Open Mind

More Less Ice

September 1, 2008 · 66 Comments

The extent of sea ice in the arctic continues to decline. The day-to-day observations are weather, not climate, but the long-term trend is indeed a sign of climate change. We’ve already dipped below the value observed in 2005, meaning that this year will show at least the 2nd-lowest summertime sea ice extent ever observed. But minimum hasn’t happened yet, so we don’t know whether or not this year will surpass the 2007 minimum value to move into 1st place all-time.

Nonetheless, the “horse race” is interesting to watch. Here’s this year’s data through the end of August, together with the data for the two years with lowest summertime sea ice extent, 2005 and 2007:

In spite of this year’s melt season starting with notably more sea ice extent than either ‘07 or ‘05, we’ve already dipped well below 2005 and just might surpass 2007 because the trend is still downward. Here’s the daily change in arctic sea ice extent:

Just for a little fun, I fit a 4th-order Fourier series to this year’s data and projected it into the future, in order to make a projection for when this year’s minimum would occur and what value it would take:

The projection bottoms out on September 20th, reaching a value of 4.62 million km^2. If that turns out to be correct, then we will not surpass the 2007 minimum and 2008 will remain the 2nd-lowest summertime extent.

Categories: Global Warming

66 responses so far ↓

  • Luis Dias // September 1, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    It’s very unlikely that it will. The ice present this season was too young due to last year’s dip, and many did predict that because the ice was so young, it would collapse in late summer. So it did.

    Now the next race is almost on and it’s the mountain race. Let’s see if it catches on 2008, or if it is unable to do so. What do you think?

  • Ray Ladbury // September 1, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    Thanks for the perspective. (How’s the back, BTW?) The whole spectacle is interesting both from a climate perspective and from the perspective of human psychology. From a climate perspective, its clear that we’re entering a new regime. It will be interesting to see how the polar regions react.
    From the point of human psychology, the whole thing illustrates clearly how interest in a short-term phenomenon can distract from the real show–the ongoing loss of ice–taking place on a longer timescale.
    Climate change is going to be difficult to deal with because dealing with it runs counter to our own psychology.

  • Arch Stanton // September 1, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind.

  • Miguelito // September 1, 2008 at 6:09 pm

    2008 will have more Arctic sea ice than 2007, therefore the icepack is increasing! The world is cooling! Take that gorebots!

    Yeesh, I feel like taking a shower after just typing that.

  • Phil. // September 1, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    This year’s ice area though is very close to last year’s with still time left to match so this indicates that presently the ice is more spread out (less concentrated). Some sustained winds off the Asian and Alaskan mainlands would give a sharp drop in extent.

  • Didjeridust // September 1, 2008 at 8:15 pm

    I find it interesting to note that the last coupla days the extent curve on NSIDC has gone a bit flat’ish while the area-curve on “Cryosphere Today” is still plummeting.

    Any analysis on this kinda behaviour up north? Would this perhaps indicate that we have more of the seaice gone slush’y?

  • fragment // September 1, 2008 at 8:49 pm

    The last couple of years seem to have seen the dramatic extent/area reductions in the summer melt, whereas the winter values seem more in line with the longer-term trend - and last winter’s extent was the highest for five years. I thought it would be interesting to see analyses of trends for different months or seasons, or perhaps taking a look at whether there are significant amplitude or phase changes in the annual cycle.

  • dhogaza // September 1, 2008 at 10:31 pm

    I wonder if it’s related to the jet stream shift that pushed a bunch of unseasonably cold air down into the pacific northwest (US). Had a low of 41 (9C) two nights ago, and the high yesterday was about 63 (17).

    I have no idea what winds have been like up there, but we went from summer to cool, and now a high’s building that will bring back mid- to high-70s (low- to mid-20s C) weather.

    Then there’s all that hurricane activity. We’re up to 10 named storms already (I & J were named today).

  • kevin // September 2, 2008 at 12:54 am

    dhogaza, T.S. Ike did get named today, but I don’t think the name Josephine has been assigned yet (8:52 pm US Eastern time). Although there appear to be *three* more unnamed systems out there showing some chance of development, so it surely won’t be long.

  • Hank Roberts // September 2, 2008 at 2:32 am

    1-1/2 years ago:

    “ScienceDaily (Apr. 5, 2007) — The maximum extent of Arctic sea ice in winter 2007 was the second lowest on satellite record, narrowly missing the 2006 record, according to a team of University of Colorado at Boulder researchers. … The Arctic sea-ice extent, which is the area of ocean covered by at least 15 percent ice, was 5.7 million square miles in March 2007, slightly higher than the record low of 5.6 million square miles measured in March 2006. … said researcher Walt Meier of CU-Boulder’s National Snow and Ice Data Center.”

    Thursday, August 28, 2008 15:11
    Chicago (IL) – Sea-ice coverage levels in the Arctic are approaching the record low of September 2007. Since the melting season has not reached its end yet, scientists of the European Space Agency are expecting to see a record low in 2008 and two passages being completely ice free by mid-September.

    The trend of shrinking sea-ice coverage will continue this year, according to Heinrich Miller from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) in Bremerhaven, Germany.

