Terrifying predictions about the melting North Pole!

Summary: We have had 30 years of bold but false predictions by climate scientists, met by silence from their peers. These make skeptics, and are one reason why the public does not support radical public policy actions. Here are 20 years of predictions about the melting North Pole.

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A stream of predictions about an ice-free arctic ocean

Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at Cambridge, is famous for his predictions – and his amazing record of being wrong. Journalists report each prediction as if made by Einstein, not telling readers about Wadhams’ dismal record. That is how activist journalists report climate science and keep their readers misinformed.

“Within a decade we can expect regular summer trade there {across the arctic ocean}.”
— “Arctic Meltdown“, a NASA press release on 27 February 2001. It is not in the NASA archive. But the Wayback Machine never forgets: here it is.

Eighteen years later, no regular cargo crossing the arctic ocean. There are small numbers of specially built ships making the passage on the northern coasts (e.g., here, here, and here).

“By 2013, we will see a much smaller area in summertime than now; and certainly by about 2020, I can imagine that only one area will remain in summer.”
BBC, 13 May 2009.

Twice wrong. The 2013 average and minimum ice extent was roughly unchanged from that in 2009. In 2018, the minimum was 4.6 million square kilometers, only 12% down from 2009. I doubt 2020 will be much different.

“The entire ice cover is now on the point of collapse. …The extra open water already created by the retreating ice allows bigger waves to be generated by storms, which are sweeping away the surviving ice. It is truly the case that it will be all gone by 2015. The consequences are enormous and represent a huge boost to global warming.”

The Scotsman, 29 August 2012.

Not only was it not “all gone by 2015” but that quote appeared three weeks from the record low point on September 17.

“I have been predicting [the collapse of sea ice in summer months] for many years. The main cause is simply global warming …This collapse, I predicted would occur in 2015-16 at which time the summer Arctic (August to September) would become ice-free. The final collapse towards that state is now happening and will probably be complete by those dates.”
The Guardian, 17 September 2012.

Ditto. There was a great deal of excitement among alarmists about the 2012 low, and the usual linear extrapolation to a disaster coming really soon.

Wadhams presented at the September 2014 Royal Society conference “Arctic sea ice reduction: the evidence, models, and global impacts.” A few climate scientists made mildly critical tweets about his presentation. Gavin Schmidt (Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies) was the most critical. He is, to the best of my knowledge, exceptional in his willingness to speak out about alarmist claims by his peers. See the tweets. But there is no evidence they called friendly journalists to protest journalists’ uncritical publication of Wadham’s predictions. But skeptical climate scientists often receive barrages of criticism from their peers, sometimes for repeating material in the IPCC’s reports and peer-review literature (e.g., Roger Pielke Jr. by scientists such as Gavin Schmidt – details here).

“Most people expect this year will see a record low in the Arctic’s summer sea-ice cover. Next year or the year after that, I think it will be free of ice in summer and by that I mean the central Arctic will be ice-free. You will be able to cross over the north pole by ship. …Ice-free means the central basin of the Arctic will be ice-free and I think that that is going to happen in summer 2017 or 2018.
The Guardian, 21 August 2016.

Twice wrong, again. The 2016 minimum was 23% above the 2012 minimum. The arctic was not ice-free in 2017 or 2018. Not even icebreakers cross over the North Pole.

“{T}he planet is swiftly heading toward a largely ice-free Arctic in the warmer months, possibly as early as 2020.”
Yale Environment 360, 26 September 2016.

The record minimum extent was in 2012. The previous minimum was 4.16 million km in 2007. The 2018 minimum was 4.95 million km. That is a 19% increase over 12 years.

Wadhams had lots of headline-loving company among climate scientists. For example, Wieslaw Maslowsk – a research professor at the Navy Postgraduate School.

