Record-Thin Sea Ice Faces Big Predicted Arctic Warm-up This Week

If you’re someone who tends to worry about Arctic sea ice losses, this coming week’s weather forecast looks like a bit of a doozy. And when you consider that the sea ice is both greatly weakened and thinned in a number of the major monitors, prospects don’t look very good, presently, for 2017’s summer melt season as whole.

Abnormal Warmth Over Greenland and Baffin and Hudson Bays

Over the next 48 hours, Baffin and Hudson Bays will experience the tail end of what an extreme warm-up that produced exceptional May surface melt over the Greenland Ice Sheet and then shifted westward.

(An extreme early May warming over Greenland this week produced considerable surface melt well outside the 2 standard deviation range. Today, the warmth has shifted west over Baffin and Hudson Bays. Later this week, a similar strong warm-up is predicted to impact the Pacific side of the Arctic Ocean. Image source: NSIDC.)

Temperatures for Hudson and Central and Southern Baffin, according to GFS model runs, will range above freezing over this time period — hitting as high as the low 40s (F) in Eastern sections of Hudson Bay. Over-ocean readings (which tend to moderate, but not, apparently, in this case) that will range from 5 to 15 degrees Celsius above average. These rather high surface temperatures will help to kick sea ice melt throughout these regions into higher gear.

Pacific Side of Arctic Ocean Predicted to Heat Up

Following the Baffin-Hudson warm-up, a large bulge of much warmer than normal air is predicted to extend northward from a broad region extending from Eastern Siberia through the Bering Sea and Alaska and on into Northwestern Canada. This bulge will, according to GFS model runs, by early next week inject periods of above freezing temperatures over a wide region of the Arctic Ocean that includes the East Siberian Sea, the Chukchi Sea and the Beaufort Sea. And by this time next week, these same model runs project that 10-16 C above average temperatures will dominate a large region of the Central Arctic — forcing above-freezing temperatures over a broad cross-section of the North Pole zone by May 17.

(The Arctic is expected to experience nearly 2 C above average temperatures with some regions over the Arctic Ocean hitting 16 C [28 F] above average. These are considerable departures for May when temperatures in the Arctic tend to moderate. So much warmth is likely to have an impact on the already greatly thinned Arctic sea ice. Image source: Global and Regional Climate Anomalies.)

So much early season warmth is likely to further impact an already greatly weakened and thinned veil of sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean. A cooling cap that even more conservative scientists estimate could be completely removed during a summer as soon as the early 2030s. But in the worst case scenario, and when considering how thin the ice is now, a nearly ice free summer could happen as soon as this year. Few scientists really want to talk about that now — given the likely controversy that would result. But we shouldn’t entirely ignore that possibility for fear of backlash or criticism. Nor should we ignore how such an event would tend to further distort an already disrupted Northern Hemisphere atmospheric circulation.

Indicators Show Very Thin Ice

Over recent weeks, sea ice area and extent measures have recovered somewhat as temperatures over the Arctic Ocean have moderated a bit from very warm conditions during October through March. However, a number of indicators including PIOMAS’s sea ice volume measure show that despite this mild surface extent recovery, the ice is very weak and significantly thinned.

(PIOMAS sea ice volume measure shows a considerable record low departure through mid April of 2017. Image source: PIOMAS.)

It’s worth noting that a significant portion of the extent recovery over recent weeks can be attributed to strong winds blowing ice out of the Arctic Ocean and into the Barents Sea as well as out through the Fram Strait. Such conditions are not normally considered to be healthy ones for ice retention through summer as ice in the Barents and Fram tends to melt far more swiftly than ice secured in the Central Arctic. And the Fram itself is often considered to be a graveyard for sea ice.

As for PIOMAS, the most recent measurement through the middle of April found that sea ice volume had topped out at 20,600 cubic kilometers. This measure was fully 1,800 cubic kilometers below the previous record low set for the month. It’s a tremendous negative departure that, if valid, shows that the state of the sea ice as of this time was terribly unhealthy. A situation that prompted the typically conservative Neven over at the Arctic Ice Blog to state that it’s:

Not looking good. Not looking good at all… with a maximum that was almost 2000 km3 lower than the previous record reached in 2011, it’s obvious that anything is possible this coming melting season.

(According to the EASE NSIDC sea ice age monitor, the multi-year sea ice is now almost entirely removed from the Pacific side of the Arctic. Strong, persistent winds have continued to push a good portion of the frail remainder of this ice out toward the Fram Strait — a graveyard for sea ice. And a big warm-up predicted for this week will begin to test the greatly thinned ice over the Beaufort, Chukchi and East Siberian Seas. Image source: NSIDC and The Arctic Ice Blog.)

Moreover, Neven last week pointed out that according a separate measure (see image above), typically thicker multi-year ice is presently absent from the Beaufort Sea. And, to this point, it’s worth noting that the amazing above normal temperatures that plagued the Arctic cold season for multiple years now have resulted in vast losses among this most healthy subset of sea ice.

Such considerably thinned ice presents practically no barrier to the effects of warming. It can melt quite rapidly and it is far more subject to the physical forces of wind and waves. With strong southerly winds and a big warm-up now in the pipe, it appears that this considerably thinned ice will get its first test in mid-May. Potentially creating large sections of permanently open water very early in the melt season and very close to the ever-more vulnerable High Arctic.

Links:

NSIDC

PIOMAS

Climate Reanalyzer

Earth Nullschool

Hat tip to Neven and…

to the researchers over at The Arctic Ice Blog

 

Arctic Sea Ice Volume Continues to Crater

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”John Adams

*****

 

(March sea ice volume hit a new record low in the PIOMAS measure during 2017. Image source: Oren and the Arctic Sea Ice Blog.)

This week, measurements from PIOMAS indicate that Arctic sea ice volume for the month of March hit new, all-time record lows during 2017. March 2017 volume, according to the Polar Science Center, dropped about 1,800 cubic kilometers from the previous record low set during the same month in 2011. In total, more than a third of March sea ice volume has been lost since 1979.

The Polar Science Center notes:

Arctic sea ice volume through March 2017 continued substantially below prior years. March 2017 sea ice  volume was 19,600 km3 ,  1800 km3 below the previous record from March in 2011. This record is in part the result of anomalously high temperatures throughout the Arctic for November through January discussed here and here [and here]. February volume was 39% below the maximum March ice volume in 1979,  27% below the 1979-2016 mean, and more than 1.7 standard deviations below the long term trend line.

This increasingly thin ice cover should continue to grow a little more to reach a seasonal peak during the first or second week of April. And as you can see when looking at the graph below, the trend line following that peak does not paint a very optimistic picture for sea ice resiliency during the 2017 melt season.

(The rate of sea ice refreeze this year has been very slow. As a result, the trend line points toward the potential for a melt season that exceeds even the record low year of 2012. Image source: PIOMAS.)

Merely transposing the present gap between March 2017 and the last record low to the end of melt season in September would about split the difference between 2012’s record melt and a completely ice-free Arctic Ocean — leaving about 1,700 km3 sea ice remaining by September of 2017.

A more detailed meta-analysis of this rather ominous-looking trend line finds that after hitting a peak of around 20745 km3 of sea ice sometime this month, an average of 18270 km3 of this ice will tend to melt out during the spring and summer so long as the past 10 melt seasons are a reliable predictor of future results. If this happens, sea ice volume will hit a new record low of around 2,530 km3 by September — which would be about 1/3 smaller than the amount of ice remaining in the Arctic Ocean following the tremendous 2012 melt season. And a very strong melt season — similar to conditions seen in 2010 — could reduce the ice to less than 1,000 km3 which is well into the range of a near-ice-free state.

(The Arctic has never been so warm in winter as the number of freezing degree days hit a new record low during 2016-2017. For context, the less freezing degree days the Arctic Ocean sees, the closer it is to melting. Image source: Cryosphere Computing.)

Of course, April through June could see cooler conditions — which would tend to preserve more ice and tamp down the ultimate rate of loss. But the present record low sea ice volume and near record low extent sets up a situation where darker seas will absorb more sunlight and stack the odds in favor of warmer than typical conditions and higher overall rates of melt. Meanwhile, presently strong sea ice export through the Nares and Fram Straits appears to be continuing a trend of relative sea ice volume loss through early April.

(UPDATED)

Links:

PIOMAS

The Arctic Sea Ice Blog

Cryosphere Computing

Pair of Arctic Storms Sparked Severe Polar Warming, Sea Ice Melt For November of 2016

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Yvan

Warm Winds Take Aim at Chukchi as Arctic Sea Ice Volume Hits Record Lows

Temperatures over the Chukchi Sea are predicted to hit as high as 37 degrees Fahrenheit (2.9 C) on Wednesday and Thursday as a massive high pressure ridge building over Alaska pulls warm, moist Pacific air northward. These temperatures represent staggering warmth for this Arctic Ocean zone during March when temperatures are typically about 54 degrees F (30 degrees C) cooler.

Major Warm Wind Invasion for the Chukchi This Week

(Multi-day above freezing temperatures for the Chukchi sea predicted for later this week is not a normal event for early March. Unfortunately, warm wind invasions like this one have become more common as the globe has warmed up due to human fossil fuel emissions. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

This recent warm wind invasion is one of many observed over the past five years in which enormous bulges in the Jet Stream have pierced deep into what was once a mostly impenetrable pall of winter chill hanging over the Arctic. It’s a new atmospheric condition associated with rampant fossil fuel burning. One that has produced considerable damage to the Arctic environment by reducing sea ice coverage, threatening key species, melting glaciers and thawing permafrost.

Such incursions of extreme warmth bear the obvious marks of a failing of Arctic cold brought on by human-forced climate change and have tended to generate significant spikes in overall Arctic surface temperatures during fall, winter, and spring. This week’s warm air invasion of the Chukchi is expected to help push readings for the entire region above the 66 degree north latitude line to 4.5 C (8 F) above average for this time of year. That’s a strong departure for this region during the month of March when the typically more uniform advance of warmth in the lower latitudes tends to strengthen the Jet Stream — locking in Polar winter conditions in the far north through about the middle of April.

(The warm wind invasion of the Chukchi Sea is expected to help push overall Arctic temperatures considerably higher. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Far above average Arctic surface temperatures extending from October of 2016 through March of 2017 have been triggered again and again by these floods of warm air rising up from the south. And the net effect on Arctic sea ice volume has been little short of devastating.

Arctic Sea Ice Volume Lowest Ever Recorded During Winter, Comparable to Summer Volumes of the Early 80s

Arctic sea ice volume for both January and February of 2017 are now far below past record low trend lines for this time of year. Present record low monthly values for this past February are around 17,000 cubic kilometers vs previous record lows for the month during 2013 at around 19,500 cubic kilometers. Last February’s sea ice volume average of 17,000 cubic kilometers is about the same sea ice volume measured at the end of melt season in September of 1981. In other words, sea ice volume in winter now is comparable to sea ice volumes during the summers of the early 1980s.

(Arctic sea ice volume has never been this low during winter time. Image source: PIOMAS.)

All the record warmth flooding into the Arctic during 2016 and 2017 has undoubtedly contributed to these new record lows for sea ice volume. And a cooling of the Arctic surface relative to recent record warmth during March and April could soften this worrying trend somewhat. To this point, it is worth noting that sea ice extent measures are now closer to past record low trend lines. So there has been some slightly more hopeful inching back to slightly less ridiculously abnormal measures. A more positive movement that will likely take a hit as Arctic temperatures are predicted to significantly warm again this week.

Weather is Variable, But the Underlying Trend Looks Pretty Bad

Weather, as we should note, can be quite variable and may bring a more pleasant surprise later in the month. However, despite this potential, sea ice states are looking as bad or worse than they ever have at the end of freeze season. And it is worth noting that less ice coverage and volume leaves more dark water open to absorb the sun’s springtime and summer rays and less ice to reflect it. Furthermore, post La Nina periods, as we are now experiencing, tend to flush more atmospheric and ocean heat into the Arctic. So, despite the variable nature of weather overall, we’re in a bit of a situation where the systemic trend odds of a noteworthy sea ice recovery toward more rational trend lines pre-summer 2017 aren’t looking very good.

Links:

NSIDC

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

PIOMAS

Wipneus

Tropical Tidbits

Chukchi Sea

Antarctic Sea Ice Hits New All-Time Record Low

During late February, Antarctic sea ice breached the previous all-time record low for extent coverage since measurements began in 1978. And in the following days, sea ice extent measures near the South Pole have continued to creep lower, gradually extending into unprecedented ranges.

Record Melt During a Period of Considerable Global Heat

antarctic-sea-ice-new-all-time-record-low

(This February, according to JAXA, the Antarctic sea ice extent measure hit a new all time record low. Image source: JAXA.)

Hitherto unseen global heat — driven primarily by human fossil fuel emissions — appears to be the chief contributor to this melting. During 2016, global average surface temperatures rose to 1.2 degrees Celsius above 1880s ranges. This global reading likely represents the warmest surface temperatures the world has experienced in the last 115,000 years. At the same time, the global ocean system has been rapidly accumulating warmth and transferring it through the surface and deep layers of the world’s waters.

Such pervasive heat is producing an ongoing trend of considerable sea ice melt in the Arctic — a trend that has been in place since record-keeping began in 1978. One that, all by itself, is strong enough to drag global sea ice measures lower and lower. The warmth is also producing land ice melt around the world — including glaciers in Antarctica, Greenland and across numerous mountain ranges.

global-sea-ice-anomaly-strongly-negative

(Global warming produced an identifiable global sea ice melt trend during the post year 2000 period. By 2016, that trend had become glaringly obvious. See final paragraph for further discussion. Image source: Wipneus.)

Mild Antarctic Ice Growth Trend Reversed

Sea ice melt in the Antarctic, however, is a possible new feature. In the past, it is thought that fresh water outflow from glaciers in Antarctica and strong winds encircling the Southern Hemisphere sea ice helped to protect it from the initial pulse of human-forced warming. And as recently as 2014 and 2015, Antarctic sea ice experienced new record high readings even as the long-term trend hinted at a possible slow expansion of sea ice near the South Pole. Researchers had indicated that the protection for Southern Hemisphere sea ice might only last as long as fragile wind patterns around the South Pole remained.

