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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.

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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.

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(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

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Siberian Permafrost Methane Shows Growing Eruption: Number of Global Warming-Induced Craters Now Estimated at 20-30

Siberian Crater Locations

(Siberian methane crater locations. In total, 7 methane blow holes with features similar to the Yamal Crater have now been discovered. Unofficial reports from observers on the ground have local scientists placing the likely count now at between 20-30 original craters with many more secondary craters. Image source: The Daily Mail.)

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The ground smoked for hours. Then, with a great flash and an enormous boom, the land exploded. When the smoke cleared, all that was left was a great, black hole. Ejected earth lay scattered around it — sheer sides plunging into the permafrost like some gigantic, gaping gun barrel.

This was the scene last summer in Yamal, Siberia — a region of extreme northern Russia.

Mysterious Holes Emitting Methane Gas

Speculation about the cause of this mysterious hole became rampant. It looked like a sink hole, except for the ejected material surrounding it. Some said it was a pingo. But pingos weren’t known to form due to explosions.

Teams of scientists rapidly descended upon the hole. And there they found high readings of methane at the hole’s base — in the range of 10% concentration, which is a very explosive level for the gas. At the base of the hole they also found evidence of hydrate. A form of frozen water-methane that is quite unstable unless kept under high pressure and low temperature.

The initial conclusion of the Russian scientists was that relic hydrate sealed beneath the previously flooded Siberian permafrost had been destabilized. Eventually reaching an explosive concentration, it then erupted from the ground.

Discovery of this methane crater spurred a sweep of the area. Almost immediately, two other craters with similar features were discovered. And throughout fall and winter, both ground searches and satellite reconnaissance identified still more.

Methane blow hole lake surrounded by small craters

(Newly discovered methane blow-hole found by satellite observation. In the top frame we see tundra absent the newly formed hole. In the bottom frame, we find the hole forming a lake [B2] surrounded by 20 or more ‘baby craters.’ Image source: The Siberian Times.)

Now, according to recent reports in the Siberian Times, a total of seven craters with features similar to the Yamal eruption have been pinpointed by observers. Just one of these craters (shown above) hosted about 20 smaller ‘baby craters’ surrounding it. In this instance, a large methane store below the permafrost is thought to have explosively displaced a shot-gun pattern of frozen soil sections before filling with water.

Most of the craters, like the one above, were observed to rapidly fill with water even as they continued to emit methane. In many instances, the methane emission was visible as bubbles on the newly formed lake surface.

Bubbles from Methane Crater Lake

(Bubbles from suspected methane crater lake as seen by an observation aircraft. Image source: The Siberian Times.)

Additional reports from reindeer herders have led these same scientists to believe that in the range of 20-30 of these methane eruption holes are likely to exist in this region of Northwestern Siberia.

A Problem of Relic Hydrates Facing Rapid Warming

The fact that reindeer herders keep discovering new holes and that the first Yamal craters discovered earlier this year were recent events have led local scientists to believe that the eruptions are a new phenomena for Siberia. There, temperatures have warmed by a stunning 2 degrees Celsius within the mere span of 14 years. A very rapid rate of warming that is putting severe stress on the geophysical stability of this Arctic region.

Last night, as polar amplification again ramped up, we saw an example of this very rapid warming with locations in Yamal, Russia experiencing -3.1 C temperatures as of 1 AM Eastern Standard Time. A very warm measure for this region during winter time — representing an anomaly at least 20 degrees Celsius above average. For reference, North Texas, an area far south of the Arctic Circle, experienced similar readings (-3.4 C) at the same time:

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(Side-by-side frames showing 1 AM EST temperatures in Yamal Russia [left frame] and North Texas, US [right frame]. Location in the frames is indicated by the small green circle. Temperature, wind speed and direction, and grid location are given in the lower left hand corner. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data Source: Global Forecast Systems Model.)

In other words, it was colder in North Texas last night than it was in Yamal, Siberia near the 70 degree North Latitude line beside the Arctic Ocean.

This extremely rapid warming is thought by Russian scientists to have destabilized zones of relic hydrate trapped beneath the permafrost. There, the methane gas bonded with water to form a kind of methane ice.

Sandwiched beneath frozen permafrost, the hydrate remains stable so long as temperatures and pressures are relatively constant. Any increase in warmth — either through geological processes working below the hydrate, or from changes at the surface causing permafrost to melt and warmer, liquid water to contact the hydrate — would result in increased hydrate instability.

Yamal Crater Wall

(The Yamal Crater as seen by Russian Scientists who investigated the scene last summer. The crater’s structure and surrounding ejecta was indicative of an explosive outburst. Image source: The Siberian Times.)

In some cases, the gas would very rapidly liberate from its frozen traps forming increasingly high pressure pockets beneath the permafrost. If these pockets reach 10 percent methane concentration, they become very explosive and can be ignited when in contact with a catalyst or ignition source. The result, either due to very high pressure or ignition, is plugs of permafrost exploding from the ground as the gas erupts to the surface.

