Arctic Death Spiral Update

A history of failed predictions

In Denierland I compiled a list of predictions of the disappearance of Arctic sea ice. You won’t have seen this unless you delved into the notes and references for Chapter 4. With the passage of a couple of years I thought it was about time to resurrect the list, search for any more predictions and to check whether any predictions have been falsified in the intervening year (the last update before publication was 2019 for predictions and 2020 for results). I’ve only managed to find two more recent predictions that were bold enough to put a date on things, both made in 2020.

Two predictions are at risk of being falsified in the coming September: Tim Flannery’s of 2007 (and that is giving him a lot of leeway) and James Anderson of Harvard’s.

The following explanatory text comes from Denierland:

Several of these predictions (and both those dating from before 2005) were sourced from ClimateChangePredictions.org. The rest have come from news searches on the internet. In some cases I have had to use a tad of judgement in giving the date for the loss of ice, when statements like “in the next two decades” are used. An asterisk in the “Ice Will Be Gone By” column indicates that a form of words allowing some wriggle-room was used: “could be gone by…” etc.

Date Prediction made Ice Will Be Gone By Expert Source Media Outlet link Notes
1972 2000 Bernt Balchen https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=zmI0AAAAIBAJ&sjid=L5wEAAAAIBAJ&pg=5376,3200988&hl=en
1982 2002 Hermann Flohn, U of Bonn https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=CZJVAAAAIBAJ&sjid=9z8NAAAAIBAJ&pg=1156,1812228&dq=james-hansen&hl=en Some qualification
2005 <2100 NSIDC http://www.smh.com.au/news/environment/arctic-melting-greenhouse-effect-blamed/2005/09/29/1127804597665.html Mark Serreze interviewed, does not give direct quote
2005 <2100 Sharon L. Smith, U of Miami http://pubs.acs.org/cen/news/83/i12/8312globalwarming.html
2006 2040 Bruno Tremblay, Columbia U http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/12/061212-arctic-ice.html [Dead link to original]
2006 2060 Julienne Stroeve, NSIDC https://www.livescience.com/1058-snowball-effect-fuels-arctic-meltdown.html
2007 2012-2022 Tim Flannery, Macquarie U http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/temperature-predictions-conservative-flannery/2007/02/02/1169919510917.html
2007 2013 Wieslaw Maslowski, Naval Postgraduate School http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2007/s2117573.htm The link is to a transcript. The reporter actually mentioned 2013. Maslowski did not demur.
2007 2012-2013 Wieslaw Maslowski http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7139797.stm
2007 2012 Jay Zwally, NASA http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/12/071212-AP-arctic-melt.html Includes the immortal quote “The Arctic is screaming” – Mark Serreze
2008 2028 “Many scientists” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/environment/climatechange/3792454/Arctic-warming-points-to-ice-free-summers.html Julienne Stroeve cited, but not in direct connection to this prediction
2008 2012-2013 Ted Scambos, NSIDC http://www.theage.com.au/environment/our-melting-planet-ominous-warning-signs-in-the-arctic-20080803-3pc9.html
2008 2013 A “research group”. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7461707.stm Julienne Stroeve interviewed, did not demur
2008 2008* Mark Serreze, NSIDC http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=4728737&page=1
2008 2030 Mark Serreze http://www.smh.com.au/news/global-warming/climate-of-fear-as-ice-vanishes/2008/08/03/1217701855502.html Quoted in other outlets also
2008 2008* NSIDC http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/earthnews/3345666/North-Pole-ice-may-disappear-by-September.html
2008 2013 “Some researchers” – Richard Black http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7585645.stm “We could very well be in that quick slide downwards in terms of passing a tipping point, said Mark Serreze, a senior scientist at the Colorado-based NSIDC.”
2008 2008* Mark Serreze http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/exclusive-scientists-warn-that-there-may-be-no-ice-at-north-pole-this-summer-855406.html
2009 2019 Pen Hadow http://climatechangepredictions.org/arctic_sea_ice/5575 Although the original is lost, I’m pretty sure the attribution was to the famous Arctic explorer.
2009 2013* NASA http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/environment/climatechange/5172098/Arctic-ice-is-thinner-than-ever-according-to-new-evidence-from-explorers.html
2009 2013*; 2020-2040 Walt Meier, NSIDC http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/earthnews/5116352/Arctic-will-be-ice-free-within-a-decade.html
2009 2060-2080 Met Office https://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/10/28/uk-met-office-backpedals-on-arctic-ice-unlikely-that-the-arctic-will-experience-ice-free-summers-by-2020/
2009 2029 Peter Wadhams, Cambridge https://www.reuters.com/article/us-climate-britain-arctic-science-idUSTRE59E18W20091015
2009 2014 Al Gore http://content.usatoday.com/communities/ondeadline/post/2009/12/gore-new-study-sees-nearly-ice-free-arctic-summer-ice-cap-as-early-as-2014/1 Some qualification put on the prediction
2009 2015 “Technical University of Denmark” https://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/arctic-ocean-ice-free-in-summer-by-2015-new-research-shows-greenland-ice-sheet-shows-rapid-losses-too.html [Dead link to original]
