The Arctic sea ice tells its own story, and it has proven to be unspinnable so far.

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