Everything is about ice these days, what with the Winter Olympics in full swing. Concerns that the temperatures at the mountain venue of Sochi would be problematically high have panned out; the lower parts of the downhill slopes are slushy and the bottom of the half-pipe is all bumbly wumply. Injuries and lost medal opportunities are mounting up every day, in part caused by the unusual “Spring” conditions.
We all know the Arctic Vortex has been sitting on the middle of North America, and this has caused near zero F temperatures, often as low as -20F, here in central Minnesota. The same weather pattern has been bringing interesting storms across the American South, including, apparently, a nasty ice storm for Georgia (the state, not the Republic) tonight. Meanwhile we hear of very warm weather in Alaska and Eurasia.
So, if the Polar Vortex is here in the Twin Cities (plus or minus some 1,500 miles or so), what is going on in the Arctic? Is the sea ice at a relatively low level at this time of year when it should be reaching a maximum? How have the temperatures been, say, in Greenland?
Before I show you, I have to warn you of two important things. First, this time of year, early February, is a bad time to predict the next summer’s sea ice melt. Likely, there will be plenty of melting, and we can say that simply because for the last decade that has been the new norm. But looking at the current and recent data on sea ice extent does not accurately predict the minimum sea ice extent in September, when it will likely be at its lowest. (Well, to be honest, I don’t actually know this prediction can’t be made but I’m pretty sure that’s right). The second, countervailing issue is this: Climate scientists who look at these things seem to be about evenly divided between those who think we may have some sort of El Nino late this year, vs. not. This would determine in part warmer vs. cooler conditions generally. So, this post has to be regarded as highly speculative.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center has a nice “Interactive Sea Ice Graph” that you can play with to look at past years’ march of ice melting and re-freezing on the surface of the Arctic Ocean. Here, I’ve selected the base graph which has the average from 1981-2010 plus or minus 2 standard deviations (in gray) and the data so far for 2014. As you can see, we are at the lower end of the 2SD range.
Meanwhile, the Dark Snow Project blog has a post by Jason Box with this interesting graph:
Those are temperature anomalies in the Arctic region over the first 30-something days of this year. This shows unusual warmth. Now, compare that to a different graph from the same site:
That is “…the US for the region bounded by 70 to 105 longitude west and 38 to 55 latitude north.” In other words, that’s where the Arctic Vortex has been hanging out. So, yes, as I’ve mentioned before, the Arctic cold is here, not up in the Arctic. Up in the Arctic it is relatively warm. Jason also has this map showing the pattern using a different graphical technique. Remember, these are anomalies, departures from a 1981-2010 baseline, not absolute temperatures.
I repeat, it is too early to say what is going to happen during this year’s melt in the Arctic. But, this is a good time to start observing, as we will be passing typical peak sea ice in just under a month.