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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Quoting msphar:
You're just bragging aren't ya Orca. How about sharing some of that wet stuff and shove it down the coast for a bit. The Sierra is in need.


I was thinking of stuffing some of this wet stuff somewhere :)

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i was reading somewhere that theres a big sale for duck boots in victoria this week too hope ya got yours orca
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632. i always like looking at your pictures. it's pretty neat seeing the Coasties heading your way in the Mona Passage :)
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
You're just bragging aren't ya Orca. How about sharing some of that wet stuff and shove it down the coast for a bit. The Sierra is in need.
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
i see a artic outflow in the near future so i hope its within next seven days that you are going


Think
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622. did you look at it? oh, my!
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
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Quoting Orcasystems:


PV this year... and taking ALL the rugrats
i see a artic outflow in the near future so i hope its within next seven days that you are going
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Quoting xcool:





thanks. seems like the northeast will get wind and rain but no real cold air.
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Quoting PcolaDan:


When did you move to England?


I am glad I don't live 20 miles in either direction of Victoria... they got twice as much
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
are you going to cancun soon orca


PV this year... and taking ALL the rugrats
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are you going to cancun soon orca
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Quoting Orcasystems:
I am tired of rain and clouds :(


When did you move to England?
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Quoting pearlandaggie:
if this is real, you're gonna hear a LOT more about it in coming days...



Oh oh...
This is going to make the blog unreadable for weeks.
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if this is real, you're gonna hear a LOT more about it in coming days...so far, nothing has obviously been faked or altered. some of the email texts are astounding...

Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
all ya need now is an artic outflow and yer all set


Your a DM KOG if it happens... I have airmiles
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all ya need now is an artic outflow and yer all set
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
come on orca already its a long wet winter ahead for ya yet


We are having an "over" abundance of wetness.. heck.. the ski slopes are open already... its way beyond stupid.


So far this month.... and most of it this week

Precipitation: 179.8mm

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come on orca already its a long wet winter ahead for ya yet
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I am tired of rain and clouds :(




Seismic Monitor

AOI

AOI

Humor in Comments
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strong storms se tex anim radar wiyh zoom on strongest cell



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614. xcool



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Quoting AussieStorm:

Go here for Flood updates


Thanks...
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thanks storm looks like system forming right on cue
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Quoting Dakster:
Any Floodman updates?

Go here for Flood updates
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Quoting Grothar:


Must be a good movie on.

my pay tv has dropped out......grrrrrrr
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Any Floodman updates?
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Tropics are quiet, too!
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Quoting AussieStorm:


Bourke Airport, NW NSW....111.6°F
My temp here in Sydney...101.3°F


Must be a good movie on.
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Quoting AussieStorm:
Cobar, far NW NSW/ 109.0°F..... my temps here in Sydney, 97.9°F .


Bourke Airport, NW NSW....111.6°F
My temp here in Sydney...101.3°F
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x-ida
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Quoting Grothar:
Hey, Aussie, by the time I finished reading your entry #597, guess what, it was Friday here too!!!! Our Declaration of Independence wasn't that long. Hope everyone stays safe. I have a few hundred relatives there, as you know!

well since the blog is slow i thought i would post the full article
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Hey, Aussie, by the time I finished reading your entry #597, guess what, it was Friday here too!!!! Our Declaration of Independence wasn't that long. Hope everyone stays safe. I have a few hundred relatives there, as you know!
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Bourke Airport, far NW NSW... 111.6F.... my Temp, 99.0F
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Cobar, far NW NSW/ 109.0°F..... my temps here in Sydney, 97.9°F .
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Fire zone residents told to leave homes
Friday November 20, 2009 - 10:41 EDT

Residents in bushfire-prone areas of New South Wales where a catastrophic fire warning is in place are being told to spend the day away from home.

Thirty-four fires are burning in the state's north, central west and on Sydney's northern outskirts but none are threatening properties.

Forecast temperatures in the mid-40s and hot winds have pushed the warning to its highest risk level for the lower central west plains, northern and southern Riverina, south-western and far western regions. Elsewhere the danger is extreme or severe.

It is the first time the warning has been used in New South Wales since a new national alert system was introduced in the wake of Victoria's Black Saturday fires.

Fire crews are also battling dozens of blazes across South Australia, where hot conditions have eased but severe thunderstorms forecast for today are expected to make conditions difficult for firefighters.

Officials say almost 100 fires across South Australia have been sparked by lightning in the past 24 hours and about 20 houses are in the path of a fire in the Spring Gully Conservation Park in the Clare Valley.

Meanwhile, a severe fire danger continues across the northern half of Victoria today.

Firefighters are also trying to control a fire in a pine forest at Lyons in Victoria's far south-west, while other crews are monitoring a 40-hectare blaze in a pine plantation at Dorodong, north west of Casterton.

In New South Wales, five of the state's 21 fire areas have received the catastrophic danger rating.

The warning is meant to represent the worst possible bushfire danger, where fast-moving, uncontrollable fires can threaten homes and lives suddenly and without warning.

Rural Fire Service (RFS) Assistant Commissioner Rob Rogers says the catastrophic warning means if a fire starts in those areas it will be hard to suppress.

