Half of the polar ice cap is missing: Arctic sea ice hits a new record low

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 8:53 PM GMT on September 06, 2012

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Extraordinary melting of sea ice in the Arctic this summer has shattered the all-time low sea ice extent record set in September 2007, and sea ice continues to decline far below what has ever been observed. The new sea ice record was set on August 26, a full three weeks before the usual end of the melting season, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Every major scientific institution that tracks Arctic sea ice agrees that new records for low ice area, extent, and volume have been set. These organizations include the University of Washington Polar Science Center (a new record for low ice volume), the Nansen Environmental & Remote Sensing Center in Norway, and the University of Illinois Cryosphere Today. A comprehensive collection of sea ice graphs shows the full story. Satellite records of sea ice extent date back to 1979, though a 2011 study by Kinnard et al. shows that the Arctic hasn't seen a melt like this for at least 1,450 years (see a more detailed article on this over at skepticalscience.com.) The latest September 5, 2012 extent of 3.5 million square kilometers is approximately a 50% reduction in the area of Arctic covered by sea ice, compared to the average from 1979 - 2000. The ice continues to melt, and has not reached the low for this year yet.


Figure 1. A sunny, slushy day at the North Pole on September 1, 2012. Webcam image courtesy of the North Pole Environmental Observatory.


Figure 2. Sea ice extent on September 5, 2012, showed that half of the polar ice cap was missing, compared to the average from 1979 - 2000. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Why the Arctic sea ice is important
Arctic sea ice is an important component of the global climate system. The polar ice caps help to regulate global temperature by reflecting sunlight back into space. White snow and ice at the poles reflects sunlight, but dark ocean absorbs it. Replacing bright sea ice with dark ocean is a recipe for more and faster global warming. The Autumn air temperature over the Arctic has increased by 4 - 6°F in the past decade, and we could already be seeing the impacts of this warming in the mid-latitudes, by an increase in extreme weather events. Another non-trivial impact of the absence of sea ice is increased melting in Greenland. We already saw an unprecedented melting event in Greenland this year, and as warming continues, the likelihood of these events increase.


Figure 3. August set a new record for lowest Arctic sea ice extent. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.



Figure 4. Arctic sea ice death spiral as plotted by Jim Pettit using data from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Huge storm pummels Alaska
A massive low pressure system with a central pressure of 970 mb swept through Alaska on Tuesday, generating hurricane-force wind gusts near Anchorage, Alaska that knocked out power to 55,000 homes. Mighty Alaskan storms like this are common in winter, but rare in summer and early fall. The National Weather Service in Anchorage said in their Wednesday forecast discussion that the forecast wind speeds from this storm were incredibly strong for this time of year--four to six standard anomalies above normal. A four-standard anomaly event occurs once every 43 years, and a five-standard anomaly event is a 1-in-4800 year event. However, a meteorologist I heard from who lives in the Anchorage area characterized the wind damage that actually occurred as a 1-in-10 year event. A few maximum wind gusts recorded on Tuesday during the storm:

McHugh Creek (Turnagain Arm)... ... ..88 mph
Paradise Valley (Potter Marsh)... ... 75 mph
Upper Hillside (1400 ft)... ... ... ... 70 mph
Anchorage port... ... ... ... ... ... ... .63 mph

The storm has weakened to a central pressure of 988 mb today, and is located just north of Alaska. The storm is predicted to bring strong winds of 25 - 35 mph and large waves to the edge of the record-thin and record-small Arctic ice cap, and may add to the unprecedented decline in Arctic sea ice being observed this summer.


Figure 5. An unusually strong storm formed off the coast of Alaska on August 5 and tracked into the center of the Arctic Ocean, where it slowly dissipated over the next several days. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Aqua satellite captured this natural-color mosaic image on Aug. 6, 2012. The center of the storm at that date was located in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. Image credit: NASA.

Arctic storms may be increasing due to climate change
This week's Alaskan storm is the second unusually strong low pressure system to affect the Arctic in the past month. On August 4 - 8, a mighty storm with a central pressure of 963 mb raged through the Arctic, bringing strong winds that helped scatter and break up Arctic sea ice. According to a detailed post at NASA Earth Observatory, that storm was in the top 3 percent for strongest storms ever recorded north of 70 degrees latitude. A study of long-term Arctic cyclone trends authored by a team led by John Walsh and Xiangdong Zhang of the University of Alaska Fairbanks found that number and intensity of Arctic cyclones has increased during the second half of the twentieth century, particularly during the summer. Dr. Zhang explained that climate change has caused sea ice to retreat markedly in recent decades and has also warmed Arctic Ocean temperatures. Such changes may be providing more energy and moisture to support cyclone development and persistence. The strong storms of this week and a month ago would have had far less impact on the ice just a decade ago, when the sea ice was much thicker and more extensive.

