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Is certainly true that decreasing arctic ice cover has no impact on the *insolation* dynamics of albedo where the sun don't shine. But, the thermodynamic impact of changes to *insulation* has to be significant when increasing amounts of open water at or around 0C are exposed to colder air, without cover of ice and snow. And logically more in winter, when the differential is greater? Imagining the thermodynamic interplay of decreased ice cover in dark arctic waters makes me want a nap. Albedo is relatively one-dimensional, as reflected radiation of incident light; how do intrinsic energy radiation and convection, latent-heat-of-fusion, etc, complicate the story? How significant is this year's much warmer arctic air temps in this context?
For what's worth, I travel back and forth from Kentucky to Alaska throughout the year, and have done from one place or other, since the 70's. This winter, Barrow has been warmer than KY more than a couple times, and much warmer than its usual. A quick look at AccuWeather temp listings for Barrow since October shows daily highs and lows were above the norm 27/31 days in Oct, 25/30 in Nov, 20/31 in Dec, 24/31 in Jan, and 11/13 so far this month. While the sun wasn't shining during most of that period, the temps were often well above the 0F limit posted by jdallen_wa. Finally, the temp is well below 0F today, and trending to stay that way for the next week and more. I've no idea how widespread this anomaly has been across the arctic, but has been a persistent talking point as I've traveled... I make no claims that I know what this means, or whether it means anything, but there you are.
3.5 Fairly subjective, but with detail. I've been in and out of Alaska (including the arctic, and parts of arctic Canada) since 1973, and have experienced the weather and climate in that part of the world each year since, either directly or vicariously through friends and contacts. This year is beyond all living memory (not just my own). Mid-June South Central Alaska hit into the 90's for more than a few days, with 80's common and frequently repeated (including yesterday). The sun is out so much this year, the tourists think clear days are the norm (NOT). Meanwhile, some of that extra solar energy from the past decade or two, that's been hiding in the deep oceans, is mixing with a pretty blended mess of thin and slushy ice above 70 degrees N. And the statistics Rob D refers to above are built from past experience, which is pretty much old news, the old days, another time. I'd like to be hopeful that the thin blue line for extent over at NSIDC is in fact leveling out along the bottom of the gray range, but am afraid of August. I'll be happy to see more than 4.
I'm a little leery at diving into this pond, at risk of failing to keep up with comments, added to all the other stuff I should be doing... In another lifetime, as my first adult scientist experience, I studied arctic ecology at/near Barrow, AK in the early 70's. A primary interest was the distribution of plant types by microclimates and ecotones/ecoclines... There's a whole nother language. The simple summary: It's complicated. The high arctic is?was a desert, with less than 8 inches of precip per year, on very flat plains, where a meter high ridge line can be seen three to four miles away. Whole plant communities are determined by height above the permafrost/water table level. That interface is not only the primary source of liquid water, but also the place where nutrients are found. Nobody grows in the winter, which is/was 9 months/yr. We took aerial photos of the plants in full summer, and could map out the microelevation changes by colors of the plant communities. At that point in time, the local ecology was still relatively stable, kind of the end stage of 'the old days', I'm guessing. Major limiting factors include water, nutrients, and winter cold. Shrubs look more like trees where they are protected by being buried under the snow in winter (a drainage cut along a river bank) - being above the snow exposes to brutal winds and the occasional browsing caribou herd. Northern forests are limited in extent at the edges by the arctic winds, and have to expand from center out, creating a critical mass wind buffer as they go (almost entirely by underground tillering from older plants - not much useful plant sex in the far north). In the winter, everything is white with frost or snow, and there's no sun anyway. The albedo effects are limited to the summer growing season, which is pretty short, though one impact here is any extension on that season length. The albedo impacts permafrost depth, which is a huge issue, since there lies all those nutrients, water, and that sequestered carbon. In summer, the ground above the permafrost is saturated with water, and is mostly peat of some form (all that carbon), with variable density. You can't drive vehicles over most of this without destroying the surface, leaving linear tracks of black water that become rivers over time as the albedo melts the sidewalls... Muskeg is the swampy forestland that extends fingers up from the south. That ground is similarly saturated over frozen peat, with short stubby fir trees that point every which way around the dead that lie in herringboned disarray. You can't walk in that stuff, let alone drive through. Roads are major messes, that re-route water, and require constant maintenance (and turn to jelly with earthquakes). Off road vehicles tear the place to pieces, see above. Not gonna be much agriculture in that world, except as slow encroachment from the edges.
some perspective, with visual aids, to supplement the images and discussions in this sequence: First, how much water we talking about? Now spread that water back over the mineral surface, as the thin liquid/solid base of a 50 km moist and gassy skin on and around a 12,700km diameter ball. Add a sunny summer, stir. [That image is a day in Sept 2008, over the western hemisphere, as Ike and other tropical storms were hovering in the Atlantic, churning with energy.] We, and the rest of life as we know it, are mostly water, living within that narrow wet skin, which is kept mostly gas and liquid by solar heat. The stubbornly stable equilibrium is maintained by dynamics that are the stuff brings you and me to this and similar sites to argue details of the human end, speaking math flavored with politics. Now, back to the preliminary processes of winter-into-spring thaw, 2013 version, as that equilibrium accounts for our latest contributions in the game... [george winston has an album called Winter into Spring, with a long piece called "Ocean Waves", which might be appropriate. A little too laid back, maybe, but there's not much we can do but watch...]
Toggle Commented Mar 15, 2013 on Crack is bad for you (and sea ice) at Arctic Sea Ice
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Mar 14, 2013