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Arctic Sea Ice at 4th Lowest Extent on Record

Warmer than normal conditions, abnormal wide areas of open water, large wildfires burning near Arctic Ocean shores, and Arctic sea ice extents at 4th lowest on record. That’s the present reality of a human-warmed Arctic environment.

(An assessment of present Arctic conditions)

With Arctic temperatures hovering around 1.6 degrees Celsius above average and focusing on a rather hot zone near Central Siberia, Arctic sea ice on the Siberian side is experiencing widespread melt ponding. In addition, a large area of open water is expanding through the Laptev Sea due to warm southerly winds and much warmer than normal temperatures.

Overall, temperatures in this Central Siberian zone will range as high as 25 degrees Celsius (45 F) above average today. With some areas hitting has high as 85-90 (F). Near these much warmer than normal temperatures, a series of large wildfires are burning. Fires so far north are historically rare. But they have become more common as the Earth has warmed due to fossil fuel burning.

(Arctic temperatures are well above average for this time of year. These much warmer than normal temperatures are contributing to a number of impacts, including lower than normal sea ice extent.)

Present sea ice decline rates now put Arctic Ocean ice extent at 4th lowest on record. And the present trajectory for Arctic sea ice appears to be aiming toward approximately 4 million square kilometers come melt season end. However, with human-forced warming now resulting in ever-increasing global temperatures, downside risks remain. Particularly with so much heat moving about in the Arctic.

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Unusually Warm Early Arctic Spring Predicted Following Second Lowest Sea Ice Maximum on Record

After a brief Arctic cool-down late during a much warmer than usual freeze season, sea ice extents tortuously rose out of record low daily ranges during mid-March. This feeble climb was enough to barely hit above 2017’s record low maximum extent. It did not, however, push the Arctic out of its present trend of long term declines. Moreover, we are again set on a very low platform for sea ice as we enter what is predicted to be a warmer than normal start to melt season.

(Arctic sea ice losses are a long term trend that has been in place since the early to mid 20th Century. The recent satellite record captures this ongoing loss due to polar warming and triggered primarily by fossil fuel burning. In keeping with this trend, 2018 saw the second lowest sea ice extent maximum on record. Image source: Zack Labe. Data Source: JAXA.)

Arctic sea ice extent measured by JAXA and depicted above by Arctic observer Zack Labe, hit 13.89 million square kilometers on March 17th. Given the fact that warmer Arctic temperatures are now on the way, this is likely the furthest sea ice will extend in the northern polar region during 2018. By comparison, 2017 sea ice extent maxed out at 13.88 million square kilometers on March 6th of that year. As a result, 2017 just barely beat out 2018 as the lowest maximum extent in the satellite record according to JAXA.

A brief spate of cooler than average temperatures contributed to a short period of expanding sea ice late during freeze season. This cool snap in a much warmer than normal winter overall, has now ended. And the forecast shows that warmer to much warmer weather for late March may well be on tap.

Over the next week and a half, Arctic temperatures are expected to range between 0.2 to 0.8 C above average. This may not sound like much compared to the past winter which experienced long periods of 3-5 C above normal temperatures. However, the transition to spring and summer typically shows a regression toward baseline averages. In other words, since winter is where we are seeing most of the climate change related warming at present, even slightly warmer than normal temperatures during spring and summer can have an outsized impact. Especially following a very warm winter like the one we have just seen.

(The ten day forecast is presently predicting a very substantial Arctic warm-up. If this forecast is correct, it could result in a fast start to melt season. With sea ice extents already near record low levels, this potential is rather concerning. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Keeping this thought in mind, we are more likely to see slowly mounting sea ice losses over the coming days in various regions. Especially on the Pacific side of the Arctic — which is presently seeing above freezing temperatures running up through the Bering and well into the Chukchi seas. Given such a strong warm wind invasion over a key region of ice, we are very unlikely to see sea ice expansion beyond the present maximum.

Looking at the long term forecast, we find that the Arctic is expected to experience substantial warming — especially for spring. And this warming may serve to accelerate melt beyond typical rates for this time of year. The tendency for Pacific emerging warm winds appears to be in place. And by April 1st, a large plume of abnormal warmth is expected to run up from the Pacific and Eastern Siberian side of the Arctic. This plume is forecast to spread deep into the High Arctic — driving overall temperatures for the zone to 4.1 C above average with local temperatures between 20 and 25 C above average. If the present forecast holds, this unseasonal flow will also result in large regions of the East Siberian Sea experiencing above freezing temperatures for brief periods.

Taken in the greater context, if the predicted warm pattern of the next ten days becomes more of a trend for spring of 2018, then the near record low maximum of 2018 could well be followed by significant losses during melt season. Definitely a trend to keep an eye on.

Arctic Sea Ice Extent at Record Lows as Winter Temperatures Soar

Five point five degrees Celsius above average.

That’s how much warmer than ‘normal’ the entire region of the Arctic above the 66 degree North Latitude Line was earlier today. Areas within this large warm pool saw temperatures spike to a range of 15 to 25 C warmer than the already warmer than normal 1981-2010 base period. And broad regions saw temperature between 10 and 20 C above that 30-year average.

(The entire Arctic is an incredible 5.5 C warmer than normal today. Meanwhile, Arctic sea ice extent has plunged, once-more, into record low ranges. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

It’s just a snapshot. But day after day, week after week, month after month, the story has been much the same throughout Fall and Winter of 2017-2018.

And as during last year’s ridiculously warm Arctic winter, the sea ice has taken a considerable pounding. Yesterday dropping to a new record low extent of 13.774 million square kilometers. Beating out the previous record low for the day set just last year. And dipping more than 1.8 million square kilometers below the 1979-1990 average. A period that already featured greatly reduced Arctic sea ice cover when compared to extents seen in the early 20th Century.

(Arctic sea ice extent for 2018 [lower pink line above] dipped into new record low ranges during recent days. Note that the 1979 – 1990 extent average is indicated by the green line at top. Image source: NSIDC.)

The primary cause of these ice losses is warming both of the ocean and of the air. And, as we can see in the ongoing trend, the Arctic is getting more than its fair share of both. Such polar amplification is a direct upshot of the massive volume of harmful greenhouse gasses being injected into the atmosphere through fossil fuel burning. And we are seeing the dark fruits of that burning now in the massive and ongoing winter losses of sea ice, the harm to various Arctic life forms like puffins and polar bears, and the risk of increasing sea level rise, ocean circulation destabilization, and increasingly extreme weather events that all result from the heating-up of polar environments.

Extremely Warm Cyclone Predicted to Drive 50-60 F Above Average Temperatures Across North Pole

Our lexicon of what’s considered to be normal weather does not include February days in which temperatures at a North Pole shrouded in 24-hour darkness cross into above freezing ranges. But that’s exactly what some of our more accurate weather models are predicting will happen over the next five days.

Another Unusually Warm and Powerful Storm

During this time, a powerful 950 to 960 mb low is expected to develop over Baffin Bay. Hurling hurricane force gusts running from the south and digging deep across the North Atlantic, Barents, and Arctic Ocean, the low is projected to drive a knife of 50-60 F above average temperatures toward the North Pole by February 5th.

(20-25 foot surf heading for the increasingly fragile sea ice in this February 4 wave model forecast. Note the 30-40 foot waves off Iceland and associated with the same storm system that is predicted to bring above freezing temperatures to the North Pole on February 5th. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

These warm winds are predicted to bring above freezing temperatures to areas that typically see -20 to -30 F readings in February. They are expected to rage over a sea ice pack that is at record low levels. And if the storm emerges, it will hammer that same dwindling ice pack with 20 to 25 foot or higher surf.

Fragile Arctic Sea Ice Faces a Hammering

Presently, Arctic sea ice extent is trending about 200,000 square kilometers below record lows set just last year for the period of late February. And recent scientific research indicates that warm winter storms like the one that is now predicted to form can have a detrimental impact on sea ice.

(Arctic sea ice extent is presently at around 13 million square kilometers [bottom red line] — a new record low for this time of year. It should be around 15 million square kilometers and would be if the world hadn’t warmed considerably since the 1980s. Image source: JAXA.)

Not only do the storms bring warmer temperatures with them — a kind of heat wave that interrupts the typical period of winter freezing — they also drive heavy surf into a thinner and weaker ice pack. The surf, drawn up from the south churns warmer water up from the ocean depths. And the net effect can dissolve or weaken large sections of ice.

The presently developing event is expected to begin to take shape on February 4th, with warm gale and hurricane force winds driving above freezing temperatures near or over the North Pole on February 4th – 6th. To say that such an event, should it occur, would be practically unprecedented is the common understatement of our time. In other words, this is not typical winter weather for the North Pole. It is instead something we would expect to see from a global climate that is rapidly warming and undergoing serious systemic changes.

(February 5 GFS model run shows above freezing temperatures crossing the North Pole. Temperatures in this range are between 50 and 60 degrees [F] above average for this time of year. If the extremely warm cyclone event occurs as predicted, it will be a clear record-breaker. It will also further harm Arctic sea ice levels that are already in record low ranges. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Extreme Cyclone Beneath an Extreme Jet Stream

In the predicted forecast we see more of the extreme jet stream waves that Dr. Jennifer Francis predicted as an upshot of human-forced polar amplification (a condition where the poles warm faster than the rest of the globe under a larger warming regime). The particular wave in question for the present forecast involves a high amplitude ridge running very far to the north over Svalbard and knifing on into the high Arctic. The facing trough over Baffin Bay, Greenland, and North America is also quite pronounced and elongated. A feature that appears to want to become a cut off bubble of displaced polar air in a number of the model forecasts.

High amplitude Jet Stream waves during Northern Hemisphere winter as a signature of global warming are predicted by Francis and others to generate greater temperature and precipitation extremes in the middle latitudes. They are a feature of the kind of stuck and/or upside down weather we’ve been experiencing lately where temperatures in the Northeast have been periodically colder than typically frigid locations in Alaska. These flash freezes have, at times, faded back into odd balmy days in the 50s and 60s (F) before plunging back into cold. But the overall pattern appears to get stuck this way for extended periods of time.

(Very high amplitude ridge and trough pattern at the Jet Stream level of the circumpolar winds is thought by a number of scientists to be a feature of human caused global warming. One that is related to polar amplification in the Arctic. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Heat in the Arctic is driving sections of cold air south even as warm air invades through places like Alaska, Northeast Siberia, and the Barents Sea. But the main variables of this story are global heat, global warming, fixed extreme temperature and precipitation patterns, and warm air invasion. The winnowing streamers of cold air driven out over places like the U.S. Northeast are just a side effect of the overall warming trend. One that is starkly apparent in the very odd western warmth that has grown more and more entrenched with each passing year.

For Now, It’s Still Just a Forecast

As with any five day forecast, we can take this one with more than just a grain of salt at the present time. But such an extreme event is entirely possible during the present age of human-forced climate change. During late December of 2015, we identified a predicted major storm that ultimately drove North Pole temperatures to above freezing. At the time, that storm was considered unusual if not unprecedented. However, since February is typically a colder period for the North Pole region, a warm storm drawing above freezing air into that zone would be even more unusual. It would also be a feature of the larger trend of loss of typical seasonal winter weather that we’ve been experiencing for some time now.

5 FEB UPDATE: Storm and Heat a Bit Further South and East Than Predicted

A powerful warm storm in the 952 mb range did form and track across Greenland to exit over the Greenland Strait earlier today. The storm drove warm air far north, pushing above freezing temperatures past Svalbard and over the dark and frozen sea ice. It hurled gale force winds, hurricane gusts, and massive swells into the ice. But it did not push temperatures to above freezing at the North Pole as some models had earlier predicted.

(Warm cyclone hurls much warmer than normal temperatures across the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean on 5 Feb, 2018. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

It did, however crank temperature there up to -4.3 C or about 26 C above average for this time of year.

The storm is now predicted to drive above freezing temperatures across the Barents Sea, over Novaya Zemlya, through the Kara Sea and ultimately into Northern Siberia over the next 24-48 hours. In numerous regions, temperatures are already hitting near 30 C (54 F) above average. This extremely warm spike relative to typical conditions — associated with a high amplitude Jet Stream wave and related cyclone — will continue to ripple through the Arctic over the next few days.

