Smokey Arctic Cyclone Sets Sights on Central Arctic; PIOMAS Shows Sea Ice Volume 4th Lowest on Record

Smokey Arctic Cyclone on August 6, 2013

Smokey Arctic Cyclone on August 6, 2013

(Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

A strong, 980 mb cyclone formed over the Laptev Sea today, pulling in a dense coil of smoke from Siberian wildfires raging to the south and setting its sights along a path that will bring it through waters filled with a slurry of broken ice, passing over the North Pole, and then heading on toward the Fram Strait.

Unlike the Sudden Arctic Cyclone of late July, the new Smokey Arctic Cyclone is strengthening over a region of open water in the Laptev Sea before it begins its passage over a broken ice pack. This will allow the storm to develop more fetch and wave action before it encounters the sea ice. Though not as strong as the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012, this Smokey storm is likely to pack 25-40 mph winds over large expanses of water and ice, applying wave action to a greatly diffuse and weakened film of thin ice. Though Ekman pumping and mixing of cold surface layers with deeper, warmer layers will likely have some impact on ice — thinning and dispersing it further — it remains to be seen if this storm will be strong enough to have a decisive influence on final melt for the 2013 season.

The storm is, however, moving through an area of very weakened ice even as it pulls a flood of warmer, rougher water along with it. And it remains to be seen what, if any impact, soot pulled in from the Siberian wildfires will have on the ice. Solar insolation is steadily falling as we move on into August. That said, the angle of the sun is still high enough to have some added impact should soot-laden precipitation fall.

The ice state, which has seemed weak and diffuse all summer appears especially vulnerable now.

Smokey Cyclone Broken Ice

(Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

Cracks and large sections of open water riddle the thin ice in a wide stretch from the Chukchi Sea, running through a portion of the Beaufort and then turning on toward the open water in the Laptev. So it will be interesting to see how much this storm affects this section of ice. As the storm is predicted to move on through the Central Arctic and then spend a day or two churning near the Fram Strait, it may also give the thick ice a bit of a late-season nudge.

Party like it’s 2009?

Overall, the storm would have to be a very extreme event to drive the current melt rate to near 2012 levels. Both sea ice extent and area are currently tracking near 2008 and 2009 while sea ice volume, as of mid-July, was just a hair above the third lowest year — 2010. Though it is still possible, given the sea ice’s very fragile state, that 2013 could still hit record lows this year, the likelihood, with each passing day, grows more remote.

PIOMAS Mid-July 2013

PIOMAS Mid-July 2013

(Image source: PIOMAS)

So, at this point, it is worth considering that 2013 may be a counter-trend year. Most of the record heat and warmth associated with human caused warming has been confined to a region of the high Arctic land masses between 55 and 70 degrees north. In this zone, we’ve seen an ominously large number of heatwaves, where temperatures exceeded 90 degrees, along with wildfires spreading above the 60 degrees north latitude line. And though large areas of warmer than normal surface water temperatures invaded the sea ice, air temperatures have been at or slightly lower than average. This is a result of persistent cloudy conditions dominating during periods when solar insolation would have done its greatest damage to the ice sheet. Storms, which at times seemed to drive more rapid melt had the added effect of spreading out the ice, likely contributing to cooler air temperatures. These storms were not powerful enough to provide the energy needed to push 2013 into record melt territory. It is also possible that fresh water melt from the Greenland ice sheets — representing a large pulse of about 700 cubic kilometers last year — and from record or near-record snow melts on the continents surrounding the Arctic added some resiliency to the greatly thinned ice in the Beaufort.

These various conditions may be consistent with a combination of natural variability and a potentially emerging negative feedback from melting snow and ice. If 2013 does emerge as a counter trend year, though, it is no indication, as yet, that Arctic melt, overall, has slowed. 2012 was a powerful record melt year and one that occurred under far less than ideal conditions. It is just as likely that natural variability and human forcings will swing back in the other direction come 2014, 2015 or later as happened through the period of 2008 through 2012.

All that said, it is still a bit premature to call the 2013 melt season. We have a storm laden with smoke from the immense Siberia fires on the way and large regions of sea ice remain very fragile. As ever, the Arctic is reluctant to give up her secrets, especially under the assaults of human warming.

Smokey Storm 980 MB

Smokey 980 mb Cyclone churns through the Laptev

(Image source: DMI)


The Arctic Ice Blog


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  1. Steve

     /  August 7, 2013

    While it’s good that it’s not another record year, it’s bad news seeing what the jet stream is doing under these conditions. What is going to happen next year if we have a record melt off then? I think back to your comment about how the base that we are working off each year will keep getting worse, so the problems will be amplified. Would you apply that reasoning to the jet stream?

