Koonin Rebuts Ice Melt Hysteria

Monday, September 26, 2022

Steve Koonin, theoretical physicist and former Under Secretary for Science for the Department of Energy under President Obama writes at the Wall Street Journal to debunk a rash of sensationalist headlines about Antarctic glacial melt.

The yellow journalism takes legitimate studies of ill-understood processes as its point of departure, but very quickly departs from reality indeed -- as readers will see upon reading Koonin's careful and accessible explanation of the purpose of the studies, the methodology employed, and their results:

Image by 66 North, via Unsplash, license.
A second study tested the idea that freshwater from the melting of one glacier could be carried by currents along the shore to accelerate the discharge of nearby glaciers. Because global climate models are insufficiently detailed to describe the ocean near the coast, researchers constructed a special model to prove out their idea. If ocean currents can connect the discharges of distant glaciers, that would add to the complexity and variability of changes in the Antarctic ice sheet.

Under scenarios deemed likely by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a connection between ocean currents and discharge would increase the overall discharge rate in one region of the continent by some 10% by the end of the century. But to emphasize the idea being tested, the modelers used human influences almost three times larger. Even though that fact is stated in the paper, reporters rarely catch such nuance, and the media goes with headlines such as "Antarctic Ice Melting Could Be 40 Percent Faster Than Thought" with the absurd statement that "a massive tsunami would swamp New York City and beyond, killing millions. London, Venice and Mumbai would also become aquariums." A more accurate headline would read: "Ocean currents connecting antarctic glaciers might accelerate their melting." [link omitted, bold added]
And, as if, the level of exaggeration and hand-wringing you can see here aren't ridiculous enough, Koonin makes a complete farce of it simply by filling in context that reporters on climate routinely and negligently fail to provide. For example: [W]hile the Antarctic losses seem stupendously large, the recent annual losses amount to 0.001% of the total ice and, if they continued at that rate, would raise sea level by only 3 inches over 100 years.

-- CAV

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