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

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

arctic-heat-september

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

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

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

Threats to Ice Coming From All Directions

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

amsr2-animation-neven

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

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

Risks Rise for a Long Melt Season

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

Climate Reanalyzer

Universität Bremen

Arctic Sea Ice Forum

LANCE MODIS

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to DT Lange

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What’s Swimming in the Open Water Near the North Pole These Days?

Globally, it’s been a record-hot year. But nowhere has seen so much anomalous warmth during 2016 as the Arctic. As melt season draws to a close, some dramatic effects are now becoming visible in the NASA satellite shots. Large regions near the North Pole are losing their white covering of sea ice and showing the telltale blue-black of open water:

north-pole-open-water

(Large areas of open water are visible near the North Pole in this LANCE MODIS satellite shot.)

The above image, provided by NASA, shows the Northern Hemisphere polar region on September 5, 2016. To get some sense of the size of this region of low-concentration sea ice, the bottom edge of this capture represents approximately 300 miles. For a point of reference, the North Pole can be seen where the lines of the satellite image frames converge in the lower left-hand side of the capture.

All throughout this satellite shot, we see large expanses of open water. The smaller openings are five to ten miles wide, with very large openings ranging as much as 50 miles long appearing as well. Cloud cover is present throughout the image and blocks some visibility to open regions on the Siberian side of the Pole (upper section of the image) and over the Pole itself (lower left).

arctic-sea-ice-area

(Arctic sea ice area coming uncomfortably close to 2012 record lows in this NORSEX SSM model summary.)

Loss of ice in this region of the central Arctic is similar to and perhaps more extensive than that seen during 2010 and 2013. In 2013, strong storms combined with weakened ice states resulting in severe melt near the North Pole, with ice becoming more dispersed throughout the Arctic. This year, both storms and heat have hit the ice hard. Now, ice edge extent is far lower than in 2013 even as low-concentration ice floes and open water are visible near the Pole. As such, the overall health of sea ice is dramatically worse during 2016.

Unfortunately, sea ice buoy observations near the North Pole have seen cuts to research funding and no camera buoys are operating near the Pole. Otherwise, we’d probably be treated to images like this:

north-pole-camera-2-swims

(North Pole Camera 2 goes for a swim during the summer of 2013 as a period of extensive near-polar melt set in. Most indicators show that ice conditions at the North Pole this summer were as bad or worse. Image source: North Pole Environmental Observatory.)

The large, open sections of water near the Pole appeared as sea-ice extent and area in many measures fell to second lowest on record for this time of year. Some measures (shown in the middle image above) have come uncomfortably close to the 2012 record low line.

Overall, 2016 is a very bad year for sea ice. And the weird prospect of polar bears (or anything else) being forced to swim at the North Pole is not at all something to brighten one’s day.

Links:

NASA GISS

LANCE MODIS

NORSEX SSM

North Pole Environmental Observatory

 

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.

image

(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.

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

JAXA

Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

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

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

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

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

Melting more than Two Weeks Faster than the Early 2000s

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

Sea Ice Rates of Loss Steepening

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

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

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

Huge Holes in the Beaufort

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

Beaufort rapid melt 2016

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

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

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

Arctic Heat Like We’ve Never Seen Before

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

Freezing Degree Days Cross -1000 threshold

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

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

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

Links:

JAXA

LANCE-MODIS

CIRES

GISS TEMP

Climate Reanalyzer

Earth Nullschool

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

Hat tip to DT Lange

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

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.

Links:

Science Daily

Now Melts the Arctic

The Arctic Ice Blog

NSIDC

LANCE-MODIS

University of Maine

PIOMAS

Cryosphere Today

Dark Snow

 

 

 

 

Arctic Sea Ice Loss Goes Vertical: Area the Size of Nevada Gone in One Day

The white, reflective barrier protecting our northern polar region from the heat-amplifying effects of human-caused warming took a severe blow today. The National Snow and Ice Data Center’s sea ice area measure essentially fell off a cliff as values plummeted by more than 286,000 square kilometers. That’s an area of ice the size of Nevada lost in a single 24 hour period. A state-sized region flipping from white, reflective, cooling ice, to dark, heat-absorptive water.

arcticice June 3

(Most recent day’s sea ice area measure shows vertical drop for June 2nd and a near vertical drop for June 3rd. Updated graph shows June 3, 2014 area measures tied with 2011 and 2012 for record low daily levels. Data source: Cryosphere Today/NSIDC. Image source: Pogoda i Klimat.)

Overall, the sprawl of sea ice fell to 9,984,000 square kilometers or a negative 907,000 square kilometer anomaly vs the already low 1979 to 2008 mean. The fall was rapid enough to bring sea ice area to within striking distance of new record lows for the date. Should the nose-dive continue for just one more day, the measure’s lower range will be shattered.

Arctic Still Warm as Extra Heat Goes to Work on Ice

Since May, weather conditions in the Arctic above the 66.5 degrees north Latitude line have remained somewhat warmer than usual. GFS averages have ranged from +1.5 to -0.3 C when compared to the, already warm, 1979 to 2000 average. And, in general, values have typically hovered in the +0.5 C range for the entire Arctic.

This temperature anomaly range is, however, a major fall from the extreme polar amplification we saw this winter on the order of +4 to +6 C above ‘normal’ temperatures during the months of January and February of 2014. It is the same relative winter-to-summer draw-down in anomalies we would expect come summer as the heat overburden goes to work doing the physical heavy lifting of ice melt rather than simply warming the air. In essence, as atmospheric and ocean temperatures approach the 28 F melt-freeze line of sea ice, energy, instead, is dumped more and more into ice melt. So though Summer is still quite a bit warmer than Winter in the Arctic, the pace of atmospheric warming in the winter is much greater so long as temperatures remain below ice-melt thresholds.

Heat Delivery Mechanisms: How Polar Amplification Melts Sea Ice

Extra dangerous and amplifying Arctic heat comes from many sources. Not only is the atmosphere over the Arctic more heavily burdened with heat-capturing gasses than the rest of the planet (currently at about 405.5 ppm CO2 and 1910 ppb methane as measured at NOAA’s Barrow Alaska station), high amplitude jet stream waves continue to deliver heat in the form of southerly warm wind invasions even as the ocean upon which the thinning ice rests draws ever more energy from an immense volume of warming water. Expanding holes in the ice, a darker, greener, Arctic environment, a rain of soot from massive wildfires burning at the Arctic’s gates — all contribute to overall warming in the Arctic system.

How this heat is delivered to the sea ice can take many forms. The first, and most obvious, is through direct solar heating of the ice itself. Such insolation heating requires both clear skies and warm air temperatures for greatest impact. In these ideal conditions, melt ponds can proliferate, greatly reducing sea ice albedo and further weakening ice for large melts later in the season. And recent studies suggest that widespread melt pond formation played a key role in both of the record melt seasons of 2007 and 2012.

Melt Ponds over Hudson Bay June 2 2014

(Thin ice over Hudson Bay, Canada on June 2 takes on the characteristic blue tint indicative of melt pond formation. During late spring of 2014, melt pond formation was relegated to the ice edge, primarily due to widespread cloud formation over the Arctic Ocean. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

But for 2014, melt pond formation has been relegated to the ice edge boundary along the fast ice near Russia, in regions of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, and in Hudson Bay. Large areas of cloud cover have persisted throughout the Arctic preventing a much more widespread occurrence of melt ponds. This high degree of cloudiness is likely due to the changing Arctic itself where increasing encounters between hot and cold are veritable cloud and mist generating machines. Such changes bear out in paleoclimate observations where proxy values show a more ice free Arctic is a much cloudier Arctic.

So if clouds interrupt solar insolation in a melting Arctic, then what other mechanisms go to work to deliver heat to the ice?

Weather Systems, Warming Lands and Waters

‘Fate,’ as the saying goes, ‘is not without its sense of irony.’ For water in all forms, including the low-lying clouds which are fogs and mists, is likely to play an ever-increasing role in Arctic melt. These emerging heat delivery mechanisms can simply be summed up as follows: warm wet winds, warm water upwelling, and warm rivers.

Warm Wet Winds blow from south to north and increasingly invade the Arctic as tundra melts and sea ice retreats. As summer temperatures at the Arctic boundary increase due to human forcings and related amplifying feedbacks, these warm, southerly gusts bear with them an ever-increasing moisture content. And since water has 4 times the heat capacity of air, winds laden with higher volumes of moisture carry much more heat to melt ice than the drier, colder winds of yore. When such winds contact the ice, a form of condensation mist is wrung out of the air due to temperature differential. The mist directly contacts the ice and delivers its x4 heat capacity to the ice surface. It’s a phenomena that many coastal residents in the northeastern US are well familiar with — something they call snow-eating fog.

During late spring of 2014, warm, wet winds were particularly prevalent in the region of the Bering and Chukchi Seas. These winds weren’t much warmer than sea ice freezing temperatures — ranging from 28 to 40 degrees F. But they picked up moisture in a large south to north synoptic pattern, dredging up heat and water from the temperate Pacific to dump it on the Arctic sea ice. The result was great gusts of mists and fogs eating away at the ice edge week-after-week.

Warm Winds April 25 2014Warm Winds June 2 2014

In the above satellite image sequence (LANCE MODIS), we can see the drastic effects of prevalent warm winds. The top image is from April 25 of 2014, the bottom from June 2nd. In the top frame we can see the beginnings of mist and cloud formation at the ice edge along the path of persistent south to north wind flow. By June 2nd, this warm wind pattern has melted most of the Bering and Chukchi sea ice even as it intensified to a misty, cloudy maelstrom chewing away at the ice edge.

A more intense kind of a warm wind forcing can come in the form of a warm storm. These storms typically emerge from the south carrying with them a high degree of heat and moisture. A combination of rain, strong winds and increased wave action over sea ice can have a severe effect during a warm storm as was seen during the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012. Such storms are likely to become more prevalent as the Arctic continues to heat up. And these systems can also generate a kind of warm water upwelling that eats away at the ice from below.

Warm Water Upwelling is an especially powerful force to melt ice that sits on a warming ocean, particularly when the ice is as thin, broken and mobile as we see in the Arctic today.

Impacts from warming and upwelling deep ocean waters have been both extraordinary and increasingly visible to major glacial systems in Greenland and West Antarctica where numerous ice sheets have begun an irreversible plunge toward the oceans.

In the Arctic, heat typically pools in deeper layers and at the near-shore below-surface boundary along the continental shelf. The ice rests in a zone of colder water at the surface. Atmospheric patterns such as persistent and strong high and low pressure systems can occasionally tap this deeper water heat through a mechanism known as Ekman pumping.

The way this works is that a large-scale swirl of air creates a kind of suction effect on the sea surface. In cyclonic storms, Ekman pumping causes upwelling to occur at the center of the storm and down-welling to occur at the edges. In high pressure systems, upwelling occurs along the edges while down-welling occurs at the center.

Ekman Transport

(Illustration of Ekman transport is cyclonic [storm] and anticyclonic [high pressure] systems. Image source: MIT.)

The effect this has on sea ice is that storms will tend to spread the ice out and thin it at their centers while high pressure systems will tend to pull the ice edge in and concentrate the ice. In addition, the upwelling at the edges of the anticyclone can add melt stress, especially in more shallow coastal basins, even as melt stress is added along storm paths in which warmer waters may have ventured closer to the ice bottom.

During the last week, a persistent high pressure system formed over the Beaufort Sea. It sat opposite a set of cyclones that formed near the Kara. The anticyclonic pattern of the high drew in ice from land-fast moorings in the East Siberian Sea even as warm upwelling and loss of albedo generated warmer surface temperatures in an expanding polynya zone — pumping out a burst of ice-eating mists. The anticyclone expanded into the Laptev where a similar edge draw and surface warming effect was visible even as the wind patterns between anticyclone and cyclone converged to amplify the northward retreat of ice.

Laptev and East Siberian Sea Ice May 15

Laptev and East Siberian Sea Ice June 3

In the top LANCE MODIS image frame we see East Siberian and Laptev seas already suffering ice loss and break-up due to a series of warm wind outbursts from the Asian continent on May 15 of this spring. In the bottom frame, we see today’s sea ice coverage dramatically reduced after a week of extreme ice damage due to anticyclonic recession and related edge upwelling.

As a result, both Laptev Sea ice and East Siberian Sea ice are well into record lowest ranges.

Warm Rivers also typically provide a strong pulse of heat to the Arctic through spring and into summer. As the Arctic lands thaw and the large continents warm, water flows from thawed rivers increase. In recent years, Jet Stream wave amplification has combined with warming temperatures in the region of 55 to 75 North Latitude to increase storminess and rainfall intensity. As a result, higher volumes of warmed waters flood north into what was once the ice sanctuary of the Arctic Basin. The pulse of water is generally enough to disintegrate land-fast ice and speed the ice melt further offshore.

Though large warm water pulses are not yet visible, regions to watch for 2014 will be the Mackenzie Delta and the mouths of the Kolyma, Lena, Yenisey, and Ob rivers. Major rainfall events in Siberia have been ongoing over the past week and will likely generate increased volumes of warm water flow for the Lena and Yenisey rivers particularly.

It is also worth noting that much warmer than average conditions have spread over the Mackenzie and Ob river basins.

Forecast Shows High Rate of Melt Likely

Today’s weather shows a continued building of the high pressure ridge over the Beaufort with GFS model forecasts predicting the ridge will remain in place over at least the next seven days. Persistence of this ridge pattern will continue to draw the ice in from the East Siberian and Laptev Seas even as warm winds over the Chukchi are reinforced. Sea ice totals may further be drawn down from rapid melt proceeding in both Hudson and Baffin Bay. Melt in these areas has lagged behind the larger Arctic somewhat, so current near record low totals are yet higher than they would otherwise be.

Melt soup

(107 hour GFS Model temperature forecast. Image source: University of Maine.)

Meanwhile, model runs show the Arctic steadily devolving into a kind of melt soup where atmospheric temperatures push into an above-freezing range for sea ice over the majority of the Arctic even as shore regions of Yakutia and the Mackenzie Delta are forecast to see temperatures in the mid 60s and 70s. These readings are in the daily range of +0.3 to +1.9 C above the 1979 to 2000 average for the entire area above the Arctic Circle and are predicted to hit local spikes from +4 to +18 C.

It should go without saying that a 70 degree reading in early June on the shores of the East Siberian Sea in the high Arctic is a clear sign of human-caused climate change gone nuts. And we are likely to see these and higher readings as spring proceeds into summer.

So though general cloudiness over the Arctic may continue to suppress melt pond formation, there likely remains enough heat baked-in to keep testing new record lows for sea ice. Even under cloud cover, dangers to the sea ice abound in the form of warm winds, warm storms, warm water upwelling, and a growing heat pulse from warming Arctic rivers. Amplifying heat and a growing number of ways in which that heat can be transferred to ice creates an ever-expanding risk for ice free conditions. Under such a regime, unexpected and extreme events are increasingly likely.

*    *    *    *

UPDATE: According to reports from NSIDC and Cryosphere Today, negative Arctic sea ice area anomaly for the date grew to 988,000 square kilometers below the average for June 3rd. This represents an additional loss of 179,000 square kilometers, which is larger than the combined land masses of the UK and Croatia (or roughly the size of the state of Missouri). This most recent plunge pushes 2014 sea ice into record low range as it essentially ties values for both 2011 and 2012 on this date. Any single day loss greater than 120,000 square kilometers for tomorrow will extend 2014 losses into all-time record low range.

In total, the plunge over June 2-3 represents 465,000 square kilometers or an area larger than the combined regions of California and Maryland. It is worth noting that weekly losses in the range of 500,000 square kilometers are considered extreme. We have instead witnessed a near 500,000 square kilometer loss in just two days.

arctic_AMSR2_nic

(Thin ice visible over broad stretches of the Arctic. Image source: Uni-Bremen.)

As an additional note, it’s worth sharing the observation that while high pressure systems and warm winds have placed extreme melt pressure and caused the ice edge to rapidly recede in the Chukchi, East Siberian and Laptev seas, ongoing cyclonic action in a rough triangle from the North Pole to Greenland to the Kara Sea has resulted in a great breaking, thinning and dispersal of ice in this region. The cyclones in the area, though weak, have generated enough force to greatly disperse the ice and, perhaps, to access warmer waters just below the ice in sections where ice has repeatedly expanded and retracted over recent months. Large patches of sea ice concentration of less than 75% in this zone make it very vulnerable to any additional heat and melt forcing.

So it appears the Arctic is split between weather forces — with cyclones dominating the sea ice between the North Pole, the Kara, and the coasts of Greenland and with high pressure systems dominating the Beaufort and the Laptev. Forecast higher temperatures injected into what is already a strong melt regime continue to generate high risk for rapid melt.

Links:

Cryosphere Today/NSIDC

Pogoda i Klimat

Arctic Ice Graphs

Arctic Sea Ice

LANCE MODIS

MIT

GFS Model

University of Maine

NSIDC MASIE plots

 

Extensive Dark Snow, Very Large Melt Lakes Visible Over West Slope of Greenland as Late Season Melt Pulse Continues

Late Season Greenland Melt Pulse Continues.

Late Season Greenland Melt Pulse Continues.

(Image source: NSIDC)

A strong, late-season melt pulse continued over the Greenland ice sheet this weekend as melt covered a much greater portion of the ice sheet than is typical for this time of year. As of late July, the area of the Greenland ice sheet subject to melt had spiked to nearly 45%. Soon after, a second melt spike to around 38% followed. Over the past two weeks, melt area coverage has fluctuated between 5 and 25 percentage points above the seasonal average for this time of year, maintaining at or above the typical melt season maximum of around 25% for almost all of this time.

This late-season melt surge was driven by a switch in the polar Jet Stream. A trough which had dominated through much of summer, bringing near average temperatures and melt conditions, had eroded and by late July a broad ridge began to form. This high amplitude wave dredged warm air up from as far south as the south-eastern US, then dumped it on the west facing coast of Greenland. There, last week, a new record all time high temperature of 78.6 degrees (Fahrenheit) shattered Greenland’s previous highest temperature of 77.9 degrees.

And this record heat is beginning to have a very visible affect on the ice. Aqua satellite passes this weekend recorded a visible darkening of ice cover in the region most greatly impacted by high temperatures last week. The snow and ice cover there has taken on a sooty appearance with darker gray tendrils finding their way deep into the ice pack. At the same time, large melt lakes expanded over the region with some of these lakes measuring more than  three kilometers across.

In this first Modis shot we see a broad region of darkened, melt-pond speckled ice forming over a very large swath of Greenland’s western ice sheet:

Greenland west coast melt, August 4.

Greenland west coast melt, August 4.

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

For reference, Baffin Bay is toward the left of the image, the southern tip of Greenland, toward the bottom, and the far right frame of the image runs about down the center-line of the south Greenland ice spur. Note the swatch of dark ice that appears much like dirty snow running down western side of the ice sheet. This major melt region, at its widest, appears to dive as much as 100 miles into the ice sheet. Even at this level of resolution, we can see the large melt lakes speckling the inland border of this darkened region.

Zooming in to a region where melt appears to have penetrated deepest into the ice pack, we find even more dramatic features.

Greenland melt lakes, dark snow, August 4, 2013.

Greenland melt lakes, dark snow, August 4, 2013.

(Image source: Lance Modis)

The orientation of this particular image is the same as the larger image above, but we have just zoomed in to a large, central melt region. Toward the coast, we can see melt and ice flowing into channels and fjords. Adjacent to this rocky coastal zone is a region of more rapidly mobile and fractured ice flows. Few melt ponds are visible in this region and this is, likely, due to the large fissures and steep vertical faces that cover most of the ice surface in this area. It is beyond this boundary margin and inward toward the ice sheet’s center that we find a second region of very dark snow and ice. This area shows some large melt ponds, but its prominent feature is an almost complete loss of reflective snow cover with lower layers of soot deposition and darker sediment now exposed. Still further in, we find the third, and arguably most dramatic, melt zone. This particular area is coated, not in dark gray, but in blue. It is a feature primarily caused by a very extensive surface melt covering much of this region. In this single picture, we can count over a hundred large melt lakes mostly dominating this region. They range in size from about a half kilometer to over three kilometers across. Connecting these lakes is what appears to be a web of melt rivers, some of which terminate in moulins that core into the glacier’s heart, delivering warm melt water the frigid ice’s center and base. The general bluish color of this region indicates a very high degree of melt with puddles and pools below the 250 meter resolution of this particular satellite shot lending an azure tint to the ice.

Conditions in Context

Over the past two decades, Greenland has shown a very disturbing and rapid melt response to human-caused warming. During the mid 1990s, Greenland began to show a net loss of ice mass. Through the 2000s, this melt rate accelerated, growing generally, but rapidly peaking in rather disturbing melt surges as warm weather conditions grew more extreme during certain years. By 2012, a very extreme melt year had occurred, resulting in ice sheet losses on the order of 700 cubic kilometers in just one year. These peak melt years appeared to re-cur at a rate of once every 2-5 years even as overall average melt from Greenland grew to a disturbing 500 cubic kilometers by the early 2010s.

Even worse, sensors deep within the ice sheet indicated that the ice sheet had become more mobile, increasing in velocity by about 2-3 percent each year since 2010.

Though 2013 does not appear to be a peak melt year, as weather conditions have favored less melt than in 2012, the continued softening of the Greenland ice sheet remains a very disturbing summer feature. This year’s west coast melt has been particularly dramatic, with the most recent shots shown above featuring some of the worst melts I have yet witnessed.

UPDATE:

Prokaryotes (think about the name) was kind enough to produce the following video of this blog on his own platform: Climate State. I’ve linked the YouTube version here:

Links:

Greenland Ice Sheet Slipping Under Hottest Temperatures Ever Recorded

Keep up with Greenland Melt by Reading Jason Box’s Website

The Dark Snow Project

NSIDC’s Review of the Record 2012 Greenland Melt Season

Global Warming Rolls Climate Dice Yet Again: High Amplitude Jet Stream Wave Brings Late July Melt Surge to Greenland

The old cliche is that lightning never strikes twice in the same place. In weather and climate terms, natural variability makes it highly unlikely that record year will follow record year, even when a forcing, such as human global warming, tends to push in that direction.

In the context of Greenland, it was very unlikely that record melt on the order of around 700 gigatons of ice lost during 2012 would repeat in 2013.  That said, even in a year like 2013, where climate attempts a return to the average trend line, it’s entirely clear that conditions are anything but normal.

Throughout late June and much of July, a downward dip in the Jet Stream dominated weather patterns over Greenland. Cold, Arctic air was locked over the massive island, pushing melt rates closer to ‘normal’ for a summer season. The term to use is definitely ‘closer,’ because even during weather conditions that would normally bring colder than average conditions to Greenland, warmth and melt were still above average.

Global warming adds a roll

A metaphor we can use to describe this phenomena of implied variability in a warming system is James Hansen’s climate dice. Imagine that a basic roll of a d10 gives us a typical weather pattern for Greenland. 1 on the dice represents record cold, 10 record warmth, 2 and 3 are colder than average, with 2 being near record lows and 3 being closer to average, 4, 5, 6 and 7 are average, 8 and 9 are hotter than average, and 10 is record heat.

This set of weather and climate possibilities is a basic representation of ‘normal’ for Greenland. But when we add in human climate change and global warming, we are essentially adding a new player to the mix, with its own set of dice. In this case, let’s add a 1d3 to the global warming hand. Now, with the extra dice roll for global warming, the potential for extreme hot, melting years just got far, far more likely and we begin to experience never seen before heat and melt events. But we still end up with colder than average years and normal years, just less of them.

The situation is probably worse than the simulation described above because on the typical 1 to 10 scale we can label 2012 about a 13 (with freakish never seen before record heat and melt) and 2013 through about July 26th a 7.1 — slightly hotter than average with ever so slightly above average melt.

The problem is that June and July were average when they should have been cold. I say this because a high amplitude wave in the Jet Stream flowed down over Greenland, pushing relatively colder air over the sea ice and into the freezer that is still Greenland. Such conditions usually push for colder than average Greenland temperatures and lower than average melt. This period of what should have been colder than average conditions instead resulted only in an abatement of record melt and a return to slightly above average melt.

Mangled Jet Stream switches back to ‘hot’

But now, even this brief respite appears to have evaporated. Over the past couple of weeks, the deep, cooler trough over Greenland eroded, weakening as warmer air pushed into southern Greenland. Now, the trough has completely reversed — becoming a ridge and somewhat mimicking the freakish conditions that occurred during 2012. So slightly above average melt conditions are now starting to swing back toward record melt conditions for this time of year.

You can see the large, high amplitude bulge riding from south to north, carrying air from the south-eastern US all the way north to Baffin Bay and southwestern Greenland, in the Jet Stream map for July 30th below:

Greenland Jet

(Image source: California Regional Weather Service)

This sudden Jet Stream switch brings back a weather pattern that caused such major melt conditions during summer of 2012 and such warm winter conditions for Greenland as 2012 turned to 2013. And the results, as far as ice melt goes, have been almost immediate. Earlier melt peaks at around 34% of the ice sheet during July were obliterated in one fell switch of atmospheric air flow that, once again, drew warm, temperate air into the Arctic.

Over the past two days, this extra warmth has increased Greenland melt area to above 40%, peaking at near 45% just a couple of days ago. This peak, though not as anomalous as the 90% + melt coverage experienced during early July of 2012, is still about 80% higher than the average melt peak observed for the period of 1981-2010 and more than double the average for melt in late July. It also puts Greenland further into above average melt year territory, possibly shifting the 2013 score from 7.1 to around 8.5.

You can see the melt coverages graph, provided by NSIDC, for the current year below:

Greenland Melt 2013 Late July

(Image source: NSIDC)

The warm air pulse that drove these anomalously high late season melt rates in Greenland appears to have settled in for at least the time being. Temperatures along the Greenland coast range from the upper 30s to the lower 60s — quite warm for this time of year — while summit Greenland is experiencing warmer than average temperatures in the lower 20s (Fahrenheit).

Above average melt when it should have been cold

So what is freakish about 2013 when compared to 2012 is not that it matched a major melt event that will likely stand as a record for the next five years or so, but that in a year where weather conditions would have pushed Greenland to be mostly colder than normal, above average warmth and melt were still experienced. In this case, it becomes very clear that we are rolling with loaded climate dice or, as the illustration above shows, human global warming is adding its own wicked set of rolls.

Links:

California Regional Weather Service

NSIDC

James Hansen’s Climate Dice

Learn about Dark Snow

North Pole Melting: Ice Camera 2 Swims as Camera 1 Gets its Feet Wet

Camera 2 in deep water at North Pole.

Camera 2 in deep water at North Pole. Image sourc: APL

This summer has seen a great number of extraordinary events resulting from human caused climate change. These include massive heat dome high pressure systems setting off record droughts, fires and heat waves, Arctic temperatures rocketing into the 80s and 90s, Europe and Canada suffering some of their worst flooding events in history and a crazy US weather system moving backwards against the prevailing weather pattern for more than 3,000 miles. Add to these record events a substantial melting of ice in the Arctic’s most central regions, and you end up with rather strong proofs that our greenhouse gas emissions have permanently altered the word’s weather.

From late May to early July, a persistent Arctic cylone (PAC 2013) first fractured ice near the North Pole, then consistently widened and melted the gap it created. Now a large triangle of very thin ice extends from the North Pole south and eastward toward the Laptev Sea. The section of meter or less thickness keeps widening even as gaps continue opening in the ice and melt ponds form over many of the remaining flows.

Further north and on toward the western side of the North Pole, two cameras supplied by the Applied Physics Lab and funded through a National Science Foundation grant are performing their own daily recording if this major melt event. The melting, which from the satellite, appears to have turned the sea ice near the North Pole into swiss cheese has had a marked effect on visible surface conditions as well.

Sea Ice swiss cheese

Sea ice swiss chees as seen through the clouds near the North Pole. Image source: NASA/Lance Modis

Of the two ice cameras, #2 so far has seen the most action.  On about July 13th, melt puddles began to form in the region of Camera #2. By earlier this week, the camera was deep in a growing pool of ice melt. By today, the water had deepened further covering all the markers surrounding both the camera and its related sensor buoy. Water now appears to be about 3 feet deep and the pond just keeps growing and growing (you can read more about the saga of Ice Camera #2 here).

But now, Ice Camera #1 appears to be about to suffer the same fate. Over the past couple of days, melt ponds have now also been forming in the vicinity of Camera #1. You can see this new set of melt puddles here:

Puddles North Pole Camera 1

Puddles form near North Pole Camera 1. Image source: APL

Note the melt puddle snaking its way behind the wind vane visible in the camera’s field of view and on toward Camera #1 itself. If conditions at this camera are similar to those near Camera #2, then we can expect Carema #1 to be swimming in about ten days time.

With temperatures remaining above freezing for much of the Central Arctic, melt conditions have tended to dominate. Now, most of the remaining ice is rather weak, with a thickness of about 2 meters or less. And with so much of this thin ice in areas near the North Pole, a possibility exists that much of this region will melt out over the next 6 weeks or so.

As for the Ice Cams? It appears that #1 may soon join #2 in the drink.

First Named Arctic Cyclone to Deliver Powerful Blow to Sea Ice?

The weather models are all in agreement, an Arctic Cyclone is predicted to form over the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas tonight and tomorrow, then strengthen to around 980 millibars as it churns through a section of thin and broken sea ice. The storm is predicted to last at least until Saturday and is expected to deliver gale force winds over a broad swath of thinning sea ice throughout much of its duration.

Arctic.wind.60.cc23

Gale force winds predicted for Beaufort, Chukchi and East Siberia Seas.

(Image source: Arctic Weather Maps)

The fact that this particular storm is forming in late summer is some cause for concern. The sea ice has been subjected to above freezing temperatures for some time. Melt ponds have increasingly formed over much of the Arctic and, since late June, most of the precipitation falling on the Arctic has been in the form of rain. The central ice pack is in complete chaos, with extensive thinning and fracturing surrounding a wide arc near the North Pole and a broad melt triangle full of broken ice and patches of open water extending far into the Laptev Sea. Further, the long duration of sunlight falling on the ice surface and penetrating into the ocean layer just beneath has likely warmed waters below the cold, fresh layer near the ice.

As the storm passes, its strong winds and cyclonic circulation have the potential to dredge up this warmer water and bring it in contact with the ice bottom. Such action can rapidly enhance melt, as we saw during the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012. Since the brine channels are all mostly activated (with much ice in the region now above -5 degrees Celsius) Cyclonic pumping during storm events like this one can transport sea water directly through the ice to increase the size of melt ponds, to break, or to even disintegrate ice flows.

It is important to add the caveat that this particular storm in not predicted to be quite as long or as strong as the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012 which, in its first week, coincided with a loss of 800,000 square kilometers of ice. But Arctic weather is nothing if not unpredictable and this particular event could just as easily fizzle as turn into an unprecedented monster.

That said, a number of concerning conditions have emerged just prior to this storm that may result in an enhanced effect on the ice. The first condition is that large sections of the Beaufort, East Siberian and Chukchi Seas are covered in thin, diffuse and mobile sea ice. These conditions are clearly visible in the surface shots provided by NASA/Lance-Modis:

Ice and Open Water North of Wrangel Island

In this section, as in other broad stretches of the Beaufort, the ice is reduced to a kind of slurry in which, as Neven over at the Arctic Ice Blog notes, the individual flows are completely degraded and difficult to make out. This slushy region is in direct contact with a region of mostly open water. Such areas of de-differentiated ice are likely to show greater mobility and enhanced wave action during storms, which puts them at risk of more rapid melt.

Another somewhat ominous note in advance of this storm is a rise in Arctic Ocean temperature anomalies over the past couple of days. NOAA’s surface temperature measure indicates a spreading pool of warmer than normal surface ocean conditions throughout the Arctic. In the region this storm is predicted to most greatly affect, the storm will have the potential to bring such warmer than normal surface waters into more consistent contact with the ice through the mechanical action of waves and by activating the brine channels in the ice. Further, a large pool of much warmer than normal surface water in the Chukchi Sea is likely to be driven deeper into the ice pack where it also may enhance melt.

sst.daily.anomCyclone

(Image source: NOAA)

In general, there’s quite a bit of atmospheric and ocean heat energy for this storm to tap and fling about. Not only is the surface ocean warmer than 1971-2000 base temperatures, but most continental land masses surrounding the Arctic are showing highs between the mid 60s to upper 80s and lows between the 40s and upper 60s.

ECMWF model forecasts show the storm tapping some of this energy in advance of intensification, with a tongue of warm Alaskan and Canadian air being drawn into the storm at the 5,000 foot level late Monday and early Tuesday. Directly opposite, Siberia and Eastern Europe have hosted very warm air masses with daytime surface temperatures above the Arctic Circle reaching the upper 80s consistently over the past week. This warmth also encroaches just prior to storm intensification.

ECMWF warm air advance

(Image source: ECMWF)

Added heat energy injected at the surface and at the upper levels will ensure that the vast majority of precipitation during this event emerges as rainfall.

Broader effects of this storm could be quite significant. The US Navy’s CICE models are showing a greatly enhanced ice motion throughout the duration of this storm as its counter-clockwise circulation is predicted to dramatically increase the movement of the Arctic’s remaining thick ice toward the Fram Strait. The Navy’s thickness monitor also shows a jump in ice thinning and dispersal throughout the ice pack over the duration of this event. In particular, the back end of remaining thick ice north of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago is mashed like a tube of tooth paste in the model run, pushing a broad head of ice toward the Fram. At the same time, a large section of Central ice, earlier thinned by PAC 2013, is projected to rapidly expand and further thin under the influence of this storm.

Note the rapidly expanding melt wave from the North Pole to the Laptev that appears in the final frames of the run below:

 

Arctic Cyclone Daly

(Image source: US Navy)

So it appears we have a short duration but relatively high intensity Warm Storm event predicted to have broad-ranging effects from the Beaufort to the Central Arctic. An event that could have impacts similar to those of the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012. Should such circumstances arise, it begs the question — is the Beaufort a region that is more likely to spawn these kinds of storms come late July through early to mid August? The region is now surrounded by increasingly warm continents. The observed weakening of the polar Jet Stream by 14% has resulted in a much greater transport of heat to the high continental boundary, as evidenced by a broad swath of heat-waves ringing the Arctic above the 60 degree North Latitude line. The increasingly thin Beaufort ice jutting out into this crescent of continental heat may well be the ignition point for major atmospheric instability, powerful storms and related heat transfer. Something to consider should these kinds of late season ice melters recur on a more frequent basis.