2009 2039 James Overland, NOAA http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2009/20090402_seaice.html
2010 2030 Mark Serreze http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/earthnews/8005620/Arctic-ice-could-be-gone-by-2030.html
2010 2019 Wieslaw Maslowski https://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/arctic-ice-cover-at-lowest-point-in-past-several-1000-years-arctic-autumn-will-be-ice-free-this-decade.html
2010 2013-2030 David Barber, U of Manitoba http://www.reuters.com/article/us-climate-canada-idUSTRE6145KP20100206
2011 2030* Mark Serreze http://www.npr.org/2011/09/16/140516890/arctic-ice-hits-near-record-low-threatening-wildlife
2011 2015 Peter Wadhams http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/environment/globalwarming/8877491/Arctic-sea-ice-to-melt-by-2015.html
2011 2016 Wieslaw Maslowski http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-13002706
2011 2041 Mark Serreze http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2011/08/05/arctic-ice-at-record-low-for-july/
2012 2015-2016 Peter Wadhams http://grist.org/climate-energy/the-arctic-could-be-ice-free-by-2016/ Also at BBC, the Guardian
2012 2015 Paul Beckwith, U of Ottawa http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/john-bennett/2012/10/urgent-house-speaker-blocking-emergency-debate-massive-arctic-ic
2012 2019 “Some ice scientists” https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/arctic-sea-ice-loss-implications/
2013 2013 Paul Beckwith http://arctic-news.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/huge-patches-of-warm-air-over-the-arctic.html
2013 2030* Bruno Tremblay http://www.nunatsiaqonline.ca/stories/article/65674wwf_holds_iqaluit_workshop_on_last_ice_area/ “By the end of the 21st century, much of Arctic Ocean may even be without any ice, year-round, if climate-warming greenhouse gases keep increasing as they are today, Tremblay said.”
2013 2030 Mark Serreze https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/18/china-northeastern-sea-route-trial-voyage
2013 2020-2040 James Overland http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2013/20130412_arcticseaice.html
2013 2054-2058 Jiping Liu, U of Albany http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/07/130716-arctic-sea-ice-free-ocean-climate-change-science/
2014 2015-2019 Peter Wadhams http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/arctic-ice-cap-in-a-death-spiral/story-fnb64oi6-1227065773401%3C [Paywall]
2014 2020 Peter Wadhams http://barentsobserver.com/en/arctic/2014/11/expert-predicts-ice-free-arctic-2020-un-releases-climate-report-04-11
2014 2050 Daniel Feltham, U of Reading http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/06/17/global-warming-arctic-ice_n_5502396.html
2015 2040 NOAA http://dailycaller.com/2015/05/06/noaa-says-the-arctic-will-be-ice-free-in-25-years/ Also at the Guardian
2016 2017-2018 Peter Wadhams https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/21/arctic-will-be-ice-free-in-summer-next-year Article title: “Arctic will be ice free in summer next year”
2016 2016 Peter Wadhams http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/arctic-could-become-ice-free-for-first-time-in-more-than-100000-years-claims-leading-scientist-a7065781.html
2016 <2050 Dirk Notz, Max Planck https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/arctic-sea-could-be-ice-free-2050 Also elsewhere
2016 2030 No attribution http://www.ndtv.com/world-news/arctic-ocean-could-be-entirely-ice-free-in-summer-as-early-as-2030-1627401
2016 2035 Kristina Pistone, NASA Ames https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2016/05/how-melting-arctic-ice-contributes-to-global-warming/
2016 2030-2050 John Walsh, IARC https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/28/arctic-sea-ice-record-low-winter
2017 Late 2030s Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme https://www.maritime-executive.com/editorials/arctics-summer-sea-ice-could-be-gone-in-20-years
2017 2040s Mark Serreze, NSIDC https://insideclimatenews.org/news/27122017/arctic-antarctic-sea-ice-sheets-2017-year-review-glaciers-disappearing-polar-records
2017 2057 Tor Eldevik, U of Bremen https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/06/arctic-sea-ice-disappear-world-achieves-climate-target
2018 2028-2038 Jeremy Mathis, NOAA https://mashable.com/article/arctic-climate-change-2018/ “a decade or two”
2019 2050s Mark Serreze, NSIDC https://www.ctvnews.ca/sci-tech/nasa-visualization-shows-devastating-decline-in-arctic-ice-over-past-35-years-1.4582365
2019 2039-2044 Julienne Stroeve, UCL https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/when-will-all-the-ice-in-the-arctic-be-gone/ “the next twenty to twenty five years”
2019 2022 James Anderson, Harvard https://www.sciencetimes.com/articles/23104/20190703/only-5-years-to-save-the-world-from-climate-change-warns-harvard-scientist.htm “The chance that there will be any permanent ice left in the Arctic after 2022 is essentially zero”
2020 2035 Maria Vittoria Guarino, British Antarctic Survey https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/arctic-summer-sea-ice-could-be-gone-by-2035 “…summers in the northernmost sea are likely to lose their ice cover entirely by 2035—around the time a toddler today will graduate from high school”
2020 2050 Bruno Tremblay, MacGill; Dirk Notz, U Hamburg https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/04/22/global-warming-summer-arctic-sea-ice-gone-2050/2999426001/ “The study analyzed recent results from 40 of the latest climate computer models and involved 21 research institutes from around the world.”

