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“Surreal” U.S. Wildfires Should Not be Burning in Mid-November

The smoke here in Atlanta has been surreal — Meteorologist Stu Ostro

*****

It’s a script that reads like something from the pages of a dystopian sci-fi novel:

In Dallas, on November 16, the thermometer hit 88 degrees Fahrenheit, breaking a 95 year old record. In Ada, Oklahoma the mercury struck 85 degrees F. Further north in high-elevation Denver, temperatures soared to 78 F — punching through a 75 year old record.

Meanwhile, strange, out-of-season wildfires continued to burn from the U.S. South to North Dakota and New England. In Atlanta, smoke streaming out of nearby wildfires blanketed the city. Red-eyed residents were increasingly forced to don protective masks beneath the choking late-fall pallor. In Chattanooga, over 200 residents were hospitalized from smoke inhalation and shortness of breath.

appalachian-wildfires

(NASA satellite image of smoke streaming out from Appalachian wildfires on November 16, 2016. Note that smoke plume stretches over large sections of North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia — stretching all the way to coast and spilling out over the Atlantic. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Today, winds blowing out of the northwest pushed smoke over large sections of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. And numerous additional locations issued air quality alerts.

Mass Mobilization to Fight Surreal Fall Wildfires

In the neighboring Appalachian region alone, more than 5,000 firefighters employing 24 helicopters and other pieces of heavy equipment have been battling blazes throughout forested lands for almost a week. A single fire in the North Georgia Mountains is larger in size than Manhattan. And with numerous large blazes raging throughout the region, about 130,000 acres has burned so far in an area that rarely sees large fires during summer — much less in the middle of November.

Asked about the situation, Weather Channel meteorologist Stu Ostro said — “The smoke here in Atlanta has been surreal, and [occurs] in the context of the persistent lack of precip and above average temperatures.”

Further north, wildfires have also sparked in New Hampshire, New York and North Dakota.

Conditions in the Context of Climate Change

In a number of cases, it appears that arsonists have ignited some of these fires. But warm conditions more similar to summer than fall have combined with an extreme drought spreading through the affected regions to push fire danger through the roof. So the impact of any ignition source is dramatically compounded by the heat and dryness. And the most intense fires are now burning in a region of extreme to exceptional drought centered on the mountains of North Georgia.

unseasonable-warmth-blankets-north-america

(Odd, unseasonable warmth blankets much of the U.S. and Canada in this surface air temperature anomaly map as wildfires rage in the southeast on November 16. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Such extreme drought and related intense warmth is not a normal climate feature for the southeast during November. Cool weather often dominates the North Georgia region at this time of year. But 2016, a year when global temperatures are now likely to hit 1.2 C above 1880s averages, brings with it an increasing likelihood of unseasonable heat and related rapidly developing drought in the affected areas. These fires, thus, occur under weather conditions that are consistent with what we would expect from human-caused climate change.

Links/Notes:

Stu Ostro

LANCE MODIS

Climate Reanalyzer

United States Drought Monitor

The National Inter-agency Fire Center

Note: Renowned and respected meteorologist Stu Ostro was generous enough to provide commentary on the smoke/fire situation in Atlanta — which includes a note on how odd he thinks the current situation is. That said, the analysis and assertion that the current situation is not normal and is related to climate change is my own initial observation. Stu’s inclusion in this analysis is in no way meant to imply that he agrees fully or in part with my particular assessment. You may want to seek his own professional opinion on the matter here on Twitter as I have found that he is both friendly and accessible.

Note: Official agencies issue burn warnings during dry times for a reason. Anyone lighting fires during such times of extreme dryness — like the present — represents a hazard to public safety. Health, property, the resiliency of our national forests, and individual livelihoods are all put at risk by careless, reckless or malicious use of fire under these circumstances. Please heed the guidance of local, state and national authorities in such instances.

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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.

imageimage

(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.

chart(3)

(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.

