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Rapid Polar Warming Kicks ENSO Out of Climate Driver’s Seat, Sets off Big 2014-2016 Global Temperature Spike

“What is happening right now is we are catapulting ourselves out of the Holocene, which is the geological epoch that human civilisation has been able to develop in, because of the relatively stable climate. It allowed us to invent agriculture, rather than living as nomads. It allowed a big population growth, it allowed the foundation of cities, all of which required a stable climate.” — Stefan Rahmstorf

A strong El Nino in 2015 helped to contribute to record hot global temperatures over the past three years. But with so much heat unexpectedly showing up in the global climate system, there’s clearly something else going on. And indicators are that the natural climate variability that human beings have grown accustomed to over the last 10,000 years may now be a thing of the past — as it is steadily overwhelmed by a stronger overall greenhouse gas based warming signature. One that is concentrating more and more warming near the poles.

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2014 was the hottest year on record. But that lasted only until the end of 2015 — which shattered the 2014 global heat record by a big margin. Then 2016 rolled around and produced what could best be described as an insane heat spike during the January through May period. Now, it’s about 95 percent certain that the 2015 record will also fall, leaving 2016 as the new hottest year on record in yet one more climate vertigo inducing temperature jump.

noaa-jan-may-temps

(The rate of warming for 2014 through 2015 is just off the charts. This scares scientists, and it should. This makes many climate experts wonder about causes, and it should. Prime suspect for the increased rate of change — amplifying feedbacks in the Arctic. Image source: NOAA Global Analysis and Weather Underground.)

In the end, temperatures are expected to level off near 1 C above 20th Century averages and around 1.2 C above 1880s averages by the end of this year. That’s a 0.3 C leap up since the mid 2000s. A screaming rate of decadal warming that is about twice as fast as that experienced since 1979. That’s an insanely fast pace of heat build-up. And it’s got many scientists seriously concerned. The records, as the Guardian aptly notes, were not just broken, they were obliterated. Adam Scaife, a scientist at the Met Office in the UK, agrees:

“The numbers are completely unprecedented. They really stick out like a sore thumb… Including this year so far, 16 of the 17 warmest years on record have been since 2000 – it’s a shocking statistic.”

So what the heck is going on? We know that a strong El Nino just passed. But, though a real beast of a thing, the 2015-2016 event wasn’t quite as powerful as the 1997-1998 El Nino. And global temperatures will end up being about 50 percent hotter than 1998 averages by the end of this year. Essentially leaving this great El Nino’s heat spike in the dust. Meanwhile, scientists attribute about 1/5th of the 2014 to 2016 heat spike to El Nino. The rest came from someplace else. But where?

The first obvious suspect is greenhouse gasses. In 1998, atmospheric CO2 levels peaked at around 365 parts per million at the Mauna Loa Observatory. This year, that heat trapping gas hit near 408 parts per million in the same measure. That’s a 43 parts per million jump peak to peak in just 18 years. A 12 percent increase in a gas that is capable of causing severe geo-physical changes in what, geologically speaking, is not even a blink of an eye. And you have to go back millions of years into Earth’s history to find times when CO2 readings were so high.

So the big build-up of heat trapping gasses is the obvious driver of the overall insane rate of warming that we are now seeing. But that doesn’t account for what is an unexpected acceleration over the past three years. And to puzzle out that speed-up we need to dig a little deeper. To consider factors that are known as amplifying feedbacks.

And, thankfully, in this investigation, we are not flying completely blind. NASA and the other global climate monitors give us a rough global overview of where the Earth is warming up the fastest. And an investigation of comparable temperature anomalies at the Earth’s surface can give us some indication where the extra heat is coming from and why.

1997 — Some Polar Amplification (aka Death of Winter), But Mostly Equatorial Warming

The obvious choice is to pick two relevant years for comparison. And for our purposes we’ll pick 2015 and 1997. The reason for this pick is that both 1997 and 2015 were years in which strong El Ninos were building up and having their impact on the global climate system. And based on what we know about El Nino, we can expect a lot of heat coming out of the Equatorial Pacific as sea surface temperatures there ramp up. In a climate system that is only driven by a natural variability related El Nino, what you’d expect is that the primary heat spike would be in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific region. Any other heat spike would be a possible indicator of another climate driver for global temperatures.

