Under the Arctic Dome — Brutish High Pressure System is Wrecking the Already Thinned Sea Ice

There’s a real atmospheric brute towering over the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea at this time. A high pressure system that would put shame to most other anti-cyclonic phenomena that bear the name. It is sending out a broad, clockwise pattern of winds. It is pulling up warm air from the Pacific to invade the Bering, Chukchi, East Siberian and Laptev Seas. And its torquing motion is shattering the already considerably thinned ice beneath it.

(A powerful high pressure system over the Beaufort Sea is predicted to further strengthen by late April 15. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Clocking in at 1046 mb of pressure, it makes typically strong 1030 mb high pressure systems seem weak by comparison. Over the next day it is expected to strengthen still — hitting 1048 mb by late April 15th (coming very close to an extraordinary 1050 mb system).

Shattered Sea Ice

This powerful and strengthening system has already been in place for about two weeks — slowly gaining momentum as its circulation has moved in mirror to the waters of the Beaufort Gyre that swirl beneath it. Masked only by a veil of sea ice considerably thinned by human-forced climate change, the waters of the Beaufort are now breaking through. Streaks of dark blue on white in an early break-up enabled both by a terrible Arctic warming and by this powerful spring weather system.

(Side-by-side images of Beaufort sea ice from April 4 [left frame] to April 13 [right frame]. Note the considerable and rapid advance of fracturing in a relatively short period. For reference, bottom edge of frame in both images is 500 miles. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Warm Storms

On the Siberian side of the Arctic, this massive high pressure dome is drawing in warm winds from the Pacific Ocean. Gust by gust and front by front, they come in the form of squalls that deliver above freezing temperatures and rains that blanket this thawing section of the Arctic. On Thursday, April 13, these warm winds had driven northward over 2,500 miles of Pacific waters to be drawn into storms that unleashed their fury — driving rains and gales through the already dispersed ice in the Bering Sea and shattering ice floes through the Chukchi. Today, April 14, these winds and rains drove northward to assault the ice of the East Siberian and Laptev seas.

(On April 13, above freezing temperatures, rains, and gale force winds ripped through the sea ice near Wrangle Island in the Chukchi Sea. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

A Great Atmospheric Stack Drawing Heat into the Arctic

In the past, meteorologists like Stu Ostro envisioned that climate change would tend to produce towering high pressure systems — featuring increasingly strong storms roaring about their fierce outer boundaries. And the massive high lurking over the Arctic at this time is a good example of Ostro’s predictions coming to light in a region that is very sensitive to human-forced warming.

This great atmospheric stack appears to have had a considerable impact on the ice already — helping to push extent measures back into record low ranges by accelerating the melt trend. But these impacts are likely to spike over the coming week as this powerful high expected to remain in place through the next five days — continuing to draw warm air into the region.

(Global Forecast System models predict extreme warming over the Arctic Ocean throughout the next week resulting from the influence of a powerful high pressure system and very strong associated ridge in the Jet Stream. Image source: NCEP Global Forecast System Reanalysis.)

GFS model runs indicate that average temperatures over the Arctic Ocean region will hit a peak as high as 4 degrees Celsius above average by late next week. Meanwhile, the warmest zones are expected to be as much as 18-20 degrees Celsius above average. Such abnormal warmth at this time of year, if it emerges, will put a considerable damper on a freeze that should now be continuing in the High Arctic even as edge melt ramps up with the progression of spring.

This is particularly concerning due to the fact that temperature anomalies in the Arctic tend to fall off during spring and summer. In other words, such a powerful warming trend for the Arctic Ocean would be bad enough during winter — but it is an even more unusual event for spring. An ominous start to a melt season that could produce far-reaching regional and global consequences.


Earth Nullschool


NCEP Global Forecast System Reanalysis

Stu Ostro

Climate Reanalyzer

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Leave a comment


  1. Erik Frederiksen

     /  April 14, 2017

    What can happen if you poke a tiger?

  2. Maxwell Little

     /  April 14, 2017

    This is worrisome. Winter sea ice acts as an integrator – the normal thick, high-extent ice cap will absorb a very large quantity of energy before it melts significantly. However, it has a finite capacity. Any heat pulses during the freezing season reduces the capacity of the cap to moderate temperatures during the summer. If the ice volume (thickness) becomes low enough, the sheets will break up into pack ice over larger and larger areas, leading to increased absorption of solar energy, susceptibility to wind-driven ice transport and general loss of ice cover. Melting in April has the potential to produce even more in May/June/July.

    The positive feedback is in action as we speak.

  3. Suzanne

     /  April 14, 2017

    “Scientists just found a strange and worrying crack in one of Greenland’s biggest glaciers”

    Scientists examining satellite images of one of Greenland’s largest glaciers believe they have found an unexpected new crack in its floating ice shelf that could contribute to a dramatic break in coming years.

    • Thanks for this Suzanne. More good work by the WaPo.

      • Suzanne

         /  April 14, 2017

        And Robert a heads up. I just tried to post something about the idiotic Pruitt comments wanting to exit the Paris Climate Agreement…with a “Take Action” which included one too many links. Oops…sorry. I am just so angry…I am typing faster than I am thinking.

        • I just cleared it. Please feel free to post any and every direct action link you want to here. I absolutely support the effort.

  4. Suzanne

     /  April 14, 2017

    WP responds to
    “EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s claim that China and India have ‘no obligations’ until 2030 under the Paris Accord” with 4 Pinocchio’s

    During an appearance on “Fox & Friends,” the EPA administrator denounced the Paris Accord, the global agreement on curbing climate change, as a “bad deal for America” that “we need to exit in my opinion.” Asked his biggest objection to the accord, he claimed that China and India had no obligations until 2030, even though “they are polluting far more than we are.”