Overall, total Arctic region temperature anomalies are predicted to range from 2.5 to 3.5 C above the 30 year average for the next few days. These are very warm departures. But not so warm as recent spikes in the range of 4 to 5 C above average for the region. In addition, there appears to be a tendency for powerful warm storms to continue to develop near Svalbard in the longer 5-15 day model runs. So the North Pole isn’t out of the woods yet for potential above freezing temperatures this February.

NOAA’s 2017 Arctic Report Card Shows Transition Toward Not-Normal Polar Environment Continues

The Arctic shows no sign of returning to the reliably frozen region of recent past decades. — NOAA

Reading this [Arctic Report Card], I feel physically sick. I feel so anxious. I’m not sure how many more years or months I’m going to be able to work daily on climate change. — Eric Holthaus

*****

During 2017, the Arctic experienced much warmer than normal winter and fall temperatures. Meanwhile, according to NOAA’s 2017 Arctic Report Card, somewhat cool late spring and early summer temperatures did little to abate a larger ongoing warming trend.

NOAA notes:

The average surface air temperature for the year ending September 2017 is the 2nd warmest since 1900; however, cooler spring and summer temperatures contributed to a rebound in snow cover in the Eurasian Arctic, slower summer sea ice loss, and below-average melt extent for the Greenland ice sheet.

(NOAA’s Arctic Report Card shows a Polar environment experiencing serious and harmful changes.)

This warming trend was evidenced by continued systemic long term sea ice losses with NOAA stating that sea ice cover has continued to thin even as older, thicker ice comprised only 21 percent of Arctic Ocean coverage compared to 45 percent during 1985.  NOAA noted very slow Chukchi and Barents sea ice re-freeze during fall of 2017 — which was a feature of much warmer than typical sea surface temperatures during late August. Temperatures which ranged up to 4 C above average for this time of year and that created a kind of heat barrier to typical fall ice cover expansion.

Sea ice is a primary indicator of Arctic health. But losses over recent decades have been quite precipitious as indicated by the graph below:

Sea Ice Coverage Loss

(Arctic sea ice loss since 1978 during September [red] and March [black]. Image source: NOAA.)

NOAA also found evidence of ongoing increases in ocean productivity in the far north — which tends to be triggered by increasing temperature and rising ocean carbon uptake (also a driver of acidification).

Other observations of systemic warming came as permafrost temperatures hit record levels during 2016.  Decadal rates of permafrost warming as measured at Dead Horse along the North Slope of Alaska proceeded at a rate of 0.21 to 0.66 degrees Celsius every ten years.

(Changes in Arctic ground temperature [20 meter depth] at varying locations shows widespread movement toward permafrost thaw. Image source: NOAA.)

Tundra greening trends also continued over broad regions:

Long-term trends (1982-2016) show greening on the North Slope of Alaska, the southern Canadian tundra, and in the central Siberian tundra; tundra browning is found in western Alaska (Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta), the higher-Arctic Canadian Archipelago, and western Siberian tundra.

Rapid warming of the Arctic, loss of sea ice, permafrost thaw, greening tundra, changes in ocean productivity and other factors are all starting to seriously impact the people of the Arctic. Coastal towns have been forced to move inland due to erosion and sea level rise. And a number of communities have lost access to key food sources due to sea ice loss or migration of local species away from warming regions. Subsidence has generated harmful impacts to infrastructure. Meanwhile, the increased incidence of Arctic wildfires presents a rising hazard to Northern Communities:

High latitude fire regimes appear to be responding rapidly to environmental changes associated with a warming climate; although highly variable, area burned has increased over the past several decades in much of Boreal North America. Most acreage burned in high latitude systems occurs during sporadic periods when lightning ignitions coincide with warm and dry weather that cures vegetation and elevates fire danger. Under a range of climate change scenarios, analyses using multiple approaches project significant increases (up to four-fold) in area burned in high latitude ecosystems by the end of the 21st century.

Taken together this is tough news — a technical report written in the lingo of science but that, in broad brush, describes evidence of a world fundamentally changed. For those of us with sensitive hearts, it’s a rough thing to write about:

Overall, NOAA calls for increased efforts to adapt to climate change in the far north. In addition, the need for mitigating harms from climate change by speeding a transfer to renewable energy could help to preserve cryosystems and ecosystems that are now under increasingly severe threat.

Under the Arctic Dome — Brutish High Pressure System is Wrecking the Already Thinned Sea Ice

There’s a real atmospheric brute towering over the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea at this time. A high pressure system that would put shame to most other anti-cyclonic phenomena that bear the name. It is sending out a broad, clockwise pattern of winds. It is pulling up warm air from the Pacific to invade the Bering, Chukchi, East Siberian and Laptev Seas. And its torquing motion is shattering the already considerably thinned ice beneath it.

(A powerful high pressure system over the Beaufort Sea is predicted to further strengthen by late April 15. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Clocking in at 1046 mb of pressure, it makes typically strong 1030 mb high pressure systems seem weak by comparison. Over the next day it is expected to strengthen still — hitting 1048 mb by late April 15th (coming very close to an extraordinary 1050 mb system).

Shattered Sea Ice

This powerful and strengthening system has already been in place for about two weeks — slowly gaining momentum as its circulation has moved in mirror to the waters of the Beaufort Gyre that swirl beneath it. Masked only by a veil of sea ice considerably thinned by human-forced climate change, the waters of the Beaufort are now breaking through. Streaks of dark blue on white in an early break-up enabled both by a terrible Arctic warming and by this powerful spring weather system.

(Side-by-side images of Beaufort sea ice from April 4 [left frame] to April 13 [right frame]. Note the considerable and rapid advance of fracturing in a relatively short period. For reference, bottom edge of frame in both images is 500 miles. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Warm Storms

On the Siberian side of the Arctic, this massive high pressure dome is drawing in warm winds from the Pacific Ocean. Gust by gust and front by front, they come in the form of squalls that deliver above freezing temperatures and rains that blanket this thawing section of the Arctic. On Thursday, April 13, these warm winds had driven northward over 2,500 miles of Pacific waters to be drawn into storms that unleashed their fury — driving rains and gales through the already dispersed ice in the Bering Sea and shattering ice floes through the Chukchi. Today, April 14, these winds and rains drove northward to assault the ice of the East Siberian and Laptev seas.

(On April 13, above freezing temperatures, rains, and gale force winds ripped through the sea ice near Wrangle Island in the Chukchi Sea. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

A Great Atmospheric Stack Drawing Heat into the Arctic

In the past, meteorologists like Stu Ostro envisioned that climate change would tend to produce towering high pressure systems — featuring increasingly strong storms roaring about their fierce outer boundaries. And the massive high lurking over the Arctic at this time is a good example of Ostro’s predictions coming to light in a region that is very sensitive to human-forced warming.

This great atmospheric stack appears to have had a considerable impact on the ice already — helping to push extent measures back into record low ranges by accelerating the melt trend. But these impacts are likely to spike over the coming week as this powerful high expected to remain in place through the next five days — continuing to draw warm air into the region.

(Global Forecast System models predict extreme warming over the Arctic Ocean throughout the next week resulting from the influence of a powerful high pressure system and very strong associated ridge in the Jet Stream. Image source: NCEP Global Forecast System Reanalysis.)

GFS model runs indicate that average temperatures over the Arctic Ocean region will hit a peak as high as 4 degrees Celsius above average by late next week. Meanwhile, the warmest zones are expected to be as much as 18-20 degrees Celsius above average. Such abnormal warmth at this time of year, if it emerges, will put a considerable damper on a freeze that should now be continuing in the High Arctic even as edge melt ramps up with the progression of spring.

This is particularly concerning due to the fact that temperature anomalies in the Arctic tend to fall off during spring and summer. In other words, such a powerful warming trend for the Arctic Ocean would be bad enough during winter — but it is an even more unusual event for spring. An ominous start to a melt season that could produce far-reaching regional and global consequences.

Links:

Earth Nullschool

LANCE MODIS

NCEP Global Forecast System Reanalysis

Stu Ostro

Climate Reanalyzer

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

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

January Arctic Sea Ice Volume is Lowest On Record by a Considerable Margin

Almost continuous warm, moist air invasions of the Arctic during fall and winter of 2016 and 2017 have resulted in the lowest sea ice refreeze rates on record. As a result, the amount of ice covering sections of the Northern Hemisphere ocean is now remarkably lower than during past comparable periods. In other words, we’ve never seen a winter in which Northern Hemisphere sea ice was so weak and reduced.

One key measure, sea ice volume, has shown particular losses when compared to past years. And even taking into account a long term trend of ice losses for the northern polar region that has been ongoing since the 20th Century, the 2016-2017 losses stand out like a flashing red indicator light. A trend directly related to the human-forced warming of our world through fossil fuel burning and related greenhouse gas emissions.

piomas-sea-ice-volume

(Significant sea ice losses during the winter of 2016-2017 show up clearly in the above PIOMAS graph. PIOMAS is a model measure of sea ice volume. And as you can well see when looking at the red line at the left hand side of the graph, the departure from past years is currently quite large. Image source: PIOMAS.)

In the above PIOMAS graph we find that January sea ice volume averaged around 14,000 cubic kilometers. This reading is roughly comparable to the early July average for the period of 1979 through 2016 — a time when the Arctic saw continuous declines in sea ice. The present reading is also about 1,500 cubic kilometers below the previous record low for the month of January set in 2013. And anyone looking at the above graph can well see that the departure is significantly below the trend line (about 8,000 cubic kilometers below the falling 38 year average for this time of year).

It’s worth reiterating that these are the lowest sea ice volumes ever seen for this time of year in the Arctic. A new record that comes after consistent new record lows occurring throughout the past 38 year period.

Presently, approximate 5 C above average temperatures are dominating the region above the 66 North Latitude. Over the coming days, a pair of warm air invasions of the North Pole region near 90 N are expected to push temperatures to more than 30 degrees Celsius above average and to near the melting point on two separate occasions. This pair of, not at all normal, events will likely produce additional sea ice losses in a polar region that is already seeing very unusual low sea ice concentrations, volumes and extents.

image

(Warm storm invasions of the northern polar region that inject high heat content, ice-melting moisture and far above average temperatures into the High Arctic have been a frequent occurrence over recent months. By February 10, GFS models predict that another such storm will push temperatures to more than 30 degrees Celsius above average for the North Pole and surrounding regions. This will produce yet one more powerful blow to sea ice attempting to rebuild in the region. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

After these events roar through, the Jet Stream is predicted to flatten somewhat — allowing cooler air to re-establish over the Central Arctic as warmer air invades the mid-latitudes. As a result, air temperature anomalies in the 66 N and above region are expected to fall back to a range of 1 to 2 C above average in the 7 to 14 day timeframe. Such a return to closer to normal conditions may allow for more short-term bounce-back toward previous record low ranges in the volume measure. But a much longer period of closer to average conditions would be required for a full recovery.

Overall, refreeze season tends to last until April. So some time does remain for a bit of recovery. And we have seen extent measures trend closer to past record lows over recent days. However, considering the massive losses experienced during fall-winter of 2016-2017, two months is unlikely enough time to produce a significant recovery even if cooling to more reasonable above average temperatures were to occur and remain in place for an extended period.

Links:

PIOMAS

Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

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

From Pole to Pole, Global Sea Ice Values are Plummeting

During the record hot year of 2016, both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice extents took a huge hit.

Extreme warmth in the Arctic helped to produce leading losses there. Values that began during January at 1 million square kilometers below average have steadily declined as the months progressed to near 2 million square kilometers below average. Meanwhile, the Antarctic — which began the year at near average sea ice extent values — saw significant losses as the region grew anomalously warm during austral spring. Today, sea ice extent values surrounding the Antarctic are now also just shy of 2 million square kilometers below average.

labe-sea-ice-anomaly-graph

(Zachary Labe, one of the most well-recognized up and coming U.S. climate scientists, has produced this graph based on NSIDC recorded global, Arctic, and Antarctic sea ice values. As you can see, global sea ice extent during the hottest year on record has steadily plummeted to near 4 million square kilometers below average as the months progressed. Image source: Zack Labe’s Sea Ice Figures. Data source: NSIDC. You can also follow Zack’s informative twitter feed here.)

In total, global sea ice coverage is now about 3,865,000 square kilometers below average.

