Following last years dramatic ice sheet retreat in the Arctic the world’s media has got very excited about the possibility of an ice free North Pole this year.
“The North Pole may be free of ice for the first time in history,” University of Manitoba research David Barber told Canwest News on June 23rd. “This is a very dramatic change in the High Arctic climate system.”
However this item seems to have been rather unfairly ignored, and it was the Independent’s front page item last week that really got things going. “Exclusive: No ice at the North Pole” screamed the massive headline.
Experts are bit more cautious about this claim…
The paper claimed that climate scientists thought the chances of an ice-free North pole were greater than 50-50.
“From the viewpoint of science, the North Pole is just another point on the globe, but symbolically it is hugely important. There is supposed to be ice at the North Pole, not open water,” Mark Serreze of the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado was quoted saying.
As Andrew Revkin’s Dot Earth blog points out:
Given the unpredictable short-term dynamics up there, which make the ice subject to vagaries of Siberian winds and a mix of currents, a lot of polar ice experts tell me it’s pretty much impossible to make such a prediction with high confidence. In fact, the Independent’s story — the opening sentences and headline at least — go way beyond what Mark Serreze of the National Snow and Ice Data Center tells the reporter.
Real Climate has an excellent analysis of the story, and notes:
The headline on the piece “Exclusive: no ice at the North Pole” got the implied tense wrong, and I’m not sure that you can talk about a forecast as evidence (second heading), but still, the basis of the story is sound. The key issue is that since last year’s dramatic summer ice anomaly, the winter ice that formed in that newly opened water is relatively thin (around 1 meter), compared to multi-year ice (3 meters or so). This new ice formed quite close to the Pole, and with the prevailing winds and currents (which push ice from Siberia towards Greenland) is now over the Pole itself. Given that only 30% of first year ice survives the summer, the chances that there will be significant open water at the pole itself is high.
And William Connelly, formerly of the British Antarctic Survey, who blogs about climate at Stoat, is not yet convinced that he’s lost the money he bet on 2008 seeing more ice at the height of the melt than 2007 did
Image top: NOAA
Image lower: National Snow and Ice Data Center