Arctic Sea Ice: Setup for a New Record Low Summer?

June 13, 2017

After a winter of record low sea ice growth, Arctic ice is well into the range for a record summer melt.

Bob Henson in WeatherUnderground:

The Arctic Ocean’s coating of sea ice—now remarkably thin and sparse after a record-warm winter—could plummet by late summer to the lowest extent in 38-plus years of observations. Weather conditions over the next few weeks will determine just how much melting ultimately occurs. However, the ice is so depleted that even a melt season from here on that’s average by recent standards could leave the ice at a record-low extent.

Thus far, the 21st century has seen two grand dips in Arctic sea ice extent, in 2007 and in 2012. In both cases, the ice saw a modest but incomplete recovery, and the 38-year observation period can be easily split into “before” and “after”: each year after 2007 has seen a lower minimum than each year beforehand.

The sorry state of Arctic sea ice right now isn’t readily apparent if you look only at extent (the amount of ocean covered by at least 15%concentration of ice). On Wednesday, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that Arctic sea ice extent in May was the fourth lowest on record. That brought an end to the string of record-low monthly values set or tied in January, February, March, and April. Colder-than-usual weather at high latitudes helped keep the ice extent from shrinking in May as much as it typically does.

Sea ice is more than skin-deep, though. The total 3-D volume of Arctic sea ice is the least on record for this time of year in estimates from PIOMAS (the University of Washington’s Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System). Since the ice’s horizontal extent isn’t quite at a record low, this implies that the average thickness is exceptionally small right now, as suggested by PIOMAS.

The fear among Arctic observers is that early-summer conditions could take advantage of that thin ice and produce a dramatically accelerated melt at some point in the next few weeks, perhaps leading to a “cliff” (a striking drop that shows up clearly on a graph of sea ice extent).

If you were devising a recipe to maximize a summer’s worth of Arctic sea ice loss, you’d probably start by placing a strong version of the predominant surface high pressure system, the Beaufort High, over the Beaufort Sea and Canadian Basin of the Arctic during June and July. The Beaufort High has shown intensification during recent years, and it tends to hinder cloudiness, allowing round-the-clock sunshine to weaken the ice. Melt ponds atop the ice surface are key at this time of year, as their dark color allows them to absorb more solar heat than the lighter snow and ice around them.

If the Beaufort high intensifies in tandem with low surface pressure over high latitudes of Eurasia, it can lead to a setup dubbed the Arctic rapid change pattern, or dipole anomaly, which exerts a double whammy on sea ice: pulling warm air north to attack sea ice on the Pacific side of the Arctic, and pushing sea ice on the Atlantic side toward lower latitudes.

Later in the summer, your recipe might include some big Arctic cyclones to generate high winds that fragment the weakened ice, thus allowing even more of it to melt.

Here, NASA video shows how an August cyclone in the arctic contributed to the breakup and dissolution of Arctic ice extent and a record low year.

Underground again:

Unfortunately, June has started out with melt-favorable Arctic weather, and the long-range ECMWF and GFS outlooks call for more of the same, with the potential for a dipole pattern rearing its head. In a June 4 post at the Arctic Sea Ice Blog (ASIB), Neven Acropolis viewed the weather outlook with dismay: “I can’t imagine a worse forecast at this time of year. The past couple of melting seasons were marked by relatively weak preconditioning and thus a lack of melting momentum during July and August. Last year the Arctic clearly dodged a bullet because of it, but this year we may not be so lucky, given the record warm winter, record low sea ice volume and now open skies to cause plenty of melt ponding on that massive expanse of first-year ice.”

Jim Pettit (who goes by the handle Neapolitan at WU) shared similar concerns in an email on Wednesday: “With the current record-low volume coupled with the not-record-low extent, we can assume that the bulk of the ice is thinner than usual. Satellite images seem to bear this out; it appears that much of the ice has already cracked up, and that which is still together is nevertheless frangible and fractured, and not likely to last until mid-September. The next 100 days or so are going to be very interesting indeed.”



