A Siberian Heat Wave is Breaking Kara Sea Ice In March, So is it Time to Start Thinking about Hot Arctic Rivers?

There’s a heatwave in Dickson, Russia today. But if you were standing on the shores of this port city on the Kara Sea in the far north, you might not realize it. The forecast high? 29 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dickson is located about 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle and 1,000 miles south of the North Pole. To its west is Novaya Zemlya, a sparely inhabited and typically frozen island between the Kara and Barents Seas. To its east is Siberian Khatanga and Severnaya Zemlya an island system that, until 2005, sat in a pack of Arctic sea ice so dense and resilient, it was once possible to ski from Severnaya all the way to the North Pole even at the height of Northern Hemisphere summer. No more. The sea ice is now but a thin and wrecked shadow of its former glory.

Ask any resident of this, typically frigid, coastal town and they’ll tell you that today it’s abnormally warm, even hot for this far-north locale. For the average high for this day in Dickson is about 1 degrees Fahrenheit. Typical daily highs of 29 degrees (F) don’t normally appear in Dickson until mid-to-late June.

So, in essence, summertime has arrived in Dickson in March and there we see temperatures that are a shocking 28 degrees Fahrenheit above average. Human caused climate change at its most brazen. But we haven’t seen a thing yet…

As we can see in the map below, Dickson is but one location sitting beneath a vast and spreading Siberian and Arctic heatwave:

Temp Anomaly March 20

(Global temperature anomaly map for March 20, 2014 shows world temps +.65 C above the, already hotter than normal, 1979-2000 baseline and Arctic temps at +3.12 C. Note the large heat pool over Siberia. Image source: University of Maine.)

A heatwave extending from the Pacific Ocean in the east to the borders of Mongolia and China in the south. From Surgut in the west and on deep into the Arctic Ocean’s Laptev and Kara Seas in the far north. And it is vast, covering an area roughly 2,000 by 2,000 miles at its widest points. But the heatwave is not disassociated from other high temperature anomalies. It flings a wide outrider over the Beaufort Sea and the Bering Strait. And it sits in a broad flood of warmer than average air riding over Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

This Jet Stream entrained warm air feeds the heatwave even as pulses of much warmer than normal air rise up from the deserts of Western China over Mongolia and up into Russia to give it an added kick. The connecting pattern is a high amplitude Jet Stream wave surging past the Arctic Circle and deep into the Arctic Ocean. It is the kind of high amplitude pattern that, over recent years, has been implicated in so many extreme Arctic heat invasions and related severe weather events.

Temperatures in the far north of this hot zone range from 10 to over 36 degrees Fahrenheit above average for this time of year. For Siberia and the Arctic Ocean it is a heatwave of just below freezing and slightly above freezing temperatures. In other words — what, until recently, used to be summer-like conditions.

Heat Wave Breaking up Ice in the Kara Sea

Such anomalous warmth is enough to put a heavy strain on sea ice. The ice freezes and melts at around 28 degrees F. So extended periods near or above this temperature can have an impact on ice integrity. The ice gets hit by warmer air even as it floats over warmer waters. It’s a kind of one-two punch that can be pretty devastating to sea ice integrity.

And we see just this kind of situation over the past two weeks in the region of the Kara Sea near Port Dickson.

Normally, this frigid ocean zone is covered in a stable sheet of ice called land fast ice. The ice is anchored to the land at various points and tends to remain solid due to reduced movement caused by grounding on the surrounding land features. When the land fast ice starts to go, it usually presages melt.

Kara Sea March 9Kara Sea March 17

(Break-up of Kara sea ice and land fast ice. Top frame shows the Kara on March 7, bottom frame shows break-up visible on March 17. Note that cloud covers a portion of both images and that the March 20 image — the most recent — is too obscured by cloud for detailed analysis. Image source: Lance-Modis)

With the recent influx of much warmer than normal air from the south, this is exactly what we see. A widespread breaking up of Kara sea ice and of even the more resilient features fixed to surrounding lands and islands. And as you can see in the lower frame image, the break-up is quite extensive and dramatic.