Links:

NSIDC

NOAA/CPC

Earth Nullschool

GFS

Climate Reanalyzer

Greenland Ice Loss Increases Fivefold From Late 1990s, West Antarctica Not Far Behind

In the early 1990s, it would have been hard to imagine the rates of glacial ice loss we are seeing now.

There were few ways to accurately measure the Greenland Ice Sheet’s mass. Snow fell, glaciers calved. But observations seemed to show that the great, cold ice pile over Greenland was in balance. Snow gathered at the top, glaciers calved at the edges, but human heating of the atmosphere had yet to show plainly visible effects.

At that time, climate scientists believed that changes to the ice, as a result of human caused heating, would be slow and gradual, and would probably not begin to appear in force until later in the 21st Century.

Greenland Jacobshavn July 30 2014

(Extensive surface melt ponding, dark snow near the rapidly melt Jakobshavn Glacier on the West Coast of Greenland in early August of 2014. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Ice Sheet Response Starts Too Soon

By the late 1990s, various satellites had been lofted to measure the gravity, mass and volume of structures on the Earth’s surface. These sensors, when aimed at the great ice sheets, found that Greenland, during a period of 1997 to 2003 was losing mass at a rate of about 83 cubic kilometers each year.

This rate of ice loss was somewhat small when compared to the vastness of the ice sheet. But the appearance of loss was early and, therefore, some cause for concern. More monitoring of the ice sheet took place as scientists continued their investigation, for it appeared that the ice sheet was more responsive to human warming than initially believed.

A Doubling After Just Six Years

By 2009 another set of measures was in and it found that the six year period from 2003 to 2009 showed a near doubling of ice mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet. Rates of loss had jumped from 83 cubic kilometers each year to around 153 cubic kilometers. The doubling caused consternation and speculation among climate scientists. Greenhouse gas heat forcing was rapidly on the rise and the world’s oceans were warming faster than expected as human emissions continued along a worst case scenario path. It appeared that the ocean was delivering heat to the ice sheet bases even as atmospheric warming was melting larger areas upon the ice sheet surface.

These changes to the massive ice sheets were occurring far more rapidly than previously considered.

Edge of Greenland Ice Sheet

(Hundreds foot high edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet in Kangerlussuaq as seen at the end of a long valley and across a cold estuary. Image source: EISCAT Scientific Association.)

The potential for a 3, 6, or even 9 foot or more sea level rise by the end of the 21st Century was raised. Perhaps even more ominous, global climate models were showing that rapid ice melt in Greenland and West Antarctica, should it occur, would play havoc with world weather systems. It was this jump in ice loss, in part, that spurred climate scientist and then head of NASA GISS, Dr. James Hansen to write his book The Storms of My Grandchildren as a warning that rapid mitigation in human greenhouse gas emissions along with a stabilization of atmospheric CO2 at 350 ppm would probably be needed to prevent severe consequences from human-caused warming.

But humans kept emitting at a break-neck pace, spending far more money to build coal, gas and oil based technology, than to reduce energy consumption through efficiencies or behavioral change or to invest in alternatives like wind and solar.

Melt Rates Surge Yet Again

And so, by January of 2014, heat forcing had continued to accumulate at a very rapid pace. CO2e heat forcing had spiked to 481 ppm, enough to melt the entire Greenland Ice Sheet and much of Antarctica as well, if maintained or increased over a long period.

And the Greenland Ice sheet was, indeed, melting at an ever faster clip. For the most recent assessment found that the loss rate from Greenland had again more than doubled — hitting a 375 cubic kilometer per year average during the period of January 2011 through January of 2014.

Greenland Ice Sheet Elevation Change

(Greenland Ice Sheet elevation change in meters as found in a recent report by the Alfred Wegner Institute. Note that all Greenland edge zones are now experience elevation losses. Due to higher elevations at the center of the ice sheet, elevation loss at the edge has an effect that speeds ice sheet motion toward the sea. The effect is similar to pushing down the edge of a plastic swimming pool, but on a much larger scale and with somewhat slower moving ice.)