“Scientists in the US have presented one of the most dramatic forecasts yet for the disappearance of Arctic sea ice. Their latest modelling studies indicate northern polar waters could be ice-free in summers within just 5-6 years. …Professor Wieslaw Maslowski told an American Geophysical Union meeting that previous projections had underestimated the processes now driving ice loss. …’Our projection of 2013 for the removal of ice in summer is not accounting for the last two minima, in 2005 and 2007,’ the researcher from the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, explained to the BBC. ‘So given that fact, you can argue that may be our projection of 2013 is already too conservative.'”
BBC, 12 December 2007.

The “projection” of an ice-free summer in 2013 was not “too conservative.” It was too aggressive.

The Atlantic: the melting North Pole

That is an example of successful clickbait by Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic on 29 December 2015. This is the alarmists’ usual trick of describing weather as “extraordinary” based on our brief instrument record, when it probably is not.

“It’s really hard to predict when we could see ice-free summers in the Arctic, but it could be as soon as in 20 to 40 years, Francis says.”
— Jennifer Francis was then a professor at Rutgers, now a senior scientist at Woods Hole. Quoted in The Verge, 10 May 2018.

Now that is a safe prediction. If accurate, it will become famous in 2040 or 2060. If wrong, it will go down the memory hole with all the other wrong predictions about climate.

The real story

See the three lines in color showing the sea ice extents of 2007 (blue, middle), 2012 (dotted, bottom), and 2018 (thin grey, top), and the thick grey line of the 1981 – 2010 mean. Sea ice extent has been flattish for twelve years. For another perspective, the PIOMAS model shows that Arctic sea ice volume has been flattish for nine years. Click graph to enlarge.

Arctic sea Ice Extent
From the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The below graph shows the big picture: arctic sea ice extent has declined (in fits and starts) since the satellite record began in 1979. There is little reason to assume that it has stopped melting. This graph shows it in a meaningful way – using statistics, in standard deviations from the 1981-2010 mean (unusual for climate science). A two or three standard deviation low in a 66 year record is not extraordinary, given the volatile nature of weather data and its multi-decadal cycles.

Mean arctic sea ice anomaly - 1953-2018
From the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Some recent papers about the cryosphere.

Both of these are surprising news, contrary to the doomster narrative. I doubt that either will be mentioned in the mainstream press or the liberal websites (that report every doomster paper as gospel). Red emphasis added.

Non-uniform contribution of internal variability to recent Arctic sea ice loss” by Mark England in Journal of Climate, in press.

“Over the last half century, the Arctic sea ice cover has declined dramatically. Current estimates suggest that, for the Arctic as a whole, nearly half of the observed loss of summer sea ice cover is not due to anthropogenic forcing, but due to internal variability. …”

A new 200‐year spatial reconstruction of West Antarctic surface mass balance” by Yetang Wang et al. in JGR Atmospheres, in press.

“High‐spatial resolution surface mass balance (SMB) over the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) spanning 1800‐2010 is reconstructed by means of ice core records combined with the outputs of the European Centre for Medium‐range Weather Forecasts ‘Interim’ reanalysis (ERA‐Interim) and the latest polar version of the Regional Atmospheric Climate Model (RACMO2.3p2). The reconstruction reveals a significant negative trend (‐1.9 ± 2.2 Gt yr‐1 decade‐1) in the SMB over the entire WAIS during the 19th century, but a statistically significant positive trend of 5.4 ± 2.9 Gt yr‐1 decade‐1 between 1900 and 2010, in contrast to insignificant WAIS SMB changes during the 20th century reported earlier. …”

What about global sea ice totals?

See this update at Climate.gov, as of March 2019. Global sea ice is decreasing.

Why does this matter?

These false predictions add to the growing hysterica about a coming climate apocalypse. We get books like this year’s crop: The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by journalist David Wallace-Wells, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? by journalist Bill McKibben, and The End of Ice by journalist Dahr Jamail – “Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption.”

After years of stoking the public’s fears, we get the Extinction Rebellion. Compare its claims with those of the IPCC’s AR5 (and note that nobody else has done so).

Update: a warning from long ago that was ignored.

I strongly recommend this op-ed in the BBC: “Science must end climate confusion” by climate scientist Richard Betts, 11 January 2010. Too bad they did not heed his warning.