The current warm pulse is expected to last for the next few days before shifting back to Svalbard by early to mid next week. Meanwhile, overall Arctic temperatures are expected to remain between 2.5 and 5 C above the, already warmer than normal, 1979 to 2000 average all while a trend establishes that continues to feed warm air pulses up over Asia and into the Arctic Ocean zones of the Kara, Laptev and East Siberian Seas.

Abnormal warmth gathering over the continents in this way can cause both early melt and large flushes of warm meltwater into the Arctic Ocean. An issue that is specially relevant due to recent NASA studies of another section of the Arctic Ocean — the region north of Canada and the Mackenzie River Delta called the Beaufort Sea.

Warm Rivers Heat the Arctic Ocean, Melt Sea Ice

The NASA study found that large pulses of warm water from continental rivers are a strong mechanism for transporting heat into the Arctic and, over recent years, are one of many factors resulting in the sea ice’s rapid recession.

Warm Rivers NASA

(Heat flux from Canadian Mackenzie River into the Beaufort Sea during recent melt years. The first image shows sea surface temperatures on June 12 of 2012 before the Mackenzie River discharged and on July 5, 2012 after. Note the ocean surface water temps rising by as much as 10 C between frames. Image source: NASA.)

The NASA study found that large heatwaves warmed the continents and that this caused continental rivers to disgorge warm water into an already warming Arctic Ocean. The findings showed significant contributions from warm rivers to rising sea surface temperatures and sea ice melt during recent Arctic summers including the record melt year of 2012.

As the Arctic experiences increasing pulses of summertime temperatures during late winter and into spring, it is likely that warm water discharge and overall warmth will play a role at the transition between sea ice freeze and melt season. And this thought brings us back to Russia which appears to be stuck in the abnormally warm pattern covered above. A pattern that, should it continue to flicker and swell, may well bring a surge of warmer than usual water into the Kara, Laptev and East Siberian Seas come later this spring and on into summer. A blow to sea ice that may well emerge but that we can ill afford.


The University of Maine


NASA: Warm Rivers Play a Role in Arctic Melt

Leave a comment


  1. Phil

     /  March 20, 2014

    A very interesting post. I saw that someone on the arctic sea ice blog mentioned possible cyclones have been forecast by ECWMF – for example, see,778.50.html
    and March 20, 2014, 08:46:12 PM by Lord M Vader (reply 71).

    According to that person, a cyclone seems to head for Okhotsk basin as for Berings sea. Second at +144h at the ECMWF a cyclone will head for Svalbard. If this eventuates, it will be interesting to see how the sea ice stands up to the combined affects of abnormal heat and strong winds?

    Other commentators on that blog have identified alot of cracks in the sea ice – nothwithstanding the more recent increases in extent and area, observations of sea ice from satellite pass overs seem to indicate that it is in pretty poor condition.

    Also, on the Navy 30 model day thickness runs, towards the end, the sea ice seems to be becoming more detached from the coast along a fair stretch of the siberian coast line. For example, see

    More generally, it will be interesting to see if weather patterns emerge which serve to lock in the abnormally hot condition into the spring and even summer seasons.

    • With that 144 hr storm, you get strong, warm winds from the south. The Bering Sea ice is mostly broken and disassociated. So a storm with this kind of energy and heat potential could have a serious effect.

      I’ve noticed the large Beaufort cracks. Reminiscent of last year. But these are 15-20 days later. So I wonder how that might impact the melt season.

      In general, looking at GFS simulations, I see multiple warm air deliveries hitting the Arctic via high amplitude Jet Stream waves from now until the end of this month.

      AO is positive as well. So it’s a rather odd set of circumstances yet again.

    • Phil

       /  March 21, 2014

      I suppose the other interesting aspect is what has been driving the increases in sea ice area and extent growth over the last week. Whether it has been genuine re-freezing or the affect of ice pack dispersal and drift caused by wind/storms, or a combination of both. If it is the latter, this could actually harm to ability of the ice pack to survive the summer melt as the dispersal process spreads the area but also thins out and fractures the ice structure, making it more phrone to movement.

