NSIDC' s Dr. Walt Meier Answers 10 Questions

Regular readers may recall some of the posts here, here, here, and here, where the sea ice data presented by NSIDC and by Cryosphere today were brought into question. We finally have an end to this year’s arctic melt season, and our regular contributor on sea-ice, Steven Goddard, was able to ask Dr. Walt Meier, who operates the National Snow and Ice Data Center 10 questions, and they are presented here for you. I have had correspondence with Dr. Meier and found him straightforward and amiable. If only other scientists were so gracious with questions from the public. – Anthony


Questions from Steven Goddard:

Dr. Walt Meier from The US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) has graciously agreed to answer 10 of my favorite Arctic questions. His much appreciated responses below are complete and unedited.

1. Many GISS stations north of 60 latitude show temperatures 70 years ago being nearly as warm as today. This pattern is seen from Coppermine, Canada (115W) all the way east to Dzardzan, Siberia (124E.) The 30 year satellite record seems to correspond to a period of warming, quite similar to a GISS reported period in the 1920s and 1930s. Is it possible that Arctic temperatures are cyclical rather than on a linear upwards trend?

No. Analysis of the temperatures does not support a cyclic explanation for the recent warming. The warming during the 1920s and 1930s was more regional in nature and focused on the Atlantic side of the Arctic (though there was warming in some other regions as well) and was most pronounced during winter. In contrast, the current warming is observed over almost the entire Arctic and is seen in all seasons. Another thing that is clear is that, the warming during the 1920s and 1930s was limited to the Arctic and lower latitude temperatures were not unusually warm. The recent warming in the Arctic, though amplified there, is part of a global trend where temperatures are rising in most regions of the earth. There are always natural variations in climate but the current warming in the Arctic is not explained by such variations.

2. The US Weather Bureau wrote a 1922 article describing drastic Arctic warming and ice loss. In that article, the author wrote that waters around Spitzbergen warmed 12C over just a few years and that ships were able to sail in open waters north of 81N. This agrees with the GISS record, which would seem to imply that the Arctic can and does experience significant warming unrelated to CO2. Do you believe that what we are seeing now is different from that event, and why?

Yes. The current warming is different from the conditions described in the article. The Weather Bureau article is specifically discussing the North Atlantic region around Spitsbergen, not the Arctic as a whole. The Arctic has historically shown regional variations in climate, with one region warmer than normal while another region was cooler, and then after a while flipping to the opposite conditions. As discussed above, the current warming is different in nature; it is pan-Arctic and is part of widespread warming over most of the earth.

3. A number of prominent papers, including one from Dr. James Hansen in 2003, describe the important role of man-made soot in Arctic melt and warming. Some have hypothesized that the majority of melt and warming is due to soot. How is this issue addressed by NSIDC?

NSIDC does not have any scientists who currently study the effect of soot on melt and warming. Soot, dust and other pollution can enhance melting by lower the albedo (reflectance of solar energy). However, it is not clear that soot has increased significantly in the Arctic. Russia is a major source of soot in the Arctic and Russian soot declined dramatically after the break-up of the former Soviet Union – just as sea ice decline was starting to accelerate. Furthermore, while soot on the snow/ice surface will enhance melt, soot and other aerosols in the atmosphere have a cooling effect that would slow melt. Thus, the effect of soot, while it may contribute in some way, cannot explain the dramatic rate of warming and melt seen in the Arctic seen over the past 30 years.

4. The NSIDC Sea Ice News and Analysis May 2008 report seems to have forecast more ice loss than has actually occurred, including forecasts of a possible “ice-free North Pole.” Please comment on this?

What NSIDC provided in its May report was “a simple estimate of the likelihood of breaking last year’s September record.” This gave an average estimate that was below 2007, but included a range that included a possibility of being above 2007. With the melt season in the Arctic ending for the year, the actual 2008 minimum is near the high end of this range. In its June report, NSIDC further commented on its minimum estimate by stating that much of the thin ice that usually melts in summer was much farther north than normal and thus would be less likely to melt.

In the May report, NSIDC also quoted a colleague, Sheldon Drobot at the University of Colorado, who used a more sophisticated forecast model to estimate a 59% chance of setting a new record low – far from a sure-thing. NSIDC also quoted colleague Ron Lindsey at the University of Washington, who used a physical model to estimate “a very low, but not extreme [i.e., not record-breaking], sea ice minimum.” He also made an important point, cautioning that “that sea ice conditions are now changing so rapidly that predictions based on relationships developed from the past 50 years of data may no longer apply.” Thus NSIDC’s report was a balanced assessment of the possibility of setting a new record, taking account of different methods and recognizing the uncertainty inherent any seasonal forecast, especially under conditions that had not been seen before.

For the first time in our records, the North Pole was covered by seasonal ice (i.e., ice that grew since the end of the previous summer). Since seasonal ice is thinner than multiyear ice (i.e., ice that has survived at least one melt season) and vulnerable to melting completely, there was a possibility that the ice edge could recede beyond the pole and leaving the pole completely ice-free. This would be fundamentally different from events in the past where a crack in the ice might temporarily expose some open water at the pole in the midst of surrounding ice. It would mean completely ice-free conditions at the geographic North Pole (just the pole, not the entire Arctic Ocean). The remarkable thing was not whether the North Pole would be ice-free or not; it was that this year, for the first time in a long time it was possible. This does not bode well for the long-term health of the sea ice

The fact that the initial analysis of potential minimum ice extent and an ice-free pole did not come to pass reflects a cooler and cloudier summer that wasn’t as conducive to ice loss as it might have been. There will always be natural variations, with cooler than normal conditions possible for a time. However, despite the lack of extreme conditions, the minimum extent in 2008 is the second lowest ever and very close to last year. Most importantly, the 2008 minimum reinforces the long-term declining trend that is not due to natural climate fluctuations.

