Friday, 16 December 2016

Writing about Arctic sea ice 'like watching a train wreck'

Neven is another citizen scientist who has done a great service.I feel very similarly about things.

'Like watching a train wreck': Blogger quits writing about climate change

15 December, 2016

To hear podcast GO HERE

When Neven Curlin began his Arctic Sea Ice blog in 2010, it was a labour of love. Though he isn't a scientist, as an environmentalist he had a natural interest in the state of Arctic sea ice and how it was being affected by global warming.

'Describing the train wreck all the time is not very productive.'
  • Neven Curlin
But now six years later, after amassing a sizeable following while blogging about sea ice melt multiple times a week, Curlin says he has to take a step back from his blog because of "Arctic burnout."

"It's like watching a train wreck in slow motion," Curlin tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"And just describing the train wreck all the time is not very productive. So I just need some time to step away."

As his blog has been growing, Curlin has also been building an ecologically-friendly home with his wife in Fürstenfeld, Austria.

Between that and his work as a freelance translator, Curlin says he doesn't have the time anymore to focus on his blog. But he's also been finding it too depressing to keep writing about bad news day after day.

Sea ice melting in the Arctic "is going really, really fast," he says.

"It's going much faster than what mainstream science anticipated ... and it just keeps going."

To hear podcast GO HERE


AMT: Well, let's go now from one pole to another from the Antarctic to the Arctic. Climate change continues to have a devastating effect on northern sea ice. This past year has seen the hottest average temperature in the Arctic ever. There's simply no sign of that slowing down. Neven Curlin knows this all too well. His Arctic Sea Ice blog began as a hobby about six years ago. It's since become a second home on the Internet for sea ice enthusiasts—amateur and professional alike. All the bad news has been too much, however. He's finding it too depressing to continue. Neven Curlin is on the line from Fürstenfeld, Austria. Hell.


AMT: Tell us about your blog. Why did you start it?

NEVEN CURLIN: Oh. Well, that was back in 2010 and my hands were itching to do something and I was very interested in online discussions on global warming and climate change. And the Arctic, I found it really fascinating, especially the sea ice. And I thought that maybe it deserved a place of its own.
AMT: How many people use this?

NEVEN CURLIN: Well, if you look at page views, during the summer melt when attention is greatest, maybe five to 10,000 people or page views is what the blog receives. And the graphs page, I think maybe 1,000 people every day or more.

AMT: In your last blog post, you announced you needed a break from it. Why is that?

NEVEN CURLIN: Well, two things actually. In the end, I just don't have time enough to give it the attention it deserves. And on the other hand, as fascinating a subject as it is, it's also somewhat depressing if you think about the consequences of Arctic sea ice loss and everything. At some point, I had to decide to just step away so I can refocus and also because I need that time to continue reducing my impact on the climate and everything. So what they call walking the walk, I believe, in English.

AMT: Hmm. So you found it depressing because you're actually tracking it over time and there's not a not a good ending here.

NEVEN CURLIN: Well, we don't know exactly what the ending will be. If you can be certain how bad the ending will be you can at least prepare for it. But yeah, it's as if you're watching a train wreck in slow motion and while you're doing it, you have these denial mechanisms where you just focus on the analysis or when something exciting happens that hasn't happened before. But when you sit back and you think about okay, geez, this is going really, really fast. It's going much faster than what mainstream science anticipated even 10 years or maybe even five years ago and it just keeps going. And if you then look at what the potential consequences are, yeah, it makes you swallow. And also, like I said, just describing the train wreck all the time, it's not very productive. So I just need some time to step away from the weekly duty to write about it so that I can develop maybe new ideas or new perspectives because I'm convinced that the Arctic will go ice-free at some point. Maybe soon, maybe a bit later. It's not really relevant. And I'm already thinking about what happens after that. And what do we need for that time also, from the science side.

AMT: How discouraging is it for you when you see people voting for politicians who express real skepticism about climate change?

