A new record minimum for arctic sea ice

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:07 PM GMT on November 18, 2009

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Arctic sea ice reached a new record minimum during the first half of November, according to data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (Figure 1). The record low ice extent this month is the first extended period of record minimum arctic sea ice since 2007. The new record minimum suggests that the gains in ice seen over the past two years were probably a temporary fluctuation due to normal year-to-year variability in the weather, and that the long-term arctic sea ice decline observed since the 1970s is continuing.


Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent up to November 16, 2009, compared to the record low year of 2007 and the average from 1979 - 2000. Sea ice extent over the past ten days has fallen below the record minimum observed in 2007. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

What caused the new record low?
The record low was due to very warm air invading the Arctic during October, in combination with the unusually warm ocean temperatures that have prevailed in the region over the past few decades. The warm air temperatures were primarily the result of an intense series of low pressure systems in the Arctic Ocean, north of Siberia, that worked in concert with a very strong high pressure system north of Alaska to drive warm air from Central Asia poleward over the past six weeks. The strong storms and unusual pressure pattern brought winds of about 5 mph above average to large regions of the Arctic Ocean, which helped break up existing ice and kept ice from freezing as much as usual. With all that warm air flowing into the Arctic, the cold air that was there had to go somewhere else, and that "somewhere else" was North America. The U.S. recorded its 3rd coldest October on record in 2009, thanks to cold air flowing out of the Arctic. The temperature and sea level pressure patterns over the Northern Hemisphere for October (Figure 2) were highly anomalous, with temperatures up to 27°F (15°C) above average over the Arctic Ocean, and sea level pressures up to 11 mb above average. The atmospheric circulation pattern has shifted over the past two weeks, with the result that warm air from Central Asia is no longer being pumped into the Arctic so vigorously, nor is cold air from the Arctic streaming southward into North America. As a result, temperature anomalies in the Arctic are beginning to decline, and sea ice extent later this month will probably rise above the record minimums observed in 2007.



Figure 2. Departure of surface air temperature and surface pressure from average for October 2009. Surface temperatures in the Arctic were up to 27°F (15°C) above average over the Arctic Ocean, due to sea ice loss. The strongest anomalies occurred where sea ice was missing from its usual position, though the entire Arctic was affected. The clockwise flow of air around the anomalously strong high pressure system north of Alaska (labeled "H" in the right-hand image) helped drive a flow of very warm air from Central Asia into the Arctic, and a very cold flow of air out of the Arctic southward into North America. Image credit: NOAA/ESRL.

How will the November sea ice loss affect next summer's sea ice loss?
A record 19% of the Arctic sea ice cover this summer in the Arctic was over 2 years old, far below the 1981 - 2000 average of 52%. In the summer of 2009, NASA researcher Ron Kwok and colleagues from the University of Washington in Seattle published satellite data showing that mean winter arctic ice thickness declined by 48% between 1980 and 2008. The loss accelerated over the past five years, with the ice losing 0.68 meters (2.2 feet) of thickness between 2004 and 2008, finishing at 6.2 feet thick. This remarkable thinning was confirmed in May 2009 by the Catlin Arctic Survey, a 9-week, 435 km expedition across the Canadian Arctic led by polar scientist Professor Peter Wadhams of the University of Cambridge. Wadhams' expedition found that most of the route had first year ice just 5.9 feet (1.8 meters) thick. With El Niño conditions crossing from the moderate to strong category over the past two weeks in the Eastern Pacific, the prospects for a much warmer than usual winter in the Arctic have increased, likely setting the stage for continued record or near-record minimum sea ice extent and thickness into next spring. The arctic sea ice will be very vulnerable to a new record minimum next summer if warmer than average temperatures are seen over the Arctic.

