Ten Mile Wide Chunks of Arctic Sea Ice are Disintegrating North of Svalbard

Over the past 10 days, the rate of sea ice extent loss in the Arctic has slowed down somewhat. And as a result sea ice extent measures, though maintaining in record low ranges, are much closer now to the 2012 line. Low pressure systems have come to dominate the Arctic Ocean zone. And the outwardly expanding counter-clockwise winds from these systems have tended to cause the ice to spread out and to thin. In the past, such events were seen as an ice preserving feature. But this year, there’s cause for a little doubt.

The first cause comes in the form of record Arctic temperatures for all of 2016. As Zack Labe shows in the compelling graphic below, not only has the first half of 2016 been a record warm six months for the Arctic, it’s been a record warm half-year like no other.

Zach Labe

(The first half of 2016 is about 1.5 C hotter in the Arctic than the previous record hot year. It’s a huge jump to new record warmth that should cause pretty much everyone to feel a deep sense of concern about this sensitive region. Image source: Zack Labe.)

And if extra heat is guaranteed to do one thing — it’s melt frozen water. We can see that in the current near record low snow coverages for the Northern Hemisphere. We can see it in the fact that — despite what would be ‘bad melt’ weather conditions such as cloud cover and low pressure systems dominating the Arctic during the middle of June — Arctic sea ice extents are still in record low ranges and Arctic sea ice volume continues to track just below 2012’s record low trajectory. And we can certainly see it in the fact that despite the clouds that would normally promote cooler Arctic conditions during this time of year, surface temperatures have remained well above normal for the majority of June.

Overall, these conditions are unprecedented for the Arctic. And, in microcosm, we can tell a little bit of this story of heat by tracking the life of a ten mile wide hunk of ice that was recently blown away from the ice pack and into the warming waters north of Svalbard.

Ocean Zone North of Svalbard — A New Sea Ice Melt Field

Ice Chunk June 8

(June 8 — a 10 mile wide hunk of sea ice exits the ice pack North of Svalbard. LANCE MODIS image.)

On June 8th, this ten-mile wide chunk of ice was ushered away from a thinning but concentrated grouping of ice about 80 miles to the North of the Island Archipelago of Svalbard. In past decades during June, the sea ice had tended to remain closer to Svalbard, often enveloping this Arctic island chain straddling the 80th parallel. But during recent years sea surfaces around Svalbard have dramatically warmed due to a human-forced heating of the atmosphere and oceans. And today, sea surface temperatures surrounding Svalbard range from 1 to 8 degrees Celsius above 20th Century averages.

That’s still cold water in the range of 32 to 46 F. At least to the human perspective — as neither you nor I would find it a pleasant experience to plunge into sea waters that are still relatively close to freezing. But to sea ice, this water is basically warm enough to represent an oceanic killing field.

Arctic sea ice june 10 frame 2

(June 10 — the large ice island shatters in waters warmed by climate change. LANCE MODIS image.)

By June 10, our ten mile wide hunk of ice had been ejected about 30 miles into this warm water zone north of Svalbard. After only two days, the previously contiguous structure of the ice is riddled with cracks large enough to be plainly visible in the 250 meter satellite resolution. The sudden contact with warmer waters was more than enough to shatter the surface of this island-sized hunk of Arctic sea ice.

Export into warmer waters has long been a melt issue for ice moving out through the Fram Strait. And loss of ice in this fashion due to strong winds circulating clockwise around Greenland has become a growing concern. Ice originating in the thick (though much thinner than in past decades) ice pack north of Greenland can be funneled along the Greenland Coast and eventually propelled out into the warmer waters of the North Atlantic where it has no chance to survive.

Arctic sea ice June 13 frame 3

(June 13 — the ice island breaks into tiny pieces. LANCE MODIS image.)

But this is exactly what happened to this 10 mile wide chunk of ice as it entered waters North of Svalbard. It exited the ice pack, lost access to the fresh water field protecting the ice. It entered 1-3 C surface waters. And it basically disintegrated.

Arctic Ocean Near Summer Melt Tipping Points?

Added Arctic heat is not just a measure, therefore, of atmospheric temperatures. It’s a measure of implied ocean surface heat and ocean heat lurking just beneath the surface. In the end, what we see is that new ways to lose sea ice are now emerging. And it appears that sea ice export into the northern Barents and near Svalbard waters is yet one more sea ice melt risk potential. It’s a matter worth bringing up due to the simple fact that this zone of ocean water was once frozen, was once a consistent part of the Northern Hemisphere ice pack. And after warming just enough, it’s a region that is now hostile to sea ice.

ARC model June 2016

(More reliable US Navy ARCc model shows rapid thinning of remaining Beaufort sea ice taking hold over the next seven days. With so much heat baked into the Arctic over the past six months, we should remain vigilant regarding outlier melt possibilities for 2016. Image source: US Navy.)

