Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Missed It By That Much

You may recall a few weeks ago, the breathless report distributed by the Associated Press, from the National Snow and Ice Data Center about the plummeting of the crucial sea ice:

New satellite measurements show that crucial sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has plummeted to its second lowest level on record.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., announced Wednesday that the extent of sea ice in the Arctic is down to 2.03 million square miles. The lowest point on record is 1.65 million square miles set last September.

With about three weeks left in the melt season, the record may fall, scientists say.

At the time I pointed out that the increase over last year actually represents a positive trend. And, if the drama of their story depended on the level of crucial sea ice being lower than last year, maybe they ought to wait until it happens before hitting the panic button headlines. They would only have to wait a few short weeks.

Flash forward a few weeks, breaking news from the National Snow and Ice Data Center:

The Arctic sea ice cover appears to have reached its minimum extent for the year, the second-lowest extent recorded since the dawn of the satellite era.

Second-lowest? Ouch. Sorry about that boys.

If you lean in close to your computer screen, you can almost hear their mournful sighs of dejection. I think that impression comes from the lack of emotional ACTION words like "crucial" and "plummet" in this statement. Something tells me there hearts weren't in it as much this time.

To put this increase over last year in perspective, there's this from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

The total sea ice extent in the Arctic at this time was about 0.5 million square kilometers (0.2 mission square miles) larger than that at the same time last year. That difference in sea ice extent amounts to an area the size of Spain.

The size of Spain? That ain't exactly chopped chorizo.

Say what you will about the National Snow and Ice Center, they are chillingly tenacious. Despite this setback, they're prepared to keep up the fight:

While above the record minimum set on September 16, 2007, this year further reinforces the strong negative trend in summertime ice extent observed over the past thirty years. With the minimum behind us, we will continue to analyze ice conditions as we head into the crucial period of the ice growth season during the months to come.

All it takes is getting the focus back on global warming to bet the fire back in their bellies. The return of multiple emotionally charged terms, including our old friend "crucial." (Although I'm not sure if two uses of "crucial" -- the crucial growth period of the crucial sea ice -- cancel each other out or not).

To paraphrase my thoughts the first time they pulled this, when a text relies on emotionally charged terms, the intent is to persuade and motivate behavior rather than inform. On that I was right.

But I also assumed that if they failed to reach their goal in setting a record new low for crucial sea ice, they'd have to go away for at least another year. Incorrect! I did not foresee that for every crucial test passed, there's another crucial opportunity lying in wait in which to attempt to scare/motivate public opinion.

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