To this point, a new naming convention has been proposed over at the Arctic Sea Ice blog for summer storms that greatly impact the ice. Preliminary standards have been set for storms with a central pressure lower than 985 mb (at peak intensity) and a duration longer than 4 days. Suggestions for storm titles include traditional Inupiat names from this region or even the use of the names of prominent climate change deniers (My opinion is that both calling attention to major Arctic melt events and how climate change deniers have attempted to cover such events up would be an excellent use of such a convention, but I may be out-voted).

You can take part in the naming convention discussion on the Arctic Ice Blog by following this link here.

In conclusion, the potential arises for the first named Arctic Cyclone to result in dramatic melt and weakening of sea ice throughout the upcoming week. This potential heightens the risk for 2013 to be another record melt year and so we will continue monitoring the storm’s development closely for you.

 

 

 

PAC 2013 Redux? Warm Storm Returns to Haunt Central Arctic

It's back. New Persistent Arctic Cyclone forms over Laptev Sea.

It’s back. New Persistent Arctic Cyclone forms over Laptev Sea.

(Image source: DMI)

Earlier this week, a moderate-strength Arctic Cyclone formed near Svalbard. Since that time it has persisted even as it drifted into the Laptev sea as a 1000 mb low today. Now, according to forecasts, the storm threatens to remain in the region for at least the next ten days, deepening to as strong as 980 mb and chewing into a region of sea ice that has been consistently weakened by storms since late May.

If you’ve followed this blog and feel you’ve heard this story before, it’s because you have. PAC#1 formed in late May and churned through the central sea ice all throughout June, creating anomalous thinning of a region near the North Pole and on toward the Laptev sea. By early July, the storm had finally petered out, but not after leaving behind a wreckage of thinned and broken sea ice.

Now, it appears a second storm (PAC 2013 #2) is set to churn through the same regions so drastically impacted by PAC 2013 #1, this time lasting for at least two weeks.

So here we go again:

PAC 2013 #2 Over Beaufort Sea

PAC 2013 #2 Over Beaufort Sea as 980 mb low on July 24th.

(Image source: ECMWF)

The above image shows a strong 980 mb PAC 2013 #2 over the Beaufort Sea on July 24th. Current model runs show the storm moving back and forth over the Central Arctic, Beaufort and East Siberian Seas until at least July 29th.

Warm Storm Takes Hold

As sea ice is much thinner and as atmospheric and ocean temperatures are much warmer, it is likely that a new Persistent Arctic Cyclone will have even more obvious and far-reaching effects than the one we witnessed in June. Average surface atmospheric temperatures throughout the Arctic are above the temperature at which ocean water freezes and almost all regions show temperatures above 0 degrees Celsius. So precipitation in these storm events is more and more likely to fall as rain.

You can view how much the Arctic has warmed in the composite weather map below:

Arctic Temperatures July 19

(Image source: Uni Koeln)

Note the large pulse of 78-86 degree (Fahrenheit) weather (24-30 degree Celsius) pushing all the way to the Kara Sea near Archangel and points eastward. Meanwhile, 40-50 degree (Fahrenheit) temperatures have become common in areas near Svalbard, the extreme north coast of Greenland, and even during the daytime over some sections of the Beaufort (not visible in the current shot above). We can also see a number of wildfires raging in the heatwave stricken region of Arctic Russia (fire sites on the map are indicated by vertical black lines with squiggles on top).

Overall, temperatures over the Arctic Ocean have averaged 1-3 degrees Celsius above normal. With most of the summer spent in cloudy, stormy conditions that usually lead to cooler weather, this year is highly, highly anomalous. What we have, instead, are warm storm conditions.

With all this heat in place, wet, rainy precipitation is much more likely to fall over areas of the Central Arctic underneath the new storm. As water carries more heat energy than air, a warmer than freezing rainfall over the ice sheet is a powerful melt enhancer. In addition, associated winds are likely to further shatter and disassociate ice beneath it. Eckman pumping forces will also be more likely to access warmer waters beneath the colder, fresher layer that tends to protect the ice. This is due to the fact that a constant sunlight has now streamed through the ice for two and half months running. This long duration sunlight is likely to create a warmer water layer in a range of 40-70 feet beneath the surface. A passing storm of moderate to strong intensity will likely be able to access this warmer layer and transport it to the surface where it can do work melting ice.

I took a look at a worst case warm storm scenario back in June that may provide a helpful, if extreme, example of these forces at work.

A somewhat stark example of what a warm storm can do to thin, fragile sea ice is also now plainly visible via APL’s North Pole Camera #2. Even since yesterday we can see that melting has rapidly advanced around the camera as it now rests in a deepening and expanding melt lake stretching far about in all directions:

Camera 2 now in icy water.

Camera 2 now in icy water.

(Image source: APL)

From this shot, only a small band of remaining snow cover now surrounds the buoy in the foreground. It also appears that the camera itself is now sitting in the water. It is worth noting that this melt lake currently rests on ice that is probably between 1 and 2 meters in thickness. But the waters now covering the ice are darker, absorbing more direct and indirect sunlight even as the above-freezing melt lake slowly bores down into the ice. If the Eckman pumping forces engaged by this storm are also bringing warmer waters up from the depths, the ice near this camera is suffering melt from both above and below.

Though the current picture shows somewhat sunny weather, conditions near the camera have been mostly stormy for the past three days. It is likely that storm conditions will soon return as this region is mostly engulfed in cloud.

Sea Ice Measures Near Record Lows

Sea ice area takes a vertical nose dive losing 400,000 square kilometers over the past two days.

Sea ice area takes a vertical nose dive losing 400,000 square kilometers over the past two days.

(Data Source: NSIDC, Image source: Pogoda i Klimat)

Major sea ice monitors now show ice area, extent and volume all falling rapidly. Sea ice extent, according to NSIDC is at about 7.8 million square kilometers — or 4th lowest on record. Cryosphere Today also shows sea ice area tied for 4th lowest on record with about 5.5 million square kilometers of sea ice area remaining. Area losses in this measure have been particularly cliff-like with nearly 400,000 square kilometers lost in just two days. Similar losses over the next 5-6 days would bring the monitor into new record low territory. By mid June, PIOMAS showed the sea ice volume measure running at about 3rd lowest on record with rapid losses ongoing since late May.

Though these values still remain above record lows, there is a huge amount of heat energy moving around in the Arctic. Earlier this year, the sudden amplification of the heat in May led to the fastest snow melt on record. Snow cover at the end of April was 9th highest. By the end of May, snow cover levels had plummeted to 3rd lowest. The fact that the Arctic is capable of such dramatic swings is clear proof that the heat balance there has reached highly unstable levels. It is for these reasons that we must remain alert for the potential of rapid ice loss as July transitions into August.

Despite a slow early May sea ice melt (in contrast to a racing snow melt), rates of loss have been near record levels throughout June and July of 2013. Given this break-neck melt pace and a state of continued fragility throughout the ice pack, risk remains high that one or more measures will see new record lows come September. Sea ice is now also very highly dispersed making it even more vulnerable to melt and disruption. The most recent Crysophere Today shot shows broad regions where sea ice concentration is now 60% or less.

Cryosphere Today

(Image source. Cryosphere Today)

With such broad areas of ice so vulnerable and exposed, any further thinning, melt and dispersal caused by the re-emergence of a warm storm is likely have strong impacts with the potential to dramatically affect final melt totals.

Links:

Persistent Arctic Cyclone and the ‘Warm Storm’ of 2013

DMI

ECMWF

Uni Koeln

APL

Cryosphere Today

Central Arctic ‘Heat Dome’ to Replace ‘Warm Storm’ As Melt Season Shifts to New Extreme?

All the updates are in and with the major melt month of June now in the rear view mirror, it’s time take a fresh look at the volatile melt season of 2013.

In short, June melt proceeded rapidly, but not rapidly enough to break into new record territory after the slow melt month of May. Meanwhile, PAC 2013, which turned a large section of the central Arctic into a mush of broken ice faded as high pressure began to deepen and exert its own unique sets of influences over the region. As the clouds broke, air temperatures began to heat up in the Central Arctic even as anticyclonic pumping began to pull ice into the large hole formed by the storms of June. Above average temperatures ruled much of the Arctic edge as Scandinavia and North-Eastern Europe, Siberian Kamchatka, Eastern Alaska and Central Canada all showed hotter than normal conditions. The high, entrenching itself, began to pool warm air directly over the Arctic’s fractured heart…

Major Monitors Show 2013 Melted Rapidly in June through early July, But Not Rapidly Enough to Break into New Record Territory

A combination of a storm thinning the ice of the Central Arctic and hot air pulses rushing in from the ice edge resulted in a near record pace of melt for sea ice area, volume, and extent during June through early July. This furious pace of melt was fast enough to challenge previous record lows, if not to break them.

Sea ice extent July 8

(Data Source: NSIDC, Image Source: Pogoda i Klimat)

Sea ice extent measures produced by NSIDC provide a good allegory for the overall melt trend seen in June through early July. In early to mid June, extent melt proceeded at a gradual pace at first. By late June and into early July, extent melt had drastically increased showing multiple days of 150,000 kilometer or greater loss. This extraordinarily steep pace of melt can be seen in the above graph. If such a rapid pace continues through mid July, a new record low extent level will be breached.

Currently, sea ice extent is 6th lowest on record and is only slightly above the 2007 melt line. This puts sea ice extent, according to NSIDC, about 1.4 million square kilometers below the 1979-2000 average.

To this point, it is important to consider that NSIDC has now included the extreme melt decade of 2000-2010 in its official records. So NSIDC ‘averages’ on site include these shifting goal-posts. The data set includes a declining curve and, therefore, cannot be seen entirely as ‘normal.’ Instead, it provides an anomaly base-line for a highly anomalous period and should be viewed as such. To the superficial observer, presenting the data in this fashion will somewhat serve to mask what can best be described as a sea ice death spiral. A plain example of this discrepancy is the fact that 1979 sea ice values for the same date (July 8) were about 2.1 million square kilometers higher than today. A severe decline by any measure. It is worth noting, though, that NSIDC does provide a very useful interactive tool in which all sea ice extent records are available here. (Hat-tip to Physicist-retired who provided this link in the comments section below).

sea ice area CT July 8

(Data Source: Cryosphere Today, Image Source: Pogoda i Klimat)

Pace of sea ice area melt was also rapid during the month of June through early July with more than 4 million square kilometers lost during the five-week period. As a result, sea ice area measurements are now around 4th or 5th lowest in the record or about 1.8 million square kilometers below 1979 values. Though rapid, this melt rate still puts current measures about 800,000 square kilometers above record low totals seen for this date in 2012. So area melt will have to be steep, indeed, for new records to be reached by end of summer.

PIOMASseaicevolumeJuly8

(Image Source: PIOMAS)

The critical measure of sea ice volume showed a quickening pace of decline from mid-May to mid-June. PIOMAS showed volume levels about tied with 2010 as third lowest in the measure by about June 15th. PIOMAS tends to lag a bit behind area and extent. So we don’t yet have an idea of where volume stands come early July.

That said, it is important to note that much of the region usually covered with thick ice — the Beaufort and the area north of Greenland and the CAA are substantially thinned compared to previous years. NASA’s Ice Bridge survey found this region about 8% thinner during March and April of 2013 than during the same period of 2012. Thinner ice in regions that are typically the bastion for thick ice during late summer may show much more rapid melt in July and August (especially at times when strong high pressure systems dominate the Central Arctic).

Ice Bridge Thickness

(Image provided by NSIDC as a compilation of NASA Ice Bridge Data)

Note the large region where ice thickness is 2 meters or less from the middle Canadian Archipelago and stretching on into the Beaufort. A large pulse of melt now advances from the Chukchi and along the coast of Canada and Alaska into this region. A persistent blocking pattern has also driven pulses of much warmer than normal air into this area consistently throughout June. Weather models forecast additional atmospheric warming through at least mid July. With a strong high pressure ridge now forming in the Central Arctic, this region will be one to watch for potentially rapid melt as July progresses into August.

