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I still think the big question is not about passages being open, or how the arctic itself is changing, but how this impacts the weather in the mid-latitudes, which I still have not seen any good discussion of. Well, that is not entirely true, I've seen plenty of talk about how a warmer arctic means a weaker polar vortex, stronger jet streams, etc. But specifically how the spectacular melting of the ice has an impact. I think we are right to look at things like evaporation, salinity, sea level pressures, etc. One thing I do wonder is if we reach the point where we melt substantially all the ice, will we continue on to a warmer, and more moisture-producing arctic? Just because all the ice is melted, it does not meant that heat stops accumulating. Ultimately my concern is that a wet arctic really does change patterns in terms of adding more moisture to the air, and that has a variety of teleconecctions. Especially this time of year, when the sun has set, and the air wants to cool rapidly. If the ocean is a much larger source of heat than it was before, what then? Also looking at some graphs it looks like the "usual" rapid refreeze is getting underway. It's too early to tell decisively, but the gap between 2012 and 2007 is already closing.
The big problem with models is that few are designed with an open water arctic in mind. They talk about a warmer arctic, ignoring the water side of the equation. There's a caveat in that I haven't dived into the actual way the models are built, but I seriously doubt a "wet" arctic could be modeled, since there's no precedent or easy comparison. The "party line" seems to be that a warmer arctic means a weaker polar vortex - less temperature gradient to feed it, so that makes sense. That weaker polar vortex means a meandering, weaker jet stream, which means weather systems move slower, the jet plunges farther. Fair enough. But I never hear about the effect on the water side of the equation. When the winds blow over the sea ice, they pick up very little water through sublimation. Blowing over open ocean, they pick up a fair amount more - both heat of evaporation and the moisture itself. This is part of why we see the rapid winter refreeze. While more ocean is exposed, the winds absorb water (and heat) as they whip over it, cooling it more quickly than they would cool the equivalent ice, producing some negative feedback. But this extra heat and moisture can be quite significant. If the water is significantly above freezing, and takes many months to freeze - and if this heat is being ventilated to the atmosphere throughout the summer, in much greater scale than before. On earth we have vast "polar deserts", where pressures are very high and very little precipitation falls. The air at the poles is cold and dry, blowing as it does over ice (sea ice, or deep snowpack). If one of those deserts was over open water, especially in the winter, pressures would be anomalously low and conditions would be wet. The arctic ocean would be a source of heat and moisture, and the climate would be significantly warmer in a way that the atmosphere would really feel. That would create all kinds of weird weather patterns we likely haven't seen anything like before. I can't imagine how models could handle that. Air that's a little warmer is one thing, but 10C, humid air near Barrow in October? It could happen. And if it does, what would happen? I almost feel like we'd see our traditional 3 cells (hadley, ferrel, and polar) breaking down for a 2 or 4 cell regime. That's something you can't reasonably model. It's a black swan type event. The effects on the Siberian High and (in particular) the North American High would be huge, and that'd ripple throughout climate all across the hemisphere. I can't say that the effects would be bad. A warm ocean in the north would probably bring warmer and wetter conditions... In any case, the models probably are assuming an ocean and atmosphere that is a few degrees warmer than the past. They probably account for albedo effects. But they don't address the fundamental question: what is the reality of an open ocean in the far north? It's almost as though an ocean has appeared where they used to be a small continent. In summer ice extent, we've lost an area half the size of Australia. An ocean of that size "popping up" is not something I most climate models take into account. How could they?
