Earth's attic is on fire: Arctic sea ice bottoms out at a new record low

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:46 PM GMT on September 20, 2012

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The extraordinary decline in Arctic sea ice during 2012 is finally over. Sea ice extent bottomed out on September 16, announced scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) on Wednesday. The sea ice extent fell to 3.41 million square kilometers, breaking the previous all-time low set in 2007 by 18%--despite the fact that this year's weather was cloudier and cooler than in 2007. Nearly half (49%) of the icecap was gone during this year's minimum, compared to the average minimum for the years 1979 - 2000. This is an area approximately 43% of the size of the Contiguous United States. And, for the fifth consecutive year--and fifth 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 or Northern Sea Route.) "We are now in uncharted territory," said NSIDC Director Mark Serreze. "While we've long known that as the planet warms up, changes would be seen first and be most pronounced in the Arctic, few of us were prepared for how rapidly the changes would actually occur. While lots of people talk about opening of the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic islands and the Northern Sea Route along the Russian coast, twenty years from now from now in August you might be able to take a ship right across the Arctic Ocean."


Figure 1. Arctic sea ice reached its minimum on September 16, 2012, and was at its lowest extent since satellite records began in 1979. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

When was the last time the Arctic was this ice-free?
We can be confident that the Arctic did not see the kind of melting observed in 2012 going back over a century, as we have detailed ice edge records from ships (Walsh and Chapman, 2001). It is very unlikely the Northwest 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. Research by Kinnard et al. (2011) shows that the Arctic ice melt in the past few decades is unprecedented for at least the past 1,450 years. We may have to go back to at least 4,000 B.C. to find the last time so little summer ice was present in the Arctic. Funder and Kjaer (2007) found extensive systems of wave generated beach ridges along the North Greenland coast, which suggested the Arctic Ocean was ice-free in the summer for over 1,000 years between 6,000 - 8,500 years ago, when Earth's orbital variations brought more sunlight to the Arctic in summer than at present. 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.


Figure 2. Year-averaged and 3-month averaged Northern Hemisphere sea ice extent from Chapman and Walsh (2001), as updated by the University of Illinois Cryosphere Today. I've updated their graph to include 2011 plus the first 9 months of 2012.


Figure 3. Late summer Arctic sea ice extent over the past 1,450 years reconstructed from proxy data by Kinnard et al.'s 2011 paper, Reconstructed changes in Arctic sea ice over the past 1,450 years. The solid pink line is a smoothed 40-year average, and the light pink areas shows a 95% confidence interval.  Note that the modern observational data in this figure extend through 2008, though the extent is not as low as the current annual data due to the 40-year smoothing. More commentary on this graph is available at skepticalscience.com.

When will the Arctic be ice-free in summer?
So, when will Santa's Workshop need to be retrofitted with pontoons to avoid sinking to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean in summer? It's hard to say, since there is a large amount of natural variability in Arctic weather patterns. Day et al. (2012) found that 5 to 31% of the changes in Arctic sea ice could be due to natural causes. However, the sea ice at the summer minimum has been declining at a rate of 12% per decade, far in excess of the worst-case scenario predicted in the 2007 IPCC report. Forecasts of an ice-free Arctic range from 20 - 30 years from now to much sooner. Just this week, Dr. Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University predicted that the Arctic will be ice-free in summer within four years. A study by Stroeve et al. (2012), using the updated models being run for the 2014 IPCC report, found that "a seasonally ice-free Arctic Ocean within the next few decades is a distinct possibility." Of the 21 models considered, 2022 was the earliest date that complete Arctic sea ice occurred in September.


Video 1. A powerful storm wreaked havoc on the Arctic sea ice cover in August 2012. This visualization shows the strength and direction of the winds and their impact on the ice: the red vectors represent the fastest winds, while blue vectors stand for slower winds. According to NSIDC, the storm sped up the loss of the thin ice that appears to have been already on the verge of melting completely.Video credit: NASA.