High Pressure Forms in the Wake of PAC 2013

The dominant feature of the Central Arctic during June of 2013, a Persistent Arctic Cyclone that turned a large section of this region into an icy slurry, finally faded as of last week. The impact of this storm has now been widely accepted with NSIDC providing expert analysis on the subject:

High-resolution passive microwave concentration data from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency AMSR2 sensor, produced by the University of Bremen, indicate a highly unusual region of broken-up ice near the North Pole. Development of this low concentration ice may have been assisted by the cyclonic atmospheric pattern noted earlier.

…MODIS data do confirm that the ice is highly fractured with numerous small floes. Such small floes are more easily melted from the sides and the bottom by ocean waters that are exposed to the 24-hour sunlight. It remains to be seen how many of these small floes will ultimately melt completely (emphasis added).

Thin Ice North Pole

(Image source: NSIDC)

I wrote extensively on the subject of PAC 2013 ice thinning during June. Now, NSIDC confirms a large region north of Svalbard featuring sea ice with concentrations of 50% or less that may be vulnerable to melt as July and August progress.

This condition may become particularly evident as the dipole switches from storm over the Central Arctic to clear air, warmer temperatures and higher pressure. A 1020 millibar high has already formed over the central Arctic and is expected to heighten into a 1030 millibar high by the middle of July. This thickening high will bring sunny conditions and much warmer air temperatures to the Central Arctic. It will also create an anti-cyclonic down-welling near its center. This pumping action will tend to have the effect of drawing edge ice into the hole created by PAC 2013. If the waters in the hole are substantially warmed, it is possible that enhanced melt will occur in this region even as edge ice is drawn back into the hole.

You can see some of this potential melt action predicted in the US Navy CICE model run for the 30 days from mid June through the end of next week:

High Pressure Suction

(Image source: US Navy)

The effect a high like the one predicted has on sea ice is clearly demonstrated at the end of the above model run. The down-welling in the Central Arctic is seen to suck large portions of the ice in this region toward the hole formed by PAC 2013. At the edges, an upwelling action combines with counter-clockwise winds around the high to pull the ice edge inward even as the warmer upwelling waters eat away at the outliers. Note the rapid drawing in of all ice from the Beaufort, East Siberian Sea, Laptev and in a broad region north of Svalbard.

This action is the exact opposite of the effect seen during June via the impacts of PAC 2013. Then, a storm created an anomalous hole in the central sea ice even as it shoved ice toward warmer regions. Now, the rapid switch from storm conditions to strong high pressure conditions creates the potential for another unusual event: the collapse of thick ice and edge ice into the hole PAC created. Such an event would likely have an amplified effect on sea ice melt, especially in the extent measures. So we’ll will have to keep a close eye on both this building high pressure system and its interaction with the hole created by PAC 2013. Should these CICE model runs bear out, the next few weeks will be extraordinarily interesting.

It is also important to note that CICE only shows impacts through July 15th. Yet, according to ECMWF weather forecasts, a strong, 1030 millibar high is expected to last in the Central Arctic at least until July 18th.

Arctic Heat Dome Starting to Form?

To this point, it is worth noting that the weather models indicate a potential for yet another extreme Arctic weather event: the formation of an Arctic ‘heat dome.’

Arctic Heat Dome

(Image source: ECMWF)

ECMWF forecasts show a powerful high pressure ridge developing over the Central Arctic through mid July. Associated with this high is a river of warmer air that is predicted to run directly over the North Pole. Indications are for 40 degree plus average temperatures at the 5,000 foot level by July 18th. This translates to average surface temperatures as high as the mid 50s over a broad section of the Beaufort, through the North Pole and on over to Svalbard. For the high Arctic, which averages just above freezing for this time of year, that’s a heatwave.

The establishment of this ‘dome’ high pressure system has already begun with a 1020 millibar high strengthening over the Laptev and Central Arctic. Should this ‘heat dome’ continue to strengthen and entrench as predicted, it is likely that edge melt will be greatly enhanced even as thicker ice is pulled into the melt hole created by PAC 2013 as July progresses.

The formation of such a strong high and associated warmer atmospheric temperatures during July is not conducive for ice preservation. In fact, the formation of this kind of weather system would have resulted in hastening melt even during times when the ice was thicker and more resilient. Instead, the ice suffered at the hands of a storm that, typically, would have helped preserve it. Now, the formation of a powerful high pressure system threatens a crowning blow.

So an interesting and volatile melt season continues. Anomalous storm melting of Central Basin sea ice appears to be transitioning to a powerful regime of high pressure that threatens to bring much warmer temperatures to the Central Arctic all while drawing edge ice into the deep melt hole formed by PAC 2013.

Links:

NSIDC

Pogoda i Klimat

PIOMAS

US Navy

ECMWF

Arctic Heatwave Sizzles Northeastern Europe With 92 Degree Temperatures, Mangled Jet Stream Hosts Record Canadian Floods, and the Persistent Arctic Cyclone is Coring Through the North Pole

It’s your typical abnormal summer day in the Arctic. The Arctic heatwave flares again, Canada tries to recover from violent record floods, and a Persistent Arctic Cyclone that began in late May is continuing to core a hole through the sea ice near the North Pole.

The Arctic Heatwave Moves to Eastern Europe

An Arctic heatwave that has skipped from Scandinavia to Alaska to Central Siberia, pushing temperatures in this polar region into the 80s and 90s (Fahrenheit), has now re-emerged to plague Eastern Europe. Temperatures in the middle 80s are once again emerging in Finland, an area that blazed with anomalous 80 degree temperatures in early June. But areas north of the Arctic Circle in nearby Russia are, this time, receiving the real baking. There, highs in the region of Archangel, near the Arctic Ocean, reached 92 degrees Fahrenheit. Out over the Kara Sea, just north of these record-hot conditions, an area still choked with sea ice experienced near 70 degree temperatures today.

Average temperatures for most of these regions range from the 40s to the 60s. So current conditions are about 20 to, in some cases, nearly 30 degrees above average.

Arctic Heatwave June 24

(Image source: Uni Koeln)

In the above weather map, provided by Uni Koeln, we can see today’s record high temperatures showing up in pink in the lower right-hand corner of the map. Note the instances of 32 and even 34 degree Celsius temperatures (which converts to 90 and 92 degrees Fahrenheit respectively).

We can also see that some of last week’s fires over Siberia, which I described here, have been put out by a massive rainstorm now dousing the region. The storm emerged as a trough surged down from the Arctic and over Siberia, setting off large storms.

Extreme Jet Stream Sets Off Floods in Canada, Forcing 100,000 to Evacuate

During the middle of last week, the convergence of two upper-level flows of the Jet Stream set off very unstable conditions over Alberta, Canada. A cut-off upper level low stalled, trapped beneath a long-period blocking pattern and dumped rain on Alberta and regions of Central Canada from Wednesday through Monday. Consistent moderate-to-heavy rainfall fell in some areas for up to 16 hours without stop. By the weekend, many places had set one day records as a swath of 2 to 7 inch rainfall blanketed a broad region. Many areas, including Calgary, received their highest rainfall totals ever recorded.

Contributing to the problem was hard, frozen ground and ongoing mountain melt filling up streams and rivers. This combination of impenetrable ground, snow melt, and ongoing, record rainfall resulted in massive floods that turned streams into torrents, roads into rapids, and stadiums into lakes. In total, more than 100,000 people were forced to abandon their homes.

This particular event is likely to see damages well in excess of 1 billion dollars and could rival the record 22 billion dollar floods that rocked Europe just last month. Jeff Masters, at WeatherUnderGround, speculates that the 2013 Canadian floods may be the most costly in that country’s history. Given the massive impact of this major flood, damage totals may exceed previous record flood impacts, at around 800 million, by well more than an order of magnitude.

Persistent Arctic Cyclone Cutting Through the Central Sea Ice

PAC 2013 June 24

(Image source: DMI)

Lastly, a Persistent Arctic Cyclone that began in late May, and has now composed numerous storms remaining in place over the Central Arctic for about a month, continues to cut a hole into the sea ice near the North Pole. The above image, provided by DMI, shows PAC composed of an old low near the Canadian Archipelago and a new, stronger low that just entered the Central Arctic.

Lowest pressures are now about 990 mb, which is somewhat stronger than the storm that lingered over the Arctic this weekend.

Impacts to central sea ice appear to be ongoing even as somewhat rapid edge melt continues. The latest model assessment and forecast from the US Navy shows a widening and thinning area of broken ice near the North Pole, one that displays much greater losses than those seen earlier in the month. A band of open or nearly open water has now emerged just on the Russian side of the 180 degree East line. As you can see, model forecasts show this area of open water continuing to widen over this coming week.

PAC2013modelforecastJul1

(Image source: US Navy)

Meanwhile, some of the thickest sea ice is also showing the corrosive impacts of these ongoing storms. In the image above, you can clearly see the invasion of ice thinner than 2 meters where 2.5, 3, and 3.5 meter ice previously dominated. In fact, in later sequences, it appears that a knife of much thinner ice begins to drive down through the relatively small pack of remaining thick ice.

The Central Arctic is extraordinarily cloudy today. So it is not possible to verify these Navy observations with visual shots. That said, the Navy projections have been both consistent and confirmed in the other monitors since early-to-mid June.

****

Any one of these extreme weather events — a heatwave in Arctic Europe, immense floods never before seen in Canada, and an anomalous storm coring through the thickest sea ice — would be evidence that human caused climate change has radically altered the weather. Instead, we have all three occurring over the span of as many days. It is a pace of extreme events that is both troubling and astounding. And each has been affected by the sea ice loss, ocean, ice sheet, and atmospheric warming, loss of summer snow cover, and extreme changes to the circum-polar Jet Stream brought about by human caused climate change.

We are in the age of extreme weather brought on by our fossil fuel use. If we are to have any hope of preventing the very worst impacts, we need to drastically begin reducing CO2 and related greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.

Links:

Calgary Flood May be Most Expensive In Canadian History

Uni Koeln

DMI

US Navy

PAC 2013, The Month-Long Arctic Cyclone: Transitioning to a Warm Storm?

PAC2013Jun21

(Image source: DMI)

Well, it’s official. PAC 2013 has yet to give up the ghost. After transitioning to the Canadian Archipelago, it has now formed a trough composing three low pressure centers that roughly straddles Greenland, Baffin Bay, and the thickest sea ice. At this point, the storm is nearly one month old (with a formation date around May 21-26). Lowest pressures appear to be around 990 mb, but the entire region is covered in rough weather and clouds.

A look at the heat map shows the storm pulling in warmer air from the Alaskan side of the Arctic and from regions around it. This extra energy has given it enough to fuel multiple lows for an extended period. As a by-product, many regions over the Central Arctic are now above freezing. Areas near the low pressure centers still show temperatures in the range of 0 to -3 Celsius. But a broad swath of above-freezing temperatures are now under the circulation of this, rather large, storm.

PAC2013TempJun21

(Image source: DMI)

On the map, we also notice areas of high heat concentration centered over Scandinavia, Central Siberia, Alaska, and just West of Hudson Bay. These regions of heat are both potential launching pads for more warm air invasions of the Arctic as well as feeding sources for our storm, should it continue.

And, according to forecasts, we can find that this storm isn’t done by a long-shot. ECMWF model runs show it forming troughs with numerous low pressure cells and chewing through large portions of the Arctic all the way through to July 1. Seems we were right to caution against an end to PAC 2013 in this earlier blog.

