Arctic ICE PANIC sparked by half-baked sat data
Did someone just jump the gun?
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. ®
The public are ignorant, this much is true.
But the problem is that you can't base anything on data until you can provide some evidence of the error associated in your data. This is what all that "six-sigma" rubbish is when they discuss the Higgs Boson. Basically, until it's mathematically MORE likely that you're right (by a long margin), then you're wrong. Or at best your data is inconclusive.
The problem with the global-warming debate is that nobody calculates (or publishes) that error because, and this is the funny bit - nobody can tell you that error accurately because of lack of data and those that can won't get statistically significant results based on the amount of data they *DIDN'T* collect. If you add all the data from everything to ice-cap monitoring to sea-level rises to atmospheric content studies etc. together, you still don't get anything conclusive at all.
And if London floods, it floods "permanently" (i.e. don't worry about what will happen to the residents, because they will HAVE to move out and never go back in their lifetime, or their child's lifetime, or their grandchild's lifetime). That's a pretty drastic action to have to deal with and thus the "fix" is equally or moreso drastic. So you're basically suggesting something whose solution is equivalent to evacuating London permanently. That's a pretty big risk to balance on the say-so of a couple of discredited papers and inconclusive evidence. And, in actual fact, the real problem is much bigger and thus so is the real solution.
The problem here is not scientists ignoring evidence, or the public being ignorant. It's politicians and scientists-with-interests (i.e. those working for certain companies / government departments or who are after getting a media reputation) that are pushing their version of events as if it's the ONLY possible model that works. Despite the fact that just about every global-warming study is proved flawed or inconclusive within a year of release and each focus only on one tiny aspect with miniscule amounts of data available. Two years of ice-cap data is totally worthless without context of other data. Seriously. Just throw it in the bin, it's just not worth the effort. It's no more significant than the waiter in Corfu who insisted on telling a table-ful of scientists and academics that global warming "must be real because it's felt hotter these last few years" - we didn't go back to that restaurant just because of the ensuing argument.
The Earth is almost certainly going to get warmer. At some point. By some degree. A part of that will be man's contribution. We can't say how big that is. Hell, we can't even say we won't flip into an ice age next year, that's how ignorant we are of that particular science. The question isn't "when do we do something?", but "what do we do?" Seriously. Let's just forget the problem for a second and look at a solution. All the solutions are immensely drastic and political suicide and will change the lives of billions of people worldwide. So, is it wise to run in and say "Ha, we can fix this problem that nobody can really agree on the cause, effect, data, or predictions! Now let's switch off all the power stations, stop using oil, stop all manufacturing and shoot all the cows"? Not really.
Global warming isn't something we can just fix. Hell, we can't even agree on if it's happening at all, let alone if we're helping the process along. And what if we've triggered a chain of events that are unrecoverable now? We'd basically change everything we do and the way everyone lives and still end up 10-feet underwater. So until we know WHAT'S happening, we can't fix it. And any potential fix is likely to be the largest change in worldwide history, ever. So let's not rush into such drastic actions on the basis of (at the moment) zero conclusive, mutually-agreed evidence. Because the fact is: we don't know what's happening.
CFC's were burning holes in the ozone. We spotted the hole, measured it, determined the cause beyond reasonable doubt, studied it some more, legislated and removed provably-dangerous materials from production to solve it. It took DECADES. And the only human impact was a slightly different substance in your fridge and a slightly different propellant in your aerosol.
With global warming, the human impact will be vast and devastating. You will literally push millions or billions of people into poverty, deprivation and death if you want to "stop" global warming by the release of human-created gases within the next century. So maybe we should have just a *grain* of decent, undeniable evidence before we start panicking and running for the hills and leaving millions in the lurch?
Hell, the funniest/scariest bit about the global warming debate is if we do (or even can) prove it's all man-made, you will have the biggest worldwide riot you've ever seen and nobody would WANT to be in charge of cutting energy sources, global resources, at vast governmental expense, huge taxations required to fund it, and handling billions of displaced people that would be caused by it. Your car will go. All plastics will go. Wood prices will go through the roof (can't chop down those trees!). You won't have processed food. You probably won't have much electricity (brownouts, blackouts, etc.). Your life will change in every way possible. You'll basically go back to living in the Dark Ages, but with 100 times the population. And that's in a first-world country. What do you think will happen to the third-world?
Precisely because the problem is SO drastic, we need a lot more evidence than normal. And we haven't even agreed that what's there is a normally "significant" amount of evidence to do anything yet. You can have a thousand papers all saying the same thing, but if there are even half-a-dozen saying the opposite and equally undeniable, or even a dozen retractions/errors/flaws in methodology, then it all means precisely zip. And certainly NOT what you'd want to base a global rescue mission on.
For all we know, we could read a paper that proved that X was the cause, cut out all X at great expense, and then discover that the alternative Y that we had to ramp up 10-fold to compensate was actually the problem all along.
We don't act until we know. And we don't know. And when we do know, we don't know how to act. But it isn't going to be like cutting out CFC's from your spray-cans and fridges. You're literally going to have to deal with millions of deaths either way, and that means we need to study MUCH more (probably decades, because the global warming thing has been going around scientific circles since at least the 50's and still can't come to an answer) or only react to the effects that we physically notice as we notice them (e.g. give everyone in London a bucket and tell them to start bailing).
This is why any scientist who is happy to wade into this debate and blast their paper's results across the front page before it's even released is probably just a nutter or funded. Any decent scientist would be pulling back until they had absolute, undeniable evidence and then release quietly and let people check the data and realise the implications for themselves.
BAN GIN & TONIC!
This threat to global ice supplies must end now!
Alternatively, if we are so selfish that we can't live without ice in our drinks, we can at least save the polar bears by replacing their ice-habitat. Emergency drops of Foxes Glacier Mints into the Arctic sea will give them something to stand on. I've seen the mini-documentaries run on TV during the 80s, and those polar bears looked very happy perched on their Foxes Glacier Mint-bergs...
The ice at the arctic floats so if all all melts sea levels won't change........
Now if it was Greenland about to go ice free then that would be something to send me off to the local survivalist outfitters......