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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533. obviously i don't...
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
529. i wasn't...unfortunately. i should have gone, but the world was quite different from today when i was the appropriate age...
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Quoting SQUAWK:


Stupid, just plain stupid.

Squawk, is this something I need a language interpreter for, or may I just go ahead and make the meatloaf I was planning for dinner?
Member Since: August 19, 2008 Posts: 32 Comments: 1918
what is the voting for???
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 24 Comments: 8185
Quoting pearlandaggie:
523. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, over? LOL


.....and which service were you in???
Member Since: December 9, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2498
Quoting btwntx08:
ok bloggers i know someone in here is trying to take away our votes for severestormstrike and that there is wrong u all think she's gonna listen to u and second don't listen to her.last of all she been ban lots of times and don't think she has change cause she hasn't
dont like the hippo either so i advice u all to change your minds and think before voting for that person so all with that i would most advice u to vote for severestormstrike and we are gonna make wu much better then it is now.

thanks
severestormstrike's tresurer btwntx08


Stupid, just plain stupid.
Member Since: December 9, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2498
Pottery, i still would like to see what the diary reads when the bottle of rum is empty! LOL
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
523. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, over? LOL
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Speaking of bottle half-full; there's good news and there's bad news, and they're the same news.

Hampton homeowners may miss out on FEMA flood assistance

By David Macaulay 247-7838
Newport News VA Daily Press
12:56 p.m. EST, November 19, 2009

HAMPTON - Hundreds of homes in Hampton suffered damage in last week's nor'easter but homeowners are unlikely to qualify for federal emergency assistance because of the high number of people covered by flood insurance, officials say.

The city has likely qualified for FEMA's public assistance program, and small businesses are expected to be eligible for low-interest loans to address storm damage. Homeowners affected by flooding might not qualify for federal funds, however, because many people in the city appear to be covered by insurance.

"Our field teams are finding a much higher than typical flood insurance coverage in our community," said Assistant City Manager Mary Bunting. "I think that's because people learned from (Hurricane) Isabel and other storms. They have been amazed at the percentage of people with flood insurance ... the trick is we may not have enough uninsured to get the federal declaration."

Bunting said it was good that many homes have flood insurance, but it would be "unfortunate" if the city failed to qualify for federal assistance.
Member Since: August 19, 2008 Posts: 32 Comments: 1918
Quoting PcolaDan:


Funny thing is though, we need extremists like him to counter the extremists from the other end of the spectrum. All part of the pendulum swing (like England too, bobbies on bicycles). Usually things end up in the middle somewhere.

editors comment: This brief editorial in no way reflects which way my windmills tilt.


Well, maybe not so much. If it were not for his extreme rhetoric and media blitz, I have the feeling that the other side would not have gone so far out to rebuke his claims. Extremism begets extremism.
Member Since: December 9, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2498
Quoting pottery:
No Junky, I have not.
I based my tirade purely on the link at post 505.
My comment was in humour, rather than anything elsa.
I may not bother to read the book anyway...


I haven't read it either, just wondering if you had and that's why you were upset.
Member Since: August 28, 2006 Posts: 6 Comments: 2895
No Junky, I have not.
I based my tirade purely on the link at post 505.
My comment was in humour, rather than anything else.
I may not bother to read the book anyway...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Pottery,
Have you read the new book yet? I am just wondering where the tirade came from? I saw him on Larry King last week and he didn't sound like he no longer believes in GW. Climate Crisis is what he was talking about which is about right.
Member Since: August 28, 2006 Posts: 6 Comments: 2895
Yep, half is fine! And, its a big one too.
Had a nice shower this afternoon, 1/2 ". Plants are sighing with delight.
1/2" gives me about 750 galls from my roof into the cistern.
(edited)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting PcolaDan:


Funny thing is though, we need extremists like him to counter the extremists from the other end of the spectrum. All part of the pendulum swing (like England too, bobbies on bicycles). Usually things end up in the middle somewhere.

editors comment: This brief editorial in no way reflects which way my windmills tilt.

But how does having 6000' Cuba mountains go under, leaving the (correction, 530)-something-feet highest point in LA help anyone?
Or the 10,000 ' Panama mountains just disappear and the Yucatan Peninsula goes unscathed?!?
And the equatorial hurricane and clockwise Florida-cane help whose cause?

All absurd (and no, not at all debatable) Embarrassing, really. Some artist should have stuck it out in math or physics or geography.

