Over the past month, warmth and energy have been building in the Arctic. All around, from Siberia to Scandinavia to Alaska, heatwaves have flared beneath anomalous long-wave patterns in the Jet Stream. Patterns, that in many cases have persisted for months. The Alaskan heat dome sent temperatures there to 98 degrees (Fahrenheit). Temperatures in Siberia flared to the low 90s. And heat built and flared again in Scandinavia and Northeastern Europe, sending Arctic temperatures first into the 80s and then to 92.
This building and highly anomalous heat was coupled by another unusual event — a long duration series of Arctic storms that have thinned and weakened large sections of sea ice near the North Pole. This Persistent Arctic Cyclone has flared and faded, remaining in the Arctic since late May.
Now, with central sea ice weakened and with heat circling in from all around, the Arctic appears to be bracing for a period of rapid sea ice loss.
Part 1: The Monitors Start to Go Sharply Negative
The first hint that the Arctic may be at the start of a precipitous fall in sea ice came when the major monitors all went negative. Cryosphere Today, Jaxa, NSIDC — all these key monitors show Arctic sea ice coverage falling sharply over the past two days.
Cryosphere Today showed a substantial loss of more than 200,000 square kilometers of sea ice area in its most recent 24 hour period. Jaxa and NSIDC showed similar extent losses with NSIDC following a steeply declining curve to 10.6 million square kilometers and JAXA diving down to 10.1 million square kilometers.
You can vividly see this declining curve in the most recent NSIDC graph:
And you can see the stunning near-vertical recent decline in the Cryosphere Today graph here:
Together, these monitors begin to show what could well be the emergence of a potential ‘sea ice cliff’ resulting from rapid loss of ice during a time of escalating impacts. And these impacts appear to be emerging in rapid succession. Most notably, a Warm Storm now melts the central ice even as massive heatwaves threaten to inject hot air into the Arctic’s perimeter.
Part 2: PAC 2013 Now a ‘Warm Storm’
We find that even as these sharp sea ice declines began to emerge, temperatures in the Central Arctic Basin are now all above freezing. Meanwhile, a 995 mb low churns almost directly over the North Pole. This low is part of the same complex of storms that has remained in the Central Arctic since about May 26. Though storms, even strong, long duration storm events like this one, have been known to occur in this region during June, a persistent storm thinning and melting the Central Arctic Basin ice is unprecedented. And this is exactly what has been happening.
Now, it appears this storm has shifted into a new phase that is likely to further enhance central sea ice thinning and melting. The Warm Storm appears to have taken hold.
In a previous post, I defined a ‘Warm’ Arctic Storm as a storm occurring in the Central Arctic in conjunction with average atmospheric temperatures in the range of 0 to 6 degrees Celsius. We are now decisively in the lower end of that temperature range as you can see in the current DMI temperature measure:
(Image source: DMI)
Note the wide area of above freezing temperatures now dominating all but isolated portions of the Central Arctic. And, for reference, we have the position of our Warm Storm given in the DMI image below.
(Image source: DMI)
Here we can see our Warm Storm now hovering almost directly over the North Pole.
These Warm Storm conditions provide an added surface stress to the sea ice by burdening the ice will above freezing precipitation, winds, fog and air with higher moisture content. These forces add to the churning mechanism of the storm which tends to break the fresh water cap that protects the sea ice and pull up warmer, saltier water from below. It is a combined stress that has already greatly eroded and melted the Central Arctic’s sea ice.
A vivid modeling of current and projected impacts of this Warm Storm are graphically displayed in the US Navy CICE/HYCOM thickness monitor below:
(Image source: US Navy)
In this vivid model history we can see our ‘Warm Storm’ turning a growing section of the Central Arctic sea ice into one enormous melt puddle even as it continues to shove sea ice along the north coast of Greenland and out through the Fram Strait. It is also worth noting the speed and violence with which edge melt is projected to proceed between now and July 5th. Hudson Bay, Baffin Bay, the waters of the Canadian Archipelago, The Kara Sea, The East Siberian Sea, The Chukchi, and even the edges of the Beaufort are all projected (in this model) to see rapid to extraordinarily rapid melt.
As noted before, a ‘Warm Storm’ event is a potential nightmare scenario for sea ice loss. And we’re experiencing the early phase of such an event now.
Part 3: Mangled Jet Stream Delivers Major Arctic Heat Spike
As if the formation of a ‘Warm Storm’ in the Central Arctic wasn’t enough…
Today, the Jet Stream set up to begin to deliver an enormous heat spike based in the Western US, which is predicted to see blast furnace temperatures that challenge Earth’s all time record of 134 degrees (Fahrenheit), extending up across a Canada that I’m not sure is prepared for this level of heat, stretching over the Canadian Archipelago, and finally dumping an enormous heat load into the Beaufort Sea.
We can see the current Jet Stream configuration, which can well be described as a freaky hydra-head pattern with multiple rapid upper air flows converging on the high Arctic, in the image below:
(Image source: California Regional Weather Service)
In particular, we note the high amplitude Rossby Wave pattern emerging over the western US and reinforced by a second echoing pattern extending up over the Beaufort Sea. The wave height for this massive blocking pattern in the Jet is expected to jump northward over the coming days even as a terrific heat dome intensifies with a center near the ‘Devil’s Armpit’ (Hat Tip to X-Ray Mike over at Collapse) of the US (Southern California, Nevada, Arizona).
By Wednesday, we see extraordinary 35 degree Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) average 5,000 foot temperatures at the heat dome’s heart in the US Southwest (translating into 105 to 123+ degree surface highs over a broad area), and a long pulse of hot air jumping all the way up to the Beaufort Sea where it appears near 80 degree (F) high temperatures could emerge near or even over the sea ice.
You can view this uncanny record hot air pulse in the ECMWF weather model forecast below:
(Image source: ECMWF)
Note the angry hot pink heat dome over the US Southwest and the long, hot arm extending from it and all the way into the Beaufort. It is also worth noting that a secondary, though somewhat less intense, heat surge also emerges above Scandinavia and extends deep into the Arctic from its opposite end, creating a kind of pincher of hot air keeping the Arctic in its grip.
By Thursday, this hot air gets wrapped into a 990 mb ‘Warm Storm’ that then goes traipsing through the Beaufort. Not a pleasant prospect, if one wishes to see sea ice preserved…
Worst Case Melt Scenario May be Emerging
So by late June, it appears that the worst case melt scenario — with a storm hollowing out and melting the Arctic sea ice from the center and powerful warm air pulses delivered by a mangled Jet Stream rapidly melting the sea ice from its edges — may be emerging. A start to a ‘melt cliff’ that occurred this week, therefore, may extend and rapidly advance over the coming days. Model ensembles seem to support this forecast even as atmospheric heat delivery to the Arctic ramps up. It is an extreme situation that is well worth monitoring.