Arctic Ice Loss

You all know that the Arctic Ice melts more each summer than ever before. In a few years, the Arctic will be ice free during the summer. The rate of annual melting is greater than expected even just a few years ago. Please note that the increasing melt of Arctic sea ice does not bode well for the associated Greenland Ice Sheet which is also showing signs of melting at a higher rate than expected. The melting of Arctic sea ice has a number of important environmental implications, but the melting of the Greenland Glacier has that plus more; it will contribute significantly to sea level rise.

Several days ago the National Environment Research Council of the UK put out some new information from the European Space Agency's CryoSat-2 satellite program:

Arctic sea ice volume has declined by 36 per cent in the autumn and 9 per cent in the winter between 2003 and 2012, a UK-led team of scientists has discovered.

Researchers used new data from the European Space Agency's CryoSat-2 satellite spanning 2010 to 2012, and data from NASA's ICESat satellite from 2003 to 2008 to estimate the volume of sea ice in the Arctic.

They found that from 2003 to 2008, autumn volumes of ice averaged 11,900 km3. But from 2010 to 2012, the average volume had dropped to 7,600 km3 - a decline of 4,300 km3. The average ice volume in the winter from 2003 to 2008 was 16,300 km3, dropping to 14,800 km3 between 2010 and 2012 - a difference of 1,500 km3.

The most important thing here is the decrease in volume, which really means a decrease in thickness, of the sea ice. The ice in the Arctic partially melts every year, then refreezes. Much of the ice, in the past, never melted, and served as the base for new winter ice every year as we cycle through the seasons. But over the last few years, this "old ice" has been disappearing. This results in changes to sea temperatures, reflection of sunlight, and air temperatures which, in turn, change the nature of the northern end of the overall system of global air currents. The result of his has been a change in the relationship between more southerly air currents that are part of the process of moving heat from the equator (where the effects of the sun are stronger) towards the poles. The result of this has been a change in the nature, distribution, and typical movement patterns of cold air masses, warm air masses, and storm. Thus, extreme cold snaps in the northerly range of where people live in the Northern Hemisphere, and heat waves to the south of this, the formation of more severe northerly storm, and, apparently, the higher chance of severe North Atlantic storms slamming into highly populated areas of North America.

Here's a video explaining one important aspect of the new findings, from Climate Nexus (Hat tip MNM)

The video is not entirely accurate. We should not forget Polar Bears! And, scientists are less hapless in their understanding of the implications of ice melt than the video suggests (see commentary above).


More like this

I am amazed at the continued intransigence of the climate change deniers, even as the evidence of global warming mounts. I fear for our world if this continues, and I don't see it stopping anytime soon.

By Michael Scott (not verified) on 27 Feb 2013 #permalink

Part of the Denailsts successful efforts has been to get all of us to label this "Climate Change." Let us take back the more accurate term, Climate Warming.

Thero51: We who are interested in and study this like Climate Change. The changes are not all warming, and "warming" makes it harder to get across when we are talking about cold and snow being increased by the change. We took "Climate Change" from them.

Andy, I'd like to put your graphics related to the arctic and/or links to them on my site in my series on Climate Change Graphics but when I went to the main site I could not find a clean way to reference them or get permission or whatever to do so. What can I do and what link(s) and/or text should I include? I love those graphics, they are among the best I've seen among all the climate change related graphics in that they are perfectly accurate, totally clear, and of course, scary as hell.

Greg, thanks for your encouraging feedback, again! You were the first person I showed the spiral to on Twitter - your reaction also spoke "volumes" :-)

I had just uploaded the image to a share folder, mentioned it casually on Neven's blog, and caused another kind of meltdown - it has shocked a lot of people, especially since Cryosat 2 backed up the PIOMAS data. Serendipity came together and Joe Romm did a piece on it and I produced the ice cube comparison image to go with it, updated on a map of New York to scale.…
The volume of missing ice is 1.1x the volume of Lake Superior - that is an awful lot of energy.

