Arctic Ice May 2011
    By Patrick Lockerby | May 1st 2011 01:01 PM | 14 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Arctic Ice May 2011

    The great thing about the scientific method is that we can figure out what will happen if we do something before we do it.  Scientists figured out long ago that burning fossil fuels and putting CO2 into the atmosphere at a great rate would affect the planet's climate systems.  Which it has.  One of the predictions about the effect of dumping CO2 into the atmosphere was that the Arctic would be affected most.  Which it has been.  Scientists predicted an Arctic acceleration or amplification: a process where positive feedbacks become ever stronger with ever less Arctic ice.  Ice loss is accelerating.

    Arctic mosaic May 01 2011

    A glance at the current Arctic mosaic satellite image, above, seems to show nothing unusual.  However, with a bit of background knowledge and some more current data we can see more detail, and understand it better.
    Arctic melt 20 years ahead of climate models

    By measuring the air temperature directly over the Arctic after the end of the summer melt, Serreze found a large amount of released heat. Temperatures in areas losing ice were as much as 5 °C higher over the last four years as compared to the historic average.

    The computer models predict this "Arctic acceleration," says Serreze but 20 years into the future. "The models are giving us the big picture of what is going on, but it's all happening much faster than expected," he says.

    This change may already be irreversible, as the extra heat creates a runaway thinning of ice that will soon be unable to survive in the summer Sun. If it disappears entirely during the summers, the ramifications would be global.
    Arctic warming, like global warming, is not uniformly distributed: some regions warm a lot faster than others.
    Melting Arctic ice could nearly fill Lake Erie: Study

    Four large glaciers in Canada's High Arctic have been continuously monitored since 1963, and "a third to half" of all the ice mass loss that has occurred since measurements began has happened in the last five years, says Sharp.

    He says one of the most significant findings of the study is that Canada's Arctic glaciers are about twice as sensitive to ice loss as temperatures climb as expected, suggesting that models used to predict what could happen in future "may be unduly conservative."
    All that melting ice is likely to have effects on salinity.  That is what I missed when I wrongly predicted an early April breakup of the Nares Ice Bridge.  A lowered salinity in surface waters means that the ice which forms is less saline than ordinary sea ice - hence generally stronger.
    ...the northern end of Nares Strait has been experiencing an increase in freshwater runoff since the mid 1980s. The recent changes are most pronounced at the northern end of the strait and diminish toward the south, a pattern consistent with proximity to the apparently freshening Arctic Ocean source in the north and mixing with Baffin Bay waters as the water progresses southward. This increasing freshwater signal may reflect changes in circulation and ice formation that favor an increased flow of relatively fresh waters from the Arctic Ocean into Nares Strait.

    Hydrographic Changes in Nares Strait (Canadian Arctic Archipelago) in Recent Decades Based on δ18O Profiles of Bivalve Shells
    Torres et al

    Sea ice concentration April 30 2011
    source: Cryosphere Today

    Given what we know about the recent rapid changes in the Arctic climate system, it is unsurprising that images like the one above reveal what is not yet clear in the Arctic mosaic images: there is a great deal of low concentration ice already, at the end of April.  Given that open water absorbs heat and promotes melting, it is reasonable to expect that the sea ice extent will now begin to decline more rapidly.  We may expect the 2011 line in the graph below - which is already touching the 2007 line -  to dip more sharply downwards during May.

    AMSR-E sea ice extent May 01 2011

    The Cryosphere Today 'Tale of the Tape' continues to show 2011 as significantly different from previous years.  This suggests to me that the 2011 drop in ice extent has barely begun.

    Northern Hemisphere sea ice anomaly from 1979 - 2008 mean - resized.
    source and link to full sized graph below.

    Sea ice anomaly - subsection of above graph from 2004 - 2011
    source: Cryosphere Today

    It is not just extent, area and concentration that are anomalous.  The oldest and thickest ice is now confined to a relatively small area.  A great amount of ice is 1st year ice and / or is 2 meters or less in thickness, as shown in the next graphic.

    Ice thickness forecast May 01-02 2011

    In general, the ice is thinner and younger than historical norms.  The Arctic Oscillation has now entered a negative phase which, if continued, will promote further ice loss.

    The Arctic is losing ice at an ever-increasing rate.  This should be a major concern to politicians and citizens alike.  Even if we could stabilize our CO2 emissions and prevent global warming rising above 2oC, that may not be enough.  Not only is warming more effective in the Arctic, but Arctic warming is likely to increase the input of GHGs into the atmosphere.  Given what paleoclimate studies tell us about prehistoric Arctic climates, I consider it highly plausible that if we continue with our business as usual profligacy, then the feedbacks from the Arctic climate to the planetary climate system will make our too-late efforts to control CO2 entirely futile.
    By studying fossilized seashells from 3.5 million years ago, scientists from the University of California in Los Angeles have constructed an ancient climate record for Ellesmere Island.

