Arctic Sea Ice Melt Analysis: The Concerning Development of a Beaufort Warm Pool During Late June

During 2016-2017, the Arctic sea ice, overall, has been hammered by far warmer than normal temperatures. The result has been continued record low Arctic sea ice volume and record low or near record low extent throughout the present period stretching from October of 2016 to late June of 2017. Now, the development of a pool of warm water in the Beaufort Sea even as a strengthening ridge is poised to inject more heat into this key region threatens to increase sea ice melt pressure as we enter mid-summer.

(Far warmer than normal conditions greatly impacted Northern Hemisphere sea ice during 2016 and 2017. Due to this heat spike, the sea ice is presently far more susceptible to summer melt pressure. Image source: NASA GISS.)

Counter-Trend Cooling in May — But Sea Ice Still in Record Low Ranges

Cooler than normal temperatures in the High Arctic during May and near average temperatures over the Arctic Ocean during June resulted in somewhat less less late spring and early summer melt than some had feared.

This counter-trend cooling has set up conditions where sea ice measures in both volume and extent have bounced closer to the 2012 line with PIOMAS departures remaining in record low ranges and JAXA and NSIDC extent measures tracking near second or third lowest on record.

(Region of interest for Beaufort warm pool development and predicted warm air injection over the coming days. The above graphic by Zack Labe compares present Beaufort and CAA conditions with those of last year when melt in the region was rapidly progressing.)

But despite a brief May respite from the most extreme heat of human-forced climate change, the Arctic sea ice remains very fragile and any added warmth at this time from either the ocean, the atmosphere or both can have an out-sized impact on end melt season totals.

Beaufort Warm Pool Development

Moving into Arctic mid-summer, primary factors of concern include both land and ocean surface temperatures as well as the potential development of various weather features harmful to sea ice. Trough development on the Russian side with ridge development over the Beaufort region is generally viewed as harmful — forming warm surface waters that can considerably erode old ice in the Beaufort and near the Canadian Archipelago, while generating a dipole temperature and pressure feature that produces winds which tend to enhance sea ice export through the Fram Strait.

(Warm surface water pool development in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas represents a melt hazard to sea ice if it continues to grow and gather heat. Hot spots currently forming in the Beaufort at 5 C above average in the DMI measure is therefore cause for some concern. The predicted development of a strong high pressure ridge injecting much warmer than usual temperatures into the region will tend to feed energy into these already-warm surface waters. Image source: DMI.)

Throughout June, this form of dipole has tended to emerge — with weak highs forming consistently over the Beaufort and with moderate-to-strong lows gathering on the Russian side centering on the Laptev Sea, but ranging into the Kara, East Siberian Sea, and on into the Central Arctic. This persistent dipole has also aided in the production of warm surface waters in both the Beaufort Sea and in the Chukchi. Sea surface temperatures in this region have already formed into a considerable warm pool with anomalies ranging from 2-5 degrees Celsius above average over an expanding region.

Predicted Injection of Warm Air of the Beaufort

During the coming days, a ridge extending over Northern Canada is predicted to drag a surge of warm air across both the Canadian Archipelago and the Beaufort Sea. Over-ocean temperatures in the Beaufort are expected to considerably vary above the norm — hitting as high as 48.6 degrees Fahrenheit (9.2 C) in some regions. An over-ocean value that is around 7-9 C above average for this time of year.

(Ridge development is expected to inject much warmer than normal temperatures over the already warm Beaufort Sea by July 2nd. This predicted event presents increasing risks of sea ice melt for a key Arctic region. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Since oceans tend to moderate both summer heat and winter cold, these are considerable local extremes. And in conjunction with a developing warm pool of ocean surface waters, such above average atmospheric readings represent a melt hazard to sea ice in the critical Beaufort basin and in adjacent regions. Ice in the Canadian Archipelago will also come under melt stress in the event that such a forecast trend develops. Meanwhile, the greatly reduced subset of multi-year ice floating just to the north of the Archipelago will also be subject to the warm air injected by the ridge as well as to the warming of nearby surface waters.

Risks Worth Monitoring

During 2012, the persistent development of a warm water pool in the Beaufort contributed to record low sea ice readings by late summer. This warm pool ate away at the ice edge, wrecking the multi-year ice even as it was eventually thrust into the Central Arctic by a powerful storm emerging over the East Siberian Sea during August. Similar warm pool formation at this time and continuing through July is cause for some concern, which is why a nascent warm pool development during late June is worth continued monitoring.

Links:

NASA GISS

PIOMAS

JAXA

DMI

Earth Nullschool

The Arctic Sea Ice Blog

Hat tip to Zack Labe

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Wili

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Record Low Sea Ice Maximum a Lock as Arctic Continues Trend of Ridiculous Warmth

Anyone who’s been paying attention to the Arctic knows that it’s seen a ridiculously warm fall and winter during 2016 and 2017. And, unfortunately, new predicted temperature spikes appear to be on tap for the coming days in one of the more climate-sensitive regions of our world.

(Another big Arctic temperature spike is predicted for later this week with readings expected to hit as high as 5.1 C above average for the entire Arctic. So much warmth in this region will continue to put melt press on sea ice, snow packs, permafrost and glaciers. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

High amplitude waves in the Jet Stream, according to the Global Forecast System Model, are set to drive dual warm air invasions into the Arctic. The first warm air invasion is taking place over North-Central Siberia and is the continuation of a general pattern of warm air delivery that has now lasted for about two weeks through the region of the Kara, Laptev, and East Siberian seas. The second, and albeit weaker, warm air delivery is set to run northward through the Northwest Territories of Canada and on into the Beaufort Sea and Canadian Archipelago.

Temperatures in these warm air invasion zones are expected to rise to between 10 and 30 degrees Celsius above average (18 to 54 F above average). In some places covering these warm wind invasion zones, we are also expected to see sporadic above freezing readings and, in the case of the Laptev — periods of liquid precipitation over the sea ice.

(The record low maximum sea ice extent for 2017 looks more and more like a lock as another big temperature spike rushes into the Arctic.)

Overall, Arctic average temperatures above the 66 degree north latitude line are expected to range between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius above average over the next seven days. As anomaly departures tend to tamp down a bit as spring emerges, these are very high temperature deltas for this time of year.

These continued very high temperature anomalies and what is a trend of extreme and extraordinary warmth for the Arctic has kept sea ice extent measures in record low ranges throughout much of late March. Over the coming days, the most recent warm spate will likely produce an ongoing weakening of ice on the Russian side even as the warmer readings across the Beaufort and Canadian Archipelago will tend to tamp down late season ice thickness building (as typically occurs during late March through April) over the last remnants of multi-year sea ice.

(NASA satellite shot of sea ice shows considerable early melt along the Russian side of the Arctic Ocean.)

In the image above, we find that the ice on the Russian side is already broken, thinning, and opening up into numerous polynyas. Ice is particularly reduced in the Kara (lower right) for this time of year. And the break-ups and mobility of the non-fast ice in the Laptev and East Siberian seas are considerably advanced.

As we reported last week, Arctic sea ice volume trends are now in considerable record low ranges and the excess heat on the Canadian and Russian sides will continue to put pressure on those values. Another instance of the ongoing downfall of global sea ice that kicked into high gear during 2016 and 2017 as human forced warming of the climate system through fossil fuel burning took another step toward ever-warmer conditions.

Links:

LANCE MODIS

Climate Reanalyzer

NSIDC

PIOMAS

Hat tip to Zack Labe

Frailest-Ever Winter Sea Ice Facing a Cruel, Cruel Summer

This past weekend, it rained over the ice of the late winter Kara Sea. Falling liquid drops that whispered of the far-reaching and fundamental changes now occurring at the roof of our world.

*****

For an Arctic suffering the slings and arrows of human-forced global warming, the winter ended just as it had begun — with an ice-crushing delivery of warm air from the south.

A burly high pressure system over Russia locked in an atmospheric embrace with a series of low pressure systems stretching from the Barents Sea down into Europe. Winds, originating from the Mediterranean rushed northward between these two opposing weather systems — crossing the Black Sea, the Ukraine, and swirling up over Eastern Europe. The winds wafted warm, above-freezing air over the thawing permafrost of the Yamal Peninsula. And the frontal system they shoved over the melting Arctic sea ice disgorged a volley of anomalous late-winter rain.

(Another ice-melting warm wind invasion rushes into the Arctic — this time through the Kara and Laptev Seas. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

As this rain hissed over the ice, delivering a load of heat to its fractured and frail surface, temperatures above the Kara Sea rose to 1 to 2 C — or about 25 to 30 C warmer than average (42 to 54 F warmer than normal). Meanwhile, the frontal boundary lofted by the warm winds rushed on — pushing above-freezing temperatures all the way into the Laptev Sea north of Central Siberia.

This most recent rush of warm air to the ice edge region came as a kind of herald for the start of melt season. Melt season start is an event that takes place every year at about this time. But during 2017, the sea ice set to begin this annual melt has never been so weak. The fall and winter warmth has been merciless. Month after month of far warmer than normal temperatures have pounded the ice. And now both sea ice extents and volumes are lower than they have ever been before — or at least since we humans have been keeping track.

Third Consecutive Record Low Sea Ice Extent Maximum

Neven and the sea ice observers over at The Arctic Sea Ice blog produced the following graph depicting what is all-too-likely to be a 2017 in which the sea ice extent maximum just hit another annual record low:

(2015, 2016 and 2017 produced record low or near record low winter maximum years for sea ice extent consecutively. Image by Deeenngee and The Arctic Sea Ice Blog.)

Neven, who is one of the world’s top independent sea ice analysts, noted Sunday that:

After a drop of almost 262 thousand km2 in just three days, it looks highly likely that the maximum for sea ice extent was reached two weeks ago, according to the data provided by JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (via ADS-NiPR ; it used to be provided by IJIS).

As melt season starts, another record low for sea ice extent maximum raises some serious concerns. The less ice that covers the ocean, the more dark blue surface is left open to absorb the sun’s rays. And this loss of ice poses a problem in that a less ice covered Arctic Ocean can take in more heat during melt season — which can serve as an amplifier for melt rates.

During 2015, Arctic sea ice extent also hit a record low maximum, which was nearly beaten again in 2016. But these losses thankfully did not translate into new record lows by the end of the 2016 summer melt season. Weather, as ever, plays its part. And there is some evidence to indicate that increased cloud cover caused by higher levels of water vapor above the Arctic may help to shield the ice somewhat during warmer months. A feature, however, that did little to prevent severe sea ice losses during the record summer melt of 2012 in which a powerful Arctic cyclone also played a roll in ice melt.

Arctic Sea Ice Volume Looks Considerably Worse

Sea ice extent is the measure of how much ocean the ice covers to its furthest-reaching edge. But it’s not the only measure of ice. Volume, which is a measure of both sea ice area and thickness, probably provides a better overall picture of how much ice is left. And the picture of sea ice volume going into the melt season for 2017 isn’t looking very good at all.

 

(Arctic sea ice volume through late February was tracking well below trend. This considerable negative deviation presents considerable risk for record low sea ice measures by the end of 2017 melt season. Image source: PIOMAS.)

Sea ice volume is now tracking about 2,000 cubic kilometers below the previous record low trend line for this time of year. In other words, the trend line would have to recover considerably over the coming months in order to not hit new record lows by the end of this melt season (September of 2017).

What’s happened is that the ice has experienced three consecutive very warm winter periods in a row — 2015, 2016 and now 2017. And a resulting considerable damage to the ice increases the risk that new all-time record lows will be reached this year. If the present volume measure remains on track through end of summer, sea ice volume could well split the difference between 2012’s record low of approximately 4,000 cubic kilometers of sea ice volume and the zero sea ice volume measure that represents an ice-free Arctic.

Cruel Summer Ahead

(Warm winds, above freezing temperatures, and rain caused considerable sea ice retreat in the Kara Sea from March 14 [top frame] to March 20 [bottom frame]. This event may well have been the herald to a record spring and summer melt during 2017. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 300 miles. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

This discussion is worth consideration given how much heat we’ve seen in the Arctic recently. However, we are unlikely to see such a neat progression. Spring and summer surface temperatures could track closer to normal ranges and cloudy (but not overly stormy) conditions could give Arctic albedo an assist — causing the melt rate to lag and pulling the volume measure closer to the trend line. But, it could also vary in the other direction. For post La Nina (we have just exited a weak La Nina) the ocean gyres tend to speed up — which enhances sea ice export — even as more heat tends to transport in the final post El Nino plume toward the poles.

If this particular form of inter-annual natural variability trend toward warmth and melt in the Arctic takes hold during 2017, then we will have less chance to see a spring and summer sea ice recovery toward the trend line. And this is one reason why we’ve been concerned since 2015 that 2017 or 2018 might see new record lows during the summer for Arctic sea ice.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Lowest Maximum Sea Ice on Record (Again)

Earth Nullschool

LANCE-MODIS

PIOMAS

The Great Arctic Cyclone Hangs On

NASA GISS Temperature Anomalies

Hat tip to Suzanne

The Human World Has Never Experienced A Time When Global Sea Ice Was So Weak and Reduced

Neven — one of the world’s most beloved sea ice trackers — has again taken a break from his much-earned sabbatical to issue yet one more warning on the state of global sea ice.

His report, based on this month’s bombshell National Snow and Ice Data Center statement, can best be described as an urgent call for action on the part of the global community to redouble efforts aimed at reducing the wide-ranging and expanding harms caused by the terrible warming trend we have artificially forced upon our world.

Neven is a kind, honest, and open soul. He is also one of the smartest and decent fellow bloggers I have had the good fortune of encountering in my many travels during my last four years of covering the slow motion global train wreck caused by our widespread and vastly irresponsible burning of fossil fuels. In other words, the man, in my view, has the moral and intellectual authority that many lack. We should listen to him.

