Sea Ice Arctic (and BBQ)

By: Dr. Ricky Rood , 1:57 AM GMT on October 08, 2007

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Sea Ice Arctic

In my last blog I introduced the idea that sea ice production and loss was more complex than just the temperature of the air. There is this stew of processes which include water temperature, air temperature, saltiness, and both solar and infrared radiation. One point I tried to get across was that in our current climate, and in the recent pass, sea ice exists on the edge. It is balance of all of these ways of heating and cooling. This blog, I want to get a little more precise.

First, I posed a couple of questions about fresh water at the end of the last blog. The first question was about what happens if fresh water collects around sea ice. Fresh water is lighter than salt water, so if there is fresh water around sea ice then it tends to “float” on top of the more dense salt water underneath. The fresh water also freezes at a warmer temperature than salt water. This ice is even less dense. So fresh water on top of salt water is “stable;” it could be viewed as the sea-water equivalent of “hot (less dense) air rises.” Salty water tends to sink and start a circulation.

The other question I posed was about where would fresh water come from. It could come from rain and snow, and it can also come from rivers. Therefore, what happens in the northern and southern hemisphere is different because of the distribution of land and rivers and precipitation. In addition as the sea freezes and thaws, there is a change in the salt content. When sea water freezes there is a separation of salt from the ice. So the ice is fresher than the sea water that started to freeze. In the short term the water that is extruded from the ice is more saline and the sea around the ice is saltier. Within the ice are bubbles of very salty water, which sink through the ice and contribute to melting. When the bulk of the ice melts, it makes the sea fresher for a while. This cycle of salt changes the density of water and helps create a stirring of water down and up.

So what happens in the Arctic? There was an interesting paper in the 14 November 2006, EOS, Transactions America Geophysical Union (J.A. Francis and E. Hunter). This study looked at the energy budget at the edges of the Arctic sea ice. What they found is that where the sea ice loss is greatest, there is increased downward flux of infrared radiation. The melting is strongly related to cloudiness and the increase of water vapor. This increases the amount of time that terrestrial heat is held near the surface of the Earth; this is the greenhouse effect. Increasing water vapor? That comes from increasing atmospheric temperature; warm air holds more water.

What we have, approximately, in the northern hemisphere is a situation where sea ice is formed at the bottom and melted at the top. I have tried to represent this in the figure. Also in the figure I represent the radiative balance and what has changed. For more details of the radiative balance see this blog. Clouds Cool and Warm

Figure 1: Simplistic summary of Arctic sea ice

Two things:

I would like to thank Dr. Elizabeth Hunke from Los Alamos for teaching me in the last few much of what I do know about sea ice.

And I have a new piece on BBQ published here.

Link to Francis and Hunter: New Insight into the Disappearing Arctic Sea Ice.

Recent sea ice trends
Sea ice data

The End of Ice
Fast Ice 1
Warm Snow

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28. ZRR
3:30 AM GMT on October 13, 2007
Agreed about the abnormalities La Nina will cause this winter. Of course if the east has a warm winter its a sure sing on AGW comming to pass. I do think the northwest and Upper midwest will see some formidable aritic outbreaks durring the heart of winter. The western snow pack might really be built up this winter as well.

If ya ask me the biggest affects on northern hemisphere climate in the next few decades will be a shift to a negative Pacific Decadal Oscillation with El Nino's becomming less frequent and weeker while La Nina get stronger. This will followed by (within 10 years) a downturn in the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation significantly cooling Europe and North America.

When this happens we will either realize we are not in controll of the climate or it will be linked to what ever policy changes the IPCC makes and with All Gore being such an integral part, we will crown him king of the world and he will be our savior. I really think the world has lost its mind All Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize today, wow that's all I have to say.
Member Since: August 9, 2006 Posts: 217 Comments: 332
27. sullivanweather
2:29 AM GMT on October 13, 2007
I brought this up back in late July. The position of the main ice pack (and how it's retreated further since that time) could aid in the development of a rather parge polynya north of the Siberian coast for some time this winter as sea-ice forms along the coast and works its way northward as the main icepack works its way southward.