Just so everyone is clear, this is not about AGW and the large unknowns and caveats that come with the data, theories, or physics. This is about a depiction of Earth sometime in the future showing some apparent sea level rise that is weirdly selective. Marsh lands remain, but mountainous areas are underwater. Goofy, period.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
LOL in either case you still have half a bottle and that's a good thing :)
Member Since: July 18, 2005 Posts: 9 Comments: 4141
Quoting pottery:
Nope. But I turned it over. So now, its half empty (or was it half empty before? I cant recall) LOL


pass it this way :P haha long day at school
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 24 Comments: 8185
Nope. But I turned it over. So now, its half empty (or was it half empty before? I cant recall) LOL
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
LOL Pottery! You're on a roll today. Did you finish the bottle of rum yet? :)
Member Since: July 18, 2005 Posts: 9 Comments: 4141
I dont know!!
Maybe I should have said "the Dark Side" but then that would open a whole 'nother door. Language is so fraught....
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
512. xcool
lol
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Dakster:
Pottery - Al Gore is gay???

Al Gore is gay?


LOL somebody better tell Tipper :)
Member Since: July 18, 2005 Posts: 9 Comments: 4141
Pottery - Al Gore is gay???
Quoting pottery:
Well, it is clear to me, that Mr. Gore has capitulated and joined the Other Side. This book will put a serious dent in the GW believers (me). And give ammo to the disbelievers to bonk us with.
Has Gore been bought out? Thats my conspiracy theory, anyway.
LOLOLOL Mr. Gore! You done sunk your own dam boat!! And left the crew up the creek without so much as a methane emission to fall back on.


Al Gore is gay?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
howdy all
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 24 Comments: 8185
Well, it is clear to me, that Mr. Gore has capitulated and joined the Other Side. This book will put a serious dent in the GW believers (me). And give ammo to the disbelievers to bonk us with.
Has Gore been bought out? Thats my conspiracy theory, anyway.
LOLOLOL Mr. Gore! You done sunk your own dam boat!! And left the crew up the creek without so much as a methane emission to fall back on.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
507. xcool


Member Since: Posts: Comments:
505. don't be that guy...seriously, don't be that guy.

LOL ;P
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Quoting atmoaggie:
LOL. Someone sent me this and I felt I had to share: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/11/19/not-finding-any-gore-airbrushes-in-hurricanes-for-his-new-boo k/

Look at the 2 plots...bad issues with the hurricanes aside (including the backwards one), depicting sea level rise by erasing Cuba, Hispaniola, Panama!, but leaving parts of Florida, the Yucatan, Louisiana, well, anything at all east of the front range of the Rockies...what kind of climate change is he envisioning?!? More funny fiction from Gore's fantasy land...

Really curious about the thinking behind the faux-satellite shot. Maybe I am too quick to assume there wasn't much.

I do think that guy has earned another award, though...


Funny thing is though, we need extremists like him to counter the extremists from the other end of the spectrum. All part of the pendulum swing (like England too, bobbies on bicycles). Usually things end up in the middle somewhere.

editors comment: This brief editorial in no way reflects which way my windmills tilt.
Member Since: August 22, 2008 Posts: 12 Comments: 6010
Thank you, LST! We're here for both of you oh, and you ROCK too!
Member Since: July 18, 2005 Posts: 9 Comments: 4141
500. keep us informed! :)
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Houston, we have lift-off! Flood went to the OR about 1:15. Surgery takes about 3 hours. I'll be back to update everyone when he's in recovery.

Thanks so much to ALL of you for your prayers, positive energy and good vibes! WU rocks!! :)
Member Since: July 10, 2008 Posts: 14 Comments: 412
sorry to hear that, StormW. it's almost Thanksgiving, though. The Military Channel will be running an all-day marathon called "Tanksgiving." i'd bet you can't guess what the main topic of the marathon is! LOL
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
so stupid...
"New Orleans-Area Residents 'Vindicated' by Katrina Ruling Against Army Corps of Engineers"

Link
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
494. you're welcome, sir :) how's everything going?
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
StormW...he's having back surgery.
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Flood you the man! Good luck my friend! Your in good hands as we all pray you will be fine!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
T - 3 minutes for the Floodman...Godspeed boss
Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 551
Quoting StormChaser81:


Better hope not, that means the sleep drugs arnt working and that would be scary to watch them and not be able to talk.


You got that right
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 862 Comments: 15079
Flood, good luck brother!
Member Since: August 28, 2006 Posts: 6 Comments: 2895
Quoting NEwxguy:
LOL,good luck Flood,for a minute there I thought were going to get minute by minute account of the surgery.


Better hope not, that means the sleep drugs arnt working and that would be scary to watch them and not be able to talk.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
LOL,good luck Flood,for a minute there I thought were going to get minute by minute account of the surgery.
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 862 Comments: 15079
Oh, Bye for now, See you later!

You'll be fab-u-lous, dah-link!
Member Since: August 19, 2008 Posts: 32 Comments: 1918

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About JeffMasters

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.