Before the World Warmed, This Would Have Been a 1 in 30 Billion Probability Event

For, sadly, on the crucial issue of sea ice, a general muting of the subject has tended to continue despite a jaw-dropping plunge in both the coverage and volume of a substance so crucial to maintaining a stable global climate:

global-sea-ice-extent-stunning-losses

(Global sea ice extent fell off a cliff during December of 2016. The measure has now bounced back a little. But the global average remains significantly below past record lows for this time of year. Loss of so much sea ice can be highly disruptive to the climate system and related atmospheric circulation and precipitation patterns. Image source: NSIDC.)

During December, global sea ice extent coverage fell to an amazing 4.4 million square kilometers below average. This is far, far outside the 2 standard deviation range — passing to fully 8 standard deviations beyond the typical yearly average.

Under past expectations of average, the statistical probability of such an event is approximately 1 in 30 billion. Of course, it’s pretty obvious at this time that a normal, natural variability is not the underlying cause of such a great loss of sea ice. That the warmth we added to the system has now greatly tipped the scales beyond anything representing what would have previously been considered a normal range. A range that since the year 2000 had already tended to dip below average more and more frequently. But one that has never seen so much ice lost.

Unprecedented Losses

This area of sea ice removed — enough to change how the face of our Earth looks from space — is approximately the size of two Greenlands (Note that sea ice loss does not directly contribute to sea level rise. But loss of protective sea ice can contribute to land ice melt — which does add to rates of sea level rise.). And it has been roughly split between the Arctic in the north and the Antarctic in the south.

If sea ice extent losses appear bleak, then sea ice volume losses seem even worse. Sea ice extent is a rough measure of the surface of the world covered by ice excluding gaps behind the leading ice edge. Sea ice volume, however, measures both the ice area — including gaps — and the ice thickness.

giomas-year-global

(Globally, we’ve lost about 1/3 of the total volume of sea ice since the 1980s. 2016’s record fall in the measure coincided with record hot global temperatures and an abnormal period of polar warming that continues on into 2017. Image source: Wipneus.)

Late 2016’s big drop included the approximate removal of 1/3 of the world’s sea ice volume when compared to 1981-2010 averages. In other words, 1/3 of all of the floating portion of the world’s cryosphere beyond the edge of anchored ice shelves had melted away during the period.

Record Global Temperatures as Prime Cause For North and South Pole Sea Ice Melt

In the north, extremely warm temperatures ranging from 2 to up to 7 degrees Celsius above average for the Arctic Ocean region have helped to drive these unprecedented fall and winter sea ice losses. In the south, warmer than normal surface conditions appear to have also helped to drive the amazing coordinate losses there. And overall, 2016 has shown warm to extremely warm conditions for both poles during a year in which global temperatures have spiked to around 1.2 degrees Celsius above 1880s averages.

2016-air-temperature-anomalies-north-and-south-pole

(Extremely strong polar amplification during 2016 is the likely primary contributor to sea ice loss in both the northern and southern polar regions. Image source: NSIDC.)

Under polar amplification — a condition associated with the human-forced warming of our world — scientists expected that the polar regions would tend to warm faster than the rest of the Earth surface. And during 2016, this global warming related condition presented effects writ large.  The damage to sea ice, so far, has been monumental. And these losses have continued into 2017 — even if they are somewhat less below the record low line than during their period of maximum departure this past December.

Albedo Losses and a Bad Set-up for Arctic Summer

Sea ice loss generates its own form of amplifying feedback — in which already prevalent polar warming can worsen further. Less ice coverage means that during summer more of the dark ocean surface is presented to absorb the sun’s rays. This replacement of a white, reflective surface with a dark blue, absorptive one means that still more heat will tend to be trapped in the polar environment. In addition, during winter, less ice cover means that the warmer ocean beneath will tend ventilate more heat and heat-trapping water vapor into the polar atmospheres. And it’s this kind of self-reinforcing cycle that can tend to lock in the dangerous changes like worsening severe weather, worsening heatwaves in the middle and lower latitudes, and the increasing rates of land glacier melt and sea level rise that scientists have been warning about for so long. And it’s this kind of disruptive longer term climate trend that we are being drawn into at this time.

freezing-degree-days-lag-during-freezing-seaons-80-n

(Freezing degree days for the crucial 80 N region have significantly departed into record low ranges. The less freezing degree days, the closer this region is to thawing. Image source: Tealight. Data Source: DMI.)

Nearer term, it appears that the polar heat which has already so greatly damaged the Arctic sea ice is set to stay. Over the next few days, the Arctic appears set to experience a powerful series of low pressure systems running in from the Barents side between Svalbard and Siberia. Neven warns that these storms will tend to push a considerable portion of the remaining thick ice out of the Arctic and through the Fram Strait. Over the next couple of weeks, global forecast models indicate that above freezing temperatures will tend to invade regions now covered by sea ice in Hudson Bay, Baffin Bay, and in the Chukchi Sea. Though the ice is trying to grow, such repeated insults will tend to keep ice coverage in record low ranges.

If this trend of warmth, storms and ice export continues through February, March and April — as it has during October, November, December and January — then the set up for the 2017 melt season would be about the worst we have ever seen. And that would tend to increase the likelihood of new record minimums being reached during September all while hastening the day when the Arctic experiences near ice free conditions. Lets hope that doesn’t happen. But, so far, the trends for the winter of 2016-2017, from pole to pole, have followed along the lines of a near worst case scenario.

Links:

Global Sea Ice Records Broken Again

National Snow and Ice Data Center Sea Ice News

Wipneus Sea Ice Graphs

NASA GISS Temperature Data

Polar Amplification

Tealight

DMI

Hat tip to Suzanne

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Global Warming is Winning the Battle Against Arctic Sea Ice — Extent Drops to New Record Lows

Ever since human-forced climate change started to kick off dramatically worsening polar warming events in the 2000s, the Arctic has struggled to cool down to normal temperatures during fall and winter. However, for 2016, this failure of Arctic cooling appears to have grown even more pronounced.

Over the past few weeks, temperature anomalies for the entire region north of the 66th parallel have ranged between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius above average. These are very extreme departures — ones we typically have only seen during winter when the poleward heat energy transfer effects of human-caused climate change are at their strongest. But this fall, high local ocean temperatures have combined with a north-bound flood of warmth to turn the Arctic into a glaring global hot spot — featuring the highest above normal temperature readings for any region of the Earth.

New Record Daily Lows for Arctic Sea Ice

So much added heat has had a marked effect on sea ice. Last week, Arctic sea ice again dipped into record low ranges. Edging sideways away from the usual rapid refreeze trend line, by today these record low readings have become rather prominent in measures like those produced by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

nsidc-sea-ice-record-low-october-24

(On October 23rd, 2016, Arctic sea ice hit a new record daily low extent of 6,434,000 square kilometers [pink line]. This beat out 2007’s previous record of 6,501,000 square kilometers [blue line] and is now trailing 2012’s October 23 measure of 6,785,000 square kilometers [dashed green line] by a substantial margin. 2016’s record low readings are now about 3 million square kilometers below same day readings for October 23 of 1981 [light orange line at top]. In other words, an area of sea ice approximately the size of one and a half Greenlands has disappeared over the intervening 35 year period.  Image source: NSIDC.)

As a result, sea ice extents are today ranging fully 3 million square kilometers below levels seen during the early 1980s. In other words, an area approximately one and one half times the size of Greenland has been lost over the last 35 years.

Arctic Temperature Anomalies to Worsen over the Coming Week

The anomalous heat build-up in the Arctic pushing sea ice levels to new all-time record low daily ranges is, unfortunately, expected to worsen over the coming week. Today’s beyond-normal temperature departures of around 4.35 degrees Celsius above average are predicted by GFS models to rise to around 6.45 C above average by Sunday.

These high temperature readings are expected to concentrate in regions near the sea ice edge. And so much heat focusing exactly in the region where sea ice is attempting to expand risks a continued lagging of seasonal ice accumulation. 15-20 C above average temperatures are predicted to stretch from the Beaufort through the Chukchi, into the East Siberian Sea, on through the Kara, down along the Northern Edge of the Barents and into an Arctic Ocean zone just north of Greenland.

global-warmings-heat-battles-sea-ice

(We’re currently witnessing a level of heat transfer into the Arctic that is probably unprecedented. So much heat heading north and building up at the pole due to local and global greenhouse gas buildup, ocean warming, loss of summer reflectivity, and increasingly powerful atmospheric gravity waves is now pushing Arctic sea ice into record low daily ranges. As October shifts toward November, this Arctic heat is likely to begin to produce some severe late fall and early winter weather conditions. In the above map, we begin to see a signature hot west, cool east dipole over the US. During past years, polar amplification has helped to generate this extreme weather pattern in the US where heat and drought is prevalent in the west while severe winter weather dominates the east. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

You can see these extraordinary predicted temperature anomalies in the form of a spiky red swirl surrounding the Central Arctic in the GFS temperature anomaly map provided by Climate Reanalyzer above. So much heat at the ice edge reveals a big battle taking place between powerful oceanic and atmospheric heat transfers into the Arctic and a seasonal sea ice expansion that is fading in the face of a human-forced warming of the world.

Links:

NSIDC

Climate Reanalyzer

NASA GISS

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

NOAA NCEP Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies

Scientific Hat tip to Dr. Jennifer Francis

Hat tip to Leslie Graham

Hat tip to Marcel Guldemond

Arctic Sea Ice Falls into Record Low Ranges — Again

Extreme Arctic warmth this fall has again pushed sea ice levels into record low ranges.

Across the Arctic, temperatures for the months of September and October have ranged between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius above normal for the entire region above the 66 degree north latitude line. Such extremely high temperatures have served to slow the rate of sea ice accumulation. The result is that the line in the sea ice graphs appears to be moving more sideways than following the traditional upward trend for this time of year.

arctic-sea-ice-nsidc

(2016 enters near record low extent ranges on October 17 of 2016. Green dashed line represents 2012 sea ice extent, blue line represents 2007, black line the 1981 to 2010 average, orange line 2003, blue line 1994, and yellow line 1980. The gray border represents the 2 standard deviation from trend boundary. Image source: NSIDC.)

Trend lines for 2016 are also now within 90,000 square kilometers of exceeding previous record lows for sea ice extent set in 2007 and nearly matched in 2012 for the date of October 17.

Big Arctic Temperature Spike Driving Losses

Over the next few days, GFS model runs predict that a strong warming trend will take hold over the Arctic Ocean environment. As a result, temperature anomalies for the region above 66 North are expected to again spike to near 5 C above average for this time of year.

Given this predicted heat build-up, it’s certainly possible that refreeze rates will continue to be inhibited and that new record daily lows will be breached this week. Meanwhile, the overall trend for 2016 from January through middle October shows a year that is likely to see the lowest averaged levels of sea ice ever recorded for an entire year.

arctic-heat

(Arctic temperatures have remained high throughout the fall — which has contributed to a very slow sea ice re-freeze so far. By Sunday, GFS model runs predict that temperatures over the Arctic Ocean will again push into much warmer than normal ranges for this time of year — possibly further delaying this region’s return to an ice-covered state. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Polar Amplification in Evidence

Loss of sea ice is a primary feature of polar amplification in the Arctic due to human-forced climate change.  Under polar amplification, warming of this region occurs faster than in the rest of the world. During summer, lower sea ice levels allow more sunlight to be absorbed by dark ocean waters — which preferentially traps heat in the Arctic environment. Less ice coverage during winter allows ocean heat to re-radiate into the Arctic which provides a significant boost to temperatures during the cold season.

mean-t-dmi-arctic-warmth-anomalous

(Anomalously warm temperatures over the Arctic Ocean have represented more a strange hybrid between fall and summer than a typical drop-off toward winter patterns during 2016. In the graph above, global warming appears to have basically levitated temperatures in the region above 80 North right off the chart. Image source: DMI.)

Last year, a never-before-seen late December warming of the Arctic pushed temperatures at the North Pole above freezing. If human fossil fuel burning continues and greenhouse gas accumulations in the Earth’s atmosphere keep rising, the Arctic is in for more dramatic fall, winter, and spring warming events than even those it is experiencing today. And with global temperatures entering a range of 1-2 C above preindustrial averages, the risk of a complete loss of Arctic sea ice over the coming years is on the rise.

Links:

NSIDC

Climate Reanalyzer

The Sydney Morning Herald

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Marcel Guldemond

Coming Big Arctic Ocean Warm-Up May Extend Sea Ice Melt Season

It’s September in the Arctic, a time of year when temperatures should be cooling off. But with sea ice at second-lowest levels on record in most monitors and the globe experiencing an unprecedented hot year, it appears that the next week may see the Arctic Ocean reverse its typical seasonal cooling trend and significantly warm up over the coming five to six days.

arctic-heat-september

(GFS model runs show a significant warming is in store for the Arctic Ocean over the coming week — and that’s bad news for sea ice running at second-lowest levels on record in the current daily measures and lowest levels on record for the first eight months of the year so far. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

GFS model runs show a strong pulse of warm air will rise up over the Atlantic Ocean and Barents Sea in the next 72 hours. This warm air then will ride in over the Greenland Sea and invade the Arctic Ocean north of Svalbard. Local temperatures over water are expected to be between 4 and 8 degrees Celsius above average over a broad region of the Arctic. Meanwhile, general departures for the entire region above 66° North Latitude are expected to hit around 2 to 2.5 C above average.

Temperatures for most of the Arctic basin in ice-covered areas are expected to again push to -2 C to +2 C. Generally, air temperatures below -2 C are needed to prevent melt, but in warm water and rough ocean conditions, which have tended to dominate the Arctic recently, air temperatures probably need to average around -4 to -6 C over most of the Arctic to fully halt melt.