5. The June 2008 NSIDC web site entry mentioned that it is difficult to melt first year ice at very high latitudes. Is it possible that there is a lower practical bound to ice extent, based on the very short melt season and low angle of the sun near the North Pole?

It is unlikely that there is a lower bound to sea ice extent. One of the things that helped save this year from setting a record was that the seasonal ice was so far north and did not melt as much as seasonal ice at lower latitudes would. The North Pole, being the location that last sees the sun rise and first sees the sun set, has the longest “polar night” and shortest “polar day.” Thus, it receives the least amount of solar radiation in the Arctic. So there is less energy and less time to melt ice at the pole. However there is a feedback where the more ice that is melted, the easier it is to melt still more ice. This is because the exposed ocean absorbs more heat than the ice and that heat can further melt the ice. Eventually, we will get to a state where there is enough heat absorbed during the summer, even at the shorter summer near the pole, to completely melt the sea ice. Climate models have also shown that under warmer conditions, the Arctic sea ice will completely melt during summer.

6. GISS records show most of Greenland cooler today than 70 years ago. Why should we be concerned?

We should be concerned because the warming in Greenland of 70 years ago was part of the regional warming in the North Atlantic region discussed in questions 1 and 2 above. Seventy years ago one might expect temperatures to eventually cool as the regional climate fluctuated from a warmer state to a cooler state. The current Greenland warming, while not yet quite matching the temperatures of 70 years ago, is part of a global warming signal that for the foreseeable future will continue to increase temperatures (with of course occasional short-term fluctuations), in Greenland and around the world. This will eventually, over the coming centuries, lead to significant melting of the Greenland ice sheet and sea level rise with accompanying impacts on coastal regions.

7. Antarctica seems to be gaining sea ice, and eastern Antarctica is apparently cooling. Ocean temperatures in most of the Southern Hemisphere don’t seem to be changing much. How does this fit in to models which predicted symmetric NH/SH warming (i.e. Hansen 1980)? Shouldn’t we expect to see broad warming of southern hemisphere waters?

No. Hansen’s model of 1980 is no longer relevant as climate models have improved considerably in the past 28 years. Current models show a delayed warming in the Antarctic region in agreement with observations. A delayed warming is expected from our understanding of the climate processes. Antarctic is a continent surrounded on all sides by an ocean. Strong ocean currents and winds swirl around the continent. These act as a barrier to heat coming down from lower latitudes. The winds and currents have strengthened in recent years, partly in response to the ozone hole. But while most of the Antarctic has cooled, the one part of Antarctica that does interact with the lower latitudes, the Antarctic Peninsula – the “thumb” of the continent that sticks up toward South America – is a region that has undergone some of the most dramatic warming over the past decades.

Likewise, Antarctic sea ice is also insulated from the warming because of the isolated nature of Antarctica and the strong circumpolar winds and currents. There are increasing trends in Antarctic sea ice extent, but they are fairly small and there is so much variability in the Antarctic sea ice from year to year that is difficult to ascribe any significance to the trends – they could simply be an artifact of natural variability. Even if the increasing trend is real, this is not unexpected in response to slightly cooler temperatures.

This is in stark contrast with the Arctic where there are strong decreasing trends that cannot be explained by natural variability. These decreasing Arctic trends are seen throughout every region in every season. Because much of the Arctic has been covered by multiyear ice that doesn’t melt during the summer, the downward trend in the summer and the loss of the multiyear ice has a particularly big impact on climate. In contrast, the Antarctic has very little multiyear sea ice and most of the ice cover melts away completely each summer. So the impact of any Antarctic sea ice trends on climate is less than in the Arctic. There is currently one clearly significant sea ice trend in the Antarctic; it is in the region bordering the Antarctic Peninsula, and it is a declining trend.

Because the changes in Antarctic sea ice are not yet significant in terms of climate change, they do not receive the same attention as the changes in the Arctic. It doesn’t mean that Antarctic sea ice is uninteresting, unimportant, or unworthy of scientific study. In fact, there is a lot of research being conducted on Antarctic sea ice and several scientific papers have been recently published on the topic.

8. In January, 2008 the Northern Hemisphere broke the record for the greatest snow extent ever recorded. What caused this?

The large amount of snow was due to weather and short-term climate fluctuations. Extreme weather events, even extreme cold and snow, will still happen in a warmer world. There is always natural variability. Weather extremes are always a part of climate and always will be. In fact, the latest IPCC report predicts more extreme weather due to global warming. It is important to remember that weather is not climate. The extreme January 2008 snowfall is not a significant factor in long-term climate change. One cold, snowy month does not make a climate trend and a cold January last year does not negate a decades-long pattern of warming. This is true of unusually warm events – one heat wave or one low sea ice year does not “prove” global warming. It is the 30-year significant downward trend in Arctic sea ice extent, which has accelerated in recent years, that is the important indicator of climate change.