If you think that number sounds really big, it’s because it is. It represents a region of lost ice nearly 40 percent the size of the land and water area of the entire United States including Alaska and Hawaii. To visualize it another way, imagine all of the land area of Alaska, California, Texas, Montana, Arizona and New Mexico combined and you begin to get the gist.

Sea Ice Coverage — An Important, But Complex Climate Indicator

Many climate specialists have viewed sea ice as a kind of climate change canary in the coal mine. Sea ice sits upon the warming oceans and beneath a warming atmosphere. And these oceans are now taking up the majority of the heat being trapped in the atmosphere by fossil fuel emissions. Warming ocean surfaces have a higher specific heat value than the air and this greater overall energy capacity in warming regions generates a substantial blow to ice coverage even if the initial water surface temperature swing is only moderate.

Once sea ice is lost for a significant period, a kind of feedback loop comes into play where dark ocean surfaces trap more of the sun’s rays during polar summer than once-white ice coverage — which previously reflected radiation back toward space. This newly absorbed heat is then re-radiated back into the local atmosphere during polar fall and winter — creating an inertial barrier to ice reformation and ultimately generating a big jump in seasonal ocean and atmospheric surface temperatures.

image

(Highly pronounced ocean surface warming coupled with warm air invasions appears to be generating the extreme losses to sea ice now seen in the Arctic. The Barents Sea, shown above, has seen particularly extreme warming. Note the 11 C above average hot spot near the sea ice edge zone. In the Antarctic, the causes of losses remain uncertain. However, atmospheric warming and shifts in the circumpolar winds appear to be producing this effect even as slightly cooler than average surface waters remain in place — possibly due to storm related Southern Ocean upwelling and increasing fresh water outflows from Antarctic glaciers. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

This dynamic is particularly pronounced in the Arctic where a thawing ocean surrounded by warming continents tends to readily collect heat even as atmospheric energy transfers from the south, in the form of warm wind events, have grown more pronounced. An effect related to the climate change influence known as Northern Hemisphere Polar Amplification.

In the Antarctic, the stormy Southern Ocean generates up-welling. This dynamic tends to cool the ocean surface even as it transfers heat into the deeper ocean. And increasing stormy conditions surrounding Antarctica related to climate change can intensify this effect. In addition, warm bottom waters melting sea-fronting glaciers in Antarctica produce a lens of fresh water which cools the surface and also traps heat below. So the signal coming from Antarctica with regards to sea ice has tended to be more mixed — with atmospheric warming and changes in wind patterns generating more variable sea ice impacts relative to the Arctic. So this year’s sea ice losses there are more difficult to directly link to climate change even though climate change related influences on the physical system in the Antarctic and among its surrounding waters are becoming more and more apparent.

Zack Labe notes that:

The Arctic sea ice anomaly, however, fits with the ongoing Arctic amplification trend of thinning sea ice and loss of old ice. Additionally, it has been well noted in previous literature (i.e., ) concerning the increasing fall temperatures in the Arctic and possible causes.

Major Volume Losses From 2015 to 2016

Despite big losses to sea ice surrounding the Antarctic this fall, it is the Arctic where the damage and risk of further loss is most pronounced. Particularly, reductions to thicker, multi-year ice in the Arctic during 2015 to 2016 have been exceptionally severe:

image image

In the above images, we see a comparison between late November sea ice coverage and thickness as provided by the U.S. Navy ARCc model. The left frame represents late November of 2015 and the right frame represents projected values for November 20, 2016. Note the greatly reduced coverage in the 2016 image. But even more noteworthy is the substantial loss of thicker ice in the Arctic Ocean north of the Canadian Archipelago and Greenland.

These two images tell a tale of a great loss of sea ice volume. One that the sea ice monitor PIOMAS confirms. According to PIOMAS, ice volume values during October were tracking near lowest levels ever recorded. And continued heat into November generates a concern that a period of new record low volume levels may be on the way.

But it’s not just the record low values that should be a concern. It’s the location of the remaining thick ice that’s a worry as well. For a substantial portion of the remaining thick ice is situated near the Fram Strait. Wind and ocean currents tend to push ice out of the Arctic Ocean and through the Fram. Ice tends to then be funneled down along the coast of Greenland and on into the North Atlantic where it melts. So the fact that a big chunk of the already greatly reduced remaining thick ice now sits on the edge of the sea ice version of Niagra Falls is not a good sign.

La Nina Years Tend to Push More Heat Toward the Poles

It is notoriously difficult to accurately forecast sea ice melt and refreeze trends in the various seasonal measures for any given individual year. And even many of the top sea ice experts have had a devil of a time forecasting the behavior of sea ice during recent years. However, one thing remains quite clear — the long term trend for sea ice in the Arctic is one of rapid decline.

arctic-sea-ice-death-spiral

(Arctic sea ice ‘Death Spiral’ by Andy Lee Robinson. Image source: Haveland.)

We are now entering a situation where one very warm winter followed by one warmer than normal summer could push Arctic sea ice values to near the zero mark. A situation that could effectively set off a blue ocean event in the near future. A number of prominent sea ice experts have predicted that it’s likely that such a state will be achieved rather soon — by the early 2030s under current trends. Others point toward nearer-term loss potentials. But there is practically no-one now saying, as was often stated during the early 2010s, that a blue ocean event could hold off until the early 2050s.

All that said, the trajectory going into 2017 for the Arctic at present doesn’t look very good. Both sea ice extent and volume are now at or well below the previous low marks for this time of year. Remaining thick ice positioned near the Fram Strait generates a physical disadvantage to the ice in general. In addition, NOAA has announced that La Nina conditions are now present in the Equatorial Pacific. And La Nina events tend to push more ocean and atmospheric heat toward the poles — particularly toward the Arctic.

Links/Notes/Disclaimer:

Note: This article is written as a follow-on to the previous blog post — For The Arctic Ocean Above 80 North, It’s Still Summer in November — and they should be read together for context.

Disclaimer: I asked PhD student Zachary Labe to make a general comment on sea ice trends, to which he generously provided his particular take on the Arctic. I have also made my own best-shot science and observation-based analysis of the situation given current trends. Because of the fact that the present situation is new and evolving, some of my statements may well pass outside the bounds of currently accepted science. The fact that Labe commented in this post does not, in this case, mean that he agrees fully or in part with my particular initial rough analysis of the subject.