Threats to Ice Coming From All Directions

During summer and early fall, the Arctic Ocean tends to help to moderate temperatures over the region, so these are very high predicted temperature departures for this time of year. Such high temperatures are likely due to the effect of added heat bleeding off recently ice-free waters. While sea-ice area and extent measures are in the range of second-lowest on record, there is some indication that sea-ice concentration in the Arctic may be at or near record-low levels.

amsr2-animation-neven

(AMSR2 animation constructed by Neven shows vigorous ice export and melt through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. This is a heavy blow to the thin veil of multi-year sea ice remaining in the Arctic. Animation by Neven at the Arctic Sea Ice Forum. Images by Universität Bremen.)

The ice, generally, is extraordinarily weak, thin and dispersed. Large gaps run across an arc covering the Atlantic and Siberian side of the polar zone. In addition, large cracks are appearing in the very thin and unstable multi-year ice north of Greenland (below) as sea-ice export now threatens melt in the Beaufort Sea, Canadian Arctic Archipelago, the Nares Strait, the Fram Strait, and on into the northern edge of the Barents Sea.

Risks Rise for a Long Melt Season

Recent animations by Neven over at the Arctic Sea Ice Forum (above) show particularly strong export and melt in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago — which is a pretty unprecedented melt feature. What this means is that the ice is basically being hit from all sides and that the factors necessary to melt ice are compounding.

last-bastian-of-multi-year-ice-breaking-up

(Large section of multi-year ice breaking up north of Greenland on September 9, 2016. In recent years, less and less ice has survived summer melt to make it to the following winter. Ice with an age of more than five years has grown quite scant in the Arctic. The ice shown breaking up in the above image is part of the last bastion of old, thick ice in the Arctic. When that’s gone, the Arctic Ocean will only be a seasonally frozen sea, a possibility that may occur as soon as 2017 to 2025 and will probably occur before 2035. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

If the big warm-up does occur as predicted this week, there is risk that ice losses will extend through to September 15 and possibly beyond. These melt rates should not be particularly severe, given the time of year, but it is possible that 50,000 to 300,000 square kilometers or more will go. This would be enough to solidify 2016 as the second-lowest year on record for extent and area at the end of melt season. It would also help to fill the big gap between 2007 and 2012 — solidifying already significant decadal melt trends.

Overall, this is a pretty weird forecast, but set in the backdrop of a year that’s on track to be about 1.2 C above 1880s averages — the hottest year on record by far — the possibility of a late-season Arctic warm-up and a late end to a near record melt season is an entirely valid one.

Links:

Climate Reanalyzer

Universität Bremen

Arctic Sea Ice Forum

LANCE MODIS

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to DT Lange

Endless Hot Summer of 2016 — Heavy Arctic Sea Ice Losses, Record Temps for Alaska and Hermine’s Rains Barreling In

From the Arctic leveling yet another challenge to all-time record lows for sea ice, to a ridiculously long spate of hotter-than-normal temperatures for Alaska, to Hermine — which appears to be readying to drop 20 inches of rain over parts of the Southeast — there’s a ton of concerning climate news today. Let’s get to it.

Storms, Mega-Dipoles, and Shattered Sea Ice

A few weeks ago, big storms of near-record intensity started ripping through the Arctic. These storms saw numerous pressure dips into the 960-millibar range. These severe systems raked the ice with gale-force winds, heavy seas, and rainfall. A vulnerable ‘arm’ of ice extending out from the central Arctic toward Wrangel Island began to disintegrate under these multiple insults.

Melt Lobes

(The two frames above provide a good visual of the most vulnerable Arctic Ocean melt regions for early to mid-September. These primarily compose the Siberian side of the Arctic and run on toward the Pole. A mostly detached and storm-battered region of sea ice north of Wrangel Island [left frame] is likely to see continued losses through mid-September. At the same time, another vulnerable lobe of ice extending from the Pole to the Laptev Sea [right frame] is seeing substantial thinning. As southerly winds pick up later this week over the Barents and Greenland Seas, the Atlantic side of the Arctic [lower right portion of right-hand image] may also take a final blow or two before refreeze starts to kick in. Images provided by: LANCE-MODIS. Date for images: September 1, 2016.)

Meanwhile, another melting wedge running out from the Pole toward the Laptev Sea was increasingly wracked, showing severe losses along the ice edge even as large openings expanded, stretching in toward the Pole. As a result, major late-season drops in Arctic sea ice area and extent measures began to show. Unfortunately, the damage had only just begun.

Last week, this stormy pattern saw the added wrinkle of a strong high-pressure system in the range of 1040 mb intensity forming over the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. This new system created an extreme pressure gradient between itself and the storms raging near the Pole and on the Atlantic side. Expert Arctic sea ice observer Neven aptly coined this condition the 2016 Mega-Dipole.

Neven's Mega-Dipole

(Neven’s Mega-Dipole featured a burly high-pressure system over the Pacific side of the Arctic as strong storms continued to rage across the Atlantic side on August 29th. The combined force of these systems helped further damage the already weakened sea ice as warm winds blowing between them pulled heat up from Siberia, generating a late-season temperature spike over the Arctic Ocean. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Strong winds blew between the juxtaposed low- and high-pressure systems. This convergence sucked an intense pulse of warm air up from the south, not only providing a severe blow to the ice from gales and waves, but also injecting a surge of late-season heat into the High Arctic. In addition to the damage being done to the two melt arms, the whole of the remaining contiguous ice was driven in one big push toward the Canadian Arctic Archipelago — a shove that has now likely resulted in the complete separation of the thinned near-Wrangel ice from the pack even as large polynya (or holes) opened up within 10 kilometers of the Pole.

Late Season Arctic Heat Spike

(A late-season temperature spike in the region above 80° North Latitude is helping to generate a surge in ice losses during early September. Image source: DMI.)

All this pushing and shoving and storming and low and high pressuring in the context of never-before-seen Arctic warmth has brought most of the major measures within range of beating out 2007 as second-lowest extent on record by mid-September. Meanwhile, a few of the measures are now making serious challenges to the 2012 record-low marks.

Over the coming days, the various high-pressure systems are predicted to shift more toward the Siberian side of the Arctic. Meanwhile, storms are expected to gather around Greenland, with some hitting the 970 to 980 mb range as they circulate up from the North Atlantic. Warm air is expected to funnel in from the Barents and Greenland Seas even as the region north of Greenland starts a cooling trend.

Sea Ice Extent Measures

SSMI

(Japan’s JAXA monitor shows [top left] sea ice extent beating out 2007 in the daily extent measure. Meanwhile, DMI’s EUMETSAT-based monitor shows [top right] extent falling to near the 2012 line. Sea ice area in NERSC’s SSMI monitor [bottom] over recent days comes uncomfortably close to the 2012 line.)

This hot-cold juxtaposition combined with ongoing pressure from storms, winds, and waves should continue to damage and expel the most vulnerable sections of ice in the near-Pole region and on toward the Laptev as well as the detached ice floes near Wrangel Island. Additional losses in the range of 150,000 to 300,000 square kilometers or more over the coming seven days are entirely possible. If this happens, it would be a rather severe rate of loss for early September all on top of a year that, on average so far, has seen lowest-recorded sea ice extents for the January-to-August timeframe and remains on track to hold that low mark through year-end.

An Amazingly Hot Year for Alaska

We should be very clear that despite all the storms and other weather drama going on over the Arctic Ocean, the primary cause for severe sea-ice losses is a record-hot world in which a lion’s share of the temperature rise is occurring over the far northern latitudes. And not too far from the melting Arctic sea ice, another Arctic region is also getting a big dose of this record heat.

This year, Alaska appears set to exceed all previous marks for warmest temperatures ever recorded during an annual period for the state:

(Through August 27, Alaska had experienced zero cooler-than-typical days, 22 days of relatively normal temperatures, and 218 days in which temperatures were in the top third of all daily averages. It’s a record that makes previous all-time hot years 2014 and 2015 look somewhat cool by comparison. Image source: Climatologist Brian Brettschneider.)

As climatologist Brian Brettschneider recently found, above, the number of days featuring temperatures in the top third of measurements included nearly nine out of ten of all days so far during 2016 and through August 27th. This extreme Alaskan heat has already exceeded the number of warmer-than-normal days during record-hot years 2014 and 2015. With four months in 2016 still remaining, and with the Arctic Ocean opening up to its north, it appears that Alaska is about to blow these previous record years out of the water.

Alaska in hot water

(Sea-surface temperatures surrounding Alaska are between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius above average. Such extreme ocean heat should help keep temperatures abnormally warm over the state for at least the next couple of months and continue to add to a period of record heat during 2016. Note that the graphic above shows temperature departures from normal ranges, not absolute temperature values. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

La Niña is settling in, though. This would normally provide some hope that temperatures in Alaska might start to fall off a bit, but right now, the local ocean waters surrounding Alaska are extraordinarily warm. It’s as if the Pacific ‘hot blob’ that plagued the U.S. west coast in 2014 and 2015 has shifted north toward Alaska in 2016. This climate change-related warm-water feature is likely to continue to create a warm surface temperature bias for the state over the next couple of months.

20 Inches of Rain Possible for Parts of the Southeast

Moving south and away from the various heating and melting in the Arctic, we find yet another big rainstorm brewing in the moisture-stacked atmosphere of the Gulf of Mexico. In this case, unlike the big deluge that roared through Louisiana during early August, this collection of towering thunderheads has a name — Hermine.

Hermine 4

(Hermine, which may produce severe flooding over the U.S. southeast in the coming days, barrels toward Florida in this National Hurricane Center satellite animation.)

Punching up to minimal hurricane status early in the afternoon (EST) on Thursday, Hermine is predicted to make landfall along the big bend of Florida (pushing in 3-8 foot storm surges), track north into Georgia and then run up along coastal South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. Along this path, 4-10 inches of rainfall are expected with local amounts hitting as high as 20 inches.

To this point, The National Hurricane Center notes:

Hermine is expected to produce storm total rainfall accumulations of 5 to 10 inches over portions of northwest Florida and southern Georgia through Friday, with possible isolated maximum amounts of 20 inches. On Friday and Saturday, Hermine is expected to produce totals of 4 to 8 inches with isolated maximum amounts of 10 inches possible across portions of eastern Georgia, South Carolina, and eastern North Carolina through Saturday. These rains may cause life-threatening flash flooding.

As with past rain-bomb events this year, Hermine is churning through a record-hot atmosphere and feeding on overall record-high moisture levels. Sea-surface temperatures over the Gulf of Mexico and particularly over the Gulf Stream region of the Atlantic near the eastern seaboard are extraordinarily hot. Ocean surfaces off coastal Virginia, for example, now rival those along the eastern Gulf at near 30 degrees Celsius (86 F). The result is that a ton of storm energy in the form of heat and moisture is blanketing a big swath from Florida to the U.S. northeast. In this heat- and moisture-rich environment, even the high forecast rainfall amounts have a potential to be exceeded.

Hot Water Gulf Stream

(Ocean temperature and currents map for 8/30/16. Water temperatures in the Gulf Stream off the U.S. east coast are near 30 C [86 F] or about 4 C hotter than normal. This means there’s almost as much potential storm fuel for a hurricane off the eastern seaboard as there is in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico — fuel that can both provide energy for extreme rainfall events related to Hermine and for a possible rapid reintensification. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Moreover, Hermine is predicted retain a degree of strength over land due to this fuel even as it is expected re-emerge over water along the North Carolina sounds and then track toward the hot Gulf Stream. Along this track, the storm is expected to restrengthen and lash coastal North Carolina, Virginia, Delaware and New Jersey before it skirts Long Island and Massachusetts. Given the hot ocean waters, some models even show Hermine bombing into a significant storm with ECMWF model runs earlier today highlighting a potential for a 969 mb storm center off Delaware on late Saturday.

Fortunately, the storm center is currently predicted to remain offshore after re-emerging over open waters on Saturday. However, the large circulation of the system means that any reintensification will likely see some of the storm’s related rain bands swirling out over the mid-Atlantic and northeast coasts.

******

So from big sea ice losses to record heat in Alaska, to what’s shaping up to be another extreme rain event for the U.S. southeast, the climate hits just keep on coming. It’s all a part of the context of climate change that’s been steadily settling in over the past few decades, which paints a rather obvious picture of ongoing climate shifts and alterations to expected weather patterns — to include the loss of sea ice, the intensity of heat over Alaska and the severity of rains falling out during storms like Hermine.

Links:

Warm Arctic Storm Tears Sea Ice to Shreds

LANCE-MODIS

2016’s Mega-Dipole

Earth Nullschool

DMI

JAXA

SSMI

Brian Brettschneider

The National Hurricane Center

Dan Leonard

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to DavidlWindt

Hat tip to Jay M

Hat tip to the Arctic Sea Ice Forum

Hat tip to Greg

Warm Arctic Storm Tearing Sea Ice to Shreds amidst Big 2016 Heat Spike

Abnormal. Unprecedented. Remarkable. Extreme. These words are supposed to describe unusual events, but in the weird world we’re now entering, the extreme has become commonplace. Some people call this emerging state of affairs ‘the new normal.’ A more direct descriptor is ‘spiraling into climate chaos.’

Chaos is an apt word to describe the scene in the Arctic this week as one of the most powerful summer cyclones ever to form rages in a place that has just experienced a record-shattering influx of atmospheric heat. This storm is hammering the sea ice, pushing it nearly to the second-lowest extent on record. But worse may be still to come as a very weak and diffuse ice pack is predicted to face off against a storm that’s expected to significantly reintensify on both Friday and Tuesday.

Record Arctic Heat

The Arctic. It’s a place we typically associate with frozen things. Due to the billions and billions of tons of heat-trapping gasses dumped into the atmosphere each year by burning fossil fuels, now it’s a place that’s thawing at a disturbingly fast pace. The region could best be described in these few words — record abnormal warmth in 2016.

