Powerful Arctic Cyclone Driving Record Sea Ice Melt

Since August 2nd, we’ve been reporting on the potential for a new record low in sea ice area and extent for 2012. And since that date, the Arctic has lost unprecedented volumes due to melt. Strangely, as if on queue, a powerful storm formed in the Arctic late on August 5th and has since churned through the ice pack, further accelerating melt.

The low formed on August 5th in the East Siberian Sea. It quickly grew into a powerful cyclone with 35 knot winds, pushing 10-12 foot seas. It then tore northward and is now wobbling near the pole. Forecasters expect it to linger through today before weakening. The forecast following this powerful storm is for warm weather and strong winds.

Strong storms of this kind are rare in the Arctic, especially in summer. But they do have a dramatic impact on sea ice. The powerful wind and wave action generated by these storms mixes the water column, bringing warmer water up to the surface. It also breaks ice flows into smaller bits. Finally, powerful storms can tap into warmer air to the south, drawing it in behind the storm. This one, two, three punch tends to result in rapid melting following these events. And given the already fragile state of sea ice this year, the current storm appears to be delivering a coupe de grace to the ice sheet.

You can view this rapid ice loss in the sequence provided by Cryosphere Today above. Looking at the ice’s motion, it appears that the main ice sheet is pulling away from stranded ice left in the East Siberian Sea, creating what appears to be a growing gap between these ice packs. This kind of a break-up is very rare for the Arctic Ocean and we are probably witnessing something that has never been seen before in the satellite record.

Overall, first indicators are that this storm has delivered a powerful blow to Arctic Sea ice. Cryosphere Today is showing a loss of 310,000 square kilometers of sea ice since we began reporting on the potential for record melt on August 3rd. That’s a loss of nearly 80,000 square kilometers of sea ice each day. Currently, Cryosphere Today is showing sea ice area at 3,480,000 square kilometers. This is about 500,000 square kilometers above the previous record low set in 2007. At the current rate of melt, it would take less than a week for this record to be breached.

Indicators for sea ice extent are also tracking lower with the NSIDC chart showing continued decline below 2007 records and the Japanese Space Agency showing sea ice extent entering record low territory as well:

With the most recent turn in the JAXA chart looking like the edge of a cliff.

Forecasters expect this cyclone to continue today before finally dissipating sometime after 24 hours. Afterward, forecasters are calling for warm and windy conditions. These conditions are likely to support continued rapid melt over the next few days.







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  1. Arctic Cyclone Hangs On, Record 2012 Sea Ice Loss Continues, Large Areas of Sea Ice Detacted From Main Ice Flow « robertscribbler
  2. Persistent Arctic Cyclone The ‘Warm Storm’ of 2013: How Unusual is It? Is Central Ice-Thinning Normal? What are the Worst-Case Scenarios? | robertscribbler

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