Thursday, August 2, 2012

Year 2012 set to break all records

The image below, edited from the National Snow & Ice Data Center, shows that Arctic sea ice extent is at a record low for the time of the year.

According to measurements by the Institut für Umweltphysik at the University of Bremen a new historic Arctic sea ice minimum was reached on 8 September, 2011. The year 2012 looks set to reach even lower extent.

The nosedive taken by the sea ice over the past few months also shows up in measurements of the sea ice area.

The image below shows a retreat in sea ice area to 3.91533 million km2 on the 212th day of 2012, also a record low for this time of year. The Cryosphere Today features the original interactive image.

Most critical is ice volume. The animation below, from NASA/Goddard Visualization Studio images, shows how much Arctic multi-year sea ice has declined over the years.

The Polar Science Center reports ice volume for July 2012 of 8300 km3, i.e. about 700 km3 less than July 2011, 65% lower than the maximum in 1979, and 55% below the mean, as illustrated by the image below.

Click here for large version of PIOMAS Daily Arctic Sea Ice Volume

Will sea ice collapse in 2014?As the image on the left shows, the annual minimum for Arctic sea ice volume is getting perilously close to zero, raising the risk of a collapse of the sea ice in the Arctic.

Temperature rises and larger areas of open water increase the likelihood of storms, as well as their intensity. Sea ice is now getting so thin that it becomes prone to break up in case of strong waves.

Heavy winds from the Bering Strait could then drive most sea ice across the Arctic Ocean, to pile up against Greenland, where it could persist for somewhat longer.

The subsequent dramatic increase in area of open water would cause a huge albedo change, making that much more sunlight in the Arctic would be absorbed, instead of reflected back into space as was previously the case.

This, together with additional feedbacks, could dramatically increase temperatures in the Arctic, further accelerating warming in the Arctic.

Water from rivers flowing into the Arctic could be heated up significantly during heatwaves. On the NOAA image below, the 20 degrees Celsius isobar appears to touch the coastline of the Laptev Sea, with the 25 degrees isobar not far behind. Just below the 20 degrees mark on the map, there's a spot with one-day mean temperatures of over 30 degrees Celsius.

The image below, edited from the Naval Research Laboratory of the U.S. Navy, shows areas with surface temperatures of 8 degrees Celsius and higher in many areas on the edges of the Arctic Ocean from where sea ice has already retreated.

These are huge anomalies, as illustrated by the image below, from the Danish Meteorological Institute.

The danger is that high temperatures will trigger methane releases from hydrates and free gas in sediments, as discussed in this post on the potential impact of large abrupt release of methane in the Arctic and this post describing that Greenland is melting at incredible rate. For more on this danger and, importantly, what to do about it, see the presentation Why act now, and how?


  1. Arctic sea ice loss seems irreversible given the lag time of oceans worldwide to soak up CO2, acidity changes that affect shell formation negatively and mankind's insatiable appetite for fossil fuel. If there is to be chance at change it would seem going cold turkey to get off oil seems logical but this would necessitate largely the halting of building of infrastructure and innovation of technological capacity needed to help stop runaway. It may be already impossible to stop famine coming but trying to get politician from local, state and National level to speak of what the world faces in their platform stump speeches is near if if not toast in possibility as evidenced in person in nearby backyard hrs ago..
    It's like the 'right' piles on what amount to menaces to society that forces the Left to react in reply in earnest without tripping into effect build up of bias injected over many years from a corporate media.
    Short term stuff of great earnest needs to stop being exclusive point of podium speakers, (podium in the case yesterday which i dedicated to those who were fighting for change in O8 Change we can believe in.. IN design and construction too.. My hands built that and my friend who is State Senate Leader, now running for US Congress spoke from that place yesterday.
    Yet He listened to me tell him of 1.7X10^12 metric tonnes of CH4 that could release from Arctic continental shelf in short order as sea ice is to be gone in Summer 2015 most likely..
    He listened and spoke of environment and what it means to youth as he said something at State Convention in response to a text from the floor.
    But the message was essentially muted like it was too hot to handle and would somehow lessen chance of winning election.
    Where are my friends in high places, those who we elected to office and in whom many had some hope of change being enacted.. Were all to fall to temptation of not saying what every one of those yesterday know in the back of mind true..)
    completely swamping the stump out voice warning of coming catastrophic famine and loss o friends
    What can a person say to sway to initiate change

    1. Thanks for commenting, Dale. I believe that a comprehensive plan of action is needed to reduce these threats, backed up by government commitment manifested where necessary in fast-tracking legislation and in international agreements, and implemented as much as possible by local communities.

      At local levels, I urge communities to consider local feebates, which can help establish a shift to a more decentralized and distributed economy with a greater say and more freedom for all of us.

      Such policies can work in concert, to over time deliver huge financial benefits and further benefits for the local community, on top of the environmental benefits. Communities that implement such feebates can benefit from higher food and energy security and independence, better health, more job and investment opportunities, greater efficiencies, a more reliable and robust electric grid, better balance of payments and less need for policing of global transport of fuel, food and other resources.