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

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

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

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

Shattered Sea Ice

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

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

Warm Storms

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

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

A Great Atmospheric Stack Drawing Heat into the Arctic

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

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

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

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

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


Earth Nullschool


NCEP Global Forecast System Reanalysis

Stu Ostro

Climate Reanalyzer

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Hot Climate Conjures Trio of Nasty Halloween Tricks — Heatwaves, Record-Low Sea Ice, Fall Greenland Melt

With each passing year, the effects of human-caused climate change become more and more visible. But for some reason, Halloween appears to be a preferred time for the emergence of various hothouse hobgoblins. In 2012, the Atlantic seaboard was reeling after a vicious strike from Hurricane Sandy. Over the past three years, powerful North Atlantic storms had begun to build at this time of year, setting sights on the UK and Europe. This year, as a hurricane-force low roars toward the Aleutians, the nastiness comes in the form of weird heatwaves, record-low global sea ice coverage, and hints of odd late-fall Greenland melt.

Record Heat Strikes Arctic, U.S.

NASA’s Gavin Schmidt has been warning for months that 2016 will be a global scorcher for the record books. Nowhere has this heat been more apparent than in the Arctic. Halloween only serves to reinforce the rule as today’s temperature departure for the entire region above 66 degrees north latitude hit 5.94 degrees Celsius above average:


(The extreme Arctic warmth that has already caused so much in the way of climate disruption remains firmly entrenched on Halloween. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Yesterday, those temperatures exceeded the 6-C-above-normal mark. And later this week, temperatures for the region could approach 6.3 to 6.5 C above average.

These are the average departure ranges for the entire area above the Arctic Circle. Localities within that broader region are hitting as much as 20 C (36 Fahrenheit) or more above average on an almost daily basis, bringing temperatures more typical of the Arctic during late summer than in the middle of fall.

In Barrow, Alaska, Jonathan Erdman reports that Saturday saw the proverbial mercury hit 41 F. This temperature, at about 26 degrees above average, smashed the previous daily high and pushed the latest day Barrow has ever seen a reading above 40 F fully one week forward.


(Daily high and high min temperature records for the U.S. were broken at an alarming rate over the past week, producing a Halloween heatwave. Image source:  NOAA.)

Farther south, the lower 48 is experiencing what Bob Henson over at Weather Underground is calling the Halloween Heatwave. Over the past week alone, nearly 300 daytime high marks were broken. But the measure of record-high minimum temperatures — a key indicator of human-forced warming — is off the charts with 639 total records smashed over the past seven days.

What’s even more odd is a near-total lack of cool temperatures. Bob Henson finds that:

Even more noteworthy than the degree of warmth is the lack of widespread autumn chill. For example, Minneapolis has yet to dip below 36°F as of Friday, October 28. That doesn’t look likely to happen before at least next weekend (November 5 – 6). In records going back to 1873, the latest Minneapolis has ever gone before seeing its first 35°F of the autumn is November 1, way back in 1931. The city’s latest first freeze was on Nov. 7, 1900.

Reinforcing this point, NOAA finds that over the past week just 40 record low high temperatures were achieved (about one-seventh the number of record highs). Meanwhile, record low nighttime temperatures were only achieved in six instances, about one-one-hundredth the rate of record high minimum temperatures! Furthermore, at no location in the U.S. for this week, this month, or even this past year has snow depth achieved a new record high. That’s a pretty ridiculous indicator that the U.S. has reached a rather disturbing climate threshold for heat overall.

Record Low Global Sea Ice Coverage

Even as new warm temperature records were being set with amazing frequency across parts of the Northern Hemisphere, another duo of worrisome indicators were popping up in the Arctic and Antarctic. In the Arctic, the ocean has been loaded up with a ridiculous amount of heat. This heat is preventing the ocean from refreezing, creating various regional barriers to ice formation as the waters ventilate this excess heat into the atmosphere. As a result, Arctic sea-ice extent record lows continue to deepen.

Fall 2016 sea ice extent values — which have consistently lagged behind average daily refreeze rates for most of the season — are now more than 600,000 square kilometers below the previous record set during 2012. It’s, quite frankly, an insane shattering of the previous record low value; a warming-spurred melt that has erased an area of sea ice coverage nearly the size of Texas in just four years.


(Current Arctic sea ice extent values are 6.92 million square kilometers [October 30]. This is 600,000 square kilometers below the previous record low set on the same day during 2012. It is also about 3 million square kilometers below average values seen for this day back during the 1980s. Image source: JAXA.)

The Washington Post this past Friday provided a good article explaining the dynamics involved and highlighted predictions by prominent Arctic researchers that ice-free summers could occur by the 2030s. This is a marked departure from earlier estimates that had put off ice-free summers until the 2050s or even the 2080s. However, it’s worth noting that there’s a decent risk that even these more advanced predictions may prove conservative in the end. Under current trends, ice-free periods for the Arctic Ocean during summer become statistically possible as soon as the early to mid 2020s, and a strong outlier year — where an abnormally warm winter is followed by an abnormally warm summer — could produce such a result even sooner.

On the other side of the world, the Antarctic is also experiencing record-low ranges for sea ice extents. There, regional temperatures are near 4 C above average for the entire Antarctic. Though these departures are not as extreme as those currently seen in the Arctic, they are certainly enough to impact sea ice. Now, sea ice extent values there are at their second lowest ever recorded in the daily measure.

Over recent years, storminess in the Southern Ocean and an expanding fresh water lens running out from Antarctica due to glacial melt have generated a seemingly contradictory expansion of sea ice near Antarctica. This happens because fresh water at the ocean’s surface acts to deflect heat toward the ocean bottom, a feature that has enabled the melting of various glacier undersides in Antarctica. But as the global ocean and atmosphere warm in general, larger melt outflows are necessary to reinforce this surface freshwater lens effect. As a result, we appear to be experiencing a seesaw in Antarctic sea ice extent as a pulse of atmospheric and ocean warming overrides the impact of initial fresh water lensing.


(MASIE global sea ice extent shows a severe negative departure through October 28, 2016. Image source: Sunshine Hours.)

The combination of significant sea ice losses in the north and second-lowest sea ice extents in the south has resulted in a global sea-ice measure that is well below anything seen in the past for this time of year. It is also one of the largest global negative sea-ice departures seen for any part of the record for any time of year — even when compared to the extreme period of Arctic sea ice loss during September of 2012.

Halloween Greenland Melt?

In addition to producing heatwaves, new temperature records, and ever more extreme sea ice melt, the odd Halloween warmth appears to also be generating flashes of surface melt over parts of northeastern Greenland. There, over the past few days, temperatures have approached or even exceeded the freezing point as warm winds have blown in from the heating Greenland Strait.

(A warm front crosses over northeastern Greenland on October 27, 2016. The associated warm winds blowing off the heating waters of the Greenland Strait produced near or above freezing temperatures for isolated parts of this section of Greenland. This abnormal warmth appears to have tripped NSIDC’s melt sensor, producing a possible odd late-season melt event for sections of this frozen island. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

This heat has been enough to trip NSIDC’s Greenland melt indicators for the region of the Zachariæ Isstrøm glacier. These indicators, over the past couple of days, have shown relatively extensive melt in this sector of Greenland. During summer 2016, northeastern Greenland was one of the regions that saw strongest indications of surface melt. Typically isolated by sea ice from warm ocean breezes, northeast Greenland does not usually see such long-lasting periods of surface melt. This is especially true for late October as melt during this time for any portion of the Greenland Ice Sheet is practically unheard of. However, as warm ocean water has advanced further and further north, this region has become more vulnerable to invasions of warm air. And it appears that the melt-forcing effect of this ocean warming for nearby Greenland glaciers may well be extending into fall.

Though unconfirmed by NSIDC, these periods of possible melt have occurred coincident with temperature departures in the range of 10-20 degrees C above average. However, since near or above freezing temperatures have mostly been isolated to the very far northeastern sections of Zachariæ Isstrøm near the coast, it’s likely that any potential and brief periods of melt were located in a more limited band than what has shown up on the NSIDC melt maps for October 27, 28, and 29. That said, as noted above, any surface melt over glaicers in Greenland for this time of year would be very odd and concerning — no matter how isolated.

Nasty Global Warming Tricks for Halloween

Halloween heatwaves, record-low sea ice extents and possible periods of fall Greenland melt are all indicators that human-forced climate change is starting to generate more and more obvious effects. Though the most extreme impacts are hitting remote regions like Greenland, the Arctic and the Antarctic, the related abnormal warmth has filtered into the middle latitudes and is now affecting millions of people across the U.S. And what’s happening in the U.S. is linked to these related warming events on a global scale.

So happy Halloween, everyone. Enjoy the holiday. But remember that if it’s oddly warm where you are, it’s not just a freak warm weather treat, but one of the many and worsening tricks conjured up by global climate change.



The Climate of Gavin

Climate Reanalyzer

Jonathan Erdman

Zack Labe

Earth Nullschool


Sunshine Hours

Half a Kilometer of Ice Gone in Just 7 Years


Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to June

Polar Heatwave Digs in as Arctic Sea Ice Crashes — Blue Ocean Event Looking More and More Likely

We’ve never seen May heat like what’s being predicted in the Arctic over the next seven days. A shot of warm airs blowing northward over Siberia that are expected to generate a warm front that takes in nearly the entire Arctic Ocean. A weather pattern that, if it emerges, will completely compromise the central region of polar cold that has traditionally driven Northern Hemisphere weather patterns.


This week, a huge pulse of warm air rose up over Northwest Canada and Alaska. Invading the Beaufort, it drove a broad warm front which forced near or above freezing temperatures over between 1/4 to 1/3 of the Arctic Ocean zone. Regions from the East Siberian Sea, through the Chukchi, into the Beaufort, and including a chunk of the polar zone above the 80th parallel all experienced these anomalously warm readings. By Friday, air temperature anomalies in the entire Arctic zone above 66 North were about 3 C above average and in a large section of the hot zone centered on the Beaufort temperatures ranged between 10-15 C above average. For the Arctic, it appeared that June had arrived a month early.

Arctic sea ice May 12 2016

(Abundant Arctic snow and sea ice melt on May 12 provides a visible record of a region compromised by the heat of human-forced climate change. Large land regions — such as Northwest Canada and Alaska — snow free when they should not be. And larger regions of open water appear in the zones that were traditionally covered by sea ice. A bluing over the Chukchi and Beaufort is also indicative of melt pond proliferation. Summer, it appears, has come to the Arctic far too early. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

The effect of all this heat — just the latest hot flare during a record warm 2016 — on the sea ice has been tremendous. Huge areas of dark, ice-free water have opened up. The Bering is practically ice free. The Chukchi is plagued with thin ice, large polynyas, and melt ponds. Baffin Bay and the Barents are greatly reduced. And in the Beaufort a massive 120 to 200 mile wide region of open water continues to expand.

For Arctic Sea Ice Melt, Mid Summer is Happening in May

Pretty much all the major monitors now show Arctic sea ice plummeting deep into record low ranges. The JAXA extent measure yesterday rocketed past the 11.5 million square kilometer mark with barely a blink following multiple days of 100,000 square kilometer losses. DMI looks like the bottom dropped out of its own extent and volume measures. And NSIDC shows Arctic sea ice extent levels widening the gap from previous record lows for this time of year.

Arctic sea ice extent jaxa

(2016 Actic sea ice — indicated by the red line in the JAXA monitor above — continues its record plunge. Record Arctic heat during 2016 has driven a never-before-seen rate of melt for the first four and a half months of this year. If such melt rates continue, there will be very little sea ice left by melt season end in September. Image source: JAXA.)

Overall, not only is the sea ice less extensive and thinner than it has ever been for this time of year, but the rates of loss it is now experiencing are more similar to those that would typically be seen during June and July — not May. In such a context of record heat and melt, current new sea ice extent lows are about 9-10 days ahead of the previous record low, 22-24 days ahead of the 2000s average line, more than a month ahead of the 1990s average line, and fully a month and a half ahead of the 1980s average line. In other words, there is something seriously, seriously wrong with the polar region of our world.