  • Hank Roberts // September 2, 2008 at 2:34 am

  • Didjeridust // September 2, 2008 at 4:48 am

    Fragment - “I thought it would be interesting to see analyses of trends for different months or seasons”

    There is this:

  • dhogaza // September 2, 2008 at 4:56 am

    Hmmm I got that from Dr. Jeff Masters’ (co-founder of Wunderground) blog, but after reading your post, and going back and reading his, it seems like he may be engaging in prophesy. It’s not clear. “Josephine, AKA 99L…”. The names, of course, are chosen in advance, I read this as meaning this tropical wave had been assigned a name, but maybe he just meant it’s going to be.

    I report, you decide :)

    Here come Ike and Josphine!
    OK, this is really getting nuts. We’ve got two more very impressive storms that came off the coast of Africa that look like they will become hurricanes. Ike has a good chance of becoming a large and dangerous major Cape Verdes-type hurricane, although our skill in predicting such things five days in advance is nil. The GFDL model makes Ike a Category 2 hurricane by Thursday, while the HWRF forecasts a Cat 4. NHC conservatively forecasts a Cat 1. Visible satellite loops show a large and very intimidating circulation, with plenty of heavy thunderstorm activity and decent upper-level outflow beginning. Ike is expected to pass well north of the Lesser Antilles Islands on Friday or Saturday, but will get forced west-southwest towards Hispaniola or the Bahamas late this week. I do not expect Ike to recurve out to sea. Ike’s sister, Josephine (AKA 99L), looks like it will form just off the coast of Africa on Tuesday.

    OK … “will form” sounds like a prediction, so I stand corrected.

  • Richard // September 2, 2008 at 8:39 am


    Your “all-time” represents 30 years. That is all. It represents the period of time when we have been able to measure sea ice extent from satellite data. Please do not confuse your readers by implying this is the record low for “all-time” in human history. It is unlikely and not for you to determine as you do not have the research data to back you up.

    [Response: Pray tell -- what research data do *you* have?

    Satellite observations aren't the only evidence of sea ice extent. There are historical observations going back to the 19th century. Then there's the fact that perennial ice cover blocks sunlight from penetrating into the ocean below, preventing photosynthetic microorganisms from inhabiting that region and leading to an absence of their microfossils from the ocean bottom. The evidence is that sea ice extent right now is the lowest it's been in at least 125,000 years.

    Comments spawned from profound ignorance aren't helpful to anyone but fossil-fuel profiteers and republican vice-presidential nominees.]

  • Greg // September 2, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    “The evidence is that sea ice extent right now is the lowest it’s been in at least 125,000 years.”

    No it isn’t. The Holocene Climactic Optimum between 9,000 and 5,000 BP saw arctic temperatures rise by 4 degrees celsius, perhaps more. Do you really think ice coverage was greater during the HCO?

    [Response: "arctic temperatures rise by 4 degrees celsius" does NOT mean that they were 4 deg.C warmer than today -- that would require that they subsequently *fell* 4 deg.C. Which they did not.]

  • Gavin's Pussycat // September 2, 2008 at 1:05 pm


    “God of the Gaps”. You sound sooo like those evolution deniers that, everytime one more “missing link” is found, crow “but hey, you cannot explain this“.

    There will always be gaps — 1400-1499 in MBH98, as long as it lasted. The discrepancy between surface record and UAH, as long as it lasted. The missing tropical “hot spot”, as short as it will still last.

    And the god-of-the-gappers will be moving goalposts forever.

  • Aaron Lewis // September 2, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    However, we should compare apples with apples and oranges with oranges. We cannot compare a million km^2 of 2008 ice with a million km^2 of 2000 ice because the 2008 ice is thinner. It is the difference between a peck of rose hips and a peck of apples. The 2000 ice (apples) was more valuable because it was thicker. Not much you can do with that thin 2008 sea ice, just like rose hip pie is nasty.

    Moreover, most of the critters that we think of as living on sea ice do not live on just any sea ice. They live on sea ice over the continental shelf, because that is where the food is. That is also the ice that has been melting. From the polar bear’s perspective the ice melt has been much worse than from the perspective of a satellite overhead. Expect polar bears, ring seals, and walrus to be functionally extinct in 3 years.

    Moreover, near shore melt will disproportionately affect onshore permafrost melt.

  • Greg // September 2, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    Again, you are wrong - “Of 140 sites across the western Arctic, there is clear evidence for warmer-than-present conditions at 120 sites. At 16 sites where quantitative estimates have been obtained, local HTM temperatures were on average 1.6±0.8 °C higher than present.” (1). How extensive do you suppose artic sea ice was during the HCO, when it was warmer than today, and persisted that way for centuries?

