Big Arctic Warm-Up Predicted For This Week: Melt to Speed Up, Or Sea Ice to Show Resiliency Due to Variability, Strength of Negative Feedbacks?

Rate of Sea ice volume decline for all months

(Rate of Arctic sea ice volume decline with trend lines for all months in the PIOMAS measure. Updated through June of 2014. Image source: Wipneus.)

What it really all comes down to is heat energy balance. Beneath a warming, moistening Arctic atmosphere, sea ice loses resiliency due to slow attrition of the ice surface, due to loss of albedo as ice melts, and due to slower rates of refreeze during winter. Atop a warming Arctic Ocean, sea ice loses bottom resiliency, tends to be thinner and more broken, and shows greater vulnerability to anything that churns the ocean surface to mix it with the warming deeper layers — storms, strong winds, powerful high pressure systems.

It is this powerful set of dynamics under human caused climate change that has dragged the Arctic sea ice into what has been called a ‘Death Spiral.’ A seemingly inexorable plunge to zero or near zero ice coverage far sooner than was previously anticipated.

But in the backdrop of what are obviously massive Arctic sea ice declines and a trend line, that if followed, leads to near zero ice coverage sometime between next year and 2030, lurk a few little details throwing a bit of chaos into an otherwise clear and, rather chilling, picture of Arctic sea ice decline.

The Fresh Water Negative Feedback

One of these details involves the greatly increasing flow of fresh water into the Arctic Ocean. For as the Arctic heats, it moistens and rainfall rates over Arctic rivers increase. This results in much greater volumes of fresh river water flushing into the Arctic Ocean and freshening its surface. Another source of new fresh water flow for the Arctic is an increasing rate of Greenland melt outflow. The volumes, that in recent years, ranged from 300 to 600 cubic kilometers, can, year-on-year, add 1-2% to the total fresh water coverage in the Arctic Basin and North Atlantic. These combined flows mean that fresh water accumulates more rapidly at the surface, resulting in an overall increase in fresh water volume.

Change in salinity

(Change in Arctic Ocean Salinity between the mid 1990s and mid 2000s. Image source: Benjamin Rabe, Alfred Wegener Institute via Science Daily.)

Since 1990, we have observed just such an accumulation. For a recent study in 2011 showed that since 1992, Arctic Ocean surface fresh water content had increased by 20%. A remarkable increase due to the changing conditions that included greatly increased river outflows into the Arctic Ocean as well as a ramping ice melt from Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago Islands.

Fresh water is less dense than salt water and will tend to float at the surface. The physical properties of fresh water are such that it acts as a heat insulator, deflecting warmer, saltier ocean water toward the bottom. As such, it interrupts the heat flow from deeper, warmer Arctic Ocean waters to the sea surface and into the atmosphere.

As an added benefit to the ice, fresher water freezes at higher temperatures. So as the Arctic Ocean freshens, it creates a bit of wiggle room for the sea ice, giving it about a 0.5 to 1 C boost so it can sometimes even form during conditions that were warmer than those seen in the past.

In this manner, an expanding fresh water zone acts as a kind of last refuge for sea ice in a warming world. A zone in which sea ice may even periodically stage comebacks in the backdrop of rampant human warming. We may be seeing such a comeback in the Antarctic sea ice, which has shown anomalous growth and even contributed to an expanding cool atmospheric zone in the Southern Ocean, despite ongoing global warming. The freshwater and iceberg feeds from the vast Antarctic ice sheets have grown powerful indeed due to warm water rising up to melt the ice sheets from below, letting loose an expanding surface zone of ice and fresh water. This process will necessarily strengthen as more and more human heating hits the deep ocean and the submerged bases of ice sheets. An effect that will dramatically and dangerously reverberate through the ocean layers, setting the stage for a horrible stratification.

But today, we won’t talk about that. Today is for negative feedbacks due to fresh water flows from increasing polar precipitation and through ice sheet melt.

In the end, human warming dooms Arctic sea ice to an eventual final melt. But before that happens the increasing volume of fresh water from river flows and the potentially more powerful negative feedback coming from a growing ice and fresh water release from Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago will inevitably play their hands.

The Slower Than Terrible 2014 Melt Season

And so we arrive at the 2014 sea ice melt season for the Arctic. As with 2013, the melt got off to a relatively rapid start and then slowed through July as weather conditions grew less favorable for ice melt. Above freezing temperatures hit the ice above 80 degrees North about one week later than average, also providing some resiliency to the central ice — a condition that historically leads to higher end-season sea ice values in about 80 percent of the record.

The high pressure systems of early June gave way to weak storms and overall cloudy conditions. This shut down the cycle of strong melt, compaction, and transport of ice out of the Arctic that may have put 2014 on track for new records and another horrible slide down the Arctic sea ice death spiral. Instead, conditions set up for slower melt. Ice was retained and backed up through the Fram Strait, and the ice spread out, taking advantage of the thickened fresh water layer to slow its summer decline.

This is in marked contrast to the terrible 2007 and 2012 melt seasons which severely damaged the ice, making a total Arctic Basin ice melt all more likely in the near future. And it was also cutting against the 2010 to 2012 trend in which sea ice volume measures continued to plunge despite ambiguous numbers in sea ice area and extent (no new record lows) during 2010 and 2011. For this year, sea ice volume is now, merely, ‘only’ 4th lowest on record, according to the PIOMAS measure.

The fact that we are looking at a 4th lowest year as another bounce-back year is a clear indication of how terrible things became since 2010. And so far, this year’s melt has, like 2013, simply not been so terrible and terrifying. A wag back toward 2000s levels that is likely due to the inherent negative feedback of freshening surface water and to a swing in natural weather variability that, during any other year and in any other climate, would have pushed summer ice levels quite high indeed.

If the storms had been strong enough to draw a large enough pulse of warm water to the surface, the story might have been different. But, as it stands, this summer of weak Arctic weather hasn’t activated any major melt mechanism to push the ice into new record low territory. And so in many major monitors we are now above 2013 melt levels for this day.

Cryosphere Today shows sea ice area at 5.22 million square kilometers, above 2013 and just slightly above 2011 while ranging below 2008 for the date. Overall, the area measure is at 6th lowest on record for the date. Meanwhile, NSIDC shows sea ice extent at 7.74 million square kilometers or just above 2013 values for the same day but remaining below 2008 and 2009 by a substantial margin. Overall, also a sixth lowest value for the date:

Sea ice july 2014 v2

(NSIDC chart comparing sea ice melt years 2012 [dashed green line], 2008 [maroon line], the 1981 to 2010 average [solid line] and 2013 [pink line]. Image source NSIDC.)

So in the sea ice butcher board tally, with the negative feedback of fresh water floods and glacial melt moderately in play and with weather that is highly unfavorable for melt, we currently stand at 4th lowest in the volume record, 6th lowest in the extent record, and 6th lowest in the area record.

And now, things may just be about to get interesting…

Forecast Shows Arctic Heatwaves on the Way

GFS and ECMWF model runs show two warm ridges of high pressure developing over the Arctic this week. And the emergence of these warm and moist air flows into the Arctic may well have an impact by pushing the Arctic back toward melt-favorable conditions.

The first ridge is already expanding across the Canadian Archipelago. Yesterday it brought 80 degree temperatures to Victoria Island which still sits between wide channels clogged with sea ice. Smoke from wildfires is being entrained in this ridge and swept north and east over the remaining Archipelago sea ice and, today, the Greenland Ice Sheet.

While the smoke aerosol from fires blocks some of the incoming solar short wave radiation, it absorbs and re-radiates it as long-wave radiation. Many studies have shown this albedo-reducing darkening of the cloud layer by black and brown carbon aerosols has a net positive warming effect. In addition, the soot falls over both land and sea ice where it reduces reflectivity medium to long-term (Dark Snow).

Smoke streaming over Canadian Archipelago and Northwestern Greenland

(Smoke associated with record wildfires in the Northwest Territory streaming over the Canadian Archipelago, Northern Baffin Bay, and Northwestern Greenland beneath a dome of record heat. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

The ridge is expected to expand east over the next few days until it finally settles in as a moderate-strength high pressure system over Greenland. There it is predicted to juxtapose a set of low pressure systems that will slowly slide south and east over Svalbard. The conjoined counterclockwise cyclonic wind pattern of the lows and the clockwise anti-cyclone of the high over Greenland in the models runs over the Fram Strait. And so, for at least 4-5 days, the models predict a situation where sea ice transport out of the Arctic may be enhanced.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Arctic, a series of high pressure systems are predicted to back up over the Pacific Ocean section of Irkutsk and Northeast Siberia. This ridge is expected to dominate coastal Siberia along the Laptev and East Siberian Seas. Temperatures along the coast are expected to reach 15-20 C above average, while temperatures over the waters are expected to rise to melt enhancing levels of 1 to 5 C.

Ahead of the ridge runs a warm frontal boundary that is heavily laden with moisture and storms. So a liquid and mixed precipitation band is likely to form over the East Siberian and Beaufort Sea ice as the ridge advances.

The ridge is projected to drive surface winds running from the south over the East Siberian Sea, across the polar region, and into the Greenland and Barents Seas. This cross-polar flow of warm, moist air will also enhance the potential for ice transport.

Melt Pattern

(Pattern more favorable for sea ice melt and transport emerging over the next seven days. This Climate Reanalyzer snapshot is at the 120 hour mark. Note Arctic positive temperature anomalies at +1.18 C. Will the pattern override potential negative feedbacks such as high fresh water content in the Arctic and unfavorable weather likely produced by the late emergence of temperatures above 0 C in the 80 North Latitude zone? Image source: University of Maine.)

Overall, it is a weather pattern that shows promise to increase melt, especially in the regions of the Canadian Archipelago and the East Siberia Sea, and to speed ice mobility and transport. Persistent lows near the central Arctic for the first half of this period and shifting toward Svalbard during the latter half will continue to disperse sea ice which may lend one potential ice resiliency feature to a pattern that is, otherwise, favorable for ice loss.

Negative Feedbacks and Weather Unfavorable For Melt

If the melt pattern described above comes to impact the ice and push greater rates of sea ice loss over the coming days and weeks, it’s likely that end season 2014 will end up with sea ice measures below those of 2013, but above the previous record lows seen during past years. This would likely put 2014 well within the range of the post 2007 era at 3rd to 5th lowest on record for most monitors. Not a new record year, but still well within the grips of the death spiral.

If, however, the weather predicted does not emerge or the sea ice retains resiliency through it, then 2014 stands a chance of pushing above final levels seen in 2013. In such an event, end season area and extent measures may challenge levels last seen during 2005 while sea ice volume maintains between 4th and 5th lowest.

If this happens, we may need to start asking this question:

Are negative feedbacks, in the form of greatly increased freshwater flows from rivers and glaciers, starting to pull the Arctic sea ice out of a high angle nose dive and are they beginning to soften the rate of decline? Or is this just a year when weather again wagged the dog as natural variability played a trump card for the summer of 2014 but further drives for new records will follow come 2015, 2016, or 2017?

In any case, near-term sea ice forecasts remain somewhat murky, as they should given the high instability of the current situation.

Links:

Science Daily

Now Melts the Arctic

The Arctic Ice Blog

NSIDC

LANCE-MODIS

University of Maine

PIOMAS

Cryosphere Today

Dark Snow

 

 

 

 

Warm Winds Gather to Invade the Arctic: Summer Sea Ice Melt and The Storms of 2014

If there’s an aspect of global warming science that remains unsettled, it’s the general state of prediction and analysis over the fate of Northern Hemisphere sea ice. As is well known by now, model predictions greatly underestimated the pace of sea ice loss as a response to human-caused warming. Big melt years like 2007 and 2012 brought sea ice extent and area, by end 2012, to less than 50% of 1979 values. Sea ice volume for the same period was nearly 80% lower than 1979 measures. Such lows were generally not predicted to appear until the 2060s at the earliest.

Ice response to rapid human warming and polar amplification, in these cases, was, for lack of a better description, outrageously stunning. And the weather impacts of such amazing losses were increasingly dangerous and far-reaching. Climate systems inertia, in the case of sea ice, seemed to be no match at all for the strong and likely unprecedented warming forces we’d already unleashed.

Sifting through the sea ice tea leaves

Though much of what happened was and continues to be unexpected, a few overall patterns emerge in the data. Dynamic melt trends for area and extent were composed of massive melt years (2007 and 2012) followed by pseudo recovery years (2008, 2013) where the ice seemed to bounce back a little before inching again toward previous record lows (2009, 2010) or setting minor new melt records (2011 area) before the next big hit.

Sea ice volume measures were somewhat less messy with massive melt years (2007, 2010), more minor melt years (2011, 2012), one minor pseudo-recovery year (2008) and one major pseudo-recovery year (2013). In this set, one year (2009) stands out as neither showing a new record low volume nor showing pseudo-recovery as end season volume fell off slightly from the previous year. The fact that 2009 followed a pseudo-recovery year (2008) may or may not be instructive for the current melt season.

It is worth noting that in the volume progression, four out of seven years during the 2007 to 2013 period all showed new record lows.

Piomas Minimum Arctic Ice Volume

(Graph of minimum Arctic sea ice volume as measured by PIOMAS since 1979 with various trend line projections. Data source: PIOMAS Image source: Wipneus.)

What one can read from these data points is that strong pseudo-recovery years (like 2013 and 2008) have typically been followed in recent years by a return to the decline trend but not to new record lows. So, statistically, this is what we would expect for 2014.

That said, keep in mind that though it remains extraordinarily difficult to predict end sea ice states for any single year, the overall trend of major and unprecedented melt is most likely to continue and the window for a total sea ice loss by end season before 2020 remains wide open. Further, statistical analysis will, in every case, bow to emerging conditions on and beneath the ice.

Evolution of the early 2014 melt season

For the 2014 melt season, the fickle Arctic does not at all disappoint. By late April and early May of 2014, an extraordinarily warm winter period had wiped out most of the 2013 recovery in sea ice volume measures. By mid April, PIOMAS was showing volume in the range of second or third lowest year on record for the date.

By today, May 12, sea ice area and extent measures were in the range of 4th to 5th lowest on record with both measures approximately mirroring 2007 values for the date.

Given the potential for very rapid melt during June and July, as displayed in recent melt years, these values are within striking distance of new record lows should the weather conditions for rapid melt emerge.

Observed conditions for early to mid May 2014

It is worth noting that May does not generally tend to be a predictive month for sea ice loss. In most cases, it is more a bottleneck period where values tend to crunch together as the sea ice softens up but generally shows few breaks toward the more rapid melt trends typically seen in June or toward a slower melt due to weather that is less favorable for ice degradation.

That said, a few currently ongoing conditions may provide some strong indicators for how the 2014 melt season could progress.