9 Responses to “Arctic Sea Ice: Setup for a New Record Low Summer?”

  1. redskylite Says:

    The sea-ice situation is getting so difficult it is affecting research – researchers beware in the Arctic.

    An Arctic climate change study has been cancelled because warming temperatures have filled the sea off northern Newfoundland with hazardous ice up to eight metres thick.

    Instead of cruising north with a team of scientists, the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Amundsen has been busy freeing fishing boats and helping other ships surrounded in ice that usually doesn’t travel so far south at this time of year.

    David Barber, the expedition’s chief scientist, says the irony is that climate change itself has put the climate change research project on ice.

    “I have been in the Arctic for 35 years and this is one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had,” he said Monday.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      thanks for this. Will repost Barber’s talk about increasing hazards due to unpredictable ice

  2. redskylite Says:

    And totally off topic, but a great concept and food for thought from a Syrian artist.

    “A Syrian artist has re-imagined US President Donald Trump and 10 other world leaders as refugees in a series of paintings currently on display in Dubai.

    Abdalla Al Omari, who has refugee status in Belgium, says his own experience with displacement prompted him to create The Vulnerability Series.
    “Being a refugee is like having a new lump in your body that you had nothing to do with, and it will stay until the last day, so you better deal with it,” Al Omari told CNN.”

    • That is very clever. Unfortunately, Trump has no capacity for empathy, and will never be able to place himself in the shoes of refugees.

      • Tom Bates Says:

        This has nothing to due with empathy and 100 percent to do with a number of those sunni muslim refugees wanting to blow us up.

        • redskylite Says:

          Correct the majority of civilians in Syria are indeed of the Sunni sect, only 13% are Shia. But don’t you think that people are trying to escape the carnage we see nearly daily (just as you or I would do under the same circumstance), or are you totally indifferent ? or do you think it is a sham ?. You are the one who lives in bizarreo world if that is your position.

          WARNING: Disturbing content

          A CHEMICAL attack has killed at least 35 people including nine children with many more wounded after air strikes released “toxic gas” that caused civilians to choke to death in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib.

          Medical sources reported that some victims had foam coming out of their mouths and described it as a sign of a gas attack.

          Syrian activists have released pictures and footage of people suffocating to death in the alleged chemical attack in Idlib. Most of the images are too graphic for publication.

          Some of the photos showed members of the volunteer White Helmets rescue group using hoses to wash down the injured, as well as at least two men with white foam around their mouths.

          The activist-run Assi Press published video of paramedics carrying victims from the scene by a pick-up truck. The victims were stripped down to their underwear. Many appeared unresponsive.

        • Well, 0 is indeed a number.

          The number of refugees involved in terrorist activity in the US in this century:

          Three, none of which were in any way planning attacks in the US. Two were fundraising¹ for activities in the Middle East and one was taking advantage of the US’s permissive firearms laws to purchase weapons to be sent to Iraq.

          1: You know, like the IRA did in the US for years.

  3. Tom Bates Says:

    Unfortunately the record was set from 6000-10000 BP when the Arctic was ice free most of the time in summer, one study had it ice free in summer for 2000 years. Todays ice is a relic of the little ice age cool down which the world has been warming out of for 400 years and the world is still colder than in 1000 AD. Since the earlier warmer period was attributed to changes in earths tilt and orbit and NASA modeling shows similar changes ongoing today, the arctic ice is going to be lower for the next 25000 years per NASA s None of that has anything to do with CO2 levels.

    • funslinger62 Says:

      “Since the earlier warmer period was attributed to changes in earths tilt and orbit”

      Current Milankovich cycle impact is for a cooling climate, not a warming one. Solar irradiance has dropped slightly since the late 1960s which has a cooling impact, not a warming one.

      Poor Master Bates has fallen for the propaganda.

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