The 11th Key Science Moment of 2016

A brief history of scientific “churnalism” in the age of social media. The “post-truth” of The Guardian’s 11th Key Science Moment of 2016.

On November 7th 2016 we broke this astonishing news on Twitter:

Nobody noticed! Then on November 16th 2016 Zack Labe did likewise:

The story got some legs. Zack got pushback from some “skeptics” and then the AGU blogged about the story.:

My attention was called to this issue last week thanks to the Twitter feed of Zack Labe, a PhD student in Earth Systems Science at the University of California – Irvine. He makes great graphics showing the latest data on polar climate.

Then he got interviewed by the AGU. The AGU linked back to the graphic graphic in question in the clouds at Google, but there was no mention of our November 6th article or the real source of the story. The Arctic Sea Ice Forum (ASIF for short).

It’s now December 18th, and as far as I’m aware that remains the case in the mainstream media (MSM for short). The Arctic Sea Ice Forum grew out the earlier Arctic Sea Ice Blog (ASIB for short). The proprietor of both the ASIB and ASIF has been revealed by CBC to be one Neven Curlin. They recently interviewed Neven, and even gave him top billing above Sir David Attenborough in the resulting podcast:

‘Like watching a train wreck’: Blogger quits writing about climate change

However the title of the CBC article is inaccurate, as CBC would surely have noticed if they’d read Neven’s article on the ASIB on the topic of his “sabbatical”.

Sabbatical (I hope)

Now comes news that the “astonishingly low level” of global sea ice area that we brought to the waiting world’s attention on November 7th has today been chosen by The Guardian as one of their:

12 key science moments of 2016

The story outlined above and the associated graphic graphic are conspicuous only by their absence, but the Grauniad have thoughtfully provided this pretty stock photo of some sea ice:

Scroll down the Guardian’s article to number 11, pausing to read Tamsin Edwards’ section on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at number 9 on the way down (unlike CO₂ concentrations). There you will discover Professor Andrea Sella’s opinion that:

In October, unprecedented weather patterns drove icy winds across Siberia, pushing Arctic temperatures up to 20C above normal and parts of the Arctic Ocean failed to refreeze; in the Antarctic, sea ice thawed faster than usual. For me the bombshell came from a Dutch blogger in late November: a plot of the Arctic plus Antarctic showed sea ice this autumn to be tracking 4m km2 (the size of western Europe) below the normal average. This is a 7-sigma event – with a chance of about one in a hundred billion of being random. The ice doesn’t lie. If we don’t take this seriously now, our children will ask us why.

The “plot of the Arctic plus Antarctic” Andrea refers to was created by “Wipneus”, who I suppose could reasonably be described as a “Dutch programmer”. Neven could reasonably be described as a blogger, although he is much more than that. Although he was born in The Netherlands he no longer lives there.

Here’s the current state of play:


Are your children asking “Why?” yet?

Should anybody wish to pose that question on Twitter please see:

8 thoughts on “The 11th Key Science Moment of 2016

  1. Quick question…so these Fall 2016 measurements of Arctic sea ice is shows less ice. What is the catastrophic resultant of this lesser amount of Arctic ice – ie the harm that has been created, the devastation, property damage…?

  2. This article has now been referenced in the first paragraph of a Guardian editorial:

    The Guardian view on climate change action: don’t delay.

    Arctic temperatures have been 20C above normal. The ice cap is shrinking. And Trump and Putin may see it as an advantage.

    Mapping the changes to the extent of sea ice over the last 40 years confirms that: on a graph, the lines are clustered together like threads in a hank of silk, warming and cooling in line with each other – until this year. This year’s line drops down like a thin thread dangling into the void.

  3. Despite the reservations previously expressed by Walt Meier, NASA have now produced an animated GIF of global sea ice extent:


    They comment:

    As previously reported, Arctic sea ice cover was lower in November 2016 than any other November in the satellite record. It turns out that the Arctic was not alone. Sea ice at the other pole, around Antarctica, also reached a record November low.

    During this time of year, the Arctic Ocean and neighboring seas are refreezing after the annual summer melt season. Conversely, the sea ice fringing Antarctica is normally melting at this time of year, during the austral spring and summer. What is unusual is the amount of melting so far in the Antarctic, spurred by warm air temperatures and shifting winds.

  4. As you rightly point out, this story had been gaining traction on the ASIB & ASIF for some considerable time before the AGU Fall Meeting.

    There is no attempt to claim precedence, but as far back as September 14th, I put a comment (#3143) on the IJIS thread which contained the following text …

    “Meanwhile, in a place quite literally poles apart from the Arctic, things are moving in the opposite direction – in every sense…

    I think it’s too early to say if this is purely down to specific weather conditions, or whether the sea ice in the Antarctic is starting to respond to climate change in an analogous fashion to its boreal cousin. However, a watching brief is definitely in order.”,230.3100.html
    (comment 3143, page 63)

    A scant handful of hours later, by way of response, you put an AMSR2 graph of Antarctic sea ice area on the same thread which nicely illuminated the point.

    Obviously, the anomalously low area/extent has become more pronounced over the intervening three months, such that the rolling 12-month average for global sea ice area and extent is currently setting new all-time low records.

  5. NOAA’s CSV2 model predicted much greater sea ice loss around Antarctica than normal, and much higher sea surface temperatures than normal months before it happened. This model behaved so poorly in the tropical Atlantic that I didn’t think its predictions would verify around Antarctica, but they have. I would have saved the model forecasts but I thought they weren’t worth saving. My error.

    Yes, the sea ice forum has been all over this story before it was a story. Good work.

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