But Antarctic sea ice is growing!
It's a sure thing that when Arctic sea ice hits new record lows, global warming contrarians will attempt to draw attention away from the Arctic by talking about sea ice around Antarctica. A case in point is an article that appeared in Forbes on Wednesday by James Taylor. Mr. Taylor wrote, "Antarctic sea ice set another record this past week, with the most amount of ice ever recorded on day 256 of the calendar year (September 12 of this leap year)...Amusingly, page after page of Google News results for Antarctic sea ice record show links to news articles breathlessly spreading fear and warning of calamity because Arctic sea ice recently set a 33-year low. Sea ice around one pole is shrinking while sea ice around another pole is growing. This sure sounds like a global warming crisis to me."

This analysis is highly misleading, as it ignores the fact that Antarctica has actually been warming in recent years. In fact, the oceans surrounding Antarctica have warmed faster than the global trend, and there has been accelerated melting of ocean-terminating Antarctic glaciers in recent years as a result of warmer waters eating away the glaciers. There is great concern among scientists about the stability of two glaciers in West Antarctica (the Pine Island and Thwaites Glaciers) due the increase in ocean temperatures. These glaciers may suffer rapid retreats that will contribute significantly to global sea level rise.

Despite the warming going on in Antarctica, there has been a modest long-term increase in Antarctic sea ice in recent decades. So, how can more sea ice form on warmer ocean waters? As explained in an excellent article at skepticalscience.com, the reasons are complex. One reason is that the Southern Ocean consists of a layer of cold water near the surface and a layer of warmer water below. Water from the warmer layer rises up to the surface, melting sea ice. However, as air temperatures warm, the amount of rain and snowfall also increases. This freshens the surface waters, leading to a surface layer less dense than the saltier, warmer water below. The layers become more stratified and mix less. Less heat is transported upwards from the deeper, warmer layer. Hence less sea ice is melted (Zhang 2007). As the planet continues to warm, climate models predict that the growth in Antarctic sea ice will reverse, as the waters become too warm to support so much sea ice.


Figure 4. Surface air temperature over the ice-covered areas of the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica (top), and sea ice extent, observed by satellite (bottom). Image credit: (Zhang 2007).

Commentary: Earth's attic is on fire
To me, seeing the record Arctic sea ice loss of 2012 is like discovering a growing fire burning in Earth's attic. It is an emergency that requires immediate urgent attention. If you remove an area of sea ice 43% the size of the Contiguous U.S. from the ocean, it is guaranteed to have a significant impact on weather and climate. The extra heat and moisture added to the atmosphere as a result of all that open water over the pole may already be altering jet stream patterns in fall and winter, bringing an increase in extreme weather events. This year's record sea ice loss also contributed to an unprecedented melting event in Greenland. Continued sea ice loss will further increase melting from Greenland, contributing to sea level rise and storm surge damages. Global warming doubters tell us to pay attention to Earth's basement--the Antarctic--pointing out (incorrectly) that there is no fire burning there. But shouldn't we be paying attention to the steadily growing fire in our attic? The house all of humanity lives on is on fire. The fire is certain to spread, since we've ignored it for too long. It is capable of becoming a raging fire that will burn down our house, crippling civilization, unless we take swift and urgent action to combat it.

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

Kinnard et al., 2011, "Reconstructed changes in Arctic sea ice over the past 1,450 years".

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.

Related info
Half of the polar ice cap is missing: Arctic sea ice hits a new record low. September 6, 2012 blog post
Wunderground's Sea Ice page

Jeff Masters and Angela Fritz

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93E is on the virge of TD status.

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as i understand it it would seem because of rising water levels worldwide places like florida would not be able to tell until under siege by a major hurricane. then kiss miami by bye
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You can't convince everybody it seems. Somebody on this planet is probably debating whether or not we breath oxygen everyday.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31911
Increased Noise in GOES-13 Imager Channels

Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 9725
Quoting FL1980:
Keep drinking the kool aid buddy!


I'm still waiting for an intelligent reply.

Did you study science in school at any level? Did you ever work in science?

What is your take on the consensus of climate scientists regarding the acknowledgement that global warming is real, and the anthropogenic causal factors are known and supported?

Can you dispute the research, or are you desperately trying to deny the truth.

