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

Share this Blog
55
+

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

Reader Comments

Comments will take a few seconds to appear.

Post Your Comments

Please sign in to post comments.

Sign In or Register Sign In or Register

Not only will you be able to leave comments on this blog, but you'll also have the ability to upload and share your photos in our Wunder Photos section.

Display: 0, 50, 100, 200 Sort: Newest First - Order Posted

Viewing: 34 - 1

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 — Blog Index

Leslie is slowly improving on satellite imagery.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Thanks Dr. Masters and Angela..." 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." Human induced Global Warming is a perfect research topic for your Composition I and II classes in College or University.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
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.
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.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
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.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Looks like the "Day after Tomm" events are gonna play out with the North Pole melting
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Good blog article, Jeff and Angela, but you lost me right at the very end. First, you say this...

"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."

Then you end the article with this...

"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."

So, were "humans" somehow responsible for what happened 1,450 years ago, too?

Maybe humans are responsible for most of the currently apparent global warming... I'm not dogmatic that we're not. But I think, considering how much we don't know about climate fluctuations, that the jury is still out, and I hate to see any scientist definitively state that such things as recent Arctic icemelts are a direct result of human activities on this planet.

Jo
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting AtHomeInTX:
Thanks DRM.


Hi I was just wondering today where you were and here you are! Good to see you.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
compare dates of 2012/2007




Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Leslie's circulation extends SW all the way to the Turks and Caicos Islands...that's some 500 miles...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
thanks for the update Doc/Ang


faster and faster
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Leslie's turn to shine?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Thanks DRM.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:


Member Since: Posts: Comments:
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.



even no am on the W coast of CA i wounder how this will impact are weather this storm season i no not so marh right now but has the jet dips lower in oct
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
UPDATE on the update The National Snow and Ice Data Center announced today (August 27th, 2012) that the 2007 record has now been broken by their more conservative 5-day running average criterion. They also note that The six lowest ice extents in the satellite record have occurred in the last six years (2007 to 2012).


http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/201 2/08/an-update-on-the-arctic-sea-ice/

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Looking at visible loops over SE TX a gravity wave plowed due south over us today.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
16. 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.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Great blog post, thank you for the detail. I was wondering about that low pressure near Nome yesterday and one almost as strong near northern Finland. The University of Cologne has a couple of nice maps that they update daily:
Arctic - Latest Surface Observations (Temp, cloud cover, wind, significant weather)
Arctic - Latest 2M temperature, Sea Level Pressure and Sign. Weather
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting MAweatherboy1:
Euro at 240 hours:


so is dat nadine or oscar
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting MAweatherboy1:
It's really a shame some people turn such a blind eye to this stuff... Thanks Dr. Masters.

yep
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Euro at 240 hours:

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting MAweatherboy1:
It's really a shame some people turn such a blind eye to this stuff... Thanks Dr. Masters.

Climate change and this material affects the weather, we need to know what is going on.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
It's really a shame some people turn such a blind eye to this stuff... Thanks Dr. Masters.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Maineweatherguy20023:
Powerful arctic storms mean big foresters this winter?? I hope so!!

Bigger winter, I'm fine with that if there is a bigger winter. But I don't like how we are having the climate change.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Thanks Dr. Masters.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Thanks Doc, Angela, cool stuff.(rimshot)

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Thank you Dr. Masters
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Powerful arctic storms mean big foresters this winter?? I hope so!!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Thanks Dr. Masters and Angela!
From the previous blog:
This is a strong/ fun storm to track but luckily not affecting anyone.

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
well dinner time time for me..and thanks doc!! see you all later ok..stay safe out there
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Levi might get a hurricane yet...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
BULLETIN - EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE MIAMI FL
452 PM EDT THU SEP 6 2012

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN MIAMI HAS ISSUED A

* SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING FOR...
NORTHEASTERN BROWARD COUNTY IN SOUTH FLORIDA.
SOUTHEASTERN PALM BEACH COUNTY IN SOUTH FLORIDA.

* UNTIL 530 PM EDT

* AT 448 PM EDT...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE METEOROLOGISTS DETECTED A
SEVERE THUNDERSTORM CAPABLE OF PRODUCING QUARTER SIZE HAIL...AND
DAMAGING WINDS IN EXCESS OF 60 MPH. THIS STORM WAS LOCATED NEAR
PARKLAND...AND MOVING NORTH AT 10 MPH. THESE STORMS HAVE A HISTORY
OF PRODUCING DAMAGING WINDS IN EXCESS OF 60 MPH WINDS.

* THE STORM WILL AFFECT...
BOCA RATON...
MISSION BAY...
WHISPER WALK...
AND SURROUNDING COMMUNITIES.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...

SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS PRODUCE DAMAGING WINDS IN EXCESS OF 58 MPH AND
OR LARGE HAIL. FREQUENT TO EXCESSIVE LIGHTNING AND HEAVY RAINFALL IS
ALSO POSSIBLE. IF THE STORM APPROACHES YOUR LOCATION, SEEK SHELTER IN
AN ENCLOSED BUILDING ON THE LOWEST FLOOR AND STAY AWAY FROM WINDOWS.

&&
Member Since: Posts: Comments:

Viewing: 34 - 1

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 — Blog Index

Top of Page

About

Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

Local Weather

Partly Cloudy
78 °F
Partly Cloudy

JeffMasters's Recent Photos

Dunham Lake Sunset
Carrot Nose in Danger
Deep Snow in Brookline, MA
Sunset at Fort DeSoto