Monday, September 17, 2012

UK MET Office keeps downplaying significance of events in the Arctic

One of the most respected datasets on Arctic sea ice volume is produced by the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS, Zhang and Rothrock, 2003) developed at the Polar Science Center, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington. The graph below shows PIOMAS data for annual minimum Arctic sea ice volume (black dots) with an exponential trend added (in red).

The Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG), in a February 12, 2012, written submission to the U.K.  Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), pointed at the graph:
 . . summer volume [is] less than 30% of its value 20 years ago. The trend in volume is such that if one extrapolates the observed rate forward in time, by following an exponential trend line, one obtains a September near-disappearance of the ice by 2015.

The MET Office, in a March 8, 2012, written submission:
Climate models project the Arctic will become ice-free during summer at some point this century – though likely not before 2040. . . In September 2007, sea ice extent reached an all-time low, raising the question of whether the sea ice is likely to melt more quickly than has been projected. There is, however, no evidence to support claims that this represents an exponential acceleration in the decline. Indeed, modelling evidence suggests that Arctic sea ice loss would be broadly reversible if the underlying warming were reversed.

Professor Slingo, Chief Scientist, MET Office, elaborated on this in a March 14, 2012, oral submission:
Q114 Chair: . . when the Arctic will be ice free in summer. . .
Professor Slingo: . . Our own model would say between 2040 and 2060 . .

Q115 Chair: You would rule out an icefree summer by as early as 2015, for example?
Professor Slingo: Yes we would . . .

Q117 Chair: . . In terms of the modelling that you are using, does that cover . . . volume of ice?
Professor Slingo: We run quite a sophisticated sea ice model. . . and we are looking forward now to the new measurements from CryoSat-2.

Q118 Chair: . . evidence that we had suggested that the volume of ice had already declined by 75%, and that further decreases may cause an immediate collapse of ice cover.
Professor Slingo: I wouldn’t [give credence to that]. We don’t know what the thickness of ice is across the whole Arctic with any confidence. . . I probably would [rule it out altogether] . . . to say we have lost 75% of the volume is inconsistent with our assessments.

Professor Laxon, director of Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, where CryoSat-2 data is being analysed, in an August 24, 2012, written submission:
. . [analysis of] CryoSat-2 and ICESat data . . suggest a decrease in ice volume over the period 2003–12 at least as large as that simulated by PIOMAS, and possibly higher.

The Met Office, in an August 31, 2012, supplementary written submission:
The changes in observed sea-ice volume only extends [sic] over a few years and cannot in isolation be interpreted as representative of a long term trend. . . . The extrapolation of short-term trends in ice volume is not a reliable way to predict when the Arctic will be seasonally ice free as negative feedbacks and changing weather patterns may slow the rate of ice loss. . . it is worth noting that climate models can show a period of recovery in ice volume following periods of large ice volume loss.

For some curious reason, some people seek to downplay the significance of the events taking place in the Arctic, as well as the risk of methane releases. Here's more on that.

AMEG added, in its above February 12, 2012 written submission:
The catastrophic risk of global warming leading to very large emissions of methane from large Arctic carbon pools, especially from subsea methane hydrate, is documented in the 2007 IPCC assessment.

By collaborating with others to protect the Arctic, a climate of cooperation can be engendered to protect the whole planet for the benefit of ourselves and future generations.

Professor Lenton, in a Feb 21, 2012, oral submission:
. . the Hadley Centre [has] permafrost in the latest state-of-the-art model . . . their best estimate is we may get 0.1°C of extra warming at the end of the century from the loss of methane from the northern high latitudes.

Professor Slingo, in the above March 14, 2012, oral submission:
Q126 Dr Whitehead:. . what sort of modelling factors may be accounted for by the possibility of tipping points or feedback attached to these? For example, the argument that follows very substantially from the extent of continental shelf that there is within the Arctic Basin and, therefore, the particular relationship that warming on that relatively shallow sea has on trapped methane-for example, the emergence of methane plumes in that continental shelf, apparently in quite an anomalous way-leading possibly to the idea that there may be either tipping points there or catastrophic feedback mechanisms there, which could then have other effects on things, such as more stabilised caps like the Greenland ice cap and so on. I rapidly collated all the possible catastrophe theories, but I mean how are those factored into the modelling process?