To me, the underlying question in all of this is how the ongoing changes in the arctic are going to change things in the mid-latitudes. When I see 20C temps in the Beaufort Sea (which I think are erroneous), I see the potential for winter to operate in a completely different manner than it has in the past. I cannot myself get behind the idea of winters being more severe. If the arctic is warmer, than the thermal gradient between warm and cold is less, and the energy that is thermodynamically available is less. It is hard to imagine a weather system bringing temperatures of -20C after blowing over open water. So the Beaufort sea temperatures matter to me, because they indicate the ocean is going to take a long time freezing. They indicate that, unlike in previous years when our maxima were within a couple standard deviations of normal, this winter we may not see anything like a full recover; the arctic is just too warm. And if those cold winter winds howling over the arctic are howling not over fast ice, not solid ice all the way to the Alaska shore, all kinds of craziness could happen. THAT will ruin models, and THAT will get people to notice. The September extent doesn't really matter in itself - albedo doesn't matter, as the sun is almost gone from the far north. What does matter is how quickly the refreeze occurs. Is there not enough multi-year ice, not enough icy water and too much warmth to cause a quick refreeze, as we have almost always seen? What if the arctic acts not as a source of bitter, dry cold but of warmth, well into the winter? Much of the winter arctic weather is driven by a cold, *frozen* arctic ocean. Barrow, for instance, receives more than half of its precipitation in July, August, and September, when it is near to the open ocean. This is why I am concerned with the reality of these anomalies. This may be the year we do not see anything close to a full winter refreeze, and if we do - we will see a radically different climate, not just in the far north but throughout the northern hemisphere.
Dabize, Also, if there was something volcanic in nature, I'd expect to see some sort of geologic activity in the form of earthquakes. Go to USGS and set the threshold to show all quakes... that area is very, very quiet. By comparison the big island of hawaii has had over 100 measurable quakes in the last 30 days (and other parts of Alaska have plenty also). I do wonder what is going on with that data... in particular why the DMI does not show it. If you were going to tell me the water was 10C which is 5C above normal, I would have no problem believing it was due to the Mackenzie, insolation, etc. It's the scale that gets me, and apparently it has persisted a long time. I do think it matters. Whatever is pumping that much heat in, will have some real effects over the winter, if it continues. Especially for the north shore. But I am, like Cole, convinced it is a an instrument or model error. Maybe they have some sensor or buoy that is getting very confused, and basing that whole area on that one bad reading.
One other thing. I checked a couple sources around Environment Canada and found water temperatures for the Great Slave Lake, the source of the Mackenzie River. One Buoy (farther from the river) is at 16 C, the other, closer to the mouth of the river, is 10/11. The temperatures have been pretty stead the last 24 hours. Not warm enough explain it.
Dingo It is not the scale of the anomaly but rather the absolute reading that seems absurd. I just magnified the image to count the isotherms. Based on my count, the water closest to the shore is at about 20C. That is a temperature that is comparable to the current water temperature of Los Angeles on the West Coast, or somewhere between New York and Boston on the East Coast. Such temperatures have no place in the arctic! At any time of year, ice or no ice. I doubt the Mackenzie is as warm as the Hudson. Also, while the mackenzie delta is definitely in the area that is abnormally warm, the center of that warmth (going by the NOAA chart alone) would seem to be farther west, closer to the Canada/US border. Have we seen this anomaly before? Is this going to go away when winter sets in, if so? I'm new to paying attention to the arctic.
Steve C, Thank you for your post, one thing I have not been able to find out is how far back this anomalous warmth goes. The only conclusion I could come to - other than the data *is* anomalous - is one similar to yours. Massive organic activity. I don't how much CH4 can dissolve in water, but it may be stimulating a bloom of a different sort. Methanotrophic bacteria, perhaps. The oxidation of a large amount of CH4 inside the ocean would create a lot of heat. Either the data is wrong, in which case, that calls other data into question, or something in that area is generating a huge amount of warmth. That warmth will have a real effect on sea ice levels, and local and possibly larger scales. It is a phenomenon worth understanding, whatever it may be. I'd say either DMI or NOAA is wrong; your report would suggest that it is DMI that is in error. I'm naturally inclined to think NOAA is wrong, since its values are so ridiculous. But, I have not seen any real measurements either way.
Chris Reynolds, I came to the same conclusion as well. I simply couldn't find any source that would cause that kind of warming. Even runoff shouldn't be THAT warm. Frankly I have struggled with some other SST anomaly sources since they tend to "cap out" at around 3-5 degrees of anomaly. Obviously if you have a large swath at the maximum that can be displayed, you imagine some areas in there are higher. However, I did find this data from DMI, which just does not show anything like that level of warmth. Warm, yes, but nearly as much so as suggested by that other graph: Is the previous one just unreliable measurements? What's going on over there? Is this something they should be made aware of, to fix their data?
Hey guys sorry get off topic but the first comment had me wandering over the graphs page and that in turn has led me to wonder WHAT IS GOING ON IN THE BEAUFORT SEA? It seems like it has to be a data anomaly. Look at or in absolute terms: It's, what, 18 degrees C? The anomaly is what, 10 degrees+ C? The lines are so cramped I can't tell! I just cannot figure out what could drive that. Unlike in the north atlantic, there's no meandering current - it's an isolated pocket of warmth. I've been looking at SST graphs for a long time, mostly in the tropics for hurricane reasons, which is what led me to coming to the sea ice portion of the internet. I've never seen something like that, but, admittedly, I have not looked at the far north. What happened? Is this related to the storms in alaska? Something flushing huge amounts of warm rainwater in the sea?
Just to clarify - By "In the summer, it is X amount less, the following winter X+Y, and so on." - I was referring to this as a situation that does not happen. Indeed, typically, if the summer minima is X below average, and the winter maxima is Y below average, X is always (almost always?) greater than Y.
crandles - As may be obvious I am new to all of this. I did not know what negative feedback effect there was in the winter, if indeed there was one. From an entirely naive point of view, a few degrees warmer average should make for a longer melt season, and a shorter freezing season, so that the trend is steadily downward. This is not the case. In the summer, it is X amount less, the following winter X+Y, and so on. I was thinking for instance, that it is possible that the weather or some other effect "Spreads the ice around" over the winter. This way, while area and extent might mostly rebound in the winter, the volume does not. If that were the case, then, at some point there is not enough icing (pardon the pun) to spread around the cake any more, and winter extents would start to fall. For instance, a lot is made of the "slush" created by storms and the like, which can quickly refreeze. Indeed, if nothing else, we've seen ice expanding faster in October than in the past (even if both the start and end points are below where they should be). So perhaps something acts to shear multi-year ice off the icepack, spreading around the arctic to enable fast re-freeze in the fall - at the expense of the volume of the multi-year ice. At some point though, the multi-year ice that is ripped off the central ice pack to create wide-spread slush would be depleted, and the rapid fall freeze up would be impossible - and so maxima would fall in step with minima. I do not know if any of this is correct science, I am just explaining a hypothetical scenario. This is really what I was asking about - if this year, we are X km^2 below any previous record, what does that mean for this winter, and the summer following? Obviously having a lower starting point means that the albedo effect gets cranking stronger and earlier, and that could make a big difference in the mid term, too. Is this record merely the latest of countless records to be broken this year, or does it have real meaning, in feedback terms, for the future?
Crandles, First off clearly there has been a decline in the winter peak as well, but I was basing my assertion mostly off the IARC-JAXA data: As you can see, the winter peak last winter was near the 90's average. And the 3 decade averages show a MUCH larger deviation in summer than in winter. The point being that if the ice has X km^2 less extent in summer, that does not translate to that much less extent in winter. The gap (in the linked graph) between the 2000's average and the record year of 2007 was almost entirely erased by year end. So I wonder, this year being on track to break all such records, would that trend hold true or would we very likely see a record low maxima this year as well? Would the extra area melted stay melted this winter?
Jimboomega added a favorite at Arctic Sea Ice
Aug 17, 2012
Hi all. I'm a lifelong weather fan who has been following the cryosphere for a few months, and I have a few questions. That you veterans might be better able to answer. 1) The sun is slowly setting on the polar ice, reducing any albedo feedback. I've noticed in general that the ice typically recovers to near normal levels in the winter, even after record years like 2007. Will this year be different? Will there be longer term implications for ice levels because the levels are so low this year? 2) If indeed all records are shattered, what effect will that have on the northern hemisphere winter in temperate areas? Will it impact the thermohaline circulation? Will the Siberian high be weaker? Will winter be slow getting started as more heat has to be dissipated over open water? 3) Are there good places to view methane data for the far north? Are clathrates releasing large amounts of methane? Are there sensing stations throughout the arctic? Is there a way to see trends? Thanks all!
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Aug 17, 2012