1997 Temperature Anomaly

(1997 may have been the last year in which a big El Nino still maintained a tenuous grip as the primary driver for the global climate system. Image source: NASA.)

So for the year of 1997 (Jan-Dec) we find that a strong heat pulse does originate from the Eastern Equatorial Pacific region. In fact, it’s the largest zone containing temperature anomalies in the range of 2 to 4 C above average. But during this year we also find some pretty big anomalies in Central and North Asia. These flow across the Bering Sea into Alaska, Northwest Canada, and the Beaufort. High Arctic temperatures are somewhat cooler, though still anomalously warm. And West Antartica also shows its own, not insignificant temperature spike.

Given the fact that El Nino will tend to strengthen the Jet Stream and generate a warming bias in the tropical zones, we can already see that there’s probably some polar amplification going on in 1997. And overall, the northern polar zone from 66 North to 90 North shows a positive anomaly signature that is just 0.1 C shy of the equatorial anomaly produced by El Nino. But the heat signal between El Nino and Northern Hemisphere polar amplification appears to be more balanced, with El Nino still providing a slightly stronger share of the overall heat contribution.

Understanding Polar Amplification’s Impact Due to Global Warming

For reference — polar amplification is an expected more rapid increase in polar temperatures as global greenhouse gas concentrations increase. Under pressure from greenhouse gasses, the poles warm faster for a number of reasons. The first is due to albedo or reflectivity loss as ice melts. White ice changing to brown earth or blue ocean due to melt absorbs more sunlight and creates a preferential warming at the poles. In addition, greenhouse gasses (especially CO2) capture and re-radiate sunlight’s heat energy like a blanket. As a result, temperatures tend to homogenize more over the globe resulting in a greater rate of temperature increase where it’s coolest and darkest. And the poles are the coolest and darkest places on Earth.

A third cause of polar amplification involves added heat resulting in natural carbon store release. And some of the greatest concentrations of the world’s sequestered carbon stores are locked in frozen ground and water at or near the poles. If ice at the poles thaws, you tend to end up with a higher overburden of greenhouse gasses in these regions. This is particularly true in the Northern Hemisphere where large regions of permafrost and ocean carbon stores are more vulnerable to release from early warming than the deeply sequestered stores in Antarctica.

(Dr. Jennifer Francis’s observations on Jet Stream weakening and polar amplification have big implications both down [Pole] and up [Equator] stream.)

Finally, as the polar zones warm up, they tend to generate weaknesses in the circumpolar Jet Stream. This is due to the fact that temperature differences between pole and tropics drive both Jet Stream speed and strength. As the relative difference drops off, the Jet Stream slows. And when the Jet Stream slows it meanders — creating big troughs and ridges centering on the middle Latitudes but sometimes extending all the way up to the poles. In the ridge zones, warm air is able to drive further north or south. And this feeds polar amplification by linking hot Equatorial air masses with the Pole itself. Over recent years, high amplitude Jet Stream waves have become a regular feature of the global climate system and have been associated with numerous extreme weather events — some of the most notable being the Russian Heatwave and Pakistan floods of 2011 and the anomalous late December 2015 warming of the North Pole above freezing.

2015 — Polar Amplification in the Driver’s Seat

By 2015, the polar amplification signature, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, started to look ridiculously strong.

2015 El Nino Polar Amplification

(2015’s picture of Polar Amplification during an El Nino year should disturb anyone who knows anything about how global climate systems should work. Image source: NASA.)

And during this year we find that the zone of greatest temperature anomalies lies not over the Equatorial Pacific — but over the high Latitude regions of the Northern Hemisphere. 2-4 C above average temperatures dominate a huge zone stretching from North Central Asia and Europe and on up to the North Pole. A similar zone dominates Northwestern Canada, Alaska and the Beaufort Sea. And pretty much the entire Northern Hemisphere Polar and near Polar zone falls under 1-4 C above average temperatures for the year.

By comparison, the Eastern Equatorial Pacific appears to play second fiddle to the Polar and near Polar heat build up. A broad region across the Central and Eastern Equatorial Pacific does see 1-2 C above average temperatures, with a small pool of 2-4 C deltas off South America. But it’s not that much greater a signal than a significant heat pool over the Indian Ocean. And the Northern Hemisphere near Polar zone is altogether the area that’s clearly the global heat center of gravity. An observation bearing out in NASA’s zonal anomaly measure which finds that Latitudes  66 to 90 North were about 1.6 C above average and the highest relative temperature anomaly zone on the planet. Meanwhile, the Equator lags at +1.2 C above normal. That’s a relative Equator to Pole anomaly change of +0.5 C from El Nino years 1997 to 2015. An indicator that El Nino may no longer be the primary driver of the global temperature and climate engine. And that its overall role is greatly diminished over the 1997 to 2015 timeframe. And, finally, that a greenhouse gas based warming polar amplification signature is now in the driver’s seat.

So, basically what we have during an El Nino year is the pole warming relative to the Equator and under any condition other than human forced climate change — this is something that definitely should not happen. In other words, you’re not in Kansas anymore and Kansas isn’t on Earth anymore. At least the Earth that human civilization is used to. For what we’re experiencing is the climate of a planet that is definitely not operating under Holocene norms — but under the transitionally destabilizing forces of greenhouse gas based warming.

Warm Air Slots and The Death of Winter

So in comparison to 1997, it appears that during 2015 the Northern Pole gained heat very rapidly (increasing by +1 C over these 18 years) while Equatorial heat continued to build (adding +0.4 C over the same period). In other words, Polar warming was about 2.5 times faster than Equatorial warming during the 18 year interval. The result is that by the El Nino year of 2015, the Pole showed dramatically higher relative global temperature anomaly spikes. This, in a few simple words, is the evidence of a greenhouse gas warming based polar amplification writ large. But digging down into the details a bit more we find a number of further disturbing clues as to what’s really going on in the grinding gears of our global climate machinery.

September of 2015's Crushed Polar Vortex During a Spiking El Nino is a Bad Sign

(September of 2015’s crushed polar vortex and high amplitude Jet Stream wave patterns during a peak period of Equatorial heat known as El Nino is a bad, bad sign. A clear indication that polar amplification is starting the drive and destabilize the global climate regime. September 10 of 2015’s Northern Hemisphere Polar reference Jet Stream capture is by Earth Nullschool.)

The first is the appearance of a big warm air slot running directly from the Equatorial Pacific over the Eastern Pacific and North America and on up into the Northern Polar zone. Here we find the signature of 2015’s ridiculously resilient ridge (RRR) pattern in the NASA global anomaly map for the year. Warm air consistently funneled directly from the Equator, was drawn through the high amplitude ridge (see Dr Francis’s video above) and pulled into the polar zone.

But the RRR zone wasn’t the only big warm air slot pulling air north during 2015 — just, perhaps, the most obvious. A second big warm air slot appeared over the Eastern North Atlantic, Western Europe and extended to cover most of Asia. And this enormous Equatorial air sucking beast really ramped into high gear during late December of 2015 when it drove North Pole temperatures above freezing.

QBO Gravity Wave

(Upper level Equatorial zonal winds all peaked at the same time during September of 2015. A sign that Equatorial heat went north in a manner that produces some potentially bad implications for Northern Hemisphere Winter under a regime of human-forced climate change. Image source: Anthony Masiello.)

Taken in total, these warm air slots were enormous — exerting an amazing influence over the totality of global weather. The overall story is one in which the polar vortex was basically getting smashed during an El Nino year. Another big indication that things are teetering pretty far off kilter. One indicator of this was an anomalous spiking of all the upper level Equatorial wind speeds at the same time (in the Quasi Biennial Oscillation measure) during September of 2015. An event that current climate theory says shouldn’t happen, but it did. And yet one more hint that the Hadley Cell produced a huge northward bulge at the time. It’s also an indicator that Northern Hemisphere Winter is getting steadily beaten back to the ropes by the bully of northward running heat.