“Of course, we know that these things {extreme weather} happen anyway, even without climate change – they may happen more often under a warmer climate, but it is wrong to blame climate change for every single event. Climate scientists know this, but still there are people outside of climate science who will claim or imply such things if it helps make the news or generate support for their political or business agenda. …

“{D}o climate scientists do enough to counter this? Or are we guilty of turning a blind eye to these things because we think they are on ‘our side’ against the climate sceptics? …Climate scientists need to take more responsibility for the communication of their work to avoid this kind of thing. Even if scientists themselves are not blaming everything on climate change, it still reflects badly on us if others do this.”

Also see his comment in the NYT elaborating on his BBC article and providing some context for the decline of arctic sea ice in 2007.


I began to assemble a list of predictions made by climate scientists during the past 30 years. A little research showed that this would be a long list, including a lot of failed predictions. I abandoned it as pointless. Skeptics already know this. Alarmists will just scream “denier” (if they ignore the IPCC’s work, they will ignore failed predictions – no matter how long the list). Most people no longer care.

The endless stream of bold but false predictions about climate change does not disprove anything about the science. But it has affected the public. It contributes to the majority of the public ranking climate low as a public policy priority, and their disinterest in paying for it.

There is another level to this. A few climate scientists get their 15 minutes of fame by making clickbait predictions. Which is their right. But the reluctance of other climate scientists to criticize their peers – no matter how outlandish the claim – leaves the public hearing only the alarmist side of the science. This silence makes them complicit in it.

This series about the corruption of climate science

The stakes are too high. We cannot afford this.

  1. About the corruption of climate science.
  2. The noble corruption of climate science.
  3. A crisis of overconfidence in climate science.
  4. A look at the workings of Climate Propaganda Inc.
  5. New climate porn: it forces walruses to jump to their death!
  6. Weather porn about Texas, a lesson for Earth Day 2019.
  7. Terrifying predictions about the melting North Pole!

For More Information

Here is an example of a typical episode of hysteria about polar ice in 2013: The North Pole is now a lake! It was gullibly accepted by many on the Left, who ignored the rebuttals by scientists. James D. Agresti shows the long history of mis-reporting melting at the North Pole.

Back in 2009 and 2010 I wrote skeptically about the melting sea ice predictions (e.g., here, here, and here). This goes up on my list of accurate predictions.

Ideas! For some shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

Please like us on Facebookfollow us on Twitter. See the important things to know about global warming. For more information see all posts about the arctic area and polar sea ice, and especially these …

  1. About the forces melting the arctic sea ice (not just CO2).
  2. What we learned from the freak storm that “melted the North Pole” on 30 December 2015.

Books about the state of climate science

The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters & Climate Change by Professor Roger Pielke Jr. (2018).

The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened by Susan Crockford (2019).

Disasters and Climate Change
Available at Amazon.
The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened
Available at Amazon.


22 thoughts on “Terrifying predictions about the melting North Pole!”

  1. Yes, agreed with this, the endless predictions of disaster are regularly falsified, and equally regularly repeated with no awareness of the failure of the previous ones.

    The social phenomenon of climate activism/alarmism is very odd indeed. Its a funny mixture of refusing to advocate the logical policy consequences of the claims, while strenuously advocating doing things that, if the claims are true, will be totally ineffective.

    If the alarmists are right, we need to get global CO2 emissions from about 37 billion tons a year to under 5 billion. And rapidly.

    It could theoretically be done. China could go from 10 billion to 1. We could abolish the auto industry, world-wide. Close down all shopping centres, rebuild world housing to make it energy efficient, walk or bike to work and to shop everywhere. Which would mean moving a big proportion of business and people. Probably go to largely organic agriculture. Mechanically farmed, but no or miniminal petroleum based inputs.

    The US in this scenario would look very like 1870, with less heavy industry but with computers and improved health care. It would go from 5 billion tons to about 500 million. China would stop in its tracks and engage in another massive social engineering project. India, don’t know. But reduced.

