Friday, March 7, 2014

Confirmed! Arctic Winter Was Warm

The National Snow and Ice Data Center has confirmed that temperatures in the Arctic this winter were above average. Not surprisingly, the amount of ice cover is also way down, stating:

Arctic sea ice extent in February 2014 averaged 14.44 million square kilometers (5.58 million square miles). This is the fourth lowest February ice extent in the satellite data record, and is 910,000 square kilometers (350,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average.
A check of the daily plot of the ice extent shows that the ice extent is significantly lower than the 2012 level at this time of year. The significance is that, while 2012 was not the lowest February level (that occurred in 2005), 2012 ended up having, by far, the lowest minimum ice extent in September. This is not to say that this years minimum will be even less than 2012, but it is certainly a red flag. A particularly troubling observation is that the level is below the two standard deviations mark. That means the level is out of the range of statistical uncertainty relative to the long-term average. Just as in some public opinion polls, scientific figures come with a plus-or-minus uncertainty along with the reported value. (That should not be a surprise because public opinion polls are scientific figures.) The solid line at the top of the below figure is the long-term average. The shaded region is the plus-or-minus amount that goes with it. We can see that the current level is below that uncertainty value.

We should we care? Why have I made several postings about the sea ice extent? The Arctic region is the most sensitive to climate change. The observed temperature change is the Arctic region far outpaces what we have seen in the rest of the world. This, of course, is major fly in the ointment to those people that claim measured temperature increases are due to the heat island effect. The region experiencing the most temperature increase is the region that has no heat islands. Bad for the deniers. Unfortunately, it is also bad for the rest of us. Much of our climate is governed by what goes on in the Arctic, including air and ocean currents. The ice of the polar caps reflect sunlight with great efficiency. But, open water absorbs sunlight with great efficiency. When the ice caps melt the region goes from a sunlight reflector to a sunlight absorber. This will increase the temperature rise and will have many impacts on the way the atmosphere and ocean currents behave.

There are those that say we should allow global warming because we can benefit from the change. This really is not likely, but it is a pretty silly bet. Are you willing to bet your well-being and the well-being of your children on that, when the science says otherwise? Remember, this is not something we can take back. Once we make these changes it will take centuries to undo them.

Think about all of that every time you put an ice cube in your drink to cool it down.

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