(This graphic from University of California, Irvine Ph.D. candidate Zack Labe is a visual measure of a stunning jump in Arctic temperatures for 2016. So much heat in the Arctic has profound implications, not just for the Arctic ice and environment, but for the rest of the world as well. In other words — warming that happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.)

So far, 2016 has seen temperatures in the Arctic that are well above the warmest previous year ever recorded. This big spike in a decades-long trend includes, for this single year, about 35 percent of all the temperature rise experienced there since the late 1940s. It’s like taking more than a third of all the warming in the Arctic seen over the past 68 years and cramming it into just one year. It’s insane.

The Warm Storm Generator

Heat in the Arctic doesn’t just emerge there. It comes, largely, in the form of energy transfer.

Heat-trapping gasses warm the atmosphere in an uneven fashion. The way these gasses absorb solar radiation results in more heat trapping during the dark of night. And the Arctic experiences a thing called polar night which lasts for months.

As a result, the Arctic already gets a slightly more powerful nudge from global warming than the rest of the world. As the cold begins to fail in the Arctic, a number of amplifying feedbacks come into play that further multiply the warmth.

image

(A dance of cyclones. GFS model rendering by Earth Nullschool shows a strong influx of heat from the Eurasian Continent and the Barents and Kara Seas feeding into a bombing low-pressure system on Monday at 12:00 UTC. The low is predicted to meet up with the currently raging Arctic cyclone by late Monday or early Tuesday. Combined, these lows are expected to drop into the 960s to 970s mb level, extending the scope of the strong event and possibly resulting in the most powerful cyclone ever to have formed this time of year in the Arctic Basin. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

As the Arctic heats up, its natural barriers to heat coming up from the ocean or from the south begin to fail. The more evenly-warmed surface of the ocean transfers some of its heat north and pumps this added energy into the Arctic air. The lower sea-ice levels cause this water to warm even more, its dark surface trapping more of the summer sun’s warmth than the white ice ever could.

The polar Jet Stream begins to weaken as the relative difference between Arctic and lower-latitude temperatures drops. In the Jet Stream’s meanders, strong warm winds blow in from the ever-hotter continents and ocean surfaces of the mid and upper latitudes.

It’s a simple physical property of the atmosphere that burgeoning heat often seeks out the cold. It rises as it flows toward the Pole, and when it collides with these chilly pockets, the result can be an atmospheric maelstrom.

The Great Arctic Cyclone of 2016 Smashes Sea Ice

Such was the case earlier this week as a warm tongue of air flowed up into area of the Laptev Sea from Siberia. This warm flow tapped moisture from the Kara and Barents Seas and fed into a developing storm system (see article here). Pressures at the storm’s center rapidly fell and by late Monday, August 15th, had dropped to 966.5 millibars. The result was one of the strongest cyclones ever to form over the Arctic Ocean during August.

(We’ve probably never seen the ice so thin near the Pole during August. Zack Labe‘s rendering of SSMIS sea ice concentration measures from late July to August 17 shows a stunning degree of thinning and loss. Note the large, low-concentration holes opening up near the Pole in the final few frames.)

The storm rampaged through the Arctic. Pulling in strong winds and heavy surf, it smashed the sea ice, driving daily extent losses to 110,000 square kilometers on Tuesday and greatly thinning a vulnerable tongue of ice running out toward the Chukchi Sea. Meanwhile, near the Pole, great gaps 50 to 100 miles wide have opened up, revealing water that is 80 percent clear of ice.

The storm subsequently weakened, with pressures rising today into the 985 mb range. But over the next few days, the system is predicted to reintensify — first on Friday to around 971 to 978 mb as it approaches the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, and then again on Tuesday to around 963 to 976 mb when it loops back toward the Laptev.

Central Arctic Basin Sea Ice lowest Ever Recorded

(AMSR2 and SSMIS sensor reanalysis shows that 2016 Arctic sea ice area [black line] in the Central Arctic Basin — a key region for indicating sea ice health — hit new record lows over recent days. A signal pointing to risk that a challenge to 2012 records may emerge in some measures over the coming days as the 2016 cyclone is expected to re-intensify. Image source: The Great White Con.)

In each case, the storm is predicted to draw on heat, moisture, and low-pressure cells riding up from the south, with the first stream of energy feeding into this low from over the Beaufort and Bering Seas and northeastern Siberia, and the second running up from the Barents and Kara Seas, western Siberia and northeastern Europe (you can see the succession of lows and moisture here in this model run by Climate Reanalyzer).

If this happens, we’ll be coming out of a situation where a warmth-fueled Arctic cyclone will have bombed to record or near-record strength on two to three separate occasions, all the while applying its buzz-saw winds, waves and Coriolis forces to the sea ice — a full-blown nightmare Arctic sea-ice melt scenario in the midst of a record-hot year.

UPDATE (8/19):

A recent report by expert ice observer Neven over at the Arctic Sea Ice Blog (which is very informative) finds that storm impacts thus far have been significant, if not yet quite as extraordinary as the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012. Overall sea ice area measures (not just those in the Central Arctic Basin indicated above) according to Wipneus have dropped into second lowest on record just below the 2007 line. Extent, meanwhile, in the JAXA measure after falling an average of 90,000 square kilometers per day, is today at third lowest on record — trailing 2007 by just 30,000 kilometers. Tracking for end of year now appears most likely to fall into a range near 2007 in many measures. But the current storm appears to have provided a potential for a stronger downward trend for the ice in which some measures (particularly various regional measures) have the potential to approach or exceed 2012.

Arctic Sea ice Chukchi

(Peering through the clouds on August 19 in this LANCE MODIS satellite shot we find that sea ice in the Chukchi appears to have been greatly reduced and thinned by the current cyclone. Loss and thinning of the ice bridge with the main pack means that this ice may have also suffered separation. Toward the Laptev, sea ice in the pack between that Arctic sea and the Pole is extraordinarily mobile and becoming more diffuse. These observed conditions still present a potential for large daily losses and further reductions in total sea ice coverage. So current tracking comes with a ‘risk of downside’ caveat. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

One final point is that we are entering La Nina and such events tend to increase heat transport toward the Arctic and particularly into the Arctic Ocean. For this reason El Nino year +1 or El Nino year +2  can tend to present higher risk for greater sea ice melt totals. As such, and dramatic as the heat and melt in the Arctic has been for this year, it’s worth noting that what we may be watching is a set-up for 2017 or 2018 to see worsening conditions. La Nina is currently expected to be weak, so the related North Atlantic influence (NAO) that has been so devastating to the ice during the recent record warm years may be somewhat muted. We’ll have to see.

2016, however, is not entirely out of the woods. Thin ice in the Chukchi and an increasingly thin and diffuse pack extending from the Pole toward the Laptev remain very vulnerable to late season flash melt and compaction. Model runs today indicate the current set of storms tending to restrengthen on one or two occasions back to the 970s or 960s before finally ebbing on Wednesday. After this, some models show a tendency to flip toward a strong high pressure influence which would again wrench the ice (this time toward compaction). So the troubling 2016 Arctic melt drama is still far from over.

Links:

Powerful Arctic Cyclone to Blow Hole in Thinning Sea Ice

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

Arctic Cyclone Update 1

Arctic Cyclone Update 2

NASA: Implications of a Warming Arctic

Zack Labe

Tropical Tidbits

JAXA Sea Ice

Earth Nullschool

The Great White Con

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Bill h

Powerful Cyclone to Blow Hole in Thinning Arctic Sea Ice

Back in 2012, a powerful Arctic cyclone smashed the sea ice with days of wind and waves. This year, a storm that’s nearly as strong threatens to make a similar mark on late-season melt. With a very unstable Arctic weather pattern in play, there’s an outlier possibility the dynamic is setting up for something even more dramatic by late August.

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Earlier today, a strong gale roared up out of the Laptev Sea north of central Siberia. Feeding on the abnormally warm, moist air over the Barents Sea and the hot air over northwestern Siberia, the storm collided with comparatively cold air over the central Arctic. The differences between hot/cold and damp/dry air can really bomb out a storm system.

Arctic Cyclone

(Storms, heat and moisture feed up through a high-amplitude wave in the Jet Stream over northern Europe and Siberia and into a developing Arctic cyclone over the Laptev Sea during the early hours of August 15, 2016. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Central pressures in the storm fell to 969 millibars and the winds whipping out over the Laptev, East Siberian, and central Arctic waters gusted at 45 to 55 miles per hour. Waves of 6 to 10 feet or higher roared through the newly-opened waters filled with increasingly dispersed ice floes.

The Great Arctic Cyclone of 2016?

This powerful storm is pulling these strong winds over some of the weakest and thinnest sections of Arctic sea ice. During July and August a huge section of ice running along the 80° North Latitude line and stretching from the Laptev, through the East Siberian Sea, and into the Beaufort Sea grew ever more thin and eventually dispersed. Now 25 to 60 percent ice concentrations in this region abound — a tongue of thinning which stretches nearly to the North Pole itself.

Powerful Arctic Cyclone

(A powerful storm running out of the Laptev Sea and into the central Arctic is threatening sea ice with strong winds, large waves, and the motion of abnormally warm surface waters. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

The storm is generating waves, mixing warmer-than-normal surface waters with even higher temperature waters just below. These sea surfaces are between 1 and 2 degrees Celsius above average over much of the area, with pockets of 3 or even 4 C above normal surface water temperatures interspersed. The storm’s Coriolis Effect will spin chunks of ice out from the pack to float lonely in these warmer-than-normal waters as they are churned by the raging swells.

Storm Raging Over Warm Waters, Thin Ice

Currently, the storm’s strongest winds and waves are running through a big melt wedge that extends from the Laptev and East Siberian Seas toward the 85th parallel. The motion and force produced by the storm’s winds and waves will eject the ice currently located over the northern East Siberian and Chukchi Seas even as waves eat into it. Upwelling of warm water in the seas beneath the center of the storm will open and disperse the ice, generating holes and polynya as it tracks north of the 85th parallel and toward the Pole.

Thin Arctic Sea Ice

(Very low concentrations of ice, like those seen in this Uni Bremen image, are vulnerable to disruption and melting by storms during August and early September. Current ice thinning and dispersal are among the worst seen for any year. With a powerful storm now raging over the ice, impacts to end-season totals could be significant. Image source: Universität Bremen.)

Compared to the Great Arctic Cyclone (GAC) of 2012 — an event that helped to tip that year into the strongest late-season melt on record — this storm is a bit weaker. The GAC bottomed out at 963 mb and carried on for about four days. The current storm, by comparison, is expected to remain in place for quite some time even as it slowly weakens over the coming days.

Arctic sea-ice extent values are now tracking at around third lowest on record, or just above the 2007 line. Such a strong storm certainly has the potential to knock a big hole in the ice, possibly propelling 2016 closer to 2007 ranges or even beyond them. Surface waters in the Laptev, East Siberian, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas aren’t quite as warm as they were in 2012, but there’s still a lot of potential here for storm-associated melt. Meanwhile, the very warm waters over the Kara and Barents Seas remain a disturbing feature.

Arctic in hot water

(Above-average sea-surface temperatures during late summer have more potential to rapidly melt sea ice when they are churned up and put into motion by powerful storms. Image source: NOAA NCEP.)

Models predict that lows will continue to feed in from the Atlantic and northeastern Siberia along various high-amplitude waves in the Jet Stream to combine in a triangular bite between the East Siberian Sea, the Laptev Sea and the Pole. Such continued reinvigoration will tend to enforce a generally stormy and unstable atmosphere. And there’s some risk (small, but worth considering) that the current storm could refire into something more powerful on the fuel provided by one of these lows.

Troubling Atmospheric Instability Loads the Dice for Future Bombification

Already, a few of the long-range models are popping with amazing predictions of storm-center intensity in the range of 950 to 960 mb. Both the GFS model and CMC models separately produced these results for the nine to 12 day timeframe. GFS had backed off its own high-intensity forecast when this odd CMC run popped up (see below).

CMC Arctic Megacyclone

(CMC 10-day forecast model run showing an extremely powerful 955-mb low just north of Svalbard on August 25th. Such a storm is low-probability at this time, but its formation would likely result in serious impacts to sea ice. Image source: Tropical Tidbits.)

Though these are long-range outliers, there is quite a lot of fuel for strong storms in the region this year due to conditions related to human-caused climate change. In particular, ocean surfaces in the Barents and Kara Seas are in record-hot ranges. And the heat and moisture coming off those waters is fuel for some serious atmospheric instability as the Polar region attempts to cool. Any significant cooling in the 80-90° North Latitude region would help to generate a strong dipole between this zone and the Kara-Barents. Such a dipole would create strong instability for storm generation.

A low bombing out at 953 to 955 mb in ten days, as the CMC model currently indicates, would represent an Arctic megacyclone with serious potential to wreck sea ice. The location predicted would generate a strong push of warm water from the Barents and Laptev and on toward the ice-clogged polar waters. The resulting Ekman pumping and powerful swell generation would have the potential to generate severe ice losses in the late August timeframe.

Probabilities for such a storm this far out are low, but given the underlying conditions, it’s worth putting a marker out. This is, therefore, a situation to watch. We’ve already got one strong storm blowing away at the ice. A one-two punch would hurt even more. In other words, the situation in the Arctic just got really interesting. Let’s just hope it doesn’t tilt into scary…

Links:

Big Cyclone

LANCE MODIS

Earth Nullschool

Universität Bremen

Ice vs. Storm

NOAA NCEP

Tropical Tidbits

A Season of Record Melt — Sea Ice Extent In Uncharted Territory For 94 Days

From March 25th through June 26th, sea ice extent measures, as provided by Japan’s Arctic data system were in record low ranges. In other words, for about a quarter of a year, and according to this monitor, the Arctic Ocean and its surrounding estuaries have witnessed the lowest ice coverage ever measured for any similar period since record keeping began in the 1979.