    (1) D.S. Kaufman, T.A. Ager, N.J. Anderson, P.M. Anderson, J.T. Andrews, P.J. Bartlein, L.B. Brubaker, L.L. Coats, L.C. Cwynar, M.L. Duvall, A.S. Dyke, M.E. Edwards, W.R. Eisner, K. Gajewski, A. Geirsdottir, F.S. Hu, A.E. Jennings, M.R. Kaplan, M.W. Kerwin, A.V. Lozhkin, G.M. MacDonald, G.H. Miller, C.J. Mock, W.W. Oswald, B.L. Otto-Bliesner, D.F. Porinchu, K. Ruhland, J.P. Smol, E.J. Steig, B.B. Wolfe (2004). “Holocene thermal maximum in the western Arctic (0-180 W)”. Quaternary Science Reviews 23: 529–560. doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2003.09.007

    [Response: You should READ the articles you reference. Kaufman et al. note that the "warmer-than-today" conditions at different locations don't happen at the same time -- they do NOT claim that temperature was 1.6 deg.C warmer than today arctic-wide at any time. They also point out that one of the reasons warmth was delayed in Eastern Canada was "the residual Laurentide Ice Sheet."]

  • Gavin's Pussycat // September 2, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    Greg, you should really learn about Google… did you seriously believe Tamino wouldn’t look it up? Egg on your face mate.

    …on average 1.6 +/- 0.8C higher than present (approximate average of the 20th century), …

    …which is some 0.5 degree below current (early 21st).

    Unlike the HTM, however, future warming will not be counterbalanced by the cooling effect of a residual North American ice sheet.

    tsk, tsk…

  • Erik Hammerstad // September 2, 2008 at 8:51 pm

    In a Danish publication, Polarfronten 2-07, there is a report describing evidence of icefree conditions on the North coast of Greenland 6-7000 years ago,
    This might indicate a warmer Arctic climate and less Arctic ice then than now. Unfortunately the article is in Danish, but there is an e-mail adress on page 9 for those interested in following it up.

  • Erik Hammerstad // September 2, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    Some English backup of the Danish report (see the second part of the magazine)

  • David B. Benson // September 2, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    GISP2 (central Greenland) temperatures:

    7.81732 kybp -28.702
    0.0951409 kybp -31.5913
    -2.8893 degrees Celcius
    Then add warming from 1850 CE to present. (My understanding is that the differences in this proxy are considered to be SST anomalies for the (far) North Atlantic.)

    Somebody might like to check NGISP as closer to the Arctic Ocean.

  • crandles // September 2, 2008 at 10:53 pm

    Using this years data only and not using patterns from past years seems to me to be a suprising thing to do.

    I used a very simple technique see post 288 of

    For mimimum date my version doesn’t do anything other than average last 5 years and arrives at 19 Sept. I got down to 4.72 million km^2 fitting to the August 2008 rate of decline. Errors using this method on past 5 years range up to at least 120k km^2 (though I was lazy and cheated a bit, hence the at least).

    I am glad that I managed to end up closer to your figure than Timothy Chase. Perhaps I even got to expected error margin close.

    Which method would you expect to have lower error margins?

  • Hank Roberts // September 2, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    Greg, it appears you’re reading secondary sources and coming here to quote what you read. Where are you actually reading this? Maybe if we look at your source we can help figure out why it seems to be giving you inaccurate information.

    You’re not getting this from CO2science, I hope?

  • Hank Roberts // September 2, 2008 at 11:31 pm

    Ah, I see Greg pasted that in from Wikipedia.


  • tamino // September 2, 2008 at 11:51 pm

    Greg wants to argue the point until the cows can’t come home because of climate change. I’m not turning this thread into a ludicrous argument.

  • Wayne // September 3, 2008 at 2:25 am

    I’d never heard of before. They’ve put some work into it. It looks scientific (at first anyway); too bad it’s not. Here’s how they describe their project on the Medieval Warm Period.

    “Our Medieval Warm Period Project is an ongoing effort to document the magnitude and spatial and temporal extent of a significant period of warmth that occurred approximately one thousand years ago. Its goal is to ultimately provide sufficient real-world evidence to convince most rational people that the Medieval Warm Period was: (1) global in extent, (2) at least as warm as, but likely even warmer than, the Current Warm Period, and (3) of a duration significantly longer than that of the Current Warm Period to date. ”

    It sounds superficially scientific, but it doesn’t take long until you realize that stating the conclusions you want to see at the outset of a project isn’t a search for facts, it’s a search for data that supports your point of view.

    They go on to cherry pick data from a large set of papers. You don’t need to be an expert in the subject (and I’m not claiming to be one) to see right through it. It’s incredible how transparent this is.

    Yet, I suspect more than a few people will be fooled by this site. Sigh…

  • Gavin's Pussycat // September 3, 2008 at 9:43 am

    Re Erik Hammerstad: indeed the study linked to suggests that the arctic was at least partly ice free during that period (One of my useless skills is fluency in Danish :)

    That could easily happen without average temperatures being even close to 20th century average, if they were slightly elevated above preindustrial over a much longer period. As apparently they were due to astronomical forcing.

  • sod // September 3, 2008 at 10:27 am

    co2 science is one of the worst pages on the subject on the net. they pretend to be scientific, but are not.

    they never link to papers, nor do they post the abstracts. instead they post their own “summary” of the paper.

    when you follow some papers on the MWP part, you will basically always notice immediately, that quotes are taken out of context, contradicting points being ignored and the conclusions of articles are misrepresented.