It'll be interesting to see if this scenario plays itself out and what effect this will have with the northern climate this winter. With a moderate to strong La Nina developing this winter expect alot more abnormalities in the weather patterns. It already appears that we're on our way to a La Nina at least as strong as 1988 and quite possibly 1976.



Glad to see you have a home internet connection!
Member Since: March 8, 2007 Posts: 273 Comments: 12612
26. desertdisaster
12:46 AM GMT on October 13, 2007
Hey, I now have the internet at home !!! Great!
Can't stop the progress... and human demographic expansion...

Yes, the tipping point Dr Masters is talking about, is an irreversible melting... which will accelerate... I truly hope it is not that!
But I am afraid it is! ...

I know the implication of this!!! And it is a very pessimistic future I see on the short term.(50- 500 years)but don't give up! I think that with our knowledge & technologies the Human race can survive this, and your childrens might be some of the ones making the future of Humanity, This warning is a wake up call for humans to prepare for an adaptation phase... and we are already preparing on the psychological level. It's a beginning...
25. Inyo
7:39 PM GMT on October 12, 2007
I think Dr Masters actually thinks it is a tipping point beyond where it will all melt.
Member Since: September 3, 2002 Posts: 42 Comments: 905
24. catfuraplenty
6:34 PM GMT on October 12, 2007
As a student of history and people, I noticed that one variable changes and the other variable does not. Therefore it's safe to say that whatever man did before when we had large ice melting, man will do again but probably on a larger scale.

All during the summer I've watched this race to the poles mentality. People trying to claim every new patch of ground that opened up as the snow melted. It will indeed be interesting to see if the ice does continue to reveal land in coming years, or if, as Dr. Masters thinks, this year was the tipping point where ice will slowly begin to rebuild.

This all brings me to one big question. What will you do when you've planted a flag on a spit of land that in 2007 was exposed but in 2010 is covered again with ice? How can you make sure your BBQ Grill stays clean under all that ice? :P

Thank you for your blog. I found it very thought provoking and relavent to what we might yet see, a war for land. It's happened before.

Member Since: May 7, 2006 Posts: 149 Comments: 3337
23. cyclonebuster
5:45 PM GMT on October 12, 2007
Looks like it could be a new record low this year.
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 132 Comments: 20521
22. desertdisaster
5:33 PM GMT on October 12, 2007
No, not good news, the water temperature is too high for a normal refreeze, this on top the record melt this summer… It seems that the Artic won’t have time to build up its ice to the level it was last winter…, which was already a record low!
21. cyclonebuster
4:29 PM GMT on October 12, 2007
On the graph you show the refreeze is not as high as it was this time last year. Not good news is it?
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 132 Comments: 20521
20. Inyo
3:34 PM GMT on October 12, 2007
The hot october heat wears on me. I write, "The trees struggle to lose their leaves."

Surprisingly, Southern California is having an unusually crisp, cool, beautiful fall. There has been some snow in the Sierras and we may even get a bit of rain tonight.
Member Since: September 3, 2002 Posts: 42 Comments: 905
19. desertdisaster
2:10 PM GMT on October 12, 2007
Thanks Cyclone for the interesting links you provide. Nice fish by the way…

In the future, our over populated world will be fighting for water, food, and unflooded territories… it will become a question of survival, so you can understand why There will be Wars over these… There will not be enough resources to save climatic refugees… So you can make the connection with the fact that Al Gore & the IPCC won the Nobel peace price.

I am still following the artic sea ice, and you can see Here that it is having difficulties to freeze… They will have to change the Graph, as the anomaly is pushing out of it.

Have a good week-end...
18. cyclonebuster
12:21 AM GMT on October 12, 2007

Greenland ice cap melting faster than expected

COPENHAGEN, Oct 11 (AFP) Oct 11, 2007
The ice cap in the northern hemisphere is melting a lot more rapidly that scientists thought, according to new research published Thursday by the Danish National Space Center.
"Until 2004, the glacier mass in the southeastern part of the island lost about 50 to 100 cubic kilometres (12 to 24 cubic miles) per year. After this date, the melting rate acellerated to 300 cubic kilometres per year. It's a jump of 400 percent, which is very worrying," National Space Center head researcher and project chief Abbas Khan told AFP.

The ice cap, located in Greenland, is melting four times more rapidly than at the beginning of the decade according to the study. Glaciers in southeastern Greenland release icebergs into the sea, corresponding to a giant ice cube measuring 6.5 kilometres (4 miles) per side.

"It's an alarming development," Khan said. "We do not know if it is due to global warming or other factors."

The results of the study were made in conjunction with US-based University of Colorado and published Thursday on an online edition of Geophysical Research Letters magazine.

The researchers measured ice melt with ultra-sensitive Global Positioning Systems (GPS) stations located in the mountains and along the ice cap.

The measurements indicated that the mountains hugging glaciers in the southeastern part of Greenland rose four to five centimetres (1.5 to two inches) per year, and that the banks of the glaciers thinned 100 metres per year.

The Greenland ice cap measures 1.7 million square kilometres (656,000 square miles) and is 3.2 kilometres (two miles) thick.

Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 132 Comments: 20521
17. cyclonebuster
12:07 AM GMT on October 12, 2007
Moulin image

Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 132 Comments: 20521
16. cyclonebuster
12:07 AM GMT on October 12, 2007
Large Moulins in Greenland causing an Alarm
A probe is sent down into a moulin. Image courtesy of NASA

A moulin is the name for a giant hole in a glacier in which millions of gallons of melt water can cascade through to the rocky surface underneath the glacier during the melt season.

Why am I bringing this up now? Well, on a recent trip to Greenland a group of scientists and journalists were alarmed at the size and number of these moulins that they saw on the Greenland ice cap. Some of the moulins in Greenland run on the scale of Niagra Falls and are helping the glaciers to move at three times the rate that they did previously.

Scientists say the acceleration of melting and subsequent speeding up of giant glaciers could be catastrophic in terms of sea level rise and make previous predictions published this year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) far too low, according to the article from AlterNet, which is a progressive news website.

Professor Robert Correll, chairman of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment said that newly invented ice penetrating radar showed that the melt water was pouring through to the bottom of the glacier creating a melt water lake 500 metres deep causing the glacier "to float on land. "These melt water rivers are lubricating the glacier, like applying oil to a surface and causing it to slide into the sea. It is causing a massive acceleration which could be catastrophic." Correll stated that one particular glacier puts enough fresh water into the sea in one day to provide drinking water for a city the size of New York for a year.

Correll believes that the estimates of a 20 to 60 centimeter sea level rise this century from the IPCC report in February had been "conservative" and feels that it would be at the upper end of this range at a minimum. Some scientists fear that number could be 2 metres (200 centimeters), which would obviously have catastrophic effects for European and U.S. coastlines.

Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 132 Comments: 20521
15. cyclonebuster
10:18 PM GMT on October 11, 2007
Seems like this will cause a population explosion of the "Crown Of Thorns". Just what we need no more corals.

Increase In Ethanol Production From Corn Could Significantly Harm Water Quality
Science Daily %u2014 If projected increases in the use of corn for ethanol production occur, the harm to water quality could be considerable, and water supply problems at the regional and local levels could also arise, says a new report from the National Research Council. The committee that wrote the report examined policy options and identified opportunities for new agricultural techniques and technologies to help minimize effects of biofuel production on water resources.


Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 132 Comments: 20521
14. cyclonebuster
9:46 PM GMT on October 11, 2007
WOW! We must be really stupid to do this if we are not causing global warming. Ah heck it must be another reason to raise our power bill again.

EPA to issue CO2 sequestration rules
WASHINGTON, Oct. 11 (UPI) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday it plans to develop geologic carbon dioxide sequestration regulations.

Geologic sequestration is a process of injecting captured carbon dioxide into deep underground rock formations for long-term storage. The EPA said the rules will be designed to ensure there is a consistent and effective permit system under the Safe Drinking Water Act for commercial-scale geologic sequestration programs.

"Addressing global climate change will require fundamental changes in the way the world generates and uses energy," said EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson. "By harnessing the power of geologic sequestration technology, we are entering a new age of clean energy (in which) we can be both good stewards of the Earth, and good stewards of the American economy."

The EPA said it is working with the Department of Energy in evaluating potential impacts on health, safety and the environment.

