Strategies of Communication on Climate Change

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Arctic ice disaster

By all means an impressive presentation of the Arctic ice disaster. But, alas, it has only some 55,000 views on Youtube - that is nearly nothing.

At the same time, the "Daily Mirror" and the "Telegraph" are aggressively proclaiming, once more, that sea ice is "recovering" (see here for a discussion of what is really happening). 

So, while the planet's ice keeps melting, we are swamped by lies that fill the available media space. How are we going to let the truth out?


BTW, in order to debunk this new tsunami of lies, you may wish to note from the clip above that the amount of ice in 1979 was 16855 km3. According to the available data, today we have lost almost 14000 km3 of ice from that date. Now, the difference between the August volumes in 2012 and 2013 is about 1400 km3. So, we lost 14000 and we gained 1400: that's what they call "recovery"????

The point is that there is so little ice left in the Arctic ocean that a small fluctuation may appear as a large effect, but in absolute terms it is not. Motivated reasoning, anyone?



  1. I agree it is nothing to celebrate yet, but a 10% recovery is better than the further loss many were expecting. IF this "recovery" becomes a trend of several years, that will be significant. Supposing that happens, (no expectations either way here) it could easily take 30 years to return to 1979 ice peak, and THEN you can say "this is just a cycle".

  2. Reasonable position, anonymous. The problem is that the Daily Mail prints almost two million copies per day. Add to it the Telegraph and other papers and that means that several million people have been told in no uncertain terms of the "recovery" of the Arctic ice. Now, how many people read about the real data? A few thousands? Maybe a few tens of thousands, but not more. That's the beauty of propaganda: volume always triumphs on truth.

  3. I went checking the data and it is true that Arctic sea ice area is at its highest for this time of the year since 2006. This is significant in the sense that puts way the hypothesis of an exponential decline. The trend is still there but probably linear and far from the "death spiral" claimed by the Guardian.

    What I find interesting in this discussion is that seldom anyone discusses global sea ice are. Some prefer to focus on the Artic (where it is receding) others on the Antartic (where it is expanding). But at a global scale there is no identifiable trend; this somewhat reflecting the diverging temperature trends in both hemispheres. Scientifically this is the most interesting question, but lack of change doesn't seem to be appealing enough for neither side of the debate.

    I don't know exactly what this blog is trying to communicate: that the climate is changing? or that its human activity driving that change? The answer to the first questions is obvious today, given the amount of available long term time series from reliable instruments. The second doesn't have an obvious answer, and it is not the sort of information in this post that will ever provide one.

  4. This blog is about scientific communication in climate science. The note on the extent of Arctic ice in this post not the central point; certainly it doesn't pretend to be exhaustive. About human effects on climate, there is plenty of good information on the Web

  5. The gain in Antarctic sea-ice is at best only a third of the ice lost at the Arctic, so there is a definite trend globally. Also the gain at the Antarctic is a symptom of a further problem, increased melt of the icecap itself, hardly a comforting thought! Tamino did an analysis of this on Open Mind: