Arctic ice levels reached a record low in 2012NASA

A Cambridge climate change expert has been drawn into a war of words after scientists criticised his prediction that Arctic ice caps could disappear by this September.

Professor Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group, was accused of “crying wolf” by one academic, while others raised fears that he dramatic predictions could shake faith in climate science.

In an interview for The Guardian about his new book, A Farewell to Ice, which is due to come out next week, Wadhams said “Next year or the year after that, I think [the Arctic] will be free of ice in summer and by that I mean the central Arctic will be ice-free”.

In June, Wadhams told The Independent that satellite data produced by the US’s National Snow & Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) had shown a reduction in Arctic sea ice areas of over 1.5 million square kilometres – six times the size of the United Kingdom – compared to the average for that time of year across the last 30 years.

Wadhams came under criticism from other climate change academics academicsYouTube/Nick Breeze

He has previously claimed that the data backed up an estimation he made in 2013 in prestigious science journal Nature, when he said the Arctic would be “ice-free” – have less than one million square kilometres of ice – by the start of autumn last year.

Pushing his earlier prediction back by a year, he said “the Arctic ice may well disappear...for September of this year”.

However, last week the NSIDC issued a statement which said that “it is unlikely that Arctic sea ice extent this September will fall below the record minimum set in 2012.”

Wadhams was criticised for his predictions by several other high-ranking members of scientific community, with Dr Ed Hawkins of the University of Reading accusing the Cambridge professor of risking damage to the reputation of the scientific community by “crying wolf”.

“There are very serious risks from continued climatic changes and a melting Arctic but we do not serve the public and policy-makers well by exaggerating those risks,” Hawkins wrote on climate science discussion website Climate Lab Book on Tuesday.

“We will soon see an ice-free summer in the Arctic but there is a real danger of ‘crying wolf’ and that does not help anyone.”

He was joined by Richard Betts, who works at the Met Office’s Hadley Center, which provides guidance on the science of climate change.

In a comment on Hawkins’ article, Betts said: “When someone talks up imminent catastrophe, they might think they are getting a quick win by getting a scary story out there, but in the long term it will be an own goal.”

Until around two decades ago, there would typically be 7.5 million square kilometres of ice in the Arctic in September – that number is now consistently below 5 million square kilometres, and reached a record low of 3.6 million square kilometres in 2012.

Wadhams replied to Varsity’s request for comment but did not address the criticisms levelled by Hawkins or Betts.

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