The noble art of framing the Greenland melt as worse than it is

The subject of previous post was a scene in the documentary “Before The Flood” in which Leonardo DiCaprio had a conversation with Jason Box in Greenland. I then came to the conclusion that they didn’t give a honest representation of the facts. This post will build on that, but it will expand it to how the public perceives such a scene.

From my own history, I remember that I was interested in the global warming issue, but I was too busy with other things in my life. I wasn’t checking facts, I just relied on what the media was claiming. I believed what they said was true and, although I assumed that they were exaggerating the issue, I believed that in essence they were right. This post will be about how people with no background on the issue (and do not check these facts after viewing for example this documentary) will probably perceive this scene.

It starts with the introduction to the scene. In the previous scene we saw a young DiCaprio trying to spread awareness about Global Warming. He said that, at that time, the assumption was that small things (like changing a light bulb) was all what was needed. Then the voice-over stated:

But it is pretty clear that we are way beyond that point right now. Things are taken a massive turn for the worse.

Cue in a calving glacier in Greenland…

This suggest that things have taken a massive turn for the worse in Greenland and what follows will be viewed with that in mind. Then the statement of Jason Box:

“We keep finding things that aren’t in the climate models. They are used to project the future. So that tells me that the projections for the future are really conservative.”

If I had no knowledge what these climate models are or how they work, I would assume that the very climate models, that used to predict doom in the future, are underestimating the reality for the future. Meaning … it will be even worse than the scientists thought and those scientists who appear in the media have already a pessimistic view!

Followed by the scene where DiCaprio goes towards a crevasse and is awed by the sheer power of the melt water that is rushing towards the sea. The sheer power of the meltwater is of course impressive and it suggest that Greenland is melting like crazy. T h a t much melt water. When we look at the screenshot of previous post, Jason Box only wears a sweater… Okay, I understand that he works in Greenland and will be used to lower temperatures, but I assume that winter at the Greenland ice sheet will not be as agreeable. This is probably filmed in the summer when the ice is melting. Greenland being a big place, a lot of ice melts and will find its way to the sea. The location very close to the sea means a lot of melt water would be accumulated and give a torrent of meltwater finding its way to the sea.

More, when I viewed a video of Jason Box on the topic of dark ice (his field of study), I noticed that the streams of meltwater were much smaller than the one in the scene. None of them came close to a wild torrent as seen in the documentary. So they probably selected an impressive stream near the coast for more impact.

The scene with the 30 feet hose is a cinematographic excellent one, but how truthful it it? Leonardo DiCaprio has a shock and awe moment when he sees the length of the hose that was once burried in the ice. He is an actor of course and, for what I have seen until now, a good one. That reaction was probably in the script. By choosing a location that is not representative for other places in Greenland, the impression is given that the melt is bigger than it actually is. What not being told is that that the yearly melt in Greenland represents … 0.007% of the total volume of the Greenland ice sheet.

Finally, there was the ice with a pristine white color, while Jason Box’ topic of research is dark ice (ice with impurities and therefor absorbs more heat and warms up the surface more in comparison with pristine white ice). The image on the left shows what Jason Box researches (picture from the previous link) and the picture on the right shows what we actually see in the movie:


Which gives the impression that, if we listened well in previous scenes, we are melting this pristine ice by our emissions.

All those things will give the impression that the melt is out of control in Greenland. In reality the melt is only a tiny volume compared to the total volume of the ice sheet (which is huge) and at that rate it will be many millennia before the ice sheet will be gone.

In fact, they fooled the unprepared viewer. He/she got to see something else than what is happening in reality. Probably for the “good cause” of course.

When, in my believers years, I believed the media was exaggerating, I was most probably right. But this time I have my doubts that in essence they are right.


10 thoughts on “The noble art of framing the Greenland melt as worse than it is

  1. Andy Farrell

    I’m not sure about Greenland, but it’s clear from various satellite time lapse animations from NASA that several times this winter, the sea ice has gone into retreat.

    Indeed, the IPCC does not include Greenland ice melt in their models because it cannot be quantified in a reliable manner – yet. NASA’s currently underway Oceans Melting Greenland study might change that.

    I suggest you will enjoy this video presentation by Oceanographer John Englander on the subject of sea level rise, which touches on the limits of climate models due to conservative thinking and the burden of extremely high confidence data.

    You may also find the following articles, discussing the inherent conservatism of climate models and the fact they have proven to be too conservative, specifically with regard to predictions around Arctic ice decline. – IPCC too conservative with models

    Finally, Jason Box’s detailed explanation and presentation of data on the “Faster than predicted” video is also very convincing.



    1. Climate Otter

      In regards to that ‘conservatism’ of the climate models:

      How do those specific models handle negative feedback mechanisms?