Professor Slingo: . . we are not looking at catastrophic releases of methane. . . We don’t see catastrophic change in the Arctic that would lead to catastrophic releases of methane, or very large changes in the thermohaline circulation, within the next century. Our understanding of the various feedbacks-and it is a very complex system-both through observations and modelling, suggests that we won’t see those catastrophic changes, in terms of the physical system.

Note that the above are excerpts, to make things easier to read. For the full text, click on the respective links.

Below an update of the image, produced earlier this month, with recent volume data for 2012 added. On September 2, 2012, PIOMAS recorded a volume of 3407 cubic km of ice, i.e. very close to what the exponential line projected. The volume is likely to continue to fall further before reaching its final 2012 minimum.
The image below shows Arctic sea ice extent (total area of at least 15% ice concentration) for the last 7 years, compared to the average 1972-2011, as calculated by the Polar View team at the University of Bremen, Germany.

Below are written submissions to date to the Protecting the Arctic inquiry of the U.K.Environmental Audit Committee. Highlighted in yellow are submissions that are particularly relevant to points brought up by the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG), with links to videos and oral evidence added where available.


  1. My TUNNELS reverse this downward "DEATH SPIRAL".......TUNNELS anyone?

  2. It's very telling that the Met Office has shown symptoms of denial. How great is their resolve now that the record 2007 sea ice extent has been smashed to smithereens?

  3. Steven,

    i think their resolve is just ok despite 2007 record being smashed. I think Met office, as well as majority of other deniers, is not honestly mistaken about ice loss - they know what's what; i think they intentionally lie about it. And i think, many of them do it for a good reason: they are quite sure that we are already beyond a point of no-return in terms of run-away, catastrophic global warming. They are also sure that mankind can not prevent it - not by geo-engineering, nor by any other actions. Thus, they simply try to prevent the panic, so to say. To keep last years of relatively calm existance to be that way - relatively calm.

    Sam Carana is a big advocate of geo-engineering. He - seemingly, - is sure that large enough geo-engineering effort would be 1) indeed effective in preventing catastrophic warming and 2) possible to do. Yet, not all agree with this. For one, i do not: while i agree with 1) (large enough geo-engineering would indeed be enough to prevent catastrophic warming), - i disagree with 2): mankind, given its state today - technologically and most importantly, politically, - is unable, and won't be able in a few years into the future, to do large enough geo-engineering effort. Thus, it's not possible to do, in my humble opinion. Point is, quite possibly, my opinion is not unique - quite possibly, many, if not most, of powers-that-be also see it that way. If so, then denying the obvious - is nothing else but totally reasonable attempt to calm down the public, especially given the fact that when conditions will become greatly deteriorated (due to effects of run-away warming), there won't be enough resources for all the people - nor even all the countries. Thus, the most efficient tactic in such a situation is to publicly deny existance of the problem, while in the same time silently do everything possible to "reserve" most valuable resources to oneself (be it person, company or country). Indeed, it'd be much more difficult to get most valuable resources of the future - stable water sources, least affected agriculture areas, non-coastal structures etc, - if _everyone_ would know that those are ones to get for the future. Competition for those would be huge, prices would be huge, etc.

    So you see, public denyal of arctic melt - and dangerous climate change and biosphere deterioration, - is a tactic, and quite sound tactic. In fact, i am silly myself posting about it here in public, somewhat; although, i am not occupying any serious position, i am not a professor, this comment probably won't be read by many anyways - and even if it would be, many won't agree with it, probably.

