Arctic Sea Ice Underestimated Due to Satellite ‘Catastrophic Failure’ – Not. The Good News & Bad News

DMSP satellite Defense Meteorological Satellite Program solar panel outer space earth orbit planer sun photo

Surging over at DIGG right now, a story via Bloomberg with the hed Arctic Sea Ice Underestimated Due to Faulty Sensor.

Feb. 20 (Bloomberg) — A glitch in satellite sensors caused scientists to underestimate the extent of Arctic sea ice by 500,000 square kilometers (193,000 square miles), a California- size area, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center said.

Put simply, there’s more sea ice than we thought so:

1) green thinkers can breathe a sigh of relief that perhaps global warming feedback loops are not as bad as we thought, and
2) anthropogenic climate change deniers can raise a playground cry of “nah-nah-nanna,” which loosely translates to “human-caused climate change is a ruse, punks.”

DIGG Dialogue in Paraphrase

POINT: Hey this discounts all climate science around global warming you crazy green idiots. Especially you, Gore.

COUNTERPOINT: This does not discount all climate science around global warming. The data is bad only for about six weeks time. And, oh: Gore be my eco hero, but I do hope he lays off the carbs (nota bene: we added that last part about the carbs)

Exeunt DIGG, Enter Meteorologist Anthony Watt

Eternally asking the punny question Watt’s Up With That? — and in the process winning a 2008 Best Science Blog Weblog Award — weather-science savvy Anthony Watt reminds his loyal readers that on February 16th he posted about a graph of arctic sea ice, which had been  posted on the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSID) sea ice news page, displaying an abrupt and puzzling downward jump in the blue line:

nsidc arctic sea ice extent data chart timeseries 021509 National Snow and Ice Data Center image

When the NSIDC announced they had discovered the reason why, that the sensor on the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellite they use had degraded and had failed to the point of being unusable, Watt reported the news (NSIDC: satellite sea ice sensor has “catastrophic failure” – data faulty for the last 45 or more days) that the sensor’s slow decline for almost two months had caused a bias in the arctic sea ice data that underestimated the total sea ice by 500,000 square kilometers. Most interesting, however, is Watt’s update of 2/19:

Walt Meier writes with a clarification: “One detail, though perhaps an important [one]. I realize that it is bit confusing, but it is just one channel of the sensor that has issues. And it isn’t so much that it “failed”, but that  quality degraded to the point the sea ice algorithm – the process to convert the raw data into sea ice concentration/extent – failed on Monday.

The upshot being that since the problem has been caught and is not in fact a “catastrophic failure,” the monitoring system can be repaired, and subsequent data should again be accurate. Watts has the detailed summary of the problem via NSIDC and notes that none of this will affect other ice monitoring programs that use the  Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (EOS AMSR-E) sensor, which is on an entirely different platform, the AQUA satellite. Phew!

Rejoice in the reassurance of more bountiful sea ice or curse the return of accurate data buoying up anthropogenic climate change, both greenies and green-deniers still have a lot to talk about.

via DIGG| Watts Up With That

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