Steve McIntyre on Climate Audit brings our attention to an interesting sea ice extent forecasting “contest” conducted by the Study of Environmental ARctic CHange (SEARCH). With the end of the Arctic melt season likely just a few days away, it appears that the experts have a lack of forecasting skill for the subject they are experts in.
We received 13 responses for the September Outlook based on July data (Figure 1). Estimates for September sea ice extent are in a narrow range (4.2 to 5.0 million square kilometers), as were the Outlooks based on May and June data. As the submitted uncertainty standard deviations are about 0.4 million square kilometers, most of these Outlook expected value estimates overlap. All sea ice extent estimates for September 2009 are much lower than the past climatological extent of 6.7 million square kilometers.
Here’s the SEARCH graph (Figure1 PDF available here) showing forecasts from several well known Arctic experts and organizations. I’ve added the most recent available data, the September 6th ice extent from IARC-JAXA of 5,345,156 square kilometers in magenta for a current reference.
While we can’t be certain what nature will reveal as the final number, it is likely that the end number will end up somewhere between 5.1 and 5.25 million square kilometers. What is most interesting is that it appears that all of the Arctic experts overestimated the amount of melt back in August, using July data as a forecast basis.
McIntyre made his own prediction two weeks before this report was published saying:
2009 is now slightly behind 2008. My prediction is that 2009 will end up over 500,000 sq km behind 2008.
His wording is a bit confusing, but what he means is that the final number will likely be about 5.15 million square kilometers.
As Steve McIntyre writes:
That prediction didn’t look all that great a couple of weeks later, but right now it looks pretty much right on the money. As of today, 2009 is 470,000 sq km behind 2008 and the chances of 500,000 seem pretty realistic.
That my guess was so close was due more to good luck than acumen, but there were some reasons for it. Canada has some exposure to northern weather and it has been a cool summer here and very cool in northern Ontario. 2008 had not been as big a melt as 2007 and presumably there was presumably a bit more two-year ice in 2009 than in 2008. While 2008 and 2009 were about even at the time, the trajectories looked different and it seemed to me that 2009 might stabilize at a higher level than 2008.
And yet in early/mid August, these factors didn’t seem to be on the minds of the official agencies since, as noted above, EVERY official agency substantially over-estimated the melt.
Back in early March 2009, I asked WUWT readers what they thought the 2009 Arctic sea ice extent would be.
With 67% saying then that the 2009 extent would be greater than 2008, and with McIntyre’s forecast also, it appears that bloggers and laymen just might have have a better handle on sea ice extent than the majority of Arctic experts themselves.
The next few days will be very interesting.