    1. The UK MET is part of Department of Business, Innovation and Skills now.
      It originally was formed to give weather for shipping and battle in 1800s,
      but now, as then it isn't likely into climate predictions that would harm harmony.
      Let me say the way to pull out of a Death spiral dive in a hang glider (is to have plan of action in hand and a skill level to simply attempt what is needed.) at very low altitude is to go with the turn and then to turn opposite after high speed stall is brought under control and pull out without pulling the wing apart or hitting ground. Then perhaps on climb out to clear tree tops and to burn altitude to turn using a flat turn at top to come back and land with a perfect no step landing.. The initiation of a spiral dive is felt as a limpness in bar pressure; A complete loss of control. A fall through straight down in a spiral - Point being: If people don't have plan in hand to recover and ability to react without panic things like this note here won't get written.. Point is pilot who know what they are initiating by going in a ongoing turn without attempt to pitch up, let's say like to pay taxes or what's needed to keep Earth alive in this case, till a fall through straight down in spiral, stalled wing, death spiral is initiated can recover. But those who don't have plan of action and control of thinking brought about by skill level and preformed knowledge and a plan to recover in mind when entering such a dive - then the power of fear would freeze out clear thinking will overwhelm in a lock out.. We have more than one pilot and a lot of people talking but what a great challenge.. What a great time to be alive and to be able to say we still have altitude now.

  4. Beautiful example with the glider, Dale... But sadly, incorrect. Can't compare catastrophic global warming and catastrophic death spiral on glider due to one cathegorical difference: with the latter, catastrophe happens very soon after "last" wrong input on glider's controls (and/or very soon after critical damage, like broken wing), yet with the latter, decades lie between "enough forcing to drive warming to become catastrophic" - and actual catastrophe caused by such a warming.

    In other words, there is a lag. Big one - 30...50 years.

    Lag between "catastrophic input" within climate system - and actual catastrophe, - is mainly caused by two types of inertia: climate inertia and social inertia.

    Climate inertia: huge thermal capacity of Earth near-surface layers - mainly oceans; and huge amount of dimming, caused by modern civilization (mainly fossi lfuel burning) - millions tons of nicroscopic particles (soot etc) in the athmosphere.

    Social inertia is about all the habits and infrastructure we got. We now know it's BAD idea to burn fossils. Noone argues. Yet, go check how many millions of NEW cars are made every year - last year, this year. Same thing for planes, agriculture machinery, diesels for thousands ships and remote locations, coal power stations, etc. Why? _NEED_ those, can't have zero-carbon ones world-wide (not yet, at least). That's why. NEED more dirty ones, now. See? And habits - "quality of life" - are hard to get rid of... Large SUVs etc, you know?

    Combined, social and climate lags form that 30...50 figure above. Practical implications are:

    - much increased droughts, floods, heatwaves, storms of recent years - all the "global weirding" of our climate, as some call it, - those are NOT a result of how much CO2 (etc) we have _today_, - those are result of how much we had in 1980s or so;
    - knowing how much more CO2, CH4 etc we got since 1980s (alot!), we know that in 2040s climate will be much worse than it is now; not "weird", but likely "troublesome" at best (if we stop emitting GHGs ASAP now, that is), or even "bad" if we keep business-as-usual for ~20 more years or so;
    - knowing about social lag, we know that much further increase of GHGs will be - means in 2050s and beyond, things will go even worse - probably to "very bad".

    If we talk gliding, imagine there is some 30 years between "fatally wrong move" of control stick, which led to broken wing and true DEATH spiral, - and actual impact with the ground. 30 years of joys and troubles, life and love, family and work, childhood for some and living last years for others onboard. 30 years is enough for "guilty" pilots to manage to disappear among the large crew of "Earth" glider, you see... They _know_ they won't be held responsible for the impact, when it comes. And honestly, most of them couldn't care less what will happen in 30 years, - being old and selfish, greedy and merciless, most capitalists of this world (a.k.a. "powers that be") - are so.