9. Sea Surface Temperatures are running low near southern Alaska, and portions of Alaska are coming off one of their coldest summers on record. Will this affect ice during the coming winter?

It is possible that this year there could be an earlier freeze-up and more ice off of southern Alaska in the Bering Sea due to the colder temperatures. But again, this represents short-term variability and says nothing about long-term climate change. I would also note that in the Bering Sea winds often control the location of the ice edge more than temperature. Winds blowing from the north will push the ice edge southward and result in more ice cover. Winds blowing from the south will push the edge northward and result in less total ice.

10. As a result of being bombarded by disaster stories from the press and politicians, it often becomes difficult to filter out the serious science from organisations like NSIDC. In your own words, what does the public need to know about the Arctic and its future?

I agree that the media and politicians sometimes sensationalize stories on global warming. At NSIDC we stick to the science and report our near-real-time analyses as accurately as possible. Scientists at NSIDC, like the rest of the scientific community, publish our research results in peer-reviewed science journals.

There is no doubt that the Arctic is undergoing dramatic change. Sea ice is declining rapidly, Greenland is experience greater melt, snow is melting earlier, glaciers are receding, permafrost is thawing, flora and fauna are migrating northward. The traditional knowledge of native peoples, passed down through generations, is no longer valid. Coastal regions once protected by the sea ice cover are now being eroded by pounding surf from storms whipped up over the ice-free ocean. These dramatic changes are Arctic-wide and are a harbinger of what is to come in the rest of the world. Such wide-ranging change cannot be explained through natural processes. There is a clear human fingerprint, through greenhouse gas emissions, on the changing climate of the Arctic.

Changes in the Arctic will impact the rest of the world. Because the Arctic is largely ice-covered year-round, it acts as a “refrigerator” for the earth, keeping the Arctic and the rest of the earth cooler than it would be without ice. The contrast between the cold Arctic and the warmer lower latitudes plays an important role in the direction and strength of winds and currents. These in turn affect weather patterns. Removing summer sea ice in the Arctic will alter these patterns. How exactly they will change is still an unresolved question, but the impacts will be felt well beyond the Arctic.

The significant changes in the Arctic are key pieces of evidence for global warming, but the observations from Arctic are complemented by evidence from around the world. That evidence is reported in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and thousands of peer-reviewed scientific journal articles.

Let me close by putting Arctic change and climate science within the broader scientific framework. Skepticism is the hallmark of science. A good scientist is skeptical. A good scientist understands that no theory can be “proven”. Most theories develop slowly and all scientific theories are subject to rejection or modification in light of new evidence, including the theory of anthropogenic climate change. Since the first thoughts of a possible human influence on climate over a hundred years ago, more and more evidence has accumulated and the idea gradually gained credibility. So much evidence has now been gathered from multiple disciplines that there is a clear consensus among scientists that humans are significantly altering the climate. That consensus is based on hard evidence. And some of the most important pieces of evidence are coming from the Arctic.

Mr. Goddard, through his demonstrated skeptical and curious nature, clearly has the soul of a scientist. I thank him for his invitation to share my knowledge of sea ice and Arctic climate. I also thank Anthony Watts for publishing my responses. It is through such dialogue that the public will hopefully better understand the unequivocal evidence for anthropogenic global warming so that informed decisions can be made to address the impacts that are already being seen in the Arctic and that will soon be felt around the world.  And thanks to Stephanie Renfrow and Ted Scambos at NSIDC, and Jim Overland at the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory for their helpful comments.


Thanks once again to Dr. Walt Meier from NSIDC. He has spent a lot of time answering these questions and many others, and has been extremely responsive and courteous throughout the process.

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kim

Well, excellent, but he ignores the present global cooling, as manifest in lower tropospheric temperatures via RSS and UAH, lower oceanic temperatures via Argos buoys, and dropping sea level via TOPEX/Jason. He also ignores the effect of a PDO in a cooling phase, and a hibernating sun.
The data is consistent with a new trend of increasing freezing in the Arctic Ocean as the globe cools. The tipping point from the melting trend to the freezing trend was last year, before the last winter’s tremendous ice maximum.
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Jeff Alberts

How does he know that warming 70+ years ago was regional? It’s not as if we had as many people out gathering data then.

anna v

Fair enough ; until AGW was stuck in I was following willingly the analysis of a scientist of the data infront of him.
It is becoming a belief mantra in the climate science community, me thinks. Like the standard “InshAllah” of Muslims ( God willing). Or “knock on wood”

It was good to see that Dr. Meier acknowledged the role of skeptic as the scientist.
Importantly, Dr. Meier laid to rest one of the oft repeated mechanisms of arctic melt – soot.
That being said, IMHO it is about the mechanisms of climate change, not the effects.
The underlying assumption in the AGW camp is that the primary mechanism is anthropogenic. But the mechanisms they have put forth so far may sound possible at first, don’t stand up to closer inspection.
The burden of proof is upon the claimant. Where is the mechanism?

