Quote of the week – death of the Arctic "death spiral"?

We all cringed, then laughed when Dr. Mark Serreze of NSIDC first said it, then marveled about it as it got a life of its own, being the buzzphrase for every alarmist who wanted to shriek about declining Arctic sea ice.

In 2007 we heard him say:

“The Arctic is screaming,” said Mark Serreze, senior scientist at the government’s snow and ice data center in Boulder, Colorado.

So far, the “screaming” hasn’t kept anyone awake at night, and we have not returned to the low of 2007 in the last three melt seasons.

In 2008 Serreze made the  bold claim:

The ice is in a “death spiral” and may disappear in the summers within a couple of decades, according to Mark Serreze, an Arctic climate expert at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.

And in 2008 we had the forecast from NSIDC’s Dr. Mark Serreze of an “ice free north pole”.  As we know, that didn’t even come close to being true. Summer 2008 had more arctic ice than summer 2007, and summer 2007 was not “ice free” by any measure.


With those failed predictions behind him,  in an interview in The Age just a few weeks ago, Serreze pulled a Harold Camping, and changed his prediction date. Now he’s saying the new date for an ice free summer is 2030.

”There will be ups and downs, but we are on track to see an ice-free summer by 2030. It is an overall downward spiral.”

Now from a most surprising source, Andy Revkin at the NYT, a strong statement saying he’s not buying it anymore:

On Arctic Ice and Warmth, Past and Future

But even as I push for an energy quest that limits climate risk, I’m not worried about the resilience of Arctic ecosystems and not worried about the system tipping into an irreversibly slushy state on time scales relevant to today’s policy debates. This is one reason I don’t go for descriptions of the system being in a “death spiral.”

The main source of my Arctic comfort level — besides what I learned while camped with scientists on the North Pole sea ice — is the growing body of work on past variability of conditions in the Arctic. The latest evidence of substantial past ice variability comes in a study in the current issue of Science. The paper, combining evidence of driftwood accumulation and beach formation in northern Greenland with evidence of past sea-ice extent in parts of Canada, concludes that Arctic sea ice appears to have retreated far more in some spans since the end of the last ice age than it has in recent years.

Michael MacCracken, a veteran climate modeler and chief scientist at the Climate Institute, noted on the Google group on geo-engineering that this new paper adds credence to proposals for an Arctic focus for managing incoming sunlight as a way to limit greenhouse-driven impacts. (Personally, I don’t see this kind of effort going anywhere unless and until climate impacts trend toward worst-case outcomes.)

He’s referring of course to this paper we covered here on WUWT:

New study suggests Arctic ‘tipping point’ may not be reached

I wrote then:

This is interesting. While there’s much noise from alarmists that we are on an “Arctic death spiral” the team for this paper’s press release today found evidence that ice levels were about 50% lower 5,000 years ago. The paper references changes to wind systems which can slow down the rate of melting (something we’ve seen on the short term, even NASA points this out for recent historic ice retreats).  They also suggest that a tipping point under current scenarios is unlikely saying that even with a reduction to less than 50% of the current amount of sea ice the ice will not reach a point of no return (i.e. a tipping point).


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Luis Dias

But Revkin is a denier, and so is anyone who reads him.
The truth only comes out of the mouths of Joe Romms.
We all know that. (Oh wait wrong forum!)


I am tired of all these so called scientists and so called journalists who write with such apparent certainty but with so little knowledge. So Revkin reads an article and suddeny he’s ‘not worried’. All he ever writes is knee jerk reaction ….. but without any basic knowledge. It annoys me that such basic concepts as geological scale climate variability seem to have eluded him till now. Anyone who had thought about the Holocene Optimum and what it might mean in todays context would have much greater informational base and analytical rationale on which to make commentary on todays observations. Maybe he should spend 3 years doing an undergraduate geology degree before he writes anything else.

Steve Allen

Wow, a seemingly rational about-face for Revkin.
But “may disappear in the summers within a couple of decades” from 2008 to, “…new date for an ice free summer is 2030”, isn’t different at all.

As per the ancient Chinese proverb …whenever a rabid warmist comes out with yet another dire prediction all one has to do is sit comfortably on the banks of that river called The Internet, and soon the corpse of that dire prediction will float by.

Bruce of Newcastle

Interestingly he mentions ‘alarmists’ in such a way that it clearly doesn’t include himself. Does that mean that Mr Revkin is now prepared to read science such as Spencer & Braswell 2011? Svensmark?? Friis-Christensen & Lassen??? If he accepts a low climate sensitivity (as the data strongly supports) then he maybe about to experience a Damascene climate event.
Good luck Mr Revkin! If you are willing to look at the science objectively I hope it goes well for you and that your asbestos suit is in good repair.

