Al Gore Slips On Artic Ice; Misstates Scientist's Forecast : The Two-Way Like most politicians, practicing and reformed, Al Gore has been known to stretch the truth on occasion. So it's not surprising that he played it a bit fast and loose recently with some climate change data.
NPR logo Al Gore Slips On Artic Ice; Misstates Scientist's Forecast

Al Gore Slips On Artic Ice; Misstates Scientist's Forecast

Al Gore slipped on Arctic ice by misstating a scientist's forecast on the pace of melting. Tariq Mikkel Khan/Polfoto/AP Photo hide caption

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Tariq Mikkel Khan/Polfoto/AP Photo

Al Gore slipped on Arctic ice by misstating a scientist's forecast on the pace of melting.

Tariq Mikkel Khan/Polfoto/AP Photo

Like most politicians, practicing and reformed, Al Gore has been known to stretch the truth on occasion.

Like the time he said in 1999, "During my time in the U.S. Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet."

So it's not surprising that he played it a bit fast and loose during a speech he gave at the Copenhagen climate-change conference with a global-warming prediction a scientist provided to his office. And even scientists who believe humans are contributing to global warming were alarmed by the misstatement of the forecast.

In a piece headlined "Inconvenient Truth For Al Gore As His North Pole Sums Don't Add Up" the Times, the right-leaning British news operation, reports:

Mr Gore, speaking at the Copenhagen climate change summit, stated the latest research showed that the Arctic could be completely ice-free in five years.

In his speech, Mr Gore told the conference: "These figures are fresh. Some of the models suggest to Dr [Wieslav] Maslowski that there is a 75 per cent chance that the entire north polar ice cap, during the summer months, could be completely ice-free within five to seven years."

However, the climatologist whose work Mr Gore was relying upon dropped the former Vice-President in the water with an icy blast.

"It's unclear to me how this figure was arrived at," Dr Maslowski said. "I would never try to estimate likelihood at anything as exact as this."

Mr Gore's office later admitted that the 75 per cent figure was one used by Dr Maslowksi as a "ballpark figure" several years ago in a conversation with Mr Gore...

...Perhaps Mr Gore had felt the need to gild the lily to buttress resolve. But his speech was roundly criticised by members of the climate science community. "This is an exaggeration that opens the science up to criticism from sceptics," Professor Jim Overland, a leading oceanographer at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

"You really don't need to exaggerate the changes in the Arctic."

Others said that, even if quoted correctly, Dr Maslowski's six-year projection for near-ice-free conditions is at the extreme end of the scale. Most climate scientists agree that a 20 to 30-year timescale is more likely for the near-disappearance of sea ice.

"Maslowski's work is very well respected, but he's a bit out on a limb," said Professor Peter Wadhams, a specialist in ocean physics at the University of Cambridge.

Dr Maslowki, who works at the US Naval Postgraduate School in California, said that his latest results give a six-year projection for the melting of 80 per cent of the ice, but he said he expects some ice to remain beyond 2020.

He added: "I was very explicit that we were talking about near-ice-free conditions and not completely ice-free conditions in the northern ocean. I would never try to estimate likelihood at anything as exact as this," he said. "It's unclear to me how this figure was arrived at, based on the information I provided to Al Gore's office."