The Safe Drinking Water Act established the Underground Injection Control Program to allow the safe injection of fluids into the subsurface in a manner that does not endanger current or future underground sources of drinking water.

EPA officials said they plan to issue the regulations next summer.
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 132 Comments: 20521
13. FormerAussie
9:18 AM GMT on October 11, 2007
Ricky, re your comment on humid air... Sorry to paste in rather than link, but I believe Nature needs a subscription. This filed today.
AP Science Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - With global warming, the world is not
just getting hotter. It is getting stickier. It really is
the humidity.
And people are to blame, according to a study based on
computer models published Thursday.
The amount of moisture in the air near Earth's surface
rose 2.2 percent in less than three decades, the
researchers report in a study appearing in the journal
«This humidity change is an important contribution to
heat stress in humans as a result of global warming,» said
Nathan Gillett of the University of East Anglia in the
United Kingdom, a co-author of the study.
Gillett studied changes in specific humidity, which is a
measurement of total moisture in the air, between
1973-2002. Higher humidity can be dangerous to people
because it makes the body less efficient at cooling itself,
said University of Miami health and climate researcher
Laurence Kalkstein. He was not connected with the research.
Humidity increased over most of the globe, including the
eastern United States, said study co-author Katharine
Willett, a climate researcher at Yale University. However,
a few regions, including the U.S. West, South Africa and
parts of Australia were drier.
The finding is not surprising to climate scientists.
Physics dictates that warmer air can hold more moisture.
But Gillett's study shows that the increase in humidity
already is significant and can be attributed to gas
emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.
To show that this is man-made, Gillett ran computer models
to simulate past climate conditions and studied what would
happen to humidity if there were no man-made greenhouse
gases. It did not match reality.
He looked at what would happen from just man-made
greenhouse gases. That did not match either. Then he looked
at the combination of natural conditions and greenhouse
gases. The results were nearly identical to the
year-by-year increases in humidity.
Member Since: October 10, 2006 Posts: 3 Comments: 59
12. cyclonebuster
9:46 PM GMT on October 10, 2007
Warm Winter Predicted For US, NOAA Reports
Science Daily — NOAA forecasters are calling for above-average temperatures over most of the country and a continuation of drier-than-average conditions across already drought-stricken parts of the Southwest and Southeast in its winter outlook for the United States, announced at the 2007-2008 Winter Fuels Outlook Conference in Washington, D.C October 9, 2007.

Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 132 Comments: 20521
11. cyclonebuster
5:25 PM GMT on October 10, 2007

Check out this UFO??? What is this?
Follow these directions carefully.Click on the visible link below.
At the cordinate 18N 81.5W at 1415 UTC image and the 1545 UTC image at cordinate 17N 81W image. Loop those two images only and block all others and zoom in. You can clearly see a UFO traveling SSE.
Any thoughts? Surely,I am not seeing things here am I?
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 132 Comments: 20521
10. cyclonebuster
1:33 AM GMT on October 10, 2007
Scientist: Greenhouse-Gas Levels Already Past 'Worst-Case' Scenario
Tuesday, October 09, 2007


An iceberg melts in Kulusuk, Greenland, in the summer of 2005.
SYDNEY, Australia %u2014 Strong worldwide economic growth has accelerated the level of greenhouse-gas emissions in the atmosphere to a dangerous threshold scientists had not expected for another decade, according to a leading Australian climate change expert.

Scientist Tim Flannery told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that an upcoming report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will contain new data showing that the level of climate-changing gases in the atmosphere has already reached critical levels.

Flannery is not a member of the IPCC, but said he based his comments on a thorough review of the technical data included in the panel's three working group reports published earlier this year.

The IPCC is due to release its final report synthesizing the data in November.

%u2022 Click here for the IPCC Web site.

"What the report establishes is that the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is already above the threshold that can potentially cause dangerous climate change," Flannery told the broadcaster late Monday. "We are already at great risk of dangerous climate change, that's what these figures say. It's not next year or next decade %u2014 it's now."

