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:


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


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:


(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.


US Navy

Cryosphere Today

The Arctic Ice Blog



Leave a comment


  1. T.O.O.

     /  June 11, 2013

    What conditions are required to expel the thickest band of ice from the Canadian Archipelago? Could you also explain what is Arctic Oscillation? Apparently Steven Goddard blames a long-lasting AO for the reduction of Arctic Ice since 1979 (pushing the ice through Framm Straight) and not Arctic warming, but I understand that the AO reversed itself (?) 5 years ago even as ice really began to plunge. What does it all mean?
    Thanks in advance.


    • I’ll answer the second question first. Negative Arctic Oscillation is, basically, caused by persistent high pressure systems in the Arctic Basin. These result in generally clear conditions and a clockwise circulation of the ice (because winds around a high pressure systems circulate in a clockwise fashion). This circulation tends to keep ice in the Arctic and not expel it through the Fram Straight.

      A positive Arctic Oscillation is generally caused by the persistence of low pressure systems in the Arctic Basin. This promotes a counter-clockwise circulation which tends to push the sea ice out through the Fram Straight.

      You can read some recent thoughts on this phenomenon from the National Snow and Ice Data Center here:


      NSIDC notes that some researchers have posited that a positive Arctic Oscillation during winter time will transport more ice from the Arctic, resulting in thinner ice come summer time. However, contrary to Steve Goddard’s statements, AO has varied summer to summer and winter to winter with no persistent trend in positive or negative values.

      Further, there is no direct evidence to correlate AO to melt, thaw, or long-term ice reduction. For example, AO was strongly negative during the record melt year of 2007. In contrast, AO was strongly positive during the record volume loss year of 2010.

      As for the first question, no-one really knows as it’s never happened before. That said, a strong storm in the central Arctic and warm conditions at the periphery in mid to late summer could knock the remaining thick ice off its few remaining anchors and flush it out through the Fram Straight.

      Steve Goddard is wrong for many reasons. Not only is his implication of AO incorrect — since ice reformation would be driven by colder winters regardless of natural fluxuations in ice transport via AO switches. Polar amplification, on the other hand, has driven temperatures from 2-5 C warmer in the Arctic. This warming harms ice resiliency and regeneration, making it more vulnerable to normal conditions like storms and the regular fluctuation of AO.

      I believe that Steve Goddard may be attempting to hedge his bets. If this year’s persistent storm does result in conditions that drive most of the ice out come late summer, he will probably blame the storm and not global warming. Again, he ignores context. In a normal world, the storm would make the Arctic colder, protecting ice in the summer time. This isn’t happening, though. So the world is not normal, but a new one we’ve brought about via our greenhouse gas emissions. One in which stormy, cloudy conditions threaten the central ice. This was not the case before.


  2. T.O.O.

     /  June 11, 2013

    Muchas gracias.


  3. No problem.

    Just want to specify that there are likely many conditions that can remove all the ice come summer time. Most are enabled by a warming climate. The one I gave above is just an example.


    • T.O.O.

       /  June 12, 2013

      Thanx again Robert.
      My reading of all this is that Arctic the ice is now so thin that both the weather and the ice pack itself are doing unusual things. I also believe that this missing global-warming heat/energy, that all the amateur sceptics are making such a fuss about, has actually not been missing but has manifested itself into melting the ice cap. I worry that as Arctic ocean shifts to more open water the positive feedbacks will start to kick in and then we (civilization) are going to be in for a wild ride. Scary really.


      • It did seem a good place to look for at least some of the ‘missing heat,’ didn’t it? 500 gigatons per year from Greenland, nearly three times that from surface ice, Antarctica, and other parts of the world, 750 gigatons worth of sea ice each year. It makes sense when you consider the fact that ice has traditionally cooled the planet. It’s still doing just that, even as it disappears.

        Loss of ice on the Arctic Ocean would really start to kick a number of feedbacks into high gear. Greenland melt probably doubles or triples. And that’s when you get into an age of really terrible weather.

        Not really sure about civilization. We don’t tend to handle climate change very well.


      • T.O.O.

         /  June 13, 2013

        I just remember, from my high school science classes, where we learned that it took just as much energy to heat (or cool) a glass of water as it did to heat or cool the entire classroom of air. And I believe that there is a further spike of energy required for water to change state, i.e. to move from a liquid to solid or gas or vice versa — correct?

        I didn’t know about the gigaton figures for ice loss. Goddard is telling us that total sea ice is increasing (worldwide) and that PIOMAS (who measure ice volume) are part of the worldwide conspiracy of climate scientists who work with the UN in a scheme to tax your income and steal your freedoms. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.


        • You remember correctly! It takes a massive amount of energy to heat water and ice. And, once warmer, that ice/water contains that higher proportion of energy. The warmer oceans, thus contain far more energy to melt the ice than the warmer atmosphere. In addition, a warmer ocean dumps water vapor into the atmosphere adding to its heat/energy content.

          A lot of energy is needed to melt that ice and warm the oceans. That’s why we see so much heat going into them from the buoy data. We don’t have a comprehensive measure of the heat content of the ice sheets. But, considering the melt rate, we can probably safely assume that their interiors are getting warmer and wetter.

          As for phase change, it takes 334 Joules per gram of ice to melt it into water at a constant temperature. So at 0 degrees C, you need that extra 334 Joules per gram or the melting doesn’t take place.

          It is worth noting that the energy necessary for this phase change is more than 100 times that needed to heat water 1 degree Celsius in the form of ice. So to increase 1 gram of ice’s temperature from -1 to 0, you need only 2.09 Joules. But to change 1 gram of ice at 0 Celsius to 1 gram of water at 0 Celsius you need a whopping 334 Joules.

          Now that’s a huge amount of comparable energy just to melt ice.

          The result is the hundreds of cubic miles melted each year are preventing a degree of atmospheric and ocean warming, just by soaking up the energy to change phase. The same is true when the oceans evaporate. Because water vaporization is an energy state-change process (enthalpy at values below 100C) that soaks up a huge amount of energy.

          As for Goddard, first, you can find the total worldwide sea ice area measurement here:

          To find that he is wrong. Simply put, world sea ice area measurements have struggled to reach values near average in recent years while plunging to anomaly figures as low as -2.8 million square kilometers and hitting values lower than -2 million square kilometers regularly. The current anomaly range of + 0.6 million square kilometers and – 2.8 million square kilometers shows a clear and massive downward trend from the range of +1 million square kilometers and -1 million square kilometers seen in 1979-1981. So Goddard is qualitatively and quantitatively wrong in his assertion. Proven as wrong as wrong can be by simple arithmetic.

          As for the UN tax scheme, I don’t know where to begin… People like Goddard seem to feel the world would be a utopia if we could rid ourselves of all government and never pay taxes again. If he feels so vehemently, we should ask him why he doesn’t move to some ‘paradise’ where no government exists. Perhaps Somalia?

          So this issue of demonizing taxation is a bit extreme to begin with. But then we go into this strange fantasy where the UN actually collects taxes and acts like a national government. To the contrary, the UN is funded by its member nations and does not retain the power to tax states without the behest of those states. Currently, no system has been established for the UN to collect taxes from citizens of member nations. Nor will reducing greenhouse gas emissions require UN-based taxation.

          What it does require, however, is for nations to agree on a path forward. This is policy. And establishing policy is the reason why the UN is so useful. In short, it is a good place for nations to form agreements and treaties.

          How Goddard makes the mental leap between agreed upon policies by UN member nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and taxation is beyond me. It strikes me as some crazy, radical John Birch society fear mongering that is so far outside the realm of established reality that such a world, as Goddard envisions, could only be present on another planet, in another galaxy, in another universe, and in a place where the laws of physics and of nations are vastly different from those here on Earth.

          He lives in a bizarro universe. One conceived by a rather sick mind, I might add.


  4. T.O.O.

     /  June 13, 2013

    Muchas gracias otre vez.

    So a 125 gigaton loss of ice requires (1.0E-15 grams X 334 joules = holy f**k) or 41 quintillion 750 quadrillion joules of energy to melt all that ice (if my math serves here)

    Now I am told that man has added about 1.1 trillion tons (or is it tonnes?) of extra CO2 into the atmosphere in the last 2 centuries. Can we put a number on that in terms of extra joules / energy added to the atmosphere?