High amplitude Jet Stream waves through Eastern Siberia, the Bering Sea and Alaska. A doggedly persistent weakness in the polar Jet Stream along an arc from East Siberia to Western Canada has resulted in much warmer than usual conditions for the Bering Sea, the Chukchi Sea and regions of the Beaufort adjacent to the Alaskan and Canadian coasts. Warm air originating over a pool of much hotter than normal water in the Northern Pacific just south of Alaska has continued to flow up through the Bering Sea, into the Chukchi, and over Alaska and Western Canada and on into the Beaufort.

Tracking this warm air flow resulted in a bit of incredulity as day after day observation showed the air continuing on through the Beaufort, past the North Pole zone, down over Svalbard and the Fram Strait, into the North Atlantic and finally being swept east in the strong cross-ocean wind pattern toward England and Ireland. In this way, air from 40 North Latitude in the Pacific jumped the pole to end up in the Atlantic near England.

A persistence of this weather pattern would have numerous and potential critical impacts for the Arctic during the summer of 2014. First, it would result in a constant pressure of warmer than usual conditions for sea ice along an arc from the Mackenzie Delta and Adjacent Canadian Arctic Archipelago to the East Siberian Sea. Warm winds would assault the ice from launching pads over warmer land masses in this zone, resulting in increased and early ice erosions.

Already, we can see such conditions emerging in the following MODIS satellite shots provided by NASA:

Mackenzie Delta May 11, 2014

(The Mackenzie Delta [upper left] and adjacent Canadian Archipelago waters. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

The above image shows the Mackenzie Delta and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago on May 11 of 2014. In these images, we can seen the result of continued warm winds from the south and near-or-above freezing temperatures. For the Mackenzie Delta, temperatures since early May have ranged between 23 and 42 F, or between 5 and 25 F above average for this time of year. The high temperatures have brought the snow melt line all the way to the coast very early and have resulted in both ice melt and retarded refreeze in the broken ice and large polynyas offshore in the nearby Beaufort. Note that an additional heat influx to these coastal waters will occur once the shallow Mackenzie River fully melts, likely resulting in the early break-up of land-fast ice near the delta.

Chukchi Beaufort Melt May 11, 2014

(The Chukchi and Beaufort Seas on May 11, 2014 from the Bering Strait [upper left] to past Barrow, Alaska [lower center]. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Further along the Canadian and Alaskan coasts, we find a continuation of sea ice weakness and break up in the off-shore regions north of Barrow Alaska and on into the Chukchi Sea. Large polynyas remain open throughout the region and exhibit no refreeze in the open water sections. Past the Bering Strait zone, Chukchi melt is very well advanced for early-to-mid May due to a combination of near constant warm southerly wind influx and an advancing warm water wedge through the Bering Strait.

This warm wind pattern through Eastern Siberia, Alaska and Canada and into the Arctic Ocean is reinforced by a combination of ongoing factors including a weakened polar Jet Stream which has tended to generate high amplitude ridges in this zone, a very warm pool of water in the Northern Pacific south of Alaska, and an emerging El Nino which historically has tended to push a high amplitude split in the Jet Stream up toward Alaska. These self-reinforcing factors make it likely that the overall pattern of warm southerly winds over the region will continue to persist and have an impact well into summer.

Finally, it is worth noting that the current and ongoing warm air influx through this region provides a constant source of energy for Arctic storm genesis, a factor that may well become more significant as melt season progresses. Forecasts for the next 24 hours show a storm pulling warm, above-freezing temperatures deep into the Beaufort as it begins a transition toward the northern polar zone. It is the second system to exhibit such anomalous warm air inflow and progression into the Central Arctic during the month of May.

GFS Warm Storm

(GFS model summary showing warm storm with associated above-freezing temperatures invading deep into the Beaufort Sea during late Monday and early Tuesday of this week. Image source: University of Maine.)

A third warm air invasion, this time from Eastern Siberia, and potential related storm development is also projected for late this week or early next week.

The Arctic dipole: storms over the Arctic Basin, high pressure over Greenland. Today, we track three Arctic low pressure systems — one emerging from the warm air influx over the Beaufort, one over the Laptev and one north and east of Svalbard. Greenland, meanwhile, shows a high pressure system centered almost directly over its large ice sheet. The net effect of these lows and highs is to funnel the warm wind streaming up from the Beaufort over the Northern polar zone near the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and out over the Fram Strait and Svalbard.

It is a dipole of high pressure over Greenland and low pressure over the Arctic Basin on the Central and Eastern Siberian side that has lasted for about two months through Northern Hemisphere Spring. This set-up creates a strong and consistent wind pressure providing transport of sea ice out of the Fram Strait. It is worth noting that Fram Strait export was one of the primary factors involved in the record low sea ice total seen during 2007, so a consistent dipole pattern of storms over the Arctic basin and highs over Greenland promoting ice export could well weigh heavily as melt season progresses.

Warming over Western Russia and Eastern Europe. A second zone showing consistent ridge development, polar Jet Stream weakness and coincident anomalous warming has emerged over western Russia and Eastern Europe. Such warming was seen during the weak El Nino of 2010 and resulted in severe heatwaves and wildfires for the region. A similar pattern has emerged in tandem with the rising and potentially far stronger 2014-2015 El Nino currently developing in the Eastern Pacific. Though it is too early to tell if this emerging hot zone will reach the extremes seen in 2010, this heat pool is likely to contribute warmth to sea ice zones in the Kara and Laptev Sea as the summer melt season progresses.

So far, Kara sea ice retreat has remained within usual boundaries for recent years. However, it is worth considering the potential strength of this developing warm air pool and how it may impact adjacent Arctic zones as May progresses into June. This week’s forecast now shows above-freezing temperatures predicted to progress into the Kara and 50 degree F readings predicted to push into estuaries bordering the Kara over the next few days.

Warm water upwelling, north wind flush, storm suction for Baffin Bay. Finally we come to Baffin Bay, a place many may well consider the Arctic Ocean’s red-headed stepchild. Over recent years, warm water up-welling, possibly driven in part by sea-bed methane release, in Northern Baffin Bay has resulted in an almost constant weakness and erosion of sea ice. This condition creates a bizarre circumstance in which Baffin is often surrounded by warmer waters north and south by late spring. This year is no exception. In addition, a north wind now appears to be flushing Baffin Bay sea ice toward the North Atlantic. The result is an expanding zone of ice-free water along the West Coast of Greenland pushing toward a widening gap in the north of Baffin Bay near the Nares Strait.

To the south, a persistent storm has developed near an anomalous cool zone in the North Atlantic waters off of Newfoundland. This cold pool is likely a residual of the continued dipole, hot-west, cold-east temperature anomaly over North America which has increasingly been squashed toward Newfoundland with the emergence of summer. The cold North Atlantic pool is also likely fed by a rising outflow of fresh, cold water from Greenland glaciers as well as the Baffin Bay ice export already described. A growing Gulf Stream weakening is also well established for the region.

The persistent storm is fed by high temperature differentials in the dipole zone. It is one of the remnant storm systems of this winter’s epic assault on the coasts of Great Britain — a possible precursor to even more vicious storms this coming winter.

But, today, the storm is simply providing added suction to drain ice out of Baffin Bay.

Storm off Greenland and Newfoundland

(Like a drain in a massive bathtub: storm off Greenland and Newfoundland on May 12 reinforces northerly wind flow pulling sea ice out of Baffin Bay. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

A final word on Storms and Warm Winds

During late April, we talked a bit about the impact of early season melt ponds on end-season sea ice levels. For recent scientific studies have found that early season melt pond formation has a high correlation with new record lows in sea ice area and extent.

But given the current very thin and broken state of sea ice, it’s worth considering whether the rules for sea ice loss aren’t in the process of changing.

Ever since the 2012 melt season’s close, the Arctic Ocean has exhibited a very battered sea ice state. One featuring widely disassociated packs of broken and brittle ice riddled with a long and pervasive spidering of leeds. For large melt pond systems to develop, the ice pack needs to be relatively contiguous. But the recent ice pack shows very little continuity and could, instead, be said to basically lack integrity. Such a state may well prevent a degree of melt pond formation in areas in which the ice is more and more highly disassociated into floes. And it is this disassociated ice state that may be the current and future norm as sea ice continues to thin and weaken.

In addition, rising temperatures in and around the Arctic have resulted in increased atmospheric water vapor content, increased cloud formation, and increased storm presence during summer periods. This progression toward storminess is consistent with paleoclimate studies showing that ice-free or near-ice-free Arctic states were much stormier than the current one. In the event of an expected stormier Arctic, melt pond formation may well result less from direct solar insolation through clear Arctic skies and more from an increasing number of rainfall and warm fog events over sea ice.

Cyclonic pumping of warmer waters from below the ice pack into surface water zones and the mixing of waters by waves generated by storm winds is also likely to have a far greater impact on sea ice melt than seen in recent years. It is likely we saw a prelude to just such an event during the great, late-season Arctic Cyclone of 2012 which sent waves the size of houses roaring across the Beaufort Sea to batter and disassemble the already weakened sea ice.

In this dynamic and changing system, warm winds are also likely to play a much greater role. Jet Stream erosion, in such a case, unleashes warm southerly winds on the sea ice. The winds, being warmer, hold a higher water vapor content than was typical for the Arctic prior to the human warming insult. Encountering ice and cold water, the water vapor in the winds condenses to form fog. The latent heat in the water vapor is thus released to do work melting the sea ice and warming the sea surface. In such cases, a kind of snow and ice eating mist develops from the warm wind — a blow torch for the sea ice.

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

Dual Ridges Form Sea Ice Achilles Heel for Summer 2014

University of Maine

PIOMAS

Wipneus

Cryosphere Today

NSIDC

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

The Arctic Sea Ice Blog

The Storms of Arctic Warming

Arctic Warmth to Play the Spoiler? Ocean Surface, Atmosphere Show Anomalous Heat Spike in Advance of Predicted El Nino

Pacific Ocean monitoring stations around the world are now calling for a 50-67 percent chance of El Nino later this year. A warming of the Eastern Pacific that, should it emerge, is likely to result in record atmospheric and ocean temperatures as the human greenhouse gas heat forcing emerges, once more, from the oceans. But, so far, the Eastern Pacific remains in a somewhat cool ENSO-nuetral state. It is a trend that should lead to global atmospheric temperature averages somewhat hotter than the ocean surface. A trend that should not show ocean temperatures spiking, with atmospheric values rising at a slower rate.

But over the past week, according to both GFS model assessments and NOAA observational data, average global ocean surface temperatures have been surging.

sst.daily.anom1

(Sea surface temperature anomaly from the already warmer than normal 1971 to 2000 base period. Image source: NOAA.)

Large zones of well above average sea surface temperature now cover vast regions of the global ocean system so that anomalous heat now is plainly the dominant feature. Pools of hotter than typical water where averages range from 1 to 4 C above normal now appear off both coasts of South America, through the Indian Ocean between Africa and Australia, off the East Coast of the United States, south of Alaska and in a zone stretching from Norway to Svalbard. By contrast only small cool zones remain in the Eastern Pacific, in the passage between South America and Antarctica, in a swatch of the Tropical Atlantic near Africa, and in isolated regions of the Central and Western Pacific.

Arctic Warmth Drives Temperatures Higher

But the zone of hottest temperatures appear, according to GFS model data below, in the Arctic, where much of the surface waters and ice sheet are warmer than average by 4 C or more. This heat bleed from the Arctic Ocean tips Northern Hemisphere values far above average and is a primary contributor to Arctic atmospheric temperatures in the range of 3-4 C above average (1979-2000) for mid to late March.

During the past few days, the effect of this warm surface was enough to drive temperature anomalies for the oceans higher than .9 degrees Celsius above the 1979 to 2000 global average according to GFS observational data. Understanding that the 1979 to 2000 global sea surface temperature (SST) average was already about .28 C above the 1880s average, we are now seeing SST daily values in excess of 1.18 C above 1880s averages before El Nino comes into play.

TS_anom_satellite1

(Sea surface temperature anomaly for March 18, 2014 vs the, already warmer than normal, 1979-2000 average. Image source: University of Maine.)

Even more impressive are the sea surface temperature values seen during the past two days (March 17-18) — hitting a .99 C positive anomaly or +1.27 C above 1880s values.

For comparison, the global sea surface temperature average for 2013, according to the National Climate Data Center, was .42 degrees Celsius above the 1880s average and the hottest year for ocean surface temperatures, 2003, was .52 degrees Celsius hotter than the 1880s average. The average for the past two days, should the GFS observation stand, is +.75 above the highest annual average on record.

Daily values for even the entire ocean system can show rather large swings, but this high temperature trend is somewhat new and has been ongoing now for about a week.

Oceans dumping heat into the atmosphere without El Nino

By contrast, global atmospheric temperatures within the first two meters, according to the same GFS data, are, on March 18, .69 C above the 1979-2000 average. It is a reading .3 C below current sea surface temperature values. Yet it is also a reading about 1 C over 1880s values and about .3 C above annual global high temperature records set in 2010.

With ocean surface temperatures higher than 2 meter air temperatures, it appears the ocean is now dumping some of its latent heat back into the atmosphere through radiative transfer. This is a situation opposite of what has been observed for much of the past 13-14 years running when Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) went negative and the oceans underwent rapid warming as they sucked up atmospheric heat.

What we now observe in the preliminary GFS data is evidence that the ocean is dumping a bit of this stored and massive volume of heat back into the atmosphere. And we are seeing significant positive oceanic and atmospheric heat forcing well before any major level of Eastern Pacific Ocean warming and associated El Nino have come into play.

Links:

NOAA ESRL

University of Maine

National Climate Data Center

UCAR GFS

UCAR: El Nino or La Nada?

Arctic Heat Wave Sets off Hottest Ever Winter-Time Temperatures, Major Melt, Disasters for Coastal and Interior Alaska

Major melt in the midst of winter. Doesn’t sound quite right, does it? We tend to think of winter as the time of freezing, as the time of ice accumulation. Not the time of melt and thaw.

Now try this — major melt in Alaska in the midst of winter. Average temperatures 40 degrees hotter than normal in the midst of winter. Rainfall over snow and ice causing avalanches, major road blockages and ice dams to rivers in the midst of winter.

In this instance we have been transported from the somewhat odd into a reality that is completely outside of our previously ‘normal’ context. In this instance we are transported to a time that may well seem like the beginning of the end of the age of ice on planet Earth.

And yet this is exactly what is happening: one of the coldest regions on the planet is experiencing melt and related record heat in January.

For the state of Alaska, the consequences are a strange and freakish winter heat wave, one that features the extreme temperatures mentioned above. For the city of Valdez, as we shall see below, the situation is far more stark.

valdez-avalanche

(Massive Avalanche set off by rainfall, winter warmth, cutting off Richardson Highway to Valdez Alaska and forming a dangerous ice dam of the ironically named Keystone Canyon’s Lowe River. Image source: Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.)

Hottest ever Winter-time Temperatures for Alaska

On Sunday, a collapse event that flooded the Arctic with heat and ripped the polar vortex in half began. A freakish high amplitude ridge in the Jet Stream that had been pumping warmth over Alaska and into the Arctic for ten months running strengthened. The result was that many regions throughout the state experienced their hottest temperatures ever recorded for that day, month, or season.

Global Temperature Anomaly Reanalyzer

(Global Temperature Anomaly Data vs 1979-2000 mean with focus on Arctic for January 29. Note the extreme Arctic deviation of +5.58 degrees Celsius and the pool of 36+ F high temperature deviations still lingering over Alaska. Also note that global anomalies are +.32 C above the 1979-2000 mean which is, itself, about +.5 C above average temperatures during the 1880s, for a total of about +.82 globally. The above measure is an excellent illustration of both extreme polar amplification and very rapid warming coinciding with a strong negative Arctic Oscillation, related warm air influx, and polar vortex separation. Source: Climate Change Institute.)

According to reports from Weather Underground, Homer Alaska, for example, experienced an all time record high for the day of 55 degrees Fahrenheit, 4 degrees hotter than the previous all-time high set just a few years earlier. And Homer was just one of the many cities sitting in a broad region of extraordinary, 40 degree hotter than normal temperatures. A region extending from the interior to the southern and western coasts. Bolio Lake Range, about 100 miles south of Fairbanks in central Alaska, saw temperatures rocket to 60 degrees, just 2 degrees short of the all-time record high for any part of the state during January (the previous record high of 62 was set in Petersburg, nearly 700 miles to the south and east).

Typically colder high mountain regions also experienced record warmth for the day. A zone 10,600 feet above Fairbanks hit 32 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday, the highest temperature ever measured for this region during any winter-time period from November through February.

Even before the most recent extreme Arctic temperature spike, January saw numerous powerful heat influxes for Alaska with Nome, Denali Park, Palmer, Homer, Alyseka, Seward, and Talkeetna each setting all-time record high temperatures during the month.

These records come on the back of a long period of rapidly increasing Alaskan heat stretching all the way back to the 1970s. In many cases, we are seeing all-time record highs broken with 5-10 year frequency. In the most extreme cases, these records fall again after only standing for 1-5 years.

Taken in this context, what we are seeing is the freakish continuation of an ongoing period of inexorable Arctic warming providing yet one more major insult to the Alaskan climate during the winter of 2013-2014.

Rain and Melt Sets off Major, Spring-like, Outflows From Streams and Rivers

The same anomalous Jet Stream pattern that has acted as a conveyer belt continuously transporting heat into the high north over Alaska has brought with it an almost endless series of rain events to coastal Alaska. Storm after storm, fueled by heat and high rates of evaporation over the northern Pacific, slammed into the Alaskan coastline, disgorging record levels of precipitation.

With temperatures freakishly high, mirroring conditions typically present during late spring or early summer, much of this precipitation fell in the form of rain. Valdez, Alaska, for example, has likely experienced its wettest January ever with rainfall measures just 1.35 inches short of the record on Sunday and a series of strong storms rushing into the city on Monday and Tuesday. Given the nearly endless train of storms lining up to sweep over Valdez, it is possible that its previous record of 15.18 inches for January could easily be surpassed by an inch or two at month-end.

The storms and cloudiness make it difficult to peer down and get a good view of what all this heat and rainfall is doing to the Alaskan snow and ice pack. But, for brief respite, on January 25th, just ahead of the most recent influx of rain and warmth, the clouds cleared, revealing the land and sea surface. And what we witness is extraordinary:

Alaska Melt Rain Sediment January 25

(Southern Coast of Alaska with major sediment outflow from snow and ice melt, record heat and rainfall in January 2014. Image source: Lance-Modis)

The entire southern coast of Alaska from Prince William Sound to Cook Inlet are visibly experiencing major snow and ice melt along with flooded streams and rivers flushing out a massive volume of sediment into the Gulf Alaska. Clearly visible in the satellite shot, the sediment now streaming into the ocean is more reminiscent of a major late spring flood event than anything that should be ongoing for Alaska in the midst of winter.

Yet here we are. A situation of continuous, never-before seen heat for Alaska during winter time bringing on a flooding thaw that is far, far too early.

Rainfall over Glaciers, Snow Pack Triggers Massive Avalanche that Cuts off Valdez

The constant assault of heat and record temperatures combined with an almost endless flow of moisture riding up from the Gulf of Alaska set off a devastating and freakish event near Valdez on Saturday. Severe and record rainfall over the mountain regions have continuously softened glacial ice and snow packs above this major Alaskan city. On Monday, the continuous insults of heat and water passed a critical threshold.

As the warm water filtered down through the colder snow and ice, the anchoring base was lubricated even as the capping snow grew heavily burdened with water. Eventually, the insults of heat and rainfall became too great and a major snow and ice slope system above the main road linking Valdez to mainland Alaska collapsed. The immense volume of snow and ice unleashed, spilling down to fill the base of Keystone Canyon, blocking both the Lowe River and the Richardson Highway running through it.

This snow and ice dam rose as high as 100 feet above the Canyon floor, causing the Lowe River to rapidly flood, inundating the already snow-and ice buried road under an expanding pool 20 to 25 feet deep and filled with ice-choked water.

You can see the massive avalanche-created ice dam and related road inundation in the video provided by akiwiguy below:

(video source: akiwiguy)

Warming-related rainfall events of the kind that has now cut Valdez off from the mainland are just one of the extraordinarily dangerous consequences of human-caused climate change. They are a phenomena linked to the massive glacial outburst flood that killed thousands in India this year together with other dangerous snow and ice melt events. Should such major heating and rainfall events impact Greenland and West Antarctica, the consequences could be even more extreme than what we are currently witnessing in Alaska.

Conditions in Context

In the context of our present extreme Jet Stream pattern that is setting off warmest-ever conditions for Alaska during January together with dangerous melt-outburst related events while at the same time periodically flushing Arctic air and extreme winter weather south into the United States, it is important to remember a few things. The first is that the Arctic is now experiencing never-before observed warmth with stunning frequency. Scientific papers now show that the Arctic is hotter than it has been for at least 44,000 years and possibly 120,000 years.

By comparison, the cold snaps, that could very well be seen as the death gasps of the Arctic we know, impacting the eastern US are relatively minor when put into this larger, more ominous context. Similar cold events were last seen about 20 years ago in the US. And so there is simply no comparison that can generate a rational equivalency between the, hottest in an age, Arctic temperatures and the, coldest in a few handfuls of years, temperatures in the Eastern US.

And if you’re one of those sensitive, perceptive souls who feels that the weather events you’re seeing, the extreme swings from very hot to somewhat cool temperatures, the extreme swings from drought to record rainfall, and the extreme events now accelerating the melting of the world’s ice and snow, are freakish, strange, and terrifyingly abnormal, then you are absolutely correct. Don’t let anyone, be they friends or family, or journalists in the media, tell you otherwise. There is reason for your discomfort and there is very serious cause for concern.

Links:

Colorado Bob’s Climate Feed

Weather Underground

NASA: Lance-Modis

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities

Climate Change Institute

Alaska All Time High For This Date, Warmer than Alabama

The Glacial Megaflood

Arctic Experiencing Hottest Temperatures in at Least 44,000 Years

Arctic Heat Wave to Rip Polar Vortex in Half

akiwiguy

NASA: September 2013 Hottest on Record Despite Somewhat Cool Eastern Pacific

According to NASA’s most recent global land and ocean surface temperature survey, September of 2013 was .74 degrees hotter than the 20th Century average. This measure ties September of 2005 as the record hottest. The difference between 2005 and 2013? 2005 was an El Nino year. A year when a large swath of the Eastern Pacific was dumping its heat content into the atmosphere. This year, the Eastern Pacific has remained somewhat cooler than normal, sucking a degree of atmospheric heat out and dumping it into the deeper oceans. But, despite what would normally be a drag on global surface heating, the world’s temperatures where the air contacts the land and the sea remain at or very near new record highs.

This situation is not cause for comfort or complacency. Nor is it one that indicates what has been termed a so-called ‘pause in global warming’ by so many ill-informed in the media. To the contrary, what we are seeing is that the natural variation of El Nino to La Nina — variations that for centuries and millenia have primarily governed to world’s periodic warm and cool spells — is slowly being overwhelmed by the human greenhouse gas forcing. What we are witnessing is ENSO neutral and La Nina years and months coming very close to and reaching record hottest temperatures.

So the rhetorical question we should all be considering is this: if we are experiencing record high temperatures now, when the Eastern Pacific is relatively cool, what happens to the global record when ENSO again starts to heat up? And, in any case, ENSO or no, it appears increasingly clear that more new record warm years are now in the offing.

NOAA Shows Global Temperatures at 4th Hottest

NOAA’s own set of temperature measures also show record heat, with worldwide temperatures ranging 4th highest for the month. The NOAA reading, which varies slightly to the NASA reading due to a difference in measurement methodology, follows a June measure in which the world ocean system tied 2010 for hottest on record.

NOAA Sep 2013 Temps large

(Image source: NOAA)

NOAA’s global temperature map found hotter than average readings covering much of the globe throughout September. Record hottest regions blanketed Australia, Iran and Afghanistan, a large section of the Arctic Ocean north of Scandinavia, and smaller, more isolated patches around the globe. No region experienced record coldest temperatures. The only concerted regions experiencing cooler than average temperatures include a section of Siberia and Central Russia, and a region of the Southern Ocean between South America and Antarctica. The Eastern Pacific, which drives ENSO, remained cooler than surrounding waters at near or just below the 20th Century average.

Between the NOAA and the NASA temperature measures, it remains clear that record or near record warmth continues to dominate the global climate with pools of hottest ever recorded temperatures continuing to drift over the world. Given the increasing warmth, despite no El Nino, it appears possible that, should El Nino not arise within the next 3-5 years (unlikely given a long history of variation), the world will achieve new record warm years without it. And such an event would be yet one more that is without precedent.

Too Soon to Call For El Nino’s Return

Nov 3 sst.daily.anom

(Image source: NOAA)

A pool of slightly cooler than average water over a moderate stretch of the Eastern Pacific during early November belies a continuing trend of ENSO neutral or La Nina leaning conditions. This pattern has dominated throughout much of the past two years and, currently, shows few signs of abating. As one can see from even the most cursory analysis of the image above, the global ocean system, despite the slight coolness in the Eastern Pacific, remains significantly warmer than the already warmer than average period of 1971-2000 which provides the base set for the above NOAA graphic.

The Hot Late Summer/Early Fall Arctic

One final driver to global heating during the months of September and August of 2013 appears to be a very warm late summer and early fall Arctic. Temperatures between the latitudes of 65 and 75 degrees North have been particularly warm with near record hottest and record hottest temperatures experienced in Scandinavia, regions of the Arctic Ocean north of Scandinavia, high north-west Canada, and Alaska. The Arctic Ocean in a zone between 70 to 75 North has experienced much warmer than normal conditions as sea ice remains between 4th and 6th lowest on record in all the various measurements.

Meanwhile, temperatures above the 80 degree North Latitude line, though not hitting the same record variances are regions nearer the Arctic Circle, showed temperatures ranging between 2 and 5 degrees Celsius above average for the months of September and October. This dumping of ocean and land heat into the Arctic environment, which slows the cooling of the Northern hemisphere into winter, has become an increasingly dominant weather phenomena over the past 5 years. It is also an event that has coincided with record loss of sea ice which has become particularly pronounced since 2007, with some years showing as much as 80% loss of sea ice volume and more than 50% losses of sea ice area and extent since 1979.

The resulting cooling lag in the Arctic during the months of August, September, October and November have, likely contributed to near record warm months globally during August and September of 2012 and 2013, despite La Nina or ENSO neutral conditions. This somewhat ominous signal shows that ENSO is in the process of gradually being over-ridden by other factors.

Climate models have indicated that the Arctic would be the first section of the globe to experience very rapid and pronounced warming under human greenhouse gas forcing and the related and powerful feedbacks of Arctic albedo loss and environmental greenhouse gas emission (methane and CO2). And with summer Arctic temperatures, in some regions, measuring their hottest in more than 40,000 years and with worldwide CO2 levels pushing toward their highest levels in 3 million years, it appears we are, sadly, at just the very beginning of such a dangerous and powerful warming trend.

Links:

NASA Global Land Surface Temperature Index

NOAA Global Analysis September 2013

NOAA Global Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly

Arctic Ice Graphs

Hottest September on Record

Unprecedented Recent Summer Warmth in Arctic Canada

Smokey Arctic Cyclone Sets Sights on Central Arctic; PIOMAS Shows Sea Ice Volume 4th Lowest on Record

Smokey Arctic Cyclone on August 6, 2013

Smokey Arctic Cyclone on August 6, 2013

(Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

A strong, 980 mb cyclone formed over the Laptev Sea today, pulling in a dense coil of smoke from Siberian wildfires raging to the south and setting its sights along a path that will bring it through waters filled with a slurry of broken ice, passing over the North Pole, and then heading on toward the Fram Strait.

Unlike the Sudden Arctic Cyclone of late July, the new Smokey Arctic Cyclone is strengthening over a region of open water in the Laptev Sea before it begins its passage over a broken ice pack. This will allow the storm to develop more fetch and wave action before it encounters the sea ice. Though not as strong as the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012, this Smokey storm is likely to pack 25-40 mph winds over large expanses of water and ice, applying wave action to a greatly diffuse and weakened film of thin ice. Though Ekman pumping and mixing of cold surface layers with deeper, warmer layers will likely have some impact on ice — thinning and dispersing it further — it remains to be seen if this storm will be strong enough to have a decisive influence on final melt for the 2013 season.

The storm is, however, moving through an area of very weakened ice even as it pulls a flood of warmer, rougher water along with it. And it remains to be seen what, if any impact, soot pulled in from the Siberian wildfires will have on the ice. Solar insolation is steadily falling as we move on into August. That said, the angle of the sun is still high enough to have some added impact should soot-laden precipitation fall.

The ice state, which has seemed weak and diffuse all summer appears especially vulnerable now.

Smokey Cyclone Broken Ice

(Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

Cracks and large sections of open water riddle the thin ice in a wide stretch from the Chukchi Sea, running through a portion of the Beaufort and then turning on toward the open water in the Laptev. So it will be interesting to see how much this storm affects this section of ice. As the storm is predicted to move on through the Central Arctic and then spend a day or two churning near the Fram Strait, it may also give the thick ice a bit of a late-season nudge.

