A Large Area of Open Water Forms in the Melting Sea Ice North of Greenland During February

In concert with an unprecedented polar warming event, it now appears that the Atlantic side of the Arctic Ocean is seeing some severe sea ice losses.

Warm winds blowing at up to gale force intensity from the south have assaulted the ice with high waves and above-freezing temperatures for about four days now. The ice edge north of Svalbard is being rapidly beaten back. Perhaps more disturbing, is the fact that the ice pack to the north of Greenland has also now withdrawn — opening up a huge polynya.

(Massive hole in the sea ice expands north of Greenland on February 26th. Image source: NASA.)

Looking at the N. Greenland area, we find a fractured, thinning mess along a region of sea ice that should be meters thick and growing thicker at this time in February. Such a state would be remarkable during summer time, but is much more-so in what should be the dark chill of winter polar night.

To be clear, as Neven notes in his most recent Sea Ice Blog, it’s not simply wind blowing the ice around here. It’s melt due to temperatures rising between 40 and 60 F above average over a large region of the Arctic. A region that yesterday saw a 33-34 F (1-2 F above freezing) temperature at the North Pole.

Closer to the massive expanse of water opening up in the ice, Cape Morris Jesup, the furthest north point in Greenland, has now experienced 61 melting hours during winter in 2018. This is comparable to 2011, which set the previous record for winter and early spring melt at 16 hours for the Morris Jesup location. This weekend, the typically frigid point on Greenland’s north coast saw a 43 degree Fahrenheit high in the 24-hour-long darkness (no sunlight or insolation) and at a time when usual daily peak readings hit a frosty -20 F.

The underside of sea ice melts at around -2 C, due to the salt content in the water. But surface portions of the ice still need above freezing temps to result in melt and ponding. Since this region of the Arctic tends to remain near or well below freezing year-round, the present temperatures are enabling unprecedented winter damage to the ice and the environments it supports.

Overall, Arctic sea ice extent is now at record low levels for this time of year. According to JAXA, hitting 13.64 million square kilometers today — or nearly 2 million square kilometers below 1980s averages.

These record daily and seasonal lows are occurring following a major loss of ice in the Bering Sea and in concert with the rapid sea ice setbacks we are presently seeing on the Atlantic side.

It is possible, given the present trend, that the Arctic will experience back-to-back years of record low seasonal ice during winter. 2016-2017 saw a crash in winter sea ice and we are presently even below the record low extents seen at that time.

(Arctic Basin sea ice is at record lows and trending lower. Image source: The Arctic Sea Ice Blog. Graph by Wipneus.)

Only a month and a half of typical freeze season remains. But ten day forecasts indicate that Arctic region mean temperatures might return closer to normal ranges (0 to 1 C above average as opposed the 3-6 C above average) and could allow for some moderate recovery of the substantially reduced winter ice pack.

Overall, though, the tale so far has been one of highly unusual melt and warming. One that highlights the serious and worsening impacts of human-caused warming and related polar amplification.


Leave a comment


  1. Kiwi Griff

     /  February 27, 2018

    It is beginning to look like we may have pasted a tipping point for the arctic Ice.
    Time will tell.
    Thank you for the frequent updates it is a fascinating story Robert.

  2. Allan Barr

     /  February 27, 2018

    One wonders just how much longer the arctic is going to be around with all that implies.

    • Reply
  3. My stomach is upset w this shocking info not mentioned in the corporate media

    • WaPO is covering it and I think so is NYT. I’m hearing more about climate change in the media these days. But, yeah, my opinion is that this is probably worth a segment on the nightly news and a headliner in the weather/climate sections for most major media.

    • Suzanne

       /  February 27, 2018

      Hi Jean, Hope you are well. Just came across this on the online front page of the WP, and lots of comments:

      “North Pole surges above freezing in the dead of winter”

      The sun won’t rise at the North Pole until March 20, and it’s normally close to the coldest time of year, but an extraordinary and possibly historic thaw swelled over the tip of the planet this weekend. Analyses show that the temperature warmed to the melting point as an enormous storm pumped an intense pulse of heat through the Greenland Sea.

