Sea Ice Continues to Shock and Amaze

November 24, 2016


This is from NSIDC (NOAA). I plotted the 1979-1989 years and the black line is the 1981-2010 average. Shading is two std. deviations. Red line is 2016.

I met TV Meteorologist Dan Satterfield in Austin this past June. He gets it.

Dan’s Wild Wild Science Journal:

I’ve been busy with the GOES-R launch, but am also following the incredible situation in the High Arctic, where Arctic Sea ice continues to run at record low levels. More like falling of a cliff actually, and the only word I can come up with is astonishing! There is a real temperature dipole showing up between the warm Arctic and the very cold areas of Russia/Asia where the snowfall was quite extensive in October. Surface pressures have passed 1080 hectopascals  (millibars) in this area (this indicates frigid and heavy air), and there is growing evidence of a connection to October snow there, and cold and snowy winters in Europe and the NE U.S. (See the winter forecast in a previous post).

The ice globally is also at record low levels, and if you’re wondering how this will impact the winter storm tracks, then I can tell you we meteorologists are wondering (and arguing) about it as well! There’s no way that it cannot, so what’s happening is VERY important. In addition, there’s no doubt that the warming planet is having a big impact in the Arctic, and if you think that climate change is a future problem, you need to change your mindset now.

The eye popping figures that have broken Twitter in recent weeks come most often from PhD Student Zack Labe, interviewed here:

Callan Bentley for AGU Blogosphere:

Is what’s happening now in the Arctic anomalous? What about the Antarctic? What’s going on?

The persistent atmospheric circulation from a deep low pressure anomaly over the North Pacific and a record ridge over Eurasia allowed warmer air to advect into the Arctic on both the Pacific and Atlantic sides. Warmer sea surface temperatures and more open ocean waters have also contributed to the slow expansion of sea ice this fall, particularly in the Barents and Kara Seas. As a result of this anomalous atmospheric pattern and the continued warming of the Arctic from climate change, temperatures were able to rise well above normal in addition to record low sea ice extent.


Can you address the suggestion made a few days back that “a broken sensor” was a possible explanation?

During the spring of 2016, the instrument on the DMSP-F17 satellite used for sea ice concentration data by the NSIDC began recording erroneous data. The NSIDC made the transition to the DMSP-F18 satellite passive microwave instrument and provided a consistent and continuous record of sea ice concentration. More information/validation between satellites can be found from the NSIDC at
Therefore, the current data from both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere is not affected by any sensor issues. Additionally, there are other tools for sea ice data, including the AMSR2 instrument available from JAXA, which confirm the anomalously low sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic.

Do you have any predictions for what we can expect to see in the weeks to come?

Sea ice is susceptible to large variability as a result of atmospheric and oceanic interactions. However, as we are already seeing, the high temperatures anomalies are beginning to wane over the Arctic basin. As air temperatures and sea surface temperatures continue to cool, it is likely sea ice extent will continue to expand across the marginal seas.

The persistence of these abnormally high air and ocean temperatures have significantly reduced sea ice thickness across much of the Arctic, and this may play a role going forward into the 2017 melt season. Overall despite large interannual variability, we are continuing to see a long-term reduction in sea ice thickness and the fraction of multi-year ice.


3 Responses to “Sea Ice Continues to Shock and Amaze”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    Nice little piece in the Guardian—-appropriate for sharing with non-techy folks.

    It has a link to the Arctic Resilience Report—-Chapter 3 there is one of the best discussions of regime shifts, tipping points, and “interrelatedness” that you’ll find anywhere

  2. grindupbaker Says:

    The conclusion of a paper that I read a couple of years back regarding Arctic situation ~7,000 years ago when 65N was more favoured with radiation than present by dint of Earth’s axial precession was that the Arctic tended not to remain long in an intermediate state with no sea ice for a while in September only, but tended to be bi-stable with either some sea ice year round or sea ice in winter and no sea ice in summer. If that’s correct then a fairly rapid progression from autumn back to spring should be expected (I realize “fairly rapid” is unquantified).

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