Terrifying predictions about the melting North Pole!

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by Fabius Maximus

Summary: We have had 30 years of bold but false predictions by climate scientists, met by silence from their peers. These make skeptics, and are one reason why the public does not support radical public policy actions. Here are 20 years of predictions about the melting North Pole.

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ID 108149276 © Ig0rzh | Dreamstime.

A stream of predictions about an ice-free arctic ocean

Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at Cambridge, is famous for his predictions – and his amazing record of being wrong. Journalists report each prediction as if made by Einstein, not telling readers about Wadhams’ dismal record. That is how they report climate science and keep their readers misinformed.

“Within a decade we can expect regular summer trade there {across the arctic ocean}.”
— “Arctic Meltdown“, a NASA press release on 27 February 2001.

Eighteen years later, no regular cargo crossing the arctic ocean. There are small numbers of specially built ships making the passage on the northern coasts (e.g., herehere, and here).

“By 2013, we will see a much smaller area in summertime than now; and certainly by about 2020, I can imagine that only one area will remain in summer.”
— BBC, 13 May 2009.

Twice wrong. The 2013 average and minimum ice extent was roughly unchanged from that in 2009. In 2018, the minimum was 4.6 million square kilometers, only 12% down from 2009. I doubt 2020 will be much different.

“The entire ice cover is now on the point of collapse. …The extra open water already created by the retreating ice allows bigger waves to be generated by storms, which are sweeping away the surviving ice. It is truly the case that it will be all gone by 2015. The consequences are enormous and represent a huge boost to global warming.”

— The Scotsman, 29 August 2012.

Not only was it not “all gone by 2015” but that quote appeared three weeks from the record low point on September 17.

“I have been predicting [the collapse of sea ice in summer months] for many years. The main cause is simply global warming …This collapse, I predicted would occur in 2015-16 at which time the summer Arctic (August to September) would become ice-free. The final collapse towards that state is now happening and will probably be complete by those dates.”
— The Guardian, 17 September 2012.

Ditto. There was a great deal of excitement among alarmists about the 2012 low, and the usual linear extrapolation to a disaster coming really soon.

Wadhams presented at the September 2014 Royal Society conference “Arctic sea ice reduction: the evidence, models, and global impacts.” A few climate scientists made mildly critical tweets about his presentation. Gavin Schmidt (Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies) was the most critical. He is, to the best of my knowledge, exceptional in his willingness to speak out about alarmist claims by his peers. See the tweets. But there is no evidence they called friendly journalists to protest journalists’ uncritical publication of Wadham’s predictions. But skeptical climate scientists often receive barrages of criticism from their peers, sometimes for repeating material in the IPCC’s reports and peer-review literature (e.g., Roger Pielke Jr. by scientists such as Gavin Schmidt – details here).

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“Most people expect this year will see a record low in the Arctic’s summer sea-ice cover. Next year or the year after that, I think it will be free of ice in summer and by that I mean the central Arctic will be ice-free. You will be able to cross over the north pole by ship. …Ice-free means the central basin of the Arctic will be ice-free and I think that that is going to happen in summer 2017 or 2018.
— The Guardian, 21 August 2016.

Twice wrong, again. The 2016 minimum was 23% above the 2012 minimum. The arctic was not ice-free in 2017 or 2018. Not even icebreakers cross over the North Pole.

“{T}he planet is swiftly heading toward a largely ice-free Arctic in the warmer months, possibly as early as 2020.”
— Yale Environment 360, 26 September 2016.

The record minimum extent was in 2012. The previous minimum was 4.16 million km in 2007. The 2018 minimum was 4.95 million km. That is a 19% increase over 12 years.

Wadhams had lots of headline-loving company among climate scientists. For example, Wieslaw Maslowsk – a research professor at the Navy Postgraduate School.

“Scientists in the US have presented one of the most dramatic forecasts yet for the disappearance of Arctic sea ice. Their latest modelling studies indicate northern polar waters could be ice-free in summers within just 5-6 years. …Professor Wieslaw Maslowski told an American Geophysical Union meeting that previous projections had underestimated the processes now driving ice loss. …’Our projection of 2013 for the removal of ice in summer is not accounting for the last two minima, in 2005 and 2007,’ the researcher from the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, explained to the BBC. ‘So given that fact, you can argue that may be our projection of 2013 is already too conservative.’”
— BBC, 12 December 2007.

The “projection” of an ice-free summer in 2013 was not “too conservative.” It was too aggressive.

The Atlantic: the melting North Pole

That is an example of successful clickbait by Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic on 29 December 2015. This is the alarmists’ usual trick of describing weather as “extraordinary” based on our brief instrument record, when it probably is not.

“It’s really hard to predict when we could see ice-free summers in the Arctic, but it could be as soon as in 20 to 40 years, Francis says.”
— Jennifer Francis was then a professor at Rutgers, now a senior scientist at Woods Hole. Quoted in The Verge, 10 May 2018.

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Now that is a safe prediction. If accurate, it will become famous in 2040 or 2060. If wrong, it will go down the memory hole with all the other wrong predictions about climate.

The real story

See the three lines in color showing the sea ice extents of 2007 (blue, middle), 2012 (dotted, bottom), and 2018 (thin grey, top), and the thick grey line of the 1981 – 2010 mean. Sea ice extent has been flattish for twelve years. For another perspective, the PIOMAS model shows that Arctic sea ice volume has been flattish for nine years. Click graph to enlarge.

Arctic sea Ice Extent
From the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The bigger picture: arctic sea ice extent has declined (in fits and starts) since the satellite record began in 1979. There is little reason to assume that it has stopped melting. Unusually for climate science, it is shown in a meaningful way – using statistics, in standard deviations from the 1981-2010 mean. A two or three standard deviation low in a 66 year record is not extraordinary, given the volatile nature of weather data and its multi-decadal cycles.

Mean arctic sea ice anomaly - 1953-2018
From the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

What about global sea ice totals?

See this update at Climate.gov, as of March 2019.


I began to assemble a list of predictions made by climate scientists during the past 30 years. A little research showed that this would be a long list, including a lot of failed predictions. I abandoned it as pointless. Skeptics already know this. Alarmists will just scream “denier” (if they ignore the IPCC’s work, they will ignore failed predictions – no matter how long the list). Most people no longer care.

The endless stream of bold but false predictions about climate change does not disprove anything about the science. But it has affected the public. It contributes to the majority of the public ranking climate low as a public policy priority, and their disinterest in paying for it.

There is another level to this. A few climate scientists get their 15 minutes of fame by making clickbait predictions. Which is their right. But the reluctance of other climate scientists to criticize their peers – no matter how outlandish the claim – leaves the public hearing only the alarmist side of the science. This silence makes them complicit in it.

This series about the corruption of climate science

The stakes are too high. We cannot afford this.

  1. About the corruption of climate science.
  2. The noble corruption of climate science.
  3. A crisis of overconfidence in climate science.
  4. A look at the workings of Climate Propaganda Inc.
  5. New climate porn: it forces walruses to jump to their death!
  6. Weather porn about Texas, a lesson for Earth Day 2019.
  7. Terrifying predictions about the melting North Pole!





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