Arctic Shows Very Rapid Sea Ice Motion, Hints of Quickening Melt

Ateam sea ice motion

(Image source: Sea Ice Blog/A-Team)

Last month’s Arctic sea ice cracking event has left the Beaufort ice pack particularly vulnerable to rapid transport. This mobility can be seen in the above image sequence provided by Arctic Sea Ice blog poster: A-Team.

The sequence reveals very rapid motion in the freshly broken ice by tracking the largest crack’s rate of movement. According to A-Team’s back of the napkin analysis, this crack is moving at a rate of 11.7 kilometers per day. Buoy measurement of sea ice motion also shows very rapid movement of Beaufort ice, especially at the ice edge.

Rapid ice motion is yet one more indicator of the Arctic’s current fragile state. Record low or near record low sea ice volume, area and extent, nearly constant above average air temperatures, above average ocean temperatures, more volatile Arctic weather, and the continued transport of warmer, stormier air masses into the Arctic via blocking patterns completes a context of rapid change. You can read more about this ongoing climate phenomena here.

Signs of increasing melt

Spring sea ice melt also showed signs of picking up pace today with both the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) and Cryopshere Today showing drops in both sea ice extent and area. Sea ice area showed a daily drop of about 50,000 square kilometers. This rate of loss is a bit faster than usual for this time of year which tends to show mostly gradual melt. But the big loser, according to JAXA, was sea ice extent which appears to have fallen by about 100,000 square kilometers in one day. This new JAXA estimate is preliminary. So validation will have to be made for such an apparently precipitous fall so early in the season. If validated, this will show a very significant loss of sea ice for a date so early in the year. And, if such a trend were to continue, it would be nothing short of devastating. As noted before, the figure is preliminary and subject to correction. So let’s not get too worried yet.

JAXA sea ice april3

(Image source: JAXA)

Weather conditions in the Arctic remain far warmer than average for this time of year. Temps throughout most of the region range between 2 and 10 degrees Celsius above average with local spikes at 15 degrees C above normal. Our favorite weather spot — Nuuk, Greenland — showed a high temperature today of 54 degrees Fahrenheit. This is 28 degrees Fahrenheit above average and likely at or near a record high for today.

Strong negative arctic oscillation (AO) has, once more, taken hold. AO values have returned to the negative 3.5 range with a strong area of high pressure forming over the Beaufort. This high is expected to promote rapid sea ice motion over the East Siberian Arctic Shelf as well as in the region of the Fram Straight. The North Atlantic Low has backed up over eastern Canada and remains locked into position near Hudson Bay. This low continues to pump warm air up into Baffin Bay and a region surround Nuuk.

Overall, slow to gradual melt should continue throughout the Arctic. However, as April proceeds there is some increased risk of anomalous events as the potential for disruptive weather rises toward mid-month. April is usually a slow melt month. But the continued fragile state of the Arctic sea ice must also be taken into account. We’ll also keep an eye on those strong melt numbers coming from JAXA. Should they validate, April could turn out to be a very volatile month.

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