No Arctic summer ice in 2012-13?

Rideau Canal with snow

According to a BBC article, some scientists are predicting the disappearance of all Arctic summer ice within five to six years. This projection is based on computer modeling by Wieslaw Maslowski and uses data that doesn’t even take into account the spectacular loss of Arctic ice last summer. Maslowski’s team has produced an estimated rate of loss much higher than those of other groups who have studied the issue, but he defends the quality of his modeling:

“We use a high-resolution regional model for the Arctic Ocean and sea ice forced with realistic atmospheric data. This way, we get much more realistic forcing, from above by the atmosphere and from the bottom by the ocean.”

Even the work of other teams suggests the loss of summer ice between 2040 and 2100: a very rapid climatic change, given how most forms of natural climatic forcing operate on the timescale of millennia

The progressive deterioration of the northern polar cryosphere is disturbing for a number of reasons. Because water absorbs more energy from sunlight than ice does, the loss of the icecap would accelerate global warming. It would also eliminate or substantially alter the lifestyles of those living in the north, as well as most Arctic species. That said, there is some chance that the sudden disappearance of the Arctic icecap would be dramatic and irrefutable enough to kick off much more serious global action to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and prepare to adapt to the amount of change that is now inevitable. In a world where the Arctic vanished before our eyes, radical ideas like those of Monbiot may start seeming reasonable to a lot more people.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

16 thoughts on “No Arctic summer ice in 2012-13?”

  1. Missing feedback

    Buried in the latest IPCC document is a little-noticed sentence admitting that our projections for emission reductions might be underestimated due to missing carbon cycle feedbacks.

    That means the earth may already be turning against us – as our emissions heat the world, the Arctic sea ice melts, the dark water absorbs more heat and causes further melting. And so on in many different ways.

    That means we may within 50 years need to take all, or almost all, the carbon out of the way we live. That would need an extraordinary technological and social revolution.

  2. In a recent survey of climate scientists conducted by a leading sceptical scientist, Dr Roger Pielke Sen, 18% of those who responded said the IPCC had exaggerated.

    But 65% said the IPCC had got it right. And 17% said the prognosis was even worse.

    Meanwhile, the UK still plans a huge airport expansion, there is not the slightest hint of a deal that would see rich nations pay poor nations to capture their emissions from coal and even Democrats in the US Congress want to postpone any tough action on emissions until after 2020.

    That may be why the scientists’ mask of optimism is beginning to slip.

  3. Beyond the point of no return

    As the pace of global warming kicks into overdrive, the hollow optimism of climate activists, along with the desperate responses of some of the world’s most prominent climate scientists, is preventing us from focusing on the survival requirements of the human enterprise.

    The environmental establishment continues to peddle the notion that we can solve the climate problem.

    We can’t.

    We have failed to meet nature’s deadline. In the next few years, this world will experience progressively more ominous and destabilizing changes. These will happen either incrementally — or in sudden, abrupt jumps.

    Under either scenario, it seems inevitable that we will soon be confronted by water shortages, crop failures, increasing damages from extreme weather events, collapsing infrastructures, and, potentially, breakdowns in the democratic process itself.

  4. Ominous Arctic Melt Worries Experts

    By SETH BORENSTEIN – 22 hours ago

    WASHINGTON (AP) — An already relentless melting of the Arctic greatly accelerated this summer, a warning sign that some scientists worry could mean global warming has passed an ominous tipping point. One even speculated that summer sea ice would be gone in five years.

    Greenland’s ice sheet melted nearly 19 billion tons more than the previous high mark, and the volume of Arctic sea ice at summer’s end was half what it was just four years earlier, according to new NASA satellite data obtained by The Associated Press.

  5. Most science advisers have taken as their job to inform the president and his administration, as well as Congress, the media, and the public, of the thinking of the scientific community on key science issues of the day. Bush’s advisor, John H. Marburger III, takes the opposite view. He believes his job is to inform (misinform? disinform?) the scientific community, as well as Congress, the media, and the public, of the “thinking” of the Bush Administration on key science issues. In 2006, he summed up the “technology, technology, blah, blah” strategy of Luntz/Bush:

    It’s important not to get distracted by chasing short-term reductions in greenhouse emissions. The real payoff is in long-term technological breakthroughs.

