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The Old Man was looking at recent conditions to try for a prediction of next year’s sea ice minimum. More on this shortly; during the research, what came up was the ENSO. It’s neutral at the moment, predicted to be for the next six months. But an eyeball of the Pacific SSTAs raised a question about the direction and strength of the ocean currents, and the direction and strength of SSTAs.

I don’t know if these two are directly linked, but I imagine they are. If this is correct, then it seems reasonable to predict, this far out, that we could be in for a very strong El Nino, starting late in 2009 and continuing for at least two years.

This is mainly based on an interpretation of the 2008 Sea surface temperature anomaly pattern in the Pacific and its relation to ocean current direction and the ENSO area. There is a moderately strong positive anomaly in the Southern part of the West Pacific, stretching along the line of the current in that part of the Ocean, and apparently heading towards South America. There is a huge positive anomaly in the North Western sector, which should be associated with the North Pacific current, which heads towards the US west coast.

On an eyeball analysis, the pattern of Pacific SSTA is a broad clockwise motion in the Nothern hemisphere, and a broad counter-clockwise motion in the Souther Hemisphere. Thus, currents move across the equatorial region from the Americas to Japan (yes, there’s also an equatorial counter-current), go round in a big loop to North and South, and come round the American coasts and back towards the Equatorial region, where ENSO is formed.

There’s vertical mixing to take into account, as well as the flow between the Atlantic and Pacific, but this latter I suspect is a longer-term relationship (which would still, nonetheless, likely exhibit a positive anomaly). There’s a very good chance that a half-competent oceanographer will be able to explain what I’ve overlooked, and that this projection/prediction is nonsense.

Given the trend in global surface temperatures, the current state of NH snow and ice cover, recent ENSO trends and the generally warm oceans, and since my reputation or career is not on the line, I am now going to say that we are probably heading for a monstrous El Nino, starting either late 2009 or early 2010. Why does this matter?

Back to the sea ice. The Old Man’s mind isn’t entirely made up about the forthcoming melt season, though early indicators are that this Winter will be mild in the NH and snow cover (hence albedo) will continue to be well below average. At the moment, the feeling is that there is a chance that 2009’s summer melt will exceed the record set in 2007, but the analysis is ongoing. In the longer term, though, if (big, big if) we get an El Nino in ’09, then 2010 will almost certainly beat 2007. If we have a strong continuing El Nino through 2009 and 2010, then there is a chance that the Arctic Ocean will be effectively ice free (except along the North Greenland coast) in the Summer of 2011.

Definitely want feedback from scientists on this one…

Of course there’s this (hat tip to William), but it is very non-committal.

Edit: There’s a technical description of the recent trends in sea ice loss here: no mention of the El Nino, but the Search/ARCUS summary of 2008 suggests that the current condition will continue until a new warm season triggers another stage of decline.


I was rude to Antony Watts a while back for misinterpreting the differences between different Arctic Ice measurements. Now, I am going to praise him. Well done to you, whom I know as a ‘climate skeptic’ (though not the wing-nut variety), for following through on the suggestion and contacting Walt Meier. Even better done to publish his responses, in full, on your blog.

Walt Meier is someone who took the trouble in the past to answer my own questions on sea ice, in the era before I dreamed of blogging, and he is, without doubt, a gentleman as well as a scholar of distinction. His work on the Cryosphere is literally world-class, and his patience in addressing the questions put to him on Watts’ blog is remarkable.

But I am not convinced, Mr Watts, that you are quite up to the mark on the issue of sea ice. This isn’t to say that I think I am an expert (am not), but your coverage of the ‘recovery’ as being ‘reassuring’ doesn’t seem to make much sense. The graphics to which the posts refer show recent sea ice development pretty much in line with the expected pattern, yet the underlying implication is that the current season’s recovery is in some way significant as an indicator that the long-term decline of the Arctic sea-ice is less serious than Dr. Meier’s responses clearly state.

Of course I respect your right to your own take on climate change and your own opinion on these matters, but I can’t help feeling that you’ve published Walt’s answers without reading them, or perhaps without understanding them. Maybe you simply don’t want to acknowledge them or the possibility of them being correct; I don’t know. But Meier has a long and distinguished career in the field, and a rational, dispassionate observer might, if required, conclude that the more credible witness in this matter is the specialist rathert than the commentator.