      What range of climate sensitivity do they use?


    2. trustyetverify Post author

      @Andy Farrell

      Correct me if I am wrong, but it is my impression that you are now suggesting that the melt of the Greenland ice sheet IS worse than thought and that those videos/links give more information about that. It certainly might be true that there are other arguments to be made, but it completely misses the point of this post.

      Look at it from the view point of the interested, but unprepared viewer of this scene. He/she is getting to hear that things have taken a massive turn for the worse and these are the arguments and explanation that were given:

      • The models are conservative because so many things are found that are not in the models yet. I have no doubt whatsoever that there are many things that are not in the models yet, but the connection as such looks more like a non-sequitor to me. There might be other reasons why the models are conservative and, who knows they may even convince me, but they are not used in this scene.
      • There are big streams of meltwater pouring into the ocean. Which is obviously true, but probably taken in the melt season, close to a coast and Greenland being a big place, much meltwater will accumulate at the coast. This might even be normal situation at that time of the year or maybe not. The viewer will not know and no information was given about that.
      • Then there was the scene with the hose, in which an example is given that is outside the field of expertise of the public. There is no way that a member of the public can grasp the concept of “a couple hundreds of cubic kilometers” of melted ice if they are not given the context how big the ice sheet actually is or whether this area is representative for Greenland ice melt or not.

      It was also not shown what is the field of study of Jason Box and why this is important for the melt.

      I totally get that the arguments in your videos/links might be right. Or might not be right. Or might be right, but one-sided and exaggerated, as is this “documentary”. But these were not the arguments used in this documentary.

      What I wanted to show was that no context has been given and the unprepared viewer has been fooled to think that it is worse than thought, not necessarily because it is worse than thought, but because it was framed that way.


    3. trustyetverify Post author

      @Andy Farrell

      Just viewed the “Faster than forecast – the story ice tells about climate change” video. You said that the video was convincing to you. Was it something specific in the presentation? Or something else? Could you tell something more about that?


    4. trustyetverify Post author

      @Andy Farrell

      Just visited the skepticalscience link.

      It is confusing. At first glance, the word “model” is rather absent. Didn’t find it in the url, nor in title not in the text. There are some comments mentioning it though.

      Also, the url seems to suggest that the subject is “the ipcc scientific consensus”, but the title is about the ipcc underestimating the climate reponse and the central point seems to be the climate myth “IPCC is alarmist”, yet the skeptical statement they are try to debunk is apparently about the mission of the IPCC. That doesn’t make much sense.

      Are you sure that this is the correct link?


    5. trustyetverify Post author

      Okay, now I see. Someone in the skepticalscience team had some fun making his own interpretation of skeptical arguments again… I have seen that a couple times before. Really funny, but not very honest.

      Yet another confirmation that links to skepticalscience should better be ignored.


      1. Climate Otter

        Having come back to this and reading the comments it seems clear to me that andy was a hit-and-run type. He never had any interest in discussing anything either you or I asked him.


        1. Andy Farrell

          Au contraire.

          Let’s take a quote from the original post:-

          “If I had no knowledge what these climate models are or how they work, I would assume that the very climate models, that used to predict doom in the future, are underestimating the reality for the future. ”

          Isn’t it the case that the worst case scenario modelled by the IPCC is known as RCP 8.5?

          And isn’t it also true that all this model does not consider numerous significant factors. Here’s just a few:-

          #1 CO2 release from soil as it warms will probably account for 12-15% of emissions by 2050 – the equivalent of another USA. This is not modelled.

          #2. The effect of melt water from Greenland. The complexities of modelling calving and melt water flow were considered too difficult, so this quite significant factor was simply ignored.

          #3 As the coeans warm, their ability to absorb CO2 will be reduced.

          #4. Positive feedback loops such as the collapse of permafrost in Siberia, Alaska and the Arctic (now happening).

          There are numerous other factors too, but a much worst issue is the fact the best case IPCC models all rely on massive levels of carbon sequestering. Currently there is no significant carbon sequestering occurring and little indication of any significant increase likely in the near future.

          This alone renders all of the IPCC’s optimistic models into the realms of complete fantasy.

          So, yes… the models you read about in the media are very much “underestimating the reality for the future”.


        2. trustyetverify Post author

          @Andy Farrell
          As far as I can see, Climate Otter (and I) asked some specific questions and he had the impression you weren’t interested in answering them. One of the questions of Climate Otter was about negative feedback mechanism and I think relevant to your explanation of RPC 8.5 above.

          My question was a bit more mundane: what exactly convinced you in the “Faster than forecast – the story ice tells about climate change” video?

          By the way, the post is about the arguments given in the documentary and how the melt was framed cinematographically, as explained in my first response.


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