Lying with Statistics: The National Climate Assessment Falsely Hypes Ice Loss in Greenland and Antarctica

by E. Calvin Beisner and J.C. Keister

How fast are Greenland and Antarctica losing ice?

If you trust the National Climate Assessment (NCA), you’ll think, “Very fast!” And that’s intentional. The aim is to provoke fear so the American public will support the Obama administration’s aim to spend $Trillions fighting global warming.

Here’s how the NCA (in Appendix 4, FAQ-L) depicts the rate of loss from the ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica:

clip_image002

Pretty steep declines, right? Downright scary.

But if there’s any way to depict trends guaranteed to be misleading, it’s depicting them in raw numbers without the context of proportion. The NCA should either have depicted the ice loss as percent—with graphs showing the whole span from 0 to 100—or as gigatons but spanning from 0 to the highest totals for the two locations.

What would the resulting graphs look like? To know that, you have to know the total mass of ice in both Greenland and Antarctica and the annual rate of loss. Neither is known very precisely, but working from widely accepted figures we ran the calculations. The results?

Greenland is losing about 0.1% of its ice per decade—that is, about 0.01% per year. At that rate, it will take a century for it to lose 1%.

Antarctica is losing about 0.0045% of its ice per decade—about 4.5/10,000ths of a percent per year. At that rate, it will take about 2,200 years for it to lose 1%.

Oh—and what would the graphs look like if drawn proportionally? Here you go:

clip_image004 clip_image006

No, the trend lines aren’t missing. They’re the red lines up at the 100% level of the graphs. Their slopes are so shallow that Greenland’s is barely perceptible—and Antarctica’s, not at all.

And the effect on sea level? Combined, about 1 millimeter per year—or about 3.3 inches by the end of this century.

Not quite so scared now?

But that’s not what the Obama administration intended. Now you know why it used the deceptive graphs.


 

E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., is Founder and National Spokesman of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. J.C. Keister, Jr., Ph.D., is a retired research physicist and mathematics professor and a contributing writer for the Cornwall Alliance.

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Thus my maxim:
“Anyone who is giving you numerators without denominators is trying to deceive you.”

Alarmism is a characteristic of having lost a sense of proportion.

Jim E

Since the total mass of ice at each location is not known very precisely, how can one measure the loss with any degree of accuracy? In other words, it seems to me the gain/loss of ice at both locations is “in the noise” — too small to know whether it is growing or shrinking, let alone to measure the rate of growth/shrinkage.

Now do the same w/ 100,000 years of co2 plotted next to keeling. And scores of temps, sea levels plotted w/ exaggerated scales to maximize the fear factor.

Reblogged this on Centinel2012 and commented:
We still have a few sane scientists!

norah4you

Reblogged this on Norah4you's Weblog and commented:
Facts are true, fiction isn’t
Fact is that in 1060’s a son of a Norwegian King sailed together with priests to Greenland using the northern route which at that time had been open since 980 AD. I take it that the National Climate Assessment’s so called experts aren’t aware that Greenland isn’t one but at least two islands and the strait between the northern island and main inhabited Greenland still lies under more than 100 meter glaciar ice mainly caused by eruptions on Iceland (and Greenland) in 1341 on forward causing the earlier temperature, between +1 to +4 C more than today, to fall drasticly.

Why did I know that all along. Will this study be published on SKS? Will the NCA publish this?

Dave

How can Antarctica be losing ice if it just recently reached an all time greatest extent?

Richard Sharpe

How can Antarctica be losing ice if it just recently reached an all time greatest extent?

Well, quite possibly because the Antarctic extent measures the ice floating on the sea around Antarctica.
However, why is there ice loss on Antarctica? Are we perhaps seeing the downswing of a cyclic process?

