Feeds

Arctic ICE PANIC sparked by half-baked sat data

Did someone just jump the gun?

Application security programs and practises

Listeners to Radio 4's Today programme - and this includes much of the political elite - will have been alarmed to be told that "the Arctic could be ice-free on a summer’s day by the end of the decade".

Yet the evidence for this "trend" turns out to be drawn from less than two years worth of data.

Dr Seymour Laxon of University College London raised the alarm using radar altimeter observations made by the European-funded Cryosat-2 satellite, a project he helped devise. This allows scientists to gain more accurate mapping of the sea floor and also sea ice extent and thickness.

Cryosat-2 began observing the Arctic ice cap in October 2010, and has been acquiring data since. So scientists have two winter seasons and one summer season on which to base any claims.

Is this a problem? Actually, according to the European Space Agency, it is. "Three to four years of data from Cryosat-2 can be averaged to reduce the 'noise' due to currents and tides and better chart the permanent topography related to marine gravity," it stated.

Using less than three or four years of data is frowned upon - and that's official.

In addition, Dr Laxon himself recommends using much longer timescales. As he wrote in a 2003 paper (High interannual variability of sea ice thickness in the Arctic region Laxon, Peacock and Smith, Nature), "the sea ice mass can change by up to 16 per cent within one year" and "this variability must be taken into account when determining the significance of trends".

So how can Dr Laxon now justify using an inadequate data set to make a long-term claim? Alas, we don't know. The tenacious questioning that Today typically gives to guests was suspended for this segment, and Laxon was received with the deference a Pope receives when lecturing his cardinals. The claim went unchallenged.

Arctic ice is cited by catastrophists as a potential "tipping factor" (or "hysteretic threshold behavior") for two reasons. Cooler water may affect oceanic circulation, with consequences for countries south of the ice cap. And less ice may decrease the albedo.

Yet the true picture is complicated. Ice extent has varied much more dramatically in the past, long before global-warming skeptical Top Gear was conceived or broadcast. Research published in the peer-reviewed Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences [PDF, 1.1MB] in 2008 looked at the Western Arctic, and noted that "the amplitude of these millennial-scale changes in sea-surface conditions far exceed those observed at the end of the 20th century".

Without causing a tipping.

Climate policy blogger Ben Pile has put together a roundup of "ice free" Arctic claims. "The alarmist story is allowed to proceed in spite of facts, and without scrutiny or criticism," he observed.

Scientists despair of the public's waning interest in climate change, and like to blame disinformation. They only have themselves to blame. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.