Freakish Warm Front To Cross From Siberia to the Barents

As bad as the current situation is, the coming week looks like it’s setting up to be far worse. A second massive polar warm front is in the process of bulging northward from the region of Eastern Siberia near the East Siberian Sea. This warm front — driven on by an anomalous ridge in the Jet Stream and backed by warm winds flooding up from the East Asian heatwave and wildfire zone — is predicted to bow outward over the coming five days. It is expected to encompass all of the East Siberian Sea and the Laptev, traverse the 80th parallel, continue on past the North Pole, and then flood out into the Barents. Essentially, it’s a warm front that will cross the polar zone in total — completely ignoring the laws of Jet Stream dynamics and basically rupturing what is traditionally an area of cold centering on the Pole.


(Warm winds are predicted to be pulled up from Siberia as a high pressure system churns over the Beaufort and a warm front crosses the North Pole — flushing below freezing temperature out of a majority of the Arctic Ocean Basin on May 16th in the GFS model forecast. Note the very large extent of predicted above freezing temperatures in the graphic above. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

In four years of unbroken Arctic observation and threat analysis related to human-caused climate change, I’ve never seen anything like this. And given the odd effects of fossil fuel emissions-forced climate change, I’ve definitely observed some pretty weird stuff. To say this really kinda takes the cake for Arctic weirdness would be an understatement.

Never-Before Seen Conditions Consistent With Human-Forced Climate Change

By May 20, most of the Arctic Ocean is predicted to see near-freezing or above-freezing temperatures. Readings warm enough to promote surface melt of the ice pretty much everywhere and across all basins. Readings that for the entire Arctic region above 66 North are predicted to be 5 C above average. That is one hell of an anomaly. Something that would be odd if we saw it during January (when climate change related seasonal warming has typically taken greater hold). But for May this is absolutely outlandishly hot.

May 20 Crazy Polar anomaly

(Temperatures in the Arctic are expected to hit a +5.04 C anomaly by May 20. Such an amazing amount of heat will generate rapid thaw conditions that were typically only experienced in the middle of summer during previous record warm years. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

These are conditions that even during the previously record warm period of the 2000s normally didn’t take come into play until late June or early July. Conditions that were practically unheard of for any single day at the peak of summer warmth during the 1980s. Conditions now predicted to happen in late May.

This is climate change, folks. Pure and simple. And if such a pattern of extreme heat continues, it may wipe out practically all the ice by the end of this melt season. This week, it looks like that dreaded event will grow still more likely if this predicted insane heat break-out into the Arctic emerges. An event many scientists thought wouldn’t be possible until the 2070s or 2080s as little as ten years ago. A Blue Ocean Event that is now a very real risk for 2016.




Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

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


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.


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


Pogoda i Klimat

Expanding Exxon Mobile Climate Change Denial Investigation

Hat Tip to Redsky

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.


(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.


(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.


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


(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.


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

Hot Ocean Hurls Nangka’s 1 Meter Rains At Japan; Storm Chases Arctic Heat Delivery Later This Week

This week, a screaming hot Pacific basin hurled six tropical cyclones northward. These cyclones spawned off the back of a building monster El Nino which is predicted to reach strong-to-record intensity by later this year. They also contributed to setting a record for number of cyclones formed in the Northern Hemisphere so early in the year. In the Western Pacific, one of these Cyclones — Typhoon Chan Hom — slammed into Shanghai on July 10th and 11th, delivering high waters, high winds and floods.

Now, another cyclone — Typhoon Nangka — is venting its fury on Japan.

Nangka bears down on Japan

(Nangka takes aim on Japan in this MODIS satellite shot. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

A few hours ago, Nangka made landfall near Muroto City. Over the past 24 hours, Nangka had weakened from a category 3 storm packing 115 mile per hour intensity, blustering ashore as a minimal Typhoon with 75 mile per hour maximum sustained winds. Nangka is interacting with a frontal boundary, which interfered with the storm’s circulation even as it injected massive amounts of moisture into Nangka’s encircling thunderstorms. This increased moisture loading — likely also enhanced by global temperatures that are now in the range of 1 C hotter than 1880s averages together with moisture bleeding off an anomalously warm Pacific — is resulting in forecasts for up to 1 meter of rainfall as Nangka continues to churn over Japan.

Nangka’s eyewall and strong south to north winds are running smack into Japan’s ocean facing mountains. The combined high moisture loading and the lifting action of winds running up the mountains are pumping up Nangka’s thunderstorms to extraordinary intensity. Weather radar from earlier today showed hourly rainfall rates peaking at an extreme 3.15 inches per hour near Shikoku. There, after hours of this intense pounding, rainfall totals have hit as high as 23 inches (UPDATE: Kamikitayama village had reported 27 inches of total rainfall as of 5:20 AM local time.)

These heavy rains are expected to continue for the next 24-48 hours with very severe additional totals predicted for a number of regions. Expected new rainfall amounts include:

  • Kinki and Tōkai: 600 millimeters (~24 inches)
  • Shikoku island: 600 millimeters (31 inches)
  • Kantō region: 400 to 500 millimeters (16 to 20 inches)
  • Chūgoku region: 300 to 450 millimeters (12 to 16 inches)
  • Tōhoku region: 250 to 350 millimeters (10 to 14 inches)

Extraordinary additional rains that will bring with them the risk of severe flash flooding and landslides to the mountainous slopes of Japan.

Nangka At Tail End of Warm, Wet Wind Invasion of Arctic Later This Week

As Nangka continues northward, it will become wrapped up in a trough, helping to feed a larger synoptic pattern of moisture and air flow from south to north. The trough, in turn, is projected to rush northward into the Bering Sea. By Monday, a dipole pattern set up between the trough running through the Bering and the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge to the east will pull warm air up from the tropical Pacific and catapult it toward the already weakened ice of the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas.


(Long wave north to south synoptic pattern projected to draw warm air and water into the Pacific side of the Arctic over the next 3-6 days. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

In the above image from Earth Nullschool and based on GFS models, we can see the strong south to north synoptic wind pattern predicted to set up. Flowing from a region near Hawaii, these winds are predicted to pull tropical airs over thousands of miles, run them up through the Bering and into the High Arctic.

In conjunction with this warm air invasion, a head of hot water now at a +5 C positive anomaly in the Chukchi will be driven northward running directly into highly fractured and disassociated ice floes. It’s a weather pattern that is a continuation of consistent warmth hitting the sea ice on the Pacific side of the Arctic. One that is driven both by El Nino and by a human greenhouse gas based amplification of heat in the polar zones. This combination has generated a kind of Achilles heel for Arctic sea ice on the Pacific side for 2015. With another hit coming to this area and with sea ice already in a somewhat tenuous state due to the continued impacts of warm air near Greenland, a Greenland high and a related dipole continuing to nudge the ice toward the Fram Strait, risks rise that current sea ice measures ranging at 4th lowest in area and 7-9th lowest in extent could take a further tumble.



Earth Nullschool

Over 20 Inches of Rain as Nangka Makes Landfall

NASA Sees Nangka Knocking on Japan’s Door

Hat tip to Greg

Arctic Methane Alert — Ramp-Up at Numerous Reporting Stations Shows Signature of an Amplifying Feedback

Over the past few months, reporting stations around the Arctic have shown a ramping rate of atmospheric methane accumulation. The curves in the graphs are steepening, hinting at a growing release of methane from a warming Arctic environment.

*   *   *   *

Alert, Canada Methane June 1 2015

(Alert, Canada methane graph shows atmospheric methane increases in the range of 20 parts per billion in just one year. This rate of increase is 2-3 times the global average for the past five years. A skyrocketing rate of increase. Image source: NOAA ESRL.)

A Massive Thawing Carbon Store in the Far North

The science is pretty settled. There’s a massive store of ancient carbon now thawing in the Arctic.

In the land-based permafrost alone, this store is in the range of 1.3 billion tons — or nearly double the volume in the atmosphere right now. Arctic Ocean methane hydrates in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf add another 500 billion tons. A rather vulnerable store that does not include hundreds of billions of additional tons of carbon in the deeper methane hydrates around the Arctic in places like the Gakkel Ridge, in the Deep Waters off Svalbard, or in the Nares Strait. Massive carbon stores of high global warming potential gas locked in frozen ground or in ice structure upon or beneath the sea bed.

But now human beings — through fossil fuel emissions — are dumping heat trapping gasses into the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate. These gasses are most efficient at trapping heat in the colder, darker regions of the world. And, due to a combination of massive Northern Hemisphere burning, and release from the Arctic carbon stores themselves, the highest concentrations of greenhouse gasses can be found exactly where they are needed least — in the world’s far northern zones .

Arctic Overburden May 29

(The Arctic consistently shows an overburden of methane gas — both at the ground and upper levels of the atmosphere as seen in this METOP graphic from May 29. Such an overburden is but one of many proxy indicators of a ramping rate of release.)

This accumulation and overburden of heat trapping gasses is causing the Arctic to rapidly warm. A rate of warming (now at half a degree Celsius per decade for most regions) that is providing a heat forcing pushing the ancient carbon stores to release. A heat forcing now greater than at any time in the past 150,000 years (and likely more due to the fact that the Eemian Arctic was rather cool overall). A heat forcing rapidly ramping toward at least a range not seen since major glaciation began in the Northern Hemisphere 2-3 million years ago.

The problem for science, then, is two-fold. First, as oceans warm and permafrost thaws, how rapidly will the carbon stores release? And, second, how much of that carbon store will release as CO2, and how much will release as methane? From the point of view of global warming, both CO2 and Methane emissions feedback is a bad outcome of human-forced warming. But methane, which has a global warming potential of between 25 and 120 times CO2 over human-relevant timescales, has a real potential to make an already bad human heating of the Earth System much, much worse.

Methane Bubbles in Thermokarst Lake

(Image source via Science 2.0.)

Most Arctic Reporting Stations Show Rapid Ramping of Methane Gas Accumulation

For this reason, monitoring methane gas accumulation in the Arctic is a key feature of global climate change risk analysis. If the Arctic shows a spiking rate of methane accumulation, then the carbon stores are more susceptible to rapid release of potent heat trapping gasses and we are facing a high urgency situation in need of rapid global response.

Over the past decade, the Arctic has shown numerous isolated or regional spikes to very high methane levels with an overall continued accumulation within the atmosphere. The Arctic also displayed a major overburden of both methane and CO2 — proxy indications of local carbon store feedbacks already ongoing on a minor-to-moderate scale. This combination of overburden and spikes provided a troubling context, especially when adding in observations of methane store release through thermokarst lakes and, later, blow-holes in locations like Yamal, Russia. But up until last year, we had not seen a third, and more troubling, indicator — the ramping rates of atmospheric methane accumulation that would be an early warning that the Arctic carbon store was indeed starting to blow its stack.

But now, that signal is starting to show up at almost every Arctic reporting station. A steepening curve in the Arctic atmospheric methane graphs. A signal we really, really don’t want to be bearing witness to:

Barrow Methane June 1 2015Alert, Canada Methane June 1 2015

Summit Greenland Methane June 1 2015Svalbard Methane June 1 2015

(Major reporting stations from Svalbard to Barrow show a ramping atmospheric methane accumulation [Click on individual images to expand]. It’s a signal that is yet one more indicator of an amplifying methane and greenhouse gas feedback to human warming now going on in the Arctic. Images provided by NOAA ESRL.)

Now, it seems, at the very least, we are witnessing a spike in Arctic atmospheric methane accumulation. Let’s hope it’s just a spike and not the start of another ugly exponential curve associated with human-forced atmospheric warming. But if we are witnessing the early ramp of such a curve, we should be clear that we are now in the context of a worst-case climate change scenario.

Hot-Button Topic of Critical Importance

For years, conjecture over the possible rate of Arctic Methane release in a human-warmed Arctic has been the source of extreme scientific and media-based controversy. Major oil companies have used the issue as an excuse to continue fossil fuel burning (irresponsibly spreading the meme — ‘we’re screwed, so we may as well just keep burning anyway’). Major climate scientists and related media outlets have sought to tamp down concern over large-scale methane release by issuing articles with titles like ‘Apocalypse Not’ with many generally insisting that there is practically zero likelihood of a large-scale methane release or major amplifying feedback. Meanwhile, the observational studies have continued to indicate risk of at least moderate and possibly strong methane feedback in an age of rapid human heating of the Arctic environment (studies like this recent paper which observed microbes tripling the rate of methane gas release in thermokarst lakes as a response to Arctic temperature increase.) Finally, a group of very concerned observational scientists like Natalia Shakhova, Igor Simeletov and Peter Wadhams have warned that a large-scale methane release is likely imminent and begs a major response from the global community (sadly, many of these proposed responses have come in the form of geo-engineering — methods which are far less likely to succeed and far more likely to generate unforeseen and highly disruptive consequences than simple cessation of human fossil fuel emission and a transition to carbon-negative civilizations).