    Don’t get distracted by actions to save the climate from destruction. The real payoff is in never doing anything.

    Realclimate has a good report on Marburger’s lecture at the huge American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, titled “Reflections on the Science and Policy of Energy and Climate Change”:

    The good news, I suppose, is that he at least stated that he accepted the established physical connection between CO2 increase and warming — the inhibition of infrared emission by CO2, amplified by water vapor feedback. That’s about the only good thing I can say about the lecture. It was basically an hour long apology for the White House global warming policy. And don’t get me wrong — by “apology” I do not mean that he was expressing regret for the dismal performance of the White House in this sphere.

    While acknowledging the correctness of the basic physics, Marburger implied that it was impossible to make useful predictions of climate damages, because of difficulties models have with forecasting regional climate change and things like response of El Nino to warming. Over and over, he castigated the community for being reluctant to do research on adaptation, and over and over stated that adaptation was cheaper than mitigation (reducing CO2 emissions). He stated that it was going to be basically impossible to reduce emissions significantly anyway, since the technologies didn’t exist to do that (I guess he never read Pacala and Socolow’s paper on the wedge concept). His basic answer to everything was that nobody would (or should) do anything until carbon free energy became cheaper than current means of producing energy by burning fossil fuels. There was no recognition that things like carbon taxes might be necessary to put the cost of harms due to climate change into the market. These damages were basically ignored in his world view — except insofar as he said they should be handled by adaptation. “Anthropogenic Climate Change is not the only source of risk to vulnerable populations” He mentioned the need for clean water — the favorite example for everybody who wants to ignore climate change.

    He had lots of praise for fossil fuels “Fossil fuels have made modern economies possible” and echoed the Bush administration line by saying the goal should be to reduce carbon intensity (carbon per $ of GDP) not carbon emissions. Sorry, Dr. Marburger, but infrared radiative transfer doesn’t give a fig about GDP. It’s the emissions that count, and they somehow have to be brought down.

    It will be no surprise that Marburger hewed to the line that only voluntary carbon reductions should be sought. He referred to “aspirational goals” as the basis for global carbon policy. More remarkably, he put the blame on Congress when somebody asked why no mandatory carbon caps had been put into place — conveniently ignoring that Congress is within a few votes of passing such a cap, but is laboring under a Presidential veto threat. Even more remarkably, in response to a question about White House censorship and re-writing of documents touching on climate change science, he defended these as “Legitimate attempts to improve the communication of science,” and to “correct some fine points that got glossed over.” He baldly stated, “I have not found any evidence of any attempt to censor science.”Perhaps somebody should ask Jim Hansen for a second opinion on that. I’m sure our readers can provide Dr. Marburger with additional examples, if he needs a reminder.

    Marburger should be retitled the pseudoscience advisor.

  6. “disappearance of all Arctic summer ice within five to six years”

    Wow. That would certainly make climate change denial trickier.

  7. “The Arctic is often cited as the canary in the coal mine for climate warming. Now as a sign of climate warming, the canary has died. It is time to start getting out of the coal mines.”

    — NASA climate scientist Jay Zwally

  8. Notes from The Gathering #5: Arctic sea ice: is it tipped yet?

    By david

    The summer of 2007 was apocalyptic for Arctic sea ice. The coverage and thickness of sea ice in the Arctic has been declining steadily over the past few decades, but this year the ice lost an area about the size of Texas, reaching its minimum on about the 16th of September. Arctic sea ice seems to me the best and more imminent example of a tipping point in the climate system. A series of talks aimed to explain the reason for the meltdown.