A sea ice decline double-whammy
The monster Arctic storms like we've seen this year have sped up the rate of sea ice loss, but increased water temperatures and air temperatures due to human-caused global warming are the dominant reasons for the record melting of the Arctic sea ice. A July 2012 study by Day et al. found that the most influential of the possible natural influences on sea ice loss was the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation (AMO). The AMO has two phases, negative (cold) and positive (warm), which impact Arctic sea ice. The negative phase tends to create sea surface temperatures in the far north Atlantic that are colder than average. In this study, the AMO only accounted for 5% - 31% of the observed September sea ice decline since 1979. The scientists concluded that given the lack of evidence that natural forces were controlling sea ice fluctuations, the majority of sea ice decline we've seen during the 1953 - 2010 period was due to human causes.

Joe Romm has a more in-depth look at the new Arctic sea ice record and what it means for the future over at climateprogess.org.

Angela Fritz and Jeff Masters

Turbulence (katy99780)
Beautiful orographic formations over the mountains on a windy evening.
Turbulence

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634. mod4
Quoting schistkicker:


Could I see some of this "same amount of evidence" that disputes global warming? I haven't seen much of it, but there must be a HUGE amount of this evidence if it stacks up equally against the direct temperature records, ice core data, ocean chemistry data, solar output data, atmospheric chemistry data, everything we know about the principles of thermodynamics... You _do_ have some, right?


I am among those who feel we don't have a large enough sample of past weather to accurately predict what global temps are doing or not doing. I'm not pro or anti global warming, I just don't think we can prove or disprove it based on the sample size ....
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633. 7544
so much for the bath waters in the gulf didnt do much for 90l

what ever happen to this so call mojo lol
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Quoting FL1980:
Who cares about the polar ice. It is called cycles. Global Warming is just an agenda to line pockets. For all the evidence that we have about global warming, we have the same amount of evidence disputing it. Way to many sheep on this blog.


Well, so is anti-Global warming, to continue to line oil company pockets. At least one side promotes things that would help the earth in the long run, as opposed to oil...and their sometimes reckless safety measures to boot. And those who are vehemently anti-GW are just as much sheep, being cheerleaders for the already massively rich oil producers. Nothing says they can't start up renewable energy anyway. Surely no more expensive than a pipeline running through Canada etc. And certainly some do.

And i'm not a proponent of either, but def think whether there's GW or not, it's better not to pollute our planet for plenty of other reasons. So I am pro-renewable energy, and have been LONG before it was ever a front page news item or contentious issue.
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I know its not halftime yet, but are we at least at the 2 minute warning ?
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Well... which one is it Doc?

Link
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Let know one be fooled by the lack of tropical activity in the MDR. Also one must not engaged into a sense of false security that all disturbances coming from the EATL will recurve. At the moment Leslie and Michael have created weakness in the STR which are allowing the systems to move north and away from land. That will change as soon as the LESLIE and Michael depart the area and the ridge rebuilds, allowing the system from the eatl to proceed on a w to wnw track. we will see that with the two systems to come offthe coast of Africa. The 1st which comes off at 15n will track west to 50w before going north of the islands and recurves out to sea. The 2nd is at 10n and tracks west all the way ,and could be a threat to the lesser antilles in 12 days time. we have enough time to watch this scenario.
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Quoting FL1980:
Who cares about the polar ice. It is called cycles. Global Warming is just an agenda to line pockets. For all the evidence that we have about global warming, we have the same amount of evidence disputing it. Way to many sheep on this blog.


Could I see some of this "same amount of evidence" that disputes global warming? I haven't seen much of it, but there must be a HUGE amount of this evidence if it stacks up equally against the direct temperature records, ice core data, ocean chemistry data, solar output data, atmospheric chemistry data, everything we know about the principles of thermodynamics... You _do_ have some, right?
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Quoting StormHype:


At 8am I see it completely removed from the NHC home page.