Mauna Loa Methane June 1 2015

(Mauna Loa methane measure through June 1, 2015 shows that lower Latitude regions are also starting to follow a ramping rate of increase. Image source: NOAA ESRL.)

All this controversy aside, what we observe now is the following:

  1. Arctic methane and CO2 overburden — proxy indication of environmental release.
  2. Increasing rates of release, indications of increasing release, or possibly increasing release from single sources such as thermokarst lakes, peat bogs, wildfires, and sea bed hydrates and submerged tundra.
  3. A multiplication of observed or discovered methane release sources — thermokarst lakes, methane blow holes, wildfires etc.
  4. A ramping rate of atmospheric methane accumulation at reporting stations throughout the Arctic (most but not all stations).
  5. A ramping rate of atmospheric methane accumulation from global proxy monitors like Mauna Loa and in the global atmospheric average.

Together, these observations represent a troubling trend that, should it continue, will be proceeding along or near a worst-case climate sensitivity track. As such, these new ramping rates of increase in Arctic atmospheric monitors are a very unfortunate indicator.




Arctic Methane Skyrocketing

Microbes in Thermokarst Lakes Increase Methane Generation with Warming

Arctic Sea Ice Melt, Methane Release Shows Amplifying Feedback to Human-Caused Climate Change


Warm Storms Rage Through Barents as Arctic Sea Ice Enters 13th Day of Record Low Extent

On March 4, amidst a building polar heat amplification and a strong, thousands mile long, south to north wind and storm flow across the North Atlantic and into the Arctic, sea ice extent coverage for the northern polar region plunged to new record lows.


(26 foot wave heights [left frame] and 50-60 mph sustained southerly winds [right frame] in conjunction with warm storm near the ice edge at Svalbard on March 15, 2015. Storms of this kind have been raging up through the Barents delivering powerful, warm southerly winds and immense swells to the ice edge region for at least the past half month. This strong melt pressure and warm air delivery has contributed to record low sea ice extent totals continuing for the past 13 days running. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data source: GFS.)

Human-forced heat continued to build throughout the Arctic as warm and intensely windy storms churned northward through the Barents, bringing with them powerful swells ranging from 15 to, at times, 40 feet in height. As these great swells ground away at the ice edge, temperatures hit daily anomalies greater than 4 C above the 1979-2000 average on Sunday, March 8 for the entire Arctic region. The next day, sea ice extent, according to NSIDC, plummeted to 14,273,000 square kilometers. A value 303,000 square kilometers, or an area about the size of Arizona, smaller than the previous record low value for the date set in 2006.

Ever since March 4, the Arctic has remained in new record low territory — a period that has now lasted 13 days. Though anomalous warmth has faded somewhat — dropping today to a range of 2.65 degrees Celsius above the 1979-2000 average — sea ice has only bounced back slightly. On March 15, the NSIDC extent measure had inched up to 14,333,000 square kilometers, still about 235,000 square kilometers below the previous record low for the date.


(Arctic sea ice extent as measured by NSIDC drops below previous record low values on March 4 of 2015 [bottom dark blue line] and has remained at record low levels ever since. For reference, previous record low years for March dates include 2006 [pink line], 2007 [light blue line], and 2011 [orange line]. The top dark blue line [1979] indicates how much sea ice extent has been lost during March over the past 36 years. Image source: NSIDC.)

Over the next week, however, these new record lows are more likely to continue to fade as warm Arctic surface temperature anomalies drop to around 1-2 C above average, the Arctic Oscillation shifts toward neutral or slightly negative, and the warm storm track through the Barents is interrupted by cold winds pushing south toward Scandinavia from the pole. Although mid-week warming forecast for Alaska and Baffin Bay may retard any potential rebound somewhat.

For the past two years, Arctic sea ice has experienced a bit of a rebound during the March through early April time-frame. This has appeared to coincide with a restrengthening of the polar Jet Stream as mid latitudes have warmed which, in turn, has weakened meridional patterns transporting heat into the Arctic during winter time. Low angle sunlight entering the Arctic at this time of year has also not yet gained enough momentum to significantly push the ice to melt. So we still have about a 2-3 week window for potential bounce-back before sunlight builds and begins to apply its steady heat forcing to the greatly diminished ice.

AO index forecast

(Arctic Oscillation [AO] index forecast shows dip toward slightly negative or neutral AO status by end week after a rather extreme high in early March, with a return to mildly positive AO values by end month. Positive AO enhances edge melt of sea ice by encouraging storm formation at the ice edge and warm air invasions over the central ice. Image source: NOAA/CPC.)

That said, the ice is quite frail now, even with potential volume rebounds to mid 2000s levels. So even the slight addition of solar insolation may be enough to keep ice coverage values depressed in the neutral or moderately positive Arctic Oscillation regime that is predicted through the end of March. Extent measures maintaining near record lows along the 2006, 2007 and 2011 tracks, or just below, would establish a very low launching pad for a melt season that, lately, has tended to include precipitous declines in ice during the summer months.

The ongoing record low extent status, despite a return to weather patterns that are more favorable for rebound or maintenance, therefore, should be closely monitored.




Earth Nullschool


Climate Reanalyzer

Big Arctic Warm-Up Predicted For This Week: Melt to Speed Up, Or Sea Ice to Show Resiliency Due to Variability, Strength of Negative Feedbacks?

Rate of Sea ice volume decline for all months

(Rate of Arctic sea ice volume decline with trend lines for all months in the PIOMAS measure. Updated through June of 2014. Image source: Wipneus.)

What it really all comes down to is heat energy balance. Beneath a warming, moistening Arctic atmosphere, sea ice loses resiliency due to slow attrition of the ice surface, due to loss of albedo as ice melts, and due to slower rates of refreeze during winter. Atop a warming Arctic Ocean, sea ice loses bottom resiliency, tends to be thinner and more broken, and shows greater vulnerability to anything that churns the ocean surface to mix it with the warming deeper layers — storms, strong winds, powerful high pressure systems.

It is this powerful set of dynamics under human caused climate change that has dragged the Arctic sea ice into what has been called a ‘Death Spiral.’ A seemingly inexorable plunge to zero or near zero ice coverage far sooner than was previously anticipated.

But in the backdrop of what are obviously massive Arctic sea ice declines and a trend line, that if followed, leads to near zero ice coverage sometime between next year and 2030, lurk a few little details throwing a bit of chaos into an otherwise clear and, rather chilling, picture of Arctic sea ice decline.

The Fresh Water Negative Feedback

One of these details involves the greatly increasing flow of fresh water into the Arctic Ocean. For as the Arctic heats, it moistens and rainfall rates over Arctic rivers increase. This results in much greater volumes of fresh river water flushing into the Arctic Ocean and freshening its surface. Another source of new fresh water flow for the Arctic is an increasing rate of Greenland melt outflow. The volumes, that in recent years, ranged from 300 to 600 cubic kilometers, can, year-on-year, add 1-2% to the total fresh water coverage in the Arctic Basin and North Atlantic. These combined flows mean that fresh water accumulates more rapidly at the surface, resulting in an overall increase in fresh water volume.

Change in salinity

(Change in Arctic Ocean Salinity between the mid 1990s and mid 2000s. Image source: Benjamin Rabe, Alfred Wegener Institute via Science Daily.)

Since 1990, we have observed just such an accumulation. For a recent study in 2011 showed that since 1992, Arctic Ocean surface fresh water content had increased by 20%. A remarkable increase due to the changing conditions that included greatly increased river outflows into the Arctic Ocean as well as a ramping ice melt from Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago Islands.

Fresh water is less dense than salt water and will tend to float at the surface. The physical properties of fresh water are such that it acts as a heat insulator, deflecting warmer, saltier ocean water toward the bottom. As such, it interrupts the heat flow from deeper, warmer Arctic Ocean waters to the sea surface and into the atmosphere.

As an added benefit to the ice, fresher water freezes at higher temperatures. So as the Arctic Ocean freshens, it creates a bit of wiggle room for the sea ice, giving it about a 0.5 to 1 C boost so it can sometimes even form during conditions that were warmer than those seen in the past.

In this manner, an expanding fresh water zone acts as a kind of last refuge for sea ice in a warming world. A zone in which sea ice may even periodically stage comebacks in the backdrop of rampant human warming. We may be seeing such a comeback in the Antarctic sea ice, which has shown anomalous growth and even contributed to an expanding cool atmospheric zone in the Southern Ocean, despite ongoing global warming. The freshwater and iceberg feeds from the vast Antarctic ice sheets have grown powerful indeed due to warm water rising up to melt the ice sheets from below, letting loose an expanding surface zone of ice and fresh water. This process will necessarily strengthen as more and more human heating hits the deep ocean and the submerged bases of ice sheets. An effect that will dramatically and dangerously reverberate through the ocean layers, setting the stage for a horrible stratification.

But today, we won’t talk about that. Today is for negative feedbacks due to fresh water flows from increasing polar precipitation and through ice sheet melt.

In the end, human warming dooms Arctic sea ice to an eventual final melt. But before that happens the increasing volume of fresh water from river flows and the potentially more powerful negative feedback coming from a growing ice and fresh water release from Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago will inevitably play their hands.

The Slower Than Terrible 2014 Melt Season

And so we arrive at the 2014 sea ice melt season for the Arctic. As with 2013, the melt got off to a relatively rapid start and then slowed through July as weather conditions grew less favorable for ice melt. Above freezing temperatures hit the ice above 80 degrees North about one week later than average, also providing some resiliency to the central ice — a condition that historically leads to higher end-season sea ice values in about 80 percent of the record.

The high pressure systems of early June gave way to weak storms and overall cloudy conditions. This shut down the cycle of strong melt, compaction, and transport of ice out of the Arctic that may have put 2014 on track for new records and another horrible slide down the Arctic sea ice death spiral. Instead, conditions set up for slower melt. Ice was retained and backed up through the Fram Strait, and the ice spread out, taking advantage of the thickened fresh water layer to slow its summer decline.

This is in marked contrast to the terrible 2007 and 2012 melt seasons which severely damaged the ice, making a total Arctic Basin ice melt all more likely in the near future. And it was also cutting against the 2010 to 2012 trend in which sea ice volume measures continued to plunge despite ambiguous numbers in sea ice area and extent (no new record lows) during 2010 and 2011. For this year, sea ice volume is now, merely, ‘only’ 4th lowest on record, according to the PIOMAS measure.

The fact that we are looking at a 4th lowest year as another bounce-back year is a clear indication of how terrible things became since 2010. And so far, this year’s melt has, like 2013, simply not been so terrible and terrifying. A wag back toward 2000s levels that is likely due to the inherent negative feedback of freshening surface water and to a swing in natural weather variability that, during any other year and in any other climate, would have pushed summer ice levels quite high indeed.

If the storms had been strong enough to draw a large enough pulse of warm water to the surface, the story might have been different. But, as it stands, this summer of weak Arctic weather hasn’t activated any major melt mechanism to push the ice into new record low territory. And so in many major monitors we are now above 2013 melt levels for this day.

Cryosphere Today shows sea ice area at 5.22 million square kilometers, above 2013 and just slightly above 2011 while ranging below 2008 for the date. Overall, the area measure is at 6th lowest on record for the date. Meanwhile, NSIDC shows sea ice extent at 7.74 million square kilometers or just above 2013 values for the same day but remaining below 2008 and 2009 by a substantial margin. Overall, also a sixth lowest value for the date:

Sea ice july 2014 v2

(NSIDC chart comparing sea ice melt years 2012 [dashed green line], 2008 [maroon line], the 1981 to 2010 average [solid line] and 2013 [pink line]. Image source NSIDC.)

So in the sea ice butcher board tally, with the negative feedback of fresh water floods and glacial melt moderately in play and with weather that is highly unfavorable for melt, we currently stand at 4th lowest in the volume record, 6th lowest in the extent record, and 6th lowest in the area record.

