Greenland Melt Extent Breaks 50% on July 4; 2 Standard Deviation Line Shattered Yet Again

These days — in the age of the fossil-fueled hothouse — it’s never good news when a high pressure system forms over Greenland during Summer.

Human dumping of carbon into the atmosphere has forced warming over the last remaining great Northern Hemisphere ice sheet at a rate of about 0.5 degrees Celsius each decade. A constant rain of soot from human industry and from increasingly prevalent and intense Arctic wildfires has painted the ice sheet dark, lowering its ability to reflect 24 hours of incoming radiation from the Summer sun. And the result is that each Summer, when the skies clear and high pressure systems form over the ailing Greenland ice, you end up getting these huge surface melt spikes.

Greenland smoke

(Smoke from record Alaskan and Canadian wildfire outbreaks traverses Greenland and enters the North Atlantic on July 2 of 2015. Arctic wildfires are intensified by human-caused warming both through the mechanism of added heat and through the reintroduction of long sequestered carbon fuels through permafrost melt which aids in the initiation, intensification and extension of Arctic wildfire burn periods. In essence soil carbon in the form of thawed permafrost and related methane adds to boreal forest, tundra and bog as burn risks. Soot from these fires can then precipitates onto land and sea ice, reducing its ability to reflect the 24 hour Summer Arctic sun. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Generally a big melt spike can be defined as anything greater than 35 percent of Greenland ice surface area. And we’ve had quite a few of these abnormal events in recent years. The worst of which happened in mid Summer of 2012.

During late June and early July of that year, an extreme high amplitude Jet Stream wave generated very warm surface temperatures over the Greenland Ice Sheet. A very warm fog settled over the ice, eating away at it. By July 8th, more than 90 percent of the surface was melting — an event that hasn’t happened in Greenland for more than 100 years. June, July and August of 2013 and 2014 saw similar, though somewhat less intense, Greenland melt spikes. During those years the ice sheet experienced multiple days in which melt covered between 35 and 45 percent of its surface. And though these instances were not as intense as the unprecedented 2012 melting, they did traverse well beyond the 1981 to 2010 average line (an average that itself includes a rapid warming trend) to, in cases, exceed the upper 2 standard deviation margin.

Melting on Greenland surface 2014

(Record Greenland surface melt during 2012 compared to still strong surface melt years of 2013 and 2014. Image source: NSIDC.)

After record 2012 melt, surface melt for Greenland has remained abnormally high — indicating an increased likelihood that more near 100 percent surface melt summer days may not be too far off in the future. The post 2012 environment for Greenland has thus been a period of continued and heightened surface melt. One that appears to be in the process of building up to another big pulse.

50 Percent Melt Threshold Exceeded During July of 2015

The summer of 2015 marks a continuation and intensification of this ominous surface melt trend. After getting off to about an average melt start during April and May, June saw surface warmth build over the Greenland Ice Sheet with melt extents jumping to between 30 and 40 percent of surface area by mid-to-late month. Further warming coincided with massive Alaskan and Canadian wildfires injecting soot plumes into regional airspace and the building of a substantial high pressure ridge over Greenland. These factors helped enable further atmospheric and ice warming — shoving surface melt above the 50 percent line by July 4th.

Greenland melt extent 2015

(Major Greenland melt spike indicated on July 1-5 in the NSIDC surface melt extent graph. Image source: NSIDC.)

This puts 2015 Greenland surface melt in a range well above 2013 and 2014, with the first week of July already exceeding 2012 melt for that period.

Over the next seven days, models predict a larger warming of the overall Arctic environment even as a high pressure system and associated ridge remains entrenched across Greenland. This predicted weather pattern will tend to lock in significantly warmer than 20th Century average temperatures. That said, forecast highs do not yet indicate a substantial risk for a repeat of 2012’s near 100 percent surface melt. However, projected high temperatures do show some potential that melt percentages are likely to continue to range between 40 and 60 percent surface melt over coming days with the highest risk for melt spikes occurring on July 6th, 7th and 8th.

It is worth noting that we are now in the midst of a substantial Greenland melt spike, one that we’ll continue to monitor over coming days for further developments.




Dark Snow

GFS Forecast Summary

Record Alaskan Wildfire Outbreak

Hat Tip to Wili

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Leave a comment


  1. Frasersgrove

     /  July 6, 2015

    Thanks for the new post Robert, do you think it will exceed 2012s 90% surface melt or too early to tell?

    • I’d say there’s only a small chance we see 2015 hit near or above 2012 numbers given the current weather forecast. It’s definitely worth watching, though.

  2. wili

     /  July 6, 2015

    Thanks for another excellent and timely post.

    So on the first graph, eyeballing it, it looks as if 2012 didn’t hit 50% till about 7/10, yet we’re there already on the 6th. So we are higher than 2012 had gotten to at this point in the year; is that right?

    2012 is also a year that saw very low end-of-season Arctic sea ice melt. Do you think that is a correlation that may play out again this year?

    Do you think that some of the bounce back of sea ice after 2012 was due to all that extra fresh water freezing (when it finally did freeze) more solidly and thoroughly than ice from salty sea water would have?

    • The big melt day for Greenland during 2012 was July 8, that’s when we suddenly hit above 90 percent surface area coverage. We are ahead of 2012 when it comes to early July Greenland Melt so far (July 1-5). That said, the forecast doesn’t yet indicate temperatures that would push a 90 percent + melt extent.

      Sea ice is absolutely an atmospheric insulator for Greenland. If sea ice takes a hit then Greenland is far more likely to see greater melt extent. I absolutely believe there’s a relationship between low sea ice years and big Greenland melt years. And Arctic sea ice this year is looking …

      Working on that post now. But suffice it to say there are some relatively disturbing indicators despite area at 4th lowest, volume at 3rd lowest (DMI), and extent at 7th lowest. Indications over the ice sheet show dramatic thinning and melt ponding. Big high pressure dome popping up will stress the ice even more.

      • wili

         /  July 7, 2015

        “Indications over the ice sheet show dramatic thinning and melt ponding. Big high pressure dome popping up will stress the ice even more.”

        Yeah, I’m following those developments over at neven’s, where he actually used all caps to indicate how HUGE the melt potential was in the next few days. (I don’t see him do that very often.)

  3. wili

     /  July 6, 2015

    If I can try your patience with one more question: What accounts for the higher rates of melt in the north? Is it all albedo? Did that much more soot make it to the northern far northern third of this huge ice sheet than to the rest of the island? It just seems odd and counter intuitive.

    • Ocean warming and polar amplification are the main factors. As the Arctic Ocean warms, the center of cold is relegated more and more to the center of the Greenland Ice Sheet.

      • wili

         /  July 7, 2015

        That makes sense. Thanks. IIRC, the Nares closed late and opened early this year.

  4. wili

     /  July 6, 2015

    Not directly related, but another indication of just how deep of a whole we’ve dug ourselves (Thanks to SkS for the link):

    “A Hard Deadline: We Must Stop Building New Carbon Infrastructure by 2018”

    “In only three years there will be enough fossil fuel-burning stuff—cars, homes, factories, power plants, etc.—built to blow through our carbon budget for a 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise. Never mind staying below a safer, saner 1.5°C of global warming. The relentless laws of physics have given us a hard, non-negotiable deadline, making G7 statements about a fossil fuel-phase out by 2100 or a weak deal at the UN climate talks in Paris irrelevant.

    “By 2018, no new cars, homes, schools, factories, or electrical power plants should be built anywhere in the world, ever again unless they’re either replacements for old ones or are carbon neutral? Are you sure I worked that out right?” I asked Steve Davis of the University of California, co-author of a new climate study.

    “We didn’t go that far in our study. But yes, your numbers are broadly correct. That’s what this study means,” Davis told me over the phone last fall.

    Davis and co-author Robert Socolow of Princeton University published a groundbreaking paper in Environmental Research Letters last August, entitled “Commitment accounting of CO2 emissions.” A new coal plant will emit CO2 throughout its 40- to 60- year lifespan. That’s called a carbon commitment. A new truck or car will mean at least 10 years of CO2 emissions. Davis and Socolow’s study estimated how much CO2 will be emitted by most things that burn oil, gas, or coal, and it is the first to actually total up all of these carbon commitments.

    Based on their work, I estimated that if we continue to build new fossil fuel burning stuff at the average rate of the last five years, we’ll make enough new carbon commitments to blow through our 2°C carbon budget sometime in 2018.

    “Is that really where we are?” I asked Davis.

    There was a pause, and I could hear the happy sounds of children playing from his end of the phone. Eventually Davis said “yes, that’s where we find ourselves.”

    Our conversation then became awkward. I suddenly felt guilty bringing this up, and desperately tried not to think that one day those happy children will despise us for leaving them a ransacked planet whipsawed by a chaotic climate.

    “My kids’ swimming lesson is over, I have to go,” he finally said.

    I couldn’t accept that we need to immediately slow production of new things like factories, hospitals, homes, and ten thousand other things that use fossil fuels. I couldn’t accept that everything had to change…right away. I sent out emails to leading scientists in different countries practically begging them to tell me I screwed up the math or something. “It’s a different way of looking at where we are but you’ve got it right,” they said.

    2018 is less than three years away and hardly anyone is talking about this.”

    • A very, very good article. I think we need to stop building new carbon infrastructure now. Period. Full stop.

      We are in the range now where hitting 2 C by the end of this Century is a distinct possibility. If we’re lucky and quick to respond we could avoid it. But if we are unlucky and the Earth System is more sensitive, then we may have already blown through 2 C. My opinion is 1.9 C is already locked in (based on full carbon forcing assessment and an implied ESS feedback including some carbon store response). That’s a bad outcome. But continuing to burn fossil fuels is far, far worse.

  5. Anna

     /  July 6, 2015

    Robert, I thought you might find this paper interesting:
    “One of the purposes of this paper is to explain the severe forest fires by lightening in 2004 and 2005 that consumed 10% of the forest area of Alaska.”
    “Price and Rind (1991, 1994) analyzed a global climate model and found that, in association with an increased global air temperature of 4°C, global mean lightning activity increased by 26%, and would ignite 44% more fires and burn a 78% wider area than under current conditions.”

  6. climatehawk1

     /  July 6, 2015

    Tweet scheduled.

  7. Yes, serious rapid melting going on.
    We also have very lazy air flow (jet & surface) over much of the area including PNW.
    Soot, ash, and smoke dispersal impeded — so we get a “rain of soot” (fallout).
    Or, Robert, a “Reign of Soot.”

    • – And in PNW, BC, Canada fires burn while air quality deteriorates with fine particles of soot, etc. cause health warnings:

      Smoke chokes Lower Mainland, forces air quality advisory

      An air quality advisory issued Sunday afternoon for Metro Vancouver is continuing and has been extended to the Fraser Valley as a result of smoke blowing into the region from wildfires raging across B.C.

      Metro Vancouver air quality planner Geoff Doerksen said fine particulate concentrations from the smoke have hit levels never seen before across the entire Lower Mainland.

      “Seeing these heavy smoke levels mix down to the ground is unprecedented for our region,” he said.

      Readings four times that level – 100 micrograms or higher – were recorded Monday morning at stations in North Vancouver, Burnaby and Vancouver, where the highest reading of 121.6 was at Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children.

      Other areas with particulate levels double to triple the objective included Surrey at 81.7, Langley at 67.2, Abbotsford at 66.2 and Chilliwack at 50. Hope was less smoky at 10.

      • – USA AirNow map with overlap of SW BC shows high levels of related air pollution.
        (Map may change with date but 0706 is graphic.)

      • – The BC fires are consuming entire trees — top to bottom. Usually, fires will burn (roughly) the forest understory and the lower 2/3 of a tree.

        ‘Throughout the province fire crews are battling nearly 180 wildfires.’

        Firefighters had to be pulled back from the Boulder Creek wildfire northwest of Pemberton on Saturday evening when conditions became unsafe. The fire service said in a news release the fire, and two others in the region, displayed a “vigorous and aggressive rate of spread,” with periods of “organized crown fire.”

        It explained that meant the flames were consuming timber right to the tree tops, which poses a danger of sparking blazes ahead of the fire line

      • – Looks like Dan B had already put this photo up — so I add this one:

  8. – SW BC now worries over water shortages now.

    July 3, 2015
    Due to unseasonably dry and hot weather, Metro Vancouver has
    further restricted water use, including lawn sprinkling regulations.
    The Commissioner of the Greater Vancouver Water District in a declaration issued today confirmed that the Metro Vancouver region is now in the second stage of the comprehensive four stage plan that has the necessary measures to deal with water shortages.

  9. – If interested, here’s a PNW WA smoke blog that looks good and friendly:

    Washington Smoke Information

    This site is an effort by county, state, and Federal agencies and Indian Tribes to coordinate and aggregate information for Washington communities affected by smoke from wildland fires. The information is posted here by the agencies themselves while volunteers built and maintain the page.

    • The above link also has links:
      NWCC Wildfires Blog
      Washington Burn Bans
      Oregon Smoke Blog
      Idaho Smoke Blog
      California Smoke Blog

  10. A very warm fog settled over the ice, eating away at it. By July 8th, more than 90 percent of the surface was melting — an event that hasn’t happened in Greenland for more than 100 years

    WHAT on Earth could have caused that other event more than 100 years ago?

