Digital Diatribes

A presentation of data on climate and other stuff

Two Posts in One: Personal – Life Update, and May Outlook on Arctic Ice Extent

Posted by The Diatribe Guy on May 4, 2010

Well, another month has gone by since I’ve taken a look at the Arctic Ice Extent. Actually, another month has gone by since taking a look at just about anything.

Why the low post output, you may ask? And what’s up with the Forex posts?

1) First, the Forex posts are just a little fun experiment with trading gold, and it involves numbers, and it’s really pretty easy to summarize my trading every couple weeks and throw up a post. I link to this from an actual trading site, so I kill two birds with one stone. I figured some of you would find it a little interesting and the rest of you would ignore it.

2) Gotta admit, life’s toils are taking a toll on free time and free time pursuits. My major issue is really the fact that I have numerous interests and only so much free time. As much as I love science and math and trends and climate/weather and stuff, I also try to find time for family (the big one), music (not as big as I’d like), writing (non-blog type of stuff), sports/exercise, I like to read other non-newsy stuff occasionally (both fiction and theological) and then there’s always that pesky work that needs to get done. You see, if I were a one-trick pony, I’d put a lot of effort in here and maintain consistency. Quite honestly, I go in spurts. In a way I get bored, but it’s more than that. I get frustrated. I get tired of the same arguments. I get tired of looking at data and seeing the obvious, only to be told otherwise by the experts, and then in three years when my childlike predictions are spot on, I’m told that I still don’t know what I’m talking about because I’m not a climatologist. Oh, it’s fun for a while, but then I hit a wall and just really want to think about something else and spend my time elsewhere.

3) I am in charge of a department of 2.5 people. (Hours-wise… it’s really a full person sitting there for half a day) I had a baby. The other full-timer had a baby. Then the half-timer had a week’s training. Then this volcano kicked our butts (travel insurance, you know). Between work and family, I have been swamped.

OK, enough of that… let’s look at some ice extent.

Arcitic Ice Extent as of May 4, 2010

Arcitic Ice Extent as of May 4, 2010

The latest ice extent reading says that 2010 is now slightly below 2009. This is a new development, as the 2010 ice extent over the last couple weeks of April was at its highest level on the chart, which is the plot of satellite readings since 2003 (2002 started later in the year).

I started following the ice extent after the 2007 minimum, followed by the winter rebound. I argued at the time that due to all the physics and stuff regarding the thermal retention of water and yada yada that we couldn’t expect the minimum to just go from an all-time low to normal in the course of a year. I predicted that 2008 would exceed 2007 and 2009 would exceed 2008, and that both years would still be below normal. Earlier this year, I predicted that 2010 would be near normal. My predictions weren’t based on fancy models, climatology, or anything else. It was, I thought, common sense.

Well, to date I’ve been right. It’s either “blind squirrel finds a nut” syndrome or it means that common sense has a place in the world even when fancy models are saying otherwise.

But let’s move on to the current situation. In one respect, the ice extent measures to date for 2010 have been somewhat remarkable. Global temps are up over the last few months, driven by El Nino and AMO, and even a rebound in the PDO. And yet, ice extent has been at a higher level than the past few years. So, now we hear about “volume,” which nobody seemed to care about until ice extent and area charts seemed to lack cooperation in the great global warming debate. We have been led to believe in the past that the global temperature rise is the reason for lower ice area. But it’s clear that there’s more to it than that. Jeff at The Air Vent has fairly convincingly promulgated the idea that it’s largely about the wind, baby.

So, here we are. What do I expect? Well, I’m sticking to my thought that the 2010 minimum comes in above 2009, and will be in the more cluttered area of the chart. I ran a simple mathematical model to predict this year’s minimum based on the ratio of icea area per day in relation to the year’s minimum. Running that model for 2003 – 2008 from January 1 to May 3, the results are anywhere from 5.0 million square km to 5.3 million square km. Last year’s minimum was 5.25 million square km. I personally think we’ll see things come in a little bit higher than that, even. 5.3 million would be about the level of 2005, but in order to get back to 2004/06 levels, the minimum would need to be about 5.8 million square km. I’m thinking we’ll land somewhere in between that, say at 5.5 – 5.6 million. Just a guess.


4 Responses to “Two Posts in One: Personal – Life Update, and May Outlook on Arctic Ice Extent”

  1. Paul Brand said

    Looking at the marble maps of the arctic, the higher anomalies are occurring in the Bering Sea, which had experienced a bit of a cold snap. As you mentioned, ice volume is declining. I think I can concur that the wind theory has some validity (in addition to Arctic Oscillations). I’m a bit confused by Jeff’s dismissal of ice volume, as I thought his point was that sea ice was recovering. The ice volume data disagrees with that. I think Jeff is over-reaching in saying that sea ice is recovering, and explaining away the reasons why volume is declining.

    I don’t think there is any question that the Arctic had a very warm winter. UAH, RSS, GISS, and HadCRUT all agree on that.

