A Historical past of Failed Predictions • Are You Completed?

The narrative surrounding Arctic sea ice has been one of consistent warning punctuated by a string of forecast errors spanning decades. Scientists have long been predicting the sinking of the Arctic summer ice, but their deadlines have kept coming up, leaving us with a track record of failed predictions. The latest claim is no different, suggesting it is now too late to save Arctic summer ice. But as we have seen, the timeline for these forecasts can shift significantly and unpredictably.

In the current study, led by Prof. Seung-Ki Min of Pohang University in South Korea and Prof. Dirk Notz of Universität Hamburg in Germany, they claim that the Arctic will be ice-free by September in the coming decades. However, it should be noted that forecasts of this type have been made before and subsequently revised. The once feared “first ice-free summer” was initially predicted for 2012, but then fluctuated back and forth for years. This kind of time jumping has generated considerable skepticism and undermined the credibility of such predictions.


The IPCC Sixth Assessment Report found, based on the latest generation of simulations, that the Arctic should be practically ice-free on average in September under medium and high greenhouse gas emission scenarios, but not under low greenhouse gas emission scenarios Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 6 (CMIP6) models. Here, using an attribution analysis approach, we show that a dominant impact of greenhouse gas increase on the Arctic sea ice cover is detectable in three observation datasets in all months of the year, but is underestimated by CMIP6 models on average. By scaling the models’ sea ice response to greenhouse gases to best match the observed trend with an approach validated in an incomplete model test, we predict an ice-free Arctic in September under all considered scenarios. These results underscore the profound impact of greenhouse gas emissions on the Arctic and underscore the importance of planning for and adapting to a seasonally ice-free Arctic in the near future.


The most important finding here is that these are forecasts, i.e. models based on certain conditions and parameters. The crux of the matter lies in the unpredictability of natural phenomena and the multitude of factors that influence them.

The new study claims that 90% of the melting is due to human-caused global warming, but the remaining 10% is due to natural factors such as fluctuations in the sun’s intensity and emissions from volcanoes. Because of this natural variability in the climate system, researchers cannot pinpoint a specific year for the first ice-free summer.

Even Prof. Mark Serreze, the director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, who was not involved in the study, acknowledges the difficulty of making accurate predictions. He concedes that his earlier prediction of an ice-free Arctic by 2030 may have been too aggressive. This sort of retraction only reinforces the reality of the situation: Arctic sea ice forecasts have been notoriously inaccurate over time.

The inherent complexity of the Earth’s climate system and the inability to account for every single variable affecting Arctic ice melting put these predictions on shaky ground. As has been shown time and time again over the years, alarming deadlines for an ice-free Arctic have come and gone, leaving us to question the credibility of these predictions. In the field of science, it is crucial to distinguish between what we know and what we assume.

Decades of failed predictions about the end of Arctic sea ice should prompt us to take a critical look at these new findings. As we continue to explore and learn about Earth’s complex climate system, it is important to strike a balance between caution, skepticism, and a willingness to reconsider our models and predictions.

HT/Hans Erren and strativarius

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