  • Gavin's Pussycat // September 3, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    David, this is tricky. Actually the temperatures are calibrated to be (on longer time scales) local surface
    temperatures using borehole measurements and some other tricks like gas-isotopic thermometry (See Richard B Alley:
    “The Younger Dryas cold interval as viewed from central Greenland”, Quaternary Science Review, Volume 19, Issues 1-5,
    1 January 2000, Pages 213-226; seems to be behind a paywall. See chapter “paleothermometry”).


    “All of this paleothermometry yields highly consistent results. The borehole-temperature calibrations of Cuffey et
    al. (1995) and Johnsen et al. (1995) for the glacial-interglacial transition yield exceptionally large changes of
    more than 20°C since the last glacial maximum …”

    Some of this is due to elevation change:

    “A crude scaling suggests that the free-tropospheric changes may have been about 2/3 of the surface-temperature
    changes ( Cuffey et al., 1995)”

    So, compared to global average it appears temperature changes are seriously exaggerated, even 3x or more.

    Another problem is that these values are highly local (or at least regional) and thus much more variable than a
    global or even hemispherical mean would be. I assume you picked two extremal values, which would tend to exaggerate
    the temperature change again.

    Hope this helps.

  • John L. McCormick // September 3, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    Ray, you said:

    [From the point of human psychology, the whole thing illustrates clearly how interest in a short-term phenomenon can distract from the real show–the ongoing loss of ice–taking place on a longer timescale.]

    I do not have any learning on which to make this statement, but I belive humans do not have the neural pathways capable of making us understand the consequences of, and the urgency to avoid, climate change.

    Modelers constantly look into the future and that becomes an accepted thought experience even if it produces possibilities and not certainties.

    My watching the Arctic ice meltback — now about two decades –convinces me the Arctic ice passed a turning point and is likley not going to return to its pre-1979 condition. How will that change my life?

    Climatologists will rely upon larger and faster models to predict the impact of lost summer ice but that will not register the level of concern among non-scientists for the likely consequences we will endure.

    I react to the now based, in some part, on my past experiences similar to that now event. Put me where I have never had any similar experience and I am likely going to do somethng stupid; i.e., ignore warnings because I cannot see into the future . So, I am occupied by the now…family, mortgage, tution, debt, bills and vacation. and ignoring what I see but cannot comport.

    John McCormick

  • Dano // September 3, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    Dano made his name (such as it is) back in the day identifying see-oh-too cherry-picking and mendacicization.

    Way back when, they were cited by the gullible and credulous as authoritative.

    Folk used to get quite upset when I pointed out what they were doing - usu reaching false conclusions by omitting the next sentence or paragraph, or making their own conclusions that were opposite of the papers’.

    See-oh-too isn’t used much anymore as an authority. Folk who cite them should be ignored.



  • cougar // September 3, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    [humans do not have the neural pathways ]

    I ran across this video a few days ago, on why AGW is incomprehensible to most humans. Executive summary: We were already screwed by our own evolution 1 million years ago. But please have a look, see if you think this guy is on the mark or not.

    act fast | decide fast

  • David B. Benson // September 3, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    Gavin’s Pussycat // September 3, 2008 at 1:15 pm — Thanks, but considering the 8.2 kybp event gives about 3 K change, which is almost what is seen in the Pacific Warm Pool for that event. Similarly, from MWP peak to LIA trough is a drop of 1+ K, close to the new Mann et al. paper value of about 0.8 K.

    Further, consider

    to see that the temperature differences will reflect the temperature differences of the SST of the evaporate (which I assume for Greenland is the North Atlantic).
    I compared the Alley GISP2 data with the CET data for the interval when their is data for both; again the temperature anomalies agreed fairly well.

    Of course the absolute temperature is that of the summit of the Greenland ice sheet; I had wondered how the absolute temperatures were determined, so thanks again!

  • David B. Benson // September 3, 2008 at 11:34 pm

    A bit more: “A crude scaling suggests that the free-tropospheric changes may have been about 2/3 of the surface-temperature changes ( Cuffey et al., 1995)”
    Yes, but this doesn’t agree with the other work I’ve done attempting to calibrate with less regional temperatures. But then I don’t know what ‘free-tropospheric changes” means.

    The temperatures I used are the Holocene optimum at Greenland summit:

    7.81732 -28.702
    7.83454 -28.712
    7.85147 -28.7472

    the maximum being hardly higher than the temperature persisting for 32 years, and the most recent year measured, 95 ybp = 1855 CE.

  • Ray Ladbury // September 4, 2008 at 1:31 am

    Cougar and John McCormick,
    Yes, when it comes to long-term threats, our instincts are pretty stupid. That is precisely why we need to rely on our intellect–on science–to prescribe the right path. If our complicated cerebral cortex only provides us with the ability to rationalize, it’s not worth much.

  • Gavin's Pussycat // September 4, 2008 at 5:35 am

    > But then I don’t know what ‘free-tropospheric changes” means.

    David, it simply means changes referred to a constant level above (current mean) sea level, more precisely, a
    constant atmospheric pressure level. As you say the Allen numbers refer to the point of formation of the ice at
    Summit, which has been at variable levels (but the variation was likely slow in time).

    You probably don’t make much of an error considering the Allen numbers to refer to a nearby sea area, taking the
    above into account. For the rapid variations this would actually be more correct. Comparing with central Europe
    would be weaker because of the greater distance. But trying to compare with global means would not make much sense.