    • My view is that Jet Stream erosion will tend to enhance polar amplification until we hit a large tipping point (rapid ice sheet melt) resulting in temporary localized cooling and another set of changes to the Jet Stream. Overall, the human forcing is likely enough to overwhelm the ice burg cooling effect during such events, should they occur. So the result at that time may be a pause in global warming, rather than overall cooling, with specific cooling in the Arctic region near Greenland and in the North Atlantic. This would tend to regenerate sea ice during such periods. So what we might well see are some pretty radical swings.

      Nature doesn’t seem to set much precedent for gradual melt. That said, if melt remains relatively gradual with no large pulses, then the negative feedback would be muted and weather changes more toward a continuous Jet Stream erosion and eventual stagnation (under continued human warming).

      My opinion is that the former scenario will tend to dominate as the human forcing continues to rise with large melt pulses and vicious weather swings, once polar amplification hits a certain threshold. In general, so long as there is a large volume of Greenland ice to melt, I think the Arctic basin will be a rather erratic place under Athropocene warming.

      Of course, we could change energy policy and rapidly draw down emissions all while crossing our fingers in hopes that what we’ve already emitted hasn’t set off a vicious, long-term chain of events.

    I found out an easy way to reblog posts to the group site. Since it would be way too overwhelming for us all to add follows to the new group blog (for blogs we follow), we’ll have to just copy and paste the web addresses of posts we want to reblog and insert them into a new post. Just use the same method you’d use to link anything into your blog. So we’ll basically be creating links to stuff we want to reblog (instead of clicking “reblog.” Clicking reblog will only reblog stuff to your individual blogs, not the group blog.) I just realized that I’ve been able to reblog only because I’m the site administrator (my name and account is automatically linked to the group blog site.)

    I’m also working on creating a Yahoo group for internal communication within the group. I really want us to feel connected.

    So that’s done. This means that the new group blog I set up is a go! Here’s the link if you haven’t been to it yet (you can start posting whatever you want now)-

  3. Did you get my author invitation to the group blog? Also, make sure you follow the group blog to keep track of what we’re doing.

  4. UPDATE!! UPDATE!! To group members:
    I know I’ve probably been driving you guys up the wall with these updates!
    From this day forth, we will use the group WordPress blog for ALL group activities. I just realized that if you set a post to “private” right before you publish it, only group members can see it. Posts published as “public” can be seen by everyone, so that setting will obviously be used for our regular posts.

    So, any communications for only group members should be set as “private.” Regular posts- “public.”

    If you are not sure how to change the setting, let me know and I’ll help.

  5. sankaty

     /  August 7, 2013

    Flash Flooding in Waynesville, MO – Holy Cow!

    “The creek rose over 16 feet in just over 13 hours, due to the torrential rain to a new record level. As you can see below, the “normal” stage of the creek prior to the weekend was only 1 foot. ”

  6. carl campbell

     /  August 7, 2013

    Very good work. To add a point, I think a lot of this year’s solar radiation in the tropics that normally would have moved north ending up getting stuck in the western Pacific, near China.

    • That ocean/land region is terrifyingly hot. Any indication PDO is starting to shift to positive at the moment? The ENSO signal is a pretty easy fix (still neutral), but there doesn’t seem to be much out there on the gyres. Do you know if they’re beginning to spin down?

  7. UK scientists have detected a huge dome of fresh water that is developing in the western Arctic Ocean

    “In the western Arctic, the Beaufort Gyre is driven by a permanent anti-cyclonic wind circulation. It drives the water, forcing it to pile up in the centre of the gyre, and this domes the sea surface,” explained lead author Dr Katharine Giles from the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM) at University College London.
    Sea-ice (S.Laxon) Arctic summers have seen a decline in both ice extent and thickness

    “In our data, we see the trend being biggest in the centre of the gyre and less around the edges,” she told BBC News.

    “What we have seen occurring is precisely what the climate models had predicted,” said Dr Giles.

    “When you have clockwise rotation – the fresh water is stored. If the wind goes the other way – and that has happened in the past – then the fresh water can be pushed to the margins of the Arctic Ocean.

    “If the spin-up starts to spin down, the fresh water could be released. It could go to the rest of the Arctic Ocean or even leave the Arctic Ocean.”

    • And that would spell very bad news for sea ice there. The fresh water cap provides a high degree of protection during the hot months.

