Arctic Sea Ice Political Controversy
September 9, 2013

Politics, The Press And Melting Sea Ice

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Instead of providing a sneak-peek into cutting-edge climate research, a recently leaked UN report on Arctic sea ice has mostly provided insight into the political divide surrounding the contentious issue of global warming.

Two of the UK’s supposedly more conservative periodicals, the Daily Mail and The Telegraph, seized on the leaked report’s finding that Arctic sea ice was 60 percent larger in August 2013 compared to August 2012.

Meanwhile, the ‘more liberal’ UK publication The Guardian called the other two assessments “delusions” and emphasized the reported trend of Arctic warming seen over the past several decades.

“And now it's global COOLING! Record return of Arctic ice cap as it grows by 60 percent in a year,” read the Daily Mail headline.

Telegraph writer Hayley Dixon took the opportunity presented by the larger ice assessment to both assert that “some scientists” are predicting an upcoming period of global cooling and to take a shot at yet another British media outlet.

“If correct, (global cooling) would contradict computer forecasts of imminent catastrophic warming,” Dixon wrote. “The news comes several years after the BBC predicted that the arctic would be ice-free by 2013.”

All three British publications seem to agree on one thing: there was more Arctic sea ice in August 2013 than August 2012.

“Both (the Daily Mail and The Telegraph) articles claimed that Arctic sea ice extent grew 60 percent in August 2013 as compared to August 2012,” wrote Dana Nuccitelli in The Guardian. “While this factoid is technically true, it's also largely irrelevant. For one thing, the annual Arctic sea ice minimum occurs in September – we're not there yet.”

Nuccitelli, an environmental consultant based in Sacremento, California, cited the statistical occurrence known as ‘regression toward the mean’ as the explanation for the Arctic ice resurgence this year. The phenomenon dictates that when an extreme value is observed, such as the record low Arctic ice cover in 2012, the next observable value will be less extreme – meaning that we shouldn’t expect to see new record lows for Arctic ice cover being set year after year.

Nuccitelli also pointed to a prediction model he created in 2012 that said “climate contrarians” would seize on those yearly reports that find a rebounding of Arctic ice cover, while ignoring the long-term trend of Arctic sea ice decline.

Both the Daily Mail and The Telegraph said UN climate and policy experts were calling for “a crisis meeting” to reassess the latest report.

“Leaked documents show that governments which support and finance the IPCC are demanding more than 1,500 changes to the report’s ‘summary for policymakers,’” David Rose wrote in the Daily Mail.

The so-called conservative publication also cited a “pause” in global warming that has been occurring since 1997. The pause has been noted in some previous studies, notably one report from Anastasios Tsonis of the University of Wisconsin published in 2009.

"We are already in a cooling trend, which I think will continue for the next 15 years at least,” Tsonis told The Telegraph. “There is no doubt the warming of the 1980s and 1990s has stopped.”

Nuccitelli largely scoffed at the idea of stabilizing global temperatures, dismissed the idea of a “crisis meeting,” and called out the authors of the other two publications.

“These two articles at the Mail on Sunday and Telegraph continue the unfortunate trend of shoddy climate reporting in the two periodicals, particularly from David Rose,” he wrote. “They suffer from cherry picking short-term data while ignoring the long-term human-caused trends, misrepresenting climate research, repeating long-debunked myths, and inventing IPCC meetings despite being told by climate scientists that these claims are pure fiction.”