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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From today!!!
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 56141
Sea levels have risen at various rates around the globe, some places more than the eight inches you mentioned and in others less. But even if that's "all" it has risen in the past 140 years, that's pretty astounding, given that the rate of warming is increasing with each year that passes, meaning that the bulk of that rise has been recent. Ditto temperature. Ditto the decrease in Arctic sea ice. And so on.

So far as "doom predictions" not coming to pass: nearly every dire prediction of climate change impacts made in previous decades that's been proven to be in error has been in error only because it underestimated the rate of change and/or the severity of those impacts. For example, just a decade ago, scientists were certain that the Arctic would see ice-free conditions in summer within the next 40 or so years. Now we can expect to see that in only a few years from now.

I, too, believe Dr. Masters has an agenda: to spread the scientific truth about what we humans have done and are doing to our planet, and to do that in a cordial, informative, objective way. That's a great and noble agenda, if you ask me.

I leave you with another Arctic sea ice graph. This one shows how much of each year's total ice area has disappeared over the course of the satellite record. Obviously when one year's column reaches 100%, that means there's no ice left. Yowza:

ice
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13805
Quoting jascott1967:


Fear mongering liberals terrify me.

Yes, smoking will give us cancer, drinking will cause liver failure, red meat will clog arteries, the sun causes skin cancer...tell us something we don't know.

One of the reasons I smoked as long as I did was partly because people tried to beat me up over it.


Even the best scientists have concluded that if man stops man-made CO2 emission all together, GW/climate change will still occur. I'm not saying we shouldn't pursue cleaner more evolved forms of energy by any means, but thinking some kind of carbon tax is going to make a difference in climate change is an outrageous sham. It just a ploy to funnel money to the cronies supporting GW 'research'.
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 56141
i have a question.  in the hemispheric water vapor loop i use, there's a big space-shuttle shaped hole where the pieces fit together.  this means i can't see the big storm in the arctic.

my question:  is there a looped hemispheric picture that shows the pole intact?

many thanks.

ref: http://www.meteo.psu.edu/~gadomski/SAT_NHEM/animwe ur.html
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 56141
Looks like Leslie will miss Bermuda.
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 56141
Quoting jascott1967:


Fear mongering liberals terrify me.

Yes, smoking will give us cancer, drinking will cause liver failure, red meat will clog arteries, the sun causes skin cancer...tell us something we don't know.

One of the reasons I smoked as long as I did was partly because people tried to beat me up over it.


Minus one standard deviation(15) from I.Q. score, with a top cap of 75.
Member Since: January 25, 2012 Posts: 33 Comments: 1520
Damn..it should have given you one so you could learn a lesson about doing that stuff.Don't you know bird feces are in that stuff sometimes?...anyway thanks Doc.
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Quoting jascott1967:

Fear mongering liberals terrify me.

Yes, smoking will give us cancer, drinking will cause liver failure, red meat will clog arteries, the sun causes skin cancer...tell us something we don't know.

One of the reasons I smoked as long as I did was partly because people tried to beat me up over it.
"Give the anarchist a cigarette!"

Please do not call me a "liberal", I am an anarcho-syndicalist at heart. :-)
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Quoting RTSplayer:


Perhaps only in terms of precipitation from the great lakes and the Gulf Stream being super-heated.

Average temperatures will probably be well above normal again.




The arctic cyclones Dr. Masters and Angela's blog entry is discussing does not surprise me one bit.




the arctic ocean heat content is increasing at an obscene rate.

When you add enough heat to overcome the heat of fusion of water-ice one meter thick, you are increasing the ocean heat content by 33.5kJ/cm^2....just for one meter of net melted ice.


This is as big an increase in heat energy as the entire 100m depth TCHP of some parts of the Tropical Atlantic.


As I've said before, this is just the beginning. Once you melt all the ice, you can warm the water about 80 times faster, or warm the top 80 meters of water at the same rate you melted the top 1 meter of ice..., or start melting ice some place else.


You'll be seeing a lot more "arctic hurricanes" in the future, maybe even some "category 3" equivalents in a decade or two.


sea volumes rise pretty fast as you warm water up
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Quoting yqt1001:
If anyone cares, some of the updates to pre-satellite seasons have been released.