  8. On persistent cyclones
    While there have been no trends in the strength or persistence of the summer cyclone pattern over the period of 1958–2005, it is natural to speculate on its future behavior. Climate models are in near-universal agreement that Arctic warming in response to greenhouse gas loading will be especially strong. Results from the present study suggest that, at least in part, the summer cyclone pattern owes its existence to differential atmospheric heating between the Arctic Ocean and snowfree land. If patterns of differential heating change substantially, such as through earlier springtime loss of snow cover over land, or through changes in the presently strong summer net surface heat flux over the Arctic Ocean as the sea ice cover disappears, this may invoke changes in the summer circulation.

    Dramatic interannual changes of perennial Arctic sea ice linked to abnormal summer storm activity
    James A. Screen, Ian Simmonds and Kevin Keay, 2011, Journal of Geophysical Research

    From the introduction:

    The perennial (September) Arctic sea ice cover exhibits large interannual variability, with changes of over a million square kilometers from one year to the next. Here we explore the role of changes in Arctic cyclone activity, and related factors, in driving these pronounced year‐to‐year changes in perennial sea ice cover. Strong relationships are revealed between the September sea ice changes and the number of cyclones in the preceding late spring and early summer. In particular, fewer cyclones over the central Arctic Ocean during the months of May, June, and July appear to favor a low sea ice area at the end of the melt season. Years with large losses of sea ice are characterized by abnormal cyclone distributions and tracks: they lack the normal maximum in cyclone activity over the central Arctic Ocean, and cyclones that track from Eurasia into the central Arctic are largely absent.

  9. This erosion takes place via a pumping process by which the ice is pushed against the ocean surface by the cyclonic wind field. This motion, in turn, stirs up the underlying waters creating a warm, upwelling current. Since the forces occur over broad regions, powerful surface forces allow the upwelling to dredge deep, causing mixing between surface and lower layers. Tendrils and micro-currents of warmer water thus rise to contact the ice. This action can melt the sea ice from below, breaking it into smaller chunks, opening polynas, and riddling the ice with leads. If the storm grows strong enough, large wave action can devour whole sections of ice.

    Does Cyclonic Activity in the Arctic drive Freshwater into Deep Ocean and Unlock Methane Hydrate?

      • Anti-Cyclone = High Pressure
        Cyclone = Low Pressure (storm).

        Cold, fresh Arctic surface water delivery is not likely to unlock hydrates.

    • The Arctic Ocean has a temperature inversion in which warmer water is deep and colder water is on top. The Eckman pumping process creates upwelling of this warmer water at the center of Arctic Cyclones while it pushes colder water out toward the edges creating down-welling at the edge of the wind field.

      This action is hypothesized — by me and others — to result in increased melt rate during powerful storms under current conditions (thin ice, more ocean and atmospheric warming — ie Warm Storm). The storms themselves would mix water, but would not, likely have much affect on hydrates.

      That said, ice melt in regions such as the ESAS creates a warming of the water column by as much as 5 C or more. In ice free waters, the surface water rapidly warms as the layers beneath keep pace. Eventually, you end up with transport as deep as 60 meters. The ESAS is 50 meters deep in most places. So the ice free conditions provide a heat forcing to that region during late summer (now). A strong downwelling — anti-cyclone — could provide a delivery mechanism for warm surface water to the depths. To my knowledge there is no direct observation of such an event occurring.

      Wadhams and others have identified warming of the water column through loss of sea ice during summers as a potential mechanism for hydrate release. This potential effect has been somewhat disputed by Archer, Ruppel and Schmidt. That said, these disputes have hinged on a broad-based assumption that human warming will not proceed at a pace greater than .2 C per decade and, generally, haven’t addressed the problem of a rapid, local warming of the water column through increasing seasonal sea ice loss.

      The primary concern (short term) is loss of sea ice and rapidly warming the stratified water column in the Arctic.There’s another hypothetical mechanism for the medium-to-long term that I’m working on at the moment, but it’s not as refined as I’d like at this time. So I’m staying mum for now until it’s more banged out.

      • On The Sensitivity Of Ocean Circulation To Arctic Freshwater Pulses During The Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum

        These results suggest that Arctic freshwater flux into the North Pacific through the Bering Strait may induce circulation patterns similar to those inferred from stable isotope reconstructions during the PETM as well as increase intermediate and deep ocean temperatures and that flow through the Turgay Strait into the North Tethys Ocean would increase surface ocean and atmosphere temperatures. Based upon circulation patterns and temperature increases due to freshwater flux through the Bering Strait, Arctic freshwater input into the North Pacific could serve as a catalyst for methane hydrate destabilization, an event suggested as a precursor to the onset of the PETM.