Zack Labe’s Sea Ice Figures

NSIDC

Permafrost and Arctic Sea Ice — Climate Canaries in the Coal Mine

Increasing Fall-Winter Energy Loss From the Arctic Ocean and its Role in Arctic Temperature Amplification

Earth Nullschool

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

PIOMAS

U.S. Navy ARCc Model Sea Ice Thickness

Haveland

NOAA

Hat tip to Andy Lee Robinson

Hat tip to Cate

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)

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 Arctic Storm Tearing Sea Ice to Shreds amidst Big 2016 Heat Spike

Abnormal. Unprecedented. Remarkable. Extreme. These words are supposed to describe unusual events, but in the weird world we’re now entering, the extreme has become commonplace. Some people call this emerging state of affairs ‘the new normal.’ A more direct descriptor is ‘spiraling into climate chaos.’

Chaos is an apt word to describe the scene in the Arctic this week as one of the most powerful summer cyclones ever to form rages in a place that has just experienced a record-shattering influx of atmospheric heat. This storm is hammering the sea ice, pushing it nearly to the second-lowest extent on record. But worse may be still to come as a very weak and diffuse ice pack is predicted to face off against a storm that’s expected to significantly reintensify on both Friday and Tuesday.

Record Arctic Heat

The Arctic. It’s a place we typically associate with frozen things. Due to the billions and billions of tons of heat-trapping gasses dumped into the atmosphere each year by burning fossil fuels, now it’s a place that’s thawing at a disturbingly fast pace. The region could best be described in these few words — record abnormal warmth in 2016.

(This graphic from University of California, Irvine Ph.D. candidate Zack Labe is a visual measure of a stunning jump in Arctic temperatures for 2016. So much heat in the Arctic has profound implications, not just for the Arctic ice and environment, but for the rest of the world as well. In other words — warming that happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.)

So far, 2016 has seen temperatures in the Arctic that are well above the warmest previous year ever recorded. This big spike in a decades-long trend includes, for this single year, about 35 percent of all the temperature rise experienced there since the late 1940s. It’s like taking more than a third of all the warming in the Arctic seen over the past 68 years and cramming it into just one year. It’s insane.

The Warm Storm Generator

Heat in the Arctic doesn’t just emerge there. It comes, largely, in the form of energy transfer.

Heat-trapping gasses warm the atmosphere in an uneven fashion. The way these gasses absorb solar radiation results in more heat trapping during the dark of night. And the Arctic experiences a thing called polar night which lasts for months.

As a result, the Arctic already gets a slightly more powerful nudge from global warming than the rest of the world. As the cold begins to fail in the Arctic, a number of amplifying feedbacks come into play that further multiply the warmth.

image

(A dance of cyclones. GFS model rendering by Earth Nullschool shows a strong influx of heat from the Eurasian Continent and the Barents and Kara Seas feeding into a bombing low-pressure system on Monday at 12:00 UTC. The low is predicted to meet up with the currently raging Arctic cyclone by late Monday or early Tuesday. Combined, these lows are expected to drop into the 960s to 970s mb level, extending the scope of the strong event and possibly resulting in the most powerful cyclone ever to have formed this time of year in the Arctic Basin. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

As the Arctic heats up, its natural barriers to heat coming up from the ocean or from the south begin to fail. The more evenly-warmed surface of the ocean transfers some of its heat north and pumps this added energy into the Arctic air. The lower sea-ice levels cause this water to warm even more, its dark surface trapping more of the summer sun’s warmth than the white ice ever could.

The polar Jet Stream begins to weaken as the relative difference between Arctic and lower-latitude temperatures drops. In the Jet Stream’s meanders, strong warm winds blow in from the ever-hotter continents and ocean surfaces of the mid and upper latitudes.

It’s a simple physical property of the atmosphere that burgeoning heat often seeks out the cold. It rises as it flows toward the Pole, and when it collides with these chilly pockets, the result can be an atmospheric maelstrom.

The Great Arctic Cyclone of 2016 Smashes Sea Ice

Such was the case earlier this week as a warm tongue of air flowed up into area of the Laptev Sea from Siberia. This warm flow tapped moisture from the Kara and Barents Seas and fed into a developing storm system (see article here). Pressures at the storm’s center rapidly fell and by late Monday, August 15th, had dropped to 966.5 millibars. The result was one of the strongest cyclones ever to form over the Arctic Ocean during August.

(We’ve probably never seen the ice so thin near the Pole during August. Zack Labe‘s rendering of SSMIS sea ice concentration measures from late July to August 17 shows a stunning degree of thinning and loss. Note the large, low-concentration holes opening up near the Pole in the final few frames.)

The storm rampaged through the Arctic. Pulling in strong winds and heavy surf, it smashed the sea ice, driving daily extent losses to 110,000 square kilometers on Tuesday and greatly thinning a vulnerable tongue of ice running out toward the Chukchi Sea. Meanwhile, near the Pole, great gaps 50 to 100 miles wide have opened up, revealing water that is 80 percent clear of ice.

The storm subsequently weakened, with pressures rising today into the 985 mb range. But over the next few days, the system is predicted to reintensify — first on Friday to around 971 to 978 mb as it approaches the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, and then again on Tuesday to around 963 to 976 mb when it loops back toward the Laptev.

Central Arctic Basin Sea Ice lowest Ever Recorded

(AMSR2 and SSMIS sensor reanalysis shows that 2016 Arctic sea ice area [black line] in the Central Arctic Basin — a key region for indicating sea ice health — hit new record lows over recent days. A signal pointing to risk that a challenge to 2012 records may emerge in some measures over the coming days as the 2016 cyclone is expected to re-intensify. Image source: The Great White Con.)

In each case, the storm is predicted to draw on heat, moisture, and low-pressure cells riding up from the south, with the first stream of energy feeding into this low from over the Beaufort and Bering Seas and northeastern Siberia, and the second running up from the Barents and Kara Seas, western Siberia and northeastern Europe (you can see the succession of lows and moisture here in this model run by Climate Reanalyzer).

If this happens, we’ll be coming out of a situation where a warmth-fueled Arctic cyclone will have bombed to record or near-record strength on two to three separate occasions, all the while applying its buzz-saw winds, waves and Coriolis forces to the sea ice — a full-blown nightmare Arctic sea-ice melt scenario in the midst of a record-hot year.