For 2016 and 2017, however, that thin veil of protection appears to have fallen. Previous record lows for Antarctic sea ice extent set in 1997 at 2.26 million square kilometers sea ice coverage during the austral summer month of February have now been exceeded by 100,000 square kilometers. As of yesterday, according to JAXA, the new record low stood at 2.16 million square kilometers.

arctic-above-normal

(More above average temperatures predicted this week for Antarctica may extend sea ice record lows somewhat before refreeze sets in. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Antarctic refreeze typically starts during mid-February as seasonal cooling sets in. However, 2017’s warmth has driven an extension of late season melt with Antarctic sea ice continuing to decline through the end of February. At some point during the next week or two, however, refreeze is likely to finally kick in. But this return to rising ice coverage may be still be delayed somewhat by very warm Antarctic temperatures predicted to range as high as 2.9 C above average through the next five days.

Global Sea Ice Coverage Falling Rapidly

This year’s all time record low for Antarctic sea ice extent also comes at a time when the Arctic has been experiencing daily, monthly and seasonal record lows. Highly unseasonable temperatures have dominated Arctic Fall and Winter during 2016 and 2017 — producing never before see low extent coverage during the period. As a result of record lows occurring at the same time in the north and in the south, overall global sea ice coverage has taken a considerable beating and the larger global sea ice trend is now strongly negative.

Links:

JAXA

Climate Reanalyzer

Wipneus

NASA GISS

IPCC Ocean Heat Gain

Global Sea Ice Diminishing Despite Antarctic Gains

What’s Going on With Antarctic Sea Ice?

Antarctic Sea Ice Likely to Hit New All-Time Record Lows Over Coming Days

Throughout the record global heat of 2016 and on into 2017, the world’s sea ice has taken a merciless pounding.

In the Northern Hemisphere, extreme warming of the polar region pushed Arctic sea ice extents to record low daily ranges throughout the winter, spring and fall of 2016. And even today, after many months of daily record lows, sea ice in the Arctic remains more reduced (in most measures) than it has ever been for this time of year.

On the other side of the world, the story is much the same. For it now appears that the ocean region around Antarctica is about to experience an all-time record annual low for sea ice:

antarctic-sea-ice-new-record-low

(JAXA Antarctic sea ice measure for all years since 1978 shows a strong challenge to the previous record low for extent set in 1997 [lower left hand corner of the graph]. With 2-4 weeks left in the melt season, the present measure is just about 170,000 square kilometers above the 1997 record low during Southern Hemisphere summer.)

Anomalous warmth, though less intense than in the Arctic zone, did finally begin to invade the austral polar region during Southern Hemisphere spring and summer (2016-2017). And since mid October, sea ice surrounding Antarctica has remained in record low daily ranges (see lower red line on the graph above). Wednesday, February 1st’s, JAXA measure of 2.42 million square kilometers of sea ice extent remaining is now just about 170,000 square kilometers above the previous record low sea ice extent set during mid-to-late February of 1997.

During this time of year, average drops in sea ice extent are around 50,000 square kilometers per day. So if all things were equal, we’d expect melt inertia to push the measure into new record low ranges over the next 3-5 days. Unfortunately, there appears to be an added impetus for melting as another blast of above average temperatures is being drawn into Antarctica underneath strong ridging features in the Southern Hemisphere Jet stream.

antarctic-warmth

(Warmth building into Antarctica over the next two weeks may be the final straw that tips the near ocean region into new all-time record lows for sea ice extent. The above GFS model prediction for February 9th rendered by Climate Reanalyzer shows temperature anomalies predicted for Antarctica and the surrounding regions. Red to orange is warmer than average, blue to purple is colder than average.)

As a result, over the next week, temperatures around Antarctica and in the nearby region of the Southern Ocean are expected to average between 1.2 and 1.8 C above the already warmer than normal 1979 through 2000 average. Meanwhile, parts of West Antarctica’s coastal zone are expected to hit as high as 5-20 C above that average.

With more warmth on the way, with measures already striking nearly half a million square kilometers below previous daily record lows, and with at least two weeks remaining in the melt season, it appears likely that we are in for a new all-time record low for sea ice extent in the ocean region surrounding Antarctica. If the new record does occur, it will happen during a time when the Arctic is also experiencing daily record lows for sea ice during Northern Hemisphere winter and as the world is experiencing global temperatures in the range of 1 to 1.2 degrees Celsius above 1880s averages.

Links:

JAXA Sea Ice

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

Climate Reanalyzer

 

The Human World Has Never Experienced A Time When Global Sea Ice Was So Weak and Reduced

Neven — one of the world’s most beloved sea ice trackers — has again taken a break from his much-earned sabbatical to issue yet one more warning on the state of global sea ice.

His report, based on this month’s bombshell National Snow and Ice Data Center statement, can best be described as an urgent call for action on the part of the global community to redouble efforts aimed at reducing the wide-ranging and expanding harms caused by the terrible warming trend we have artificially forced upon our world.

Neven is a kind, honest, and open soul. He is also one of the smartest and decent fellow bloggers I have had the good fortune of encountering in my many travels during my last four years of covering the slow motion global train wreck caused by our widespread and vastly irresponsible burning of fossil fuels. In other words, the man, in my view, has the moral and intellectual authority that many lack. We should listen to him.

Before the World Warmed, This Would Have Been a 1 in 30 Billion Probability Event

For, sadly, on the crucial issue of sea ice, a general muting of the subject has tended to continue despite a jaw-dropping plunge in both the coverage and volume of a substance so crucial to maintaining a stable global climate:

global-sea-ice-extent-stunning-losses

(Global sea ice extent fell off a cliff during December of 2016. The measure has now bounced back a little. But the global average remains significantly below past record lows for this time of year. Loss of so much sea ice can be highly disruptive to the climate system and related atmospheric circulation and precipitation patterns. Image source: NSIDC.)

During December, global sea ice extent coverage fell to an amazing 4.4 million square kilometers below average. This is far, far outside the 2 standard deviation range — passing to fully 8 standard deviations beyond the typical yearly average.

Under past expectations of average, the statistical probability of such an event is approximately 1 in 30 billion. Of course, it’s pretty obvious at this time that a normal, natural variability is not the underlying cause of such a great loss of sea ice. That the warmth we added to the system has now greatly tipped the scales beyond anything representing what would have previously been considered a normal range. A range that since the year 2000 had already tended to dip below average more and more frequently. But one that has never seen so much ice lost.

Unprecedented Losses

This area of sea ice removed — enough to change how the face of our Earth looks from space — is approximately the size of two Greenlands (Note that sea ice loss does not directly contribute to sea level rise. But loss of protective sea ice can contribute to land ice melt — which does add to rates of sea level rise.). And it has been roughly split between the Arctic in the north and the Antarctic in the south.

If sea ice extent losses appear bleak, then sea ice volume losses seem even worse. Sea ice extent is a rough measure of the surface of the world covered by ice excluding gaps behind the leading ice edge. Sea ice volume, however, measures both the ice area — including gaps — and the ice thickness.

giomas-year-global

(Globally, we’ve lost about 1/3 of the total volume of sea ice since the 1980s. 2016’s record fall in the measure coincided with record hot global temperatures and an abnormal period of polar warming that continues on into 2017. Image source: Wipneus.)

Late 2016’s big drop included the approximate removal of 1/3 of the world’s sea ice volume when compared to 1981-2010 averages. In other words, 1/3 of all of the floating portion of the world’s cryosphere beyond the edge of anchored ice shelves had melted away during the period.

Record Global Temperatures as Prime Cause For North and South Pole Sea Ice Melt

In the north, extremely warm temperatures ranging from 2 to up to 7 degrees Celsius above average for the Arctic Ocean region have helped to drive these unprecedented fall and winter sea ice losses. In the south, warmer than normal surface conditions appear to have also helped to drive the amazing coordinate losses there. And overall, 2016 has shown warm to extremely warm conditions for both poles during a year in which global temperatures have spiked to around 1.2 degrees Celsius above 1880s averages.

2016-air-temperature-anomalies-north-and-south-pole

(Extremely strong polar amplification during 2016 is the likely primary contributor to sea ice loss in both the northern and southern polar regions. Image source: NSIDC.)

Under polar amplification — a condition associated with the human-forced warming of our world — scientists expected that the polar regions would tend to warm faster than the rest of the Earth surface. And during 2016, this global warming related condition presented effects writ large.  The damage to sea ice, so far, has been monumental. And these losses have continued into 2017 — even if they are somewhat less below the record low line than during their period of maximum departure this past December.

Albedo Losses and a Bad Set-up for Arctic Summer

Sea ice loss generates its own form of amplifying feedback — in which already prevalent polar warming can worsen further. Less ice coverage means that during summer more of the dark ocean surface is presented to absorb the sun’s rays. This replacement of a white, reflective surface with a dark blue, absorptive one means that still more heat will tend to be trapped in the polar environment. In addition, during winter, less ice cover means that the warmer ocean beneath will tend ventilate more heat and heat-trapping water vapor into the polar atmospheres. And it’s this kind of self-reinforcing cycle that can tend to lock in the dangerous changes like worsening severe weather, worsening heatwaves in the middle and lower latitudes, and the increasing rates of land glacier melt and sea level rise that scientists have been warning about for so long. And it’s this kind of disruptive longer term climate trend that we are being drawn into at this time.

freezing-degree-days-lag-during-freezing-seaons-80-n

(Freezing degree days for the crucial 80 N region have significantly departed into record low ranges. The less freezing degree days, the closer this region is to thawing. Image source: Tealight. Data Source: DMI.)

Nearer term, it appears that the polar heat which has already so greatly damaged the Arctic sea ice is set to stay. Over the next few days, the Arctic appears set to experience a powerful series of low pressure systems running in from the Barents side between Svalbard and Siberia. Neven warns that these storms will tend to push a considerable portion of the remaining thick ice out of the Arctic and through the Fram Strait. Over the next couple of weeks, global forecast models indicate that above freezing temperatures will tend to invade regions now covered by sea ice in Hudson Bay, Baffin Bay, and in the Chukchi Sea. Though the ice is trying to grow, such repeated insults will tend to keep ice coverage in record low ranges.

If this trend of warmth, storms and ice export continues through February, March and April — as it has during October, November, December and January — then the set up for the 2017 melt season would be about the worst we have ever seen. And that would tend to increase the likelihood of new record minimums being reached during September all while hastening the day when the Arctic experiences near ice free conditions. Lets hope that doesn’t happen. But, so far, the trends for the winter of 2016-2017, from pole to pole, have followed along the lines of a near worst case scenario.

Links:

Global Sea Ice Records Broken Again

National Snow and Ice Data Center Sea Ice News

Wipneus Sea Ice Graphs

NASA GISS Temperature Data

Polar Amplification

Tealight

DMI

Hat tip to Suzanne

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Regions Near North Pole to Hit Above Freezing Three Days Before Christmas

In our cultural mythology we consider the North Pole to be this permanently frozen wonderland. And, during the 20th Century, the depiction was mostly true. Explorers venturing into the Arctic at that time found towering floes of ice — often measuring 15 to 20 feet high. And, up until the mid 2000s, the Arctic Ocean was permanently frozen from Continent to Pole even during summer. So adventurous skiers could strike out from northern Siberian, and treck to the pole over ice in months like June and July. Now such expeditions require the use of a kayak — if they occur at all.

image

(A warm storm over Svalbard joins with a chain of systems running from the North Atlantic to the Pole to drive gale force winds and above freezing temperatures into the Arctic in this December 22nd GFS model prediction. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Back then, the polar zone in the north appeared to be mostly solid. And if ice moved or melted — it was a slow grind or a rare event. No more. Now, Arctic sea ice extent values have plummeted and the thinner ice that remains is often melting, cracking, and mobile. Now, increasingly, during late fall and early winter temperatures have been rising to near or above freezing. Last year a powerful storm system pulled warming air up out of the North Atlantic — pushing temperatures over the North Pole to above freezing on December 29th. One month later, during late January of 2016, a similar weather system drove temperatures at the North Pole to near freezing.

This year, GFS model runs again show the potential for extreme above average temperatures in the region of the North Pole three days before Christmas. A storm in the Greenland Sea is predicted to strengthen to 940 mb intensity on the 20th and 21st. This system is expected to dredge warm air from the tropical North Atlantic and then fling it all the way to the Pole.

temperatures-up-to-55-f-above-average-near-north-pole

(Temperatures may rise to as high as 55 F [31 C] above average on December 22nd over sections of the Arctic near the North Pole. Note that this dynamic will tend to drive colder air out over the Continents — especially, in this case, toward Siberia. Also note that global temperatures remain well above average even when compared to the warmer than normal 1979 to 2000 time-frame. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

As a result, temperatures in the polar region are expected to rise to near or above freezing. According to GFS model runs, the thermometer at 90 North is expected to hit around -0.3 C (31.5 F) at 0400 UTC on December 22. Meanwhile temperatures on the Siberian side of the Pole at 88 North, 109 East are predicted to hit 0.6 C or 33 F during the same time period. By comparison, temperatures in Southeast Texas at 27.9 N, 97.8 W — not far from from the U.S. Gulf Coast — were about -0.3 C on Monday morning following the passage of a cold front late Sunday.

This level of warmth during December for the Arctic is excessive and the expected readings are in the range of 25 to 31 degrees Celsius above average ( 45 to 55 Fahrenheit warmer than normal). These are near all-time record highs. But it is not just the extreme departures predicted for Wednesday that should be cause for concern, it’s the fact that such a high level of warmth for this region of the Arctic is occurring with a greater and greater frequency. For human-forced climate change — primarily driven by the burning of fossil fuels — is now in the process of radically changing the Arctic environment. And so much warming in the Arctic is a main driver of extreme Northern Hemisphere weather, of glacial melt contributing to sea level rise, and to severe loss of life among key Arctic species.

Links:

Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

Warm Arctic Storm to Unfreeze North Pole

Warm Arctic Storm Aims to Unfreeze North Pole Again

Has the Last Human Trekked to the North Pole?