When I developed my own interest in the field, one place I found most useful was the open-access, peer-reviewed journal The Cryosphere . The paper under discussion are also of great value. Unlike the commenters on William’s blog, who seem to think that nobody outside a scientific field reads the journals or the papers, I have read much of this content and, whilst I do not in any way claim expertise, I do think I have a handle on the basics of Cryospheric science, enough to justify a belief that i can comment inteliigently on the subject, if not always accurately. Therefore I commend this short course of reading to your readers, who might as a consequence find many more subjects to question and challenge in the current scientific understanding of the state of the cryosphere.

My praise of you is not false in any way: I genuinely do respect anyone who is willing to publish both their own thoughts and contradictions to it in an open way, as you have. But my concern is also genuine: I still don’t think you have a grasp of the science or the processes.


On a new weather and climate site, Totally weather and climate, someone wrote the comment below to me:
I am watching the rise in the arctic ice very carefully as I think it really does resememble watching the signals from a life support machine. If we see significantly higher ice levels this time next year a lot more people will be asking a lot more questions. Two years in a row and possible will have become probable. It woul dbe interesting to see all of the explanations.
I live in hope.


To which I replied:

As a student of Arctic sea ice conditions, I’d advise caution over this approach. The interannual variability is huge and the signal-noise ratio small. There is only so much we can garner from any one or two seasons of watching.

As I said elsewhere, climate change needs thinking of on longer timescales to be meaningful.

Take 2008’s melt season, now apparently over; it was slightly less than record-breaking, but not by much. If there was a surprise in ice conditions this year, it was the rate of recovery over the Winter, followed by the relatively slow start to the melt season, which was probably unexpected.

Are we likely to see significantly higher ice levels (I presume here you mean the Summer minimum) next year? Given the state of the multi-year ice, I’d say no. But I’d also look at the ENSO predictions for the next six-twelve months, and try to factor this in, too. Then I’d want to look at the AO and factors such as the Bering and Fram inflow/outflow numbers, and the coming seasons’ NH snow cover (Albedo!), the general sea circulation, and areas of potential forcing such as the north Pacific, Labrador and the GIS ridge.

Taking these into account, then looking at the long term trend, a conservative estimate would be that 2009’s melt season is likely to be comparable to 2008’s, with a 25% chance of it becoming like 2007’s, or worse (though 07 and 08 were very similar, in the end).

If people see two consecutive years of summer minima close to the long term average, they might be inclined to speculate whether we really understand enough about the Arctic to use it as a benchmark for GW. Technically, they’d be wrong to do so, though it is easy to see why the temptation is there. Realistically, there is no reason, at the moment, to think that next year will be any better than any one of the last ten, ie, well below the long-term average. My predicion is that the minimum will be exceeded in the first Summer season following the next el-nino, if not before.

I’d be interested to know who agrees/disagrees with my ‘predictions’, and why; am I missing something?

The Old Man stayed out of this Spring’s sea-ice betting spree, but has been keeping an eye open nonetheless.

The average day for minimum sea-ice level in recent years has been September 8th. Last year it was around the 16th. This year, it looks like it may be a little later (late thaw, rapid August decline, no sign of strong cooling yet).

Cryosphere Today gives as its most recent number a sea ice extent of 3.08M km2. This is very, very close to last year’s absolute low level.

There is a lot of ice floating in the Greenland Sea, which looks like its being flushed out of the Fram Strait (see recent research from RV Polarstern from the AWI and others); this is not great news. But this may not have an effect on the final minimum level, as it is unlikely to be lost to the Arctic Ocean in time for the days of minimum.

This year there is more ice in the central Arctic zone, but less along the Russian coast. I haven’t looked at the atmospheric conditions in detail, but with the general flow still moving counter-clockwise and broadly outwards, it is reasonable to expect some losses still in these areas.

Interested viewers should look, in addition to the pages recommended on Uncle Eli’s site, at the Internation Arctic Buoy Program Page, The excellent AARI/AANI English language pages of the Russian Arctic research program (which show drift analyses and predictions, along with other useful data), the State of the Canadian Cryosphere’s 30 day forecast maps, and, in particular, the Polarview/DAMOCLES/IOMASA combined web pages, which also contains excellent links to other sources.

Along with Eli, I also strongly recommend Bob Grumbine’s outstanding NCEP/MMAB sea ice analysis pages.

