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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Quoting Cat5hit:


First, I think we have to differentiate some things. You have several camps of people.

1. People that believe in human induced, global warming. And that is the ONLY reason the Earth is now warming.

2. People that believe humans are partially responsible for global warming, but also believe that there are some natural variances at work.

3. People that believe the Earth is warming and that humans are not responsible at all (or very little).

4. People that do not believe the Earth is warming.

5. People that believe the Earth is cooling.

6. People that believe this is all normal.
--
I am sure there are more camps you could place people in as I am generalizing.

Here is my point, for me it is hard to debate that OVERALL the Earth is warming. I bet most of us on the blog are in the top 3 categories. Even if you only look at the geologically insignificant time humans have been on the Earth and have measurements, it is hotter than it was over an average period of time. Doc Masters posts many graphs to attesting to this on his blogs. I have seen them in peer reviewed journals and I believe them to be accurate.

The CAUSE and CURE of this warming, is the most debated part of this.
--
I don't like that part about the oceans being 12- 18 feet higher when the Arctic was ice free in the summer, that means my city and many of other cities will be under water -or- at least in a situation like NOLA, where you look UP to the water, rather than down.
Living in south Texas I can vouch that it is getting warmer,the last 10 years have been horrible.With that said,global warming man made?or a cycle.?
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TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
500 AM PDT FRI SEP 21 2012

FOR THE EASTERN NORTH PACIFIC...EAST OF 140 DEGREES WEST LONGITUDE..

SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS CONTINUE TO SHOW SIGNS OF ORGANIZATION IN
ASSOCIATION WITH A LOW PRESSURE AREA LOCATED ABOUT 400 MILES SOUTH
OF MANZANILLO MEXICO. ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS APPEAR CONDUCIVE FOR
A TROPICAL DEPRESSION TO FORM DURING THE NEXT DAY OR SO. THIS
SYSTEM HAS A HIGH CHANCE...70 PERCENT...OF BECOMING A TROPICAL
CYCLONE DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS AS IT MOVES TO THE WEST OR
WEST-NORTHWEST AT 5 TO 10 MPH.

ELSEWHERE...TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION IS NOT EXPECTED DURING THE
NEXT 48 HOURS.

$$
FORECASTER BLAKE
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31882
florida could be in for some flooding rains these next few weeks
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I wrote another blog on Nadine and 94L, Nadine does not want to go away.
My forecast graphic will be up shortly in it.
Member Since: March 16, 2012 Posts: 127 Comments: 7940
Good morning, everyone. Looks like in another week or two things will change as conditions will be better in the Carribean and the GOM. Hopefully only some short-lived non-threatening storms to be able to follow.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Nadine does not technically meet the criteria to remain a tropical cyclone, as it is attached to a frontal zone. However, the National Hurricane Center is likely to remain issuing advisories as it will probably detach from the front soon.


Good morning TA and everyone else, why am I not surprised with Nadine. The NHC should remain issuing advisories, I'm pretty sure of that.
Member Since: March 16, 2012 Posts: 127 Comments: 7940
Quoting CybrTeddy:
In an effort to look for anything else in the Atlantic, the ECMWF is starting to show lowering in pressures in the SW Caribbean by 216 hours. This could very well be the start of possible SW Caribbean development and our next threat for serious mischief. Nothing significant yet, but it's always prudent to watch out for October mischief in the SW Caribbean especially in active years like this one.


GFS for now is favoring the EPAC side of monsoon trough to develop than the SW Caribbean,but of course that could change as is long range.
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06z NOGAPS showing Pacific low heading into BOC. Could be time to keep a closer eye on that area.

Member Since: August 2, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 1871
Nadine does not technically meet the criteria to remain a tropical cyclone, as it is attached to a frontal zone. However, the National Hurricane Center is likely to remain issuing advisories as it will probably detach from the front soon.

Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31882
Quoting islander101010:
you tax us the competitor countries will have the advantage






That's what I mean when I say the USA can't do it alone. Cap and tax will just decimate what's left of our economy without any real benefits to the climate. AG and his partners will get even wealthier tho. So it'd be good for them.
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Quoting islander101010:
oh dont forget latin america in the last 10 yrs roads are getting packed. the last trip i took i saw the new chinese 4wheel drive diesel. its a small truck with the diesel engine.
you tax us the competitor countries will have the advantage
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Good Morning
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oh dont forget latin america in the last 10 yrs roads are getting packed. the last trip i took i saw the new chinese 4wheel drive diesel. its a small truck with the diesel engine.
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Quoting PensacolaDoug:
Good luck with reducing emissions. Chinese won't get on board with it neither will India or Pakistan or Brazil..the USA can't do it alone and if we try, we only decimate what's left of our economy with no effect on the climate. It's a defeatest point of view admittedly, but it is rooted in reality.


