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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I see the NHC has 60% for 98L.
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Thats quite an MCC over southern Senegal, JLPR2.

It's too bad we don't have radar coverage in west Africa. I'd like to see how the storm clusters there compare with MCC's here.

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1325. JLPR2
Quoting BaltimoreBrian:

You do not run the blogs. So I'll ignore you and move on Goodnight, swflurker.


Well said.
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8701
Quoting swflurker:
P.S. Most of us have the links to the model runs. Unless someone asks, keep it to yourself!

You do not run the blogs. So I'll ignore you and move on. Goodnight, swflurker.
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Quoting swflurker:
Most of us here, unless an invest is numbered, don't really care about model runs beyond 96 hrs! So to save blog space, keep it short! TIA


I've had others say they like them. So I suggest you just put me on ignore. My posts are at least on topic.
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1319. JLPR2
AL, 98, 2011091906, , BEST, 0, 117N, 372W, 25, 1008, LO

AL, 99, 2011091906, , BEST, 0, 170N, 471W, 25, 1010, DB
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8701
1318. JLPR2
Quoting Skyepony:


I think it looks better there cause it crops off all the ugliness of the southern other vorticity.



Yeah, you're right, but the increase in convection has probably helped 98L organize further, next pass should be interesting.
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8701
Quoting swflurker:
How do like your crow?


I said the 00Z GFS run predicts that. I didn't say I did.
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1316. Skyepony (Mod)
OCEANSAT caught 98L a few hours later. Definitely pulled together more.

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1314. Skyepony (Mod)
Quoting JLPR2:
On the other view(site), 98L's LLC looked sort of messy but on this view it looks, great!

Winds are at max 25mph, but very nice.


I think it looks better there cause it crops off all the ugliness of the southern other vorticity.

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swflurker, what?
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1312. vince1
Quoting twincomanche:
There is no evidence with any credibility to suggest that anyone has any health problems from the spill.
If you think Corexit is of no consequence to one's health, perhaps you should go take a drink or bathe in it. ;) I met a lady who escaped that madness in the Gulf by way of Montana. The chronic welts that had developed on her legs mysteriously disappeared with only the scars remaining AFTER she moved. Yes, this is an anecdote but one of many. She isn't out to scam anyone, but she made it her life's mission to get herself and her family out of harm's way.

Corexit literally disintegrates red blood cells...it's highly toxic and, in spite of the EPA instructing BP to use a less toxic dispersant (and heck, one with even more efficacy!), BP kept right on going (money talks; i.e. they had a chummy connection with Nalco who had already provided gobs of the stuff on the cheap). So when the EPA is not stepping outside of its bounds, it is absolutely useless in protecting those it was established to protect. Crony capitalism/quasi-fascism stink to high hell but are sadly very much alive today.
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1311. JLPR2
98L is up to 60%

1. A WELL-DEFINED LOW PRESSURE AREA IS LOCATED OVER THE CENTRAL
TROPICAL ATLANTIC ABOUT 1450 MILES EAST OF THE WINDWARD ISLANDS.
THUNDERSTORM ACTIVITY HAS BECOME BETTER ORGANIZED AND MORE
CONCENTRATED NEAR THE CENTER OF THE LOW...AND ENVIRONMENTAL
CONDITIONS APPEAR FAVORABLE FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF A TROPICAL
DEPRESSION DURING THE NEXT COUPLE OF DAYS. THIS SYSTEM HAS A HIGH
CHANCE...60 PERCENT...OF BECOMING A TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING THE
NEXT 48 HOURS AS IT MOVES WESTWARD AT ABOUT 10 MPH.

Sound the red Alert Alarm!
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8701
1309. Skyepony (Mod)
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Quoting Orcasystems:


If its "Global Warming" ... shouldn't the South Pole be melting also?
Absolutely not. It's global warming, not south pole warming. We take the average temperature change across the entire planet to determine trends, not just Antarctica.
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Quoting Tazmanian:




hurricane season may be ending


The fish in Lake Sabine (Tex/La border) think the season is over. Trout, red fish and flounder are schooling and heading out to sea in large numbers. This indicates that the fall migration pattern has started.
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Quoting sunlinepr:


Your thoughts on that little "spaceship"...lol...
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Quoting jpsb:
Valley Forge


Valley Forge was not actually a severe winter. It was bad preparation.

Philadelphia, PA recorded 4 snowstorms between December and the first week of March of 4 or more inches but none were close to a foot.