      • Excellent coverage by WaPo here.

        I think I’d like to add that climate coverage now varies by media source. For example, it’s generally better in the more moderate to left leaning publications and media sources. And a major win for those concerned about climate change recently occurred with the Weather Channel making a major commitment to cover the issue. Weather Underground has done an excellent job covering the topic for years now. Climate Progress is also a good, major online source. The Guardian is generally also very good source, as is Bloomberg. Many of the business sources now also broadly cover climate change and clean energy — unless they are oil, gas and coal focused. The conservative media sources like Fox are the worst for climate coverage.

        That said, and overall, we’d like to advocate more in depth coverage of the topic in broadcast media. MSNBC has recently provided more climate change coverage as has CNN, for example.

        The overall drift, in my opinion, is more movement toward the mainstream, with most of the resistance coming from the conservative news sources.

  4. any idea the extent of or the timeline of this surface heat affecting the deeper cold flows and the whole Atlantic circulation..gulf stream…

  5. islandraider

     /  February 27, 2018

    Why is this such a big deal? Why is a bunch of sea ice at the north pole so important? Understanding this little bit of physics is so very important. Take a moment to think about the implications of sunlight/heat energy & water vs. ice. The arctic is critical to our survival:

    It takes a tremendous amount of heat energy to complete a phase change in solid water: 80 Calories of heat energy is necessary to melt 1-gram of ice at 0C into 1-gram of water at 0C. If you apply that same 80 Calories of heat energy to 1-gram of water at 0C, you will heat that 1-gram of water to 80C.

    When the ice is gone, when the phase change is complete, all that heat will go into the oceans, warming the waters rapidly. This is the scenario that is unfolding.

    • Fred

       /  February 27, 2018

      You’re quite right islandraider.

      Imagine holding a cold drink with ice in it.
      The drink stays cold, even as the ice melts. In fact, the drink remains at that cold state so long as there is even just a very small piece of ice present. Once that final small piece is gone then the cold drink warms up rapidly.

      That’s our predicament.

      • The cup and ice model, though relevant, is simplistic.

        What we’re witnessing is a step change in how energy is exchanged in the Arctic ocean and atmospheric system. If most of the ice goes during summer, you end up with more heat transferred into the deeper ocean during summer as well as more heat going into glaciers like those in Greenland. And they’ll have an increasing role to play both for the larger ocean system and the thermal dynamics at the Arctic Ocean surface. The atmospheric systems we are used to in the region and in this hemisphere are also thrown increasingly through a loop.

        In other words, we’re in Act 1 of a multi-act play that continues as long as Earth keeps warming. And the Greenland glaciers, thus far, have yet to play the majority of their parts. Movement at the surface in summer will probably range about 1-5 C with most of the ice gone and this will probably be enough to really start to bring those glaciers into play in the 1-3 decade timeframe. Telegraphing of heat below the ocean surface will have a serious impact on local environments and the ocean system. In the 1.5 to 2.5 C range, what we’re looking at is a regime of much less stable Arctic and northern hemisphere weather, increasing impacts to ocean circulation, and increasing glacial melt pulses from Greenland.

  6. Andy_in_SD

     /  February 27, 2018

    The Baffin Bay & Davis Strait clear out is already well underway.

    • Andy_in_SD

       /  February 27, 2018

      The northern end of Baffin Bay now also has open water areas as well. Note, this is the Northern end.

    • So here’s something of a benchmark for keen Arctic watchers like Andy here:

      • Paul in WI

         /  February 27, 2018

        This news about the arctic should be headline news. Most people have no clue what’s happening to our planet. Thanks for all that you do to help raise awareness!

        • I agree. But it is getting a number of headlines. I think you’ll see more about it in the coming week. I hope the Weather Channel picks it up, as well as WeatherUnderground. We’ll see. But there are already major reports in the Guardian and WaPo.

          We’re a bit of a bird-dog here. I look at trends. So most of the reports come here before the major sources as a form of observation and analysis. I rely on experts in various fields to provide confirmation for major events. And we try to stay on the cutting edge.