It is 8am so that doesn't even make sense, they will slowly work it down until they know its done.
Member Since: March 16, 2012 Posts: 123 Comments: 7886
Recon found a minimum barometric pressure of 983.3 millibars.
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Quoting StormHype:


Is this a blog or an RSS weather feed for Largo FL? Could you please limit the repeating, redundant postings of embedded graphical & text weather products? It's rather obnoxious. If you must, please use a link rather than embedding this stuff inline. Thanks.
you post what YOU want, I will post what I want, thats the second time for you, on the list you go..poof
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 33291
Quoting StormHype:


At 8am I see it completely removed from the NHC home page.

You do?

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Quoting wxchaser97:
90L down to 20%
its going to be absorbed into the cool front coming down..it wont even be around tomorrow, never had a chance, which is a good thing
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 33291
Quoting wxchaser97:

Yeah she is an ugly duckling and might not even turn into a swan.
She's causing her own demise.
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Quoting wxchaser97:
90L down to 20%


At 8am I see it completely removed from the NHC home page.
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Quoting washingtonian115:
Ew Leslie looking ugly.

Yeah she is an ugly duckling and might not even turn into a swan.
Member Since: March 16, 2012 Posts: 123 Comments: 7886
90L down to 20%
Member Since: March 16, 2012 Posts: 123 Comments: 7886
Ew Leslie looking ugly.
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Quoting LargoFl:
............for Tampa Bay area


Is this a blog or an RSS weather feed for Largo FL? Could you please limit the repeating, redundant postings of embedded graphical & text weather products? It's rather obnoxious. If you must, please use a link rather than embedding this stuff inline. Thanks.
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Quoting yonzabam:
The northwest passage has been ice free in summer for the past few years. It has been possible for ships to circumnavigate the polar ice.

But, this year the northwest passage is still closed, despite the record melt. Just an odd fact I thought I'd share with you.


That is incorrect. The NWP has been open though the main passage, McClure Strait, has been blocked most of this time. There are other more southern passages that have been open. See here for latest record concerning the main passage of the NWP.

Two other things I'd like to see addressed.

1) It is time to stop trying to fit this linear curve to the "average monthly sea ice extent". The data seems to beg for an exponential downward trending curve.

2) IMO, our window of opportunity to address AGW is rapidly closing and it is time for action. The record Arctic Sea Ice loss is allowing that ocean to warm significantly and it is allowing more water vapor to enter the Arctic atmosphere. This is already causing more atmospheric energy release and generating the big Arctic storms, such as the one occurring now. These storms not only break-up the remaining ice and allow more warming, they cause more vigorous mixing of the warmer upper levels of the Arctic Ocean with lower levels. This brings the ocean's "new heat" into contact with the methane clathrates on the ocean bottom. If these clathrates start melting and releasing significant amounts of methane, it will be a significant positive feedback to atmospheric heating. This will not have to go on long before we completely lose control of global warming and enter a possible extinction scenario. Indeed, the preliminary data from the last two Barrow, AK, samples show a spike in methane. See the graph here.
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Quoting indianrivguy:
Well Aussie, I clicked on your video thinking I would hear your voice... :(

What you are calling gum trees, we call eucalyptus trees.

This is from a few weeks ago. I do talk on this one.
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15749
AN AREA OF LOW PRESSURE OVER THE NORTH-CENTRAL GULF OF MEXICO IS
PRODUCING CLOUDINESS AND A FEW SQUALLS PRIMARILY SOUTH OF THE
CENTER. THE LOW HAS MOVED SOUTHWARD SINCE YESTERDAY BUT IT IS
FORECAST TO DRIFT EASTWARD DURING THE NEXT DAY OR TWO.
ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS ARE EXPECTED TO BECOME LESS FAVORABLE FOR
DEVELOPMENT...AND THIS SYSTEM HAS A LOW...20 PERCENT...OF BECOMING A
TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS.
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Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 33291
THIS HAZARDOUS WEATHER OUTLOOK IS FOR EAST CENTRAL FLORIDA.

.DAY ONE...TODAY AND TONIGHT.

.THUNDERSTORM IMPACT...
SCATTERED STORMS ARE EXPECTED THIS AFTERNOON AS SEA BREEZES BEGIN
TO FORM ALONG BOTH COASTS MIDDAY AND DRIFT INLAND...COLLIDING
OVER THE INTERIOR LATE THIS AFTERNOON. STORMS WILL DRIFT EAST AT
5 TO 10 MPH BACK TOWARD THE EAST COAST INTO EARLY EVENING.