The sad truth is that without economic taxes (e.g. carbon taxes) using fossil fuels is just too economically beneficial. And you're right, if just a few countries reduce emissions then there is no point - good example of game theory! It is getting to the point where emissions reductions, if they do happen, will be too late to stop a meaningful increase of global temperature from occurring (i.e. more than 2 degrees)

What is interesting is how the EU is slightly different as most of the countries in the EU are actively trying to reach their emissions targets from Kyoto despite most of the big players (China, India, Brazil and even the US) not making much of an effort to reduce emissions at all.
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Quoting yonzabam:



Scientists tend to err on the conservative side. Most of the warming from greenhouse gases does not come from the direct re-radiaton of outgoing infrared by the heat trapping gases. It happens as a result of positive feedbacks.

One potentally large positive feedback is the release of CO2 and methane from melting permafrost. The IPCC 2007 report does not even attempt to include this in its future warming estimates.

No doubt, there are other positive feedbacks that cannot be estimated, so are not included. Therefore, the actual warming is likely to be greater than predicted, unless some unanticipated negative feedback kicks in.


Yeah that's the worrying thing. Increased sequestration of CO2 could be a possible negative feedback, although if the oceans are becoming more acidic (as they are predicted to in models) then their uptake will also slow. It's also not clear whether plants will photosynthesize more under higher CO2 conditions, it appears to vary depending on the plant type. Don't think this will be on a scale to combat the increased CO2 that will continue to be emitted however, but the carbon cycle is another important thing that the IPCC didn't model greatly (though this was mainly due to it's uncertainty even now).
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Decadal global temperature increase compared to the average for 1951-80 (Source:NASA GISS)


1981-90 0.20C
1991-00 0.32C
2001-10 0.55C

So, it's not only getting warmer, the rate of warming is accelerating.


Link
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Good luck with reducing emissions. Chinese won't get on board with it neither will India or Pakistan or Brazil..the USA can't do it alone and if we try, we only decimate what's left of our economy with no effect on the climate. It's a defeatest point of view admittedly, but it is rooted in reality.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Cat5hit:


First, I think we have to differentiate some things. You have several camps of people.

1. People that believe in human induced, global warming. And that is the ONLY reason the Earth is now warming.

2. People that believe humans are partially responsible for global warming, but also believe that there are some natural variances at work.

3. People that believe the Earth is warming and that humans are not responsible at all (or very little).

4. People that do not believe the Earth is warming.

5. People that believe the Earth is cooling.

6. People that believe this is all normal.
--
I am sure there are more camps you could place people in as I am generalizing.

Here is my point, for me it is hard to debate that OVERALL the Earth is warming. I bet most of us on the blog are in the top 3 categories. Even if you only look at the geologically insignificant time humans have been on the Earth and have measurements, it is hotter than it was over an average period of time. Doc Masters posts many graphs to attesting to this on his blogs. I have seen them in peer reviewed journals and I believe them to be accurate.

The CAUSE and CURE of this warming, is the most debated part of this.
--
I don't like that part about the oceans being 12- 18 feet higher when the Arctic was ice free in the summer, that means my city and many of other cities will be under water -or- at least in a situation like NOLA, where you look UP to the water, rather than down.


I'm not sure anyone thinks that human induced warming is the ONLY cause of global warming as a whole, but it is the reason why we have seen such unprecedented increases. Other forcings, such as increased solar activity have contributed but nowhere near on the scale that would explain the temperature increase. Just pointing that out as a common error skeptics make when they think of people who 'believe' in global warming.

I'm of the school of thought that the only way to counter (or cure) global warming is to reduce emissions. It is scary when you look at possible sea level rise, although this is dependent on other factors as well as just the Arctic being ice free.
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HAPPY LAST DAY OF SUMMER!


For the record. I fall into cat2 of post
535. Fire in the attic while the basement is in a deep-freeze. Lets see how much ice the Antartic loses this year as it transitions to summer down there.
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Quoting stevsh89:
Really good article Dr Masters. It will be interesting to see whether the climate feedbacks from a reduced albedo of the Earth will cause a further noticeable increase in the amount of Arctic sea ice melt. Not to mention then the additional worry about methane escaping from the permafrost! It's worrying that the melt is greater than climate scientists predicted, especially as the scientists are often portrayed as doomsayers!



Look at the different percentages - 38.5% below average for the Arctic and 1.6% above average for the Antarctic. Kinda puts the Antarctic growth rate into perspective right?



Scientists tend to err on the conservative side. Most of the warming from greenhouse gases does not come from the direct re-radiaton of outgoing infrared by the heat trapping gases. It happens as a result of positive feedbacks.

One potentally large positive feedback is the release of CO2 and methane from melting permafrost. The IPCC 2007 report does not even attempt to include this in its future warming estimates.

