Arctic Sea Ice and “Settled Science”

According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, researchers at University College London have, using new satellite data, concluded that the total volume of sea ice in the Northern Hemisphere was well above the average in the autumn of 2013, after an unusually cool summer.

This is an interesting and potentially important finding.

A steady decline in the extent of Arctic sea ice since the late 1970s has been taken as a barometer of longer-term warming trends in the Northern hemisphere.  Based on these trends, last year the U. S. Navy predicted that by 2030, the Arctic’s northern sea route could be ice-free and navigable for nine weeks every year.  However, improved data collection suggests that additional research may be beneficial.

Previously, researchers had been able to track the extent of ice but not its thickness.  However, with the launching of the European Space Agency’s Cryosat-2 radar satellite this changed.  Based on new satellite data, the researchers determined that, with 2013 summer temperatures about 5% cooler than the previous year, the volume of autumn ice increased 41%.

While anecdotal evidence is sketchy at best, on a recent visit to Scotland, our Glasgow based guide lamented over the severity of last winter’s weather, with serious snow accumulation.  This was a real problem for a region with virtually no snow removal equipment and suggests that the region has now seen two consecutive cool periods.

Investors should carefully consider the potential for new information.  Remember, we don’t know what we don’t know.

All comments and suggestions are welcome.

Walter J. Kirchberger, CFA®