Looking north, there’s risk that human caused climate change will drive that ice hostility zone into the near polar region itself. During the melt phase, broken ice can generate a bit of negative feedback by promoting cloud formation through increased water evaporation and reduced albedo as surface melt ponds are essentially dumped back into the ocean. But such floes are at the mercy of transport and waves. And they sit upon a warming surface ocean. A discontinuous floe can hit a melt tipping point pretty rapidly — covering a large region and then disappearing in a very short period. We’ve seen instances of such events during late June for Baffin Bay, Hudson Bay, and the Kara Sea.

Now, much of the Arctic Ocean is covered by these floes. And with so much heat in the system, it’s worth considering that the old rules no longer fully apply. It’s worth realize that the ice is dancing in an increasingly tenuous temperature zone between the warming waters below and the warming airs above.




NOAA’s Environmental Monitoring System

Zack Labe

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

Hat tip to Neven

JAXA Sea Ice

US Navy

Leave a comment


  1. George W. Hayduke

     /  June 14, 2016

    With these 3 posts and other events this week, it’s a hard week for bad news…

    • There’s quite a lot going on that’s related to human-caused climate change. This is still the early, easy stuff, though.

  2. climatehawk1

     /  June 14, 2016

    Tweet scheduled.

  3. Over in the NW Pacific it has been rather quiet.

    • Brian Brettschneider ‏@Climatologist49 2h2 hours ago

      Since AK doesn’t have official criteria for Heat Advisories/Warnings, upcoming temps in 70°s/80°s might require a Kinda Warm Advisory. #akwx

      • Model runs are now showing 80 degree temps over broad regions along the shores of the Arctic Ocean in Northern Canada and Alaska by late June. Another forecast set of conditions you really don’t want to see.

    • I think it was you who passed on Jeff Master’s quote:

      ‘Hurricanes are like bananas, they come in bunches.’

  4. Footage: Dozens of vehicles swept away by flood in southern China
    Published on Jun 13, 2016

    • There’s a lot of mud/soil in that water as well as some oily slicks.

      • – Straight out of Lamar Smith’s Texas:


        Texas Officials Have Photos of Flood-Related Oil Spills, but No Record of Any Response
        Massive oil spills during Texas’ flooding in 2015 were captured by aerial photographs, but were not recorded, or treated, as spills by the state.

        AUSTIN — At the direction of state emergency managers, the Texas Civil Air Patrol took scores of photos of massive spills from oil wells and fracking sites during last year’s flooding of the Lower Trinity River. Yet the state agency in charge of responding appears to have no record of them in its spill database.

        The deficiency raises questions about whether state officials have any knowledge of the quantities and types of toxic substances that have flowed in recent years into the Trinity, as well as the Pecos, Red, Sabine and Colorado rivers, where energy-production sites have sprouted rapidly.

        To scientists and environmentalists, the apparent lack of record keeping is unacceptable.

        “If you’re making money off of a natural resource that I technically own part of, I want to know what you’re doing,” said Meredith Miller, senior program coordinator at the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University in San Marcos.

      • Andy in SD

         /  June 15, 2016


        that is one nasty picture, out of how many? That effluent winds up in ground water, streams, agriculture, school yards etc… Of course, nothing a good contribution to a reelection campaign can’t cure!

      • – Bold and insidious coverups abound.

        Photos taken almost exactly a year ago by the Civil Air Patrol along the Lower Trinity River are particularly harrowing.

        Photos taken during flights on June 2, 2015, show plumes stretching for miles from production sites along the river and huge black pools around inundated tank batteries and wastewater ponds at fracking sites. Photos from the day before show what appears to be oil already fingering out from the shores of Lake Livingston, downstream from the production sites and adjacent to the Sam Houston National Forest.

        By June 19, 2015, after floodwaters receded, photos show black puddles and large splotches of darkened earth around production sites.

        Going Dark

        The public used to be able to view the Civil Air Patrol photos on a University of Texas at Austin website during floods. That was until the Times reported on them.

        The Department of Public Safety removed the photos from public view earlier this month, citing privacy concerns.

        Critics asked what those concerns could be, given that highly defined satellite imagery is widely available.

    • Another big rain bomb… We’ve got the usual thunderstorms, but we’ve also got these things now.

  5. Zack Labe ‏@ZLabe 2h2 hours ago

    A look at the return frequency of 500 mb heights at the peak of the amplified ridge and subsequent heatwave (GEFS)

  6. Reply
    • Spike

       /  June 15, 2016

      That dust is going on vacation

    • That’s one heck of a dust storm. Its movement over Europe is rather odd. Worth noting that some climate models show the Sahara expanding into southern Europe as the Earth heats up.