Mike Ozanne

Seemed to be plenty of ice on Greenland when I flew to LA over it last Sunday…:-)

John McDonald

Sublimation

How can Antarctica be losing ice if it just recently reached an all time greatest extent? A: Sublimation 😉

there is no ice loss in Antarctica
its ice is increasing since we are cooling
http://hidethedecline.eu/media/Antarctica/1.gif

Slartibartfast

That’s sea ice, HenryP. Land ice could be decreasing due to combined sublimation and decrease in precipitation.

dudleyhorscroft

Perhaps Antarctica appears to be losing ice because it is sliding off the volcanoes and entering the sea. Hence reduced mass on top of the mountains, and increased se ice extent?

What?

Richard Sharpe says:
How can Antarctica be losing ice if it just recently reached an all time greatest extent?
Well, quite possibly because the Antarctic extent measures the ice floating on the sea around Antarctica.

The article said, “depicts the rate of loss from the ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica:” That’s not sea ice.
Thank you HenryP

there is no ice loss in Antarctica its ice is increasing since we are cooling
http://hidethedecline.eu/media/Antarctica/1.gif

You know, we can’t keep playing the game and countering the nonsensical stuff–it discredits the skeptics. The ice is increasing so the graph should be on an upward slope. Its more than provable so why have a misleading counter graph? As if they have a point? They are dead wrong on Antarctica losing ice and that is all we should be addressing.

Cheshirered

Nice take-down. Thanks.

Just how accurate is GRACE?
It just might be possible to check the ice loss figures by looking at variations in the rotation rate of the Earth (after adjusting for the moon being pushed outwards, solar tides etc.) the ice is currently at the poles so low moment, when or if it melts its moment increases greatly.

ren

slartibartfast says
That’s sea ice, HenryP. Land ice could be decreasing due to combined sublimation and decrease in precipitation
henry says
what are you saying?
besides sea ice coverage, is somebody measuring the depth of sea ice as well? Everywhere ?[in Antarctica]. How?
Anyway, since we are cooling down, globally, I would expect to see a decrease of precipitation at the higher latitudes…
http://blogs.24.com/henryp/2013/04/29/the-climate-is-changing/

If all the ice were to melt from the polar region would slow the Earth 600ms. We’ve seen a 2 ms slowdown since 1970. Like most every Earth measurement though, there are numerous conflating factors.

Richard Sharpe

“How can Antarctica be losing ice if it just recently reached an all time greatest extent?”
Well, quite possibly because the Antarctic extent measures the ice floating on the sea around Antarctica.

The article said, “depicts the rate of loss from the ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica:” That’s not sea ice.

Well, sure. However, I was responding to the question “How can Antarctica be losing ice if it just recently reached an all time greatest extent.”
Very clearly, the person who asked the question was confusing extent, which contains sea ice, with land ice.

RobL

and ~400km³ per year spread over 360 million km² is roughly 1mm of sea level rise per year.

MikeUK

The other powerful trick for propagandists is to show only a short period of history. Every climate-related plot of data looks normal and harmless when enough history is shown (decades or centuries), except of course when hockey-stick processing is performed.