  • Gavin's Pussycat // September 4, 2008 at 5:49 am

    David, the Wikipedia article is a bit noncommittal about which temperatures the proxies are calibrated against. So
    for clarity: it is the temperatures measured in the borehole produced by the ice coring, i.e., at Summit inside the
    ice sheet.

    These temperatures represent temperatures at the point where the snow fell, but “fuzzed out” between layers by
    heat diffusion in the progress of time. This fuzzing out effect is the biggest for the deepest layers, and acts like
    a variable low-pass filter.

    Now the rapid variations on delta-O18 are indeed due to temperature variations in the evaporation area. So the
    technique is to combine the two: a low-pass filtered curve from the borehole temperature, and the high-pass filtered
    variations from delta-O18 put on top. It’s a bit of a chimaera.

    This is my understanding as an amateur.

  • John L. McCormick // September 4, 2008 at 1:36 pm


    you said:

    [That is precisely why we need to rely on our intellect–on science–to prescribe the right path.]

    Aside from Dr. Hansen, I cannot name another trusted scientist pushing, nudging, scolding us towards the right path.

    We are forever children in our approach to essential behavior changes (including overcoming addiction to drugs and, in some cases, unhealthy food). History has produced leaders good and bad who had the wisdom or the delusion (respectively) to lead masses of people to change their political moment to something the leader prescribed. Compare Ghandi to Hitler; same communication dynamic, totally opposite goals.

    Honest scientists have a most difficult calling because they are bound to their research and not to the masses. We benefit from their work when it achieves near-universal acceptance but the authors may have passed on by then.

    If Dr. Arrhenius could have organized European scientists to challenge that continent’s early approach to industrialization, things might be different today. As I understand, he was roundly challenged and publicly abused for his bold pronouncements such as they were.

    The role of modern day honest scientsists must change because the global wealthy nations’ children see life as a continuing cartoon of events that pleasure us and we have to be prescribed medicine that will save us from ourselves.

    Scientists: it is time for some tough love.

    John McCormick

  • Ray Ladbury // September 4, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    “Aside from Dr. Hansen, I cannot name another trusted scientist pushing, nudging, scolding us towards the right path. ”

    I hardly think this is fair. Gavin Schmidt et al. over at realclimate are doing a superhuman job trying to counter the anti-science idiots. I and many others give freely of our time to try and explain the science to the genuinely curious and call out the trolls. How exactly are we to do more?
    What form would tough love take in a country where more people believe in angels than in evolution? Do we send them to bed without their gaming consoles and ipods?

    It is unfortunate that scientists as authority figures claim no more respect than preachers, politicians or business leaders. If people are bound and determined to destroy civilization, all we can do is say we told them so.

  • grobblewobble // September 4, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    John McCormick said: “I do not have any learning on which to make this statement, but I belive humans do not have the neural pathways capable of making us understand the consequences of, and the urgency to avoid, climate change.”

    I don’t think really think this is the reason so many common people are skeptic. Recently I’ve been trying to discuss with people on a skeptic blog. After some fruitless and rather pointless arguing, I’ve come to the conclusion that the main reasons are

    - the scientific field is too complicated and abstract for most (including me) to judge what is true by simply ‘doing the math’
    - humanity actually having real influence on the climate goes against instinct
    - many are frustrated with CO2-taxes on top of already expensive fuel (at least in my country)
    - global warming is scary and depressing

    I can hardly blame those who are eager to stick their head into the sand. All the more reason to be patient with skeptics.. most of them are not paid by the industry.

    So, in conclusion: I think we really ought to stop calling them dirty names like ‘denialist’.

  • Cougar // September 4, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    [Scientists: it is time for some tough love]

    This is an interesting notion. I was telling my dear wife that sometime in the next decade or so most politicians would need to be hard-core scientists, meaning with publication records and everything, otherwise the confluence of crushing environmental and resources challenges would just fly over the heads of the usual crowd. Not to undermine the honest and intelligent people who are in government now, but these stalwarts are about to be creamed. There is just no way in seven Hells that the electorate and their representatives are in a position to deal with what is coming. Not with the complexity, not with the rapidity of the crisis, not with the technical underpinnings, not with the historical and cultural determinants, not with the vast and terrifying geopolitical ramifications, not with none of it. There is simply no precedent nor any similar lesson in the recorded history of human kind. The fall of the Roman Empire was nothing compared to what looms now.

    Tough love? Not if it means debating Inhofe into an advanced coma. Tough love needs to be running for office on the “we are already toast” platform, promising the end of the industrial revolution in a single term, winning anyway on raw fear, and then pushing like an animal on everything that can possibly be done with current technology and means that isn’t otherwise entirely insane.

    We might, just maybe, in some parallel universe that isn’t diabolically intent on our extinction, prevent our civilization from ruthlessly augering into bedrock before our very eyes. Though I’m not confident even then.

    act fast | decide fast

  • John L. McCormick // September 4, 2008 at 6:50 pm


    Don’t take offense.

    I include other disciplines as well as climate scientists.