  7. Philip Klotzbach ‏@philklotzbach 8h8 hours ago Walnut Creek, CA

    May Arctic sea ice extent lowest on record in 2016 (records since 1979).

  8. Greg

     /  June 15, 2016

    OT but an important side note in the transportation electrification news. I have been following the announcement of the Nicola Truck, a soon to be debuted replacement for the standard gas guzzling ICE 18 wheeler. Nicola has a prototype and has started taking reservations, for $1500 for their truck and just announced that they now have $2.3 billion in pre-orders for a truck they won’t show to the public until the end of the year, ala the Tesla model III. To me this indicates huge pent up demand for a real game changer in the industry towards electrification/hybridization.The plan is to create a lease program for truck drivers to pay $5,000 a month, which will include lease payment, unlimited fuel, unlimited miles, maintenance and warranty. This truck has tremendous electric motors that appear to include plug-in charging for idling and LNG, or other fuel, to generate electric power, much more efficiently than a standard truck.

      • Ryan in New England

         /  June 15, 2016

        Thanks for that, Greg. I must admit, I was completely unaware that an electric semi was even being attempted. This will be great for all the fossil fuel cheerleaders who insist we will never transport goods with anything but oil.

      • Abel Adamski

         /  June 15, 2016

        Thanks Greg.
        In the context of the site, definitely not OT.
        Heavy logistics was always an issue

      • Greg

         /  June 15, 2016

        Along the same lines. Was out in Colorado last week, one of my old homes being Fort Collins where I studied soils, and the changes there over the last 15 years were clearly visible in terms of solar and wind installations and incorporation of biking lanes and other sustainable quality of living improvements. This little gif shows what it looks like from above in terms of solar installations. It’s inspiring to see:

    • Absolutely not off topic.

      From the article:

      “The Nikola One truck leasing program costs $4000 to $5000 per month, depending on which truck configuration and options the customer chooses. The first million miles of fuel is included with every truck sale, offsetting 100% of the monthly lease for every owner. An average diesel burns over $400,000 in fuel and racks up over $100,000 in maintenance costs over 1,000,000 miles. These costs are eliminated with the Nikola One lease.

      “We believe we will pass the current market leaders like Daimler, PACCAR, Volvo and Navistar in sales orders within the next 12-24 months. Just imagine the orders that will come in once we begin taking dealer applications. We have shown other OEMs and their shareholders why they should be nervous about Nikola Motor Company. Some of the top class 8 dealerships in America have reached out and are willing to either add our brand or move away from their existing brands,” he added.”

      How does the truck achieve this.

      Drum roll…

      By leveraging the efficiency gains of an electric battery + electric engine to run a hybrid vehicle engine system. The result is that typical long haul truck fuel efficiency is tripled from 3-5 mpg to 10 to 15 mpg. The use of LNG or other fuels (possibly biofuel) as a base to run the engine further reduces fuel costs vs diesel.

      Vehicle range is 1,200 miles, which is more than twice as long as a typical long haul truck. Vehicle hp is 2000 which allows it to travel up-hill at 40 to 45 mph while hauling freight. Battery size is 320 kwh. No plug, which is a shame as it would allow truckers to increase range at stops.

      The vehicle is 10-15 years ahead of government fuel efficiency standards and achieves a fuel efficiency that is typical to some modern personal vehicles today. It’s a huge innovation that will dramatically cut long haul emissions and pave the way for all electric or all renewable long haul fleets with better overall capabilities than standard ICE fleets.

      As hinted at above, this truck could already be powered on a biofuel base and reach near zero or zero use emissions depending on the fuel.

      Thanks for this Greg. Great add to the comments here.

  9. redskylite

     /  June 15, 2016

    R.S- Thanks for bringing the current Arctic sea ice melt & events to life (so graphically and vividly) and illustrating the dance of sea ice in conditions where old rules no longer apply. It is a roller-coaster at the moment and difficult to predict just when summer Arctic sea ice will be a memory of modern man.

    In a very recent interesting study in the Geophysical Research Letters, details are revealed of deep and wide ancient river beds draining the region of Jakobshavn Isbræ, Greenland’s fastest flowing outlet glacier. The rivers were last uncovered around 3.8 million years ago, just around the time that the world’s oldest tools were dated at, uncovered near Kenya’s Lake Turkana, made by one of modern man’s ancestors, a hominid from the genus Australopithecus.

    • Fascinating article here, RedSky. Given the current basin, it appears that the lake/bay/estuary is in the process of rapidly (on geological timescales) reforming as we speak.

  10. Ryan in New England

     /  June 15, 2016

    Jeff Master’s latest blog concerns the intense heat about to settle over the Southern U.S.
    Serious heat and humidity. Something Robert just covered, but this is a good addition to that 😉

    • Good to see Dr. Masters jumping into the fray here. Zack Lobe, DT, Colorado Bob were on the ball with this one as well.