Party like it’s 2009?

Overall, the storm would have to be a very extreme event to drive the current melt rate to near 2012 levels. Both sea ice extent and area are currently tracking near 2008 and 2009 while sea ice volume, as of mid-July, was just a hair above the third lowest year — 2010. Though it is still possible, given the sea ice’s very fragile state, that 2013 could still hit record lows this year, the likelihood, with each passing day, grows more remote.

PIOMAS Mid-July 2013

PIOMAS Mid-July 2013

(Image source: PIOMAS)

So, at this point, it is worth considering that 2013 may be a counter-trend year. Most of the record heat and warmth associated with human caused warming has been confined to a region of the high Arctic land masses between 55 and 70 degrees north. In this zone, we’ve seen an ominously large number of heatwaves, where temperatures exceeded 90 degrees, along with wildfires spreading above the 60 degrees north latitude line. And though large areas of warmer than normal surface water temperatures invaded the sea ice, air temperatures have been at or slightly lower than average. This is a result of persistent cloudy conditions dominating during periods when solar insolation would have done its greatest damage to the ice sheet. Storms, which at times seemed to drive more rapid melt had the added effect of spreading out the ice, likely contributing to cooler air temperatures. These storms were not powerful enough to provide the energy needed to push 2013 into record melt territory. It is also possible that fresh water melt from the Greenland ice sheets — representing a large pulse of about 700 cubic kilometers last year — and from record or near-record snow melts on the continents surrounding the Arctic added some resiliency to the greatly thinned ice in the Beaufort.

These various conditions may be consistent with a combination of natural variability and a potentially emerging negative feedback from melting snow and ice. If 2013 does emerge as a counter trend year, though, it is no indication, as yet, that Arctic melt, overall, has slowed. 2012 was a powerful record melt year and one that occurred under far less than ideal conditions. It is just as likely that natural variability and human forcings will swing back in the other direction come 2014, 2015 or later as happened through the period of 2008 through 2012.

All that said, it is still a bit premature to call the 2013 melt season. We have a storm laden with smoke from the immense Siberia fires on the way and large regions of sea ice remain very fragile. As ever, the Arctic is reluctant to give up her secrets, especially under the assaults of human warming.

Smokey Storm 980 MB

Smokey 980 mb Cyclone churns through the Laptev

(Image source: DMI)

Links:

The Arctic Ice Blog

NSIDC

Arctic Heat: Wildfire Smoke Blankets Siberia, Alaska Shatters Temperature Records, Arctic Ocean Heat Sets off Large Algae Bloom

Siberian Wildfires July 31

Smoke from Siberian Wildfires now covers most of Arctic Russia. Image source: Lance-Modis.

There’s a lot of noise these days over the issue of global warming and human caused climate change. The static includes the intransigence of industry supported climate change deniers, a great confusion over climate context within some wings of the media, a number of increasingly personal attacks on the messengers — scientists, journalists, bloggers, and emerging threats experts — who communicate critical information related to climate change, and even a degree of professional disagreement within the sciences and among experts over key issues such as the potential rate of global methane release due to human warming.

(Read an excellent Guardian article about this debate here)

Despite all the vitriol, controversy and confusion, the signal coming from the Earth System couldn’t be clearer — the Arctic is showing every sign of rapid heat amplification and related emerging feedbacks and environmental changes.

The Arctic ring of fire

Over the continents circling the warming Arctic Ocean, a band from about 70 degrees north to about 55 degrees north, has increasingly erupted into heatwaves and massive wildfires. This year, huge fires blanketed both Canada and Russia, with a recent very large outbreak spreading over Siberia.

Over the past two weeks, numerous wildfires roared through Arctic tundra and boreal forests alike over a sprawling swath of northern Russia. These blazes rapidly multiplied to nearly 200 fires, covering most of Arctic Russia in a pallor of thick, soupy, smoke. The smog cloud blanketing Siberia now stretches nearly 3,000 miles in length and 1,500 miles in width, covering an immense slice of the Arctic and adjacent regions. The fires coincided with a large methane pulse that sent local readings to nearly 2,000 ppb, almost 200 ppb above the global average. Whether these higher methane levels were set off by a prolonged Arctic heatwave that has settled over Siberia since June or were tapped by the fires’ direct contact with thawing tundra remains unclear. But tundra melt and related carbon release, almost certainly set off by far above average temperatures for this Arctic region, clearly resulted in conditions that favored a heightened level of emission (You can track current global methane emissions through the excellent site: Methane Tracker.)

These massive blazes continued today with the most recent Modis shot showing a rash of red hotspots beneath a thickening ceiling of smoke:

Russia Fires July 31

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

Hat tip to the ever vigilant Colorado Bob for the new fire shot.

Arctic wildfires are an important and dangerous feedback to a warming polar climate. The fires produce soot that traps additional heat in the air while aloft and through reduction in the albedo of the surfaces it rains down upon. If the soot ends up on ice sheets, it can greatly amplify the summer sun, chewing large holes and accelerating melt (the Dark Snow Project is studying this highly worrisome dynamic). The fires also render carbon stocks locked in both the forest and the tundras through direct burning. As such, the fires result in a major extra CO2 emission source. The current fire in Siberia also appears to be exaggerating methane release from thawing tundra as large methane spikes appeared in the fire affected regions.

The result is that more heat is locked into an already vulnerable Arctic and global environment.

Alaska shatters temperature records

Meanwhile, across the Arctic, Fairbanks reported its 14th straight day of above 70 degree temperatures, shattering the previous record of 13 days running back in 2004. The Arctic location has also seen 80+ degree weather (Fahrenheit) for 29 days so far this summer and 85+ degree weather for 12 days this summer. The record for 80+ degree days is 30 during a summer and the previous record for 85 + degree days was 10 days. A ‘usual’ Alaskan summer only saw 11 80 degree days, with the current number for 2013 nearly tripling that mark.

So Fairbanks has shattered two summer high temperature duration records and is now closing in on a third. Since predictions call for high 70 to low 80 degree weather for at least the next few days, it appears likely that this final mark will fall as well. The Alaskan heat is expected to continue through at least this weekend after which temperatures are expected to fall into, the still above average, lower 70s.

Given these record hot conditions in Alaska, one has to wonder at the potential for fires to erupt in this region as well. An outbreak of large fires spread through the region in June. But compared to Canada and Russia, which have both seen major fire outbreaks, Alaska has been relatively quiet. Methane Tracker shows little in the way of 1950 ppb or higher readings over Alaska at the moment. But this is an uncertain indication to say the least.

The current Arctic Weather Map shows broad regions of warm to hot daytime conditions throughout much of the Arctic. Areas of highest temperatures are located in Alaska, Northwestern Canada, Siberia and Northern Europe. These Arctic heatwave conditions have persisted throughout the summer of 2013, drifting in a slow circle along with their related heat domes and high amplitude Jet Stream pulses.  So far, these conditions have shown little evidence of abating.

Alaska Canada Daytime Aug 1 Russia Europe Daytime August 1

The above images show respective daytime temperature forecasts provided by Arctic Weather Maps. Areas in red indicate temperatures ranging from 77 to 86 degrees. The first image shows daytime in Alaska and Canada for Thursday, August 1. The second image shows predicted daytime temperatures for Siberia and Europe for the same date.

Arctic Ocean heat anomaly soars

In addition to an immense rash of wildfires belching enormous plumes of smoke that now cover most of Northern Russia and record-smashing high temperature streaks in Alaska, we continue to see a rising heat temperature anomaly over a vast region of the Arctic Ocean. A broad stretch of sea area shows .5 to 1 degree Celsius above average sea surface temperatures. This region includes the Central Arctic Basin which has seen broad, anomalous areas of much thinner, more dispersed sea ice coverage. Isolated regions are showing temperatures in the range of 2 to 4 degrees Celsius warmer than average with the hottest region over the Barents and the Kara Seas near Norway and northern Russia.

sst.daily.anom

(Image source: NOAA)

The region where the highest heat anomaly measures have appeared also shows a very large green algae bloom. This oil slick like region is clearly visible in a freakish neon off-set to the typically dark Arctic waters. Higher ocean heat content and added nutrients increasingly fuel these kinds of blooms which can lead to fish kills and ocean anoxia in the regions affected. This particular bloom is very large, stretching about 700 miles in length and 200 miles in width along a region near the northern coast of Scandinavia.

Algae Bloom North of Scandinavia

Very large algae bloom north of Scandinavia. Image source Lance Modis.

As the oceans warm due to human caused climate forcing, there is increasing risk that large algae blooms and increasing regions of ocean anoxia will continue to spread and grow through the world ocean system. In the more extreme case, the current mixed ocean environment can turn into a dangerous stratified anoxic ocean environment. Past instances of such events occurred during the Paleocene and during ages prior. Oceans moving toward a more anoxic state put severe stress on numerous creatures inhabiting various ocean levels and is yet one more stress to add to heat-caused coral bleaching and ocean acidification due to increasing CO2 dissolution.

Ocean mixing is driven by the massive ocean heat and salt conveyors known as the thermohaline circulation. Slowing and changing circulation patterns can result in switches from a mixed, oxygenated ocean environment, to a stratified, anoxic state. Currently, a number of the major ocean conveyors, including the Gulf Stream and the warm water current near Antarctica, have slowed somewhat due to added fresh water melting as a result of human caused climate change.

Movement toward a more anoxic ocean state is an added stress on the world climate system and another of the myriad impacts set off by human warming. Though a complete switch from a mixed ocean to an anoxic ocean is still far off, it is an important long-term risk to consider. Perhaps one of the absolute worst effects of an unabated burning of fossil fuels and related carbon emissions by humans would be the emergence of a terrible primordial ocean state called a Canfield Ocean. But this is another, rather unsavory topic, likely worth exploring in another blog (nod to prokaryotes who has been fearfully hinting about risks associated with this particularly nasty climate mechanism on internet boards and in blogs and comments for years).

In the meantime, it’s worth considering the clear and visible effects of Arctic amplification currently in train: massive Siberian wildfires along with immense smoke plumes and troubling methane pulses, an ongoing Arctic heat wave that continues to break temperature records, and very high Arctic ocean temperature anomalies that are setting off massive algae blooms north of the Arctic circle.

Melt Puddles, Distant Open Water Visible at North Pole Camera 2

Melt Puddles North Pole Camera 2

(Melt Puddles and Distant Open Water at North Pole Camera 2 on July 13. Image source: APL)

With the emergence then fading of a ‘warm storm’ in late June and early July, then a subsequent set of intermittent storms and sunny days, all occurring in warmer than freezing conditions, central Arctic surface ice melt has continued to proceed apace.

This melt is now plainly visible at North Pole Camera 2 were a number of near-camera melt puddles have been forming and growing over the past few days. You can see these melt puddles clearly in the above image provided by the Applied Physics Lab through its North Pole Camera #2. The puddles, which were at first in the front field of the camera, have now expanded to cover about 105 degrees of the view provided. Smaller, darker melt spots also appear to have invaded behind the markers set around the camera.

In the distance, in the left-hand field of view, a larger section of dark water appears to have opened as well. This darker, open section, which has been an intermittent feature since late June, seems to have grown of late, with larger gaps appearing in this more distant section.

Uni Bremen Sea Ice July 12

(Image source: Uni Bremen)

Since early July, rapid extent and area melt have continued apace as a strong high pressure system formed over the Beaufort and a series of intermittent storms rushed through the Central Arctic via origins in the Laptev, Barents, Kara, and extreme North Atlantic. Central sea ice concentration has remained low due to damage during June’s PAC 2013 and now three melt tongues are plunging into the Arctic — one from the Chukchi, one from the Laptev and one from the Kara and a broad region all the way to the Fram Strait. More gradual melt is also proceeding from the Mackenzie Delta even as ice in the Canadian Archipelago gradually collapses. Hudson and Baffin Bays, as you can see in the above image provided by Uni Bremen are mostly cleared out. These conditions: three areas of rapid melt at the ice edge combined with continued low concentration, melting ice at the Arctic’s heart, represent high risk for further rapid melt through late July. This is especially due to the fact that many ice regions are now at risk of separation from the main ice pack or from surrounding by open water on three sides. Such circumstances usually enhance ice fragility and result in greater ice vulnerability to disruptive weather events come late summer. It’s a set of conditions we’ll explore more deeply in a blog I’m preparing for next week.

For now, though, it is sufficient to show that Central Arctic regions are still undergoing surface melt even though the forces driving rapid bottom melt and dispersal appear to have abated for the moment. We’ll also be keeping an eye on ECMWF forecasts which show a 985 or stronger low forming directly over the North Pole for a few days next week. Another warm storm potential that may have further impacts as sunlight has now had the opportunity to warm areas of water beneath the fractured ice.

Record Canadian Floodwaters Flow into Region of Arctic Ocean Radically Altered by Climate Change

Canadian Floodwaters Hit Mackenzie Delta

(Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

A record flood that inundated large regions of Canada last week is now sending a large pulse of silty water out through the Mackenzie Delta and into the Beaufort Sea. The pulse of floodwater is so large and bears so much silt that it has painted a wide section of the Arctic Ocean near the Mackenzie Delta brown.

You can see this major out-flow and brown coloration in the satellite image above, provided by NASA.

The fresh flood waters coming from the Mackenzie River are much warmer than the Arctic Ocean waters and the sea ice they contact as they push out from the continent. This flush of warmer water enhances sea ice melt even as it causes the local Arctic Ocean to heat up.

Large, warm flows of fresh water during spring and summer often initiate and enhance ice edge melt in the Arctic. They also rejuvenate the Arctic Ocean’s fresh water supply and, when combined with increasing glacial melt, serve to enhance the rate at which sea ice forms during fall and winter. The reason for this is that fresh water forms a protective layer keeping warmer, saltier water away from the ice even as it tends to freeze at a higher temperature than saltier ocean water. It is this combination of factors that is implicated in a temporary increase in sea ice coverage at the South Pole, even as atmospheric and ocean warming advance ice sheet melt there.

Since heat transfer to the Arctic Ocean from the continents via warm floods serves to increase ice melt rates in the summer season and since increasing flows of fresh water from both the continents (snow melt, increased summer storms) and glaciers (increasing rates of ice sheet melt brought on by human-caused warming) serve to enhance ice formation during the winter season, the Arctic is pushed to see-saw between record and rapid melt and rapid refreeze.

That said, an overall accumulation of heat in the Arctic Ocean has resulted in sea ice extent, area and volume decline during all seasons as the ice is unable to recover to past levels during winters. It’s just that the decline rate is fastest and most greatly amplified during summer.

