I used to be Snow White

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

There’s a paper out by, inter alios, our good friend Judith Curry. The paper is “Impact of Declining Arctic Sea Ice on Winter Snowfall”, by Jiping Liu, Judith A. Curry, Huijun Wang, Mirong Song, and Radley M. Horton (PDF, hereinafter L2012). Judith has a thread discussing the paper at her excellent blog. Their claim is that reducing Arctic sea ice leads to heavier winter snowfall. Inherently, this seems to make sense. Less ice means more evaporation, and because what goes up must come down, more evaporation means more snow. Case closed … or not …

Unfortunately, the paper doesn’t live up to its promise. Oh, it has lots of pretty pictures. Here’s one of them:

Figure 1. According to L2012, this shows the difference between the outputs of two climate model runs. I would call this is pretty conclusive evidence, perhaps even the long-sought “smoking gun”, that clearly establishes that the two climate model runs were indeed different.

Here’s what their abstract has to say (emphasis mine):

Abstract

While the Arctic region has been warming strongly in recent decades, anomalously large snowfall in recent winters has affected large parts of North America, Europe, and East Asia. Here we demonstrate that the decrease in autumn Arctic sea ice area is linked to changes in the winter Northern Hemisphere atmospheric circulation that have some resemblance to the negative phase of the winter Arctic Oscillation. However, the atmospheric circulation change linked to the reduction of sea ice shows much broader meridional meanders in mid-latitudes and clearly different interannual variability than the classical Arctic Oscillation. This circulation change results in more frequent episodes of blocking patterns that lead to increased cold surges over large parts of northern continents. Moreover, the increase in atmospheric water vapor content in the Arctic region during late autumn and winter driven locally by the reduction of sea ice provides enhanced moisture sources, supporting increased heavy snowfall in Europe during early winter, and the northeastern and mid-west United States during winter. We conclude that the recent decline of Arctic sea ice has played a critical role in recent cold and snowy winters.

So … what’s not to like? Reduced ice causes cold surges, leading to more snowfall. Case closed … or not …

For me, the first clue that something is wrong in a study is often that they don’t start out with a historical look as far back as the records may go. In this case, the satellite ice area as records go back to 1978. But in this study, they only show snow records going back as far as the antediluvian year of 2007/2008 … at that point, the bells started ringing for me. I always start with the longest overview of the question that I can find.

So let me remedy that, and we can see if declining sea ice really does lead to cold, snowy winters. The upper panel of Figure 2 shows the actual ice and snow data (normalized to an average of zero and a standard deviation of one). Below that, the lower panel shows the anomalies in those same normalized datasets once the monthly averages have been removed.

Figure 2. Arctic sea ice area (blue) and Northern Hemisphere snow area (red).  Upper panel shows actual data. Lower panel shows the anomalies of the same data, with the same units (note different scales). The R^2 of the snow and ice anomalies is 0.01, meaninglessly small. The R^2 of the first differences of the anomalies is 0.004, equally insignificant. Neither of these are significantly improved by lags of up to ± 6 months. SNOW DATA ICE DATA

I’m not going to say a whole lot about this graph. It is clear that in general the arctic ice area has been decreasing for twenty years or so. It is equally clear that the northern hemisphere snowfall has not been increasing for the last twenty years. Finally, it is clear that there is no statistical relationship between decreased ice and increased snow.

I will leave it to the reader to decide if, as the authors of L2012 say in the Abstract, ” the recent decline of Arctic sea ice has played a critical role in recent cold and snowy winters.I certainly don’t see it in the historical record. And this is why graphing the full record of both variables is so important. There may be some effect there … but if so, it is a very small effect, it’s invisible at this level.

In a more general sense, I see this as studying “how many snow-storms can dance on the head of an iceberg”. There have been no breakthroughs in climate science in thirty years, and I can see that the people searching for the “smoking gun” establishing a “human fingerprint” are getting mighty frustrated. But that is no reason to give up on the important questions and work on this kind of trivia. If there were a significant effect of decreasing ice causing increasing snow area, it would be visible in Figure 2. So at best, they are studying some tiny, third-order phenomenon. There’s nothing wrong with doing that once a field has no big questions left unanswered.

