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54 Fahrenheit Above Average: Extreme Warming Event For Greenland, Baffin Bay Underway

At the mouth of Baffin Bay just off the West Coast of Greenland today hurricane force wind gusts are blowing in from the south.

This roaring invasion of warm air originates from the Central Atlantic along a latitude line south of the Azores. It climbs hundreds of miles north to where it is intensified between a grinding 975 mb low off Labrador and a massive 1042 mb high squatting over Central Greenland. Temperatures in this warm air mass range from near 50 degrees (F) over Southwestern Greenland to around 40 degrees (F) over the mouth of Baffin Bay. Or between 9 and 36 degrees (F) above normal for this time of year.

(Hurricane force wind gusts are driving a wedge of above freezing air into Baffin Bay and over Western Greenland at a time when these regions should be seeing well below freezing conditions. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

This warm wind driven air mass is expected to move north over the next 24 to 48 hours. It will steadily blanket both glaciers and areas typically covered with sea ice. And as it does so, it will push temperatures above freezing for large sections of both Baffin Bay and Western Greenland with above 32 F readings progressing as far as the Petermann Glacier.

What this means is that temperatures will likely hit record ranges of up to 54 degrees Fahrenheit above average in some locations near the far northern extent of this expected warm air invasion. Overall, Greenland itself is expected to see 15 degree (F) above average readings for the entire island. This will generate brief surface melt conditions for parts of Greenland during late November.

(Large region of 20 to 30 C, or 36 to 54 F, above average temperatures is predicted to blanket Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago after moving north through Baffin Bay over the next two days. Image source: Global and Regional Climate Anomalies.)

Strong warm air invasions of the Arctic at this time of year are a signal coming from human-forced climate change. As the northern pole darkens with winter, a global warming related phenomena called polar amplification ramps up. In addition, during recent years, we’ve seen warm air slots tend to develop beneath strong ridging features in the upper level Jet Stream. This year, the warm air slots have tended to form over the Bering Sea along the Pacific side of the Arctic and progress northward into the Chukchi. This has resulted in a large zone of ice free waters for a typically frozen region between Alaska and Siberia as warm winds and storm force waves have continuously beat the ice back.

The present warm air invasion for Greenland may be a signal that a similar warm air slot is attempting to develop over Baffin Bay going forward. Or it may be a fluke in the overall pattern. Watch this space.

UPDATE 11/29/2017: As predicted, temperatures over the Petermann Glacier hit above freezing at around 2200 UTC yesterday. According to climate reanalysis, temperatures for the region are ranging between 50-54 F above average in present model estimates for 11/29. In other words, the warm air invasion progressed as expected and resulted in above freezing temperatures for brief periods across Western and Northern Greenland.

Overall temperatures for Greenland are presently 15.5 F (8.6 C) above average in the models while the Arctic as a whole is 9.9 F (5.5 C) above average.

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Human-Baked Baffin Bay Takes Biggest Bite Yet out of The Greenland Ice Sheet

You wouldn’t generally think of ocean temperatures in the range of 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit (5 to 10 degrees Celsius) as hot. But to the great sea-fronting glaciers of Greenland it may as well be boiling.

Greenland Ice Sheet in Hot Water

All it takes is 32 degree F (0 C) water to begin melting the ice. And for each 1 degree increase above that margin, melt rates will dramatically ramp higher. Though a typical summer will push ice to melt at the Greenland seafront ice edge, this year, especially near Baffin Bay, the melt pressure has been extraordinary.

Ever since late June, 40-50 degree F sea surface temperatures have dominated the ice edge zone. For most regions that’s temperatures in the range of 4-11 degrees Fahrenheit (2-6 C) above average. The kind of heat that really risks a rapid melt along the ice margin.

Above Normal Sea Surface Temperatures Near Greenland

(Sunday, August 16 sea surface temperature anomalies as provided by NOAA.)

A latent heat that sits at the surface, gnawing away at the ice, waiting for a fresh water flood. And when the fresh water does come, that hotter, saltier, heavier water is forced downward beneath the lighter fresh water outflow. At this point, the hotter waters are locked below the surface where they go to work eating away at the glacier base. Notably, the only region within Baffin Bay where we currently see cooler surface water is in the major glacier melt zone near Jakobshavn. It’s an indication that ice melt from a major glacier outflow there is cooling the surface waters even as it pulls the surface heat downward and toward the glacial base.

This glacial melt heat conveyor is the kind of process we are seeing more and more frequently near the great ice sheets as fossil fuel industry has continued its harmful emissions. And, it’s a process that, this week took a huge chunk out of one of the world’s fastest moving ice masses.

Huge Chunk of Jakobshavn Breaks Off

According to reports from The Arctic Ice Blog, the Jakobshavn glacier sent its biggest chunk of ice on record floating off into Baffin on August 16 of 2015. For a glacier that drains 6.5 percent of the Greenland Ice Sheet and that has been known to release icebergs the size of Lower Manhattan, that’s really saying something.

You can see this amazing and rather chilling calving event in action in the August 14 to August 16 satellite imagery comparison developed by Espen Olsen below:

Espen Jakobshavn

(Jakobshavn experiences what is likely it’s largest calving event yet on Sunday, August 16, 2015. Image source: Espen Olson.)

Here we see the ice-choked Baffin Bay waters rapidly surging inland and taking up more of the Jakobshavn’s traditional outflow channel. What we do not see in this image, but what clearly happened, was that an ice mass hundreds of meters tall and covering an area of about 12.5 square kilometers was shattered into flinders as warming ocean waters invaded the Greenland Ice Sheet. Waters that will deliver still more heat to the ice. Waters that seek for the very heart of Greenland — a below sea level basin topped with 2-3 kilometer tall mountains of ice.

Back in the 19th Century, the Jakobshavn Fjord was half full of grounded Greenland ice. A long tongue of the glacier extended on outward through the channel. As of 2015, the Fjord is now completely full of water and ocean-bound ice bergs. The ocean itself has begun to invade the much larger ice masses beyond the Fjord. The broader inland mass of the Jakobshavn Glacier which is now directly in contact with the rising seas (indicated as Jakobshavn Isbrae on the maps above and below).

Jakobshavn Melt Progression

(Warming waters from Baffin Bay have driven through the ice in the Jakobshavn Fjord and are now boring into the thicker ice masses of Jakobshavn Ibrae. An impact that has serious implications for global sea level rise. Image source: The Arctic Sea Ice Blog and Espen Olsen.)

The inland-retreating Isbrae itself is a vast field of giant ice sheets. Massive tilting escarpments of luminous ice that, in the current age of fossil fuel forced warming, often cup great 1-3 kilometer long melt ponds in their wildly varied topography. It’s a single region that, in total, may hold about 1.5 feet of global sea level rise locked away in a rapidly melting ice pack. And Jakobshavn is just one of many regions (together containing about 15-20 feet worth of sea level rise) that are currently undergoing rapid melt due to the invasions of warming ocean waters.

Links:

NOAA

The Arctic Ice Blog

Espen Olson

A-Team

LANCE-MODIS

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