Sea ice loss causes stronger storms in the Arctic
The stronger storms over the Arctic Ocean this fall were due, in part, to the loss of sea ice. In a 2009 article titled, Extraordinary September Arctic sea ice reductions and their relationships with storm behavior over 1979-2008, Simmonds and Keay found that September storms over the East Arctic intensified by about 1 mb over the past 30 years and had grown about 50 miles larger in diameter, thanks to all the extra heat energy supplied by more open water due to recent losses in Arctic sea ice. These stronger storms may create a positive feedback loop that will lead to even more sea ice loss: reduced sea ice drives stronger storms, whose winds break up sea ice, creating even more warm water to feed stronger storms with stronger winds, and so on. Now that the arctic sea ice is 48% thinner than 30 years ago, this effect will increase in importance, since thinner ice breaks up more readily in strong winds.

Expect an ice-free Arctic by 2030
In a press release put out by the Catlin Arctic Survey, Professor Wadhams said, "The Catlin Arctic Survey data supports the new consensus view--based on seasonal variation of ice extent and thickness, changes in temperatures, winds and especially ice composition--that the Arctic will be ice-free in summer within about 20 years, and that much of the decrease will be happening within 10 years". In their 2009 report on this year's Arctic sea ice minimum, National Snow and Ice Data Center Director and Senior Scientist Dr. Mark Serreze said, "It's nice to see a little recovery over the past couple years, but there's no reason to think that we're headed back to conditions seen back in the 1970s. We still expect to see ice-free summers sometime in the next few decades". At the December 2008 American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting, the world's largest climate change conference, sea ice expert Dr. Wieslaw Maslowski of the Navy Postgraduate School blamed 60% of the melting during the past decade on heat brought in by ocean currents, and projected that summertime arctic sea ice would completely disappear by 2016. Dr. Jim Overland of NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory was more conservative, projecting a 2030 demise of arctic sea ice. He thought we would be "hanging around where we are for a while", and thought it would take two more unusual summers like the "perfect storm" of 2007 to push the system to an ice-free state.

The consequences
There were 88 presentations on arctic sea ice at the 2008 AGU conference. None of the presenters expressed the view that the current long-term decline in arctic sea ice was almost entirely natural, or that we can expect the decline to reverse this century. Sea ice experts do blame part of the decline on natural variability in the weather, but we wouldn't be where we are now without the warming caused by human-emitted greenhouse gases. One view (Stroeve et al., 2007) is that human-emitted greenhouse gases are responsible for 47 - 57% of the arctic sea ice loss since 1979. Heat-absorbing black soot from fires and pollution settling on the white ice is thought to also be a significant contributor.

The consensus I heard at the AGU conference among arctic sea ice experts was that the summertime sea ice will be gone by 2030. If they are correct, we can expect a period of significantly accelerated global climate change to begin 10 - 20 years from now. Arctic sea ice is one of the critical components maintaining the stability of our current climate. Once the the ice is gone, the climate will become unstable, with highly unpredictable results. It is true that Earth's past has many examples of warmer climates that evolved due to natural causes where life flourished, and we shouldn't fear the new, stable climate we will eventually arrive at centuries from now. However, life on Earth is adapted to the current climate. The changes that will occur during the transition will be extremely disruptive to Earth's ecosystems and the humans that rely on them for life. If one were to rate the destructive capability of climate change the way we rate hurricanes, I would rate current climate change at the "Invest" or "tropical disturbance" stage--the climate change storm is just beginning to organize. But the coming climate change storm is destined to hit our children with the full fury of intensifying hurricane.

References
Kwok, R., and D. A. Rothrock. 2009, "Decline in Arctic sea ice thickness from submarine and ICESat records: 1958-2008", Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L15501, doi:10.1029/2009GL039035

Simmonds, I., and K. Keay (2009), Extraordinary September Arctic sea ice reductions and their relationships with storm behavior over 1979.2008, Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L19715, doi:10.1029/2009GL039810.

Stroeve, J., M.M. Holland, W. Meier, T. Scambos, and M. Serreze, Arctic sea ice decline:Faster than forecast", GRL 34 L09501, doi:1029/2007GL029703, 2007.