    P.S. quantizing terms: in this post, "troublesome" = Earth population shrinks to ~6B (famines, wars, water problems, epidemics, etc); "bad" = to ~3B; "very bad" = to ~500M or less.
    I mean it.

  5. I'm afraid I am in agreement with Mr Tnioli in this case.
    I do completely agree that, as a species, we have the knowledge, skills, resources and ability to do something about either reversing or at least delaying the otherwise rapidly approaching catastrophe.
    However, what is lacking is the political and mass will of the planet, and that problem is driven by a cocktail of short-term habits/wants/needs of the individual, corporate greed/misinformation, and general denial/ignorance of the majority of the population.
    Just because the wealthiest movers/shakers of the planet don't seem to be willing to do anything about it in terms of preventing the problem, doesn't mean that they don't believe it is coming - just that they know it is now inevitable, and thus are quietly making preparations for themselves in the background. They didn't get to be in the positions of power they are in without having intelligence and an healthy sense of foresight...

    1. That should read an 'unhealthy' sense of foresight because there won't be any hiding from what's coming if it can't be stopped and proceeds as is. It's like humans are some sort of fiscal animals not part of Nature for which Earth provides. Money has no link to value of keeping Earth alive and the two worlds exist as if independent of each other when in absolute truth money has no meaning without God's good Earth to provide.
      The time frame of acceleration of heat increase is such that within one lifetime for children born today they could, if they were able, be able to see Earth be brought to a near complete lifeless state and it wouldn't stop there.
      I'm upset at the not trying to stop Earth's demise that is evident now.
      Not at honesty but at the simple fact that there is little or no rally cry. No -attempt to use the tools at our fingertips to ask world powers to relinquish ownership rights and profit motive in order to keep Earth alive.. Arctic is being carved up for mineral rights and for profit now.

  6. In response Dale Lanan(SEP19)(my "reply" button doesnt seem to work!):
    In actuality, humans are behaving no differently to all other species in equivalent situations - eat,drink,breed, expand the population while the going is good and resources allow - then when the population gets too big for the environment to sustain, a rapid die-off to low levels, to return again later, or in extreme cases, become extinct.
    Rabbits and other rodents do it, locusts do it, and we could even be compared to bacterial colonies in a petri dish and algal blooms in a pond - they keep growing until they eventually run out of food and/or poison their environment with their waste products. We are, after all, just animals, going through the same cycle as many other species before us - it's just that we managed to develop the awareness to analyse the situation unfolding, before we snuffed it.

    1. Hi Jyf (reply button works, but comments are moderated),
      People are intelligent enough to understand the situation and act accordingly, if we take the effort to point out what the problem is and what action should be taken to remedy the situation. The problem is not overpopulation, but the use of polluting products, as I've said for years, e.g. in this post written more than four years ago. I advocate a comprehensive plan of action to effectively deal with the dangers associated with climate change.

  7. Hi, I have been checking out the numbers to see if your panic is really justified. You must be very familiar with these so if you could cast your eye over the article The Melting of Arctic Ice I would be much obliged.

    What comes out of "doing the numbers" is that the arctic ocean is mostly acting like a tumbler of water with ice in it. It is not at all complicated, there has simply been an excess of about 2% of heating over cooling every year from 1979 until recently. Recently it has become scary but even with historical trends the arctic would be ice free in the summer before the late 2020s. Why does the met office deny this?

    1. Good to see more people look at the figures. Yes, the Arctic sea ice acts as a buffer, preventing the Arctic from overheating in summer. As this buffer disappears, warming in summer in the Arctic will accelerate ever more, threatening to cause huge amounts of methane to be released from the seabed and make the situation worse, spiraling into runaway warming. Action is needed!

      It's good to see that AMEG's views are largely supported by the EAC report. The EAC expresses concerns about geoengineering, like you do, specifically that it could fool people into thinking that emissions could continue. But AMEG quite clearly says that geoengineering should not be used as a way to divert efforts from other necessary action on climate change. Instead, AMEG supports efforts to bring the atmosphere and oceans back towards their pre-industrial state. I again stress the need for a comprehensive plan of action to effectively reduce the dangers associated with climate change.

