Arctic Death Spiral Update

A history of failed predictions

In Denierland I compiled a list of predictions of the disappearance of Arctic sea ice. You won’t have seen this unless you delved into the notes and references for Chapter 4. With the passage of a couple of years I thought it was about time to resurrect the list, search for any more predictions and to check whether any predictions have been falsified in the intervening year (the last update before publication was 2019 for predictions and 2020 for results). I’ve only managed to find two more recent predictions that were bold enough to put a date on things, both made in 2020.

Two predictions are at risk of being falsified in the coming September: Tim Flannery’s of 2007 (and that is giving him a lot of leeway) and James Anderson of Harvard’s.

The following explanatory text comes from Denierland:

Several of these predictions (and both those dating from before 2005) were sourced from The rest have come from news searches on the internet. In some cases I have had to use a tad of judgement in giving the date for the loss of ice, when statements like “in the next two decades” are used. An asterisk in the “Ice Will Be Gone By” column indicates that a form of words allowing some wriggle-room was used: “could be gone by…” etc.

Date Prediction madeIce Will Be Gone ByExpert SourceMedia Outlet linkNotes
19722000Bernt Balchen,3200988&hl=en
19822002Hermann Flohn, U of Bonn,1812228&dq=james-hansen&hl=enSome qualification
2005<2100NSIDC Serreze interviewed, does not give direct quote
2005<2100Sharon L. Smith, U of Miami
20062040Bruno Tremblay, Columbia U [Dead link to original]
20062060Julienne Stroeve, NSIDC
20072012-2022Tim Flannery, Macquarie U
20072013Wieslaw Maslowski, Naval Postgraduate School link is to a transcript. The reporter actually mentioned 2013. Maslowski did not demur.
20072012-2013Wieslaw Maslowski
20072012Jay Zwally, NASA the immortal quote “The Arctic is screaming” – Mark Serreze
20082028“Many scientists” Stroeve cited, but not in direct connection to this prediction
20082012-2013Ted Scambos, NSIDC
20082013A “research group”. Stroeve interviewed, did not demur
20082008*Mark Serreze, NSIDC
20082030Mark Serreze in other outlets also
20082013“Some researchers” – Richard Black“We could very well be in that quick slide downwards in terms of passing a tipping point, said Mark Serreze, a senior scientist at the Colorado-based NSIDC.”
20082008*Mark Serreze
20092019Pen Hadow the original is lost, I’m pretty sure the attribution was to the famous Arctic explorer.
20092013*; 2020-2040Walt Meier, NSIDC
20092060-2080Met Office
20092029Peter Wadhams, Cambridge
20092014Al Gore qualification put on the prediction
20092015“Technical University of Denmark” [Dead link to original]
20092039James Overland, NOAA
20102030Mark Serreze
20102019Wieslaw Maslowski
20102013-2030David Barber, U of Manitoba
20112030*Mark Serreze
20112015Peter Wadhams
20112016Wieslaw Maslowski
20112041Mark Serreze
20122015-2016Peter Wadhams at BBC, the Guardian
20122015Paul Beckwith, U of Ottawa
20122019“Some ice scientists”
20132013Paul Beckwith
20132030*Bruno Tremblay“By the end of the 21st century, much of Arctic Ocean may even be without any ice, year-round, if climate-warming greenhouse gases keep increasing as they are today, Tremblay said.”
20132030Mark Serreze
20132020-2040James Overland
20132054-2058Jiping Liu, U of Albany
20142015-2019Peter Wadhams [Paywall]
20142020Peter Wadhams
20142050Daniel Feltham, U of Reading
20152040NOAA at the Guardian
20162017-2018Peter Wadhams title: “Arctic will be ice free in summer next year”
20162016Peter Wadhams
2016<2050Dirk Notz, Max Planck elsewhere
20162030No attribution
20162035Kristina Pistone, NASA Ames
20162030-2050John Walsh, IARC
2017Late 2030sArctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme
20172040sMark Serreze, NSIDC
20172057Tor Eldevik, U of Bremen
20182028-2038Jeremy Mathis, NOAA“a decade or two”
20192050sMark Serreze, NSIDC
20192039-2044Julienne Stroeve, UCL“the next twenty to twenty five years”
20192022James Anderson, Harvard„The chance that there will be any permanent ice left in the Arctic after 2022 is essentially zero“
20202035Maria Vittoria Guarino, British Antarctic Survey“…summers in the northernmost sea are likely to lose their ice cover entirely by 2035—around the time a toddler today will graduate from high school”
20202050Bruno Tremblay, MacGill; Dirk Notz, U Hamburg“The study analyzed recent results from 40 of the latest climate computer models and involved 21 research institutes from around the world.”

The following paragraphs are repeated verbatim from Denierland; I would have put things a little differently if writing them today, but I didn’t want to edit them:

What is the point of all this? Not to prove that making predictions is hard, especially about the future. Instead, I want to highlight that predictions are actually very easy to make, and for some reason, predictions made by scientists have a certain currency beyond the SWAG of a typical human on the street. Learned folks have credentials, and their predictions are to be respected, or at least used to generate clicks on the internet. Strangely when predictions expire, the scientists who made them are not called back to ask why. Indeed when predictions expire, some regulars just make a new prediction a few years down the road.

How does one prepare their children for the extintction [sic] event we are witnessing? How long before it impacts us all to the point where it is a matter of survival? Is it best to be ignorant at this point and not tell them that [they] will not see their adulthood?”

The3Js, in a comment beneath the 2013 article at Arctic News.

Well, The3Js’ children are now 7 years (2022 update: 9 years) older, so it looks as if climate change might not preclude them reaching adulthood after all. The following is from a BBC article in 2012:

Professor Peter Wadhams, from Cambridge University, told BBC News: “A number of scientists who have actually been working with sea ice measurement had predicted some years ago that the retreat would accelerate and that the summer Arctic would become ice-free by 2015 or 2016.

I was one of those scientists – and of course bore my share of ridicule for daring to make such an alarmist prediction.”

But Prof Wadhams said the prediction was now coming true, and the ice had become so thin that it would inevitably disappear.

Turns out that the good professor was wrong, but his credentials meant that he could keep giving alarming predictions over and over (see the table above). Only one that I can find has yet to expire, from two years after the above quote, pushing the ice-free date back to this year, 2020. (Oops, looks like that was a fail too.)

I found the following quote in one of the cited articles, and found it so remarkable that I reproduce it here.

Sometime in the 2030s or 2040s time frame, at least for a few days, you won’t have ice out there in the dead of summer,” said Dr John Walsh, chief scientist of the International Arctic Research Centre.

From the 2016 Guardian article in the table above.

To use the phrase “dead of summer” is amazing, simply because the summer is the only time there is visible life in the high Arctic.

Finally, here is the latest update on sea ice minima, as of September last year:

If we extrapolate the line beyond the range of the data (usual caveats apply), it hits 0 in about 60 years. For reasons that will not be gone into here, „ice-free“ generally means when there is less than 1 million square km of ice left. So that would be in about 40 years. The scatter around the line of course means that, ceteris paribus, we might hit an ice-free weekend one day in September in about 25 years.

Featured image: The most recent Arctic Sea ice minimum extent, 22 September 2021, from NASA worldview terra/aqua and JAXA’s AMSR-2 instrument.

via Climate Scepticism

May 28, 2022

Arctic Death Spiral Update – Climate Scepticism (