So what we’ve seen from 1997 to 2015 is a dramatic transition in which El Nino appears to have lost climate influence powers and become a slave to what is now a heat-sucking engine at the pole. It’s an emerging first phase of a death of winter type scenario. And the upshot is that the extra heat in the system that scientists are getting pretty concerned about appears now to be coming in large part from a ramping Northern Hemisphere polar amplification.

Links:

NOAA Global Analysis

NASA GISS

NOAA and NASA — Earth’s Warmest May on Record

Dr Jennifer Francis on Polar Amplification and the Jet Stream

Anthony Masiello

Quasi Biennial Oscillation

Earth Nullschool

Shattered Global Temperature Records Reveals Climate Change Emergency

Scientific hat tip to Dr. Jeff Masters and his best-in-class Weather Underground

Scientific hat tip to the prescient Dr. Jennifer Francis

Scientific hat tip to Dr. Stefan Rahmstorf

Scientific hat tip to Adam Scaife

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to DT Lange

 

 

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

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

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Iceberg spotted off Bonavista in January

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

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

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

major iceburg drift patterns

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

Mystery Beneath the Ice

Newfoundland Labrador Iceberg Facts

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

Major Greenland Melt Event During Winter

NSIDC

The Atlas of Canada

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Catherine Simpson

Did a January Hurricane Just Set off a Massive Greenland Melt Event in Winter?

This freakish Winter there’s something odd and ominous afoot.

We’ve seen unprecedented above-freezing temperatures at the North Pole coincident with record low daily sea ice extents. We’ve seen global temperatures hitting new, very extreme record highs. We’ve seen climate change related storms raging across the globe — flooding both the UK and the Central US, firing off record hurricanes during January in both the Pacific and the Atlantic — even as other regions swelter under record heat and drought.

Now, it appears that Greenland is also experiencing an unprecedented melt during wintertime.

image

(The remnants of hurricane Alex being pulled into a storm system just south of Greenland on Friday January 15, 2016. An event that then flooded both Baffin Bay and Western Greenland with warm, tropical air. At the same time, Greenland observers both noted what appears to be ice mass losses over Western Greenland as well as a possible large melt water outflow issuing from the Disko Bay area. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Greenland Melt During Winter

Greenland — the last bastion of major continental glacial ice in the Northern Hemisphere. An island archipelago dwarfed by great mountains of frozen water towering as high as two miles. Though the Arctic sea ice provides quite extensive coverage — in the range of millions of square miles — the great Greenland Ice Sheet contains the majority of the remaining frozen fresh water in the Northern Hemisphere. And though the extreme ongoing sea ice melt does not contribute to sea level rise, Greenland melt is another matter entirely. In total, if all of the Greenland Ice Sheet flooded into the world ocean, it would raise global sea levels by an average of 23 feet. Enough to inundate pretty much every coastal city in the world.

And Greenland is melting, pushing those sea levels higher. Contributing hundreds of cubic kilometers of melt water into the world ocean system every year since at least the middle of the first decade of the 21st Century. Creating an ominous ocean heat-conveyer that spreads fresh, cool water out at the surface even as it pulls deep, warmer water directly in toward the many glaciers whose towering faces plunge into the ocean itself.

During recent years, most of Greenland’s melt has occurred during the hot season of summer even as the ice sheet underwent re-freeze and a pseudo-recovery during Winter. Sure, net mass loss was in the range of hundreds of billions of tons each year. But we still had consistent and uninterrupted mass gain during Winter.

Unfortunately, with human-forced warming there was always a danger that, during Wintertime, we’d see an increase in melt pressure as well. At issue is the way in which greenhouse gasses fundamentally warm the atmosphere and oceans. Possessing the ability to re-radiate solar energy, greenhouse gasses have a greater impact on temperatures during times of darkness and during Winter. In other words, we’d expect nighttime temperatures to warm faster than daytime temperatures and we’d expect wintertime temperatures to warm faster than summertime temperatures. Perhaps more ominously, the oceans are very efficient holders of heat and are less impacted by seasonal variance than the lands. In other words, if the world’s oceans warm, they re-radiate much more heat back to the atmosphere and ice sheet during Winter than they do during Summer.

This kind of greenhouse gas warming is an assault on the winter season itself. It’s something we’ve seen in the frequent extreme polar warming episodes during recent years. One that this year generated a very odd and ominous period of above-freezing temperatures at the North Pole. But if there’s something even more odd than temperatures at the North Pole hitting above freezing during Winter, it’s an incident of substantial melt occurring over the Greenland ice sheets during what should be the coldest, darkest season.

January Hurricane Blows a Tropical Wind into the Arctic

Over the past few days, just such a major heat-up has been underway across a large section of Western Greenland. Warm winds flowing off the North Atlantic — driven by hurricane Alex’s merging with powerful lows south of Greenland — have roared up over the southern coastal ranges. Meanwhile, warm, tropical air has infiltrated northward over Baffin Bay. The net result is temperatures approaching 20-40 degrees Fahrenheit above average (16 to 22 C above average) over a broad region of Western Greenland.

Greenland Warm UpGreenland warm up temperature

(By Sunday, 15-36 F above average temperatures had come to dominate much of southern and western Greenland. This translated to near or above freezing temperatures over sections of the Jacobshavn Glacier. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Over the past few days, as indicated in this recent post by Jason Box, the region near Disko and Uummannaq Bays — both in Baffin Bay and along the coastal ranges — has felt the full force of this substantial warm-up. By today, a large section of the coastal offshore waters and a wedge of glacier-covered Western Greenland all experienced near or above-freezing temperatures. A very rare event for Greenland and Baffin Bay during wintertime and one that appears to have coincided with a possible large glacial melt water outflow from the Jackobshavn Glacier.

Spot temperature readings along the southern reaches of the Jacobshavn Glacier hit 1 C or 34 F today according to GFS measures. Meanwhile near freezing temperatures have dominated Niaqornat on Uummannaq Bay (forecast to hit 32 F on Tuesday). Ilulissat on Disko Bay is showing 36 F temperatures at 12:00 AM Monday and is forecast to hit 41 F on Tuesday, even as Nuuk (about 200 miles south of Ilulissat) is showing 40 F temperatures at 12:00 AM Monday. These are all extremely warm readings for Greenland during Winter.

Greenland Glacial Melt During Winter

Disko and Uummannaq Bays are notable in that they are the outflow zone of the Jackobshavn Glacier — one of the swiftest-melting glaciers on Greenland. Over recent years, it has been one of the primary hot-spots for summer Greenland ice mass loss. But during recent days, mass loss also appears to have occurred in this area.

Western Greenland Melting in January

(Western Greenland has shown surface mass losses during recent days as in this January 17 mass balance data provided by DMI.)

Dr Jason Box notes that surface mass balance totals have consistently shown up as negative over the past week in the DMI measure. A record that continued today. Though Dr. Box states that such a negative mass balance could simply be chalked up to wintertime sublimation, the consistent losses showing up in the monitor over the past seven days have coincided temperatures in a melt-inducing range.

In addition, Dr Box also indicates a disturbing flushing of ice away from both Disko and Uummannaq Bays occurring on January 16th. In the satellite shot, both sea ice and ice burgs are moved en-mass from the bays and on out into the waters of Baffin.

Large Melt Water Pulse From Jacobshavn?

Offshore winds could be the cause. But, again, the ice movement coincides with indications of mass loss over Greenland’s Western glaciers as well as a period of much warmer than normal, above-freezing temperatures.

Large meltwater pulse from Jacobshavn

(Did a huge melt water pulse issue from the Jacobshavn Glacier on January 16, 2016? Dr Jason Box appears to be concerned that it has. Image source: Dr. Jason Box.)

Perhaps more ominously, this widespread clearing of ice from these Arctic bays occurs in concert with what appears to be a large ice-calving event along the ocean-facing front of the Jacobshavn Glacier. In the above graphic by Dr. Jason Box (see more here), we see a large retreat of the glacier together with what looks like a major sediment outflow. Sediment hitting water in this way would be a sign that a very large volume of water had been expelled along the basal zones of the Jacobshavn. In addition, the ice itself appears to have been forcibly ejected. This apparent sediment flush, the concave bowing of sea ice away from Disko and Uummannaq and the inland recession of the calving face are all indicators that something terrible is afoot in Western Greenland.

A large flush of melt water coming from Greenland during Winter would, indeed, be that terrible thing. Something that now may become a more and more common feature of our age as Winter continues its ongoing retreat against a relentless assault by human greenhouse gas emissions.

 

Links:

What is Up in Disko-Uummannaq Bay, Greenland January 9-16

Mauri Pelto @ Realglacier

Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

DMI

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Arctic Warmth in Early February Sees 200,000 Square Kilometers of Sea Ice Lost, Greenland Melt as New Study Finds Massive Glacier Triples its Seaward Velocity

Leaving Jakobshavn Isbrae

(Greenland’s vast Jakobshavn Isbrae Glacier rushes toward the sea at 10 miles per year. Image source: The University of Washington)

Polar amplification. It’s kind of a dirty word in the climate science community. It’s, what would seem, a counter-intuitive displacement of much of the warming world’s heat over some of its coldest regions, during its coldest seasons.

It’s not the curse word that everyone can’t say. No, that’s more likely hydrogen sulfide gas — the veritable F-word of the oceanic climate community and only slightly worse than the M-word, methane. But it’s an uncomfortable term nonetheless because it brings up some rather uncomfortable issues.

Like why, for example, would the Arctic suck up so much of the world’s extra greenhouse gas accumulated heat during winter? And at what point, after taking on so much of this heat, do the seasons begin to change? At what point does winter, for the North, begin its slow and tumultuous, decades-to-centuries long, death? Are we now starting to see the strange attractors? Those excession offspring in the climate models. Emergent properties of Earth systems parameters wrenched into horrible forms by amplifying feedbacks?

High Arctic Heat

(Temperatures above 80 North have remained above average since January 1. Temperatures in the same zone for the past ten days have averaged 13 C above the, already warmer than average, 1954 to 2014 mean. These temperatures are roughly equal to those typically seen in May. Other regions of the Arctic, as discussed below, have also shown extraordinary warmth. Image source: DMI.)

If there are people to look back at this time, hundreds of years from now, people who still retain the knowledge and tools today afforded to us by science and a clear, unadulterated recollection of this era of history, they would point to these years and say that this period was when the first evidence of winter’s eminent demise in the north became visible.

For winter is indeed dying, the victim of our ongoing and increasing emission of heat trapping gasses. And it would take a miraculous reversal and intervention, at this point, to save her.

A rash of Arctic heat in winter

Extreme heat in the high Arctic has been an ongoing theme throughout this winter. And whether you know it or not, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you’ve been affected. The ‘polar vortex’ collapse episodes that have been so prominent, if misreported, in the mainstream news have been directly spurred by this excess accumulation of heat in the North. The heat — kicking out and weakening the cold core cyclones that prefer to reside directly over the world’s roof. The after-affect of which was Arctic cold fleeing south over the continents as temperatures in the High Arctic climbed to readings 36 F+ higher than average for this time of year over broad regions.

This massive polar amplification, the consequence of the hottest Arctic conditions in at least 44,000 years, induced amazing sea ice losses since 1979, tripping the polar region and related weather patterns into new, far less stable, states. Such sea ice losses have been implicated in various far-reaching effects from a drying and baking of the American West to vicious alterations in the polar Jet Stream resulting in 11 month long blocking patterns and weather conditions that tend to remain stuck over regions for months and months on end.

This extreme heat and related atmospheric and environmental changes triggered some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded in Alaska this January, setting off a flush of spring-like melt and a freakish avalanche that cut off the city of Valdez.

And all this was happening during winter time. During the time when these furthest north locales were supposed to be coldest, certainly colder than down south, which, in many instances, was not the case.

200,000 square kilometers of sea ice lost in early February

But the above isn’t all in the long list of heat-caused extremes for the Arctic during the winter of 2013-2014. Now we can add to that tally a significant sea ice melt in the midst of winter.

As heat built in the Arctic over the most recent extreme warming episode, it tended to focus on two regions along the sea ice edge now vulnerable to episodes of winter-time melt. First, in the Bering Sea, where warmth has been almost continually flooding up along the high pulse of an 11 month blocking pattern and then in Baffin Bay, where warmer than normal winds have drawn heat up along coastal areas adjacent to the western slopes of Greenland creating anomalous conditions there.

For the Bering Sea, conditions were particularly grim. Throughout the season, sea ice measures have remained about half their normal values and by the end of January had settled about 100,000 square kilometers lower than during a normal season, leaving the ice state for this, typically frozen, sea a mere shade of past winter ice states. But in early February, with the flush of new warmth coming up from the south, ice totals fell by another 100,000 square kilometers at a time when the ice should have been expanding, leaving the Bering Sea about 250,000 square kilometers below average.

Bering Sea Ice Area anomaly

(Bering Sea ice area anomaly departures from the, already low, 1979 to 2008 mean. Image source: Cryosphere Today.)

As mentioned above, Baffin Bay went through a similar, if less extreme, melt in early February falling from about 1 million square kilometers of sea ice to about 900,000 square kilometers from January 30 to February 2 before showing a slight uptick over the past day. Overall, Bering Sea ice area is its lowest on record for this time of year while Baffin Bay is currently seeing its third lowest year in the record.

Now, with melt season less than a month away, it is still possible that the Bering Sea and Baffin Bay may yet see some added freeze through March. But the weather pattern, at least over the next seven days, is not favorable for such an event and long range models seem to indicate continued flows of warmer than normal air to both of these vulnerable regions.

Greenland shows sporadic melt during Winter

In addition to the fits of sea ice melt occurring during coldest months in nearby Baffin Bay, the West Coast of Greenland is also showing patchy melt during the period. Model and sensor measures of the Greenland ice sheet provided by DMI showed patchy melt and ice mass loss not only in the most recent assessment, but also throughout the month of January.

Greenland Mass Balance February 4

(Ice Mass Balance for Greenland on February 3 on the left, 2014 compared to the, already warm, 1990-2011 base period on the right. Note the small but visible areas of pink indicating patches of ice mass loss along Greenland’s Western and Southeastern Coastal zones in the 2014 map. Also note the notably larger areas of ice mass gain in the 1991-2008 base period map which shows almost no areas of ice loss. Image source: DMI)

Certainly, these are small melt zones, but any Greenland melt during February is worth sitting up and taking notice of.

New study shows Greenland’s fastest glacier tripled its seaward velocity

As Greenland struggled not to melt during what should be the frigid month of February, a scientific report released this week in the journal The Cryosphere provided yet more evidence of its ongoing thaw and glacial destabilization. The report, also covered in LiveScience, showed the Jakobshavn Isbrae glacier had more than tripled its 1990s speed as of 2013.

According to reports, the glacier had sped up to 150 feet per day (11 miles per year) during the summer of 2012 and had maintained this forward velocity through the summer of 2013. The glacier slowed somewhat during winter, but only to about 8.6 miles per year, resulting in a combined average speed of about 10 miles per year. By contrast, the glacier’s rush to the sea during the 1990s was considerably slower, at less than 3 miles per year and, by 2000, the glacier had sped up to around 6 miles per year, about half the current rate.

Jakobshavn Isbrae collapse 2010

(Satellite Shot of Jakobshavn Isbrae collapse in 2010. Image source: Earth Observatory)

Overall, this single glacier has contributed about 1 millimeter to sea level rise over the past decade. It is worth noting that Greenland hosts hundreds of sea terminating glaciers, 99% of which are speeding up or increasing their melt rates.

“We’ve been watching it for over a decade now, so it was quite a surprise when it popped up in 2012 with these unusually high speeds,” said Ian Joughin, lead study author and a glaciologist at the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center in Seattle.

Unfortunately, glaciologists expect the Jakobshavn Isbrae glacier to speed up by a factor of 10 during the coming decades, dumping more than 35 miles worth of glacial ice into the ocean each year.

Links:

Greenland Glacier hits New Speed Record

Earth Observatory

DMI

Cryosphere Today

Arctic Heatwave Sets off Hottest Ever January Temperatures, Disasters in Alaska 

Polar Vortex to be Ripped in Half 

Colorado Bob’s Climate Feed

Hat Tip to Coop Geek

Polar Vortex Ripped in Half by Anomalous Jet Stream, High Arctic Experiencing 32 Degree F Above Average Temperatures Over Broad Region

A dangerous and weather-wrecking polar heat amplification in the Arctic set off by human-caused global warming keeps kicking into higher and higher gear…

What models predicted earlier this week and what we reported on Thursday has finally happened. A major influx of record-breaking winter warmth has flooded into the high Arctic, disrupting the polar vortex to the point that it is currently ripped in twain.

Average temperatures over a broad area of the north polar region are now in excess of 20 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) above daily norms for this time of year. Areas from Alaska to Norway to Greenland to the North Pole are experiencing record or near record highs. Meanwhile, the circumpolar Jet Stream has been malformed into an extraordinarily exaggerated north-south Rossby Wave pattern. An extreme amplification of a blocking pattern that has been in place for more than 10 months, pumping a continual flow of heat into the Arctic, and which, this winter, has resulted in numerous North American cold snaps comparable to those that used to happen in the 1980s and 1990s.

Polar temperature anomaly Jan 26

(Global temperature anomaly vs the 1985 to 1996 mean. Note the large regions of the High Arctic experiencing temperatures that are 20 degrees C above average or higher. Image source: NOAA)

The result is a kind of north-south flip-flop in temperatures following a polar vortex that has been ripped in half by a surge of anomalous warmth and a periodic pulsing of the Arctic’s remnant cold southward over the continents.

Yesterday, the high temperature in Svalbard, for example, less than 600 miles from the North Pole peaked at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, near all-time record warmth for this frigid region. In contrast, the high for Bethesda Maryland, thousands of miles to the south, was nine degrees lower at 23 Fahrenheit.

Hottest or near hottest ever temperatures in the Arctic are, in this case, comparable to moderately colder than average weather over Siberia and the Eastern US (As seen in the NOAA temperature anomaly map above. It is also worth noting that the 1985-1996 base-line temperature for the above map is already about .5 C above the 1880 average. So this map doesn’t take into account the full extent and impact of human-caused warming.).

The Jet Stream anomaly that linked a very large and powerful flood of warm air from the Pacific with another less powerful warm air invasion riding up over Western Europe setting off such major polar temperature extremes is now plainly visible in the University of Washington upper air flow graphic below:

Polar Vortex Ripped in Half Jan 26

(Polar vortex ripped in half. Image source: University of Washington.)

On the Pacific side, we see a powerful ridge in the Jet Stream invading deep into the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas before again turning south. Some of the warmer air carried up by this extreme northward thrust of the Jet, however, bleeds further north, spilling up and over the North Pole. There it links with the second warm air thrust coming up from Europe. To the south, the polar vortex is now misaligned and severed. The two resulting, lesser, cold vortexes are now centered hundreds of miles to the south of their typical zones — with one over Hudson Bay and the other over the Yedoma region of Siberia.

Over the next week, model forecasts predict this severing of the polar vortex to continue with the current, anomalous, pattern remaining in play at least until February 2nd.

What we are observing is the start of the tumultuous and stormy throws of an imperiled winter in the Northern Hemisphere. A crisis that is bound to continue and worsen for at least some time. One that, if we don’t stop our greenhouse gas emissions soon, will certainly progress to a period in our not too distant future when winter no longer exists, perhaps a century or two from now. But make no mistake, these episodes of extreme polar warmth during wintertime that flush the cold air out and southward are no less than the palpitating heart of winter thrumming with the terrible arrhythmia of its eventual demise.

Links:

NOAA

University of Washington

Svalbard Weather Forecast, Weather Underground

Arctic Ice Graphs

Arctic Heat Wave to Rip Polar Vortex in Half

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