rgbatduke

Straight out of How to Lie with Statistics, one of my favorite books. Present a cherrypicked slice of the data on a non-absolute scale. In this case we can throw in presenting an irrelevantly short interval — one whole decade. Really? For a climate trend?
A third problem is that — once again — the data is presented without error bars! We do not know — note well — how much ice there is on Greenland or Antarctica to within one percent, and the entire range of data in either graph is less than a tenth of that, but since we do not get to see either the raw data points underlying the curves above or the error bars per point, we are left with the impression that the lines are accurate to within the width of the line and that the measurement process is not subject to any sort of systematic error that might produce the observed bias without it reflecting any sort of actual trend in the ice volume. For example, even if the curve is based on GRACE data, GRACE can very likely not accurately resolve the full volume distribution of the underlying mass — it effectively projects the mass distribution onto some presumed spherical shell.
But what shell? If Antarctica and Greenland are continuing their post-ice-age subsidence, then dense magma is flowing out from underneath them, their land surface is falling, and of course their gravitational surface field is reducing. But GRACE cannot resolve this from field reduction due to ice loss without unprovable assumptions being made, and this sort of thing has to at the very least contribute to the probable error. But if the data is presented without that error being shown, the entire “trend” in the data above could be nothing but irrelevant noise.
It is equally instructive to do precisely the same thing — plot the absolute temperature instead of the supposed temperature “anomaly” — over the last 165 years:
http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/hadcrut4gl/from:1850/to:2015/offset:288/plot/hadcrut4gl/from:1850/to:2015/scale:0.0001
Not quite a hockey stick, eh? It would be even better (again) to add error bars to this curve — say plus or minus 1 C for the 288, another plus or minus 1 C (or more) for the bulk of HADCRUT4 gradually shrinking down to the 0.15 C they acknowledge over the last decade or so (which is IMO optimistic by at least a factor of 2, given the divergence between HADCRUT4 and e.g. GISS and the fact that HADCRUT4 doesn’t correct at all for UHI, where UHI alone is probably twice this).
One day it will be very instructive to look back at the horrendous abuses of the theory of statistics in the general field of climate science, especially in its presentation to both policy makers and the general public. Somewhere in between the actual research papers (which often do treat uncertainty at a level that would pass most referees) and the Summary for Policy Makers and CNN, error estimates and uncertainty either disappear altogether or are replaced by indefensible weasel-words like “high confidence”.
High confidence based on what, exactly? Not the central limit theorem. Not the data. Not on the excellent agreement between the models and the data. Confidence in statistics has a precise meaning, and one has to be able to back up any assignment of confidence with a computation based on the laws and theorems of axiomatic statistics. The use of the term “confidence” in the Summary for Policy Makers, on the other hand, appears to be much more akin to the use of the term “confidence” as it is used in “confidence racket”, or “con(fidence) artist”. “Trust me, I’m a Climate Scientist” seems to be a free pass to making indefensible assertions using the language of statistics but without any of the numerical backing one would require of research in any other heavily statistics-based field.
This is one of the reasons I’m active on this list. I actually understand statistics pretty well, and know what one can and cannot expect out of predictive models. One cannot squeeze blood from a stone. Nor can one solve the Navier-Stokes equations at a spatiotemporal resolution that — for cells 100 km x 100 km x 1 km, and timesteps determined by the speed of sound divided into the longest (instead of the shortest) cell dimension — is roughly 10^20 times what one expects to have to use given a Kolmogorov scale for the nonlinear dynamics of around (less than) 1 cm. Climate models are based on nothing more than the fond hope that none of the dynamics neglected or approximated on shorter spatiotemporal scales is relevant, in spite of the direct evidence (from the models themselves) that this is not so!
rgb

phlogiston

Most ice on Antarctica is centuries old. So I’m not sure how much meaning if any our supposed ability to measure it actually means. What if it just compresses down a bit?Or if pressure at the base causes some to melt off – or maybe volcanic heat melts some more?
I would have thought that the surrounding sea-ice would be more significant to climate due to the large removal of heat needed to form sea ice.

John M

Someone please check my math!
So, they say we’ve lost 1000 gigatons of Antarctic “land ice” since 2006?
Let’s assume they mean “gigatonnes” (a tonne or metric ton is 1000 kg) to make the calculation easier”
1000 gigatonnes = 10^15 kg.
density of ice = 917 kg/m^3
(10^15 kg)/(917 kg/m^3) = 1.09 x 10^12 m^3
Now, over the same interval, the Antarctic sea ice has increased by about 1.8 million km^2, or 1.8 x 10^12 m^2.
Do we think that extra sea ice is greater or less than 0.6 m thick?
Will the net ice difference be more or less than the amount of ice Al Gore uses in a year’s worth of martinis?

Tom in Florida

rgbatduke says:
July 6, 2014 at 11:19 am
“It is equally instructive to do precisely the same thing — plot the absolute temperature instead of the supposed temperature “anomaly” — over the last 165 years:”
————————————————————————————————————————
I suppose plotting absolute TSI on a scale from 0 to 2000 W/m2 over the last 150 years would
also show how tiny those changes are.

