NASA created a stir among the AGW crowd this week and a number of my AGW friends posted it all over Facebook. I assume you’ve seen it (see, it’s even made it into the techie sites) – the satellite images of Greneland with a title like “Satellites See Unprecedented Greenland Ice Sheet Surface Melt” or AP’s Seth Borenstein’s ill-written piece titled, “NASA: Sudden Massive Melt in Greenland”.
Let’s dissect the title and to do so, let’s start with the NASA article itself :
“Ice cores from Summit show that melting events of this type occur about once every 150 years on average. With the last one happening in 1889, this event is right on time,” says Lora Koenig, a Goddard glaciologist and a member of the research team analyzing the satellite data. “But if we continue to observe melting events like this in upcoming years, it will be worrisome.”
So what exactly is “unprecedented” when research shows that this melting occurs about every 150 years. Maybe 1889 was a one-off year? Let’s ask Laura Koenig, the glaciologist mentioned above:
My comment shows that melt events have occurred at Summit in the past and I have quoted the longest-term average frequency of ~150 years (exactly 153 from the paper) over the past 10,000. Since this is an ice core record that frequency is for the location of Summit only. The frequency ranges from ~80 to 250 years over different sections of the GISP2 ice core, please see [my] paper for specifics.
Hmm. Ok. So “unprecedented” not so much – it’s been happening at the summit about every 150 years for 10,000 years. Well, it must be a mess up there with all the melting going on. Let’s check in at the Summit Camp:
Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr. writes the following thoughts about the hub-bub and includes this tidbit:
The news headline, in particular, is an example of media hype. There was no “massive melt“. The term “massive” implies that the melt involved large masses of the Greenland icecap. They could have written “Sudden Extensive, Short-Term Surface Melting On the Greenland Icecap“, but instead chose to overstate what is a short-term weather event. Melting of surface ice occurs in Greenland whenever there are relatively warm surface air temperatures, as shown in the plot from Summit Station at the top of this post, and sunny skies, as reported by Thomas Mote in Seth [Borenstein]’s article. Almost anytime, sublimation (direct transfer from ice to water vapor) occurs.
Poor editors, lack of proper grammar or vocabulary skills, bias – pick your poison but I don’t think there is any good reason to write and disseminate information like this.