And the coldest it got in Philadelphia was 6 above zero, not exceptional. And every month had milder spells when it reached 55 or more.

Valley Forge may have gotten to zero when Philly hit 6+, but that is not unusual. It was bad provisioning and preparation that made Valley Forge a disaster.
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1303. JLPR2
Quoting sunlinepr:


Wouldn't it be surprising if these two systems develop and visit us? XD
That would be one chaotic week.
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8701
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1300. JLPR2
On the other view(site), 98L's LLC looked sort of messy but on this view it looks, great!

Winds are at max 25mph, but very nice.
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8701
Quoting BaltimoreBrian:
384 hours shows the Cape Verde low moving west, but still weak. And very late, being Oct 5.

The coastal low on the SE coast has been absorbed by a larger low to the north.

It seems the GFS doesn't predict anything more than one marginal tropical storm for the next 16 days!




hurricane season may be ending
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1298. JLPR2
Oh wait.

98L seems ready for take-off. I wonder if it'll actually get going today.
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8701
384 hours shows the Cape Verde low moving west, but still weak. And very late, being Oct 5.

The coastal low on the SE coast has been absorbed by a larger low to the north.

It seems the GFS doesn't predict anything more than one marginal tropical storm for the next 16 days!
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1296. JLPR2
Quoting HuracandelCaribe:
makes no sense



Yeah. And Eumetsat just does't cut it.

The best we have is this:

But 98L is almost completely out of frame.
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8701
Quoting Tazmanian:
how nic noaa put up 99L



Yes, nice shot !
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Quoting jpsb:
Cooler? (In the northern latitudes that is).


Yes, cooler at both poles.

The change in axial tilt does not change how much solar energy the earth receives. It does change its distribution.

The smaller the axial tilt is, the less solar energy the poles receive and the more solar energy the tropics receive.

If the axial tilt were zero the poles would get no solar radiation at all while the tropics received more.

If the axial tilt were 54 degrees everywhere would get the same amount of solar radiation. And that's not a typo. At 45 degrees the poles would still get a little less solar radiation than the equator.

A tilt of 54 degrees would be a strange world. Both the tropics and the poles and everywhere in between would have seasons, but the average temperatures would be the same everywhere!
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makes no sense
Quoting JLPR2:

LOL! 99L gets a Floater but not 98L? What's up with that?

Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 120
Quoting MidwestGuy:
oh well never mind


I was being sarcastic. To know me on here is to trust me on here. Although I may throw a joke or two.
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1291. jpsb
Quoting JLPR2:

LOL! 99L gets a Floater but not 98L? What's up with that?
Saving fuel. Gas is very expensive up there ya know.
Member Since: June 30, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 1192
But no floater for 98L.
Quoting Tazmanian:
how nic noaa put up 99L


Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 120
1289. JLPR2
I really hate the Goes 13 blackout. :|
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8701
1288. JLPR2

LOL! 99L gets a Floater but not 98L? What's up with that?
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8701
The 00Z run of the GFS at 360 hours shows the broad west Caribbean low interacting with a very deep trough in the southeast USA and seeming to transfer its energy to a new, sub 1004 mb low on the GA/SC coast.

The Cape Verde low is stationary, which seems weird. A slight northward drift.
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goood night
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1285. JLPR2
Quoting WoodyFL:


What is that?


Eumetsat is a satellite just like the GOES13. GOES13 catches images of the Atl and the US, Eumetsat of Europe.
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8701
1284. jpsb
Quoting BaltimoreBrian:
The long term shift in the axial tilt is downwards at this time, and will continue to be for thousands of years.
Cooler? (In the northern latitudes that is).
Member Since: June 30, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 1192
Quoting CaribBoy:


lol


Corrected.
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1281. Seawall
Quoting ncstorm:
I am really noticing some censorship on this blog..Two people posted private emails..one person's post was removed..the other person's email stayed where he replied at the end..when are you people going to wake up and see this blog for the hypocrisy?


Yep, and it's not going to change in the near future, I fear.
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The 00Z run of the GFS at 336 hours shows a new Cape Verde low near 12.5 N 22.5 W

Seems in the season considering that is October 3rd.

A large broad low has formed in the western Caribbean, covering much of it. Its 'center' seems to be east of the northern Nicaragua coast.
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how nic noaa put up 99L

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Quoting BaltimoreBrian:
The 00Z run of the GFS at 192 hours shows neither 98L nor the central Atlantic having definition.


lol
Member Since: October 6, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 6170
By 288 hours there are still no tropical lows of interest.
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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.