    What I am asking is has anyone made an equation — a correlation / calculation — between the extra energy added into atmosphere and the amount of ice that has melted? I realize that would involve a lot of messy assumptions, but, if so, that would be so cool.

    And again, thanks in advance.


    • The equation is based on how many extra watts worth of energy per square meter of the surface of the Earth is being absorbed for a given constant level of atmospheric carbon. The current energy addition is equal to an extra 1.4 watts for every square meter of the surface of the Earth 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If aerosols dropped out, that addition would be equal to about 2.8 watts per meter squared.


      • T.O.O.

         /  June 14, 2013

        I don’t want to ask meaningless questions, but I am trying to get a handle on how much energy was required to melt so much ice based upon increased CO2.

        So does 1.4 watts/m2 = 1.4 joules per second times 60 seconds times 60 minutes times 24 hours times 365 days times say 16 years times the area of the earth (in square meters) will give you some ungodly amount. Correct?

        And this amount is actually localized because the energy really only impacted the ice areas — say 10% of the globe — correct? And if we looked at this figure over the past 16 years (since 1998) when no significant increase in surface temps have occurred, then you could say this ungodly amount of watts was responsible for X amount of ice melting and perhaps an X amount of increase humidity.

        Am I making sense?

        I know I am not paying for these lessons, but I would really appreciate an understanding.


        • That’s the basic gist.

          However… it gets a little tricky finding where all the heat ends up. Though the watts per meter squared figure gives you a good indication of the extra heat at the surface of the Earth, a better estimate might be joules per meter cubed.

          The reason for this is that the heat doesn’t stay at the surface. It moves into the oceans and, as you noted, the ice sheets. In addition, you have a number of difficult to predict feedbacks that will amplify and reduce this initial warming.

          But, if you’re trying to track the energy going into the ice sheets, you could do worse than to start with the surface area of ice and the watts per meter squared number to see how much energy is going directly into those ice sheets. It won’t be an entirely accurate number because, for instance, in the case of sea ice, the ice rests on the water which has absorbed a higher portion of this average watts per meter squared number from the sun near the equator and then moved in ocean currents toward the poles.

          Conversely, the poles receive less radiant energy from the sun on average. So the wm2 number is initially lower at the poles.

          So you see the problem. To determine how much energy is actually going into the ice sheets, by indirect means, you have to model how energy is transferred around the globe.

          A better way, perhaps, to measure how much energy is going into the ice sheets is to use a number of probes with thermometers over the surface of the ice and at various depths to determine the temperature change (delta T) over a given period of time. Doing that, you could determine the rate at which a given volume of ice was absorbing energy and this would give you a good idea how much of the warming budget was going into a given sheet of ice.

          Now it would be much easier to do this for land glaciers than sea ice. But, a good measure for sea ice could probably be determined by using buoys embedded in the ice (you’d just have to keep on your toes to make certain the buoys were measuring ice temps and not ocean water temps).

          In any case, if you wanted to construct an equation to determine how much energy was going into the ice, you’d need to model a number of complex atmospheric and ocean dynamics to determine how Earth systems were transporting the added heat energy to and away from the ice.

          I hope this is a good answer to your question. Not a simple one, for a certainty. But it’s a good reason why there’s not simple equation to determine how much energy is going into the ice.

          In any case, I guess the values would be:

          watts per meter squared of solar insolation at the icy regions + watts per meter squared of atmospheric and ocean energy transfer to the icy regions via circulation of atmospheric and oceanic currents and weather systems – watts per meter squared transferred away from the icy regions (if any, since the ice covers the coldest areas, most heat energy is going in and most cold is going out).

          Now that’s a pretty simple determiner. But finding all that energy is going to be rather tough.


  5. T.O.O.

     /  June 15, 2013

    Okay, I think I have a better understanding — complicated. But I guess that is why should have some sort of degree to tackle these problems. And as you mentioned about the water which surrounds the ice absorbing more of the energy, I have just noticed a new study which shows that the Antarctic ice sheets are melting from below due to an increase in water temps.

    I get the feeling we are all on the slow incline of the “Terrible Twister Climate Roller Coaster” and soon we will be hurtling down, around and upside down on a ride we can’t get off.

    Thanks for your time.


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

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