Lance Wallace

RGBatDuke:
I see that Science mag has set up a new statistics board, which will be responsible for identifying those manuscripts submitted to Science that appear to need checking for how they analyze the data. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/345/6192/9.
Your neighbors in Raleigh and Chapel Hill seem to be well represented:
STATISTICS BOARD OF REVIEWING EDITORS
Ron Brookmeyer
UCLA School of Public Health
Alison Motsinger-Reif
NC State University
Giovanni Parmigiani
Dana-Faber Cancer Institute
Richard Smith
University of North Carolina
Jane-Ling Wang (Beginning January 1, 2015)
University of California, Davis
Chris Wikle
University of Missouri
Ian A. Wilson
The Scripps Research Institute

Peter Miller

Smoke and mirrors is the cornerstone of how alarmists peddle their drivel and to try and influence the gullible and stupid.
The trouble is the climate alarmists/jihadists have access to formidable financial and media resources, plus there are one helluva lot of gullible and stupid people.
The only way these people can think of winning the argument is by deception and censorship.

Gary

As an outsider to the very technical discussions I have continued to wonder about the increase in air moisture as the sea rises (and warms). My humble opinion: so as the seas rise, more land is covered, then there more evaporation, then more rain and snow. With more snow, the glaciers return and the water in the oceans recede. Is this too simple?
So, how high do the oceans have to rise to cover large areas of land and increase the moisture to promote glaciers growing?
I do not believe the global warming theory, but I protect the earth just in case it might be true!

Severian

This is right out of the little green handbook I have “How To Lie With Statistics.” It’s a classic example, and dishonest as can be.

NikFromNYC

Dave inquired: “How can Antarctica be losing ice if it just recently reached an all time greatest extent?”
The ICESat satellite using altimetry found that the surface of Antarctica was rising up in a volume equivalent to half of the ice mass loss in Greenland. However, 48 authors later in a new study, ice mass gain was suddenly replaced with ice mass loss. I forget how they achieved this magic, but the fact remains that it’s getting physically taller so its either believe your lying altimeter or delve into physical models.

slartibartfast says
That’s sea ice, HenryP. Land ice could be decreasing due to combined sublimation and decrease in precipitation
henry says
what are you saying?
besides sea ice coverage, is somebody measuring the depth of sea ice as well? Everywhere ?[in Antarctica]. How?
Anyway, since we are cooling down, globally, I would expect to see a decrease of precipitation at the higher latitudes…
should be
slartibartfast says
That’s sea ice, HenryP. Land ice could be decreasing due to combined sublimation and decrease in precipitation
henry says
what are you saying?
besides sea ice coverage, is somebody measuring the depth of sea AND LAND ice as well? Everywhere ?[in Antarctica]. How?
Anyway, since we are cooling down, globally, I would expect to see a decrease of precipitation at the higher latitudes…

Bill Parsons

“Lying with Statistics: The Nation…”
Reminds me of that venerable Chinese saying: “Man who lie with statistics wake up with more children than he can count.” … or something like that.

ren

Let’s see the current range of the jet stream to the south.
http://earth.nullschool.net/#current/wind/isobaric/250hPa/orthographic=-37.97,-97.02,318

Legitimate statistics would put an end to all this nonsense PDQ. I hope the “Science” statisticians are allowed to review retro-actively, which would show the world who Mann and his minions really are, what their work is really all about.

hunter

This Administration uses statistics as a means of distraction. Con-artists fleecing victims use distraction in a similar way.
This Administration’s pattern is predictable:
Make wild claims about an alleged problem.
Control the information flow on the problem.
De-legitimize those who question the Administration’s claims.
Propose a wildly unworkable and expensive ‘solution’.
Shove through the solution.
Blame those who questioned the process when it fails and/or ignore the failure.