The below graph, provided by Wipneus, displays this summer melt exaggeration:

Sea Ice Volume Losses Wipneus

(Arctic sea ice volume losses with trend lines. Image source: Wipneus)

Note the faster rate of loss during June, July, August, and September when compared to months during other seasons.

New Ocean Circulation Transfers Most Fresh Water to Beaufort

Increasing flows of fresh water via snow, glacial melt, and more rainfall has now met with strange changes to Arctic Ocean currents, wind patterns and circulation that, according to NASA, is both preserving some of the thermohaline circulation in the Arctic and pulling more fresh water into the Canada Basin and Beaufort Sea.

A visual presentation of these changes is provided by NASA below:

In its press release, NASA noted:

The transpolar drift (purple arrows) is a dominant circulation feature in the Arctic Ocean that carries freshwater runoff (red arrows) from rivers in Russia across the North Pole and south towards Greenland. Under changing atmospheric conditions, emergent circulation patterns (blue arrows) drive freshwater runoff east towards Canada, resulting in freshening of Arctic water in the Canada Basin (full press release here)…

Knowing the pathways of freshwater is important to understanding global climate because freshwater protects sea ice by helping create a strongly stratified cold layer between the ice and warmer, saltier water below that comes into the Arctic from the Atlantic Ocean. The reduction in freshwater entering the Eurasian Basin resulting from the Arctic Oscillation change could contribute to sea ice declines in that part of the Arctic.

NASA shows how changes in Arctic Ocean circulation have already re-distributed fresh water into the Beaufort Sea in the image below:

Fresh Water, Canada Basin

(Image source: NASA)

Higher concentrations of fresh water in the Beaufort would tend to preserve more sea ice there. Ironically, this ice is vulnerable to late-season melt due to its proximity to the North American Continent and away from the relative cool of Greenland. Higher salt water concentrations running from Greenland to the North Pole to the Laptev and then toward Wrangle Island would tend to enhance early season edge melt there.

Overall, this new distribution of fresh water combined with heat transfer into the Arctic Ocean via the continents makes it difficult to provide a case for long-term ice preservation under a regime of increasing human-caused warming. A fresh water cap near Greenland would have combined with cooler regional temperatures to preserve ice for longer periods there. Instead, we have the more resilient ice placed in close proximity to hot continental land rather than cold Greenland ice. Since these changes have yet to be fully understood, new reports will, hopefully, generate more clarity.

Emerging and amplifying flows of fresh water from both continents and glaciers along with changing Arctic Ocean circulation represent yet one more example of how human fossil fuel emissions are radically altering the Arctic. Though not quite as threatening as increasing releases from Arctic carbon stocks or as directly visible as an increasing number of heatwaves in the Arctic, these new pulses of fresh water, when combined with changing ocean circulation, are driving profound changes to the Arctic environment.

Links:

NASA/Lance-Modis

Wipneus

NASA

From Archangel to Alaska, Heatwaves, Extreme Weather Now Flank the Arctic

Arctic Heatwave June 26th

(Image source: Uni Koeln)

Yesterday in Alaska, as wildfires raged through interior regions, temperatures rose into the high 80s (Fahrenheit). Now, during relative night-time in the land of the midnight sun, lows are hovering around 70 in many places (near record daily highs for this time of year). Meanwhile, at the Arctic’s opposite end, temperatures in the region of Archangel, near the Arctic Ocean are in the range of 90 degrees. Nearby, Finland also sees temperatures rocketing up through the 80s as a Scandinavian heatwave that began in June reasserts itself.

The Arctic Heatwave: A Pervasive Feature for Summer 2013

The Arctic heatwave that started in Scandinavia then moved to Alaska and flared in Russia and Siberia has now become nearly ubiquitous. Record hot temperatures range the Arctic from shore to shore. These record heat invasions have been enabled by a combination of factors that include rising global greenhouse gasses, above average atmospheric methane and CO2 concentrations in the Arctic, and a rapid retreat of snow and sea ice cover that has enabled the Jet Stream to range further and further north, bringing temperatures from more southerly climates with it.

As a sample, atmospheric CO2 is now at about 403 parts per million at Barrow Alaska, while methane levels are around 1890 parts per billion. These levels are about 4 parts per million and 60 parts per billion above current global average CO2 and methane levels respectively. Higher levels of these heat trapping gasses in the Arctic are a direct result of environmental emissions sources including thawing tundra, melting permafrost, and destabilizing frozen methane on the Arctic sea bed. Together, these sources result in substantially higher levels of almost all greenhouse gasses over a broad range of the Arctic.

Extreme Jet Stream positions are also plainly visible today with a large, anomalous peak in the Jet Stream over Scandinavia and extending into Russia along with a fading, but still apparent, ‘heat dome’ high pressure system over central Alaska:

Extreme Jet Stream June 26

(Image source: California Regional Weather Service)

Both these features continue to bring much warmer than normal conditions in regions beneath their influence. The Scandinavian blocking pattern has been particularly persistent, with weather impacts stretching all the way back to early June. One last feature of note is a cut-off upper level low just off the Pacific coast of British Columbia. This particular low pressure system was the one that resulted in so much flooding over regions of Alberta and Calgary last week with rainy conditions persisting through today. A large band of clouds and rain storms continues to stream off this low, dumping more un-needed moisture over central Canada. Among today’s impacts was the flooding and shut-down of a meat-packing plant, yet one more ding to the world’s food supply.

ECMWF forecast models show this rough configuration of the Jet Stream remaining in place at least until July 6th when the Scandinavian blocking pattern begins to stage a major warm-air breakthrough to the Central Arctic. At the same time, a large trough of low pressure systems emerges again over regions of Alberta and northern Canada as a ridge of high pressure shoves what remains of PAC 2013 over Greenland and comes to take tenuous hold of the Central Arctic.

Forecast Model July 6

(Image source: ECMWF)

Note the above freezing 5,000 foot temperatures plunging all the way through the Central Arctic (which should translate to around 40-45 degree [F] surface temperatures). It is also worth noting the large pulse of warm air riding all the way up to the Canadian Archipelago ahead of the developing trough.

This forecast is still very far out, so we’ll have to keep watch for any changes. Yet given the history of summer 2013 Arctic weather, it appears likely that the ongoing extreme configuration of the Jet will result in more unusual events.

As a final, I’ll leave you with this picture of the expanding open water at Barrow, Alaska. Note that the off-shore ice has been gone since June 24th.

Open Water Barrow June 26

(Image source: Barrow Sea Ice Cam)

 

Links:

Uni Koeln

California Regional Weather Service

ECMWF

NOAA

Heatwave Sends Temperatures in Alaska to 94 Degrees. Large Pulse of Warmth Envelopes Beaufort, Chukchi, and East Siberian Seas.

Yesterday, temperatures in Prince William Sound hit upwards of 93 degrees. Communities there, including Valdez and Cordova, both set new record highs. Talkeetna hit 94 degrees, also an all-time record high for the date. Meanwhile, Seward hit a new record of 88 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures in the interior rose to between the mid 80s and lower 90s.

This pulse of heat was driven by a persistent bulge in the Jet Stream over the Pacific Ocean, the Western United States, and the Pacific Northwest that has been present since mid winter. The bulge has resulted in warmer than normal temperatures and drier conditions for much of the Western US while keeping temperatures warm for western Canada and Alaska. It is a blocking pattern implicated in the ongoing drought conditions in places from Colorado to Nevada and California. A pattern which sees 44% of the US still locked in drought.

Sunday and Monday, this blocking pattern enabled warm air to flood north into Alaska, setting off a record heatwave there. You may not think of 50 and 60 degree temperatures in Barrow, Alaska as a heatwave. But when average highs for June there are about 38 degrees, 50 and 60 degree weather is quite hot for this time of year.

Last Thursday saw temperatures in Barrow above 60 degrees. Today, so far, temperatures have risen to 52 degrees, though the high will probably not be reached for a few hours yet.

All this warmth is doing a number on sea ice in the region. As I posted yesterday, large, dark melt ponds and holes in the ice are now visible off Barrow. You can see them in the most recent Barrow Ice Cam shot below:

Barrow sea ice June 18

(Image source: Barrow Ice Cam)

Note the near-shore melt  as well as the large, dark holes forming and widening off-shore.

The pulse of warm air riding up into Alaska is common to a warmer air mass now pervading much of this region of the Arctic. As a result, above freezing temperatures have now invaded large sections of the Beaufort, Chukchi, and East Siberian Seas. This warmer air is causing melt ponds to form over the region leaving their tell-tale bluish tint in the satellite pictures.

Melt Ponds Beaufort, Chukchi, East Siberia

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

In the above image you can see this bluish tint covering about half of the Arctic Ocean area represented in the picture. Also note the large and rapidly expanding area of open water north of the Bering Strait and the large and expanding cracks over the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.

Ice of this color indicates a speckling of melt ponds and hints at the ongoing impacts of solar insolation on the sea ice. Warm conditions in this region have favored insolation for at least the past week. And persistent warmer, clearer weather is beginning to enable the sun to do some serious work on the sea ice.

Warmth is expected to continue for this area until at least next week. The latest long-range forecast from ECMWF shows above-freezing and even 50 degree temperatures plunging deep into this region of the Arctic all the way through late June.

Beaufort Warmth Late June

(Image source: ECMWF)

By June 28th we have 40 degree average temperatures extending far off-shore with above freezing temperatures covering much of this section of the Arctic. Melt in this region, therefore, is likely to be greatly enhanced as the sun is provided with an extended period during which to do its work.

Links:

Heatwave Sets Records Across Alaska

Barrow Ice Cam

Lance-Modis

ECMWF

Persistent Arctic Cyclone 2013 Churns On, Shattering Central Arctic Sea Ice as Arctic Interior Continues to Warm.

Today, clouds parted enough over the Central Arctic to give us a visual of the ongoing damage inflicted by 2013’s Persistent Arctic Cyclone (PAC). And the damage, as we can see in the images below is extensive.

For comparison, I have provided this shot, taken on May 26th, just as the PAC was beginning to ramp up. Note how pristine and mostly crack-free the ice looks in this satellite shot. Though areas of leads and cracks exist, they are comparatively minor, small, and diffuse.

ArcticCentralBasinBeforeMay26

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

Today’s most recent Lance-Modis shot shows conditions that are radically different. Note the broad, black spider-web of cracks that has come to dominate this large region of the Central Arctic Ocean. The only places where these large, angry cracks aren’t visible is in areas still covered by dense cloud:

ArcticCentralBasinAfterJune13

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

Uni-Bremen sea ice concentration assessments have now been showing confirmation of the storm’s thinning action for more than a week. Today’s concentration graphic provides yet one more validation of central area sea ice losses.

PACBremenarctic_AMSR2_nic

(Image source: Uni-Bremen)

This is the wreckage 18 days of constant pounding has inflicted upon some of the Arctic’s most resilient sea ice. One doesn’t have to think too hard to imagine what another 18 days of such pounding may look like. The Navy CICE/HYCOM model run further on in the post gets us less than half-way there. And weather forecast models show PAC 2013 remaining in the Central Arctic at least until Wednesday of next week.

PAC Positioned Near Warm Air Influx

PAC2013PressureJune13

(Image source: DMI)

The current pressure map shows the cyclone centered near the North Pole. Incorporated in its circulation are two weaker storms — one near the Kara Sea, the other over the East Siberian Sea. Lowest pressures are in the range of 990 mb.

Over the past few days, warmer air has been flowing into the Arctic from the region of Alaska and Kamchatka. This warmer air is embedded throughout the Arctic and is, largely incorporated into the circulation of our cyclone. So a substantial portion of the Central Arctic shows above freezing temperatures at this time:

PACtempsJune13

(Image source: DMI)

Model forecasts show this warm air influx continuing to grow over the next week with above freezing temperatures covering larger portions of the Central Arctic as time moves forward. Above freezing temperatures are rather common this time of year. What is less common is for cold-core Arctic storms to host such temperatures, even during summer time.

A Constant Influx of Storms

One of PAC 2013’s unique features is its ability to consistently gobble up smaller storms. Storm after storm has arisen from the south, only to be subsumed by the Persistent Arctic Cyclone. This constant infusion of energy from the south is, likely, one of the features that has allowed PAC 2013 to last as long as it has.

Model forecasts show this trend continuing until at least June 19th. At that time, the cyclone is shown to transition to the Canadian Archipelago, as weaker storms trail along through the Central Arctic behind it. This projected storm track brings PAC 2013 on a path directly through a region of the Arctic’s thickest ice just north of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

Throughout this period, PAC 2013 is expected to maintain a strength between 990 and 1000 mb — about the intensity of a moderately strong tropical cyclone, but diffused over a much larger area. Current projected storm track and strength show that it may pose a risk to fracture, disperse, and thin a section of ice that has been, thus far, left relatively unscathed.

Here is the ECMWF model forecast showing the storm’s predicted position on June 18th:

PAC2013June18

(Image source: ECMWF)

That puts a moderately strong 995 mb storm directly over the thickest part of the ice pack sometime next Tuesday.

Fram Strait Export

The constant counter-clockwise motion of PAC 2013 has also begun to have a substantial impact on the remaining thick ice near Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago. Since late May, this region has shown a thinning at the edges and a consistent motion toward the Fram Strait.

This motion is plainly visible in the US Navy CICE model history and forecast from May 23 to June 20 (posted below). Note the large front of greens and yellows (denoting thicker ice) pushing steadily toward the Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard.

It is also worth mentioning that the amount of thinning forecast for a region from the North Pole to the Laptev Sea is astounding. Later days in the model forecast show this large region of thinning starting to wrap around the North Pole in the direction of Svalbard. The US Navy projects this region to include large areas of 0.75 meter thickness or less opening up in this region by June 20th. Bands of thin ice seem to be forming a ring pattern emitting out from the North Pole. A stunning effect more reminiscent of disaster movie graphics than actual weather forecast models. Should this forecast thinning emerge, it will be nothing short of remarkable.

PACforecastJune2013

(Image source: US Navy)

In conclusion, PAC 2013 continues. Though some models show the storm transitioning to the Canadian Archipelago by after June 20th, the storm appears likely to continue to impact one region of the Arctic or another for the time being. At 18 days, this is a very long-lasting storm, especially for early summer. Yet models show the potential for the storm to persist and continue to have impacts, having lasted at least 25 days by the end of some model runs.

Links:

Lance-Modis

Uni-Bremen

DMI

Arctic Ice Graphs

ECMWF

US Navy

Persistent Arctic Cyclone and The ‘Warm Storm’ of 2013: How Unusual is It? Is Central Ice-Thinning Normal? What are the Worst-Case Scenarios?

(Edited on June 18 due to the availability of new information. I also want to promote two excellent blog posts related to this subject. One, by Neven, over at the Arctic Sea Ice Blog, takes a closer look at the science of Perstistent Arctic Cyclones, the other, posted on the Daily Kos by FishOutOfWater, links PAC 2013 to the collapse of the polar vortex this past winter.)

