Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Has the descent begun?

On March 9, 2014, Arctic sea ice area was at a record low for the time of the year, at only 12.88731 square kilometers.

Sea ice extent shows a similar descent, as illustrated by the NSIDC image below.

NSIDC update: The image below shows that Arctic sea ice extent was 14.583 square kilometers on March 11, 2014 (light green line), a record low for this time of the year and smaller than it was in 2006 (magenta line) and 2011 (orange line) at this time of the year.

The situation is dire, given that methane concentrations have risen strongly following an earthquake that hit the Gakkel Ridge on March 6, 2014, as illustrated by the image below.

[ click on image to enlarge ]
Huge amounts of methane have been released from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean over the past half year, and the resulting high methane concentrations over the Arctic will contribute to local temperature rises.

The image below shows that sea surface temperatures are anomalously high in the Arctic Ocean and off the east coast of North America, from where warm water is carried by the Gulf Stream into the Arctic Ocean.

The prospect of an El Niño event makes the situation even more dire. NOAA recently issued an El Niño Watch. This follows a conclusion by an international research team that found a 75% likelyhood of an El Niño event in late 2014.

The consequences of sea ice collapse would be devastating, as all the heat that previously went into transforming ice into water will be asbsorbed by even darker water, from where less sunlight will be reflected back into space. The danger is that further warming of the Arctic Ocean will trigger massive methane releases is unacceptable and calls for comprehensive and effective action as discussed at the Climate Plan blog.


- M4.5 Earthquake hits Gakkel Ridge

- Climate Plan blog


  1. NOAA did not issue an El Nino "warning" - it issued an El Nino "watch". More specifically, "ENSO-neutral is expected to continue through the Northern Hemisphere spring 2014, with about a 50% chance of El Niño developing during the summer or fall."

    Also, w.r.t. your chart of Arctic Sea Ice extent, 2014 is effectively equal to 2011 (14.611 vs. 14.618 on March 10th), and 2011 ended up have a higher minimum than 2012. Thus, it is premature to anticipate that 2014 will be worse than 2012. But I share your concern that it could be given the other factors that you note.

    1. Good points, Fred. Yes, NOAA issued an El Niño Watch, I have amended the post accordingly and also added a link to a study that found a 75% likelyhood of an El Niño event in late 2014. I have also added an update for sea extent, showing a record low sea ice extent on March 11, 2014, for the time of the year.

  2. On 1 January 2011 was 11.16 million sq. km
    ON 1 January 2014 there were 11.64 million sq. km

    2014, the curve is much flatter. The reason can be seen in the higher temperatures in the Arctic.

    Today the temperature is significantly higher in the Arctic than over Greenland. # current / wind / surface / level / overlay = temp / orthographic = -345.00,84.41,389
    Ice with a temperature at -25 ° C, melts faster than ice at -40 ° C.

    I think for melt less energy is used when the ice is warmer. - The melting of ice is faster because it is warmer. -25 ° C. not -40 ° C or colder.

    (The time - energy - Combination for the melt of ice, explained by Dr. M. Light here on the blog)

    sorry, is translated with google ..

  3. Dear Sam,
    I think you will like to comment regarding the short article in Aprils Scientific American called False Hope, by IPCC Michael E. Mann. Thank you, Harold F. Lane.

    not yet started

    1. I agree, Hubert. Strong winds have been pushing the sea ice away from the North Pole over the past few days. While this has increased extent (e.g. around Svalbard), this ice is very thin, so it will likely melt away soon. Also, a lot of thicker ice is lost as it is pushed out of the Arctic Ocean along the edges of Greenland, so I believe the situation is actually worse than it was before. Very cold weather is forecast to hit large parts of North America over the next seven days, which may help the ice in Hudson bay grow stronger, but most of the Arctic Ocean is forecast to experience very warm weather compared with what temperatures used to be.

  5. The climate plan needs adjustment as voluntary change has proven in clasp of monetary hold. -Mankind; What are we but trying to outdo water ice foam magically holding like Clathrated Methane as caprock. Mankind -we are vulnerable to temp and pressure like methane hydrate ice..
    -Gully washer is what we need to clear the field of distraction so as to take action on keeping Earth, our home within HZ.

  6. I am no denier, but just want to get my facts straight, svp, - so Am I missing something? From the March 15th entry in this blog - about the stated sea ice extent :
    "Arctic sea ice extent was 14.583 square kilometers on March 11, 2014" ;

    but just two days earlier -
    "On March 9, 2014, Arctic sea ice area was at a record low for the time of the year, at only 12.88731 square kilometers."

    Really? THAT much change? Or different sources, or? Please explain. Have no doubt, I Love the Arctic Blog!!

    1. They are different measurements, Edwin. Simply said, sea ice area measures what could be regarded as the cheese only of a slice of swiss cheese, without the holes. Sea ice extent also includes the holes, as the NSIDC says, so extent is always bigger than area.

      Further measurements are thickness and volume. The previous post included a recent image showing sea ice thickness, as well as a recent image comparing sea ice volume over the years.

      We'll keep watching the sea ice closely and describe the situation further in upcoming posts.

  7. Sam, you mention that high methane levels in the Arctic will contribute to local temperature rises there. But in simple terms, why is that the case, given that one would expect atmospheric methane level anomalies in other cases such as over a large developed country and to my knowledge T anomalies in those areas are not known.

    1. Matthew, much of this is discussed in earlier posts, such as methane hydrates, which describe, among other things:
      - Large amounts of methane are released from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean and, precisely because these are large abrupt releases, much of the methane will enter the atmosphere over the Arctic Ocean, especially when released in shallow waters and waters with low oxygen levels. This in contrast with the Deepwater Horizon situation, where much of the methane was decomposed in warm water with sea currents favoring bacterial activity.
      - The atmosphere over the Arctic Ocean already contains very little hydroxyl to start with, while large abrupt releases will deplete the little hydroxyl that is there.
      - In case of large abrupt release from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean, the methane will initially be highly concentrated in the atmosphere over the Arctic Ocean, unlike methane from, say, livestock that is released gradually from places all over the world.
      - The Jet Stream acts as a barrier, making it difficult for the methane to leave the atmosphere over the Arctic. Even where the methane penetrates the Jet Stream, it could warm up the water along the track of the Gulf Stream, causing even warmer water to enter the Arctic Ocean.
      - Greenhouse gas levels and temperature anomalies over the Arctic Ocean are already the highest of the world. For recent (sea) surface temperature (anomalies) readings and forecasts, see ClimateReanalyzer.
      - The amount of solar radiation received by the Arctic at the June Solstice is higher than anywhere else on Earth. As snow and ice cover decline further, ever larger parts of the sunlight get absorbed by the Arctic Ocean. For more on such feedbacks, see the interactive diagram at The Biggest Story of 2013.