      • Spike

         /  February 27, 2018

        Had a bad day reading all this stuff today, whilst freezing conditions settled here in the English midlands. I’ve had to retreat from it into the music of Sibelius, a frequent and usually effective balm for my soul. It’s tough sometimes being on thre traintrack watching the thing approach.

        • Sorry, Spike :(. I know how you feel. Trying to do what I can to persuade people to help moderate the problem. It’s a tough fight.

          Response to a recent Article RT by Dr Mann today:

          Stay safe, my friend.

  7. PlazaRed

     /  February 27, 2018

    I Found a link to a news story that is on the Internet News.
    It sort of says everything about the warming in terms that the general public can understand.

    Thanks for the updates and ideas on this massive new problem for the Arctic ice.

  8. wili

     /  February 27, 2018

    “Has the Arctic Finally Reached a Tipping Point?”

    “‘The Holocene climate system is unraveling,’ Jason Box, an ice researcher at the Danish Meteorological Institute, told Earther in an email. ‘We should not be surprised if/when ongoing de-glaciation of the Arctic combined with global (and Arctic) atmospheric heating and humidification causes climate shifts that appear to be step changes.'”

  9. Rain on Svalbard today, as shows in this tweet by Ketil Isaksen

  10. Suzanne

     /  February 27, 2018

    “Melting ice could unleash hazardous waste from abandoned Cold War project” :

    In the midst of the Cold War, Greenland seemed like a strategic point for the U.S. to stage weapons, ready to attack the USSR. The thick ice sheet, military planners imagined, would provide permanent protection for the base. But after the first tunnels were built, the military discovered that the ice sheet was not as stable as it needed to be: It moved and shifted, destabilizing the tunnels. Within a decade, Camp Century was abandoned.

    When siting the secret ice base, the military chose a spot where dry snow kept the surface of Greenland’s ice sheet from melting, and when the base was abandoned, its creators expected the remains to stay encased in ice forever. But decades later, conditions have changed, and as a team of researchers reported in a 2016 paper, published in Geophysical Research Letters, the now-melting ice sheet threatens to mobilize the dangerous pollutants left behind.

  11. Shawn Redmond

     /  February 27, 2018

    I know I’m preaching to the choir but it is all connected!

  12. International fishing fleet watched from space. 70,000 vessels followed and activities analyzed. Massive fisheries fleet may be better regulated. Is it too late?

  13. synaxis

     /  February 27, 2018

    Good article in today’s Guardian re: the Arctic warm weather surge: “Arctic warming: scientists alarmed by ‘crazy’ temperature rises” (Jonathan Watts)

    “An alarming heatwave in the sunless winter Arctic is causing blizzards in Europe and forcing scientists to reconsider even their most pessimistic forecasts of climate change. Although it could yet prove to be a freak event, the primary concern is that global warming is eroding the polar vortex, the powerful winds that once insulated the frozen north.

    Seasoned observers have described what is happening as “crazy,” “weird,” and “simply shocking”. “This is an anomaly among anomalies. It is far enough outside the historical range that it is worrying – it is a suggestion that there are further surprises in store as we continue to poke the angry beast that is our climate,” said Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University.”

  14. Jeremy in Wales

     /  February 27, 2018

    Guardian at last put this warming event as lead story 17:30 GMT 27/02/18 in its UK online edition
    but on the US online edition it appears as the 4th story, not quite the same prominence.

    Back to the snow here so feeding the birds to keep their energy levels up as the smaller ones burn through their fat reserves in one cold night.

  15. kassy

     /  February 27, 2018

    Oil and gas emissions could far exceed current estimates

    Ethane and propane rises have been traced to the global fossil-fuel industry. Now governments need to act.


    Scientists know that ethane emissions rose during the early twentieth century and then began to decline in the 1970s as modern air regulations took effect. More recent monitoring suggests that the trend reversed in 2009, when atmospheric concentrations again began to rise, probably due to emissions from the expanding oil and gas industry, and particularly in the United States. Yet reconciling the atmospheric data with current emissions inventories has been tough.

