Potsdam Climate Impact Institute Takes Down Press Release On Controversial Antarctica Study

UPDATE: The press release reappears! Maybe the embarrassment of taking it down surpassed that of having it up.

In December the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) issued a press release about a study model simulation claiming that greater snowfalls over Antarctica would increase ice discharge into the oceans, and thus speed up sea level rise, by Winkelmann, R., Levermann, A., Martin, M.A., Frieler, K. (2012): Increased future ice discharge from Antarctica owing to higher snowfall. Nature [doi:10.1038/nature11616].

Winkelmann PIK M Martin

Press release on lead author’s Ricarda Winkelmann’s controversial paper disappears. Photo source: Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research/M. Martin.

Anthony Watts and his readers at WUWT had a field day with that story. NTZ also chimed in, read here.

Although the claim pushed the limits of science absurdity into new territory, many media outlets still ran with the story anyway, not bothering to see if it held water. For example, Spiegel had the headline Snowfall increases ice melt in the Antarctic and Stern reported here, as did nuch of the German mainstream media…all telling readers that the PIK claim was yet more cause for even higher alarm.

The task of asking tough questions, once again, was left to the blogs.

As it turned out the story was not even based much on observed data, but more on crystal ball computer models. The claims by the PIK were dubious to say the very least. In not time at all they were torn apart and landed in the dustbin. For example, Don Easterbrook commented at WUWT:

Papers like this are why I don’t bother to read Nature anymore–it has lost all scientific credibility by publishing such nonsense. The authors apparently didn’t bother to check the temperature records at the South Pole and Vostok, which go back to 1957 and show no warming whatsoever over the past 55 years.”

Now it appears that even the PIK got embarrassed about it, and has quietly removed the press release they had issued here on 12 December. Do you find it? It’s also been removed from their German language page.

But it hasn’t totally disappeared. You still can find it with a bit of effort, if you know the address, It just isn’t anywhere prominent.

What explanation does the PIK offer for taking down the press release? One reader wrote to me in an e-mail: “From Ms Winkelmann, I still have yet to receive a reply after having sent here a query where I stuck to the facts back in December.”

It goes to show that there are some things left out there that are still too embarrassing to publish – even for the PIK.


UPDATE: It turns out that Ms Winkelmann is rather inexperienced in the field. She is not even a climate scientist. Flagship newspaper FAZ here, for example, wrote in 2011 (my emphasis): Hat-tip: DirkH

But: ‘Originally I do not come from climate science. Rather I come from the Chaos Theory.’ Ricarda Winkelmann is 26 years old and a professional climate modeller down to the tips of her hair. […]

Together with her colleagues at the PIK and scientists from Alaska, Ricarda Winkelmann developed admittedly the most advanced ice sheet and ice shelf model: About 10,000 program lines make up the super-computer model that simulates the fundamental processes of the polar ice sheets: The ice flow to the sea, the melting on the surface of the lower bedrock, ice collection above, the formation of crevices and including calving at the edge.”

Only 10,000 lines to simulate all that all over Antarctica? Only 26 years old, no experience and not even a climate scientist? If all that doesn’t sound like a half-baked operation. No wonder her team ended up with the preposterous result that more snowfall over Antarctica leads to faster sea level rise.


25 responses to “Potsdam Climate Impact Institute Takes Down Press Release On Controversial Antarctica Study”

  1. JC Smith

    Hey….. if Anthony Watts says its bad science. Then it is CERTAINLY bad science. Afterall, he is the gold standard in science research. By the way…..has did he ever finish his undergraduate degree?

    Sorry….couldn’t help myself. Siting Anthony Watts is like citing someone for the tobacco industry:)

    1. Ed Caryl

      No facts. Just ad hom. Typical.

    2. DirkH

      Ok, JC Smith, please give a scientific reason for why snowfall increases ice melt. Should be easy for you as a scientific wizard. Please. Convince us.

    3. Mindert Eiting

      Joe, you couldn’t help yourself? Does that mean that your contributions are compulsive, like my smoking of tobacco?

    4. ColdOldMan
    5. sunsettommy

      Mr. Smith since you attack Mr. Watts and say nothing in detail about what you object on his linked blog post I have no choice but to think you are another drive by poster with nothing intelligent to say.

      Next time leave out the ad hom’s and say something constructive to help us see something that you think we are missing.Then you might gain some respect as someone who wants to better understand what is being talked about.

  2. DirkH

    About PhD Winkelmann: (26 year old)
    “My background is not climate research but chaos theory.”

    She is a mathematician.
    So she KNOWS that it is impossible to use the models to predict the long term behaviour of the real system.

    They must have hidden the Press release because they found a mistake in the model, would be my guess (mistake as in, uninitialized variable or whatever – not the fundamental mistake that it is bogus science, of course; they’d never admit THAT.)

    1. DirkH

      Article says her model has about 10,000 lines of code.
      Small piece of code, yet, without testing and QA (they don’t do that boring stuff in academia), highly likely that she botched it somewhere.

      1. Juergen Uhlemann

        yep. Mother nature would be the QA but was not asked.

      2. Bernd Felsche

        Something mathematically correct but physically impossible.

        The virtual world of simulations is very tolerant of such things.

        DirkH is correct in saying that she should know that although it’s possible to model the (chaotic) climate system, that the predictive qualities of such models are weak to dangerous. Dangerous when people act upon its predictions.

        10,000 lines doesn’t go far for program lines. The simple structural analysis that I did 30 years ago was of that order of magnitude. And such things are highly deterministic; with the chaos management relegated to safety factors to cover uncertainties in loads and physical characteristics. And the latter would be controlled closely during manufacture and installation.

  3. Sebastian Lüning

    No, no. The model must be right. Ricarda Winkelmann got a “summa cum laude” for her PhD from her supervisor Stefan Rahmstorf, and I am sure he has checked every single line of code before awarding this excellent mark (-;

    See her CV at http://www.pik-potsdam.de/~ricardaw/CV_RicardaWinkelmann.pdf

    We have also now added an update to the story on kalte Sonne:

    1. Juergen Uhlemann

      Maybe it’s the data 😉
      Garbage in => garbage out

      I write some C# code right now and I thought it’s correct until I noticed that I forgot a “List.Clear();”. I write code for over 30 years but the devil is in the detail.

      1. Bernd Felsche

        Garbage in => garbage out

        In climatology:
        Garbage in => grants out

  4. Henrik Mahlberg

    OT, former Director at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, speaks out in largest swedish newspaper, a good transalation and summary here:

    The swedish original article here:

    Example “We Are Creating Great Anxiety Without It Being Justified. Yes, humankind is affecting the climate. But no, there are no indications that the warming is so severe that we need to panic”

  5. ColdOldMan
  6. Nobody

    “I come from the Chaos Theory”

    And now he became a Chaos Theory denier.

  7. Juraj V.

    Ms Winkelman should consider modeling instead of climate modeling. More photos needed.

    1. Bernd Felsche

      ISTM that she tried, given some of the shots that one can find on the Internet.

      Seriously; on her PIK page

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