*******

Yesterday, two commenters — Sourabh in this blog post and T.O.O. in this blog post — raised some very salient questions about 2013’s Persistent Arctic Cyclone (PAC). These commenters wanted to know how critical to melting is PAC 2013, is this the first time we’re witnessing thinning of the central ice due to a long-period Persistent Arctic Cyclone, and by ‘what conditions could the central ice be expelled from the Arctic Basin?’

I posted a short response to their comments here and here. But I wanted to take the time to explore their questions in greater depth. Hence, this blog post.

Long Duration Summer Cyclones Rare, But Not Unheard of

First, let’s take a look at the current PAC 2013, its forecast duration, and how it compares to other storms. For context, it is important to note that most cyclones in the Arctic basin last for 40 hours or less. By comparison, PAC 2013 began on about May 26th and has remained in the Arctic for about 16 days. Forecasts now show the storm persisting until at least June 21rst. If the storm lasts this long, it will have remained in the Arctic for 26 days.

Another comparison can be seen in the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012 (GAC). This storm was the 13th most powerful storm ever to impact the Arctic in the modern record. It lasted for about two weeks and reached a minimum central pressure of about 966 mb. The current PAC 2013, while lasting longer (and projected to last much longer) than GAC 2012, reached a lowest central pressure of around 975 mb while averaging in a range of 985 – 995 mb.

It is worth noting that Arctic cyclones are a year-round phenomena. And that more numerous, though somewhat weaker storms, have been noted to appear from May to July. That said, the strongest, longest duration storms usually occur during winter and can last for three weeks to a month or more. During summer, Arctic cyclones are weaker, pack less of a punch, and usually don’t last as long as winter storms. What makes PAC 2013 and GAC 2012 exceptional is the fact that they were both strong, long duration storms occurring during summertime and that they occurred under conditions of record thin Arctic sea ice.

There is some research to show that the strength of summer Arctic cyclones has been increasing since the late 1970s. These researchers show that increasing levels of moisture and higher temperatures around the Arctic during summer time have added fuel to the formation of new storms. Weather records do show the strength of the most powerful summer storms generally increasing with time.

Overall, PAC 2013, though somewhat weaker than GAC 2012 at peak strength, is projected to remain in the Arctic for a very long time. And with lowest pressures rivaling that of a moderate-strength tropical cyclone, it should continue to have substantial impacts — both to Arctic weather and to sea ice.

New Event: Storms that Melt Sea Ice

The Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012 was also unique because it was the first storm to have a major impact on Arctic sea ice. Though researchers have tended to disagree over how pivotal the storm was in reducing ice to the record low values achieved during 2012, it is generally accepted that the storm melted at least 250,000 square kilometers of sea ice during early August.

The storm achieved this feat by mixing the surface ice with warmer waters lying just beneath. Wave action and cyclonic pumping of warmer waters from the depths provided a powerful force for thinning and melting the surface ice. Though no direct research on sea ice volume losses due to GAC 2012 has been published, CICE images before and after the event speak to a major thinning as a result of the 2012 Cyclone.

Before:

GAC2012ThicknessBefore

After:

GAC2012ThicknessAfter

(Images From: US Navy)

Note the large areas of ice thinned into naught by the storm as it plowed through the East Siberian, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas. A region of central ice was also noticeably thinned during the storm.

We can, therefore, say with some confidence that it is the ice thinning forces of the storm which caused the loss of 250,000 square kilometers of sea ice attributed to its impacts. But we can also say that a visible and, as yet, undetermined volume of ice was also lost and that this loss substantially contributed to 2012’s record low status.

A similar situation is now present during PAC 2013. Substantial thinning is now visible in all the sea ice monitors, especially on the Russian side of the North Pole. But this event is different from GAC 2012 in that is occurring during June, a period of time in which the ice is thicker and more resilient. A period of time when air and water temperatures are relatively cooler. As a result, no where near as much in the way of sea ice area losses can yet be attributed to PAC 2013. I say ‘yet’ because this storm appears determined to stick around for the long haul. So we may see major area losses arise as a result of its action.

In any case, it is worth looking at before and after thickness maps to determine the level of damage caused by PAC 2013.

Before:

PAC2013Before

During:

PAC2013After

After?

PAC2013Jun18

(Images From: US Navy)

As is plainly visible from the above set of images, PAC 2013 has dramatically hollowed out the central sea ice. With at least another ten days of duration expected, we are still just in the preliminary phase of impacts. These should ramp higher as the days continue to progress. (Note, the last image was added on June 18th, two days prior to a possible cessation of the storm).

Both PAC 2013 and GAC 2012 are new events for the reason that they result in melt and weakening of sea ice. This is unprecedented because past storms did not generate measurable losses in summer (You can look at some of this research here and here). To the contrary, it was thought that the cloudier, cooler storms were generally protective. And this was true in a cooler climate. Now, strong storms have a potential to result in losses. And this new feature is an environmental condition brought about by human-caused climate change.

Is This the First Time We’re Witnessing A Summer Cyclone Thin the Central Ice in June?

Now that we have a little background on summer cyclones and how climate change has enabled them to both significantly thin and melt ice, we can confidently answer the question: is this the first time we’re witnessing a summer cyclone thin the central ice in June?

The short answer to this question is: yes.

In the satellite record, there is no precedent for a June storm melting and weakening the ice in the past. Though June storms have impacted and fragmented the ice before PAC 2013, this storm is the first powerful, long-duration event to have such a large, measurable melt effect in early summer. As noted above, past storms were thought to be defensive, resulting in a more resilient ice pack and less melt, overall, come end of summer.

In part, such widespread damage is due to the fact that the area currently influenced by the storm is so large — covering all of the Central Arctic. The other reason is the fact that the ice in this key region is supposed to be the most resilient to late summer losses. Instead, in early summer, we see damage and erosion.

Were the storm to end now, it would leave the central ice thinner and weaker to the assaults of late summer. But the storm hasn’t ended. It continues to churn and thin the ice even as temperatures rise.

It is possible that, if this storm lasts long enough, remains strong enough, and pulls in enough warm air, it could produce a large region of open water at the very center of the ice pack even as it shoves a large portion of the thickest ice toward the Fram Strait. Such an event would not only be unprecedented. It could be catastrophic.

Under What Conditions Could the Central Ice Be Expelled From the Fram Strait? Short Answer: Persistent, Warm Storm

So now we’ll address the nightmare scenario for this particular event. This expose is by no way a prediction. It is just an illustration of what the worst case, in this event, could look like. It is also, by no means, the only way we could lose all or most of the central ice. The ice, for example, could melt out under a sustained assault from the sun. The central ice could take a hit from a swift, powerful storm, then melt as warm air and sunlight moves in behind it. We won’t examine these and other cases. Instead, we’ll take a look at the worst case in the event of a long-lasting Persistent Arctic Cyclone that warms and churns throughout a good portion of summer.

The event could look something like this:

The Persistent Arctic Cyclone that emerged in late May continues on through June and into July. As the Arctic warms, more above freezing temperatures get wrapped into the storm. Eventually, much of the region it covers warms to a range of 0-6 degrees Celsius. Rain becomes a primary form of precipitation in the storm.

The added moisture, warmer cloud cover, and above freezing precipitation create a constant surface stress to the ice. Underneath, the constant churning pushes water temperatures above freezing due to an ongoing mixing of the cold surface layer with deeper, warmer waters. The combined result is an ice melting and thinning machine. By the end of June, a growing region of open water (concentration 20% and less) has emerged.

The open water is a breeding ground for powerful waves and a magnet for sunlight streaming down through periodic breaks in the clouds. This region of warmer water thrashes and bores through the ice as July advances, creating a pheonomena never before seen in the Arctic — a large, central region of open water surrounded by thinning ice. The result is ice edge melt occurring at the same time as central ice melt. From the cored out portion, an arm of open and or nearly open water begins to sweep around the Arctic, clearing away ice in its path. The arm extends to weakest areas of sea ice. A most likely candidate for this arm’s development is the Laptev Sea as there ice there has been weakest since start of melt.

These three factors would be devastating enough. But a fourth factor provides the coupe de grace: Fram Strait export.

The constant counter-clockwise motion of our warm storm has been shoving at the remaining thick ice anchored on Greenland and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago since early June. Increasingly, large volumes of thick ice are flushed out the Fram Strait. By end of June, as much as 10% of the thick ice has been exported. But this is just the beginning.

During late June and early-to-mid July, warm air invasions from the south have melted and thinned the Canadian Arctic Archipelago ice. Now thinning and fractures from this warming have advanced into the thick ice, weakening its anchor. During July, there is less resistance to the storm’s counter-clockwise motion so more and more thick ice ends up meeting its end through the Fram Straight.

By early August, the storm has lasted for an excessive period — nearly seventy days. But it still churns on, fed by an endless procession of storms and injections of warm, moist air from the south. In a final explosion of weather never before seen in the Arctic, much of the remaining thick ice is ejected, melted, or churned beneath a storm-tossed Arctic Ocean. By early September, the storm finally disperses, but little or no ice remains.

Conclusion

The above ‘Warm Storm’ scenario is pure speculation. We have no reason to believe the current PAC 2013 will last so long or will have such powerful effects. More likely, a still damaging but more moderate erosion of central sea ice combined with an enhanced Fram Straight export will occur. Should the storm last until the end of June, these damaging impacts will be more than enough to weaken the ice.

That said, should the storm last longer, then we will have an altogether unwelcome opportunity to test this ‘Warm Storm’ theory.

So we come at last, to answering the first question of our commenters:

How critical to melting is PAC 2013?

And the answer to this question will depend on the duration of the storm, its relative strength over time,  how much warm air is injected into it over the course of its life-span, and how much warm water it is able to dredge up from beneath it. At the very least it has already played a major part in early season melt. Should it last for a long duration, the story of 2013 melt may well become wrapped up into that of this particularly anomalous storm.

Links:

On Persistent Cyclones

Arctic Cyclones

Northern Hemisphere’s Polar Vortex has Collapsed Creating Persistent Polar Cyclone

2012 Arctic Cyclone

GAC 2013: Detachment

The Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012

August Arctic Cyclone was the Strongest Summer Storm on Record

The Summer Cyclone Maximum over the Central Arctic

Dramatic Inter-annual Changes of Perennial Arctic Sea Ice Linked to Abnormal Storm Activity

Powerful Arctic Cyclone Driving Record Sea Ice Melt

Arctic Cyclone Hangs On

The Big Thin Begins

US Navy

Persistent Arctic Cyclone Strengthens, Greenland Melts, Warm Air Building Around The Arctic

Before we go into a round-up of today’s Arctic sea ice conditions and melt forecasts, it’s important to note a few things. The first is that the Arctic has suffered an amazing loss of sea ice since 1979. An 80% volume loss and a 55% percent area loss over the past 33 years is an ominous event that will continue to impact our climate for years and decades to come. It is also a signal of how little resilience remains to the ice.

The Arctic, as such, bears deep and abiding scars inflicted by human-caused climate change. The sea ice remembers well these scars. Less energy will be needed to melt the ice than was necessary thirty, twenty, or event ten years ago. And the wounds inflicted in 2012 may prevent the Arctic from ever recovering to any state similar to the cold, frozen environment we once knew. Instead, we’ve entered a period of lasting damage and rapid change. A period where an extreme lack of resiliency is visible in nearly all regions of the sea ice pack.

Signs now show a speedy and violent loss of Arctic sea ice integrity — over the entire ice pack.

Re-Strengthening Cyclone

One part of this story is an Arctic Cyclone (Persistent Arctic Cyclone 2013 or PAC 2013) that emerged on May 26th and has continued to plow through the dense ice at the Arctic’s center ever since. At its strongest, the storm showed pressures in the range of 975-980 millibars. Today, the storm deepened to similar levels:

PAC2013June10

(Image source: DMI)

The storm is now centered in the northern Laptev Sea, drifting close to an area thinned by warmer temperatures and early-season sea ice melt. Since the ice in this region is less resilient than the thicker ice of the Central Arctic, we can expect more visible thinning. Physical impacts from the storm — churning, mixing, upwelling and potentially above freezing surface precipitation — are all likely to erode sea ice in areas beneath its circulation.

The US Navy’s CICE/HYCOM model displays strongly enhanced melt and thinning projected for this region over the coming days:

Persistent Arctic Cyclone churns through Laptev on June 9-11

Persistent Arctic Cyclone 2013 is forecast to churn through the Laptev sea ice on June 9-13 before returning to Central Arctic. The above thickness model shows current and projected impacts.

(Image source: US Navy)

Note the large region of melting and thinning ice stretching from a swath directly north of Siberia, through the Laptev Sea and on toward the North Pole. The counter-clockwise motion of the storm is projected to pull the ice apart even as the physical forces of the storm, described above, further thin the ice. In many instances, we see the ice projected to thin to between 1.2 and .8 meters.

Meanwhile, an area directly under the North Pole is projected to break and thin further as PAC 2013 returns to the Central Arctic later in the forecast period.

ECMWF model forecasts show PAC 2013 moving to hover over the Canadian Archipelago by June 18th. The storm is expected to continue until at least June 20th, nearly a month after its entry into the Arctic on about May 26th.

Warm Air Building Around the Arctic

As the Persistent Arctic Cyclone of 2013 continues to rage near the Arctic’s heart, warmer air keeps funneling in around and behind it.  Near Kamchatka, a northward bulge in the jet stream bore a bubble of warmer temperatures up into the Arctic. Over the past day or two, these average above freezing temperatures have spread to cover much of the Beaufort, Chukchi, and East Siberian Seas, a knuckle of this warmer air reaches almost all the way to the North Pole even as the region of below 0 Celsius temperatures stretches and thins.

Arctemp_June10.big

(Image source: DMI)

This large bulge of warmer air also shows areas near the Mackenzie Delta and in the East Siberian Sea with average temperatures above 5 degrees Celsius and areas hugging the coast averaging above 10 degrees Celsius. This is a powerful warming that is likely to impact ice-covered regions.

Models show warmth in the area continuing through at least next week. Barrow Alaska, notably, is predicted to see high temperatures around 65 degrees Fahrenheit by this Thursday.

The see-saw motion of the Persistent Arctic Cyclone has now alternately drawn warm air in from Scandinavia and Kamchatka. It is worth noting that a region of hot air has again developed over North-Eastern Europe. These warmer temperatures, should they persist, are likely to be drawn into the Arctic when/if the Cyclone again shifts to the Canadian side of the Central Arctic.

A more current temperature map shows this warming as a display of hot pinks over North-Eastern Europe, with warmer air even extending into the Kara Sea. A cursory look also shows very few readings below the -2 Celsius freezing point of sea water. Yet one more sign that warmth is building.

