Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Sea ice extent update August 14, 2012

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado has released an update. Excerpts follow below, for the full post, see A summer storm in the Arctic.

Arctic sea ice extent during the first two weeks of August continued to track below 2007 record low daily ice extents. As of August 13, ice extent was already among the four lowest summer minimum extents in the satellite record, with about five weeks still remaining in the melt season.

Arctic sea ice extent as of August 13, 2012. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
The average pace of ice loss since late June has been rapid at just over 100,000 square kilometers (38,000 square miles) per day. However, this pace nearly doubled for a few days in early August during a major Arctic cyclonic storm, discussed below.

Unlike the summer of 2007 when a persistent pattern of high pressure was present over the central Arctic Ocean and a pattern of low pressure was over the northern Eurasian coast, the summer of 2012 has been characterized by variable conditions. Air tempertures at the 925 hPa level (about 3000 feet above the ocean surface) of 1 to 3 degrees Celsius (1.8 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1981 to 2012 average have been the rule from central Greenland, northern Canada, and Alaska northward into the central Arctic Ocean. 

Cooler than average conditions (1 to 2 degrees Celsius or 1.8 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) were observed in a small region of eastern Siberia extending into the East Siberian Sea, helping explain the persistence of low concentration ice in this region through early August.

August 6, 2012, 06:00 GMT surface weather analysis, showing a very strong cyclone over the central Arctic Ocean north of Alaska. The isobars (lines of equal pressure) are very tightly packed around the low pressure system, indicating strong winds. Greenland is on the right side of the figure, Canada at the bottom. Credit: Canadian Meteorological Centre
A low pressure system entered the Arctic Ocean from the eastern Siberian coast on August 4 and then strengthened rapidly over the central Arctic Ocean. On August 6 the central pressure of the cyclone reached 964 hPa, an extremely low value for this region. It persisted over the central Arctic Ocean over the next several days, and slowly dissipated. The storm initially brought warm and very windy conditions to the Chukchi and East Siberian seas (August 5), but low temperatures prevailed later.

On three consecutive days (August 7, 8, and 9), sea ice extent dropped by nearly 200,000 square kilometers (77,220 square miles). This could be due to mechanical break up of the ice and increased melting by strong winds and wave action during the storm.

The image below, from the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI), shows that sea ice extent took a huge dive early August and has consolidated since, as the winds settled down.

Credit: Centre for Ocean and Ice, Danish Meteorological Institute
Note that, to calculate extent, DMI includes areas with ice concentration higher than 30% (NSIDC includes areas that show at least 15% sea ice). 

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