Wandering across the Arctic

With a side-swipe as Maslowski along the way. But first the wandering…

By the Catlin Arctic Survey. Why are they doing this? Mostly because it is fun, and you can earn your keep doing it. They are explorer-types, and unexplored bits of the world are thin on the ground now, so new challenges must be found. But it needs to be dressed up in science, and this alas is where I start to become cynical.

The science blurb begins with Current estimates for the disappearance of the Arctic Ocean’s sea ice cover vary from 100 years away down to just 4 years from now. It won’t come as any great surprise to readers of this blog that I regard this as utter twaddle. Anyone who seriously believes the Arctic will be ice-free in summer in 4 years time is invited to put their money where their mouth is. I don’t expect to be deluged with offers. Maslowski was unwise enough to say this in late 2007 – anyone know if he has repeated or updated himself? (actually I’ve just found what is probably the source pdf. M, sensibly enough, *doesn’t* say the Arctic will be ice free by 2013. He does say that the GCMs are too conservative. And he does say if-this-trend-continues (of the ice volume trend) the Arctic will be ice free in 2013. But if-this-trend-continues is always a stupid thing to say. In this case, for the obvious reason that were the trend to continue for another year, ice volume would be negative (as I wisely said a while ago). And quite apart from that, he is looking at *annual* data (insofar as I can tell what he is looking at) and not even the most wild-eyed wackos expect zero annual volume by 2100, let alone 2013. So I would say that M has said nothing intelligible, whilst deliberately saying provocative things to stir up attention. As always, if you can find better, please let me know).

So these people will drill a few sea ice cores and measure the ice thickness. There is already such data about, and while it does no great harm to add to the store of data, it isn’t going to revolutionise anyone’s view of the ice. I hope they know that other people have already done this, but Climate modellers will be able to use the findings coming out of the Survey data to help validate or modify the globally recognised projections… which has depended on the sea ice data available from satellites and submarines (hitherto unverified by a comprehensive ground-truth survey). which gives the impression, alas, that they are ignorant of all that has gone before (are they under the impression that they are doing a comprehensive survey? Hard to believe, but it is what the “hitherto” implies. And what is wrong with the submarine stuff?). I think it more likely, however, that they are just ignoring all the pre-existing ground truth. Though they have Seymour saying “There’s no question that the Catlin Arctic Survey’s manual measuring techniques have the capacity to provide the first large scale direct measurements of ice thickness in the High Arctic” and he really ought to know.

But what of their data? They have released the first month’s data and have cleverly eschewed the traditional but tedious method of reporting lat-lon-depth in favour of drawing hard-to-read numbers on a map. I’m guessing that the red lines and purple lines delineate boundaries of ice type rather than their route, which I’m assuming is marked by the approximately 10 data points. That seems a little thin for a month’s work, but perhaps they haven’t managed to phone them all in. The headline summary is The results collected in the first month of the Catlin Arctic Survey point to an unexpected lack of thicker Multiyear Ice. I don’tunderstand this. I thought (and indeed they show results from Ron Kwok confirming this) that the multi year ice is a narrow band near Canada this year. This isn’t unexpected. They didn’t start near Canada so they didn’t see that bit.

Errm, have I missed something obvious?
[Update: by bizarre co-incidence, the Watty folk noticed, just after I posted this, exactly the same thing: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/04/19/catlin-arctic-ice-survey-first-report/. Weird or what?]

7 thoughts on “Wandering across the Arctic”

  1. “Why are they doing this?” Because there exists a subset of scientists who cannot resist perpetuating a scam?

    [Now you’ve lost me. They aren’t scientists, so you’re not referring to them. And what is the “scam”? -W]


  2. Re M., I recall seeing that same projection several years ago in a different slide presentation. Most recent from him, and more on point since it refers to his model results, is this abstract from the AGU 2008 fall meeting. We discussed this here before IIRC. It projects a summer ice-free state in the “near future” but doesn’t specify a date, which leaves it unclear as to whether he’s sticking with 2013. Presumably there’s a paper still in the works, but it hasn’t been published yet.

    [There may well be a good reason why it isn’t published 🙂 -W]


  3. One thing that occurred to me a few days ago is that Arctic ice lasts only a few years before it gets flushed out off the east coast of Greenland. So Catlin is measuring something that will be gone by 2012 or so but hope to use that data to answer questions about other ice that may form and melt “from 100 years away down to just 4 years from now.”

    It would seem to me that measurements of freezing, melting, and transport would be far more important. Oddly enough there are a number of buoys currently in the Arctic that do just that!

    Ah well, the Survey’s members are adventurers and have a sponsor. Doesn’t get much better than that.


  4. >”It would seem to me that measurements of freezing, melting, and transport would be far more important. Oddly enough there are a number of buoys currently in the Arctic that do just that!

    Ah well, the Survey’s members are adventurers and have a sponsor. Doesn’t get much better than that.”

    Sounds like you are trying to stir up trouble between the sponsor and the team. Unless perhaps you don’t expect the sponsor to see this or the sponsor has other motives than the science or ….

    One thing that does occur to me is that if they are trying to work out how to interpret the data from a fairly recently launched satelite, then the existance of previous comprehensive drill hole data from before the satelite launch would not be much use without the ability to match the drill hole data to the satelite data.

    But maybe I am being just too generous in thinking up this excuse for the exercise?


  5. I thought the excuse for the exercise was the radar that was supposed to get quite a lot of data. That that didn’t work could have been a reason to abandon the whole trip, but that probably seemed a big waste of time and effort when they could get some data. There will be (quite obviously) differing views as to whether that drill hole data means it’s not a waste of time.


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