The thing is, climate science is nothing but unanswered questions, big questions. And until those questions have answers, for them to be wasting their valuable time and their trained scientific curiosity on this kind of small potatoes?

I suppose it’s meaningful in some universe … not mine.

w.

PS—The authors do deserve kudos, however. The paper nowhere contains the words “human influence”, “AGW”, “anthropogenic”, or “CO2”. That alone is shocking enough that it should get a medal of some kind.

PPS—Joe D’Aleo discussed the L2012 paper on WUWT here. Unfortunately, he didn’t show a direct comparison between ice and snow either.

PPPS—The title is from Mae West, who said “I used to be Snow White … but I drifted.”

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Judging by the lower graph, it is absolutely clear to any sceptic and the AGW obscurantist alike, that snow fall in the winter is highly correlated to the mid summer temperatures. No doubt.
http://www.vukcevic.talktalk.net/CET-Jun.htm
🙂

The thing is melting ice in the Arctic is not new. Happens all the time, its sea ice, don’t they know?
It melts in summer and closes over in the other months when there is little sun to warm anything.

I thought Willis had left something out of his CV…
It reminded of that old comics, a bald mustachioed guy sitting in a bar saying to a lady “You cannot imagine how strange my life has been”. “Oh, I’ve seen many things”, she replies, “nothing can ever surprise me”.
To that, the guy counters: “It all started when I was a little girl this tall…”

thingadonta

NSW is currently underwater. Maybe that is where the artic sea ice has gone. Or maybe to the ski resorts of Colorado-perhaps they should be subsidising research into elevating global warming. Or maybe the sea level has stopped rising because it is now transferred from the artic ice to fill NSW dams. Or maybe, just maybe, a couple of slightly more snowy winters has nothing at all to do with any of them.
Can one get past peer review with a boring conclusion, such as: no correlation, no meaning and no relevance?
T

JDN2

Willis: The paper nowhere contains the words “human influence”, “AGW”, “anthropogenic”, or “CO2″.
No need to. The faithful NYT, Guardian, et al, will run with it and fill in the blanks as they see fit. Good for circulation, and L2012 authors get their name in print while being able to avoid any direct flack for alarmism. It’s a win-win.

Doesn’t make sense to me.
Go back to the 70s and see that sea ice was not diminishing, but big amounts of snow were falling.
Gosh, I could figure out about 10 papers in the following hour. One would be how the sea ice extent correlates with stock market. I would also start in 2007/2008…
Ecotretas

Nonetheless, Willis, despite the award-winning absence of meme terminology, it still says “warming means cooling”…but not in so many words. It’s exhausting.

Frank DJ

Maybe I’m seeing things that aren’t there, but doesn’t it look, in the bottom panel, as if the snow area anomaly is leading the ice area anomaly (by a few months)? If so, that would not really support causation in the direction that the authors suggest.

Wilis,
May I state the ‘journalists code’ here which applies here?
“Why let facts get in the way of a good story.”
And after all they are academics so have got to ‘publish or be damned’. Well done for showing that this is yet another example of poor/failed peer (pal) review and ‘computer model science’ (The Emperor) trying to pretend to be real science (‘have clothes’).
Regards
KevinUK

Inter alia is Latin for “among other things”; when referring to human authors, the correct (and more respectful) Latin is inter alios (if they’re masculine or a mix of masculine and feminine) or inter alias (if they’re all feminine).
[Thanks, fixed. Always more to learn. -w]

Brad

Well, your analysis ignores that the largest drop in sea ice area occurred in 2007 and the has never really recovered, thus your analysis seems the simplistic one here.
Having read most or all of your and her posts for years, I pretty clearly pick her analysis as being more detailed, more thoughtful, and based on a much deeper understanding of science as well as her having more knowledge in general. This post included.
If I were Mr. Watts I would pull this simplistic post, almost childish in its analysis.