One By One, the Flood Gates of Antarctica are Breaking Open

“We have still time to avoid the worst of it, but we have already opened a number of flood gates, one in West Antarctica, and several in Greenland.”Dr Eric Rignot.

“This kind of rifting behavior provides another mechanism for rapid retreat of these glaciers, adding to the probability that we may see significant collapse of West Antarctica in our lifetimes.” Ian Howat, Earth Sciences associate Professor at Ohio State University.

“Burning all the world’s coal, oil and gas would melt the entire Antarctic ice-sheet and cause the oceans to rise by over 50m, a transformation unprecedented in human history. The conclusion of a new scientific study shows that, over the course of centuries, land currently inhabited by a billion people would be lost below water.” — The Guardian.

*****

Massive Rift Forming in Larsen C

Larsen C. It’s the next big ice shelf on the butcher’s block in West Antarctica. And now it appears the shelf may be well on its way to facing the same fate as its companions Larsen A and Larsen B. That fate — disintegration and the ultimate release of glaciers that have been held in check for thousands of years into the world ocean.

It was only about 150 years ago that the Larsen Ice shelves were discovered. And the Larsen shelf system is thought to have been mostly stable throughout the last 12,000 years. But in 1995 Larsen A splintered into a million icebergs. And in 2002 the larger portion of Larsen B broke apart. Warming Ocean waters heated by an atmosphere loaded with greenhouse gasses did the damage. And now the same warm water currents that shattered Larsen A and Larsen B are endangering their larger cousin — Larsen C.

larsen-c-ice-rift

(Ice shelves and sea fronting glaciers serve as the flood gates keeping West Antarctica’s glaciers from spilling into the ocean and raising sea levels by as much as 20 feet. But warm ocean waters are causing these flood gates to melt and crack wide open. The above image shows a massive abyssal rift forming in the Larsen C ice shelf. A similar rift formed in the center of the Pine Island Glacier last year. A signal that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could undergo a major collapse over the next 100 years. Image source: NASA.)

For today, a huge rift running through the ice shelf is about to break off a Delaware-sized iceberg into the Atlantic Ocean. The rift is broadening, deepening and extending. And it now measures 70 miles long, 300 feet wide, and a third of a mile deep. Once this enormous abyssal crack runs its course and causes about 10 percent of the ice shelf to break off, the big land-grounded glaciers sitting upon mountainous slopes behind the ice shelf will have less protection. They will increase their forward speed and contribute larger volumes of ice outflow to the growing problem of global sea level rise.

In this way, rifts in Antarctica’s sea fronting glaciers and ice shelves can be seen as giant cracks in the flood gates holding back enormous glaciers that, when released, will lift global sea levels by feet and meters.

Big Crack in the Pine Island Glacier

Closer to the center mass of West Antarctica, the Pine Island Glacier serves as one of the most important of these flood gates. In total, the large grounded glaciers in what could best be termed as an ice bottle neck hold back about 10 percent of all of West Antarctica’s interior ice mass. But just last year a huge rift that formed in this glacial buttress during 2013 cracked wide open — causing three massive icebergs totalling ten times the size of Manhattan to break off.

According to a new study, warm ocean water flooded far inland along the underside of the Pine Island Glacier. It ate away at its base and then spilled down-slope to cut out a melting hollow in the glacier’s heart. Ultimately, an enormous crack formed within the glacier 20 miles away from where the ice mass meets the ocean at the surface.

(Massive crack forms in the Pine Island Glacier, then causes three very large icebergs to break off during 2015. A new study finds that the Pine Island Glacier is melting from the inside out and an inland flood of warm ocean water is causing both the melt and the formation of large rifts in the ice. Scientists believe that these could be the first signs of a significant collapse of West Antarctica that could occur without our lifetimes. Video source: Ohio State.)

Then, in 2015, gigantic chunks of ice covering 225 square miles broke off from the Glacier and floated out into the Amundsen Sea. This was the second series of icebergs to break off from the Pine Island Glacier in as many years. And scientists were notably very concerned.

Pine Island Glacier is particularly vulnerable because it sits on a reverse slope. In other words, a below sea level bed slopes lower as you progress toward the center of the Continent. And, in fact, large portions of West Antarctica are below sea level (see topographic image below).

Pine Island Glacier itself rests upon an opening to one of the deepest valleys sloping inland. At the location of the Pine Island glacier a rift between 500 and 2,000 feet below sea level runs down toward a central region of West Antarctica that sits between 2,000 and 6,000 feet below sea level. And within this basin is a pile of glacial ice that from bedrock to its highest point above sea level towers two and a half miles high. The very valid concern for this glacier is that melt and rifting, once started, will tend to accelerate — taking out larger and larger chunks of the inland ice as it is exposed to the warming ocean and heating atmosphere.

The Larger Picture — Glacial Flood Gates are Cracking Open

Larsen C and Pine Island Glacier serve as but two of the many flood gates that run all along the coast of West Antarctica and East Antarctica. But the increasing flows of warm water coming in from the ocean and a related rise in the frequency of events where large masses of ice break off from buttressing glaciers and ice shelves has put West Antarctica in danger of facing a near term collapse.

west-antarctica-below-sea-level

(Islands encased in ice. Much West Antarctica, on the left side of this topographic image, sits between 0 to 6,000 feet below sea level. If the buttressing glaciers and ice shelves like Larsen C and Pine Island are lost, there is little to prevent the warming oceans from flooding inland and setting off a rapid cascade of melt and seaward outflow. Scientists now believe that such a collapse could happen within our lifetimes. Image source: Antarctic Bedrock.)

With information from new glacial stability assessments in hand, Antarctic ice specialists are warning that the western region of this frozen land may collapse in a major melt event that over the next 100 years could raise sea levels by 10 feet. And West Antarctica is but one of three global regions — including Greenland and East Antarctica — capable of contributing significant glacial outbursts during this period.

Links:

West Antarctica Ice Shelf is Melting From the Inside Out

With a Collapsing West Antarctica, Sea Levels Could Rise Twice as High as We Thought

Combustion of Available Fossil Fuel Reserves Sufficient to Eliminate Antarctic Ice Sheet

Burning all Fossil Fuels Will Melt Entire Antarctic Ice Sheet

Rift in Antarctica’s Larsen C Ice Shelf

The Larsen Ice Shelves

NASA Captures Disturbing Images of Antarctica Ice Rift

Antarctic Bedrock

Pine Island Glacier Topography

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to ClimateHawk

For The Arctic Ocean Above 80 North, It’s Still Summer in November

It’s going to be the hottest year on record — by a long shot. Just ask Gavin Schmidt at a NASA that the climate change denying Trump Administration has now imperiled. But in one region — the Arctic — the rate of heat accumulation has been outrageously extreme. And it is there that this new record warmth could inflict some of the worst damage to an increasingly fragile Earth System.

Summer Heat During Fall Above 80 North

For in the Arctic Ocean above the 80 degree north latitude line which encircles the crest of our world, temperatures today are around 17 degrees Celsius above average. These are the warmest temperatures for this region ever recorded. And they include numerous locations in which temperatures spike to well above 20 C (36 F) warmer than average.

meant_2016

(Temperatures above the 80 degree north latitude line during mid November are about equal to what you would typically expect for late summer. This record warmth in the Arctic is notably severe and could produce serious near term climate and weather impacts. Image source: DMI.)

Taken in total, this region — one that includes the North Pole — is currently experiencing temperatures that it would typically see from September 15 through 21. In other words, it’s about as warm now, on November 14th, in the zone surrounding the North Pole as it typically is during the last week of summer.

It wouldn’t be quite so bad if temperatures had simply rocketed to new highs on this particular day as part of a wild temperature swing. Unfortunately, readings instead have remained consistently high throughout autumn. They have levitated off the baseline 1958-2002 average range for the better part of 80 days. And as temperatures maintained near late summer or early fall averages, the departure from normal (represented by the green line in the graph above) has continued to intensify throughout November. Such long-term maintenance of high temperatures risks producing some severe lasting impacts on both the Arctic and the global environment.

The North Pole’s Big Red Hole

The temperature range we see now is nothing less than astonishing and, to this particular observer, terrifying. A huge hole has been blown in the heart of what should be the building cold of winter. And if it doesn’t reform soon, it will have some serious knock-on climate effects to include worsening atmospheric circulation changes, related increasingly extreme weather, impacts to growing seasons, impacts to sea ice, impacts to Greenland ice, and impacts to life in the Arctic and beyond.

sections-of-arctic-ocean-warm-enough-to-melt-in-late-fall

(Today, large swaths of the Arctic Ocean are expected to see temperatures hit 20 C [36 F] + warmer than normal. These temperatures are so high that recently ice-covered sections will, over the next five days, experience temperatures between -2 C and 0 C — or warm enough to produce temporary melt. Such a condition has never been witnessed to the extent that it is now so late in the year. A clear sign that global warming is starting to bite deeper than we had hoped. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer. Note — the map shows temperature departures above [red shift] and below [blue shift] the, already warmer than normal, 1979-2000 baseline average.)

This record fall warmth appears to be part of an ever-more-pervasive ‘death of winter’ type scenario related to human-caused global warming. And unless temperatures in the Arctic revert back toward base-line pretty soon, we are at increasing risk of hitting some state-change tipping points. In particular, these center around a nearer term loss of Arctic Ocean ice than expected. An event that could happen this year if we experience an anomalously warm winter followed by a similarly warm summer — but one that many experts expect to hold off until the 2030s. An alteration that, longer term, under the continued fossil fuel burning presently promoted by the Trump Administration, basically removes winter as a season pretty much altogether (at least as we know it).

I sincerely hope that we see a return to baseline temperature conditions in the Arctic soon. But as the days roll by, this seems less and less likely. Warm winds keep flowing in both from the Barents and the Bering. And the centers of coldest Northern Hemisphere regions are well displaced toward Siberia and Greenland. If this situation continues, implications for summer sea ice during 2017 could be pretty rough (more on this in the follow-on post). And it’s at the point where we hit ice-free summer states in the Arctic Ocean that some very radical regional, hemispheric, and global changes (which produce even worse effects than some of the bad outcomes we’ve already seen) will be well underway.

Links:

Climate of Gavin

Cires1 80 North Temperature Anomaly

DMI

Jennifer Francis on Jet Stream Changes due to Sea Ice Loss

Climate Reanalyzer

The Trump Administration’s Anti-Climate, Pro-Fossil Fuels Agenda

From the Bering to Maine Hot Oceans are Killing the Puffin

(UPDATED)

Record-Hot 2016 Marks the Start of Bad Climate Consequences, Provides “Fierce Urgency” to Halt Worse Harms to Come

“…there is now strong evidence linking specific [extreme] events or an increase in their numbers to the human influence on climate.” — Coumou and Rahmstorf 2012.

“We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. …We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, ‘Too late.'” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. [emphasis added]

****

2016 is on track to be a record-hot year for the history books. Accumulations of heat-trapping gasses in the range of 402 ppm CO2 and 490 ppm CO2e have pushed the global temperature trend into an inexorable upward rise. Meanwhile, increasingly severe climate change-related events ranging from mass coral bleaching, to glacial and sea ice melt, to tree death, to ocean health decline, to the expanding ranges of tropical infectious diseases, to worsening extreme weather events have occurred the world over. This global temperature spike and related ramp-up of extreme events continued throughout a year that is setting up to follow 2014 and 2015 as the third record-hot year in a row.

(2015 saw a substantial jump in global temperatures. 2016 is also on track to hit new record highs. The above graph, by Gavin Schmidt of NASA GISS, provides a vivid illustration of an inexorable warming trend with 2016 as the hottest year yet. According to Gavin, a strong new record for 2016 appears to be a lock. Image source: Climate of Gavin.)

Now, after NASA’s report showing that September 2016 was 1.13 C hotter than 1880s averages (or 0.91 C hotter than NASA’s 20th-century baseline measure), this year is setting up to be the warmest ever recorded by a wide margin. Overall, the first nine months of 2016 have averaged 1.25 C above 1880s temperatures. Meanwhile, the climate year — which runs from December through November — is tracking 1.26 C above 1880s temperatures during the ten-month period of December to September.

2016 as much as 1.25 C Hotter than 1880s Averages

As a result, it appears likely that 2016 will see temperatures in the range of 1.19 C to 1.25 C hotter than 1880s averages. That’s about 0.1 C hotter than 2015 — which is pretty significant considering the fact that the average rate of decadal warming (the rounded rate of global warming every 10 years) has been in the range of 0.15 C since the late 1970s. This year’s temperatures now appear set to exceed 1998’s values by around 0.35 C — or about one-third of the entire warming total seen since large-scale human greenhouse gas emissions began during the late 19th century. This excession should permanently put to rest previous widely circulated false notions that global warming somehow stopped following the strong El Nino year of 1998.

Many responsible sources are now warning that current temperatures are uncomfortably close to two major climate thresholds — 1.5 C global warming and 2.0 C global warming. At the current rate of warming, we appear set to exceed the 1.5 C mark in the annual measure in just one to two decades. Hitting 2 C by or before mid-century has become a very real possibility. Scientists have been urging the global community to avoid 2 C warming before 2100 (and 1.5 C if at all possible), but the current path brings us to that level of warming in just over 30-50 years, not over the 84 years remaining in this century. And just maintaining current rates of warming without significant added feedbacks from the Earth System would result in Earth hitting close to 3 C warming by 2100 — a level that would inflict severe harm to life on Earth, including human civilizations.

september-of-2016

(According to NASA, September 2016 edged out September 2014 as the hottest September in the 136-year climate record. This occurred while the Equatorial Pacific was flipped into a cool phase, which tends to lower global temperatures. Despite this natural variability-related switch pulling global temperatures down, NASA shows a globe in which few regions experienced below-average temperatures and where the highest concentration of record-warm temperatures are centered near the northern polar region. This display of counter-trend warming and strong polar amplification are both signature effects of human-caused climate change. Image source: NASA GISS.)

