Dire predictions that the Arctic would be devoid of sea ice by September this year have proven to be unfounded after latest satellite images showed there is far more now than in 2012.
Scientists such as Prof Peter Wadhams, of Cambridge University, and Prof Wieslaw Maslowski, of the Naval Postgraduate School in Moderey, California, have regularly forecast the loss of ice by 2016, which has been widely reported by the BBC and other media outlets.
Prof Wadhams, a leading expert on Arctic sea ice loss, has recently published a book entitled A Farewell To Ice in which he repeats the assertion that the polar region would free of ice in the middle of this decade.
Yet, when figures were released for the yearly minimum on September 10, they showed that there was still 1.6 million square miles of sea ice (4.14 square kilometres), which was 21 per cent more than the lowest point in 2012.
Although a quick glance at NSIDC satellite data going back to 1981 shows an undeniable downward trend in sea ice over the past 35 years, scientists have accused Prof Wadhams and others of “crying wolf” and harming the message of climate change through “dramatic”, “incorrect” and “confusing” predictions.
Dr Ed Hawkins, associate professor in the Department of Meterology, at the University of Reading, said: “There has been one prominent scientist who has regularly made more dramatic, and incorrect, in my view predictions suggesting that we would by now be in ice-free conditions.
“There are very serious risks from continued climatic changes and a melting Arctic, but we do not serve the public and policy-makers well by exaggerating those risks.
“We will soon see an ice-free summer in the Arctic, but there is a real danger of ‘crying wolf’ and that does not help anyone.
“As global temperatures rise, we will see a continuing decline in Arctic sea ice extent, although this will happen somewhat erratically, rather like a ball bouncing down a bumpy hill.
“Without substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the ball will reach the bottom of the hill, meaning the Arctic is ‘ice-free’, starting with a few days one summer, a few weeks another summer and gradually becoming more and more frequent over the next few decades.”
It is the latest example of experts making alarming predictions which do not come to pass. Earlier this week environmentalists were accused of misleading the public about the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” after aerial shots proved there was no “island of rubbish” in the middle of the ocean. Likewise, warnings that the hole in the ozone layer would never close were debunked in June.
Scientists warn that such claims risk detracting from the real issue. Losing Arctic sea ice is a major problem because ice reflects up to 70 per cent of sunlight, while open water reflects just 10 per cent, meaning the rest is absorbed by the planet, which speeds up global warming. A massive melt of freshwater could also disrupt global ocean currents and change weather systems.
For more than a decade, most scientists have accepted that the Arctic will be free ice-free by 2050, while the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calculates there is a 66 per cent chance of no ice by the middle of the century if emissions continue to increase annually.
Yet in 2007, Prof Wadhams predicted that sea ice would be lost by 2013 after levels fell 27 per cent in a single year. However, by 2013, ice levels were actually 25 per cent higher than they had been six years before. In 2012, following another record low, Prof Wadhams changed his prediction to 2016.
The view was supported by Prof Maslowski, who in 2013 published a paper in the Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences also claiming that the Arctic would be ice-free by 2016, plus or minus three years.