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


Persistent Arctic Cyclone of 2013 (PAC) Returns to Trouble Central Arctic, Cloaks Itself in Warmer Air, Strengthens to 975 Millibars


(Image source: DMI)

Today the Persistent Arctic Cyclone of 2013 (PAC), re-centered over the North Pole even as it wrapped itself in above-freezing temperatures.

The above image shows a double barrel low roughly centered over the North Pole with a second low adjacent to the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Lowest pressures remain around 980 mb — a rather potent storm for early June. Though not likely to grow as strong as the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012 (GAC), this particular storm has now lasted for nearly two weeks and is projected to remain in the Arctic at least until June 15. Such persistence is likely to make this storm a substantial factor in the ongoing melt season.

Yesterday, the storm drew warm air in from the south behind it. This influx of warmer air ran into the Central Arctic beneath a train of cloud over a region near Svalbard and was visible in this Lance-Modis satellite shot. Temperatures in the region of Svalbard rapidly warmed with some regions there reporting 50 degree temperatures today — a virtual heat-wave for Svalbard this time of year. An area of dispersed ice near Svalbard also suffered very rapid melt yesterday, likely a result of this flood of warm, moist air.

Regions near the North Pole now show near freezing and above freezing temperatures. The storm backed into this warmer air, becoming wrapped in it as it returned to the Central Arctic. You can see this plume of warm air on the storm’s right flank in the DMI image below:


(Image source: DMI)

This above-freezing air now resides over a region where sea ice remains broken and churned by previous passages of this storm. This region is heavily obscured by dense cloud cover. However, we can get a few peeks down through the clouds in the latest Lance-Modis shot of the region. What detailed inspection reveals is the ghostly image of shattered ice with large, dark gaps of ocean water between. These gaps have likely emerged through the physical process of storm winds diverging the ice as cyclonic forces churn the protective, cold top layer of water with warmer layers underneath.

This assault from below is now enhanced by the fact that near freezing and above freezing air has moved in overhead (seawater melts at around 29 degrees Fahrenheit).

A close look at the image below reveals these gaps:


(Image source: Lance-Modis)

The clouds in this image are quite thick. However, if you took slightly to the left of direct center, you’ll be able to see ghosts of the fragmented ice and large gaps beneath.

The US Navy’s most recent CICE model run shows the PAC delivering a sustained blow to the thick ice just north of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (CAA) before impacts are again projected to increase over coming days in the Central Arctic. Note the shifting of yellows and reds to greens and blues near the CAA. This is indicative of a loss of about a meter or more of sea ice thickness in this region. Also note the more wide-spread thinning that is expected to re-emerge near the North Pole as light blues in the model run fade more toward darker blues, showing about an additional half meter loss there.


(Image source: US Navy CICE)

Confirmation will be necessary both visually and in other measures in order to verify the losses shown in CICE. Early losses were confirmed in Uni-Bremen, Lance-Modis visuals, and JAXA. However, dense cloud cover is currently making confirmation difficult even though some hints of this ongoing damage are visible through the clouds.

As mentioned yesterday, the primary processes for melt occur through divergence of the sea ice as well as via churning, upwelling, and Ekman transport of warmer water up from the depths. Today, melt potential is added via near and above freezing air temperatures over large regions of the Central Arctic. And as we’ve been warning since last Friday, the sustained nature of this storm has the potential to severely weaken the Central Arctic ice just prior to the warmest days of summer.

Since yesterday’s May PIOMAS update we’ve had more news to consider. However, apparent central ice impacts from this storm didn’t begin to seriously ramp up until the start of June. So we may need to wait to end of June for more clarity on total impacts. Nonetheless, all indications are this storm continues to fling the sea ice about quite a bit, with CICE continuing to show significant impacts to central ice thickness.

So, for now, the big thin continues.


Warm, moist air influx from the south appears to have provided this storm with some added intensity. What, earlier, was a double barrel low pressure system has now combined, drawing warmer air toward its center as its intensity increased to around 975 mb. Now this storm is just about 9 mb shy of the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012’s maximum intensity. In any case, 975 mb is a very respectable storm.

You can take a look a the latest storm intensity map here:

Arctic Cyclone Intensifies

(Image source: DMI)


ECMWF weather forecast model runs for June 14 show PAC 2012 deepening to a 965 mb low pressure system. Should this strengthening occur, the system will have become stronger than the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012. With the storm lasting so long, if it reaches such a strength, we may be dubbing it the Persistent Arctic Megastorm 2013 (PAM). Definitely something to keep an eye on.

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