    Its not going to happen of course, but my point is that no-one is advocating it, and if they believe their own dire predictions, this is what they should be advocating. This really would be a solution, and if they are right its the only way to save human civilisation.

    Instead we see that activists demanding unilateral action by the US on a scale which will have no effect on the global 37 billion of emissions. Putting subsidies on electric cars, which don’t lower emissions at all, same for wind turbines. Refusing to urge China to reduce at all. Getting hung up on such idiotic side issues as standby power to appliances. At the moment they are blocking traffic in London, while making a lot of vague demands, which do not contain a single mention of China, the worlds largest emitter, doing double the next biggest, and using and mining more coal than the rest of the world put together.

    Instead the activists demand that the State of Washington eliminate its already relatively tiny amount of coal burining to generate electricity. While making no comment at all on the California or Washington freeways. Or advocate rejoining Paris, which itself would not reduce CO2 emissions globally.

    On any rational analysis, even if you accept climate alarmism well beyond the IPCC, the conduct and demands of the climate movement are simply irrational. And this raises the question: does anyone, including the advocates, actually believe there is a coming catastrophe? Surely, if they did they would advocate what are in their terms effective remedies?

    1. Henrik,

      “If the alarmists are right, we need to get global CO2 emissions from about 37 billion tons a year to under 5 billion. And rapidly.”

      That would be the extreme alarmists’ view, one with little basis in science. Alarmist climate scientists, whose views are outside the mainstream (but supported by the mainstream’s silence) require drastic action. But not that drastic. A rapid conversion to nuclear power and electrification of transportation would do it. Plus planting lots of trees.

      That they don’t advocate such an effective and reliable policy tells us a lot about them.

      1. Larry, maybe I have got this wrong. I thought this or something like it was the standard view in climate science, which I think is even lower than the rough number I offered (5 billion and pretty soon):


        I have come across other estimates, seem to be similar, in very respectable places. Like down by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. Or down by 60% from 2010 levels by 2050.

        It is curious how an agreed number in tons by year is not readily available to the enquiring mind! I will carry on looking.

      2. Henrik,

        You’ll find little support in the IPCC Working Group I reports for a rapid transition to a 1.5C target. Because it’s not possible in any rational sense.

        Nor is there much support in the peer-review physical science literature for the massive cost and impacts of a rapid shift to a 1.5C target. It’s mostly justified by economic models, which are several steps beyond speculative (model-based forecasts in economics are not remotely accurate over any time horizon beyond 3 months).

        The 2C target was politically set, without any basis in the physical science. For unknown reasons, political activists decided to double-down to a 1.5C target. Journalists treat it seriously, just as they treat as gospel every forecast by Wadhams (who is consider a bit of crank in the cli sci community).

    2. What global population could be sustained in such a model? I suspect this would lead to the greatest humanitarian disaster in the history of the world, with the deaths of billions through starvation. But I guess that would be considered progress??

  2. Although Wadhams is the worst, there are quite a few other climate scientists who have made premature claims that the Arctic ice is going to disappear by 2013, 2016…, including Maslowski who you mention here, Mark Serreze, Paul Beckwith and Tim Flannery.

    As you say, this creates and fuels skepticism.

    However, this is not always “met by silence from their peers” (although this is usually the case). On one occasion, Wadhams gave a talk at a Royal Society meeting and was criticised and ridiculed on twitter by climate scientists, including Gavin Schmidt, Mark Brandon and James Annan. This led to Wadhams writing letters of complaint.

    This was an interesting and rare incident so I wrote a blog post about it.

    1. Paul,

      Thank you for pointing to this. I added to the post a paragraph about the Royal Society conference and resulting tweets. But this was pretty mild criticism, just a few tweets. The magnitude is nothing compared to the massive barrages directed at climate scientists for better grounded statements. Take the extreme case, at Roger Pielke Jr. for repeating material from the IPCC’s reports and the peer-reviewed literature.

      I see no evidence that the few climate scientists involved called their buddy journalists to complain about the uncritical treatment given Wadhams’ claims. His claims are not accompanied in news stories by vituperative personal attacks. Extremism in climate alarmism is no vice to mainstream climate scientists. A tiny trace of skepticism about the ruling paradigm is heresy.