Sea Ice Extent JAXA

(An amazingly long period of record low sea ice extents in JAXA’s sea ice monitor.)

This new period of extreme sea ice record lows comes during a time of continuous decadal sea ice losses. Average sea ice coverage for each successive ten year period since the 1980s during the March through June period has fallen by about 400,000 to 500,000 square kilometers. For 2016, the new record lows widened this gap to more than 2 million square kilometers — or a surface area of sea ice coverage lost roughly equivalent the size of Greenland.

Over recent days, the JAXA measure has edged slightly over the record low 2010 line for the period, ending a season-long escapade into record low ranges.

Winter/Spring Heat The Driver of New Record Lows This Year

Overall, these losses were driven by an extraordinary warming of the Arctic that has extended and intensified over these time periods. A warming that has itself been forced upon the Arctic by human greenhouse gas emissions which are, for the largest part, the result of fossil fuel burning. This year, the Arctic experienced new record warmth during a Winter that included odd periods when North Pole temperatures rose briefly above freezing.

Alaska, a microcosm of this building Arctic heat, experienced its second warmest winter on record — which was then immediately followed by its warmest spring ever recorded. Across the state, it was warmer than normal pretty much everywhere and mostly all the time.

Alaska 25 City Composite Temperatures

According to this 25 Alaska city composite index (provided by Climatologist Brian Brettschnieder above) every day but two through June 30 of this year saw above normal temperatures in the related regions. Yet another pretty clear indication that there’s nothing normal about Arctic or near Arctic temperatures these days.

Closer to the 2012 Line But Still in Record Low Range

All this extreme Arctic heat during Winter and Spring was probably the major contributor to new record low sea ice extents continuing for more than three months running. However, storms over the Arctic Ocean have since moderated temperatures into closer to normal ranges for June even as these weather systems’ circulatory patterns have tended to spread the ice out. As a result, rapid rates of melt slowed somewhat into June and the extent monitor has crossed the 2010 line, coming closer to the 2012 line in the JAXA measure, while flipping back and forth over the 2012 line in other major measures (NSIDC).

Arctic Storm East Siberian Sea Laptev

(Arctic storm churns through the East Siberian and Laptev seas of the Arctic Ocean on July 1 of 2016. Sea ice measures are currently near new record lows, but a steep rate of decline will be required to challenge or break with 2012. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

The upshot is that the sea ice state during early July doesn’t look quite as bad as it did during late May and early June. Chances for a blue ocean event in which Arctic sea ice volume exceeds an 80 percent loss since the late 1970s, in which sea ice extent falls below 1.5 million square kilometers, or sea ice area falls below 1 million square kilometers seems less likely by end Summer at this time. Such an event would now likely require some rather severe Summer weather episodes including strong highs over the Central Arctic and/or very strong late summer lows pushing heavy swells into the Central Arctic Basin. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be on the lookout for strong negative sea ice departures over the next few months — which are certainly still possible. And given the current trend, 2016 remains in a position to hit near or below 2012 records by end Summer.

Links/Attribution/Statements:

Sea Ice Hit Record Lows Every Single Day in May

Hat tip to The Arctic Sea Ice Blog

Climatologist Brian Brettschnieder

LANCE MODIS

JAXA

NSIDC (please support public, non special interest based science by re-funding critical NSIDC satellite monitoring of the Arctic)

Alaska Experiences Warmest Spring on Record

Warm Arctic Storm to Push Temperatures Above Freezing at North Pole in Winter

NASA GISS

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to DaveW

(Disclaimer — The views and analysis expressed in this blog are my own. The related analysis is an exploration of current trends and possible future climate states informed by my own best assessment of the science. In no way is this analysis meant to be misconstrued as an absolute authoritative final word on sea ice states. For example, we cannot say with absolute certainty that any one of the following — new record lows, blue ocean events, or a failure to hit new record lows — will happen. As such, the analysis should instead be viewed as a middle-certainty forecast informed by current trends. Further scientific opinion and informed discussion on the issue is welcome.)

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.

Links:

LANCE MODIS

CIRES

NOAA’s Environmental Monitoring System

Zack Labe

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

Hat tip to Neven

JAXA Sea Ice

US Navy

Arctic Sea Ice is Falling off a Cliff and it May Not Survive The Summer

Near zero sea ice by the end of melt season. The dreaded Blue Ocean Event. Something that appears more and more likely to happen during 2016 with each passing day.

These are the kinds of climate-wrecking phase changes in the Arctic people have been worrying about since sea ice extent, area, and volume achieved gut-wrenching plunges during 2007 and 2012. Plunges that were far faster than sea ice melt rates predicted by model runs and by the then scientific consensus on how the Arctic Ocean ice would respond to human-forced warming this Century. For back during the first decade of the the 21st Century the mainstream scientific view was that Arctic sea ice would be about in the range that it is today by around 2070 or 2080. And that we wouldn’t be contemplating the possibility of zero or near zero sea ice until the end of this Century.

But the amazing ability of an unconscionable fossil fuel emission to rapidly transform our world for the worst appears now to outweigh that cautious science. For during 2016, the Arctic is experiencing a record warm year like never before. Average temperatures over the region have been hitting unprecedented ranges. Temperatures that — when one who understands the sensitive nature of the Arctic looks at them — inspires feelings of dislocation and disbelief. For our Arctic sea ice coverage has been consistently in record low ranges throughout Winter, it has been following a steepening curve of loss since April, and it now appears to have started to fall off a cliff. Severe losses that are likely to both impact the Jet Stream and extreme weather formation in the Northern Hemisphere throughout the Spring and Summer of 2016.

Melting more than Two Weeks Faster than the Early 2000s

Since April 27th, according to a record of sea ice extent provided by JAXA, daily rates of sea ice loss have been in the range of 75,000 square kilometers for every 24 hour period. That’s 300,000 square kilometers of sea ice, or an area the size of New Mexico, lost in just four days. Only during 2015 have we ever seen such similarly rapid rates of loss for this time of year.

Sea Ice Rates of Loss Steepening

(We’ve never seen early season sea ice losses like this before. Severe sea ice losses of this variety can help to generate strong ridges and extreme heatwaves like the one we now see affecting India and Southeast Asia. Image source: JAXA.)

However, this excessive rate of loss is occurring across an Arctic region that features dramatically less ice (exceeding the 2015 mark for the same day by about 360,000 square kilometers) than any other comparable year for the same day. In essence, extent melt is now more than a week ahead of any other previous year. It is two and half weeks ahead of melt rates during the 2000s. And this year’s rate of decline is steepening.

Current melt rates, if maintained throughout summer, would wipe out practically all the ice. And, worryingly, this is a distinct possibility given the severely weakened state of the ice, the large areas of dark, open water available to absorb the sun’s rays as Summer progresses, and given the fact that Arctic heat is continuing in extreme record warm ranges. Furthermore, melt rates tend to seasonally steepen starting by mid June. So rapidly ramping rates of loss seen now, at the end of April and through to the start of May, may see further acceleration as more and more direct sunlight keeps falling on already large exposed areas of dark, heat-absorbing water.

Huge Holes in the Beaufort

All throughout the Arctic Basin, these sunlight-absorbing regions take up far more area than is typical. The Bering has melted very early. Baffin Bay is greatly withdrawn from typical years. Hudson Bay is starting to break up. The Barents and Greenland seas feature far more open water than is typical. However, there is no region showing more dramatic early season losses than the Beaufort.

Beaufort rapid melt 2016

(This Beaufort sea has never looked so bad off so early in the year. High amplitude waves in the Jet Stream continue to deliver record warmth, warm, wet winds, and record sea ice melt to this region of the Arctic. For reference, bottom of frame in this image is around 600 miles. The wispy threads you see in the image is cloud cover, the sections of solid white are snow and ice. And the blue you see is the open waters of the Arctic Ocean. Open water gap size in the widest sections is now more than 150 miles. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

There, ice continues to rapidly recede away from the Arctic Ocean shores of the Mackenzie Delta and the Canadian Archipelago — where a large gap has opened up in the sea ice. Now ranging from 70-150 miles in width, this area of open water consistently sees surface temperatures warm enough to melt sea ice (above 28 F or about -2 C).

This great body of open water the size of a sea in itself has now created a new early season edge zone for the ice. A place where a kind of mini-dipole can emerge between the more rapidly warming water surfaces and the cooler, reflective ice. Such a zone will tend to be a magnet for storms. And a low pressure system is expected to ride up an extreme bulge in the Jet Stream over Alaska and Canada and on into this Arctic zone over the next few days. Storms of this kind tend to hasten melt and break up of ice in the edge zones by generating waves, by pulling in warmer airs from the south, or by dropping liquid precipitation along the melting ice edge. And the fact that this kind of dynamic is setting up in the Beaufort in early May is nothing short of extraordinary.

Arctic Heat Like We’ve Never Seen Before

Further to the north, high pressure is expected to continue to dominate over the next seven days. This will generate further compaction of the already weak ice even as it allows more and more sunlight to fall over that greatly thinned white veil.

Freezing Degree Days Cross -1000 threshold

(The Arctic is now so warm that this graph is now too small to capture the excession of extreme heat in the region. Freezing degree days are now more than 1,000 less than during a typical year and the already much warmer than normal 1980 to 2000 period. Image source: CIRES.)

Temperatures for the Arctic are expected to range between 2.5 and 3.5 C above average over the next seven days. Very warm conditions that will continue to hammer freezing degree day totals that have now exceeded an unprecedented -1000 since the start of the year in the High Arctic region above the 80 degree North Latitude Line. In layman’s terms, the less freezing degree days the Arctic experiences, the closer it is to melting. And losing 1000 freezing degree days is like removing the coldest month of Winter entirely from the heat balance equation in this highest Latitude region of the Northern Hemisphere.

From just about every indicator, we find that the Arctic sea ice is being hit by heat like never before. And the disturbing precipitous early season losses we now see in combination with the excessive, extreme warmth and melt accelerating weather patterns are likely to continue to reinforce a trend of record losses. Such low sea ice measures will also tend to wrench weather patterns around the globe — providing zones for extreme heatwaves and droughts along the ridge lines and related warm wind invasions of the Arctic that will tend to develop all while generating risk of record precipitation events in the trough zones. To this point, the North American West is again setting up for just such a zonal heatwave pattern. Extreme heat building up in India and Southeast Asia also appears to be following a similar northward advance.

Links:

JAXA

LANCE-MODIS

CIRES

GISS TEMP

Climate Reanalyzer

Earth Nullschool

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

Hat tip to DT Lange

Sarc. Hat tip to Exxon Mobile (For its failure to report scientific findings on the impacts of climate change, and for its never-ending political and media campaign aimed at preventing effective climate change mitigation policy over the past 40+ years)

Republican Climate Change Denial is Blinding Our Ability to Observe the Arctic

Denial.

It’s all-too-often what happens to the powerful when they are confronted with the consequences of their own bad actions. It can best be said that denial is blindness — the willful inability to open one’s eyes to the tough reality of the world. In literature, we can see denial in the tragic sin of hubris and in the metaphor of Oedipus the King gouging his own eyes out as a result of his failure to come to terms with the warnings of prophecy.

In the psychological sense, denial involves the inability to cope with reality such that a person will act in an irrational fashion to the point of generating fantasies that the object of said denial does not exist. Behaviorally, this results in an increasing degradation of a person’s ability to confront or cope with the object of denial — to the point of ardent, irrational, and possibly destructive outbursts when faced with it.

Arctic sea ice loss.

Ever since 1979 an array of satellite sensors has allowed our scientists to directly observe the sea ice in the Arctic. Since that time, and as a human-forced warming of the world ramped up, the area which that ice covers has dramatically shrunken. So much so that by this year, 2016, there’s a risk that not only will a new all-time record low be reached, but that by the end of this summer almost all the ice in the Arctic Ocean will be melted out entirely. A risk that a new climate change related event will start to take shape in the Arctic. The blue ocean events.

Arctic Sea Ice Area

(Arctic sea ice area as measured by observational satellites and most recently by  F17. The bottom line of the graph measures days of the year. The left side of the graph measures sea ice area. The corresponding intersections determine sea ice area on any given day of a year in the record. The up and downward swoop of each line on the graph shows the seasonal variation of sea ice area for that given year. The blue line on the graph represents 1980 sea ice area. The dark gray line represents the 1979 to 2000 average. The red line represents the 2012 record low year. 2016, in black, shows a squiggle as F17 begins to fail in early March of this year — a year that could significantly beat 2012 as the worst melt year on record. The sensor is failing because it is old and needs replacement. A replacement that is now sitting in a warehouse due to republican-led satellite research funding cuts. Data source: NSIDC. Image source: Pogoda i Klimat.)

We will know whether or not such an event took place because there are satellites giving us an accurate picture of this critical and sensitive part of our world in real-time. In effect, these satellites grant us the gifts of sight, of foresight, and of forewarning too. They give us the ability to catch a glimpse of what waits over the horizon and affords us with the opportunity to act to avoid an ever-worsening catastrophe — should we have the wisdom to choose to do so.

Willful Blindness

Where does denial meet with Arctic sea ice loss? In the form of climate change denying republicans attempting again and again to cut and with-hold funding to NASA and NSIDC instruments that track what is an unprecedented and historic melt now ongoing. For ever since their coming to power in Congress in 2010, republicans have done everything they can to remove funding for the devices that provide a direct observation of the changes coming as a result of a human-forced warming of our world.

You can read about the recent history of republican attempts to blind the satellite eyes of science here in this comprehensive article by The Atlantic. Attempts that have finally played out in the increasing degradation of the National Snow and Ice Data Center’s ability to track sea ice area and extent during this crucial year. For as the critical Arctic sea ice observation sensor called F 17 begins to fail, a sensor that could replace it sits grounded — lacking funding to operate or launch it during a year in which the Arctic is likely to experience historic and wrenching changes. A year that has already experienced both record Arctic heat and record low sea ice coverage throughout both Winter and Spring with more records likely on the way.