Focusing back on 2016, it appears the La Nina that struggled throughout August and early September is again making a decent attempt to form, at least as a weak event. This should tend to pull October, November and December temperatures into the 1 to 1.1 C above 1880s departure range. As a result, final averages for 2016 should be slightly lower than averages for the period running from December to September. But, as noted above, we are still on track to see a very significant jump above the 2015 end atmospheric temperature totals.

Climate Impacts from Added Global Heat Continue to Worsen

All this extra heat in the system will work to worsen the already extreme climate and weather events we are seeing. Potentials for droughts, floods, heatwaves and wildfires will increase. High atmospheric moisture loading will continue to pump up peak storm potentials when storms do form. Added heat will tend to accumulate at the poles more than in the tropics or middle latitudes. As a result, upper-level wind patterns will likely continue to see more anomalous features along a worsening trend line. Ice in all forms will see stronger heat forcings overall, adding risk that both land and sea ice melt rates will increase.

impacts-to-the-cryosphere

(In the mid-2010s, Earth entered a temperature range averaging 1 C above pre-industrial levels. Such temperatures begin to threaten key climate impacts like permafrost thaw, 3-4 meters of sea-level rise from West Antarctic Ice Sheet melt, risk of up to 80 percent mountain glacier loss, complete Arctic sea ice loss during summer, and 6-7 meters of sea level rise from Greenland melt. In the near 1 C range, risks of these impacts, though a possibility, remain somewhat lower. But as temperatures approach 1.5 and 2 C above pre-industrial levels, risks rise even as West Antarctic glacial melt and polar ocean acidification start to become serious factors. Image source: Solving the Climate Stalemate.)

At 1 to 1.3 C above 1880s levels, we should see a quickening in the rate of sea-level rise. How much is uncertain. However, this temperature range is very close to peak Eemian Stage levels when oceans were around 15 to 25 feet higher than they are today. The current rapid rate of temperature change will also continue to have worsening impacts on creatures who are adapted to inhabit specific climate zones. The rapid rise in global temperatures is forcing an equally rapid movement of climate zones toward the poles and up mountains. This affects pretty much all life on Earth and unfortunately some species will be hard-pressed to handle the insult as certain habitats basically move off-planet. This impact is particularly true for corals, trees and other species that are unable to match the rapid pace of climate zone motion. We have already seen very severe impacts in the form of mass coral and tree death the world over. Warming in the 1 to 1.3 C range also provides an increasing ocean stratification pressure — one that has already been observed to increase the prevalence of ocean dead zones and one that will tend to shrink overall ocean vitality and productivity.

Fierce Urgency For Climate Action

Despite all these negative impacts, we are still currently outside the boundary of the worst potential results of climate change. Stresses are on the rise from various related factors, but these stresses have probably not yet reached a point of no return for human civilization and many of the reefs, forests, and living creatures we have grown to cherish. Rapid mitigation through a swift transition away from fossil fuels is still possible. Such a response now has a high likelihood of successfully protecting numerous civilizations while saving plant and animal species across the planet. That said, at this point, some damage is, sadly, unavoidable. But the simple fact that we are now starting to face the harmful consequences of a century and a half of fossil fuel burning is no excuse for inaction. To the contrary, the beginning of these harms should serve as a clarion call for our redoubled efforts.

Links:

NASA GISS

NOAA ESRL

NOAA El Nino

Climate of Gavin

The Truth About Climate Change

COP 21: Why 2 C?

Solving the Climate Stalemate

Hat tip to Kevin Jones

Hat tip to Florifulgurator

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

 

Warm North Pacific Winds Predicted to Usher in Brutal Arctic Heatwave this Week

Sprawling over the Northeastern Pacific, there’s a big, doggedly-determined high pressure system. One grown to enormous size and influence in a global atmosphere boiling with the heat of fossil-fuel laden airs. A weather system that’s now able to stretch out a long arm of influence into the High Arctic due to an unrelenting northward shove of oppressive record global heat.

Beaufort Sea Ice Shattered

(The Beaufort Sea Ice has been shattered under the weight of a relentless a high pressure system that has dominated this region of the Arctic for about a month. Now, a freak early-season invasion of above-freezing temperatures is set to level another melt-forcing blow at a region that is very sensitive to the worsening impacts of human-caused climate change. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Extreme Fires, Sea Ice Loss in a Context of Ever-Worsening Climate Change

Beneath the high, much warmer than normal airs have settled in over the Northeast Pacific, over Western Canada, and over Alaska. These much hotter than typical temperatures have provided fuel for a raging start to fire season in such far northern regions. In Canada, nearly a hundred and fifty fires now burn. Sparked by never-before-seen heat and dryness, the worst of these blazes has now consumed 620 square miles of land and more than 1,600 structures around the city of Fort McMurray — forcing about 90,000 people to evacuate and threatening Canada’s hothouse gas emitting tar sands production facilities. Meanwhile, in Alaska, the heat has been lighting off forest fires since as early as February. A month that once only featured a climate of deep chill and heavy snow — but one that in the new, greenhouse gas warmed, world features an ominous winter burning.

The high has also extended it atmospheric influence up into the Polar zone — joining a powerful ridge that has torn away and shattered sea ice across the Central Arctic since at least mid-April. Opening wide areas of dark, heat absorbing water and contributing to never-before-seen low levels of sea ice extent and volume for May.

May Arctic Heatwave Builds

As of Sunday, this lumbering high began a big shift to the west — expanding its influence on into the North-Central Pacific and the Bering Sea. There, it rallied a warm flood of airs in the form of northbound winds. Warm winds now readying to make a big push into the Arctic Ocean later this week.

image

(Huge northward thrust of warm air seen in this Earth Nullschool capture for predicted May 12 conditions. Note the large swath of above-freezing temperatures invading the Arctic Ocean as readings in Northern Alaska and the Northwest Territory of Canada hit the upper 60s and lower 70s. Regions that are typically still covered in snow experiencing conditions that would be somewhat warmer than normal May weather for the US West Coast city of San Fransisco more than 2,000 miles to the south. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

These winds are expected to build northward along a warm frontal zone over Northern Alaska and the southern reaches of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas on Monday. Linking up with two low pressure systems forming over the East Siberian Sea by Wednesday morning, this wave of heat rising out of the Pacific is expected to have expanded into that sea and taken in all of the Chukchi and half of the Beaufort. By Friday, this northward drive of above freezing airs is expected to have taken in about a third of the Arctic Ocean region in total.

Over Alaska and the Northwest Territory near the Mackenzie Delta, temperatures are expected to rise into the upper 60s to upper 70s Fahrenheit (20-25 C). These are temperatures 20-28 degrees F (9-16 C) above average for early-to-mid May and readings seldom seen for this region even during June. Such high temperatures will hasten melt of any remaining snow or ice and spike fire hazards over this Arctic zone.

Extreme warm temperature anomalies over Arctic zones predicted for May 13

(Two lows on the Siberian side of the Arctic and a high over southern Alaska and the Northeast Pacific are predicted to drive an extreme level of heat into the Arctic starting Monday and continuing on through the end of this week. This extraordinary northward thrust of warmth appears set to tip the scales swiftly toward high Arctic thaw conditions that are typically experienced during June. Such a high degree of added heat will have a profound effect on both sea ice and remaining snow cover. Image source: Global and Regional Climate Anomalies.)

Savaging of the Sea Ice to Continue

Over the Arctic Ocean, conditions will arguably be worse. Temperatures in the near coastal waters of the Beaufort Sea could rise to as high as 41 degrees F (5 C) while temperatures in the range of 32-38 F (0 to 3 C) are expected to cover a very wide zone of Arctic waters invading about 600 miles of the thinning sea ice area between the Mackenzie Delta and the North Pole and covering a breadth of around 800 miles from the Canadian Archipelago to the shores of the East Siberian Sea. These temperatures are also 20-28 F (9-16 C) above average and are more like the atmospheric readings one would expect during July over these typically frozen Arctic waters.

It’s not just the high temperatures that are a concern with this invasion of extreme heat running into the Arctic. It’s also its sheer scale — taking in about 30 percent of the Arctic Ocean zone, most of Alaska, a large region of Northeast Siberia, and a big chunk of Northwest Canada. Such a huge warm air injection will be taken in by the larger circulation over the Arctic Ocean and greatly shrink the remaining pool of cooler airs — driving temperatures to push more rapidly above freezing.

Freezing Degree Day Anomaly

(Off-the charts record Arctic heat shows up in a -1012 freezing degree day anomaly during 2016. In an average year, the Arctic experiences about 6,000 freezing degree days. We’ve lost more than 1/6th of that during 2016, which is basically like knocking one month out of the Polar Winter. Image source: CIRES.)

To this point, temperature anomalies above the 66 North Latitude Line are predicted to continue in the range of 2.5 to 3.5 C above average for the entire Arctic region into mid-May during a time of year when readings tend to moderate. In other words, this range is well above average for this time of year and continues a trend of record Arctic heat for 2016 that began during January. One that has now pushed freezing degree days (FDD) to a never-before-seen -1012 anomaly — which is like losing one entire month out of the coldest time of year in the Arctic.

The severe Arctic warmth continues to have a profound impact on Arctic sea ice — pushing measures inexorably into new record low levels. As of today, pretty much all the major extent and volume measures showed sea ice at new record daily lows and indicated a pace of melt at start of season that is absolutely unprecedented. Of particular concern are volume measures which have rapidly closed and overcome the gap between previous record low years.

DMI sea ice

(DMI’s sea ice volume measure enters a new record low range during early May. Note how swiftly comparative sea ice levels have fallen since February and March of this year. In essence, we are currently just below the record low 2012 launching pad all while facing an unprecedented level of heat building up in the Arctic. Image source: DMI.)

In this context of extreme Arctic heat and already record low Arctic sea ice levels, we continue to expect new record lows to be reached by the end of the melt season — pushing past one or more of the low marks set during 2012 and possibly testing near zero sea ice ranges (blue ocean event) of 80 percent volume loss since 1979 and below 750,000 square kilometers of sea ice area and 1.5 million square kilometers of sea ice extent by September of this year.

Links:

Earth Nullschool

Global and Regional Climate Anomalies

CIRES

DMI

The Beaufort Under Relentless Pressure

Canadian Interagency Fire Center

LANCE-MODIS

 

Conditions Promoting Arctic Sea Ice Collapse Are Exceptionally Strong This Spring

It didn’t take long for Arctic sea ice to start to respond to a fossil-fuel based accumulation of hothouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere. For since the 1920s, that region of ocean ice along the northern polar zone has been in a steady, and increasingly rapid, retreat. Rachel Carson wrote about the start of the Northern Hemisphere ocean ice decline in her ground-breaking 1955 book — The Edge of the Sea.

But it wasn’t until the late 1970s that consistent satellite observations began to provide an unbroken record telling the tale of Arctic sea ice decline. The National Snow and Ice Data Center, The Polar Science Center (PIOMAS), Japan’s JAXA, The Danish Meteorological Institute, and others have since that time provided a loyal recording of the stark impact human-forced warming has had on this sensitive and critical region.

(Severe sea ice volume losses since 1979 illustrated in the above video by Andy Lee Robinson.)

Perhaps the most poignant and direct telling of this tale has been provided in the form of Andy Lee Robinson’s tragic and resonant re-rendering of sea ice volume declines as measured by PIOMAS. Others, like Neven over at the Arctic Sea Ice Blog, have heroically and often thanklessly provided the essential week-to-week analysis of this tragic decline. Rising to the task of a necessary telling of a key chapter in the human tale that our mainstream media sources have all-too-often neglected. Before we go on to today’s update on an Arctic Ocean ice cap that is now in a critically weak condition, I want to add one last mention — these scientists, analysts, experts, and creative and artistically inclined laymen have done the right thing. They were the modern-day prophets providing the critical warning that has been oft-ignored.

A Tale of Devastating Losses

It’s a warning that has been written in the record of the ice itself. A decline that since 1979 has followed a steepening descent curve. An overall downward trend punctuated by the abrupt and severe loss years of 2007 and 2012. A trend that has, nonetheless, featured a few weak challenges in the form of pseudo-recovery years like 2008, 2013, and 2014. A precipitous loss that, all too soon, will likely terminate with abrupt finality in temporally-expanding blue ocean events. Periods when little or no sea ice is observed on the surface of oceans and seas within the Arctic.

JAXA sea ice

(After the warmest Winter and early Spring period on record, Arctic sea ice extent, area and volume are now at or near new record lows. With abnormal heat persisting and with the ice showing an extraordinary lack of resiliency, there appears to be a heightened risk that Arctic sea ice will hit new record all-time lows by September and October of 2016. Image source: JAXA.)

Why should we talk about blue ocean events now? Well, we have only to look at the sea ice record to find that substantial losses have occurred during single years. Years when Arctic heat hit new peaks — lining up with severe adverse weather conditions to take a terrible toll on the ice. Years like 2007 when nearly 2 million square kilometers of ice was lost over the previous year and 2012 which featured about 800,000 square kilometers of extent lost below the 2007 low mark. And if a blue ocean event does happen, it will be during one of these severe loss years.

Extremely Frail Sea Ice During the Spring of 2016

2016 and 2017 could be years when such precipitous declines occur. Heat from an extraordinarily powerful El Nino already skipped over the weakening atmospheric wall of the Jet Stream to invade the High Arctic during Winter of this year. As a result, Winter and Springtime Arctic temperatures are currently at their warmest levels ever recorded.

All this extra heat is doing a number on the ice. Sea ice extent, volume and area, which had experienced a false recovery during the years of 2013 and 2014, have again retreated to seasonally record low levels. In particular, the new near record low seasonal volume measure is disturbing. For while area and extent measure the expanse of surface ice as visible from above, volume measures the ice in three dimensions — giving a better idea of overall resiliency or lack thereof. It’s worth noting that the PIOMAS volume measure is based on a model of assimilated observational data. And, as with any model, there are a few assumptions built in. But overall, PIOMAS has tended to provide data that has matched with other observational findings.

