More Signs of Winter Arctic Melt — Icebergs are Showing up off Newfoundland in January

From pole to pole the ice is melting. Winter is retreating. And much of life and even the seasons themselves appear to have been thrown off-kilter. In the Southern Ocean near the Antarctic Peninsula, krill populations have dropped by more than 50 percent due to a shortening of the season in which sea ice forms. The North Pole now experiences near or above freezing temperature events during Winter with increasing frequency. Greenland appears to be undergoing melt episodes during Winter. And now, the iceberg season for Newfoundland is starting four months early.


Iceberg spotted off Bonavista in January

(This iceberg was spotted off the coast of Bonavista, Newfoundland on January 20, 2016. It’s the first iceberg of the year for Newfoundland. One that is appearing four months earlier than the typical iceberg season for this part of the world. Image source: Iceberg Spotter.)

During any normal year in the 20th Century, Newfoundland was a prime spot for viewing icebergs. Locked away in the sea ice for much of the Winter, these behemoths became liberated with the spring thaw. By April or May, they could at first be seen off the coast of Newfoundland as they made their trek out into the Atlantic Ocean along the currents running away from Baffin Bay and the West Coast of Greenland.

During a normal year, the sea ice begins its thaw in Baffin Bay along Greenland’s western coastal boundary by early to late April. A milder air flow along the northward progressing warm water current is enough to unlock some of the icebergs stranded within the sea ice and to send them cycling southward toward Newfoundland.

major iceburg drift patterns

(Icebergs typically originate from Greenland’s west coast and then cycle around Baffin Bay. Icebergs sighted off Newfoundland typically break away from the Baffin ice pack during Spring. This year, one got free of the ice in January. Image source: The Atlas of Canada.)

But this year, something odd and rather strange happened. During mid January, following a December in which Arctic sea ice extents were their fourth lowest on record, a period of unseasonable warmth settled in over Western Greenland. Warm, wet winds blew up over Greenland’s coastal mountain ranges and into Baffin Bay. These winds were ushered northward by both a very powerful North Atlantic storm track and by an anomalously warm termination of the Gulf Stream Current just south and east of Newfoundland.

By late last week, the remnants of a January Atlantic hurricane had been pulled into this warm storm generation zone just south of Greenland where it eventually unspooled over the frozen isle’s mountains even as it vented the last remainder of its fury on the iceberg outlets of Baffin Bay.

(Warm, tropical moisture associated with Hurricane Alex is pulled northward into Greenland and Baffin Bay in mid January. This heat and moist air delivery, associated with northward propagating warm winds along Western Greenland, appears to have had multiple wintertime melt impacts for this region of the Arctic. Video source: Hurricane Alex Transitioning to Post-Tropical.)

And all this heat and tropical weather aimed at Greenland and Baffin Bay during January appears to have had a pretty far-ranging impact. For not only have melt monitors over the Greenland Ice Sheet picked up a Winter melt signal. Not only has Disko and Uummannaq Bay been flushed clear of sea ice during Winter. Now, just a few days later, we see the first iceberg of a four month early start to typical iceberg season for Newfoundland. Yet one more well out of season impact during a Winter that really isn’t like any Winter that could be considered normal — at least for what human beings or the living creatures of this world are used to.


Mystery Beneath the Ice

Newfoundland Labrador Iceberg Facts

Warm Arctic Storm Brings Above Freezing Temperatures to the North Pole During Winter

Major Greenland Melt Event During Winter


The Atlas of Canada

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Catherine Simpson

Leave a comment


  1. If this rate of change keeps up, even icebergs might become a thing of the past!

    Sent from my iPad 🙏🏻


    • 550 to 600 ppm CO2 is enough to take down pretty much all the major ice sheets and with them most of the icebergs as well. We’ve already emitted enough to take down Greenland and West Antarctica long term. CO2e makes the picture look worse.

  2. Jeff Allen

     /  January 21, 2016

    Robert – best thinking over at the sea ice forums is the ice clearance was a wind driven event rather than melt related. There is some discussion of possible warm water overturning in situ, but that is still a minority opinion. You may recognize some of the names as current researchers.,154.1200.html

    • Warm winds, surface mass loss, record temperatures, early icebergs in Newfoundland. Regardless of whether the bay clearing was a warm wind associated polynya formation, we still have a larger context warming event for Greenland and Baffin Bay. I’m getting reports from Newfoundland of summer whales appearing in the waters there as well, in January. So if the notion is that this, somehow, isn’t report-worthy, then I’m a bit baffled.

      • jason

         /  January 24, 2016

        all true. whales are here in the bays already. haven’t seen the bergs yet but have noticed ever increasing groups of large bergs over the past ten years here in bonavista bay…also the bays do not freeze like in the past, and the pack ice we hunted seals on is getting more unpredictable and moving north. we’ve even had polar bears swimming in the waters out around the oil rigs on the southeast coast, which is really sad.

  3. In other news, we’re having a major polar vortex collapse event tomorrow morning here on the east coast…

    • Absolutely. And in a strong El Niño year as well… More on this soon…

    • More to the point, we can’t completely call this a polar vortex collapse. But we can definitely see some very high amplitude waves in the Jet coordinate with strong polar warming. I think the big story here is the cold air driven out of the Arctic by a warm air invasion. That cold air is hitting very warm to record warm SSTs off the US East Coast which is providing fuel for this blizzard. Looks like we may have a minor polar vortex collapse by Wednesday of next week, though. So more of the same may be on the way.

  4. – Excellent, timely — all should be able to wrap their minds around this un-seasonal iceberg migration.