And now, things may just be about to get interesting…

Forecast Shows Arctic Heatwaves on the Way

GFS and ECMWF model runs show two warm ridges of high pressure developing over the Arctic this week. And the emergence of these warm and moist air flows into the Arctic may well have an impact by pushing the Arctic back toward melt-favorable conditions.

The first ridge is already expanding across the Canadian Archipelago. Yesterday it brought 80 degree temperatures to Victoria Island which still sits between wide channels clogged with sea ice. Smoke from wildfires is being entrained in this ridge and swept north and east over the remaining Archipelago sea ice and, today, the Greenland Ice Sheet.

While the smoke aerosol from fires blocks some of the incoming solar short wave radiation, it absorbs and re-radiates it as long-wave radiation. Many studies have shown this albedo-reducing darkening of the cloud layer by black and brown carbon aerosols has a net positive warming effect. In addition, the soot falls over both land and sea ice where it reduces reflectivity medium to long-term (Dark Snow).

Smoke streaming over Canadian Archipelago and Northwestern Greenland

(Smoke associated with record wildfires in the Northwest Territory streaming over the Canadian Archipelago, Northern Baffin Bay, and Northwestern Greenland beneath a dome of record heat. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

The ridge is expected to expand east over the next few days until it finally settles in as a moderate-strength high pressure system over Greenland. There it is predicted to juxtapose a set of low pressure systems that will slowly slide south and east over Svalbard. The conjoined counterclockwise cyclonic wind pattern of the lows and the clockwise anti-cyclone of the high over Greenland in the models runs over the Fram Strait. And so, for at least 4-5 days, the models predict a situation where sea ice transport out of the Arctic may be enhanced.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Arctic, a series of high pressure systems are predicted to back up over the Pacific Ocean section of Irkutsk and Northeast Siberia. This ridge is expected to dominate coastal Siberia along the Laptev and East Siberian Seas. Temperatures along the coast are expected to reach 15-20 C above average, while temperatures over the waters are expected to rise to melt enhancing levels of 1 to 5 C.

Ahead of the ridge runs a warm frontal boundary that is heavily laden with moisture and storms. So a liquid and mixed precipitation band is likely to form over the East Siberian and Beaufort Sea ice as the ridge advances.

The ridge is projected to drive surface winds running from the south over the East Siberian Sea, across the polar region, and into the Greenland and Barents Seas. This cross-polar flow of warm, moist air will also enhance the potential for ice transport.

Melt Pattern

(Pattern more favorable for sea ice melt and transport emerging over the next seven days. This Climate Reanalyzer snapshot is at the 120 hour mark. Note Arctic positive temperature anomalies at +1.18 C. Will the pattern override potential negative feedbacks such as high fresh water content in the Arctic and unfavorable weather likely produced by the late emergence of temperatures above 0 C in the 80 North Latitude zone? Image source: University of Maine.)

Overall, it is a weather pattern that shows promise to increase melt, especially in the regions of the Canadian Archipelago and the East Siberia Sea, and to speed ice mobility and transport. Persistent lows near the central Arctic for the first half of this period and shifting toward Svalbard during the latter half will continue to disperse sea ice which may lend one potential ice resiliency feature to a pattern that is, otherwise, favorable for ice loss.

Negative Feedbacks and Weather Unfavorable For Melt

If the melt pattern described above comes to impact the ice and push greater rates of sea ice loss over the coming days and weeks, it’s likely that end season 2014 will end up with sea ice measures below those of 2013, but above the previous record lows seen during past years. This would likely put 2014 well within the range of the post 2007 era at 3rd to 5th lowest on record for most monitors. Not a new record year, but still well within the grips of the death spiral.

If, however, the weather predicted does not emerge or the sea ice retains resiliency through it, then 2014 stands a chance of pushing above final levels seen in 2013. In such an event, end season area and extent measures may challenge levels last seen during 2005 while sea ice volume maintains between 4th and 5th lowest.

If this happens, we may need to start asking this question:

Are negative feedbacks, in the form of greatly increased freshwater flows from rivers and glaciers, starting to pull the Arctic sea ice out of a high angle nose dive and are they beginning to soften the rate of decline? Or is this just a year when weather again wagged the dog as natural variability played a trump card for the summer of 2014 but further drives for new records will follow come 2015, 2016, or 2017?

In any case, near-term sea ice forecasts remain somewhat murky, as they should given the high instability of the current situation.


Science Daily

Now Melts the Arctic

The Arctic Ice Blog



University of Maine


Cryosphere Today

Dark Snow





Warm Winds Gather to Invade the Arctic: Summer Sea Ice Melt and The Storms of 2014

If there’s an aspect of global warming science that remains unsettled, it’s the general state of prediction and analysis over the fate of Northern Hemisphere sea ice. As is well known by now, model predictions greatly underestimated the pace of sea ice loss as a response to human-caused warming. Big melt years like 2007 and 2012 brought sea ice extent and area, by end 2012, to less than 50% of 1979 values. Sea ice volume for the same period was nearly 80% lower than 1979 measures. Such lows were generally not predicted to appear until the 2060s at the earliest.

Ice response to rapid human warming and polar amplification, in these cases, was, for lack of a better description, outrageously stunning. And the weather impacts of such amazing losses were increasingly dangerous and far-reaching. Climate systems inertia, in the case of sea ice, seemed to be no match at all for the strong and likely unprecedented warming forces we’d already unleashed.

Sifting through the sea ice tea leaves

Though much of what happened was and continues to be unexpected, a few overall patterns emerge in the data. Dynamic melt trends for area and extent were composed of massive melt years (2007 and 2012) followed by pseudo recovery years (2008, 2013) where the ice seemed to bounce back a little before inching again toward previous record lows (2009, 2010) or setting minor new melt records (2011 area) before the next big hit.

Sea ice volume measures were somewhat less messy with massive melt years (2007, 2010), more minor melt years (2011, 2012), one minor pseudo-recovery year (2008) and one major pseudo-recovery year (2013). In this set, one year (2009) stands out as neither showing a new record low volume nor showing pseudo-recovery as end season volume fell off slightly from the previous year. The fact that 2009 followed a pseudo-recovery year (2008) may or may not be instructive for the current melt season.

It is worth noting that in the volume progression, four out of seven years during the 2007 to 2013 period all showed new record lows.

Piomas Minimum Arctic Ice Volume

(Graph of minimum Arctic sea ice volume as measured by PIOMAS since 1979 with various trend line projections. Data source: PIOMAS Image source: Wipneus.)

What one can read from these data points is that strong pseudo-recovery years (like 2013 and 2008) have typically been followed in recent years by a return to the decline trend but not to new record lows. So, statistically, this is what we would expect for 2014.

That said, keep in mind that though it remains extraordinarily difficult to predict end sea ice states for any single year, the overall trend of major and unprecedented melt is most likely to continue and the window for a total sea ice loss by end season before 2020 remains wide open. Further, statistical analysis will, in every case, bow to emerging conditions on and beneath the ice.

Evolution of the early 2014 melt season

For the 2014 melt season, the fickle Arctic does not at all disappoint. By late April and early May of 2014, an extraordinarily warm winter period had wiped out most of the 2013 recovery in sea ice volume measures. By mid April, PIOMAS was showing volume in the range of second or third lowest year on record for the date.

By today, May 12, sea ice area and extent measures were in the range of 4th to 5th lowest on record with both measures approximately mirroring 2007 values for the date.

Given the potential for very rapid melt during June and July, as displayed in recent melt years, these values are within striking distance of new record lows should the weather conditions for rapid melt emerge.

Observed conditions for early to mid May 2014

It is worth noting that May does not generally tend to be a predictive month for sea ice loss. In most cases, it is more a bottleneck period where values tend to crunch together as the sea ice softens up but generally shows few breaks toward the more rapid melt trends typically seen in June or toward a slower melt due to weather that is less favorable for ice degradation.

That said, a few currently ongoing conditions may provide some strong indicators for how the 2014 melt season could progress.

High amplitude Jet Stream waves through Eastern Siberia, the Bering Sea and Alaska. A doggedly persistent weakness in the polar Jet Stream along an arc from East Siberia to Western Canada has resulted in much warmer than usual conditions for the Bering Sea, the Chukchi Sea and regions of the Beaufort adjacent to the Alaskan and Canadian coasts. Warm air originating over a pool of much hotter than normal water in the Northern Pacific just south of Alaska has continued to flow up through the Bering Sea, into the Chukchi, and over Alaska and Western Canada and on into the Beaufort.

Tracking this warm air flow resulted in a bit of incredulity as day after day observation showed the air continuing on through the Beaufort, past the North Pole zone, down over Svalbard and the Fram Strait, into the North Atlantic and finally being swept east in the strong cross-ocean wind pattern toward England and Ireland. In this way, air from 40 North Latitude in the Pacific jumped the pole to end up in the Atlantic near England.

A persistence of this weather pattern would have numerous and potential critical impacts for the Arctic during the summer of 2014. First, it would result in a constant pressure of warmer than usual conditions for sea ice along an arc from the Mackenzie Delta and Adjacent Canadian Arctic Archipelago to the East Siberian Sea. Warm winds would assault the ice from launching pads over warmer land masses in this zone, resulting in increased and early ice erosions.

Already, we can see such conditions emerging in the following MODIS satellite shots provided by NASA:

Mackenzie Delta May 11, 2014

(The Mackenzie Delta [upper left] and adjacent Canadian Archipelago waters. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

The above image shows the Mackenzie Delta and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago on May 11 of 2014. In these images, we can seen the result of continued warm winds from the south and near-or-above freezing temperatures. For the Mackenzie Delta, temperatures since early May have ranged between 23 and 42 F, or between 5 and 25 F above average for this time of year. The high temperatures have brought the snow melt line all the way to the coast very early and have resulted in both ice melt and retarded refreeze in the broken ice and large polynyas offshore in the nearby Beaufort. Note that an additional heat influx to these coastal waters will occur once the shallow Mackenzie River fully melts, likely resulting in the early break-up of land-fast ice near the delta.

Chukchi Beaufort Melt May 11, 2014

(The Chukchi and Beaufort Seas on May 11, 2014 from the Bering Strait [upper left] to past Barrow, Alaska [lower center]. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Further along the Canadian and Alaskan coasts, we find a continuation of sea ice weakness and break up in the off-shore regions north of Barrow Alaska and on into the Chukchi Sea. Large polynyas remain open throughout the region and exhibit no refreeze in the open water sections. Past the Bering Strait zone, Chukchi melt is very well advanced for early-to-mid May due to a combination of near constant warm southerly wind influx and an advancing warm water wedge through the Bering Strait.

This warm wind pattern through Eastern Siberia, Alaska and Canada and into the Arctic Ocean is reinforced by a combination of ongoing factors including a weakened polar Jet Stream which has tended to generate high amplitude ridges in this zone, a very warm pool of water in the Northern Pacific south of Alaska, and an emerging El Nino which historically has tended to push a high amplitude split in the Jet Stream up toward Alaska. These self-reinforcing factors make it likely that the overall pattern of warm southerly winds over the region will continue to persist and have an impact well into summer.

Finally, it is worth noting that the current and ongoing warm air influx through this region provides a constant source of energy for Arctic storm genesis, a factor that may well become more significant as melt season progresses. Forecasts for the next 24 hours show a storm pulling warm, above-freezing temperatures deep into the Beaufort as it begins a transition toward the northern polar zone. It is the second system to exhibit such anomalous warm air inflow and progression into the Central Arctic during the month of May.

GFS Warm Storm

(GFS model summary showing warm storm with associated above-freezing temperatures invading deep into the Beaufort Sea during late Monday and early Tuesday of this week. Image source: University of Maine.)

A third warm air invasion, this time from Eastern Siberia, and potential related storm development is also projected for late this week or early next week.

The Arctic dipole: storms over the Arctic Basin, high pressure over Greenland. Today, we track three Arctic low pressure systems — one emerging from the warm air influx over the Beaufort, one over the Laptev and one north and east of Svalbard. Greenland, meanwhile, shows a high pressure system centered almost directly over its large ice sheet. The net effect of these lows and highs is to funnel the warm wind streaming up from the Beaufort over the Northern polar zone near the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and out over the Fram Strait and Svalbard.

