WSJ's Stephens tortures science to claim "global warming is dead"

››› ››› JOCELYN FONG

Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens erroneously suggested recent scientific research supports his claim that "global warming is dead." In fact, the scientists themselves have explicitly rejected such a conclusion.

Stephens falsely suggests scientific findings about Arctic ice disprove global warming

From Stephens' April 6 Wall Street Journal column:

So global warming is dead, nailed into its coffin one devastating disclosure, defection and re-evaluation at a time. Which means that pretty soon we're going to need another apocalyptic scare to take its place.

As recently as October, the Guardian reported that scientists at Cambridge had "concluded that the Arctic is now melting at such a rate that it will be largely ice free within ten years." This was supposedly due to global warming. It brought with it the usual lamentations for the grandchildren.

But in March came another report in the Guardian, this time based on the research of Japanese scientists, that "much of the record breaking loss of ice in the Arctic ocean in recent years is [due] to the region's swirling winds and is not a direct result of global warming." It also turns out that the extent of Arctic sea ice in March was around the recorded average, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

But the scientists themselves have rejected this conclusion

Scientists' findings on wind impact do not disprove that global warming is shrinking Arctic ice. Stephens cited a March 22 Guardian report about a study published in Geophysical Research Letters to support his claim that "global warming is dead." Quoting the Guardian, Stephens wrote:

But in March came another report in the Guardian, this time based on the research of Japanese scientists, that "much of the record breaking loss of ice in the Arctic ocean in recent years is [due] to the region's swirling winds and is not a direct result of global warming."

However, the Guardian report further stated, "The study does not question that global warming is also melting ice in the Arctic." The article further noted that Masyo Ogi, one of the authors of the study, affirmed the role of warming in ice loss:

"Both winter and summer winds could blow ice out of the Arctic [through] the Fram Strait during 1979-2009," she said.

A number of other factors were also responsible for ice loss, including warming of the air and ocean, she added.

The study said that "the combined effect of winter and summer wind forcing" accounts for "roughly 1/3 of the downward linear trend of SIE [Arctic sea ice extent] over the past 31 years."

NISDC says March Arctic sea ice data "doesn't show...any indication that global warming is over." To support the claim that "global warming is dead," Stephens also stated that "the extent of Arctic sea ice in March was around the recorded average, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center [NSIDC]." As Media Matters' Dianna Parker has noted, Stephens' source, the NSIDC, has directly rebutted claims that Arctic sea ice data for the month of March is evidence that global warming is not happening. The Daily Mail reported, "The scientists who released the data stressed that last month's rise was part of yearly variations in ice cover and could not be taken as a sign that global warming is coming to an end." The report further quoted NSIDC's Mark Serreze stating:

What this doesn't show is any indication that global warming is over. If you look at the Arctic as a whole we might get to average amounts of sea ice for the time of year. But the ice is thin and quite vulnerable and it can melt very quickly.

Revkin: "[N]o one should expect to find much broad meaning in short-term variability in Arctic sea ice." Science journalist Andrew Revkin recently noted, "The bottom line, expressed here before, is that no one should expect to find much broad meaning in short-term variability in Arctic sea ice - in one direction or another. If there is a death spiral, expect a lot of loop the loops along the way. Those most passionately pushing for and against action on greenhouse gases have a tendency to jump to the National Snow and Ice Data Center Web site to chart each wiggle."

NSIDC's long term data indicate that "ice extent has shown a dramatic overall decline over the past thirty years." NSIDC's long term data (in contrast to data for one month of one year) indicate that "[w]hile Arctic sea ice extent varies from year to year because of changeable atmospheric conditions, ice extent has shown a dramatic overall decline over the past thirty years. During this time, ice extent has declined at a rate of 11.2 percent per decade during September (relative to the 1979 to 2000 average.)" From an October 6 NSDIC analysis:

sea ice chart

In addition to the extent, scientists are also concerned about the volume (thinness) of Arctic sea ice.

There is no consensus on when Arctic will be completely ice free in summer. Stephens quoted an October 2009 Telegraph report stating that, "An analysis by Cambridge University has concluded that the Arctic is now melting at such a rate that it will be largely ice free within ten years." However, predictions of when the Arctic sea will have an ice-free summer vary from 10 years to several decades into the future. The Telegraph reported on April 7, 2009, that Walt Meier, research scientist at NSIDC, "said thinner sea ice is less likely to survive the summer and predicted the Arctic Ocean will be effectively ice free sometime between 2020 and 2040, although it is possible it could happen as early as 2013." On October 15, 2009, National Geographic reported that NSIDC's Serreze said of the widely varying predictions, "When we lose the ice really depends on the natural variability in the system":

Dueling Dates for Arctic Ice Melt

The new data, presented by the Catlin Arctic Survey and the international conservation group WWF, support the view that the Arctic will be ice free in the summer within about 20 years.

Most of the ice melt is expected to happen within the next ten years, [sea-ice expert Peter] Wadhams said in his statement.

Serreze's group in Boulder, though, is on record saying the Arctic's summer sea ice will fully melt around 2030. Other groups have put the ice-free date as late as 2100.

Why such seemingly wild guesses?

"When we lose the ice really depends on the natural variability in the system," Serreze said.