The following paragraphs are repeated verbatim from Denierland; I would have put things a little differently if writing them today, but I didn’t want to edit them:

What is the point of all this? Not to prove that making predictions is hard, especially about the future. Instead, I want to highlight that predictions are actually very easy to make, and for some reason, predictions made by scientists have a certain currency beyond the SWAG of a typical human on the street. Learned folks have credentials, and their predictions are to be respected, or at least used to generate clicks on the internet. Strangely when predictions expire, the scientists who made them are not called back to ask why. Indeed when predictions expire, some regulars just make a new prediction a few years down the road.

How does one prepare their children for the extintction [sic] event we are witnessing? How long before it impacts us all to the point where it is a matter of survival? Is it best to be ignorant at this point and not tell them that [they] will not see their adulthood?”

The3Js, in a comment beneath the 2013 article at Arctic News.

Well, The3Js’ children are now 7 years (2022 update: 9 years) older, so it looks as if climate change might not preclude them reaching adulthood after all. The following is from a BBC article in 2012:

Professor Peter Wadhams, from Cambridge University, told BBC News: “A number of scientists who have actually been working with sea ice measurement had predicted some years ago that the retreat would accelerate and that the summer Arctic would become ice-free by 2015 or 2016.

I was one of those scientists – and of course bore my share of ridicule for daring to make such an alarmist prediction.”

But Prof Wadhams said the prediction was now coming true, and the ice had become so thin that it would inevitably disappear.

Turns out that the good professor was wrong, but his credentials meant that he could keep giving alarming predictions over and over (see the table above). Only one that I can find has yet to expire, from two years after the above quote, pushing the ice-free date back to this year, 2020. (Oops, looks like that was a fail too.)

I found the following quote in one of the cited articles, and found it so remarkable that I reproduce it here.

Sometime in the 2030s or 2040s time frame, at least for a few days, you won’t have ice out there in the dead of summer,” said Dr John Walsh, chief scientist of the International Arctic Research Centre.

From the 2016 Guardian article in the table above.

To use the phrase “dead of summer” is amazing, simply because the summer is the only time there is visible life in the high Arctic.

Finally, here is the latest update on sea ice minima, as of September last year:

If we extrapolate the line beyond the range of the data (usual caveats apply), it hits 0 in about 60 years. For reasons that will not be gone into here, “ice-free” generally means when there is less than 1 million square km of ice left. So that would be in about 40 years. The scatter around the line of course means that, ceteris paribus, we might hit an ice-free weekend one day in September in about 25 years.

Featured image: The most recent Arctic sea ice minimum extent, 22 September 2021, from NASA worldview terra/aqua and JAXA’s AMSR-2 instrument.

via Climate Scepticism

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May 28, 2022 at 09:14AM

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