Failed Arctic Sea Ice predictions illustrates Degenerating Climatology

The Telegraph yesterday carried an interesting article. Telegraph Experts said Arctic sea ice would melt entirely by September 2016 – they were wrong

Dire predictions that the Arctic would be devoid of sea ice by September this year have proven to be unfounded after latest satellite images showed there is far more now than in 2012.
Scientists such as Prof Peter Wadhams, of Cambridge University, and Prof Wieslaw Maslowski, of the Naval Postgraduate School in Moderey, California, have regularly forecast the loss of ice by 2016, which has been widely reported by the BBC and other media outlets.

In June, Michel at Trustyetverify blog traced a number of these false predictions. Michel summarized

(H)e also predicted until now:
• 2008 (falsified)
• 2 years from 2011 → 2013 (falsified)
• 2015 (falsified)
• 2016 (still to come, but will require a steep drop)
• 2017 (still to come)
• 2020 (still to come)
• 10 to 20 years from 2009 → 2029 (still to come)
• 20 to 30 years from 2010 → 2040 (still to come).

The 2016 prediction is now false. Paul Homewood has been looking at Professor Wadhams’ failed prophesies in a series of posts as well.

The Telegraph goes on to quote from three, more moderate, sources. One of them is :-

Andrew Shepherd, professor of earth observation at University College London, said there was now “overwhelming consensus” that the Arctic would be free of ice in the next few decades, but warned earlier predictions were based on poor extrapolation.
“A decade or so ago, climate models often failed to reproduce the decline in Arctic sea ice extent revealed by satellite observations,” he said.
“One upshot of this was that outlier predictions based on extrapolation alone were able to receive wide publicity.
“But climate models have improved considerably since then and they now do a much better job of simulating historical events.
This means we have greater confidence in their predictive skill, and the overwhelming consensus within the scientific community is that the Arctic Ocean will be effectively free of sea ice in a couple of decades should the present rate of decline continue.

(emphasis mine)

Professor Shepard is saying that the shorter-term (from a few months to a few years) highly dire predictions have turned out to be false, but improved techniques in modelling enable much more sound predictions over 25-50 years to be made. That would require a development on two dimensions – scale and time. Detecting a samll human-caused change over decades needs far greater skill in differentiating from natural variations on a year-by-year time scale from a dramatic shift. Yet it would appear that at the end of the last century there was a natural upturn following from an unusually cold period in the 1950s to the 1970s, as documented by HH Lamb. This resulted in an extension in the sea ice. Detection of the human influence problem is even worse if the natural reduction in sea ice has worked concurrently with that human influence. However, instead of offering us demonstrated increased technical competency in modelling (as opposed to more elaborate models), Professor Shepard offers us the consensus of belief that the more moderate predictions are reliable.
This is a clear example of degenerating climatology that I outlined in last year. In particular, I proposed that rather than progressive climate science – increasing scientific evidence and more rigorous procedures for tighter hypotheses about clear catastrophic anthropogenic global warming – we have degenerating climatology, which is ever weaker and vaguer evidence for some global warming.

If Professor Wadhams had consistently predicted the lack of summer sea ice for a set time period, then it would be strong confirmation of a potentially catastrophic problem. Climatology would have scored a major success. Even if instead of ice-free summers by now, there had been evidence of clear acceleration in the decline in sea ice extent, then it could have been viewed as some progression. But instead we should accept a consensus of belief that will only be confirmed or refuted decades ahead. The interpretation of success or failure. will then, no doubt, be given to the same consensus who were responsible for the vague predictions in the first place.

Kevin Marshall

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