NEVEN CURLIN: Yeah. That's a good question. You could consider me an activist so that should interest me. All I care about is raising awareness. So I don't know about voting for politicians, what's the right thing to do. But I firmly believe that if enough people are aware of the seriousness of Arctic sea ice loss and global warming in general, that maybe then things can move towards a more positive direction. And in this sense, the Arctic sea ice is so important because we have the satellite images and we can see, we can see how fast it is going. And in that sense, the Arctic could be considered an iconic image that maybe opens the eyes of anyone who—even if he's not willing to look at it—cannot be denied.
AMT: Neven Curlin, thank you for speaking with me.

NEVEN CURLIN: Thank you for having me.

AMT: Neven Curlin, the creator of the Arctic Sea Ice blog which is now on ice. He's in Fürstenfeld, Austria. We'll put a link to it to our website,, to the blog, not Fürstenfeld. [chuckles] After hearing about the effects of climate change at both ends of the globe, it might be fitting to hear from British naturalist Sir David Attenborough. His parting words on the final broadcast ofBBC TV's Planet Earth 2 went viral online. He stood atop the 95-storey London Shard skyscraper to deliver this heartfelt plea on the future of the planet

PIOMAS December 2016

Another month has passed and so here is the updated Arctic sea ice volumegraph as calculated by the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS) at the Polar Science Center:

Well, November definitely was an Oh Jesus-month. Just like during October, the stall in sea ice extent has been reflected in the PIOMAS sea ice volume numbers. The Arctic amassed just 2904 km3 of sea ice, as compared to 3721 km3 for 2012 and 4054 km3 for 2011. The last time a November clocked in less than 3000 km3 was in 2006 (2567 km3), but right now 2016 is more than 4000 km3 lower than 2006, which means there should have been so much more opportunity for expansion. It's just crazy.
And so the differences with previous months have only become larger:
Change monthly difference November
Yes, your eyes are seeing what you think they're seeing: 2016 is 749 km3 lower than 2012, a new record low. Look, here's another visual aid, the volume graph produced by sea ice data virtuoso Wipneus:
Of course, the trend line on the PIOMAS sea ice volume anomaly graph is now firmly lodged in the 2 standard deviation territory:
With extent and volume being so low at the end of October one would have expected an explosive increase of thin ice at the edges of the ice pack. The fact that this didn't happen during November, relatively speaking, means that average thickness should be somewhat higher. But the PIJAMAS graph - based on my crude calculation of PIOMAS volume numbers divided by total JAXA sea ice extent - shows a marginal increase of just 4 cm (where 10-20 cm has been the norm in the past decade):
This means that the thicker ice didn't get that much thicker either, resulting in this year going lower than 2012 on this graph as well. The thickness plot from the Polar Science Center still has 2012 lowest, but the gap has been as good as closed:
In this respect it is also interesting to see this animation posted by over on the Forum, depicting the evolution of SMOS numbers since 2010 (remember, this ESA satellite is quite good at measuring ice thickness up to 0.5 metres):
There seems to be very little (thin) ice growth on the Atlantic side of the Arctic. As surprising as this is, it isn't all that surprising if you look at the current sea surface temperature anomalies there:
DMI SSTA 20161205
And how about sea ice volume distribution? Again, I've copied the 2010, 2011 and 2012 difference maps (the three lowest years after 2016) from the collage Wipneus posts every month over on the ASIF. This time I'm adding the PIOMAS Ice Thickness Anomaly for November 2016 relative to 2000-2015:
Sea ice volume distribution Nov
According to PIOMAS the ice north of Greenland and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago is currently thicker than it was in those other ultra-low years. Mostly elsewhere the ice is thinner and some of that thicker ice still seems very vulnerable to Fram Strait export.
Last, but not least, here's a collage of CryoSat images as put out by CPOM at University College London, which shows sea ice volume matching the previous lows of 2011 and 2012, as well as having thicker ice north of the CAA (hat-tip to Sarat/Taras):

Cryosat november
I'm trying to get into sabbatical mode, so I'm going to finish now. Suffice to say that if the current trend continues and the ice doesn't get a chance to thicken sufficiently this winter, things will get even more worrisome than they already are. 
Fortunately, the media has been writing a lot about the current unprecedentedness of events in the Arctic (and Antarctic), which is a sign that this serious situation is getting more and more embedded into the collective consciousness.

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