      • – The WU post’s author is Bob Henson:

        ‘Ample Gulf moisture will push heat indexes well into dangerous territory across large parts of the nation’s midsection and into the Southeast later this week ‘

        ‘There is a chance of heat-index values exceeding 115 on Thursday over parts of the Missouri and Mississippi Valleys.’

        ‘The labeled lines show the height of the 500-millibar pressure level, expressed in decameters (tens of meters). The higher the pressure level, the warmer the air below it. Values greater than 600 dm, as shown here for the Four Corners area, are only observed during the most extreme heat waves; it’s impressive to see such values showing up in an ensemble average. The orange and blue colors show how much the pressure levels at a given location are above or below the seasonal average, again in decameters. Image credit:; thanks to Richard Grumm, NWS/State College, for calling attention to this model result.’

        ‘Record highs are far outpacing record lows so far this year
        The period from January through May 2016 saw 11,065 daily record highs and only 1,820 record lows (either tied or broken), according to the Daily Weather Records site maintained by NOAA/NCEI. This ratio of around 6 to 1 is very high for a five-month-long period. The lopsided ratio has continued into June: the first nine days of the month produced a preliminary total of 850 daily record highs and 44 daily record lows, according to NOAA/NCEI.’


    • Greg

       /  June 15, 2016

      “On May 27, the daily low temperature at Esperanza Base, on the outer end of the Antarctic Peninsula, was 8.8°C (47.8°F). According to weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera, this appears to be the warmest daily low on record anywhere in Antarctica, including the Antarctic Peninsula, King George Island, and other islands lying below the 60°S latitude that are considered part of the continent by the Antarctic Treaty. (WU weather historian Christopher Burt has a post on Antarctica’s all-time high of 17.5°C (63.5°F), set in Esperanza in March 2015.) Herrera, who maintains a comprehensive list of extreme temperature records for every nation in the world on his website, has not found any other examples of daily lows in Antarctica any milder than 6.5°C. “For a continental record, this was smashed by an amazing margin,” he added.”

      • Lots of indicators coming showing May was a terrible month for West Antarctica. Fantastic follow-on research here by Masters and Burt. These guys are doing what the weather guys pretty much everywhere should be doing on mainstream TV. My hat is off to them. Amazing, responsible, conscientious stuff going on here.

  11. Future summers could regularly be hotter than the hottest on record
    Reducing carbon emissions could cut risk of record-breaking summertime heat in half

    June 13, 2016

    BOULDER — In 50 years, summers across most of the globe could regularly be hotter than any summer experienced so far by people alive today, according to a study by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

    If climate change continues on its current trajectory, the probability that any summer between 2061 and 2080 will be warmer than the hottest on record is 80 percent across the world’s land areas, excluding Antarctica, which was not studied.

    If greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, however, that probability drops to 41 percent, according to the study.

    “Extremely hot summers always pose a challenge to society,” said NCAR scientist Flavio Lehner, lead author of the study. “They can increase the risk for health issues, but can also damage crops and deepen droughts. Such summers are a true test of our adaptability to rising temperatures.”

  12. Colorado Bob

     /  June 15, 2016

    Brace for warmest ever summers across the globe in 50 years

    In less than five decades, summers across most of the globe could be hotter than any summer experienced by people to date, researchers have estimated.

    If climate change continues on its current trajectory, the probability that summers between 2061 and 2080 will be warmer than the hottest on record stands at 80 per cent across the world’s land areas, excluding Antarctica, which was not studied, the researchers said.

    • This study is spot on. 2 C is enough to blanket 41 percent of the world in record hot summers when compared to today. This study implies 3 C warming by this time. Ice sheet involvement, however, tends to turn the heat into storms…

  13. Greg

     /  June 15, 2016

    Once again the arguably most important politically influential region of the world, centered around Washington D.C., gets a free pass for mild temperatures in May. If only Phoenix were the capital…

    • Sea level rise… Washington was built on a swamp. The Potomac is tidal all along the southern end of the city. Nuisance flooding is going to become an issue pretty soon.

  14. Colorado Bob

     /  June 15, 2016

    On May 27, the daily low temperature at Esperanza Base, on the outer end of the Antarctic Peninsula, was 8.8°C (47.8°F). According to weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera, this appears to be the warmest daily low on record anywhere in Antarctica, including the Antarctic Peninsula,


  15. Colorado Bob

     /  June 15, 2016

    05:10 UTC

    Fires near Lake Baikal, Russia

  1. Ten Mile Wide Chunks of Arctic Sea Ice are Disintegrating North of Svalbard | robertscribbler | GarryRogers Nature Conservation

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