2012-02-08 08:12:44A prelude to the Arctic melting season
Neven

neven@spruitje...
80.123.29.64

A prelude to the Arctic melting season

Posted on 8 February 2012 by Neven

This is a summary/re-write of a recent blog post on the Arctic Sea Ice blog.

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We are entering the final stage of the freezing season in the Arctic. The sea ice has reached all shores, and where there aren't shores it reaches as far south as the winds and currents will permit. Or, at least it used to go like that.

Ice growth had been relatively slow in sea ice regions like the Barentsz Sea, Kara Sea and Greenland Sea (see this Cryosphere Today map to get an idea of whwere the regions are), but nothing (much) out of the ordinary. However, in the past two weeks a persistent weather pattern emerged that is bringing Siberian cold to almost all of Europe, but warm air and water to Novaya Zemlya, the large island that separates the Barentsz and Kara Seas.

The effect this has had can clearly be seen when comparing yesterday's sea ice concentration image with those of previous years on the same date:

\image courtesy of the University of Bremen

I have been looking at the Arctic sea ice from up close for about two years now, but this is definitely one of the most spectacular things I have seen so far. It's almost as if the melting season has already started in the Barentsz and Kara Seas, two months earlier than normal.

What could be causing such an early retreat of sea ice cover? The answer is probably manifold. First and foremost is the big high-pressure system over Northern Siberia that is helping Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost in Russian) to hold Europe in a late frosty grip. At the same time this high draws in winds from the west, pushing the ice back in the Barentsz and Kara Seas. These winds also bring warm air and rain from the North Atlantic. Take for instance this data from the weather station at Svalbard for the latest 30 days:

Average temperature was -3.3 °C, 12.2 °C above the normal. Highest temperature was 4.8 °C (29 January), and the lowest was -15.0 °C (25 January). The total precipitation was 61.3 mm. Highest daily precipitation was 25.9 mm (30 January).

So warm winds, warm rain. How about the water? The winds are probably taking the warm waters from the North Atlantic Current some further still into the Arctic, to places where the sea water that was already exceptionally warm last melting season never really cooled down enough (relatively speaking) for some proper ice formation, as can be seen on this sea surface temperature anomaly map from the Danish Meteorological Institute:

\

According to weather forecast models the pattern will change again in the coming days. Whether we will see a late freeze-up in the Barentsz and Kara Seas, remains to be seen. Either way, it won't make those warm waters disappear, and it won't prevent the Sun from coming up to reclaim its reign over the Arctic in a couple of weeks from now. As things currently stand, the Atlantic side of the Arctic looks spectacular. Spectacular and ominous.

2012-02-08 08:14:59
Neven

neven@spruitje...
80.123.29.64

Here's the link. I hope I've done everything right. I re-wrote my blog post on the Arctic Sea Ice blog, as it had too much details. I tried to get the two images centered, but couldn't find out how. Some help there would be appreciated. And of course all other comments and suggestions.

2012-02-08 08:30:44
Alex C

coultera@umich...
67.194.35.110

Hi Neven - I think that there is an option for centering graphics in the menu that appears when you add one, under the "appearances" section if I'm not mistaken.  For aesthetics too, the "courtesy of" note after your first picture seems to follow directly, and ought to start on its own line below.

Also, I spot a "whwere" in your second paragraph, where you link to the Cryosphere map.  I don't think the comma after "Whether we will see a late freeze-up in the Barentsz and Kara Seas," is necessary.

Looks good though.  I'm curious, it seems that the AO has switched to negative again fairly rapidly, is this expected much? 

2012-02-08 08:41:06
Neven

neven@spruitje...
80.123.29.64

Something popped up in my head: If that sea ice concentration image comparing all those years is too big, I could just compare 2012 and 2005 (being the year that looks closest to this year, even if they're almost uncomparable ;-) ) with a link to the original piece on my blog for the people who want to see more.

2012-02-08 09:43:14
KR

k-ryan@comcast...
68.34.93.62

No, I think it looks good with all of the images. Although you might want to explicitly note that 2005 had anomalously low ice levels east of Novaya Zemlya (any ideas why?) - and that 2012 far exceeds that in terms of open water.

2012-02-08 10:50:31
Neven

neven@spruitje...
80.123.29.64

Thanks, KR.

I've just looked into 2005. The ice started retreating at the end of January, as you can see on this sea ice concentration image on February 1st 2005. Just like this time it was caused by winds blowing in from the west (see this SLP image from ESRL: big high, big low, with Novaya Zemlya right in between). By February 8th ice started reforming again.

Hmmm, that's weird. One would think the ice expansion would be due to a switch in weather pattern, but I'm not seeing a very pronounced one. The ice reforms, but then shrinks back a bit, reforms, shrinks back a bit, and then covers the sea all the way to Kara Strait by the end of the month, and then more or less stays that way until May.

So maybe rather than a change in weather, the water had finally released enough heat to the atmosphere to start to freeze over for real? It's too bad AMSR-E went offline. IJIS also had a great resource that allowed one to compare SSTs with previous years.

It will be interesting to see what happens when the weather changes next week, how much and how fast the ice cover grows back, and when it starts retreating again.

2012-02-08 13:12:27
logicman

logicman_alf@yahoo.co...
109.151.80.57

Hi Neven!  A belated welcome to SkS!