What’s happened now, due to republican ties to fossil fuel industry and a related push to obliviate climate science that observes changes in the Earth, the atmosphere, the world’s ice and the oceans, is a degradation of climate and weather disaster preparedness. For the fossil fuel industry — which has come to completely dominate republican policy-making since at least the years of the Bush administration and which is the cause of pretty much all the harmful changes we now see in the world due to human-forced warming — the degradation of these sensors may help confuse the science and perhaps allow these dirty and dangerous interests to dump carbon into the atmosphere for a few more years or decades. Extending dirty industry profits and what has been a deleterious and corrupting political influence for a little while longer.

Beaufort Sea Ice Early Melt

(Beaufort sea ice in the Arctic is now melting and breaking up at least one month faster than it does during a typical year. Republicans and their fossil fuel allies may not want to hear or see this happening as it’s direct observational proof that the policies they’ve been pushing — drilling, fracking, coal burning, and suppression of renewable energy — are resulting in increasingly dramatic and dangerous changes to the Earth system and environment. So much so that they want to shut off the satellites that provide us with such critical observational data of what’s happening to our Earth and oceans in real time. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

For the rest of us, the loss of these sensors means the loss of a key piece of infrastructure — one that is critical to our climate resiliency. For if we cannot observe and predict trends in the Arctic, then we will come to be more and more at the mercy of dangerous changes now going on there. We will be increasingly caught by surprise by the changes that are now almost certainly bound to happen. And a growing number of us will fall into risk of being caught off guard. Of suffering from loss of property and, perhaps, injury or loss of life.

Willful and destructive blindness. That’s what happens when hubris rules in Washington. And for too long now we’ve suffered this republican climate change denial and its all-too-related fossil fuel based hubris. A plague that is now not only wrecking the world’s climate, but is degrading our ability to observe and respond to the dangerous and Earth-altering changes that are now taking place.

Links:

NOAA Says GOP Funding Cuts Would Halve The Performance of Severe Weather Forecasts

The Republican Push to Cut Climate Change Observational Research

The Arctic is Melting and Scientists Just Lost a Key Tool to Observe it

Republicans Slash Climate Funds

Satellite Data in Support of Climate Resilience

NSIDC

Pogoda i Klimat

Expanding Exxon Mobile Climate Change Denial Investigation

Hat Tip to Redsky

Record Global Heat — Huge Springtime Arctic Warm-up to Crush Sea Ice, Drive Extreme Jet Stream Dip into Europe

We know now, as soon as the middle of April, that 2016 will be the hottest year on record. That not only will it be the hottest year, but that it will crush any other previous record hot year by a wide margin.

NASA GISS head — Gavin Schmidt — in a recent tweet estimated that 2016 would fall into a range near 1.32 C above the 1880-1899 average that NASA uses for its preindustrial baseline. By comparison, 2015 — which was the most recent hottest year on record after 2014 (three in a row!) — hit 1.07 C above the 1880-1899 average.

GISS Temperature Map First Quarter of 2016

(According to NASA, the first three months of 2016 were 1.25 C above the NASA 20th Century baseline and a ridiculous 1.47 C above the 1880 through 1899 preindustrial average. Image source: NASA GISS.)

As a result, 2016 will likely have jumped by about a quarter of a degree Celsius in a single year. If every year from 2016 on warmed up so fast the world would surpass the dreaded 2 C mark by 2019 and rocket to about +22 C above 19th Century averages by 2100. That’s not going to happen. Why? Because natural variability assisted greenhouse gas warming from fossil fuels to kick 2016 higher in the form of a serious heavyweight El Nino. But it’s a decent exercise to show how ridiculously fast the world is expected to warm from 2015 to 2016. And in the 2014-2016 string of three record warm years in a row we are basically expecting a 0.40 C jump above the then record warm year of 2010. Given that the world has warmed, on average by about 0.15 C to 0.20 C per decade since the late 1970s, what we’re expecting to see is about two decades worth of warming all cram-jammed into the past three years.

More Severe Arctic Heat is on the Way

But the Earth, as of this Earth Day, hasn’t warmed evenly. A far, far greater portion of that excess heat has stooped over the Arctic. During the first three months of 2016, the Arctic region above 66 degrees North Latitude has been fully 4.5 C hotter than the NASA 20th Century baseline. That’s a departure more than three times that of the rest of the Earth. And that’s bad news for anyone concerned about sea ice, or polar bears, or Arctic carbon feedbacks, or predictable seasons, or extreme droughts and floods, or the Jet Stream, or Greenland melt, or sea level rise, or … well, you get the picture.

One region, at the boundary between the Arctic Ocean and the Greenland Sea near Svalbard, has been particularly warm. So warm, in fact, that sea surfaces now devour slabs of Arctic Ocean ice blown into it by winds running out of the Arctic in a matter of days. It takes a lot of ocean warmth to have this kind of effect on sea ice. A particularly ferocious amount of heat for the ocean to exhibit so early on in the melt season.

Ice Devoured by Warm Greenland Sea

(Neven posted this excellent blog tracking a ferocious amount of heat in the region of the Greenland and Barents Sea. Arctic Sea Ice Forum commenter Andreas T provided this graphical representation of sea ice disintegration as it was blown into waters just to the north of Svalbard earlier this week.)

Perhaps the easiest way to illustrate how relatively hot the Arctic is now is the fact that sea ice in the region is melting fast. So fast that current extent measures by JAXA are at their lowest levels on record. It’s a precipitous rate of melt that’s about one week ahead of any of the previous fastest melt season. Or you could just look at the number of Arctic freezing degree days recorded at CIRES and find one more measure added to NASA or record low sea ice pointing toward the obvious fact that this year, for the Arctic, has been one of just absolutely ludicrous warmth.

As Winter progresses into Spring, temperatures typically moderate — closing in on baseline averages. And this year has been no exception. However, readings for the entire Arctic have tended to range between 1.5 and 2.5 C above average over the past two weeks. These are some seriously hot departures for Spring. Enough to keep Arctic heat in record ranges for 2016.

Three Powerful Warm Wind Events to Strike the Arctic in Concert

But over the coming five days, a series of south-to-north warm wind events is expected to push even these seasonally excessive readings higher.

Extreme Springtime warming in the Arctic

(GFS model forecasts predict Arctic temperatures to rise into a range between 3 and 5 C above normal for this time of year over the coming week. Such departures are in record ranges and will likely result in rapid snow and sea ice melt even as it drives a wedge of cold air out of the Arctic and over Europe — setting up a high risk of very severe weather events. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

The first event is predicted to originate over the Yamal Peninsula of Russia during Saturday and Sunday — lasting on into Monday and Tuesday. There, temperatures are expected to rise into the (scorching for the Arctic at this time of year) mid 30s (F) as strong, warm winds blow over about 1,000 miles of western Russia and on up into the Kara and Laptev seas which are predicted to, likewise, experience near or above freezing temperatures. Over the entire region, temperatures are expected to range between 18 and 36 degrees F (10-20 C) above typical daily averages for this time of year. Snow and sea ice melt melt rates in this already rapidly thawing region will almost certainly pick up pace in the face of these obnoxiously unseasonable readings.

A second warm wind event is predicted to heat up Greenland, Baffin Bay, the mouth of Hudson Bay and a chunk of the Canadian Archipelago on Monday and Tuesday. A 1,500 mile synoptic southeast to northwest air flow is expected to originate in the Central North Atlantic. Running along the back of a high pressure system rooted between Iceland and Southeastern Greenland, these winds will ram a broad front of above-freezing airs over a rapidly melting Baffin Bay, dramatically warm the southern 2/3 of Greenland, and flush a comparable warm air pulse into the outlets of Hudson Bay. Temperatures in this broad zone are also expected to hit 18-36 F (10-20 C) above average readings. And its effects will likely be strong enough to initiate another strong early season melt spike for Greenland in addition to aiding in driving a quickening pace of melt for Baffin and Hudson bays.

Shattered Ice Beaufort and Chukchi

(Shattered sea ice over the Beaufort and Chukchi looks as if it’s been fractured from a blow from Thor’s mythical hammer Mjolnir. Open water and very thin ice openings stretch as wide as 60 miles in some sections. A warm wind event later this week is expected to provide still more melt pressure to this already greatly weakened sea ice. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

A final warm wind event will be fed by a big warm up across Alaska predicted to settle in on Wednesday and Thursday. There, temperatures in Central Alaska are expected to rise into the lower 60s as two stalled out lows to the south pull warmer airs up from the Pacific Ocean. This heat is expected to invade the Chukchi and Beaufort seas driving temperatures to near or above freezing over Arctic Ocean surfaces that have already witnessed a great shattering of ice and an opening of dark, heat-venting open water holes. There the anomaly spike will be slightly milder — in the range of 15-32 F (8-18 C) above average. Such heat will provide melt stress to the fractured Beaufort, likely making more permanent the wide array of open water and thin ice spaces as the push toward Summer advances.

Mangled Jet Stream to Bring Storms to Europe

As all this heat bullies its way into the Arctic, a flood of cold air is expected to flee out of the region and on down a big dip in the Jet Stream — making a late-season invasion across the North Atlantic and into Europe. There, as we’ve seen previously during recent warm wind invasions of the Arctic during Fall, Winter and Spring, warm air from the south tends to cause cold to break out and then to dive down the trough lines. And there’s a huge trough predicted to dig in over Europe.

We should expect some rather severe weather to accompany this Springtime onrush of colder air — including potentially extreme thunderstorms, flooding, and even instances of late April snowfall over parts of Norway, Sweden, Scotland, the Alps, and sections of Germany.

Deep Trough Predicted for Europe

(A very deep Arctic trough is expected to dig into Europe and the Mediterranean this coming week bringing with it the likelihood of some very severe weather. Image source: ECMWF/Severe Weather EU.)

Likely increased rates of sea ice melt, a severe blow to record low snow packs around the Arctic and a likely freakish cold air and severe weather invasion of Europe are all a result of this extreme Arctic heat playing havoc with typical weather and seasonality. By the middle of next week, temperature anomalies for the entire Arctic may rise to as high as 5 C above the already much warmer than normal 1981 to 2010 average. In such a case, we could hardly expect weather or climate conditions to be normal and there appears to be a big helping of weirdness and extreme effects coming down the pipe over the next seven days.

Links:

We Already Know 2016 Will be the Hottest Year on Record

Gavin Schmidt’s Estimate for End 2016 Temperatures Crushes Previous Hottest Years

Neven Sea Ice

JAXA

CIRES

NASA GISS

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

Climate Reanalyzer

LANCE MODIS

ECMWF/Severe Weather EU

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Hat Tip to Andreas T

One Week After Frank, Arctic Sea Ice Hits New Record Lows

Extreme weather and climate change. The plight of human civilization facing loss of coastlines, stable climates, and predictable growing seasons. The plight of the polar bear. How are they all linked? Well, for one, it now appears that one of the most powerful storms to strike Iceland — an extraordinarily intense 928 mb low pressure system dubbed Frank by the UK Met Office — has played its hand in helping to drive Arctic sea ice to new daily record lows.

The storm, associated with a powerful high amplitude wave in the Jet Stream, aided in shoving some of the warmest temperatures ever recorded over the North Pole. Setting off a rare period of above freezing temperatures during polar night, this extreme weather event dumped an unprecedented amount of heat into the Arctic during what is typically its coldest season.

image

(Dr. Jeff Masters, chief meteorologist at Weather Underground, explains how extreme weather and weaknesses in the Jet Stream recently contributed to record warming and above freezing temperatures at the North Pole last week. Image source: Voice of America News Screenshot.)

It’s the kind of atmospheric heat engine whose climate and weather altering impacts I discussed with Dr. Jeff Masters, Dr Steven Amstrup, and the hosts of Voice of America’s news show #Hashtag — Michael Lipin and Andrew Palczewski — today. The kind of extreme events that become more and more common as the world warms up, dumping an inordinate amount of latent heat into storms as they form and intensify.

But this particular event’s far-ranging impact could also be seen in a warm temperature shift for the High Arctic during Winter. A shift that brought with it a flatlining of Arctic sea ice accumulation.

Typically, during December and on through mid-April, Arctic sea ice area and extent values continue to rise. The cold of polar night settles in over a broad area of water. Bereft of the heating rays of the sun and typically plunged into temperatures well below freezing, the ocean surface becomes covered in an expanding cap of ice. There it provides a stable environment for so many Arctic creatures that have made that place their home. But it has also helped to provide the stable climate of the Holocene — in which for more than 10,000 years human beings and our civilizations have been able to thrive.

chart

(Red flat line in the upper left shows that 2016 is starting off in the range of new record daily lows for Arctic sea ice. It’s one of the best barometers for climate change impact in the Northern Hemisphere and one that is still showing new declines, even in Winter. Image source: NSIDC.)

This year’s massive Arctic warm-up, in association with Frank, appears to have stranded that essential ice accumulation in dead stop. And as of January 4th, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic sea ice extent totals remained at 12.8 million square kilometers. That’s about 90,000 square kilometers below the previous record daily low set on the same day just five years ago during the Winter of 2011. It’s also an extent value fully 1 million square kilometers, an area the size of Texas and Montana combined, below the already depleted 1981 to 2010 average.

Cryosphere Today showed Arctic sea ice area also following that ominous flatline pattern — hitting 12.23 million square kilometers in coverage or the second lowest area on record for the day.

Extreme Arctic Warmth on January 5 2016

(Extreme Arctic warmth on January 5 of 2016 coincides with some extraordinary global heat in the above temperature anomaly map. It’s just one more day in a recent severe spate of Arctic warming that has helped to shove Arctic sea ice into new record low territory over recent days. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Continued warmer than normal temperatures in the Arctic in the range of 3 to 3.5 C above average for the region may well continue to drive this sea ice flat line over at least the next couple of days, pushing area measures into new record low readings even as extent continues to break records.

