We’ve never seen May heat like what’s being predicted in the Arctic over the next seven days. A shot of warm airs blowing northward over Siberia that are expected to generate a warm front that takes in nearly the entire Arctic Ocean. A weather pattern that, if it emerges, will completely compromise the central region of polar cold that has traditionally driven Northern Hemisphere weather patterns.
This week, a huge pulse of warm air rose up over Northwest Canada and Alaska. Invading the Beaufort, it drove a broad warm front which forced near or above freezing temperatures over between 1/4 to 1/3 of the Arctic Ocean zone. Regions from the East Siberian Sea, through the Chukchi, into the Beaufort, and including a chunk of the polar zone above the 80th parallel all experienced these anomalously warm readings. By Friday, air temperature anomalies in the entire Arctic zone above 66 North were about 3 C above average and in a large section of the hot zone centered on the Beaufort temperatures ranged between 10-15 C above average. For the Arctic, it appeared that June had arrived a month early.
(Abundant Arctic snow and sea ice melt on May 12 provides a visible record of a region compromised by the heat of human-forced climate change. Large land regions — such as Northwest Canada and Alaska — snow free when they should not be. And larger regions of open water appear in the zones that were traditionally covered by sea ice. A bluing over the Chukchi and Beaufort is also indicative of melt pond proliferation. Summer, it appears, has come to the Arctic far too early. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)
The effect of all this heat — just the latest hot flare during a record warm 2016 — on the sea ice has been tremendous. Huge areas of dark, ice-free water have opened up. The Bering is practically ice free. The Chukchi is plagued with thin ice, large polynyas, and melt ponds. Baffin Bay and the Barents are greatly reduced. And in the Beaufort a massive 120 to 200 mile wide region of open water continues to expand.
For Arctic Sea Ice Melt, Mid Summer is Happening in May
Pretty much all the major monitors now show Arctic sea ice plummeting deep into record low ranges. The JAXA extent measure yesterday rocketed past the 11.5 million square kilometer mark with barely a blink following multiple days of 100,000 square kilometer losses. DMI looks like the bottom dropped out of its own extent and volume measures. And NSIDC shows Arctic sea ice extent levels widening the gap from previous record lows for this time of year.
(2016 Actic sea ice — indicated by the red line in the JAXA monitor above — continues its record plunge. Record Arctic heat during 2016 has driven a never-before-seen rate of melt for the first four and a half months of this year. If such melt rates continue, there will be very little sea ice left by melt season end in September. Image source: JAXA.)
Overall, not only is the sea ice less extensive and thinner than it has ever been for this time of year, but the rates of loss it is now experiencing are more similar to those that would typically be seen during June and July — not May. In such a context of record heat and melt, current new sea ice extent lows are about 9-10 days ahead of the previous record low, 22-24 days ahead of the 2000s average line, more than a month ahead of the 1990s average line, and fully a month and a half ahead of the 1980s average line. In other words, there is something seriously, seriously wrong with the polar region of our world.
Freakish Warm Front To Cross From Siberia to the Barents
As bad as the current situation is, the coming week looks like it’s setting up to be far worse. A second massive polar warm front is in the process of bulging northward from the region of Eastern Siberia near the East Siberian Sea. This warm front — driven on by an anomalous ridge in the Jet Stream and backed by warm winds flooding up from the East Asian heatwave and wildfire zone — is predicted to bow outward over the coming five days. It is expected to encompass all of the East Siberian Sea and the Laptev, traverse the 80th parallel, continue on past the North Pole, and then flood out into the Barents. Essentially, it’s a warm front that will cross the polar zone in total — completely ignoring the laws of Jet Stream dynamics and basically rupturing what is traditionally an area of cold centering on the Pole.
(Warm winds are predicted to be pulled up from Siberia as a high pressure system churns over the Beaufort and a warm front crosses the North Pole — flushing below freezing temperature out of a majority of the Arctic Ocean Basin on May 16th in the GFS model forecast. Note the very large extent of predicted above freezing temperatures in the graphic above. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)
In four years of unbroken Arctic observation and threat analysis related to human-caused climate change, I’ve never seen anything like this. And given the odd effects of fossil fuel emissions-forced climate change, I’ve definitely observed some pretty weird stuff. To say this really kinda takes the cake for Arctic weirdness would be an understatement.
Never-Before Seen Conditions Consistent With Human-Forced Climate Change
By May 20, most of the Arctic Ocean is predicted to see near-freezing or above-freezing temperatures. Readings warm enough to promote surface melt of the ice pretty much everywhere and across all basins. Readings that for the entire Arctic region above 66 North are predicted to be 5 C above average. That is one hell of an anomaly. Something that would be odd if we saw it during January (when climate change related seasonal warming has typically taken greater hold). But for May this is absolutely outlandishly hot.
(Temperatures in the Arctic are expected to hit a +5.04 C anomaly by May 20. Such an amazing amount of heat will generate rapid thaw conditions that were typically only experienced in the middle of summer during previous record warm years. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)
These are conditions that even during the previously record warm period of the 2000s normally didn’t take come into play until late June or early July. Conditions that were practically unheard of for any single day at the peak of summer warmth during the 1980s. Conditions now predicted to happen in late May.
This is climate change, folks. Pure and simple. And if such a pattern of extreme heat continues, it may wipe out practically all the ice by the end of this melt season. This week, it looks like that dreaded event will grow still more likely if this predicted insane heat break-out into the Arctic emerges. An event many scientists thought wouldn’t be possible until the 2070s or 2080s as little as ten years ago. A Blue Ocean Event that is now a very real risk for 2016.