Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Arctic Ocean is turning red

The Arctic Ocean is turning red, as sea surface temperatures (SST) rise. The NOAA maps below, dated August 12, 2013, show sea surface temperature anomalies across the Arctic Ocean of up to 5°C (9°F). Virtually all areas were the sea ice has disappeared are now colored scarlet red.

[ click on image to enlarge ]
The (updated) animation below shows SST anomalies from June 3 to August 26, 2013.

For a full-size animation, see http://www.ospo.noaa.gov/Products/ocean/sst/anomaly/anim_full.html

Locally, the situation can be even worse. The NOAA map below, dated August 13, 2013, shows that areas where the sea ice has disappeared in the Arctic Ocean can be exposed to sea surface temperature anomalies higher than 8°C (14.4°F).

[ click on image to enlarge ]
These anomalies are very high, even when compared to some of the recent years, when the decline of sea ice extent didn't look as bad as it appears now.

Many people may only look at the sea ice, assuming that things are fine as long as there is no dramatic decrease in sea ice area or extent (see Cryosphere Today image right).

However, there are many other things to consider, as described in the earlier post Cyclone raging over thin ice. Most importantly, sea surface temperature anomalies this high are very alarming!

For comparison, the image below shows August sea surface temperature anomalies in 2007, 2010 and 1011.

from: http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/reportcard/ocean.html
These high sea surface temperature anomalies are firstly caused by higher sea and air temperatures as a result of global warming. Additionally, there are many feedbacks that accelerate the temperature rise in the Arctic, as discussed at the post Diagram of Doom. Local conditions can further accelerate the temperature rise in specific areas, such as where warm water from rivers flows into the Arctic Ocean.

As the map below shows, a number of large rivers end in the Kara Sea, where high temperatures have been recorded for some time.

map from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rs-map.png
Another large river is the Mackenzie River, which ends in the Beaufort Sea, where sea surface temperatures of about 20°C (68°F) are currently recorded, as the image below illustrates.

Similarly, the NOAA image below shows that sea surface temperatures of up to 18°C (64.4°F) were recorded in the Bering Strait on August 12, 2013.

Note that the melting season still has quite a while to go. Arctic sea ice volume minimum is typically reached around halfway into September, which is more than one month away. On September 12-13, 2011, temperatures of 6-7°C were reached over East Siberian Arctic Shelf, and up to 9°C along the coast of Alaska.

The danger of this situation is that this dramatic rise in temperature anomalies will not remain restricted to surface waters, but that heat will penetrate the seabed which can contain huge amounts of methane in the form of hydrates and free gas in sediments.

Submarine pingoes: Indicators of shallow gas
hydrates in a pockmark at Nyegga, Norwegian Sea -
Hovland et al., Marine Geology 228 (2006) 15–23
At the moment, a cyclone is raging over the Arctic Ocean, and this causes warm surface waters to be mixed down, in many places all the way down to the seabed, due to the shallow nature of many of the seas in the Arctic Ocean.

As shown on the image right and also described at the FAQ page, there can be all kinds of fractures in the sediment, while there can also be conduits where methane has escaped earlier from hydrates, allowing heat to penetrate deep into the sediment and causing methane to escape.

Methane is kept stable inside hydrates as long as the temperature remains low. Since methane expand some 160 times in volume, compared to its compressed frozen state inside the hydrate, warming of even a small part of a hydrate can cause destabilization across the entire hydrate. It may take only a small rise in temperature of a single conduit in the sediment to set off a large abrupt release of methane, which subsequently threatens to cause further releases elsewhere in the Arctic Ocean and trigger runaway global warming, as described at the methane hydrates blog.


  1. Wildfires have charred more than a million acres across Alaska, reports Reuters.

  2. Things look a bit far gone yet world focus is on other things. But it really looks like Runaway is in progress and there is no massive Northern ice sheet to rely on to cool the rivers running to the Sea.. There are songs about that and about seasons changing and flowers that bloom and of soldiers and time.. But if my eyes do not lie -this doesn't let up this time and shielding won't work now..
    I guess it's time to flip on the afterburners and take to the sky and think big.
    If only there were friends in certain high places strategically placed who think ;But from my experience with emergency and flying it's that preparation of plan prior adopted needs rote deployment in staged manner.. The plan that Sam and others put forward is in immediate need of deployment. I'd add the snippet of making root change to the root of all evil to remove a lie blocking could help real success and regaining of stability for straight and level flight.. But this time it looks like more than a Chandel to come back and land without motion is needed to up and pull out of dive.. Eyes wide open.. Don't click off the brain.. -there has to be a way to save Earth.. If only I can see. and express what need doing in a magical way..

  3. Just keep sharing every thing like this, keep the flow of real-deal climate data - I believe when a palpable sense of alarm begins to rise, we will steal the attention of the nation away from the song-and-dance Conservative smoke-screen.