It was an extraordinary rate of melt now 4.7 times faster than in the period from 1997 to 2003 and 2.5 times faster than during 2003 to 2009. But, likely, it is but one more milestone on the path to even faster melt.

The same study that found the Greenland melt acceleration also saw a tripling of the melt rate of West Antarctic since 2003 to 2009. Together, the ice sheets were found to contribute a combined mass loss of 503 cubic kilometers per year between Greenland and West Antarctic. This vast, and still apparently rising, loss now meant that the two great ice sheets were contributing at least one millimeter per year to sea level rise.

Likely Grim Future For Sea Level Rise

It is likely that mass rate losses will continue to increase until some kind of break or negative feedback comes into play. Similar rates of melt increase would mean an annual 5-8 millimeter sea level rise by 2035 due to Greenland and Antarctic melt on top of a 2-3 millimeter sea level rise from thermal expansion of the oceans and from other melt sources. But even taking into account the cooling effect at the ocean surface from ice melt and fresh water floods, one could easily envision the feared 1-3 foot sea level rise by sometime near mid century and the even more concerning 3-9 foot sea level rise amidst a very intense battle between hot and cold weather systems through to century’s end.

As of 2014, it appears the conditions leading up to the warned of “Storms of My Grandchildren” are well in play and rapidly building.

Links:

Alfred Wegner Institute: Elevation Change of the Greenland Ice Sheet

Greenland Ice Loss Doubles From Late 2000s

LANCE MODIS

The Storms of My Grandchildren

EISCAT Scientific Association

Hat Tip to TodaysGuestIs

Monsoon Disrupted By El Nino + Climate Change as India Suffers Deaths, Crop Losses from Extreme Heat.

May is the month when the massive rainstorm that is the Asian Monsoon begins to gather and advance. This year, as in many other years, the monsoon gradually formed along the coast of Myanmar early in the month. It sprang forward with gusto reaching the Bay of Bengal by last week.

And there it has stalled ever since.

On May 25-27, an outburst of moisture from this stalled monsoonal flow splashed over the coasts of India. But by the 29th and 30th, these coastal storms and even the ones gathering over the Bengali waters had all been snuffed out. The most prominent feature in the MODIS shot of India today isn’t the rainfall that should be now arriving along the southeast coast, but the thick and steely-gray pallor of coal-ash smog trapped under a persistent and oppressive dome of intense heat.

Monsoon Disrupted

(MODIS shot of India on May 30th. See the open stretch of blue water in the lower right frame? That’s the Bay of Bengal which borders coastal India. During a normal year at this time, that entire ocean zone should be filled with the storm clouds of a building monsoon that is already encroaching on coastal India. Today, there is nothing but a smattering of small and dispersed cloud through a mostly clear sky. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Monsoon Described as Feeble

Official forecasts had already announced as of May 27th that the annual monsoon was likely to be delayed by at least a week for southeast regions of India. Meanwhile, expected monsoonal rainfall for western and northern sections of India for 2014 fell increasingly into doubt.

From The Times of India:

The monsoon is likely to be delayed by 10 days, according to scientists at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) here. The IITM’s third experimental real-time forecast says that a feeble monsoon will reach central India after June 20 as against the usual June 15. Last year, the monsoon had covered the entire country by June 15.

The annual monsoon is key to India’s agriculture. The substantial rains nurture crops even as they tamp down a powerful heating that typically builds throughout the sub-continent into early summer. Without these rains, both heat and drought tend to run rampant, bringing down crop yields and resulting in severe human losses due to excessive heat.

But, this year, heat and drought are already at extreme levels.

Major Heatwave Already Results in Loss of Life for 2014

As early as late March, the heatwave began to build over the Indian subcontinent. The heat surged throughout the state, setting off fires, resulting in a growing list of heat casualties, shutting down the power grid and spurring unrest. Meanwhile, impacts to India’s agriculture were already growing as the Lychee fruit crop was reported to have suffered a 40% loss.

By late May, temperatures across a broad region had surged above 105 degrees shattering records as the oppressive and deadly heat continued to tighten its grip.