A very interesting example is the ECMWF forecast for June 27th when PAC 2013 forms a sprawling trough from the East Siberian Sea to Baffin Bay to Greenland to the Kara. It is a trough composed of not one, not two, but at least six separate low pressure cells. The forecast for tomorrow through much of the model run shows similar configurations with daisy chains of storms linked by a trough swirling along through the Arctic.

Six Lows PAC 2013

(Image source: ECMWF)

These model runs would seem to indication very stormy conditions not only for the Central Arctic, but for the periphery as well.

The ‘Warm’ Arctic Storm Begins to Emerge?

With temperatures rising to above freezing in the Central Arctic Basin and with storms projected to persist at least until July 1rst, we may receive an unwelcome glimpse of the ‘Warm’ Storm described here. Previously, I had speculated that ‘Warm’ Storm conditions would be present with moderate-to-strong cyclones persisting in the Central Arctic at a time when air temperatures ranged from 0 to 6 degrees Celsius. As we can see from the temperature map at the top of the post, we are not far off from that threshold now. And with heatwaves popping up around the Arctic there is more than enough warmth to push Central Arctic temperatures higher over the coming days and weeks.

Over at the Arctic Ice Blog (read it, join it, follow it, chat on it — you will learn boatloads), expert posters Wayne and R. Gates have noted that while clouds block direct sunlight, they can act to trap long-wave radiation. R. Gates had also linked a recent scientific study which showed that cloudy conditions from March to May enhanced rather than inhibited melt. The energy of this long-wave radiation would transfer directly to ice and ocean, so atmospheric temperatures would not be directly impacted. But more heat content in the waters and ice, overall, might be providing some of the extra kick that ECMWF appears to have missed. Another recent study by Edward Hanna found that low level clouds helped to increase the record Greenland ice sheet melt of 2012 (study here) by trapping heat near the ice. So the overall effect of clouds in cooling is less certain than one would think at first blush.

Another source of this extra heat may be via the ocean itself. As noted in previous posts, cyclonic action creates a kind of pumping force (Ekman), that can pull water up from the ocean’s depths. In the Arctic, the surface layer is cold. But underneath lies a layer of warm water fueled by the inflow from oceans surrounding the Arctic (primarily the Atlantic). As commenter Johnm33 noted, once a strong inflow of upwelling water is established, it is possible that yet more warm water is being drawn into the deep Arctic Ocean from the Atlantic. If this warmer inflow was pumped to the surface, it would add to atmospheric heat beneath the storm.

Lastly, the atmosphere, via high amplitude waves in the Jet Stream is now also providing its own source of heat by dredging deep into the lower latitudes and pulling warmer air up into the Arctic. So far this summer, we have seen record heat waves in both Scandinavia and Alaska. These heat waves were caused by persistent blocking patterns that injected heat into these Arctic locations. Scandinavia saw temperatures in the 80s, Alaska saw temperatures rocketing into the upper 90s. The Jet Stream configuration allowing for these hot air injections at these locations still persists and are plainly visible on the current Jet Stream map:

Mangled Jet Jun21

(Image source: California Regional Weather Service)

Note the large wave in the Jet Stream (and associated warmer air) now riding up over Alaska and deep into the Beaufort, Chukchi, and East Siberian Seas. Another pulse is visible lunging up through Scandinavia. A third, though less southwardly linked, pulse is also now rising over Eastern Siberia. These extraordinarily high amplitude waves all cross far beyond the Arctic Circle. An atmospheric condition that is anything but normal and one that is also continuing to supply warmer air to the Arctic environment, even one covered by a storm that would normally substantially cool the atmosphere there (for more information on how snow and ice melt in the Arctic is enabling these high amplitude Jet Stream waves, take a look at some of the work of Dr Jennifer Francis). Instead, as the discrepancy with ECMWF predictions and surface observations shows, we have temperatures that are only .5 to 1 degree C cooler than average under the storm (they should be about 3-7 C cooler) and much, much warmer conditions surrounding it.

A Warm Storm persisting in the Central Arctic for long periods is a potential nightmare scenario for sea ice melt. Currently, we have warming conditions in the Central Arctic, a spate of record heat-waves at the periphery in places like Alaska and Scandinavia, a mangled Jet Stream that keeps pumping warmer air into the Arctic, and a storm that is now projected to persist until at least July 1rst. So we now have to consider at least the temporary emergence of the Warm Storm to be a possibility going forward.

Impacts to Sea Ice Still Ongoing, Likely to Ramp Up

A substantial thinning and chopping up of the sea ice is now apparent in all visible (when you can see through the clouds), concentration, and thickness monitors. Now, a wasteland of thinned, shattered and broken ice is visible in a swath from Svalbard all the way to Wrangle Island near the Bering Strait. A comprehensive graphic summary of these impacts is provided below:

PAC2013USNavyJun21Thinner

(Image source: US Navy)

The current image, provided by the US Navy is a stark contrast to conditions seen at the end of May. This thickness measure shows a long ‘claw’ of much thinner ice reaching all the way in to the Central Arctic and encompassing the North Pole. This graphic reveals very poor Central Ice thickness conditions for mid-to-late June.

USNAVYConcentrationPAC2013

(Image source: US Navy)

The US Navy surface concentration graphic also reveals very broken conditions for the Central Arctic in mid-to-late June.

UniBremanPAC2013

(Image source: Uni Bremen)

Uni-Bremen has been providing consistent confirmation of ice damage and fragmentation due to the Ongoing Arctic Storm for nearly two weeks now. Here’s the most recent concentration monitor showing the broad swath of broken ice.

Cryosphere Today PAC2013

(Image source: Cryosphere Today)

And Cryosphere Today, which is less sensitive than the other monitors shows low ice concentrations stretching from Svalbard to Wrangle Island.

Overall, should PAC 2013 continue to warm even as it persists, it should have ever-greater deleterious effects on the Central Arctic sea ice as mid-to-late June transitions into July. The US Navy thickness forecast shows ongoing thinning and fracturing in this region all the way through June 28th. One interesting feature of note in this forecast is that it appears a substantial section of ice will be separated from the main pack and stranded in the Kara Sea if current trends continue through early July.

PACUSNAVYforecastJun28

(Image source: US Navy)

The Storm That Just Won’t Quit

So, apparently against all odds, PAC 2013 continues and, even worse, shows risk of beginning a transition to a ‘Warm’ Storm in the Central Arctic. Should this trend remain in effect, increasingly visible damage to the central ice is likely to become ever more apparent as June turns to July.

Links:

DMI

ECMWF

US Navy

Cryosphere Today

Uni Bremen

Neven’s Arctic Ice Blog

California Regional Weather Service

Jennifer Francis Explains How Sea Ice and Snow Melt impact the Jet Stream

The Warm Arctic Storm

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.

Links:

Heatwave Sets Records Across Alaska

Barrow Ice Cam

Lance-Modis

ECMWF

Greenland Melt Exceeds Summer Maximum in Early June. “Storms of My Grandchildren” on the Horizon?

greenland_melt_area_plotJun11

(Image source: NSIDC)

According to reports from NSIDC, Greenland ice sheet melt had exceeded average summer maximum values by Tuesday, June 11th, about a month and a half earlier than normal.

On Tuesday, about 24% of the Greenland ice sheet had experienced melting. This value is about 1% higher than the usual summer maximum of 23% melt coverage.

2013’s early, widespread melt follows just one year after melt covered nearly all the Greenland ice sheet for days during July of 2012. 2012’s melt was the strongest for Greenland in at least 120 years. For 2013 melt values to approach or meet 2012 melt values would further reinforce a powerful increase in Greenland melt that has occurred since the 1990s. Since that time, the rate of Greenland melt has more than tripled.

June 2013 has established a trend of rapidly increasing melt that sets in place conditions for past record values to potentially be challenged. As such, it is well worth monitoring conditions as they develop.

greenland_melt_nomeltJun11

(Visual of Greenland melt coverage on June 12th. Image source: NSIDC)

Scientists now are at odds over how fast Greenland melt will increase. Some believe a linear increase in melt is most likely while others believe that exponential increases in Greenland ice sheet melt are not out of the question. Should the increasing pace of melt for Greenland continue, powerful changes in the weather, especially for Europe and North America are in store. This winter and spring’s extreme weather over much of Europe may just be a foretaste of what is to come.

Storms of My Grandchildren on the Horizon

Massive melt from Greenland by or before mid-century means large volumes of fresh water in the North Atlantic. These high volumes of fresh water could substantially slow or even halt the Gulf Stream. Present measures of Gulf Stream circulation already show the current slowing. If these trends continue, the replacement of this warm water stream with cold water from Greenland will radically alter northern hemisphere weather.

The Weather Channel provided a brief summary of some of the possible impacts of slowing Gulf Stream currents here.

Even worse, under human caused climate change, a cooling of the North Atlantic occurs at about the same time tropical and temperate region temperatures begin to rapidly rise. This creates a high gradient between cold air near Greenland and warm air directly to the south. The result, according to models, is powerful storms never seen before in human memory.

In “The Storms of My Grandchildren,” NASA scientist James Hansen warned of the potential for frontal storms large enough to span continents and packing the punch of hurricanes. Is is just these kinds of storms that rapid Greenland melt combined with intensified warming at the tropics could set off.

The conditions for these events appears to be ramping up now and could be present, in the worst case, by as soon as the 2030s. In the meantime, weather conditions are likely to continue to deteriorate as a combination of sea ice melt and Greenland ice sheet melt play havoc with traditional weather patterns.

Alterations to the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream as demonstrated by the work of Dr. Jennifer Francis is one such change that is already present. And this alteration has already resulted in several instances of enhanced severe weather.

Meanwhile, in more southerly regions, we find that the seasons for tropical storm development are lengthening. Dr. Jeff Masters of WeatherUnderground made the following statement in reference to the early June formation of Tropical Storm Andrea:

Andrea’s formation in June continues a pattern of an unusually large number of early-season Atlantic named storms we’ve seen in recent years. Climatologically, June is the second quietest month of the Atlantic hurricane season, behind November. During the period 1870 – 2012, we averaged one named storm every two years in June, and 0.7 named storms per year during May and June. In the nineteen years since the current active hurricane period began in 1995, there have been fifteen June named storms (if we include 2013′s Tropical Storm Andrea.) June activity has nearly doubled since 1995, and May activity has more than doubled (there were seventeen May storms in the 75-year period 1870 – 1994, compared to 6 in the 19-year period 1995 – 2013.) Some of this difference can be attributed to observation gaps, due to the lack of satellite data before 1966.

So storminess increases at the tropics and storminess increases at the poles. When these two conditions meet, the potential exists for amazingly powerful and freakish storms similar to, but even worse, than Hurricane Sandy. It is the potential of global warming to set in place conditions where powerful storms can combine, persist, and expand over vast areas that is a threat we must consider as Greenland melt continues to increase, Arctic sea ice melt progresses, and warming in the tropics and temperate zones continues to expand.

Links:

NSIDC

The Weather Channel Observes Slowing Gulf Stream

The Storms of My Grandchildren

WeatherUnderground

Masters: Hurricane Season Getting Longer

Persistent Arctic Cyclone and The ‘Warm Storm’ of 2013: How Unusual is It? Is Central Ice-Thinning Normal? What are the Worst-Case Scenarios?

(Edited on June 18 due to the availability of new information. I also want to promote two excellent blog posts related to this subject. One, by Neven, over at the Arctic Sea Ice Blog, takes a closer look at the science of Perstistent Arctic Cyclones, the other, posted on the Daily Kos by FishOutOfWater, links PAC 2013 to the collapse of the polar vortex this past winter.)