UPDATE (8/19):

A recent report by expert ice observer Neven over at the Arctic Sea Ice Blog (which is very informative) finds that storm impacts thus far have been significant, if not yet quite as extraordinary as the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012. Overall sea ice area measures (not just those in the Central Arctic Basin indicated above) according to Wipneus have dropped into second lowest on record just below the 2007 line. Extent, meanwhile, in the JAXA measure after falling an average of 90,000 square kilometers per day, is today at third lowest on record — trailing 2007 by just 30,000 kilometers. Tracking for end of year now appears most likely to fall into a range near 2007 in many measures. But the current storm appears to have provided a potential for a stronger downward trend for the ice in which some measures (particularly various regional measures) have the potential to approach or exceed 2012.

Arctic Sea ice Chukchi

(Peering through the clouds on August 19 in this LANCE MODIS satellite shot we find that sea ice in the Chukchi appears to have been greatly reduced and thinned by the current cyclone. Loss and thinning of the ice bridge with the main pack means that this ice may have also suffered separation. Toward the Laptev, sea ice in the pack between that Arctic sea and the Pole is extraordinarily mobile and becoming more diffuse. These observed conditions still present a potential for large daily losses and further reductions in total sea ice coverage. So current tracking comes with a ‘risk of downside’ caveat. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

One final point is that we are entering La Nina and such events tend to increase heat transport toward the Arctic and particularly into the Arctic Ocean. For this reason El Nino year +1 or El Nino year +2  can tend to present higher risk for greater sea ice melt totals. As such, and dramatic as the heat and melt in the Arctic has been for this year, it’s worth noting that what we may be watching is a set-up for 2017 or 2018 to see worsening conditions. La Nina is currently expected to be weak, so the related North Atlantic influence (NAO) that has been so devastating to the ice during the recent record warm years may be somewhat muted. We’ll have to see.

2016, however, is not entirely out of the woods. Thin ice in the Chukchi and an increasingly thin and diffuse pack extending from the Pole toward the Laptev remain very vulnerable to late season flash melt and compaction. Model runs today indicate the current set of storms tending to restrengthen on one or two occasions back to the 970s or 960s before finally ebbing on Wednesday. After this, some models show a tendency to flip toward a strong high pressure influence which would again wrench the ice (this time toward compaction). So the troubling 2016 Arctic melt drama is still far from over.

Links:

Powerful Arctic Cyclone to Blow Hole in Thinning Sea Ice

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

Arctic Cyclone Update 1

Arctic Cyclone Update 2

NASA: Implications of a Warming Arctic

Zack Labe

Tropical Tidbits

JAXA Sea Ice

Earth Nullschool

The Great White Con

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Bill h

Siberian Heatwave Wrecks Sea Ice as Greenland High Settles In

We’ve never seen Arctic sea ice extents that are as low as they are now in early June. And with Arctic heatwaves, warm winds, warm storms, and a Greenland High all settling in, something had better change soon or otherwise the ice cap over the northern Polar Ocean is basically screwed.

*****

On the shores of the Arctic Ocean’s East Siberian Sea (ESS), near the town of Logashinko, temperatures today are expected to rise to near 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Readings that are about 40 to 50 degrees (F) above normal for this near-polar region during this time of year.

image

(Welcome to increasingly ludicrous climates. Temperatures near 80 F at Logashinko, Russia are at least 40 degrees F above average for this time of year. A place well north of the Arctic Circle, but whose temperatures are predicted today to match those of St. Martin Island in the tropics. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

We would have never expected temperatures to have risen so high near typically frozen Logashinko during early June sans the heating effect of atmospheric CO2 levels that have this year peaked near 407.5 parts per million. The highest levels seen on Earth in about 15 million years. These scorching polar temperatures were driven north by a powerful high amplitude ridge in the Jet Stream that has dominated Eastern Russia for much of 2016 Spring. This expansive ridge enabled extreme wildfires popping up all over the region even as it today drives 80 degree weather all the way to Arctic Ocean shores — enforcing a regime of rapid sea ice melt over the East Siberian Sea.

ESS, Laptev Get Ripped Up

As the warm winds drive northward across ice-clogged Arctic Ocean waters, temperatures rapidly fall into 35 to 41 degree (F) ranges. And though that may sound cool to the casual observer, for the East Siberian Sea zone during early June, that’s scorching hot — topping out at more than 10 degrees above average for some areas. A pretty extreme variation for late Spring when temperatures over the Arctic Ocean only typically depart from average by about 3 or 4 degrees at most.

East Siberian Sea Melting

(The Laptev and East Siberian Sea Ice is getting ripped up by extreme Arctic warmth. The blue tint to ice in the above image indicates melt ponds, while dark blue indicates open water. Zooming in closer reveals the brown flush of warm waters issuing from heated Siberian rivers. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

All across this Arctic Ocean region, melt ponds and widening polynyas now abound in the ridiculously warm airs. In the satellite shot above, the tell-tale bluish tint of the ice reveals a plethora of these ponds expanding northward through the ESS and on toward the pole. A flush of hot water running into the Arctic Ocean from East Siberia’s rivers is melting the near shore ice. And a giant 80 mile wide gap of open water has now been torn into the ice of the Laptev Sea.

Record Extent Lows Continue to Worsen

The sudden Arctic heatwave and rapid related melt involvement of the ESS and Laptev is just the most recent melt spike in a polar ocean that sees ice extent levels hitting new record lows with each passing day. As of June 2nd, the expanse of Arctic Sea ice only measured 10.37 million square kilometers. This is about 430,000 square kilometers below the previous daily record low set just last year and fully ten days ahead of the record sea ice melt year of 2012.

Arctic sea ice extent new record lows

(Arctic sea ice extent record lows continue for this time of year and threaten to plunge deeply below the 2012 line in coming days. Image source: JAXA.)

A coverage of sea ice that is now 42 days and 2.1 million square kilometers of sea ice loss ahead of an average melt year during the 1980s.

Here Comes the Greenland High

Extreme heat building into the Siberian side of the Arctic and record low sea ice extent measures are today being joined by yet another disturbing Arctic feature. For as of yesterday, a strong ridge of high pressure began to form over Greenland, the Canadian Archipelago and Iceland.

