Arctic Sea Ice Surprise

Arctic Sea Ice Surprise

The Arctic sea ice appears to be having a somewhat different year this year as compared to last year’s shocker. We seem to be well on track to match last year’s sea ice low areal coverage. So, in spite of the chilly winter, it appears that little if any of the perennial sea ice will be restored. You may see the current map at this site:

What has my attention is an apparent change in the wind patterns, or more likely a shift in the cyclonal center of mass. I have no knowledge of the actual importance of this shift or even if it is unique. The general reduction in overall sea ice mass certainly promises to make it much more important if it repeats.

Early in the spring, I observed two anomalies. Wind and current had driven the sea ice deeply back along the edge of the Russian Arctic along the coast of Novaya Zemlya and also that an open area had emerged early off the coast of the Canadian Arctic between the archipelago and the Alaska border.

Now in the first week of June we have progression. The open sea area in the Canadian Western Arctic has expanded as far north as the mouth of Lancaster Sound. Less noticeably, the swath of sea ice along the northern coast of the Arctic Archipelago is showing the unmistakable signature of been well broken up with perhaps as high as thirty percent open water. This fairway is bounded on the north and west by more tightly packed sea ice from last winter.

This tells us that almost the whole mass of Arctic sea ice is in motion and almost everything is vulnerable to flushing. The ice that last year was packed up against the Arctic Coast is now been blown toward the Russian Coast.

What might this mean? I suggest that we will loose much more perennial sea ice this year than expected paving the way for a mostly single season ice regime. In fact, it appears that this perennial ice is been attacked almost preferentially at the moment. I suspect that my prognosis of a complete clearing of the Arctic seas by as early as 2012 may turn out to be conservative.

On a more practical side, if this can be maintained, it is very likely that the North West Passage will be cleanly opened this year with shipping friendly conditions. The major problem there has always been the western mouth of the Lancaster Sound. Right now you could sail the choke point. Of course either Alaska or the Sound could remain icebound, though that seems very unlikely.

It also acts like a clear passage over the pole could open up. This is very unlikely this year, but if the Arctic wind system is changing as much as I suspect, it may finally happen. The only advice that works anymore is to expect to be surprised. Recall that we do not know what a stable wind regime will look like once the long term pack ice is removed. A prevailing wind system that shoved all pack ice against the Russian coast seems impossible but it is those types of extremes that must now be countenanced.
Of course with the land warming up, the winds can reconfigure quickly and make nonsense out of these speculations.

In the meantime we have a couple of related stories:


Sea ice disappeared from the Arctic in May at an average of 8,000 square kilometres a day, on track to rival the record minimum extent of recent Septembers.

This latest satellite information, compiled by the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, appears to put paid to claims by climate change skeptics that a colder winter produced thicker new ice that wouldn't melt as quickly as previously.

Springtime Arctic temperatures have been higher than long-term normals. Over the Arctic Ocean, the average hike in surface air temperatures was 1 to 3 C. But over the Baffin Bay region, average temperatures in May were as much as 8 degrees above normal.

Rising temperatures are usually hard on the thin ice that has formed over the past winter (first-year ice), and a declining percentage of that has been surviving to form more resilient multi-year ice.

However, much of the 2008 first-year ice is farther north than usual and therefore in areas that get weaker solar radiation. More might survive through the summer, the Center's scientists speculate.

Baltic Sea ice hits record low

Ice in Baltic Sea at record lows. The ice levels in the Baltic Sea region this winter were at the lowest levels since record-keeping began, according to data recently released by Sweden’s meteorological agency. Only 49,000 square kilometers were covered in ice – a mere quarter of the surface area that is normally expected to be frozen. Thank you, Swedish scientists, for sharing this important and alarming information. May governments and citizens worldwide take action to protect our planet from the perils of global warming.

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