It is a dipole of high pressure over Greenland and low pressure over the Arctic Basin on the Central and Eastern Siberian side that has lasted for about two months through Northern Hemisphere Spring. This set-up creates a strong and consistent wind pressure providing transport of sea ice out of the Fram Strait. It is worth noting that Fram Strait export was one of the primary factors involved in the record low sea ice total seen during 2007, so a consistent dipole pattern of storms over the Arctic basin and highs over Greenland promoting ice export could well weigh heavily as melt season progresses.

Warming over Western Russia and Eastern Europe. A second zone showing consistent ridge development, polar Jet Stream weakness and coincident anomalous warming has emerged over western Russia and Eastern Europe. Such warming was seen during the weak El Nino of 2010 and resulted in severe heatwaves and wildfires for the region. A similar pattern has emerged in tandem with the rising and potentially far stronger 2014-2015 El Nino currently developing in the Eastern Pacific. Though it is too early to tell if this emerging hot zone will reach the extremes seen in 2010, this heat pool is likely to contribute warmth to sea ice zones in the Kara and Laptev Sea as the summer melt season progresses.

So far, Kara sea ice retreat has remained within usual boundaries for recent years. However, it is worth considering the potential strength of this developing warm air pool and how it may impact adjacent Arctic zones as May progresses into June. This week’s forecast now shows above-freezing temperatures predicted to progress into the Kara and 50 degree F readings predicted to push into estuaries bordering the Kara over the next few days.

Warm water upwelling, north wind flush, storm suction for Baffin Bay. Finally we come to Baffin Bay, a place many may well consider the Arctic Ocean’s red-headed stepchild. Over recent years, warm water up-welling, possibly driven in part by sea-bed methane release, in Northern Baffin Bay has resulted in an almost constant weakness and erosion of sea ice. This condition creates a bizarre circumstance in which Baffin is often surrounded by warmer waters north and south by late spring. This year is no exception. In addition, a north wind now appears to be flushing Baffin Bay sea ice toward the North Atlantic. The result is an expanding zone of ice-free water along the West Coast of Greenland pushing toward a widening gap in the north of Baffin Bay near the Nares Strait.

To the south, a persistent storm has developed near an anomalous cool zone in the North Atlantic waters off of Newfoundland. This cold pool is likely a residual of the continued dipole, hot-west, cold-east temperature anomaly over North America which has increasingly been squashed toward Newfoundland with the emergence of summer. The cold North Atlantic pool is also likely fed by a rising outflow of fresh, cold water from Greenland glaciers as well as the Baffin Bay ice export already described. A growing Gulf Stream weakening is also well established for the region.

The persistent storm is fed by high temperature differentials in the dipole zone. It is one of the remnant storm systems of this winter’s epic assault on the coasts of Great Britain — a possible precursor to even more vicious storms this coming winter.

But, today, the storm is simply providing added suction to drain ice out of Baffin Bay.

Storm off Greenland and Newfoundland

(Like a drain in a massive bathtub: storm off Greenland and Newfoundland on May 12 reinforces northerly wind flow pulling sea ice out of Baffin Bay. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

A final word on Storms and Warm Winds

During late April, we talked a bit about the impact of early season melt ponds on end-season sea ice levels. For recent scientific studies have found that early season melt pond formation has a high correlation with new record lows in sea ice area and extent.

But given the current very thin and broken state of sea ice, it’s worth considering whether the rules for sea ice loss aren’t in the process of changing.

Ever since the 2012 melt season’s close, the Arctic Ocean has exhibited a very battered sea ice state. One featuring widely disassociated packs of broken and brittle ice riddled with a long and pervasive spidering of leeds. For large melt pond systems to develop, the ice pack needs to be relatively contiguous. But the recent ice pack shows very little continuity and could, instead, be said to basically lack integrity. Such a state may well prevent a degree of melt pond formation in areas in which the ice is more and more highly disassociated into floes. And it is this disassociated ice state that may be the current and future norm as sea ice continues to thin and weaken.

In addition, rising temperatures in and around the Arctic have resulted in increased atmospheric water vapor content, increased cloud formation, and increased storm presence during summer periods. This progression toward storminess is consistent with paleoclimate studies showing that ice-free or near-ice-free Arctic states were much stormier than the current one. In the event of an expected stormier Arctic, melt pond formation may well result less from direct solar insolation through clear Arctic skies and more from an increasing number of rainfall and warm fog events over sea ice.

Cyclonic pumping of warmer waters from below the ice pack into surface water zones and the mixing of waters by waves generated by storm winds is also likely to have a far greater impact on sea ice melt than seen in recent years. It is likely we saw a prelude to just such an event during the great, late-season Arctic Cyclone of 2012 which sent waves the size of houses roaring across the Beaufort Sea to batter and disassemble the already weakened sea ice.

In this dynamic and changing system, warm winds are also likely to play a much greater role. Jet Stream erosion, in such a case, unleashes warm southerly winds on the sea ice. The winds, being warmer, hold a higher water vapor content than was typical for the Arctic prior to the human warming insult. Encountering ice and cold water, the water vapor in the winds condenses to form fog. The latent heat in the water vapor is thus released to do work melting the sea ice and warming the sea surface. In such cases, a kind of snow and ice eating mist develops from the warm wind — a blow torch for the sea ice.



Dual Ridges Form Sea Ice Achilles Heel for Summer 2014

University of Maine



Cryosphere Today


Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

The Arctic Sea Ice Blog

The Storms of Arctic Warming

Arctic Warmth to Play the Spoiler? Ocean Surface, Atmosphere Show Anomalous Heat Spike in Advance of Predicted El Nino

Pacific Ocean monitoring stations around the world are now calling for a 50-67 percent chance of El Nino later this year. A warming of the Eastern Pacific that, should it emerge, is likely to result in record atmospheric and ocean temperatures as the human greenhouse gas heat forcing emerges, once more, from the oceans. But, so far, the Eastern Pacific remains in a somewhat cool ENSO-nuetral state. It is a trend that should lead to global atmospheric temperature averages somewhat hotter than the ocean surface. A trend that should not show ocean temperatures spiking, with atmospheric values rising at a slower rate.

But over the past week, according to both GFS model assessments and NOAA observational data, average global ocean surface temperatures have been surging.


(Sea surface temperature anomaly from the already warmer than normal 1971 to 2000 base period. Image source: NOAA.)

Large zones of well above average sea surface temperature now cover vast regions of the global ocean system so that anomalous heat now is plainly the dominant feature. Pools of hotter than typical water where averages range from 1 to 4 C above normal now appear off both coasts of South America, through the Indian Ocean between Africa and Australia, off the East Coast of the United States, south of Alaska and in a zone stretching from Norway to Svalbard. By contrast only small cool zones remain in the Eastern Pacific, in the passage between South America and Antarctica, in a swatch of the Tropical Atlantic near Africa, and in isolated regions of the Central and Western Pacific.

Arctic Warmth Drives Temperatures Higher

But the zone of hottest temperatures appear, according to GFS model data below, in the Arctic, where much of the surface waters and ice sheet are warmer than average by 4 C or more. This heat bleed from the Arctic Ocean tips Northern Hemisphere values far above average and is a primary contributor to Arctic atmospheric temperatures in the range of 3-4 C above average (1979-2000) for mid to late March.

During the past few days, the effect of this warm surface was enough to drive temperature anomalies for the oceans higher than .9 degrees Celsius above the 1979 to 2000 global average according to GFS observational data. Understanding that the 1979 to 2000 global sea surface temperature (SST) average was already about .28 C above the 1880s average, we are now seeing SST daily values in excess of 1.18 C above 1880s averages before El Nino comes into play.


(Sea surface temperature anomaly for March 18, 2014 vs the, already warmer than normal, 1979-2000 average. Image source: University of Maine.)

Even more impressive are the sea surface temperature values seen during the past two days (March 17-18) — hitting a .99 C positive anomaly or +1.27 C above 1880s values.

For comparison, the global sea surface temperature average for 2013, according to the National Climate Data Center, was .42 degrees Celsius above the 1880s average and the hottest year for ocean surface temperatures, 2003, was .52 degrees Celsius hotter than the 1880s average. The average for the past two days, should the GFS observation stand, is +.75 above the highest annual average on record.

Daily values for even the entire ocean system can show rather large swings, but this high temperature trend is somewhat new and has been ongoing now for about a week.

Oceans dumping heat into the atmosphere without El Nino

By contrast, global atmospheric temperatures within the first two meters, according to the same GFS data, are, on March 18, .69 C above the 1979-2000 average. It is a reading .3 C below current sea surface temperature values. Yet it is also a reading about 1 C over 1880s values and about .3 C above annual global high temperature records set in 2010.

With ocean surface temperatures higher than 2 meter air temperatures, it appears the ocean is now dumping some of its latent heat back into the atmosphere through radiative transfer. This is a situation opposite of what has been observed for much of the past 13-14 years running when Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) went negative and the oceans underwent rapid warming as they sucked up atmospheric heat.

What we now observe in the preliminary GFS data is evidence that the ocean is dumping a bit of this stored and massive volume of heat back into the atmosphere. And we are seeing significant positive oceanic and atmospheric heat forcing well before any major level of Eastern Pacific Ocean warming and associated El Nino have come into play.



University of Maine

National Climate Data Center


UCAR: El Nino or La Nada?

Arctic Heat Wave Sets off Hottest Ever Winter-Time Temperatures, Major Melt, Disasters for Coastal and Interior Alaska

Major melt in the midst of winter. Doesn’t sound quite right, does it? We tend to think of winter as the time of freezing, as the time of ice accumulation. Not the time of melt and thaw.

Now try this — major melt in Alaska in the midst of winter. Average temperatures 40 degrees hotter than normal in the midst of winter. Rainfall over snow and ice causing avalanches, major road blockages and ice dams to rivers in the midst of winter.

In this instance we have been transported from the somewhat odd into a reality that is completely outside of our previously ‘normal’ context. In this instance we are transported to a time that may well seem like the beginning of the end of the age of ice on planet Earth.

And yet this is exactly what is happening: one of the coldest regions on the planet is experiencing melt and related record heat in January.

For the state of Alaska, the consequences are a strange and freakish winter heat wave, one that features the extreme temperatures mentioned above. For the city of Valdez, as we shall see below, the situation is far more stark.


(Massive Avalanche set off by rainfall, winter warmth, cutting off Richardson Highway to Valdez Alaska and forming a dangerous ice dam of the ironically named Keystone Canyon’s Lowe River. Image source: Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.)

Hottest ever Winter-time Temperatures for Alaska

On Sunday, a collapse event that flooded the Arctic with heat and ripped the polar vortex in half began. A freakish high amplitude ridge in the Jet Stream that had been pumping warmth over Alaska and into the Arctic for ten months running strengthened. The result was that many regions throughout the state experienced their hottest temperatures ever recorded for that day, month, or season.

Global Temperature Anomaly Reanalyzer

(Global Temperature Anomaly Data vs 1979-2000 mean with focus on Arctic for January 29. Note the extreme Arctic deviation of +5.58 degrees Celsius and the pool of 36+ F high temperature deviations still lingering over Alaska. Also note that global anomalies are +.32 C above the 1979-2000 mean which is, itself, about +.5 C above average temperatures during the 1880s, for a total of about +.82 globally. The above measure is an excellent illustration of both extreme polar amplification and very rapid warming coinciding with a strong negative Arctic Oscillation, related warm air influx, and polar vortex separation. Source: Climate Change Institute.)

According to reports from Weather Underground, Homer Alaska, for example, experienced an all time record high for the day of 55 degrees Fahrenheit, 4 degrees hotter than the previous all-time high set just a few years earlier. And Homer was just one of the many cities sitting in a broad region of extraordinary, 40 degree hotter than normal temperatures. A region extending from the interior to the southern and western coasts. Bolio Lake Range, about 100 miles south of Fairbanks in central Alaska, saw temperatures rocket to 60 degrees, just 2 degrees short of the all-time record high for any part of the state during January (the previous record high of 62 was set in Petersburg, nearly 700 miles to the south and east).

Typically colder high mountain regions also experienced record warmth for the day. A zone 10,600 feet above Fairbanks hit 32 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday, the highest temperature ever measured for this region during any winter-time period from November through February.