Hurricane Dog is the biggest drop, from a 185mph category 5 to a mid-level 145mph category 4! 2 other category 5's were removed, Easy and one from 1947.


Having looked at the pressures, I agree with those changes, because the alleged wind speeds that were associated with the pressures are simply ridiculous. Whoever measured or estimated them either had a broken instrument, or they were in a tornado.
Member Since: January 25, 2012 Posts: 33 Comments: 1520
Quoting yqt1001:

Wow.

LINK PLEASE?!
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Great post, Dr. Masters. The arctic sea ice melt is nothing short of astounding. Hard to believe we've lost more than half of the extent of ice just since satellite measurements began in 1979. Even just extrapolating that suggests a complete melt-out within 30 years. But it's actually been melting a lot faster than implied by extent, because it's been thinning even faster. So the volume is on a complete downward spiral.

Really incredible to think one day soon our satellites will climb to the sky look down on the arctic and see nothing but open ocean. The arctic ice cap will be gone. Poor Santa... he's going to need a new home! When the Santa Claus mythology was being developed, they had no idea that the North Pole would be an open ocean! It simply would have never occurred to them such a thing could occur, at least not in such short order!
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Quoting indianrivguy:


You sure showed them huh.


I did because I quit on my own terms, not because someone made me or tried to scare me.
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 56141
Quoting LBAR:
So the upwelling (and thus cooling of the tropical waters) doesn't offset any of this? I'm willing to bet we have a harsh Winter on the East Coast this year.


Perhaps only in terms of precipitation from the great lakes and the Gulf Stream being super-heated.

Average temperatures will probably be well above normal again.




The arctic cyclones Dr. Masters and Angela's blog entry is discussing does not surprise me one bit.




the arctic ocean heat content is increasing at an obscene rate.

When you add enough heat to overcome the heat of fusion of water-ice one meter thick, you are increasing the ocean heat content by 33.5kJ/cm^2....just for one meter of net melted ice.


This is as big an increase in heat energy as the entire 100m depth TCHP of some parts of the Tropical Atlantic.


As I've said before, this is just the beginning. Once you melt all the ice, you can warm the water about 80 times faster, or warm the top 80 meters of water at the same rate you melted the top 1 meter of ice..., or start melting ice some place else.


You'll be seeing a lot more "arctic hurricanes" in the future, maybe even some "category 3" equivalents in a decade or two.
Member Since: January 25, 2012 Posts: 33 Comments: 1520
Quoting HurricaneDean07:

Does that mean we get to have Hurricane Easy and Dog back on the naming list?
Score!

*sarcasm flag on*


Hey we might have to use those names again if we ever exhaust the greek alphabet. :P

Also a new hurricane in the eastern atlantic. Made landfall on portugal as a 60mph TS in 1944 and has now just destroyed Vince's record. :P
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Quoting yqt1001:
If anyone cares, some of the updates to pre-satellite seasons have been released.

Hurricane Dog is the biggest drop, from a 185mph category 5 to a mid-level 145mph category 4! 2 other category 5's were removed, Easy and one from 1947.

Link please?
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Quoting jascott1967:


Fear mongering liberals terrify me.

Yes, smoking will give us cancer, drinking will cause liver failure, red meat will clog arteries, the sun causes skin cancer...tell us something we don't know.

One of the reasons I smoked as long as I did was partly because people tried to beat me up over it.


You sure showed them huh.
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Quoting yqt1001:
If anyone cares, some of the updates to pre-satellite seasons have been released.

Hurricane Dog is the biggest drop, from a 185mph category 5 to a mid-level 145mph category 4! 2 other category 5's were removed, Easy and one from 1947.

Does that mean we get to have Hurricane Easy and Dog back on the naming list?
Score!

*sarcasm flag on*
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 56141
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:

Go ahead Keeper, post the whole 18z run, for us. Don't feel like searching for the link xD
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Quoting guygee:
If we do it will be another one in the series of "warm Arctic-Cold continents" patterns that are part of the instability caused by AGW. If you have any experience with lake-effect snows then the prospect of a warmer Hudson's Bay and a warmer open Arctic Ocean going into late fall-early winter should give you pause, if not terrify you.