TempsaroundtheArcticJune10

(Image source: Uni-Koeln)

 

Greenland Melting

It is also worth noting that the coldest reading on Greenland, now, is -1 Celsius, where warming temperatures there have fueled a burst of early season glacial melt. Melt values have spiked well above what is typical for June and entered territory usually reserved for July — the height of the Greenland melt season.

Melt areas for Greenland spiked to over 20% of the ice sheet surface over the past few days. Maximum melt area averages around 23% during mid July. So Greenland melt this year is already at least a month ahead of schedule and has more than caught up with slower melt experienced during May.

greenland_melt_area_plotJun10

(Image source: NSIDC)

Last year, Geenland set new melt records with melt exceeding any period in at least the past 120 years.

Overall, conditions throughout the Arctic point toward a rapidly progressing melt season. Temperature measures and temperature and weather forecasts over the coming days are likely to continue to push more rapid sea ice melt. Sea ice edge melt and damage due to the ongoing Persistent Arctic Cyclone of 2013 are likely to be the greatest contributors. Large spikes in early season melt to record or near record values are certainly possible given current conditions.

Greenland melt, already proceeding more rapidly than normal, will also bear close watching. It may be possible that melt values will challenge records set in 2012. Should such an event occur, we will have yet more proof that current, very rapid, ongoing, and increasing Greenland melt is well outside the range of ‘normal.”

Links:

US Navy

DMI

Uni-Koeln

NSIDC

 

 

410,000 Square Kilometers of Sea Ice Lost in Two Days: Persistent Arctic Cyclone Weakens Heart of Ice, Rapid Edge Melt Devours Fringe

According to Cryosphere Today, Saturday’s Arctic sea ice area measured 10.22 million square kilometers. By Monday, that number had dramatically fallen to 9.81 million square kilometers. This loss of 410,000 square kilometers over the course of two days is extraordinarily rapid, even for a time of year when melt has tended to accelerate. On sea ice area graphs, it makes the last few days look like area numbers fell off the edge of a cliff. (Note that Cryosphere Today area numbers usually lag by a few days. So what we’re actually seeing is area measurements through Friday, June 7th).

Up until recently, sea ice area melt had been relatively moderate. But now, after a week of consistent 100,000+ square kilometer daily losses, and two days of 200,000+ losses, sea ice area is only a smidge above that of record melt year 2012 on the same day in June. In total, more than 800,000 square kilometers were lost over the course of the past week. This melt rate, if sustained, would render the Arctic ice-free by late August. If we look at past records, it is not likely that these rates of loss will continue. But past records may not prove a good guide in the current age of fragile Arctic ice. It is quite possible, given the ice’s fractured, frail, and mobile state, that such enormous melt rates, in the worst case, could be sustained or even exceeded. In this event, we would witness a total collapse of Arctic sea ice by the end of this year. So should current dramatic melt rates be sustained or worsen, we may be upping our forecast chances for near total melt by end 2013 (still at 10%).

In any case, warnings that we were not out of the woods after a slower than expected melt during May, seem to have born out in spades.

Persistent Arctic Cyclone + Rapid Edge Melt = Brutal Combination

The twin forces driving this sea ice loss are the Persistent Arctic Cyclone of 2013 (PAC 2013 — I’ve decided to keep this name. Neven has sanctioned it, even as he playfully recommended calling it Rocky Balboa, which would be entirely appropriate for this dogged storm.), which we began warning about on May 30th in The Big Thin Begins, and a rapid edge melt that also began in early June.

PAC 2013 has, for more than two weeks, been invoking a number of forces detrimental to sea ice in the Central Arctic. It has pulled warmer water up in a column beneath it, melting the bottom ice. It has, through cyclonic action, dispersed the ice away from its center of circulation. And, via energetic storm winds, it has churned and disturbed the surface waters just beneath the ice or at the surface, creating a mixing action that also erodes the ice.

Together, these forces have dramatically reduced the Central Arctic Sea ice. Sea ice thickness, according to the US Navy, after already thinning somewhat, looked like this on May 30th:

CICE2013

Today’s most recent measure shows the central ice pack suffering substantial reduction since that time:

arcticictnnowcastJune9

Note the major thinning in a region of the thickest ice even as thinner regions closer to Siberia ablated further over the past ten days.

Cracks visible in the Lance-Modis satellite shots confirm an increased breaking of the sea ice even just north of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, where the ice is thickest. Through a combination of bottom melt and sea ice dispersal, it appears that a broad region of this ‘most resilient’ ice lost between .5 and 1 meter worth of sea ice over the past ten days. By June 6th, these losses began to show up in the, less sensitive, Cryopshere Today concentration graphic. By June 8th, a large swath where sea ice concentration had dropped to between 60 and 70 percent was indicated in the region most affected by PAC 2013:

CTconcentrationJun8

(Image source: Cryosphere Today)

Note the large swatch of red running directly through the Central Arctic. That’s a broad region of ice thinned by our Persistent Arctic Cyclone showing up in the Cryosphere Today measure.

Today, the cyclone has shifted toward the Laptev Sea and is dramatically churning the thinner ice there, shifting its special brand of havoc closer to the Siberian coastline. We’ll discuss more about this new development in an upcoming PAC 2013 forecast.

As PAC 2013 churned through the Central Arctic, melt accelerated at the ice periphery. In the Canadian Archipelago, large regions of ice turned a characteristic shade of blue as melt lakes developed and insolation began to do its work there. Both Hudson Bay and Baffin Bay also saw dramatically increased rates of melt. This larger region of the Canadian Arctic saw a powerful influx of higher temperatures. A pulse of warmth that likely pushed melt faster. Temperatures of 10-20 degrees Celsius became a common event near Hudson Bay and southern portions of the Canadian Archipelago. Above freezing temperatures stretched far northward, driving deep into the Beaufort Sea.

Across the Arctic Ocean, the Laptev Sea began to melt at a faster pace even as a region of the Chukchi Sea displayed a dramatic and rapid disintegration of sea ice. You can see this rapid melt by comparing the Lance-Modis image from June 2nd to today’s Lance-Modis shot of the region:

Bering Melt Start

This is what Chukchi Sea ice looked like on the 2nd of June (Image source Lance-Modis).

Bering Melt End

And here is what it looks like today (Image source: Lance-Modis)

Note the clearing of most ice from the Bering Straight even as the ice edge retreated northward toward an increasingly fractured and thinned polar ice cap. As warmer air is expected to enter the Chukchi over coming days, it appears that conditions will continue to favor rapid edge melt there.

Weather model forecasts also show warm air flooding into many regions at the ice edge, growing especially prominent in the Beaufort, Chukchi, and East Siberian Seas. Meanwhile, PAC 2013 is expected to continue to churn through the Central Arctic. These conditions are now projected to persist until at least June 20th, at which point our Persistent Arctic Cyclone will have lasted nearly a month.

As noted above, this combination of conditions: warm air invasion at the ice edge, historically thin, fragile, and mobile sea ice, and a Persistent Arctic Cyclone (PAC 2013) are likely to continue to promote rapid to very rapid melt in the Arctic as June continues to advance. Though 200,000 kilometer per day sea ice area loss is extraordinarily rapid and dramatic, the potential exists for single day losses to exceed even this highly radical number. A sea ice cliff for June 2013, thus, appears to be a distinct potential.

Links:

US Navy

Cryosphere Today

The Arctic Ice Blog

Lance-Modis

 

Two-Week Long Cyclone Intensifies off Canadian Arctic Archipelago; Ice Thinning Event Continues

CycloneCAA

(Image Source: DMI)

An Arctic cyclone that has persisted for nearly two weeks has now shifted to a region just north of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, strengthening to a 980 mb low.

The low originated in the Beaufort Sea about two weeks ago. It transitioned to the central Arctic, remaining there for about a week, before finally moving to its current position over the Arctic’s thick ice.

Observations via Lance Modis satellite shots, CICE, JAXA, and Uni-Bremen, have shown a moderate but ongoing thinning of the ice pack beneath this persistent cyclone. Ice thinning appears to be driven by a combination of divergence, surface mixing in areas near the ice cracks, and by cyclonic forces that encourage upwelling of warmer waters beneath the ice.

As the cyclone is currently predicted to persist and strengthen, impacts are likely to continue and could potentially worsen over the coming days. These include:

  1. Diverging sea ice.
  2. Thinning sea ice via ocean surface churning and upwelling of deeper waters beneath.
  3. Influxes of warmer air behind the storm.

Since the storm is projected to intensify and to last for such a long time, we’ll be taking a more in-depth look at the above melt processes, how they may unfold, and why this particular storm may continue to cause trouble.

How Ekman Transport and Mixing Can Erode Sea Ice

Sea ice traps a layer of cold water near the ice. This layer is usually colder than areas of water as close as 20 meters below by about one or two degrees C. So even in winter, contact with deeper water can enhance bottom melt on the ice. As seasons change to spring and summer, a persistent sun plunges through the ice, further heating this layer just below the cold surface. This, 3-5 degree C warmer, water packs a bit more punch to heat and melt the surface ice. Usually, this layer doesn’t come into contact with the ice. But winds, tides and ocean currents can all stir up these deeper, warmer, layers enhancing ice melt.

In particular, cyclonic action generates upwelling through a process called Ekman Transport that can shift this warmer layer toward the surface and melt the bottom edge of the ice.

During the Great Arctic Cyclone (GAC) of 2012, a University of Washington Study found that a combination of churning and upwelling resulted in 60,000 square miles (150,000 square kilometers) of additional melt.Now that’s a huge chunk of ice taken out by just one storm.

The University of Washington Study noted:

… the ice melted largely from warm ocean water churned up by the passing storm. Melting quadrupled during the storm, and the rate of ice loss doubled, the study found.

In the Arctic summer, ocean water becomes stratified from melting ice, according to a statement from the University. A layer of ice-cold fresh water sits just beneath the sea ice. But about 65 feet (20 meters) below the surface, there is a layer of denser, saltier water that has been gradually warmed by the sun’s rays.

However, this cyclone was both stronger than the current one and it occurred during August, when the sun had two months more time to heat ocean waters below the ice. Further, it occurred in a region where ice was far more fragile. These factors all enhanced the GAC’s ability to impact sea ice.

2012-2013 Cyclones Reveal Fragile Ice

In the current cyclone what we have seen is a more general erosion of the central ice. Impact has been significant and this particular cyclone is doggedly persistent, continuing to chew away the ice over very long periods.

Cyclone-induced thinning appears to have happened primarily via dispersion and through upwelling impacts to the ice bottom. CICE, JAXA, and Uni Bremen confirm a continued thinning. Cloud cover has obscured most visual sensors this afternoon, however. So we will have to wait for another day or two before we can see down to the central ice surface to confirm what these other measures are telling us.

Nonetheless, we can still take a look at current and predicted thinning via the US Navy’s CICE measure below.

arcticictn_nowcast_anim30d2

(Image source: CICE)

Note the barreling action of the low making doughnut-shaped impressions and leaving thinner ice in its wake. During the last series of frames, CICE shows the thickest ice just north of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (CAA) taking a hit. Since the low is now in that region, we should be able to observe if CICE predictions continue to bear out.

A-Team over at the Arctic Ice Blog has also provided confirmation by putting together this animation of JAXA images to record ice thinning and divergence in the region:

navyEvent1b_zps3608fb1c

(Image source: A-Team, Arctic Ice Blog, JAXA)

Note the rapid, counter-clockwise ice movement and expansion of cracks as the cyclone churns through the central Arctic.

Usually such impacts would not be so readily visible on the central ice. Some minor to moderate bottom thinning via cyclonic forces may have occurred in past years. The thicker ice of those years was better able to withstand such impacts. Further, the spreading of ice over larger portions of the Arctic tended to keep cold air in place longer, further reducing overall melt.

In this case, the extraordinarily thin condition of even the central ice enhances the impacts of all forces acting on it. So though these lows spread out the central ice, likely reducing the overall rate of edge melt, they do so at the cost of thinning the central ice, making it very vulnerable to melt as summer progresses. For this, somewhat early-season, storm to be showing enhanced thinning in the Arctic is yet one more visible proof of the ice pack’s fragility. And it is the primary reason we are talking about impacts to the central Arctic in early June and not impacts to traditional melt regions for this time of year like Hudson Bay.

Warm Air Pulse

A pulse of warm air following the storm pushed North Poll temperatures above freezing yesterday. Those higher temperatures currently remain in effect but are predicted to shift toward the Kara and Laptev Seas by tomorrow. This pulse has already enhanced ice thinning and melt near Svalbard. However, a layer of cloud riding over top of the warmer air has obscured much of the thicker ice.

You can see this column of cloud riding the warmer air in the Lance-Modis shot below.

Arctic_r03c04.2013155.terra.1km

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

In the wider shot, this kind of warm air and cloud influx can look a bit like a blow torch shooting up into the Arctic. If the air beneath the cloud is both warm and moist, it can have a similar effect on Arctic ice. Moist air carries more heat energy than dry air. So an influx of warm, moist air packs a bigger blow to the ice.

It’s an uncanny visual for a warm-air eruption caused by a fragmenting jet stream. You can view the wide-shot here.

Weather Forecast Shows Cyclone Hanging on Until June 14

ECMWF forecasts show the cyclone hanging on until at least June 14th. Should that happen, our cyclone, which Neven has dubbed the Small Arctic Cyclone of 2013 (SAC), will have lasted at least 20 days running. Some runs show the cyclone strengthening to 975 mb, just 9 mb short of the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012. This would make the storm, at peak, a rather strong event, perhaps one worthy of a name upgrade to Persistent Arctic Cyclone of 2013 (PAC). And, if it ends up thinning the ice more than currently predicted it could end up becoming the Catastrophic Arctic Cyclone of 2013 (CAC).

We’re currently just witnessing thinning, not catastrophic thinning. So let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

But since the forecast is for this storm to hang on for such a long time and to repeatedly move over regions of the central Arctic, we will have the opportunity to observe its impacts over the next two weeks. It is ample enough time to reduce much of the central ice to tiny fragments. A potentially very low resilience as the heat of July approaches.

The June 14 ECMWF forecast shows our cyclone as a double-barrel 995 mb low in the central Arctic north of the Kara and Laptev Seas, pulling warmer air over the Beaufort and CAA behind it.

Recmnh2402

(Image source: ECMWF)

We’ll keep a close watch on this storm. It’s not done by a long-shot and there may yet be a few surprises in store.

UPDATE:

Just wanted to share this image of the strengthening Arctic cyclone. Note the tight, cloud-wrapped formation at the center. Most of the area is covered in clouds but, upper left, we see a network of cracks forming in the central ice.