Broken Beaufort

(Extreme fracturing of Beaufort sea ice over recent days has come after a record warm Arctic Spring and Winter and during a period when a powerful high pressure system has been breaking and compacting the ice. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Sea ice frailty seen in the measures is also verified by current satellite observations of the ice surface. This frailty is particularly visible in the region of the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska and Canada. There, extensive fracturing of the ice is clearly visible in yesterday’s MODIS satellite shot. Here we find huge regions of thin ice and open water as the torquing influence of a powerful high pressure system has turned the greatly weakened Beaufort ice into a sea of ice cubes.

During recent years in the post 2012 timeframe, Beaufort ice has shown a considerable lack of resiliency to fracturing. This is particularly disturbing as, historically, the Beaufort Sea has tended to house the thickest, toughest ice in the Arctic. If such a great former bastion for the ice can now be torn to ribbons by the slightest fluxes of wind and weather, then the sea ice is, indeed, in a rather wretched state. And last year, just this kind of early fracturing and warm up in the Beaufort greatly contributed to an overall return to the trend of an Arctic sea ice death spiral in 2015.

Neven notes in a recent blog at his Arctic sea ice portal:

Last year’s April cracking event caused a lot of fragmented multi-year ice to be transported all the way up to the Chukchi Sea (see here), leaving a vulnerable looking barrier on the Pacific side of the Arctic. When this was followed by an early heat wave in May (see here), the ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas received a beating it never really recovered from during the rest of the melting season. This was also because continental snow had melted out really quickly, making it possible for warm winds to blow in from the land.

Heating From Both Water and Land

Compared to last year, this year looks quite a bit worse. A wide-ranging Beaufort break-up is happening on the back of last year’s losses and is concurrent with new record and near record low sea ice extent, area and volume values and is happening during a period in which Arctic heat has hit new all-time highs. The result is a risk of compounding melt factors hitting the greatly weakened ice all at the same time.

Locally, the kind of widespread fracturing we now observe can result in a loss of protective reflectivity for the sea ice. As the Springtime sun rises and more of its direct rays fall upon the ice, darker thin ice patches and areas of open water will absorb more of the solar heat. That extra heat will then go to melting the islands of thicker ice that remain.

This situation can generate a compounding effect of ice losses if weather conditions and atmospheric temperatures line up. In addition, loss of the thicker sea ice cap during break-up can result in the ventilating of heat from the warmer waters beneath the ice. In fact, it is the heating of waters beneath the sea ice by means of current transport of warming ocean waters from around the world and into the Arctic that is one of the chief drivers of Arctic Ocean ice losses as the globe has been forced to warm by human fossil fuel emissions. So not only does an ice crack up in the Beaufort reduce the ice’s resiliency to the sun, it also tears the lid off the deeper ocean warming rising up from below.

Warmer Arctic Ocean Cooler Land

(Lower albedo due to ice fracturing results in more of the sun’s rays being absorbed into the ocean surface. A warmer Arctic Ocean surface then radiates more heat into the surrounding environment. Such conditions can result in periods when temperatures over the, previously colder and solidly frozen, Arctic Ocean are far warmer than even over land masses on the verge of tipping into a springtime thaw. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

During Arctic Spring, when land surfaces are now retaining snow cover even as the sea ice breaks up, the effect of lower albedo and ocean heat ventilation can be found in the form of warmer temperatures over thin ice, broken ice, and in open water regions when compared to nearby land masses. Such a condition of newly added heat over ocean zones can have substantial impacts come Summer if melt-favorable weather patterns continue to hold sway. The result is a kind of melt synergy developing between the land, the waters, and the sun. Early on, during Spring, the warmer ocean zone weakens ice and provides warm air pools that aid in the initiation of snow melt over adjacent land. Then, as land warming ramps up, the warm winds coming from regions of early snow withdrawal provide further pressure to the already greatly weakened ice.

A Big Burly High as the Final Ingredient

Weather patterns that favor melt during Spring and Summer include powerful high pressure systems dominating large regions of the Arctic. And for much of the past week, an extremely intense high in the range of 1040 to 1045 mb has stooped over the Beaufort, torqued the ice, and developed the kind of strong clockwise wind flow that has tended to result in fracturing, ice compaction, and the opening of darker ice and open water areas (please read Neven’s fantastic recent blog on this observation here).

This kind of weather system is the last ingredient necessary to trigger an early, rapid melt for the side of the Arctic where the last of the thick, old ice now remains. And it appears that, for at least two weeks, such conditions will hold strong sway over the Beaufort.

So overall, more and more conditions are lining up to deliver a ramping up of melt pressure on the Arctic sea ice. Record atmospheric heat, early break-up, record low or near record low area, extent, and volume, and a powerful high pressure system over the Beaufort do not at all bode well. In fact, this looks like a near perfect early season set-up for a record melt in 2016 should this clearly ominous trend continue.

Links:

Beaufort Under Early Pressure

The National Snow and Ice Data Center

The Polar Science Center (PIOMAS)

The Danish Meteorological Institute

JAXA

Andy Lee Robinson

The Edge of the Sea

CIRES1

LANCE-MODIS

Earth Nullschool

World Meteorological Organization — Dangerous Climate Future Has Arrived

The alarming rate of change we are now witnessing in our climate as a result of greenhouse gas emissions is unprecedented in modern records. — Petteri Taalas, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization

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It would be a bit of an understatement to say that the global scientific community is reeling. Sure, the various scientists and researchers knew that a massive accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans was beginning to take a serious toll. They knew that ocean heat content in the top 2,000 meters of the world ocean system (accounting for 93 percent of Earth System warming) was going through the roof. And they knew that this warmth was going to bleed out in a seriously big and bad way as a record El Nino swept through the global climate system during 2014, 2015 and 2016.

2016 Blowing Records Away

(Temperature averages for 2016 are so far about 1.22 C above the 1951 to 1980 baseline or about 1.44 C above 1880s averages. Though temperatures should fall somewhat as El Nino cools off in the Pacific, it’s likely that 2016 comes in well hotter than the previous three record warm years. Current guidance indicates a likely range of 1 to 1.13 C above the 1950 to 1981 baseline or 1.22 to 1.35 C above 1880s averages. This is uncomfortably close to 1.5 C warming levels the Paris Climate Conference has stated a desire to avoid by the end of this Century. Image source: Climate Central.)

But I’m pretty sure if you told these same scientists a year ago that February of 2016 would see temperatures in the range of 1.43 to 1.57 degrees Celsius above averages seen during the 1880s, as we see now in the three major global climate monitors (here, here and here), they’d have responded with not just a little incredulity.

“The startlingly high temperatures so far in 2016 have sent shockwaves around the climate science community,” said David Carlson, Director of the World Climate Research Programme, in a recent World Meteorological Organization press release. Dr Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State echoed these sentiments — “I think we all knew this would be a warm year due to the major El Niño event. But I don’t think any of us expected such remarkable and persistent record-breaking warmth.”

It’s a new extreme record warmth that comes immediately following a major global temperature ramp-up during 2015 — a period that the World Meteorological Organization is calling alarming due to an increasing number of severe climate impacts. “Our planet is sending a powerful message to world leaders to sign and implement the Paris Agreement on climate change and cut greenhouse gases now before we pass the point of no return,” said Mr Taalas, the WMO’s Secretary General in a press release announcing its most recent State of the Climate annual report.

World Meteorological Organization — Dangerous Climate Change is Here

The new report entitled — Hotter, Drier, Wetter; Face the Future — is scheduled to be released on March 23rd. It highlights a world undergoing a fundamental and wrenching shift in its once-stable climates. A shift that became all the more vivid during 2015 as the pace of major climate change related events rapidly ramped up.

The report highlights observations of record global surface temperatures, record ocean temperatures within the top 2,000 meters of the worlds’ waters, and the highest sea levels ever recorded on a global basis. The report also noted that Winter Arctic sea ice during 2015 and 2016 were at the lowest extent levels ever observed in the satellite record. WMO also highlights major heat, wildfire and hydrological events during 2015. Devastating heatwaves swept through India and Pakistan, exceptional heatwaves scorched Western and Central Europe, and more than 2 million hectares of Arctic forest burned in Alaska. WMO points to a number of very extreme rainfall events around the globe — particularly highlighting a West African monsoon that in some places dumped 13 months worth of rainfall in just one hour. Severe drought was also an issue for 2015 with Southern Africa experiencing its worst drought since 1933 and Northern South America and the Caribbean also seeing record dry conditions.

Significant climate anomalies and events February of 2016

(The WMO notes a number of extreme and significant climate change related events in its most recent annual report. A series of events that, according to monthly monitoring by NOAA, continued on into a record hot February of 2016. Image source: NOAA.)

According to WMO, 2015 also saw some of the most intense tropical cyclones ever recorded with Pam, a category 5 storm, making landfall near Vanatu, Mexico and Patricia reaching a peak intensity of 346 kilometers per hour — the strongest storm ever to emerge in either the Eastern Pacific or the Atlantic basin. A very rare hurricane Chapala also churned ashore in Yemen. An event that was immediately followed by a second similar cyclone — Megh.

Overall, WMO notes that:

The year 2015 made history, with shattered temperature records, intense heatwaves, exceptional rainfall, devastating drought and unusual tropical cyclone activity… That record-breaking trend has continued in 2016. The theme Hotter, Drier, Wetter. Face the Future highlights the challenges of climate change and the path towards climate-resilient societies.

In confronting that challenge, WMO calls for a redoubled effort to rapidly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to prevent runaway global warming. However, WMO realistically notes that current national pledges will likely result in about 3 C worth of warming this Century unless even more aggressive action causes fossil fuel based emissions to peak soon and swiftly decline.

WMO recognizes that increasingly intense droughts, heatwaves and wildfires will inevitably emerge due to the amount of warming that is already locked in. WMO recommends a set of climate resiliency enhancements to aid in climate change related disaster response. However, it is unclear if even the WMO realizes the level of threat and difficulty a rapidly warming world is now facing from an increasingly dangerous and destabilized global climate system.

In other words — that disorienting sensation scientists got from looking at these terrifying temperature jumps during February is about to become a lot more common for pretty much everyone. For from the weather to the ice to the oceans to the very complexion of the sky — things are about to get pretty darn weird. Worse and weirder if we don’t shut down fossil fuel based carbon emissions soon.

Links:

State of the Climate: Record Heat and Weather Extremes

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths

NASA: February Warmth Crushed All Previous Records

Climate Central

NOAA

GISS NASA

Japan Meteorological Organization

Hat tip to Wili

(Note: RS estimated temperature departures for 2016 have been revised upward to 1.22 to 1.35 above 1880s averages [1 to 1.13 above the NASA 20th Century baseline] in light of very high January, February and March global temperature anomalies.)

Northern Polar Melt Re-Asserts With A Vengeance — Arctic Sea Ice Volume Closed on New Record Lows During February

Arctic sea ice volume hit near new record lows during February. That’s kinda a big deal. What it means is that whatever sea ice resiliency was recovered during 2013 and 2014 are now mostly gone. That record all-time lows for sea ice set in September of 2012 are likely to see a serious new challenge during 2016 and 2017.

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A flood of severe Arctic heat — flowing up through the Barents and Greenland seas in the East and over Alaska and the Bering Sea in the West — has been hammering the Arctic Sea Ice all Winter long. During February of 2016, new record lows in sea ice extent and area were breached. Meanwhile, sea ice volume — as measured by PIOMAS — also greatly declined to hover just above previous record lows for this time of year set in 2011.

PIOMAS Daily Volume

(Arctic sea ice volume, as measured by the Polar Science Center, plunged back to near record low territory during February. Many consider sea ice volume to be the key measure determining sea ice health. So these new drops in the volume measure are a bit spine-tingling. Image source: Wipneus.)

Looking at the above graph, provided by Wipneus, and based on model and observation data collected by the Polar Science Center, it appears that for some days during February, volume measurements even briefly descended into record low territory. As of early March, volume totals were in the range of just above 20,000 cubic kilometers — beating out 2012 as second lowest volume on measure and hovering just above 2011.

Winter Warming Grand Finale

Over the past ten days, abnormal warmth in the Arctic has faded somewhat. The lower Latitudes have heated up with the onset of spring and this has tended to strengthen the circumpolar winds. Perhaps the last bit of seasonal change that can have this effect given the alterations to atmospheric circulation produced by a human-forced warming of the globe and a particular high concentration of this added heat centering on the Arctic.

Ironically, the time-frame of late February to mid-March is when the higher Latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere tend to experience their coldest temperatures. During 2016, we did see some of this atmospheric effect take hold. As a result, temperatures in the High Arctic above the 80 degree North Latitude line have fallen from record warm readings in late February to far above average warm temperatures over recent days.

Temperature above 80 north

(Ever since Early January, Arctic temperatures have been in near record or record warm ranges. This consistent heat has resulted in the warmest Winter temperatures ever experienced for the region above the 80 North Latitude Line. Image source: CIRES/NOAA.)

Today, another very strong pulse of warmth is building up through the region of the Barents and Greenland seas. This heat pulse representing yet another warm wind event for 2016. Another very strong south to north atmospheric draw flooding in front of yet another chain of strong low pressure systems in the North Atlantic. A flow of heat drawn up from the tropics and delivered to the Arctic that will briefly drive regions near the North Pole above the -2 C melting point of sea ice even as a wide wedge of 20 degree Celsius above average temperatures invades a region stretching from Northeast Greenland to the North Pole and back to the isle of Novaya Zemlya in Russia.

Overall, the sea ice in this region is much weaker than normal. Volume is greatly thinned as both the relentless heat influxes and strong sea ice export through the Fram Strait this Winter has leeched the area of thick ice. Most sea ice measures show a loss in concentration and volume for this area. But we’ll know more as the Earth tilts back toward the sun and visible satellite coverage again takes in the entire Arctic.

Given atmospheric changes taking place with Spring — where Continental and lower Latitude warming hold greater sway over atmospheric circulation — this may be the last burst of heat we see through this zone that produces such high temperature anomalies. A grand finale for the record warm Arctic Winter of 2016.