      • I adjusted the headline to reflect this better

        Does Ocean Circulation in the Arctic drive Freshwater into Deep Ocean and Unlock Methane Hydrate?

        • Would change to something like:

          Do Arctic Storms Drive Freshwater out Through the Bering Sea to Influence Hydrate Release?

          The paper notes “Changes in Circulation Patterns.”

      • Added part of your commentary and 2 images to the article. One image shows the modeled temperature depth.

      • Re Circulation meaning. I think it is clear from the data presented in the study and written that it is about Ocean Circulation which affect deepwater.

        Does Ocean Circulation in the Arctic drive Freshwater into Deep Ocean and Unlock Methane Hydrate?

        Past modeling experiments show how alterations to seaway exchanges can have dramatic effects upon sedimentation, global climate, and ocean circulation.Two experiments,one with freshwater exchange between the PETM Arctic and AtlanticOceans and another between the Arctic and Pacific Oceans, are compared against a reference experiment with exchange between the Arctic and Indian Oceans.


        Freshwater input into the Pacific Ocean produces the highest temperatures(~12°C) in the global ocean in intermediate and deepwaters

      • Title od the study “On The Sensitivity Of Ocean Circulation To Arctic Freshwater Pulses During The Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum”

      • Changed the title to “Does Freshwater Runoff in the Arctic change Ocean Circulation to Unlock Methane Hydrate in the Deep Ocean?”

        • Good. I’m writing a blog which explains the potential mechanism in more depth. Don’t want to post about it in comments.

      • Destabilization of methane hydrates, clathrate hydrates, within the oceans depends on temperature and pressure. These hydrates are crystalice structures that contain molecules of CH4 within. As temperature increases or pressure decreases, the ice structures will melt and release the methane, which contains large amounts of carbon. The critical pressure(or depth) of the methane hydrate release depends on the temperature; the higher the temperature the deeper the critical depth of the release (see Dickens et al., 1995 and Figure1 therein). Most hydrates are formed and are stable on the continental margins, specifically the slope and rise that are between 900-2000m (Dickens, 2001). Bice and Marotzke (2002) propose a positive feedback loop responsible for the onset of the PETM due to the release of these hydrates (see Figure9 therein). They conclude from their ocean model study that an initial increase in CO2 in the atmosphere, caused possibly by volcanic outgassing, would increase the strength of the hydrological cycle. These increases could cause a warming at intermediate depths within the ocean on a regional scale that could induce limited methane hydrate destabilization.They argue that this release of CH4 would then oxidize to CO2 in either the ocean or atmosphere and furth erexacerbate extremes in the hydrological cycle and eventually switch high southern latitude deep-water formation to high northern latitude deep-waterformation. This switch would bring sudden warm water to the ocean bottoms and incite methane release on a global scale.

        • Sorry.

          I was working on a related post and wanted to get it out.

          In layman’s terms, the fresh water is less dense and will tend to gather at the surface. The salty water is more dense and will tend to sink. What the paper refers to is what happens when fresh water encounters saltier water. The warmer, denser saltier water is pushed toward the bottom as the fresh water wedge advances along the surface. Hence your hydrate forcing mechanism. This also has implications for ocean stratification and oxygen content.

          Now the flushing storm mechanism you refer to via mine and Neven’s observation may be a novel means by which Arctic fresh water is driven into the Pacific, creating similar ocean changes to what may appear in the Atlantic as the fresh water pulse from melting ice sheets drives the hot, salty Gulf Stream back and down.

  10. From chapter 4

    Ocean deep-water formation is sensitive to changes in surface buoyancy and momentum fluxes. Changes such as temperature decrease or salinity increase lead to an increase in density relative to underlying waters and causes the water mass to sink [PondandPickard,1983]

  11. A band of the cyclone appearing to drag the wildfire smoke with it,294528,2486976,3415680&products=baselayers,!MODIS_Aqua_CorrectedReflectance_TrueColor,MODIS_Terra_CorrectedReflectance_TrueColor~overlays,arctic_coastlines_3413&time=2013-08-08&switch=arctic

    • It seems we have the storm drawing energy from the heatwave down south — pulling in the fires and warmer air. High amplitude Jet Stream waves on both sides lend instability to the Arctic environment.

      A very Smokey storm 😉

  1. It’s Hotter Up North than Down South: Tundra Fires Erupt Over Canada as Heatwave Pushes to Arctic Ocean Shores | robertscribbler

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