The road to Copenhagen
By some accounts, the future of the world will be at stake this December, when the crucial U.N. Climate Change Conference will be held December 7 - 18 in Copenhagen, Denmark. At that meeting, the leaders of the world will gather to negotiate an agreement to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The new agreement will be the world's road map for dealing with climate change, and the stakes are huge. Dr. Ricky Rood, author of Wunderground's climate change blog, will be there, and Wunderground has given the University of Michigan a grant to send a student who will also blog for us. I have a number of posts I'm planning in the run-up to Copenhagen, including:

- Impact of arctic sea ice loss on Northern Hemisphere winter weather
- The Manufactured Doubt industry
- What global warming skeptics say about arctic sea ice
- Is higher CO2 more beneficial for Earth's ecosystems?

I'll also have an end-of-hurricane season summary on November 30, plus posts on whatever breaking weather stories occur. My next post will be Friday, when I plan to summarize the global weather last month, which was the 2nd - 6th warmest October on record.

Jeff Masters

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130. nah, it's okay. you don't have to do anything else. i will jump on here later when i get home and take a look at them. i just hate missing the data in a data-driven discussion!

:)

thanks for offering, though.
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Quoting Floodman:


The flaw in your logic comes with oil companies, automobile manufacturers, etc. They have vast qauntities of money tied up in the current technology and there is a lot of money left to be made in petrochemicals, internal combusiton cars, etc.; why spend the money now when we can wait 30 years or so and start worrying about it then? My greatest issue is with reactive, rather than proactive industries (I work in one of the worst for reactive vs. proactive...insurance)

I will have to concede that point.
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For those using individual station plots as "proof" for/against GW... consider that the GW theory is using GLOBAL averages, not individual stations. Also, just like El Nino, warming on a global scale will have varying impacts, depending on local and regional topography. (Some areas will become drier, some wetter. Some areas will become warmer overall, some colder, and some will just have more extremes)
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Atmo, this one must be in your backyard! LOL

Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Post 125...that's why I'm all for sea-level rise.
290 ft rise would be fine, man.
heheheheh
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Quoting pearlandaggie:
128. man, i wish i could see the graphics you're posting.

Sorry, seems like the NASA GISS site has temporary URLs for the plots I am generating there, so I had to host them somewhere. What would work for you?
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
128. man, i wish i could see the graphics you're posting.
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Nice long-term station from Greenland's "largest city" shows a cyclical behavior with the requisite weird yearly stability near the end and a warming trend, only if you start in the 80s. Start at the beginning...and the alarmism seems misguided.

Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
typical climataologist LIES!!
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Quoting atmoaggie:

As a scientist I am alarmed when the obs don't fit the theory.
A lot of observation sites were decommissioned in 1989.
I have no problem with efficient use of resources. I have a problem with science that has holes in it being the driver of legislated higher energy costs...in a time when there are a lot of folks just barely hanging on to the house they live in. All for smart use of resources and long-term development of alternative energy that is reliable and cost-effective. Arbitrarily and optionally raising the cost of energy, my kids' food, transportation, etc., IMO, doesn't currently have a solid scientific basis.


I agree, I truly do, but again, we;re dealing with reactive and not proactive entities...governments and corporations have that in common. Change in small doses is good, but only after the face has been rubbed in the need for it sufficiently
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123. LOL...draggin' that sucker down to the water would be a real downer! :)
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
120. Hear, hear! :)
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
115, Rita.
I am 300' above sea level. Have a small sailing dingy in my yard. Looking forward to the day that the sea comes to me, for a change. And, fishing off my deck would be fine too.
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to contrast, here's one not too far from my hometown. sited well per USHCN guidelines (not by a parking lot or a/c condenser unit).
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
After 2012 there will no longer be a United States president, Senators will take that role. One world government.
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Quoting FFtrombi:
Doesn't global warming in theory mean the entire planet is warming? Why would temperature plots from baffin island necessarily have any relation to global temperature? If the artic temperatures are staying the same that's a good thing meaning we have more time to act :). Also that graph that shows a slight mean rise ends at 1990, would make it easier to compare graphs if they ended at the same period.