In a country surrounded on three sides by oceans, it is a combination of heat, humidity and persistently high night-time temperatures that can be a killer. Wet bulb temperatures surge into a high-risk range for human mortality during the day even as night-time provides little respite for already stressed human bodies. Such extreme and long-duration heat doesn’t come without a sad toll. As of today, early reports indicated a loss of more than 56 lives due to heat stroke (In 2012 and 2013, total Indian heat deaths were near 1,000 each year). That said, final figures on heat losses are still pending awaiting complete reports from all of India’s provinces.

“Climatologically, we know that heatwaves are increasing in frequency and the number of days exceeding 45ºC temperatures is increasing. The frequency will increase further with global warming, hence this is a good example of a situation where science and disaster management can come together and avert damage,” a spokesman for India’s National Disaster Management Authority noted on Friday.

Hot Dust

(Hot Dust. A dust storm rolls through New Delhi on Friday amidst furnace-like 113 degree heat snarling traffic and resulting in the tragic loss of 9 more lives. Image source: Gaurav Karoliwal/YouTube Screenshot.)

Today the heatwave continued to gain ground, with Kota and Rajasthan reaching an all-time record of 116 degree F (46.5 C) as New Delhi’s mercury hit 113 degrees F in the midst of a drought-induced dust storm. Dust shrouding the city spurred traffic chaos and in the heat, darkness, and confusion nine more souls were lost.

After two months of growing disruption due to heat and drought, the lands and peoples of India cry out for a Monsoon that is running later and later with each new weather report.

Climate Change + El Nino: Adding Heat and Beating Back the Monsoon

As systems approach tipping points, they are more likely to tilt toward the extremes.

For India this year, its seasonally warmest period from April to May found severe heat amplification from a number of global factors. First, climate change seeded the ground for the current Indian heatwave by adding general heat and evaporation to already hot conditions. With global average heating of +0.8 C above 1880s levels amplifying in the hot zones, early moisture loss due to higher-than-normal temperatures produces a kind of snowball effect for still more warming. Essentially, the cooling effect of water evaporation is baked out early allowing for heat to hit harder just as typical seasonal maximums are reached.

Equatorial Pacific Ocean Temperatures May 30

(Equatorial Pacific Ocean temperatures warmed to +0.63 C positive anomaly on May 30th, extending further into El Nino Range. Image source: University of Maine.)

In addition, this year saw rapid progress toward an El Nino event in the Pacific Ocean with sea surface temperatures warming into the El Nino range by mid-May and continuing to ramp higher. By today, Equatorial Pacific anomalies had hit +0.63 C according to GFS analysis, extending a run into El Nino conditions.

El Nino events typically allow for the formation of hot, drier air over India. These air masses tend to engender extreme heatwaves like the one we are seeing now even as they delay the onset of cooling monsoonal rains. In essence, the monsoon is confronted with a heavy and entrenched wall of hot air that doggedly resists being shoved aside. And this is the very situation we observe now over India — a sputtering monsoon to the east getting bullied by a brutally hot and thick air mass that just won’t give ground. Climate change only exaggerates the problem by increasing the intensity and inertia of the hot air mass.

Major monsoonal disruptions typically occur during years following an El Nino’s peak heating impact. For example, in 1998, during a period following an extreme El Nino, India suffered one of its most severe droughts and monsoonal delays on record. But during recent years preceding El Nino, such as 2009, India also saw severe heat, drying, and crop damage due to a weakening of the annual summer rains. So an early monsoonal enfeeblement and coincident strong heatwaves and droughts over India with El Nino still forming is cause for some concern and bears further monitoring.

Currently, temperatures over India are surging to between 5 and 12 degrees Celsius above already hot averages. With heat and drought firmly in place, forecasts are calling for a 1 to 2 week delay in the cooling and moisture-bringing monsoon as India continues to swelter.