Conditions in Context

It is important to note that the amount of methane liberated by these initial eruption events is likely rather small — when considered on the global scale. However, what we see in Siberia now may be part of a growing and ominous trend.

First, we do not know the size of the potential methane store that could be liberated in such an explosive fashion. And the question must be asked — if we are looking at such rapid warming of methane hydrates in shallow sea and former shallow sea regions, what scale eruptions could we potentially experience in the future? Could very large sections of hydrate go critical? Areas possibly covering hundreds or thousands of square meters or more?

The Russian scientists seem very concerned. And, ironically, it is for the future safety of their oil and gas infrastructure, which sits atop what is potentially a rapidly destabilizing zone. A zone that could see explosive eruptions of the ground beneath pipes, equipment and extraction fields. (One would think that the Russians would also begin questioning the continued exploration and production of oil and gas considering its contribution to the dangers they are now identifying. But that level of wisdom appears absent in the recent assessments.)

Second, it appears that these methane eruptions provide pathways for ongoing release. Not all of the gas in the relic hydrate is initially liberated. And the structures that remain apparently release methane gas for some time — as is evidenced by continued high methane concentrations found at crater sites and by observed emissions from crater lake surfaces.

In essence, if this is a growing trend, then it is a rather unsettling one. Especially when one considers that it is just a single instance of many possible amplifying carbon feedbacks set off by a very rapid human warming. Particularly, the explosive land and ocean floor-altering nature of this specific carbon feedback makes it especially troubling. For it encompasses the very nature of a catastrophic upheaval.

In the end, the question must be asked — is Siberia sitting atop a methane volcano that is being prodded to rapid wakening by high-velocity human warming?

Links:

Dozens of New Craters Suspected in Northern Russia

Are Siberia’s Mysterious Craters Caused by Climate Change?

Earth Nullschool

Global Forecast Systems Model

More Siberian Craters Prompt Urgent Call For Investigation

Hat Tip to James Cole

Hat Tip to Wili

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Summer 2014 Melt Season to Ramp up in Early May Heat Wave: Fixed Jet Stream, Dual Ridges Form Sea Ice Achilles Heel

For many months the weather pattern has been essentially fixed. A ridge over China and Eastern Russia combined with warm air flows over Central Asia to amplify heat from Siberia and on into the Arctic Ocean. On the other side of the Pacific, a harmonic pattern involving warm southerly air flows over Alaska and Western Canada has also transported an inordinate amount of highly anomalous heat into the Arctic.

These warm ridges have been consistently reinforced by high amplitude Jet Stream waves. During the Winter of 2013-2014, these same atmospheric heat transport engines collapsed the polar vortex, causing melt, avalanches, and 60 degree F temperatures for Alaska in January all while pulling Arctic air down over the Eastern United States throughout the winter months.

For Alaska, Western Canada and the Eastern US, it is a general pattern that has now lasted nearly 14 months. A blocking pattern that weather historians everywhere should take note of as a general evidence of atmospheric changes resulting from human-caused warming and a validation in observation to the findings of Dr. Jennifer Francis.

Early Season Melt in the Bering Sea

This warm air flow also severely retarded sea ice formation in the Bering Sea between Alaska and far Eastern Russia throughout winter. Now, this poorly formed ice is rapidly melting out as a barrage of storms and continued warm, southerly air flows result in ongoing degradation. Recent observations show a rather extreme loss of sea ice in this region over the past 18 days:

Bering and Chukchi Seas April 10Bering and Chukchi Seas April 27

(LANCE-MODIS comparison of Bering and Chukchi Sea Ice on April 10 [left image] and April 27 [right image]. Image source: LANCE MODIS. Hat Tip to Arctic Sea Ice Forums Poster Frivolousz21.)

As we can clearly see in the two images above, both snow cover and sea ice have experienced severe losses in this region from April 10 to April 27. Warm southerly winds have continued to push ice northward enhancing melt as temperatures typically remained near or above -2 C (the temperature at which sea ice begins to melt) in most regions. Snow losses amplified warmer than freezing water flows into adjacent ocean basins, also enhancing sea ice losses as land masses continued to warm.

Heat Pulse for Bering, Chukchi, East Siberian and Beaufort Seas

Over the next six days, this general warming trend is expected to spike, bringing with it a front of much hotter than usual temperatures extending along a broad zone of the Arctic Ocean north of Canada, Alaska and East Siberia and nearly reaching the North Pole at maximum extent.

The pulse is expected to bring 18-32 F above average temperatures for this region, pushing daily highs into the mid 30s to mid 40s over the Arctic Ocean and to nearly 50 F over waters directly adjacent to the Alaskan coast. GFS model runs for May 2, 2014 show this powerful warm air invasion, indicated by the wave of green on the map below, extending well into the Arctic Ocean with extraordinarily warm temperatures in the mid-to-upper 60s over a broad swath of Central Alaska:

Arctic Heatwave Friday May 2

(GFS temperature model for May 2, 2014. Image source: University of Maine.)

