Arctic Calm

My favorite sea ice maps came up again after a three week absence. The winds have not done what they did last year and the sea ice is more broadly distributed this year. Therefore, it looks like any movement in the Northwest Passage is problematic this year. There is plenty of ice at various points that are usually clear by now. It is not tight packed but it is certainly a navigation hazard. It will take good luck this year to move anything large although small vessels may have no problem.

More interestingly only a negligible amount of the sea ice is showing one hundred percent coverage. That means that all that ice has also warmed up to ambient ranges for ice and little retains the steel like cold of winter that large blocks might be expected to do. I see no evidence that the annual loss of net ice mass has abated at all. The downward spiral is continuing. We unfortunately do not have a reliable proxy for ice mass but breaking the trend line now will need a very dramatic increase in the thickness of winter ice with a cool summer that retains a lot of that ice. In short we need a volcano to blow up.

In the meantime, I see little evidence that the discharge of atmospheric heat that took place between 2005 and 2007 is been replenished very fast if at all. The sunspot crowd would certainly argue against any replenishment whatsoever. In fact it is reported a couple of months back that global temperatures dropped three quarters of a degree. Whatever that meant, it has certainly silenced a lot of the run away global warming crowd.

What is becoming more evident to me is that the Earth’s heat engine is operating on far longer cycles than anyone gives it credit for. The reason for that conjecture is the measurable lag between the heating spell of the nineties and the heat discharge event of 2005 to 2007. Certainly the long warm spell has been followed by a protracted warming of the Arctic. This could be simply the result of a transfer mechanism that is not overly robust except in extremis.

Without question our atmosphere is very good at correcting local heat disturbances through mechanisms such as hurricanes. We should have anticipated a long period of low hurricane activity after the blowout of 2005. That was the historic record. And it all shows us that the resolution of our climate models is still hopeless.

In any event, we did not have a very warm summer. I wonder if the winter will be as surprising as last year’s.

The Arctic has had almost a hundred years free from major volcanic activity. The last such event was Novarupta/Katmai, in 1912 in Alaska. It was during this time that the Peace River area of Alberta was opened up to settlers and I have it on good report that the winters were unusually long and awful. The point is that there has been no forced cooling on the Arctic since. So perhaps it is not surprising that we now have enough surplus heat in the Arctic to maintain pressure on the sea ice every year.

As my readers are aware, I think that there is ample indication that the primary cooling mechanism for the Arctic outside of the normal seasonal cycle is the occasional injection of volcanic gas and dust directly into the polar zone. We certainly have a convincing culprit standing by.

In the meantime this news story is waxing somewhat more enthusiastic than I can justify with the areal maps of the fifteenth. Here is hoping that a nifty algorithm is at work and this is not simply journalistic license. Otherwise it is a good update on current coverage and we have plenty of eyeballs this year.

U.S. scientists sound alarm over Arctic ice as Harper poised for visit

Randy Boswell , Canwest News Service

Published: Monday, August 25, 2008

With an election-primed Stephen Harper poised to touch down Tuesday in Inuvik to begin a three-day visit to northern Canada, scientists tracking the ongoing Arctic meltdown are sounding new warnings about the state of the polar environment in an era of evidently rapid climate change.

The latest satellite analysis of this summer's sea-ice retreat, released Monday by the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, showed a decline close to matching last year's record-setting thaw, and experts at the Colorado-based centre noted that key Arctic shipping routes have now opened in both the Canadian Arctic archipelago and in Russia's northern waters.

"Sea ice extent is declining at a fairly brisk and steady pace," the NSIDC said, reporting a total retreat to about 5.5 million square kilometres with up to three weeks of melting left to go.

Sea ice extent is declining at a fairly brisk and steady pace, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center has warned.

Last year's retreat reached an all-time low of about 4.3 million square kilometres by mid-September, a melt that has stoked unprecedented international interest in Arctic shipping, tourism and oil and gas development.
"Amundsen's Northwest Passage is now navigable," the centre said, referring to the southerly route near the Canadian mainland first traversed by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen in 1906. "The wider, deeper Northwest Passage through Parry Channel may also open in a matter of days. The Northern Sea Route along the Eurasian coast is clear."

That news follows a series of reports in recent days highlighting the impact of rising temperatures across the world's northern latitudes - a newly discovered crack threatening a Greenland glacier; eroding shorelines in communities across the Canadian Arctic; and polar bears swimming in dangerously open waters of the Chukchi Sea north of Alaska, far from the safe harbour of any land or ice floe.

"There were some years when some bears may have had to swim as far as 100 miles," Steven Amstrup, the senior polar bear scientist with the United States Geological Survey in Alaska, told the New York Times this week. "Now the ice is much farther offshore, more consistently and for longer. So the possibility of long distances between land and sea ice is much greater."

Meanwhile, a U.S. study published Sunday in the British journal Nature Geoscience suggests thawing permafrost in polar regions will unlock up to 60 per cent more carbon dioxide than previously believed, potentially amplifying the greenhouse effect already widely blamed for the current Arctic warming.

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