      From climate reanalyzer, there certainly appears to have been cooler anomalies especially on the perphery while the heat wave had been largely confined to continental Siberia so some degree of re-freezing most likely occurred. Alot of the growth on the perphery seems to be pretty thin and probably will not survive long once melt starts really kicking into gear.

      It will be interesting to see how things evolve over the remainder of this month.

      • The central Arctic heat spikes and those focusing on the periphery have come in waves with a brief reversion to closer to normal temps between the spikes. In addition, there is a tendency for the switch in solar forcing at lower latitudes to drive the polar vortex back north. So the Arctic had a ten day respite or thereabouts. If the GFS model is correct, this low swing is over and we are in for a time of +3 to +5 C positive anomaly with local zones that are much hotter.

        In addition, the winds blew from north to south in both the Bering Sea and in the Barents spreading out the ice there.

        I think, in general, the ice wants to bounce back. But it keeps getting hit by these warm surges. The balance is tenuous.

  2. I had to settle a point with someone who claimed there is no such place – the normal transliteration would be DIKSON. It appears, according to Wikpedia that it has seen these temperatures before –

    But following the maps on Climate reanalyzer over winter has been shocker. There has been a constant heat-wave over the North Pole region for weeks on end.

    It’s going to be an interesting year

    “May you live in interesting times” – old Chinese curse

    • It’s the context. Constant heat spikes.

      Saw the Russian spelling as well. The maps alternate between Dickson and Dikson. Translation being what it is…

  3. Andy

     /  March 21, 2014

    I went to the Climate Reanalyzer site this evening and kind of got stuck there, bloody amazing data.

    Here is a trick for making great viewable data overlays with that site.

    1) Select your data to view / render

    2) Enable [X] Goggle Earth

    3) Click [plot]

    4) When it is done, Chose “KML” in the downloads

    5) Save the file

    6) Goto your downloads folder

    7) Rename the saved file *.KMZ to *.ZIP (change the extension to “zip”)

    8) Unzip the file to a temp folder

    9) Open the png with the word “globe” in it with a good editor

    ie: plot_1086_globe.png

    10) Change the layer transparency to 128

    11) Save the png

    12) Grab everything (4 files) and zip it up

    13) Rename extension from ZIP to KMZ

    14) Open with google earth

    Now you can view the data as a semi-transparent overlay on google earth, and you can view the underlying geology, cities, rivers etc… You can get local detail on effects anywhere globally with the data set you created.

    note: A good free editor for Widows is that can do this. That is what I use.

    I’m going to mess with the data from that site further, great stuff there.


    • Andy

       /  March 21, 2014

      Here is an example, I had to reduce the image quality so the server doesn’t get slammed. The reduced quality makes it look crummy, but you get the idea.

    • Thanks, Andy!

      Truly an amazing tool. I especially appreciate the fact that Arctic data is front and center.

  4. Spike

     /  March 21, 2014

    Also worth remembering that the increased hydrological cycle has led to an increase in the volume of river discharges into the Arctic so we are getting more fresher warmer water.

    • Andy

       /  March 21, 2014

      I’m not sure about other rivers, but as a young guy I worked the boats on the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories (that was summer, Winters I worked in a lead mine in the Arctic, how fun!).

      That river is quite shallow. The coast guard had to keep dredging and moving buoys around to keep the shipping from running aground.

      The water can thus heat up pretty good in the summer (for the area), being a pretty long river it has plenty of time to warm up. From Hay River NWT to Inuvik NWT was a 1600 km run up the river.

      I can definitely see the discharge warming up good. And if you get an ice dam when spring is taking hold it can back up a pretty good load of water/ice.

      • Many rivers in the Arctic tend to be shallow and slow due to the gradual topography. It’s a good observation that these would tend to collect heat before hitting the ocean.