Warm North Atlantic Winds

(Warm North Atlantic Winds are predicted to blow into the Arctic yet again on Saturday, March 12. These winds will push temperatures over a broad region of sea ice to near freezing, driving such anomalously warm temperatures all the way to the North Pole. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

To be clear, long range model forecasts do identify far above average sea surface temperatures and above average 2 meter air temperatures for this region through Spring and on into Summer. However, the Arctic overall is not as capable of producing such high temperature anomalies during Summer as it is during Winter when the human supplied greenhouse gas overburden and the related warming of the oceans holds a much stronger sway — re-radiating an insane amount of heat throughout the long polar night.

High Arctic Temperature Anomalies Predicted to Fall-off For a Short While, Melt Potential Through Summer Looks Rather Bad

To this point, it appears the Arctic may be in for a brief respite on the 3-7 day horizon. GFS model runs indicate overall cooling for the region above the 66 North Latitude line and temperatures above 80 North may see their first period of near average temperatures since late December of 2015. This respite for the High Arctic, though, comes as temperatures in the Sea of Okhotsk, the Bering, and along Hudson Bay are expected to warm.

Arctic Sea Ice Area lowest on record

(Arctic sea ice area remains at record low levels during March of 2016. Image source: Cryosphere Today.)

It’s a mixed signal that may continue some of the very slight Arctic sea ice rejuvenation we’ve seen during March — with sea ice area still in record low territory, but with sea ice extent edging back to second lowest on record and just slightly above 2015.

To be clear, we’re at a very low launching pad for the start of melt season in 2016. Record low or near record low sea ice volumes in February and continuing record low area show that sea ice resiliency is pretty terrible at this time. Furthermore, Northern Hemisphere snow cover totals also at or near new record lows hint that warming of the land masses surrounding the Arctic may be very rapid come mid to late March and throughout April. To this point, 10 day Euro model runs show a tendency for rapid warming over the Northwest Territories, Alaska, the Bering Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk, the East Siberian Sea, and far Eastern Siberia during this period even as the thaw line pretty much everywhere jumps swiftly northward.

A fading record El Nino in the Eastern Pacific will also tend to result in ample excess Equatorial heat heading northward. As a result, the overall risk of strong sea ice melt through the Summer of 2016 remains very high.

Links:

The Polar Science Center

Wipneus

The Arctic Sea Ice Blog

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

CIRES/NOAA

Climate Reanalyzer

Arctic Explorer

Earth Nullschool

Cryosphere Today

Euro Model Runs

 

As a Titanic El Nino Begins to Fade, What Fresh Trouble Will a Record Warm World Bring?

Today the globe is feeling quite a bit of backlash from a human-warmed sea surface and atmosphere. As it ends up, Dr. Kevin Trenberth was right. Deep ocean warming set off by heat-trapping fossil fuel emissions and building up through the first two decades of the 21st Century did re-surge from the depths to haunt us in 2014, 2015 and 2016. In that wrenching global climate system shift to the hot side of natural variability, a titanic El Nino emerged. It was one of the top three strongest such events in the modern record. One that by NOAA’s measure appears to have tied the extreme event of 1998 at its peak intensity.

ONI sea surface temperature anomalies in Nino 3.4

(Sea surface temperature departure from average in the benchmark Nino 3.4 zone shows surface ocean heat anomalies for the 2015-2016 El Nino equaled peak 1997-1998 values. Image source: NOAA/CPC.)

Expected Heat, Drought, and Storms Together With a Few Ominous Surprises

This event did push the world into extreme warmth even as predicted related severe weather flared in some of the typical regions. Annual average global temperatures rocketed to about 1.06 C above 1880s baselines during 2015 even as monthly departures hit 1.2 to 1.3 C or more higher than the same benchmark during December and January.

Amidst this great upheaval of global heat, the world also experienced yet one more wave of freak droughts (this time over Northern South America, the Caribbean, large swaths of Africa and Southeast Asia), heat-related mass casualty events, floods, and strongest hurricanes on record. Arctic and global sea ice measures are once again plunging to new record lows. A global coral bleaching event, perhaps the worst such instance ever experienced, was also set in motion.

The predicted patterns and potential worse-case events (such as heatwave mass casualties, coral bleaching, and sea ice loss) were also contrasted by a number of surprises. The first and perhaps most ominous was the failure of El Nino to bust the California drought. Though the West Coast of the US did experience a number of storms, the pattern was more typical of normal Winter moisture for the Northwestern US even as drought continued throughout the Southwest.  Moisture instead tended to split fire-hose fashion — with storms either cycling northward into Alaska, the Aleutians, or the Bering Sea, or south over Southern Mexico or Central America, up across the Gulf and on out into a particularly severe storm zone forming in the North Atlantic.

30 day precipitation anomaly shows southwest drought continuing

(Over the last 30 days the southwest drought re-emerged as a blocking pattern again began to take hold over Western North America and the Eastern Pacific. Image source: NOAA/CPC.)

This continued loss of moisture for the US Southwest despite a record El Nino is particularly apparent in the Climate Prediction Center’s most recent precipitation anomaly measure for the last 30 days. Here we find that large parts of Central and Southern California have received just 10 to 50 percent of typical rainfall for this period. Coupled with 1-3 C above average temperatures for the month, this loss of rainfall during what would typically be California’s wettest period has come as a disappointment to many who were hoping a strong El Nino would help break the state out of a crippling drought. Now, the window for late Winter and early Spring rains is starting to close even as the blocking pattern appears to be strongly re-established in both the present weather pattern and in the forecast model runs.

But perhaps the biggest surprise coming from this El Nino year was a set of weather events in the North Atlantic that were likely more related to climate change. There, severe storms hammered a flood-beleaguered UK as a greatly distorted Jet Stream heaved Equatorial heat and moisture northward — rushing it up over a ridiculously warm and apparently backed-up Gulf Stream before slamming it on into a likely Greenland ice melt-outflow related cool pool. There the heat and moisture collided with cold to produce the epic storms that then vented their fury upon the UK.

Warm Arctic Storm

(December 29th saw temperatures rise above freezing at the North Pole — the first time temperatures have warmed so much for this high Arctic region so late in the year. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

During one such event, a daisy chain of heavy-hitting North Atlantic lows hurled high winds, heavy rains and epic surf at the UK even as the meridional flow set up by these powerful beasts shoved above-freezing temperatures all the way to the North Pole during late December. Yet one more unprecedented and unexpected event during a record warm year. One that looks more like a human forced warming which has overcome the traditional influences of El Nino, rather than an El Nino related impact in itself.

As El Nino Fades, Equatorial Heat Tends to Move Pole-ward

Though we may see these two events — the failure of El Nino to provide heavy rains to the US West Coast, and the massive northward pulses of storms, heat and moisture hitting the North Atlantic — as unrelated, the twain patterns appear to be linked to an ongoing polar amplification. Overall, heat within the Arctic has tended to weaken the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream over these two zones. And even during El Nino, when the Jet would have typically strengthened, we have continued to see high amplitude wave patterns forming over these regions.

But as El Nino weakens and the Equator cools, the Jet Stream would tend to slow even more. Such an atmospheric state would tend to further exaggerate already significant Jet Stream wave patterns — transferring still more low-Latitude heat poleward. In addition, the ocean gyres tend to speed up as El Nino fades or transitions to La Nina. The result is an amplified pulse of warmer waters emerging from southern Latitudes and entering the Arctic.

It’s for these combined reasons — tendency to amplify south to north atmospheric heat transfer into the Arctic post El Nino and tendency to flush warmer waters toward Arctic Ocean zones during the same period that it appears we are entering a high risk time for potential new sea ice melts and possible related Greenland land ice melts during 2016 and 2017.

Hot Blobs

(Northeastern Pacific Hot Blob remains at high intensity even as its size is predicted to expand through July. Meanwhile, very warm sea surface temperatures are predicted to remain in place off the Eastern Seaboard. The net effect of these two hot blobs may be to shove the Jet Stream far northward over North America during the summer of 2016 — potentially increasing the risk of widespread and potentially record heat and drought. Predicted very warm sea surfaces in the region of the Barents and Greenland seas — in excess of 3 C above average for a large region — is also cause for concern. This is not only due to risk for sea ice loss through this zone, but also due to its potential to set off blocking pattern and heat dome formation over Eastern Europe and Western Russia. Image source: NOAA/CFS.)

In addition, we are at serious risk of seeing the high amplitude blocks and wave patterns re-establish and persist, especially in the zone over Western North America were a related Northeastern Pacific Hot Blob is expected to restrengthen as El Nino fades. In fact, large regions of the US may fall under record to near record heat and drought this summer due to the combined influences of two very warm ocean zones surrounding her shores. Models now indicate a particular late spring drought risk for the Great Lakes region as well as an extended period of far above average temperatures for pretty much all of the Continental US during summer. Meanwhile, predicted above average spring-time precipitation for the Southwest appears less and less likely to emerge.

Finally, extreme above average sea surface temperatures are predicted to intensify over the Barents and Greenland seas through to end of Summer 2016. This is an area to watch. The added ocean heat would tend to pull the Jet Stream northward over Eastern Europe and Western Russia — generating risk of heatwaves and drought for this region even as Central Asia fell under risk of floods. Long range CFS precipitation and temperature model runs for Europe have not yet picked up this risk. However, given the intensity of heat predicted for Barents sea surfaces and the related tendency of warmth over oceans and in the far north to influence the formation of blocking patterns, heat domes, and high amplitude troughs, it’s worth keeping a weather eye on the situation.

El Nino to Weaken and Then Return; or is a Shift to La Nina Now Under Way?

Related to a polar and ocean warming-enhanced tendency to generate high amplitude Jet Stream waves — as well as associated persistent heatwaves, droughts, and floods — is the heat balance of the Equatorial Pacific. Strong El Ninos, or even a tendency to remain in or near an El Nino state, has historically aided in the breaking of new record global high temperatures when linking up to the greenhouse gas warming trend. Meanwhile, the shift toward La Nina has tended to enhance a range of global heating related issues including record rainfall events and large injections of heat toward the poles in the drop off from El Nino to La Nina.

The cause for increased risk of major precipitation events is due to the fact that El Nino is providing a massive moisture bleed into the atmosphere at times of peak intensity. With the current El Nino topping out near record levels and with global temperatures at above 1 C higher than 1880s averages, global atmospheric moisture levels are hitting new record highs at this time. If global temperatures subsequently drop by around 0.1 to 0.2 C during a transition into La Nina (into a range about 0.9 to 0.8 C hotter than 1880s values) then the atmosphere will be unable to keep a larger portion of that extra moisture in suspension and it will fall out as precipitation — primarily wringing out where the major trough zones tend to set up. We should be very clear here in saying that the drought risk related to a global warming intensification of ridge and heat dome formation is not reduced during such instances — just that the risk of extreme precipitation events is enhanced.

Russian Heatwave Pakistan Floods Jet Stream

(During 2011, as the 2010 El Nino faded into La Nina conditions, a high amplitude wave in the Jet Stream set off record heat, drought and wildfires over Russia even as Pakistan was hit by a month-long deluge that was the worst rainfall event for the region in the last 1,000 years. La Nina’s tendency to wring excess water out of the atmosphere can enhance the risk for such events to occur in a warming climate state. Image source: NASA.)

As for risks to sea ice, we’ve provided some of the explanation above. However, it’s also worth noting that the mobility of heat poleward tends to be enhanced during the periods when El Nino drops off toward La Nina. During these times, Equatorial heat tends to propagate in wave fashion toward the Poles — especially toward the Northern Hemisphere Pole which has already lost its strong Jet Stream protection warding away warm air invasions.

These two factors are major issues when considering whether La Nina or an ENSO Nuetral state will appear post El Nino during 2016. But there is a third — rate of global temperature rise. Though the primary driver of global warming is a massive human fossil fuel emission, the response of the world ocean system can significantly wag the rate of atmospheric temperature increases on a decadal time scale. If the ocean tendency is for La Nina, this would tend to somewhat suppress the overall decadal rate of temperature increase — and we saw this during the 2000s. But if the ocean tendency is to produce El Ninos (in a switch to a positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation, as appears to be happening now), then the overall pace of global atmospheric temperature increase would tend to be enhanced.

La Nina Emerges

( IRI/CPC consensus model runs show a drop off to a weak La Nina by late in the year. However, CFS model runs [image below] have shown a tendency to predict a resurgence of El Nino conditions by Fall. Image source: NOAA/CPC.)

To this point we find that the official model forecast consensus published by NOAA (IRI/CPC figure above) shows a transition to ENSO neutral states by May, June, and July which then proceeds on to a very weak La Nina by Fall. In such a drop off, we would likely still see record global high temperatures during the period of 2016 (in the range of 1.03 to 1.15 C above 1880s values).

However, the late 2016 and 2017 tendency for temperatures to recede from new record highs would be somewhat enhanced (likely dropping below the 1 C above 1880s mark in 2017 or 2018 before again making a challenge to the 2015-2016 record with the potential formation of a new El Nino in the 3-5 year time-frame of 2019 through 2021). It’s worth noting that this scenario shows an increased risk of a stronger warm air pulse heading toward the Northern Polar zone together with added fuel for extreme precipitation events as global temperatures would tend to drop off more swiftly from late 2015 and early 2016 peaks.

El Nino Continues

(CFSv2 model run — shows El Nino continuing on through the end of 2016. Over recent months, the CFSv2 series has shown a high accuracy. However, NOAA’s current forecast preference is for the IRI model set predictions [previous image above]. Image source: NOAA/CPC.)

In contrast, the CFSv2 model forecast from NOAA (above image) shows El Nino only weakening through to July and then re-strengthening in the October-November time-frame. This CFS model scenario would result in higher atmospheric temperatures in 2016 — practically guaranteeing a lock on an unprecedented three back-to-back-to-back record warm years for 2014, 2015, and 2016. But such a scenario — implying that the Pacific Ocean had entered a new period of El Nino tendency — would also tend to keep atmospheric temperatures nearer to the newly established record highs.

