Arctic Summer

The condition of the Arctic sea ice is exciting lots of comment this year. All this is in sharp contrast to last year. Recent headlines are taking note that the sea ice surrounding the pole itself is one year ice and the related patch is huge. Of course this is an artifact of the winds. If the winds fail to change the configuration, it is safe to say that the pole will be ice free this August for a couple hundred miles in all direction.

More importantly, for the past several weeks, the areal extent of the ice has mirrored last years chart. We can in fact expect a reduction over last year once we hit the end of season. The winds are also clearly able to move material around much more freely than in past years as is reasonable. This means that the long term ice is breaking up and is free to intermingle better with the younger ice leading to a mechanical acceleration of the ice loss.

I have made the observation that last years melt indicated a complete annual clearing of the Arctic as early as 2012. To my surprise, last years winter has not changed this prognosis one bit. This is holding true despite the fact that this year’s growing season is around two weeks late. The raspberries have just started to ripen in Vancouver when we should have been picking for two weeks. By the way, we need to be nervous about the fall grain harvest. We should be fine, but an early frost combined with a two week late ripening of the grain is quite possible.

An open question is whether or not we have a new climate regime or not of warm arctic summers followed by chilly northern winters. It is way too soon to really know what the reconstructed northern climate will look like now that the sea ice is well on the way to be reconfigured.

And that is what really needs to be recognized. Possibly for the first time since the medieval optimum, the long term arctic sea ice is disappearing. There will be a winter sea ice regime that will be likely fully removed every summer. Last year, strong westerly winds cleared the western arctic. This year we seem to be getting it from the eastern arctic or something like that. It is clearly very different.

So here we are, having passed through a very overdue cold winter, finding no effect on the ongoing sea ice removal in the arctic. I would speculate that breakup conditions have been reached and that it would now require a powerful northern climate reversal to even stop this process.

From now on, the only remaining variable will be the frequency of warm northern winters which can then accelerate the summer ice removal. This year, I see no reason to expect much real change over last year, but had conditions mirrored the past year we would have seen another sharp ice removal phase. Even without that, the annual surplus heat in the northern hemisphere which has been impacting the arctic for at least thirty years will continue to do its work.

In the meantime, the summer cruise ships heading for the pole could well have a real treat this summer. An open sea at the poles is just too good to miss. And I imagine that the press will be there in force.

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