        Someone also mentioned the amplified hydrological cycle. Models show thunderstorms and intense rainfall events in the Arctic increasing in frequency along with warming.

  5. El Nino weather pattern will likely hit Peru next month – government

    Unusually Intense El Nino May Lie Ahead, Scientists Say

    • The heat content of that Kelvin wave is very disturbing. I’m tempted to push projection for global temp increase, when you include Arctic warming, to .05 to .2 this year should this heat hit the ocean surface. Such an intense combination of events would really, really wreck the weather.

  6. Andy

     /  March 21, 2014

    From 1972 (42 years ago). We’ve known what is going on longer than many deniers have been alive.

    The author must have been through plenty of peer reviewed presentations to know that an iota of a mistake allows for that “pick pick pick…” of ones peers. They live for that!

    Not sure about anyone else, but I had to do peer reviewed presentations every 2 weeks for several years. With 40+ phd’s on hand, you better not allow for a single misspelling, suspect calculation, capitalization, or anything. Otherwise the whole presentation breaks down into that “pick pick pick…”. I’ve seen many renowned scientists completely lose it due to that “pick pick pick…” from the audience.

    Deniers should be subjected to this, not as a punishment but rather to provide them with the opportunity to understand and respect the rigor of a peer review process.

    • It’s crazy to think that the year I was born they had this prediction. We’ve been going the wrong direction ever since.

    • james cole

       /  March 22, 2014

      I’m old enough to remember that story. I read it as a teenager in my first year in the Navy. Long days at sea made for a lot of reading time off watch! I remember it caused a stir and even the holly wood set got caught up in it. 1973 they released the Global Warming nightmare world of “Soylent Green”. The backdrop was New York city in the intense heat and dying food supplies of a green house world. Hard to grasp for younger folks, but I took these early 70’s science and media stories to heart. By the 80’s I was screaming about global warming, but deniers stole the show, as we see even to this day.

  7. Baker

     /  March 21, 2014

    Thank you for these fantastic blog entries that really express what I was thinking about all the time. These warm anomalies are terrifying and practically nobody cares about it.
    You provided the readers with information especially about Germany last time, it continued yesterday with highs reaching 75°F again.. So we will get a near-record March (it already happened in 2012, temperature departures are around 6 F again!) after the balmiest winter in southwestern parts ever (no snow cover, no freeze-up days at all). In other European countries it might have been or still be even worse. Naturally this is still nothing compared to what happens in Arctic latitudes, unfortunately..
    This period with record warmth and no negative departures from the means has already started in July, with a short break in September, to continue more heavily since the end of October, as you might know. It’s cooling down shortly to normal temperatures, but I expect the heat to reemerge and continue even more heavily during April or May.
    For summer, I’m not sure, what do you think? After record warm winters and/or springs, we had quite unsettled summers around the mean in Central Europe, but not without one short and strong heatwave.
    This year, it could mark the point of no return, showing the longstanding warming now in terms of unprecedented weather patterns, so everything might be different and it could continue again with hot summer weather and maxima of at least 100 F?
    With El Niño forecasted and considering the course of this year until now, I’m pretty convinced that we could get the warmest year on record in Europe or even the whole Northern Hemisphere and the lowest sea ice extent ever recorded…

    • We are looking at the potential for a monster El Nino that could well exceed 1998. Potential. But the possibility is there. Heat delivery to the Arctic is still very high at a time when it should be ramping down (winter to spring transition). Sea ice is still in striking distance of record lows.

      In my view, this will be a bad year. Europe and Russia could see a very severe heatwave and drought given the Jet/Nino pattern that is emerging. And I am not liking what’s happening to the world’s agriculture.

      The problem most people don’t really think about is this — this year will seem bad. But in a few years, conditions will be worse. A few years after that, conditions will be worse still. You just can’t adapt to ever-worsening conditions. Without mitigation, the story doesn’t ever have a happy ending.