Scott

Well. Increased snow cover last year, cooler temperatures, higher temperatures in the 1920’s and 1930’s, etc. are all discounted as regional or temporary, because of the fundamental belief that the earth is warming due to man-made causes.
Strip away the belief in universal global warming and the whole thing would fall like a house of cards.
The next few years will be interesting.
By the way, how does the ozone hole strengthen ocean currents around Antarctica as stated in the answer to question 7?

Flowers4Stalin

The Arctic is warming, the ice is melting, and, as a result, growing seasons are lengthening as sea level rises. It is all YOUR fault and is very, very bad for all of life on this planet as life infests the Arctic like a swarm of termites as that’s what carbon dioxide pollution-induced heating does. How do I know everything? Because the Arctic ice is melting, and will affect everyone and everything on this planet-no, check that, the universe. Climate has never warmed so don’t be silly. Planet Earth, in its 4.6 billion year history, has never been this hot or uninhabitable, and, I’m tellin’ ya, if it warms up 0.01C in a year, it is all your fault, but if it cools 0.75C in a year it is purely natural. Why are you still reading this? Aren’t you supposed to be buying carbon credits to pay for your sins?

evanjones

As for soot, he mentioned Russia, but did not mention China.
And, most of Russian industry was and is well south of the 60th parallel (while Manchuria extends north of the 40th).
So I think there needs to be a more complete explanation–such as how much soot there is “now” as compared with “then”. (How hard can that be to measure? Seems as if a couple of well dated ice cores should do the trick.)
Some NASA scientists claim that around a fifth of melt is due to “dirty snow”.

Global warming must go on, even if there is a little break these days. When the data do not help, Innuit studies do: ‘The traditional knowledge of native peoples, passed down through generations, is no longer valid’
Is there an Innuit saga on the warm period of Greenland 1000 years ago, when the Vikings settled there?
Are there any hard data on permafrost losses during the last ten years? There are of order 20 million km2 of permafrost areas in the artic regions. How much is lost?

Steven Goddard

I’m not certain if Dr. Meier is going to be directly answering questions in the forum – but I would be happy to package up clear and concise questions/comments, and ask him if he wishes to respond.

Methinks he doth protest too much…
And I began reading with an open and hopeful mind. Disappointing.

kim

It’s sophistry. It’s clever, plausible, answers to all the questions. It’s not open-minded about the possibility that there are other explanations besides AGW. I hate to think it, but it looks crooked, to me. Why cannot these climate scientists re-examine some assumptions.
=========================================

kim

Steven (23:13:32) Ask him about my first comment. Don’t ask him my most recent one.
=======================================

John Philips

We need more like Dr Meier. Kudos to him for responding to Goddard, especially after Goddard misrepresented the NSIDC data in a piece described by Meier as :-
” the article consists almost entirely of misleading, irrelevant, or erroneous information about Arctic sea ice that add nothing to the understanding of the significant long-term decline that is being observed.”
One of a series of ‘sceptical’ pieces (of similar quality) published in that major academic journal ‘The Register’
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/08/15/goddard_arctic_ice_mystery/

Demesure

By the way, how does the ozone hole strengthen ocean currents around Antarctica as stated in the answer to question 7?

@Scott (22:40:09) :
A hint for the mecanism : it’s manmade. It can’t be natural.

I was pleased to read Dr. Meier’s mini-discussion of Antarctica: ” Antarctic is a continent surrounded on all sides by an ocean. Strong ocean currents and winds swirl around the continent. These act as a barrier to heat coming down from lower latitudes.”
This is, in mini-essence, the keystone of the Ice Age theory elucidated by John Imbrie in his fine book, Ice Ages: Solving the Mystery, 1986, Harvard University Press. The Ice Ages began roughly 2.5 million years ago when Antarctica drifted (tectonically) over the South Pole and broke away from South America. Since then the Earth has been subject to a deep cold interspersed with interglacial periods that coincide with Milankovich Cycles.
It is thought that continents over a pole induce ice ages. A previous ice age possibly occurred in the Permian Period around 250 mya. At that time southern Gondwana was the culprit continent. Between the Permian and the Late Miocene, there were no ice ages and global temperatures were much higher. For instance, fossil dogwoods, pines, larches, ginkos, beeches, and elms are found above the Arctic Circle, evidence of paleo boreal tropical forests during the Cretaceous Period about 75 mya.
Or so goes Imbrie’s theory. The implication is that Life On Earth, including gymnosperms, angiosperms, and all terrestrial animals, evolved in much warmer global climates than today. We live in an unusually cold epoch compared to the rest of the last 250 million years.
The paleo-botanical evidence seems to support Imbrie’s theory, at least in regard to paleo-climates. That evidence is summarized in one the greatest works (IMBO) of western science, Late Cretaceous and Cenozoic History of North American Vegetation, 1999, Oxford Univ. Press, by Alan Graham.
All of which is my way of pointing out that warmer is better. It’s the normative condition. If anthropoids have altered the climate and made the Earth warmer, good for us. We need to learn how to do that, because another 100,000-year-long glaciation is coming, and it would be best if we could mitigate that somehow.

Pieter Folkens

“the minimum extent in 2008 is the second lowest ever . . .”
“Ever” is a very bold (even hyperbolic) statement. However, evidence (R.W. Fairbridge and others) strongly indicates that the sea level was a meter higher when the vikings were in North America and more than two meters higher during the time of the first Egyptian dynasties. The Eemian Interglacial was also warmer than now with an ice-free Arctic across which gray whales made it from the Atlantic to the Pacific. If Dr. Meier is so completely wrong on the statement of “second lowest ever,” what else of what he said is also exaggerated? Such loose use of exaggerated statements makes one doubt much of the rest of it.

