Record Antarctic sea ice confounds climate models

Thursday 26 September 2013, 17:51

Paul Hudson Paul Hudson

The extent of sea ice in the southern hemisphere continues to cause a headache for climate scientists, with news this week that Antarctic sea ice is now at record levels, based on satellite data which began in the late 1970’s.

This is contrary to what climate models had predicted.

It’s thought that weather conditions at the South Pole, namely strengthening winds, is a possible explanation, but it’s another mystery for climate scientists already struggling to explain why most climate models have failed to predict the levelling off of global temperatures in the last 15 years or so.

At the other end of the planet, Arctic ice has staged a strong rebound this summer compared with last summer’s record minimum, reaching its lowest point just over a week ago.

But despite many headlines to the contrary, it in no way marks a reversal of the striking long term decline which has been observed since satellite data was first gathered during the late 1970’s.

And it’s worth adding that the overall loss of Arctic sea ice in recent years has been happening faster than most climate models anticipated.



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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Paul good of you to pick up on the Antarctic. Strange how the profits of doom can wax lyrical about the Arctic being in a death spiral whilst studiously ignoring the Antarctic.

    We are constantly being told that the sacrifices we have to make in terms of artificially expensive energy, loss of manufacturing industry, fuel poverty and frozen pensioners is to save the world from global warming - yeah I know the PR folks changed it to climate change, but we all know it for it is, or rather isn't - but if the Antarctic is gaining ice it means the world is not warming. Hold that thought!!!!

    And as Judith Curry has pointed out the significance of the increase of Arctic ice this year is that it puts a lie to the death spiral myth so beloved by your true believer types.

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    Comment number 2.

    Paul in 2006 after working for a Carbon Management company, I told you that global warming by man was a scam, you were polite but pointed to the evidence saying the reverse. We are now going through a prolonged period of cooling due to a drop in the suns temperature, which could last 30/40 years. This will make it harder to grow food, that would be my bigger concern. Sea ice in the Artic has increased 60% on last year. What more evidence do you require? The world temperature hasn't increased since 1998, the hockey stick theory has been smashed. The problem is too many people make money from so called global warming jobs and have a lot to lose and won't admit the scam. I have concerns about real pollution that causes environmental damage, but C02 is not a pollutant.

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    Comment number 3.

    oops! prophets of doom, that is

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    Comment number 4.

    @1 NTropywins

    "And as Judith Curry has pointed out the significance of the increase of Arctic ice this year is that it puts a lie to the death spiral myth so beloved by your true believer types."

    No it doesn't. Arctic is still on a strong (faster than the IPCC predicted) downward trend. All it means is that it didn't happen this year.

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    Comment number 5.

    @2 UKIP

    "We are now going through a prolonged period of cooling due to a drop in the suns temperature, which could last 30/40 years."

    What cooling???

    "Sea ice in the Artic has increased 60% on last year."

    No it hasn't.

    "the hockey stick theory has been smashed"

    No it hasn't.

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    Comment number 6.

    The absolute temperatures of the IPCC models tend to be far too low so they have limited use for predicting ice melt. Then again they appear to have limited use at predicting anything.

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    Comment number 7.

    And Paul you can't comment on Arctic ice without putting it in some sort of historical context - dont forget the Viking settlements in Greenland in the MWP.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I'm sure some bright spark will say 'Ah yes, Antarctic sea-ice is increasing, but the continental ice sheets are thinning', if indeed they are, or might be, or have been, to any significant degree. I would not be surprised if that were the case - the world warmed considerably from 1979-80 to about 1998. The Antarctic is probably a more reliable indicator of long term, externally driven climate change (that's the nominal interpretation, not the partisan warmist interpretation) than the Arctic which is far more under the influence of internal (cyclic) climate variability, e.g. ocean currents. In that respect, I believe the 'striking long term decline' in NH sea-ice (since 1979!) is neither particularly striking or very long term. In fact, it is entirely unremarkable, as is the current build-up of sea-ice around the Antarctic. Such events are driven by natural changes in our climate forced by internal and external variability, chiefly ENSO/PDO/AMO and solar and volcanic activity. CO2 emissions may play a part but I believe it is minor, maybe even insignificant.
    We keep obsessing over what the models predicted or failed to predict, seemingly forgetting that those models are entirely fallible and simplistic and built upon assumptions which can never be scientifically demonstrated. They are, at best, useful guides as to how the world might behave under certain circumstances; that is all. They, and the scientists who devise and run them, should never have been elevated to positions where they could dictate policy. Direct observation and empirical analysis should guide our assessments of climate change and these, I am afraid, allow very little leeway for interpreting recent and post industrial age warming as being anything other than due to natural climatic variability.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Of course Antarctic sea ice is not quite the same as Arctic sea ice (formed when the sea freezes and the melting of which does not affect the sea level). I assume what we are talking about here is ice that is (or once was if there has been seasonal melting) connected to the shoreline of the Antarctic continent and its glaciers and ice sheets. On the Arctic sea ice, I think what is measured is geographical extent rather than, if that varies and I believe it does, average thickness/depth.

