An alarming editor’s note. In case you thought there were no more horrors to come in this global financial crisis, just have a read of this note to subscribers from John Micklethwait, editor in chief of The Economist :

On our cover we highlight the gathering political and economic storm on the other side of the Atlantic. The prompt is the possible collapse of eastern Europe, the region which contains most of the world’s wobbliest economies. The prospect of paying for a bail-out is beginning to spook already hard-pressed west Europeans; it could also disrupt the euro and the single market. This week we give warning that if eastern Europe goes down, it could take the European Union with it.

German’s Der Spiegel is similarly pessimistic about eastern Europe. Germany’s Finance Ministry, it says, is currently looking into ways to help struggling euro zone member states. Its ultimate aim is to save Europe’s common currency from collapse. The magazine asks if Germany will have to bail out other EU states the way it is rescuing its banks and industry?

Just 500,000 square kilometers. I admit I’m a sucker when it comes to looking at climate change data. Not because I’m a sceptic nor because I’m a zealous believer, I just happen to think that this is perhaps the biggest story around in the world today and journalists should be reporting the pros and cons as they happen. Hence this little note about the missing 500,000 square kilometers of Arctic sea ice. I leave it to others more qualified than me to draw any conclusions.

On 18 February, the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reported thus:

As some of our readers have already noticed, there was a significant problem with the daily sea ice data images on February 16. The problem arose from a malfunction of the satellite sensor we use for our daily sea ice products. Upon further investigation, we discovered that starting around early January, an error known as sensor drift caused a slowly growing underestimation of Arctic sea ice extent. The underestimation reached approximately 500,000 square kilometers (193,000 square miles) by mid-February. Sensor drift, although infrequent, does occasionally occur and it is one of the things that we account for during quality control measures prior to archiving the data. See below for more details.

We have removed the most recent data and are investigating alternative data sources that will provide correct results. It is not clear when we will have data back online, but we are working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

Those alternative data sources have now been found and the graph shows the extent of the differences.

NSIDC explains that it gets sea ice information by applying algorithms to data from a series of Special Sensor Microwave/Imager (SSM/I) sensors on Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellites. These satellites are operated by the U.S. Department of Defense with the primary mission of supporting U.S. military operations; the data wasn’t originally intended for general science use.

It was the sensor on satellite F15 that malfunctioned so NSIDC recalculated sea ice extent using data from the DMSP F13 satellite, an older sensor in the same series of satellites. The recalculations showed that at the end of January, the F15 sensor had underestimated ice extent by 50,000 square kilometers (19,300 square miles) compared to F13. That is still within the margin of error for daily data. By mid-February, the difference had grown to 500,000 square kilometers (193,000 square miles), which is outside of expected error and represents just less than 4% of Arctic sea ice extent at this time of year. When the computed daily extent dropped sharply on 16 February, the sensor failure became obvious.

The animated map shows how NSIDC scientists now correct for missing data in their daily time series. The daily sea ice extent map labeled “raw data” shows areas of missing data as gray wedges and speckles. The map labeled “interpolated” shows the daily image used to calculate the daily time series.

Sea Ice Index data

This little hiccup in the data apparently is of no significance in the long term interpretation of what is happening to Arctic ice. The NSIDC scientists are confident the F15 sensor drift “does not change any of our conclusions” regarding the long-term decline in Arctic sea ice extent. “Such scientific conclusions”, it comments, “published in peer-reviewed journals, are based on quality-controlled monthly to annually averaged data. We have quality-controlled the final data through 2007; a thorough audit of the more recent data from 2008 shows that any discrepancies fall within the margin of error.”

Strutting on the world stage. Kevin Rudd is clearly not worried about being seen as a globe trotting Prime Minister. It looks like he intends to spend a fair bit of next month out of the country. Attending the meeting of the G20 in London has been on the PM’s agenda for some time but now it will be proceeded by a chat 10 days before with President Barack Obama in Washington.

The Federal Opposition is bound to continue with its campaign describing the Prime Minister as Kevin 747, but pictures shaking the presidential hand at the White House are going to be a popularity plus.

A key opinion poll figure to change. There is one key figure in the Galaxy opinion poll published in this morning’s Brisbane Courier Mail that the Labor Party will be keen to change. Forget about the 50:50 split that Galaxy measures as the two party preferred vote. The danger figure is that showing 64% of Queenslanders believe Labor will win. That is the kind of finding that encourages the protest vote which Labor suffered in Western Australia when it last went to an election held earlier than necessary. Premier Anna Blight needs to work harder at explaining why the early poll is necessary, but at least headlines like this morning’s Galaxy poll shows Queensland state election split 50:50 help lower the perception that she is in for an easy victory.