Under the CFSv2 scenario, we may expect annual average global temperatures to rise as high as 1.08 to 1.2 C above 1880s values during 2016 (a very extreme departure and one uncomfortably close to the 1.5 C warming mark). These extreme values would, perhaps, recede to around between 0.9 and 1.1 C during 2017 so long as the second El Nino pulse did not remain in place for too long. However, if the bounce back toward El Nino conditions was strong enough in late 2016, there would be an outside chance that the globe may experience not 3, but an absolutely obnoxious 4 back-to-back record warm years.

NASA temperature trend

(During 2015 global annual temperature rocketed to above 1 C hotter than 1880s values. There’s at least an even chance that 2016 will be hotter still. Considering the considerable heating tendency imposed by a fossil fuel-forced warming of the world, how much worse can it get during the 21st Century’s second decade? Image source: NASA GISS.)

Meanwhile, the warm air pulse heading toward the poles may be somewhat muted under this scenario. A statement that should be qualified by the fact that we’ve already seen a substantial amount of El Nino heat heading poleward during the present event. In addition, potentially heavy rainfall events may not receive the added oomph of a decent global temperature drop to wring out more moisture. A statement that requires the further qualification that overall atmospheric moisture loading is enhanced by rising global temperatures — so comparatively less heavy rainfall is a relative term here.

At this time, NOAA favors a transition to La Nina forecast stating:

“A transition to ENSO-neutral is likely during late Northern Hemisphere spring or early summer 2016, with a possible transition to La Nina conditions by fall.”

However, it’s worth re-iterating that the CFSv2 model forecasts have been quite accurate in predicting the path of the current record El Nino to date.

Links:

NOAA/CPC

NASA GISS

Hothouse Mass Casualty Event Strike Eqypt

Southern Hemisphere’s Strongest Storm on Record

Punishing Four Season Storm Grips US

A Monster Arctic Melt Season May Have Already Begun

Deep Ocean Warming is Coming Back to Haunt Us

Warm Arctic Storm to Unfreeze the North Pole

More Signs of Gulf Stream Slowdown as Floods Devastate Cumbria England

Deconstruction of Asia’s Wild Weather

Hat tip to Caroline

 

A Monster 2016 Arctic Melt Season May Have Already Begun

“Hell is empty… all the devils are here.” William ShakespeareThe Tempest.

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We have never seen heat like this before in the Arctic. Words whose meaning tends to blur due to the fact that, these days, such events keep happening over and over and over again.

Ever since at least the 1920s, the Arctic has been warming up due to a destructive and irresponsible human greenhouse gas emission. And, over recent years, the Arctic has been warming more and more rapidly as those dangerous emissions continued to build on into the 21st Century. Now the Earth has been shoved by those emissions into realms far outside her typical Holocene context. And it appears that the Winter of 2016, for the Arctic, has been the hottest such year during any period of human-based record-keeping and probably the hottest season the Arctic has experienced in at least 150,000 years.

Extreme Arctic heat February 22

(Climate Reanalyzer hits a stunning 7.06 C above the already hotter than normal 1979 to 2000 baseline for the entire region above the 66 North Latitude Line on February 22nd of 2016. It’s a very extreme temperature departure — one this particular analyst has never seen before in this record. For reference, a 3 C above baseline temperature departure for this region would be considered extraordinarily warm. What we see now is freakish, outlandish, odd, disturbing. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

It’s just the most recent marker on a path toward an ever-worsening polar heat that is becoming all-the-more difficult to ignore or deny. For at current greenhouse gas levels, that polar zone is hurtling toward temperatures not seen in 15 million years. A heat pressure that will push for warming not seen in 20, 30, 50 million years or more, if a nightmarish fossil fuel burning continues.

Nothing in the recent geological past can compare to the danger we are now in the process of bringing to bear upon our world. Not the Great Flood. Not the end of the last ice age. Those were comfortable, normal cataclysms. Human beings and life on this world survived them. But the kind of geophysical changes we — meaning those of us who are forcing the rest of us to keep burning fossil fuels — are inflicting upon the Earth is something entirely new. Something far, far more deadly.

Extreme Arctic Heat Ramps Up Yet Again

At the start of 2016, we find ourselves experiencing a year during which our world is steepening its ramp-up toward this kind of catastrophic global heat. During January of 2016, the Arctic experienced its most extreme temperature departures ever recorded. February, it appears, was at least as bad. Today, daily temperature departures for the Arctic in the Climate Reanalyzer measure were a stunning +7.06 above an already hot 1979-to-2000 baseline (see graphic above).

To put this in perspective, a region larger than 30 million square kilometers or representing fully 6 percent of the Earth’s surface was more than 7 degrees Celsius hotter than average today. That’s an area more than three times larger than the United States including Alaska and Hawaii. A region of the world that includes a vast majority of the remaining frozen Northern Hemisphere land and sea ice. And since an extreme heatwave is typically defined as temperature departures at about 3 C above normal for an extended period of time over a large region — the Arctic appears to be experiencing some ridiculously unseasonable temperatures for this time of year.

80 North Temperature departures February 22 NOAA

(A seemingly unstoppable period of record warmth continues for the High Arctic on February 22nd. Readings for this zone have consistently remained in the warmest 15 percent of readings on up to record warmest readings for each day since January 1, 2016. Image source: NOAA.)

Above the 80 North Latitude line, departures were even more extreme — hitting about 13 C or about 23 F warmer than normal for the entire High Arctic surrounding the North Pole today (see above graphic). Temperatures that are more typical for late April or early May as we enter a time of year when this region of the Arctic is usually experiencing its coldest readings and sea ice extents would normally continue to build.

Unfortunately, today’s extreme heat was just an extension of amazing above average Arctic temperatures experienced there since late December. So what we are seeing is consistently severe Arctic warmth during a season that should be Winter, but that has taken on a character more similar to a typical Arctic Spring. Warmth that is now enough to have already propelled the Arctic into its warmest ever yearly temperatures when considering a count of below freezing degree days.

Arctic Degree Days Below Freezing Anomaly

(Degree Days below Freezing [or Freezing Degree Days, FDD] shows a 670 FDD departure below that seen during a typical year. If the current trend continues, the Arctic may see degree days below freezing lag by between 900 and 1,500 — knocking off about 15 to 25 percent of below freezing days from a typical Arctic year. Note that the departure line steepens rapidly after the first major warm wind event hits the Arctic during late December of 2015 — driving temperatures above freezing at the North Pole for the first time ever so late in the year. Image source: NOAA.)

Freezing degree-days (FDD) or thawing degree-days (TDD) are defined as departures of air temperature from 0 degrees Celsius. The less FDDs during an annual period, the warmer the Arctic has become. Under the current trend, the Arctic is now on track to hit between 15 and 25 percent less FDDs than it experiences during a typical year in 2016.

Looking at the above graph, what we see is an ongoing period in which Winter cold has been hollowed out by a series of warm air invasions rising up from the south. These warm wind events have tended to flow up through weaknesses in the Jet Stream that have recently begun to form over the warming Ocean zones of the Bering, Northeast Pacific, Barents, and Greenland seas. Still more recently, warm wind events have also propagated northward over Baffin Bay and Western Greenland — even shoving warm air into the ocean outlets of a typically frozen Hudson Bay.

Perhaps more starkly, we find a steepening in the rate of Freezing Degree Day loss following the freakish series of storms that drove the North Pole above Freezing during late December of 2015 — the latest during any year on record that the North Pole has experienced temperatures exceeding 0 C.

Arctic Sea Ice Declining Since February 9th

Overall, a rapid heat uptake by the world ocean system appears to be the primary current driver of extreme Arctic warming. Atmospheric heat from greenhouse gas warming swiftly transfers through the ocean surface and on into the depths. During recent decades, the world ocean system has taken in heat at a rate equal to the thermal output of between 4 and 5 Hiroshima-type bombs every second (with some individual years hitting a much higher rate of heat uptake).

Since thousands of meters of warming water insulates better than the land surface and diaphanous atmosphere, this added heat is distributed more evenly across the globe in the world ocean system. As such, ocean warming is a very efficient means of transferring heat to the Northern Hemisphere Pole in particular. The reason is that the Pole itself sits atop the warming and globally inter-connected Arctic Ocean. In addition, the warming surface waters, as noted above, provide pathways for warm, moist air invasions of the Arctic — especially during Winter.

For 2016, these kinds of heat transfers not only resulted in an extreme warming of airs over the Arctic, they have also shoved the Arctic sea ice into never-before-seen record lows for area and extent.

chart

(NSIDC shows Arctic sea ice entering a new record low extent range from February 2 through February 21 of 2016. A peak on February 9 and decline since concordant with record warmth building throughout the Arctic begs the question — did the sea ice melt season start on February 9th? Possible — but too early to call for now. Image source: NSIDC.)

Off and on throughout January, but more consistently since early February of 2016, Arctic sea ice has continued to hit new daily record lows. For Arctic sea ice extent, the record lows entered a streak that has now been unbroken since February 2nd. By the 21st, extent measures had hit 14.165 million square kilometers in the National Snow and Ice Data Center measure. That’s about 200,000 square kilometers below the previous record low extent value for the date set during 2006.

Perhaps more ominously, the current measure appears to have fallen off by about 50,000 square kilometers from a peak set on February 9th. And with such extreme heat driving into the Arctic over recent days, it appears that this departure gap could widen somewhat over the coming week.

Overall, radiation balance conditions for the Arctic are starting to change as well. The long polar night in the Arctic is beginning to recede. Sunlight is beginning to fall at very low angles over the sea ice, providing it with another nudge toward melting. Finally, the greatly withdrawn ice has uncovered more dark ocean surfaces that will, in turn, absorb more sunlight as the Arctic Winter proceeds on toward Spring.

With sea ice declining slightly since February 9, with record warmth already in place in the Arctic, and with the sun slowly beginning to provide its own melt pressure, it appears risks are high that we see a record early start to Arctic melt season. Seven day forecasts do show high Arctic temperature departures receding a bit from today’s peak at around 6-7 C above average to between 4 and 5 C above average by the start of next week. But heat at the ice edge in the Bering, Barents, Greenland Sea and Baffin Bay are all likely to continue to apply strong pressure on sea ice extent and area totals. In addition, recent fracturing within the Beaufort has generated a number of low albedo zones that will face a wave of unseasonable warmth riding up over Alaska during the coming days which will tend to slow rates of refreeze even as Western Alaska’s waters feel the heat pressure of off and on above freezing temperatures.

So it appears we may have already begun, in early February a melt season that will last through mid-to-late September. It’s too early to make the call conclusively, but the Arctic heat and melt trends necessary to set up just such an ominous event do appear to be in place at this time. In other words, “all the devils are here…”

Links:

Climate Reanalyzer

No Winter For the Arctic

The Keeling Curve

The Arctic Sea Ice Blog

NOAA: Mean 2 Meter Temperatures North of 80 North Latitude

NOAA: Frequently Asked Questions About the Arctic

Grasping at Uncorrected Straws

The Oceans Warmed by a Rate of 12 Hiroshima Bombs per Second in 2013

The Polar Science Center

Trends in CO2 Emissions

Warm Arctic Storm to Unfreeze the North Pole

Congress Members Call for Investigation of Shell over Climate Change Lies

Could Lawsuit Against Exxon Mobile Force Fossil Fuel Industry to Pay for Lies about Climate Change?

William Shakespeare Quotes

NSIDC

Hat Tip to Planet in Distress

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Sea Ice Death Spiral Continues — Start of 2016 Sees Arctic Ocean Ice Hitting New Record Lows

In January, Arctic sea ice extent hit a new record average low for the month. Meanwhile, during the first days of February, both Arctic sea ice extent and area hit new daily record lows even as global sea ice area also entered the second lowest range ever recorded. And so it seems that the sea ice death spiral of a record warm world continues.

January lowest sea ice on record

(According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic sea ice extent averages were the lowest on record for the month of January since at least 1979. The new low beats out 2011, continuing an ongoing decadal January decline of about 420,000 square kilometers every ten years. Image souce: NSIDC.)

But before we go more into the new spate of record low Arctic and global sea ice measures, it’s important to consider the context — our world has not seen the current level of heat forcing from greenhouse gasses (CO2 + methane + NOx + other greenhouse gasses) in the atmosphere since about 15 million years ago. It’s an unprecedented amount of hothouse potential that is having equally unprecedented results.

Unprecedented Volume of Heat Trapping Gasses Drives Raging Atmospheric and Ocean Warming

About 50 billion tons of CO2 equivalent from all those greenhouse gasses hit the Earth’s atmosphere each year these days. In vast part driven by industrial fossil fuel burning and extraction, this unconscionable, monstrous, and difficult-to-imagine accumulation of heat-trapping vapors is pushing the world to warm up at an unprecedented rate. A pace that is now at least 20 times faster than the widespread warming that occurred at the end of the last ice age.

Temperatures above 80 North

(It’s likely been a record warm start of the year for the Arctic above the 80 degree North Latitude Line. Temperatures in that high Arctic region have tended well outside the 2 standard deviation range and have hit above the record line on numerous occasions. Image source: NSIDC.)

Back then, it took about 2,500 years for the Earth’s atmosphere to heat by 1 degree Celsius for a total of a 4 C temperature increase over 10,000 years. By just this past year, in 2015, fossil fuel burning had managed to do more in 135 years than what an Earth System rising up out of an ice age did in all of two and one half millenia. For 2015 hit a new record high of about 1.1 C above 1880s averages in all the major global temperature monitors (NASA, NOAA, JMA, UK MET Office). It’s amazing, crazy, terrifying to think about. The end of the last glacial period was a great upheaval that violently re-shaped our world. And fossil fuel industry is running a similar, if much more dangerous, geological process in fast forward by pumping out heat trapping gasses at a rate at least six times faster than anything seen in all of Earth’s history.

Yet as amazing as the current rate of atmospheric warming is, it’s just the thin lens through which a vast amount of heat is transferring into the world’s ocean systems. In fact, according to Peter Gleckler, an oceanographer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory “Ninety, perhaps 95 percent of the accumulated heat is in the oceans.”

Arctic Sea Ice Concentration January

(What was possibly the warmest January on record for the Arctic contributed to major sea ice losses in almost all of the major ice formation basins. Image source: NSIDC.)