  3. There you go using data again. Haven’t you heard? Facts don’t matter!

    Let’s get some perspective. What we have at this moment in history is a mild, decade-scale, warming trend superimposed on the 300 year-plus period of general rebound from the Little Ice Age. The effect of the recent thirty percent boost in atmospheric CO2, only part of which is attributable to humans, is likely minor, possibly negligible. There is nothing remarkable or alarming about today’s climate. Indeed, it is almost freakishly benign.

    What’s different is that for the first time in history we have really good instrumentation, and an implied mandate to scrutinize every minute wrinkle. Humans being the way they are, any identifiable trend, however minor, looks like an apocalypse in the making. We went through this in the 70s, when a few academics overreacted to the cooling trend of 1940-1975 and predicted imminent disaster.

    The climate changes constantly, on time scales short, medium, long, and ultra-long. Since 1850 there have been, in order, a minor warm spell, a major cool spell, a moderate warm spell followed by another after a brief relapse, a moderate cool spell, and now the current warm spell. If history is any guide, a cooling period is in our near future.

    Longer-term, the Holocene interglacial period, currently ongoing, has experienced a total of ten moderate to major, century-scale, warming events and a like number of cooler periods since it began about 12,000 years ago.

    Even longer term, we have had two-plus million years of repeated glacial outbreaks lasting a hundred thousand years or more each, broken by brief interglacial periods, such as the Holocene, each typically lasting a few thousand years. Note that the current interglacial has lasted beyond the historically average duration.

    Zoom back even farther and see a planet that was much warmer than at present, and ice-free from pole to pole, for a couple hundred million years at a stretch, interrupted by occasional glacial epochs lasting a few million years each, such as the one we are currently in, the Pleistocene. For the record, glacial epochs are an anomaly, not the norm.

    Yet you almost never hear this perspective from the fearmongering set, which promotes a wildly improbable, apocalyptic narrative based on sketchy evidence. Scratch “improbable.” The more outrageous scenarios being bandied about are basically impossible, particularly on any time frame appreciable by humans.

    The fear of which you wrote in a recent, perceptive, post pervades not just the public discussions of this issue, but the science itself. It is a sickness. The cure is reason. And persistence. Climate change may or may not be something we need to deal with, but we must approach this rationally, guided by cooler heads attuned to cost-benefit.

    Regardless, it makes no sense whatsoever to take the current short-term trend, run it out to infinity, and use that dubious result to justify a radical, irreversible restructuring of society and the economy.

    1. I still fail to understand why would any report on the recent global temperature variation (AKA ‘climate change’) by an agency which relies solely on data from faulty models (their fault rests in regarding OCO concentration as the arbitrary input variable) make any more sense than clueless fanatics’ hysteria.
      Being ‘moderate’ means nothing in science; proven wrong or not proven wrong (yet) are the defining principles of science.
      If one abridges the S Snell’s time-scale of the recent inter-glacial period to mere 10.5ky (conveniently past the recovery from the Younger Dryas cool-spell), you could see the mean temperatures of Earth were higher than present more than 95% of the time; and, that is, with OCO concentration of less than a half that of today’s. (BTW, ~200ppm is a threshold for efficient photo-synthesis; our recent double of that means our Planet is GREENING not worming [sic])

      1. Jako,

        “I still fail to understand why would any report on the recent global temperature variation (AKA ‘climate change’) by an agency which relies solely on data from faulty models”

        That’s wrong on several levels. Frist, data does not come from models. Second, all models are “faulty.” As George Box said, paraphrased, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” The actual quote is better.

        “Since all models are wrong the scientist cannot obtain a “correct” one by excessive elaboration. On the contrary following William of Occam he should seek an economical description of natural phenomena. Just as the ability to devise simple but evocative models is the signature of the great scientist so overelaboration and overparameterization is often the mark of mediocrity.”