Brad – I’m sorry to hear you have been order to read WUWT by your doctor. Best wishes for a speed recovery!

chuck in st paul

So we must have created HUGE amounts of sea ice in the last 12 months because Minnesota is having one of its warmest winters with next to no snowfall. Or… something like that anyway.

Willis Eschenbach

Brad says:
March 6, 2012 at 1:24 am

Well, your analysis ignores that the largest drop in sea ice area occurred in 2007 and the has never really recovered, thus your analysis seems the simplistic one here.

If the theory advanced by the paper were correct, that 2007 drop in sea ice (which contrary to your claim is clearly visible in my graph) would be accompanied by a large increase in snowfall. I don’t see that. If you see that big snowfall increase, point it out.

Having read most or all of your and her posts for years, I pretty clearly pick her analysis as being more detailed, more thoughtful, and based on a much deeper understanding of science as well as her having more knowledge in general. This post included.

So your conclusion is that, despite there being no visible correlation of any kind between snow and ice variations, that she has a “deeper understanding of science” … she may well have that, Brad, she’s a very sharp woman.
But the relative level of our individual science-fu is not the question here. The question is, is there actually an effect where a drop in ice area leads to an increase in snow? That doesn’t depend on either her or my understanding, deep or shallow. If you see evidence of such an effect, you’ll have to point it out to me. I don’t see it. Surely, if decreasing ice meant increasing snow, it would be visible in the record … so point it out.

If I were Mr. Watts I would pull this simplistic post, almost childish in its analysis.

Y’know, Brad, with that unpleasant accusation you sound a lot like the lady who said to Winston Churchill, “If you were my husband, I’d put arsenic in your tea.”
To which he replied, “Madame, if I were your husband, I’d drink it.”
w.
PS—You make a lot of accusations, Brad. You call my analysis “almost childish” … yet you have singularly neglected to find one single tiny thing wrong with it.
I notice that with folks a lot. The more the bombast, the more the ugly accusations, the less actual science in the person’s post.
So congratulations, you’ve taken that trend to its logical extreme.

Mardler

Brad says:
March 6, 2012 at 1:24 am
You missed Willis’s point: come back in 10 or 20 years time and see what has happened to ice extent. None of us know the future but looking at a longer historical time frame now makes sense to this analytical geezer.
I’ll leave those better able than me to determine whether Curry or Eschenbach is the “better” and if you are more perceptive than most here. I will continue to read both since Ms. C became a little less alarmist.
Finally, whether one thinks a particular person in the debate is better than another particular person also misses the point: we need to look at the science as a whole and when I do I find myself totally on the real science side and highly sceptical about The Team and The Cause. Did I just come up with a better definition of a sceptic?

Willis Eschenbach

Frank DJ says:
March 6, 2012 at 1:13 am

Maybe I’m seeing things that aren’t there, but doesn’t it look, in the bottom panel, as if the snow area anomaly is leading the ice area anomaly (by a few months)? If so, that would not really support causation in the direction that the authors suggest.

The best correlation ( R^2 = 0.06, still meaningless) is with the snow leading the ice by three months, as you suggest … but the correlation is both positive and in the wrong direction.
The strongest negative correlation ( R^2 = 0.001 ) is with ice leading the snow by five months. But that’s so small it’s a joke.
None of that, not a bit of it, is statistically significant. I find no significant correlation anywhere, no matter which one leads or lags.
w.

Mike McMillan

Nice try Willis, but Brad has nailed you. He picked up right away on the fact that you didn’t have four co-authors, garner a $120,000 NSF grant, and spend eight months gluing your post together.
Poor Liu, J. et al. Gotta be discouraging to go to all that effort to publish a paper, then have somebody poke a hole in it with a couple easily assembled charts.