Great stuff.  However, if the whole IPCC team needs to be locked up over the 2350 / 2035 typographical error, what do you deserve for this one?

to get an idea of whwere the regions are

 

in passing:

I'm too tied up with some vital legal research at the moment to do much writing about the Arctic.  However, I'm keeping a close eye on the Nares ice bridge - which formed earlier this year, also the Petermann glacier which is virtually certain to calve this summer imho.

Older ice has continued to exit the central Arctic regions via Fram Strait and the Canadian archipelago, so not only is extent much lower than historic norms, but volume even more so.

Current extent and volume appear to me to be significantly lower than winter 2006-2007.

When NSIDC publishes its Feb report you may expect, imo,  to see a new record low for January and a prediction of dramatic melting this year.

2012-02-08 18:43:40
Rob Painting
Rob
paintingskeri@vodafone.co...
118.92.249.169

Does Barents have a 'z' on the end?

And here's the thumb. 

2012-02-08 23:33:55
Neven

neven@spruitje...
178.191.43.128

I've added "The only year that looks even remotely similar to this year is 2005." to the text, and removed the typo (thanks for saving me from accusations of fraud there, Patrick!). And I've changed 'grandfather Frost' into 'Old Man Winter'.

Does Barents have a 'z' on the end?

Rob, thanks for the thumb. I explain in the original piece on the Arctic Sea Ice Blog: "I had grown accustomed to writing Barentsz Sea without the Z, as everyone does. But I've decided to no longer scorn my Dutch roots. The Barentsz Sea has been named after Willem Barentszoon, a Dutch explorer and cartographer who died looking for an open Northeast Passage (now known as the Northern Sea Route) towards the end of the 16th century. At that time family names weren't used universally yet, and many people went through life with just a patronym, just like in Russian classic literature. Hence Willem was known as Barentsz., short for 'Barents zoon', the son of Barent."

But to avoid confusion I have removed the Z-s from this piece. I will only scorn my Dutch roots on SkS!

2012-02-09 04:32:55
Rob Painting
Rob
paintingskeri@vodafone.co...
118.93.121.42

Neven, hey no problems. I figured it was a language-based thing. Perhaps just put in brackets, the first time you mention Barentsz, that it is the correct Dutch spelling of the name. Being Maori (native New Zealander) I know exactly where you're coming from with this. 

 

2012-02-09 08:46:19
dana1981
Dana Nuccitelli
dana1981@yahoo...
64.129.227.4

Looks good Neven, should publish this within the next few days.

2012-02-09 09:56:12
Riccardo

riccardoreitano@tiscali...
2.33.129.93

The links are broken. You may want to mention the mid-january stratospheric warming event and development of the strong high pressure over Siberia.

2012-02-09 10:30:14
Neven

neven@spruitje...
178.191.43.128

I mentioned the big high over Siberia, but I lack the knowledge to properly explain the mid-january stratospheric warming event. Is that the thing that allowed the polar vortex to slow down sufficiently enough for all the cold air to wash over Europe?

I've tried to fix the links. The WYSIWYG editor and I haven't befriended each other yet...

2012-02-09 10:41:46
Neven

neven@spruitje...
178.191.43.128

Nope, didn't work. Me no get.

2012-02-09 13:19:09
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey
yooper49855@hotmail...
97.83.150.37

Fixed the links (all of them, I think).

Nicely done!

2012-02-09 14:36:49
logicman

logicman_alf@yahoo.co...
109.151.80.57

Neven: the NSIDC February report is out.  You may wish to re-write the entire article.

 

Just kidding.  ;-)

btw, I posted a comment on NSIDC news on your site.

2012-02-09 14:37:59
logicman

logicman_alf@yahoo.co...
109.151.80.57

That's twice I forgot the thumb!  Fixed!

2012-02-09 17:14:27
Neven

neven@spruitje...
178.191.43.128

Thanks, Daniel and Patrick.

BTW, I had a look at SST anomalies in the Barentsz/Kara region, and this year really stands out from the rest as well. Though the current ice retreat there is mainly caused by the weather, the SSTs are also playing a part, and probably will for the rest of the melting season. It's going to be absolutely thrilling to watch things unfold in Barentsz/Kara.

2012-02-09 19:04:27
Riccardo

riccardoreitano@tiscali...
192.84.150.209

Neven

yes, the quite strong, though not exceptional, stratospheric warming event produced the switching of the AO index to negative and slowed down the polar vortex. Tthe interactions between the stratosphere and the troposphere are a bit tricky, probably it's safer to stay away from them.

2012-02-10 17:59:57
dana1981
Dana Nuccitelli
dana1981@yahoo...
71.137.109.172
Got an open spot in the schedule if you're ready to publish this, Neven.
2012-02-11 04:45:46
Neven

neven@spruitje...
178.191.40.152

Oh yes, I'm quite ready. Sorry, Dana, I didn't know I had to authorize it explicitly. If everything looks good enough to you, then it's fine by me. Thanks.

Tthe interactions between the stratosphere and the troposphere are a bit tricky, probably it's safer to stay away from them.

I totally agree, and mostly because it's so convenient for me! ;-)

2012-02-11 04:54:49
dana1981
Dana Nuccitelli
dana1981@yahoo...
64.129.227.4

I just wanted to make sure I didn't publish it before it's ready.  I've been known to do that from time to time, so now I always try to check with the author first :-)

We'll probably publish this tomorrow.