Exposing ‘Staggering’ Ice Sheet Melt Deceptions
In recent months, two new papers published in The Cryosphere have provided a condensed summary of the ice-melt and sea-level-rise consequences of global warming for the Arctic region.
1. Between 1900 and 2010, the Greenland Ice Sheet (GIS) has melted so extensively and so rapidly that the GIS ice-melt contribution to global sea level rise has amounted to 1.5 centimeters for the entire 110-year period. One-and-a-half centimeters. That’s 0.59 of an inch!
2. It gets worse. Between 1993 and 2010, the contribution to global sea level rise has been a disturbing 0.39 of a centimeter. Almost 4/10ths of a centimeter. That’s 0.15 of an inch!
“Melt water from the Greenland ice sheet contributed 1.7–6.12 mm [median 3.9 mm, or 0.39 of a centimeter] to global sea level between 1993 and 2010“
“SMB [surface mass balance, Greenland Ice Sheet] during the 1920–1930 warm period over Greenland was comparable to the SMB of the 2000s, due to both higher melt and lower precipitation than normal.”
“Finally, with respect to the 1961–1990 period, the integrated contribution of the GrIS SMB [Greenland Ice Sheet Surface Mass Balance] anomalies over 1900–2010 is a sea level rise of about 15 ± 5 mm [1.5 centimeters], with a null contribution from the 1940s to the 2000s“
Breakdown: 1900-2010 GIS Sea Level Rise Contribution
1920s-1930s: GIS contribution to sea level rise: 1.1 cm
1993-2010: GIS contribution to sea level rise: 0.39 cm
1940s-2000s: “a null contribution” [to sea level rise]
Washington Post Peddles Alarmism With Deceptive ‘Trillion Tons’ Of Lost Ice Pronouncements
It’s scary to learn that the Greenland Ice Sheet has lost a “staggering” 9 trillion tons of ice since 1900.
It’s not scary to learn that 9 trillion tons of ice losses actually amounts to less than 1 inch (0.6 of an inch, or 1.5 centimeters) of sea level rise contribution from Greenland meltwater since 1900.
So what does a world-renown news organization like the Washington Post do with this contextually-weighted scientific information? Of course, like most other media organizations in the modern era, the Post attempts to frighten the public with disturbing trillions of tons of lost ice exclamations without emphasizing the modest and nearly imperceptible sea level impact such “staggering” ice losses produce.
In December, 2015, the Post‘s Chris Mooney summarized “Greenland’s massive, centennial contribution to sea level rise”.
Washington Post (December, 2015)
It is apparent from reading the article that Mooney is either (a) unaware that less than 1 inch of long-term sea level impact is not “massive”, and therefore using that descriptor in conjunction with trillions-of-tons of ice loss can be misleading, or (b) he is aware that less than 1 inch of sea level impact in 110 years is not especially alarming, so he buries this inconvenient detail in the body of the article and instead he focuses on employing terms like “staggering” and “massive” and “trillions” and “disturbing” and “alarming” in an effort to conceal.
It would appear that (b) is more likely.
Notice above how Mooney cursorily acknowledges that 1 inch of global-scale sea level rise from 9 trillion tons of melted GIS ice “may not sound like much”. But then, to recover, he misleadingly pivots to hypothetical scenarios, equating what one inch of sea level rise would do if this water equivalent from across the world ocean was only dumped on the United States’ interstate highway system. (How does fantasy writing like this make it into a serious science article?)
And then, to pile on another thought experiment, Mooney adds the obligatory “if the entire ice sheet were to melt” conjuring so he can mention that “20 feet of sea level rise” is what’s at stake here.
One inch in 110 years isn’t enough to garner attention, but 98 feet (times 63) of submerged U.S. roads and global coastal areas is quite the scary scenario.
The Washington Post employed this same misleading and diversionary strategy about 8 months later, again relying on the “9 trillion tons of ice” lost study to scare readers.
Washington Post (July, 2016)
If Misleading Readers Wasn’t Allowed, What Would The ‘Honest’ Headlines Look Like?
If news organizations weren’t allowed to mislead readers about climate science, what would the headlines say?
With regard to the long-term (and recent) ice melt records for the Greenland Ice Sheet, a non-deceptive, non-misleading headline might look something like this.