Links:

Heatwave Persists Across India

LANCE-MODIS

Northern India to Endure Scorching Heat and Drought due to Weak Monsoon

Heatwave Continues in Raj, Kota

Lychee Crop Suffers 40% Loss Due to Heatwave

Dust Storm Blamed for 9 Deaths, Transportation Nightmare

Indian Monsoon Delayed as Heatwave Continues

Ten Day Delay in Monsoon

El Nino Delays Rain, May Spell Trouble for Government

El Nino May Disrupt Monsoon

(Hat Tip to Colorado Bob RE Tipping Points)

(Hat Tip to Mark from New England for Excellent Clarifying Questions)

 

 

Global Warming and a Mangled Jet Stream: Germany Breaks All-Time Record Highs for Early March, Aswan Egypt Experiences First Rainfall Since 2012

According to reports from WeatherUnderground and WetterOnline, Germany experienced some of its hottest ever recorded temperatures for early March last week.

A large region including a swath of cities stretching from the northern coastline into the heartland and on toward the French border all saw records — some of which had lasted since the 1890s — fall. The heat pulse was enough to push readings into the upper 50s, 60s, and even the low 70s (F) for some regions. A set of highs extraordinary for a Germany that typically sees daytime temperatures ranging from near freezing to the low 40s this time of year.

Such a surge of warm air was enough to shatter more than 20 long-standing records by as much as 5.9 degrees (F). An unprecedented outbreak of March heat which set trees to blooming and spurred Germans on toward local waterfronts.

Germany's March Heatwave

(Germany’s March 9 heat wave set off 22 all-time high temperature records — shown in star pattern outlines. Temperatures shown are in degrees Celsius. Image source: WetterOnline.)

Some of the official new records for early March included:

Munster 22.4°C (72.3°F) former record 19.1°C (66.4°F)

Koln/Bonn 21.1°C (70.0°F) former record 19.8°C (67.6°F)

Dusseldorf 20.9°C (69.6°F) former record 20.2°C (68.4°F)

Aachen 20.8°C (69.4°F) former record 20.2°C (68.4°F) POR back to 1891

Hannover 20.2°C (68.4°F) former record 18.4°C (65.1°F)

Hamburg 20.0°C (68.0°F) former record 17.6°C (63.7°F) POR back to 1891

Bremen 19.5°C (67.1°F) former record 18.2°C (64.8°F) POR back to 1890

Kiel 19.3°C (66.7°F) former record 16.7°C (62.1F)

Bremerhaven 18.7°C (65.7°F) former record 16.5°C (61.7°F)

Helgoland 10.6°C (51.1°F) former record 10.5°C (50.9°F)

Mangled Jet Stream, German Heat, Egyptian Storms

Much of Central, Southern and Eastern Europe has been under the influence of a persistent high amplitude Jet Stream wave pattern throughout late winter. This pattern has consistently dredged warmer air up from North Africa and the Mediterranean and flung it over Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the Balkans, Poland and Ukraine. The result has been much warmer than normal conditions for this region.

On Sunday, the pattern amplified pushing a center of much warmer than normal air directly over Germany — setting off new record high temperatures for early March. It is a Jet Stream pattern that remains in place today and one that may amplify with the heat of summer putting Central and Eastern Europe and Western Russia under the gun for potential droughts, heatwaves and fires come summer time. A set of conditions that may further exacerbate already strained global food markets, economic and political tensions.

Jet Stream Germany March 9

(High amplitude Rossby type wave pattern brings record heat to Germany, record rains to Aswan Egypt. Image source: The University of Washington.)

Returning to early March conditions, the front side of this high amplitude wave pushed a deep trough down through Eastern Ukraine and Russia formed a cut-off low over Greece and accelerated the Jet Stream flow to the south. The result was a high amount of atmospheric instability in a rather unusual place.

Moisture flooding in off the Mediterranean flooded into the storm flow that was now centering over one of the driest places on Earth — northern Egypt. By March 9-10, the pattern had erupted into a series of freak thunderstorms that belched thunder, lightning, hail and record rainfall over this typically parched section of Egypt. In total, Luxor, the city of the famed Valley of the Kings, received nearly 1.2 inches of rainfall. This is nearly 30 times the average yearly rainfall for this desert land, which it received in just one day.