Even before the most recent extreme Arctic temperature spike, January saw numerous powerful heat influxes for Alaska with Nome, Denali Park, Palmer, Homer, Alyseka, Seward, and Talkeetna each setting all-time record high temperatures during the month.

These records come on the back of a long period of rapidly increasing Alaskan heat stretching all the way back to the 1970s. In many cases, we are seeing all-time record highs broken with 5-10 year frequency. In the most extreme cases, these records fall again after only standing for 1-5 years.

Taken in this context, what we are seeing is the freakish continuation of an ongoing period of inexorable Arctic warming providing yet one more major insult to the Alaskan climate during the winter of 2013-2014.

Rain and Melt Sets off Major, Spring-like, Outflows From Streams and Rivers

The same anomalous Jet Stream pattern that has acted as a conveyer belt continuously transporting heat into the high north over Alaska has brought with it an almost endless series of rain events to coastal Alaska. Storm after storm, fueled by heat and high rates of evaporation over the northern Pacific, slammed into the Alaskan coastline, disgorging record levels of precipitation.

With temperatures freakishly high, mirroring conditions typically present during late spring or early summer, much of this precipitation fell in the form of rain. Valdez, Alaska, for example, has likely experienced its wettest January ever with rainfall measures just 1.35 inches short of the record on Sunday and a series of strong storms rushing into the city on Monday and Tuesday. Given the nearly endless train of storms lining up to sweep over Valdez, it is possible that its previous record of 15.18 inches for January could easily be surpassed by an inch or two at month-end.

The storms and cloudiness make it difficult to peer down and get a good view of what all this heat and rainfall is doing to the Alaskan snow and ice pack. But, for brief respite, on January 25th, just ahead of the most recent influx of rain and warmth, the clouds cleared, revealing the land and sea surface. And what we witness is extraordinary:

Alaska Melt Rain Sediment January 25

(Southern Coast of Alaska with major sediment outflow from snow and ice melt, record heat and rainfall in January 2014. Image source: Lance-Modis)

The entire southern coast of Alaska from Prince William Sound to Cook Inlet are visibly experiencing major snow and ice melt along with flooded streams and rivers flushing out a massive volume of sediment into the Gulf Alaska. Clearly visible in the satellite shot, the sediment now streaming into the ocean is more reminiscent of a major late spring flood event than anything that should be ongoing for Alaska in the midst of winter.

Yet here we are. A situation of continuous, never-before seen heat for Alaska during winter time bringing on a flooding thaw that is far, far too early.

Rainfall over Glaciers, Snow Pack Triggers Massive Avalanche that Cuts off Valdez

The constant assault of heat and record temperatures combined with an almost endless flow of moisture riding up from the Gulf of Alaska set off a devastating and freakish event near Valdez on Saturday. Severe and record rainfall over the mountain regions have continuously softened glacial ice and snow packs above this major Alaskan city. On Monday, the continuous insults of heat and water passed a critical threshold.

As the warm water filtered down through the colder snow and ice, the anchoring base was lubricated even as the capping snow grew heavily burdened with water. Eventually, the insults of heat and rainfall became too great and a major snow and ice slope system above the main road linking Valdez to mainland Alaska collapsed. The immense volume of snow and ice unleashed, spilling down to fill the base of Keystone Canyon, blocking both the Lowe River and the Richardson Highway running through it.

This snow and ice dam rose as high as 100 feet above the Canyon floor, causing the Lowe River to rapidly flood, inundating the already snow-and ice buried road under an expanding pool 20 to 25 feet deep and filled with ice-choked water.

You can see the massive avalanche-created ice dam and related road inundation in the video provided by akiwiguy below:

(video source: akiwiguy)

Warming-related rainfall events of the kind that has now cut Valdez off from the mainland are just one of the extraordinarily dangerous consequences of human-caused climate change. They are a phenomena linked to the massive glacial outburst flood that killed thousands in India this year together with other dangerous snow and ice melt events. Should such major heating and rainfall events impact Greenland and West Antarctica, the consequences could be even more extreme than what we are currently witnessing in Alaska.

Conditions in Context

In the context of our present extreme Jet Stream pattern that is setting off warmest-ever conditions for Alaska during January together with dangerous melt-outburst related events while at the same time periodically flushing Arctic air and extreme winter weather south into the United States, it is important to remember a few things. The first is that the Arctic is now experiencing never-before observed warmth with stunning frequency. Scientific papers now show that the Arctic is hotter than it has been for at least 44,000 years and possibly 120,000 years.

By comparison, the cold snaps, that could very well be seen as the death gasps of the Arctic we know, impacting the eastern US are relatively minor when put into this larger, more ominous context. Similar cold events were last seen about 20 years ago in the US. And so there is simply no comparison that can generate a rational equivalency between the, hottest in an age, Arctic temperatures and the, coldest in a few handfuls of years, temperatures in the Eastern US.

And if you’re one of those sensitive, perceptive souls who feels that the weather events you’re seeing, the extreme swings from very hot to somewhat cool temperatures, the extreme swings from drought to record rainfall, and the extreme events now accelerating the melting of the world’s ice and snow, are freakish, strange, and terrifyingly abnormal, then you are absolutely correct. Don’t let anyone, be they friends or family, or journalists in the media, tell you otherwise. There is reason for your discomfort and there is very serious cause for concern.


Colorado Bob’s Climate Feed

Weather Underground

NASA: Lance-Modis

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities

Climate Change Institute

Alaska All Time High For This Date, Warmer than Alabama

The Glacial Megaflood

Arctic Experiencing Hottest Temperatures in at Least 44,000 Years

Arctic Heat Wave to Rip Polar Vortex in Half


NASA: September 2013 Hottest on Record Despite Somewhat Cool Eastern Pacific

According to NASA’s most recent global land and ocean surface temperature survey, September of 2013 was .74 degrees hotter than the 20th Century average. This measure ties September of 2005 as the record hottest. The difference between 2005 and 2013? 2005 was an El Nino year. A year when a large swath of the Eastern Pacific was dumping its heat content into the atmosphere. This year, the Eastern Pacific has remained somewhat cooler than normal, sucking a degree of atmospheric heat out and dumping it into the deeper oceans. But, despite what would normally be a drag on global surface heating, the world’s temperatures where the air contacts the land and the sea remain at or very near new record highs.

This situation is not cause for comfort or complacency. Nor is it one that indicates what has been termed a so-called ‘pause in global warming’ by so many ill-informed in the media. To the contrary, what we are seeing is that the natural variation of El Nino to La Nina — variations that for centuries and millenia have primarily governed to world’s periodic warm and cool spells — is slowly being overwhelmed by the human greenhouse gas forcing. What we are witnessing is ENSO neutral and La Nina years and months coming very close to and reaching record hottest temperatures.

So the rhetorical question we should all be considering is this: if we are experiencing record high temperatures now, when the Eastern Pacific is relatively cool, what happens to the global record when ENSO again starts to heat up? And, in any case, ENSO or no, it appears increasingly clear that more new record warm years are now in the offing.

NOAA Shows Global Temperatures at 4th Hottest

NOAA’s own set of temperature measures also show record heat, with worldwide temperatures ranging 4th highest for the month. The NOAA reading, which varies slightly to the NASA reading due to a difference in measurement methodology, follows a June measure in which the world ocean system tied 2010 for hottest on record.

NOAA Sep 2013 Temps large

(Image source: NOAA)

NOAA’s global temperature map found hotter than average readings covering much of the globe throughout September. Record hottest regions blanketed Australia, Iran and Afghanistan, a large section of the Arctic Ocean north of Scandinavia, and smaller, more isolated patches around the globe. No region experienced record coldest temperatures. The only concerted regions experiencing cooler than average temperatures include a section of Siberia and Central Russia, and a region of the Southern Ocean between South America and Antarctica. The Eastern Pacific, which drives ENSO, remained cooler than surrounding waters at near or just below the 20th Century average.

Between the NOAA and the NASA temperature measures, it remains clear that record or near record warmth continues to dominate the global climate with pools of hottest ever recorded temperatures continuing to drift over the world. Given the increasing warmth, despite no El Nino, it appears possible that, should El Nino not arise within the next 3-5 years (unlikely given a long history of variation), the world will achieve new record warm years without it. And such an event would be yet one more that is without precedent.

Too Soon to Call For El Nino’s Return

Nov 3 sst.daily.anom

(Image source: NOAA)

A pool of slightly cooler than average water over a moderate stretch of the Eastern Pacific during early November belies a continuing trend of ENSO neutral or La Nina leaning conditions. This pattern has dominated throughout much of the past two years and, currently, shows few signs of abating. As one can see from even the most cursory analysis of the image above, the global ocean system, despite the slight coolness in the Eastern Pacific, remains significantly warmer than the already warmer than average period of 1971-2000 which provides the base set for the above NOAA graphic.

The Hot Late Summer/Early Fall Arctic

One final driver to global heating during the months of September and August of 2013 appears to be a very warm late summer and early fall Arctic. Temperatures between the latitudes of 65 and 75 degrees North have been particularly warm with near record hottest and record hottest temperatures experienced in Scandinavia, regions of the Arctic Ocean north of Scandinavia, high north-west Canada, and Alaska. The Arctic Ocean in a zone between 70 to 75 North has experienced much warmer than normal conditions as sea ice remains between 4th and 6th lowest on record in all the various measurements.

Meanwhile, temperatures above the 80 degree North Latitude line, though not hitting the same record variances are regions nearer the Arctic Circle, showed temperatures ranging between 2 and 5 degrees Celsius above average for the months of September and October. This dumping of ocean and land heat into the Arctic environment, which slows the cooling of the Northern hemisphere into winter, has become an increasingly dominant weather phenomena over the past 5 years. It is also an event that has coincided with record loss of sea ice which has become particularly pronounced since 2007, with some years showing as much as 80% loss of sea ice volume and more than 50% losses of sea ice area and extent since 1979.

The resulting cooling lag in the Arctic during the months of August, September, October and November have, likely contributed to near record warm months globally during August and September of 2012 and 2013, despite La Nina or ENSO neutral conditions. This somewhat ominous signal shows that ENSO is in the process of gradually being over-ridden by other factors.

Climate models have indicated that the Arctic would be the first section of the globe to experience very rapid and pronounced warming under human greenhouse gas forcing and the related and powerful feedbacks of Arctic albedo loss and environmental greenhouse gas emission (methane and CO2). And with summer Arctic temperatures, in some regions, measuring their hottest in more than 40,000 years and with worldwide CO2 levels pushing toward their highest levels in 3 million years, it appears we are, sadly, at just the very beginning of such a dangerous and powerful warming trend.


NASA Global Land Surface Temperature Index

NOAA Global Analysis September 2013

NOAA Global Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly

Arctic Ice Graphs

Hottest September on Record

Unprecedented Recent Summer Warmth in Arctic Canada

Smokey Arctic Cyclone Sets Sights on Central Arctic; PIOMAS Shows Sea Ice Volume 4th Lowest on Record

Smokey Arctic Cyclone on August 6, 2013

Smokey Arctic Cyclone on August 6, 2013

(Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

A strong, 980 mb cyclone formed over the Laptev Sea today, pulling in a dense coil of smoke from Siberian wildfires raging to the south and setting its sights along a path that will bring it through waters filled with a slurry of broken ice, passing over the North Pole, and then heading on toward the Fram Strait.

Unlike the Sudden Arctic Cyclone of late July, the new Smokey Arctic Cyclone is strengthening over a region of open water in the Laptev Sea before it begins its passage over a broken ice pack. This will allow the storm to develop more fetch and wave action before it encounters the sea ice. Though not as strong as the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012, this Smokey storm is likely to pack 25-40 mph winds over large expanses of water and ice, applying wave action to a greatly diffuse and weakened film of thin ice. Though Ekman pumping and mixing of cold surface layers with deeper, warmer layers will likely have some impact on ice — thinning and dispersing it further — it remains to be seen if this storm will be strong enough to have a decisive influence on final melt for the 2013 season.

The storm is, however, moving through an area of very weakened ice even as it pulls a flood of warmer, rougher water along with it. And it remains to be seen what, if any impact, soot pulled in from the Siberian wildfires will have on the ice. Solar insolation is steadily falling as we move on into August. That said, the angle of the sun is still high enough to have some added impact should soot-laden precipitation fall.