Brad,
Well you are not Anthony and this is not your blog so tough!
I’ve been on WUWT since the very beginning and sorry mate but I’ve never read any of your comments here on WUWT. Unlike you I have read pretty much all of Willis’s threads here on WUWT (I’ve even re-constructed a number of his analyses) and they are always well written and very much to the point. This one is no exception. Willis has clearly pointed out what happens when you cherry pick data in order to suit your pre-written conclusions.
Do you understand the principle of falsifiablity Brad? Willis has clearly shown that when you use all of the available data there is clearly NO correlation between Artic sea ice area and NH snowfall area. The L2012 conclusions are thus falsified.
KevinUK

Urederra

Figure 1. According to L2012, this shows the difference between the outputs of two climate model runs. I would call this is pretty conclusive evidence, perhaps even the long-sought “smoking gun”, that clearly establishes that the two climate model runs were indeed different.

LOL. Indeed.
And at least one of them must be wrong.

Replicant

Willis, why do you think that they did not study the whole data range from 1979 to 2010?
What happens to your “analysis” if you use winter snow data only?

John Marshall

Even 34 years data may not be enough given the probable 80 year Arctic cycle but Fig 2 does demonstrate little to zero connection. The UK has had a mild winter, contrary to that of the rest of Europe, and the UK Met. Office claim that this probably proves a warming planet.
The Arctic ice is now increasing, a natural cyclic event.

Mike McMillan

Deadman says: March 6, 2012 at 1:19 am
Inter alia is Latin for “among other things”; when referring to human authors, the correct (and more respectful) Latin is inter alios (if they’re masculine or a mix of masculine and feminine) or inter alias (if they’re all feminine).

That must be lawyer Latin.
Best I can come up with is inter aliae for a dative feminine plural.

Markus Fitzhenry

Yes Willis, you are right, the paper is flimsy. Judith is on the defensive over this paper. In her defence she does appear to relate it to weather phenomena, rather than an assault on causes of decreasing cover. She has previous papers in this regard that could also be accounted for in the mix.
http://judithcurry.com/2012/03/05/impact-of-declining-arctic-sea-ice-on-winter-snowfall/#comment-181922

Urederra

Less ice means more evaporation,

I have problems with this argument. It may just mean less freezing.
It seems to me that there is not much evaporation at the poles. Overall, evaporation happens elsewhere, but not at the poles. Just an impression, though.

Kelvin Vaughan

Brad says:
March 6, 2012 at 1:24 am
Well, your analysis ignores that the largest drop in sea ice area occurred in 2007 and the has never really recovered,
Beware the ice of March!

Bill UK

Well done Willis. I thought the article was pretty weak when I saw it. In the UK our cold weather (and Europe’s at the same time) is brought about by negative AO and NAO but in my experience this is random and to link the cold spells of the recent winters to the drop in Arctic ice was very simplistic and lacked the longer view. Thank you for adding perspective and showing it to be spurious.

Pamela Gray

But…but…the MODEL was significant. We don’t need the NWS telling us what the weather is out there. Or how snowy it will be next winter. Heck, I don’t even need my finger to tell me which way the wind is blowing. We have models now. Sounds familiar doesn’t it. Burn the books and don’t call your folks anymore. Just watch your walls.

Winston Churchill

‘Y’know, Brad, with that unpleasant accusation you sound a lot like the lady who said to Winston Churchill, “If you were my husband, I’d put arsenic in your tea.”’
To which he replied, “Madame, if I were your husband, I’d drink it.”
Willis, it is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations.”

Disko Troop

Excellent ride by shooting, Brad, like Audy Murphy on speed. Shame you missed, but the camera angles will no doubt change that to a hit in your mind. Now get back on stage in the Rocky Horror show where you so obviously belong.
I must say I have every sympathy with Dr. Curry. When the science is settled and the debate is over and the consensus is in there is not much left for the good doctor to do.
I am a great admirer of her blog and her honest approach to science. I get two impressions from her paper, firstly that it started out as a conclusion looking for data to fit and it finished up as a “weather” paper rather than a “climate” paper because the long term data do not correlate but the short term “weather” data do have a measure of agreement with the conclusion.
I still advise her and everyone to ask the old folks about the actual weather and climate over the last 70 years. Look out the window occasionally. The world has not ended.
Add extra commas and parenthesis, double-dashes to your taste.