Not commenting on the issue as a whole, my view is simple, it doesn't matter what's going on, there is nothing in decreasing carbon emissions that I disagree with. Reforesting, renewable energy sources, reduction of waste and less cars / cleaner air. I have long been of the opinion that the worlds wealth inequality should be reduced, even if it means the western world will have to make do with a lower standard of living. Every person on earth deserves clean water, food and a place to live.

As a scientist I am alarmed when the obs don't fit the theory.
A lot of observation sites were decommissioned in 1989.
I have no problem with efficient use of resources. I have a problem with science that has holes in it being the driver of legislated higher energy costs...in a time when there are a lot of folks just barely hanging on to the house they live in. All for smart use of resources and long-term development of alternative energy that is reliable and cost-effective. Arbitrarily and optionally raising the cost of energy, my kids' food, transportation, etc., IMO, doesn't currently have a solid scientific basis.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
Flood, you have mail, too. :-)

Good point, 82. Ossqss and Flood 87. Investing in switching to less polluting technologies may be feasible for the leading industrialised nations like the USA, Germany, Japan, UK, etc. but developing countries struggling to improve their situation will not have the means to pay for that.

Last week I heard in the news that the world's leaders were discussing how the leading nations should contribute to financing the developing nations' switch to better technologies.

The big question is whether you will find anyone willing to do that with the global economy still recovering from the depression last year. In the long run it would surely pay off but how far does the average politician look ahead? Until the next election could be a good bet...
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113, True. Sad, but true.
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105
Hear hear!
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110. here's one from Lampasas, Texas...bet you can't guess what year the station was moved! LOL
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
We'll all be dead anyway come 2012,the ice melt according to experts is just the sign of whats coming! lol
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Quoting pearlandaggie:
106. DINGDINGDING. see, IMDB works! LOL


Nope, memory on that one! remember, I'm a computer geek...the Matrix movies are our holy trinity, or at least part of our holy literature
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Quoting HurricaneNewbie:
I don't see any new technology being squashed except for maybe the government looking out for my best interests. New technology has always spurred economic growth. The first adopters will pay a premium for the "keeping up with the Jones" mentality. After the initial investments have been reduced and the market wants the product the price will be reduced to the cost savings of mass production. This lowering of price will reflect what the market will bear and will not truly reflect the cost of manufacture and distribution.


The flaw in your logic comes with oil companies, automobile manufacturers, etc. They have vast qauntities of money tied up in the current technology and there is a lot of money left to be made in petrochemicals, internal combusiton cars, etc.; why spend the money now when we can wait 30 years or so and start worrying about it then? My greatest issue is with reactive, rather than proactive industries (I work in one of the worst for reactive vs. proactive...insurance)
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Sorry Newbie. I saw you post. But things are zipping along here.
Are you saying that there have been drier conditions ?
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108. nope, you're not being ignored :)

but your capitalism is going to have to go! you're going to have to accept life without air conditioning!

LOL j/k :)
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
This one, from Greenland's 4th "largest" city fits the AGW mold better...but really looks odd. Has the same yearly variability as the nearby Baffin Island stations up until about 1990, then a remarkably stable yearly variability with the "scary" trend in clear evidence.

Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
106. DINGDINGDING. see, IMDB works! LOL
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Hello. Checking to see if I am visible to the rest of the world or just being ignored.
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Post 105.
AMEN
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Quoting pearlandaggie:
97. Bingo. It is a pickle. No doubt about it.

Flood...name that movie! LOL


The Matrix Reloaded
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Doesn't global warming in theory mean the entire planet is warming? Why would temperature plots from baffin island necessarily have any relation to global temperature? If the artic temperatures are staying the same that's a good thing meaning we have more time to act :). Also that graph that shows a slight mean rise ends at 1990, would make it easier to compare graphs if they ended at the same period.

Not commenting on the issue as a whole, my view is simple, it doesn't matter what's going on, there is nothing in decreasing carbon emissions that I disagree with. Reforesting, renewable energy sources, reduction of waste and less cars / cleaner air. I have long been of the opinion that the worlds wealth inequality should be reduced, even if it means the western world will have to make do with a lower standard of living. Every person on earth deserves clean water, food and a place to live.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
103. i guess you're using tinypic, right? darn it...blocked by the corporate firewall AGAIN!
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Quoting barryweather:
95. That's way more stable. What would they look like if they were smoothed out though?

