It was the headline heard by climate change deniers around the world: "And now it's global COOLING" proclaimed the Daily Mail. "Record return of Arctic ice cap as it grows by 60% in a year" the headline continued. Another U.K. publication, The Telegraph, declared, "Global warming? No, actually we're cooling, claim scientists." Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and other media outlets quickly hopped on the bandwagon.
But is there truth in their claims? Hardly.
The Daily Mail report — by David Rose, a reporter fond of denying climate change — is based on leaked documents from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Rose's article shows two images of Arctic sea ice, one from August 2012 and another from August 2013. The coverage of sea ice in August this year was much larger than at the same time last year. Therefore, according to Rose, there is no global warming and all predictions of global temperature rises are "gravely flawed."
Rose's analysis, however, was quickly debunked by the Climate Consensus blog at The Guardian and other publications. Basically, Rose and his fellow deniers have grabbed a single data point, ignored many elements about it and overlooked all long-term trends. Not to mention they forgot to reflect upon a few basic things like the cycle of weather in the Arctic.
To understand the 60 percent increase claim, we first need to look back to 2012. You can see a NASA photo of the sea ice decline last year here. The satellite photo, taken Aug. 26, 2012, shows "the day the sea ice dipped to its smallest extent ever recorded in more than three decades of satellite measurements," according to NASA. The decline that year was significantly more than the trends from previous years, and most scientists predicted that there would be more sea ice this year when compared to last year.
The second takedown has to do with timing. Arctic sea ice has never been consistent 365 days a year and as the Guardian points out, the annual minimum usually occurs in September. The 2013 photo was taken prior to that point. Satellite images for this month are still pending.
The third way that Rose's analysis is wrong has to do with volume. Yes, the sea ice in August of this year took up significantly more territory than it did in 2012, but width in this case does not also translate into depth. As Slate's Phil Plait wrote, "Right now, the trend for sea ice volume is down. Way down." In other words, the ice this year (and almost every year according to the trend) is thin. Thin ice is more likely to melt further.
There are plenty of other flaws in Rose's report, as well as in those that followed. Rose harps on a 2007 BBC headline that sea ice will be "ice-free" by 2013, although the actual article (which he doesn't link to) says it "could be" ice-free by now (and later models revised that to within the next few years). Rose also talks about global cooling, saying "some scientists" predict it when in fact he only cites one person. He also appears to invent a "crisis meeting" at the IPCC, a claim the Guardian points out was denied by Rose's source, whom he ignored.
You'll no doubt be hearing a lot about these claims in the coming days and weeks, but they don't stand up to scrutiny.
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