(Image source: Lance Modis)
It’s been rather warm in the Canadian Arctic over the past few days. This day, especially, revealed particularly high temperatures. From the bottom edge of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago southward, 20 degree + Celsius temperatures ran through a wide region on the west side of Hudson Bay.
These high temperatures are having their impact. Hudson Bay itself is riddled with holes and rapidly thinning. Meanwhile, a section of the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Archipelago is turning a characteristic blue color.
Looking down from our satellite perch, this pale shade appears to grace the ice with a flattering color. But closer in we notice that this particular peal is a result of a multiplication of melt ponds on the ice surface. The ponds refract the light, turning them a mesmerizing shade of blue. And as these lakes increase in number to dot the ice, from far away the it appears to take on their color.
This particularly brilliant display comes with an ominous note. Thin ice, vulnerable to accumulated energy from the sun (insolation) tends to melt much faster. And so it is melting faster, about three weeks to a month ahead of schedule in this particular region. Together, warm air plus insolation may be spelling out an early end to winter’s ice here.
Chris Reynolds over at Dosbat and Neven over at the Arctic Ice Blog have been warning of the sea ice’s special vulnerability to insolation this year. This vulnerability is primarily due to the fact that most of the Arctic Ocean and related waterways are covered only by a thin layer of about two meters of ice. Very few regions remain where thick ice dominates. And two meter ice may well not survive the assault of the summer sun.
In the Central Arctic, where much of the remaining thick ice resides, the area is plagued by a powerfully churning storm. This persistent monstrosity is little more than a giant engine of heat exchange. It pulls air in from the surrounding atmosphere, it feeds on heat and moisture, it flings out winds, and it even turns and churns the icy ocean beneath. Such a storm, so long ongoing, poses its own threats to the Arctic’s more vulnerable ice.
But where the air is still, where there is ambient heat, and where the clouds open wide and allow the sun’s rays to plunge down upon the ice surface, insolation is king. And that force, a direct force of sunlight, appears to be spelling an early end to this so seemingly lovely stretch of pale, blue ice.