ALL STORMS WILL PRODUCE CLOUD TO GROUND LIGHTNING STRIKES AND
HEAVY DOWNPOURS. A FEW STRONGER STORMS MAY PRODUCE FREQUENT
LIGHTNING STRIKES AND WIND GUSTS UP TO 50 MPH.

.FLOOD IMPACT...
STORMS MAY DROP A QUICK ONE TO TWO INCHES OF RAIN WHEN PASSING...
RESULTING IN TEMPORARY FLOODING OF STREETS AND LOW LYING OR POOR
DRAINAGE AREAS.
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 33291
Quoting LargoFl:
.............amazing how two hurricanes are being pulled almost to the same area so far huh


Its quite an image at the moment

Member Since: August 12, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 41
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 33291
............for Tampa Bay area
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 33291
.............amazing how two hurricanes are being pulled almost to the same area so far huh
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 33291
Looks like Leslie has never really had a chance to get her act together, unlike her future dance partner, Michael. They are both probably not going to see any further strengthening IMO. Well, now off to physics and statistics - I'm getting an atmospheric science degree :D
Have a great day everyone!
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rain here along the coast
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 33291
601. elvette
11:29 AM GMT on September 07, 2012
Just another trial

90L in the Gulf



Member Since: August 12, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 41
600. elvette
11:25 AM GMT on September 07, 2012
Just Practicing

Leslie Not pretty like Michael

Member Since: August 12, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 41
599. WxLogic
11:22 AM GMT on September 07, 2012
Good morning
Member Since: August 14, 2008 Posts: 4 Comments: 4881
598. LargoFl
11:22 AM GMT on September 07, 2012
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 33291
597. LargoFl
11:20 AM GMT on September 07, 2012
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 33291
596. LargoFl
11:18 AM GMT on September 07, 2012
Quoting AussieStorm:

A post-tropical Hurricane off the coast of Nova Scotia???
could be we'll see
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 33291
595. islander101010
11:18 AM GMT on September 07, 2012
the L and M storms fuji upcoming
Member Since: September 11, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 4017
594. islander101010
11:04 AM GMT on September 07, 2012
gordon back in 94 came back sw to fl. turned out to be a drizzle compared to when it went over the first time..
Member Since: September 11, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 4017
593. wxchaser97
11:03 AM GMT on September 07, 2012
Good morning everyone, Leslie doesn't look to good and Michael is holding his own.
Member Since: March 16, 2012 Posts: 123 Comments: 7886
592. canehater1
11:01 AM GMT on September 07, 2012
"Son Of Isaac" never had a chance. The same flow that
carried it back into the Gulf displaced the convection
so far away from the COC that it can't organize before the Cool Front grabs it and takes it NE.
Member Since: September 8, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 984
591. islander101010
11:00 AM GMT on September 07, 2012
will 90l start popping convection today? twc guy last night said its running out of time
Member Since: September 11, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 4017
590. indianrivguy
10:58 AM GMT on September 07, 2012
Quoting yonzabam:
The northwest passage has been ice free in summer for the past few years. It has been possible for ships to circumnavigate the polar ice.

But, this year the northwest passage is still closed, despite the record melt. Just an odd fact I thought I'd share with you.


I think a storm broke up the ice and pushed it into a closure.
Member Since: September 23, 2006 Posts: 1 Comments: 2429
589. elvette
10:57 AM GMT on September 07, 2012
Morning have only posted a couple of times on this forum, hope its ok if I test posting an image ..TIA

Little Michael still doing rather well

Member Since: August 12, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 41
588. indianrivguy
10:57 AM GMT on September 07, 2012
Well Aussie, I clicked on your video thinking I would hear your voice... :(

What you are calling gum trees, we call eucalyptus trees.
Member Since: September 23, 2006 Posts: 1 Comments: 2429
587. yonzabam
10:08 AM GMT on September 07, 2012
The northwest passage has been ice free in summer for the past few years. It has been possible for ships to circumnavigate the polar ice.

But, this year the northwest passage is still closed, despite the record melt. Just an odd fact I thought I'd share with you.
Member Since: July 20, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2417
586. AussieStorm
9:59 AM GMT on September 07, 2012
Quoting LargoFl:

A post-tropical Hurricane off the coast of Nova Scotia???
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15749
585. islander101010
9:49 AM GMT on September 07, 2012
weak.90l seems stationary
Member Since: September 11, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 4017
584. LargoFl
9:47 AM GMT on September 07, 2012
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 33291

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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.

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