(Denial is the classical symptom of the first stage of grief when confronted by terrible news.)
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Quoting earthlydragonfly:


It is equally amazing that the people that contribute to the garbage dump dont even realize they are contributing by waiting in line to buy the next Iphone 5 or the next MAC computer. They are generally the same people that are sounding the global warning alarm...


Hmmmmmmmm...
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Quoting MikeinNewMexico:
Judging by these comments, many readers don't seem to believe that 7 billion people treating our thin atmosphere as a garbage dump will have any effect. Amazing!


It is equally amazing that the people that contribute to the garbage dump dont even realize they are contributing by waiting in line to buy the next Iphone 5 or the next computer. They are generally the same people that are sounding the global warning alarm...


Hmmmmmmmm...
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Quoting GeorgiaStormz:
For those into politics go to http://www.cnn.com/
Whatever you should find, keep it there, we dont need it on the blog.....
It is interesting though


I'm with you...you should have seen the lightning storm out in the gulf this morning...rode my bike across the causeway...could see the show the whole 24 mile trip..quite a complex out there I guess. I wasn't expecting any rain around
Member Since: August 4, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 606
Why is everyone so quick to pull the earth has a fever card? Why are people not talking about the earth shifting on its axis? It has In fact happened. I would love to see data about this imputed in one of these climate models.
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Nea,

Its pretty weak to talk down to people for drinking the Kool Aid just cause its not the flavor YOU like!
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SPECIAL WEATHER STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SAN JUAN PR
226 PM AST FRI SEP 21 2012

PRC081-083-093-131-211930-
LARES PR-MARICAO PR-SAN SEBASTIAN PR-LAS MARIAS PR-
226 PM AST FRI SEP 21 2012

AT 221 PM AST...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE METEOROLOGIST DETECTED A
STRONG THUNDERSTORM OVER LARES...MOVING WEST AT 5 MPH. THIS STRONG
STORM WILL BE CAPABLE OF PRODUCING TORRENTIAL RAINFALL...INTENSE
LIGHTNING...STRONG GUSTY WINDS UP TO 40 MPH AND POSSIBLY SMALL HAIL.

HEAVY RAINS WILL FLOOD LOW LYING AREAS SUCH AS DITCHES AND
UNDERPASSES. AVOID THESE AREAS AND DO NOT CROSS FLOODED ROADS AS THEY
MAY BE WASHED OUT. WATER LEVELS OF SMALL STREAMS AND RIVERS MAY ALSO
RISE...THEREFORE SEEK HIGHER GROUND IF THREATENED BY FLOOD WATERS.

INTENSE LIGHTNING IS REPORTED WITH THIS STORM. IF OUTDOORS...STAY
AWAY FROM ISOLATED HIGH OBJECTS SUCH AS TREES. MOVE INDOORS IF
POSSIBLE.

$$
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Link

we need more people like this RIP George
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How do you justify a greater than 4 standard deviations result when there is no component of your data set that even remotely hints at such a conclusion?
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For those into politics go to www.CNN.com
Whatever you should find, keep it there, we dont need it on the blog.....
It is interesting though
Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 9725
Quoting Neapolitan:
Is it your contention that the thousands of scientists from dozens of disciplines who've been studying the issue for years have somehow overlooked the role played by the PDO and other natural cycles? They've looked, alright. And the current observed warming is simply far too large and rapid to be blamed on any amount of known natural variability. From above:

Huh?

That, friend, is simply not natural...


Compares a simple average of the long O18 series to the Kinnard reconstruction (inverted), one gets the graphic above; both shown in SD units for simplicity. There is nothing in the long O18 series that yields the pronounced Kinnard hockey-stick.

The problem with proxy data isn't the data, its the manipulation of it. And dodging FOIA requests r.e. your 'algorithms' isn't how science is conducted.
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Quoting FL1980:
How do people buy into this?


Answer: By being intelligent, going to school and studying hard, and understanding scientific facts.

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Quoting mattsfila:
This is nonsense!! Leave it to liberals to post this kind of lunacy. Trust me Jeff.....and trust me Al Gore.....Florida will be above water in 50 years.

