Climate Skeptics To Sink Through The Disappearing Sea Ice ?  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Stuart at Early Warning has a look at the likely point where arctic sea ice disappears completely during the northern summer - More on Arctic Sea Ice Volume.

Following up to yesterday's quick lunchtime ice volume post. This morning I processed the data a bit differently by computing the average for each month in each year and then plotting the monthly series separately. The results are above. For the months July-December I fit a quadratic - which gives a decent fit in all cases.

The extrapolations show the Arctic ice free for six months out of the year by 2025.

A word about extrapolations, which are always dangerous. They get more dangerous when:

There is no particular theoretical basis for the curve used as a model.
The model has a lot of parameters (so that it has the opportunity to fit tightly in the sample period but go haywire outside of it).
The extrapolation goes for a long way relative to the interval over which there is data.
There is reason to suspect the underlying dynamics of the system might change during the extrapolated period.
The underlying data are suspect, particularly if there are systematic errors that the fit is sensitive too.

In this case, we have no theoretical model - this is purely an empirical fit. (The theoretical models of the Arctic are climate models, which uniformly failed to predict the rapid and early collapse in sea-ice volume that has actually been observed - so they are presumably missing something important about the dynamics). On the plus side, we only have three parameters - a quadratic is the simplest possible model of an accelerating process, and this process is clearly accelerating. Furthermore, the quadratic gives a decent fit for all months, it's not just a fluke that it happened to fit in September. The resulting extrapolations tell a fairly consistent plausible story: ice will disappear first in September, with October and August very close behind, and then November and July, followed by December.

For the extrapolation interval, it appears to be quite short for August - October - around 15% of the data interval. We don't need the system to keep behaving the same way for very long at all in order for the extrapolated curve to go to zero. For the succeeding months the extrapolations obviously get more and more speculative.

We don't particularly have any reason to expect the dynamics to change soon. The Arctic has long been expected to warm dramatically under climate change, and all indications are that it has indeed been warming and will continue to warm. There is no historical evidence of climate fluctuations this large in Arctic ice. However, it's possible that part of the recent move is a fluctuation that could revert and delay the inevitable. In particular, look at the recovery in ice volume in the early 1980s - a similar recovery in the next few years could push things out by a decade.

This was a follow up to an earlier post - Arctic Sea Ice Volume.

Strange that explorers competed for years to travel by sled to a place that will no longer exist. Maybe I'm naive, but it seems this will change the debate about climate change - the complete absence of a polar ice cap seems much easier for an ordinary person to understand, versus complex arguments about data-analysis on global temperature statistics, requiring that you trust scientists and their computer models. Arguing that climate change isn't happening will become akin to arguing that the earth is flat.

4 comments

Anonymous   says 11:52 PM

Hi, thank you for this excellent post !
A question : I don't see how this graph is related to the one in your former post here http://peakenergy.blogspot.fr/2012/08/why-arctic-sea-ice-death-spiral-matters.html. If I look at the months march and april, on the former, they were not the lowest of oll years, instead of what I read on this latter chart.

Anonymous   says 11:54 PM

Sorry I posted the same comment several times because I couldn't make it though the anti robot proof !!!

I can't explain the inconsistency between the 2 graphs - different data sets perhaps ?

If I find time later on today I'll try to work it out...

One graph seems to show ice volume whereas the other shows area covered by the ice (so they are decreasing at different rates) :

http://earlywarn.blogspot.com/2012/09/collapse-in-minimum-arctic-sea-ice-area.html

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