  8. Hi Sam
    I agree completely - The initial issue of the warming climate is the fault of pollution - however, an early consequence of that, we are told, will be rapidly diminishing crop/food availability to the point where the population as it stands cannot be supported.
    And yes, we like to think the human race is intelligent. But - the problem HAS been pointed out, repeatedly and in very clear terms over the last several years, and the actions that can and should be taken, individually and by governments/corporations, are out there in black and white for all to see.
    And yet we still aren't doing it...
    And as Mr Tnioli pointed out in an earlier post - there is a lag phase between pollutant output and climate response - IF the worlds governments were to implement every possible remedial action starting tomorrow morning with full commitment and effort (which, lets face it, we know they won't) - it would still very probably be too late... and I can't see the Western world abandoning their cars in their garages and getting on their bikes/walking to work/school/shops anytime soon - can you? And that is disregarding the developing world - e.g.China's commitment to expanding its power-plant infrastructure over the next decade.
    Anyway - I apologise for my apocalyptic rant - I've been a keen follower of the science around climate change etc for the last 10-15 years (I myself am a biologist), and I don't like to sound so negative, but everything I have read and observed over that time seems to be leading up to this inevitable outcome...I'm actually at a phase in my life where my partner and I are keen to start a family, which makes this conclusion all the more depressing!
    (Rant over...)

    1. Jyf, the problem is polluting products and the solution is to shift to clean products. In many cases, clean products are already more economic, it's just that vested interests keep stalling the necessary shift. Anyway, the more reason for the shift to be facilitated by a comprehensive plan of action.

  9. I hope you are right, Sam - let's just hope that governments will sit up and take notice and instigate contingencies and initiatives such that things don't get too much worse before they start getting better.
    I still try to do my bit - energy-saving lightbulbs, waste recycling, easy on the thermostat, cycle to work every day, rarely use the car - etc etc...
    And I shall try to refrain from standing on virtual street-corners sporting a "The End Is Nigh" sandwich board just yet... ;O)

  10. Meanwhile, the EAC has completed its report. Below, I'll add part of the first three conclusions and recommendations, since these are most relevant to the above post:

    1. The general view that the ice-cap is not at risk of a summer collapse in the next few years may need to be revisited and revised. A collapse not only threatens the unique ecosystems there, but would have damaging ramifications for regional and global climate.

    2. There is a range of views on the rate at which methane is being released in the Arctic as a result of climate warming there, and whether and how soon that might constitute a tipping point. Given its particular potency as a greenhouse gas, however, there is a potentially serious risk for global climate change from any significant methane release in the Arctic.

    3. In the absence of urgent action on climate change, there may be a number of tipping points in climate-driven systems in the Arctic, which threaten to rapidly escalate the danger for the whole planet. A collapse of summer sea-ice, increased methane emissions from thawing permafrost, runaway melting of the Greenland ice-sheet, and a collapse of the thermo-haline circulation, may all be approaching in the Arctic and will have disastrous consequences for global climate and sea levels. These together comprise a wake-up call to reinvigorate efforts to tackle climate change. A lack of consensus on precisely how fast any tipping points are approaching in the Arctic should not be used as an argument for inaction.

    The full report including submissions can be downloaded here.

  11. Meanwhile, CryoSat has continued its analysis and the results provide, as the paper says, “further evidence that the PIOMAS estimates of autumn volume loss are conservative”.

    As discussed in an earlier post, Arctic sea ice minimum volume in 2012, as calculated by PIOMAS, was only 19.3% what it was in 1979.

    Developer of the PIOMAS Arctic Sea Ice Volume Page, Axel Schweiger, commented on the CryoSat observations: “Other people had argued that 75 to 80 percent ice volume loss was too aggressive. What this new paper shows is that our ice loss estimates may have been too conservative, and that the recent decline is possibly more rapid.”