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Andy Nguyen
By Andy Nguyen May 31, 2023

Chart on Arctic sea ice extent has no bearing on Al Gore quote about the North Pole melting away

If Your Time is short

  • Al Gore misstated climate research in 2009 when he said there was a "75% chance" the ice at the North Pole would be gone during the summer months by 2013.
  • A chart showing the ice in the Arctic Sea growing during the winter and declining during the summer was used out of context in a Facebook post. 
  • Arctic sea ice has been declining by an average of 12.6% every 10 years since 1980.

Former Vice President Al Gore's famously wrong prediction in 2009 about Arctic sea ice completely melting by 2013 drew a lot of ridicule when it didn’t come to pass. 

A decade later, his comments still attract derision among those who downplay human activity's impact on climate change. 

Alex Epstein, president of the Center for Industrial Progress, a for-profit think tank that advocates for fossil fuel use, on May 5 shared a quote on Facebook from Gore. Epstein paired Gore’s words with a chart following seasonal patterns during the winter in recent years. He added the hashtag #catastrophizing. 

Epstein quoted Gore as saying in 2009, "Some of the models suggest ... there is a 75% chance that the entire north polar ice cap, during some of the summer months, could be completely ice-free within the next five to seven years."

The model in the post comes from the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, an intergovernmental organization that monitors global weather and climate. 

The chart provides little insight into how it relates to Gore’s quote or what it’s meant to represent. A spokeswoman for the organization said the chart was used out of context; it shows only the growth of Arctic sea ice extent during the winter months and its recession during the summer without any other information to contextualize it.  

Epstein told PolitiFact that Gore "obviously misrepresented the science about Arctic sea ice," and the data in the chart speaks for itself. 

"There is a long-term gradual trend in declining sea ice, as one would expect from warming concentrated in the Northern polar region," he said. "There is also a lot of annual and longer-term fluctuation in the sea ice extent."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook.)

Gore’s quote 

The quote Epstein used comes from a speech Gore gave Dec. 14, 2009, at the Copenhagen Climate Conference. Gore claimed research from Wieslaw Maslowski, a professor of oceanography at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, suggested a 75% chance the entire ice cap in the North Pole would disappear by 2013. 

However, Maslowski later said in an interview with the British newspaper, The Times, that he never provided such an estimate. "It's unclear to me how this figure was arrived at … I would never try to estimate likelihood at anything as exact as this," Maslowski said to the Times in 2009.

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The Times reported Gore’s office clarified that the 75% remark was based on a "ballpark figure" Maslowski gave several years before the Copenhagen speech in a conversation with Gore. 

More context needed for chart on Arctic sea ice

Gore’s quote dealt with Arctic ice disappearing during the summer. Valerie Barthmann, a spokeswoman for the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, told PolitiFact that the chart is unrelated to that.

Rather, the chart illustrates the growth of the Arctic sea ice extent during the freezing season that starts in January, specifically comparing the growth in 2022 with the previous five years. It is not focused solely on the amount of ice that’s present during the summer months, although the chart does show it declining. 

She also said the five-year comparison also doesn’t provide enough information on the health of Arctic sea ice. 

"Ranking in such a short period of time is not relevant" to what Gore said, Barthmann told us. 

Additional observations by the European organization show sea ice has been declining more and more over the last several decades — especially during the summer months. 

Although there may be some yearly variations in the amount of sea ice available, there has been an average decline of about 12.6% of sea ice per decade since 1980, when satellite observations began, according to NASA. 

Our ruling

A Facebook post quote mocked Gore’s 2009 comments about sea ice disappearing with a chart showing ice in the Arctic Sea still existing.

Gore’s quote and the sea ice chart are genuine, but they have no relation to each other. 

The European agency behind the chart said its use in the Facebook post is misleading, as it’s more focused on sea ice growth during the winter. Gore’s comments dealt with the complete disappearance of ice during the summer. 

The post also neglected another chart from the agency that shows Arctic sea ice has been on the decline for the last several decades — although not as drastic as Gore claimed.

The claim is partially accurate but omits critical details. We rate it Half True.

Our Sources

Alex Epstein, Facebook post (archive), May 5, 2023

Industrial Progress, About, accessed May 16, 2023

Email with Alex Epstein, May 19, 2023

EUMETSAT, About us, accessed May 15, 2023 YouTube Channel, Al Gore warns polar ice may be gone in five years, Dec. 16, 2009

The Times, Inconvenient truth for Al Gore as his North Pole sums don't add up (archive), Dec. 15, 2009

PolitiFact, Fact-checking claims that Al Gore said all Arctic ice will be gone in the summer by 2013, March 2, 2021

Agence France-Presse, Article misinterprets satellite data to claim sea ice at 30-year high, June 3, 2022

Email with Valerie Barthmann, EUMETSAT communication and events assistant, May 11, 2023

Wieslaw Maslowski, Research professor of oceanography at naval postgraduate school, accessed May 16, 2023

EUMETSAT, Daily updated sea ice extent, accessed May 16, 2023

NASA, Arctic sea ice minimum extent, May 15, 2023

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Chart on Arctic sea ice extent has no bearing on Al Gore quote about the North Pole melting away

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