    Their research shows that, during this period, temperatures were considerably higher in the High Arctic than today.

    Three to four million years ago, temperatures from May to September were 11 to 16 C warmer there than the present-day average temperatures of −1.6 to 1.3 C.
    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said keeping carbon dioxide levels at 400 ppm, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions world-wide, will keep global temperature rise to two degrees Centigrade.

    Previous research has shown that, for the High Arctic, this 2 C rise will still mean temperatures up to 16 C higher in the Arctic than today by 2100.
    Further reading on the current state of the Arctic:

    Related reading on Ellesmere Island's ice shelves:
    The Oldest Arctic Ice

    More of my Arctic-related articles:
    The ChatterBox Arctic Index


    In addition

    The increase open water at the North Pole just fascinates

    The fact that I kept on May 1

    And now...

    A few days ago Russian expedition on the cars could not go to the North Pole.

    "Вокруг Голомянного – с трех сторон вода. Анатолий Омельченко здесь с 1991 года – говорит, что видит такое в это время впервые. На принятие решения отводим 2-3 дня."

    As a non-scientist, I'm really interested in what happens -- can we know what happens? -- should we, somehow, by magic, be able to stop all human-generated ghg going into the atmosphere? If we stopped it all, is there any way to determine how much climate change would continue to take place? Having set all this in motion, does it keep going even if we put a stop to it? ie Frankenstein's monster or the Sorcerer's Apprentice

    @ ra

    Great questions. Unfortunately, the answers are not so great. Assuming zero anthropogenic GHG releases...the planet would still continue to warm, for about 40 years, rising about 1.2 degrees C (temps have risen by about 0.8 degrees C from pre-industrial) from current levels. This is due primarily to the thermal inertia of the oceans and the radiative imbalance existing at the Top Of the Atmosphere (where energy in = energy out). This is what is meant by "in the pipeline". As for how long this warming will last: in human terms, effectively forever. Chemical weathering reduces CO2 levels, but does so on the hundred-thousand-year timescale. Deep oceanic water sequestration removes some over an eight-hundred-to-a-thousand year period. The problem with oceanic sequestration is that, as temperatures first flatten and then begin to decline, the oceans (as they begin to cool), will begin to release CO2 they have already sequestered. Basically, this will plateau both temperatures and CO2 levels for many centuries (to several millennia).

    All of this assumes no regime shift like the Arctic ice melt causing an "albedo flip" driving the Northern Hemisphere climatic patterns into a different phase/state (think a one-way street into a completely different state). And it assumes no ongoing GHG emissions by us. Increasing GHG emissions will cause further heating, which then causes further feedbacks which cause further heating, etc.

    Nor does it reflect our Faustian Bargain we have struck with our aerosol emission, which have acted to further defer warming owed from the increased GHG emissions (instead of having received 0.8 degrees C of an increase, we should have received about 1.6...). The last time CO2 levels were this high, sea levels were some 25 meters higher and global temps some 3 - 4 degrees C warmer. That is the world that awaits us, should we do nothing.

    Like I said, the answers aren't great.


    The Yooper

    I know it seems pretty static in Nares Strait but to me it looks like we are having a heavy break up of ice in North East of Greenland, and the same seems to be the case north of Greenland.

    Regards Espen

    Again, i am not persuaded by these findings. Which measuring stations were read from and which were overlooked? How bad has the Earth's temperature changed since the start of the industrial revolution? As the North loses ice, the South gains ice. "may already be irreversible" and "melting ice is likely to have effects on salinity" and "We may expect the 2011 line" (highly plausible) (may) & (likely) does not make it so. C02 is good for the planet. Until the money can be separated from the science, you'll likely have many skeptics pouring over your data looking for weasel wording that shows bias.

    @ Anonymous

    "Again, i am not persuaded by these findings."

    I find your Gish Gallop disturbing. Tell you what: when you tire of waxing prosaic about things you don't understand, Skeptical Science is there to set your mind free and on the path to enlightenment. Or you can just keep on with the Black Knight routine you have there.

    Gerhard Adam'll likely have many skeptics pouring over your data looking for weasel wording that shows bias.
    That's not skepticism.  That is bias, since the intent is to ignore any finding that isn't absolute from the discussion.  Even your use of the phrase "weasel wording" demonstrates the obvious bias you have against any reasonable discussion. 
    Until the money can be separated from the science,
    This statement simply demonstrates stupidity.  Considering the science is not the same as considering proposed "solutions".  However to deny the science to avoid having to discuss "solutions" is where the economic bias gets introduced.  Talk about "weasel words".
    Mundus vult decipi
    Until the money can be separated from the science,
    For the record: I live on a basic state pension and have no other source of income.  Unless you count the ad revenues I get from writing here, which don't even cover my internet costs.  Mind you, in the interests of balance and fair play, I have to admit that my state pension comes out of taxes, so if anyone wants to shoot down my science on the grounds that it is tax funded - fine!

