Before we go into a round-up of today’s Arctic sea ice conditions and melt forecasts, it’s important to note a few things. The first is that the Arctic has suffered an amazing loss of sea ice since 1979. An 80% volume loss and a 55% percent area loss over the past 33 years is an ominous event that will continue to impact our climate for years and decades to come. It is also a signal of how little resilience remains to the ice.
The Arctic, as such, bears deep and abiding scars inflicted by human-caused climate change. The sea ice remembers well these scars. Less energy will be needed to melt the ice than was necessary thirty, twenty, or event ten years ago. And the wounds inflicted in 2012 may prevent the Arctic from ever recovering to any state similar to the cold, frozen environment we once knew. Instead, we’ve entered a period of lasting damage and rapid change. A period where an extreme lack of resiliency is visible in nearly all regions of the sea ice pack.
Signs now show a speedy and violent loss of Arctic sea ice integrity — over the entire ice pack.
One part of this story is an Arctic Cyclone (Persistent Arctic Cyclone 2013 or PAC 2013) that emerged on May 26th and has continued to plow through the dense ice at the Arctic’s center ever since. At its strongest, the storm showed pressures in the range of 975-980 millibars. Today, the storm deepened to similar levels:
(Image source: DMI)
The storm is now centered in the northern Laptev Sea, drifting close to an area thinned by warmer temperatures and early-season sea ice melt. Since the ice in this region is less resilient than the thicker ice of the Central Arctic, we can expect more visible thinning. Physical impacts from the storm — churning, mixing, upwelling and potentially above freezing surface precipitation — are all likely to erode sea ice in areas beneath its circulation.
The US Navy’s CICE/HYCOM model displays strongly enhanced melt and thinning projected for this region over the coming days:
(Image source: US Navy)
Note the large region of melting and thinning ice stretching from a swath directly north of Siberia, through the Laptev Sea and on toward the North Pole. The counter-clockwise motion of the storm is projected to pull the ice apart even as the physical forces of the storm, described above, further thin the ice. In many instances, we see the ice projected to thin to between 1.2 and .8 meters.
Meanwhile, an area directly under the North Pole is projected to break and thin further as PAC 2013 returns to the Central Arctic later in the forecast period.
ECMWF model forecasts show PAC 2013 moving to hover over the Canadian Archipelago by June 18th. The storm is expected to continue until at least June 20th, nearly a month after its entry into the Arctic on about May 26th.
Warm Air Building Around the Arctic
As the Persistent Arctic Cyclone of 2013 continues to rage near the Arctic’s heart, warmer air keeps funneling in around and behind it. Near Kamchatka, a northward bulge in the jet stream bore a bubble of warmer temperatures up into the Arctic. Over the past day or two, these average above freezing temperatures have spread to cover much of the Beaufort, Chukchi, and East Siberian Seas, a knuckle of this warmer air reaches almost all the way to the North Pole even as the region of below 0 Celsius temperatures stretches and thins.
(Image source: DMI)
This large bulge of warmer air also shows areas near the Mackenzie Delta and in the East Siberian Sea with average temperatures above 5 degrees Celsius and areas hugging the coast averaging above 10 degrees Celsius. This is a powerful warming that is likely to impact ice-covered regions.
Models show warmth in the area continuing through at least next week. Barrow Alaska, notably, is predicted to see high temperatures around 65 degrees Fahrenheit by this Thursday.
The see-saw motion of the Persistent Arctic Cyclone has now alternately drawn warm air in from Scandinavia and Kamchatka. It is worth noting that a region of hot air has again developed over North-Eastern Europe. These warmer temperatures, should they persist, are likely to be drawn into the Arctic when/if the Cyclone again shifts to the Canadian side of the Central Arctic.
A more current temperature map shows this warming as a display of hot pinks over North-Eastern Europe, with warmer air even extending into the Kara Sea. A cursory look also shows very few readings below the -2 Celsius freezing point of sea water. Yet one more sign that warmth is building.
(Image source: Uni-Koeln)
It is also worth noting that the coldest reading on Greenland, now, is -1 Celsius, where warming temperatures there have fueled a burst of early season glacial melt. Melt values have spiked well above what is typical for June and entered territory usually reserved for July — the height of the Greenland melt season.
Melt areas for Greenland spiked to over 20% of the ice sheet surface over the past few days. Maximum melt area averages around 23% during mid July. So Greenland melt this year is already at least a month ahead of schedule and has more than caught up with slower melt experienced during May.
(Image source: NSIDC)
Last year, Geenland set new melt records with melt exceeding any period in at least the past 120 years.
Overall, conditions throughout the Arctic point toward a rapidly progressing melt season. Temperature measures and temperature and weather forecasts over the coming days are likely to continue to push more rapid sea ice melt. Sea ice edge melt and damage due to the ongoing Persistent Arctic Cyclone of 2013 are likely to be the greatest contributors. Large spikes in early season melt to record or near record values are certainly possible given current conditions.
Greenland melt, already proceeding more rapidly than normal, will also bear close watching. It may be possible that melt values will challenge records set in 2012. Should such an event occur, we will have yet more proof that current, very rapid, ongoing, and increasing Greenland melt is well outside the range of ‘normal.”