The ice state, which has seemed weak and diffuse all summer appears especially vulnerable now.

Smokey Cyclone Broken Ice

(Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

Cracks and large sections of open water riddle the thin ice in a wide stretch from the Chukchi Sea, running through a portion of the Beaufort and then turning on toward the open water in the Laptev. So it will be interesting to see how much this storm affects this section of ice. As the storm is predicted to move on through the Central Arctic and then spend a day or two churning near the Fram Strait, it may also give the thick ice a bit of a late-season nudge.

Party like it’s 2009?

Overall, the storm would have to be a very extreme event to drive the current melt rate to near 2012 levels. Both sea ice extent and area are currently tracking near 2008 and 2009 while sea ice volume, as of mid-July, was just a hair above the third lowest year — 2010. Though it is still possible, given the sea ice’s very fragile state, that 2013 could still hit record lows this year, the likelihood, with each passing day, grows more remote.

PIOMAS Mid-July 2013

PIOMAS Mid-July 2013

(Image source: PIOMAS)

So, at this point, it is worth considering that 2013 may be a counter-trend year. Most of the record heat and warmth associated with human caused warming has been confined to a region of the high Arctic land masses between 55 and 70 degrees north. In this zone, we’ve seen an ominously large number of heatwaves, where temperatures exceeded 90 degrees, along with wildfires spreading above the 60 degrees north latitude line. And though large areas of warmer than normal surface water temperatures invaded the sea ice, air temperatures have been at or slightly lower than average. This is a result of persistent cloudy conditions dominating during periods when solar insolation would have done its greatest damage to the ice sheet. Storms, which at times seemed to drive more rapid melt had the added effect of spreading out the ice, likely contributing to cooler air temperatures. These storms were not powerful enough to provide the energy needed to push 2013 into record melt territory. It is also possible that fresh water melt from the Greenland ice sheets — representing a large pulse of about 700 cubic kilometers last year — and from record or near-record snow melts on the continents surrounding the Arctic added some resiliency to the greatly thinned ice in the Beaufort.

These various conditions may be consistent with a combination of natural variability and a potentially emerging negative feedback from melting snow and ice. If 2013 does emerge as a counter trend year, though, it is no indication, as yet, that Arctic melt, overall, has slowed. 2012 was a powerful record melt year and one that occurred under far less than ideal conditions. It is just as likely that natural variability and human forcings will swing back in the other direction come 2014, 2015 or later as happened through the period of 2008 through 2012.

All that said, it is still a bit premature to call the 2013 melt season. We have a storm laden with smoke from the immense Siberia fires on the way and large regions of sea ice remain very fragile. As ever, the Arctic is reluctant to give up her secrets, especially under the assaults of human warming.

Smokey Storm 980 MB

Smokey 980 mb Cyclone churns through the Laptev

(Image source: DMI)


The Arctic Ice Blog


Arctic Heat: Wildfire Smoke Blankets Siberia, Alaska Shatters Temperature Records, Arctic Ocean Heat Sets off Large Algae Bloom

Siberian Wildfires July 31

Smoke from Siberian Wildfires now covers most of Arctic Russia. Image source: Lance-Modis.

There’s a lot of noise these days over the issue of global warming and human caused climate change. The static includes the intransigence of industry supported climate change deniers, a great confusion over climate context within some wings of the media, a number of increasingly personal attacks on the messengers — scientists, journalists, bloggers, and emerging threats experts — who communicate critical information related to climate change, and even a degree of professional disagreement within the sciences and among experts over key issues such as the potential rate of global methane release due to human warming.

(Read an excellent Guardian article about this debate here)

Despite all the vitriol, controversy and confusion, the signal coming from the Earth System couldn’t be clearer — the Arctic is showing every sign of rapid heat amplification and related emerging feedbacks and environmental changes.

The Arctic ring of fire

Over the continents circling the warming Arctic Ocean, a band from about 70 degrees north to about 55 degrees north, has increasingly erupted into heatwaves and massive wildfires. This year, huge fires blanketed both Canada and Russia, with a recent very large outbreak spreading over Siberia.

Over the past two weeks, numerous wildfires roared through Arctic tundra and boreal forests alike over a sprawling swath of northern Russia. These blazes rapidly multiplied to nearly 200 fires, covering most of Arctic Russia in a pallor of thick, soupy, smoke. The smog cloud blanketing Siberia now stretches nearly 3,000 miles in length and 1,500 miles in width, covering an immense slice of the Arctic and adjacent regions. The fires coincided with a large methane pulse that sent local readings to nearly 2,000 ppb, almost 200 ppb above the global average. Whether these higher methane levels were set off by a prolonged Arctic heatwave that has settled over Siberia since June or were tapped by the fires’ direct contact with thawing tundra remains unclear. But tundra melt and related carbon release, almost certainly set off by far above average temperatures for this Arctic region, clearly resulted in conditions that favored a heightened level of emission (You can track current global methane emissions through the excellent site: Methane Tracker.)

These massive blazes continued today with the most recent Modis shot showing a rash of red hotspots beneath a thickening ceiling of smoke:

Russia Fires July 31

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

Hat tip to the ever vigilant Colorado Bob for the new fire shot.

Arctic wildfires are an important and dangerous feedback to a warming polar climate. The fires produce soot that traps additional heat in the air while aloft and through reduction in the albedo of the surfaces it rains down upon. If the soot ends up on ice sheets, it can greatly amplify the summer sun, chewing large holes and accelerating melt (the Dark Snow Project is studying this highly worrisome dynamic). The fires also render carbon stocks locked in both the forest and the tundras through direct burning. As such, the fires result in a major extra CO2 emission source. The current fire in Siberia also appears to be exaggerating methane release from thawing tundra as large methane spikes appeared in the fire affected regions.

The result is that more heat is locked into an already vulnerable Arctic and global environment.

Alaska shatters temperature records

Meanwhile, across the Arctic, Fairbanks reported its 14th straight day of above 70 degree temperatures, shattering the previous record of 13 days running back in 2004. The Arctic location has also seen 80+ degree weather (Fahrenheit) for 29 days so far this summer and 85+ degree weather for 12 days this summer. The record for 80+ degree days is 30 during a summer and the previous record for 85 + degree days was 10 days. A ‘usual’ Alaskan summer only saw 11 80 degree days, with the current number for 2013 nearly tripling that mark.

So Fairbanks has shattered two summer high temperature duration records and is now closing in on a third. Since predictions call for high 70 to low 80 degree weather for at least the next few days, it appears likely that this final mark will fall as well. The Alaskan heat is expected to continue through at least this weekend after which temperatures are expected to fall into, the still above average, lower 70s.

Given these record hot conditions in Alaska, one has to wonder at the potential for fires to erupt in this region as well. An outbreak of large fires spread through the region in June. But compared to Canada and Russia, which have both seen major fire outbreaks, Alaska has been relatively quiet. Methane Tracker shows little in the way of 1950 ppb or higher readings over Alaska at the moment. But this is an uncertain indication to say the least.

The current Arctic Weather Map shows broad regions of warm to hot daytime conditions throughout much of the Arctic. Areas of highest temperatures are located in Alaska, Northwestern Canada, Siberia and Northern Europe. These Arctic heatwave conditions have persisted throughout the summer of 2013, drifting in a slow circle along with their related heat domes and high amplitude Jet Stream pulses.  So far, these conditions have shown little evidence of abating.

Alaska Canada Daytime Aug 1 Russia Europe Daytime August 1

The above images show respective daytime temperature forecasts provided by Arctic Weather Maps. Areas in red indicate temperatures ranging from 77 to 86 degrees. The first image shows daytime in Alaska and Canada for Thursday, August 1. The second image shows predicted daytime temperatures for Siberia and Europe for the same date.

Arctic Ocean heat anomaly soars

In addition to an immense rash of wildfires belching enormous plumes of smoke that now cover most of Northern Russia and record-smashing high temperature streaks in Alaska, we continue to see a rising heat temperature anomaly over a vast region of the Arctic Ocean. A broad stretch of sea area shows .5 to 1 degree Celsius above average sea surface temperatures. This region includes the Central Arctic Basin which has seen broad, anomalous areas of much thinner, more dispersed sea ice coverage. Isolated regions are showing temperatures in the range of 2 to 4 degrees Celsius warmer than average with the hottest region over the Barents and the Kara Seas near Norway and northern Russia.


(Image source: NOAA)

The region where the highest heat anomaly measures have appeared also shows a very large green algae bloom. This oil slick like region is clearly visible in a freakish neon off-set to the typically dark Arctic waters. Higher ocean heat content and added nutrients increasingly fuel these kinds of blooms which can lead to fish kills and ocean anoxia in the regions affected. This particular bloom is very large, stretching about 700 miles in length and 200 miles in width along a region near the northern coast of Scandinavia.

Algae Bloom North of Scandinavia

Very large algae bloom north of Scandinavia. Image source Lance Modis.

As the oceans warm due to human caused climate forcing, there is increasing risk that large algae blooms and increasing regions of ocean anoxia will continue to spread and grow through the world ocean system. In the more extreme case, the current mixed ocean environment can turn into a dangerous stratified anoxic ocean environment. Past instances of such events occurred during the Paleocene and during ages prior. Oceans moving toward a more anoxic state put severe stress on numerous creatures inhabiting various ocean levels and is yet one more stress to add to heat-caused coral bleaching and ocean acidification due to increasing CO2 dissolution.

Ocean mixing is driven by the massive ocean heat and salt conveyors known as the thermohaline circulation. Slowing and changing circulation patterns can result in switches from a mixed, oxygenated ocean environment, to a stratified, anoxic state. Currently, a number of the major ocean conveyors, including the Gulf Stream and the warm water current near Antarctica, have slowed somewhat due to added fresh water melting as a result of human caused climate change.

Movement toward a more anoxic ocean state is an added stress on the world climate system and another of the myriad impacts set off by human warming. Though a complete switch from a mixed ocean to an anoxic ocean is still far off, it is an important long-term risk to consider. Perhaps one of the absolute worst effects of an unabated burning of fossil fuels and related carbon emissions by humans would be the emergence of a terrible primordial ocean state called a Canfield Ocean. But this is another, rather unsavory topic, likely worth exploring in another blog (nod to prokaryotes who has been fearfully hinting about risks associated with this particularly nasty climate mechanism on internet boards and in blogs and comments for years).

In the meantime, it’s worth considering the clear and visible effects of Arctic amplification currently in train: massive Siberian wildfires along with immense smoke plumes and troubling methane pulses, an ongoing Arctic heat wave that continues to break temperature records, and very high Arctic ocean temperature anomalies that are setting off massive algae blooms north of the Arctic circle.

Melt Puddles, Distant Open Water Visible at North Pole Camera 2

Melt Puddles North Pole Camera 2

(Melt Puddles and Distant Open Water at North Pole Camera 2 on July 13. Image source: APL)

With the emergence then fading of a ‘warm storm’ in late June and early July, then a subsequent set of intermittent storms and sunny days, all occurring in warmer than freezing conditions, central Arctic surface ice melt has continued to proceed apace.

This melt is now plainly visible at North Pole Camera 2 were a number of near-camera melt puddles have been forming and growing over the past few days. You can see these melt puddles clearly in the above image provided by the Applied Physics Lab through its North Pole Camera #2. The puddles, which were at first in the front field of the camera, have now expanded to cover about 105 degrees of the view provided. Smaller, darker melt spots also appear to have invaded behind the markers set around the camera.

In the distance, in the left-hand field of view, a larger section of dark water appears to have opened as well. This darker, open section, which has been an intermittent feature since late June, seems to have grown of late, with larger gaps appearing in this more distant section.

Uni Bremen Sea Ice July 12

(Image source: Uni Bremen)

Since early July, rapid extent and area melt have continued apace as a strong high pressure system formed over the Beaufort and a series of intermittent storms rushed through the Central Arctic via origins in the Laptev, Barents, Kara, and extreme North Atlantic. Central sea ice concentration has remained low due to damage during June’s PAC 2013 and now three melt tongues are plunging into the Arctic — one from the Chukchi, one from the Laptev and one from the Kara and a broad region all the way to the Fram Strait. More gradual melt is also proceeding from the Mackenzie Delta even as ice in the Canadian Archipelago gradually collapses. Hudson and Baffin Bays, as you can see in the above image provided by Uni Bremen are mostly cleared out. These conditions: three areas of rapid melt at the ice edge combined with continued low concentration, melting ice at the Arctic’s heart, represent high risk for further rapid melt through late July. This is especially due to the fact that many ice regions are now at risk of separation from the main ice pack or from surrounding by open water on three sides. Such circumstances usually enhance ice fragility and result in greater ice vulnerability to disruptive weather events come late summer. It’s a set of conditions we’ll explore more deeply in a blog I’m preparing for next week.

