I have an article up on Spiked today about the melting Greenland ice cover story from a few weeks back.
‘Satellites see Unprecedented Greenland Ice Sheet Melt’, announced a press release on 24 July from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institution of Technology. Satellites that constantly scan environmental conditions on the planet’s surface had revealed that from 8 July to 12 July, 97 per cent of the surface of the ice sheet contained water rather than ice, whereas typically just 45 per cent of the surface area melts at this time of year. The extent of this melt is not in itself significant – just millimetres on top of an ice sheet that is 3.5 kilometres thick at its deepest point, most of which soon refreezes.
In spite of the headline, the press release itself went on to explain how the ‘unprecedented’ extent of surface ice melt wasn’t, in fact, unprecedented. ‘Ice cores from Summit [a central Greenland station] 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’, said Lora Koenig, a NASA researcher involved in the analysis of the satellite data.
I had long and interesting chat with sea ice researcher at the Open University, Mark Brandon before writing the article. Mark and I probably disagree about a number of things, but on the expectations of science, we did seem to find some common ground. What emerged most strongly for me was that, in the current atmosphere of the climate debate, the possibilities of doing ‘value free’ research are greatly reduced: any scientific development which paints a picture of things being better or ‘worse than we thought’ has immediate implications for the debate.