I agree with the authors. Failing to provide context might be said to be an insult to the users of the graphs.

LaughingTarget

150 years, 200 years, 100,000 years, mouse farts in geological terms. 500 million years is a much more appropriate time scale to measure this against. Not only is Earth obscenely cold, the planet also has a dangerous CO2 deficiency. Earth spent hundreds of millions of years with no ice at the poles. If anything, Antarctic ice is an anomaly that’s going to melt completely anyway.
100 years only seems like a long time because that’s about how long we live. To the planet, the measurement windows we’re using are meaningless nonsense that aren’t even valuable as an error, let alone any legitimate understanding of how the planet works.

Lies, Decept, Falsification, Half-truths:
The Four Horseman of the Clipocalypse.

Steve Case

“And the effect on sea level? Combined, about 1 millimeter per year—or about 3.3 inches by the end of this century.”
Sea level according to Colorado University’s Sea Level Research Group is going up 3.2 mm/yr or 2.8 mm/yr if you remove their GIA correction. So, 1 mm/yr is huge, over 35% of sea level rise. It’s just a matter of whether or not you want to believe it or not. Me? I believe it about as much as I believe that the oceans are getting warmer according to the Argo floats after Dr. Josh Willis got done with his adjustment/corrections and changed it from cooling to warming. If it is true, then Greenland and Antarctica have been losing ice right along. Just remember that sea level rise according to CU’s Research Group isn’t going up faster and faster, and just like everyone else in this game they adjusted and corrected the data upwards to the tune of nearly 1 mm/yr just since 2004. Couple that with the temperature adjustments that have been a hot topic on these boards in recent days, and it is hard to really know what the truth is beyond knowing that you’re being lied to.

Thank you so much for a very timely article.
I got onto a comment thread (2100 comments and still going!) on TheDailyCaller on this very subject. One commenter posting long quotes that included big, scary numbers … like gigatons, million cubic kilometers, etc … of ice lost in Antarctica.
I knew he was omitting context … but I had no figures of my own. Now I do!

ren

At the 925 mb level (approximately 3000 feet above sea level) average June temperatures over parts of the Arctic Ocean were from 1 to 2 degrees Celsius (2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit) below the 1981 to 2010 average, but with a warming trend over the latter half of the month; the last week of June saw temperatures of 2 to 4 degrees Celsius (4 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit) above average over the central Arctic Ocean. June 2013 was also slightly cooler than average.This is in stark contrast to the unusually warm summers of many recent years, particularly 2012 and 2007 when air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean were up to 4 to 6 degrees Celsius (7 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit), respectively, above average.

Brilliant info, thankks!!

M. Nichopolis

No matter how much GRACE data processing, like RGBfromduke inferred above, I don’t think it’s possible [to know], with this tiny a variation, if Antarctica is losing ice. Subsidence alone sounds like a big enough error source, but looking at how GRACE itself works, it makes no actual earth facing measurements whatsoever — it’s [two] satellites flying in tandem that simply measure the distance to each other, and record variations as gravitational anomalies.
It would seem that being able to tell what is snow, ice, rock, void, or whatever in an overflown area (and the depth/volume/mass of the various layers) would be extraordinarily imprecise and loaded with assumptions – so much so that the error bars would far exceed the purported range of the suggested anomaly (as rgb says),

Nelson

While the point is excellently made, let’s make sure we are using good math and proper terminology lest we be accused of exaggeration:
0.0045% is 4.5/1000 of a percent, not 4.5/10,000.

Nelson

My bad. 4.5/1000 per DECADE = 4.5/10,000 per year.
Apologies.

Scott Scarborough

I measure things for a living. Those Ice loss rates compared to the volume of ice being measured look and awful lot like measurement error to me. In fact they look smaller than measurement error. What you might get if you look exclusively at anything that melts and ignore some or perhaps all ice accumulation. Any fair accounting of what is melting and what is accumulating would have a measurement error greater than their results.