National Post’s Lawrence Solomon touts global cooling, part 1: Hiding the decline in Arctic sea ice

Lawrence Solomon at the Frontier Centre

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]

Figure 13: Observed and modeled Arctic sea-ice extent (Copenhagen Diagnosis, 2009)

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.

[Update, June 2012: As it turned out, 2010 ended up with the third lowest minimum sea ice extent.

So Solomon was dead wrong. Again. ]


16 responses to “National Post’s Lawrence Solomon touts global cooling, part 1: Hiding the decline in Arctic sea ice

  1. DC,

    Thanks for highlighting this. Ugh, it seems hopeless trying to stem the tsunami of misinformation by the NP.

    I was thinking that you could also add Fig. 13 from the Copenhagen Diagnosis to your post– it nicely demonstrates how the models projections of Arctic sea ice loss have in fact been way too conservative. That is they have underestimated the dramatic loss of ice.

    [DC: Great idea. I’ll dig that out soon. ]

  2. It’s also worth pointing out that sea ice extent is just what’s happening at the ocean surface. The total amount of sea ice has been falling, even while sea ice extent bounced back in the last few years. When someone brings up sea ice extent as proof that Arctic sea ice is back to normal, I politely remind them that sea ice exists in 3 dimensions, not two – and that sea ice volume has been at record low levels in the last few years:

  3. carrot eater

    Off topic, but seeing what the IPCC report or the Copenhagen document actually say: this illustrates an unrelated point.

    In fifteen years, it will still be relatively easy to see the range and context of what scientists are saying now in any given area like sea ice; one can start with broad reviews like the IPCC report or review papers specific to a field; and if desired easily go to individual papers, and follow the citation trees to see how each paper was built on, adapted or ignored.

    But with so much of the sceptic corpus appearing in op/ed columns and a maze of blogs, it will be difficult to trace out what, if anything, is representative of sceptic opinions. It’ll certainly be befuddling just how many of their ideas are mutually exclusive. It will be difficult to collect and assess any predictions sceptics have made. Will blog posts be preserved, archived and made searchable? Will comments be seen as being indicative of anything? We can tell which scientific publications are influential; how can we tell what blog posts are influential?

    Somebody should document and collect predictions made by sceptics, in one place. That, and instances like this where one month’s data is taken badly out of context.

    • Bill O'Slatter

      Yo have outlined one reason (there are others reasons) why blog science is a bad idea and why the climate auditing process initiated by McIntyre was always going to fail.

  4. Your link to LS is broken

    [DC: Oops. Should be fixed. Thanks. ]

  5. “Far from disproving the models, the data – all the data, not just Solomon’s meaningless cherrypicked sample month – indicate that the model projections may well have been too conservative.” – err, so why doesn’t that disprove the models then?

    [DC: I’ve rephrased and clarified:

    “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.” ]

  6. Nicely documented DC as usual. It is interesting to observe the problem with preoccupation of short term data shots to confirm a preexisting notion. Northern Hemisphere winter snow cover may provide a corollary of where sea ice is headed this summer. From the third highest Feb. snowcover int he last 44 years in 2010 to the third lowest April snowcover in the last 44 years, and the least for North America in 2010. Whether it is a glacier or a continent it is the snow melt that is most temperature sensitive.

  7. The rephrase looks better :-).

    [DC: Phew. 🙂 right back at you.]

    I’m ever so slightly concerned that we may be making too much of recent obs – but that may be my bias towards believing the models.

    [DC: I agree that 2007 was clearly not the new normal and that talk of ice-free Arctic Ocean by summer 2013 was not justified. But it’s still hard for me to see a scenario where AR5 will stand pat with the AR4 projections. At the very least there would have to be an attempt to explain why the observations have passed outside the model ensemble projections.

    Let me try this out on you. Suppose GCMs are generally correct globally, but for some reason have underestimated Arctic warming. Then wouldn’t that also lead to underestimation of the rate sea ice decline? Come to think of it that would be a good idea for a post at Stoat: How do the various types of models relate to each other? And where does the process for AR5 stand?

    Anyway, thanks for hanging around. I know I have a lot to learn on this topic. But I do hate to see utter hogwash go unchallenged, especially in my own backyard. ]

    • DC, if you really hate utter hogwash to go unchallenged, watch WUWT, and Steve Goddard explaining to all those physicists out there in the world that Venus is hot because of pressure, and pressure alone. There, done, greenhouse effect disproven…
      Cheers all over the place (with some exceptions, rapidly trampled down by the horde), including by those scientific greats as Willis Eschenbach and Hu McCullough…

      The stupid, it hurts!

  8. > 2007

    Remember this thread?

    From the main post:
    “The bottom-line: The retreat can be surprisingly rapid even without clear evidence of a tipping point.”

    • Thanks for the link Scott, very interesting post. I did notice in the graphs that a dramatic drop in sea ice extent is predicted (by CCSM3) to occur around 2030, only to be followed by a “recovery” which lasts about 5-years or so, before the decline sets in again.

      Maybe the amount of young ice increases in response to the newly open water and resultant rapid cooling in the upper layers over winter, but eventually gets overwhelmed by the positive feedbacks?

      I’m trying to think of a mechanism whereby the ice can rebound as shown in the model projections after falling so precipitously. Or was there perhaps some internal climate variability in that run which resulted in a temporary cooling over that time?

      Anyhow, interesting, if not depressing, stuff.

  9. Hank, that is a great paper and it shows that decreasing ice thickness is making it harder to forecast the next season’s extent.

    I found this statement most revealing:

    these results suggest that regardless of
    the sea ice regime, prognostic potential predictability is generally significant for the first and second winters, ice area during the spring transition season shows less predictability,
    and summer ice area has potential predictability
    with a 9-month lead time.

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