Melting Polar Ice Forces Walrus South Energy-Guzzling Hollywood Goes Green %u2014 Sort of Bush Urges World's Worst Polluters to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions Top Scientist: Stir Up Oceans, Stop Global Warming Arctic Sea Ice Shrinking, Thinning Even in Winter Flannery, whose recent book "The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth," made best-seller lists worldwide, said the data showed that the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions had reached about 455 parts per million by mid-2005, well ahead of scientists' previous calculations.

%u2022 Click here to visit's Natural Science Center.

"We thought we'd be at that threshold within about a decade, that we had that much time," Flannery said. "I mean, that's beyond the limits of projection, beyond the worst-case scenario as we thought of it in 2001," when the last major IPCC report was issued.

The new data could add urgency to the next round of U.N. climate change talks on the Indonesian island of Bali in December, which will aim to start negotiations on a replacement for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel called Tuesday for an international system of global emissions trading to be adopted as part of an agreement to flight climate change from 2012 onward.

Speaking at a symposium of Nobel laureates and other leading scientists, Merkel insisted that only by establishing limits on carbon dioxide output per individual around the world %u2014 suggesting about 2 tons per head %u2014 could the fight to stop global warming be effective.

"Our long-term goal can only be the assimilation of worldwide per-capita emissions," Merkel told the conference.

Her suggestion would mean drastic cuts: Germany currently has a carbon-dioxide output of some 11 tons per person per year, while the U.S. is at around 20 tons per person.

Flannery said that the recent economic boom in China and India has helped to accelerate the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but strong growth in the developed world has also exacerbated the problem.

"It's a worldwide issue. We've had growing economies everywhere, we're still basing that economic activity on fossil fuels," he said. "The metabolism of that economy is now on a collision course clearly with the metabolism of our planet."

A spokesman for Australia's IPCC delegate, Ian Carruthers, said he was not available to comment on the report because it was still in draft form.

Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 132 Comments: 20521
8. Dr. Ricky Rood , Professor
10:58 PM GMT on October 09, 2007
The hot october heat wears on me. I write, "The trees struggle to lose their leaves."

The heat seems to be related to humid air, holding the summer's heat a few weeks longer. In short, greenhouse warming. That is with no science, no calculation. Again the writer --- The Earth is forgetting how to cool itself.
Member Since: January 31, 2007 Posts: 334 Comments: 295
6. northsylvania
7:33 AM GMT on October 09, 2007
It could be but other maps of the Labrador current show it hugging the coast. This seems to be further offshore:
It's probably an artifact, but as a UK resident I feel a certain proprietary interest in the Atlantic circulation.
5. Dr. Ricky Rood , Professor
10:13 PM GMT on October 08, 2007
There is a narrow, cold southward current, the Labrador Current, close to the Canadian coast. If that is what you are seeing it is not new. The Gulf Stream turns eastward; it sort of splits out in the Atlantic, and makes a North Atlantic Current.

Member Since: January 31, 2007 Posts: 334 Comments: 295
4. northsylvania
7:25 PM GMT on October 08, 2007
I notice that, on the North Atlantic sea surface temperature map, that there is a spike of colder water coming down off the east coast of Canada. While it hasn't hit the Gulf Stream yet, it seems to be tending that way. I have only been paying attention to these maps for the past three years and have never noticed this before. Is this a new phenomenon?
3. cyclonebuster
4:06 PM GMT on October 08, 2007
wrong blog
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 132 Comments: 20521
2. FormerAussie
8:52 AM GMT on October 08, 2007
Here in the UK snow tends to be on the edge as well - most commonly falls on the leading edge of a warm front, so the starting point - whether it's below or at freezing before the front comes in and starts pushing the temperature up - is critical in whether it's all snow, or snow turning to rain. Been a lot less snow over a lot of the country in the past ten to fifteen years.
Member Since: October 10, 2006 Posts: 3 Comments: 59
1. cyclonebuster
6:32 AM GMT on October 08, 2007
Sadly as the oceans warm more and more as the years go by it will no longer freeze at the bottom and we will get less and less ice in the Northern Arctic.
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 132 Comments: 20521

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About RickyRood

I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.

RickyRood's Recent Photos

Clouds in the lee of the Rockies at sunset.
Clouds in the lee of the Rockies at sunset.
Clouds in the lee of the Rockies at sunset.
Clouds in the lee of the Rockies at sunset.