And for those, like Antony Watts, who think there is something amiss with the difference between the outputs of different research programmes, I suggest you ask Bill Chapman, or Bob, or Julienne Stroeve/Walt Meier, to give you the twopenny tour of the differences, whcih is openly available to anyone who asks and is relatively straightforward: they use different criteria for determining what is to count as ‘ice-covered’, and slightly different methodologies and averaging processes to determine the ice extent. The matter of which you choose to take as definitive is up to the individual, but in truth they all have good reasons to use the metrics and the processes of their choice. It doesn’t make any difference, since the results in each and every case are the same; the Arctic Summer Sea Ice level is in long-term, rapid decline; a record on one system is very likely to be a record on the other.

My conclusion? There is still a 30% chance that sea-ice will continue to decline until beyond the 20th September and a new record low will be recorded this year. We should know by the end of the month. It will also be interesting to compare this year’s recovery rate with last year’s; remember, the record anomaly came in mid-October, a month after the actual minimum.


POSTSCRIPT: I see after the event that tamino has beaten me to it; interesting that our conclusions seem to concur. Sorry, tamino.

Before getting on to the point in hand today, a hello to my correspondents, Eli, Paul, Students, and other occasional readers who have kept an eye on this space even when it appeared vacant; thank you for your patience.

I’ve been working for an engineering company for eight months now, having left the teaching profession. I’m still working towards the masters degree but the heart attack has slowed things down a bit. Fortunately, there may be the opportunity to study an area where there is a synergy between the job and the philosophical interests.

Since everyone is on the sea ice bandwagon these days, today’s comment is on the development of renewable energy in the UK. Comments, as always, welcomed.

There is no question that renewables are continuing to expand rapidly, though this has little, if anything, to do with climate change concerns. In my experience as a supplier of the technology, the vast majority of decisions are based on purely economic considerations. Developers are following the Merton Rule, in the belief that this will facilitate planning applications; in this case, the renewables are add-ons which are considered to be justifiable expenses against the gains to be made from a successful development. There are a few cases where companies express a concern with addressing climate change, but this is a contingent benefit, not a motive, and in most cases is a fortunate and marketable by-product of other forces.

There is also a real and rapid growth of interest in small-medium sized wind farms, often in the guise of Community Renewables Projects. Three motives appear to exist most strongly; such projects can get a degree of funding, reducing capital costs and increasing ROI; they can attract equity or bank funding using existing, tried and tested ‘bankable models’, making them lower risk, and, finally, they offer the prospect of medium-term energy security for villages and small towns and their businesses, in an environment of uncertainty over the National Grid’s ability to meet expected demand after 2014. For some areas, too, promoting wind energy projects is a marketing opportunity, promoting the ‘green’ credentials of an area and encouraging the all-important tourist/visitor numbers to continue.

The Private user/domestic renewables market is slightly different. Farms and isolated locations are still regular buyers of off-grid technology, though energy prices are critical motivators, too. There are a much greater number of private indviduals who are committed to thinking in the longer term and doing their bit towards reducing greenhouse gases, but even this commitment only remain robust where the economic realities add up: nobody wants to waste their money.

Being more energy efficient, in particular about heating, is still the biggest and most effective way of reducing a carbon footprint. On a commercial scale, replacing old oil-fired boilers, steam boiler systems, or inefficient old air-conditioning systems, are both cost-effective and successful greenhouse gas reducers. Of the renewable energy technologies in the UK, wind is the most efficient in both financial and productivity terms, in a large proportion of locations, but arguably still the most controversial, as it is visible in a way that solar pv, for example, is not. 

In very few cases do people in the UK opt for renewables purely on the grounds of contributing towards reducing our carbon footprint. Do I think this is a good or a bad thing? I feel that it shows that, in most cases, the climate change argument is known but not well-understood, or that people are unwilling or unable to look at our world and our problems on a large enough time or geographical scale, or probably both. There may be a parallel in the global leisure clothing market; many people express a desire to avoid exploitative practices in manufacturing, but this does not stop them from buying the product. There is an interesting moral comparison here; many people are keen to sypathise with the suffering of others (like the 200 million displaced Indians who hace barely hit the headlines this week), but their actions and decisions are in contradiction to their expressed desires. Perhaps this is a demonstration that, if there is a perceived conflict of interest between one’s own wealth/comfort and the very survival of distant and unfamiliar others, the others still lose out.

So, if there is to be a real change in the UK, a change which gives hope that the world is not sliding inexorably towards meltdown in the coming decades, we first need to have courage. People, commercial and private, need to actually do the things they think matter, rather than finding excuses not to, or waiting for someone else to pay the price. The British are well-known (even though this is a racial stereotype/cliche) for our pluck, phlegm or spunk. I’d like to see more evidence of it in the climate change and renewables debates.


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June 2023