"Simply, be smart. Plan your day. Plan to go to town. Go to a friend's place who doesn't live in a bushfire-prone area. Go to the pool," he said.

"Do something for the heat of the day to avoid being in a bushfire-prone area, just to give you the best chance or survival.

"The difficulty in catastrophic conditions is that homes may not provide the safety they would at lower levels."

Mr Rogers says crews are working to control fires on the northern outskirts of Sydney, affecting the Hawkesbury, Bilpin and Colo Heights areas.

He says no properties are under threat and that they were started by lightning strikes overnight in areas hard to access.

RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says it will not be safe for most people living in areas under a catastrophic warning to stay and defend their homes if they come under threat.

"Generally speaking, that message has to be tailored to the local situation," he said.

"Obviously if you are in a bushfire-prone area and you are not well prepared, that is going to be an unsafe place to be.

"Homes are not designed and planned to withstand conditions typically with this sort of rating."

Mr Fitzsimmons says conditions across most of the state have been hot and dry for more than a week, but today winds are expected to pick up as temperatures hit the mid-40s.

"The very hot temperatures we've seen across New South Wales right throughout this last week are simply breaking hundred-year records," he said.

South Australia's Country Fire Service (CFS) says erratic weather conditions mean the fire threat has not yet eased.

It has started to rain in some parts of the state, but the fire danger in the northern areas is still extreme.

The CFS says there are now three main fires causing concern - one near Marion Bay on Yorke Peninsula, one near Sevenhill in the Clare Valley, and another at Wirrabara in the Flinders Ranges.

In the past 24 hours, more than 2,000 volunteer firefighters have been battling various blazes across the State. One firefighter near Kingston has been treated for injuries.

Five people were injured yesterday when two CFS trucks collided during a blaze on Yorke Peninsula.

CFS spokesman Euan Ferguson says people from local communities have also helped out.

"In many areas, farmers with their firefighting utes, their little utes, with tanks on the back have been absolutely outstanding in initially responding to these fires and assisting CFS," Mr Ferguson said.

About 20 houses are in the path of the Clare Valley fire, which is spreading in an easterly direction and burning in native scrub. A helicopter is flying over the area to assess the extent of the threat.

Residents there have been told to activate their bushfire survival plans or leave the area.

Port Augusta CFS spokesman Bluey Devine says the fires in the Flinders Ranges have been hard to access and crews monitored them overnight and a water bomber aircraft is on its way.

"We have got a bomber coming in landing at Port Pirie this morning and we are also hoping to get a spotter up so we can get a better assessment of these fires and hopefully get some assistance from the air," he said.

Fire crews are also mopping up at the scene of last night's fire at Pine Point on Yorke Peninsula.

At the height of the blaze, people staying at the local caravan park were evacuated as a precaution because CFS crews were worried about the changing wind direction.

The fire burnt through more than 300 hectares.

Fire crews also spent the night monitoring conditions on the Yorke Peninsula, where 1,200 hectares of crops and grassland were burnt in a fire that broke out close to Currumulka.

In Victoria, the CFA says it is unlikely that lightning started the fires burning in the state's far south-west.

Six tankers are working on a fire at Lyons, north west of Heywood, which ignited at about 3:30am AEDT.

Crews have now contained a fire in an Auspine plantation at Lake Mundi, west of Casterton.

CFA spokesman Stuart Ord says he does not think the fires were started by lightning.

"That's always a possibility, but we think it's probably more likely to be a re-light from some existing work done to clear some of those areas during the forestry practice."

Meanwhile, two water-bombing aircraft and a reconnaissance helicopter have been sent to the blaze at Dorodong which is burning in difficult terrain.

- ABC
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Quoting Chicklit:
Aussie, I just wish you'd report in Fahrenheit degrees. We're a bit behind the times here in America.

I try to report in both Fahrenheit and Celcius
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I'm the organizer of the election we've got going on and I want to say that this is JUST FOR FUN! No one is taking over Wunderground. This is just an election because our lives are boring, and we want to do something exciting. :)
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Aussie, I just wish you'd report in Fahrenheit degrees. We're a bit behind the times here in America.
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Quoting Grothar:


Hey, Aussie, if you're a day ahead of us how come you never tell us what is going to happen? You could really help our NHC with their forecasting!!! lol

I could also tell you the Lotto numbers NFL scores. lol
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591. xcool



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Quoting BahaHurican:
Morning all.

On the dryer issue, in the Bahamas, dryers are still considered luxury items by many. Pple who use them tend to do so only in protracted periods of wet weather and/or at "washhouses" (laundromats). Most pple here, even apartment dwellers and condominium owners, have at least a small clothes line or access to one, and most make regular use thereof.

I have three clotheslines (one inside),use them more often than not (although I have a dryer), and realize a considerable savings in my electricity bill each month.
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Quoting AussieStorm:

11:05am Friday


Hey, Aussie, if you're a day ahead of us how come you never tell us what is going to happen? You could really help our NHC with their forecasting!!! lol
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Quoting pottery:
Aussie, what time is it now?

11:05am Friday
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Aussie, what time is it now?
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24390
Currently in Bourke, Far NW NSW..... 107.4°F
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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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