Simple Sam and Arctic Sea Ice Volume

Posted on August 15, 2011


Clop-clop.  Clop-clop.  Here comes Simple Sam down the hallway wearing his climate denial slippers.  I promised him butter.  I promised him jam.  I promised to tell him about Arctic sea ice volume.  –Hi, Sam.

“Where’s this toast and jam you were promising?”

Not so quick, Sam.  Lecture first, toast and jam later.

“Toast and jam first, lecture later,” says Sam.

Okay, we’ll compromise.


You always look so suspicious, Sam.  Yes, we’ll compromise by making the toast and jam part of the lecture.

“We could, in the alternative, just eat the toast and jam while I patiently put up with your lecture.”

We could, Sam, in the alternative where you’re the real person and I’m the fictional character.  But for now, let’s do it my way.  –Voila! Some buttered toast.  Notice how in my generosity I’ve given you more butter than I’ve taken myself.

“It’s exactly the same amount of butter.  I saw you put it there.”

No, Sam, it’s obvious that your butter covers more acreage of toast.

“It’s the same amount of butter.  I saw,” says Sam.  “You just spread it around more.”

And look, Sam, I’ve given you 10% more jam than me, as measured by area.

“You did not!  I saw you take two spoons.  I only got a half.  You’re just spreading mine really thin.”

I’m surprised to see you take this attitude, Sam, you being a climate change denier and all.

“What has that got to do with it?”

In 2007 Arctic sea ice declined to its lowest level of coverage ever.

“That’s right, and it bounced back since, reversing the trend,” says Sam.

That’s what I mean, Sam. Arctic sea ice hasn’t bounced back at all.  It’s declined.  There is less and less of it every year.  We know this because of declassified records from the United States Navy who have been sailing submarines under the Arctic ice for some time and have been in a unique position to measure declining ice volume over time.  Their records show clearly that ice is getting less and less, a fact confirmed by satellites and by people living and studying in the Arctic.

The amount of sea ice coverage has other relevant effects, such as affecting the Earth’s albedo, affecting, that is, how much heat Earth retains and how much is reflected back into space, and that’s very important to climate change (see here), but otherwise sea ice extent is not the best measure of sea ice health.

You see, it’s not how far the butter or jam is spread, Sam, it’s how much there is to spread.  And by that measure, with sea ice volumes in steady decline year by year, there has never been a bounce-back in sea ice.  That’s an illusion.  It’s merely spread thinner.

Anyway, I thought that being a climate change denier, you might be particularly susceptible to that illusion given that the failure of 2007 to repeat itself every year has been a major climate denier talking point.—By the way, every indication is that 2011 will be a record year, beating out 2007 the hard way, without the benefit of the particular weather conditions which made 2007 a record year.

“Hah!  Pure sophistry,” says Simple Sam.  “And whether 2011 is a record year remains to be seen.  Now give me more jam.”

Are you sure you wouldn’t want me just to spread what you have a little thinner?  In fact, if you spread it thin enough, you don’t even need as much as you already have.

“Give me more jam.”

Now, now, Sam.  Try to be consistent.  You’ve already agreed to the concept in your role as a climate denier.  If spreading ice thinner means you have more ice, then spreading jam thinner must mean you have more jam.

Have more jam, Sam, your way.  All you have to do is smear it around a little more with your butter knife.

“Are you going to give me the spoon or what?” asks Sam.


See Thinning Arctic Sea Ice Poised to Undergo Record Decline in Mid-August – Climate Progress