    So what do all these short term observations mean?
    1)Arctic sea ice extent is an indicator of Arctic temperatures around the perimeter of the ice sheet. Currently, one side is warm, the other side is cold. Also, the negative AO prevents ice sheet movement into warmer waters, so it’s not really a good indicator of year-over-year trends, as the rate of melting is dependent on where the ice sheet is, not just how warm the Arctic is in general.

    2)Ice volume decline could be impacted by the wind, but over several decades, I would think these changes would smooth out. The new research seems focused on what has happened since 2000, which went against the grain of research which suggested a negative oscillation should have reversed sea ice trends, but the opposite of what expected, happened.

    3)As has been pointed out to me, ice volume was also pretty low in the 1950s. Not quite as low as it was in the mid-2000s, and a significant gap between then and 2010. Linking to the NAO, or the AO (which are virtually the same thing) has some validity, but it also can’t escape my attention that Arctic temperatures were warmer in the late 1930s to mid 1950s, and then cooled down a lot, and then warming from the mid-1960s to present. Certainly, this isn’t all steady CO2 warmer, but I do believe a CO2 signal is quite plausible considering the data.

    I don’t know what I would predict for this summer. Currently, it’s the Bering Sea that’s keeping the anomaly close to the 30 year average. But the ice there is thin, and will melt as it does every summer. I don’t expect the 2007 record to be broken, though if I were to bet, I might say the odds were about 10-20%. Given low sea ice volume, I wouldn’t expect worse than top 5 in summer sea ice minimum. The -AO doesn’t suggest a record breaking year. But then again, arctic temperatures remain very high. It’s hard for me to say what is the more important variable. And I don’t know which way the wind is blowing either, or how hard it is blowing.

  2. The Diatribe Guy said

    I consider most, if not all, your points to be valid considerations. And I’m not entirely dismissing the point on ice volume, myself, as an indicator of one thing or another. I think the volume argument, however, is a bit of a red herring in the line of debate, though. That’s different from dismissing it as an indicator of other trends.

    Here’s what I mean: In 2007/08 I didn’t hear anything at all about ice volume. I’m not saying it wasn’t measured and I’m not saying you can’t find anyone out there talking about it if you look hard enough. But it wasn’t the focus. The focus was on area/extent. And the reason why this was a focus was because of the underlying fascination with (a) an open-water north pole being a harbinger of some sort of doomsday scenario and (b) the Polar Bear not having enough space to plod around on while killing other animals. We care about Polar Bears.

    This is why it all mattered. I won’t say that nobody cared about volume. And really, nobody cared about thickness at all except to argue that too much ice was thin enough that we’d soon be able to kayak to Russia after the summer melt.

    Now that ice area and extent has expanded, we suddenly care about volume. But why? I’m not sure. Do Polar Bears care about volume?

    You see, I think we come from this differently. My interest in observing Arctic ice is simply curiosity and, I admit, a bit of a rooting interest in seeing it rebound just to see yet another climatology prediction fail with regard to global warming. I personally think the whole thing could melt during the summer and it wouldn’t cause floods, it would make the Polar Bear go extinct and nature would somehow manage. And none of that would still prove anything about whether people cause it.

    Of course, I have no doubt that you disagree, and that’s fine. But to me, the discussion of volume now versus the concerns of 3-4 years ago is inconsistent. Heck, the only reason I tracked area to begin with is because of the rules the other side set up back then. Now it’s not important? I can’t keep up.

  3. Paul Brand said

    Until recently I couldn’t find near real time data of ice volume. I heard in early 2009 that 2008 had the lowest ice volume extent. I think the focus on ice area or extent on the blogosphere is because that was the data that was publicly available on a regularly updated basis.

    In the media, I have often heard that the ice was thinning, which is about ice volume. However, the evidence seemed to be more of a qualitative nature than quantitative. I think it is only in the last couple years that a more quantitative approach has been attempted. And it’s been less than a month since I became aware of ice volume anomaly data that appears to be updated every couple weeks.

    I think from a climate perspective, ice extent will have more impact than volume, due to the effects of ice albedo. Low volume is an indicator of thickness, which is an indicator of how close it is to becoming open water.

    Melting sea ice doesn’t have much direct impact on sea level. (I’ve read something like 3 or 4% of what there would be if the melting ice came from land and flowed to the sea). Polar bears are a concern, but the ice albedo impact is an even greater reason to be concerned. Arctic temperatures will increase more in response to lower ice albedo, and the Greenland ice sheet could de-stabilize, which then could lead toward sea level rise.

  4. The Diatribe Guy said

    Just so I make sure I understand what your viewpoint is:

    1) Most important = extent/area due to the geophysical impact of the ice (albedo – not to be confused with libido… maybe it’s because I have 8 kids, but I always find the word “albedo” to be funny).

    2) Of secondary importance, but still important = ice volume. It is still important because it represents the potential for a decrease in the extent/area.

    I agree. Quite honestly, I think it’s sounding like any argument we have on this is that you think CO2 matters more than I do.

    Now, you’ll have to excuse me while I submit a post that makes fun of Al Gore.

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