The Death Spiral became a Viral Spiral and has poked a lot of hives... with all the thousands of hits I'm getting and the millions of views that it has had on Facebook and many other referring sites, it seems to be having an impact. Now looks like I'm going to have to finally update my decades-old website, and devote a section for it. I'll take care of url redirections.

I just had a flash of inspiration and found it hiding in plain sight - it's memorable and yes, it is as scary as hell - once the sea ice goes, there'll be nothing to clamp down sea temperature except cloud cover, and we can only hope it'll help enough, but it doesn't seem likely now. I think it drives home the magnitude of the task humanity has to reverse course.

I also want to credit Jim Pettit for his inspiration and dedication to maintaining has awesome array of scary graphs:
He subsequently produced a version of the Death Spiral in a different format by decade for September averages. It is no more comforting.

Should put paid to the ridiculous response about record Antarctic sea ice - Stating that global sea ice is normal, is like stating that your body temperature is normal while your legs are thawing and your head's on fire!

NASA tweeted it, and it had several retweets, including one from Professor Michael Mann, somehow really made it get real:

There will be another version in a week or two as February's data is released, with logical filename of course, but it definitely needs a landing page, and a means of updating it automatically.

Peter Sinclair also did a piece on how my PIOMAS animation came about, if anyone is curious:…

My email address is in the image, so far mysteriously quiet... not even one hate-mail from a disgruntled sick puppet!

I have much still to do, but I hope it'll make a difference in ending this silly and unsupportable trench warfare. It has gone on long enough.

Regards, Andy.

By Andy Lee Robinson (not verified) on 28 Feb 2013 #permalink

"In a few years, the Arctic will be ice free during the summer."

Nothing like sticking your neck out like that Greg. I am surprised you were so bold. If you are wrong the skeptics will crucify you.

Can't wait to see what happens in three years hence ;)

By Delurked Lurker (not verified) on 01 Mar 2013 #permalink

It may not happen in three years, but I am sure it will happen in my lifetime, and I am close to retirement age...

No one can deny that the climate, or climate change, is warming the Arctic. What is really meant by "climate change deniers?" Are they those who deny that increasing levels of atmospheric CO2 is the major force driving this change. How about the phrase "CO2 climate change" deniers? Hmm? This phrase then shoves aside the effects of Arctic ice loss, deforestation, rising levels of methane, sea level rise and all the other unstated man induced climate disturbances. I like that: "climate disturbance" deniers.

By Wiley Wayne (not verified) on 03 Mar 2013 #permalink

Actually lately I've been preferring the term "climate science deniers" because it is usually exactly what I mean. You can't specify what exactly deniers deny because part of the strategy they use is to constantly change that.

Re: global warming vs. climate change - the former is easily twisted by the Drudges of the world who imply that every cold snap or snowstorm has disproved it. As the post notes, there's reason to believe that the Arctic ice melting may make winter weather worse for parts of northern North America. "Climate change" much better gets across the idea that if the climate is in ANY way drastically different from what you remember it being in the same area when you were a kid, there's a good chance that human action has something to do with it.

And on a competely unrelated and shallow subject, I'd like to know how (and why!) Scienceblogs decided to start accompanying all my comments with a picture of a grumpy blue octagon. :-)

Jane, I'm glad you asked! I think (but I'm not sure) that you can change your icon. I'm not sure how. See how my icon is obviously something I've selected? I think the grumpy octagon is incentive.

Note that Andy Lee Robinson has an icon obviously of his choosing. So, it must be possible. Maybe it's gravitar.

At present our climate zones are creeping northward (in the northern hemisphere) at about 4km per year as the sinking air over the Arctic weakens and with it the polar Hadley cell. What happens when the Arctic ocean is ice free, say, in July and vastly more heat is absorbed by the Arctic ocean. Will we not then see rising air over the Arctic, reversing the Polar Hadley cell and causing climate zones to lurch northward. The November comments on the nsidc site indicated that this had happened last fall.

By William Hughes-Games (not verified) on 03 Mar 2013 #permalink