That's not a very bold statement, considering it would have to rise more than 30 meters.
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Judging by these comments, many readers don't seem to believe that 7 billion people treating our thin atmosphere as a garbage dump will have any effect. Amazing!
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550 million years ago:



150 million years ago (Late Jurassic):



85 million years ago (Late Cretaceous):



15 million years ago (Neogene Miocene):



0.126 million years ago (Wisconsin Glaciation)



Present:

Member Since: August 31, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 5628
839. flsky
Shrinking Arctic Ice:

Link
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Quoting CaicosRetiredSailor:


Obviously those in the Athletic departments are making all that money due to global warming research : )


Well, I have heard them yell to the players to "burn up the field"
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Quoting Matt74:
This article is a one sided view and Masters sounds a little dramatic to me.
One-sided, alright: the correct side. And the rapid climate change we're experiencing is most likely the single largest threat humanity has faced in modern times; if that fact alone isn't dramatic in and of itself, I don't know what is...
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13509
Quoting Neapolitan:
Is it your contention that the thousands of scientists from dozens of disciplines who've been studying the issue for years have somehow overlooked the role played by the PDO and other natural cycles? They've looked, alright. And the current observed warming is simply far too large and rapid to be blamed on any amount of known natural variability. From above:

Huh?

That, friend, is simply not natural...


Ahhh, refreshing logic not filtered thru Tampa...Oh wait, they did have a convention I believe?

But I was busy delivering new Pups during Issac.

Funny how time spirals around?
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Quoting SSideBrac:
Lovely cooling rains - not so sure about the proximity of the lightning though.
Must be part of that Blob S of Cuba or Blobette coming across from Jamaica area.
Whilst I enjoy the rain, also keeping a wary eye open on that "outburst" N of Panama.
I don't know if you noticed but vorticity has increased in the GOH.
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832. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
Japan Meteorological Agency
Tropical Cyclone Advisory #13
SEVERE TROPICAL STORM JELAWAT (T1217)
3:00 AM JST September 22 2012
==================================

SUBJECT: Category Two Typhoon In Sea East Of The Philippines

At 18:00 PM UTC, Severe Tropical Storm Jelawat (990 hPa) located at 11.7N 129.5E has 10 minute sustained winds of 50 knots with gusts of 70 knots. The cyclone is reported as moving southwest at 7 knots.

Dvorak Intensity: T3.0

Gale Force Winds
===============
120 NM from the center

Forecast and Intensity
======================

24 HRS: 12.2N 128.9E - 65 knots (CAT 3/Strong Typhoon) Sea East Of The Philippines
48 HRS: 13.7N 128.1E - 80 knots (CAT 3/Strong Typhoon) Sea East Of The Philippines
72 HRS: 15.3N 127.0E - 85 knots (CAT 4/Very Strong Typhoon) Sea East Of The Philippines
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Quoting MTWX:


Quick question...

How many species on earth have become extinct directly due to human existance??

Just because the earth is big, doesn't mean it isn't fragile...



All dominant species have probably done some harm to other species, including making some extinct.
Im sure the dinosaurs probably extincted some small mammals.
That isnt going to kill the patterns of life on earth...
But yes, the earth is still fragile in other ways.
Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 9725
Quoting seminolesfan:
Really? No comments on PDO/AO driving the ice loss?

PDO warms the Arctic Ocean while the AO drives storm after storm through the arctic, breaking up the weakening ice.

Why is this not the news? Because its not an emotional story. Its just DATA!
Is it your contention that the thousands of scientists from dozens of disciplines who've been studying the issue for years have somehow overlooked the role played by the PDO and other natural cycles? They've looked, alright. And the current observed warming is simply far too large and rapid to be blamed on any amount of known natural variability. From above:

Huh?

That, friend, is simply not natural...
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13509
Quoting PensacolaDoug:



That ship has sailed.


Yup..most likely right thru the Northwest passage with the melting Sherbet.

