As Canada’s newspaper of record for climate science disinformation, the National Post is home to many climate “skeptic” voices, all drawing on the same standard (and repeatedly debunked) memes, but each with his own distinct style. I’ve often examined the stylings of Lorne Gunter, who specializes in hyperventilating attacks on climate scientists, complemented by repackaged press releases from the likes of Marc Morano (as seen in Gunter’s recent, um, discussion of the work of Mojib Latif).
Lawrence Solomon, National Post columnist and head of the “free-market environmentalist” lobby group Energy Probe, has received less of my attention (although his weirdly paranoid “analysis” of Google’s supposed censorship of “climategate” was certainly a classic).
That’s an oversight that I intend to rectify, starting with a dissection of Solomon’s recent misrepresentation of the latest Arctic sea ice extent data, said to “augur” coming “global cooling”. Incredibly, Solomon even claims that the latest data “acts to disprove” models projecting continued decline of Arctic sea ice. That assertion flies in the face of the relentless downward trend in sea ice extent that has continued unabated, or possibly even accelerated, since the release of the last IPCC report in early 2007.
In two short paragraphs on Arctic sea ice, Solomon demonstrates once again that he is the master of the deceptive, concise recital of misleading factoids. Unlike Gunter, who usually prefers to cast baseless aspersions before mangling the science, Solomon gets right down to business off the top:
The Arctic ice set 30 records in April, one for each day. According to satellite data received by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the Arctic was more ice bound each day of April than it had been any other corresponding day in April since its sensors began tracking the extent of Arctic Ice in mid 2002. Click here to see this tracking on the Japan Aerospace website, run jointly with the International Arctic Research Center.
The link provided by Solomon is a “live” image (indeed, if you are reading this weeks or months later, you most likely will find a curious dissonance between the chart and Solomon’s pronouncements). So here is the IARC-JAXA chart of sea ice as of May 4, 2010.
One can immediately see that April this year saw greater ice extent than any other recent year. But it’s clear that this is mainly a result of the lateness of the winter maximum in 2010, a fact pointed out by Desmogblog and others on the occasion of Solomon’s previous column on the matter a month ago. Indeed, the 2003 maximum extent was noticeably greater than in 2010, and that reached in 2008 was similar to this year’s. Moreover, the spring melt is now proceeding very rapidly with sea ice extent already below last’s year level on this date and identical to that of 2008.
It is also noteworthy that winter sea ice extent in individual years is not well correlated with subsequent ice melts and the resulting summer minimum. 2008 had the second highest winter extent in recent years, and yet had the second lowest late summer minimum extent yet recorded.
And that leads to the most problematic aspect: Solomon studiously avoids any mention of the other, much longer, record of sea ice extent – that of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Keep that in mind as you read the following mind-boggling paragraph:
While Arctic ice has always varied greatly, expanding and contracting during the course of a year and also from year to year and decade to decade, the expansion of the Arctic ice this decade is significant in one respect: It acts to disprove the models that had predicted that the Arctic ice in this century would not recover as it had in previous centuries.
At this point, we should clarify what the models “predicted”, as noted in the Fourth IPCC Assessment Report.
There is a projected reduction of sea ice in the 21st century in both the Arctic and Antarctic with a rather large range of model responses. The projected reduction is accelerated in the Arctic, where some models project summer sea ice cover to disappear entirely in the high-emission A2 scenario in the latter part of the 21st century. [IPCC WG1 AR4, p. 750]
So let’s take a look at the supposed expansion in “this decade” relative to previous decades (all figures courtesy of the National Snow and Ice Data Center). First, for April:
And March (showing winter maximum):
Both show a clear declining trend of 2.6% per decade, although the last three years are above the trend line. Yet even the April 2010 sea ice extent is still below the long term average for that month.
But the decline of the late summer minimum is even more rapid:
The decline has now reached an astonishing 11.2% per decade, with each of the last three years below the pre-existing trend line. This is up from the rate of 7.4 ± 2.4% per decade noted in AR4 WG1 (Chapter 4, p. 339).
Far from “disproving” the models’ projections of continued sea ice decline in the 21st century, the data – all the data, not just Solomon’s meaningless cherrypicked sample month – indicate that the model projections of the rate of decline may well have been too conservative. In other words, the models appear to be wrong, but in the opposite direction from Solomon’s claim. [Updated May 6]
That point was driven home by the “mid-term”scientific report known as the Copenhagen Diagnosis, released just before the December 2009 UN climate conference. Here is a sobering comparison of model projections from AR4 and observations of minimum sea ice extent through 2008. [Updated May 5]
Ironically, a recent paper from Solomon’s favourite source of sea ice information, the International Arctic Research Center, makes the very same point. In the abstract for Sensitivity of arctic summer sea ice coverage to global warming forcing: towards reducing uncertainty in arctic climate change projections (February 15, 2010, Wiley InterScience), the IARC’s Xiangdong Zhang writes:
Substantial uncertainties have emerged in Arctic climate change projections by the fourth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment report climate models. In particular, the models as a group considerably underestimate the recent accelerating sea ice reduction. To better understand the uncertainties, we evaluated sensitivities of summer sea ice coverage to global warming forcing in models and observations … The projected ice-free summer Arctic Ocean may occur as early as in the late 2030s using a criterion of 80% SIA loss and the Arctic regional mean surface air temperature will be likely increased by 8.5 ± 2.5 °C in winter and 3.7 ± 0.9 °C in summer by the end of this century. [Emphasis added]
To be sure, it is hard to know exactly what proportion of incompetence and dishonesty one should ascribe to Lawrence Solomon in his discussion of the sea ice record.
But no charitable explanation is possible for the rest of Solomon’s column, an incredibly slanted summary of a recent New Scientist article discussing recent research on the relationship between solar trends and European winters. I’ll take that up in part 2, very soon.
Meanwhile, I’ll end with the “live” versions of both the IARC-JAXA and NSIDC Arctic sea ice charts. And I’ll return from time to time with an update to see how well Solomon’s fearless assertions about the failure of sea ice models have stood up. Chances are, they’ll have melted away by the end of summer, if not sooner.
So Solomon was dead wrong. Again. ]