Failure to freeze during Winter is one of the driving factors of major Arctic sea ice declines during Summer (often called Winter power over at the Arctic Sea Ice Blog). So with sea ice hitting new lows for a, much warmer than normal cold season, we may need to watch out for potential new major losses come summer time. And that’s bad news for everyone — seals, walruses, polar bears, human beings and for many of the creatures below the Arctic Circle that rely on that frozen region for the maintenance of the climate they evolved and adapted to live in. Dr. Steven Amstrup, who has been a fearless advocate for the innocent creatures most likely to be impacted early by human-forced warming of the Arctic, I’m pretty sure, would agree.

Links:

Above Freezing Temperatures at North Pole During Winter

Voice of America News #El Nino, #North Pole, #Storm Frank

The National Snow and Ice Data Center

Cryosphere Today

The Arctic Sea Ice Blog

Polar Bears International

Weather Underground

Climate Reanalyzer

Scientific Hat Tip to Dr Steven Amstrup and Dr Jeff Masters

Hat Tip to Michael Lipin and Andrew Palczewski

Hat Tip to Kevin Jones for helping me keep my eye on the ball

 

Monster El Nino Turns Typhoon Eyes Toward Arctic

What does a Monster El Nino look like? In two words — climate change. And by the end of August climate change’s Monster El Nino may have spawned two strong tropical cyclones and hurled their powerful remnant systems into the Arctic.

The 2015 Monster

The Equatorial Pacific is cracking wide open. Heat, at near new records for August, is oozing out. In the Nino 3.4 zone last week, the heat bleed hit a new intensity of + 2 degrees Celsius above average. That puts our current El Nino easily in the running for one of the top three strongest. And the warming there is expected to continue through at least October — possibly setting up conditions in which the 2014-2016 El Nino is the most intense and perhaps longest-running such event ever seen.

image

(Our Monster El Nino and three hot blobs — one off California, one off the Pacific Northwest, and one in the Bering and Chukchi — just keep getting hotter and hotter. The extremity of heat covering this section of the Pacific Ocean is simply extraordinary. And the fact that it keeps building may have some serious impacts on Pacific, Arctic, and North American weather patterns. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Unlike typical El Ninos, the high heat anomalies are not isolated to a band along the Equator. They extend upward across a vast pool that encompasses practically all of the Northeastern and North-Central Pacific. All of the Bering Sea and a chunk of the Arctic Ocean as well. It’s as if the typical El Nino heat has developed a great chimney that runs over thousands of miles from Equator to Arctic. One that encompasses millions of square miles of much warmer than normal ocean surface. An entire zone that, for the ocean, is a blistering 1-5 degrees Celsius hotter than ‘normal.’

The Warming World’s Intense El Ninos’ Dance With Polar Amplification

Scientists have long warned us about this. Warned us that increasing global temperatures through ongoing fossil fuel burning could greatly amplify the intensity and the frequency of strong El Nino events. A recent paper published in Nature has continued this line of research finding that, under human-forced global warming, the frequency of strong El Ninos is doubled. And, right on queue, the 2014-2016 El Nino is shaping up to be one of the nastiest, if not the nastiest such event we’ve yet experienced.

But it’s not just a question of the intensity of heat boiling out of the Equatorial Pacific. It’s also a question of how a strong El Nino behaves in a world that has been forced to warm by 1 degree Celsius. According to Dr. Jennifer Francis, a significant portion of that extra heat has tended to focus in the Arctic. And this extra Arctic heat has, among other things, gone to work weakening the Jet Stream. In some regions, as we see today over the entire Northeastern Pacific, the tendency has been for powerful high amplitude ridges to form. The ridges often extend all the way into the Arctic — developing pathways for yet more heat to hit the high polar zones.

Like El Nino, the ridge over the Northeastern Pacific is involved in an ocean-atmosphere dance. It’s a dance that includes widespread and abnormally warm water (see hot blob strengthens). And it’s a dance that includes the powerful impact of a Monster El Nino stalking the equatorial zones.

El Nino Hurls Twin Typhoons at the Arctic

Last week, this atmospheric dance included the formation of two tropical cyclones. Feeding off the powerful convection rising up over the Equatorial Pacific, these massive cyclones gathered intensity from the easterlies rushing in to feed the El Nino. They steamed north and westward. By today, Typhoon Goni was threatening the Philippines and Taiwan with 125 mph sustained winds. Meanwhile, Super Typhoon Atsani’s 150 mph sustained winds were tearing through Pacific Ocean waters east of Guam.

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(GFS model forecast graphically displayed by Earth Nullschool finds typhoons Goni and Atsani running into wall of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge by Tuesday. It’s an atmospheric heat bleed from El Nino to Arctic that, according to long range forecasts, has a risk of carrying these strong storms with it. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Over the next few days, the typhoons are expected to turn north and eastward. Goni is predicted to skirt the Philippines, Taiwan and Japan. Atsani is expected to remain over open waters to the east of Japan. Both are heading toward the hot, northward moving airs on the backside of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge.

Currently, the Ridge is positioned over the Northeastern Pacific Ocean hot pool just south and east of the Aleutians. It’s a strong and very deep high pressure system that’s expected to maintain in the range of 1035 to 1040 mb over the coming days. It’s dredging up the hot El Nino airs of the Equatorial Pacific and flinging them all the way to the Arctic Ocean.

Atsani is expected to plow into the back of this atmospheric wall of hot airs and to then follow the warm flow northward — approaching the Bering Sea edge by next Thursday as a powerful 960 to 970 mb extra-tropical low with Goni’s remnants following in its wake.

RRR meets Atsani With Sights on Arctic

(Forecast sea level pressure map for Thursday, August 27th show Atsani’s powerful remnants on a track for the Bering Sea and Alaska or the Arctic Ocean. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

If Atsani’s remnants enter the Bering as predicted, it will then either track through Alaska or enter the southern Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. At that point, the strength and disposition of the Arctic high will determine its final path. If the high recedes closer to Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago, Atsani’s extratropical system could be projected into the Arctic Ocean proper as a late season cyclone threatening the sea ice. If the Arctic high is more centrally located, Atsani’s remnants would plow down into the facing trough over Western and Central Canada — bringing with it some very stormy weather.

A Very Odd Storm Track

As with last week, we continue to see this odd tendency for a storm track to develop from the Western Pacific through to the Bering Sea, Alaska, and the Arctic itself. It’s a teleconnection-driven atmospheric dance between a powerful summer El Nino, the hot blob of water over the Northeastern Pacific, and the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge riding over top. With such a pattern so firmly entrenched, there’s a risk that this storm track will maintain well into Fall and, perhaps, persist into Winter with Alaska as the destination for Pacific storms. Under such a pattern there is little hope for drought-busting weather to reach California. Which would mean a continuation of terribly dry conditions there unless our Monster El Nino can somehow squash the extraordinarily dogged RRR.

Meanwhile, for the Arctic, the risk of powerful storms plowing through weak, late season ice is looking a little bit less like an outlier event and more and more like a possibility for end August. So we’ll have to keep a close watch on Atsani, Goni, the RRR and the Arctic High.

Links:

NOAA’s Weekly El Nino Report

Earth Nullschool

Frequency of Strong El Ninos Doubles Under Human Heat Forcing

Dr. Jennifer Francis Explains How Polar Amplification Mangles the Jet Stream to Generate Extreme Weather

The Hot Blob Strengthens

Climate Reanalyzer

Wrecked Pacific Storm Track Now Runs from Equator to Arctic Ocean

 

 

 

Wrecked Pacific Storm Track Now Runs From Equator to Arctic Ocean

There’s something not quite right going on in the Pacific.

In the northeast of that great ocean, the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge just keeps growing. A gigantic high pressure cell spreading out to encompass the entire region from the Aleutians to just off the California Coast. This giant, implacable system has lasted now for the better part of two years.  A mountain of atmospheric inertia towering over a deadly, human-warmed, hot pool of Pacific Ocean water.

A Not Normal Storm Track

To the west of our monstrous ridge runs an abnormal storm track. Firing off just north of the Equator and south and east of Japan, the track is fed by tropical systems swinging north and eastward. Merging frontal storms with the warm core cyclones, this storm track runs up along the boundary of the Northwest Pacific and into the Bering. Many of these storms end up bottled there. But a few surge over into the Chukchi and East Siberian seas. In this way, heat and moisture that originated in the tropics is eventually delivered to the Arctic. Exactly the kind of south to north heat and storm potential energy delivery that Dr. Jennifer Francis has been warning us about.

Over the next few days, this storm, heat, and moisture conveyor belt will continue to lend energy to systems firing off over the Pacific side of the Arctic. These storms will generate winds of 25 to 35 miles per hour with higher gusts. They’ll send swells in the range of 4-7 feet rippling across the still ice-smattered waters. And they’ll fling rain, sleet, freezing rain and snow over the still melting ice. An unsettled pattern featuring cold-core systems with an intensity comparable to tropical depressions but firing off in the chill boundary zones along the sea ice melt edge.

Ridge Forms South-to-North Storm Conveyor Belt

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(Pacific storm track runs from just north of the Equator and on up into the Chukchi in this GFS model forecast for high [white] and low [purple]  pressure systems on Sunday, August 16th. Is this the track that El Nino generated storms take as the world warms? If so, there’s more trouble in store for the Arctic. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Then, according to GFS model runs, things start to get interesting. By Sunday, August 16th our massive Northeast Pacific Ridge starts to really flex its muscles. It heightens to a near 1040 mb high pressure cell and links arms across the Arctic with a 1030 mb high over the Central Arctic Basin and another 1030 mb high over the Barents. In other words, the ridge forms a transpolar daisy chain. And on the left side of this transpolar ridge, the storm and moisture conveyor running toward the Arctic boundary kicks up a notch. Double barrel cyclones fire off in the region of 15 degrees North Latitude spawning from the very strong atmospheric feedback of our monstrous-looking El Nino. Three more storms run in train from 30 North to just past the 70 degree line in the Chukchi.

And all run along a diagonal northeasterly track aimed directly at the Arctic’s thawing heart.

It’s a new, odd storm track. One that, depending on the strength and orientation of the Arctic high either ends in the Bering, or runs all the way to the Pole itself. A heat and moisture delivery system that begins to take form in August but that, during recent years, has churned along through Fall, Winter and Spring. It’s a pattern that in 2015 is fed both by the global warming related hot pool in the Northeast Pacific and an El Nino still plowing toward off-the-charts strong. And due to the immense energy of the weather and climate systems involved it’s an anomalous pattern that risks an extreme storm potential energy delivery running from Equator to Arctic.

Links:

Earth Nullschool

Global Forecast System Model

Hot Pacific Ocean Runs Bloody

The Ridiculously Resilient Ridge

How Climate Change Wrecks the Jet Stream, Amps up the Hydrological Cycle to Generate Extreme Weather

Arctic Sea Ice Now Below 2014 in All Major Measures — Warm Storm Settles In

When looking at Arctic sea ice melt, there are trends and there are bounces. The great 1979 to 2015 melt we call a trend. The 2013 and 2014 rebound from all-time record lows during 2012? That we call a bounce. But it’s starting to look more and more like the bounce is ending and the long-term melt trend is starting to, inexorably, reassert.

Over at the Guardian, Arctic Sea Ice expert Neven comes to similar conclusions, he notes:

…something more important for the longer term could be happening. If this weather keeps up – and according to the current forecasts, it will for at least another week – that thicker multi-year ice could receive such a beating that the slight rebound from record low levels is essentially wiped out by the time winter sets in again (see also an excellent related article by Dana Nucitelli here).

Overall, it was a decent rebound. By September, minimum seasonal ice popped up by about 3,500 cubic kilometers in the PIOMAS volume record, by about 1.4 million square kilometers in the Cryosphere Today area measure, and by 1.5 million square kilometers in the NSIDC extent measure. A decent rebound, but still about 11,000 cubic kilometers lower in volume than 1979 (more than a 55 percent loss), about 1.9 million square kilometers lower than 1979 in area (more than a 36 percent loss), and about 1.9 million square kilometers lower than 1979 in extent (about a 30 percent loss).

PIOMAS Volume Trend

(Sea ice volume rate of decline as measured by PIOMAS.)

Sadly, a bump of this kind does not a trend make. Looking at the overall volume loss line (above), we can clearly see that the 2013 and 2014 rebound after 2012’s record low was plainly within the melt progression’s boundaries. Moreover, out of the last 8 years, 2014 is the only year above base-line rate of loss at 3,200 cubic kilometers per decade. A rate of loss that, if it continues would bring us within striking distance of a dreaded ‘blue ocean’ type event for the Arctic by the early 2020s.

Since this trend is polar amplification driven — an underlying aspect of phase 1 climate change forced by human greenhouse gas emissions — the only major driver with the potential to challenge Arctic melt is a large outflow of fresh water from Greenland. Such an outflow would temporarily reduce ocean ventilation of heat through the sea surface in the fresh water outflow region. The result being that surface temperatures would, for a short time, cool in the outflow zone. This would have an effect of regenerating sea ice in a larger counter-melt-trend feedback. It’s likely that melt outflows from Greenland would need to be significant enough to have profound impacts on the Arctic environment as a whole. To hit anywhere near these levels, we likely need to see in the range of at least a half centimeter of sea level rise from Greenland melt alone each year. And we are, as yet, nowhere near that rate of loss (although we might get there in a decade or two or three).