    If anyone wants to follow a different money trail they will find that due to climate change there are many areas now where flood risks are uninsurable.  Those insurance guys exist to make money, so when an insurance expert refuses to take your money then you can be certain that climate change isn't something that Al Gore invented.

    In the topsy-turvy alternate reality that is WUWT, they were the first to publish* the Petermann calving story last year, on August 6th, then I published my report August 5th, then the glacier calved and then I predicted that it would calve.

    Meanwhile, in the real world, Petermann ice island PIIA - the largest fragment of Petermann 2011 - is now clearly visible in MODIS images.  It will be very interesting to see how long that ~60 km2 ice island takes to melt away entirely.
    The following images are from the Arctic mosaic May 05 2011

    More images of fragments from  last year:


    [*] - In a story posted by Watts, Goddard made this false statement of fact:
    Readers will surely recall when WUWT was the first climate news outlet to publish this story:

    In response to complaints about veracity, Watts managed to set up and demolish a strawman and move the goalposts within the space of a single comment.  It is not possible for me to ascertain whether or not he had the good grace to blush.
    I never made any claim of being the first to spot the actual calving event. Neither did Goddard.
    whether it was this fellow Lockerby, UD, or the U.S.Navy, WUWT has made no claims of spotting the calving event first, only of being the first to publish the UD press release on August 6th.
    Perhaps you can enlighten this poor soul, but "everyone" makes statements like the following: Temperatures in areas losing ice were as much as 5 °C higher over the last four years as compared to the historic average.
    Would someone mind stating what the "historic average" is AND state what the standard deviation for that average is?

    @ Bill B

    The original post above cites a New Scientist article which quotes National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) Director Dr. Mark Serreze who makes that statement. Does that constitutes "everyone"? You know, using the double quote marks as you do comes across as snarky. I'm sure that was unintentional.

    Nevertheless, using the GISS data visualization tools found here, one gets this (unless otherwise specified, the "historic" average for temperatures in the instrumental records is 1951 to 1980; for ice core records, present is always 1950):

    You can try emailing Dr. Serreze for an answer to your standard deviation question, if interested:

    Apologies for not embedding the image in-line. Science 2.0's HTML code is a bit wanky.

    Better to come across as snarky then have people coming down my throat about accusing all of some infraction.

    I just find it interesting the use of the term average temperature, and how that seems to be some holy number. I can show you the data that my monthly temperature at home is 51F. What does that number tell you? If I told you I leave in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, would that give the number more meaning?

    I guess I shall snark on. Happy Mother's Day, everyone.

    Happy Mother's Day to you and yours, Bill!

    Meteorologists discuss temperatures and short-term weather. Climatologists use much longer baselines (typically 30 years or more); actual temperature values are not used as they are incorporated into the baselines. What metric is used is the anomaly; the deviation (up or down) from the long-term average.

    Thus, when Dr. Serreze in the OP was referencing the recent 4 years of deviation (anomaly), it was in reference to the long-term baseline already well-established. In the paleo record, temps seldom deviated by more than .08 degrees C per decade (it is rare to find any period in the record of .1 degree C per decade/1 degree C per century).

    The last 30 years of the 20th century saw global temps rise at the rate of about .15 degrees C per decade. From 2000-2010, temps rose by about .18 degrees C globally. In the Arctic, polar amplification of the temperature increase enhances it by an order of magnitude (due to warmer oceans, changing currents, diminishing ice cover resulting in albedo change [darker water absorbs nearly 70% of the light hitting it compared to snow reflecting about 99% back into space]). So instead of the 1 to 2 degrees C per decade change expected, imagine their surprise when they measured a 4 to 5 degree C change in just a 4 year period. Quite astonishing, really.

    So in reply, climatologists don't go by average temperatures. That is a static measurement. They're interested in the change from the average, not the average itself. And the long-term picture is changing. Temperatures are going up, in lock-step with rising CO2 levels. Just as the physics of greenhouse gases (known since the days of Tyndall in about 1829) predicted.

    The times, they are a-changin'.

    DMI reports record cold average temperatures in April for all of western Greenland.

    Regards Espen

    I think a chunk of the ice plug in Nares Strait has broken off. Temps are still anomalously low over there, but I think things are going to start cracking any minute now.