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Latest Posts


Sea Ice Volume is Not Recovering

Posted on 24 December 2013 by greenman3610, Anne Young

This is a re-post from Climate Crock of the Week

Andy Lee Robinson has updated his indispensable animation of sea ice volume – which makes the point yet again how dramatically northern sea ice is declining – despite the inevitable efforts of distorters and deniers.

Also worth remembering that for total area of ice, we are at a low that is historic over not just the satellite era, but at least 1450 years into the past.  Look at the figure below, derived in 2011 from temperature proxies which were then compared to  ocean sediments – (different critters live in iced-over ocean vs open water) and consider that the so-called “recovery” of sea ice is just a tiny squiggle at the bottom end of a 150 year long slide.



Below, Dr. Walt Meier of NSIDC discusses the techniques of evaluating ice cover before the satellite record. Explanation at 2:53, if you’re in a hurry.

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Comments 1 to 19:

  1. I'm sure we have all being waiting for the update of Mr Robinsons fantastic video on ice volume.  Many thanks.  What I wonder is where he gets the information to plug into the formula.  The ESA Cryosat2 has been advertized as the best thing since sliced bread with respect to measuring ice volume and so far, just a few days ago, I finally found a site that said minimum ice in October 2012 was 6000km3 and 9000km3 in October 2013.  Is this the best they can do.  Such slack approximations delivered months after the fact and not even for the most important month.  Why don't they have a web site like the NSIDC which reports results with a one day delay.  If they are in the typical 90 minute orbit, they cover the Arctic 16 times each day.  If I was in the European Common Market, I would be asking what the Eropean Space Agency is doing with my money.




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  2. Lovely music. Is it commercially available? It complements the terrible potential of the graphic, but sweetly. I feel like a lovelorn lover drinking him/her-self under the table.

    Happy holidays everybody.

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  3. Like William@1 above, I am somewhat confused by conflicting claims on arctic sea ice.  Ads William states the cryosat is proclaiming "Measurements from ESA’s CryoSat satellite show that the volume of Arctic sea ice has significantly increased this autumn.  The volume of ice measured this autumn is about 50% higher compared to last year. and "About 90% of the increase is due to growth of multiyear ice – which survives through more than one summer without melting – with only 10% growth of first year ice. Thick, multiyear ice indicates healthy Arctic sea-ice cover.This year’s multiyear ice is now on average about 20%, or around 30 cm, thicker than last year."

    I find it difficult to reconcile the opposing claims rgarding sea ice although it is necessary to note that the cryosat does state "While this increase in ice volume is welcome news, it does not indicate a reversal in the long-term trend."“It’s estimated that there was around 20 000 cubic kilometres of Arctic sea ice each October in the early 1980s, and so today’s minimum still ranks among the lowest of the past 30 years,” said Professor Andrew Shepherd from University College London, a co-author of the study. LINK

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    Moderator Response:

    [RH] Shortened link.

  4. Poster,

    I think you are confused because you expect a new record to be set every year.  This year was the sixth lowest recorded sea ice extent in the record.  It is well known that in the past 200 years there was never a time where sea ice was anywhere near the lows of the past decade see 110 year record here.  Do you consider sixth lowest in a long, noisy record to be "recovering"?  I do not.  The nature of noisy records is that sometimes the area goes up, even though the longer trend is down.  We will have to wait a few more years to determine if the prognosis is for continued collapse or if the sea ice will stabilize at some level near where it has been the last few years.  In the first case there will be little ice left in summer in 5 years or so and in the second the ice will remain at a low level for a few decades before melting out.  If next summer is like 2013 the ice may "recover" a little bit more. Frequently years repeat the previous year. If it is like 2007 a lot of ice will melt.  In 2008 the NSIDC suggested years like 2007 occur about every decade. Are we due for another 2007 or 2013?  What does your crystal ball say?   

    Since the ice is above 2012 but much below the amounts present 20 years ago, I would say it was a recovery for the ice but it is still in very bad shape from the melt in previous years.

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  5. To follow briefly on Michael's point, Arctic sea ice area at summer minimum has exceeded the previous year's summer minimum fifteen (15) times out of the past 34 years, yet the overall trend is strongly negative.

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  6. Regression to the mean....

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  7. william, daily ice volume data can be obtained from PIOMAS

    The Robinson video above takes the lowest daily value from each year in the PIOMAS record. The Cryosat values you cited were averages for the month, and as you noted not even the month during which the minimum occurs. I don't know if more detailed Cryosat data is available somewhere, but agree it would be very nice to get more than a couple of updates per year.

    Poster, there isn't so much a discrepancy in reporting on ice volume as there is inaccurate 'spin'. It is entirely true that 2013 had "about 50% higher" ice volume at the minimum than 2012... but that 'huge increase' was still lower ice volume than every year prior to 2010. Basically, when you start to get near a zero value any minor upswing can be a large percentage increase.