Greenland highs tend to increase temperatures over the enormous glaciers of that frozen island even as the clockwise circulation pattern of an anticyclone tends to shove sea ice out into the Barents and North Atlantic. The dominance of a Greenland High during both 2012 and 2007 is thought to have heavily influenced record end season sea ice melts during those years as well as the extreme Greenland surface melt spike during 2012.

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(A high pressure ridge emerging over Greenland, Iceland and the Canadian Archipelago today is expected to strengthen this week — generating a high pressure gradient between warm storms developing over the Arctic Ocean and winds that threaten to increase the rate of ice transport out of the High Arctic and into regions of warmer water. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

This week’s predicted ridge formation is not expected to bring with it a severe surface melt of Greenland. However, the clockwise winds driving sea ice transport may serve as yet one more heavy blow to the already greatly weakened ocean ice. Pressures later this week are expected to rise to 1040 mb over Greenland. And strong winds running between powerful warm storms expected to form in the Kara and Central Arctic are predicted to rise to near gale force north of Greenland — generating a risk of a very vigorous ice loss from the near polar zone as floes are driven into warm Barents and North Atlantic waters.

In context, the combined severe record sea ice lows and emerging weather conditions represent a seriously bad state for Arctic sea ice. One with a high risk of continued further extreme losses and new daily record lows for at least the next seven days.

Links:

Earth Nullschool

LANCE MODIS

JAXA

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

The Arctic Ice Blog

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to DT Lange

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

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

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

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

Melting more than Two Weeks Faster than the Early 2000s

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

Sea Ice Rates of Loss Steepening

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

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

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

Huge Holes in the Beaufort

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

Beaufort rapid melt 2016

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

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

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

Arctic Heat Like We’ve Never Seen Before

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

Freezing Degree Days Cross -1000 threshold

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

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

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

Links:

JAXA

LANCE-MODIS

CIRES

GISS TEMP

Climate Reanalyzer

Earth Nullschool

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

Hat tip to DT Lange

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

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

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.

*****

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

 

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

Fossil Fuel Ecocide Forces Starving Polar Bear to Hold Breath For Three Minutes in Seal Hunt

(A starving polar bear is forced to hold breath for a record three minutes in a failed hunt for seals.)

Like so many other innocent creatures on this planet, polar bears are facing ever-worsening life-threatening conditions due to the fossil fuel industry’s insistence to keep burning, and to keep us dependent on their horrific energy sources. The bears’ Arctic home has been transformed in ways that are profound and terrible. The sea ice they used for hunting grounds is greatly depleted. The seals they hunted for prey have ever-more-numerous avenues of escape into dark and warming waters.

It’s a merciless and terrible burning. One that encompasses many genocides together. Ecocide, ecological shock, growth shock, the sixth great extinction. All words to describe what we now watch. What fossil fuel industry influence is preventing us from stopping. But to the bears themselves, it’s a wrenching torture. A forced orphaning and starvation combined as the bears grow increasingly emaciated, weak, and desperate. Transformed into walking skeletal beings, they’re ghosting off toward the obliteration fossil fuel interests are sentencing them to.

(Plunging Arctic sea ice driven by Northern Hemisphere polar amplification is the chief agent of habitat loss and extinction pressure for polar bears. As you can see in the superbly rendered video above by Andy Robinson, the fall has been merciless and precipitous.)

To a climate change denier, the plight of these poor creatures is a subject of ridicule and derision. ‘Who cares about stupid bears’ is the rallying cry of heartless ignoramuses everywhere. They’d rather us be worried about our own petty day-to-day existences. The back and forth, stuck in traffic, want more money, pay less taxes, fear of far off ISIS daily grind of the right wing soundtrack. Or when the tinny siren song of that ever-more-stuffed-with-straw appeal fails it’s back to the old — pretend it’s not happening — trick. Starving polar bears so desperate that they’re now forced to hibernate in summer to conserve energy must be photo-shopped by some imaginary government agency after all, right?

Deny as deniers do, for the bears it’s all too real. For one bear in particular, recently filmed in the above video, it was a life and death struggle. Not some narcissist’s thrill like the needless poaching of innocent wild lions for blood-sport in Africa. No, for this bear, success in the hunt meant a continuation of blessed life. A second chance to keep going, to keep living in the great world. Failure meant weakness, fading, pain and death.

The bear, in dire need of food, was forced to hunt in a way it was not adapted to — by stalking in the water. It was forced, in desperation to swim toward near-water seals. And it was forced to hold its breath underwater. Hold it for longer than any polar bear ever witnessed. Hold it for a full 3 minutes where a mere 72 seconds was the previous record. It was as if the starved bear had been forced to perform impossible feats — or die. That’s the situation the callous greed and disregard of some have put them in. Do the impossible, or just die.

Gaunt and Emaciated Polar Bear that Broke Diving Record

(The gaunt, emaciated and obviously starving polar bear that broke the recent diving record in a photo by Rinie van Meurs. Image source: Meurs Study and The Weather Network.)

This bear’s struggle is not one occurring in isolation. It’s not just the struggle of a single individual. But the struggle of an entire race that is now being torn from the fabric of existence.

The cliche phrase to say at this time is that we are all responsible. That we all share the guilt. But it’s not true. In fact to say such a thing is a terrible lie providing an out for the real perpetrators of this egregious harm. There are some of us who want to change the bear’s situation. Some of us who want to improve its chances. Some of us who want to cut the destructive fossil fuel threads that bind the bear and us all to a terrible and ever worsening ecocide. The ones who want to help are not the problem. The ones attempting again and again to stop the ongoing damage are not the guilty party.

But the deniers and the fossil fuel industry the deniers wittingly or unwittingly serve are entirely different. They don’t care one whit about bears suffering an all-too-real existential crisis. And it seems they don’t care about their own children’s rising existential crisis either. They are the ones who deserve blame. For they are the authors of this great harm.

Links/Credits:

This one’s for Colorado Bob

Polar Bear Forced to Hold Breath for a Record Three Minutes

Record Breaking Polar Bear Spurs Climate Concerns

Food Situation so Bad, Polar Bears now Hibernate During Summer

Sea Ice Volume Decline By Andy Robinson

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