  11. I fixed the Modis image (ImageJ2 -> Process ->Clahe) so that it clearly shows the smoke. Some people will be confused by eddies in exported Fram Strait ice. The Greenland location is Scoresby Sund, latitude 71ºN.

    What tool did you use to attribute a geographic origin to this smoke?,1230.msg55785.html#msg55785

    • No single tool. Combined satellite observation, smoke plume meteorological data (central US through North Atlantic), Jet Stream observation and aerosol tracking methodology. I basically track the smoke from source in a day-to-day fashion using a variety of tools. My work is not so much focused on graphic manipulation as it is with imagery and weather systems analysis.

      Thanks for the high contrast image.

    • Smoke plume also visible in the expanded shot. Moreso really.

  12. Dan B

     /  July 7, 2015


    I saw an article that had a chart of air temperatures around Greenland. I haven’t located the article so I’m going out on a limb here trying to describe it from memory. Air temperatures in the northern 2/3 of Greenland were much higher that normal in June. This may have been due to a weakened Jet Stream pattern (don’t quote me on that). I also seem to – seem to – recall something about the air and water temperatures in the southern 1/4 of Greenland and the Atlantic to the south were lower than normal due to a stalling Gulf Stream. Sorry I can’t locate the article. If I find it I’ll post it in the comments. There are some maps in Arctic news – second article currently on their site – that show colder than normal water in the south and a bit warmer than normal water, or normal temp’s, in the north. The maps are a long ways into the article.

    • wili

       /  July 7, 2015

      “colder than normal water in the south and a bit warmer than normal water, or normal temp’s, in the north.” Thanks. That seems very weird, but then we are seeing more and more weird patterns like that these days.

  13. Dan B

     /  July 7, 2015

    On Sunday evening we went to a park with sweeping views of the Olympics and Puget Sound to see what we thought would be a brilliant red sunset. The entire sky was hazy. Off to the Northwest was a very dense cloud partially obscuring the northern Olympic Peninsula. The sun, which sets in the northwest around the summer solstice, was a vivid red. 5 minutes later it disappeared, approximately half an hour before sunset. The bottom half of it disappeared then the rest. So the lower part of the cloud was very dense.

    It felt apocalyptic. That and the fact that our forests and soils are at record low moisture levels. We’ve had warm weather and less than a quarter inch of rain since mid-May.

    Over the weekend and into Monday there have been fast moving spot fires along the freeway and in other locations. I’m afraid that one is very likely to get out of control and overwhelm a city, even Seattle itself. We’re not as dry as California but we have a great deal more fuel loads. In my front yard is a Eucalyptus tree. Across the street are three 120′ tall Ponderosa Pines. Both would rapidly turn into torches. Two blocks away is a steep hillside greenbelt that runs for 15 miles, a perfect vector for forest fire to propagate from one neighborhood to another.

    • wili

       /  July 7, 2015

      Stay safe. We have few fires here in MN, but for the last few days the air has been so thick with smoke from Canadian and Alaskan fires that the northern two third of the state have been under severe air quality alert–no one, no matter how healthy, was supposed to do any strenuous work outside! We only got to that level here in Minneapolis for a while yesterday–you couldn’t see more than a couple blocks, it was so thick. At first I thought that some houses in the neighborhood had burned down.

      But the skies have been very hazy for days, with very red sunsets and moon rises.

  14. Dan B

     /  July 7, 2015

    Will; The article that showed temperature anomalies for Greenland may be one I read on Sam Carana’s Arctic News blog. The article is from June 11, 2015. It’s Gulf Stream brings Warm Water to Arctic so it’s not directly aimed at the temperature anomalies causing increased melt in north, west, and east Greenland. The first map in the article shows a big heat anomaly in the north and the same anomaly, but a colder than normal ocean, in the south. I’m not sure it the image will embed but you can find it on the site. One of the reasons the ocean to the south is cold is because the ‘surface’ waters are cold glacial melt. This forces the Gulf Stream deeper, underneath the fresher / lighter meltwater. This happens where the ocean is deep. Where it’s shallower the Gulf Stream’s warm current is pushed closer to the surface.

    The image below shows sea surface temperature anomalies in the Arctic as at June 9, 2015.

  15. wili

     /  July 8, 2015

    Sorry if this has already been posted somewhere:
    “Greenland’s ice is melting faster this summer under a dome of high pressure”


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