I see what you are saying...because these are a yearly average?

Note that all 3 plots I put up have a different starting point.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
97. Bingo. It is a pickle. No doubt about it.

Flood...name that movie! LOL
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
I don't see any new technology being squashed except for maybe the government looking out for my best interests. New technology has always spurred economic growth. The first adopters will pay a premium for the "keeping up with the Jones" mentality. After the initial investments have been reduced and the market wants the product the price will be reduced to the cost savings of mass production. This lowering of price will reflect what the market will bear and will not truly reflect the cost of manufacture and distribution.
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I absolutley hate it when the season is nearly over...I turn on the TV and what do I see? Rachel Ray and Sandra Lee pretending to cook.......I absolutely hate it
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95. That's way more stable. What would they look like if they were smoothed out though?
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96, yeah.
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The conundrum, with the developing nation speeding to catch up with developed, is that developed nations are all for this "advance' in development.
The profits to be made, in China, India etc are huge for Developed nations I dont think we will hear any complaints from Developed countries, about co2 emissions from developing ones.
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93. if i had to guess, i'd say that those are clouds in the atmosphere passing between the ice and the satellite. i don't know if that loop is in infrared or not, but if it is, the clouds would appear darker because of temperature differences between the ice and the clouds.

by the way, did you notice the flow of ice out of the Arctic down the east coast of Greenland (top of frame)?
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Quoting barryweather:
91. Looks like a net rise over time to me.

Sorry, the wrong one showed when I used the url directly to GISS. It showed the same plot as in post 86. Fixed now.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
Quoting Floodman:


Newer better technologies to replace the those currently in place and at a cost that can be tolerated by these young and growing economies...the issue is that (and I am NOT a conspiracy theorist) the powers that be have a problem with retolling for newer techs; hits the bottom line, which upsets the stockholders. Now for the conspriacy part: how many technologies have been squelched because of the cost of switching out?


Return on capital investment does indeed play a role everyday. I keep thinking of the billions of folks who eagerly await their first TV and or radio, let alone a puter. They desire what we in America have taken for granted for decades. I would gladly give them my work puter. Think of life without work email. LoL
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Post 89, Pearland--
Some interesting video there. Some showing ice loss.
Interesting to see a dark smudge coming and going across the ice.
What is that? Dirty ice? Cloud? What??
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91. Looks like a net rise over time to me.
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Another one from Baffin Island showing...
...
...
...nothing at all.


(edited to use tinypic, GISS has temporary url to plots apparently)
I thought the Arctic was supposed to be the harbinger of things to come everywhere else?
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
LOL Flood.
But I was thinking Methane, dirty ice, etc.?? I dont know....
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78. check out how the ice is crushed and moved around and out of the arctic by wind and currents. pretty interesting...
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Low humidity will cause ice to dissipate due to evaporation. I really hate providing ammo for either side to use.
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Quoting Ossqss:


Sure does Pottery, squelching the fundamental desires of those developing nations citizens will not be an easy task. The velocity of those desires is ever increasing and will provide formidable resistance to any initiative to slow them down. Just my take. Thanks also 67.


Newer better technologies to replace the those currently in place and at a cost that can be tolerated by these young and growing economies...the issue is that (and I am NOT a conspiracy theorist) the powers that be have a problem with retolling for newer techs; hits the bottom line, which upsets the stockholders. Now for the conspriacy part: how many technologies have been squelched because of the cost of switching out?
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Quoting Floodman:


I see your point and it would have to be some kind of instrumentation issue; one thing that all sides agree to is the ice minimus, whether we agree as to cause or not

Can anyone come up with an instrumentation issue that goes to a low bias?
I guess simple old calibration is a possible one...

Another from the NASA/GISS system, Coral Harbour at the north end of Hudson Bay:



All I see in the way of a trend is a step change...
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
74. Got any graphs from other stations in the area?
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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