Bruce of Newcastle

Ah, it was you Anthony who used ‘alarmists’, sorry I misunderstood. Still if Mr Revkin is edging himself away from the death spiral fraternity maybe there is still hope.

Alpha Tango

He also said in 2008:
“So even without special conditions like those seen in 2007, next summer could set a new record low, he added. ”

An actual scientist should be VERY CAUTIOUS about proposing any sort of “tipping point” or “death spiral”. The fact that life continues to flourish on Earth after an uncountable number of shocks and perturbations is perfect evidence that the whole system has an uncountable number of negative feedback loops. There are small local positive loops (death spirals), but the remainder of the system always compensates.
If it didn’t, we’d be just like the Moon by now.

Richard S Courtney

But the Arctic ice IS reducing. It will all be gone in 10 years, or 20 years, or ….
Everybody knows that, and anybody who doubts it is an oil industry schill.
This is like the ‘Hockey Stick’. It is divinely inspired truth that can never be refuted.
Everybody knows that, and anybody who doubts it is an oil industry schill.
[sarc off]


Two NASA scientists scare us that the arctic could be ice free by 2013, one is Serreze.

Günther Kirschbaum

I would be very careful and not laugh too much, Anthony. You have already been more wrong about the Arctic than Serreze will ever be. When can we expect your next SIN? 2011 is trailing 2007 big time and the Antarctic mega-anomaly has subsided.
REPLY: “SIN” ? Oh that’s right, it is about religion now that Gore has been officially declared a prophet. Thanks for the confirmation. – Anthony


Somehow this part of the opening was missed;
‘There are big changes afoot, with more to come should greenhouse gases continue to build unabated in the atmosphere. There will be impacts on human affairs in the Arctic, for worse and better, as we explored extensively in 2005 and I’ve followed here since.”


“The main source of my Arctic comfort level — besides what I learned while camped with scientists on the North Pole sea ice — is the growing body of work on past variations*”
* The original wording in the asterisked line above used the word “variability” in a way that could be interpreted as referring to natural internal variability of the Arctic climate and sea ice. In fact, my intent was simply to describe past natural variations that almost certainly were driven by an external force shaping climate — shifts in the Earth’s orbit and orientation toward the Sun, as described by Mike MacCracken in a comment that alerted me to the problem
So in other words the changes we’re seeing now are from a different source that past variability.

Mike Jowsey

Anthony – you are doing a great job, and if I was a US citizen you would get my vote for the next (since Eisenhower) “No B-S President”
The money shot: “They also suggest that a tipping point under current scenarios is unlikely saying that even with a reduction to less than 50% of the current amount of sea ice the ice will not reach a point of no return (i.e. a tipping point).”

Alex the skeptic

How many blunders must an ‘expert’ make before he is declared inept? at best?

It seems likely that there was a lot less ice in the arctic in ancient times. I think there is a lot of information in Dutch history that suggests that the sea farers in the 15th and 16th century knew or were led to believe from “their ancient history” that there was a northern passage (to the other side of the world) . Many, like Barents (the most famous) lost their lives trying to find that northern passage.

Luther Wu

Not to worry, all of you true believers: the ‘precautionary principle’ is already being deployed as your final refuge “on time scales relevant to today’s debate”.

Douglas Foss

It is curious that Revkin never asks the obvious question as to what caused the much larger fluctuations in the past – surely it was not increased level of greenhouse gases given the literature. The fact of the greater historical fluctuations does more than cast doubt on any forward looking “death spiral”. It casts huge doubt on the theory that climate changes in the Arctic are related to greenhouse gas levels. Some far larger driver must exist, and it is incumbent on him to explain why the current cycle differs from former larger ones. Revkin’s comments to the effect that “even as I push for an energy quest that limits climate risk” and “adds credence to proposals for an Arctic focus for managing incoming sunlight as a way to limit greenhouse-driven impacts” appear almost as sops to avoid being ostracized as a heretic. It is this latter aspect of his comments that is most enlightening.

When you look at the satellite images of Arctic Sea Ice;
the “death spiral” and impending sea ice free arctic seems quite farfetched. There are still several million square kilometers of Arctic sea ice, and, per this Naval Research Laboratory model, which deserves a healthy degree of skepticism;
significant portions of Arctic sea ice are still several meters thick.