So though the recent 2012 Greenland melt high mark was likely enough to push AMO negative, to further weaken AMOC, to develop a cool pool in the ocean south and east of Greenland, to back a super hot Gulf Stream up to the US East Coast during the winter of 2014-2015, and to set off a slew of nasty weather impacts for the North Atlantic from 2012 through 2015, it was nowhere near enough to upset the overall long-term, human heat-driven Arctic melt trend. If such an event were to occur, what we would likely see is a signature not only of a North Atlantic cool pool but also of more ice in Baffin Bay, more ice in the North Atlantic itself and more ice on the Arctic side near Greenland. A signal that we do not fully see at this time.

It is thus more likely that we will see a re-assertion of the overall Arctic sea ice decline trend. And there are a growing number of indicators that some of this re-assertion is starting to come about during the summer of 2015.

All Major Monitors Now Below 2014

For the Summer of 2015, melt has been consistently strong — especially for July. During most of the month, strong high pressure systems dominated. This situation led to compaction, storm formation at the sea ice edge, and a degree of sea ice export. It amplified solar insolation at a time when the sun was near its seasonally highest angle — enhancing surface melt and melt ponding.

As of yesterday, the major extent monitors — JAXA and NSIDC — as well as Cryosphere Today’s area monitor were all below or well below the 2014 line. The ongoing and rapid July melt drove JAXA below the 2014 line late last week while NSIDC hit below 2014 just yesterday. As a result, NSIDC sits at 7.2 million square kilometers extent or 7th lowest on record (a decline of 2 places since last week) and JAXA shows a 6.79 million square kilometer extent or 5th lowest on record in the measure (also a decline of 2 places).

Cryosphere Today’s area measure, meanwhile, continued to drop — showing increasing divergence from the 2014 line and hitting a 4th lowest area on record for the 27th (a one place dip from last week).

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(Sea ice area dips to 4.67 million square kilometers or the fourth lowest on record in the July 27th Cryosphere Today measure. Note the 2015 sea ice area trend line is indicated in yellow, the 2014 sea ice area trend line in red. Image source: Cryosphere Today.)

Neven’s most recent post over at the Arctic Sea Ice blog provides a bit more detail regarding these trends. Of particular interest to me was the most recent and significant drop-off in the CAPIE index. A drop off of this kind indicates both a high degree of melt ponding and large gaps and areas of open water behind the sea ice edge. We particularly see this now in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas — both regions that have been turned into ice cube ponds over the past month. Perhaps more concerning, however, is the impact of high heat and transport in the regions of thickest ice north of Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago. Ice fracturing there is notably high as is melt ponding. But even more concerning is the development of a large polynya that now extends through most of the thick ice region.

Overall, these drop-offs are consistent with a returning to the long-term melt trend in 2015. But it does not yet place 2015 in striking distance of new all-time record end melt season lows set during 2012. And we’d be quite surprised if it did. Larger ocean and atmospheric teleconnections tend to drive increasing heat in the Arctic ocean waters and airs and to increase sea ice transport to compound ice weakness during El Nino year +1 and El Nino year +2. The most recent record lows both occurred 2 years after El Nino (2007 and 2012). Given the large ocean and atmospheric drivers related to this trend, we may look to next year or, more possibly, 2017 as potential new record low years.

Weather Change on the Way

All that said, it doesn’t mean that 2015 cannot surprise us or (2005, an El Nino year, was also a record low year), at least, serve up some interesting features. Notably, there’s a change in the weather on the way.

Throughout July, we saw what was, perhaps, the worst possible atmospheric regime for sea ice melt during that month. Atmospheric heat was relatively high, clear skies dominated allowing for enhanced surface melt through direct solar heating, and the persistent high pressure systems helped to drive compaction and export. Though the action of gyres moving ice out of the Fram Strait was relatively moderate, overall melt conditions were very strong.

In particular, a synergy between the high pressure driven pole-ward pull of sea ice away from the Siberian side of the Arctic and a significant influx of warm water northward from the Pacific Ocean and through the Bering and Chukchi Seas had a marked impact. You can see the amazing melt progress led by these two influences in the excellent animation provided by The Great White Con below:

Now, however, the high pressure is sliding increasingly to the Siberian side of the Arctic. Meanwhile, a persistent storm is beginning to take hold over the Beaufort Sea and Central Arctic. Overall, it’s an increased storminess for the Arctic. One that is now driving 25-35 mph winds through the shattered ice sections of the Beaufort Sea.

There’s some argument that storms are friendly to sea ice. And, perhaps, this is more true during the June time-frame when storms can reduce insolation and melt ponding. When they can spread the sea ice out to increase overall albedo. But in the current melt regime, sea ice is, overall, far more fragile. There is more latent heat in the Arctic Ocean that is available for storm systems to tap in order to melt ice. And it is this condition that is most at play as we enter late July and early August.

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(A storm is predicted to persist over the Beaufort for at least the next five days. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Over the next five days, the current storm is predicted to persist over the Beaufort. It will rumble along, sending its 20-35 mph winds out over the fractured multi-season ice and large stretches of open water. It will linger, gobbling up little storms rushing north over Alaska and the Bering. And it will lash the ice there with increasing wave action, breaking the surface cool water cap and pumping warm water up toward the ice from below.

In addition, this Beaufort low will form a kind of dipole with a high pressure system that will tend to remain on the Kara Sea side of the Arctic Ocean. The net effect of the dual circulation of the high over the Kara and the low over the Beaufort will be to lift the thick ice away from its base of support along the Northern Canadian Archipelago. The result is likely to be a continued widening of a large polynya already developing there.

Polynya CAA

(Winds cycling between a high pressure over the Kara and a storm over the Beaufort may further widen a large polynya north of the Canadian Archipelago over the next few days. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Meanwhile, milder compaction and sea ice retreat is likely to continue on the Siberian side with ice recession particularly likely in the Kara, Laptev, and East Siberian Sea regions.

Overall, these factors should continue to drive melt enough to keep the monitors at or below the 2014 line with particular risk of increased divergence in the area measure over the coming week due to storm activity in the Beaufort. There is an outside, though not entirely negligible, risk that Beaufort storm activity will greatly impact the already very fragile ice along the Chukchi Sea boundary toward the Siberia side. Such an impact would result in still greater area and extent impacts. But more likely is an enhanced winnowing of the remaining multi-year ice together with a widening of the large polynya north of the Canadian Archipelago.

Links:

PIOMAS

LANCE MODIS

JAXA

Earth Nullschool

Melt Season Won’t Break Records But Could Wipe Out Bounce

Arctic Sea Ice Update 5: Late Momentum

Cryosphere Today

NSIDC

The Great White Con

The Arctic Sea Ice Blog

Hat tip to Humortra

(Please support publicly funded, non special interest based science like the fantastic work done by NSIDC, NASA, PIOMAS and JAXA which made this report possible)

June Snow Melt Brings July Arctic Sea Ice Drop-off

It’s a pretty well established theory. If snow over the Northern Hemisphere land and sea ice masses substantially melts during May and June, it can tend to set up a general weather pattern that is conducive to large-scale reductions of the Arctic sea ice come July, August and September.

Arctic Sea Ice in ragged condition during mid July

(Arctic sea ice in very ragged condition by July 19, 2015. A situation born of a continuous Greenland and Central Arctic high pressure ridge setting up warm air build-ups and a sea ice-flushing dipole weather pattern. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Arctic High Pressure, Heat, Collapsing the Sea Ice

And, during June, we saw just this kind of trend emerge. Arctic heatwaves over both the Continental land masses and the Arctic sea ice resulted in a rapid melting of snow cover. Heatwaves fed by massive bulges in the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream, particularly along the now-famous Ridiculously Resilient Ridge over what is today an amazing (horrific) hot zone of Northeastern Pacific surface waters. El Nino and Positive PDO played their role too, kicking up the hot zones and the ridge to ever greater intensity. An atmospheric and ocean synergy in a 1 C hotter than 1880s context that kept hurling more and more heat into the Arctic environs. Melting more snow and setting the stage for a potential sea ice massacre to come.

By early July there were indications that just such an event may be on the way. A ‘heat dome’ type high pressure system had become well established over the Greenland side of the High Arctic. And for the past three weeks now, this high has remained entrenched. A persistent weather pattern that has allowed more sunlight to hit the sea ice during periods of peak insolation, a pattern that compacts sea ice in the Central Arctic, a pattern that draws storms into the Siberian side of the Arctic to chew away at the ice edge, and a pattern, that overall, drives the ice inexorably toward its Atlantic Ocean flush valve in the Fram Strait.

Arctic Heat

(Hot to record hot conditions have remained in place over the Arctic Ocean throughout July. Image source: NSIDC)

All this extra heat, transport, compaction and storms chewing away at the sea ice edge has finally started to take a very serious toll. As of today, sea ice extent measures had dropped from 7th to 10th lowest on record to 6th to 7th lowest. Area has remained at 4th to 5th lowest on record for the date. Meanwhile volume in the DMI measure has dropped to 2nd lowest on record.

Most charts now are starting to show a steep ‘cliff’ type rate of decline indicative of rapid sea ice collapse. This is particularly true in NSIDC’s Charctic and Cryosphere Today’s sea ice graphs which now show both extent and area lines plunging at rates that will rapidly cross new thresholds if they continue over the coming days.

Sea Ice Concentration in a Rough State

But perhaps most disturbing of all are the indicators that are now showing up in nearly all of the visual concentration monitors. Uni Bremen sea ice concentration continues to look like a massacre on the Pacific side. NSIDC doesn’t appear to be much better. But Cryosphere Today takes the cake for an overall display of sea ice weakness that, on the 19th (updated as the CT measure used earlier ended up being a bit off), looked nearly as bad as on the same day during the record melt year of 2012:

2012 to 2015 Comparison

(Comparison of July 19, 2015 and July 19, 2012 shows 2015 looking nearly as bad as 2012 in the concentration measure. Image source: Cryosphere Today.)

Comparing the left frame image with the MODIS satellite shot at the top of this post, we find confirmation of an overall, very weak sea ice state. Concentration throughout the Arctic appears low. This is especially true on the Beaufort, Chukchi and East Siberian Sea side (see MODIS shot at bottom of post). But extensive weakness and low concentration appears to pervade the entire ice mass. Zooming in on the sea ice surface, we find that some of this low concentration is possible to confirm. The entire Arctic is now full of broken floes, polynya and melt ponds.

Though it is also possible that this extensive melt ponding (also a feature that weakens sea ice) may have kicked the Crysosphere Today concentration sensor a bit into the extreme scale (corrected during the past 24 hours), the 2012-to-2015 comparison above is still apples to apples. And what’s a bit disturbing about this comparison is the fact that much of the concentration in red (55 to 70 percent) in the 2012 measure completely melted out at the ocean surface by mid September of that year. More notably, perhaps, is the fact that the Cryosphere Today concentration measure is, at least in part, confirmed by the US Navy ARCc Concentration model which has now begun to pick up some of the earlier predicted rapid melt in the observational ensemble:

US Navy Concentration

US Navy Concentration Forecast

(Sea ice massacre starting to show up in the US Navy ARCc model daily observations [top frame] and continues to be predicted in the 30 day history and 7 day forecast [bottom frame]. Image source: US Navy.)

Above, we see very low sea ice concentration practically anywhere outside the 80 degree North Latitude line. Most notably, concentration is very thin and rapidly weakening in the Beaufort, Chukchi, East Siberian, and Laptev Seas. And the seven day forecast shows very rapid melt throughout all these regions with the low concentration bulge beginning to invade north of the 80 degree line on the Laptev and ESS side in particularly troubling fashion.

Forecast — Continued Rapid Melt, Some Records May be Threatened

So the question, going forward, is — what next? And it appears that the sea ice is being prepped for continued rapid to accelerating melt over at least the next 7-10 days. Seven day forecasts show the ridge remaining on the Greenland side of the Arctic throughout the period. A position that will continue the current melt, transport and ice weakening regime. Longer range, ten day, ECMWF forecasts find the high shifting more toward a strong ‘heat dome’ located in the Central Arctic with a somewhat weaker high remaining over Greenland — a minor variation of the current ice-weakening state that may slow down ice export but leave compaction, melt ponding, heat build-up, and ice edge weakening due to storms in tact.

Very weak sea ice

(Sea ice throughout the Beaufort, Chukchi, ESS and Laptev is very weak. Can it survive another 10 days of the Greenland/Central Arctic heat dome? Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Due to this weather forecast and due to some observations beginning to come in line with ARCc model runs, we cannot rule out a very rapid melt and recession of sea ice along a broad arc running all the way from the Canadian side to East-Central Siberia. The sea ice is visibly very weak there. Perhaps the weakest we’ve ever seen it for this time of year. Ice that will continue to be pulled poleward by the highs that are forecast to remain in place. Ice that will run into weakened, melt pond invaded ice — a paltry respite for its retreat. And ice that will continue to be harried by edge storms and an influx of much hotter than normal air and water from the Pacific Ocean side. It’s a rapid melt risk that calls into effect the potential that some old sea ice area, extent, and volume records may be challenged or broken — probably not 2012’s all time low marks, but more possibly 2011 or 2007.

It’s, overall, a very tenuous situation for sea ice, one that is continuing to be fed by a growing El Nino and still firmly entrenched RRR to the south. So the evolution of sea ice melt over the next few weeks will likely be a critical game-maker for the state of Arctic Sea ice melt and the overall story of Arctic Sea Ice decline in this sad age of human-forced climate change.

UPDATED JULY 21, 2015

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

NSIDC

US Navy

Cryosphere Today

Uni Bremen

June Arctic Heatwave Takes Down Northern Hemisphere Snow Cover

Halfway to 2 C

Arctic Heatwave Pummels Sea Ice in Early July

See Beaufort and Northwest Passage Melt Progress Over at The Arctic Sea Ice Blog

(Please support public, non-special interest based science like the work conducted by the national snow and sea ice monitors, NOAA and NASA. Without their ongoing work, this analysis and commentary would not be possible.)

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