      • David Windt

         /  March 21, 2014

        Well, as they said in Game Of Thrones, if you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention. 😉

        In all seriousness, I too want to say: thank you, Robert, for your consistently insightful, informative, and all-around-excellent articles. This blog is a treasure.

  8. Baker

     /  March 21, 2014

    Incredible… But I also feel like it’s going into this direction…
    I think of 2010 when you describe that for 2014 (and not scientific: it’s World Cup year again, see hot 2006 in Germany).. Then conditions might be equal or even worse, without the preceding quite cold winter in Europe and Russia…
    At the moment, people become accustomed easily to this warmer and sunnier spring weather, but it gets truly worse as soon as it comes to heat waves and droughts in summer or thunderstorms and floodings on the other hand… These freaky conditions will be the new “normal”, as climate change shows in weather now, that becomes climate again. The most serious threat we have to cope with soon, I think, will be the flora and fauna changes, which will be ever more difficult to adapt to with time. It already has to be prevented from getting worse than now..

  9. Thanks Robert, very good post.

  10. james cole

     /  March 21, 2014

    A good one I heard years back was that the far north natives of Canada had no word for thunderstorm, until these things began to appear in the 80’s and then become yearly events up there. Also the bird population began to change and natives had to invent new words for them. In Siberia, around the 90’s poison snakes began to appear in the far north where native shad no experience of them. I live in far north Minnesota, and rattle snakes have not been native here, but people I know further south have begun to see the odd rattler as they expand along river valleys north. Only a matter of time before they are here. Point is, evidence comes in many forms, and wildlife and plant movements are telling us a story of climate change.

    • It’s just amazing and terrifying what we’re doing and the speed at which we’re doing it.

      The usual suspects are attack Michael Mann’s new piece in the Scientific American. Some are laughing, heckling and making fun. These same idiots will go to the grocery store and their fast food haunts and complain about their meat, milk, cheese, coffee and almonds now costing so darn much. They’ll watch the Ukraine story and wish they had Putin as a leader. When the fires burn through Russia again this summer or when sea ice hits zero over the next 3-15 years, they’ll continue on, blissfully unaware, all while their situation worsens. They’ll make fun of vegans or people who use solar panels or anyone else who actually tries to solve the problem. In essence, their opinion and perception of the world as it relates to threat response is essentially nil and without positive value.

      • Mark Archambault

         /  March 21, 2014


        Excellent and sobering article. Regarding El Nino, please keep us posted on those strong westerly winds pushing the warmer water east.

        What’s the topic of Michael Mann’s new article at SciAm? What sort of attacks is he getting? Through online comments?

        In something off topic, but related, here’s a link to George Marshall being interviewed by Rob Hopkins of the Transition movement:


        Following my last post, announcing COIN’s report on the challenges of communicating climate change around extreme weather events, I had a very interesting hour long interview/discussion with Rob Hopkins, co-founder of the inspiring Transition Movement.
        You can hear it/read the transcription here- LINK…

        You may view the latest post at

        It’s very much worth listening to and relates to several of the threads in previous posts.

        • Monster El Nino. Could be as bad or worse than 1998. Will keep you posted. Finishing research now. Looks like I will be working through this weekend.

          I have to jump on a train now. Will do my best to keep you with you guys by phone.

  11. Mark Archambault

     /  March 21, 2014

    Here’s a direct link to the audio stream, which isn’t easy to find on the above linked page:

  12. Mark Archambault

     /  March 21, 2014


    Er, never mind on the Michael Mann thing, I see you just posted an article on it. My timing in asking you questions is either impeccable or bad, depending!

  13. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is the most water scarce region in the world, and its water stress is likely to worsen. In 1950, per capita renewable water resources were four times greater than they are today. By 2050, there are indications indicate that natural water resources in MENA will drop even further, to 11 times less than the global average.

    Droughts hit the region with punishing regularity, bringing significant water shortages, economic losses, and adverse social consequences. Between 2008 and 2011, drought in Djibouti caused a yearly economic contraction of approximately 3.9 percent of GDP.

