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British claim Arctic to be ice free this year is 'incorrect' and 'hasty', say Russian scientists

By The Siberian Times reporter
09 June 2016

Challenge to polar doom warning from respected international expert Professor Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University.

'My prediction remains that the Arctic ice may well disappear, that is, have an area of less than one million square kilometres for September of this year.' Picture: N. Fedorenko

The eye-catching assertion that the North Pole is three months away from being  free of sea ice for the first time in 100,000 years would be the most visibly shocking examples of climate change. 

The forecast came from Professor Wadhams, head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at Cambridge University, who says the evidence points to the validity of a prediction he made four years ago. 

He warned: 'My prediction remains that the Arctic ice may well disappear, that is, have an area of less than one million square kilometres for September of this year.

'Even if the ice doesn't completely disappear, it is very likely that this will be a record low year. I'm convinced it will be less than 3.4 million square kilometres [the current record low].

'I think there's a reasonable chance it could get down to a million this year and if it doesn't do it this year, it will do it next year. Ice free means the central part of the Arctic and the North Pole is ice free.' He has warned that such a scenario would lead to 'frightening' consequences, and 'a very, very serious upward jerk to global warming'.

Ice zone in late May 2016

The position of the ice edge and sparse (<8/10) and cohesive (≥8 / 10) zones for the ice of the Arctic Ocean on 30.05.2016, based on the analysis of the US National Ice Center.

But Russian expert Dr Vasily Smolyanitsky, head of the Laboratory of Sea Ice Climate Manuals at the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, St Petersburg, told The Siberian Times he treats the prediction with 'healthy scepticism'.

He said: 'Dr Peter Wadhams is a famous scientist, without a doubt, the teacher of several generations of numerical modellers, familiar to most world ice researchers.

'However, his main specialisation is field studies, including underwater sonar research, measuring ice parameters, their analysis and use in the numerical modelling, mostly for the waters of the North Atlantic. Appropriately, his climate forecasts in general for the Arctic should be taken critically, with a share of healthy skepticism.'

He explained: 'The essence of the Wadhams' logical construct is - the record low ice cover in winter, which is true, should lead to a record minimum in summer, lower than the absolute record of 2012.'

Ice thickness

Fields of the distribution of average ice thickness on the basis of a joint model of sea ice - ocean by ACNFS (HYCOM / NCODA / CICE). 

But Dr Smolyanitsky warned this was 'incorrect' because the Russian  data 'shows that the minimum (ice) in late spring-early summer  does not necessarily lead to an extreme minimum of the ice cover in September. The most balanced approach can be seen in the forecasts of the international  Sea Ice Prediction Network.'

He said: 'What seems most likely for the summer period of 2016 for the Northern Sea Route (above the Siberian land mass) and the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic (are)  the same ice conditions as in the same period of 2015.'

This Russian forecast suggests a hugely different outlook for the ice cover in the coming months since the Arctic ice cover in September 2015 was 4.41 million square kilometres.

Dr Smolyanitsky, chairman of the Joint Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology, World Meteorological Organisation, also pointed out other Western experts quoted by The Independent newspaper had also expressed scepticism. 

Polar bear


North Pole-2015

Polar bear on Bely island. Drifting research station North Pole-2015. Pictures: Sergei Anisimov, Artyom Geodakyan/TASS

Another Russian expert Dr Robert Chernov, researcher in the Department of Glaciology, Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, called the ice loss prediction this year 'hasty'.

'In winter temperatures in the Arctic are still subzero and this period lasts eight to nine months a year, so the seasonal sea ice cover will normally form every year in winter and decline in summer,' he said. 'Of course, the area of the ice cover has shrunk in the last decade. There is a lot of research about this, yet I do not see it will be so dramatic this year.' 

Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Oleg Anisimov warned last year that the Arctic could be completely ice free in 40 years. 

Comments (6)

Having read this book and raised the points Peter Wadham raises with my then MP, I would add the following. The Ice might not melt this year, or even in the next ten years, but most experts agree that a time period of thirty to fifty years should be allowed. This will be in the lifetime of my grandson and whether it is four million years or a hundred thousand years that the present ice cap has existed, to have it more or less destroyed by human beings within the space of a hundred years should be `chilling' enough on its own. The fact that it will melt, whether this year or within 50 years is the alarming point.
John Orr, Lincoln, United Kingdom
09/07/2017 07:08
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Does the recent sea ice extent data change Dr Smolyanitsky's thinking?
Thomas Simon, Iowa/USA
17/01/2017 01:01
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Peter's predictions about sea ice extent aside, the alarming part of his discourse relates to his prediction that huge volumes of methane will be released from the shallow seas of Russia, thereby prompting a sudden warming of the atmosphere with world temperature well over 2 C above pre industrial times. He is adamant that the 2 degree barrier will be surpassed even without this extra methane. What is Russian research showing about methane emissions and what engineering proposals are being considered to counter their rise?
Ricky Ward, Chiang Mai , Thailand
12/09/2016 09:25
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While Professor Peter Wadhams is a respected scientist, he's something of an "ice doomer" on the subject and is not representative of *British* views on the Arctic. It's more accurate to headline with "A Briton claims that the Arctic will be ice free this year" but really his nationality isn't the issue.

Professor Wadhams will continue to predict the demise of the Arctic sea ice right up to the year that he's right. It's likely that "Britain" (including the Met Office) and Russian scientists will have joined him in that prediction by then but it's not happening just yet. :-)
John from London, London
24/07/2016 02:27
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Hi Benedikt, I am not an ice expert but I will try making a bet (without hedging..:-) ). I bet the Northwest Passage will stay open all year round by 2020....:-). In all seriousness, as an Engineer, I have worked with computer simulations over the years and I understand the importance of actual field data to provide a feedback loop that enables the equations and correlations to become "predictive". I am watching the Northwest Passage and the different events that the reduced ice is having (Artic Plankton showing up in the Atlantic, Whale migrations as well as human shipping activities).
Pamela Tetarenko, League City, USA
19/06/2016 03:07
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his predictions are typical for an expert. hedging his bets....
Benedikt, Moscow
18/06/2016 08:09
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