For now, though, it is sufficient to show that Central Arctic regions are still undergoing surface melt even though the forces driving rapid bottom melt and dispersal appear to have abated for the moment. We’ll also be keeping an eye on ECMWF forecasts which show a 985 or stronger low forming directly over the North Pole for a few days next week. Another warm storm potential that may have further impacts as sunlight has now had the opportunity to warm areas of water beneath the fractured ice.

Record Canadian Floodwaters Flow into Region of Arctic Ocean Radically Altered by Climate Change

Canadian Floodwaters Hit Mackenzie Delta

(Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

A record flood that inundated large regions of Canada last week is now sending a large pulse of silty water out through the Mackenzie Delta and into the Beaufort Sea. The pulse of floodwater is so large and bears so much silt that it has painted a wide section of the Arctic Ocean near the Mackenzie Delta brown.

You can see this major out-flow and brown coloration in the satellite image above, provided by NASA.

The fresh flood waters coming from the Mackenzie River are much warmer than the Arctic Ocean waters and the sea ice they contact as they push out from the continent. This flush of warmer water enhances sea ice melt even as it causes the local Arctic Ocean to heat up.

Large, warm flows of fresh water during spring and summer often initiate and enhance ice edge melt in the Arctic. They also rejuvenate the Arctic Ocean’s fresh water supply and, when combined with increasing glacial melt, serve to enhance the rate at which sea ice forms during fall and winter. The reason for this is that fresh water forms a protective layer keeping warmer, saltier water away from the ice even as it tends to freeze at a higher temperature than saltier ocean water. It is this combination of factors that is implicated in a temporary increase in sea ice coverage at the South Pole, even as atmospheric and ocean warming advance ice sheet melt there.

Since heat transfer to the Arctic Ocean from the continents via warm floods serves to increase ice melt rates in the summer season and since increasing flows of fresh water from both the continents (snow melt, increased summer storms) and glaciers (increasing rates of ice sheet melt brought on by human-caused warming) serve to enhance ice formation during the winter season, the Arctic is pushed to see-saw between record and rapid melt and rapid refreeze.

That said, an overall accumulation of heat in the Arctic Ocean has resulted in sea ice extent, area and volume decline during all seasons as the ice is unable to recover to past levels during winters. It’s just that the decline rate is fastest and most greatly amplified during summer.

The below graph, provided by Wipneus, displays this summer melt exaggeration:

Sea Ice Volume Losses Wipneus

(Arctic sea ice volume losses with trend lines. Image source: Wipneus)

Note the faster rate of loss during June, July, August, and September when compared to months during other seasons.

New Ocean Circulation Transfers Most Fresh Water to Beaufort

Increasing flows of fresh water via snow, glacial melt, and more rainfall has now met with strange changes to Arctic Ocean currents, wind patterns and circulation that, according to NASA, is both preserving some of the thermohaline circulation in the Arctic and pulling more fresh water into the Canada Basin and Beaufort Sea.

A visual presentation of these changes is provided by NASA below:

In its press release, NASA noted:

The transpolar drift (purple arrows) is a dominant circulation feature in the Arctic Ocean that carries freshwater runoff (red arrows) from rivers in Russia across the North Pole and south towards Greenland. Under changing atmospheric conditions, emergent circulation patterns (blue arrows) drive freshwater runoff east towards Canada, resulting in freshening of Arctic water in the Canada Basin (full press release here)…

Knowing the pathways of freshwater is important to understanding global climate because freshwater protects sea ice by helping create a strongly stratified cold layer between the ice and warmer, saltier water below that comes into the Arctic from the Atlantic Ocean. The reduction in freshwater entering the Eurasian Basin resulting from the Arctic Oscillation change could contribute to sea ice declines in that part of the Arctic.

NASA shows how changes in Arctic Ocean circulation have already re-distributed fresh water into the Beaufort Sea in the image below:

Fresh Water, Canada Basin

(Image source: NASA)

Higher concentrations of fresh water in the Beaufort would tend to preserve more sea ice there. Ironically, this ice is vulnerable to late-season melt due to its proximity to the North American Continent and away from the relative cool of Greenland. Higher salt water concentrations running from Greenland to the North Pole to the Laptev and then toward Wrangle Island would tend to enhance early season edge melt there.

Overall, this new distribution of fresh water combined with heat transfer into the Arctic Ocean via the continents makes it difficult to provide a case for long-term ice preservation under a regime of increasing human-caused warming. A fresh water cap near Greenland would have combined with cooler regional temperatures to preserve ice for longer periods there. Instead, we have the more resilient ice placed in close proximity to hot continental land rather than cold Greenland ice. Since these changes have yet to be fully understood, new reports will, hopefully, generate more clarity.

Emerging and amplifying flows of fresh water from both continents and glaciers along with changing Arctic Ocean circulation represent yet one more example of how human fossil fuel emissions are radically altering the Arctic. Though not quite as threatening as increasing releases from Arctic carbon stocks or as directly visible as an increasing number of heatwaves in the Arctic, these new pulses of fresh water, when combined with changing ocean circulation, are driving profound changes to the Arctic environment.





From Archangel to Alaska, Heatwaves, Extreme Weather Now Flank the Arctic

Arctic Heatwave June 26th

(Image source: Uni Koeln)

Yesterday in Alaska, as wildfires raged through interior regions, temperatures rose into the high 80s (Fahrenheit). Now, during relative night-time in the land of the midnight sun, lows are hovering around 70 in many places (near record daily highs for this time of year). Meanwhile, at the Arctic’s opposite end, temperatures in the region of Archangel, near the Arctic Ocean are in the range of 90 degrees. Nearby, Finland also sees temperatures rocketing up through the 80s as a Scandinavian heatwave that began in June reasserts itself.

The Arctic Heatwave: A Pervasive Feature for Summer 2013

The Arctic heatwave that started in Scandinavia then moved to Alaska and flared in Russia and Siberia has now become nearly ubiquitous. Record hot temperatures range the Arctic from shore to shore. These record heat invasions have been enabled by a combination of factors that include rising global greenhouse gasses, above average atmospheric methane and CO2 concentrations in the Arctic, and a rapid retreat of snow and sea ice cover that has enabled the Jet Stream to range further and further north, bringing temperatures from more southerly climates with it.

As a sample, atmospheric CO2 is now at about 403 parts per million at Barrow Alaska, while methane levels are around 1890 parts per billion. These levels are about 4 parts per million and 60 parts per billion above current global average CO2 and methane levels respectively. Higher levels of these heat trapping gasses in the Arctic are a direct result of environmental emissions sources including thawing tundra, melting permafrost, and destabilizing frozen methane on the Arctic sea bed. Together, these sources result in substantially higher levels of almost all greenhouse gasses over a broad range of the Arctic.

Extreme Jet Stream positions are also plainly visible today with a large, anomalous peak in the Jet Stream over Scandinavia and extending into Russia along with a fading, but still apparent, ‘heat dome’ high pressure system over central Alaska:

Extreme Jet Stream June 26

(Image source: California Regional Weather Service)

Both these features continue to bring much warmer than normal conditions in regions beneath their influence. The Scandinavian blocking pattern has been particularly persistent, with weather impacts stretching all the way back to early June. One last feature of note is a cut-off upper level low just off the Pacific coast of British Columbia. This particular low pressure system was the one that resulted in so much flooding over regions of Alberta and Calgary last week with rainy conditions persisting through today. A large band of clouds and rain storms continues to stream off this low, dumping more un-needed moisture over central Canada. Among today’s impacts was the flooding and shut-down of a meat-packing plant, yet one more ding to the world’s food supply.

ECMWF forecast models show this rough configuration of the Jet Stream remaining in place at least until July 6th when the Scandinavian blocking pattern begins to stage a major warm-air breakthrough to the Central Arctic. At the same time, a large trough of low pressure systems emerges again over regions of Alberta and northern Canada as a ridge of high pressure shoves what remains of PAC 2013 over Greenland and comes to take tenuous hold of the Central Arctic.

Forecast Model July 6

(Image source: ECMWF)

Note the above freezing 5,000 foot temperatures plunging all the way through the Central Arctic (which should translate to around 40-45 degree [F] surface temperatures). It is also worth noting the large pulse of warm air riding all the way up to the Canadian Archipelago ahead of the developing trough.

This forecast is still very far out, so we’ll have to keep watch for any changes. Yet given the history of summer 2013 Arctic weather, it appears likely that the ongoing extreme configuration of the Jet will result in more unusual events.

As a final, I’ll leave you with this picture of the expanding open water at Barrow, Alaska. Note that the off-shore ice has been gone since June 24th.

Open Water Barrow June 26

(Image source: Barrow Sea Ice Cam)



Uni Koeln

California Regional Weather Service



Heatwave Sends Temperatures in Alaska to 94 Degrees. Large Pulse of Warmth Envelopes Beaufort, Chukchi, and East Siberian Seas.

Yesterday, temperatures in Prince William Sound hit upwards of 93 degrees. Communities there, including Valdez and Cordova, both set new record highs. Talkeetna hit 94 degrees, also an all-time record high for the date. Meanwhile, Seward hit a new record of 88 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures in the interior rose to between the mid 80s and lower 90s.

This pulse of heat was driven by a persistent bulge in the Jet Stream over the Pacific Ocean, the Western United States, and the Pacific Northwest that has been present since mid winter. The bulge has resulted in warmer than normal temperatures and drier conditions for much of the Western US while keeping temperatures warm for western Canada and Alaska. It is a blocking pattern implicated in the ongoing drought conditions in places from Colorado to Nevada and California. A pattern which sees 44% of the US still locked in drought.

Sunday and Monday, this blocking pattern enabled warm air to flood north into Alaska, setting off a record heatwave there. You may not think of 50 and 60 degree temperatures in Barrow, Alaska as a heatwave. But when average highs for June there are about 38 degrees, 50 and 60 degree weather is quite hot for this time of year.

Last Thursday saw temperatures in Barrow above 60 degrees. Today, so far, temperatures have risen to 52 degrees, though the high will probably not be reached for a few hours yet.

All this warmth is doing a number on sea ice in the region. As I posted yesterday, large, dark melt ponds and holes in the ice are now visible off Barrow. You can see them in the most recent Barrow Ice Cam shot below:

Barrow sea ice June 18

(Image source: Barrow Ice Cam)

Note the near-shore melt  as well as the large, dark holes forming and widening off-shore.

The pulse of warm air riding up into Alaska is common to a warmer air mass now pervading much of this region of the Arctic. As a result, above freezing temperatures have now invaded large sections of the Beaufort, Chukchi, and East Siberian Seas. This warmer air is causing melt ponds to form over the region leaving their tell-tale bluish tint in the satellite pictures.

Melt Ponds Beaufort, Chukchi, East Siberia

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

In the above image you can see this bluish tint covering about half of the Arctic Ocean area represented in the picture. Also note the large and rapidly expanding area of open water north of the Bering Strait and the large and expanding cracks over the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.

Ice of this color indicates a speckling of melt ponds and hints at the ongoing impacts of solar insolation on the sea ice. Warm conditions in this region have favored insolation for at least the past week. And persistent warmer, clearer weather is beginning to enable the sun to do some serious work on the sea ice.

Warmth is expected to continue for this area until at least next week. The latest long-range forecast from ECMWF shows above-freezing and even 50 degree temperatures plunging deep into this region of the Arctic all the way through late June.

Beaufort Warmth Late June

(Image source: ECMWF)

By June 28th we have 40 degree average temperatures extending far off-shore with above freezing temperatures covering much of this section of the Arctic. Melt in this region, therefore, is likely to be greatly enhanced as the sun is provided with an extended period during which to do its work.


Heatwave Sets Records Across Alaska

Barrow Ice Cam



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