And all that extra heat doesn’t just sit there. It goes to work transforming water to water vapor — shoving atmospheric moisture content 7 percent higher for each degree Celsius of warming even as it amps up the rate at which water evaporates from the Earth’s surface or falls down in the form of precipitation. Perhaps still more ominously, this heat goes to work melting the great white ice coverings it comes into contact with at the shoreline and upon the ocean surface.

Arctic Sea Ice Hits New Record Lows For January Through Early February

For 2016, that heat has led to new record lows in Arctic sea ice extent and area even as it has pushed global sea ice coverage within striking distance of a scant range never before seen in the whole of the modern era. New record daily lows for sea ice extent — now an almost annual occurrence for at least some time during the calendar year — are now also being breached.

Arctic Sea ice area new record lows

(Arctic sea ice area explores new record low territory on January 29 through 31 of 2016. Image source: Cryosphere Today.)

In the major monitors, Arctic sea ice extent hit a new record low average for the month of January, 2016. This average included a number of record daily lows early in the month even as the entire monitor held within 1st to 3rd lowest on record for each day throughout January. Record daily lows were again breached in the NSIDC measure on January 29th. A streak that continued on through February 1st with totals hitting 13.911 million square kilometers for the day. That’s 119,000 square kilometers below the previous record daily low for February 1 set in 2011 at 14.030 million square kilometers or a region of ice lost below the previous minimum extent slightly larger than the State of Virginia.

Arctic sea ice area as recorded by Cryosphere Today (see graphic above) followed a similar record low range through the end of January. By January 31st, the most recent date in the measure, Arctic sea ice area had hit 12.27 million square kilometers or about 61,000 square kilometers below the previous record daily low for sea ice area set during 2006.

globalice

(A very warm Arctic during January of 2016 likely contributed to shoving the global sea ice area measure into striking distance of new record lows by early February. Image source: Pogoda i Klimat. Data Source: Cryosphere Today.)

Also disturbing is the fact that global sea ice area — which has shown consistent losses over time — has also now come within striking distance of new record lows. The Cryosphere Today monitor now shows global sea ice area in the range of 14.5 million square kilometers or just above previous record lows set during 2006 for this time of year.

Conditions In Context — Amazing Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies, Major Winter Warm-ups Hit Sea Ice Hard

Arctic sea ice area negative anomaly is now in the range of -1.23 million square kilometers. With Antarctic sea ice at around 200,000 square kilometers below average, it’s pretty clear that the bulk of current global sea ice losses are now ongoing in the Arctic.

Warm ocean waters, especially in the Barents Sea and the Greenland Strait are likely major contributors to record low sea ice extents during recent weeks. These sea surface temperatures now show between 1 and an amazing 8 C above average reading in the NOAA sea surface temperature anomaly map below.

NOAA Sea surface temperature anomalies

(Sea surface temperatures are in the range of 4-8 degrees Celsius or 7-14 degrees Fahrenheit above average near sections of sea ice in the Northern Barents Sea. These very warm sea surfaces continue to suppress refreeze and provide melt pressure on into early February. Image source: NOAA.)

Such amazingly warm waters likely helped contribute to major atmospheric warming events in the high north over the past two months including one above freezing event at the North Pole during late December and another near freezing event for the same region during late January, likely added to the overall melt pressure. The very warm water in the Barents likely helped to enable the observed warm air slots that formed north of Svalbard and on toward the North Pole on numerous occasions.

Over the next seven days, Arctic air temperatures are expected to range about 1 C above average — as opposed to the 2-3 C above average range seen during the past month. This slight cooling may allow for a more rapid freezing of some regions including the Sea of Okhotsk. But overall warm waters and airs along the sea ice edge in the Bering and Barents should continue to suppress major ice formation there. By the second week of February, risk increases that high amplitude Jet Stream waves will deliver another burst of warm air to the far Northern Latitudes, potentially continuing the trend of extreme above average atmospheric temperatures in the region of the Arctic Ocean during 2016.

 

 

Links:

NSIDC

NASA GISS

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

The Arctic Sea Ice Blog

This is Where 90 Percent of Global Warming is Going

CO2 Rising Ten Times Faster Than PETM

NOAA

Cryosphere Today

Pogoda i Klimat

More Signs of Winter Arctic Melt — Icebergs are Showing up off Newfoundland in January

From pole to pole the ice is melting. Winter is retreating. And much of life and even the seasons themselves appear to have been thrown off-kilter. In the Southern Ocean near the Antarctic Peninsula, krill populations have dropped by more than 50 percent due to a shortening of the season in which sea ice forms. The North Pole now experiences near or above freezing temperature events during Winter with increasing frequency. Greenland appears to be undergoing melt episodes during Winter. And now, the iceberg season for Newfoundland is starting four months early.

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Iceberg spotted off Bonavista in January

(This iceberg was spotted off the coast of Bonavista, Newfoundland on January 20, 2016. It’s the first iceberg of the year for Newfoundland. One that is appearing four months earlier than the typical iceberg season for this part of the world. Image source: Iceberg Spotter.)

During any normal year in the 20th Century, Newfoundland was a prime spot for viewing icebergs. Locked away in the sea ice for much of the Winter, these behemoths became liberated with the spring thaw. By April or May, they could at first be seen off the coast of Newfoundland as they made their trek out into the Atlantic Ocean along the currents running away from Baffin Bay and the West Coast of Greenland.

During a normal year, the sea ice begins its thaw in Baffin Bay along Greenland’s western coastal boundary by early to late April. A milder air flow along the northward progressing warm water current is enough to unlock some of the icebergs stranded within the sea ice and to send them cycling southward toward Newfoundland.

major iceburg drift patterns

(Icebergs typically originate from Greenland’s west coast and then cycle around Baffin Bay. Icebergs sighted off Newfoundland typically break away from the Baffin ice pack during Spring. This year, one got free of the ice in January. Image source: The Atlas of Canada.)

But this year, something odd and rather strange happened. During mid January, following a December in which Arctic sea ice extents were their fourth lowest on record, a period of unseasonable warmth settled in over Western Greenland. Warm, wet winds blew up over Greenland’s coastal mountain ranges and into Baffin Bay. These winds were ushered northward by both a very powerful North Atlantic storm track and by an anomalously warm termination of the Gulf Stream Current just south and east of Newfoundland.

By late last week, the remnants of a January Atlantic hurricane had been pulled into this warm storm generation zone just south of Greenland where it eventually unspooled over the frozen isle’s mountains even as it vented the last remainder of its fury on the iceberg outlets of Baffin Bay.

(Warm, tropical moisture associated with Hurricane Alex is pulled northward into Greenland and Baffin Bay in mid January. This heat and moist air delivery, associated with northward propagating warm winds along Western Greenland, appears to have had multiple wintertime melt impacts for this region of the Arctic. Video source: Hurricane Alex Transitioning to Post-Tropical.)

And all this heat and tropical weather aimed at Greenland and Baffin Bay during January appears to have had a pretty far-ranging impact. For not only have melt monitors over the Greenland Ice Sheet picked up a Winter melt signal. Not only has Disko and Uummannaq Bay been flushed clear of sea ice during Winter. Now, just a few days later, we see the first iceberg of a four month early start to typical iceberg season for Newfoundland. Yet one more well out of season impact during a Winter that really isn’t like any Winter that could be considered normal — at least for what human beings or the living creatures of this world are used to.

Links:

Mystery Beneath the Ice

Newfoundland Labrador Iceberg Facts

Warm Arctic Storm Brings Above Freezing Temperatures to the North Pole During Winter

Major Greenland Melt Event During Winter

NSIDC

The Atlas of Canada

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Catherine Simpson

New Study — Risk of Significant Methane Release From East Siberian Arctic Shelf Still Growing

Large plumes of methane bubbling up from the Arctic Ocean sea-bed, saturating the water column, venting into the air, adding significantly more heat forcing to an already dangerous, fossil fuel-based, accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere. It’s a nightmare scenario. One in which human-forced warming, already at 1 C above 1880s levels, is further amplified through the feedback release of ancient carbon stored over the past 8 million years of Northern Hemisphere glaciation. And a recent study by the now famous Semiletov and Shakhova team provides still more reason for appropriate concern that such an event may be in the works.

ESAS methane release organic carbon store

(Shakhova and Semiletov’s new study produces an increasingly clear picture of a destabilizing organic carbon store beneath thawing permafrost in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf region. The above images show organic carbon concentration [left frame] and rate of release of methane in grams per square meter per day over observed regions. Image source: The Royal Society.)

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By now, many of us are familiar with the controversy over the potential risks of significant-to-catastrophic methane release due to human-forced warming of the ArcticAn increasing number of observational specialists are pointing toward a risk that rapid human warming will set off the release of still more carbon in the Arctic. For some, this release is expected to be gradual. Others believe there’s enough risk of a rapid release to warrant an equally rapid emergency response.

But regardless of where you stand on the issue, new research coming to light from some of the Arctic’s top observational scientists more clearly describes what appears to be an increasingly dangerous situation.

Disintegrating Permafrost Cap in ESAS

At issue is the fact that, at the end of the last ice age, a great store of permafrost carbon was submerged as the Arctic Ocean rose. A low lying region containing about 500 billion tons of carbon as methane became inundated by the shallow sea that is the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS). The waters of this sea remained cold — below the freezing point of non-salt water in its lower reaches for most of the year. But, in some places, warmth invaded, and it is thought that small portions of the permafrost cap deteriorated.

In the near shore zones and in geologically active zones, methane conduits called taliks developed. And from these expanding taliks an increasing amount of methane bubbled to the surface.

Submerged Thermokarst Lake

(Ivashkina Lagoon was once a thermokarst lake. It has since been flooded by the Laptev Sea. For much of the time of inundation, the fresh water lake surface remained frozen. It is now thawing and releasing its organic carbon store as methane. Image source: The Royal Society.)

However, for the most part, the permafrost cap over the methane stores remained in tact — waiting to be rejuvenated by a new ice age. That is, until human industry belched billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere, removing the possibility of a new ice age and forcing the world ocean and connecting Arctic Ocean to begin to warm in excess of peak Holocene temperatures. This warming, twice as fast in the Arctic as in the rest of the world, added still more heat pressure to the permafrost cap locking methane within the ESAS sea floor.

Now, more and more permafrost beneath the shallow ESAS waters is starting to thaw. And this, much more rapid than normal thaw is resulting in an increasing risk that methane stores beneath the permafrost cap will destabilize.

Shallow Waters, Geothermal Hot Spots, Taliks

Recent observational records by Dr. Natalia Shakhova and Dr. Igor Semiletov have found what they hypothesize to be an expanding array of methane vents in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf sea bed. According to their recent research, the vents appear to be growing more robust — bubbling up greater volumes of methane from a more vigorous and inter-connected network of channel beneath the thawing sea floor.

Atmospheric Methane September 6 2015

(Ever since 2005, atmospheric methane levels have again been on the rise. Much of this increase may be due to human emissions. However, an overburden of atmospheric methane and carbon dioxide in the Arctic zone hints that destabilizing carbon stores may also be adding substantial volumes of greenhouse gasses to the world’s airs. Image source: NOAA OSPO.)

Currently, according to Shakhova and Semiletov, methane emissions are most vigorous in the near-shore region of the ESAS and in the offshore slope region. Shakhova and Semiletov believe that near shore emissions are increasingly active due to rapid warming occurring there. Not only are the regional waters impacted by a rapidly warming Siberian land mass. They also see the flux of hotter waters from rivers issuing from the continent. As a result, the near shore region is most vulnerable to permafrost thaw and destabilization. In the slope zone, however, geological features are more active. These features provide a natural heat for the formation of taliks. And though most of this region was once frozen to the point that even geological activity did not result in methane venting, the now warming permafrost cap is generating weaker regions that natural geological heat can exploit to greater and greater degrees.

Sea Ice Melt, Storms, Heighten Methane Emissions

Ever since the mid 2000s Shakhova and Semiletov have observed what appears to be a generally heightened methane emission coming from the ESAS. Estimates for total release rates have doubled and then doubled again. By 2013, the scientists were estimating that 17 million tons of methane was venting from the ESAS sea surface each year.

The increased rate of methane release is not only due to permafrost thaw on the sea floor. It is also due to an increase in large polynyas in the ESAS during winter time as well as an overall increase in the area of open water that can be impacted by storms. An ice locked ESAS keeps more of its methane in the water column and gives the methane a longer period to be absorbed by the water or consumed by microbes. But as the ice recedes, more of the methane is able to break the surface and reach the airs above. In addition, ice free seas are more susceptible to the action of storms. Storms increase wave heights, increase the rate of breaking waves, and reduces ocean surface stratification. As a result methane moves more rapidly through the upper level water column and encounters a larger surface area from which to transfer from water to air.

An ice free ESAS is not only warmer, generating more destabilization forcing to the permafrost cap which locks in methane, it is also more and more devoid of the surface ice cap which acts as a secondary barrier to methane to air transfer.

Shakhova, Semiletov Recommend Adding ESAS Methane Release to Global Climate Models

Shakhova and Semiletov’s findings continue to compel them to issue warnings over the prospect of continuing increases in methane emissions from the ESAS and nearby seas. They conclude:

The observed range in CH4 emissions associated with different degrees of subsea permafrost disintegration implies substantial and potent emission enhancement in the ESAS as the process of subsea permafrost thawing progresses with time. While it is still unclear how quickly CH4 flux rates will change, the current process of Arctic warming and associated sea ice loss will accelerate this process. The potential for the release of substantial amounts of CH4 from the ESAS region has important implications not only for atmospheric CH4 concentrations but also, given CH4‘s potency as a greenhouse gas, for the global climate. Because the ESAS contains the largest and arguably most vulnerable stores of subsea CH4, inclusion of the ESAS source in global climate models should be considered a high priority.

Links:

The East Siberian Arctic Shelf: Further Assessment of Permafrost Related Fluxes and the Role of Sea Ice

Double the Rate of Methane Release From the Arctic Sea Floor

NOAA OSPO

Concern Over Arctic Methane Release

Threat of Permafrost Destabilization is ‘Real and Imminent’

 

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