To some extent the extra snow cover is a negative feedback on the climate. but will it be offset by increased water vapor in the far north, as well as CO2 and methane release in the warming tundra and Siberian shelf waters? The models do not yet incorporate these effects so we shall see what our "experiment" has wrought in the coming years, perhaps all too soon considering the rate the climate is changing in the far north.


Fear mongering liberals terrify me.

Yes, smoking will give us cancer, drinking will cause liver failure, red meat will clog arteries, the sun causes skin cancer...tell us something we don't know.

One of the reasons I smoked as long as I did was partly because people tried to beat me up over it.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
If anyone cares, some of the updates to pre-satellite seasons have been released.

Hurricane Dog is the biggest drop, from a 185mph category 5 to a mid-level 145mph category 4! 2 other category 5's were removed, Easy and one from 1947.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Kumo:
Great article Doc! :)

I really think that scientists have underestimated just how quickly we are losing ice at the poles. If I remember correctly current models had sea level rise of 1 meter by the end of the century. I really think that we will reach that number much more quickly, perhaps even while many of us here are still living. Let's just say I have no plans to buy any beachfront property.


Sea levels have only risen 8 inches in the last 140 years. Nobody has their head in the sand, but many of the doom predictions of sea level rising of 10-15 years ago have not come to pass. The current upper latitude warming trend could change this, of course, but it's clear, too, that Dr. Masters has an agenda, given the tone of his recent articles. For example, "shattered the all-time low" and "far below what has ever been observed" is very strong language when the observable new record was only set a week ago.
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 56141
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 56141
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 56141
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 56141
init 18z GFS to hr 144

Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 56141
lUCKY WE HAVE ALL THE 1450 YEAR OLD ice datum to compare with current science. HUH!
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Quoting sunlinepr:post#33

Are they starting to dance?
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Quoting MAweatherboy1:
I don't think 90L has much of a chance at this point.



Stupid question ...much a chance of what? Becoming more than it is? If it doesnt get stronger will it still be pulled to the NE?

Modify - can you tell that I am hoping that it drifts my way? Would love the rain here in Houston
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Quoting MAweatherboy1:
Euro at 240 hours:

hmm...with the Euro coming a little bit more west than recent runs I wonder what the 18z GFS will show?
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Told y'all 90L is something to not worry about...
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Quoting floridafisherman:
how come there is nothing in this new blog about the multitude of storms out there, even if they are not going to threaten land?

iusually love your posts dr mr, but i think you didnt give it your all on this one.
He posted a new one 3 hours ago.
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Quoting icmoore:


Hi I was just wondering today where you were and here you are! Good to see you.


Hi. Nice to see you too. Been mostly lurking for a bit. Not much weather news here except the heat. And maybe a cold front bringing record lows. The records now are 61 and 63. Not too sure how cool it would get. lol
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Quoting MAweatherboy1:
I don't think 90L has much of a chance at this point.


Poor, sheared, little thing.
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Quoting floridafisherman:
how come there is nothing in this new blog about the multitude of storms out there, even if they are not going to threaten land?

iusually love your posts dr mr, but i think you didnt give it your all on this one.
all the recent storm info was posted in previous blog and this is latest ice data in this more recent blog
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 56141
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39. Kumo
Great article Doc! :)

I really think that scientists have underestimated just how quickly we are losing ice at the poles. If I remember correctly current models had sea level rise of 1 meter by the end of the century. I really think that we will reach that number much more quickly, perhaps even while many of us here are still living. Let's just say I have no plans to buy any beachfront property.
Member Since: August 3, 2012 Posts: 15 Comments: 145
I don't think 90L has much of a chance at this point.

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Come on Leslie, you can do it.
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afternoon/evening all. What is the latest on Leslie? Do we have a better idea on Bermuda and Nova Scotia? I know it could still change, just wondering on the new thoughts of today.
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Even in the West, Leslie is creating some surfing swell...

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Leslie is slowly improving on satellite imagery.
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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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