Is The Economist Being “Economical with the Truth” About Arctic Sea Ice?

I was idly scrolling through my Twitter feed this morning when I couldn’t help but notice that Gavin Schmidt, Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, was calling for volunteers to research possible trends in The Economist’s attitude to “climate change” over recent decades:


Unable to resist temptation I immediately popped on over to The Economist online and searched for the term “Arctic”, as is my wont. Lo and behold I discovered much to my amazement that they had published an article on that very topic earlier on this very day. However after reading it I have to say I was less than impressed, and reported my findings back to @ClimateOfGavin. I also called The Economist’s “Editorial” number, and spoke to a nice lady with an American accent who told me that she was an “answering service” and assured me that she would pass on my message to an Economist editor, but they almost certainly wouldn’t look at it until Monday. Here’s how the conversation is going:


The Northern Sea Route is not living up to the hype, either. In 2013 71 ships traversed Russia’s Arctic, according to the Northern Sea Route Information Office: a large increase since 2010, when the number was just four. But 16,000 ships passed through the Suez Canal in 2013, so the northern route is not starting to compete. In 2014 traffic fell to 53 ships, only four of which sailed from Asia and docked in Europe (the rest went from one Russian port to another). The route does not yet link Europe and East Asia.

The decline in 2014 was partly caused by the weather: less sea ice melted last summer than in 2013, so the route was more dangerous.


Now I distinctly recall posting this image:

2014-08-23_NSR-Ice on the Arctic Sea Ice Forum on August 23rd last year. Over and above that, here’s a couple of freshly minted videos to illustrate the point more vividly. The AMSR2 Arctic sea ice concentration data displayed is courtesy of the University of Hamburg:

[Edit 02/02/15] The Economist’s “man in Tromso” asked to see 2012 as well, so here it is. AMSR2 data wasn’t available in 2012, so this one uses the SSMIS passive microwave radiometer instead:

Set the top two running in sync and then if the difference between 2013 and 2014 isn’t as plain as day to you, my name is Snow White!

[Edit 05/02/15]

In an endeavour to quantify the reduction in ice coverage in 2014 compared to 2013 that’s evident in the animations we’ve combined the regional extents for the Chukchi, East Siberian, Laptev and Kara Seas to produce this chart:



Please forgive my rather brusque manner, but I arrive fresh from hauling the Mail on Sunday in front of IPSO.

Can The Economist provide some evidence for their rather vague assertion that “less [Arctic] sea ice melted last summer than in 2013”. Can you for example provide a link to an authoritative source?

The latest print edition of The Economist landed on my doormat this morning. I eagerly turned to the “Letters” section, but was disappointed to discover that my virtual “Letter to the editor” sent on Thursday morning must have missed their deadline. Here it is:

CC: Your “Tromso correspondent”


I read with much interest the “Not so cool” article in your January 31st edition, which suggested “The hype over the Arctic recedes, along with the summer ice”.

I take the point your Tromso correspondent makes that “The Northern Sea Route is not living up to the hype, either”, but I must take issue with the hype that currently reads, in both your print and online editions:

“The decline in 2014 was partly caused by the weather: less sea ice melted last summer than in 2013, so the route was more dangerous.”

All the evidence I have seen (collected together for your edification, including maps, graphs and animations, at refutes that statement. The minimum Arctic sea ice area and extent in summer 2014 were both below 2013. According to assorted satellites there was significantly less sea ice bobbing about along the Northern Sea Route in 2014 than in 2013. The official August 2014 forecast published by the Northern Sea Route Information Office maintained that ice conditions would be “Easy” over the entire NSR.

I look forward to seeing this particular piece of “hype” receding in both physical and virtual print in the very near future.


Jim Hunt


We’ll keep you posted!


3 thoughts on “Is The Economist Being “Economical with the Truth” About Arctic Sea Ice?

    1. Hi Espen,

      That strikes me as being a much more plausible explanation than the one offered by The Economist!

      We’ll see what they have to say for themselves tomorrow.

    2. Espen – According to the Barents Observer that wasn’t the reason either:

      Only 274.000 tons of cargo was shipped in transit along the NSR this sailing season, website PROVED reports. This is a steep downturn compared to 2013, when a total of 1,355,897 tons was shipped along the route.

      According to Head of the Northern Sea Route Administration Aleksander Olshevskiy the negative development has nothing to do with the current political situation. He says to PROVED that there are two reasons for the downfall in cargo transport: EvroKhim, who used to transport bulk cargo from Murmansk from the Kovdor Mining Company, was not able to agree on prices with its customers and freighters and has therefore shipped 200,000 tons less than usual. The other reason is that Novatek is no longer shipping out gas condensate from Vitino on the Kola Peninsula but from Ust-Luga outside St. Petersburg.

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