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Quoting schwankmoe:


put in some plastics, glass, and expensive (and exotic) materials, as well as tons of energy in the form of heat and electricity, and you get a solar panel with a lifetime of 20 years. which takes quite a while to produce enough energy to make up for the energy it took to extract, purify and assemble all those materials into a panel.

current panels in the lab, made using expensive materials and production methods (and lots of embodied energy), can hit about 40%. they aren't practical for home use tho, home panels are roughly 15% efficient for the nice ones and about 10% for the cheaper ones.

maybe some breakthroughs will increase that number, but that number has been climbing relatively slowly for the last few decades. i have no reason to believe we'll be seeing cheap, easy to produce 85% efficient solar panels any time in my lifetime. that's a fantasy. why not argue for nuclear fusion? as i said, that's been '20 years in the future' for the last 60 years.



Bet you $1000 dollars it happens in your lifetime, if you die first I guess i cant pay you, lol...

and do you mean cold fusion? Who knows, that will probably break through in your lifetim to, at least if you are still in you middle years.
Part of the problem with solar panels now is the very ineffieciency you mentioned, if we get a way to harness solar energy very efficiently, maybe not even in a panel, and if that way is cost effective, it will be big business.
Our generation of children down here will do amazing things, not just be pests and vagabonds as some assume.
Just look how far weve come from 80 years ago in 1932, to the technology of today.....its quite a leap.
Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 9725
Quoting plutorising:
Please do not engage in personal attacks or BICKERING.



That ship has sailed.
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some nice heavy rain in dominica(the lesser Antilles)

havent had rain of any significance since Issac..
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823. MTWX
Quoting seminolesfan:
Really? No comments on PDO/AO driving the ice loss?

PDO warms the Arctic Ocean while the AO drives storm after storm through the arctic, breaking up the weakening ice.

Why is this not the news? Because its not an emotional story. Its just DATA!


Sorry, don't know enough about it to render an opinion...
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Cool..cuz we in Louisiana use it as our first Barrier island.

So thanx again!

As a rule,,we usually don't trust anyone with 4 comments,, but yer in the Que so,er,keep coming back.
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The atcf site now has the N storm a STS
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Ahh, cognitive dissonance is still in play from the right.

So nothings new.

But Lurking has led to a new thesis maybe. : )
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Really? No comments on PDO/AO driving the ice loss?

PDO warms the Arctic Ocean while the AO drives storm after storm through the arctic, breaking up the weakening ice.

Why is this not the news? Because its not an emotional story. Its just DATA!
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Avoid the Sherbet,..as its melting fast.
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816. MTWX
Going by those 06-07 numbers, I make more than an Associate Professor with my Associates Degree! (no pun intended)
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Quoting Grothar:


Also interesting to note on some of these charts, that the athletic directors get more than the law school professors.


Obviously those in the Athletic departments are making all that money due to global warming research : )
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This article is a one sided view and Masters sounds a little dramatic to me.
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"Well that's a Fire of a different color"...


Oz Doorman
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Quoting MTWX:


Quick question...

How many species on earth have become extinct directly due to human existance??

Just because the earth is big, doesn't mean it isn't fragile...



99.9% of all species that have ever existed have become extinct. Not good odds for us.
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In the positive phase, higher pressure at midlatitudes drives ocean storms farther north, and changes in the circulation pattern bring wetter weather to Alaska, Scotland and Scandinavia, as well as drier conditions to the western United States and the Mediterranean.

Link
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Quoting MTWX:


Every school is different, but if you want the national "going rates" (given the data is 5 years old)..

[Academic year] salaries for full-time faculty averaged $73,207. By rank, the average was $98,974 for professors, $69,911 for associate professors, $58,662 for assistant professors, $42,609 for instructors, and $48,289 for lecturers. Faculty in 4-year institutions earn higher salaries, on average, than do those in 2-year schools. In 2006–07, faculty salaries averaged $84,249 in private independent institutions, $71,362 in public institutions, and $66,118 in religiously affiliated private colleges and universities.

Edit: here is some more up to date data.. Link


Also interesting to note on some of these charts, that the athletic directors get more than the law school professors.
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809. MTWX
Quoting E46Pilot:
I have a really hard time believing what man has done in the last 200 years is messing up Earth which has been around 4.5 Billion years. I think what we are seeing is just part of the Earth's natural cycle.


Quick question...

How many species on earth have become extinct directly due to human existance??

Just because the earth is big, doesn't mean it isn't fragile...

Member Since: Posts: Comments:

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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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