My Response to Andrew Revkin’s Recent Article on Arctic Sea Ice

Well, we are finally having a few articles on this summer’s record Arctic sea ice melt start to trickle in. And one I’d like to focus on, in particular, comes from Andrew Revkin over at the New York Times.

The article entitled “Arctic Sea Ice Hits New and Early Summer Low for Satellite Era” does some justice to the current epic melt going on in the Arctic. However, it provides undue coverage for those claiming ‘natural variability’ may have influenced this record low. This is typical of current mainstream media coverage, which was rife with this false equivalency in recent papers on the 1000 year melt occurring in West Antarctica. And, going forward, it is very important to address this argument directly. When taken in context of the larger trend, any reasonable assertions for major events being caused by natural variability evaporate. But poor Andrew clings to it like a melting iceberg in a stormy Arctic Sea.

You can read his article here.

And below is my response to him:

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Andrew —

I think a more accurate prediction would be for about a 50% chance of an ice-free or nearly ice-free (less than 500,000 square kilometers extent, less than 300,000 square kilometers area) Arctic Ocean during summer months within 10 years.

I’d say, given the factors below, we are closer to 70-80% within the two decades you mentioned.

1. We have year-on-year volume declines.
2. We have a precipitous fall in sea ice extent and area for this decade and we are less than half the coverage seen in 1980.
3. The rate of decline is increasing for summer months.
4. The ice is fragile now, making it more susceptible to storms like the cyclone we saw this month. The fragile state of sea ice increases the kinds of events that can result in rapid melt.
5. The elongated atmospheric wave patterns created by Arctic melt enhance melt by transporting more warm air into the Arctic.
6. The loss of sea ice enhances Arctic methane release, adding to local warming and enhancing global warming.
7. The loss of sea ice reduces albedo, creating a powerful feedback for enhanced melt during the summer months.

As for the scientists who are taking the ‘complexity’ argument. Events on the ground seem to have vastly over-ridden these analysis. I think it is fair to say that the primary driver of global weather events and any radical change in environments around the world is via the mechanism of global warming. Variability is just the small noise happening on top of the larger trend — much like foam will form on the top of a violent wave.

You have to take things vastly out of context to make the variability argument. Those making that argument are looking at data-sets that are too narrow. One obvious proof of this is that we aren’t having any major anomalies on the ‘cold’ side of the equation. Everything, all the weather and climate data, points to warming and impacts and feedbacks caused by warming. The same people who are making the complexity argument were the ones who were saying Arctic sea ice would recover — it clearly hasn’t.

The only likely driver for an Arctic sea ice recovery would be something on the order of a large Greenland melt — dumping cold melt water and ice bergs at a very high rate into the northern oceans. This might slow down melt or even cause some freeze-back. But this really isn’t an event we want to witness, is it?

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In general, the mainstream media has dropped the ball in a major way. The loss of Arctic sea ice for this decade is historic. It is both a major weather and climate event. And, as such, it should be covered by the major weather news sources. The 2007 record low for Arctic sea ice was historic and yet there was hardly a peep from the mainstream media. This year, we have had major melting events both for Greenland and for the Arctic sea ice. Within the Arctic was saw major wildfires throughout Siberia. And just last year we had a rather large pulse of methane coming from the ocean as well as the Arctic tundra.

Again, these are weather and climate related events. Yet the discussion is still at the level of denial. At the level of arguing over whether these events are normal or are they really happening. This is not the kind of coverage we need. We need an identification and a rational discussion of an ongoing problem. As yet, there are no adults in the room. Just a number of children who appear to be in varying states of trauma.

Revkin does give valid information on most days. And his prediction that there may be a 50% chance of an essentially ice-free Arctic within two decades is certainly movement on the issue. But his false equivalency given to those claiming ‘natural variability’ is unqualified given that these statements are entirely out of context.

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