    Melting ice can be seen from space, I believe as puddles sensed by the QuickSCAT satellite. The puddles are most abundant in mid-summer when the sunlight is strongest, and by mid-September when the ice meltback was the strongest, the melting season was largely over. Apparently the reason for the disappearance was an anomalous weather system which generated a strong jet of surface winds blowing straight over the pole southward toward the Atlantic ocean, a “Polar Express”. A research ship frozen into the ice in 2006 crossed the Arctic in about a year, about three times faster than the transit time of the Fram in the 1890’s. To summarize, the ice cubes in the freezer tray didn’t melt because the freezer is broken exactly, but because the ice cube tray fell out of the freezer onto the warm floor.

    The disappearance of the ice was set up by warming surface waters and loss of the thicker multi-year ice in favor of thinner single-year ice. But the collapse of ice coverage this year was also something of a random event. This change was much more abrupt than the averaged results of the multiple IPCC AR4 models, but if you look at individual model runs, you can find sudden decreases in ice cover such as this. In the particular model run which looks most like 2007, the ice subsequently recovered somewhat, although never regaining the coverage before the meltback event.

  9. Global Warming Stories Will Continue to Heat up in 2008

    Environment Canada ended the year with a message for those who remain skeptical about climate change: “In many ways, the record loss of ice and water is more about climate than weather and underlines that climate change is beginning to affect Canada in a very real way.”

    In its end-of-the year Top Ten Weather Stories list, Environment Canada selected the record loss of Arctic sea ice as the nation’s top weather event in 2007. September satellite images show that a chunk of ice the size of Ontario has melted away within a year.

    “Canadians might remember 2007 as the year that climate change began biting deep and hard on the home front,” Environment Canada said in a statement.

  10. A new study that takes current sea ice conditions as a starting point projects a largely sea ice free Arctic in late summer in about 30 years.

    September 2008 was a milestone in that it marked two consecutive years of extreme minimum Arctic summer sea ice coverage since satellite records began. The average of the two minima is 4.5 M km2, a value that is 37% below the average sea ice extent for the period 1980-1999. These extreme summer sea ice losses are occurring much sooner than most global climate models project. Of particular interest, is the fact that many of those same model projections show an increase in the rate of sea ice loss when sea ice extent is reduced to about the levels we are currently seeing (i.e. about 4.5 M km2), suggesting that Arctic sea ice may be near a ‘tipping point”. Wang and Overland investigate future sea ice decline using only that subset of six global climate models that, in their estimation, best simulate current conditions. Projections based on two emission scenarios (SRES A1B and A2) were used to estimate the time required for sea ice extent to reduce to 1.0M km2 using the past two years of ice cover as a starting point. (1.0M km2 is representative of a nearly ice free ocean allowing that some ice will remain in the regions north of Greenland/Canada.) They find that the expected time frame to reach a virtually ice free Arctic in September is about 30 years, with little difference in the trajectories of sea ice decline for the two emission scenarios. Natural variability is still expected, however, to play a strong role in the future timing of a September sea ice free Arctic.
    (Reference: Wang, M. and E. Overland. 2009. A sea ice free summer Arctic within 30 years? GRL Vol 36, L07502, doi.10.1029/2009GL037820. 5pp.)

  11. Arctic Climate Changing Faster Than Expected
    By Rod Nickel
    February 5, 2010

    WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) – Climate change is transforming the Arctic environment faster than expected and accelerating the disappearance of sea ice, scientists said on Friday in giving their early findings from the biggest-ever study of Canada’s changing north.

    The research project involved more than 370 scientists from 27 countries who collectively spent 15 months, starting in June 2007, aboard a research vessel above the Arctic Circle. It marked the first time a ship has stayed mobile in Canada’s high Arctic for an entire winter.

    “(Climate change) is happening much faster than our most pessimistic models expected,” said David Barber, a professor at the University of Manitoba and the study’s lead investigator, at a news conference in Winnipeg.

    Models predicted only a few years ago that the Arctic would be ice-free in summer by the year 2100, but the increasing pace of climate change now suggests it could happen between 2013 and 2030, Barber said.

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