    Limnologists, silviculturalists, oceanographers, electrical engineers, PAHO, WHO, WMO –should I include economists — who study impacts of a warming planet have knowledge and projections that should rain down on the public like meteor showers; hammering citizens, editorial boards, investors and miltary planners that we are crossing a civilization tipping point and the global ‘ we ‘ must begin to take the following actions including short-term adaptive measures that include serious planning for the time when Andean and Himalatian glaciers can no longer provide water to the nearly 2 billion affected people.

    Yes, I know and appreciate the huge contribution contributors to RC are making.

    There is another arena that also needs that quality input. It is in the disaster prevention, rescue planning realm on which I focus.

    Al Gore is using his resources to convince us to throw a switch and turn only to renewable energy sources even though that is not possible. Pickens is using his resources to convince us to make him richer.

    Maybe it will be left to the insurance industry to get some of us to act smarter…unless state legislators trump them with beach front bailouts.

    So, Ray keep doing what you do best. I respect you.

    I look for a legion of ’scientists’ equipped to TELL US what it is going to happened (on all fronts, from food and fiber to water and capital) as we travel our path determined to destroy civilization and certainly not tellus ‘we told you so’.

    John McCormick

  • David B. Benson // September 4, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    Gavin’s Pussycat — Thanks, I’m getting there. :-)

    The attribution is
    Alley, R.B.. 2004.
    GISP2 Ice Core Temperature and Accumulation Data.
    IGBP PAGES/World Data Center for Paleoclimatology
    Data Contribution Series #2004-013.
    NOAA/NGDC Paleoclimatology Program, Boulder CO, USA.

    so I think you mean Alley numbers, not Allen numbers.

    Also, his proxy is D/H ratios not 18O/16O ratios and certainly not d18O ratios.

    Anyway, when I have the time I’ll redo an overlap comparison with CET to try out the 2/3rds approximation. (I have no intention of attempting central Europe. Even with CET the correlation is becoming rather poorer then I would wish.)

  • Dano // September 4, 2008 at 9:56 pm


    So, in conclusion: I think we really ought to stop calling them dirty names like ‘denialist’.

    It is a psychologically correct term. It is the condition. It is the way term is used that is at issue.

    We should not, however, confuse the trolls and the small sample of usual suspects who appear in places spreading disinformation and mendacity, and the reg’lur folk who aren’t and don’t want to be educated.

    But back OT, and wrapping in the italicized, if people don’t want to hear this information, there is no way they will be educated to the changes happening now and coming soon.



  • Gavin's Pussycat // September 5, 2008 at 4:51 am

    > I think you mean Alley numbers, not Allen numbers.
    Oops yes.

  • Barton Paul Levenson // September 5, 2008 at 10:39 am

    Ray writes:

    What form would tough love take in a country where more people believe in angels than in evolution?

    Point of information — I believe in both angels and evolution :)

  • Barton Paul Levenson // September 5, 2008 at 10:47 am

    Grobblewobble posts:

    I don’t think really think this is the reason so many common people are skeptic.

    So, in conclusion: I think we really ought to stop calling them dirty names like ‘denialist’.

    You are conflating the people who do this full-time with those who happened to be convinced by them. The latter indeed deserve help and not derision; but the former simply have to be stopped.

  • HankRoberts // September 6, 2008 at 12:40 am

    > What form would tough love take

    Education up through basic calculus
    and statistics, for clear thinking.

  • John McCormick // September 6, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    your opinion that ‘tough love’ would include education including calculus and statistics would be, in my case, cruel and unusual punishment.

    I am sugesting more direct input from the broad science community such as ;

    a.) silviculturalists going one-on-one with international timber and paper industry execs to convince them of the sheer cliff up ahead…loss of timber habitat as climates shift north into the teeth of the pine bark beetle, forest fire conflagrations, etc. (lumber and paper shortages on the horizon).

    b.) Limnologists and oceanographers convincing the international seafood industry of the collapse of the ocean food chain and coastal fish farms as ocean acidity and temperature increase.

    c.) NATO and UN Security Council being pressured by CGIAR and WHO and PAHO to begin planning for mass evacuation of coastal and glacier-irrigated agricultural areas of South East Asia and Andian countries.

    Just a few, in-your-face counsel sessions I envision international scientists having with global and national planners and corporate executives.

    If we focus too heavily on the climate science community to ring the alarm bell we waste valuable time to cover civilizations’ survival infrastructure…power, fuel, forest products, sea food, food, shelter.

    Climte scientists have the most difficult challenge to present their views as authoritative since the science is so highly complex. Other science disciplines can be more direct.

    An example:

    in 1985, German Marshall Fund covered the cost of my organizing a tour of German forest die-back for American timber execs when I was lobbying Congress on the acid rain portion of the Clean Air Act. Using the knowledge of German forest managers and scientists we were able to convince the US execs thier bacon was in the fire and they had to see acid rain as their problem. They returned from the field trip and were generally supportive of the acid rain program Congress enacated. Seeing is believing and seeing one’s vested interest in the cross hairs is convincing.

    Tough love should also include challenging Houston-Galveston and New Orleans that their huge and vital energy-petrochemical industries are destined for collapse and the nation will have about thirty years to relocate them and clean up the residue.

    I believe what I read and it is so frustrating to have to wait out the tedious and necessary discussions about climate models and climate sensitivity.

