Friday, July 4, 2014

The Threat of Storms Wreaking Havoc in the Arctic Ocean

Arctic sea ice extent is close to a record low for the time of the year, as the image below shows.

Furthermore, the current decline in sea ice extent is much steeper than it used to be for this time of the year, raising the specter of sea ice hitting an absolute record low later this year. Moreover, a total collapse of sea ice may occur if storms continue to develop that push the remaining ice out of the Arctic Ocean into the Atlantic Ocean.

The threat posed by storms is illustrated by the track projected to be followed by Hurricane Arthur (above NOAA image, July 4), renamed as Post-Tropical Cyclone Arthur (NOAA image below, July 5).

The path followed by Arthur is influenced by the current shape of the jet stream. As the animation below illustrates, the jet stream looks set to prevent Hurrican Arthur from moving to the east and instead make it move into the Labrador Sea to the west of Greenland and - partly due to the high mountains on Greenland - continue to wreak havoc in Baffin Bay further north.

[ Note: this animation is a 1.87 MB file that may take some time to fully load ]
As described in an earlier post, post-tropical cyclone Leslie made landfall with hurricane-force winds in Newfoundland in September 2012. The large extratropical low pressure system continued to move rapidly northeastward across eastern Newfoundland at a forward speed of near 45 kt, and merged with a much larger extratropical low over the Labrador Sea.

Recent research by NOAA-affiliated scientists suggests that - over the years - the latitude where hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones reach their maximum intensity on the Northern Hemisphere has shifted closer to the North Pole.

Such storms can bring lots of heat and moisture into the Arctic, and they can also increase the height of waves. All this can have devastating impact on the sea ice. The many ways in which storms can increase the dangerous situation in the Arctic is described in the post Feedbacks in the Arctic.

Last month, the June heat record broke in Greenland. Very high temperatures are currently recorded all over North America, as the image below shows.

Furthermore, sea surface temperature anomalies in the Arctic are currently very high, as the image below shows.

Additionally, the sea ice is currently very thin, as shown by the Naval Research Laboratory animation below.

The above animation further shows that there now is very little sea ice left in Baffin Bay, making it easier for storms to cause very high waves that could enter the Arctic Ocean and break the sea ice north of Greenland and Canada.

Arctic sea ice volume minimum is typically reached around halfway into September. This is still months away, but the prospect of an El Niño event striking this year now is 90%, according to predictions by the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts.

All this combines into a growing threat that hydrates contained in sediments will destabilize and that huge quantities of methane will be released abruptly from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean. The risk that this will eventuate is intolerable and calls for parallel lines of action as pictured in the image below.

Climate Plan, July 7, 2014 version, as discussed at this Climate Plan post and at the Climate Plan blog


- Storm enters Arctic region

- Huge cyclone batters Arctic sea ice

- Hurricane Sandy moving inland

- Feedbacks in the Arctic


  1. July 8th hurricane disappear. But in an the Arctic will be a great anticylone 1025 hPa, maybe 1028 in centre.

  2. I first wrote about the possibility of hydrate destabilization in a 2006 newspaper commentary. I can't say it's nice to have what I warned about then being being taken seriously now. I would much rather have been wrong.