Once again we have watched two thirds of the ice at the Pole melt away, and now are seeing the ice once again start to triple. It is time to draw some conclusions from all the observations, but I am not in the mood. It is dangerous to leap to conclusions, as ice is slippery stuff, and I will wind up abruptly seated if I leap, (or else all wet, especially when the ice is thin.)
Not that sitting and watching ice melt hasn’t shown me things. As usual it has shown me beauty, and the wisdom seen when watching clouds, however observation also tends to teach me some basic science. I need more time to think about the basic science I’ve seen. (My life has other elements, besides watching ice melt, and these other elements sometimes don’t understand the importance and necessity of watching ice melt.)
One thing I have mused about is the fact that science isn’t owned by scientists. When I was young I painted houses with a boss three times my age who, in the winter, hunted wildcat for their fur, and who to this day, forty years after his death, still holds the record for the largest wildcat bagged in New Hampshire. (91 pounds.) I doubt there is a biologist alive who knows half of what he knew about wildcats, though he was unschooled and didn’t live to see a computer. All he did was observe, observe, observe.
Yesterday I was chatting at a wedding with a man in his seventies who “only has a high school education,” yet is sought out by young men who hold graduate degrees at MIT and Harvard, because he spent his entire life in the world of surgical tubing. He got a job right out of high school at a place that made surgical tubing, and simply was curious about the subject, and never stopped learning. Now, though he is old enough to be fully retired, he still works, (though not in a nine-to-five manner.) He chuckles at the irony of being an “uneducated” man who is sought out by the “educated,” when there are problems to solve.
I don’t think his value involves technical details as much as it involves his attitude. After all, the technical details evolve with such speed these days that the computer I now work on is out-dated and “archaic,” though not all that old. There is something about problem-solving that is timeless, and beyond being up-to-date about the latest gizmo.
I like to muse about things that are timeless, and my musing wonders if part of learning simply involves observing, and noting what you didn’t expect, and, rather than feeling threatened about being “wrong,” cultivating a sense of wonder. It certainly is more fun to wonder about things, rather than cringing in shame over being mistaken. Rather than feeling chagrin, you feel wonderful, as you are full of wonder. That in turn is more conducive to finding an answer.
In any case, the whole political world of Global Warming, the “Death Spiral” of arctic sea-ice, and the spectacle of egotistical, grant-hungry scientists insisting “the science is settled”, seems a bit of a farce to me. I want nothing to do with it, and again and again have tried to slip out the back door and avoid it, but it keeps hounding me.
I think one is suppose to state a conclusion about the sea-ice minimum because we are midst a political battle, called “The Climate Wars,” but part of that battle is against insane pseudoscience, wherein one is suppose to pretend they have authority no mortal man has. As a way of fighting that stupidity it seems wise to simply refuse to draw any conclusions or theories, and instead to wonder about what I didn’t see coming, about my predictions that failed, and about things that surprised me.
I think the biggest surprise over the past year was to have both the PDO and the AMO flip. The PDO, which is in a long-term “cold” phase, spiked in a “warm” way, while the AMO, which was in a long-term “warm” phase, spiked in a “cold” way.
I like to see order appear in chaos, but often chaos appears in order. The beautiful, structured spiral of a gale or hurricane may appear out of chaotic fronts, but then that ordered spiral falls apart and goes back into chaos. In the same manner the nice, oscillating order of a “cycle”, such as the sunspot cycle or the PDO and AMO, appears out of the chaos of our gathered data, and seems like something we can depend upon, until it isn’t dependable. It is oscillating nicely like the flub-dub of a heart beat, but then that heart skips a beat, (or briefly fibrillates.)
At this point some seem to like to freak out. They run about in circles like chickens and use the word “unprecedented” a lot. I far prefer the attitudes of Josph D’Aleo and Joe Bastardi over at their site at http://www.weatherbell.com/ . What they tend to do is to start digging through old maps, looking for the last time the “heart skipped a beat.”
In actual fact each day’s weather map is as unique an individual’s fingerprint. No two maps are exactly the same, and therefore every map is indeed “unprecedented”. However one can find old maps quite similar, if not identical to, current maps, and this often takes the panic out seeing something you didn’t expect, unless, of course, it happens to be map nearly identical to a map preceding a past calamity, (for, example, the 1938 hurricane.)
The current antics of the PDO and AMO are not something that has never been seen before, in a general sense. The north Pacific was roughly as warm (though we lack precise data) back in 1918; the PDO had a “warm” spike during a “cold” phase at the end of the 1970’s; and the AMO record is full of brief spikes the “wrong” way, each with a complimentary growth or shrinkage of sea-ice, in the limited records we have (due to the hard work of Scandinavians, especially the Danes), going back to the late 1800’s.
One thing is in fact unprecedented, and that is the detail we are now able to watch the sea-ice with, due to buoys and satellites. We are witnessing things for the first time. Because the satellites first started allowing us to see right when the AMO was switching to its “warm” cycle, we have largely been watching the extent of ice shrink as the years pass. This led some to conclude too quickly that we were in a “Death Spiral.” Now we are watching the AMO near the end of its “warm” phase and start to turn towards its “cold” phase. We actually have little idea what we will see, because we simply have never seen it before. It is fun to guess what will happen, but to express certainty seems to me to be sheer folly.
Therefore it seems wiser to simply state what I didn’t expect.
I didn’t expect the ice to melt as much as it has in the area around and north of the Bering Strait. It went from above-normal two winters ago to below-normal last winter. This seems to be in response to the PDO spiking “warm.”
I definitely didn’t expect there to be more ice around Svalbard last summer than there was last winter. That was a real eye-opener, and seems likely to be a response to the AMO briefly spiking “cold” during the first half of the summer.
I didn’t expect there to be a notch of open water extending towards the Pole from the Laptev Sea. Wondering about this led to a delightful mental journey to Siberia, and study of the the Laptev Sea, and the Lena River basin.
That could well be a post in and of itself, but in a nutshell I learned the Laptev Sea is a major creator and exporter of sea-ice. Off shore winds create polynyas of open water even during the coldest winters, and ice is constantly exported out into the arctic basin. Some winters less ice is exported, but as much as three times (and possibly four times) as much ice can be created and exported during other winters. This constitutes a variable I never knew about, in the determination of water-temperatures and sea-ice amounts, and also can result in the ice in the Laptev Sea being very thin at the start of summer, and very easy to melt away. (Then a hasty thinker, glancing at an extent map and seeing the open water, might conclude the open water suggested a warming Pole, when in fact it suggests more ice was created, and more sea-water was chilled.)
Seeing what I didn’t expect doesn’t cause me to sulk. Perhaps this is because I am not dependent on grants, and only watch ice melt for the sheer wonder of it all. In fact, seeing what I didn’t expect gives me all the more reason to sit back and wonder all the more. That is actually my pay. Where a Climate Scientist might be in danger of losing funding for cameras, buoys and satellites (and vacations) if they expect a Death Spiral and the unexpected occurs, the only danger I face is if I wonder too much, and forget to mow the lawn.