Science Meets PR

by William Yeatman on September 30, 2008

Where was the press release from National Snow and Ice Data Center ?  In the past they had these breathless ones: “Arctic Sea Ice Reaches Lowest Extent for 2008”,  “Arctic sea ice extent at maximum below average, thin” and “Melt onset earlier than normal.”
However, yesterday’s statement was drearily entitled “Arctic Ice Begins Autumn Freeze Up.” On their website’s page with their list of “Milestones To Watch For”, they list the minimum sea ice extent date as important and whether it occurs earlier or later in the year, yet they don’t tell even tell us in their new press release when the minimum occurred or whether it was earlier or later this year. Yet from their graph, it was considerably earlier than last year. My sleuthing discovered that it was on September 12th.  And then with some more research I found this gem from an NSDIC press release in October of 2007: “In addition to the record-breaking retreat of sea ice, NSIDC scientists also noted that the date of the lowest sea ice extent, or the absolute minimum, has shifted to later in the year. This year, the five-day running minimum occurred on September 16, 2007; from 1979 to 2000, the minimum usually occurred on September 12.” So this year’s minimum occurred on the average minimum day from 1979 to 2000! You think their reporting is biased? Their new press release should have been titled: “Date of Minimum Sea Ice Extent Completely Normal.”
NSDIC does admit, though, that “perhaps the most interesting aspect of the 2008 melt season was the higher-than-average retention of first-year sea ice (see earlier entries, including April 7). Relatively thin first-year ice is more prone to melting out completely than older, thicker ice. However, more of this year’s first-year ice survived the melt season than is typical. Sea ice age maps from Sheldon Drobot, our colleague at the University of Colorado at Boulder , show that much more first-year ice survived in 2008 than in 2007. This is one of the reasons that 2008 did not break last year's record-low minimum. One cause of the high first-year ice survival rate was that this summer was cooler than in 2007.” I guess I shouldn’t hold my breath for articles on how those earlier alarmist reports were wrong.

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