Nearby, Aswan received a stunning .6 inches of rainfall, the first rains seen for this region since 2012 and also a new record.

Events Sunday in both Egypt and Germany are not without their broader context in a world shoved toward increasingly severe weather by human-caused climate change. This year, the world over is experiencing a string of highly anomalous storms, heatwaves, droughts, cold snaps and floods. An ongoing occurrence that for some regions has resulted in a 500% amplification of climate extremes.

Unfortunately, with El Nino about to give its dark gift of ocean warming back to the atmosphere and with ice sheets in both hemispheres just starting their cycles of catastrophic melt, the increased intensity of weather and climate anomaly has only just initiated.

Links:

WeatherUnderground

WetterOnline

University of Washington

Extreme Weather Events Increase by 500%

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob!

Arctic Sea Ice Still Below 2007 Record Low Extent in Many Measures

And so the Arctic refreeze that began on September 19th, after a summer of devastating melt, continues apace. Temperatures are falling throughout the Arctic as the sun dips lower and lower on the horizon, beginning a phase that will eventually result in the total darkness of winter. As you can see on the map above, snowfall is starting to blanket land masses in the region. But an ominously large and dark open expanse of water remains.

Extent, Area Still Close to or Below Previous Records For End of Summer

It is October 5th, 16 days after refreeze began and 20 days after a typical melt season’s end. Yet some measures are still showing Arctic sea ice below past record lows set in 2007. NSIDC and IMS are still showing ice extent values just below the 2007 level. With that record breached on August 25th of this year, we have experienced 41 days, or 11% of the entire year, with sea ice extent values below the previous record low set in 2007.

What this means is that large, dark areas of ocean are having a longer time to absorb heat from sunlight and remain warm for longer periods. What it also means is that a greater degree of endothermic cooling is needed to freeze a much larger expanse of ocean. The result is that much of this cooling work goes to refreeze and less and less goes to thickening the ice. This combination of getting ever further behind the refreeze curve and having to refreeze in a warming ocean sets up the Arctic for even deeper melt in the years following.

All measures show today is a record low for this date in history. Sea ice area is 3.1 million square kilometers below the 1980 value and sea ice extent is currently 3.5 million square kilometers below the 1980 value for today (NSIDC). Sea ice extent is also about 800,000 square kilometers below the record low set in 2007 for today’s date. Sea ice area is about 480,000 square kilometers below the 2007 value for today’s date. These values are roughly equal to the minimum departure seen at melt season’s end. So, though refreeze has begun, the gap, for the moment, remains. However, as the refreeze season progresses, all measures except volume should appear to show some recovery as the ice spreads out with seasonal cooling. We will have to see how much the severe blow that occurred this summer affects overall winter sea ice area, extent, and volume.

New Volume Measure Shows 700 Cubic Kilometers Lost This Year

In my summary post for the epic melt that occurred in 2012 and its implications for melt in the years to follow, I included the final volume measurements for the melt season’s end in September. But it is also worth providing a summary for you here.

Overall, volume fell to 3,300 cubic kilometers, 700 cubic kilometers lower than the record low of 4,000 cubic kilometers set last year. Average yearly volume losses since 2007 are such that, should they continue at the current rate, the Arctic experiences an ice-free state at the end of summer by 2018. Exponential volume loss trends still point toward a potential ice-free state as early as 2015.
These two dates are critical in determining the Arctic’s response both to current melt rates and feedbacks. Should they materialize, we will know that all ice in the Arctic is headed for a rapid melt far sooner than predicted by the major science bodies. And this particular case has very severe implications for Greenland and for world sea level rise.

And a Few Words on Arctic Methane

Arctic methane concentrations will continue to climb through the fall and into early winter. We shall keep an eye on these readings since, as satellite data shows, their concentrations have been growing over the years and because they are one of the number of amplifying feedbacks occurring in the Arctic environment. The size of past pulses and their relative rate of growth is some cause for watchfulness, so we will do our best to track this year’s methane emission peak given the limited tools available.

