Blog Archive

Monday, September 17, 2012

UK MET Office keeps downplaying significance of events in the Arctic

by Sam Carana, Arctic News blog, September 17, 2012 One of the most respected datasets on Arctic sea ice volume is produced by the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS, Zhang & Rothrock, 2003) developed at the Polar Science Center, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington. The graph below shows PIOMAS data for annual minimum Arctic sea ice volume (black dots) with an exponential trend added (in red).

The Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG), in a February 12, 2012, written submission to the U.K. Environmental Audit Committee, pointed at the graph:
 . . summer volume [is] less than 30% of its value 20 years ago. The trend in volume is such that if one extrapolates the observed rate forward in time, by following an exponential trend line, one obtains a September near-disappearance of the ice by 2015.

The MET Office, in a March 8, 2012, written submission:
Climate models project the Arctic will become ice-free during summer at some point this century – though likely not before 2040. . . In September 2007, sea ice extent reached an all-time low, raising the question of whether the sea ice is likely to melt more quickly than has been projected. There is, however, no evidence to support claims that this represents an exponential acceleration in the decline. Indeed, modelling evidence suggests that Arctic sea ice loss would be broadly reversible if the underlying warming were reversed.

Professor Slingo, Chief Scientist, MET Office, elaborated on this in a March 14, 2012, oral submission:
Q114 Chair: . . when the Arctic will be ice free in summer. . .
Professor Slingo: . . Our own model would say between 2040 and 2060 . .

Q115 Chair: You would rule out an icefree summer by as early as 2015, for example?
Professor Slingo: Yes we would . . .

Q117 Chair: . . In terms of the modelling that you are using, does that cover . . . volume of ice?
Professor Slingo: We run quite a sophisticated sea ice model. . . and we are looking forward now to the new measurements from CryoSat-2.

Q118 Chair: . . evidence that we had suggested that the volume of ice had already declined by 75%, and that further decreases may cause an immediate collapse of ice cover.
Professor Slingo: I wouldn’t [give credence to that]. We don’t know what the thickness of ice is across the whole Arctic with any confidence. . . I probably would [rule it out altogether] . . . to say we have lost 75% of the volume is inconsistent with our assessments.

Professor Laxon, director of Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, where CryoSat-2 data is being analysed, in an August 24, 2012, written submission:
. . [analysis of] CryoSat-2 and ICESat data . . suggest a decrease in ice volume over the period 2003–12 at least as large as that simulated by PIOMAS, and possibly higher.

The Met Office, in an August 31, 2012, supplementary written submission:
The changes in observed sea-ice volume only extends [sic] over a few years and cannot in isolation be interpreted as representative of a long term trend. . . . The extrapolation of short-term trends in ice volume is not a reliable way to predict when the Arctic will be seasonally ice free as negative feedbacks and changing weather patterns may slow the rate of ice loss. . . it is worth noting that climate models can show a period of recovery in ice volume following periods of large ice volume loss.

For some curious reason, some people seek to downplay the significance of the events taking place in the Arctic, as well as the risk of methane releases. Here's more on that.

AMEG added, in its above February 12, 2012 written submission:
The catastrophic risk of global warming leading to very large emissions of methane from large Arctic carbon pools, especially from subsea methane hydrate, is documented in the 2007 IPCC assessment.

By collaborating with others to protect the Arctic, a climate of cooperation can be engendered to protect the whole planet for the benefit of ourselves and future generations.

Professor Lenton, in a Feb 21, 2012, oral submission:
. . the Hadley Centre [has] permafrost in the latest state-of-the-art model . . . their best estimate is we may get 0.1°C of extra warming at the end of the century from the loss of methane from the northern high latitudes.

Professor Slingo, in the above March 14, 2012, oral submission:
Q126 Dr Whitehead:. . what sort of modelling factors may be accounted for by the possibility of tipping points or feedback attached to these? For example, the argument that follows very substantially from the extent of continental shelf that there is within the Arctic Basin and, therefore, the particular relationship that warming on that relatively shallow sea has on trapped methane-for example, the emergence of methane plumes in that continental shelf, apparently in quite an anomalous way-leading possibly to the idea that there may be either tipping points there or catastrophic feedback mechanisms there, which could then have other effects on things, such as more stabilised caps like the Greenland ice cap and so on. I rapidly collated all the possible catastrophe theories, but I mean how are those factored into the modelling process?

Professor Slingo: . . we are not looking at catastrophic releases of methane. . . We don’t see catastrophic change in the Arctic that would lead to catastrophic releases of methane, or very large changes in the thermohaline circulation, within the next century. Our understanding of the various feedbacks-and it is a very complex system-both through observations and modelling, suggests that we won’t see those catastrophic changes, in terms of the physical system.

Note that the above are excerpts, to make things easier to read. For the full text, click in the respective links.

Below an update of the image, produced earlier this month, with recent volume data for 2012 added. Note that the value for 2012 may still have a substantial way to go down further before reaching its 2012 minimum.
The image below shows Arctic sea ice extent (total area of at least 15% ice concentration) for the last 7 years, compared to the average 1972-2011, as calculated by the Polar View team at the University of Bremen, Germany.

Below are written submissions to date to the Protecting the Arctic inquiry of the U.K.Environmental Audit Committee. Highlighted in yellow are submissions that are particularly relevant to points brought up by the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG), with links to videos and oral evidence added where available.

No comments: