September 9, 2013

The Mail is Being Economical With the Truth About Arctic Sea Ice

This weekend The Mail Online published a story purporting to explain how "How [the Arctic] Ice Sheet Grew 920,000 Square Miles In A Year". The story was written by David Rose, so of course it did nothing of the sort!  We've come across Mr. Rose before, when he regurgitated one of his "Great Green Con" stories earlier this year, so now let's take a closer look at his most recent "Great White Con". I quote David's opening words of "wisdom":

A chilly Arctic summer has left nearly a million more square miles of ocean covered with ice than at the same time last year – an increase of 60 per cent.

The rebound from 2012’s record low comes six years after the BBC reported that global warming would leave the Arctic ice-free in summer by 2013.

Instead, days before the annual autumn re-freeze is due to begin, an unbroken ice sheet more than half the size of Europe already stretches from the Canadian islands to Russia’s northern shores.

Below this is a graphic. On the left is an image purporting to show the Arctic in "August 2012". The caption reads "This NASA satellite image shows the ice at the smallest extent on record". Needless to say Mr. Rose doesn't reveal the sources of his information, but here's a relevant one:

As you can plainly see, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC for short) the annual minimum Arctic sea ice extent occurs in September, and "the smallest extent on record" occurred in September 2012, not August. Later on in the Mail article a remarkably similar image is labelled "Aug 27, 2012". Maybe that's correct? Maybe not!

Going back up to the first graphic in the Mail article, the right hand side purports to show the Arctic in "August 2013". Later on a remarkably similar image is labelled "Aug 15, 2013". Maybe that's correct? Maybe not!

Which ever way you like to spin it it certainly looks as though Mr. Rose isn't comparing like with like. Maybe one reason for that is because this is what the Arctic sea ice "looked" like by August 27th 2013:

Satellite image of the Arctic Sea Ice on August 27th 2013 - Click for a video!

Satellite image of the Arctic Sea Ice on August 27th 2013 - Click for a video!

That picture was created from an image generated by the University of Bremen using data from the AMSR2 sensor on board the Japanese SHIZUKU satellite. Click on the image above to see an animation revealing how the area covered by ice in the Arctic changed between August 15th and 27th. Note that the substantial "hole" in the Arctic sea ice that had developed near the North Pole by August 27th is strangely absent from any of the images in the Mail Online article. Note also that the edge of the  ice and "Russia’s northern shores" (off the image at the top) are in fact quite far apart, and that a variety of ships from a variety of nations (including China) are currently traversing the Northern Sea Route as we speak. Should you or David Rose prefer to see a "visual" image of the Arctic sea ice on August 27th 2013 rather than a "microwave" one, the NASA Worldview web site helpfully provides such a thing. This is what it reveals:

A view of the Arctic from the Aqua satellite on August 27th 2013

A view of the Arctic from the Aqua satellite on August 27th 2013

Moving on down the page at The Mail, next we are informed that:

The Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific has remained blocked by pack-ice all year. More than 20 yachts that had planned to sail it have been left ice-bound.

As our regular readers will know here at we have been following events in the Northwest Passage very closely this summer. As our latest report on the topic should make clear, even to David Rose, this is nonsense. The central route via the McClure Strait certainly remains impassable by a yacht. With a certain amount of difficulty a number of yachts have made it through the southern route, and whilst one or two have decided to spend the coming winter in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, and rather more have required some assistance from a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker,  none are "ice bound" as yet.

Neither David Rose nor anyone else at the Mail has yet responded to my requests for details of which numbers they crunched to come up with their headline figures, so I'm working in the dark a bit here. Assuming for the moment that they are in some way based upon the NSIDC daily Arctic sea ice extent numbers, they can easily be viewed by any even vaguely diligent researcher on the NSIDC web site. Here's what they reveal for this time this year.

NSIDC daily Arctic sea ice extent chart,  highlighting September 7th 2013

NSIDC daily Arctic sea ice extent chart, highlighting September 7th 2013

The corresponding figure for "this time last year" is 3.53 million km². A quick calculation reveals a difference of  1.678 million km², which works out to be "0.648 million square miles". The ratio of the two numbers is 1.475, or "an increase of 47.5%" in David Rose speak.

Given the number of things that David Rose has evidently managed to get wrong in just the first few lines of his article whilst discussing Arctic sea ice, how many more do you suppose he got wrong when he went on to consider "global cooling"? Whilst you ponder that point, here's another video that explains what's really happening to the sea ice in the Arctic as we speak:

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Comments on The Mail is Being Economical With the Truth About Arctic Sea Ice »

September 9, 2013

Mintaka @ 1:20 pm

A normal journalistic practice – lack of knowledge and reflection; reliance on populism and lack of criticism in the majority of readers.
One question? for god sake, why do you even read something like The Mail online? Just curiosity!

Jim @ 1:28 pm

You realise that curiosity killed the cat?! Because a question was asked about the topic on the Arctic Sea Ice Blog, and having had some previous experience in these matters I endeavoured to answer it.

Mintaka @ 1:41 pm

Curiosity killed the cat, satisfaction brought him back :-)

Tom @ 3:22 pm

A little bit of work can find sea ice area/extent numbers matching the articles "facts". There is a lot wrong with the article including missing information and bad assumptions but your rant on the basic data does not help. This years gain in ice is outside the statistical norms and many are working on explanations to help better the models. Your challenge on the numbers is distracting and you wasted a good opportunity to discredit the true faults of the article.

Jim @ 4:26 pm

Hi Tom,

Thanks for your comment. I've also "ranted" about cherry picked images. Is that a distraction too?

What in your view are "the true faults of the article"?

Tom @ 5:09 pm

I would not consider an image of last years minimum and this years close to minimum as cherry picked – It's not like these are arbitrary years being considered.

Regarding faults:
1) Lack of references in a posted article is shoddy work regardless of the format and should be called out.
2) Invalid conclusions – the articles assertion this is a recovery should be blasted as one year does not a recovery make regardless of the gain.
3) Omission of obvious truths. Ignoring the long term trends, the relative weakness of the existing ice, the low average thickness etc

These are just the high points and are items you have addressed. My comment is your opening point and focus was on the absurdity of the article's claim which happens to be factually true in a narrow sense. Acknowledging the facts but fiercely criticizing the other glaring issues with the article IMO would have been more effective.

Jim @ 7:47 pm

Hi Tom,

Thanks for that further clarification. From my own perspective I was merely working my way through the Mail article point by point, in the order in which they chose to present things. I stopped part way down the first page. I don't think the "nearly a million more square miles of ocean covered with ice than at the same time last year" is factually accurate, however you choose to slice and dice the figures.

I've been attempting to pursue the lack of references issue with the Mail, but with a singular lack of success thus far. I'll let you know if I hear anything of significance back from them.

Small vessels in the Northwest Passage and intimate images of the Arctic are amongst my specialist subjects just at the moment. If you would like to read criticism of the other glaring issues in the Mail article perhaps Dana Nuccitelli in The Guardian would be more appropriate?

September 10, 2013

Max Goodman @ 7:52 pm

While the numbers are of course important, I think the most important theme this article addresses (as suggested by the title) is that the media is misleading the public to some extent. Even though statistically speaking this has been an anomalous year for Arctic Ice, mainstream journalists should source their data on up-to-date models before releasing it to the masses in an attempt to make a quick buck off something that the average Joe won't bother to double check. I think this article is a necessary 'distraction'.

September 11, 2013

Doug @ 1:29 am

You're using model figures and pretending their accuracy is good to 4 decimal places. If you want to show that The Mail is deceptive then give the likelihood that their numbers are outside the accepted range.
Speaking of deceptive, what good is a chart of ice volume when the subject is ice area? BTW, the PIOMAS uncertainty is ±0.75 10^3 km^3.
I was hoping to see the updated Arctic Death Spiral but today the link from Haveland gives a 404. I wonder why.

Jim @ 8:41 am

Good morning Doug,

I have repeatedly asked both The Mail and The Telegraph how they arrived at the numbers they published. They have yet to reply.

David Rose's article didn't mention the word "area", but the caption to the first graphic did mention "extent", so I figured I'd start my groping around in the dark there.

When it comes to discussion about "the amount" of Arctic sea ice, volume is a better metric than either area or extent in my view.

We haven't reached the 2013 minimum yet. Maybe the "Death Spiral" will be updated when those numbers have been confirmed? Here's the most recent version I could find, which goes up to July 2013.

Jim @ 9:24 am

I spoke to the UK's Press Complaints Commission this morning, who suggested talking to the editor of the Mail on Sunday in the first instance. I've just received an email from their "Managing Editor", part of which reads as follows:

Regarding David Rose's article itself, please set out exactly the factual inaccuracies you believe it contains.

Alternatively, we will be happy to consider publishing a letter from you that could address the points.

How should I reply?

Jim @ 11:23 am

I've now received an email from The Telegraph, part of which reads as follows:

I haven't had time to dig out the original NASA images…

However, I am sure that you can satisfy the answer to you (sic) question with this site, which is contracted by NASA to provide data:

If you need any further data, they have a whole raft of previous pages detailing the ice extent at different times, such as this one:

Jim @ 3:23 pm

I didn't get as far as mentioning David Rose's assertion in his Mail on Sunday article that:

The continuing furore caused by The Mail on Sunday’s revelations – which will now be amplified by the return of the Arctic ice sheet – has forced the UN’s climate change body to hold a crisis meeting.

but just in case there was any doubt that David Rose has hold of the wrong end of the stick here the IPCC state in a press release today that:

In response to recent articles about forthcoming meetings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC would like to note that: Contrary to the articles the IPCC is not holding any crisis meeting.

Reggie @ 8:10 pm

"How should I reply?"
I wonder how sincere is their offer to publish a letter from you, especially if it contains a few inconvenient truths?

Jim @ 10:21 pm

The Mail said "will be happy to consider", which doesn't really sound like total commitment, does it?

Reggie @ 11:30 pm

I am sceptical of the sincerity of their offer. However, you're in the "catbird seat", if they publish your letter, you win. If they refuse to make good on their offer, they lose. I'm glad to see that you made screen-shots of the comments that were flushed down the memory hole at the Daily Mail, it's nice to have proof of the paper's dishonesty.

Reggie @ 11:32 pm

The Daily Mail Song

It's absolutely true because I read it in the Daily Mail.

[I took the liberty of combining those 2 related comments. Hope that's OK - Jim]

September 12, 2013

Jim @ 1:05 am

I've enquired in writing about the Mail Online's moderation policy. Their managing editor assures me I've directed my query to the right person. I have yet to receive a reply however.

Jim @ 9:49 am

Some recent correspondence with The Mail. Them:

Letters are edited for space. Normal length would be around 100-200 words. We would be happy to show you any edits.


There's been a large "hole" in the sea ice near the North Pole for weeks. It's invisible in the images in your article.

100-200 words is nowhere near enough to explain the significance of that one "inaccuracy" to your readership, let alone all the others.

September 13, 2013

Jim @ 5:22 am

I tried following the Telegraph's link to the NSIDC, only to discover that their web site was down due to "biblical" flash floods in Boulder, Colorado. The site is still down this morning, but fortunately I already have a screen shot of some relevant information:

NSIDC monthly Arctic sea ice extent report for August 2013

As you can see, according to the NSIDC:

August 2013 ice extent was 1.38 million square kilometers (533,000 square miles) above the record low August extent in 2012.

Consequently I'm still very much in the dark about where the Mail and the Telegraph got their published figures. Pulled them out of a hat perchance?

I also wonder why neither of them mentioned the bit at the bottom about:

The monthly trend is -10.6% per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average.

Jim @ 9:04 pm

This thread is now getting rather unwieldy, so here's a shiny new web site dedicated to discussions about the Mail's "economy with the truth" about Arctic sea ice:

[...] can of course argue that this is mere cherry picking on our part,  not to mention the slight economy with the truth in our necessarily punchy headline today. Nonetheless it is an actual fact that the IARC-JAXA [...]

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