Demesure

@Steven Goddard
My question to Dr Meier would be :
The arctic ice cover in 2008 is higher than last year. If for the NSIDC, that “underscores accelerating decline” (its Sep 16, 2008 press release’s headline), what should the 2008 ice cover have been for a hypothetical title such as “underscores a possible recovery”).

Mattej

What are the Ozone holes doing? have they grown or shrunk? never seem to hear about them any more. Any links?

Smokey

*cough, cough* funding *cough*
Ahem. sorry ’bout that. Now, as I was saying: click
But of course, if it’s a natural cycle, then there’s no extra grant money.
Not saying Dr. Meier isn’t being 100% honest in every answer, but the term cui bono? comes to mind. After all, there’s this: click
and this: click
and this: click
and this: click
Nice of Dr. Meier to respond. However, I remain highly skeptical that these are not simply routine natural climate fluctuations. But unlike others, I have no financial motive in this discussion.

J.Hansford.

All he explains would also be observed in a natural warming of the climate…. His assumption that CO2 is the culprit, is founded on nothing but computer models. Computer models that were wrong about the warming of the tropical troposphere. They showed more warming than what is actually observed.
I also noticed this statement he made.
“…. This does not bode well for the long-term health of the sea ice….”
Huh? Sea ice has a Health?…. What is this Healthy sea ice?
With descriptions like that…. It is no wonder AGW is embraced so warmly by Catastrophists, the Gaia crowd and other misanthropic groups.
….. Oh well. I suppose only time will tell.

Richard Hill

The most disappointing thing is that scientists who acknowledge the A in AGW still ignore the point that Dr Pielke Snr keeps making. There are many things that the A’s are doing, particularly, changes in land use, that could be causing GW.

Austin Spreadbury

I won’t comment further than to say this: it’s funny how all the warming is an ongoing process due to mankind, but any cooling there might be is a random fluctuation on top of an overall warming signal.

To Steven Goddard:
Please ask about hard permafrost area data.

brazil84

Sheldon Drobot at the University of Colorado, who used a more sophisticated forecast model to estimate a 59% chance of setting a new record low – far from a sure-thing.
Well, I have an even more sophisticated model which predicts a 51.08% chance that next year we will have more ice and and a 48.92% chance that next year we will have less ice. Can I get my research grant now?
No. Hansen’s model of 1980 is no longer relevant as climate models have improved considerably in the past 28 years
Hansen’s model has been around long enough that we can actually see that it’s probably wrong. However, if we switch to models which are less than 5 or 10 years old, then any divergence from reality can be conveniently dismissed as short-term variation.
I basically agree with Kim. This is just epicycles being added to an hypothesis which is getting weaker and weaker.

James S

Got to agree with Dr Meier’s penultimate paragraph; a good scientist is always sceptical.
However adding further to this a scientist (full stop) will always share his or her data and findings with other people. Until this happens climate science is actually climate pseudo-science and I will not trust anything that comes out of its practitioners.

Alan the Brit

Dear Sirs,
Perhaps it’s just me & I have lost it completely (there’s always that possibility I suppose) but I have a real issue here. How does warming cause cooling, & as has been stated here & elsewhere, why is cooling a natural variation but any warming is “impossibe to explain” by natural variations? When I stand next to my woodburner roaring away I get hot, when I move away I get cold. I don’t get cold next to the heat, nor do I get warm in the cold, please discuss. Perhaps my understanding of physics is too limited, yes that must be it. There appears to be some evidence mentioned somewhere that a “study” has shown CO2 causes cooling as well as warming, well I suppose it’s always possible. But I cannot help thinking that the wool is being pulled in one direction or another! If the evidence doesn’t fit the theory, amend the theory to adopt the new evidence as proof of the original theory.
Many years ago, & I think I have used this illustation before, they used to tie a wise woman (young or old it didn’t really matter as rugby/football hadn’t been invented yet) to a ducking stool for practicing Witchcraft, they would continually dunk her until she drowned or had a great pair of lungs, the thought processes being that if the water accepted her, eg she drowned, she was innocent, however if the water rejected her, eg she was survived & was guilty, the poor woman would then face the somewhat daunting prospect of having survived a drowning, she be tied to a stake & burned to death for being a witch. Is it only me who can see a similarity in the hypocracy here? If it warms its proof, if it cools its proof, but of what precisely, that the climate varies over all time scales & all continents & that we really don’t have much of a clue as to how it ALL works? It really seems to me that the world has moved nowhere in its mental state for hundreds if not thousands of years. Perhaps the Large Hadron Collider really is working after all!
There is also merrit in observations of the need to maintain funding, salaries, pensions, expenses, equipment, scientific studies, food on the table etc, so when one digs oneself into a hole, one should always take a ladder with them just in case they need to get out of it at some stage. (Now there’s an engineer thinking!)
Alan the Brit

Pierre Gosselin

Does anyone really expect anything other than the official green propoganda lines from the NSIDC?
Dr Meier has his job and career to worry about.
His answers are a MACK-truckload load of BS.
Ask him these 10 Qs when he’s retired.