AdderV

I would like to see more articles that contain less of “what the other side said”.
That meme is getting rather boring. Could you please write an article without interjections like “warmists” and “then he/she said” and the like? Just let the data and the science speak.
This blog is getting worse by the minute, stooping to a new low in every article.
I used to like to come here everyday, not so anymore. This once fine blog is drifting towards school yard bullying.

Agnostic

I have to say, I think Willis makes a good point here and I would love to have Judith’s take on it. However;
– it may be that the correlation is not direct. For the circulation pattern to change may require – dare I say it – a tipping point. That is, the needs to be sufficient warming to cause the pattern to switch. If that is the case you wouldn’t see a direct correlation.
– the authors ought really have acknowledged the uncertainty. Considering this is Judith’s main drum she quite rightly beats, I do feel the abstract implies greater certainty than is justified. But the mechanism itself seems quite plausible.

Vince Causey

The whole conjecture of declining sea ice = more snow fall, fails the sniff test.
Firstly, snow is caused when warm, moist air from the lower lattitudes collides with cold air masses from the higher lattitudes, not the other way round.
Secondly, the amount of water vapour that could be carried in frigidly cold arctic winter air, in perpetual winter darkness, must be very small indeed. Have they even measured it? Have they done basic calculations to check if there is sufficient water vapour to create several feet of snow?
Thirdly, the conjecture implies that if there is a large expanse of arctic sea ice, the snowfall would be very little, which clearly does not correlate with historical records.
Willis has done a nice job of showing the lack of correlations, and the cherry picked data, but he is really delivering the coup de grace to an already dead bull. This is just so much junk science I am flabbergasted that Judith would put her name to it.

Agnostic

Willis, two other thoughts:
1. Your graph is showing sea ice area and snow extent.
It may be that it is not the extent that is important but the total snowfall. That is, the volume of snow that falls in total as a function of ice extent rather than how far what snow that does fall extends to.
2. One point made in the paper is that it is autumn sea ice extent that is important for this effect. Maybe it is the autumn extent that may correlate better to winter NH snowfall?

It seems to me that before you can say what causes a certain climatic phenomenon, you need to prove that natural causes are not responsible.
I cannot see how this can be done, unless you first are able to explain the action of natural causes in the past.
In this case, have the authors explained why some winters in the past have been cold and snowy, while others were not?

P Wilson

If” arctic decline ” makes for cold winters, then 2007 should have been the most brutal winter in history. Indeed it wasn’t.
At that stage their argument was the opposite, that winters would be a thing of the past.
In either scenario, they are not making a fair assessment and both cases are fairly erroneous

Just one question, Willis – how does snow area relate to snow volume, is it similar to ‘ice area/ice volume’, and are either confidently measured? Three, as it happens.

sailboarder

Congratulations Willis, your science is excellent. I would not say the same about the authors of the paper, as it looks like cherry picking to me.

commieBob

Brad says:
March 6, 2012 at 1:24 am
… If I were Mr. Watts I would pull this simplistic post, almost childish in its analysis.

Something can be simple and profound at the same time. Just because something is easy to understand, doesn’t mean it isn’t right. Just because something is hard to understand, doesn’t mean it is right. Always, dear Brad, remember the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Anyway, one should not trust people just because they are experts. As Philip Tetlock has pointed out, experts are extremely fallible.
Willis has presented a question that Judith et al. will have to deal with if they want their paper to retain its credibility. They can probably get another paper (maybe even a research grant) out of it. 😉

Claude Harvey

When I view the incredibly complex maze of sophisticated modeling and analysis that has led to our current sorry state of “climate science”, I find “simplistic” and “almost childish” to be terms of endearment.

Willis.
Here in Iceland we have had mild winters with little snow for the past several years. At least in South-Iceland. This winter was a little different however in Reykjavik as we had snow on the ground for 60 days in December and January. November and February have been mild and more or less without snow.