Arctic_r04c03.2013155.terra.1km

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

Links:

DMI

Ekman Transport

University of Washington Study

Arctic Ice Blog SAC Analysis

Lance-Modis

ECMWF

Pulse of Warm Air Brings Above-Freezing Temps to North Pole; Cyclone, Central Ice Thinning Projected to Continue

It’s happened. An early-season Scandinavian heatwave has pushed above freezing temperatures all the way into the central Arctic.

A powerful atmospheric blocking pattern that spawned record 80+ degree temperatures in Scandinavia this weekend has elongated, stretching all the way into the central Arctic. As the bulge increased in amplitude, it brought warmer air with it. Temperatures at the North Pole over the past week ranged from 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, we are seeing temps around 33 degrees, a range of ‘warmth’ usually reserved for mid summer.

You can see the culprit of this warm air injection on the map below. Note the large bulge in the Jet Stream appearing over Scandinavia and reaching all the way to the North Pole:

jetstream_norhem_00June3

(Image source: California Regional Weather Service)

This pulse of warmer air is now riding over regions where sea ice was thinned by a persistent, moderate-strength Arctic cyclone that lasted for about a week. The cyclone churned and dispersed the ice, causing large cracks to form even in a region very close to the North Pole. The freezing point of sea water is about 29 degrees Fahrenheit, so we’ll have to see if this warmer air combined with near constant sunlight has any further melting effect (see The Big Thin Begins to learn more about this event).

You can see these above -freezing temperatures running up over Svalbard and on to the North Pole on the map below. Note that temperatures displayed here are in Celsius, not Fahrenheit:

Northpoleabovefreeze

(Image source: Uni-Koeln)

Particularly interesting is that 40 degree F reading on the northeastern tip of Greenland. But the high 30s and low 40s blanket Svalbard as well.

Weather forecast model maps show this pulse of warm air persisting through tomorrow. Then colder air returns along with stormier weather.

A related feature is the persistent cyclone that chewed away at the central ice for much of last week. It has now transitioned to the Beaufort Sea where it appears to be strengthening. Intensification is expected to continue through tomorrow. Then, the cyclone is projected to swing back to the Central Arctic by late Tuesday, apparently feeding on warmer, moister air as it intensifies to a 980-985 mb low by early Wednesday.

CentralArcticLow

(Image source: ECMWF)

Longer range forecasts show the cyclone persisting as it continues its strange dance around the Central Arctic.

We’ll have to watch the ice pack for further breakage and fracture from these two events. A continued thinning of the central ice so early in the year would be unprecedented. Yet it seems possible enough to continue monitoring.

It’s worth noting that CICE model forecasts show the thickest sea ice just north of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago suffering a sustained thinning. This event, should it arise, would likely be the result of this persistent cyclone combined with intensifying warm air pulses:

arcticictn_nowcast_anim30d

(Image source: US Navy CICE)

Links:

California Regional Weather Service

Uni-Koeln

ECMWF

Mangled Jet Stream Serves Up Scandinavian Heat Wave

Over the past three days, a northward bulge in the polar Jet Stream has resulted in extraordinarily high temperatures over a large region of Scandinavia and Russia north of the Arctic Circle.

In Arctic Utsjoki, Finland temperatures Friday reached a scorching 87 degrees Fahrenheit, the highest temperature ever recorded for that city. At Inari and Ylitornio, temperatures exceeded 84 degrees, also a record highs. Saturday saw a spreading of hot air north and eastward into Russia with regions within 50 miles of Arctic sea ice recording temperatures near 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Thoughout this broad region, record or near record high temperatures were breached as a pulse of hot air expanded north and eastward. Temperatures in the 80s were common for an area whose average highs for this time of year range in the high 30s to mid 40s.

You can see this powerful concentration of hot air on the Arctic map below:

synNNWWarctis

(Image source: Uni Koeln)

See that vast region of pink in the lower left-hand corner of the map? There’s your heat wave.

Ever since 2007, loss of sea ice has had an increasing impact on the polar jet stream. Research first conducted by Dr. Jennifer Francis and confirmed by a growing body of climate scientists has found that loss of sea ice and summer snow cover results in a slower jet stream. This slowing of the jet causes it to dip and bulge in big north-south loops. This high amplitude meridonal flow can create blocking patterns that generate persistent weather over a given region. Where weather patterns may have lasted for days or weeks before, now they can last for months. Meanwhile, storms can also persist for longer periods over these regions.

A good explanation for this process is described by Dr. Francis in the below video:

A bulging blocking pattern in the region of Scandanavia and western Russia emerged last week and has since strengthened. This large bulge is dredging up and concentrating warmer air from the south and east and keeping it in place even as it gathers more heat.

You can see this bulge on the below map of the polar Jet Stream:

jetstream_norhem_00

(Image Source: California Regional Weather Service)

The large bulge extends up from Norway toward the Greenland coastline, then cuts across Svalbard before flowing down into Russia.

Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream a Complete Mess

A cursory examination of this Jet Stream’s disposition over the Northern Hemisphere gives testament to how much of a mess it is. Huge dips, breaks, and vortices in the circumpolar wind flow are now common. In large areas, the wind speed has slowed to a crawl, giving the Jet its broken and scattered appearance. One other feature of note, which I’ll examine more in another blog, is the large dip running down through the central US. The persistence of this dip has resulted in a very stormy spring for the US midwest, depositing record rainfall in many regions even as it spawned one of the most damaging tornadoes in US history. So this visibly mangled jet stream is also implicated in extremely severe weather outbreaks in the US midwest.

Weather forecasts show a continuation of the weather pattern currently involved in Scandinavia’s heat wave at least through this weekend. We’ll have to wait to see if conditions persist beyond the current forecast and whether or not this heat becomes an imbedded pattern for this region over late spring and early summer.

Echoes of 2008?

The current heat wave is a few days earlier, quite a bit hotter, and far more widespread than a similar heat-wave that occurred during June 2-10 of 2008. This particular heat wave appeared after the 2007 season of record melt hammered the sea ice. Since 2012 was also a period of record low ice, one wonders if this particular late spring heat wave is related to major sea ice losses seen last year.

NASA provides an in-depth explanation of the 2008 event here. As you can see from the map below, high temperatures during the heat wave five years ago were not quite as hot and no-where near so wide-spread.

neeurope_tmo_2008153

(Image source: NASA)

Indirect Implications For Sea Ice?

Forecast maps also show a finger of this warm air plunging deep into the Arctic. Should such an event occur, it could impact the sea ice from Svalbard and regions further north toward the pole. Models have shown the potential for temperatures of 5-10 degrees Celsius in this extreme northern region. Should high temps arise and persist, we can expect an accelerating impact on sea ice.

So long as hot air remains so wide-spread over Scandanavia and Russia, it can serve as a launching pad for warm air invasions of the Arctic as well as provide fuel for Arctic cyclones. So this weather situation is certainly one worth watching for potential future developments.

Links:

California Regional Weather Office

Uni-Koeln

Sea Ice Volume Edging Back Into Record Low Territory

PIOMASapr2013

(Image source: PIOMAS)

Despite an ongoing and precipitous trend of sea ice loss, it still happens now and then. As cold air invades and re-freeze sets in, pace of new ice formation spikes and we get the potential for a bit of ‘recovery’ in sea ice area and extent by March-April following record summer losses. The trend for sea ice area and extent for these months is still down, however. According to NSIDC, extent is falling at a pace of about 2.5% per decade during March and April. This pace of loss is quite modest when compared to summer losses, even though the long-term trend is still down.

Sea ice volume, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. The measure of total ice area + ice thickness as determined by PIOMAS has crept steadily and rapidly downward during both winter and summer months. Though the total loss below the 1979-2012 average is slightly greater for summer (approx. 9,000 cubic kilometers) it does not greatly exceed the loss seen during winter months (about 7,000 cubic kilometers) since 1979. (Percent losses for summer exceed 25% per decade while percent losses for winter are about 13% per decade. So the pace of summer volume loss in this measure is still much greater.)

There is, however, one small wrinkle in this observation. Winter sea ice volume measurements have tended to cluster in a given range before taking large steps down during certain years. Summer, on the other hand, has shown more steady and consistent melt with large step years spaced out by many years of more moderate melt.

So it was little surprise when sea ice volume tied and slightly exceeded March 2011 and 2012 measurements for brief periods during the winter of 2013, edging above the record low value by about 70 cubic kilometers on certain days.

Now, PIOMAS shows pace of volume melt rapidly increasing through mid April. And this new melt has brought Arctic sea ice volume back into record low territory, edging about 80 cubic kilometers below the record set in 2011 for that time.

Sea ice volume is the critical measure now that validation from satellite instruments has clarified the accuracy of PIOMAS modeling. Area and extent only measure the surface as visible from above. But the total proportion of remaining ice is captured by current volume measurements. And what PIOMAS is showing, at this point, is that sea ice volume in the Arctic is currently lower than it has ever been in modern reckoning.

Links:

PIOMAS

Pace of Sea Ice Melt Increasing, Numerous Regions Showing Rapid Decline

Jaxa sea ice

Last week saw a quickening pace of sea ice melt, with key regions displaying rapid loss of ice.

Most rapid melt occurred in the Barents Sea which saw major ice losses both to the north and south of Svalbard, north and south of Franz Joseph Land, with a large polyna opening to the north of the island and more gradual melt to the south and west of Novaya Zemlya.

Other regions showing rapid melt included the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk. Most sea ice in the Okhotsk region has been driven shoreward with Bering ice rapidly melting in the southeast and the entire ice pack there showing thinning and opening polynas.

The Fram Straight and Baffin Bay showed more moderate rates of ice recession.

Sea_Ice_Extent Apr 26

Overall, sea ice extent, according to the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) is currently at 12.86 million square kilometers. This measure is tracking just below values for 2011 for this time of year. Sea ice area also showed more rapid melt this week with values falling by 400,000 square kilometers over the past seven days to reach 12.56 million square kilometers yesterday. Average rates of daily loss remain between 50,000 and 70,000 square kilometers for area with the pace picking up to around 90,000 square kilometers per day at week’s end.

The pace of loss for both area and extent remain above average for this time of year, matching the extreme rate of loss that began to emerge during 2012 at this time of year. Furthermore, all the latest measures show sea ice volume remaining at or near record low levels while multi-year ice coverage is at lowest levels ever.

arctic.seaice.color.000

Loss of Arctic snow cover and corresponding river melt for this time of year also accelerated. Areas near Hudson Bay, in northeastern Europe, and central Siberia showed the most rapid melt. As snow melt accelerates, rivers fill with warmer melt waters that then flush into estuaries and the ocean. This snow-melt flushing warmer water into the ocean usually pushes melt faster during May and June. This year, the process appears to be happening at least two to three weeks ahead of schedule.

Arctictemps27apr2013

Above-freezing air temperatures continue to advance northward. Air warm enough to facilitate large-scale melt has invaded most of Siberia and Northern Europe. This week also saw above freezing air temps regularly pushing north toward Svalbard and into the Barents sea. The Sea of Okhotsk has seen above freezing temps for much of the week, with the Bering Sea also experiencing above-freezing air temperatures. In Canada, the melt line has regularly advanced into Northern Quebec, covering southern portions of Hudson Bay. The southern tip of Greenland also shows consistently above-freezing temperatures. Colder air, however, remains entrenched over north-central Greenland and over the northern portion of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

meanT_2013

Average air temperatures in the high Arctic remain well above normal for this time of year with today’s values showing temps between 6 and 7 degrees Celsius above mean for most areas.

In the context of this report, it is worth noting that sea ice melts at around -1.9 degrees Celsius. So near freezing or above freezing air temperatures are usually enough to promote melt. Ocean temperatures beneath the ice hover at or above the freezing mark as well. So the ice is under stress not only from the surrounding air, but also from beneath as warm water upwelling events have become more frequent. Sunlight is also now a constant in the Arctic. So any open water areas, showing dark ocean, will tend to rapidly absorb heat. In addition, an unprecedented number of leads have shot through the ice this winter and spring. These crack are both darker and warmer than the surrounding ice. So weaknesses are likely to begin to appear as warming starts its more rapid cascade over the coming weeks.

color_sst_NPS_ophi0

As noted above, warmer than freezing sea surface temperatures compose one of the main forces promoting ice melt. The above graph, provided by NOAA, shows expanding regions of above freezing (sea water) surface water in Hudson Bay, The Canadian Arctic Archipelago, in a region of the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska and Canada, the Bering Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk, in multiple areas over the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, and in a growing region of the Barents Sea.

Arctic_r03c05.2013117.terra.1km

The combined impact of constant sunlight, above-freezing water and rising air temperatures is starkly visible in this most recent Lance-Modis satellite shot of a region of the Barents and Kara Seas. This region shows rapidly fracturing ice with numerous expanding polynas as regions of open water creep northward. In large regions, newly open water shows no sign of surface refreeze and instead has rapidly invaded the weaker ice. Such conditions are now common in many regions near the ice edge.

Overall, the Arctic has now entered a phase which shows increasing risk of rapid to very rapid melt. High temperatures, warming and above average ocean temperatures, continued invasions of warm air, rapid snow melt in Siberia and expanding regions of dark, sunlight absorbing water all will likely conspire to speed melt in the coming weeks. So the forecast is for moderate to rapid (and possibly near-record) melt over the next 7-14 days. One caveat is that the Beaufort Sea has remained cold and that Arctic Oscillation has remained positive. The result is that risks for a rapid Beaufort melt appear to be lower at this time. However, ongoing moderate new re-cracking north of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago may render this, somewhat comforting, observation premature.

Overall, sea ice melt appears to be on pace to hit or rival most recent record lows. Our forecast remains that there is a high (60%) likelihood that either sea ice area, extent, or volume will reach new record lows in 2013. There is a moderate risk that all measures will show a new record low by the end of this year (35%). And there remains a low but significant risk that the Arctic will be essentially ice-free by the end of this summer (20%).  Chances for total ice melt (an event that likely hasn’t occurred in the past 400,000 years), as noted in previous posts, remains low at 10%.

(Note: we define ‘essentially ice free’ as an Arctic showing less than 1 million square kilometers of surface ice area and/or extent by summer’s end. This ‘essentially ice free’ state is defined as a surface area of less than half that of Greenland.)

As the melt season progresses, we will continue to refine predictions and global risk analysis. It is worth noting that no year since sea ice record keeping began has ever shown risk of total or near ice free conditions. So the 2013 melt season is already a historic one in that respect. Finally, as noted in previous posts, risk for total melt or near ice free conditions continue to rise over the coming years.

Links:

The Japanese Space Agency

Cryosphere Today

Uni-Koeln

DMI Centre for Ocean and Ice

NASA Lance-Modis

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