Pete Stroud

Could Dr Meier explain the melting ice cap on Mars and recent warming on other planets and moons?

CodeTech

I especially like the way Dr. Meier acknowledges that hyperbole exists (question 10), then indulges in a whack of it himself. In my also-biased opinion, that throws a grain of salt into virtually every other answer.
1. Evidence does not show a cyclic explanation because you don’t want it to. Nobody can, with any level of seriousness, compare records from the 20s and 30s to today’s observations.
2. As with 1., um, nope. I’m not buying what you’re selling.
3. “the effect of soot, while it may contribute in some way, cannot explain the dramatic rate of warming and melt seen in the Arctic seen over the past 30 years” — apparently Dr. Meier is unaware of a country called “China”, which has quite the reputation of not being exactly, how do I say it, “environmentally conscious”. I live in a winter climate, and am WELL aware of how little material it takes on snow to cause one area to melt faster than another. Hint: it’s not visible.
4. “Most importantly, the 2008 minimum reinforces the long-term declining trend that is not due to natural climate fluctuations” — by being higher than last year. I’m sorry, but you’ll never convince me that something higher than last year indicates a downward trend. Well, except my income, which is higher than last year but still buys me less.
5. Unfortunately, this simplistic explanation fails to account for ocean temperature variation, which could be affected by long or short term current changes, or volcanic vents, or any number of non-anthropogenic things. I’d be interested in seeing the documentation of this.
6. “This will eventually, over the coming centuries, lead to significant melting of the Greenland ice sheet and sea level rise with accompanying impacts on coastal regions” — if this was a court of law, which it isn’t, someone would be jumping up and yelling, “objection”. The correct phrase, as I believe Dr. Meier intended, is “If this continues for several more centuries, it would lead to…”
7. Hmmm… parsing that reply, it appears to say “we’d rather not look at an area that is cooling… but I’m sure others are, and I’m certain they must be very competent.”
8. Sorry, if I want this kind of non-answer, I know which other sites can provide them.
9. I’m not sure why we are supposed to buy this. Let me rephrase it: OUR theory is supported by this short-term variability, therefore YOUR observation must be invalid. As others have pointed out, a short term (yes, 30 years or 100 years is short term) warming trend is a reason to panic, but a 10 year cooling trend is short-term variability.
10… Nah, I don’t even want to get into this… if I need pontificating of this sort there are THOUSANDS of sites I can find it at.

Steven Goddard: Based on the availability of GHCN data (data ends in 2005 on NOAA NOMADS), it’s tough to tell if Dr. Meir’s assessment of regional Arctic temperatures is correct through 2008.
http://i37.tinypic.com/sv00nm.jpg
However, his failure to acknowledge the 97/98 El Nino as a significant contributor to the recent bout of high Arctic temperatures is very telling.
http://i34.tinypic.com/2cxasl3.jpg

Phillip Bratby

To Steven Goddard:
Please ask why we cannot have a graph that shows the extent of the ice for the whole year and why the average cannot be for 1979 to 2008 (or to the last complete year) instead of 1979 to (an arbitrary?) 2000.

JamesG

No he didn’t lay the soot idea to rest – he said none of his guys studied it but he surmised, based apparently on complete guesswork, that it wasn’t significant. Bear in mind this is not an issue raised by skeptics, but by many reputable scientists who have trudged through the ice and snow and published peer-reviewed work which conclude that a great deal of the Arctic warming can be blamed on soot. A NSIDC spokesman should at least have read this body of work and be able to address it properly rather than guessing based on dogma. There are actual satellite plots available of soot distribution where you can easily see a build up in the Arctic, wherever it comes from. Moreover, his statement about Russia ignores the fact that they have very much increased oil and gas explorations in Siberia.
Also quoting IPCC as saying that extreme events will increase with warming, ignores that this was merely stated opinion, not scientific fact. The facts say that most studies fail to detect any increase in extreme events that can be laid at the door of AGW. One could equally glibly opine that cooling would cause more extreme events – certainly the la niñas seem to cause more than el niño’s.
Like a previous commenter I am struck by the absolute certainty of the effect of AGW in the Arctic warming, compared with the “natural variation” and “delayed cooling” wooliness about the Antarctic.
As for the models agreeing with observations – that’s only because they tweaked the previous models that didn’t agree so well, which gives no weight to the idea that the models are any good. Only when they predict something correctly then they’ll be useful. Until then they represent merely a mathematical wrapper around the man-made assumptions which direct their calculations. Every computer modeler knows that!

