Arctic sea ice bottoms out near all-time low; August was Earth's 4th - 8th warmest

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 6:11 PM GMT on September 17, 2011

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Arctic sea ice extent hit its minimum on September 9 this year, falling to its second lowest value since satellite measurements began in 1979, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center . More than one third (35%) of the Arctic sea ice was missing this summer, compared to the 1979 - 2000 average. This is an area about the size of the Mediterranean Sea. The 2011 sea ice minimum was very close to the all-time record low set in 2007; in fact, the University of Bremen rated the 2011 loss the greatest on record. For the fourth consecutive year, and fourth time in recorded history, ice-free navigation was possible in the Arctic along the coast of Canada (the Northwest Passage), and along the coast of Russia (the Northeast Passage.) Mariners have been attempting to sail these waters since 1497.

While the record low sea ice year of 2007 was marked by a very unusual 1-in-20 year combination of weather conditions that favored ice loss (including clearer skies, favorable wind patterns, and warm temperatures), 2011's weather patterns were much closer to average. The fact we pretty much tied the record for most sea ice loss this year despite this rather ordinary weather is a result of the fact that large amounts of thicker, multi-year ice has melted or been flushed out of the Arctic since 2007. As a result of the loss of this old, thick ice, both 2010 and now 2011 set new records for the lowest volume of sea ice in the Arctic, according the University of Washington PIOMAS model. Given the very thin ice now covering most of the Arctic, we can expect truly dramatic sea ice loss the next time 1-in-10 year or 1-in-20 year warmth and sunshine invades the Arctic. We are definitely on pace to see the Arctic virtually sea ice-free in summer by 2030, as predicted by several leading Arctic sea ice scientists. I expect we'll see more than half of the Arctic ice gone and the North Pole liquid instead of solid by the summer of 2020, and probably sooner.


Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent in 2011 (blue line) compared to the record low year of 2007 (dashed green line) and average (thick grey line.) Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center .

When was the last time the Arctic was this ice-free?
We can be sure the Northwest Passage was never open for ice-free navigation--particularly ice-free navigation for multiple years in a row--between 1900 and 2000, as we have detailed ice edge records from ships (Walsh and Chapman, 2001). It is very unlikely the Passage was open between 1497 and 1900, since this spanned a cold period in the northern latitudes known as "The Little Ice Age". Ships periodically attempted the Passage and were foiled during this period, and the native Inuit people have no historical tales of the Passage being navigable at any time in the past.

The Northwest passage may have been open multiple years in a row for ice-free navigation at some period during the Medieval Warm Period, between 1000 and 1300 AD. A better candidate was the period 6,000 - 8,500 years ago, when the Earth's orbital variations brought more sunlight to the Arctic in summer than at present. Funder and Kjaer (2007) found extensive systems of wave generated beach ridges along the North Greenland coast that suggested the Arctic Ocean was ice-free in the summer for over 1,000 years during that period. Prior to that, the next likely time was during the last inter-glacial period, 120,000 years ago. Arctic temperatures then were 2 - 3°C higher than present-day temperatures, and sea levels were 4-6 meters higher.

However, it is possible that the recent summer low-ice conditions in the Arctic are unprecedented for the past 800,000 years, according to a 2011 press release by Project CLAMER, a European group dedicated to climate change and European marine ecosystem research. They found that a tiny species of plankton called Neodenticula seminae that went extinct in the North Atlantic 800,000 years ago has become a resident of the Atlantic again, having drifted from the Pacific through the Arctic Ocean thanks to dramatically reduced polar ice. The 1999 discovery represents "the first evidence of a trans-Arctic migration in modern times" related to plankton, according to the UK-based Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science, whose researchers warn that "such a geographical shift could transform the biodiversity and functioning of the Arctic and North Atlantic marine ecosystems."

It is possible we'll have a better idea of historical ice-free conditions in the Arctic in the next few years. A new technique that examines organic compounds left behind in Arctic sediments by diatoms that live in sea ice give hope that a detailed record of sea ice extent extending back to the end of the Ice Age 12,000 years ago may be possible (Belt et al., 2007). The researchers are studying sediments along the Northwest Passage in hopes of being able to determine when the Passage was open during the past 12,000 years.

References
Belt, S.T., G. Masse, S.J. Rowland, M. Poulin, C. Michel, and B. LeBlanc, "A novel chemical fossil of palaeo sea ice: IP25", Organic Geochemistry, Volume 38, Issue 1, January 2007, Pages 16-27.

Funder, S. and K.H. Kjaer, 2007, "A sea-ice free Arctic Ocean?", Geophys. Res. Abstr. 9 (2007), p. 07815.

Walsh, J.E and W.L.Chapman, 2001, "Twentieth-century sea ice variations from observational data", Annals of Glaciology, 33, Number 1, January 2001 , pp. 444-448.