    – Twitter:
    David Lange ‏@DavidLange2 47s47 seconds ago

    @democracynow Icebergs are Showing up off Newfoundland in January

  5. Henri

     /  January 21, 2016

    Regarding this year’s forecast, is there any realistic probability this year could be a cool year in this decade’s terms or are we destined to have yet another record hot (or near record) year akin to the 97/98 El Nino trajectory?

    • No way it’s going to be cool. It’ll be record hot or near record hot. Odds are that it’ll be record hot. Temperature behavior is more likely in line with 97/98 progression due to strength and timing of El Nino this year and last. We also appear to have more delay in El Nino weakening than during 97/98 in the model predictions. That plus a strong WWB that just reinvigorated the warm Kelvin Wave adds support to the notion that we’ll see another record warm year. It’s also worth noting that it looks like January probably matched or beat December monthly temps — and those were a doozy.

  6. – Good legal news:

    Decision on the Clean Power Plan is a Victory for the Environment and Public Health
    Earthjustice statement on federal court denying stay request from polluters.

    January 21, 2016
    Washington, D.C. —

    Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied requests by industry and allied states to temporarily stay the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which sets the first-ever federal carbon pollution limits for our nation’s electric power plants.

    • Thank goodness. The utilities don’t want to move at all. The fact that they can’t even swallow the Clean Power Plan should be every indication as to where they want us to end up RE climate change. These old-minded utilities need to go or they need to change. But the current way of doing business is far, far too destructive.

  7. Colorado Bob

     /  January 21, 2016

    Freezing rain and ice across mid-South
    A large swath of the mid-South from eastern Arkansas to southern Virginia is in line for accumulations of ice on Friday into Saturday, as freezing rain develops on the north side of the still-evolving winter storm. The bull’s-eye for highest icing risk appears to be Charlotte, NC, where the timing could hardly be worse: the city is playing host to the NFC championship game on Sunday between the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks. Odds are better than even for Charlotte to get at least a half-inch of ice, which could be a devastating amount for this large urban area. Major disruption to game-related activities over the weekend is a strong possibility, and thousands of people planning to travel to the area for the game may end up disappointed by massive air and road gridlock across the East, although the worst of the storm will be over in Charlotte by the scheduled game time

  8. Ryan in New England

     /  January 21, 2016

    These new and unprecedented events are happening too fast to even keep up. Great job staying on top of all of it, Robert! And very timely referencing the Nova episode about krill population decrease.

    Bob, did you catch that episode? I found it to be one more example of how our altering the Earth’s climate will decimate the very base of the food web. To think that until recently, even krill experts didn’t realize how important the ice was to them. They discovered that the krill larvae literally graze on the bottom layer of ice like cows in a field, consuming a bio-film that freezes in the sea ice. It turns out that they are completely dependent on the sea ice at a crucial point in their development. That looks like the correlation between krill numbers and seasonal variation of sea ice.

  9. – USA Unseasonable River Water on the Move:

    Mississippi River water overtaking Lake Pontchartrain
    January 21, 2016

    Based on a satellite image captured Tuesday, Mississippi River water flowing through the Bonnet Carre Spillway has overtaken about a third of Lake Pontchartrain.

    The image shows a roughly oval-shaped plume of silty water extending out from the spillway, stretching a bit past mid-lake and reaching all the way to the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway.

    Reports this week also indicate river water has moved into the area of the Chalmette Wall and extends down the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet nearly to Violet. This could be from water pushing in through the Industrial Canal or from a lock where the canal and Intracoastal Waterway meet the Mississippi River.

  10. – This is about the third time in a week that barges have broken away on the river.

    22 Breakaway Barges Close Section of Mississippi River
    January 21, 2016 by gCaptain

    The three-mile section of the Mississippi River was closed Wednesday after 22 barges broke free, with some colliding with other vessels.

    The incident occurred at mile marker 54 on the Mississippi River near West Pointe a la Hache in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana on Wednesday.

    The 22 barges were all loaded with coal and petroleum coke, a coal like substance.

  11. NWS WPC ‏@NWSWPC 7m7 minutes ago

    A major #winterstorm is forecast to bring an 80% chance of a foot or more of #snow to D.C.

  12. Ryan in New England

     /  January 22, 2016

    Here’s a good article by Bill McKibben about the fossil fuel industry fighting to stay alive, and the decades of old habits allowing these new fossil fuel projects to continue to come online.

  13. Anthony Sagliani ‏@anthonywx 2h2 hours ago

    GFS recipe for 5″/hr thundersnow at IAD region 2a-2p Saturday: Tremendous vertical motion in DGZ w/ elevated CAPE.

  14. redskylite

     /  January 22, 2016

    RS – Applause for a great narrative once again, thanks for the early news and early warning. We should also be thankful for all those interest groups on twitter/facebook etc, who really observe and report such wonders. I read an interesting story in Slate today by Eric Holthaus (Slates resident meteorologist), reminding me just how frightening and real these events are, and what a great job writers and journalists are doing.

    Ignorance is not bliss, forewarned is forearmed.

    • I’m glad to see Slate hosting a meteorologist that’s on the cutting edge of all this stuff. Eric has done some great work. And I’m glad to say that there’s a growing number of people out there who are doing amazing work reporting on this. But we are still in the minority. There needs to be more of this. We need to break out of the barrier of silence that has for so long plagues this issue and only served to aid in the creation of doubt. The voices are getting louder. But they are still not loud enough. They won’t be until we’ve gotten off this terrible path of warming.

      Thanks for the kind words in any case. I’ll keep doing my best for everyone here.

  15. climatehawk1

     /  January 22, 2016


  16. Colorado Bob

     /  January 22, 2016

    Pembrokeshire village Eglwyswrw dry after 85 rain days


  1. Icebergs show up four months early off Newfoundland

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