Nick Leaton

If the previous melt was localised around Spitzbergen, why hasn’t he offered any evidence of extensive ice coverage elsewhere at the time?
Coverup or spin springs to mind.
Hansen’s model of 1980 is no longer relevant
Yet another case of a model that fails to work, so junk it. Put a new model in place. Can this be tested? Well, you have to wait, keep the funds flowing. If it doesn’t work, we’ll get a better one. Eventually, they might hit one that works for a while, or they will retro fit one to historical data.
The main problem with the Arctic is that it is being used in the media and by alarmists as a proxy for GW. If the ice is melting, the world is getting warmer.
However, we know from the temperature record that the world isn’t getting warmer. The artic is melt is negatively correlated with global temperatures.
The hockey stick if real has been dramatically reversed with recent drops. That’s the real issue. Take the loonies word that the hockey stick is real. Then show that there has been an equally dramatic reversal. Very hard for them to explain. Most here will know why, the hockey sticks an artifact.
Nick

Jerker Andersson

“No. Hansen’s model of 1980 is no longer relevant as climate models have improved considerably in the past 28 years”
If we would have spent money to prevent climate change based on Hansens predictions ~30 years ago we would by now have realized it was pure waste of money since the temperature did not increase as predicted.
Or maybe not. If we would have reduced our emissions by close to 100% until 2000, the AGW crew would have said: “Look, the models where right. Temperature leveled off and matches Hansens C-scenario”. Unfortunatley (for the AGW crew) temperature still matches C-sceanrio while we emitt more CO2 than predicted.
I agree on the statement that the model is old and we have gained knowledge since then.
But it still shows how wrong things can get if you belive in a model that has not been validated.
It will take 10-20 years before we can say if the current models are working or not. Meanwhile we treat them as absolute truth allthough they have not yet proved that they are working.
So if next model shows that it matches actual temperature meassurements. How do we know it is just a short time coincidence as it would have been with Hansens scenario C if we would have reuced or emissions completley?
About the decreasing ice.
Decreasing ice is not a proof of AGW itself, just a symptom IF it would turn out to be true. We know for a fact that temperatures and glaciers started to retreat over 100 year before CO2, according to AGW hypothesis, could have had any significant impact.
The retreat has continued more or less at same speed after CO2, according to IPCC, could have an impact on temperatures.
And as some have mentioned above, his use of “ever” when it comes to the low sea ice last summers I think it more reflects his belive in man made global warming (which may or may not turn out to be wrong) rather than actual meassurements that can back it up.
If he would have said highest since records started year 19xx then it would have sounded as a scientific conclusion. I think he got carried away there trying to make an AGW-point.

Onanym

I’m impressed by the level of ignorance in the replies to this post. Very few of the replies seems to appreciate that somebody from the other camp took the time to answer these 10 question. Kudos to Watts for posting this. The rest of you: behave.

brazil84

It will take 10-20 years before we can say if the current models are working or not. Meanwhile we treat them as absolute truth allthough they have not yet proved that they are working.
I agree, and it’s extremely convenient for the warmists. Their position is basically unfalsifiable. If the latest model diverges from reality after 5 years, they can blame it on short term variation. If the model diverges from reality after 15 years, they can dismiss it as an obsolete model and offer up a new (untested) model which conveniently makes the predictions they want it to make.

Novoburgo

Pure, unadulterated, company propaganda. The answers come of as stiff and very rehearsed. No mention of the effects caused by ocean currents, especially from the NE Atlantic?
When are they going to remove that ridiculous quote of Al Gore’s from their home page?

Billy Bob

In 2007, the NSIDC explained the ice loss as “the atmospheric pressure pattern over the Arctic has been unusual this summer. Sea-level pressure over the Arctic Ocean has tended to be fairly high, while pressure has been fairly low over northeastern Siberia. This has given rise to a pattern of winds bringing in warm air from the south over the coastal seas of eastern Siberia, fostering strong melt and tending to push ice from the coast into the central Arctic Ocean. Melt has been further enhanced by the fairly clear skies under the high-pressure area.” Likewise, the 2008 ice loss was explained as “The shift in location of maximum ice losses was fueled by a shift in atmospheric circulation. A pattern of high pressure set up over the Chukchi Sea, bringing warm southerly air into the region and pushing ice away from shore. ”
To me, the NSIDC has described weather patterns, not generalized warming.

Brian Johnson

Behaviour mode/computer predictions – on
And the answers that were given were………….
Just firing up the Ignorance Meter…………tap, tap………hmmmmmm.
Anyway as you say, Dr Meier did answer.

Jeff Wiita

To Mattej (23:49:34)
I got this link on the Ozone Hole from Lief the other day.
http://ozonewatch.gsfc.nasa.gov/index.html

Jordan

To Steve Godard: The whole case of Dr. Meier is based on “the warming during the 1920s and 1930s was more regional in nature and focused on the Atlantic side of the Arctic (though there was warming in some other regions as well) and was most pronounced during winter. In contrast, the current warming is observed over almost the entire Arctic and is seen in all seasons. Another thing that is clear is that, the warming during the 1920s and 1930s was limited to the Arctic and lower latitude temperatures were not unusually warm.” At least the temperatures in continental USA (lower latitudes) during this period doesn’t support the view of Dr. Meier. Also, in Russia there where also documented exceptional high latitude seas free form ice exactly in the same period – 20′ and 30′. So, where are the data and the studies that support Dr.Meier’s claim?

Novoburgo

“there is a clear consensus among scientists…” Really!

Denis Hopkins

Yes. It is good that he took the time to reply.
It is important that Goverenment organisations explain their work and the basis for their conclusions as they are to be used to influence public policy.
What we really need is for active journalists to pose tough questions and for the answers to be reported prominently, along with some comments along the lines of those in this blog.
Once more thank you Anthony for an always interesting and stimulating discussion page.
I hope that more Govt funded organisations take note of your influence.

I was really hoping for a fresh prediction of next year’s ice extent melt, but understand that it’s too soon for that. I am curious to hear any fresh predictions of an ice free North Pole in 2009, given this year’s melt information.