    Despite our queries, we did not get an explanation for Pruitt’s remarks from the EPA, but we have good news for him. If that’s his biggest problem, it’s solved! His objection is based on a misunderstanding of the agreement: China and India are already hard at work at meeting goals set for 2030.

    The EPA is asking for our comments. Please share your thoughts:

    • More malfeasance. Fire the guy — he is a walking, talking threat to public health and welfare.

    • Maxwell Little

       /  April 14, 2017

      The atmosphere is also an integrator. Emissions anywhere (at any time) have a contribution to climate change, especially any more exotic greenhouse gasses which end up in the stratosphere. Even CO2 has an atmospheric half-life of at least 100 years, with the actual warming effect having a time-constant on a similar scale. Maintaining “business as usual” would be bad for the U.S not only from a climate perspective (as more damage is done) but from an economic perspective as well.

      Renewable energy is winning the cost/performance battle over fossil fuels. The U.S should be developing this technology, with U.S firms selling the equipment and designing the new distribution and transmission systems which will be needed to integrate distributed renewable generation into power grids.

      Instead, they are doubling down on obsolete technology using a non-renewable resource which is plummeting in value, granting a few low-quality jobs with significant health risks while throwing away what is literally the opportunity of the century.

      Thanks to Trump et. al. the renewable sector boom will be driven by private industry based outside of the U.S. It will take longer to implement, the planet will be in a worse state when it finally does manifest and we may or may not be able to avoid a mass extinction without trillion-dollar geoengineering projects which have risks as large as their rewards.

    • Suzanne, neither page can be found for the action item to send comments to the EPA….you have to first open the link and then copy the URL from there.

      • Suzanne

         /  April 15, 2017

        I don’t know what to say….They were working earlier in the day…hmm. Try the EPA social media platform link..Maybe they were getting too much activity?

  5. Ridley Jack

     /  April 14, 2017

    The nasa march global tempartures are out 112 2nd warmest behind last year.

    • Maxwell Little

       /  April 14, 2017

      Only 2nd warmest? Must be the start of a cooling trend…

      (says people with no knowledge of statistics and a significant lack of common sense, i.e the U.S government of 2017)

      • No El Nino and we’re at +1.34 above 1880s averages for the month. That looks pretty bad.

        • Maxwell Little

           /  April 14, 2017

          Even if CO2 emissions dropped to near-zero immediately (as in Atmospheric levels stayed constant) we will probably hit at least +2 degrees by 2150 – it takes that long for the climate to stabilize after what is essentially a step change in the atmosphere. The heat-capacity of the oceans plus the timescale of albedo feedback makes the Earth’s climate an overdamped system – effects are not felt immediately and take up to several centuries to manifest. This is not stressed enough – we are already in for severe climate change. “Warming by 2100” is NOT the full story, especially as we move deeper into the century.

        • 410 ppm CO2 implies about 3 C warming over multi-century time scales. Add in the RF from other long lived gasses and the multi century warming probably hits 3.5 C. Earth System Sensitivity takes these effects into account. Carbon sink and source responses change this dynamic as well. The ESS horizon should probably be 500 years approximate and probably longer for full stabilization. Note the 10,000 year ice age to interglacial stabilization process. The 1 Century horizon is somewhat useful for policy planning. But it doesn’t tell the whole story by a long shot.

        • Cate

           /  April 15, 2017

          “…..we’re at +1.34 above 1880s averages for the month.”

          Dear God, Robert. Sometimes, when you spell it out like that, it feels like a punch in the guts.

  6. Maxwell Little

     /  April 14, 2017

    3.5 degrees would be near-catastrophic for large portions of the world. I honestly doubt we will be able to keep atmospheric CO2e levels below ~550-600ppm – there is sadly too much inertia to reduce emissions that fast.

    I am hoping for solar-powered carbon capture plants – put a square kilometer of PV cells in the desert and make limestone or other carbonate rocks using endothermic chemical processes. We need to somehow accelerate silicate weathering and draw billions of tons out of the atmosphere. It might be the only way to avoid complete collapse.

    • The low hanging fruit is to rapidly replace fossil fuels with renewables. If we do this we could probably manage to limit peak CO2 to 450 ppm. After that, various forms of atmospheric carbon capture will be needed. The lower cost version is BECCS which is already operative at the pilot level and should at least be scaled to include all present ethanol, biomass energy, and biomass heat facilities. We need an economic incentive for atmospheric carbon removal to get there. Atmospheric carbon capture for use in materials, reforestation, and better land management are other processes that need to be explored and expanded. But it is absolutely critical that we limit the atmospheric carbon peak as much as possible. And the fastest path to that is direct energy replacement by renewables.

  7. Erik Frederiksen

     /  April 14, 2017

    The impacts we’re seeing now are occurring long before we’ve felt the full effects of bringing pre-industrial temperatures up 1 degree C due to things like the thermal inertia of the oceans and response time of the ice sheets.
    And we’re on track to triple pre-industrial levels of CO2 this century to around 800ppm, according to the MIT atmospheric physicist Kerry Emanuel.

    According to the IPCC that would give us a 5 percent chance of exceeding 6.75C.

    As Emanuel says in the article below:
    “the 5% high-end may be so consequential, in terms of outcome, as to be justifiably called catastrophic. It is vitally important that we convey this tail risk as well as the most probable outcomes.”

  1. Under the Arctic Dome — Brutish High Pressure System is Wrecking the Already Thinned Sea Ice | robertscribbler | GarryRogers Nature Conservation
  2. Climate Change This Week: CO2 Levels Zooming Faster, First Protest in Space, and More! | Climate Change Reports

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