Arctic sea ice at a record low again; a warmer February for the U.S. coming

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:42 PM GMT on February 08, 2011

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Arctic sea ice extent for January 2011 was the lowest on record for the month, and marked the second consecutive month a record low has been set, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Most of the missing ice was concentrated along the shores of Northeast Canada and Western Greenland. Relative to the 1979 - 2000 average, the missing ice area was about twice the size of Texas, or about 60% of the size of the Mediterranean Sea. Hudson Bay in Canada did not freeze over until mid-January, the latest freeze-up date on record, and at least a month later than average. The late freeze-up contributed to record warm winter temperatures across much of the Canadian Arctic in December and January. Bob Henson of the National Center for Atmospheric Research has a very interesting post on this, noting that Coral Harbor on the shores of Hudson Bay had a low temperature on January 6 that was 30°C (54°F) above average--a pretty ridiculous temperature anomaly. He quotes David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada, who discussed the lack of ice near Canada's Baffin Island: "The Meteorological Service of Canada was still writing marine forecasts as of 7 January, well beyond anything we have ever done." Henson also writes:

"The extremes have been just as impressive when you look high in the atmosphere above these areas. Typically the midpoint of the atmosphere's mass--the 500-millibar (500 hPa) level--rests around 5 kilometers (3 miles) above sea level during the Arctic midwinter. In mid-December, a vast bubble of high pressure formed in the vicinity of Greenland. At the center of this high, the 500-mb surface rose to more than 5.8 kilometers, a sign of remarkably mild air below. Stu Ostro (The Weather Channel) found that this was the most extreme 500-mb anomaly anywhere on the planet in weather analyses dating back to 1948.

Farther west, a separate monster high developed over Alaska in January. According to Richard Thoman (National Weather Service, Fairbanks), the 500-mb height over both Nome and Kotzebue rose to 582 decameters (5.82 km). That's not only a January record: those are the highest values ever observed at those points outside of June, July, and August."



Figure 1. Monthly January sea ice extent for 1979 to 2011 shows a decline of 3.3% per decade. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The warm temperatures in Canada and record sea ice loss in the Arctic were also due, in part, to a strong negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation (AO). The Arctic Oscillation and its close cousin, the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) are naturally occurring pressure patterns in the Arctic and mid-latitudes. A negative AO and NAO results when we have weaker than normal low pressure over the Arctic, and weaker than normal high pressure over the Azores Islands. This fosters an easterly flow of air off the warm Atlantic Ocean into the Canadian Arctic, and also weakens the winds of the polar vortex, the ring of counter-clockwise spinning winds that encircles the Arctic. A weaker polar vortex allows cold air to spill southwards out of the Arctic into eastern North America and Western Europe. Thus, the strongly negative AO and NAO the past two winters have been largely responsible for the cold and snowy winters in these regions, and exceptionally warm conditions in the Arctic. I described this pattern in more detail in my December post titled, Florida shivers; Hot Arctic-Cold Continents pattern is back. It is possible that Arctic sea ice loss is largely responsible for the unusual Arctic Oscillation pattern we've observed during the past two winters, as well as for the record-strength ridges of high pressure observed over Greenland and Alaska this winter. It should not surprise us that Arctic sea ice loss would be capable of causing major perturbations to Earth's weather, since it is well known that changes from average in sea surface temperatures over large regions of the ocean modify the jet stream, storm tracks, and precipitation patterns. The El Niño and La Niña patterns are prime examples of this (though the area of oceans affected by these phenomena are much larger than what we're talking about in the Arctic.) Another example: Feudale and Shukla (2010) found that during the summer of 2003, exceptionally high sea surface temperatures of 4°C (7°F) above average over the Mediterranean Sea, combined with unusually warm SSTs in the northern portion of the North Atlantic Ocean near the Arctic, combined to shift the jet stream to the north over Western Europe and create the heat wave of 2003, the deadliest heat wave in history with 30,000 - 50,000 deaths in Europe.

References
Feudale, L., and J. Shukla (2010), "Influence of sea surface temperature on the European heat wave of 2003 summer. Part I: an observational study", Climate Dynamics DOI: 10.1007/s00382-010-0788-0


Figure 2. The 6-10 temperature forecast issued by NOAA's Climate Prediction Center calls for an above-average chance of warm temperatures across most of the U.S. by mid-February.

A warmer forecast for February
Over the past two weeks, the Arctic Oscillation has undergone a major transition, changing from negative to positive. This means that low pressure over the Arctic has intensified, which will act to speed up the counter-clockwise spinning winds (the polar vortex.) This spin-up of the polar vortex will tend to keep cold air bottled up the Arctic, leading to more Arctic sea ice formation and warmer winter conditions over the U.S. This warm-up is reflected in the latest 6 - 10 day temperature outlook from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center (Figure 2.) Could it be the groundhog was right, and we have only three more weeks of winter left? Time will tell--we have little skill predicting what may happen to the Arctic Oscillation more than about two weeks in advance.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting MichaelSTL:
Speaking of SSTs, it is interesting to note that despite a La Nina that has set many records (including the highest January SOI on record, after the highest December SOI on record, highest October-December SOI, etc, not to mention near records like the second lowest MEI value of all time), global SSTs have already recovered to 2009 levels; in fact, it is currently closer to 2010 (during the strongest El Nino since 1997-98) than it is to 2008 (the last strong La Nina):



(note also that 2009 started setting monthly SST records beginning in June, of course, related to El Nino, but also the long-term warming trend)


It's also convenient to leave out how this La Nina did, after all, come directly off the heels of one of the strongest El Ninos ever recorded, and it takes a lot to get the global temperature to fall far below average straight off that kind of a peak. 2008's La Nina started with global temperatures over 0.1C cooler than they were when this La Nina started, and we have already fallen a greater amount in global temperature than 2008's La Nina did. If this La Nina is a single-year event then we likely won't get down as far as 2008, which is very typical of ENSO cycles. The bigger question is whether a potential multi-year La Nina event or more frequent La Ninas due to the now negative PDO will help level global temperature off during this decade. In fact, since last decade the trend is already more than flat in the oceans.


Note on the figure: The anomalies here don't matter. The base period does not matter. They are there for relative comparison within the last decade only. It is the trends that matter here.
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Get some Popcorn, sit back and enjoy the Movie.



Movie of sea ice extent, 1979–2009, in Google Earth

2009 sea ice extent side-by-side with 1979–2009 climatology (QuickTime, 1.1 MB)


Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 428 Comments: 129902
Amarillo is 11 degrees with winds gusting to 43mph with -13 degree wind chill
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 2 Comments: 9686
nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews


February 2, 2011
Arctic Oscillation brings record low January extent, unusual mid-latitude weather

Arctic sea ice extent for January 2011 was the lowest in the satellite record for that month. The Arctic oscillation persisted in its strong negative phase for most of the month, keeping ice extent low.
map from space showing sea ice extent, continentsFigure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for January 2011 was 13.55 million square kilometers (5.23 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1979 to 2000 median extent for that month. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole. Sea Ice Index data. About the data.
—Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

High-resolution image


Overview of conditions

Arctic sea ice extent averaged over January 2011 was 13.55 million square kilometers (5.23 million square miles). This was the lowest January ice extent recorded since satellite records began in 1979. It was 50,000 square kilometers (19,300 square miles) below the record low of 13.60 million square kilometers (5.25 million square miles), set in 2006, and 1.27 million square kilometers (490,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average.

Ice extent in January 2011 remained unusually low in Hudson Bay, Hudson Strait (between southern Baffin Island and Labrador), and Davis Strait (between Baffin Island and Greenland). Normally, these areas freeze over by late November, but this year Hudson Bay did not completely freeze over until mid-January. The Labrador Sea remains largely ice-free.
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Quoting FFtrombi:


It seems fairly obvious now that both strongly positive and strongly negative AO can cause ice loss in the right conditions. IPCC projections are based on the best science at the time. It's really cool to see how science moves forward continuously, nobody can stop learning ever, and that's one of the big reasons I'm studying for a career in research.


Interesting to hear that said at a time when it suits the situation, but would anyone ordinarily admit that some of the major principles of the 2007 IPCC projections are misguided or wrong? Their models simulations of the arctic atmospheric circulation have been almost completely opposite of reality over the last 10-20 years.

It begs the question, how many more of these 21st century projections are going to require "better science" to become correct in the future?
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40 to 50 degree difference in less than 100 miles in the TX panhandle
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Quoting Levi32:
During the last few years I have seen both the negative AO and positive AO blamed for sea ice loss.....somebody needs to make up their minds.

Both of these quotes are from the National Snow and Ice Data Center:

"The Arctic Oscillation (AO) is a see-saw pattern of alternating atmospheric pressure at polar and mid-latitudes. The positive phase produces a strong polar vortex, with the mid-latitude jet stream shifted northward. The negative phase produces the opposite conditions. From the 1950s to the 1980s, the AO flipped between positive and negative phases, but it entered a strong positive pattern between 1989 and 1995. So the acceleration in the sea ice decline since the mid 1990s may have been partly triggered by the strongly positive AO mode during the preceding years (Rigor et al. 2002 and Rigor and Wallace 2004) that flushed older, thicker ice out of the Arctic, but other factors also played a role."


But here is a recent headline on their news page:

"Arctic Oscillation brings record low January extent, unusual mid-latitude weather
Arctic sea ice extent for January 2011 was the lowest in the satellite record for that month. The Arctic oscillation persisted in its strong negative phase for most of the month, keeping ice extent low.
"


"As in December 2010, the warm temperatures in January came from two sources: unfrozen areas of the ocean continued to release heat to the atmosphere, and the wind patterns accompanying the negative phase of the Arctic oscillation brought warm air into the Arctic. Near the end of January the negative Arctic oscillation pattern broke down and turned positive, which usually favors ice growth."


What? Make up your minds. Furthermore, although the recent blame for arctic sea ice loss has been the negative AO, the IPCC projections show a more dominantly positive AO as time goes on, and cite it as one of the primary causes of future arctic sea ice loss.


University of Illinois IPCC Arctic GCM Scenarios


They don't need to make up their minds. Both positive and negative AOs can have an effect on sea ice. A positive AO helps push ice out of the arctic in warmer months when the ice pack is weaker. A negative AO keeps temperatures warmer in the winter.

These are not the only factors. They are contributing factors.
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Well, my local weather guy on noon news say we are in for "a Doozy of some weather" tomorrow night and early Thur. morn here in cetral Ms. From 2 to 4 inches of snow/or wintry stuff. Someone please take a look and see what it looks like to you. Prepare for a Doozy....lol...or what?
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O Lordy.....


Freddie Kruger day?
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Quoting Levi32:
During the last few years I have seen both the negative AO and positive AO blamed for sea ice loss.....somebody needs to make up their minds.

Both of these quotes are from the National Snow and Ice Data Center:

"The Arctic Oscillation (AO) is a see-saw pattern of alternating atmospheric pressure at polar and mid-latitudes. The positive phase produces a strong polar vortex, with the mid-latitude jet stream shifted northward. The negative phase produces the opposite conditions. From the 1950s to the 1980s, the AO flipped between positive and negative phases, but it entered a strong positive pattern between 1989 and 1995. So the acceleration in the sea ice decline since the mid 1990s may have been partly triggered by the strongly positive AO mode during the preceding years (Rigor et al. 2002 and Rigor and Wallace 2004) that flushed older, thicker ice out of the Arctic, but other factors also played a role."


But here is a recent headline on their news page:

"Arctic Oscillation brings record low January extent, unusual mid-latitude weather
Arctic sea ice extent for January 2011 was the lowest in the satellite record for that month. The Arctic oscillation persisted in its strong negative phase for most of the month, keeping ice extent low.
"


"As in December 2010, the warm temperatures in January came from two sources: unfrozen areas of the ocean continued to release heat to the atmosphere, and the wind patterns accompanying the negative phase of the Arctic oscillation brought warm air into the Arctic. Near the end of January the negative Arctic oscillation pattern broke down and turned positive, which usually favors ice growth."


What? Make up your minds. Furthermore, although the recent blame for arctic sea ice loss has been the negative AO, the IPCC projections show a more dominantly positive AO as time goes on, and cite it as one of the primary causes of future arctic sea ice loss.


University of Illinois IPCC Arctic GCM Scenarios


It seems fairly obvious now that both strongly positive and strongly negative AO can cause ice loss in the right conditions. IPCC projections are based on the best science at the time. It's really cool to see how science moves forward continuously, nobody can stop learning ever, and that's one of the big reasons I'm studying for a career in research.
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Quoting cat5hurricane:

Are you insinuating that politics may just have a slight affect on it?? How dare you!! Al Gore would be very ashamed.


Yeah, the increase in national debt has nothing to do with increased military spending, multiple foreign war and police actions, the creation of a new multi-billion dollar agency (DHS), or anything like that. It's all because of the global climate conspiracy.

By the way, aliens are controlling your mind. Put on those tinfoil hats boys.
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Quoting Surfcropper:
Less Ice means fewer places for seals to rest and hide more Polar Bears getting easier meals = somebody was wrong a few years ago, Polar Bears have now more of a food supply probably in millions of years.

Flip the ice melt graphs upside down and you have your polar bear population anomalies.

Well, both ringed seals and bearded seals--mainstays of the polar bear diet--need ice for reproduction and molting; where there's no ice, there are no seals--and where there are no seals, there are fewer polar bears.

This is from a story published just today:

"During the spring and summer months the females are hunting seals on the ice to build up energy for the autumn and winter when they will hibernate for up to eight months and give birth. The study found the early melting of the ice made it more difficult for the bears to hunt seals successfully and build up energy. Therefore there is less chance of a successful pregnancy."
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13803
During the last few years I have seen both the negative AO and positive AO blamed for sea ice loss.....somebody needs to make up their minds.

Both of these quotes are from the National Snow and Ice Data Center:

"The Arctic Oscillation (AO) is a see-saw pattern of alternating atmospheric pressure at polar and mid-latitudes. The positive phase produces a strong polar vortex, with the mid-latitude jet stream shifted northward. The negative phase produces the opposite conditions. From the 1950s to the 1980s, the AO flipped between positive and negative phases, but it entered a strong positive pattern between 1989 and 1995. So the acceleration in the sea ice decline since the mid 1990s may have been partly triggered by the strongly positive AO mode during the preceding years (Rigor et al. 2002 and Rigor and Wallace 2004) that flushed older, thicker ice out of the Arctic, but other factors also played a role."


But here is a recent headline on their news page:

"Arctic Oscillation brings record low January extent, unusual mid-latitude weather
Arctic sea ice extent for January 2011 was the lowest in the satellite record for that month. The Arctic oscillation persisted in its strong negative phase for most of the month, keeping ice extent low.
"


"As in December 2010, the warm temperatures in January came from two sources: unfrozen areas of the ocean continued to release heat to the atmosphere, and the wind patterns accompanying the negative phase of the Arctic oscillation brought warm air into the Arctic. Near the end of January the negative Arctic oscillation pattern broke down and turned positive, which usually favors ice growth."


What? Make up your minds. Furthermore, although the recent blame for arctic sea ice loss has been the negative AO, the IPCC projections show a more dominantly positive AO as time goes on, and cite it as one of the primary causes of future arctic sea ice loss.


University of Illinois IPCC Arctic GCM Scenarios
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see later after 3
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Quoting aquak9:
hi plywood

gotta get back to work in a sec, ahh but I just had to JUMP IN

can you drink cafe cubano at the library?


One not there, two, if I could find some of that cafe around I would take it period.
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hi plywood

gotta get back to work in a sec, ahh but I just had to JUMP IN

can you drink cafe cubano at the library?
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Aqua, helps if you are awake at the keyboard instead of needing a cafe cubano
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omg

ya'll are missing ALL the clues

i already figured out who it is (waves to the north)
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Quoting MisterPrefect:

Derivative I admit, but hardly a troll. Haven't you ever read Hitchhiker's Giude to the Galaxy?



ya need to read your email and respond, that would help for starters.
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Amy, how is MP doing?
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MisterPrefect

troll......
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#77 -

Personal Weather Station I think, plywood...
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
its been warmer than normal the last four seasons off africa now with the sun inching ever further north it will only get warmer as we progress towards spring


As we inch towards Hurricane season, what then does that imply for the SST´s off of Africa during the CV season?
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Quoting plywoodstatenative:
Keeper, when was the last time you can think of that you saw temps of that type off the coast of Africa at this time of the year?
its been warmer than normal the last four seasons off africa now with the sun inching ever further north it will only get warmer as we progress towards spring
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75. PWS refers to what, cause thats the Initials of my name....
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Pretty much of a cyclic occurence. You can't accurately measure weather patterns and trends in one hundred year increments. This is a cycle that goes back thousands of years and is perfectly normal. There is no Global warming goblin at work. Just nature and the universe.
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Quoting RitaEvac:
PWS showing 7 degrees near Dalhart TX and 40s in Lubbock, within 100 miles

Actually, that's the ASOS station!

Link
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Keeper, when was the last time you can think of that you saw temps of that type off the coast of Africa at this time of the year?
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7.9F HERE WITH CHILLS OF -8F

brrrrr
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Quoting Surfcropper:
Guess what happens at extent zero kilometers? Wanna bet the stairs go back up?

So long as we're still pumping out the CO2 at or near current levels, it won't.
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13803
PWS showing 7 degrees near Dalhart TX and 40s in Lubbock, within 100 miles
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re: #27

Yeah cat5, but just imagine if the AO/NAO continues this trend into strongly negative indices, next couple years in Winter those warm anomalies could expand / spill over a larger area into the NE US, might be surprisingly warmer in Indy / NYC... while we're snowbound at the New Orleans SuperBowl in 2013!
LOL...

Seriously, I think a lotta folks have gotten an education on the incredible impact of the AO/NAO the past two years, with a lot of seasonal forecasts being blown away that were too heavily biased toward the expected ENSO cycle's contribution, especially on regional temps... To me it appears the AO / NAO apparently overrules the ENSO in the short term in temps, while the synoptic moisture pattern - esp over the N Gulf region - remains consistently more attributable to ENSO with wet El Ninos / dry La Ninas... Despite overall global temp contribution from each ENSO cycle, regional temp trends perhaps have lesser certainty of correlation than previously assumed...

I'm also curious of a possible teleconnection with the AO / NAO's impact with the Caribbean mid-upper ridging pattern... After being largely absent for much of Winter while under the negative AO / NAO - and, for example, allowing Florida to be extremely colder than normal, a fat and healthy ridge appeared over the Antilles over the past two weeks, returning FL to more typical warmth that natives and snowbirds enjoy... which coincided with the sharp uptick into positive territory of the AO / NAO... After this last deep trof coming across shunts the Antilles ridge EWD into the Atlantic, generally flat, broad ridging is expected to quickly reestablish over the Carib / Cen Am, expanding it's warmth NWD and jet stream retreats...

PS EDIT:
Dr Jeff, wonder if you have any thoughts on this?
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Bord Dallas calling 11 Thursday AM, but Houston calling 26. If that 11 pans out Houston should be at least 21
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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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