Alex the skeptic

New report just out:
Titled: Large Variations in Arctic Sea Ice: Polar Ice Much Less Stable Than Previously Thought, Study Finds.
For the last 10,000 years, summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has been far from constant. For several thousand years, there was much less sea ice in The Arctic Ocean — probably less than half of current amounts. This is indicated by new findings by the Danish National Research Foundation for Geogenetics at the University of Copenhagen. The results of the study will be published in the journal Science.
source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110804141706.htm
So Serreze does have a chance of seeing an ice free arctic, if he rides a time machine and sets the time to minus 500,000 years. LOL

Jack Simmons

Wow. Looks like some in the AGW camp are now looking at the facts. That’s the shocking part.
The Arctic has had less ice. It’s had more ice.
As I’ve asked several times, would it make it any difference at all if the whole Arctic ocean became ice free?
The past tells me there was much less ice than today, perhaps ice free. For example during the Viking era. Yet all the ecosystems managed, and did so without any help from the EPA.

The concept of a tipping point for arctic ice extent pre-supposes the existence of at least two stable configurations – our current one, with a lot of ice, and another one with no ice. The whole idea of a tipping point is that it’s a point where a system has been perturbed so far from one stable state that it proceeds into a different stable state.
Does the peer-reviewed literature contain any evidence the such a ‘no-ice’ stable system is possible?

If Andy Revkin can put his brain into gear and look more deeply at the science then I would call that an encouraging start. Welcome to Chez Sceptic, Andy. Come on in and make yourself at home. You might even find you like it. 😀


AW your always miles ahead of these AGWers no wonder you get so many hits LOL


Warmists are coming to the harsh realizations one after another. Bill Maher even admitted on his show last week that it’s looking like Climate Change might actually be a hoax.


The first thing I look for in climate predictions are weasel-words like “might,”, “may,” “could,” etc.

Serreze does more for the skeptical movement than most of us commentators here. He’s really a funny guy. The only thing I can say, is “Go Marky go! Amplify from the highest chunk of ice screaming about the death spiral!

Grizzled Bear

I’ve never understood this “death spiral” nonsense anyway. Are they saying that, if all the ice were to melt in the summer months, that the winter wouldn’t then go back below freezing and re-freeze the ice? Simplistic example, but if I empty my ice cube tray and refill it with water, it will still freeze. And that’s only at -5 degrees C. And, of course, we all know that the temperature is going to go way below freezing once the winter hits. So, what’s going to prevent it from re-freezing, even if the temperature/currents/whatever actually melt ALL of the ice in a given summer? Maybe one of our resident trolls can put away the snark and actually explain the logic on this, because it makes no sense to me at all.

Fred from Canuckistan

Sometimes I think way too many of the leading Warmista mouthpieces must have received their PhD’s by mistake or they got lucky with a box of Cracker Jacks.
I mean really, they either think the rest of the world is stupid and will believe any silly story they make up or they actually believe the such crap and expect us to trust their word because they are know they are important people doing serious work.

Alan the Brit

The general technique is usually to reschedule the date of impending doom, calim that there were a couple of “minor” errors in the sums that led to the wrong date being quoted, then sit back & wait, again, & again, & again, & again &……………………………………………………….!

Eric Barnes

Good to see Andy moving a little closer to the sanity line. Wishing him well in his recovery.


The great thing about making predictions for some future event nearly two decades away is there is no accountability for being wrong. That’s the brilliance of the climate models which make
“projections” (notice projections, not predictions) for up to a century from now. Few will bother to verify the actual conditions and compare to the prediction or projections and if they do, various excuses will be made for the failure to match the real world.


Mark Serreze’s prediction of an ice free arctic in 2008 is one of the earlier ones and reality has called time on that one. The earliest I have found is by Bernt Balchen who made a prediction in 1972 that the arctic would be ice free by the year 2000. Mr.Balchen was described as a leading specialist on the Arctic at that time. He also said that the Northern USA would be 20 to 25 degrees warmer than it is now. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=zmI0AAAAIBAJ&sjid=L5wEAAAAIBAJ&pg=5376,3200988&dq=ice+free+arctic&hl=en
National geographic went for 2012, and so they are still in with a chance – but fast running out of time.
..and the good old BBC predicted an ice free arctic by 2013. In addition it said, “Our projection of 2013 for the removal of ice in summer is not accounting for the last two minima, in 2005 and 2007,” the researcher from the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, explained to the BBC. “So given that fact, you can argue that may be our projection of 2013 is already too conservative
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7139797.stm …but I think the BBC may discover that predictions are rather tricky things, ‘especially those about the future’.
But my favourite, although it doesn’t actually claim the arctic to be ice free, is the 1922 report from the US weather bureau that said “The arctic ocean is warming up, ice bergs are growing scarcer and the water is becoming too hot for the seals”.
(Do these links work without me HREFing them?)