No doubt, there are other positive feedbacks that cannot be estimated, so are not included. Therefore, the actual warming is likely to be greater than predicted, unless some unanticipated negative feedback kicks in.
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ah just a wave.............
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.................Interesting wave down below Cuba
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Quoting stevsh89:


Ah fair enough. Melting sea ice isn't anywhere near as important as melting land ice with Antarctica due to the amount of ice on Antarctica (which I think has been decreasing if I remember right...)

And i'm from the UK, so it's nearly midday here :)
ah ok...everyone here seems to be asleep lol...
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GFS at 111 hours,watching the gulf in 5 days or so..........
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Quoting LargoFl:
yes it does but a few days ago someone stated antartica's ice was melting also, it isnt...thanks and good morning, glad someone is also up lol


Ah fair enough. Melting sea ice isn't anywhere near as important as melting land ice with Antarctica due to the amount of ice on Antarctica (which I think has been decreasing if I remember right...)

And i'm from the UK, so it's nearly midday here :)
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they might have to get the crayons out for the northwest carib.
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Quoting stevsh89:
Really good article Dr Masters. It will be interesting to see whether the climate feedbacks from a reduced albedo of the Earth will cause a further noticeable increase in the amount of Arctic sea ice melt. Not to mention then the additional worry about methane escaping from the permafrost! It's worrying that the melt is greater than climate scientists predicted, especially as the scientists are often portrayed as doomsayers!



Look at the different percentages - 38.5% below average for the Arctic and 1.6% above average for the Antarctic. Kinda puts the Antarctic growth rate into perspective right?
yes it does but a few days ago someone stated antartica's ice was melting also, it isnt...thanks and good morning, glad someone is also up lol
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Just to change the subject off global warming for a second, does anyone know what's up with the JTWC site? It looks like they are updating it but extremely slowly.
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Really good article Dr Masters. It will be interesting to see whether the climate feedbacks from a reduced albedo of the Earth will cause a further noticeable increase in the amount of Arctic sea ice melt. Not to mention then the additional worry about methane escaping from the permafrost! It's worrying that the melt is greater than climate scientists predicted, especially as the scientists are often portrayed as doomsayers!

Quoting LargoFl:
artic ice is melting yet antartica's ice is BUILDING.....


Look at the different percentages - 38.5% below average for the Arctic and 1.6% above average for the Antarctic. Kinda puts the Antarctic growth rate into perspective right?
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artic ice is melting yet antartica's ice is BUILDING.....
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south florida's rainfall totals for the year must be very high huh.......................
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Still 60%...................
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Good Morning folks!............
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Clouding up in the NW Caribbean and FL. straits, BP dropping, might get the Caribbean system a little earlier than predicted.
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517. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
SUBJECT: Category Two Typhoon In Sea East Of The Philippines

At 6:00 AM UTC, Severe Tropical Storm Jelawat (992 hPa) located at 12.8N 130.4E has 10 minute sustained winds of 50 knots with gusts of 70 knots. The cyclone is reported as moving west southwest at 8 knots.

Dvorak Intensity: T3.0

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

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

24 HRS: 12.6N 129.6E - 60 knots (CAT 2/Severe Tropical Storm) Sea East Of The Philippines
48 HRS: 13.8N 128.5E - 75 knots (CAT 3/Strong Typhoon) Sea East Of The Philippines
72 HRS: 15.4N 127.6E - 80 knots (CAT 3/Strong Typhoon) Sea East Of The Philippines
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Quoting Slamguitar:
^^Didn't you just mention you received a one hour ban??

These types of non-weather/non-climate posts might have something to do with it. Just looking out for you mate. A permanent ban is no fun.

You could always talk about these things over WUmail. ;)


It's ok.

I make copies of my posts now for future reference.

It's also weather related anyway. Better budget equals more money available for science, including weather forecasts.

technically, I didn't get banned for being off topic.

I got banned for making a "personal attack;" at least that's what the admin cited as the reason.
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Weird double post. Sorry.
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^^Didn't you just mention you received a one hour ban??

These types of non-weather/non-climate posts might have something to do with it. Just looking out for you mate. A permanent ban is no fun.

You could always talk about these things over WUmail. ;)
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Anyway, 94L has a pretty interesting signature on the TPW animation:



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You know, to be honest, I'm not entirely sure which of my posts resulted in the 1 hour ban.

There don't seem to be any recent deletions.

The one that I think might have prompted the ban was not removed.

I guess I can polish up that line to avoid any further bans resulting from the same post...
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Quoting G8GT:
With all due respect, Dr. Masters, the ANTARCTIC ice is at record HIGH levels.

Please focus on the global issues, not just one hemisphere.

Ice lost in the Arctic is ice gained in the Antarctic.

Link

It's not as bad as all that.


Yes, please do focus on the global issues, not just the Southern Hemisphere.




Epic fail?

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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.