        Models reflect or encapsulate the current state of knowledge. Newton’s was “wrong”. Einstein’s was “wrong.” They are just matches lite in the greater darkness of our ignorance.

  4. Examples can go back a long way, but a lot of this is climate science in the click bait, attention mongering age.

    As the internet developed, the headlines got more outrageous.

    1. LT,

      Why is today any different than in the past? The tabloids that dominated the newspapers until after WWII were as eager as Buzzfeed for exciting stories – few questions asked.

  5. Larry,

    A correction of that sentence is apparently due:
    I should’ve said: “… relies solely on results predicted by faulty models.”
    (You’re right: datum is not descriptive of it’s dependency and ‘data from’ is not explicit enough for some ;-)

    Models predicting Earth temperature change as a function of a trace gas concentration in the atmosphere are perhaps useful as an exercise in modeling, but wrong from the premise.

    1. Jako,

      I admire your belief in your awesome knowledge of climate science. I suggest you write up your theories. Fame and fortune await!

      Alternatively, you might read the IPCC’s AR5 and learn something.

      1. Larry,

        AR5 (from the summary for policymakers):
        “SPM 2.1 Key drivers of future climate
        Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late
        21st century and beyond. Projections of greenhouse gas emissions vary over a wide range,
        depending on both socio-economic development and climate policy. {2.1}”

        My understanding of the above excerpt:
        — there is a theorem suggested, where:
        (Positive) ΔTemp = function of cumulative emissions of CO2
        “… future climate … by the late 21st century …” suggests a prediction based on the above theorem, likely involving some kind of model.

        Last time I read an AR was more than ten years ago, so I went through the AR5 proper, browsed through the huge bulk of WG1-3 reports, yet I could not find any theory documenting the so called GHG influence on Earth climate trends. All there is are results of simulations on some black-box computer models and more proposed theorems.

        I would very much appreciate, if you could please point me to this theory with documented experimental data, so it can open my mind and I can learn something!

        Thank you.

      2. Jako,

        There are tens of thousands of citations in AR5. I suspect that many of them answer your questions, but that you will find Wikipedia works better for you. Follow through the interlinked entries, going to the citations for confirmation.

        If you believe every climate scientist is wrong, well then, congrats on your self-esteem.

      3. Larry,

        I was really hoping you could provide me with links to the desired proof or rather disproof of my opinions.

        Please note why I chose the term “Theorem:” it implies “deduced from the premises or assumptions of a system,” and when the basis of this “system” is refuted, the whole of AGW falls apart.

        Just one paper from many:
        The atmospheric greenhouse mechanism is a conjecture that can be proved or disproved by concrete engineering thermodynamics.
        The main objective of this paper is not to draw the line between error and fraud, but to find
        out where the greenhouse effect appears or disappears within the frame of physics:

        And a rather anecdotal take:
        IPCC’s very existence relies on public belief in man-made or ‘anthropogenic’ global warming (AGW) by CO2 emissions etc.
        25 Points

        So, I don’t need to claim that so many scientists are wrong or right, I can form my own opinion based on knowledge w/o WikiPedia working better for me.


      4. Jako,

        “I don’t need to claim that so many scientists are wrong or right, I can form my own opinion based on knowledge w/o WikiPedia working better for me.”

        Yes, that’s pretty much a good working definition of arrogant ignorance.

      5. Larry,

        I’ve never disputed my natural ignorance; I found that this recognition is a good perspective for one’s humility before the “world out there.” I know that I know nothing…

        Arrogance, in my case, may be a reflection from my past: I found that in instructing (engineering students) one has to follow a mode of “certain assertiveness” to convey the message; questions and doubts are then relegated to the “question period” after the session.
        OTOH, if you met me some forty years ago, at a mere mention of a smoke, you’d enter a world of scorching fire — funny how age mellows people…
        In this particular case, and I apologize for this, I let myself over-react to a barb or two…
        => My offending sentence should have been as follows:
        “I don’t wish to claim that so many scientists are wrong or right; however, I would like to retain my right to form my own opinion, based on facts I can understand and based on my knowledge of the issue at hand.


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