Such an intense warm pulse will greatly involve the Bering, the Chukchi, the East Siberian and Beaufort Seas. It will likely most significantly impact sea ice in regions of the Bering Sea and near-shore zones of the Chukchi and Beaufort. The early season heat wave may also enhance the ice weakening process throughout the affected zone by softening the sea ice and by creating the potential for melt pond formation.

The Major Impact of Early Season Melt Pond Formation

During May and June, early melt pond formation can have a dramatic impact on sea ice melt much later in the season as the darker pools reduce ice sheet albedo serving as a kind of heat lens that bores down through the ice surface. Eventually, the melt ponds connect, forming larger and larger volumes over the ice face until the sea ice is almost completely overwhelmed. In the last phase, melt breaks down through the ice surface to contact the ocean. At this point, the sea ice is typically splintered into much smaller and disassociated fragments.

A recent paper in the journal Nature has found that a multiplication of such early season melt ponds may well be a predictive indicator of end season sea ice extent, area and volume values come September.

The paper notes:

Our simulations show that melt ponds start to form in May, a maximum extent of 18% is reached in the climatological mean at mid-July, and there are hardly any exposed ponds left by mid-August. The strong interannual variability and the positive trend are striking. Whereas in 1996, the year with the highest September ice extent since 1979, the maximum pond fraction reaches only 11%, in 2012, the year with the lowest September ice extent, up to 34% of the sea ice is covered by ponds.

Neven over at the Arctic Ice Blog recently provided an excellent assessment of the impact of melt ponds which is available here.

Massive interconnection of sea ice melt ponds

(Major expanse of dark sea ice melt ponds in the Chukchi Sea during June of 2010. Image source: The Polaris Project.)

Achilles Heel For the Arctic During the Summer of 2014

The most recent hot pulse for this region may just be the first of many as the spring and summer melt season progresses. Jet Stream patterns continue to remain fixed, delivering much hotter than normal temperatures throughout the Western Canadian, Alaskan, and East Siberian regions. Furthermore, snow cover losses for these regions are particularly well advanced further enhancing the likelihood of warm air invasions from these rapidly heating continental zones. Anomalously large and extreme early season fires may also result in a degree of albedo loss as smoke and soot is drawn northward to darken both remaining snow cover and sea ice.

As such, this zone represents a kind of sea ice Achilles heel as the 2014 melt season progresses. If we do see major losses and a progression toward record melt, it will likely come as a result of extreme weather patterns emerging from the continental zones spanning East Siberia, Alaska and Western Canada.

Links:

LANCE MODIS

Arctic Sea Ice Forums

University of Maine

Global Forecast System Model

More on Melt Ponds

September Sea Ice Minimum Predicted By Sea Ice Melt Pond Fraction

 

 

Smoke From Massive Siberian Fires Seen In Canada

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Throughout this summer, massive fires have raged over Siberia. And reports of these fires continue to trickle in. A fire researcher named Tom Swetnam from the University of Arizona recently stated in an interview with Ari Philips:

“We’re trying to understand fire, climate change and carbon emissions out of Siberia because of the huge carbon pool contained there in the soil, permafrost, bogs and forests,” says Swetnam. “This giant pool of carbon is beginning to burn in a massive way—the amount of area burning in Siberia is startling.”

As with this recent statement from Mr. Swetnam, independent reports of very large areas burned are coming in, but the Russian government has yet to confirm them.

However, even though no clear numbers are yet available, both NASA’s satellite data and reports coming from far flung regions are startling. As recently as last week smoke from the fires had traveled as far as Canada. That’s right, the massive volumes of smoke from these blazes had entered the Jet Stream and been deposited in many of Canada’s valleys.

A news report from Okanagan noted that a lingering smog had settled over much of the land there. Okanagan is on the west coast of the North American continent. So for the smoke to have reached it, it must have traveled thousands of miles. Okanagan isn’t far north of Seattle, so Washington may also get a whiff of the massive blazes taking place in Siberia.

In general, the size of these fires, the range of the smoke coming from them, and the fact that researchers are noting that the cause and scope of these fires is startling, bears watching. It is not a happy prospect, but considering their proximity to Arctic methane sources and other Arctic carbon pools, these fires seem to be just one more amplifying feedback in a growing list.

Another unsettling prospect is the general lack of news coverage from mainstream media on these fires. Most reports are coming in from local sources, so one has to put together a patchwork of scattered references to get a decent context for what is actually happening. Considering the scope, location, and timing of these fires in conjunction with major droughts and Arctic sea ice melt, it would seem a very important topic to cover. One can only hope for more clarity in the coming days and weeks.

Meanwhile, based on the most recent reports, large fires are still underway in Siberia. Will do my best to keep you guys posted.

Links:

http://www.castanet.net/news/Central-Okanagan/79087/Smoked-out-by-Siberia

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