    What many of us are calling for is a much broader discussion that calls for tough conversations based upon what we already know and must do to preserve what the global ‘we’ have and need to survive.

    John L. McCormick

  • Hank Roberts // September 6, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    John, I agree — have you written up the experience you describe above showing German forests to Americans?

    A ‘how to convince people’ guide is badly needed.

    The ecologists can tell the people on the Gulf Coast that what makes sense is moving the whole human development far inland and cleaning up the coastal plain to the point where we can rely on it as a new, huge, enormously productive wetland fishery, nursery and food source for both fish and people, and welcome the water as it rises. But the odds are we’ll abandon a polluted mess blaming bad luck and storms for flooding the area, and leave toxic messes instead of healthy marshes, by failing to anticipate cleanup.

    Restoration is an awfully immature science, to the extent we know how to do it at all.

  • Ray Ladbury // September 6, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    John McCormick,
    Don’t worry too much about me taking offense. I merely wanted to point out that many scientists are quite actively working to educate the public. Moreover, I share the frustration you have with the current pace of events. However, we all need to remember that science is inherently a conservative enterprise. Traditionally, its role has been to establish whether a particular effect is potentially important even under the most conservative of assumptions. By any reasonable standard, this has been accomplished. At this point, it would ordinarily fall to engineers, policy makers, etc. to take the science and try to assess how serious the consequences could be and try to develop mitigation strategies. Here, the conservative assumptions of the scientists would be relaxed, and the goal would be to bound the effect (that is “worst-case”) at a reasonable level of confidence. This is where things have broken down. In part, the science is not yet to the point where it can tell us how bad things can get. We know life’s going to really suck for folks in Bengladesh, but will the oceans acidify and start belching out H2S, making large regions effectively uninhabitable, or will we just have to emphasize swimming skills? Part of it is just because there are so many potential implications of changing the climate that it is difficult to anticipate which ones wil be the most serious. And in part, the fact that climate could potentially affect everything has made the policy folks reluctant to accept the science. So, this has been a perfect example of the breakdown of the way things “should” be.

  • Ray Ladbury // September 6, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    Barton, You know I have no problem with people believing in angels and/or evolution, just with the belief that belief in either requires rejection of belief in the other.

  • Gavin's Pussycat // September 6, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    John, while I don’t deny the necessity of what you
    are proposing, I don’t accept that it is enough. I
    want to believe that democracy in some form can
    survive the coming crunch, and what you are proposing
    is essentially circumventing the limitations of

    “Cruel and unusual punishment”, huh? Hey, life is.
    The choice is between accepting the demands of living
    in a science based society, and not living in one,
    meaning death is sudden, ugly and everywhere, and
    enjoyments few and far inbetween.

    Folks have this misconception about stupidity, science
    illiteracy, being a human right. I has never been. So
    we give people citizen’s rights after a given number
    of years, not after growing up. Heck, you’re not even
    allowed to drive a car without doing a test first.

    So I fully agree with Hank. I would even go further,
    supporting both natural science and ITC literacy
    (meaning Unix) as an integral part of the curriculum
    to be offered to citizens-to-be.

    Yes, I know I’m dreaming.

  • Gareth // September 6, 2008 at 11:10 pm

    So I fully agree with Hank. I would even go further, supporting both natural science and ITC literacy (meaning Unix) as an integral part of the curriculum to be offered to citizens-to-be.

    And all politicians, or anyone intending to play any part in societal decision making.

    Though for Unix, would you settle for OS X…? ;-)

  • george // September 6, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    At a bare minimum, anyone involved in making policy decisions on science related issues should be required to demonstrate minimum competency in the relevant science.

    It is an absurd state of affairs that they are not so required.

    I suspect that the latter is related to the fact that many people in this country seem to wear math and science illiteracy as some kind of badge of honor and even make a joke of their ignorance.

    It’s bad enough when the average person does this, but when our so called “leaders” do this (”I was a C student in college and only took one science class”), it is downright pathetic. Disgusting, really.

    We — the voting public — should require FAR more of our leaders than simply that they be someone we might like to have a beer with.

  • Ray Ladbury // September 7, 2008 at 3:39 am

    As the late, great Molly Ivins said, “If politicians weren’t all thieves, scoundrels and idiots, it wouldn’t be representative democracy.” Still, there is one thing I can never be an expert on–and that is what is best for another man or woman. I don’t know of any other system that puts that responsibility, and if we start requiring competence as a prerequisite for voting we injure both those we deem incompetent–by depriving them of their voice–and those we deem competent–by forcing them to assume responsibility for the welfare of others. There is no perfect system, no perfect remedy. Rather, we have to find a way to make democracy work in a time where our welfare depends increasingly on complicated technical issues.

  • Gavin's Pussycat // September 7, 2008 at 7:44 am

    george yes; like this Palin woman. In a civilized country, every single one of her science illiteracy revelations would have ended her career. The disgusting thing is it isn’t even an issue.

  • Barton Paul Levenson // September 7, 2008 at 10:30 am


    Sorry about that. I know I’m a bit hypersensitive on this issue. I’ll try to calm down.