Tom in Florida

Philip Bratby:”Please ask why we cannot have a graph that shows the extent of the ice for the whole year and why the average cannot be for 1979 to 2008 (or to the last complete year) instead of 1979 to (an arbitrary?) 2000.”
Thank you for asking the question that always bugs me.
Dr Meier: “The North Pole, being the location that last sees the sun rise and first sees the sun set, has the longest “polar night” and shortest “polar day.” Thus, it receives the least amount of solar radiation in the Arctic. So there is less energy and less time to melt ice at the pole. ”
Well, duuuuugh! Since he doesn’t mention the South Pole, is there a different cause there? Isn’t that “natural” or has the Earth been titled due to having so many more man made buildings in the northern hemisphere?
Dr Meier: ” For the first time in our records…”
That’s a great cop out line, kind of like saying “if 2 + 2 = 5, then …”
Dr Meier: ” There are increasing trends in Antarctic sea ice extent, but they are fairly small and there is so much variability in the Antarctic sea ice from year to year that is difficult to ascribe any significance to the trends – they could simply be an artifact of natural variability”
So, Arctic sea ice decline is caused by AGW which is global but Antarctic sea ice increase is caused by nature which is not global. Talk about having your cake and eating it too.
Dr Meier: ” The significant changes in the Arctic are key pieces of evidence for global warming, but the observations from Arctic are complemented by evidence from around the world.”
Except the Antarctic.
This man could be a political speech writer, in fact, all his answers remind me of a political speech.

Alan Millar

“Changes in the Arctic will impact the rest of the world. Because the Arctic is largely ice-covered year-round, it acts as a “refrigerator” for the earth, keeping the Arctic and the rest of the earth cooler than it would be without ice. ”
So manmade atmospheric CO2 has been increasing beyond estimates this century, the cooling Arctic ice has decreased significantly at the same time. Scientists state there is a huge increase in Greenland and Glacier ice melt and that SLR will be accelerating rapidly leading to coastal inundation.
Yet global temperatures have shown a declining trend for the last eight years, sea temperatures are not increasing and the rate of SLR instead of accelerating at a dramatic pace has actually shown a declining trend for the last six years or so.
Alarmists pooh pooh and say eight years is nothing. However when Hanson first tried to sow the seeds of a Global panic in 1988 he did so on the back of a ten year trend only. Which, apparently, was enough to overcome his Global cooling panicy forecasts of a decade or so before.
If we had said to Hanson in 1988 come back in 2008 (ie the thirty years alarmists say is necessary to confirm a trend) we could now have patted him on the head and said ‘Don’t worry Jim satellite data shows that it is no warmer now than when you raised the matter in 1988!”
Alan

As Roger Carr did, I also began reading with hope which was dashed. Disappointing. Dr Meier is refreshing in his politeness, but all too formulaic in ascribing long-term climate change to AGW.
AGW goes unmentioned until his answer to question ten. After reviewing evidence with apparent objectivity in response to Anthony’s questions, he (suddenly) says this:

There is a clear human fingerprint, through greenhouse gas emissions, on the changing climate of the Arctic.

This conclusion is advanced without evidence of any kind, before or after, which makes it stand out rather from the surrounding material, like bright orange smoke against a blue sky. He does state that “more and more evidence has accumulated” yet still refrains from citing any for us.
His conclusion that global warming stems from Man’s greenhouse gas emissions is the only part of his otherwise credible contribution that I cannot accept. If only he gave us some reasons for doing so…
Cheers,
Richard Treadgold,
Convenor,
Climate Conversation Group.

stan

Several references to computer models. (not good) Reference to the IPCC as THE scientific standard. (really not good)
I expect a non-scientist who is unaware of the facts to accept the IPCC as some kind of real authoritative science. But a scientist should be aware of the BS that has been packed into the IPCC. Reference to it, in a discussion with another scientist, should be a huge red flag.

I’m surprised at some of the negative reaction to Dr. Meier’s answers. Sure, there are things I disagree with, but that’s inherent to scientific progress. Given some of dialog from earlier this summer, I’m pleased to see the kiddies playing together so well (I had a manager who reminded every so often that I needed to play nicely with the other kiddies).
Dr. Meier’s comments include statements that have yet to be verified, (someone needs to keep track of them), which is also good science.
It’s a pity that Dr. Meier’s tone isn’t matched in their web site. Hopefully they’ve learned a bit this year from their increased scrutiny and next year’s reports (an science?) will be more balanced. I trust Steven Goddard will be keeping their feet to the fire and their reports under the microscope.

Syl

I appreciate that he answered those questions.
I also find the range of responses interesting. From an absolute rejection of warming, to an acceptance of warming but no manmade cause, to an acceptance of AGW but so what?
Let me thrown in my 2cents. I’m a lukewarmer. As for the manmade part, I accept it only in part. Only as part of the CO2 as well as land use (and misuse). I’m in the adapt camp–my degree was in geology so I tend to take the long view and think that warming will actually be a good thing.
I also believe we are currently cooling. The warming is so slight that it seems this cooling trend has overcome it. How long the cooling will last I know not. But, to me, that means that the positive feedbacks put forth in the models are exaggerated.
Nobody can claim that we all think alike. That’s for sure. Love it.