August 2011: Earth's 4th - 8th warmest on record
August 2011 was the globe's 8th warmest August on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies rated August the 4th warmest on record. Land temperatures during August were the 2nd warmest on record, and ocean temperatures were the 12th warmest on record. Ocean temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean's Main Development Region (MDR) for hurricanes, from the coast of Africa to the coast of Central America between 10°N and 20°N latitude, were 0.8°C above average, the 4rd warmest August on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were the 6th or 3rd warmest in the 34-year record, according to Remote Sensing Systems and the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH). For more details on global extremes during August, see the details from weather historian Christopher C. Burt.


Figure 2. Departure of temperature from average for August 2011. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).

Maria hits Newfoundland
Hurricane Maria hit Newfoundland, Canada yesterday afternoon near 3:30 pm local time as a Category 1 hurricane with 75 mph winds. However, the hurricane's strongest winds were over water, and the storm brought very little in the way of strong winds or heavy rain to the island. Cape Race at the southeast tip of Newfoundland saw sustained winds of 41 mph, gusting to 54 mph at 3:30 pm Friday as the center of the storm passed. Winds in the capital of St. John's peaked at 37 mph, gusting to 46 mph, at 10:30 am local time. Maria's strike makes this Newfoundland's second consecutive year with a hurricane strike, something that has never occurred since hurricane record keeping began in 1851. Last year, Hurricane Igor killed one person on Newfoundland, and damage exceeded $100 million, making Igor the most damaging tropical cyclone in Newfoundland history.


Figure 3. Satellite image of Hurricane Maria taken at 12:15 pm EDT September 16, 2011. At the time, Maria was a Category 1 hurricane with 75 mph winds. Image credit: NOAA Environmental Visualization Lab.

Invest 97L
For the first day since August 18, we don't have a named storm in the Atlantic. However, we have a new area to watch. A tropical wave that moved off the coast of Africa Friday and is now 300 miles south of the Cape Verde Islands is moving west at 10 - 15 mph. The wave has developed a modest amount of heavy thunderstorm activity and spin, and has been designated Invest 97L by NHC. Wind shear as diagnosed by the SHIPS model is light, 5 - 10 knots, and is predicted to stay light to moderate through Tuesday morning. Ocean temperatures are 27.5°C, one degree above the threshold typically needed for a tropical storm to spin up. Water vapor satellite images show 97L is embedded in a moist environment.

Most of the models develop 97L into a tropical depression by Tuesday; NHC gave the disturbance a 20% chance of developing into a tropical depression by Monday in their 2 pm Tropical Weather Outlook. 97L should head west or west-northwest towards the Lesser Antilles over the next six days, and could arrive in the islands as early as Friday--though most of the models predict a later arrival. It is likely 97L will encounter the usual troubles storms this year have had with wind shear and dry air on the long trek across the Atlantic.

I'll have a new post on Monday, when I'll discuss the long-range hurricane outlook for the rest of September.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting Tazmanian:





you could upgrade too 14 it you have some it like 6 7 or 8 in stalled now

Just did. :D
REALLY fast.
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Quoting druseljic:


What do you think of Firefox 9 on the nightly update channel?





its all right but i here they are going too make a big upgrade too the UI when it hits beta
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Quoting Tazmanian:



you will love google chorm 14


What do you think of Firefox 9 on the nightly update channel?

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423. jpsb
Quoting skook:



Is this a global warming /tropics blog or what? I am really really confused.
If you are a AGW skeptic you are strongly encouraged by the bloggers here not to post. So not much of a AGW debate here any longer.
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Quoting WeatherNerdPR:

Thanks. For some reason I didn't think of that. lol
I don't have the latest version, but I should update it soon.





you could upgrade too 14 it you have some it like 6 7 or 8 in stalled now
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 114788
Quoting skook:



Is this a global warming /tropics blog or what? I am really really confused.


Can't load all the great weather graphics you guys dig up without a good browser!
Member Since: September 8, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 147
Quoting AvidWeatherHound:


I have a toshiba netbook.



coool
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 114788
Quoting AvidWeatherHound:


I have a toshiba netbook.


