What’s another year?

It was to be expected: Wadhams has renewed his claims of an ice-free Arctic. The Guardian published on August 21 an article with the catchy title ‘Next year or the year after, the Arctic will be free of ice’.

In a previous post, I already compiled quite a list of predictions of an ice free Arctic. At that time (June) it was rather unlikely that this year we would see an ice-free Arctic. But no problem, 2017 was already on the radar back then. When looking at the statements in the Guardian article, now it will be next year (summer 2017) or the year after that (summer 2018).

Another year to add to the list.

There was more in the article that caught my attention. Like the first paragraph of an interview with Wadhams:

You have said on several occasions that summer Arctic sea ice would disappear by the middle of this decade. It hasn’t. Are you being alarmist?

No. There is a clear trend down to zero for summer cover. However, each year chance events can give a boost to ice cover or take some away. The overall trend is a very strong downward one, however. Most people expect this year will see a record low in the Arctic’s summer sea-ice cover. Next year or the year after that, I think it will be free of ice in summer and by that I mean the central Arctic will be ice-free. You will be able to cross over the north pole by ship. There will still be about a million square kilometres of ice in the Arctic in summer but it will be packed into various nooks and crannies along the Northwest Passage and along bits of the Canadian coastline. Ice-free means the central basin of the Arctic will be ice-free and I think that that is going to happen in summer 2017 or 2018.

The question is framed as “several occasions” in which the ice was said to disappear by the middle of this decade. Which in a way is true, Wadhams is claiming that on and off since 2011, but by framing it like this, it is suggested that he only predicted an ice-free Arctic in the middle of this decade, which is not the case. He already claimed an ice-free Arctic in 2008, in 2013, in 2015 and now in 2016. None of them came true.

It is recognizable. Only the current (alarmist) claims are reported. Forgetting the previous, botched claims. Therefor the claim is perceived stronger than it is in reality. It is recognizable because it is how the issue is communicated in general. It is easy to make a claim believable by only telling the things that are in favor.

A bit weird was the link behind the “there is a clear trend down to zero for summer cover” statement. It went to: another Guardian article from … March this year. I could imagine the alarm back then. There was an large loss because of exceptionally warm water from the Pacific due to a strong El Niño and it looked very bad for the Arctic ice back then. But even then it was explained that an ice-free Arctic was expected 20 to 30 years from now. The link is contradictory to the claim of an ice-free Arctic as soon as 2017 or 2018.

I heard the claim that the trend is strongly downwards before. What nor the journalist nor the interviewee mentioned is that this 2015 claim was based on volume data. Wadhams showed in 2012 that there was a exponential decline of the Arctic ice with ice volume colliding with the axis around 2015:

piomas arctic volume 2015 prediction

Seeing it like that, his claim made perfect sense back then. But this exponential downward trend down was falsified and even gave rise to a switch of metrics, from volume to extent data. Now we hear the explanation that there are “chance events that could boost or take away ice cover”. That seems a rather easy explanation, it would be more interesting to know whether there is a scientific reason why the volume data isn’t used anymore for the claim and the extent suddenly is.

Finally, I don’t know when this interview is recorded. I hope it wasn’t recently, because then it shows that he didn’t look at the extent for several months by now. I don’t know who those “most people” are, but in the current situation it is very unlikely that the 2012 record low would be broken. It is currently at the same level as last year.

arctic sea ice NSIDC 20160830

It would require an incredibly steep drop to do that in the next two weeks.


5 thoughts on “What’s another year?

  1. chrism56

    You have to wonder why the Guardian treats their readers with contempt by quoting someone with such a poor track record of predictions. Of course they may be relying on the fact the true believers don’t do Google searches. Articles like the ones you quoted could be why they are hemorrhaging readers.
    I note the latest PIOMAS data isn’t anywhere near as scary.


    1. trustyetverify Post author

      Not sure about the contempt. It assumes that the journalists/editors know that there were an array of claims in the past and in the future. It is more plausible that they don’t realize this themselves and just report as is being told. In a way I can understand this. Until almost eight years ago I also didn’t do any effort to check such claims. They confirmed the party line anyway and other things were more important. Therefor accepting what was told by (scientists in) the media. So I am not really surprised by readers not doing a simple check.

      The PIOMAS data is interesting. When I started looking into the subject, it was said that extent of sea ice was not an important metric, but volume was. Now the volume data doesn’t cooperate anymore (as Wadhams himself experienced the hard way), the media jumped to the extent data (that at the time didn’t look good). This continuous shifting of the goal posts to the metric with the most alarm and ignoring how previous metric evolve, gives the impression that it is always is getting worse and keeps the alarm raised.


  2. chrism56

    If you enter Wadhams into the Guardian search engine, you get a whole lot of his failed previous predictions in Guardian news articles come up. Surely the first thing any “reporter” would do is a Google search, even if only as a backgrounder. In fact if you google the reporter’s name and Wadhams, you come up with this old article.
    So the reporter/ editor knew that he had run the alarmist prediction before, there were real issues with credibility, but the article was still written and published without any mention of the backstory. That in my old-fashioned black and white world is treating readers with contempt.
    But yes, you are right about the shifting goalposts. That is hard to reconcile with the science being settled.


    1. trustyetverify Post author

      Thanks for looking into it. I went to the link and did some searches on the author in the Guardian. You are right, he has written several articles on the topic of an ice-free Arctic. Some of these articles are rather funny, knowing that they come from the same author. I had a good laugh looking at some of them. Maybe I will do a follow-up post later.


  3. Pingback: Arctic sea ice extent: spiraling down or doing just fine? - Climate- Science.press

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