A good example of this is the record low year of 2007. That summer saw a perfect storm of climatic conditions: warm temperatures plus wind patterns that broke apart and pushed large chunks of ice out of the Arctic.

The summers of 2008 and 2009 have seen some recovery of Arctic ice, though the long-term trend is still for shrinking ice, Serreze said.

Will the slow, steady trend be the norm? Or will another year like 2007 come along and wipe out the Arctic ice?

"These are the unknowns," Serreze said. "We simply don't know."

The Telegraph article quoted Meier's statement that "[m]ost people would agree it is not a matter of if we lose the summer sea ice but when."

Stephens misleadingly referenced "now debunked claim about disappearing Himalayan glaciers" while discussing "the Arctic ice panic"

From Stephens' April 6 Wall Street Journal column:

The difference between the two stories has little to do with science: There were plenty of reasons back in October to suspect that the Arctic ice panic-based on data that only goes back to 1979-was as implausible as the now debunked claim about disappearing Himalayan glaciers. But thanks to Climategate and the Copenhagen fiasco, the media are now picking up the kinds of stories they previously thought it easier and wiser to ignore.

Scientists' studies show glaciers throughout the world are melting rapidly

Vast majority of glacier research cited by IPCC remains strongly supported. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently acknowledged that it's 2007 report erroneously cited a paper that said Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035. However, IPCC said the conclusion that "[w]idespread mass losses from glaciers and reductions in snow cover over recent decades are projected to accelerate throughout the 21st century" is "robust, appropriate, and entirely consistent with the underlying science and the broader IPCC assessment." Climate scientists wrote in a January 19 post at RealClimate.org that the erroneous statement on Himalayan glaciers disappearing by 2035 "cannot be described as a 'central claim' of the IPCC" because it "did not make it into the summary for policy makers, nor the overall synthesis report."

Data continue to show that glaciers are thinning. The World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) -- in coordination with the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) -- issued a report in March 2008 showing that, according to a UNEP press release, "Data from close to 30 reference glaciers in nine mountain ranges indicate that between the years 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 the average rate of melting and thinning more than doubled." The study looked at 30 glaciers in the Alps, the Andes, the Cascade Mountains, Svalbard, Alaska, Scandinavia, Altai, Caucasus, and Tien Shan. WGMS later updated its data for 2007-2008 and asserted that the "new data continues the global trend in strong ice loss over the past few decades."

2009 study shows Swiss glaciers melted by 12 percent over the past decade. Scientists at the ETH Zurich university reportedly issued a study in 2009 showing that Swiss glaciers had retreated by 12 percent over the past decade. A Reuters article quoted Daniel Farinotti, research assistant at the ETH, as saying, "The trend is definitely that glaciers are melting faster now. Since the end of the 1980s, they have lost more and more mass more quickly." The article also noted that "Swiss glaciers have lost 9 cubic km of ice since 1999, the warmest period of the past 150 years, with the most dramatic decline coming in 2003 when they shrunk by 3.5 percent in 2003."

Ohio State glaciologist Lonnie Thompson says glaciers all over the world are melting. According to a January 20 Guardian article, "Lonnie Thompson, a glaciologist at Ohio State University, said there is strong evidence from a variety of sources of significant melting of glaciers -- from the area around Kilimanjaro in Africa to the Alps, the Andes, and the icefields of Antarctica because of a warming climate. Ice is also disappearing at a faster rate in recent decades, he said." From the article:

From the Alps to the Andes, the world's glaciers are retreating at an accelerated pace -- despite the recent controversy over claims by the United Nations' body of experts, leading climate scientists said today.

Lonnie Thompson, a glaciologist at Ohio State University, said there is strong evidence from a variety of sources of significant melting of glaciers - from the area around Kilimanjaro in Africa to the Alps, the Andes, and the icefields of Antarctica because of a warming climate. Ice is also disappearing at a faster rate in recent decades, he said.

"It is not any single glacier," he said. "It is very clear that these glaciers are behaving in a similar fashion."

[...]

But there was evidence gathered from a variety of sources that there has been significant melting of glaciers - from the area around Kilimanjaro in Africa to the Alps, the Andes and the icefields of Antarctica - and that the rate of ice loss was accelerating.

"Those changes -- the acceleration of the retreat of the glaciers and the fact that it is a global response -- is the concerning part of all this. It is not any single glacier," he said

Scientists now had evidence collected over a long period of that decline from samples of the ice core and even collections of plants from mountains that were left ice-free for the first time in more than 5,000 years, Thompson said.

The World Glacier Monitoring Service shows a similar picture. In a 2005 survey of 442 glaciers, 398 -- or 90% -- were retreating, 18 were stationary and 26 were advancing.

"Glacier expert" Michael Zemp: "Glaciers are the best proof that climate change is happening." According to a CNN.com article, glacier expert Michael Zemp said he "believes that the errors shouldn't shake people's belief in climate science." It quoted him as saying, "Glaciers are the best proof that climate change is happening. This is happening on a global scale. They can translate very small changes in the climate into a visible signal."

Posted In
Environment & Science, Climate Change
Network/Outlet
Wall Street Journal
Person
Bret Stephens
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