NB505
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Quoting Tazmanian:




go too about

Thanks. For some reason I didn't think of that. lol
I don't have the latest version, but I should update it soon.
Member Since: July 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 5657
Quoting Tazmanian:






same here my new toshiba cam with it and the olny thing i had too do is upgrade it from chorm 6 too `14



oh what kind of toshiba you got


I have a toshiba netbook.
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Quoting JLPR2:


Should pick up a bit by Mid week.
maybe we will see
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting skook:



Is this a global warming /tropics blog or what? I am really really confused.





heh am not sure any more
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 114788
Quoting AvidWeatherHound:


I am using google chrome. I've really liked it better than anything else I've ever used. It came pre-loaded on my toshiba.






same here my new toshiba cam with it and the olny thing i had too do is upgrade it from chorm 6 too `14



oh what kind of toshiba you got
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 114788
Quoting floodzonenc:


I will have to try Chrome. I've been using firefox for awhile. It's okay but I don't mind trying anything if it works better.



you will love google chorm 14
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 114788
Quoting Tazmanian:
so oh on here has google chorm 14? and oh uesing it



they did a good job


I am using google chrome. I've really liked it better than anything else I've ever used. It came pre-loaded on my toshiba.
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411. JLPR2
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
its kinda like a winter blog you know those 150 posts in two days type
until something happens in the basin i think its to remain quite slow


Should pick up a bit by Mid week.
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8534
Quoting WeatherNerdPR:

I'm using Chrome, have no idea which version though XD




go too about
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 114788
408. skook
Quoting Tazmanian:
so oh on here has google chorm 14? and oh uesing it



they did a good job



Is this a global warming /tropics blog or what? I am really really confused.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting druseljic:


What has happened to be the blog lately. Just doesn't seem the same. Used to be fun and informative...
its kinda like a winter blog you know those 150 posts in two days type
until something happens in the basin i think its to remain quite slow
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Tazmanian:
so oh on here has google chorm 14? and oh uesing it



they did a good job

I'm using Chrome, have no idea which version though XD
Member Since: July 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 5657
so oh on here has google chorm 14? and oh uesing it



they did a good job
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 114788
Quoting WeatherNerdPR:
...anybody here?




no one is here lol
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402. JLPR2
Circulations are consolidating near 10N 39W.


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Quoting JLPR2:


Yeah. But got nothing to say.

Humph. For a moment I thought the rapture was happening now! XD
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399. JLPR2
I guess I could post some images.

Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8534
398. JLPR2
Quoting WeatherNerdPR:
...anybody here?


Yeah. But got nothing to say.
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8534
...anybody here?
Member Since: July 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 5657
nevere mine
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 114788
Quoting seafarer459:
11.0 north 46.0 west???
Stuff Happens!
11N 36W?
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Quoting JLPR2:


*Twilight Zone music starts.*
XD

LOL
1
Member Since: July 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 5657
393. JLPR2
Quoting WeatherNerdPR:

???


*Twilight Zone music starts.*
XD
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8534
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11210
Quoting seafarer459:
11.0 north 46.0 west???
Stuff Happens!

???
Member Since: July 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 5657
Quoting seafarer459:
11.0 north 46.0 west???
Stuff Happens!


Nothing there...
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31590
11.0 north 46.0 west???
Stuff Happens!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting TomTaylor:
well, I'm glad you guys are concerned lol

I'm out for now, probably be back later since I don't have anything else going on


lol.

See ya.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31590
Quoting Some1Has2BtheRookie:



Uh, Tom. Do not forget your brother, if you go for a run. Perhaps some jogging in place?

Added - I know. See post #375
well, I'm glad you guys are concerned lol

I'm out for now, probably be back later since I don't have anything else going on
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting JLPR2:


Yeah, a cold/neutral ENSO. We never really moved to a warm/neutral episode, like 2004.
my bad I missed the "cold" part in there.

For some reason I read that as a warm/neutral ENSO and I was like what? SOI says otherwise. When actually the soi graph says exactly what you said, I just misread that post altogether lol
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385. JLPR2

Cool graph showing years with similar ENSO conditions to this one.
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8534
Quoting stormwatcherCI:

Thanks.
*sigh*
That also forecasts more rain for PR.
Member Since: July 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 5657
Quoting WeatherNerdPR:
What is that near the Bahamas?
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Don't know if its been posted yet, but there was another air show crash today in Martinsburg, WV. Fortunately no spectators were killed or injured, but the pilot did perish.
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381. JLPR2
Quoting TomTaylor:
yeah, usually that's the case.

Since we never went into an El Nino and just kind of meandered around neutral, the atmosphere has done the same. I guess what you said earlier isn't really wrong, the atmosphere is around neutral right now, but it's more of a La Nina bias than El Nino.


Yeah, a cold/neutral ENSO. We never really moved to a warm/neutral episode, like 2004.
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8534
Quoting TomTaylor:
same here.

have to watch my brother all night while my parents go to a party, so I got nothing to do. blog is slow too.

Think I might go for a run



Uh, Tom. Do not forget your brother, if you go for a run. Perhaps some jogging in place?

Added - I know. See post #375
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
379. JLPR2
Interesting to see the SOI graph at positive numbers since July - August.

I suppose the Atmosphere has been acting as if a La Niña was present since then, it could get more positive later on.
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8534
Quoting WeatherNerdPR:
What is that near the Bahamas?
Thats Marias tail.
Member Since: September 3, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 602
Quoting TomTaylor:
egad?


Yes, egad.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31590

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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.