Last week, the National Snow and Ice Data Center came out with the estimate that we did not quite set a record for the minimum extent of Arctic sea this year. Rather, 2011 seems to have come in a slight second to 2007.
However, another scientific group does claim that we've hit a new record. Who's right?
I don't know, but I don't think either bit of news is the most important thing to focus on. For as Skeptical Science points out, we also just learned that total sea ice volume reached a new low in 2010 (wonky hide-the-punchline paper here). And that is, to my mind, a much bigger deal than what total sea ice extent is doing on a year by year basis.
Remember, extent is a measure of area covered, and volume is a measure of total ice mass. (More clarification here.)
There is a strong case that volume matters more, because extent can be misleading. Why?
Well, again, as I reported last year in New Scientist:
And now it seems that total ice volume keeps trending lower—which also means that the day when we’ll have an essentially ice free Arctic for some part of the year draws nearer. What fun the oil and gas and shipping companies will have!
All of this is, yet again, proof that our society just doesn’t know how to think about changes in the climate system.
Consider: We all got very whipped up about a fairly mundane and standard hurricane, Irene, which in the end posed a much smaller threat to New York City than the worst case scenario storm that will come some day (and which we won’t be ready for). But since Irene was proximate and fast moving, it made us all worry, and made many of us think of global warming.
Meanwhile, when real dramatic changes are happening far away from us in a drip, drip, drip fashion, it is virtually impossible to get our attention, unless somebody can claim a “record.”
I wrote recently about a flawed study that nevertheless suggests that climate researchers view the world in a different way than the public, partly due to their personalities as measured on the less-than-perfect Myers-Briggs scale:
I think there’s a lot to this, even if I question the underlying scientific methodology of the study. But I do think it's true that unlike scientists, most people are not easily made to perceive all the ways in which the world around us is changing.
How do you get them to perceive? On this issue, it appears you may have to wait til it affects them–or make them realize that it affects them.
Yesterday I felt a blast of cold air here in D.C., and I thought that, barring another hurricane, we may not get their attention easily again until next year.