The most recent methane data for Barrow Alaska is posted below (updated on September 29th, 2012). Note the three outliers at the upper right corner of the graph that caused some concern earlier in September but were confirmed to be from a likely human source. We will also be posting satellite images and comparisons from the University of Maryland as they become available.

Links:

http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/

http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

http://asl.umbc.edu/pub/yurganov/methane/MAPS/NH/

http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/dv/iadv/graph.php?code=BRW&program=ccgg&type=ts

https://sites.google.com/site/arcticseaicegraphs/

As of Tuesday, 65% Of US Still Suffering From Historic Drought, Grass Thefts Reported in New Mexico

 

According to the most recent report by NOAA’s Drought Monitor, about 65% of the US is still suffering from drought conditions. Though a storm system bringing tropical rains to the east and parts of Texas helped alleviate conditions in those areas, dryness worsened for much of the west and central US this week.

Most of the US also suffered from hotter than normal temperatures, with the northeast being the only region to gain a respite from the ongoing heat.

Impacts included continued instances of wildfires throughout the west as hot and dry conditions amplified. In the north, strange swarms of pine bore beetles were seen leaving the US  in vast clouds only to settle on the forests of Canada. These clouds darkened skies and fooled many into thinking rain had come. Many experts speculated that US pine trees had been so decimated over past years by a combination of beetles, dry weather, and fires that the beetles had massed to move on to the greener north.

In an even more bizarre circumstance, reports are coming in of very high rates of grass theft occurring in New Mexico. Framers, having lost grazing land due to drought, have been cutting their neighbor’s fences and letting cattle graze illegally on nearby lands. This is a phenomena not seen before in the southwest and is just one more indication of stress due to the continued drought.

Finally, research is continuing to determine how bad the current drought and related droughts of the 2000s have become. In Temperature as a Potent Driver of Regional Forest Drought Stress and Tree Mortality (by A. Park Williams et al., Nature Climate Change, 30 September 2012), the authors note that current severe drought conditions in the Southwest — extending from 2000 to the present – are the fifth most severe since 1000 AD. The report brings to light the importance of not viewing the 2012 drought as an isolated event, but as part of a much larger drought that began during the 21rst century’s first decade and has continued and intensified as time moved forward and human caused global warming deepened.

Links:

http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate1693.html#/supplementary-information

http://bottomline.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/10/03/14204843-drought-has-ranchers-reporting-rise-in-grass-yes-actual-grass-thefts?lite

Arctic Sea Ice Extent Falls Below 4 Million Square Kilometers For First Time

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Today sea ice extent continued its inexorable push into record territory. According to the Japanese Space Agency’s sea ice monitor, Arctic sea ice reached a new record low today and for the first time dipped below 4 million square kilometers.

The observation showed 3,947,500 square kilometers. This level is about 50,000 square kilometers below yesterday’s value and about 300,000 square kilometers below the record low set in 2007.

Arctic sea ice has retreated drastically this year. You can take a look at the most recent observation by JAXA here:

The Cryosphere Today site appears to be down today. But yesterday’s measure was also in record low territory at 2,643,000 square kilometers for sea ice area. A good reference for this size is the land area of Greenland itself, which is 2.1 million square kilometers.

NSIDC published a report on this year’s historic decline yesterday. You can view the report here. Currently, NSIDC is also showing continuing declines for sea ice extent. Based on the latest observation, NSIDC’s extent measure is also approaching the historic 4 million square kilometer mark.

UPDATE:

The most recent graph for sea ice area from the Cryosphere Today website has finally published. It shows sea ice area continuing its rapid decline. The area measurement for today shows 2,594,000 square kilometers of sea ice remaining. This is 49,000 square kilometers below yesterday’s measurement and 296,000 square kilometers below the record low set in 2011.

Links:

http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

http://www.ijis.iarc.uaf.edu/cgi-bin/seaice-monitor.cgi

http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/

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