*******

Yesterday, two commenters — Sourabh in this blog post and T.O.O. in this blog post — raised some very salient questions about 2013’s Persistent Arctic Cyclone (PAC). These commenters wanted to know how critical to melting is PAC 2013, is this the first time we’re witnessing thinning of the central ice due to a long-period Persistent Arctic Cyclone, and by ‘what conditions could the central ice be expelled from the Arctic Basin?’

I posted a short response to their comments here and here. But I wanted to take the time to explore their questions in greater depth. Hence, this blog post.

Long Duration Summer Cyclones Rare, But Not Unheard of

First, let’s take a look at the current PAC 2013, its forecast duration, and how it compares to other storms. For context, it is important to note that most cyclones in the Arctic basin last for 40 hours or less. By comparison, PAC 2013 began on about May 26th and has remained in the Arctic for about 16 days. Forecasts now show the storm persisting until at least June 21rst. If the storm lasts this long, it will have remained in the Arctic for 26 days.

Another comparison can be seen in the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012 (GAC). This storm was the 13th most powerful storm ever to impact the Arctic in the modern record. It lasted for about two weeks and reached a minimum central pressure of about 966 mb. The current PAC 2013, while lasting longer (and projected to last much longer) than GAC 2012, reached a lowest central pressure of around 975 mb while averaging in a range of 985 – 995 mb.

It is worth noting that Arctic cyclones are a year-round phenomena. And that more numerous, though somewhat weaker storms, have been noted to appear from May to July. That said, the strongest, longest duration storms usually occur during winter and can last for three weeks to a month or more. During summer, Arctic cyclones are weaker, pack less of a punch, and usually don’t last as long as winter storms. What makes PAC 2013 and GAC 2012 exceptional is the fact that they were both strong, long duration storms occurring during summertime and that they occurred under conditions of record thin Arctic sea ice.

There is some research to show that the strength of summer Arctic cyclones has been increasing since the late 1970s. These researchers show that increasing levels of moisture and higher temperatures around the Arctic during summer time have added fuel to the formation of new storms. Weather records do show the strength of the most powerful summer storms generally increasing with time.

Overall, PAC 2013, though somewhat weaker than GAC 2012 at peak strength, is projected to remain in the Arctic for a very long time. And with lowest pressures rivaling that of a moderate-strength tropical cyclone, it should continue to have substantial impacts — both to Arctic weather and to sea ice.

New Event: Storms that Melt Sea Ice

The Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012 was also unique because it was the first storm to have a major impact on Arctic sea ice. Though researchers have tended to disagree over how pivotal the storm was in reducing ice to the record low values achieved during 2012, it is generally accepted that the storm melted at least 250,000 square kilometers of sea ice during early August.

The storm achieved this feat by mixing the surface ice with warmer waters lying just beneath. Wave action and cyclonic pumping of warmer waters from the depths provided a powerful force for thinning and melting the surface ice. Though no direct research on sea ice volume losses due to GAC 2012 has been published, CICE images before and after the event speak to a major thinning as a result of the 2012 Cyclone.

Before:

GAC2012ThicknessBefore

After:

GAC2012ThicknessAfter

(Images From: US Navy)

Note the large areas of ice thinned into naught by the storm as it plowed through the East Siberian, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas. A region of central ice was also noticeably thinned during the storm.

We can, therefore, say with some confidence that it is the ice thinning forces of the storm which caused the loss of 250,000 square kilometers of sea ice attributed to its impacts. But we can also say that a visible and, as yet, undetermined volume of ice was also lost and that this loss substantially contributed to 2012’s record low status.

A similar situation is now present during PAC 2013. Substantial thinning is now visible in all the sea ice monitors, especially on the Russian side of the North Pole. But this event is different from GAC 2012 in that is occurring during June, a period of time in which the ice is thicker and more resilient. A period of time when air and water temperatures are relatively cooler. As a result, no where near as much in the way of sea ice area losses can yet be attributed to PAC 2013. I say ‘yet’ because this storm appears determined to stick around for the long haul. So we may see major area losses arise as a result of its action.

In any case, it is worth looking at before and after thickness maps to determine the level of damage caused by PAC 2013.

Before:

PAC2013Before

During:

PAC2013After

After?

PAC2013Jun18

(Images From: US Navy)

As is plainly visible from the above set of images, PAC 2013 has dramatically hollowed out the central sea ice. With at least another ten days of duration expected, we are still just in the preliminary phase of impacts. These should ramp higher as the days continue to progress. (Note, the last image was added on June 18th, two days prior to a possible cessation of the storm).

Both PAC 2013 and GAC 2012 are new events for the reason that they result in melt and weakening of sea ice. This is unprecedented because past storms did not generate measurable losses in summer (You can look at some of this research here and here). To the contrary, it was thought that the cloudier, cooler storms were generally protective. And this was true in a cooler climate. Now, strong storms have a potential to result in losses. And this new feature is an environmental condition brought about by human-caused climate change.

Is This the First Time We’re Witnessing A Summer Cyclone Thin the Central Ice in June?

Now that we have a little background on summer cyclones and how climate change has enabled them to both significantly thin and melt ice, we can confidently answer the question: is this the first time we’re witnessing a summer cyclone thin the central ice in June?

The short answer to this question is: yes.

In the satellite record, there is no precedent for a June storm melting and weakening the ice in the past. Though June storms have impacted and fragmented the ice before PAC 2013, this storm is the first powerful, long-duration event to have such a large, measurable melt effect in early summer. As noted above, past storms were thought to be defensive, resulting in a more resilient ice pack and less melt, overall, come end of summer.

In part, such widespread damage is due to the fact that the area currently influenced by the storm is so large — covering all of the Central Arctic. The other reason is the fact that the ice in this key region is supposed to be the most resilient to late summer losses. Instead, in early summer, we see damage and erosion.

Were the storm to end now, it would leave the central ice thinner and weaker to the assaults of late summer. But the storm hasn’t ended. It continues to churn and thin the ice even as temperatures rise.

It is possible that, if this storm lasts long enough, remains strong enough, and pulls in enough warm air, it could produce a large region of open water at the very center of the ice pack even as it shoves a large portion of the thickest ice toward the Fram Strait. Such an event would not only be unprecedented. It could be catastrophic.

Under What Conditions Could the Central Ice Be Expelled From the Fram Strait? Short Answer: Persistent, Warm Storm

So now we’ll address the nightmare scenario for this particular event. This expose is by no way a prediction. It is just an illustration of what the worst case, in this event, could look like. It is also, by no means, the only way we could lose all or most of the central ice. The ice, for example, could melt out under a sustained assault from the sun. The central ice could take a hit from a swift, powerful storm, then melt as warm air and sunlight moves in behind it. We won’t examine these and other cases. Instead, we’ll take a look at the worst case in the event of a long-lasting Persistent Arctic Cyclone that warms and churns throughout a good portion of summer.

The event could look something like this:

The Persistent Arctic Cyclone that emerged in late May continues on through June and into July. As the Arctic warms, more above freezing temperatures get wrapped into the storm. Eventually, much of the region it covers warms to a range of 0-6 degrees Celsius. Rain becomes a primary form of precipitation in the storm.

The added moisture, warmer cloud cover, and above freezing precipitation create a constant surface stress to the ice. Underneath, the constant churning pushes water temperatures above freezing due to an ongoing mixing of the cold surface layer with deeper, warmer waters. The combined result is an ice melting and thinning machine. By the end of June, a growing region of open water (concentration 20% and less) has emerged.

The open water is a breeding ground for powerful waves and a magnet for sunlight streaming down through periodic breaks in the clouds. This region of warmer water thrashes and bores through the ice as July advances, creating a pheonomena never before seen in the Arctic — a large, central region of open water surrounded by thinning ice. The result is ice edge melt occurring at the same time as central ice melt. From the cored out portion, an arm of open and or nearly open water begins to sweep around the Arctic, clearing away ice in its path. The arm extends to weakest areas of sea ice. A most likely candidate for this arm’s development is the Laptev Sea as there ice there has been weakest since start of melt.

These three factors would be devastating enough. But a fourth factor provides the coupe de grace: Fram Strait export.

The constant counter-clockwise motion of our warm storm has been shoving at the remaining thick ice anchored on Greenland and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago since early June. Increasingly, large volumes of thick ice are flushed out the Fram Strait. By end of June, as much as 10% of the thick ice has been exported. But this is just the beginning.

During late June and early-to-mid July, warm air invasions from the south have melted and thinned the Canadian Arctic Archipelago ice. Now thinning and fractures from this warming have advanced into the thick ice, weakening its anchor. During July, there is less resistance to the storm’s counter-clockwise motion so more and more thick ice ends up meeting its end through the Fram Straight.

By early August, the storm has lasted for an excessive period — nearly seventy days. But it still churns on, fed by an endless procession of storms and injections of warm, moist air from the south. In a final explosion of weather never before seen in the Arctic, much of the remaining thick ice is ejected, melted, or churned beneath a storm-tossed Arctic Ocean. By early September, the storm finally disperses, but little or no ice remains.

Conclusion

The above ‘Warm Storm’ scenario is pure speculation. We have no reason to believe the current PAC 2013 will last so long or will have such powerful effects. More likely, a still damaging but more moderate erosion of central sea ice combined with an enhanced Fram Straight export will occur. Should the storm last until the end of June, these damaging impacts will be more than enough to weaken the ice.

That said, should the storm last longer, then we will have an altogether unwelcome opportunity to test this ‘Warm Storm’ theory.

So we come at last, to answering the first question of our commenters:

How critical to melting is PAC 2013?

And the answer to this question will depend on the duration of the storm, its relative strength over time,  how much warm air is injected into it over the course of its life-span, and how much warm water it is able to dredge up from beneath it. At the very least it has already played a major part in early season melt. Should it last for a long duration, the story of 2013 melt may well become wrapped up into that of this particularly anomalous storm.

Links:

On Persistent Cyclones

Arctic Cyclones

Northern Hemisphere’s Polar Vortex has Collapsed Creating Persistent Polar Cyclone

2012 Arctic Cyclone

GAC 2013: Detachment

The Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012

August Arctic Cyclone was the Strongest Summer Storm on Record

The Summer Cyclone Maximum over the Central Arctic

Dramatic Inter-annual Changes of Perennial Arctic Sea Ice Linked to Abnormal Storm Activity

Powerful Arctic Cyclone Driving Record Sea Ice Melt

Arctic Cyclone Hangs On

The Big Thin Begins

US Navy

Persistent Arctic Cyclone Strengthens, Greenland Melts, Warm Air Building Around The Arctic

Before we go into a round-up of today’s Arctic sea ice conditions and melt forecasts, it’s important to note a few things. The first is that the Arctic has suffered an amazing loss of sea ice since 1979. An 80% volume loss and a 55% percent area loss over the past 33 years is an ominous event that will continue to impact our climate for years and decades to come. It is also a signal of how little resilience remains to the ice.

The Arctic, as such, bears deep and abiding scars inflicted by human-caused climate change. The sea ice remembers well these scars. Less energy will be needed to melt the ice than was necessary thirty, twenty, or event ten years ago. And the wounds inflicted in 2012 may prevent the Arctic from ever recovering to any state similar to the cold, frozen environment we once knew. Instead, we’ve entered a period of lasting damage and rapid change. A period where an extreme lack of resiliency is visible in nearly all regions of the sea ice pack.

Signs now show a speedy and violent loss of Arctic sea ice integrity — over the entire ice pack.