Harold Ambler

Revkin was on record that human activity had produced never-before witnessed, disastrous, and accelerating melt in the Arctic, which he strove to bolster by alluding repeatedly (as he does again here) to his trip to the Arctic (with actual scientists!).
This is a major climb-down, albeit without the man saying, “I was wrong.”
But we know.

Adam Gallon

Oh dear, the Promotion of Warmth will be jumping upon him something chronic. He’s verging upon being condemned as a heretic!


Revkin no least!! perhaps the jumping of ships is about to start??

Credit Serreze with the ability to learn from his mistakes. If you’re pimping a bogus theory, don’t make predictions that can be falsified. 2030 is more like it. Sort of like commercially viable nuclear fusion, keep it about 20 years in the future.


Once the ice in my glass of coke has melted it never comes back. There’s also CO2 in there.


As far as history is concerned, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. A complete lack, however, can be even worse. Glad he finally thought to ask the obvious question.


OT. Only just found this.
did David Archibald’s hard line public speech get wuwt coverage?
At least 4 months old.
[ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KptNjVx_gbM ]
REPLY: Yes VERY off-topic, please refrain.
We covered his speech here: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/04/08/sydney-no-carbon-tax-rally-on-april-9th/
– Anthony


Isn’t it time you started publishing the Arctic Ice Volume graphs on WUWT alongside all the other data? It’s a glaring omission in an otherwise excellent resource page.


I don’t worry over when the sea ice will disappear, in fact, I’ll be happy when it is gone, then, in less then a couple of decades the same alarmists will worry over when the sea ice forms again, I’ll can LMAO for another decade or so. :p

Bill Illis

The Arctic sea ice is really the only change in the climate that we can definitely point to.
Even accepting that, it is not that much of a change. The charts and graphs from the NSIDC are all exaggerated in that the Y-axis does not start at Zero (ie. no ice) it starts at 2 million or 7.5 million or what have you.
Here is the NH daily sea ice going back to 1972. It is going to take a long time for the minimum each year to reach Zero on the graph. The September 10th anomaly has to go to -6.1 million while it is only at -1.1 million right now. That is a lot of change and only a small fraction of that has shown up to date.

Theo Goodwin

Bomber_the_Cat says:
August 9, 2011 at 6:19 am
Great post. Thanks.


“The main source of my Arctic comfort level — besides what I learned while camped with scientists on the North Pole sea ice — is the growing body of work on past variability of conditions in the Arctic. The latest evidence of substantial past ice variability comes in a study in the current issue of Science.”
So, what we see today is no more extreme than has been observed in the past. In other words, what we see today is within the expected range of climate variability. So therefore it cannot be distinguished from natural variation. So why do we need an AGW theory hypothesis conjecture fantasy?


“So in other words the changes we’re seeing now are from a different source that past variability.”
Variability is variability. It doesn’t matter what the cause, what matters is the effect. Dead is dead, no matter what killed you.
The cause of natural variability is ASSUMED to be different, largely because it was ASSUMED that past natural variability was low. As more and more studies show that natural variability is HIGH then that means there is less and less reason to worry about current variability.
The polar bears didn’t die out in the past when it was warmer for a period of 3000 years, so it is illogical and thus unscientific to suggest that they will die out as a result of warming today. Those scientists that continues to suggest otherwise are not practicing science, they are engaged in fear mongering to try and drum up continued grants at the public expense. In other words, fraudulent utterances to obtain money.


Found this page on the BBC yesterday that WUWT reported previously:
The title is:
“Arctic ‘tipping point’ may not be reached”
Related Stories by the BBC are listed as:
New warning on Arctic ice melt 08 APRIL 2011, SCIENCE & ENVIRONMENT
Arctic sea ice melt ‘even faster’ 19 JUNE 2008, SCI/TECH
Arctic losing long-term ice cover 18 MARCH 2008, SCI/TECH
Amazing how quickly opinion can change from “the worlds about to end” to “oh…maybe not “


Climate science 101. The world is going to end in (present day + 20 years) due to (choose: human activity/carbon/co2/pollution) unless we get a grant to solve the problem. All signs point to things getting worse otherwise.

Douglas Foss says;
It casts huge doubt on the theory that climate changes in the Arctic are related to greenhouse gas levels.
well,well, isn’t that what I said

“even with a reduction to less than 50% of the current amount of sea ice the ice will not reach a point of no return (i.e. a tipping point).”
Yep, there’s always that seed ice that forms every winter when there’s no energy input FOR 6 MONTHS!