    Meanwhile, the Atlantic hurricane season remains eerily quiet (though of course last year's very damaging Sandy storm (which encountered other warm air) occurred around four weeks later into the autumn):
    "There are no tropical cyclones in the Atlantic at this time." Just nine named storms so far, and only two became, briefly, category one hurricanes. Though there's recently been a powerful typhoon near China.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I see that John Cogger got there first and told Ukip the realities. However:
    " We are now going through a prolonged period of cooling due to a drop in the suns temperature". Does weaker solar activity and a low solar maximum affect Earth's temperature some while after the solar changes ie is there a time lag? And, if not, is Ukip forecasting how active the sun will be for the next few decades? How does he achieve that?

    Even if the sceptics have sometimes been right (I agree climate change appears less threatening today than it did 10 years ago) they will have been right for the wrong reasons I would suggest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

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    Comment number 12.

    I'm stunned at what you have just written!! You really do have you head burried somewhere! The facts are out there for all to see, even the IPCC recognizes the article ice increase

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.


  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    @12 Yoda559

    Where have the IPCC said 60%? There has been an increase from last years record low, it fact most people expected it (not the met office mind you...), but 60%?

    The facts (the real facts not from the mail) are that the arctic ice extent is on a downward trend. It's declining faster than the IPCC predicted (another wrong model).

    Are you really saying the Arctic is in a recovery? .

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    This article is a bit light on details.

    As far as I can see, this record high is 19.51 million km^2, compared with 19.48 million km^2 in 2012. A rise of 0.15%.

    The increase from the 1981 - 2000 average is about 5%.

    By contrast the 2013 arctic ice extent was down around 19% from the 1981 - 2000 average.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    The rate of AGW seems to me to be directly proportional to climate science research funding. Despite reports of little or no increase in temperatures for the last 15 years the IPCC report is likely to state with even greater certainty than before that the present-day (present-day), rapid (yes, rapid) warming (yes, warming) of the planet is man-made. Indeed, the last decade might be the hottest on record (nice headline grabber for the hard of thinking), but temperature was supposed to continue increasing according to the experts and computer models, in line with the continually increasing CO2. But it hasn't... Well, it must be that the predicted extra heat (which did happen) has gone into the deep ocean (rather conveniently and presumably without registering anywhere above the ocean)... sorry climate scientists, now you're just coming across as desperate with guesses like that.

    This is why I now distrust climate science... 15 years of hiatus in temps but instead of questioning, like good scientists should, whether they have the sums right or the models right or indeed whether they have the science right, they still insist that it's definitely happening and it's getting worse. Dogma has no role in science.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Oh and BTW, the extent of Arctic or Antarctic ice shouldn't be taken to be an indicator of warming or otherwise, just as we shouldn't take the cold British winters as an indicator of cooling. These are localised events and, as AGW climate scientists on here keep telling us, we should look at the global picture and not take regional variation into account. It DOES work both ways doesn't it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    8. JaimeJ

    "... the world warmed considerably from 1979-80 to about 1998."

    I think a lot depends on what period of measurement is considered most appropriate for inferring climate trends from temperature data.

    Taking the average of the surface data providers (which is the measure used by the IPCC) then the warming rate between 1979-1998 was 0.16C/dec. From 1999 - present it was 0.07C/dec. Since 1979 the combined surface data show warming at a rate of 0.15C/dec.

    While it's true to say that the period between 1979 and 1998 warmed at a faster rate than it did since 1999, it's also true to say that the overall warming since 1979 to the present isn't markedly different from that seen during the earlier period, which you and others are describing as one of 'significant warming'.

    I don't understand how warming at a rate of 0.16C/decade over 20 years can be called 'significant', if warming of 0.15C/dec over nearly 35 years apparently isn't?

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    2007 IPCC report:
    "Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely [90 percent confidence] due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations

    Now here is the statement from the fifth IPCC report:
    "It is extremely likely [95 percent confidence] that human influence on climate caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951−2010."

    Did you spot the differences? The 2007 IPCC statement focused on human greenhouse gas emissions, while the 2013 statement pertains to all human influences on the climate. This includes the cooling effect from human aerosol emissions (pollutants that scatter sunlight).

    Can anyone confirm the exact meaning of “Most” of the observed increase. If the IPCC now think it is "extremely likely" that "more than half" of the increase is due to human influence, does this mean that they now accept up to 50% of global warming could be due to natural causes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    #19 NeilHamp

    Yes, that was my first take from the news this morning. It seems a bit of a climb down on the certainty that CO2 is the lead forcing, at last.

    The other points that initially stood out was the admission that the models were wrong, BBC journalist interpretation, and that the global warming will warm some regions of the world but cool others. UK being one of those regions now expected to cool.
    Kind of throws the UK Met Office under the bus with their predictions of Mediterranean climate and long term model outputs.

    All in all a step in the right direction.


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Hello, I’m Paul Hudson, weather presenter and climate correspondent for BBC Look North in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. 

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I worked as a forecaster with the Met Office for nearly 15 years locally and at the international unit, after graduating with first class honours in Geophysics and Planetary physics at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1992. I then joined the BBC in October 2007, where I divide my time between forecasting and reporting on stories about climate change and its implications for people's everyday lives.

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