  • Timothy Chase // September 7, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    At this point I am getting 4.492 million square kilometers on 9/22/2008 as my best estimate. It definitely looks like the melt is beginning to peak. Your estimate is looking more and more credible — although why is still an open question for me — given how it is built on periodic functions.

    [Response: It uses periodic functions, but fit to data only for this year, so it's not based on repeating behavior from past years. We know that ice extent will be roughly periodic -- it's driven by the cycle of the seasons -- so this method projects what *this* cycle looks like so far, to what it will look like for the remainder of the melt season.

    All of which makes it more plausible, but it still ignores any physics/weather which affects upcoming ice extent. I'd say it's a reasonable "guess," but I wouldn't bet money on it. But then, I'm not a gambling man.]

  • Timothy Chase // September 7, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    Tamino wrote:

    It uses periodic functions, but fit to data only for this year, so it’s not based on repeating behavior from past years.

    I had figured that much, but I am assuming you are in essence looking at cycles of different periodicities, phases, etc.? If so, while I can understand why there may be phenomena that on the seasonal scale at least may have that sort of quasi-cyclical behavior, still, I would be surprised if it drove this phenomena to such an extent that sea ice extent could be predicted in this matter. I guess I am just more inclined to view the Arctic season along linear lines.

    I don’t gamble either, but I bet that when conditions are a little more favorable for a melt we are going to see something fairly dramatic.

  • Gavin's Pussycat // September 7, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    > Though for Unix, would you settle for OS X? ;-)

    Nope… Unix literacy. “In the beginning was the command line”.

    Ray: far be it from me to take voting rights away from science illiterates. Just their right to be taken seriously: there should be an expectation of civic science literacy, like there is one of being able to read newspapers, count money and take care of personal hygiene. Education should offer pathways to acquiring these skills, lacking them should not be respectable. It’s a cultural issue, our current culture is sick, sick, sick.

  • Timothy Chase // September 8, 2008 at 12:30 am


    I looked up how you go about fitting a Fourier series to a function. Harmonics and sub-harmonics — of the year, I would presume. Clearly related to the Fourier transform of continuous functions made use of in quantum mechanics by means of integral calculus.

    However, if I understand this correctly, wouldn’t the methodology itself assume that the function is periodic and that you return to the same point on the next January 1st? So in this sense, taken out far enough, the curve-fit becomes unrealistic, although perhaps somewhat more realistic than a cubic trendline fit.

    Anyway, my apologies. Still trying to wrap my brain around it.

    [Response: Yes, the method applies strictly periodic functions and indeed, extrapolating to the beginning of the next year would lead to the same value. But extrapolating any curve-fitting regime is iffy, and the farther in the future the more so. My estimate was just a guesstimate.]

  • Timothy Chase // September 8, 2008 at 2:41 am

    Tamino wrote:

    Response: Yes, the method applies strictly periodic functions and indeed, extrapolating to the beginning of the next year would lead to the same value. But extrapolating any curve-fitting regime is iffy, and the farther in the future the more so. My estimate was just a guesstimate.

    Not a problem.

    As you say, extrapolation by means of curve-fitting is always problematic the farther out you go, and this would apply as much to quadratic trendlines of daily sea ice extent accumulation or corresponding cubic trendlines of daily sea ice extent if not more so.

    Anyway, for those who are interested in digging a little deeper…

    Books available online by Cleve Moler:

    Numerical Computing with MATLAB
    Experiments with MATLAB

    Chapter 8 of Numerical Computing with MATLAB:
    Fourier Analysis

  • Philippe Chantreau // September 8, 2008 at 5:28 am

    Ray and GP: “Democracy is the worst possible system of government, except for all the others.” (W. Churchill)
    So true…

  • Cougar // September 11, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    Requiring that politicians should be science and technology literate is a good start. However as others have pointed out the US electorate is more concerned about waving the flag, looks, and similar superficial things than about actual intelligence. One can argue why that has come to be; I think it’s because we are rich and comfortable, isolated by entertainment saturation from the realities of the world. Smart people stir the pot, point out the flaws in our Panglossian view, and we don’t want any of that.

    I sense that politics is broken anyway and this may turn out to be useful towards the end. Almost nobody who is actually running the country was actually elected to an office, so great is the power and reach into government of lobbying and corporations. But they are about to meet their Brutus in a coming economic night of the long knives. Their taste for government might wain significantly when the US Treasury is demonstrated bankrupt. After that, the vacuum can be filled by others with an interest in how things get done, and not all will be profit driven. Maybe intellectuals from academia, literature and media could step in and take the reins. One hopes they line up for the opportunity before organized crime or fascist demagogues rally themselves.

    In some ways “stepping into a void” is how the country was founded in the first place. We could have done much worse than Washington and Jefferson, their faults not withstanding. And Franklin was a polymath of his time. They just stepped up and said “let’s do this thing” and got it done in a reasonably rational way. In the current politics-as-game-show environment we need another set of able visionaries to step up and say, “the game is up, let’s see what we can salvage of this meltdown.”

    They will need to be recruited is my guess. Or they will be the last ones standing, and nominated by default at every level of political organization. But I believe absolutely that they will need to be scientists of some kind, academics for sure, and willing to be stewards and not professional pols. Or else criminals and demagogues will run things.

    The race to the bottom is on.

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