    This week in Nature Geoscience, researchers report progress (S. B. Dalsøren et al. Nature Geosci.; 2018). The team simulated multiple emissions scenarios in an effort to reproduce observational data, including those gleaned from ice cores. They accounted for natural emissions from sources such as geological seeps and mud volcanoes, and plugged in detailed information about emissions from the fossil-fuel industry. The results suggest that the industry’s ethane and propane emissions have been drastically underestimated, and are two to three times higher than figures used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

    That in itself is a concern, because the two gases contribute to smog — but the study also underscores troublesome questions about industrial emissions of methane, which are second only to those of carbon dioxide when it comes to warming the planet. Where there are ethane and propane being released, there tends to be methane too. The ratios vary across oil and gas fields — but, once understood, they can be used to differentiate industrial methane emissions from those from other sources, including livestock, rice paddies and wetlands. As it happens, atmospheric methane concentrations also resumed their historical rise in 2007, after a nearly decade-long plateau.

    I will ass just one more quote from the article:

    The International Energy Agency estimates that the industry emits roughly 76 million tonnes of methane per year globally, and that three-quarters of those emissions could be eliminated with current technologies if companies fixed or replaced leaky equipment.

    Implementing just those measures that pay for themselves would be akin to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 160 billion tonnes by 2100 — nearly 47 times the annual emissions of the European Union


    Let me requote that last one:
    Implementing just those measures that pay for themselves <- nearly free money

    would be akin to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 160 billion tonnes by 2100 — nearly 47 times the annual emissions of the European Union <- nearly free good deeds

    How? Why? Don't need the money?

    Probably not. The business still gets subsidies and tax breaks. This needs to stop.

    • Anyone fighting renewable energy adoption right now is fighting against human civilization prosperity, stability and even survival in the coming Century.

  16. kassy

     /  February 27, 2018

    Oops. That should have been “add”.

  17. kassy

     /  February 27, 2018

    The story below is well known to people following the subject for a while so i left most of it out but maybe it is of use to someone.

    Why scientists have modelled the climate right up to the year 2300

    Why sea levels in 2300 matter

    Back to the original study. Its main result was that the sea level could still rise by up to 1.2 metres (4ft) by 2300 even under a very optimistic climate scenario where the global temperature never rises more than 2℃ above pre-industrial levels. That is, even if manmade emissions peak within the next two decades, then drop down to zero no later than by 2070 and remain at zero from then onwards – sea levels would still rise by more than a metre.

  18. Kiwi Griff

     /  February 27, 2018

    MEXICO CITY, Feb 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Storms, floods and other extreme weather events are hitting cities much harder than scientists have predicted, said the head of a global network of cities tackling climate change.

    The severe water shortages pushing drought-stricken Cape Town towards “Day Zero”, when it runs out of water, are proving a wake-up call to other vulnerable cities, said Mark Watts, executive director of the C40 climate change alliance.

    “Almost every (C40 member) city is reporting extreme weather events that are off all the scale of previous experience, and ahead of all the modelling of climate change,” Watts told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    “Given that all the scientific models are failing to predict the pace that climate impact’s actually having, how do you do good public policy?” he said on the sidelines of the C40 Women4Climate conference.

    Nearly half of the 92 cities in the C40 network saw extreme flooding last year, according to Watts, who said an “optimism bias” was built into scientific forecasts.

    Unpredictable events are making it increasingly difficult for cities to decide whether they should invest in expensive protection measures such as sea walls, or opt for flood plains instead of building luxury waterfront apartments, he said.

    “In most cases, we’ve experienced something beyond what the model projected, whether that’s for flooding, for extremes of heat, or just the switches in the violence of weather we’re seeing,” he said.

    From The philanthropic arm of Thomson Reuters

  19. Barney

     /  February 28, 2018

    “The underside of sea ice melts at around -2 F, due to the salt content in the water”
    Should that be -2 C, ie about 28 F – see eg ?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: