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

 

 

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17 Comments

  1. Is it or is it not the gateway event tipping point to a chain reaction of positive feedback loops that is abrupt climate change that brings about irreversible near term human extinction? If so then can any reaction be too extreme? By any means necessary too presumptuous or precipitous?

    Reply
    • Cheers Kenneth. I advocate any and all non-violent action to address what I believe is perhaps one of the greatest challenges human beings will ever face.

      Reply
  2. Climate change will affect Nepal’s hydropower capacity, says report

    http://www.myrepublica.com/portal/index.php?action=news_details&news_id=73723

    Reply
  3. Colorado Bob

     /  April 29, 2014

    Swell and sea in the emerging Arctic Ocean†

    Ocean surface waves (sea and swell) are generated by winds blowing over a distance (fetch) for a duration of time. In the Arctic Ocean, fetch varies seasonally from essentially zero in winter to hundreds of kilometers in recent summers. Using in situ observations of waves in the central Beaufort Sea, combined with a numerical wave model and satellite sea ice observations, we show that wave energy scales with fetch throughout the seasonal ice cycle. Furthermore, we show that the increased open water of 2012 allowed waves to develop beyond pure wind seas and evolve into swells. The swells remain tied to the available fetch, however, because fetch is a proxy for the basin size in which the wave evolution occurs. Thus, both sea and swell depend on the open water fetch in the Arctic, because the swell is regionally driven. This suggests that further reductions in seasonal ice cover in the future will result in larger waves, which in turn provide a mechanism to break up sea ice and accelerate ice retreat.

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2014GL059983/abstract

    Reply
  4. Colorado Bob

     /  April 29, 2014

    The Year Climate Change Closed Everest
    As the world heats up, the Himalayas are becoming more volatile.

    The deadly avalanche on Everest earlier this month wasn’t technically an avalanche. It was an “ice release”—a collapse of a glacial mass known as a serac. Rather than getting swept up by a rush of powdery snow across a slope, the victims fell under the blunt force of house-sized ice blocks tumbling through the Khumbu Icefall, an unavoidable obstacle on the most popular route up Everest. The worst accident in the mountain’s history has effectively ended the 2014 climbing season. And some see global warming as the key culprit.

    “I am at Everest Basecamp right now and things are dire because of climate change,” John All, a climber, scientist, and professor of geography at Western Kentucky University, told me by email. “The ice is melting at unprecedented rates and [that] greatly increases the risk to climbers.”

    “You could say [that] climate change closed Mt. Everest this year,” he added.

    Link

    Reply
    • You have to look harder and harder to find a glacier that is not undergoing rapid decline. Hoping the outburst floods this year aren’t too terrible.

      Reply
  5. Colorado Bob

     /  April 29, 2014

    Exxon’s $900 Billion Arctic Prize at Risk After Ukraine.

    The Arctic well will be among the most expensive Exxon has ever drilled, costing at least $600 million. The spending is justified by the potential prize. Universitetskaya, the geological structure being drilled, is the size of the city of Moscow and large enough to contain more than 9 billion barrels, a trove worth more than $900 billion at today’s prices.

    The only way to reach the prospect is a four-day voyage from Murmansk, the largest city north of the Arctic circle. Everything will have to shipped in — workers, supplies, equipment — for a few months of drilling, then evacuated before winter renders the sea icebound. Even in the short Arctic summer, a flotilla is needed to keep drifting ice from the rig.

    All this means drilling the prospect will cost more than $600 million, more than triple typical offshore exploration wells in other parts of the world, according to people in the industry familiar with the plans.

    Link

    Reply
    • Drilling in this volatile and sensitive region to open up even more fossil fuel reserves is nothing short of madness. Russia gave us the excuse to block this insane effort. We should have jumped on it by now.

      Reply
  6. Colorado Bob

     /  April 29, 2014

    Changes in peat chemistry associated with permafrost thaw increase greenhouse gas production

    Significance

    We address the effect of thawing permafrost, and attendant subsidence-induced shifts in hydrology and plant community structure, on CH4 and CO2 production potentials and mechanisms driven by changes in organic matter chemical composition in a thawing peatland complex. Advanced analytical characterization of peat and dissolved organic matter along the thaw progression indicated increasingly reduced organic matter experiencing greater humification rates, which were associated with higher relative CH4 and CO2 production potentials, increasing relative CH4/CO2 production ratios, and shifts from hydrogenotrophic to acetoclastic methanogenesis. The effects of this increase in organic matter reactivity with permafrost thaw could intensify the increases in CH4 and CO2 release already predicted due to increasing temperatures, permafrost carbon mobilization, and waterlogging-induced changes in redox conditions.

    Link

    Reply
    • So pace of CH4 and CO2 release from permafrost thaw appears to be pushing the right side of the projection curve. This is a very vicious amplifying feedback currently underway.

      Reply
  7. Colorado Bob

     /  May 2, 2014

    Vikings –
    The last episode of season 2 , I never dreamed that the same murderous power trip in England , was going on with the Norse men.

    My god what a wonderful TV show . These guys make Walter White look like a TV preacher.

    Reply
  1. robertscribbler
  2. Warm Winds Gather to Invade the Arctic: Summer Sea Ice Melt and The Storms of 2014 | robertscribbler
  3. Arctic Heatwaves Rise to Threaten Sea Ice as Lake Baikal Wildfires Reignite | robertscribbler

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