NYT editors confused about Arctic warming
Here’s the absurd headline for the online version of Revkin’s New York Times story about how “a ring of navigable waters has opened all around the fringes of the cap of sea ice drifting on the warming Arctic Ocean”:
Arctic Ice Hints at Warming, Specialists Say
Hints? How about “shouts from the rafters.” After seeing that, I thought “here we go again.” Then I saw the print headline:
Warmth Opens Arctic Routes, Experts Say
Now that is a good headline — accurate and no punches pulled, not misleading and wishy-washy. The story itself, however, is still too wishy-washy on the issue of warming:
Global warming from the continuing buildup of human-generated greenhouse gases is almost certainly contributing to the ice retreats, many Arctic specialists now agree, although they hold a variety of views on how much of the recent big ice retreats is due to human activity.
That is only a little better than the multiple hedges in Revkin’s last story:
Even with the increasing summer retreats of sea ice, which many polar scientists say probably are being driven in part by global warming caused by humans …
More than a dozen experts said in interviews that the extreme summer ice retreat had revealed at least as much about what remains unknown in the Arctic as what is clear. Still, many of those scientists said they were becoming convinced that the system is heading toward a new, more watery state, and that human-caused global warming is playing a significant role.
Still a lot of hedges — “many” and “becoming convinced” — but the key phrase here is “significant role.” That obviously beats the heck out of “Arctic Ice Hints at Warming” or “almost certainly contributing” or “probably are being driven in part.” After all, they could all mean a 1 percent contribution or a 1 percent part.
Again, virtually all climate scientists I know think human-caused global warming is playing a significant, if not the dominant, role in the steadily increasing summer ice retreat of the last quarter century. It would be nice if the paper of record — and its online editor — would make that clearer to the American public.
Penultimate note: I am using the phrase “the steadily increasing summer ice retreat of the last quarter century,” since that is the key climate trend. Revkin uses the phrase “recent big ice retreats,” but those retreats are simply part of — and made possible by — the long-term trend, which again the vast majority of climate scientists believe is largely driven by human-caused global warming.
Final note: Why did I write that the recent big ice retreats were “made possible by” the long-term human-caused warming trend? Because that is what the scientific literature says. Let me quote from the Geophysical Research Letters ($ub. req’d) analysis by four scientists from the Polar Science Center, Applied Physics Laboratory, College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle:
A model study has been conducted of the unprecedented retreat of arctic sea ice in the summer of 2007. It is found that preconditioning, anomalous winds, and ice-albedo feedback are mainly responsible for the retreat. Arctic sea ice in 2007 was preconditioned to radical changes after years of shrinking and thinning in a warm climate … The Arctic Ocean lost additional (sic) 10% of its total ice mass in which 70% is due directly to the amplified melting and 30% to the unusual ice advection, causing the unprecedented ice retreat. Arctic sea ice has entered a state of being particularly vulnerable to anomalous atmospheric forcing.
I’d recommend any reporter who is writing on the subject to omit their multiply-hedged version and just say something like this:
As a June 2008 analysis by four polar scientists concluded, Arctic sea ice has become “preconditioned to radical changes after years of shrinking and thinning in a warm climate.“