    Nine of the last twelve years (all except 2008, 2009, and 2013) set a new record low Arctic sea ice volume. Put another way, in 2002 the lowest ice volume ever was set at 10,792 km^3... but by 2012 the new lowest ice volume ever was only 3,261 km^3. That 2013 'surged' to 4,946 km^3 doesn't change the fact that is still less than half the 2002 minimum.

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  8. It's recovering I tell you!  Just you wait.  Its turned the corner at the bottom and is heading back to the good old days.  Just don't ask me to put any money on it...

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  9. There is more screed on ESA Cryosat2 published by NASA dated from March this year which might be of interest to some. The video (which is unavailable at the NASA link) is available here. Cryosat2 shows higher volumes than PIOMAS but the two otherwise are strikingly similar.

    I assume, come March the freezy season data from Cryosat2 will again be compared with PIOMAS. With the Cryosat2 data report we've heard this Autumn, it will certainly be interesting to see that comparison.

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  10. It appears that Andy Lee Robinson composed the music to go with the video. The youtube link is as follows: Ice Dream by Andy Lee Robinson

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  11. Thanks for the helpful comments and a Happy New Year to all

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  12. I realize this is about ice volume, and not extent or area. But, still, both those metrics are currently showing less ice coverage than there was at the same time in 2011--that is, the year before 2012's big meltout. Given that, I fail to see how anyone can make the straight-faced claim that Arctic ice is somehow on any real rebound.

    Anway, I just added a trio of animated 3D PIOMAS graphs to my own climate graphics page to go along with the rest of the menagerie there. I admit that they're not as pretty as Andy Lee's musically-enhanced videos, but I think they work well enough to bolster this post's claim that sea ice volume is most definitely not recovering.:

    (Use your mouse/touchpad to move the graphs around in 3D space, or zoom in/out with your scroll wheel.)

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  13. Whether the Sept. ice disappears in 5 years or 20 years, the year following should be amusing.  All things being equal there will be a recovery of some sort and no matter how large or small the recovery,  the climate change deniers can then claim an infinite increase in ice for that year.  By the by, does anyone know whay the ESA is so reluctant to publish ice volume measurements.  Satellite problems, software problems, bun fights amongst the scientists involved or what.

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  14. John Brookes@8,

    When you make mocking statements like that you should indicate it more clearly, e.g. by blockquoting it and indicating as coming from a denialosphere. Otherwise, there are many nutters up there who will pickup your comment seriously and argue it as the SkS stance.

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  15. william@13,

    Sure enough.

    In mid-2011 in Australia, Monckton was preaching the arctic ice "recovery" showing its increasing minimum extents from 2007 in two consecutive yearts 2008 & 2009. Note that he deliberately omitted the 2010 data (showing decrease in extent and dramatic fall in volume), the data available at the time of his preaching. BTW, that episode was the biggest and most shameful cherry-picking show I've ever seen.

    I wonder where our famous "cherry-collector viscount" is right now when 2013 provided similar oppotunities? Maybe his line of preaching does not not fall into fertile ground anymore which would be good news.

    There is no doubt however, that Monckton would love to relive his fulfilment of misleading the audience and coming "infinite sea ice recovery" will be an opportunity too good to miss. So, because that event will likely come still in his time,  we may hear from him yet...

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  16. William @13.

    I don't think it is true to say "the ESA is so reluctant to publish ice volume measurements." Access to the data is given for folk who care to crunch the numbers & they do publish nice shiny videos of  ice thickness, although this year's video delivery from the ESA was lacking somewhat, the ESA providing in compensation only thumb nail seasonal ice thickness maps.

    Where there is a reluctance from ESA is perhaps to provide a blow-by-blow account of Arctic SIV (as does now PIOMAS) but given the calibration tasks Cryosat2 has had to perform, they will be very conscious that such results could still prove less than robust. (See perhaps Laxon et al 2013 'CryoSat-2 estimates of Arctic sea ice thickness and volume.')

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  17.    In the second video, which was generally very excellent, the point should have been made at some point that sea ice has volume as well as surface area. Since nearly all Antarctic winter sea ice is and has been one year, its total volume has always been relatively small relative to Arctic sea ice volume.

       So if you had a plot of global sea ice volume, it would show the same exponential-looking loss rate as you see from the graph of Arctic sea ice volume loss in the first video.

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  18. There's something disturbing about the perspective in this animation. The blocks of ice are foreshortened or something, which creates a misleading impression about the relative decline. The block on the left does not align itself with its value on the axis, and the final volume on the right is not 30% as tall as the one on the right, either by eye or by screen capture followed by measurement. I like the idea, the data are horrifying, but the animation has exaggerated the loss by the manner in which it has been constructed.

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  19. @DavidBird, I understand what you are saying.  The rounded edges of the volumes might also be contributing to the minimising effect.  This is the unfortunate effect of working with 'cool' graphics.

    Regardless of the graphics, 30% reduction in sea ice volume would have to be a signifigant cause for concern, because once the ice is gone, what is going to be absorbing the heat?  It takes 334 joules of heat energy are needed to melt 1 gram of ice, but only 4.18 joules of heat energy to warm 1 gram of water by one degree.

    Scary thought of the week?

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