    Droughts are the third most prevalent hazard in MENA after earthquakes, but despite the alarming levels of water scarcity, the opposite, floods, also pose significant danger in MENA too.

  14. Drill core evidence adds credence to iron fertilization hypothesis regarding last ice age

    ( —An international team of researchers has found evidence in drill core samples taken near Antarctica that adds credence to the iron fertilization hypothesis. In their paper published in the journal Science, the team describes how lowered nitrogen levels found in core samples helps bolster the idea that increased iron in the oceans during the last ice age caused a decrease in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

    Read more at: Link

    • While the research results do add credence to the iron fertilization hypotheses, they likely also close the door on the possibly of dumping iron into the ocean to help reduce modern atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, as some scientists have suggested. The core samples indicate it would take approximately 1000 years of an increase in iron in the world’s oceans to cause enough of an increase in phytoplankton to lower atmospheric carbon levels by just 40 parts per million.

  15. Terra/MODIS
    09:20 UTC

    Hydrogen sulphide eruptions along the coast of Namibia

    These are usually seen in deeper waters here, I don’t know what to make of them sp close to shore.

  16. Permafrost thaw exacerbates climate change

    The climate is warming in the arctic at twice the rate of the rest of the globe creating a longer growing season and increased plant growth, which captures atmospheric carbon, and thawing permafrost, which releases carbon into the atmosphere. Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) Assistant Scientist Sue Natali and colleagues engineered first-of-a-kind warming experiments in the field to determine net gains or losses in carbon emissions. The study entitled “Permafrost degradation stimulates carbon loss from experimentally warmed tundra,” published in the journal Ecology found that growing season gains do not offset carbon emissions from permafrost thaw.

    According to Dr. Natali, “Our results show that while permafrost degradation increased carbon uptake during the growing season, in line with decadal trends of ‘greening’ tundra, warming and permafrost thaw also enhanced winter respiration, which doubled annual carbon losses.”

    Read more at: Link

  17. Deep ocean current may slow due to climate change

    ( —Far beneath the surface of the ocean, deep currents act as conveyer belts, channeling heat, carbon, oxygen and nutrients around the globe.

    A new study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Irina Marinov and Raffaele Bernardello and colleagues from McGill University has found that recent climate change may be acting to slow down one of these conveyer belts, with potentially serious consequences for the future of the planet’s climate.

    “Our observations are showing us that there is less formation of these deep waters near Antarctica,” Marinov said. “This is worrisome because, if this is the case, we’re likely going to see less uptake of human produced, or anthropogenic, heat and carbon dioxide by the ocean, making this a positive feedback loop for climate change.”

    Read more at: Link

  18. High predictability of the winter Euro–Atlantic climate from cryospheric variability

    Seasonal prediction skill for surface winter climate in the Euro–Atlantic sector has been limited so far1, 2, 3. In particular, the predictability of the winter North Atlantic Oscillation, the mode that largely dominates regional atmospheric and climate variability, remains a hurdle for present dynamical prediction systems4, 5. Statistical forecasts have also been largely elusive6, 7, 8, but October Eurasian snow cover has been shown to be a robust source of regional predictability9, 10. Here we use maximum covariance analysis to show that Arctic sea-ice variability represents another good predictor of the winter Euro–Atlantic climate at lead times of as much as three months. Cross-validated hindcasts of the winter North Atlantic Oscillation index using September sea-ice anomalies yield a correlation skill of 0.59 for the period 1979/1980–2012/2013, suggesting that 35% of its variance could be predicted three months in advance. This skill can be further enhanced, at the expense of a shorter lead time, by using October Eurasian snow cover as an additional predictor. Skilful predictions of winter European surface air temperature and precipitation are also obtained with September sea ice as the only predictor. We conclude that it is important to incorporate Arctic sea-ice variability in seasonal prediction systems.

  1. Another Week of Global Warming News, March 23, 2014 [A Few Things Ill Considered] | Gaia Gazette

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