Re-Strengthening Cyclone

One part of this story is an Arctic Cyclone (Persistent Arctic Cyclone 2013 or PAC 2013) that emerged on May 26th and has continued to plow through the dense ice at the Arctic’s center ever since. At its strongest, the storm showed pressures in the range of 975-980 millibars. Today, the storm deepened to similar levels:

PAC2013June10

(Image source: DMI)

The storm is now centered in the northern Laptev Sea, drifting close to an area thinned by warmer temperatures and early-season sea ice melt. Since the ice in this region is less resilient than the thicker ice of the Central Arctic, we can expect more visible thinning. Physical impacts from the storm — churning, mixing, upwelling and potentially above freezing surface precipitation — are all likely to erode sea ice in areas beneath its circulation.

The US Navy’s CICE/HYCOM model displays strongly enhanced melt and thinning projected for this region over the coming days:

Persistent Arctic Cyclone churns through Laptev on June 9-11

Persistent Arctic Cyclone 2013 is forecast to churn through the Laptev sea ice on June 9-13 before returning to Central Arctic. The above thickness model shows current and projected impacts.

(Image source: US Navy)

Note the large region of melting and thinning ice stretching from a swath directly north of Siberia, through the Laptev Sea and on toward the North Pole. The counter-clockwise motion of the storm is projected to pull the ice apart even as the physical forces of the storm, described above, further thin the ice. In many instances, we see the ice projected to thin to between 1.2 and .8 meters.

Meanwhile, an area directly under the North Pole is projected to break and thin further as PAC 2013 returns to the Central Arctic later in the forecast period.

ECMWF model forecasts show PAC 2013 moving to hover over the Canadian Archipelago by June 18th. The storm is expected to continue until at least June 20th, nearly a month after its entry into the Arctic on about May 26th.

Warm Air Building Around the Arctic

As the Persistent Arctic Cyclone of 2013 continues to rage near the Arctic’s heart, warmer air keeps funneling in around and behind it.  Near Kamchatka, a northward bulge in the jet stream bore a bubble of warmer temperatures up into the Arctic. Over the past day or two, these average above freezing temperatures have spread to cover much of the Beaufort, Chukchi, and East Siberian Seas, a knuckle of this warmer air reaches almost all the way to the North Pole even as the region of below 0 Celsius temperatures stretches and thins.

Arctemp_June10.big

(Image source: DMI)

This large bulge of warmer air also shows areas near the Mackenzie Delta and in the East Siberian Sea with average temperatures above 5 degrees Celsius and areas hugging the coast averaging above 10 degrees Celsius. This is a powerful warming that is likely to impact ice-covered regions.

Models show warmth in the area continuing through at least next week. Barrow Alaska, notably, is predicted to see high temperatures around 65 degrees Fahrenheit by this Thursday.

The see-saw motion of the Persistent Arctic Cyclone has now alternately drawn warm air in from Scandinavia and Kamchatka. It is worth noting that a region of hot air has again developed over North-Eastern Europe. These warmer temperatures, should they persist, are likely to be drawn into the Arctic when/if the Cyclone again shifts to the Canadian side of the Central Arctic.

A more current temperature map shows this warming as a display of hot pinks over North-Eastern Europe, with warmer air even extending into the Kara Sea. A cursory look also shows very few readings below the -2 Celsius freezing point of sea water. Yet one more sign that warmth is building.

TempsaroundtheArcticJune10

(Image source: Uni-Koeln)

 

Greenland Melting

It is also worth noting that the coldest reading on Greenland, now, is -1 Celsius, where warming temperatures there have fueled a burst of early season glacial melt. Melt values have spiked well above what is typical for June and entered territory usually reserved for July — the height of the Greenland melt season.

Melt areas for Greenland spiked to over 20% of the ice sheet surface over the past few days. Maximum melt area averages around 23% during mid July. So Greenland melt this year is already at least a month ahead of schedule and has more than caught up with slower melt experienced during May.

greenland_melt_area_plotJun10

(Image source: NSIDC)

Last year, Geenland set new melt records with melt exceeding any period in at least the past 120 years.

Overall, conditions throughout the Arctic point toward a rapidly progressing melt season. Temperature measures and temperature and weather forecasts over the coming days are likely to continue to push more rapid sea ice melt. Sea ice edge melt and damage due to the ongoing Persistent Arctic Cyclone of 2013 are likely to be the greatest contributors. Large spikes in early season melt to record or near record values are certainly possible given current conditions.

Greenland melt, already proceeding more rapidly than normal, will also bear close watching. It may be possible that melt values will challenge records set in 2012. Should such an event occur, we will have yet more proof that current, very rapid, ongoing, and increasing Greenland melt is well outside the range of ‘normal.”

Links:

US Navy

DMI

Uni-Koeln

NSIDC

 

 

410,000 Square Kilometers of Sea Ice Lost in Two Days: Persistent Arctic Cyclone Weakens Heart of Ice, Rapid Edge Melt Devours Fringe

According to Cryosphere Today, Saturday’s Arctic sea ice area measured 10.22 million square kilometers. By Monday, that number had dramatically fallen to 9.81 million square kilometers. This loss of 410,000 square kilometers over the course of two days is extraordinarily rapid, even for a time of year when melt has tended to accelerate. On sea ice area graphs, it makes the last few days look like area numbers fell off the edge of a cliff. (Note that Cryosphere Today area numbers usually lag by a few days. So what we’re actually seeing is area measurements through Friday, June 7th).

Up until recently, sea ice area melt had been relatively moderate. But now, after a week of consistent 100,000+ square kilometer daily losses, and two days of 200,000+ losses, sea ice area is only a smidge above that of record melt year 2012 on the same day in June. In total, more than 800,000 square kilometers were lost over the course of the past week. This melt rate, if sustained, would render the Arctic ice-free by late August. If we look at past records, it is not likely that these rates of loss will continue. But past records may not prove a good guide in the current age of fragile Arctic ice. It is quite possible, given the ice’s fractured, frail, and mobile state, that such enormous melt rates, in the worst case, could be sustained or even exceeded. In this event, we would witness a total collapse of Arctic sea ice by the end of this year. So should current dramatic melt rates be sustained or worsen, we may be upping our forecast chances for near total melt by end 2013 (still at 10%).

In any case, warnings that we were not out of the woods after a slower than expected melt during May, seem to have born out in spades.

Persistent Arctic Cyclone + Rapid Edge Melt = Brutal Combination

The twin forces driving this sea ice loss are the Persistent Arctic Cyclone of 2013 (PAC 2013 — I’ve decided to keep this name. Neven has sanctioned it, even as he playfully recommended calling it Rocky Balboa, which would be entirely appropriate for this dogged storm.), which we began warning about on May 30th in The Big Thin Begins, and a rapid edge melt that also began in early June.

PAC 2013 has, for more than two weeks, been invoking a number of forces detrimental to sea ice in the Central Arctic. It has pulled warmer water up in a column beneath it, melting the bottom ice. It has, through cyclonic action, dispersed the ice away from its center of circulation. And, via energetic storm winds, it has churned and disturbed the surface waters just beneath the ice or at the surface, creating a mixing action that also erodes the ice.

Together, these forces have dramatically reduced the Central Arctic Sea ice. Sea ice thickness, according to the US Navy, after already thinning somewhat, looked like this on May 30th:

CICE2013

Today’s most recent measure shows the central ice pack suffering substantial reduction since that time:

arcticictnnowcastJune9

Note the major thinning in a region of the thickest ice even as thinner regions closer to Siberia ablated further over the past ten days.

Cracks visible in the Lance-Modis satellite shots confirm an increased breaking of the sea ice even just north of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, where the ice is thickest. Through a combination of bottom melt and sea ice dispersal, it appears that a broad region of this ‘most resilient’ ice lost between .5 and 1 meter worth of sea ice over the past ten days. By June 6th, these losses began to show up in the, less sensitive, Cryopshere Today concentration graphic. By June 8th, a large swath where sea ice concentration had dropped to between 60 and 70 percent was indicated in the region most affected by PAC 2013:

CTconcentrationJun8

(Image source: Cryosphere Today)

Note the large swatch of red running directly through the Central Arctic. That’s a broad region of ice thinned by our Persistent Arctic Cyclone showing up in the Cryosphere Today measure.

Today, the cyclone has shifted toward the Laptev Sea and is dramatically churning the thinner ice there, shifting its special brand of havoc closer to the Siberian coastline. We’ll discuss more about this new development in an upcoming PAC 2013 forecast.

As PAC 2013 churned through the Central Arctic, melt accelerated at the ice periphery. In the Canadian Archipelago, large regions of ice turned a characteristic shade of blue as melt lakes developed and insolation began to do its work there. Both Hudson Bay and Baffin Bay also saw dramatically increased rates of melt. This larger region of the Canadian Arctic saw a powerful influx of higher temperatures. A pulse of warmth that likely pushed melt faster. Temperatures of 10-20 degrees Celsius became a common event near Hudson Bay and southern portions of the Canadian Archipelago. Above freezing temperatures stretched far northward, driving deep into the Beaufort Sea.

Across the Arctic Ocean, the Laptev Sea began to melt at a faster pace even as a region of the Chukchi Sea displayed a dramatic and rapid disintegration of sea ice. You can see this rapid melt by comparing the Lance-Modis image from June 2nd to today’s Lance-Modis shot of the region:

Bering Melt Start

This is what Chukchi Sea ice looked like on the 2nd of June (Image source Lance-Modis).

Bering Melt End

And here is what it looks like today (Image source: Lance-Modis)

Note the clearing of most ice from the Bering Straight even as the ice edge retreated northward toward an increasingly fractured and thinned polar ice cap. As warmer air is expected to enter the Chukchi over coming days, it appears that conditions will continue to favor rapid edge melt there.

Weather model forecasts also show warm air flooding into many regions at the ice edge, growing especially prominent in the Beaufort, Chukchi, and East Siberian Seas. Meanwhile, PAC 2013 is expected to continue to churn through the Central Arctic. These conditions are now projected to persist until at least June 20th, at which point our Persistent Arctic Cyclone will have lasted nearly a month.

As noted above, this combination of conditions: warm air invasion at the ice edge, historically thin, fragile, and mobile sea ice, and a Persistent Arctic Cyclone (PAC 2013) are likely to continue to promote rapid to very rapid melt in the Arctic as June continues to advance. Though 200,000 kilometer per day sea ice area loss is extraordinarily rapid and dramatic, the potential exists for single day losses to exceed even this highly radical number. A sea ice cliff for June 2013, thus, appears to be a distinct potential.

Links:

US Navy

Cryosphere Today

The Arctic Ice Blog

Lance-Modis

 

Cracks in Sea Ice Visible At North Pole Camera 1

CracksNorthPoleCAM1

(Image source: APL)

Small leads (cracks) in the sea ice became visible at the North Pole Observatory’s Camera 1 today.

This camera is part of a North Pole environmental observatory supported by a National Science Foundation Grant and managed by the Applied Physics Lab at the University of Washington. Camera 1 is one  of two cameras placed on ice at or near the North Pole to visually observe conditions there.

The cracks began to appear at around 20:15 this evening when two areas of ice — one to the left of the camera and one to the right — began to break up.

Ice near the North Pole is generally very stable. But melt over the past few years has begun to threaten melt in this region. Over the past two weeks, a persistent storm has churned up the ocean, breaking large sections of fragile ice. Unless conditions remain colder than average for much of the summer this year, large sections of ice, previously protected from melt, are at risk of loss during this summer.

Some scientists, noting rapid trends in sea ice area and volume loss, have recently warned that Arctic sea ice could completely melt by end of summer as early as 2015 and possibly before 2020. An indication that this end stage melt was beginning would be cracking and break-up of ice in the area of the North Pole and in other protected regions close to Greenland and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

Summer 2013 is not expected to see all or most sea ice lost by end of summer. However, an extraordinarily strong melt year with losses akin to 2007 or 2010 (volume) would be enough to render the Arctic mostly ice free.

Links:

North Pole Observatory

Persistent Arctic Storm

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