David

Just a small point.
If you look at the NORSEX Sea Ice Area and Extent graphs (link on the right at the Sea Ice Page) both graphs show that, far from reducing, receding, or doing all the other things which the alarmists would have us believe, Arctic sea ice seems to be heading very smartly towards the 1979-2006 level.
Where this leaves the ‘Less sea ice, more snow’ argument I’m not sure – but what I AM sure of, is that sea ice in the Arctic is doing what it always does – increasing until the middle of March.

Steve from Rockwood

Willis,
I have two questions for you.
1. Do you believe that, if less Arctic ice leads to greater snowfall, there should be a direct year to year correlation between ice extent and snow (2007 ice extent low, 2007 snow high);
2. If winter has more snow, shouldn’t summer have more rain?
3. Isn’t summer ice extent meaningless if moisture is being taken up during the winter months over open ice and then deposited (almost immediately) on land?
4. Is it possible to store moisture for more than one year?
5. Isn’t winter ice extent fairly constant in the Arctic (not as extreme as summer ice)?
Steve

Agnostic

….just to add:
http://judithcurry.com/2012/03/05/impact-of-declining-arctic-sea-ice-on-winter-snowfall/#comment-182157
Dr Curry points out much the same thing, that the paper states nothing quantitatively about cover. Also, the effect “contributes” to changes in circulation patterns, which is not suggesting that it is responsible for them.
I ought to point out too, that I think the abstract too certain, but the discussion contains sufficient equivocations. I think Dr Curry agrees with me on that too.

TonyBerry

I always believe in the conservation of energy:- if ice melts in the arctic causing precipitation of snow in the northern hemisphere then unless the relative humidity in the air in the north hemisphere increases there is no net energy gain: latent heat of melting + evaporation must equal the latent heat of condensation plus the latent heat of freezing – so no net energy increase just a redistribution QED

Steve from Rockwood

Agnostic says:
March 6, 2012 at 3:28 am

Willis, two other thoughts:
1. Your graph is showing sea ice area and snow extent.
It may be that it is not the extent that is important but the total snowfall. That is, the volume of snow that falls in total as a function of ice extent rather than how far what snow that does fall extends to.
2. One point made in the paper is that it is autumn sea ice extent that is important for this effect. Maybe it is the autumn extent that may correlate better to winter NH snowfall?

Point 2 is important (now that I’ve read the paper).
But this paper is easy to confirm. From their Fig. 3 they show four years of autumn ice extent with 2007, 2009 and 2010 having almost exactly the same (lower) extent and 2008 showing a distinct higher extent. So was 2008 snowfall normal and 2007, 2009 and 2011 above normal? If so then case closed on a good paper.

Latitude

…..and, “The snowiest two year period on record (1978-1979) also had the peak Arctic sea ice of the last century.”
real life contradicts this paper………….
http://www.real-science.com/georgia-tech-study-takes-goal

Brad

The discourse here is rather funny. If anyone disagrees or says anything negative they are completely open to attack by everyone from the mods to the board owner, but vice versa is absolutely not allowed. It is simply an interesting insight into the mind of true believers, they really do not want the truth, they long to have their deeply held belief confirmed at all costs.
It is tantamount to insanity, and you guys are no better then Mann or Gleick.

Gary

Willis, concerning Brad’s accusation of this being a childish post: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” Isaiah 11:6. A picture peace and understanding in the millennial kingdom. Sometimes it is very simple.

Jim Crews

As Willis logically concluded, it is not good to see such intellectual talent diverted. Much grander truths need to be known about earth’s climate system.
Understanding first the historic record and natural variability should be foremost in climate analysis. Rather than current AGW bias conclusions.
Clearly, the science is not settled, the debate is not over, and there is no concensus.
Thank you Willis for your enlightening post.

Paul Vaughan

I don’t trust Judith Curry anymore. The best way to describe how I feel about her approach to the whole climate discussion at this point: totally creeped out. I would advise journalists to steer clear of her opinions.
Sincerely.